Tuesday, November 06, 2007

An independent thought about God

The previously-mentioned email correspondent asked me another question. This goes into a bit of my personal history of thought, but I shamelessly lay it out before you, my faithful trio of readers.

Question: Since you became a Christian, have you ever had a totally independent thought about God, Jesus, the Holy Ghost, the Trinity, Satan, evil, good, Heaven, or Hell? If so, what do you consider the most salient one?

Answer:
First, a disclaimer - No one ever has any independent thoughts about anything, so strictly speaking, the answer is no. We are either controlled by evil (an oligarchy of the flesh, the devil, and the world) or by the Holy Spirit.

That's probably not what you meant, though, so I'll address this on a more colloquial level.
2 things come immediately to mind, and maybe more will occur before I finish writing this.

1) Earlier in my walk with God, I believed that God *would* without fail make sure that I understood theological truths about Him and about the Scripture (specifically, on whether it is justifiable to claim the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues, or glossolalia) based simply on the fact that I had prayed (and very earnestly, no lie) that He would lead me into these truths b/c, as I would tell people, "Why would God lie to me?"
What I forgot was, of course, that God has no obligation and has made no promise to telepathically reveal all theological truth on any given question based on even an earnest prayer. I can think of several reasons why, but at the time that didn't occur to me.
God used His Scripture (as He usually does) to shepherd me to a better understanding of this issue so that, after about 10 months of struggling with this issue, I realised that I had never observed nor performed speaking in tongues in a biblically-supportable way.

2) A little later, I think I came to a much fuller-than-it-previously-had-been realisation of the horror of Hell. It occurred to me that Jesus Christ, while He lived ~30 years as a human and suffered all our weaknesses, died for us, rose again as the 1st glorified human, etc, He had never gone to hell. How, then, I thought, could we say that God's been everywhere we've gone? Hell is SO horrible and SO eternal! How could it be eternal?
Many answers presented themselves to me. I find them fully intellectually satisfying and for the most part satisfying to my heart, but the horror of hell remains. It's a similar horror to the one I sometimes encounter when I talk to atheists. Specifically, sometimes the subject of morality is broached, in similar manner to the one in which you have broached it with me. I respond in the same way in which I respond to you. The wrangling then proceeds to the point that I sometimes ask them if they can unequivocally, rationally say "Hitler was in the moral wrong to murder 6 million Jews". A few times, these atheists have revealed that they are far more consistent than others with their own position: "No, what he did was right for him but wrong for me."
Therein lies the complete abdication of any possibility of any moral judgment at all. And this event is only 60 years removed from now!
The upshot is that this question is already academic for them - they have NEVER seen horror. The stacks of bodies they've seen in grainy photos are simply statistics, not humans with families, friends, and dreams. They pale in color and passion to the heroes and villains they see blown away on a daily basis on TV and video games. But I struggle and strive to remain cognizant of the horror of evil, and I express that in part by eschewing and even shooting down the occasional "Jew in the oven" joke or "heil Hitler" joke I hear.
THAT is the horror I mean.
Ironically, this is precisely one of the answers to the question. How evil is evil? Well, it's terribly, horribly evil. Justice demands punition of evil, and that's Hell. Evil is so evil it must be destroyed without question.
Other aspects to it:
-Sartre's comment that the door to hell is locked from the inside and related thoughts.
-The Bible doesn't say who torments the damned; it just says they are tormented. I think it's quite reasonable to believe that the damned, deprived even of God's common grace, will torment and tear each other to pieces for eternity, thus incurring eternally continuing sin and justifying their eternal punishment.
-The damned knew, in life, that God exists and that they are lawbreakers and yet rejected Him anyway. Why would God bring them to heaven against their will? CS Lewis said: "There are 2 kinds of people: Those who say to God 'Thy will be done' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'THY will be done.'"

16 comments:

merkur said...

"We are either controlled by evil (an oligarchy of the flesh, the devil, and the world) or by the Holy Spirit."

Speak for yourself.

anon said...

"We are either controlled by evil (an oligarchy of the flesh, the devil, and the world) or by the Holy Spirit."

"Speak for yourself."

Whether merkur is an athiest or a Trappist Monk, he's got a good point. Among Christians, Rhob, yours is a minority opinion. Most understand that free will is an essential part of the human condition. Without it, there can be no justification bcause there can be no culpability that requires it.

