Friday, July 19, 2013

Vertical and Horizontal: A Critique

The title makes use of some Christianese: "Vertical" as in the relationship with God, and "Horizontal" as in relationships with others. It is the Christianese I am critiquing, not the relationships themselves (except for, in part, the latter).

I do not think there are supposed to be "horizontal" relationships in this way. Many sermons acknowledge the point I mean to make here, actually. We do say that if your relationship with God is not right, then your relationships with others won't be either, but we are not so clear on why this is.

My larger point is not often noted. We should have nothing apart from God. This means that in relating to others, we are relating in Christ. Our "horizontal" relationships take place through our "vertical" relationship. To have the mind of Christ is to see the world as Christ sees it, which is to be united with him--into the body, the Church. To do otherwise would be to have some other mind. To see the world merely through our own eyes is pride: it is thinking we can see rightly apart from Christ. Apart from Christ we can do nothing, and we are blind. We cannot see others rightly, let alone act according as we ought, if we do not have the life of Christ in us.

And this is what it is to act in love: not merely to act in a way that we think is loving, but to act in the Spirit of love--i.e., by the power of the Spirit of God who is love. Thus all our relationships are to be vertical, or perhaps zig-zag. Indeed, since we cannot see rightly apart from Christ, our horizontal relationships are relationships of falsehood. They are not true relationships at all, but merely a relating of self to others, but the others are not truly there.

You think your relationships are broken? You do not know how much! Yet Christ knows all about you, and knows what is good for you, and for those you love. And Christ provides the grace to go on, for he has broken down the barrier of sin which keeps us apart from him, and him from the world, and so in him we find union--truly?--yet so rarely shown in our Churches, our union in Christ is one of the most important things we should be striving to reveal in our life together. We cannot manufacture this revealing of the unity of the body of Christ, though, since we do not know how to act, but if we are under the headship of Christ, then he will guide us into the way we should go. 1 John 4:10, "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." and it remains this way even in the love of the Christian for others: it is still the love of God for us and sending his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Even our love for God is by our union with Christ.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Divine Causality Revisited

First off, I am willing to "define" God as He who shows himself through, and in, the world, and who is good (which is as much a definition as defining you as He who shows himself through that body is a definition of you, but it is kind of helpful). I begin with the premise that God is good. I'm not going to argue for it. Perhaps another time. Now, the world is, itself, corrupted. God is not corrupted. The world is. It's the same as the fact that you aren't sick in your person just because your body is (though there are plenty of cases where your body's sickness makes your person sick in some way, such as being cranky from lack of sleep, but that is because we are embodied in that way, whereas God is, while in a sense embodied, not in that way). The world's corruption is there to show us who God is, though. God is he who shows himself through and in the world, and the world, here, means everything. God shows himself through the world in that whatever occurs in the world only occurs due to his will. He shows himself in the world--he stands in the world--in those places where he is revealed to us.

Did God cause the Holocaust? God does not show himself in the Holocaust, but he does show up in the Holocaust. He made himself appear to people--not necessarily visible, but as surely as if he had--through the events surrounding and including the Holocaust. Here is a counter question: those people who became Christians because of the Holocaust, not because of the horrors of it, really, but because it brought them into contact with people who truly believed and who showed it--who revealed Christ likeness by their way of life--and who were blessed to share the Good News that Christ has dealt with all the evil of the world, even conquering death, were they saved by God, or humans? If humans, then it may be that humans caused the Holocaust. If saved by God, then God saved them in whole, and the Holocaust, as part of that whole, must be considered caused by God. But! This causing is not the sort where one can point at God and say "you killed so many Jews!" Rather, one can only say, "God, all that pain, for human souls? I don't see how it was worth it." And he responds "not yet--look at the Cross where my Son bore all that evil--it is finished." Some will say that the loss of faith for many outweighs the gain of faith for a few, but how can anyone who truly believes ever turn all the way away from Christ? If they fell away, then they never really got it to begin with.

