Thursday, September 27, 2018

Why Doesn't God Save Everyone?

Why doesn't God save everyone? If God is so loving - indeed, if God is Love itself as 1 John teaches - why does he send anyone to hell at all?

This question is something that gets asked by atheists and Christians alike, and it's definitely an important one. The answer - whatever it is - will tell us something important about who God is, and who we are, and what it means to "be in heaven" or "be in hell."

It's that last bit in particular that I think is pretty important, and it's an aspect of the question that I think so many people overlook and take for granted. We know what "heaven" means: It's paradise! It's a place where everyone is happy! And we know what "hell" means: It's a place where everyone is miserable.

But I don't think it's that simple. In fact, I think it's precisely that assumption that gets us into trouble. If we think of heaven simply as a place where everyone is happy all the time, it makes sense for us to wonder why God doesn't simply allow everyone in. that what heaven actually is? No. When we talk about Christians "going to heaven", we don't just mean "going to a very pleasant location." We have to think about what makes heaven pleasant, what makes it paradise. And I think every Christian would agree that the thing that makes heaven paradise is primarily the felt presence of God. In heaven, we will experience God constantly. And as we worship him and submit ourselves to him, we experience that presence as pure joy and life.

That is what it means to "go to heaven." 

And when we come at the question with this in mind, the question changes to something more like this:

Is it possible for God to make his felt presence pleasurable for an unrepentant sinner? 

In my mind, that's the real question when we're discussing why people go to hell. Because I don't think that it is possible. If placed "in heaven" - that is, in unending and incredibly intimate proximity to God - those who love darkness will be blinded by the most intense Light imaginable. Those who hate will be seared by Love itself. And those who choose to be dead will be forever forced to look Life full in the face. 

That is what would happen to an unrepentant sinner who "goes to heaven". And I don't know about you, but I can't think of anything else to call that except for hell. In fact, this is the Eastern Orthodox view of hell (or if not THE view, at least a very popular view). In this view, God doesn't send anyone to Hell, and in fact, "Hell" isn't a separate place at all. Everyone simply experiences God: Some in humble surrender, others in painful defiance.

Now, I'm not positive this is the 100% correct understanding of Hell. But I think it's a distinct possibility. And I think that if it's wrong, then CS Lewis is correct when he calls hell a "painful refuge": Rather than force unrepentant sinners to remain in his presence - in agony - for eternity, God mercifully allows them to instead go into the "outer darkness", where they are cut off from their creator and left to stew in their own wickedness.

In either case, I think the problem of God sending people to hell loses its bite. There is nothing God can do to make his presence pleasurable to someone who rejects him: the only question is whether they suffer because he's there or because he's absent. The only people in hell will be those who choose it over heaven, who reject God and choose their own pride and selfishness as eternal companions. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Why I Still Care About Calvinism

About four years ago, I wrote on why I care about Calvinism. A lot has changed in those four years, but there's one thing that hasn't: I still think that Calvinism is absolutely poisonous to the body of Christ and to individual believers.

The other night, I talked for nearly 3 hours with a friend who's been struggling with Calvinism for years, and it left me shaken. It left me angry. It left me incredibly sad. And it left me wanting to write.

I still care about Calvinism because my friend, who's worked with youth for years, struggled to answer whether God loves and wants to save each one of the kids they work with, and that struggle tears my friend apart sometimes.

I still care about Calvinism because my friend confessed, in tears, that they wonder whether they love the kids they work with more than God loves those kids: Because if any of them are unelect, that means that while my friend is actively working towards their salvation and earnestly desires for them to be saved, God does not desire their salvation and has in fact already irresistibly and irrevocably damned them to hell.

I still care about Calvinism because it makes good, godly Christians wonder whether God's goodness is really what we would consider goodness at all, whether his love bears any similarity to our love, and whether God really means it when he commands us not to sin (after all, he orchestrates the sins he commands us not to commit!).

I still care. It's still personal. Calvinism still poisons people.

One thing I want to end on. My friend said that they wished they could just be Arminian (or at least non-Calvinist), that they could just easily say "YES! God loves each one of the kids I work with and actively works towards their salvation every single day!" But he can't do that, and a big reason is that would mean at the end of the day, God doesn't ultimately get his way, and that's too big of a sacrifice.

