English, Theologie

Fire and Brimstone

I have just come across a blog article on God, fire and brimstone by Jim Finn. It’s a reply to an article by the biblewarroiress, whose blog I follow.

The question that is… no, let me start differently: In her article which is headlined with „Terrorizing People to Jesus“ the Warrioress makes a valid point:

Asking someone to submit to Jesus Christ out of fear isn’t love offered freely. Threatening them and making them afraid isn’t how God wants us to come to Him.

The gospel is, and these are my words, but I guess there are people who would agree, a message of liberation. I don’t want to go too deep into how to understand the cross, because this will only lead to more debate about another issue which I don’t want to discuss here. But I believe that all of us, liberals, conservatives and even people like myself could agree on the liberating effect of the gospel. Once you accept it, you are set free, more than anything else could set you free, like all other freedoms are not really free.

Now I agree with the Warrioress: You can’t push people to freedom, and you can’t fear them into freedom either.

I’d say: If the people don’t grab freedom themselves, even pushing won’t bring them there. But maybe they’d try to be conform on the outward to avoid pushing…

Jim Finn on the other hand makes a very clear and valid point on love, telling the truth and before all the severity of sin.

If people think God would approve of their little sins because they aren’t so severe, just a little lying and cussing, you know, everybody does this… that’s just plain wrong. Those people are fooling themselves. This has nothing to do with forgiveness either. Whether or not God will forgive is not the question as long as there isn’t even a thing that people would want Him to forgive!

So Jim’s point is, as I understand him, that you shouldn’t lie to people: They do wrong, they do not repent and turn to Christ, they’re lost.

I think this is a bit different than what the Warrioress means. She was speaking of terrorizing people to Jesus. I think it’s one thing to speak of what you bbelieve and another one how you structure your evangelizing.

Jim mentions the rich man who was told to sell everything and follow after Jesus. There is another story of a rich man and a poor Lazarus in the bible (Lk 16:19-32).  I presume we all know it: The rich man lives in wealth on earth and does not care about the poor man. Then they die and the poor man gets to the bosom of Abraham while the rich man goes to hell, where he first begs for some relief and then for at least sending someone from the dead to warn his brethren before hell. And Abraham tells him:

If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

The point I want to make is: You won’t push them, you won’t convince them either, no matter how hard you try. Even if you try to make them fear by speaking of hell. Nonbelievers won’t start believing when they hear this.

But there are believers who are weak in their faith who will hear. And threatening with hell can really harm their relation to God. Because if you focus too much on the whole hell and brimstone thing, it can all too easily twist the message of the gospel. Where it is supposed to be liberating, it can be abused for captivizing: If you don’t do, what the bible says (maybe even according to a certain preacher’s exegesis) you will burn forever in hell. This harms people. And this harms the gospel. And I think this is the Warrioress’s point.

Jim’s point is another one: You cannot just say God likes everyone and everyone’s deeds. That would just be complete nonsense. And what would you need God for anyway? If it makes no difference?

I think a major problem between rather liberal and rather conservative Christians lies in these two points, and that they consider it one. Liberals hear about hell and brimstone and all they understand is that people should be captivated with fear. I presume most conservatives wouldn’t mean that (though some might). On the other hand, when Conservatives hear Liberals speaking about how hell would terrorize people, they understand the Liberals would deny the severity of sin, which isn’t the case (at least with most Liberals I know).

Hell and brimstone have their places, certainly, but they are ineffective for real evangelisation. Fear for oneself doesn’t lead to fearing God, it keeps you focused on yourself. Only once you can let go of yourself, are set free, liberated by the gospel, you are also free to fear God, because you are no more busy fearing for yourself.

I’d say that this cannot be made by men, but is a God given grace: To accept Jesus, to be set free. No one is our liberator but God. Some might disagree, but this convinces me the most and it’s what I experienced myself.God bless you all!

English, Theologie

On Civilizing God

Yesterday I wrote about people are leaving church because they don’t find God there anymore, but rather some civilized idol, an image of God we made ourselves and civilized, to have in control.

Anybody remember the commandments? Wasn’t there one saying we should not make an image of God? Right! But this was rather about statues. The God of the OT is to be invisible. Yet we do still need some image, to think „God“ at least. When do problems start?

I think the angels in the bible have a point starting conversations with „fear not“. Of course this refers to their appearing in the respective verses, but not fearing is a good idea as I think fear is the reason why people are civilizing God, even though they want to worship Him.

