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

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Write me a message in the sky

The search has been a heated one this week. Many, many good thoughts being considered from all sides with no end in sight. One particular thought that I'd like to spend a little more time on is the question below posed by Matt Murrell.

Matt says: Given the importance of accepting Jesus, and living a life modeled on God, why carry out the resurrection in a way that seems deliberately designed to sow doubt? Why not have Jesus appear to more people? Why no grand dramatic signs that, why not conclusively proving the truth of the event, would at least give more people pause for thought?

It's certainly a good question. Much hangs on the answer. If the answer is that any person who wishes to live eternally with God must first hear the name Jesus, understand perfectly who He was and why He came then pray the sinner's prayer, that by default leaves vast swaths of humanity beyond hope since they just happened to be born in the wrong place. What of those who hear some kind of gospel presentation but it is given in an offensive manor? What of those who are raised in a 'Christian' home but are abused by it's application?

This situation comes down to two questions: What does God want of us, and how does He go about getting the desired response?

What God wants from us is a relationship. He want's us to trust Him. Like I've stated elsewhere God is love and love gives. Love seeks to delight in others. The more you feel love the more it overflows into the world around you. Since part of the very nature of love is giving, or 'overflow', is it any wonder that He creates other personal beings such as ourselves and the angels?

Also stated earlier, is the fact that love must be chosen for it to remain love.

Is it possible that though God's love was always obvious from the start, we as a human organism have often chose to reject that love causing a general culture of rejection? Because each us has to live with the consequences of the choices that were made by those that came before us (a very different concept than inherited sin), we now live in a culture that is increasingly hostile to the idea of God. It is the sum total of humanity's free choices that leave us in the cultural situation we are now in.

So where does that leave us? Could God not simply slash through our culture from time to time with an absolutely certain message for each person on earth? Then again, what's to say that He needs to? He knows each of us better than we know ourselves. He knows exactly what is needed to give each of us enough information to either respond to Him or reject Him.

I was somewhat joking with Matt earlier when I said that "your not dead yet", in response to a similar question as the one in this post. God knows the story of our life from start to finish, or in the openness view, He knows every possible story of our life as if it was a certainty. He knows the core of us. He knows our spirit. He doesn't just see the choices we make, He knows the 'why's' behind them. He knows where we are coming from and He knows what we are looking for.

In the same way I don't want to 'shock and awe' my son into a relationship with me, neither does God. But the protest can then be made, "but you are actually WITH your son! Where is God that we are to see Him?"

My response may seem quite weak to the seasoned atheist, but it's my answer none the less.

He's everywhere. You just need to be willing to see Him.

Having a little son has given me a glimpse of God's love that I had previously never known. Watching the tenderness between mother and child fills me with a warmth that defies description. Is it possible that God would be less than this love? I see Him by living with Him. I believe that offer is open to any of us. We just need to be willing to take the first step.





Megan would surly give her life to save our son. Is it possible that God's love would he be less than that? If Jesus's life is any indication, He will break down the doors of hell itself to rescue any who seeks Him. Anything less would make him unworthy of the worship we are called to give.

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37 Comments:

Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

I hear this a lot from my non-Christian friends: If it's all true, then why is it so non-obvious? And there are several possible answers.

At a theological level, God isn't really interested in mere intellectual assent. He wants faith. And he wants faith because he wants trust, because he wants relationship. This is why Pascal's wager doesn't work for Christian faith. God could've made it easy for us all to believe, but this negates the need for faith.

(Before you start talking about God damning unbelievers to Hell, I must say that most theologian's views on Hell are more nuanced than the popular imagination.)

Or maybe it's not non-obvious at all. It waqs (presumably) pretty darned obvious to the earliest Christians, and their testimony was pretty darned obvious too. But, after 2000 years, and after the Enlightenment, suddenly the obvious becomes shrouded with a cloud of skepticism. Which might be (or not) another way of saying that it's us who've made thing non-obvious, not God.

