"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

My picture of God Part 2

Here now I will try and paint a picture of the God that I believe in.

God it eternal. He is the basic Fact of all existence. He created all out of the wellspring of his creativity. He created personal beings as well. We know of the Angels and we know of Humanity. There could be more, but we are not told. So far as our story is concerned these are the only two free willed beings created. This begs the question, why were the angels and humans created? The answer is short yet profound on the deepest level. Love. We are told that one of the attributes of God is love. Perfect love. A quality we as humans can only experience distorted reflections of.

The best example I can think of out of human experience is my son Adrian. Megan and I have a truly fantastic relationship. We know each other and delight in each other on a very deep level. In that sense our love is quite deep. As our marriage progressed we continued to feel the desire to welcome a new life into our relationship. A son was born. Our love for each other and for Adrian has increased. Love gives. Love is beautiful. God is Love.

So far the story is quite nice. God is Love and he created us out of Love for Love. Gives you the warm fuzzies, ay? But can Love be real if there is no possibility to reject it? If I could insert a chip into my wife and have her respond to me with love at ALL times would that be love? Or would that simply be me doing what I want through her body? True love requires freedom. It requires risk. It requires a choice.

We are told the choice to reject God was first made in the heavenly realms by the most beautiful angel of them all. That is to say his potential, for good was the greatest of all created beings. Likewise his potential for going wrong was the inverse of his potential for good. He chose to try and make himself like God, to create for himself his own standard of conduct. His focus turned inward. He and a host of other angles rebelled.

God also created man. How and when we were created is a story I will leave for another time. Again we were created to delight in God and for him to delight in us. We are told that man quickly chose not to trust God and to go his own way. This breach of trust is known as the fall of man. In the time before the fall God walked amongst men. The relationship was one of unspeakable beauty. Man was given dominion over all the earth. He was placed in the seat of authority. The whole earth was his to rule. Yet since man chose not to trust God that relationship was broken — by man's free choice.

The dominion that Man was given over all the earth was forfeited. Satan now took dominion. The scripture writers tell us that Satan is the prince of this world and the god of this age. God is shown throughout history as genuinely warring against him, though we are also told the end of the story is assured.

The ensuing history of man recorded in the Bible shows man continually ignoring God and wreaking incredible horrors on each other in the process, but at the same time God is shown continually pursuing us. A very small remnant is shown as hearing his voice and responding to him. What do they hear from God? I love you. Love me by obeying me. Be holy as I am holy. Repent of your sins and I will forgive you. Soon you hear echoes of a far distant future. There will come one who will ransom man from his bondage. This verse was penned by Isaiah 700 years before the birth of Jesus.

See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him —
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man
and his form marred beyond human likeness—

so will he sprinkle many nations, 
and kings will shut their mouths because of him. 
For what they were not told, they will see, 
and what they have not heard, they will understand.

Who has believed our message 
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, 
and like a root out of dry ground. 
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, 
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men, 
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. 
Like one from whom men hide their faces 
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he took up our infirmities 
and carried our sorrows, 
yet we considered him stricken by God, 
smitten by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, 
he was crushed for our iniquities; 
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, 
and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, 
each of us has turned to his own way; 
and the LORD has laid on him 
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, 
yet he did not open his mouth; 
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, 
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, 
so he did not open his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away. 
And who can speak of his descendants? 
For he was cut off from the land of the living; 
for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked, 
and with the rich in his death, 
though he had done no violence, 
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, 
and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, 
he will see his offspring and prolong his days, 
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

After the suffering of his soul, 
he will see the light of life and be satisfied; 
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, 
and he will bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, 
and he will divide the spoils with the strong, 
because he poured out his life unto death, 
and was numbered with the transgressors. 
For he bore the sin of many, 
and made intercession for the transgressors.

