Saturday, July 29, 2006

Modern legalism:

You have heard that it was said, 'you don't have to give money to homeless beggars because they'll just spend it on drugs and alcohol.'

But I say that we often receive grace only to spend it on sin, yet God continues to give it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Why are Christians always explaining why Genesis must be taken literally,[1] but the Sermon on the Mount musn’t be.[2]?

[2] E.g.,

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The grounds of forgiveness -

Can anyone give me a good answer to this question: On what grounds does God forgive sin?

I'm particularly curious as to how people were forgiven in the Old Testament, and before Christ's death. Evangelicals will often say that God only forgives us because of Christ's sacrifice. But then on what grounds is Christ able to teach his disciples "...if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you..."? Matt. 6:14.

One idea I've heard is that of forbearance - that God basically reserved judgment until Christ died, sort of so that Christ's sacrifice could be applied retroactively. Maybe, but this kind of strains the text of the Lord's prayer, and numerous places in the OT when it says that God forgives people their sins. (E.g. Psalm 130:3-4 "If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.")

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Holiness and sin

Another reason we often have trouble with the idea that God hates sin is that we’ve anthropomorphized God. “…(Y)ou thought I was altogether like you. But I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face.” Psalm 50:21. We think that something isn’t a big deal, so we think, therefore, that God shouldn’t think so either. But God is very different from us.

To understand sin we must understand God's holiness. The most drastic example of this I can think of is the story of Uzza:

“The Ark of the Covenant was being taken to a new shrine at Jerusalem. Some obstacle, however, perhaps a bump in the road, caused the oxen to lurch, nearly upsetting the cart and putting the Ark in danger. The Bible describes the scene: "Uzzah put out his hand to the Ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. Then the anger of the Lord was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the Ark of God" (2 Samuel 6:6-7).”

I think most people reading this are troubled. This seems like an over-reaction on God’s part. And I can’t say that I personally, intuitively understand why Uzza’s action merited capital punishment. But that is the how the Bible describes God – and it’s important that we don’t re-make God in our own image to suit our convenience.

A somewhat helpful analogy is that of darkness and light. The Apostle John says that “God is light, and in him is no darkness (sin) at all.” 1 John 1:5. As light and dark cannot coexist, neither can God and any amount of sin. This is one of the things it means that God is holy. And this is why sins of both thought and deed, big and small, require a savior.

This also underscores that God is merciful in being absent from the earth. In the horrible state humanity is in, a holy God's arrival would be disatrous for all people who were in sin. "(God) is patient with (us), not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." 2 Peter 3:9.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Response to Jeff regarding sin continued...

My understanding of individual sins, big and small, is that they are symptoms of a larger problem. That problem is that human beings have a sinful nature, which flows down to us from Adam and Eve, who ruptured humanity's relationship with God. And because we are all born into a family that is at emnity with God, we all initially begin in a state hostility with God. This hostile relationship leads human beings not accepting God's rightful authority over them, and consequently perpetually disobeying God.

Part of the point of the Sermon on the Mount was to say that the point isn't big sins or small sins (eating shrimp vs. murder), but rather that even those people who appear good on the surface are full of sinful thoughts and feelings, and this illustrates the way in which we are all out of line with God. This illustrates that we all have a sin nature, even if some of us hide it better than others. The point of the Sermon is that we are all far out of line with God's standard, perfection.

I do think Jeff pointed correctly to God's forgiveness as addressing our sins. However, I think it's important to note that forgiveness of our moral debt, our sin, requires that God take the loss. This is described in Psalm 130:8: "He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins." Christ is the fulfillment of this promise that God would redeem his people. So forgiveness is the answer, but Christ as savior, as sacrificial lamb on the cross, is the way that God accomplishes that forgiveness.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Open letter to Jeff and people who find Christianity unpersuasive-

There are several important explanations for why sins, big and small, are a big deal to God. Some of them are highly theoretical and abstract; some of them are more common sensical. But before I try to tackle them, I’d like to start with explaining why I actually believe that all sins are a big deal to God.

Mostly I believe it because the Christian Bible tells me so. Basically, a number of years ago my life was a wreck. And what “saved” me was God, whom I understood to be speaking to me through church, other Christians, and the Bible. And so, the Bible has had my trust since before I ever thought about theology. Further, its never lost my trust either, as I’ve found it consistently to be the best and only believable description of reality as I know it.

That said, I understand this leaves the non-Christian at something of a loss. I’ve now started citing as epistemologically authoritative something you doesn’t accept as authoritative. In short, I’m saying that I believe this because I feel that God revealed it to me; the only thing that would really bridge this gap is if my God revealed it to you too. In the meantime, I’ll be happy to offer ideas that are more accessible – based on reason and intuition and the like. But I just wanted to offer this first, for honesty’s sake.

Next time, sin as nature, not deed…

Monday, July 17, 2006

What's the big deal about sin?

Two recent comments seem to circle around the same issue. Jeff commented that he never understood why sin necessitated a savior; and Jose said the idea that God was absent from earth out of mercy, so that he wouldn't have to punish sin, sounded like a cop-out.

So I'd hear from your, reader: does God hate sins, big and small, and why?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Why is God hiding?

Many of the most difficult questions about Christian faith would be easily answered if God were only here - and now.

Q: "Is there a God, and if so, who is he, Jesus or Allah or Buddha?"

A: 'Yes, there is a God. He lives in apartment A-777. Let’s go over right now, and I’ll introduce you – trust me, it’s Jesus.'

Q: "And what about the problem of evil and pain and bad things happening to good people? "

A: 'Oh, don’t worry about that, just let God know what the problem is and He’ll take care of it. '

It’s hard to think of a problem that wouldn’t be better if God were here.'

