Wednesday, October 10, 2007

On the “stain of original sin”

For many years I never really questioned the conservative Christian story of how sin was introduced into the world: the disobedience of Eve and Adam creating the oh-so-permanent-and-inescapable stain of original sin on all of humankind to follow. Somehow it made sense, or enough sense that I didn’t really think twice about it.

Today I think the Genesis story just doesn’t hang together.

When conservative Christians are asked how they explain the devastation of natural disasters, a common response is that it’s because of sin. What do you mean? Like, someone brought the wrath of God on themselves in the form of a forest fire set alight by a bolt of lightning because they sinned against Him? "No," a lot of them would respond. Most don’t want to go the punishment route anymore – it’s too hard to justify Katrina or the Asian tsunami with such an argument. Instead, they might say something like: "Not only are all humans born with the stain of original sin, all of creation itself is sinful, which explains random natural phenomena that hurt or kill people. God didn’t create devastating natural disasters - it’s not God’s fault." In other words, it still goes back to Adam and Eve and their decision to disobey God.

Hmm. So by what mechanism and what logic did Adam and Eve’s disobedience “infect” nature itself? I suppose one might argue that it was the serpent’s behavior that God cursed, and that somehow that animal’s curse extended throughout the animal (and plant?) kingdom. But that leaves a bloody big black box for how the serpent’s behavior could possibly have affected (or infected) cloud formations or weather patterns, which according to the Christian explanation above, would have had to be “perfect” before the Fall.

I thus have big questions about what mechanisms got set in motion to infect all of creation following the disobedience of eating the forbidden fruit. It couldn't have been some kind of genetic transmission from human to...weather patterns; arguably God had to actively make some or all of his non-human creation imperfect and sinful after the Fall. And if that's the case, then how benign is God, really, in this creation story?

But the other big question I have revolves around the fairness of that stain of original sin getting passed down to every human being. It’s the classic question: "What makes it fair to make someone pay for the sins of their ancestors?" How do I have anything to do with Adam and Eve’s choices? And therefore why, according to conservative Christian theology, am I consigned to hell for their actions before I’ve even taken my first sweet breath of air outside the womb?

I haven’t really heard a convincing argument for why this is just, right, fair, okay, legitimate, or righteous. “Life just isn’t fair, that’s just the way it is” (or “the Bible says it, I believe it”) really doesn’t cut it for me on this matter.

Take a single, African-American mother stuck in the inner city, who can’t find good employment, education, or housing: is it fair that she’s stuck where she is? Hell no. And, it is probably true that she is the victim of a long legacy of abuses, neglect, racism, sexism, and economic discrimination against those African-Americans who came before her. In a way, she is living with the legacy and consequences of the sins committed against her fore bearers.

At first glance, this might seem like an analogy for original sin. Except for this: we as limited human beings can't snap our fingers and instantaneously change the circumstances this inner city woman lives with.

But God can. Or could if he wanted to. Similarly, God could have chosen to create a system in which Adam and Eve’s offspring got to start with a clean slate, not burdened by the spiritual ramifications of their parents. And if they 'messed up' and sinned against God, then they could deal with the consequences.

I guess my point is that the stain of original sin is not the only obvious and inevitable consequence of the Fall. God didn't have to make "original sin" an automatic transmission from one generation of humans to the next. Kind of like with Satan: Lucifer was an angel who rebelled against God. The other angels weren't thrown out of heaven or otherwise condemned - they weren't punished for Lucifer's sin. So why are we punished for Adam and Eve's sin?

And really, on a practical level, I’d like to meet the Christian who would feel PERFECTLY OKAY paying up in the following scenario: Imagine you are a white American. You are approached by the federal government, which has finally decided that white Americans should make reparations for the awful legacy of slavery in the U.S. The Feds tell you that your great-great-great-great-great grandparent owned slaves. And they have calculated that you, as the direct descendant of that slave-owner, owe the direct descendants of the slaves $50,000.

If this scenario makes conservative Christians uncomfortable, or inspires a defensive “that’s not fair!” or some other argument against ponying up, I would hope they would stop to consider why, then, they feel so comfortable with a theology that automatically makes all humans dirty, stained, and responsible for the choices of two people who lived thousands of years ago.

28 comments:

jennypo said...

***God didn’t create devastating natural disasters - it’s not God’s fault." In other words, it still goes back to Adam and Eve and their decision to disobey God. (Slapdash)

There are a couple of things that you haven’t defined here, Slapdash, and I think that’s because we as Christians have settled for a “fuzzy understanding” of what the Bible says – we haven’t defined them either. One is the difference between the punishment for sin and the consequences of sin. Example: Mom says don’t play too close to the road. The punishment is a “time out”; the consequences could be anything from getting splashed with muddy water to getting killed by a car.

Another important thing to define is “sin” itself. What is “sin”, as the Bible describes it? Essentially, it is the refusal to love, or selfishness. If we look at it in relation to the God who is Love, it is a rejection of him (his essence) and his place, which is higher than all else.