Does God condemn some to hell, and save others? Well, in the end his actions are all for good. Is anyone's dying and going to hell good on its own? I doubt it, and I don't think God sees it as good either. Yet it happens. On the other hand, anyone being saved is good all on its own. This means they must be distinguished: God does not cause the former in anywhere near the direct way he causes the latter. God shows up in salvation, but not in damnation. Damnation is where we start, he doesn't need to intervene. Even in those places where it appears that God keeps people from seeing him--where he hardens people's hearts, or blinds them, or speaks in parables so that they do not hear and understand--he is not resisting their seeking of him. Those who seek Christ's life will be found in it, while those who seek their own life will find it... to be death. People don't seek God unless he impels them to. They may seek something like God, but it is their own idea of God.

Here: the good reveals God, the bad reveals our need of God, and the redeeming of the bad reveals Christ. And in the end it will all be made good: the bad will be redeemed. God will be glorified above all.

So, I think I believe in single-predestination in the only way that makes sense to me, but I'm not so sure there is a difference between this form of single-predestination and double-predestination where God is yet without fault.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


Language is a funny thing. It really isn't "out there" somewhere, yet we all use it. It is a cultural thing, really. Words mean things because we all treat them as meaning things--we use them like they mean things, so they do. Imagine someone said something like "the sea is very red today." Now, perhaps the sea is literally the color red, but it is also possible that the speaker is referring to a battle that occurred that day at sea where many people died, thus "red" refers to blood which, in turn, refers to loss of life, and the sea turning the color implies the large amounts. Now, imagine you are talking to someone and they begin to talk about how they are bothered by someone else: they are always saying such-and-such, which this person finds awful. Perhaps, though, you see nothing wrong with that person's position, and even see no difference between it and ideas that the first person has advocated in the past.

Maybe these two people really agree, but they see the concept in such different light, and thus describe it completely differently; or maybe they really do have opposing views, but they have such different views on the world that the descriptions look much the same without a good deal of the underlying conceptual context.

Now, you have no idea what underlying context other people are working with. Even people you know well may switch what they are talking about without you realizing it, sometimes. So there is a good possibility that what they are saying and what you are hearing diverge.

Beyond this, different people may use different words in different ways. Everyone does this, using different words in slightly different ways given different contexts (consider the love of persons versus the love of food). There are also the many possibilities of creative use of language, for example, wordplay or neologisms.

So, let's say that someone says something that makes no sense to you. Can you really say that it is nonsense? Can you be sure (without asking them and their saying that it is)? Perhaps you just don't understand how they are seeing things such that what they said means something. There are haves and have-nots, why can't I say "I want to have." and leave the sentence there? Surely I can make transitives intransitive, intransitives transitive, noun verbs, verb nouns, and on, and on, and on.

So, now, what about communicating? Maybe I want you to get some point, but it's one of those things we all say, so, even though you don't understand, you will think you do if I say it normally. So maybe I say it in such a way that you have to think. Really, ideally, I learn your dialect well enough to say it differently enough from how you would think to say it, or so that I can make you tell me it in such a way that I hear that you get it.

But how do you say things strangely while still saying them? This is the trick of writing. Especially of writing philosophy or theology or anything else where you're trying to get across points about how one sees the world. Often, you cannot read a thing right until you understand it right.

Perseverance Through Doubt

ὑπομονή, ῆς, ἡ: this is usually the word we are talking about when we speak of perseverance. Taking apart the word, it looks like "under-remaining." It is often translated as endurance, patience, or perseverance.

There is a certain way of speaking of "having doubts" which makes it appear that the process of doubting is equivalent to unbelief.

I would like to recommend, then, a mode of doubt which I believe is compatible with faith. There is a mode which is incompatible with strong faith, but it is not the only mode of doubt.

The kind of doubt which is incompatible with faith is the kind which puts itself over God. This sort says "how can it be?" expecting an answer of "it can't." Most agnostics are atheist agnostics: they live like God doesn't exist. Likewise, this kind of doubt is an atheistic doubt: it asks questions as if God will not answer them. It begins doubting irreverently.