I believe that all people are fearful. They fear for their lives, their living conditions, even for other people like friends and family. Fear makes people want to control things. Because the more they control the fewer things could harm them and their beloved.

And there is basically nothing wrong about this. It is thoughtful to care for friends and family and to be careful about things. But when it comes to God, we cannot have control. That’s only normal, because He’s the one in control, and He will care and provide for us.

We are to fear God in one way, that is that we have to accept Him as major to us, but we are not to be fearful, like being afraid we’d do something wrong and He’d smash us for it. After all, He is a loving God.

But not all people are told. And not all people really get it. So they try to please Him, with all kind of tricks and behaviours. They are afraid of His wrath and thus try to avoid wrongs. They become very restrictive in the rules to live by, all to avoid the wrath of God, all to please Him so He wouldn’t punish them.

They put up hard punishments within their communities for breaking rules, to be sure no one transgresses God’s will. All instead of trusting God and praying to Him for forgiveness in cases of fault. They try to be perfect on their own, to show God, who made them, how good they are and how they not deserve punishment in hell or elsewhere. But they are not perfect and cannot be, for they are still humans and nobody is perfect but God. They forget that it’s all about faith in God and not about good deeds.

The rules they put up themselves remind me a bit of what Jesus said of the man made laws the Pharisees followed: Precautious rules to not molest God with breaking the law.

The whole behaviour shows their lack of faith. They have no faith in their Father to forgive them their sins, though their bible tells them: Ask and you will be given.

They rather make themselves an image of God, of what they think He wants of them and how they think He would act on certain things. By this they deprive God of His position. (and I guess this is a major criticism of Jesus towards the Pharisees of the bible)

They take the position of God and make the rules, just to be sure nothing will go wrong and nothing will be done wrong. They put themselves into control where the control should be God’s alone and do so by making themselves an image of God that fits their rules perfectly. And doing so they are depriving their image of God of the real God so that after a while there is nothing left of God in the image of their god. Finally they are worshipping a man made image, without having a material idol like Isaiah described in chapter 44.

I want to confront them with a quote by Martin Luther:

Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.

There’s nothing wrong with being a sinner. We all are. What is wrong is not confessing to be a sinner. What is wrong is trying to hide the own sin. Be a sinner and do not fear God for it. God does not want you to stop being a sinner. How could you, you can’t even change the color of one of your hair! But confess your sins, let go the pride and let go the rules you put up for yourself. Be free of those rules and put all trust in God. Don’t try to control and civilize Him, He’s too big to control and too wild and vital to civilize. Let His vitality be the source of your joy, of the ever new liberation of all wordly troubles and fears. Be redeemed by the Lord our redeemer.

English, Theologie

On Leaving Church

I just ran across a blogpost by Dan Wilkinson on why people are leaving the church. There he responds to a quote by some guy named Ken Ham who claimed people would leave church because of the teachings of evolution and because this would tell them the bible could not be trusted.

Then Dan writes why young people are really leaving church, well in his opinion. Read it, I think he has a point. But one sentence made me stop and think:

No, Mr. Ham, no one’s leaving the church because evolution shows that “the Bible could not be trusted.”

What if Ham is right? I mean, maybe Ham does believe so himself, maybe he considers it a valid reason to leave church: If the bible is proved to not be trusted, one had to abandon church and faith and all that?

What is a valid reason for leaving church, or any faith group? For abandoning faith? I’d say, if you are no longer (or not at all) convinced of your god, whatever god your faith group might be worshipping.

For myself, not trusting a book would not draft me from my god, because I worship Him, not the book. So the book can be full of flaws, mistakes and what not. So what? What’s God gotta do with it?

Of course things change if the book is your god, and this is the impression I have from several conservative Christians. I am not sure if Ham falls into this category, but chances are high I guess. Those Christians reduce God to a book, a book they learn to or at least try to master. What kind of god can be mastered anyway?

How can you be surprised by joy, like C.S. Lewis was, when the God that is supposed to bring you that joy is a book you know by heart? What surprise can come fro a thing you know?

I mean, even if the bible was God? It is even reduced to one way of reading it, all is fix, all „truth“ is told and written down. Live by it. Period.

What joy, what surprise, what new life can come from this? Whatever is controlled by man will not surprise anymore, will not bring joyful news or a change in life.

If you control the sun and the rain, you will no more be happy for good weather, or rain after a drought. Because there will be no more droughts if you don’t want to, and you have sunshine whenever you like. Nothing wild and unpredictable about that any more. All routine… all civilized.

If you make the bible your God, if you want to put your faith in that bible and reduce God to that bible, and then you try to control that bible by knowing it exactly, you are civilizing God, you are depriving that god of his powers.