Adam and Eve were given great privileges: the companionship of the Most High; their similarity with him; the right and responsibility of joining their Creator in the creative governance of nature, to mention a few. With privilege and freedom necessarily comes responsibility. Adam and Eve were innocent. A clean slate, so to speak. But even at that, they still chose themselves over the Love they knew well. Did God know they would? He did. And he created them anyway. When our first mother and father chose to reject Love, he didn’t snatch back all that he had given in demonstration of his awful power. Instead, he began a beautiful and painful demonstration to the universe of what Love is – and that is what makes Love worthy of the highest place…what it is, in essence. Not the power behind it. Not the position it holds. Not the number of creatures who choose it.

God’s government of the universe, and his right to govern, hinge on this: his essence – Love. Sure, he could have squished Adam and Eve and Satan before them like bugs. His power would have allowed him to. But the power of Love is not revealed in a display of might. And so Love did what Love must do. He allowed them to choose.

What did they choose? To be free from Love’s rule. And thus they became free from God and subject only to that which is greater than them.

What is greater than a human being? The Bible says angels are, “a little”. Are there any angels not under God’s rule? Indeed, Satan is. God had given him the chance to prove he was greater than Love, and when Adam and Eve – clean slates - rejected Love, it seemed that he had won. But Love is greater, and also more powerful. (There is a difference.) Satan had power only over what God had expressly delivered out of his own hand and into Adam’s – the natural creation.

The power that Satan enjoys in the world today, including the power to effect natural disasters, was given to him by Adam and Eve’s God-given choice. What power he lacks is a result of Love and those on the earth who choose Love. Romans 8:28 tells us that all things work together for good to those who love God. God’s power over those who choose him and over the earth in relation to those who choose him determines what Satan may and may not do. Satan’s power extends only to those who do not choose God. God’s power (not his ultimate power, but that power limited by his own choice to offer choice to human beings) extends only to those who do choose God.

Does that mean that if I love God no natural disaster will ever affect me? No, rather it means that if a natural disaster touches me God has ordered it, measured it, and chosen it for my ultimate good, because Satan has no power over me.

If I reject the God who is Love and his power to rule over me, then I am at the mercy of whatever elements may be stronger than myself – including Satan.

This situation has come about as a result of Adam’s and Eve’s choice. How about since then? I would like to suggest that our human selfishness has led to a huge pollution problem, which has in turn led to a huge environment problem, the result of which has been numerous and increasing malfunctions of an otherwise incredible and reliable life-sustaining eco-system. This destruction and its consequences are a direct result of humanity’s selfishness and greed – and we still want to blame God for letting it happen. God is not punishing us with natural disasters. Forget theology – this is about ecology. We humans have upset the balance of nature and we want God to come by and wave his magic wand, but not bother us.

Slapdash, your slavery analogy is a good one. However, like it or not, we ARE living with the consequences of what our great-grandparents chose. Honestly, if I thought I could erase it, or even fix it, as cheaply as $50,000, I wouldn’t be waiting for the government to bill me. Ten times that money, even if I had it, wouldn’t come close to evening things up. Instead, we are left sitting in our own filth, surrounded by unfairness and crime and poverty, and all manner of ugliness that was caused by our ancestors. Are we one step better than they were, that we could begin to settle their debts? Don’t bet on it!

But whether or not we choose to admit it, we ARE responsible for that African American mother stuck in the inner city and unable to find employment, etc. We are responsible to her and to millions like her. If such a problem could be solved by a check, we all ought to be ponying up. As it is, much more than money is required of each one of us. We are required to by a God who is Love to love – and that means giving not just $50 000, but all that we are and have.

I realize that your real point here is that God could snap his fingers and fix it all for her. The truth is that he can’t. We’ve got God mixed up with Aladdin’s genie. It’s not his power that is limited – it’s his character. God has agreed not to choose for those who don’t choose him, because he is revealing Love, not power. And those of us who do choose him learn pretty quickly that God’s best choices for us aren’t always money, employment, health, even happiness. His best choices for me have been always Love, whatever the cost. The most important thing in life is not life itself. It’s not happiness. It’s not safety. It is love.

And that’s why God himself took responsibility for the sin that is alive and well in our world. He wasn’t satisfied merely to judge. He took responsibility for your ancestors and mine, all the way back to Adam and Eve. He took the blame for their choice. Not by snapping his fingers, please note – but by giving himself. He chose suffering, death, sin, and blame – he who is sinless, blameless Life itself. He chose it before we chose him. It cost God everything to right the wrong that was done by Adam’s and Eve’s choice.

So now sin is beside the point, really. The judgement for our sin has been taken away. The only way we will bear it is by rejecting Love and what he has done in our place - then we leave ourselves at the mercy of the Evil One.

God didn’t force his way on Adam and Eve, and he won’t force it on us. The grand imperative of Love is choice. Without choice, there is no love.

God is not in the business of proving his power – if there were any question of that, we would all be destroyed by the proof. His purpose is to demonstrate, to his own hurt, that Love is the greatest thing in the universe. Not that it’s the strongest thing, though it is, but that it is the highest and most worthy thing. We who truly choose it must proclaim it to be so with our lives, as God did, and to our own hurt.

jennypo said...