There's something I don't get about both Christians and non-Christians. Allow me to rant for a while. When my Christian friends want to know about atheism or ethics or evolution, they read popular Christian books on these topics. When my non-Christian friends want to know about Christianity, they read anti-Christian websites and books. I think this is silly. If we want to know about atheism, we should read the Sartre or Camus or Nietzsche or the scholars I mention in my other posts. If we want to know about evolution, we should read Gould and Mayr and Dawkins (maybe :D). If we want to know about Christian theology, we should read Christian theology.

Why do we allow extremists distort our perceptions of others? Why do we let Lenin represent our view of atheism? Why do we let conservative American evangelicals represent our view of Christianity?

The caricature of Christian faith painted by American fundamentalism enrages most of us Christians in academia. The anti-intellectualism therein is not helping us in our evangelism. *sigh*

Ranting over. Sorry.

10:51 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Revvvvvvvd,

Why do we allow extremists distort our perceptions of others?

I think this is the best thing said on the site so far (though it stands in high company).

I've learnt far more about religious belief from talking with people such as yourself and Alex than I ever could from reading the works of Richard Darwkins, or Sam Harris. (Despite the former being, in my opinion, one of the most exciting thinkers of our time. Reading his opinions on religion strikes me as just as pointless as reading the Archbishop of Canterbury's thoughts on genetics.)

Some kind of atheist/religious dialogue seems the best way forward on these issues, exposing each to different viewpoints, and avoiding the kind of one-sided rants that Dawkins seems to indulge in now.

[That said - I do think that the "anti-theists" and "religious fundamentalists" (the non-violent ones) have a valuable role in raising the tough questions. It's when they refuse to listen to the answers that you get problems.]

6:06 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

At a theological level, God isn't really interested in mere intellectual assent. He wants faith.

But why? Given that the vast majority of our life is founded on reason (at a basic level: every time I've used English to write other people have understood - therefore it seems likely that they'll understand the next time, etc.) it seems a little unfair that we're expected to make an exception for Him, with little - for a lot of us - justification.

A lot of the people I know who believe in God do so because that's the way they were brought up. I believed in God as a child/teenager because I was told He existed. When I hit my teens I started to think about what that belief really meant to me, and so started my gradual journey to atheism. A lot of people I know didn't question it, and so still have their belief - but purely on a general I'd-like-to-think-there's-something-there level. It doesn't influence their lives in any real way, in fact a lot of them actively dislike overt religion. Yet, this kind of comfort-blanket belief is apparently better than being intellectually honest with yourself?

Why equip us with reason and make it so important to us if He didn't want us to use it?

6:20 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Jon,
Well stated sir.

Matt said: I think this is the best thing said on the site so far

Agreed.

8:21 AM

 
Anonymous Bel said...

Very interesting comment, Matt. Why does God want faith? This question will keep me occupied all day. I plan to return to this blog sometime with some comment on that.

The Bible does say, though, in Hebrews 11.6, that without faith it is impossible to please God, because people coming to God must believe that he exists and that he is a rewarder of those that diligently seek him.

That passage answers why faith is important to God. It however doesn't answer why God has chosen faith per se as the way by which humans can have a relationship with him.

I agree with revvvvvvvd's comment that 'he wants faith because he wants trust, because he wants relationship'. I also see the point made by Matt, which is, why then not base the relationship on the reasoning faculties with which he had equipped us in the first place?

The answer is there somewhere. I will think about it some more and return.

Bel (www.beltoday.com)

11:23 AM

 
Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

Fides et ratio. Was that a papal encyclical during John Paul II's papacy? Sounds mighty familiar. Anyway...

The priority reason has in our everyday epistimology is a Modern (big M) phenomenon. It in only in the last 2-3 centuries that human beings have given reason such an esteemed place in how we know things. In the pre-Modern period, as difficult as this is to imagine, authority was the primary source of knowledge. This is akin to your religious friends believing X because "they were told" X.

So, it's not true to say that reason is universally esteemed in the human situation.

More than that: In everyday living it is true that we exercise both faith and reason (fides et ratio!). Reason can bring us so far, and faith brings us the rest of the way. And we exercise evidence-based faith. I don't think God asks for more than that in belief in Him.