Not the real God of course, because the real God would not let you do that. But that image of a god, that civilized, predictable image is in the end deprived of all power, and people will not follow a powerless god, because what they need is the real God. And they will feel that the powerless god isn’t real, so they leave the church worshipping him. There’s nothing wrong about it. They are looking for the real God, wild and uncivilized, uncontrollable yet controlling everything, and a helper in hardship.

Dan writes:

They’re leaving the church because your version of Christianity has nothing whatsoever to do with right practice, and everything to do with “right” belief.

I don’t agree. I think they are looking for the real right believe to know what is right practise. By the way, I think there is a lot of stress put on right practise in conservative circles. Wrong practise would be premaritial sex, voting for Obama… you name it.

I got to Dan’s article through an article by Lynn Swayze Wilson. She writes about herself and why she is leaving Chriatianity (she’s converting to Judaism). The end of her article is great, so I’ll quote it here:

If Christianity, or any religion, can balance tolerance and love with meaningful spirituality, then I think the young people will stay. It’s really that simple

For me, what she writes there, is Christianity, so I am Christian. I understand this doesn’t work for many people who grew up with other kinds of Christianity, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Because if the religion is incapable of showing God’s love to people, if that religion is incapable of enabling the people to answer God in a meaningful way, it’s nothing but idolatry. One would have to find out, what the real idols are. I mentioned the bible being put in that place sometimes. Sometimes it’s other things that are identified with God and then civilized to have them controlled. That’s how you can loose God, trying to pin Him down. Don’t do it. All praise be to Him.

English, Jesus and Mo explained

Pretending really hard

Creative Commons 3.0 from jesusandmo.net

The sad thing is that the cartoon has a point. There are lots of believers who mix up belief and knowledge, faith and facts. But actually faith does NOT mean pretending to know something you are as clueless about as others.

Faith in God has rather few to do with hard facts. God can be there if creation or evolution is true, that won’t hinder too much. And God can even be there without any afterlife. That’s not what it’s all about.

One thing I find rather strange is that atheists, who mostly claim to be sooo very much more based on science than believers, is that they tend to use the same bible hermeneutics as right wing believers, i.e. raw biblicism. The bible writes about creation in 7 days, science tells us about evolution. Religion must be wrong and religious people dumb. Religion tells us about people living to be 600 years old? Same thing.

The approach to the text is the same with those atheists and the biblicists they laugh about. Thus they come to similar conclusions: Biblicists mix up belief and knowledge, atheists do the same. And this although literary science would tell those oh so scientific thinking atheists that what they do is not scientific at all…

But how does this come, that people mix up belief and knowledge. It’s because we’ve forgotten how to read texts. That is: Older texts with a religious relevance like the bible.

If we take Shakespeare, we know that MacBeth is not supposed to be a historical record of Scottish history. And the Star Treck movies are not prophecies about the future (or another historical record).
Do you know Galaxy Quest? It’s a movie with Tim Allen. In the movie, Allen is actor of a Space series, he and his crew are travelling through the universe, fighting evil Aliens and all that. But it’s a show. Only that there are also real Aliens. And they get into trouble with another alien race. And they see that Space series and consider it to be historical records instead of just a show, because they don’t know this whole concept of shows (actually when they later find out about it only being a show, they consider it all lies).This illustrates a bit what’s happening with the bible. The Aliens didn’t pretend really hard that there was this hero space captain which was starred by Allen, he was there. But he wasn’t what it appeared to them, he wasn’t a space hero, he was a mediocre TV celebrity. It was just a misunderstanding.And what if the Aliens had known it was just a show. Would they have considered the whole space adventures of Allen nonexistent? No. Like we don’t consider the adventures of Kirk and Picard nonexistent, they are there, we can watch them. But they are not historic truth, they do not show knowledge about things that are going to happen or did happen once. But still they tell us about the authors and their days. Like when Kirk is always breaking rules to achieve his plans, we can know that in the culture that brought forth this TV show, breaking rules under certain conditions was acceptable or even heroic.These media are witnesses to what really (and historically) was. They tell us about the dreams and ideals of the people, or of their faith. That’s less in Star Trek, but more in the bible.Star Trek is true in so far, as Kirk (or Picard or Janeway) is really considered a hero and that our culture understands him so through the things he does in the show. Though none of these things actually happened. Still they are not just lies. They transport truth, but not historical truth.But that’s what biblicists and atheists seem to be after in anything. For them, Star Trek movies must appear to be either all lies or pretending really hard that people dream of travelling to the stars and live together peacefully (at least within mankind).So what I want to say? Think ! Think about what a certain text means, how it was meant to be read. You might come to the conclusion, that the creation texts in the bible are not about contradicting evolution, and that prophecy means not prediction of the future, but realising what’s really going on.Plus: Belief in God and Christ has foremost to do with the gospel and the salvation of humankind. Not about guessing or pretending about timely things. 😉