I apologize for the length of my comment. Hope you don't feel like I'm hijacking your blog
! :^)

Jonathan Blake said...

I want to make one point before my comment goes off the rails. We can blame Augustine of Hippo for the idea of original sin. As such, it is one of the most hellish inventions of mankind.

But even at that, they still chose themselves over the Love they knew well. Did God know they would? He did. And he created them anyway.

So you're saying this mess is all God's fault. ;)

Does that mean that if I love God no natural disaster will ever affect me? No, rather it means that if a natural disaster touches me God has ordered it, measured it, and chosen it for my ultimate good, because Satan has no power over me.

I have to be honest here. This just sounds evasive. If you don't follow God, then natural disasters are Satan's fault, but if you follow God, then they are God's idea? When God kills an unborn child in a tsunami, for example, it is for her good? Her slow suffocation as her mother runs out of oxygen is meant to do someone good? Does her suffering benefit her, or does she suffer for the benefit of the rest of us? If it's all the same, I'd rather go to Hell than spend time with a God who would make innocent children suffer to teach me a lesson.

Also, I have no way to judge if what you say is true. Let me give two explanations for what we observe (i.e. an unborn child being killed by tsunami).

1) God loves everyone and has some unspecified greater good in mind when he tortures and kills innocent people. We can feel his love when we are faithful.

2) God is actually malicious. He tortures us because he enjoys our suffering. He promises that he loves us all and that a paradise awaits the faithful, but he just wants to prolong our suffering. Being ultimately powerful, he pulls the puppet-strings of our minds to make us feel an illusion of his love for us.

From our perspective, how could we tell the difference? I suppose this is where faith and hope comes in, but what reason do we have to hope? "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you…" (1 Peter 3:15)

It’s not his power that is limited – it’s his character. God has agreed not to choose for those who don’t choose him, because he is revealing Love, not power.

How I read that: God could have created us with both the power to choose and absolutely no desire to sin (because his power is unlimited), but he chose not to because he lacks the necessary character.

And those of us who do choose him learn pretty quickly that God’s best choices for us aren’t always money, employment, health, even happiness. His best choices for me have been always Love, whatever the cost. The most important thing in life is not life itself. It’s not happiness. It’s not safety. It is love.

What does love mean if it doesn't mean desiring the happiness and safety of the loved one?

It cost God everything to right the wrong that was done by Adam’s and Eve’s choice.

So God had a bad weekend and this makes up for every moment of suffering we experience at his own hands? If God put us in this mess by putting Adam and Even in a situation knowing that they would cause untold suffering to their descendants, then the least he can do is avoid judging us for our sins. If he was really a nice guy, he'd take it upon himself to clean up the mess.

So now sin is beside the point, really. The judgement for our sin has been taken away.

People are still suffering. If suffering is the product of sin, then sin has most certainly not been washed away. We still feel its effects every day, including the unborn child who died in the tsunami. That child had no concept of God or rejecting God, yet it suffered. All I see so far are a few people telling me that God isn't angry with me anymore and promising he'll make it all better after my life is over, but I'm still suffering.

Let me recap. God wanted to show everyone how infinitely loving he is, so he created Adam and Eve and put them in a paradisaical garden knowing that they would break his rule about eating of the fruit one particular tree. When they broke his rule (just like he knew they would), he cast them out of paradise into a torture chamber inhabited by a malicious demon he refuses to rein in. Adam and Eve and all of their children suffer at this demon's hands. He creates earthquakes, floods, plagues, famines, pestilences, and all manner of suffering to punish Adam and Eve's family for the time back in paradise when their first parents dared to eat that fruit that God tempted them with. Before the demon can do this, however, he must get God's approval to make sure that no one who believes in God's love suffers more than necessary, such are the protocols of the heavenly bureaucracy. Satan is on God's payroll, doing all the dirty work God doesn't care to do.

Millions upon millions upon billions of people are tortured and killed in this torture chamber with God's approval. God's sense of justice demands that God punish all of humanity for Adam and Eve's sin of which they had no part and for choosing evil themselves, just as he created them to do. He couldn't show his love if people didn't suffer, so his plan from the beginning was to create humanity in such a way that they would certainly sin, torture humanity when they sinned according to his plan, and come to their rescue.

Seeing his plan was going well (what with all the suffering and dying going on), it was time for God to show his love, so he took on a mortal body. After being tortured for a day or two, he gave up and died. This made God feel better about the suffering of all the billions of people who he's banished to his torture chamber.

If God let all those tortured souls live forever in paradise, it would probably make up for all his hellish sadism. Yet he still put a condition on humanity's relief from suffering. They had no choice to come to this nightmare chamber in the first place. He never asked them their preference beforehand, yet they bear the final responsibility for getting themselves out. They must first believe—while still being tortured—that he loves them. Not only that, they must love him in return. Anyone who can't muster the credulity necessary to believe that, anyone who doubts his love in the face of all his sadism, anyone who doesn't thank him for the chance to suffer and die at his behest will go on suffering forever in an even worse torture chamber reserved for the skeptical and the ignorant.

God sounds like one hell of a cult leader.

OneSmallStep said...