Now, God's dilemma is tricky. He has to ask himself how much he can allow himself to be revealed, without giving away the game (i.e., without compromising the need for faith, which leads to trust, which leads to relationship). And now I think we reach the realm of faith, by human intellectual finitude. I trust that God knows what he's doing in his revelation of himself. God is revealed, but God is hidden; both his revelation and hiddenness are necessary; the degree to which he is hidden is his prerogative; and I trust that he's made the right decision.

I'm sure that's not been said awfully well...but I just woke up.

2:20 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Revvvvvvvd,

You're doing well - after I wake up it takes me a good three hours just to remember how to turn the computer on. :-)

In the pre-Modern period, as difficult as this is to imagine, authority was the primary source of knowledge.

I think we might be looking at reason differently. I mean it only in its very basic form, ie. basing our thoughts/behaviour on past experience - for example: every time I've touched that object I've burnt my hand, so it's therefore quite likely I'll get burnt if I touch it again, or, Joe has generally been honest with me in the past, therefore it's likely he's telling the truth now, or, last time I was out in the rain I got wet, therefore... etc.

Is this what you mean by evidence-based faith? Stuff that we can't know for certain but has reasonable grounds for assuming. Are we (or at least am I) just confusing terms here?

It's this reason or evidence-based faith which is at the heart of my outlook: My everyday existence has an exclusively non-supernatural form, therefore it seems most likely that life as a whole is non-supernatural.

This doesn't rule out anything like God (or aliens, or ghosts, or ESP), but it does make it incredibly unlikely for me. Therefore, given the inconclusive nature of the evidence for God and the existence of alternative explanations (which fit in better with my general outlook), I can't see any reasonable grounds for my believing in him.

Obviously, if your experience is different, then your belief is justified under these conditions. I'm not trying to disprove God, or suggest that belief in a deity is necessarily irrational. What I'm interested in here is a) does my thinking hold, b) how does that fit into a religious outlook, and c) can these views exist in harmony.

the need for faith

Surely need implies an imperfect being? From the sound of it you've got a slightly different conception of God to what I'm used to, suggesting that God can do wrong (which was the implication I got from the other thread), and that he has needs - which isn't the all-powerful being I was under the impression God is supposed to be.

I trust that God knows what he's doing in his revelation of himself.

Isn't this just another way of saying that you have faith in his need for faith?

[From debates elsewhere, I've learnt that it can be helpful to establish what someone's "thing" is (the big question behind all their little ones). Mine isn't to establish the superiority of one view over another, but to see whether differing views can exist in harmony; working together for the benefit of each side, rather than descending into distortion and insults]

6:18 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Matt,
My everyday existence has an exclusively non-supernatural form, therefore it seems most likely that life as a whole is non-supernatural.

I guess that depends on what you mean by super-natural. If it means you don't often see folks walking on water, I'd have to agree with you.

But to me the very fact that I perceive myself as 'me' is super-natural. How can knowledge of the machine be a product of the machine itself?

When I say that I am filled with awe when I strike out on an alpine adventure high above the tree line, is it truly just an animal organism verbalizing a complicated response to a complicated stimulus? Or do 'I' exist in a way that is intricately connected with my organism, yet somehow more than just a complicated mass of tissue?

If I am unwilling to accept that I am purely an animal the super-natural is my only alternative.

P.S. I greatly expanded the original version of this post. (just incase you simply refresh this page to see new comments. Not sure how you check this blog.)

7:31 PM

 
Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

Matt,

More astute observations! And I'm glad to be more awake now to make clarifications. I just came back from a philosophy of religion class (in which the lecturer is, interestingly, an ex-Catholic priest turned atheist!). He shared an interesting truism, that if you ask a philosopher if he believed in God, he'd reply, "Well that depends on what you mean by believe, and in, and God." Which leads me to talk about God.

It's very difficult to talk about God, as I'm sure you know. We so often degenrate into some form of anthropomophism, or the other. Or we swing to the other side and think of God as the deistic Unmoved Mover (or First Cause). Biblical Christian faith tries very hard (with varying degrees of success) to find the via media between mythology and deism.