One might, however, begin doubting by basically unpacking one's beliefs. One might say--with a certain sense of "to God if you're listening"--"Here is what I'm having trouble accepting, here is what that means to me, here is what I can accept. Show me--give me--what I need!" One might go back as far as "how am I to be saved?" or even "why do I need to be saved?" and "why this way?" and then investigate: what do you believe about these things already? what do you mean by those things? what does God's word say about those things? what does he mean by those things? This mode of doubt, then, is the method of taking God himself as a conversation partner in trying to see what the truth is. Sure, God may not say anything explicitly to you (though he might), but if you go about doubt crying "Where in the world are you, God?" then this is to orient you to look for him in the world. You may begin to see things, as if God were leaving things behind for you to see. You may begin to hear God speaking in the words of others. The doubt inconsistent with faith makes a person see these kinds of things as coincidences, whereas a doubt seeking faith sees them almost as answers to prayer (though you may not have been really praying for it).

The basic difference between these is this: the doubt which is antagonistic to faith says "I can't believe that! Lord, be different, or convince me (if you're really there at all)." whereas the doubt which is compatible to faith says "I want to believe that, but I can't see how I can--Lord help me!"

This kind of doubt--the kind compatible with faith--is not necessarily good in and of itself, but it is not to be feared. It is, however, a kind of trial. Thus why I began this post with "ὑπομονή, ῆς, ἡ". 
"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways." James 1:2-8
The doubt here, it seems to me, is the wishy-washy, uncertain kind of doubt. What I am discussing here is the sort of doubt which says "Well, you say this, but... I just don't get it." It is not "Well... maybe so, maybe not," though it may look quite similar. The doubt I speak of is the doubt which tries to be honest before God, not the kind which is trying to hold back from God--the maybe-ish sort of doubt says "I don't want to give that much to God," the doubt I am advocating says "I will give all, even my inability to see God as who he says he is, to God."
"Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful." James 5:11
Job is not the sort of person, I don't think, who we would say had no doubts. He did not have the "maybe God doesn't exist" kind of doubts which we are used to in our day, but he certainly had the equivalent of his day--"maybe God isn't good." Yet, throughout Job, he is asking to be allowed to make his case against God. He wants things set right. He is saying "God, you say you are good... but I just can't see how this is you being good. Show me!" and why shouldn't the rest of us doubt like Job?

There is a core of faith in Job's doubting. He refuses to be finished with God--he perseveres in this. He will not curse God and die. He even has a core commitment to trusting God: "Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face." Job 13:15, and this verse sums up quite nicely the attitude which I am trying to argue for as the proper attitude of Christian doubt. Do not put aside your doubt as if it were bad, but argue your ways to his face--trusting him to bring you through the doubt. Doubts do not arise from nowhere. If you doubt, then there is likely something you are missing--find it, seek it, ask for that wisdom from God! Yes he is slaying you! He is slaying your old man, so that the new man who we receive in Christ Jesus might be made all the more evident. Trust him, then, that these doubts are not in vain.

There's a sense in which this all is why I see predestination--that God is the one who saves, that it is not our own doing, that we cannot avoid it, that it is God's right and power to save souls--as core to my thoughts on salvation, as core to what I consider when I consider "How was I saved?" "How can I disciple others--be used as a tool toward the salvation of others?" See, for me, that it is up to God to save me, and not up to me, frees me to doubt and then to believe. See, if it were up to me, I would have given up one of these times when I doubted. But since it is up to God, each time, I have, at one point or another, had to pray something along the lines of "God, I want to give up, so you better be worth it, you better show up, give me some strength to keep doubting," 'cause the alternative was unbelief, 'cause doubting--especially when it's God's real, personal existence you're doubting--is like talking into a void, trying to be heard, and finally it's like... "I feel like an idiot, how long do you want me to keep this up? I don't have anything left to say!" And then you're talking yourself in circles, and... well, may as well give up, right? But then, I've never really wanted to, or, more accurately, I've always to give up into a simple, "I just believe," but that's rarely been an option for me, so the alternative to doubt is often unbelief, but I really, really, want to believe--even when I don't, 'cause it means giving up my life to God, for him to use as he wills, and I don't even get to pretend that I get to direct my life, in the end. So... if it wasn't up to God, then it would probably be up to me, and I really don't think I have the energy for it. I can't make myself see God (and, the past few times, that's been the whole issue of the doubt), so there's really no sense bothering with doubt unless God's in charge of the showing up bit.