Jenny,

**But even at that, they still chose themselves over the Love they knew well. Did God know they would? He did. And he created them anyway.**

Okay, but -- well, let's take school shootings. If you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that someone is going to walk into a school tomorrow and kill seven people, and do nothing to stop it, you are very much accountable. If you say that you were respecting the shooter's choice, you will get ripped (figuratively, or perhaps literally) apart for not stopping the action. Your foreknowledge gives you equal responsibility in the outcome.

**We humans have upset the balance of nature and we want God to come by and wave his magic wand, but not bother us.**

But it sounds like you're saying that we've upset the balance, and we want God to come and fix it for us, and only us. That's not what people generally say -- they look at those who are suffering through no fault of their own. Say I do something that causes an earthquake in another nation -- why do those people suffer for my mistake? Why do they bear any responsiblity for actions that I and I alone did? Why is my free will here valued more than theirs?

**God has agreed not to choose for those who don’t choose him, because he is revealing Love, not power.**

But then is that really love? Sometimes, love does require that you choose for those who have flat out rejected you, because sometimes that other person is an idiot, or not thinking clearly. It has nothing to do with power. When we have children, our love forces us to stop them at times from doing something wrong. Free will and the ability to choose is not respected 100% of the time. That's actually irresponsible. Sometimes, love is displayed in a power of might, such as a mother defending her child from a killer.

**No, rather it means that if a natural disaster touches me God has ordered it, measured it, and chosen it for my ultimate good, because Satan has no power over me. **

But then there's no objective definition here: a natural disaster occurs to someone who has rejected Love, and thus is suffering a consequence. Yet God also issues a natural disaster, out of goodness. The very definitions of good/evil have become completely arbitrary here. Under this method, you could say that God has allowed someone to be raped for her ultimate good, while another person becomes raped because she rejected Love.

**It cost God everything to right the wrong that was done by Adam’s and Eve’s choice.**

Did it really cost God anything? Yes, Jesus died -- but Jesus didn't stay dead. Jesus was resurrected, and glorified. In the end, based on the second coming, God is still victorious, God still deals with evil and such. But Jesus didn't stay dead. Jesus isn't eternally in hell. Whatever seperation Jesus might've endured was brief. Depending on how we define "cost," it could cost God some of His creation in terms of some people going to hell -- but that isn't costing God everything.

This isn't a matter of saying that if one follows God, one's life becomes absolutely peachy. It is a matter of asking where the line is drawn, in terms of suffering.

SocietyVs said...

I am not sure I buy into the original sin idea - and it is then passed onto all of humanity - in the sense we are all cursed by Adam/Eve's choices. That is kinda weird to be honest.

I think we are all like Adam/Eve in that we can each choose the same way and they were a template for what we are - ability to choose what's right and what's wrong. I think I would go the route that we are each responsible for our choices.

That being said, I also do believe in sins being passed down - or the consequences of sin being passed down. You mentioned the lady in the inner-city as an example - I think her plight is very much ours also...I mean that's what it means to live in a global village/community. That lady should not alone bear the brunt of the past things committed against her kin - at some point we all need to step up and start finding solutions to that problem (namely poverty and opportunity). I think society has moved in that direction somewhat - but obviously not enough - or that situation would disappear outright.

I see the church's role in this a lot larger than most - since they are also partially responsible for that problem (ie: where were they when this all went down?) - they knew better yet did nothing. So we know better now - let's do something - if we use our teachings as a guide - I think we can come up with ideas to develop programs and plans to help curb poverty conditions on the richest nation on earths backyard.

**As a disclaimer, what I am asking requires a large united church body to be involved using their resources to help with the problem - will it ever happen - well I am a dreamer.

exapologist said...

Ummm.... What about the hundreds of millions of years of animal suffering prior to the appearance of Homo sapiens? Retroactive punishment for the fall of man, perhaps?

Jared Funderburk, SIM CP said...

My two cents...
The story of Adam and Eve, I believe, is not historical but rather metaphorical. It symbolically recalls for those in Judaism where they came from, God made them as with all creation. As stated before, original sin is a man made idea to go along with what really cannot truly be understood,in this case, the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall. Do I believe we are all by nature, bad, sinful people? I did once. Not anymore. It doesn't make sense. You remember when you were younger and were sitting in class and some a-hole is making trouble and instead of finding out who it is, the teacher just punished the whole class? What a joke, right? Sounds suspiciously like the concept of original sin. Don't try to find out who the "sinner" is just rain hail on all of 'em. Disclaimer, I don't know how much I even still believe in "sin" anymore. At least how the church defines it. And I certainly don't buy the whole, "Natural disaters happen because we live in a sinful world." What crap! Maybe we should spend less time blaming God or sinners for the weather and try to take better care of the planet instead. Just a thought...

jennypo said...

Yikes, you guys! I guess I set myself up for that, didn’t I? Fair enough, I’ll do my best to clarify. (Although if my way-too-wordy attempt ended up making God look like a neglectful parent or a cult leader, there may not be much hope for me now!) Slapdash, if I’m being a pain, please feel free to let me know and I’ll try to go a little lighter on the responses.