I apologize for using the word "need." It was much too anthropomorphic. However, I think the gist of what I said still stands. The state of affairs is such that God can neither reveal nor hide himself too much. To reveal himself too much, would negate the (human) need for faith, that would lead to trust and relationship. To hide himself too much, would make trust (etc) impossible. And then I said, "I trust that God knows what he's doing in his revelation of himself." By this, I mean that I believe that God gets the revealedness-hiddenness balance just right.

Under-pinning this argument is that God wants something, namely relationship. Some might argue that even this desire reveals some deficiency in God. I don't see how it logically follows that if God wants something he must be imperfect.

On divine perfection. Often, when we say that God is (or is not) perfect, we do so under the presumption that we know what a perfect God would look like. But do we? If God is, by definition, perfect, then perfection must be "whatever God is." Which leads us to the question of whether God can do wrong? If God is morally perfect, then by definition, nothing God does can be wrong. I've nailed my colours to the mast on Plato's question. (Here's my dilemma: There is a chance that I will go to Heaven and discover that God is a sadistic, cosmic tyrant. And since he is the absolute moral arbiter, I find that I'm in the wrong. The only possible atheistic option is then protest atheism. As it turns out, I think Christianity and protest atheism should be buddies. Especially the kind of protest atheism in the Brothers Karamazov.)

We're on the same page on the reason issue. I'm with you that belief should be evidence-based. But no matter how I look at it, the Humean view of miracles (which you buy into) is an a priori rejection of miracles. It's almost the same as saying, "I've never seen a black swan, so I'll reject every possible black swan that I see henceforth." In that case, the evidence for black swans (or miracles) is unable to be built up. It's selective acceptance of evidence, it seems. In fact, a strong Humean view would reject miracles by force of will if it had to. For example, if resurrections are unlikely, then a Humean would force himself to disbelieve in one even if it happened right before his very eyes.

There is something else fishy with the Humean arguments. It appears that firsts (events without analogy) cannot happen. So...John the Baptist might say, "There is no analogy in the past to flying hunks of metal." And he might then reject all the flying hunks of metal he sees henceforth. And so he might reject aeroplanes. Surely this is a caricature of Hume's position, but this exaggeration (I think) at least shows that there's more to Hume's argument than meets the eye.

Now...maybe this will render everything I said about miracles irrelevant. I don't find the natural-supernatural dichotomy very useful. If I'm right, an Christian theism doesn't require the dichotomy, then the following statement does not necessarily lead to atheism: "My everyday existence has an exclusively non-supernatural form, therefore it seems most likely that life as a whole is non-supernatural." (This, of course, is your statement.)

However, there is a catch for theists. This breaking down of the dichotomy means that we cannot point as "miracles" and go, "Oh look at how unlikely that event is! There must be a God!" The mundane and the extraordinary become equally good (and bad, and therefore irrelevant) proofs for God's existence.

The argument from the resurrection is more nuanced than the classical proof of God's existence from miracles. For Christians, I think, the resurrection is not a proof for God's existence; rather it is a vindication of Christ himself. The resurrection is not really evidence for certain religious propositions. Rather, it is why we trust in Jesus. I think this trust in Jesus can accomodate quite diverse Christologies.

Oh my goodness, I just wrote an obtuse essay. Re-reading, it sounds like a lot of woffle. But I'm in a rush, so I'm just going to post this and try to do a better job next time. :D

8:49 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

revvvvvvvd,

As usual, there's a lot to think about in your post. And it's far from waffle.

But no matter how I look at it, the Humean view of miracles (which you buy into) is an a priori rejection of miracles.

To an extent, but I still think it's a valid position to take. The most important part for our discussion is this:

A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined.

In the case of the black swan I think that seeing is reasonable ground for believing. We know that:

a) colour differences exist within a number of species

b) new species and variations of existing ones are still being discovered

A black swan would therefore be in complete accordance with my experience of the world to date - the fact that one has never been seen just makes it a bit unlikely. Consequently, I'd treat any unsubstantiated claim that one had been seen with scepticism, but would regard first-hand experience (once the possibility of fraud had been ruled out to reasonable degree) as sufficient proof of their existence.

The resurrection, on the other hand, assuming that Jesus went from death to life because he was the son of God, is completely alien to my experience of the world to date, given that on every other witnessed occasion the dead stay dead. Accepting its truth would require me to fundamentally change the way I think about the world - raising the required evidence to an extremely high-level. Even the evidence of my own eyes (which are prone to mistakes) wouldn't be enough.