English, Theologie

Comment for God’s Politics Blog

I like God’s Politics Blog a lot, and read their articles from time to time. It gives me insight to what’s going on in American Christianity and more specifically, the American Christianity we don’t hear much about in the media here, because God’s Politics Blog belongs rather to the Christian Left than the Christian Right and the Christian Left is something you wouldn’t know about here unless you sought for the term on google, I guess.

But there is one thing I don’t like at all about God’s Politics Blog. And that is the comment function. I like commenting and I like being able to do so without keeping a number of accounts on several social networks just to be able to log in to a certain site. They used to have Disqus, which was also getting on my nerves, but just a bit, as I could use it to log in by my OpenID.

Meanwhile, they switched to a comment form that allows Facebook, Yahoo, AOL or hotmail. I have neither account, and I am not willing opening one up to be able to comment there. But as I have written a longer comment on the article about Bishop Carey’s claim that within a generation the Church of England would cease to exist and (implicitly) that because of that they’d have to „attract“ young people and turn the church into an „exciting place to meet new people“ which I don’t want to just delete again, I’ll post it here:

How would one attract people? By giving them a place to meet new people? I think that’s not the church’s business. There are bars, cafes and Facebook for that. And prophetic words? Great, if they are heard in church, but you can’t do this yourself, unless God speaks to people in church, which is His to decide when and where.
I think the bishop has the wrong focus: It’s not about attracting people, the church is no business that needs good marketing, because the church has nothing to market. The church has the gospel, and it’s the business of the church to preach it. Not sell it, preach it. And to administer sacraments.
In doing this there can be groups that emerge out of these actions, which themselves are then situated within the church’s organisation. And there can be a place to meet people. Not in order to meet people, but while doing what preaching and sacraments made one do. And this can also attract other people, who would then also listen to the gospel and grow a need to receive the sacraments. But first things first, because if we focus too much on these possibly attractive groups, we will loose our center. And without that, all the rest will break down too in the end.
So maybe the church isn’t attractive at the moment, and maybe too many people don’t want to hear the gospel, which makes the church shrink in places like England and Wales. But as faith is a gift from God, and nothing we can decide about ourselves or that others could generate in us, we can’t do anything about it but pray and see that our sermons do really preach the gospel. So what we need is good theology and the faith, that God will turn all things to a good end.

English, Technik

CKEditor, Unicode and HTML entities

There are times when you are looking for a solution of a problem and nothing seems to help… until you realize that you missed something very stupid.

This happened to me today: I’m playing around a bit with ckeditor and of course, I wanted it to play nice with languages like Hebrew and Greek (for those wondering: I study Theology).

So I tried to have some Hebrew letters as initial values, and what I got looked like this:

picture showing html entities instead of Hebrew unicode letters
This does not look very Hebrew

When I clicked on „Quellcode“ which is German for „source code“ I saw what I learned is called html entities, 4 or 5 character sets that all started with &. So the Hebrew I entered in the source file as initial value got lost and „translated“ into those html entities. I asked google and came to settings like

config.entities = false;

and

config.htmlEncodeOutput = false;

but they didn’t change a thing. But the solution was rather simple as you can see here:

picture showing ISO 8859-1 as website encoding
One should use the propper encoding to start with

Things bettered a lot after correcting this:

picture showing uft-8 checked as encoding and the correct Hebrew text appearing in the text field
Once uft-8 was chosen, the Hebrew text appeared

All of a sudden, the Hebrew text was actually Hebrew and readable. Stupid mistake, took a bit to find out. So if ever you run into a similar situation, be sure to tell your website which encoding you use like so:

<meta http-equiv="Content-type" content="text/html;charset=UTF-8" />

and be sure to set the encoding accordingly if you do not use utf-8 like I did.

English, Jesus and Mo explained

Hijab and Atheism

From Jesus and Mo, License CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

The complain in this comic is obviously that Muslim women have to cover up with hijabs or even burqas, so (Muslim) men’s lust was not provoked. Before all I want to point out that I am not at all interested in whether Muslims do claim so or whether it would be a right claim or not. This is not what this post is about.