***So you're saying this mess is all God's fault. ;) (jonathan blake)

Well, certainly not ALL. But in some ways, yes, God created human beings knowing what the consequences would be. He didn’t make us choose sin, but he had full knowledge that we would choose it. God did take responsibility for the destruction of sin. We are, after all, his creation. But he didn’t do this with a wave of his magic wand.

***When God kills an unborn child in a tsunami, for example, it is for her good? (jonathan blake)

I don’t mean that it is quite this simplistic. God is not killing unborn children. If the destructive forces of evil will work to the good of those who love God, then God allows them to work. They are limited to the extent that they do not work to the ultimate good of those who love God. Look, its obvious the issue here is not death, because if the God of the Bible exists, then death simply a passage into eternity, and for an unborn child, one-ness with God. So the question is, what does God do with the pain of a dying baby, and can it ever be good? Experientially and specifically, I don’t know. I’ve seen a little of what he can do, and does, with the pain of a dying adult. And while it wouldn’t be fair for me to compare the pain I’ve experienced with that of a suffocating child, I know what God has been to me in my suffering. I have learned that suffering can be good, and that through it, we can experience both beauty and love in ways that would be otherwise impossible. I can’t extrapolate that to the experience of a baby, because I don’t know anything about it. I can only tell you that the experiences I have had of God do, indeed, allow me to trust him with a baby. He is a God who is also a human being, with a human body. He knows what it means to suffer as we suffer. Lest I appear, again, evasive, I’ll give the short answer here: yes, all that God does is good, even if it looks bad – even if it involves pain and death. I say this with the confidence of one who has received from God what looked bad, and was good.

Let me offer you a third scenario to explain what we see around us:

The pain of those who reject Love is, indeed, senseless and cruel. That is because it is the product of evil. But such pain cannot touch those who open their hearts to Love – unless it is working to their good.

(It’s not, as you suggest, about having enough faith. Adam and Eve weren’t thinking “let’s overthrow God’s rule” when they disobeyed him – they were thinking of themselves. In the same way, there are many in this world who, sadly, don’t know God’s name – but they choose Love (who is God).)

The pain allowed by God to touch those who love him is measured by him and suited to their needs. He never administers a dose higher than what is required. What’s more, in that pain, he comes near. The peace and joy of the spirit do not erase the suffering of the body and mind, but they are worth it anyway. I do not say this lightly.

***From our perspective, how could we tell the difference? I suppose this is where faith and hope comes in, but what reason do we have to hope? (jonathan blake)

“…we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope…” Romans 5:3,4

We have reason to hope only after we have knowledge of God, and deeply, only after we have experience with God. It is through the experience of pain in my own life that I have come to know and hope in God.

***How I read that: God could have created us with both the power to choose and absolutely no desire to sin (because his power is unlimited), but he chose not to because he lacks the necessary character. (jonathan blake)

How can we have both the power to choose AND absolutely no desire to sin (choose without God, who is Love)? What choice would there be? Well, kids, take your pick, you can have vanilla, vanilla, vanilla, or um, vanilla - silly me, you’ve been programmed to have no other desires than vanilla…

Rather, we have both desires side by side. We desire Love. We recognize its value and its beauty. We desire to give as Love would have us give. But, we also desire to satisfy ourselves. We desire to serve ourselves first. THIS is where the choice comes in.

***What does love mean if it doesn't mean desiring the happiness and safety of the loved one? (jonathan blake)

It means desiring the highest good for the loved one. Ultimately, that results in happiness and safety. But happiness is not apprehended in pursuit. It’s a by-product of Love.

Love is when a mother lets a school fail her smart-enough-but-not-dedicated-enough child because the consequences, while painful and dangerous, are not nearly as painful and dangerous as the consequences of laziness. We can’t always be looking at the short term.

***People are still suffering. If suffering is the product of sin, then sin has most certainly not been washed away. (jonathan blake)

I didn’t say that sin has been washed away. I said that the judgement of sin was taken on by God. We do, indeed, still live with the consequences of sin – both our own sin, and that of others.

Let’s think about the ramifications – if God did step in, wave his Hansel-and-Gretel fairytale wand, and make the universe all nice again, what would keep it that way? Unless evil is destroyed, how can Love reign? Just because he has the strength to crush evil, does that mean he has the right?

God is demonstrating to the universe and to the ages that he has not only the power, but also the moral right, to supreme rule – not because more angels are on his side, nor because he can hurl lightening bolts at his enemies – but because Love is essentially superior. Satan challenged his rule, and God didn’t crush him, because God doesn’t believe might equals right. He let Satan challenge his power. Satan was cast out of heaven. God is now letting Satan challenge his right. We, of all the beings in the universe, ought to be most sure of the hideousness of selfishness and pride because we’ve had the closest look at its consequences. We’ve also had front-row seats for the display of what Love offers. But somehow we’ve been convinced that Love is responsible for the terrors, and serving self is going to get us happiness…

God doesn’t need your help or mine. Love IS superior, and it will win. But whether we side with Love or selfishness is our choice.