Believing the in the resurrection of Christ would essentially require me to become a completely different person, with a completely different take on the world - which isn't something I can will into being.

Hume believed that such a level of evidence could never be adequately satisfied and that therefore there could never be real proof for miracles. I don't see this a s ruling it out completely, just setting the bar incredibly high.

Whatever it was that prompted your acceptance of the supernatural, I've never had that, and so apparently remain closed off to the real possibility of God. This isn't so much a choice I've made, but a result of the life I've had to date.

5:55 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Alex,

But to me the very fact that I perceive myself as 'me' is super-natural. How can knowledge of the machine be a product of the machine itself?

Hmmm, this is where we differ. I have no trouble with thinking of myself as a spectacularly complex moist robot, and so have no real need for recourse to the supernatural for explanation.

He's everywhere. You just need to be willing to see Him.

But I was. For a good few years in my early teens. I got nada.

5:58 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Matt,
I have no trouble with thinking of myself as a spectacularly complex moist robot, and so have no real need for recourse to the supernatural for explanation.

That is very interesting. It truly is the place you must come to if you reject the supernatural. Mind if I ask a few more questions in this vein?

Do you have control over your own body? Can you tell it to go places or deny it food when it wants it? I'd suppose this starts touching on our free will topic that we started a while back. Perhaps it should be left for another time.

I got nada

what would you have needed to get?

7:47 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Perhaps it should be left for another time.

Perhaps. Consciousness and free will are tricky areas, ones where I don't have all my thoughts in order. Though I tend to lean towards Hume's bundle of self theory.

what would you have needed to get?

Anything, really.

7:56 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Interesting... I think I would be dissatisfied with it as well, however he seems to do a very good job at constructing an alternative to the soul.

8:02 AM

 
Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

I just wrote a nice, long response but deleted it because I didn't understand it myself. It was something about the nature of scientific laws as being descriptive (instead of normative), and the possibility (in principle) of events beyond the reach of scientific inquiry. After re-reading the post, I decided that I'm no philosopher. There is a point to this preamble, I assure you. In the light of my philosophical prowess (rather, lack thereof), I'm going to stick to things I know better, for now.

Matt, you made a marvellous point about having to change your whole worldview if you decided to believe in the resurrection of Christ, hence your reservations. It's a curious historical truism (among biblical scholars, anyway) that the early Christians experienced the exact same crisis:

There are three pervasive beliefs among first-century Jews I'd like to talk about. First, they were what Richard Bauckham called "strict monotheists." Secondly, they believed that crucifixion was proof of God's disapproval. Thirdly, they believed in one general resurrection.

As I've said, these beliefs were pervasive in the first century, and there is little doubt that the earliest Christians believed this stuff prior to the resurrection of Christ. They said the Shema five times daily; they never made heroes out of the crucified; and they never spoke of a special resurrection within history.

However, something happened that forced them to re-evaluate these deep-seated (as opposed, gramatically, to deep-seeded. I think. Lol.) beliefs. The earliest Christians abandoned Jewish monotheism, for what Richard Bauckham (again) calls Christological Monotheism. They managed to get over the crucifixion problematic, that Jesus could not possibly be the Messiah because he was crucified. And they managed to label whatever they thought happened to Jesus as "resurrection."

Against all odds, the early Christians believed that Jesus rose from the dead, and was the Son of God. To me, and to most biblical scholars, this is a fact which requires explanation.

It looks to me like our choice of explanation - whether we're with NT Wright or Gerd Ludemann - depends on this philosophical presupposition which we've been talking about. Is Hume right or wrong? It's no coincidence that most Christian philosophers think Hume is wrong, and that most non-Christian philosophers think Hume is right. It's also no coincidence that I think Hume is wrong, and that you think Hume is right.

The Humean argument smacks to me of arguments from absence, and arguments from increduility. However, as part of my course, I'll be engaging more seriously with his argument over the next two weeks. my first assignment is a short essay on the coherence of the concept of miracles.