This post is about the image Atheists, at least certain ones, have of Muslims and spread about them in comics as the above and whether or not one could call this hypocritical.

So this blog post is not against Muslims or Islam, it actually has nothing to do with it, it’s about atheist criticism of religion and in how far this criticism touches atheist demands as well.

One example of an atheist demand can be seen on my old blog. There’s a German article dealing with a picture I found on the internet. You can see the picture on the article page. On the picture there is a woman holding up a sign which reads:

Restraining Order: Your religious beliefs must stay 500 yards away from my constitutional rights at all times.

Other examples include but are not reduced to: No church bells as they disturb atheists, no public praying etc etc. Generally many atheist demands aim at pushing religion out of public space.

So while Muslim men are said being disturbed by viewing female hair, Atheists are disturbed by hearing churchbells, seeing and hearing religious people pray, seeing crosses and crucifixes in the public space etc etc etc.

As Muslim men are said to not tolerante their wives and daughters being „uncovered“ and visible in public, Atheists do not tolerate religion being „uncovered“ and visible in the public space.

Of course, the claim is that Muslims would suppress their women by making them cover up, and of course religious people are said to indoctrinate others with their religion by speaking about it openly and making it visible in the public. Suppressors are always the others!

No (new) Atheist I ever met even considered in how far their ideology of a „clean“ public would suppress others. The sign on the mentioned picture speaks of „constitutional rights“, isn’t the right to follow and practise a religion as much a constitutional right as having no religion is?

Muslims and other religious people are pictured as oppressors and indoctrinators, while atheists are the bringers of freedom, one could start thinking. But really Atheists just have their own brand of „oppression“ they seem to be blind to. They are asking not to be provoked by noticeable religion as they claim Muslim men are asking not to be provoked by female hair.

And this is either, if they know it, hypocracy, or it is thoughtless, unconsidered, which would mean that those people who claim to be sticking to reason could maybe do some more reasoning…

English, Theologie

By grace alone

I ran across an article by Gary where he addresses the question of whether you are saved through works or through faith.

He points out correctly that it is faith alone, which isn’t very surprising as he is lutheran, or should I say, protestant?

Because basically, I only knew about catholics being accused of teaching that you’d have to earn entrance to heaven through good works, and that without them you could have faith as much as you wanted, but wouldn’t be let in.

I doubt the catholics really teach that, I think it’s a bit more complicated,  I think there as something with synergism or so, but really that isn’t what I’m up to dealing with now.

There are other things to the article that made me wonder. One is the „born-again experience“ of Martin Luther and whether it was one or not. Let’s recall: Luther speaks of himself reading Romans and finding out about salvation by faith alone, through grace alone. Whether it is historic, what he later said or not, there must have been this one point when he understood something he didn’t before. We have something similar in Acts (9:18), when Paul started to believe:

And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales

I am not too sure what is meant with a born again experience, because here in Germany, there are not too many evangelicals, mainline protestantism is still strong. But I think that there was indeed a change in what Luther thought and understood. Now he didn’t get baptised as Paul, because actually, he had already been baptised as a child and you don’t double-baptise anybody.

And Luther was still a man of faith somehow. He cared very much for what God wanted, Luther wanted to please God perfectly, to be one of the „good guys“, as far as we know today not out of pride, but maybe rather fear of the scornful God. This experience in the tower set him free from that fear and gave him confidence. So I am not sure if you could not call this a born again experience. A new life without fear, which starts as ever life starts with a birth. But there seems to be more to the term „born-again experience“, at least for Gary.

I’ve read some of Garys articles recently, and he seems to be writing against some kind of doctrine he came from but has now left for lutheranism. He describes the opponent side as baptist, evangelical, reformed or calvinist on several occasions.

Now I have a rather reformed (calvinist) background (I am not Calvinist, but it’s within the tradition I come from, read here if you wanna know or just ask) and find Calvinists sometimes misrepresented, but I guess that’s becaue in the USA, calvinism is something different than in Europe. Here it’s one of the protestant confessions, the second next to lutheranism. In the USA it seems that „calvinist“ can also refer to Baptist churches, which sounds kinda weird to people like me, because the reformed (calvinist) christians here persecuted the (ana)baptist like the lutherans did (or the catholics). So I guess for European ears (at least mine) it sounds strange because here the two groups were opponents.