***If you say that you were respecting the shooter's choice, you will get ripped (figuratively, or perhaps literally) apart for not stopping the action. (OneSmallStep)

Yes, if there are no other forces acting, then the responsibility is clear. Let’s look at a hostage-taking, though. You’re a billionaire and can easily afford to pay the ransom – what do you do? Pay the money, knowing that you’ve sold other people into the same trouble? If God steps in and rescues us from evil, when we have clearly chosen it over Love, he becomes a dictator. He refuses to answer the challenge of evil. He admits that power rules the universe – not Love. The universe is then sacrificed to you and me, and we go on thinking that we are the centre of it all, and have the right to do as we please, and our pollution and self-centredness and mess spread everywhere, and Love is defeated. With Love defeated, who can rule except the next greatest power? – Satan.

***Under this method, you could say that God has allowed someone to be raped for her ultimate good, while another person becomes raped because she rejected Love. (OneSmallStep)

Yes, you could, if you had the right, and if you said it less flippantly than you have. I know people who can say this. But such a right belongs only to one who has experienced such an evil. I dare not make such a statement, although I admit its truth to be necessitated by what I’ve said.

***Did it really cost God anything? (OneSmallStep)

OneSmallStep, if you ever have a son whom you love with even a minute approximation of the way God may love, and you choose (not just see, but CHOOSE) for your son to be dulled and limited and humbled and treated unfairly and unappreciated and impoverished and scorned and spat upon and beaten; if you must say, “there is no other way” when that son pleads with you in loneliness and dread; if you allow him to be mocked and tortured and killed – for no fault of his own; if you force yourself to turn away from him in his hour of need: then you will know a little of what it cost God to deal with sin and evil.

***This isn't a matter of saying that if one follows God, one's life becomes absolutely peachy. (OneSmallStep)

No, it certainly doesn’t.
“In this world you will have trouble…” John 16:33
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” 1Peter 4:12,13

But I will testify with every breath, with all that I am and have, that knowing God makes everything worthwhile.

OneSmallStep said...

Jenny,

**God is not killing unborn children. If the destructive forces of evil will work to the good of those who love God, then God allows them to work. They are limited to the extent that they do not work to the ultimate good of those who love God**

I'm a little confused on this statement. We have that God does not kill unborn children, and yet also allows the destructive forces to work good for those who love God. But if that destructive force kills unborn children, and God allowed that destructive force to occur ... this would lead to the idea of God killing unborn children. The two can't really be seperated, if the destructive force can only occur if God allows it. Unless I'm misunderstanding something?

** Look, its obvious the issue here is not death, because if the God of the Bible exists, then death simply a passage into eternity**

That would depend on who you ask. :) I believe many of the early church fathers held that death was just a suspension, and it was the resurrection in the DAy of Judgement that determined the final status -- not the concept of a heaven after one dies. And they believed this based on how Judaism worked, and the NT.

**How can we have both the power to choose AND absolutely no desire to sin (choose without God, who is Love)?**

I think the idea behind this is if made in God's image and likeness, why not have that ability, as God does? Because if love is best demonstrated through choice, then how can God demonstrate it, since God can't make that choice? God has no desire to sin -- He can't, and still be God.

**a billionaire and can easily afford to pay the ransom – what do you do? Pay the money, knowing that you’ve sold other people into the same trouble?**

Most times, it seems that the billionaire would act in such a
way that pretends to pay, and stops those demanding the ransom, to prevent someone else from having to go through that. This would be directly ansering the challenge of evil, by not letting those who commit the evil profit, but rather face the consquences. And it's not asking God to step in and rescue those who have turned away -- it's asking God to step in and rescue the innocent (I mean this in terms of having done nothing to produce the suffering, such as a random attack), those who haven't turned to self, or who aren't asking to be the center of the universe. Take Africa, which is suffering the greatest effects of climate change. How much of their actions, overall, contributed to climate change? In comparison to the Western world, probably very little. They haven't been selfish, or thinking themselves the center in this regard, or that they have the right to do as they please.

Again -- sometimes, love *is* demonstrated in power, by using power to stop evil, in all forms. I reference my prior example of a mother defending her child who someone threatens. She uses power to stop the threat. Love isn't seperated from power. Part of the purpose of the cross was to subdue all the powers opposed to God, and demonstrate the power of love. It was a conquering act.

**Yes, you could, if you had the right, and if you said it less flippantly than you have. I know people who can say this.**

I apologize if that sounded flippant. I didn't feel it did (obviously, or I wouldn't have said it). If anything, I would find that situation horrific -- someone saying that a rape was for the greater good, or any atrocious act. Where is the line drawn between an action simply being evil, and no excuse? Where is the line drawn here? To say that rape is not evil in all circumstances seems to close to moral relativism, and it leaves me with *no way* to determine whether a divine entity is good/evil, because I can't judge based on actions, like I could under any other circumstance. That was my point with saying that one person is raped for rejecting love, and the other as an ultimate good. Rape becomes bad in one circumstance, and good in another. So how could anyone simply say that rape is evil, based on the act of rape alone?

I know this is a tricky area, because of the idea of rape being a good action. What I think you're trying to say is that rape is evil, but good can come out of it? The problem underlying that for many would be that if it was allowed to occur for good results, then the rape itself would also fall under the "good" category. Because it sounded like you agreed that it could potentially be said that someone could be raped for his/her greater good, as allowed by God -- so doesn't that make the "rape" a good act, by default?