Anyway, Matt, I think this actually ends our dialogue for now. At this point, we're at a deadlock on Hume's argument. I doubt if we'll be able to resolve this via a blog, especially with my large, gaping lack of philosophical powers.

12:04 PM

 
Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

Ooh, consciousness and free will! Psychologists LOVE consciousness and free will. They're the only things we have much to say about, actually.

At the moment, I'm taking a break from thinking about that stuff though. I have an article I wrote somewhere on the topic, but focusing on the neurophysiological side of things. Let me know if you're interested.

If you're really keen, go to gfp.typepad.com. It's an academic philosophy blog, and there are a plethora of really sharp thinkers there. Look out for Neil Levy.

For atheists, I recommend Dan Dennett. He's been called...Dawkins 's Rottweiler, I think it was. Like Dawkins, very bright, very eloquent, and does all he can to rid the world of theism. Too bad you're all so far away...or I could lend you some of his books.

And just because I'm in NZ, I also recommend Grant Gillett, who's a neurosurgeon, bioethicist, and philospher here at Otago.

12:22 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

I have an article I wrote somewhere on the topic, but focusing on the neurophysiological side of things. Let me know if you're interested.

interested!

12:35 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Also stated earlier, is the fact that love must be chosen for it to remain love.

This has been bugging me for a while, but I've only just figured out why.

You say that love must be a choice in order for it truly be love. But, when was the last time you chose to fall in love? I don't think I've ever really had any say in the matter - you either love someone or you don't, it's an intuitive and emotional reaction.

Reason only comes into it later. You can only choose whether or not to act on your feelings, not whether you have those feelings in the first place.

I cannot fall in love (as it were) with God unless I have some experience of God (whether it be an eyes meeting across the room thing or that gradual realisation of what's been under your nose the whole time).

I can imagine the most beautiful, wonderful and amazing woman in the world, but I can't fall in love with her, and, no matter how amazing you make God sound, I can't have any real feelings towards an abstract idea.

In order to choose whether or not to love and follow God (which is the only real choice we can make on the matter), I first need some experience of God.

9:23 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

You say that love must be a choice in order for it truly be love. But, when was the last time you chose to fall in love? I don't think I've ever really had any say in the matter - you either love someone or you don't, it's an intuitive and emotional reaction.

That's a really good point. Thinking it through is helping me clarify a lot of things and raising more qustions. I simply cannot comment now though. Hopefully I can squeeze something in over lunch.

Feeling any better?

9:38 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Sadly not.

I wonder what it says about me that I find myself pondering aspects of a being I don't believe in, even when most of my body is screaming at me to find a nice warm bed and crawl into it for a few days? :-)

10:04 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Sorry to hear that. =(

As my friend Brad would say,

"It's like arguing about whether Superman could beat Darth Vader in a fight. Sure you can have the arguement, but in the end what does it really matter?"

Get some rest man. Sounds like you need it!

10:12 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

I will. Soon. Just have a few things to sort out first.

It's like arguing about whether Superman could beat Darth Vader in a fight.

Are we talking with or without kryptonite? ;-)

10:32 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Hmm... Not sure. Ask these guys.

10:41 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Heh.

A kryptonite-based lightsaber. That's just... genius!

11:05 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Heh heh, I thought you'd like that.

11:11 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Matt,
Everything you said in your last post about love requires a thoughtful response. I agree with almost everything you just said, so this will be interesting.

You say that love must be a choice in order for it truly be love. But, when was the last time you chose to fall in love? I don't think I've ever really had any say in the matter - you either love someone or you don't, it's an intuitive and emotional reaction.

When we say falling in love we mean something completely different than what I mean when I say love must be chosen. Falling in love is basically biology. You are right, you can't help it. It's when this biological zip wears off and you need to start making choices on how to treat this person that the kind of love I am describing comes into play.

The word 'love' is a tough thing to pin down within the confines of language. The Greeks used four different words for our single word love. I believe the greek work agape would be closest to the sort of love I am trying to describe. Feelings are really quite apart from this sort of love. Though feelings are often generated through it's use. It's a choice not a feeling.

You can only choose whether or not to act on your feelings, not whether you have those feelings in the first place.