Anyhow I realise that baptists (and evangelicals generally, as far as I can see here in Germany) tend to have doctrines closer to the reformed church than to the lutheran church. I think their understanding of the eucharist is closer together than with lutherans, who are themselves closer to roman catholicism. Their difference lies in infant baptism I think, though this can differ for the USA…

Anyhow I see people who propagate these evangelical doctrines here in Germany (some comment on my blog) including a very stong idea about works.

As far as I understand, their idea is that you are saved by grace alone (they know about Luther having said that and they respect Luther to a certain degree) but then, this isn’t all. Because, I think, they are till in this fear-state I wrote about:

They claim to be saved by grace, but they also stress the good deeds very much, caring about the dos and don’ts quite a bit, sometimes it even looks like they are trying to keep up a facade just to appear being a true believer. Believing becomes a competition, with God you should not have any problems, be it personally, socially, according to health or finances. When things go wrong it is as well because of God testing you as it is because of the lack of faith, so people with severe problems are at times just being left alone by their congregation (who should be supportive as „true christians“) either becaue it’s God’s will that they suffer, or because their suffering is because of their lack of faith and „true christians“ should not have anything to o with unbelievers or both.

It is certainly not always so bad, because after all, poeple are human beings, able to love. But I’ve heard about such cases nonetheless.

It is because they don’t ambrace the saved by grace part of doctrine too much. Where being saved by grace was once the point of no more fear, so that Luther and Calvin could write about predestination that cannot be undone by human means, for those evangelical christians, it seems to have become a mere entrance ticket.

Where christians back then were tought to do good works to go to heaven (including giving money to the church) this wouldn’t suffice for evangelicals nowadays:

You have to first accept Christ as your personal saviour. This alone appears to be a work for me, because if you decide yourself, it’s not by grace, but by own will, and it’s not faith, but it’s thought. So once you are „in“ by your own thoughts though your own will, you can be accepted by God once you become really holy, at least holier than thou art now… 😉

If you do good works without accepting Christ as your saviour, you’re lost, even if you do better than any Christian ever did.

If you truely believe in God and Christ and all, but you don’t get holy enough, at least in the eyes of your congregation, they’ll still say you’re out. Because they think they know exactly what God wants you to do. Here, biblicism comes into the game, bt that’s another issue.

So to be saved in their eyes, you have to do both: Proclaim you accepted Christ as you saviour AND behave the way they think God wants you to behave, and make no mistakes, because the fires of hell are hot and painful for the sinner…

Much of what I’ve wrote might come across as a caricature, and yes, I might have exaggerated a bit, when it comes to the majority of evangelicals. But I am sure such congregations do exist, and I am sure that every congregation has one or more details of what I described. This doesn’t mean mainline protestantism has no wrongs, it has its own share. But in the central part, which effects salvation, both lutherans and (non-evangelical) Calvinists agree that it’s God who gives you faith and safes you by grace, through faith, which itself makes you do good works, but they won’t safe you. They are a consequence of faith, not the requirement. Or even shorter said:

Fear not, God loves you.

English, Theologie

Unconditional Love

It’s been a couple of days since I came across Bruce Gerencser’s Blog „The Way Forward“. From all what I have understood, Bruce used to be a minister for years, before he became atheist. On his blog, there is a „start here“ series with posts to understand his journey. In order to understand – why woud I be reading anything at all if not to gain further understanding on God knows what – I started reading those posts (I haven’t come far yet, but I shall).

Below the first of those posts, in the comments, Bruce claimed the christian God would not love unconditionally. I questioned that, we exchanged some points and he pointed me to another post of his called Unconditional Love.

I don’t know Bruce very well and I dislike categorizing people (though I do it  – and I hate that fact), so I want to make clear that this post here is neither to question his decision to leave the church or anything else that has to do with his person. I just want to answer to this very post about unconditional love. Not more, not less.

I know that Bruce knows the bible much better than I do. Somewhere I read, he had been studying the bible for 50 years (Bruce, if you read this, corretc me if I’m wrong) and I am far from even being 50 years old. Nonetheless I have at least some knowledge of the bible and theology, so I dare to throw a big No at the said pot of Bruce’s. And I invite you all, no, I ask you, I beg you to point me to the flaws in what I write. After all, I could only win from being shown my mistakes. Finally: English is not my mother tungue, so you might find that I use some starnge or unclear language. I still hope it’s good enough for you to follow. If not, tell me and I’l try to explain what I meant.

Now to Bruce’s post:

He starts with examples for non-unconditional love in our daly life. He writes that even though we might say we love our wives unconditionally, we would quickly stop doing so once they started to behave in a way we could not bear. He claims we would then stop loving them.