Isaiah 52:13-15 - 53:1-12 NIV

700 years later the God of all creation slipped into this world as one of it's own. The God who set the stars in the heavens became one of the most vulnerable of all his creation — a human child. He grew in strength and knowledge and around the age of thirty he began his ministry. He was tempted by Satan in the desert. Satan recognized him but he did not know why he had come. Jesus then came out against the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. He warred against sickness and demon possession. He embraced the rejected of society. He met people where they were. He saw a need, He met the need, He told them the kingdom of heaven was near. He was filled with compassion and love, but he warned of the fate of those who rejected God. He warned of the fate of those who rejected Him.

Those in power found a way to have Jesus arrested. In the ensuing trial they pressed Jesus regarding his identity. The high priest asked him "are you the Christ, the Son of God?" Jesus replied, "It is as you say". Charged with blasphemy they turned him over to the Romans to be tortured and hung on a cross. We can imagine Satan's jubilation (perhaps active part in said act) as the one who frustrated his desires for power is brutally tortured and killed. He has defeated whatever it was God had come to accomplish. (This is just me here, I could be wrong)

As evil cannot understand the act of sacrificing for love, so also, Satan was blind to the sacrificial love God showed in His death. (There is much mystery here. I do not understand much of it)

Three days later the God of this world walked out of the tomb and demonstrated his mastery over death, effectively defeating Satan's hold on this world and ransoming humanity from his grasp. For us to be reconciled to God a price had to be paid. God paid it for us. Though we rejected him and became filled with all manor of jealousy and pride, he continued to fight for us. He did not come here to leave us as he found us. He came to give us life in it's fullest. He came to start a new work. For those who fall down in gratitude before him he begins a personal transformation.

He started a new work in me 8 years ago. As I have continued to seek him and follow him I have been changed bit by bit each day. My desire for self pleasure has decreased, while my love for others, even those I find very distasteful has increased. In my old life I sought any possible avenue to justify my actions. As I have come to understand God's unceasing love for me, all I can do now is seek ways to honor Him out of my helpless gratitude for my undeserved position as his adopted son.

He is love. He is beauty. All evil is the result of a violation of his character. He is love. He is beauty.

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19 Comments:

Blogger Matt M said...

I’m starting to feel a little like Thomas, asking to check the wounds to make sure they’re real. But then I’m sure that, by now, you’ve come to expect nothing else of me.

I’ll just post some quick thoughts on the nature of the God presented to keep you going. I’ll return to the question of Jesus later.

God it eternal. He is the basic Fact of all existence. He created all out of the wellspring of his creativity.

But how do you know this? Surely the most important bit here, establishing that God exists, has been skipped over for unsubstanciated comments on His nature?

We are told that one of the attributes of God is love. Perfect love.

I hate to be pedantic (but I am good at it), but surely perfect love is complete in itself? If it needs something extra, angels and man, then, even if it’s the most near-perfect love in existence, it can’t actually be perfect.

Love gives. Love is beautiful. God is Love.

I agree whole-heartedly with the first two statements here, but the third comes completely out of nowhere for me.

True love requires freedom. It requires risk. It requires a choice.

But a choice can only be valid if we understand the situation we’re in – by choosing to make His existence ambiguous, God undermines the idea of chosing whether to love Him or not.

In a previous comment, you said that you thought that people like Tom and I were aware on some level of God’s existence, and if that’s true then you post here stands. But, if it is true you have to follow the logic to the conclusion that, by stating that I don’t believe in God, I’m either a) lying, or b) too stupid to realise what should be the most self-evident thing in the world. Plus, you’d have to ask yourself why any sane human being would deliberately turn aware from the most perfect love in the universe and risk eternal damnation in doing so?

If God is self-evident, then those who deny him are clearly insane. If God is not self-evident, and I have good grounds for deny his existence, then the idea of choosing whether to love Him or not is a hollow one.

Man was given dominion over all the earth. He was placed in the seat of authority. The whole earth was his to rule. Yet since man chose not to trust God that relationship was broken — by man's free choice.