I would agree. In our situation we are more often than not blinded to Gods love for us. It's a part of our fallen nature. We are told that we are blinded to spiritual things by our very nature. (I'll come back to this in a minute)

I cannot fall in love (as it were) with God unless I have some experience of God (whether it be an eyes meeting across the room thing or that gradual realisation of what's been under your nose the whole time).

Personally I generally never have the "in love" feeling towards God. I guess I'm just not there yet, because I know some people do. When you talk of a gradual realization I'm much more in that boat. As I've come to learn more about Him and to trust Him by stepping out in faith and acting on His teachings I've begun to feel His truth. The continual process of dying to my personal impulses in order to honor Him by loving (not a feeling, a choice) others beyond what I feel they deserve, I have begun to actually start to 'feel' something. I know psychology will tell you that this is simply a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I'm fine with that. Perhaps that's why the God who knows us better than we do told us to act in such a way in the first place.

Love others as you love yourself. Love your enemies. What happens when you do this? It breaks the natural cycle of tit-for-tat violence that basically marks the entire history of humanity. It changes how you feel about people.

I can imagine the most beautiful, wonderful and amazing woman in the world, but I can't fall in love with her, and, no matter how amazing you make God sound, I can't have any real feelings towards an abstract idea.

In order to choose whether or not to love and follow God (which is the only real choice we can make on the matter), I first need some experience of God.

When you look back through the history of the Bible you see a constant theme running through it. God tells some prophet to tell the king to do such and such against horrendous odds. The king then has the choice to do what God says, or do what seems right to himself. If the king trusts God and steps out in faith, God shows up in incredible ways.

Facts are presented - person responds in faith - God shows up.

You never see the formula:

God shows up - people respond.

From what I've seen, it's just not there.

I know we want it the other way around, but it really does come down to a point of surrender. I never knew all the facts. I still had (have) major questions, but for me I felt as though I could not find peace until I gave up and said "I'm yours". In many ways I didn't even know who it was I was saying "I'm yours" to. All I knew was that if this Jesus was who he said he was, and did what he did, for the reasons he said he was doing it, then that was enough for me. I knew so very little else at that time. From that point on it has been a continual testing of this world view to see if it holds up. It just seems so crazy in many ways, but I can't seem to find a good reason to reject it. As a matter of fact it has only become more beautiful to me.

I guess, if you wanted to, you could say like Brad says. "Your just finding what you are looking for." However I don't know that I agree. Why would I start a blog and have other very thoughtful atheists challenge me from all sides if I was simply trying to shore up my system? I am looking for TRUTH. I'm rather unconcerned with "Christianity". If I was looking for Christianity we have it in droves over here in the U.S., most of which leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. It's just that from all I've seen so far, Jesus just so happens to be truth. The more I follow him, the more I see it.

So though I didn't really know God or 'feel' him to begin with, the more I stepped out and trusted Him, the more I came to know Him and 'feel' Him.

Pretty easy stuff to reject, but I'm just telling it like it's been for me. Do you see where I'm coming from?

12:57 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

I suppose I should mention when I say "Christianity" in the thrid to last paragraph I should clarify that as the Christian "religion".

It's just when I say Christianity I get pictures in my head of the religion that it has become. For the most part I stand in opposition to a lot of what goes on within that system.

3:22 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Do you see where I'm coming from?

Yes. But, I'm afraid, only because I think what you've had is a fairly universal experience, independent of any particular belief system.

That process of acting (initially) on instinct and then having the world come into greater and greater focus is something I've heard from people with various different religious beliefs. In fact, I've had something incredibly similar myself, with my atheism starting as a persistent, niggling doubt that I just couldn't shake off and then growing into the humanistic outlook I have today. The more I think about life, the more sense my atheistic humanism makes.

I'm not sure what that says about human beings, but it does seem to undermine the possibility of using subjective experience as an argument for any particular outlook.

5:00 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

it does seem to undermine the possibility of using subjective experience as an argument for any particular outlook.

I totally agree. The problem for me is I have not been able to find an argument against Jesus's resurrection that makes sense in light of the whole situation.

