Wandering the savage garden…

February 2015Monthly Archives

“Judge not, lest ye be judged” considered harmful?

Jessa Duggar is back, and under fire from those enlightened souls at Addicting Info, who posted Duggar Daughter: Liberal Christians Are Going To Hell, Just Like Other Sinners. It’s an interesting read, but not for the reasons the site would hope. This kind of content makes me angry, even as I try to be calm and mild in expression. It’s not journalism – although I’m sure its perpetrators think it is – and it gets a lot of commentary on… Continue reading »

Does God Change?

On 23 Feb 2015, Humans of New York posted this picture on Facebook, along with a fascinating quote:
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“I’m a rabbi. But I don’t try to provide any answers. I tell people what tradition says, and if they find meaning in it, and it works for them, then they are welcome to apply it. If not, we’ll look at other possibilities. I think that every generation has a responsibility to create its own understanding of religion. I believe God can grow as we do. I could be accused of diluting Judaism, but I think that if it has no relevance to people’s lives, Judaism will cease to exist.”

It’s a timely quote, along with Rob Bell’s rather unfortunate statement that if Christianity remains committed to its core values, it will fade away and die. However, the Rabbi isn’t striking at the core values of Judaism like Bell struck at the core values of Christianity – instead, this Rabbi actually bolstered Judaism, and provided a workable model for Christianity as well.

But there’s a statement in there that stands out.

“I believe God can grow as we do.”

Naturally, many people find a lot of beauty in what the Rabbi said (and I’m among them), but many comments also centered on that phrase, and took issue with it.

I think there’s danger in that phrase, but I don’t think the phrase itself is dangerous – nor is the idea dangerous, as long as we remember who God is.

Some people stated that God, being above the concept of time, does not ever change. Others stated that a God who “changed with the wind” was not God. Others stated that God has no need to change, being, well, the “I am,” being without cause and without the need for justification or response.

I understand all of these sentiments, and from God’s perspective, they would be perfectly correct. God is the “I am.”

When God told Moses that His Name was “I Am that I Am,” God was saying that He existed without anything else: He needed nothing to exist such that He was a response to it. God was the cause. God was the source. God was the beginning.

God was grunge before grunge was cool.

Change is a response to circumstances; as time passes, or things happen, we change in relation to the world around us to compensate for the changes the world endures.

God doesn’t need that relation. He is beyond it. There is no change.

How, then, can I agree with the Rabbi?

The key is to remember who God is – unchanging, perfect, unified, Holy – and also to remember who we are.

We change. We grow. We change perspective.

With change, with growth, with perspective, our understanding of God – individually, and corporately – also changes.

Does this change God, though? Or is it just a play on words to say that God changes?

I think it’s closer to the latter. God has no need to change, but there is a continuing, individual revelation; God appears to us each individually from where we stand.

This is part of why Rob Bell’s dismissal of core Christian values (namely, the Bible) is so important. If we accept a continuing revelation of God, then we have to have a way of determining what is constant. Otherwise, we lose any ability to tell the difference between God and whim.

We have to have axioms: God exists. He is knowable. He is One. We exist. We are separated from God. We are to love Him. We are to be His people. We can know what His Will is to at least some degree.

Without those things… there is no God. There can be no relationship between us and Him. Destroy any of those, and we lose any context in which God becomes important to us in any way.

That does not preclude a growth in understanding; that doesn’t prevent God from doing different things at different times, fully within His Will.

Consider Nineveh. He sent Jonah to Nineveh to save its people – and a generation later, destroyed Nineveh so much that armies walked nearby, unaware of the existence of what had been the greatest city in the world.

The important question is not “Can God change?” but “Can we change?” We can, and we do. Let’s use that change to become closer to God, and to bring others along with us.

The Beginning as Proof of God

Recently, there’s been news about the theory that the universe is cyclic in nature, not existing from a point of a “big bang” and dying in a “big crunch.” Many theologians – apologists, really – including William Lane Craig – use the idea of a terminal universe as a beginning point for the existence of a higher power, God, who brought this universe into being and exists outside of it.

A cyclic universe strikes against this idea, according to some, because the Bible begins with “In the beginning.” With no beginning, the statement that God created what we know of existence in a beginning is moot; there goes another crutch for theists, who assume that something in progress (existence) had to have an earlier state (in this case, nonexistence) and therefore a prime mover (God) who changed its state from nonexistence to existence.

I don’t think theists are actually in trouble, given the suggestion of an eternal universe.

Maybe some are, but an eternal universe is a poorer attack on theism than it might seem.