**if you force yourself to turn away from him in his hour of need: then you will know a little of what it cost God to deal with sin and evil.**

But -- if Jesus is God, and all-knowing from the beginning, then Jesus/the Son knew this would happen, and selected it. None of this was a surprise, or unexpected. Plus, the outcome was known: whatever suffering or outrage there was was a fraction compared to the glory that would come to Jesus by being resurrected, or having the "name above all other names." There was no permanent cost. When we say that it cost someone everything, we mean that the person never gets the cost back -- the cost is gone, forever. To me, if someone were to say that it cost God everything, then I would say the outcome to that would be that God permanetly lost His Son, or had to turn His back on His son forever.

What's interesting here is that I think we've got the same thing in both situations. IN the above, in terms of suffering and love, you seem to be taking the big picture into account, and saying that in the grand scheme of things, at the final resolution, all things will be seen as helpful/good, and the moment-by-moment potential evil acts won't seem that big. With what it cost God, we seem to have switched positions: we do have the big picture with the crucifixion, as God would've had, and see that it's but a speck almost, compared the very concept of eternity, and what Jesus gained out of it. Both had determined that it was worth the outcome, and they knew that the events in the crucifixion would pale compared to the end result.

Oh, and this is Heather -- I've changed my name.

jennypo said...

Heather, (I knew it was you, read your blog :^)) Thanks for your criticisms and clarifications. I wasn't as clear as I would have liked to be.

***The two can't really be seperated, if the destructive force can only occur if God allows it. Unless I'm misunderstanding something? (OneSmallStep)

No, it's not you, I didn't explain myself very well there, on review. I meant: God allowing things to happen for a reason isn't quite the same thing as accusing him of going around suffocating babies. It's true that he created the earth, and us, and allowed us to choose sin (so that we could also choose love), and that the destructive forces of sin act upon us, including those who choose God, and innocents. God does, indeed, choose to allow such destruction. I don't know what his purpose is in relation to the baby described, but I have learned from his dealings with me and others who have been able to communicate with me that there is a connection between the human experience of pain and love, and pain and beauty. How does it work for the case of a child killed in utero? Does God simply take away the pain, or is there some purpose in it, too? I don't know. But I know him, and he can be trusted, even with a baby's pain.

***Because if love is best demonstrated through choice, then how can God demonstrate it, since God can't make that choice? God has no desire to sin -- He can't, and still be God. (OneSmallStep)

There are two problems here. The first is the impossibility of a creator creating anything equal to or greater than him/herself. The creation is, by nature, always less than the creator. God has, with the institution of the element of time, made a way whereby we may both choose (now) and, on the basis of that choice, be set free from sin and the continual cycle of choice (heaven/eternity). In this way, we will be like him. But he was first, and his choice is different from ours.

However, God did experience the desire to sin when Jesus became a human being. Let me tread carefully here, because I want to be clear that the experience of desire is not the same thing as wanting. Wanting to sin (whether or not we ultimately act on it) is partially a choice; the experience of desire is feeling the pull of sin. Jesus felt the pull of sin, without the ability to answer it by sinning. That is, he knew the pain of a desire he could not choose to answer even in his mind, and would not fulfill.

"For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathise with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15) That is, Jesus knows how it feels when the human body and mind are pained by the restraint from sin, but he never gave himself to it, since he himself is, as you rightly point out, unable to sin.

***I apologize if that sounded flippant. (OneSmallStep)

No need to apologize - your flippancy wasn't in relation to the rape, you were clearly emphasizing a point. But I wanted to be clear when I agreed with what you were saying that I wasn't also appropriating that tone along with my agreement in principle.

***Because it sounded like you agreed that it could potentially be said that someone could be raped for his/her greater good, as allowed by God -- so doesn't that make the "rape" a good act, by default? (OneSmallStep)

No more than the killing of Jesus could be considered a "good act". Jesus himself told his disciples, "Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!" (Matthew 18:7) Luke tells us the same thing: "It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come!" (Luke 17:1)

***Both had determined that it was worth the outcome, and they knew that the events in the crucifixion would pale compared to the end result.

Yes, I can agree fully with this. It's not that the price "was not that big", though - only that it is worth it - both for us and for God. Isaiah 53:11 makes it clear that to Jesus, the suffering will have been worth the result: "After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied."

I didn't make it clear, but you have, (thank you!) that neither our suffering nor God's can be belittled or made to seem small. Neither one is small, but both, whether chosen by God for us or for himself, are smaller than the purpose behind them.

OneSmallStep said...

Jenny,

**God allowing things to happen for a reason isn't quite the same thing as accusing him of going around suffocating babies.**
I think we're still going to disagree here, because if everyone only has power because God allows them to have it, and destructive acts only occur because God allows them to occur, whether because God allows Satan to do that or God allows it to happen, then it's still coming back to God doing something, even through inaction.