Sure It's possible that I'm just flying on auto-pilot and have simply never heard a proper argument against it. (though I'd be surprised to hear one I hadn't heard before) I guess that's why I plan on reading those books Jon recommended. Even so one could still make the argument that I'd just be looking for what I want to find. To some degree I cannot deny that. You know what I think of the emptiness of atheism. It feels like the ultimate insult, a cruel illusion, the most grand and horrible joke possible. I also know you don't see it that way. I guess that's what makes this conversation so interesting.

6:09 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Matt,
Did my comments on love make any more sense?

6:13 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Did my comments on love make any more sense?

Yes. But I was wondering if you could expand on what you mean by: "I felt as though I could not find peace until I gave up and said "I'm yours"."

I can't see someone feeling that way without a pre-existing sense that there's someone there to "surrender" to. I really think you need to believe in something (at some level) to have the faith to believe in them... if that makes sense? Which brings us back to my point about God choosing not to reveal himself to people.

7:16 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

I can't see someone feeling that way without a pre-existing sense that there's someone there to "surrender" to.

Well sure. I did believe there was someone there to surrender to. At that time in life I did not have anyone in my life questioning whether or not God existed. So my difficulties only revolved around what much of the bible was actually about. I had a real hard time with much of what was in there.

But I also knew that several people that I very much respected in my life believed that Jesus was God and that he had risen from death to save us from death. I was involved with a non-denominational Christen youth group called Young Life. We'd learn about who Jesus was and what he stood for. I'm not sure how much I really understood. Jesus is pretty deep water, it takes a long time for Him to really seep in. So that first step was accepting Jesus on the authority of people I trusted. Of course it didn't end there, but it was my first step.

So in that sense I knew him. In that sense he is very much revealed. It's really more a matter of whether or not we choose to accept that revelation. That is a question I have since been on a mission to answer. Is that revelation true?

Which brings us back to my point about God choosing not to reveal himself to people.

We are told that we (followers of Jesus) are to be his body on this earth until he returns. What if right here, right now, through this conversation he's showing something to you?

Don't take that as "I" am showing you something. I am just as septic with doubt and questions as you are. But God has a way of using the brokeness of people to ultimate good.

I'm just throwing that out there as something to consider when you say things like "Why doesn't he show me something?" What's to say he's not?

7:56 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

I've just spent some time reading up on The Jefferson Bible and Thomas Paine's Age of Reason after impulsively checking out Christopher Hitchens's latest article in Salon.

Both works effectively deny the resurrection of Christ - how do I know that someone wasn't trying to show me something by leading me to all that?

8:19 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

how do I know that someone wasn't trying to show me something by leading me to all that?

I would say some one is.

If what Bible says is true, this world is caught up in a war. God isn't the only one looking for us.

All I can say is (and I know you agree with me here) don't stop with the denier literature. See what the other side has to say.

8:31 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Although I'd say whether you were actually led there or not cannot be known. I guess it's possible, but any sort of "leading" I'd expect would be that of a whispering in your mind. I don't want to make it sound as if "the devil made me do it" is a valid excuse for anything.

When I find my car key's I don't assume that God helped me find them. When I'm having a crummy day I don't assume that the devil's out to get me.

Yet even in light of that we are told that Satan is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Forget the imagery, internalize the concept.

8:48 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Although I'd say whether you were actually led there or not cannot be known.

I think that was pretty much my point. God (or whoever) might be trying to speak to me through this blog, or through my Internet browsing, but without some way of determining what's God and what's not it doesn't really help me.

Though I think we're both in agreement that we should keep an open-mind and not reject something purely on the grounds that we don't want to believe it.

9:07 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

but without some way of determining what's God and what's not it doesn't really help me.

God will be true. If God is anything we will be true. He will be beyond sciences reach to measure him, but he will be true none the less.

The idea that we have no free will, for instance. Some scientists may make that leap from what they can measure, but does it ring true? Or that our love, beauty and compassion are simply chemical reactions with no other meaning. Does that ring true?

I guess, if you are open to it at all, ask Him to show up. Then keep your eyes open. Continue to look at all sides of every issue. If there is anything God will honor it's an honest search for Him.

It's kind of where I'm at myself.

9:42 AM

 

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