Genesis may not have been one hundred percent literal. Some Christians certainly believe so, with varying implications. (Some of these might actually believe that Ha-Adam and Havvah spoke English, because that’s what the Bible says, after all!)

With a literal Genesis, any provable or firm theoretical divergence from it means devastation for theism, because the idea of an inerrant Bible can’t withstand error.

However, I don’t think Genesis is literal. I don’t think many do, honestly, because an honest investigation would yield contradictions within a few chapters, and many details are preserved in Genesis that simply make no sense to preserve.

It’s worth pointing out (and was pointed out, by a friend) that there’s a way to resolve the two stories of creation in Genesis, through a literary method called “Synopsis, Resumption, Expansion,” that actually itself focuses on an eastern mindset held by Hebrew authors. The narrative doesn’t have to have a singular flow from beginning to end to be one narrative, although it might seem like two separate stories. This makes sense to me – a lot of sense, really – but I still don’t think the story is more than a cohesive framework representative of a history, rather than a literal history.

Simply put, I don’t think Genesis was ever meant to be taken literally.

I don’t think that a literal Genesis is outside of God’s power, however.

Consider the Young Earth idea, which states that the universe is somewhere in the realm of six thousand years old. Carbon dating can show age of billions of years if it likes; clearly God created the universe with age, including the bones of dinosaurs, right?

Well… my stance is that He might have, I guess. I don’t know why, because Occam’s Razor suggests the that universe is as old as it might appear, including a cyclic nature if that’s what it turns out to have.

Yet the main point is that God is able to do whatever He desires – and if His desire was to create a universe that is six thousand years – or maybe only fifty years – or maybe even one year – old, such that I think it looks like it’s fifty trillion years old… then so be it. I think God can do that.

So back to Genesis – if it’s not meant to be taken literally, what is it? Why is it there?

It’s there to give its readers – us – a context. An image. A mythos – not purely in terms of myth, but a framework in which to seat ourselves. It’s a mythos in which we see a constant – a history in which God exposes who He is, in some small way. It’s a beginning, if not the beginning.

It gives us a working starting point. It’s even allegorical in nature – what with two creation myths in the first three chapters – and thus it’s self-aware, almost as if God were saying “This should tide you over until you see more of the mystery of what I have created.”

And thus, an eternal universe, never beginning, never ending? I don’t see where that changes anything. Maybe it changes things for people who are trying to stake a claim that “with no beginning, there is no God,” but that’s a silly argument and always has been, if the question becomes “Is there a God?”

Consider:

  • If the universe has no beginning, there is no God.
  • There is a God. Therefore, the universe has no beginning.

Nope. Let’s try again.

  • There is a God.
  • The universe therefore had a beginning.

Darn it, another non sequitur!

Try this one, which fails to trigger my “this is baloney!” sense:

  • There is a God.
  • There is a universe.

No therefores, no ties, no conclusions about beginnings that are unrelated. It’s a statement of faith, not science — and what it does is state what I believe.

What it doesn’t do is pit science against God, pit evidence against evidence. It accepts that what is, might actually be, on both sides.

Does that make an apologetic statement? Hmm, no, it really doesn’t. It’s a statement of faith, not apologetics. I’m not actually much of an apologist, as it turns out – I don’t think apologetics works well as a positive assertion.

For me, apologetics is a matter of accepting possibilities, not denying them.

I have no problem with the concept of arguing for the possibility of God.

I have no problem opening the door – I find myself unable to use apologetics to try to force someone to acknowledge God.

And that makes sense to me; nobody has ever been argued into Heaven. Nobody of whom I know has ever accepted Christ for real, in a living relationship, out of pure reason – maybe reason was the lever used by God to create a willingness to hear Him, but I don’t think anyone has ever or can decide to follow Him truly out of pure reason.

(If they could, they’d be saving themselves… and the Bible says that the work of salvation is His and not ours.)

So:

Apologetics is great, it’s fun to watch – but it’s also not more than one more tool for witnessing.

Science is not religion’s enemy, no matter what stance some scientists take against religion. The two are in different domains; math does not win the fight against history, english doesn’t totally trounce chemistry, social studies doesn’t beat up western literature.

They’re both ways to experience and study the world in which we live, in different ways and in different spheres altogether; I want science to advance as far as it can, and to me, every victory science claims is proof of and glory to God.

The Church and Gay Marriage

Matt Moore posted a new essay, “Rob Bell, Oprah Winfrey & Other People That Don’t Speak On Behalf Of The True Church” on Feb 19, 2015, and it got me thinking.

It’s a response to “Former Megachurch Pastor Rob Bell Tells Oprah the Church Is ‘Moments Away’ From Embracing Gay Marriage.”