Most Christians would say instead, "We either submit ourselves to evil (an oligarchy of the flesh, the devil, and the world) or to the Holy Spirit--and the latter we cannot do sufficiently without grace." The Athiest will still say, "speak for yourself," but in this case it would be mere denial.

Rhology said...

"Free will" is overrated, though I'm neither a determinist nor a 5-pt Calvinist, so I recognise that man has some measure of freedom in certain limited choices.

there can be no justification bcause there can be no culpability that requires it.

I understand what you're saying; I don't agree 100% but neither do I really disagree. I'm kind of in flux.
But I do know what the Bible says (I'm referring to Romans 6).

We either submit ourselves to evil (an oligarchy of the flesh, the devil, and the world)

Yes, that's true, but you can count on the human's submission of himself to the evil triumvirate. Note "the flesh" in there - the unbeliever has NO recourse and no reason to seek any recourse from their influences. He's dead in sin.

Submission to the HS is after the HS quickens us. I believe there is some measure of choice that enters into the equation at that point, but not w/o the HS's influence.

And yes, atheists live in a state of consistent and continual denial, so I feel you.

merkur said...

I'm an atheist, and I'm curious what you mean in practice when you say that I'm "controlled by evil (an oligarchy of the flesh, the devil, and the world)". You have to understand - those words are pretty much meaningless to me, so I'd appreciate the explanation.

Rhology said...

Sure, no problem.

See Rom 6:16-23 and then read the rest of what I say here.
As a believer in the Bible, I take it to be true (yes, I have my reasons, but I'm skipping over that here). It says there and in other passages such as 1 John 1-2, Ephesians 1-2, etc, that those who don't know Jesus are controlled in their behavior and spirit by the oligarchy I mentioned.
You may deny it or you may confirm it, it makes no difference in the grand scheme of things what you as an atheist say. Romans 1:18-31 describes unbelievers as knowing that God exists but suppressing that truth, admitting such neither to others nor to themselves.
Finally, several biblical passages (Romans 8, Hebrews 11) make it clear that a person who does not know God cannot do anything that is of spiritual good, cannot please God.

Hopefully that helps, but let me know if I can clarify anythg. Thanks for stopping by!

Peace,
Rhology

merkur said...

Unfortunately the passage that you directed me to was equally meaningless, using a lot of words that are completely meaningless to me - "God", "sin", "impurity" and so on. Perhaps you didn't understand my question, so I'll repeat it with emphasis:

What in practice do you mean when you say that I'm "controlled by evil (an oligarchy of the flesh, the devil, and the world)"?

Rhology said...

Hey merkur,

Hmm, "God" is completely meaningless to you?
Tell you what, let me put sthg here that I've said elsewhere:

I DO presuppose, however, that a theistic God exists. Why? Well, I want to be able to use logic and reason to examine the world around me, for one thing. And in particular, you're asking me to present a rational defense of the infallibility of the Bible. A naturalistic worldview can't provide the foundation for using reason to defend anythg, so I start the only place I can - theism.

OK, so the point is that I don't necessarily expect such things as God, sin, impurity, etc, to make sense to you given an atheistic worldview. You have no way to process the concepts.
The problem is that I'm making this statement given biblical presuppositions. So to get to an understanding of the statements here, one would have to accept (just for the sake of argument, at minimum) the biblical worldview.

In practice, it means the following things at least:
1) nothing you do pleases God
2) everything you do is intended to further spiritual blindness in the world, both in yourself and others
3) you are storing up condemnation for yourself in the eternal state, ie, in hell
4) you are missing out on certain experiences that can be had in life, such as the love of fellow Christians who, though unrelated to you by blood or even by nationality, are yet brothers and sisters in a mysterious but real way; understanding the ultimate sacrificial love (that of Christ) by analogy in the way we love our wives/husbands and children, power of the Holy Spirit to forgive even grievous wrongs performed against us and to love our enemies; the amazing mystery and wonder of communicating with and worshiping the Creator of all things and the human soul; knowing that your future is in the hands of an all-powerful and loving God Who will work all things for your good so that there is no need to be anxious, etc.


Peace,
Rhology

merkur said...

So if I understand you correctly, in practice you don't actually have any way of telling the difference between somebody controlled by evil as against somebody controlled by the Holy Spirit? That's a shame, I was hoping to understand what you meant.