Either man’s choice was rational, which undermines your concept of God as it can’t be rational to turn against a loving God, or it was irrational, which means we were not created all that well and again undermines the concept of God as perfect or even trustworthy.

A very small remnant is shown as hearing his voice and responding to him. What do they hear from God? I love you.

Do you mean a small remnant of people? In which case why would God only reveal Himself to a select few, in a way designed to sow sectarian tension. Or a small remnant of every person? In which case we’re back to the fact that anyone who denies God would have to be an insane liar.

Love me by obeying me. Be holy as I am holy. Repent of your sins and I will forgive you.

This is selfish love. If I love someone completely I don’t need to forgive them, all that would be important to me is steering them in the direction of a better life – obedience and repentence demonstrate a need within God for love and acceptance, which sits uneasily alongside the idea that he is perfect or near-perfect love.

6:43 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

I thought you said you were going to go eat some Chinese? =) My wife tells me I have a problem with my blogging, but you sir beat me hands down every time! As much as I'd like to, I probably won't have time to respond today. Let me leave you with a question. Let's assume for a moment that you have pinned me against the wall on every single question you raised. Are you truly satisfied with the void that atheism leaves? Are you satisfied with your Dr. Whoish joy of being part of this mindless, meaningless experience? Maybe you are. Perhaps you are one of the lucky few who really does have a good life. What of the rest of the poor saps in this world who's entire existence revolves around pain and suffering? Can you turn to them and give your grand call to simply be satisfied at the wonder of being a part of the hellish situation they have known all their lives? They didn't ask to be born. No one asked their permission to be placed into their situation. What does your atheism say to them? "Buck up brother! There is beauty and joy in this world!"

Once again you raised a million different thoughtful questions. They are good ones to be sure. There are answers. But like most answers that involve these issues you don't have to believe them if you don't want to. There's a common thread to all answers to questions like these: They are logical, yet you certainly don't have to believe them if you don't want to. To be honest, I will waste a lot of breath on you if you truly don't want to believe in God. Nothing I can say will dissuade you. There is a profound truth in Christ's call to "have faith like that of a child". There is a profound truth in "believing is seeing". It's not a call to put your mind on the shelf, or to ignore valid criticism. But without first having faith... Without you first stepping forth and being willing to see, you will find nothing. The self evidence of God truly is just that, but you don't have to see it if you don't want to. There's a true surrender of pride involved.

That was not meant to be a cop-out. I plan on responding to your comment. Just wanted to throw that out there as something to consider.

7:51 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

I decided to vent my questions now, rather than risk distracting myself from the food by metaphysical speculation later.

What of the rest of the poor saps in this world who's entire existence revolves around pain and suffering? Can you turn to them and give your grand call to simply be satisfied at the wonder of being a part of the hellish situation they have known all their lives?


Good question - looks like I'll be chewing over more than noodles and rice today.

8:42 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

And so it goes... =)

8:48 AM

 
Anonymous Ian said...

Alex, that's another beautifully written, moving post. Your image of the implanted chip is a much better analogy than mine of divine dictatorship. As I said elsewhere, if I were to accept for the sake of argument that there was a separate deity, I would tend to agree with you that a free choice would be vital here if we were to retain our humanity.

Matt, you asked elsewhere why the hooh-hah about free will; can you really not see any contradiction between automatically fulfilling God's will and still having a meaningful existence?

Matt: But a choice can only be valid if we understand the situation we’re in – by choosing to make His existence ambiguous, God undermines the idea of chosing whether to love Him or not.

I'd actually take the opposite stance, here: if God's existence was unequivocally proved, then all choice goes out the window. As you say yourself, an individual would have to be insane to reject such certainty. Is that still a choice in any meaningful sense?

Conversely, if there was once a time when men and angels knew conclusively God to exist, as Alex asserts, then I can see no compelling reason why they should turn against Him. The narrative stumbles at the Fall.