From the article:

Former Mars Hill Bible Church pastor and best-selling author Rob Bell told media mogul Oprah Winfrey on Sunday that the American church is “moments away” from embracing gay marriage and thinks “it’s inevitable.”

Matt Moore said this:

But I just want to assure you guys of something, because I surprisingly haven’t seen anyone else say it yet: Christ’s Church is not on the verge of embracing gay marriage, and it never will be.

I agree with both statements. I agree with both statements even beyond the obvious irony – Matt refers to “Christ’s Church” and Bell refers to “the American church,” as if they’re different entities – and I suppose in many ways they are. One can easily be a member of an American church and not be part of Christ’s church.

The problem, though, comes in that I don’t think the usage of different terms actually changes anything. I think you can say, with full honesty (and biblical integrity) that the church will change how it sees gay marriage.

The question comes of how and why (and what that means), because I don’t think that it will or should happen the way Rob Bell imagines. Nor do I think, with all respect, that Mr. Moore is entirely right.

What does ’embrace’ mean?

I think Rob Bell imagines that “embracing gay marriage” means that men who are married to other men (and women who are married to other women) will be leaders in the church, and that the church will stop seeing a difference between heterosexual love and homosexual love. The church’s biblical stance on love will change such that love, itself, is the goal, and the expression and center of that love is not relevant.

I don’t think so.

I think that what “embracing gay marriage” will mean is that the church will open its doors to gay couples such that they are accepted as sinners in need of a Redeemer… just like heterosexual couples, or adulterers, or smokers, or liars, or anyone else.

Right now, it’s far easier to enter a church as an adulterous partner than it is to enter the church as a homosexual. An adulterer is chastised; a homosexual is excommunicated.

The responses aren’t equivalent.

They should be.

Both sins are sins; there’s not really a negotiating boundary for sin, you know? It is what it is – acting outside of the Will of God. God’s given us a clear guideline by which we can judge what He wants in us.

Ah, but there’s the problem, isn’t it?

What about all the words against homosexuality?

Paul – the apostle, the guy who wrote a lot of the B’rit Hadashah, the New Testament, maybe you’ve heard of him – wrote a lot of words about homosexuality. He wasn’t exactly unclear about it – to the contrary, he blasted homosexuality pretty severely.

He did it enough that I think we can trace a lot of the Christian mindset towards homosexuals to his writings. We’re acting on what Paul wrote.

How can that be bad?

Well, as with so many other things, it’s not – but it’s misunderstood, I think.

Paul was a Jew. He wrote like a Jew, he thought like a Jew, he communicated like a Jew.

That means he wrote Eastern thoughts with Western words. That makes a lot of the harsher things he said a lot less harsh – because Eastern identity isn’t the same as Western identity.

In Western thought, a thing is itself. A is A, to quote Aristotle’s law of identity. I am me.

In Eastern thought, a thing can be described as itself. A is like A. I am you, and what I see is me.

Eastern thought is not axiomatic, is not geometric proof. Eastern thought is poetry. Saying a thing means there’s force behind the idea, but very few such ideas are purely axiomatic. (They exist; the Sh’ma is an example.) I’d suggest that Paul’s endorsement of forgiveness for everyone who accepts Christ means Paul’s rather forceful damnation of people who’ve sinned in particular ways has been mitigated somewhat – it’s poetry, very effective poetry, but it’s not law.

Does that mean that homosexuality, then, is able to be blessed in the biblical sense?

No. Paul’s condemnation was poetic in nature, expressed in such a way that it was not axiomatic. However, the Torah doesn’t describe it as anything other than a sin, and thus it is: homosexual acts are sinful. Saying otherwise, or redefining the Bible such that it no longer says what it says, is incorrect.

So what does it mean?

As I said, I think both Rob Bell and Matt Moore are wrong – and Rob Bell’s more wrong than Matt Moore is.

We accept adulterers in the church, including marriages built on adultery; in the end, it all works out in God’s plan. We accept liars. We can accept murderers, drug dealers, all kinds of people – God’s love is greater than any sin they could imagine. Nobody is beyond redemption while they’re alive.

Why would homosexuality be any different? Why would homosexual marriage be any different? I don’t see any reason why a church would reject a homosexual couple that truly wanted the will of God in their lives.

That doesn’t mean the church celebrates the matrimony – I don’t think embracing the sinner means endorsing the sin. A church can welcome a man who’s killed another – a murderer – while not saying “Hey, cool, headshot!” A church can accept a married couple of the same gender while not saying “we need to get us some of that!”

That is the “embracing” I can envision and endorse – the kind of understanding that widens the reach of Christ’s Church, as opposed to closing its doors to people who aren’t good enough.