Rhology said...

It's possible I'm not following what you mean by "in practice".

But I'd say that it's more like a pattern of behavior type of thing as far as observing from the outside. For one thing,(and I should have said this before, but I'm just now thinking of it) the true believer in Christ will exhibit certain patterns of behavior, such as turning from sin, attending church and fellowshiping with other believers, reading one's Bible, telling other people about Jesus, etc.

merkur said...

I notice that most of these "patterns of behaviour":

a) don't appear to have any inherent moral value - reading the bible and going to church are nice things to do, but you could quite easily do them without having an ounce of belief in God; and

b) appear to be socially determined - for example, people weren't able to read the bible for a long time because a) it wasn't available in a language they spoke, and b) most people were illiterate, yet I'm sure that you wouldn't condemn them on that basis.

This leaves us with the "turning from sin" thing, but you seem to be quite vague on that one. As far as I can tell, your definition of being controlled by the Holy Spirit (rather than evil) has more to do with your own preferences for worship than anything with moral value.

Rhology said...

Howdy,

a) They are moral b/c God has said those are good things to do.
Yes, one could do them w/o believing in God, but not to the extent of sincerity that a believer can, and it will never please God.

b) If you don't have access, then you don't have access. I don't see the point of saying this.

If someone had been marked by a life of debauchery, drunkenness, addictions, and violence before turning to Christ and, upon repenting and turning to Christ, realised a huge turnaround in their life and never got into those behaviors again for the rest of their life and attributed it all to Jesus, that doesn't say anything? That's happened over and over again.

merkur said...

"a) They are moral b/c God has said those are good things to do. Yes, one could do them w/o believing in God, but not to the extent of sincerity that a believer can, and it will never please God."

Right, but my point was about how you (or anybody else) can know whether somebody is controlled by evil or the Holy Spirit. It seems that these behaviours don't provide us with any indication at all (although as you say, God may find them useful - personally, I doubt it).

"b) If you don't have access, then you don't have access. I don't see the point of saying this."

Because you explicitly identified a series of behaviours as showing if somebody was controlled by the Holy Spirit; yet those behaviours were actually just social and cultural norms, rather than inherently "moral" behaviours.

"If someone had been marked by a life of debauchery, drunkenness, addictions, and violence before turning to Christ and, upon repenting and turning to Christ, realised a huge turnaround in their life and never got into those behaviors again for the rest of their life and attributed it all to Jesus, that doesn't say anything? That's happened over and over again."

Of course it says something. Does it say something when somebody goes through the same pattern and attributes it to Allah? I'm guessing that you would say that it doesn't say the same thing at all.

So here's a thought experiment, because I know that you like them. What if somebody hadn't led such a life? What if they just did the things that God liked, but without believing in God? How would you personally be able to tell if they were controlled by evil or the Holy Spirit?

EgoMakarios said...

"First, a disclaimer - No one ever has any independent thoughts about anything, so strictly speaking, the answer is no. We are either controlled by evil (an oligarchy of the flesh, the devil, and the world) or by the Holy Spirit."

And what dead heretic came up with that tripe?

Rhology said...

Hey merkur,

It seems that these behaviours don't provide us with any indication at all

It's more the PATTERN of behavior and attitude that are important.

those behaviours were actually just social and cultural norms, rather than inherently "moral" behaviours.

1) Some are norms, some aren't. Some of these behaviors run counter-culture, such as early Christians' refusal to say "Kaiser Kurios" when asked to do so (as everyone else did). That led to their persecution in large part.
2) It's question-begging to say they aren't "moral" behavior.
3) If you're an atheist, you have no basis to judge moral vs immoral besides personal preference anyway. 'Course, you may not be an atheist, I don't remember if you've told me. ;-)

Does it say something when somebody goes through the same pattern and attributes it to Allah? I'm guessing that you would say that it doesn't say the same thing at all.

1) Well, it's a fair point. Obviously each of these people have had a life-changing experience. But that IS something.
2) They are dissimilar in that, objectively, Allah does not exist, but the God of the Bible does.

So here's a thought experiment, because I know that you like them.

Guilty as charged! :-D

What if they just did the things that God liked, but without believing in God?

Hebrews 11 and Romans 8 teach that, though the ACTIONS may be in accord with God's law, they are not pleasing to God when faith in God is absent.
The reason the actions are not pleasing to God is b/c the person is still a sinner and a rebel enemy of God. No one can live in total accord with God's law.