Without being sure of the exact comment you're referring to, is it a fair assumption that Alex's remark about your awareness at some level of God's existence was in connection with the human need to seek meaning? I'm not just seeking a cheap debating point by reintroducing my Metaphor at this point. It seems to me, and I may be wrong, that Alex would identify God the separate deity as the source for this search; clearly, both you and I have great interest in this search, but we are both reluctant to reach the same conclusion as Alex.

Certainly, I cannot explain to my own satisfaction why we have this urge to impose meaning. And yet, I come back to the same point I have made, probably ad nauseam, and which my doubts about the Fall only reinforce: Alex's story is a beautiful story - its very strength inmany ways derives from its ambiguous elements - but it's still no more than a story for me.

10:20 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Ian,

[Only a few hours until the Chinese meal - commenting here will hopefully distract me from how hungry I am :-)]

can you really not see any contradiction between automatically fulfilling God's will and still having a meaningful existence?

I see it this way: If God is perfect (or near-perfect), then a being acting in full accordance with His will must also be perfect (or near-perfect). A will separate from God is therefore worse than one which is part of him - from this point of view, free will must be a curse.

I'd actually take the opposite stance, here: if God's existence was unequivocally proved, then all choice goes out the window. As you say yourself, an individual would have to be insane to reject such certainty. Is that still a choice in any meaningful sense?

If we had an innate knowledge of God, then all would love Him and model their lives on Him - we'd be almost perfectly happy.

Without innate knowledge, human beings fall into two camps: Those who, purely on blind faith, believe in Him and do their best to try to understand Him (not an easy task, as the numerous fractures in religions show), and those who, because of the reason God granted them, don't believe in Him and therefore live a life of meaningless and damnation (apparently).

Free will, without a decent understanding of the universe, means unhappiness for many, through no real fault of their own.

How does that square with a loving God?

This is a bind I can't see anyway out of: If we have good reason to believe in God, then people like me are either lying or insane (or both). If we don't have good reason to believe in God, then it's all completely random and unfair. It's equally reasonable for me to believe in Allah, of Shiva, or Buddha, or nothing at all.

is it a fair assumption that Alex's remark about your awareness at some level of God's existence was in connection with the human need to seek meaning?

I think it was in connection with objective standards of right and wrong. But, the impression I got from it was he believes that we all, deep down, know that God exists, we simply refuse to accept it - which leads to my insane liar point.

10:49 AM

 
Blogger MuseinMeltdown said...

Very profound and thought provoking piece - thank you I enjoyed reading it.. Shani

10:52 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Shani,
Thank you for saying that. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Peace

1:47 PM

 
Anonymous Ian said...

Matt, I hope you managed to spend more time with your brother and less with his steps tonight ;)

It's equally reasonable for me to believe in Allah, of Shiva, or Buddha, or nothing at all.

Well, from my point of view, all those deities are incomplete descriptions of the supreme being, assuming He* exists.

Does anyone actually believe in "nothing at all"? Your own piece on this appears to place that capacity for wonder and drive to seek meaning firmly within us, as part of what makes us human. That's the metaphor I tend to reach for myself most often.

But, in whatever terms we frame it, we're no further forward in understanding where that drive comes from, are we?

7:34 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Ian,

It was a far more dignified evening this time. :-)

Does anyone actually believe in "nothing at all"?

well, it depends what we mean by "believe", but I take your point. Nihilists, perhaps, come close - though believing that the defining feature of life is its meaningless is a belief in many ways.

But, I think that what I said stands. Either there are clear reasons for believing in God, which would make us atheists either deluded or liars, or there aren't, in which case why blame/argue with people who don't?

But, in whatever terms we frame it, we're no further forward in understanding where that drive comes from, are we?