This seems pretty right. And really, many people do stop loving their spouses when they cheat on them and such (Bruce also mentions child molestation). But does the love stop because of unmet conditions? I wouldn’t say so. I even would question love stopping the very moment we hear such things about our spouses. Why else would we suffer from the cheating, if there was no more love there at that very point? I’d say we suffer, because we love and because we realize that the person in question does not meet the conditios we set up for them to deserve our love. Sometimes we stop loving quickly after such a crisis, sometimes the love does not stop at all though we would under no condition want to meet that person again.

Let’s look at the thing from a different perspective: Not from the en of love, but from the beginning. Do we set certain conditions that have to be met in order to love someone. Did you ever walk down the street and decide all of a sudden to love a certain person? I’d say, and I’d be interested in people with a different experience to tell me about it, that love i something that happens to us, without us putting up conditions. So from that point of view I’d say: Yes, love is unconditional. That doesn’t mean it will last forever or anything, but we do not control it. As well as we don’t control the end of love, as much as we sometimes would like to be able to just cease loving some persons who just hurt us.

For me as a Christian, love is a gift from God that He gives and takes as He pleases. I cannot do anything about it. Neither can my wife.

I also want to say something about love relationships. Becaue Bruce writes that there are conditions when we enter such relationships. Yes, there are, I agree absolutely. But there are love relationships without love (but a whole big lot of lust and desire eihter for the body or for the money or… you name it) and plenty of love that does not end in a love relationship.

So I would say: Love is basically unconditional, even between humans, because whenever it is not unconditional, it makes the other one an object and is not love anymore, but desire or whatever you will call it.

So do we love unconditionally? I’d say seldomly if ever. We are human, so we fail. And yes, this is a religous conviction, but I am religious. Your convictions might differ, but they are convictions nonetheless, just as mine.

Now to God. Bruce writes:

God drowned millions of people in the flood. Men, Women, children, the unborn.  His love was not unconditional.

I’d be hesitant to connect the Flood with love. But I’d also be as hesitant to connect it with the lack of love. I am deeply convinced that you can love a person and still harm them. I’d agree if Bruce wrote: God’s present of life, and of good life even more, is not unconditional. God takes lives. And as I believe He has his reasons to do so, it is conditional. But I do believe God can take lives and still love. God was, according to the bible, in strong detest of how the people were living in Noah’s times. So there is a reason why he took lives. But then again, He’ll take all of our lives one day or another. So this way of thinking would lead to us saying God would not love any person at all, because all die. If we look at the live of the saints and martyrs, there is death and suffering everywhere. But no Christian in his right mind would say God didn’t love them.

Finally Bruce writes about the condition that we have to believe in order for God to love us and safe us from eternal hell. I know this kind of teaching well, and yes, it is a form of christian teaching. In the United States this might even be the majority opinion among Christians. But there is more to Christianity than the United States, and there are more denominations than the fundamentalist ones. Saying the Christian God wouldn’t love unconditionally is only true for a very small group of Christians. So you’d have to call quite some Christians not „true“ Christians in order to make that sentence, that the Christian God wouldn’t love unconditionally, true. You might know that this is the „no true scotsmen“ argument basically.

Yes, I might be classified as close to universalism. I think it’s the closest to what I read in the bible, but I also know that there are problems. Actually I don’t mind too much, because even in Calvinism as a believer, I’d be going to heaven anyway. And I am not Roman Catholic or Evangelical enogh to think works (including the work of faith) gets me there. That’s the problem with all those theologies that focus too much on hell: They have to say who’s gonna go there, so in order to find somebody to put there, they put up all kind of rules what you have to do or not.

So as close to universalism (though I wouldn’t deny hell, but I’m not sure if it is eternal or just something like the Roman Catholic purgatory, that only cleanses people from their sins) I would say: Yes, God loves unconditionally and in the end we’ll all go to heaven. And yes, all would mean: Including Mao, Hitler and all the other people that could be considered evil. But all of them will be cleansed. The Hitler of heaven would have repented, would have seen the evil of his ways ad would have changed. He‘ be abe to love Jews like anybody else. And heaven’s Stalin woud be friends with them as they’d be friends with anybody else in heaven. And the lion wil lie with the lamb and the child will play with the snake.

One word on Calvinism: The Problem with Calvinists is, they don’t read Calvin. He wasn’t too focused on those who are lost, he was only interested to point out that those with faith in God ar saved no matter what. Unconditionally, because of the (unconditional) love of God. And as for Arminians: I don’t know. There are hardly any here in Germany. Seems they all go either burned or they went to the New World. You deal with them 😉

Commenting Media, English

No good plan starts with magic sperm

I commented on another video by darkmatter2525 yesterday (which lead to some discussion on diapsora*), and if you checked the source page where I found it, you’ve seen that there’s also another one. This one.