That honestly boggles my mind. Because to me, that's an incredibly tiny sacrifice compared to the enormous, world-ending sacrifice of saying that each and every time I sin, that IS God "getting his way." That when I pass up an opportunity to witness to someone, that's God getting his way. That when someone experiences pain and hypocrisy that pushes them to reject God, that's God getting his way. 

THAT is too big a sacrifice. I can't take a God who limits his love for the sake of his power. I can't reconcile that with the God who gave up his power so that he could be wrapped in swaddling clothes, sweat blood, be nailed to a cross, so that he could love the world and draw all people to himself. I can't reconcile that with Jesus.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Christian Hypocrisy in America

"Gay marriage is a sin and it should be illegal! America is a Christian nation and our laws should reflect that!"

"The government has no right to take my hard-earned money and give it to people who 'need' it. Whether I give to others - or not - is MY choice, and I should be free to do what I wish with my money."

"Systematically separating children from their parents with no plan for how to reunite them is necessary to protect our borders. God bless America!"

- All prime answers to "Things Republican Christians Say."

Soooo....yikes, I guess? We've sort of hit a new low here, guys, and it's not a low that I really thought we would hit. We've reached a point where many Christians WANT to take children away from parents - again, with no plan for reuniting them - simply as a deterrent to keep other people from attempting to immigrate. And many more Christians, even if they won't say that they actually want it to happen, are content to point fingers at who "really" passed the law, or how "this has been going on for years and the media is now pointing it out," or other things that even if they were true, it wouldn't matter because HOLY CRAP GUYS WE PUT A THREE YEAR OLD IN COURT YESTERDAY WITHOUT HIS DAD BECAUSE WE HAD LOST HIS DAD IN THE SYSTEM. They don't want to fix what's happening so much as make sure blame is apportioned to the OTHER side, and that's sick.

So here's the point of this blog, the thing that's been bouncing around in my head for a couple years now and has only just now solidified:

When Christian Republicans say "We're a Christian nation and our laws should reflect that," they don't really mean that. They usually mean something more like "The gross, horrible sins that THOSE people commit are much worse than the small, negligible sins that my people and I commit, and they should be illegal."

They never mean sins like being uncharitable, or overeating, or judgmental. They never want to criminalize pride, or lust, or greed. And they certainly don't want to mandate giving to the poor - that's one thing they're actually pretty firmly against!. In fact, most of the sins they want to criminalize are those that they personally don't struggle with at all - and the sins that they want to tolerate or approve are those that make their lives easier (like the whole "separating families with no plan for reuniting them" thing).

So next time you hear a godless liberal hippy talking about how hypocritical Christians are...this is a small, small part of what they're talking about. It's that a Christian can somehow say both 1) the government should reflect Christian morality and criminalize gay marriage (or some other yucky sin), and 2) it's a government, not a church, and we need to protect our borders by using cruelty as a deterrent. These are diametrically opposed ideas that cannot coexist, and they can only appear to do so because of a substitution of fundamentalist legalism and law-worship for genuine Christianity.

I guess the rant is over? This whole thing leaves me with a sick taste in my mouth. Cognitive dissonance can sometimes be funny - but here it's horrifying.

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Matter of Perspective?

As someone interested in the Arminianism/Calvinism debate, I run into one particular comment/argument pretty often.

The outside of the gates of heaven reads "Whosoever will may enter here." The inside of the gates of heaven reads, "Chosen from the foundation of the world." It's just a matter of perspective!
 The "perspective" argument is a popular one. Some people break it down into the "divine perspective" and the "human perspective", and this particular iteration of the argument has the advantage of being somewhat snappy and appearing to distill a complicated question into a very simple answer.

Unfortunately, it has the disadvantage of being an absurdly silly answer that completely fails to understand the question at hand. And it's very easy to break down and see why: All we have to do is put it into different words.