No, but we can certainly speculate. If evolution is essentially true, then the emergence of a particular "lust for life" is probably inevitable. It's a great survival mechanism. Creatures which find life, or at least parts of it, fascinating are going to be spurred on a lot further than creatures without that sense. The human being staring up at the stars, glorifying in the magnificence of it all, is probably no different (in an extremely crude sense) from the dog caught up in a new smell, the cat playing with the ball of string, or the hamster running round and round in its wheel.

7:21 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

which would make us atheists either deluded or liars

to bring back your Lewis argument... There are other options.

Perhaps you are decieved.

I know, I know if you don't believe in the supernatural you couldn't possibly accept that. But that's been my starting point all together. It also resonates with the Bible that I believe is Gods revalation. (It's level of inerrancy is a qustion I have not yet answered.)

I can see you just shaking your head at the thought of this comment. And this my friend is why these conversations can be so hard. I actually believe this stuff. To the modern westren mind it sounds like I'm barking mad!

7:34 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Perhaps you are decieved.

By who?

And, if knowledge of God is innate, how could you deceive anyone? If knowledge of God is rational, then does that make the likes of Bertrand Russell, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, etc. agents of the deceiver?

[Can I quickly point out, that it's not that I don't want to believe in the kind of God you describe, in fact I quite like the idea, but I've just never seen a convincing argument for it. So, no, I don't consider you to be mad - for all I know, when I've thought this all through, I'll agree with you. I just, as things stand now, consider it unlikely

I'm also going to reply to your comment about the desirability of atheism at some point (hopefully today), I just need to get my thoughts in order. I'm still recovering from too much food last evening]

7:53 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

So, no, I don’t consider you to be mad

Glad to hear it! You are amongst the few. =)

By who?

In short Satan.
Going back to my wold view statement. We are told there is more to reality than the natural world that we exist in. There is a very real war raging on in the spiritual realm. The fallen angels have free will just as we do and until the day that God effectively ends this history they genuinely rage against him. God and his angels are not the only ones out there. Demonic powers are working to lead us astray as an act of pure vengeance.

does that make the likes of Bertrand Russell, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, etc. agents of the deceiver?

It makes them amongst the deceived. Knowledge and intelligence has no bearing in this. In fact intelligence is often a hindrance. Knowledge promotes self reliance and pride. From the simple to the brilliant each of us has the ability to respond to God. It’s a heart thing, not a head thing. It’s a surrender.

9:31 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

In short Satan.

Okay, assuming that Satan exists as a dark, malevolent force doing its best to turn us away from the light of God, why didn't He equip us with the necessary means to see through these types of arguments? Why place reason at the centre of our lives when it's so easy to undermine the idea/knowledge of God through it? Either I'm missing something pretty fundamental, or the rules of this game are extremely unfair.

It’s a heart thing, not a head thing. It’s a surrender.

But that means that belief in God comes from something internal - which is precisely the grounds on which you criticised the naturalistic view of morality.

If belief in God is internal, then that makes it subjective, which, according to your own arguments on previous posts, makes it meaningless?

9:43 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Why place reason at the centre of our lives when it's so easy to undermine the idea/knowledge of God through it?

I don't see reason as easily undermining the knowledge of God. I reason everyday to bring me closer to his truth. Many others down through history have also.

There is a corporate nature to humanity. We are living in a culture/age that has seen extraordinary advances through science. But the extension has been made that science has the answers to it ALL. The idea that the supernatural doesn't exist is a relatively recent phenomenon. It is also rather localized in developed nations. If I was Satan and was bent on causing as many to stray from God as possible, I do believe I'd be more than happy to encourage the notion that I (Satan and all of the supernatural for that matter) does not exist. It is only in cultures that believe in the supernatural that you can begin to see obvious evidences of it's existence. Take for example exorcisms. These take place in the presence of those who believe in the supernatural in the first place. It is quite common during these affairs that absolutely unexplainable things occur. Yes, yes I'd image there are MANY documented falsified exorcisms, as well as 'miracles'. However I've heard people who I consider to be trustworthy recount situations they've been in that do not fall into any possible naturalistic explanation. Now of course you are never going to be able to haul someone into the lab and analyze these types of occurrences. Here again, if you don't want to believe it. You don't have to. You also cannot prove it to be false. It's just the nature of the supernatural to be outside our ability to test them using natural processes.

belief in God comes from something internal

Well yes, is comes from something internal. It comes from you. Your spirit. The thing you refer to when you say the words 'me' or 'I'.