What I mean to say is, if it's not about seeing God, then what is it about? and if we can manage the seeing of God, then we should be able to develop a sort of technique for converting people. But if it's up to God to reveal himself, then... it's up to God in his grace to save who he will. And if salvation is of God, then it isn't of me, and I can relax and doubt if need be. 'Cause if I need to find God on my own, then, well, it makes it a lot harder to be honest with myself about my doubts, and it makes me want to hide them from God and others--and myself--even more than I already, in my pride, do.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Pre-empting an Antinomian Slide

"My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." 1 John 2:1

There is a very helpful trend in certain evangelical circles in emphasizing God's unmerited grace to us which cannot earn. Along with this trend has come a certain wariness of any saying "ought" or "should," so that it has become hard for me to see what these people do with the many passages which command Christians to do things. There are oughts and shoulds in even the New Testament, and even in the epistles--it is not just in the sermon on the mount, where one might argue that it was Christ reinforcing the impossibility of following the law. We are commanded to love one another, to forgive one another, to be humble. That we will fail is given as well, yet the goal remains "that you may not sin."

It is right to emphasize that we have unmerited grace, and that it is only by God's grace that we live--in Christ! What we must be wary of, however, is that this grace does not become diluted so that there is nothing which our lives affirm us as being saved, or needing to be saved, from. If this grace saves from sin, then our lives ought to reflect that savedness--I say this ought as a logical, not a moral, ought. If this grace is a union with Christ, then this (too?) should appear in our lives.

Look: what we lack is righteousness, and what we receive by grace unmeasured, vast and free is Christ's righteousness--Christ's own life--and this is also what--better: who--we seek. In all of life, we seek Christ, for he is our life. For a Christian, if he truly sees his life as hid with Christ, then, logically, he ought to treat Christ as savior and Lord--as the one who has dominion over his life. If suicide is wrong generally, then how much more denial of Christ! If, then, we receive this life, then we will live in a way that reflects having received the life of Christ. We will live like he lived, for it is he who lives in us.

The danger is in making it all and only grace to us, or all and only the actions we are to do. Rather, it must be Christ alone, much more than grace alone (for grace alone only makes sense as shorthand for Christ alone). It is Christ's life given to us, and Christ's righteousness which we as Christ's body live out. It is because we have a righteousness which is not our own that we also have a life which is not our own, and because it is not our own, but Christ's, it is a life which must be submitted to him. We live, then, as Christ lived, not by our own effort, but because we, by faith, really have Christ's living in us, bleeding out. Nothing I do is righteousness, but only what Christ does in me.

Grace becomes antinomianism when Christ's life is set apart from grace. Christ's life for us is grace to us. Grace may not be left as a mere concept, but must be embodied, lived out in the community of faith, as the life of Christ. Grace therefore requires us to follow hard after Christ. Grace is not grace if it does not bind us to Christ--"let thy grace, Lord, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee." Indeed, grace is grace in that it binds Christ's righteousness and thus Christ's life to our own so that Christ died for our transgressions and was punished for our iniquities, and so that Christ's life of perfect obedience to God is our own. This is grace: not that sin does not matter, but that sin matters so much that God sent his Son to free his people from sin. So, now, since we are free from sin, by God's grace--by following Christ, by being disciples of Christ, by holding fast to the life of Christ (which is to say, by holding fast to the righteousness which we have been given in Christ)--let us live in this freedom, not freedom that allows us to sin, but freedom from sin. To sin is to reject the freedom, and the life which we have by union with Christ.

I write this against any antinomian tendencies which might be about to develop, but I must also provide the caution on the other side. If we ever forget that our actions are by Christ, that our righteousness is only in Christ, and that we are saved by Christ alone. If we ever begin to think that we somehow earned union with Christ, then we will have returned to legalism. The key is this: Jesus Christ. He is our life, and thus our righteousness, our strength, our hope, and our peace. It is in him that we are in love. It is through him that we do what is right, and know what is good. To speak the truth in love it is necessary to know Christ who is truth and to be hid with Christ so that we are in God who is love. Apart from Christ I can do nothing! Yet in him I am used to accomplish things I do not even know. And all the glory must go to God, for it is God in the person of Christ who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, accomplishes all these things in me.