Somehow I even like this one. It does a fair bit of critizising satisfaction theory, which I do not consider correct myself either. It might not be doing the satisfaction theory justice, but it points out some good points that speak against it.

The most important question might be, why an omnipotent God cannot forgive.

Ad this is my major problem with satisfaction theory, too. Why does God have to see blood in order to forgive? Standard answers go like God was too holy to forgive, His glory would be affected, or His justice. People tend to cling to that satisfaction theory as if it was the good news. But what is so good about a God that has to sacrifice His own son in order to be able to forgive us?

Actually, it’s even unbiblical. Which is why it baffles me that biblicist Christians still cling to it, though they usually also cling to the letter of scripture. God does forgive oftentimes. Also throughout the Old Testament, without Jesus even being born by Mary. Biblicists claim that God was only able to do so because Jesus was crucified later.

Of course darkmatter2525 presumes that all Christians would follow satisfaction theory. We don’t. And this is why his critizism of it might be nice, but I still would like to see that there is the alternative as well. Any of the alternatives. Let me tell you about the one I consider the most probable:

The first question I’d like to address is: Who was reconciled with whom? Was it God who was angry and needed to be reconciled with us, or were we angry at God and needed to be reconciled? While satisfaction theory says God needed reconciliation, I do believe that God was all fine, loving us and all, while we were the ones full of hate for God and whom not.

The cross was there to reconcile us with God. We needed to be changed. So the death of Jesus wasn’t God’s fault, He didn’t need Him to die. We needed it, we wanted it. And we would do it again.

Imagine some person coming down to earth and telling us in the face what we did wrong, without even hating us, just telling us. We’d be angry. Imagine someone who would make you realize how many people had to suffer for your sneakers, your clothes, your food. How your way of living destroys lives somewhere else, destroys nature. How your bank account and the interest you get leads to other people losing their jobs, homes, maybe make them starve? You’d hate the person who reminds you of that. You’d call him names, and you’d seek a chance to pay him back. And you’d use that chance, if it came up. And after a while he’d be killed, for whatever reason. Main thing, he’s out of the way and we can go on living the way we do.

So God doesn’t want Him to die. We do. And we did when Jesus was around. Jesus was God, fully, completely. You can hardly differ between the two. So anything Jesus had to suffer, God suffered. It was God there on the cross, it was God who died. We wanted Him to die, we want to be our own Gods. We want to run the world.

We needed reconciliation, and He was willing to give it to us. But how can you reconciliate a horde of haters?

Love prevails!

If someone keeps striking you, how can you overcome him, without doing him harm? You wouldn’t want to harm someone you love. God loves us.

So He endured all we did to Him, He endured even death. And rose again.

So now there are two possibilities. Either you hate that God that just won’t die and be dead so you can be God instead, or you see that this God is really God, almighty and worthy to be praised eternally.

Why would anyone of us want to be God in the first place? Because we want the power t ourselves, to care for ourselves, because we fear if we are not in control, whoever is in control could turn against us and harm us. We fear to be harmed, so we try to take over control.

When you see that there is someone who even overcomes death, who promises love and lives it (sic! why else would an all powerful being endure all that pain, crucifiction and death if it wasn’t for te love?), you have no more reason to fear. So you have no more reason to try to take over control, because you see control is in good hands, in God’s hands. And you have no more reason to hate anybody. Instead, you grow strong. You grow strong enough to endure. If you can endure, you can also love. And all through the faith in God, the faith in His crucifiction and resurrection.

If you don’t see that is was really God who died and rose there, if you miss that faith, you must hate Him even more, you have to deny Him to cling to that target of yours, to be the one in control yourself, to get rid of fear not through the power of Gd, but through your own power. Anyone who claims you wouldn’t be able to make it must be an opponent, who is trying to hinder you from getting rid of your fears by gaining power. What others cal the good news is rather disturbing. People not following the rules of gaining power, of „taking their lives in their own hands“, that’s just not predictable. You don’t kow what they are up to next and how they’d harm your attempt to gain more power.

All would be so easy, if you’d rather cling to love. But it seems to me, that people cannot be made to seeing what happend in the crucifiction and resurrection. God needs to show it to them individually. And He goes by His own timetable. So we have to be patient and wait. And keep on loving in the meantime, because by love we overcome the world.