From the outside of heaven, it LOOKS like it's a matter of free choice. The "invitation" is given to all, and some people choose it and others don't. However, from the inside, it becomes clear that what REALLY happened is those who "chose" it were, in fact, chosen from the foundation of the world and manipulated into "choosing" it in every aspect of their lives. (And of course, who cares about those poor saps who didn't get that "opportunity.")
See, that's the problem with "perspective" arguments: They all rely on people forgetting that while there may be many perspectives, there is only one reality. And when one of those perspectives is "God's perspective" or "the divine perspective" or the perspective from inside heaven, it's really easy to see which one is the reality.

So in the case of this particular illustration, it's clear that God's eternal choice and election of particular people is the reality: The "perspective" of free choice is merely a temporary illusion. It's not actually real. Even the sensation of choosing was itself eternally predetermined and manipulated by God. This argument equates the mere sensation of choice ("whosoever will") with the reality of God's eternal election, and hopes you won't notice that the "whosoever will" is absolutely 100% subordinate to and dependent on God's election.

Again: While there may be many perspectives, there is only one reality. In the case of two different perspectives, the rightness of one perspective only comes with a corresponding wrongness or incompleteness of the other perspective. Let's do a real quick example:

My friend parks his car at my house, and comes home the next day to find it completely crushed by a giant boulder. I run up and say, "You should have seen it, it was crazy! This huge boulder just came tumbling down the cliff and crushed your car!"
The next day, my neighbor approaches my friend and says, "Hey, I don't know if you know this, but that guy is actually the one who pushed the boulder off the cliff and onto your car."
Two different "perspectives": but only one reality. The mere facts of gravity and inertia are irrelevant because they are subordinate to and dependent on the fact that I was the one who initiated it. There aren't two perspectives: There's just me being a jerk and crushing someone's car with a boulder.

This really is just a silly argument. I wish people would think harder about it instead of being happy at solving centuries of conflict with two sentences.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Good You Had Expected

"One goes into the forest to pick food and already the thought of one fruit rather than another has grown up in one’s mind. Then, it may be, one finds a different fruit and not the fruit one thought of. One joy was expected and another is given. But this I had never noticed before that at the very moment of the finding there is in the mind a kind of thrusting back, or a setting aside. The picture of the fruit you have not found is still, for a moment, before you. And if you wished - if it were possible to wish - you could keep it there. You could send your soul after the good you had expected, instead of turning it to the good you had got. You could refuse the real good; you could make the real fruit taste insipid by thinking of the other.’"
CS Lewis, Perelandra

Six months ago, I began to dream that I could take the skills I'd gained through my last five years as a copywriter, and use them to begin working for Biola, FPU, or another Christian university. For six months, I dreamed that I could do something I'm good at, to accomplish something meaningful, while working for a Christian university.

That dream, such as it was, is no more - at least for the time being. I've gone through four interview processes, each one seemingly more perfect for my particular skillset than the last, and each time a better fit has been found. And now, in just four short weeks, I will be resigning from TCS and learning to be a full-time stay-at-home dad for Wes and the soon-to-arrive Gabe.

And so one chapter of my life draws to a close, and the one that will be beginning is quite different from what I had hoped for. And I strive embrace one and let go of the other: To not keep the vision of what could have been in front of me, to not long for what is not to be. I strive to embrace the good that is coming instead of the good that is not, because otherwise even the good that I have will be poisoned.

It is hard. But it will get easier. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

I wonder

I think there will be a lot happening on the day of judgement. But I think there is one event in particular that concerns those who claim the name of Christian. The sheep and the goats, those who give and those who do not. And I've been wondering what it might look like...for Christians who strive to follow the life of Jesus but fail on a daily basis. What might it look like for us?

And so I wonder.

I imagine that the King calls me before him, and I see a vast multitude of people, a line stretching as far as the eye can see. And the King starts with the one in the front, a glorious man clothed in light. And Jesus says, "This is my brother Joshua. You never knew his name; You saw him begging on a street corner and pretended you didn't. You avoided his eyes and drove on. He went hungry that night."

And the King moves to the next person. "This is my sister Beth. You passed her by as you pulled out of a parking lot, and you told yourself that you were just too busy to stop. She went hungry that night."