How would you personally be able to tell if they were controlled by evil or the Holy Spirit?

Again, a good question.
We look for patterns of behavior, as I said.
But some people live deceptive lives, and we can't always tell. Sometimes their unregenerate nature shows itself in obvious and unrepentant sin, at which point we try to help the person work thru it and get back in purity. But if they are unregenerate, they won't necessarily care to stop the sin, at which point after a biblical due process we put them out of the church and agree to recognise them as unregenerate.
But again, that's not infallible. So there's no way to tell with 100% accuracy, from the standpoint of the outside observer. You're right to say that.

My original post, however, was not based on what we can observe, but the objective state of their soul.


EgoMak said:
what dead heretic came up with that tripe?

The Apostle Paul did, in Romans 6 and 7, Eph 1, etc.

Peace,
Rhology

Anonymous said...

"It's more the PATTERN of behavior and attitude that are important."

The pattern is made up of specific behaviours and attitudes, so you are just saying the same thing in a different way.

"1) Some are norms, some aren't. Some of these behaviors run counter-culture."

A social norm doesn't have to be a majority behaviour; it can be a norm within your social group. However this response is irrelevant to the point that I made - that the behaviours that you cited are specifically social norms where you come from.

"2) It's question-begging to say they aren't "moral" behavior."

Explain what you mean, please.

"3) If you're an atheist, you have no basis to judge moral vs immoral besides personal preference anyway."

Apart from the fact that I completely reject your arguments on this issue, that's irrelevant to the point that I was making.

"2) They are dissimilar in that, objectively, Allah does not exist, but the God of the Bible does."

This is circular reasoning, since your original claim was that such experiences prove that the Christian God exists.

"The reason the actions are not pleasing to God is b/c the person is still a sinner and a rebel enemy of God. No one can live in total accord with God's law."

So if nobody can live in total accord with God's law, then is at all relevant how much of God's law you are in accord with? Are there different ranks of Christian according to how lawful you are, and does that have any relevance to your eventual salvation?

"But again, that's not infallible. So there's no way to tell with 100% accuracy, from the standpoint of the outside observer. You're right to say that. My original post, however, was not based on what we can observe, but the objective state of their soul."

So the short answer is that neither you, I or anybody else have any way of knowing whether somebody is a Christian or not based on their behaviour, and correspondingly no way of knowing what the "objective state" of their soul is.

Rhology said...

Hi Anon (merkur?),

The pattern is made up of specific behaviours and attitudes, so you are just saying the same thing in a different way.

A pattern is COMPOSED of actions, yes, but it's a pattern of generally repeated actions, indicating a habit.

the behaviours that you cited are specifically social norms where you come from.

What are some examples?
I suspect that some/many/most that you cite are a direct result of following biblical teaching, as opposed to an ad hoc finding a biblical prooftext to support a preexisting behavioral pattern.

"2) It's question-begging to say they aren't "moral" behavior."

If you're an atheist, you have no way at all to classify anything as moral or immoral. There is nothing more than personal preference. So you can say you don't like it or you like it, but don't use the word "moral".

your original claim was that such experiences prove that the Christian God exists.

No, I'm afraid you misunderstood me.
Can you quote where I said that?
My post was answering a question from a naturalist from the biblical worldview, thus assuming all its beliefs and doctrines in the answer. It was not meant to prove any claim.

then is at all relevant how much of God's law you are in accord with?

You seem to be asking if it's OK to assent to a false dilemma. I shouldn't even try to follow any laws if I can't follow all of them.

Are there different ranks of Christian according to how lawful you are

No.
But there are stronger and weaker, more spiritual and less spiritual, those who will receive more reward in heaven and those who will receive less. Those are directly biblical terms, but "more Christian" or "less Christian" are not.
The former set (stronger and weaker, etc) has to do with sanctification of the believer, and the latter (more Christian, etc) has to do with the justification of the sinner.

and does that have any relevance to your eventual salvation?

Using "salvation" as "salvation from the condemnation of sin and hell", no.

I or anybody else have any way of knowing whether somebody is a Christian or not based on their behaviour,

Another false dilemma.
You yourself have no way to know anythg infallibly, as I'm sure you'd agree, but you WOULD claim to know some things sufficiently. Same here.

Peace,
Rhology