But that means that belief in God comes from something internal - which is precisely the grounds on which you criticised the naturalistic view of morality.

I criticize your naturalistic view not because it comes from something internal, but because the naturalistic view denies the 'internal something' from which our moral convictions flow.

If belief in God is internal, then that makes it subjective, which, according to your own arguments on previous posts, makes it meaningless?

Your belief about X is not the thing that holds the meaning. A belief is essentially a faith position projected on to X by a rational mind expressing that minds conviction of truth or falsity of X.

It is the X that holds the meaning. Not the belief of X.

Are you saying that the believer would be meaningless or the believers belief would be meaningless. Not sure I'm following you here.

11:39 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

I don't see reason as easily undermining the knowledge of God. I reason everyday to bring me closer to his truth. Many others down through history have also.

But if your belief in God is rational, then it can't be a heart thing, can it?

All rational arguments for the divine (that I've come across) require that initial leap of faith to move from the unknown to the idea of God.

The idea that the supernatural doesn't exist is a relatively recent phenomenon. It is also rather localized in developed nations.

I don't believe that science has all the answers, but I would say that it's the best method we have for tackling the questions. Everything else really just boils down to blind faith or gut instinct.

Yes, the naturalistic worldview is a fairly recent phenomenon, and it probably depends on how you look at things, but your statement above could easily be paraphrased as: the more we learn about the world, the less room there is for the supernatural.

However I've heard people who I consider to be trustworthy recount situations they've been in that do not fall into any possible naturalistic explanation.

Same here (though more along the lines of psychic than religious experiences), but the fact is that the odds that they're mistaken are far lower than the odds that it's true - based on generally unmircday-to-day experience.

You also cannot prove it to be false. It's just the nature of the supernatural to be outside our ability to test them using natural processes.

But then you have no grounds for arguing about it. If you believe in it you believe in it, and if you don't you don't. Nothing more can really be said.

I criticize your naturalistic view not because it comes from something internal, but because the naturalistic view denies the 'internal something' from which our moral convictions flow.

How can something which comes from something internal deny the internal something?

According to you, we have an internal knowledge of right and wrong, and that knowledge comes from God. According to me, we have an internal knowledge of right and wrong, and that knowledge comes from an evolved moral instinct.

The reason I support the latter is because morality changes over time and can be shaped by environmental factors. For example: I used to be quite happy eating meat, then, through a combination of getting a pet dog (which boosted my knowledge of animals) and learning about the process of creating meat to be eaten, I began to consider it immoral and became a vegetarian. I can explain that in my scheme of things (generalised moral instinct + knowledge = moral stance), but it doesn't make sense if morality is objective and unchanging.

It is the X that holds the meaning. Not the belief of X.

But, if God is a heart thing then the only real proof you have is your belief. You know that God exists only because of something you feel internally - which puts it on exactly the same level as the naturalistic concept of morality.

Is God a demonstratively objective truth, or just an instinct?

12:58 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Deep stuff man. Lunch is over. Must get back at it. Just threw up a new post. I don't mean it to sound insulting. I just get a little worked up when I start processing that topic in my mind. I truly do have a very deep respect for you and my other atheist friends who take the time to think things through. There's a kinship there that I rarely find in 'religious' circles.

Later

1:15 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

No offense taken. Though, obviously, I do disagree with certain parts of your take on atheism.

1:17 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

I should hope so! I don't know anyone who does really think like that, but it's what I come to if I logically work through the information I get from you all. Gotta go man. We'll chat later!

1:23 PM

 

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