And the next. "This is my brother Max. He came up to you as you came out of a grocery store, and you told him you had no money on you: You lied. You told yourself he would probably just buy drugs with it. He and his family went hungry that night."

I imagine that he goes on and on through the multitude one by one, and that at the end we will be disappointed together.  I imagine that he tells me that he had planned to bless these people through me, that he had prepared those works for me from the beginning. And that all too often, I had failed.

And I am ashamed.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Good and Evil (are meaningless?)

In my conversations with my FNC (Friendly Neighborhood Calvinist), we've talked a lot about God's role in the first couple sins (Satan's and Adam/Eve's)...what that role looks like, what the consequences would be, etc.

He's very reluctant to say that God "caused" the first sin...which is both completely understandable and completely indefensible within a traditional Calvinistic framework. And given the difficulty of this position, he has at times toyed with the idea that perhaps God did cause it...but that, because he's God, he can do that for certain reasons without being evil himself.

And the thing is, I actually agree with him! I agree that God could have caused the Fall every bit as deterministically as Calvinism demands, without then being guilty of evil. Of course, the reason I agree with him is a lot different than his reasons for believing that: If God caused the Fall, then the terms "Good" and "Evil" have no real meaning. 

So: Genesis 1. Creation. You all know this story. Over the course of 6 days, God creates everything that is. And after each day, "God saw that it was good." And then, at the end of the 6 days, God looks at the big picture. "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good." This is a survey of all of creation, God looking at the work of his hands and investigating the results. And he proclaims it "very good."

So let's talk about that. "Good". What does "good" mean? Well, in a Christian context, I'd think most people would probably go with something like "that which is pleasing to God." Pretty simple, right? And when it comes to "evil", most Christians would probably stick with "that which is against God's will." Showing mercy to the poor? Good. Murdering the poor? Evil. Really simple stuff so far.

Everything God made was "very good". Everything God made was in accordance with his will. Now, as an Arminian, I believe that means that God had willed for humanity to have true freedom so that they might choose to obey him...but that also means that they would have the capacity to choose NOT to obey him. This capacity is not evil, because it is a necessary consequence of humans being able to LOVE God. As an example, the things that make a good set of pruning shears are the same thing that could make it a dangerous weapon. It's still a "Good" set of shears, because the harm would come from misuse, not the intended use.

Contrast that with the Calvinist view. In the Calvinist view, God determines everything from the word "Go." From before the first atom was created, God had already determined all of human history, including human (and angelic) sin. God created Adam not just with the capacity to sin, but with the necessity of sinning. It's not just that Adam could's that Adam must sin, because of the way God created him and the context God placed him in.

And that creation - the creation with the inevitability and necessity of sin built in from the very get-go - is what God calls "good" in the Calvinist scenario. That is what God looks at and declares "very good."

To go back to the "pruning sheers" example, that's like taking a pair of sheers and adding in some fancy technology that means that at some predetermined point, they'll turn on their owner and cut his fingers off. Obviously those pruning sheers would not be "good" shears - or else, if they are to remain "good" shears, then the definition of "good" must be expanded to include "will cut owner's fingers off at a predetermined time."

So back to Calvinism and creation. The creation that God declares "good" is the creation that has the Fall built into it from the ground up. Everything about creation has been designed to facilitate the Fall and make it certain. And not just the Fall: All sins. Every robbery. Every murder. Every single moment down to the minutest detail of every single sexual assault. All of it follows necessarily and deliberately from the creation that God declares Good.

And if God declares that Good...then all of that must be included in the definition of Good. And if all of that is "Good", then good becomes meaningless, as does evil. They are both meaningless words for the things that God does and causes. Adam and Eve didn't commit evil...that would require them going against God's will, when in fact it was his will that caused them to eat the fruit! Satan didn't do something against God's fact, his every action was a fulfillment of God's will! The murderer, the rapist, the child molester...every single one of them is fulfilling God's will to exactly the same degree as the godliest saint that ever walked the earth.

In the end, the Calvinist can only really talk of "good" and "evil" as two different colors that an artist uses to paint a picture. One is not really better or worse than the other. And I hope that bothers them at least a little, when they think about it.