But He isn’t.

But it’s for our own good.

Exodus 33 makes me think that one reason God isn’t here is out of mercy toward us. At this point in Exodus, God has delivered the people from Egypt, fed, clothed and protected them in the desert, and even given them His word written in stone (which Moses dropped and broke). And in return, Israel has griped against God and his servants, disobeyed Him, and even worshipped a golden idol in His stead. So God says that he is going to send Israel up into the Promised Land, but that He’s not going with them.[1] He will send an angel with them to lead them, but God Himself will not go. Why? Because, God says “You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you…”[2] He goes on to tell Moses that if anyone were to see His face, he would die.[3]

So the problem is that God is too holy to be around sinful people. His holiness might cause him to kill them. This sounds harsh, but it’s actually spoken in mercy. If God wanted to kill the Israelites, He could have done so. But He didn’t want to kill them; He loved them and wanted them to live.

And so perhaps this is the case with us nowadays as well? The kind and degree of sin in our world is certainly as bad as anything the Israelites did. So if God were here, it would pose a grave danger to human life. His presence might mean the death of many people. So instead, perhaps God refrains from breaking into our troubled world because He loves us, has mercy on us, and wants us to live in repentance instead of die in rebellion.

[1] Ex. 33:5.
[2] Id.
[3] Ex. 33:20.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Modern legalisms:

You have heard it said “Jesus doesn’t want you to be a door mat.” But I say that we should be doormats that say ‘Welcome to the Kingdom of Heaven.’

The best version of this idea, that Christians shouldn’t let themselves get taken advantage of, would be to say ‘Christians shouldn’t be too na├»ve and let themselves be abused. That would be bad stewardship of God’s resources.’ The worst version would be to say ‘let’s not get too extreme! Jesus couldn’t have possibly meant that because it would be way too difficult to live that way.’ More difficult than giving up your home in heaven, living life as a suffering servant, and then getting nailed to a cross?

Friday, July 14, 2006

One verse captures the essences of the Sermon on the Mount: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”[1] The Sermon has a primary purpose and a secondary purpose. The primary purpose is to tell us that God’s Law is exceedingly broad. The secondary purpose is to set the stage for the New Covenant.

The Pharisees thought that they had satisfied the demands of the Law by their outward righteous. They did not murder, did not break their oaths, did not commit adultery, and if they divorced their wives they followed the proper procedures.[2] But their mistake was to think that the Law only applied to their outward actions. It applied to their thoughts and feelings as well. It is not good enough to simply not murder; anger itself is prohibited.[3] They were also mistaken to think that the Law only required them to do so much and no more, like a chore to get out of the way before one can relax. Instead, the Law requires everything a person has.[4] It requires not only your cloak, but also your tunic.[5] It requires not only one’s deeds, but also one’s thoughts.[6] The Law never allows a person to say that she has done quite enough and need do no more.[7] It is God’s law, not man’s, and although man judges the outside, God judges the heart.[8] Even today, we should still be careful not take this a legalistic attitude toward God’s commands, as if we were doing our taxes and looking for every technicality to allow us to pay the IRS as little as possible without getting into trouble.

Once we understand the true requirements of the law, we cannot help but fall under the heavy conviction that it is impossible for us to meet these requirements. In this way, the Law forces us to trust in Christ.[9] Once, we might have thought that God might be happy enough with us because of our good behavior because we did not murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, cheat, and so on. But once we realize that God’s standard is perfection, and even perfection of thought and feeling, we must see that we cannot meet this standard – before it we are unworthy. Our feeling is like the Apostle John’s in Revelation when the sealed scroll of God was displayed and the angel asked ‘who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?’ but no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could was worthy; at this, John “wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll…”[10] If the Sermon on the Mount were the last divine word to us, our only response could be to weep and weep, because no one would be found worthy before the law of God. But, rejoice! We receive the same answer that the Apostle did: “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”[11] When we were unable to live up to God’s standard, Christ was able. The Law was unable to make us righteous, as we were unable to meet its requirements. But Christ was able to meet its requirements, and so God made us righteous through Christ.[12]
[1] Matt. 5:48.
[2] See Matt. 5:21, 27, 31, 33.
[3] Matt. 5:22.
[4] Matt. 22:37-40.
[5] Matt. 5:40.
[6] Matt. 5:21-30.
[7] Matt. 5:42.
[8] 1 Sam. 16:7.
[9] Gal. 3:24-25
[10] Rev. 5:1-4.
[11] Rev. 5:5.
[12] Rom. 8:3-4.

I vehemently opposed blogging until 7 a.m. this morning. It's narcissistic enough to keep a journal, or frankly to write anything personal at all. Blogs are worse, allowing people to publish (in a sense) and circumvent the winnowing of editors and economics. Blogs are to publication as glamour shots are to the catwalk. And in this nomos that Jeremy Bentham gave us, I don’t want to hear what you have to say until you’ve proven yourself worthy in a variety of market places. And it’s really self-indulgent - embarrassingly so - to expect people to read something of yours that isn’t written specifically for them, and yet hasn't been approved by the gatekeepers at TIME, AOL, Gannett, Random House, et-cet. I haven’t even read the 100 Greatest Books yet! I haven’t even opened my power bill yet! And yet, here I am being beckoned into the labyrinthine nether world of cyberspace so I can delight myself with the blogger's auto-missives that really should begin ‘Dear Diary…’ or ‘Mirror, Mirror…’

But then I realized that I too was narcisstic and wanted to circumvent the status quo publishing process! And it seems like fun. And I decided to stop being too cool for school. So here I am, blogging. And there’s no zealot like a convert.