**The first is the impossibility of a creator creating anything equal to or greater than him/herself. The creation is, by nature, always less than the creator.**
Well, the point more so behind this was asking if God has free will, if free will is so closely wrapped in the idea of choosing love or sin? If love is best demonstrated by choosing the "other" over the "self," or choosing to go against sin, then God can't make that choice. God has in fact put something in His creation that He cannot do Himself -- the ability to choose evil. If love is so closely tied into choice, then this might very much alter the perception of how God loves. Does God have a choice in love? God can't choose to do otherwise.

And in order to choose evil, evil must be attractive on some level, or this is no choice. And if evil is attractive, then the creation has not been created fully good. Can God create something that is less than fully good? If God lacks the ability to do evil, then can God even be capable of creating something that has the ability to do evil?

Second, you can create someone with the ability to feel desire, and not have the ability to act on it, and still have the creation as less than the creator.

**Wanting to sin (whether or not we ultimately act on it) is partially a choice; the experience of desire is feeling the pull of sin.**

To make sure I'm understanding: you're defining desire is an involuntary act, almost, not something that is instigated by choice. (I think defining it as you have is going to be tricky, though, because both desire/want pretty much fall under the category of involuntary. If you see a blue sweater and suddenly want it, that's not something you really choose. It's something that appeals to you. Half the time, you can't choose what you "want." It's simply something that is produced).

The problem I'd find here is that if God is all-knowing, no such personal experience should've been necessary. If God can only understand the desire to sin through becoming human, then I would see that as limiting God's omniscient abilities. Second, even the desire to sin, no matter how involuntary, would be enough to bar someone from God's presence forever, and require the need of a savior. Because that means a lack of perfection, and a lack of goodness. By default, the human part of Jesus should be barred.

**It's not that the price "was not that big", though - only that it is worth it**

I still don't think that it can be said there was a cost -- again, there was nothing permanently lost, and the outcome was foreknown by both parties.

Steven Bently said...

What we have is a book that was written by men over 2000 years ago that says, "With God, all things are possible." Except, he lost control of evil in heaven and cannot save souls by himself, he has to incorporate help with his son to save souls and only after 4000 years of sacrificing goats and sheep for atonement of sins, did this god finally devise a way for peoples' souls to be saved.

This God already having pre-existing knowledge of the power of this evil being, this all knowing God allows this being to come in contact with the lessor beings in the form of a talking snake, no less.

This God already having dealt with the Satan creature, whom supposedly tried to over throw this God in heaven and could have just as easily destroyed Satan with the snap of his finger, since he his supposedly the creator of all things including all evil Isaiah 45:7, chose not to destroy all evil and knowing full well the same creature would also try to destroy all of mankind.

The same god who supposedely created the entire universe including over 125 billion galaxies similar to our own, in just six days, and it took the same god 4000 years to devise the Jesus salvation plan???

People (including Jesus) 2000 years ago thought that diseases were caused by demons and evil spirits, we now know with the invention of the microscope, (around 1600's) that diseases are caused by bacteria, germs and viruses, not by evil spirits and demons.

People 2000 years ago also thought that the earth was flat, and that the Earth was the center of the universe, we now know, with the invention of the telescope, (around 1600's) that the Earth is not flat nor the center of the universe.

People 2000 years ago thought that the Heart was the center of all thought and emotions, we now know, through medical science, that it is the Brain that is the center of all thought and emotions.

Notice that the word 'Brain' is nowhere in the Bible, so why wouldn't an all knowing God whom supposedly insipired his word to be written by men not knowing himself about the brain? Because the Bible was not inspired by a God.

People 2000 years ago also thought that a rainbow was God's covenent not to flood the Earth no more, but we now know through the help of Newton, that rain drops cause a prism effect when exposed to the Sun, if a God wanted to promise no more floods he would have made rainbows visible anytime and at night when it rained, not just when the Sun is shinning.

I think people should examine why they insist in believing in such biblical nonsense.

And yes, I am a hard-core rational thinking human being, so don't bother looking at my blog, unless you happen to agree with what I have just written.

Zeke said...

Jiminycricket... I have to admit, sometimes this whole religious enterprise just seems fsking nuts. Even stuff that I passionately defended, although the doctrine of hell was never among them. I never did get that, and never will.

Well, some of course may think that I'll figure hell out soon enough via first-hand knowledge.

Zeke said...

It cost God everything to right the wrong that was done by Adam’s and Eve’s choice.

I know where that formulation came from, but what does it really mean? How is it that the suffering of countless billions of humans across the ages apparently costs God nothing, while the suffering of Christ--once and for all time--cost God "everything?"

Like I said, sometimes this stuff just seems nuts to me.

jennypo said...

***Does God have a choice in love? God can't choose to do otherwise. (OneSmallStep)

Sorry, I missed the point here entirely. The difference between us and God is that we may choose which parts of our nature may rule us, while God may not change his nature. However, we were given our options by God. He was not given his nature. He is in and of himself. We, being created, would have no independent choice if God hadn't given us the option to choose him or not. (We may still disagree, though... ;^))

steven bentley and zeke,
I do understand your frustration with people like me. God isn't half so confusing as my silly explanations make him out to be. I'm out of my depth trying to explain the infinite in finite terms, and the spiritual and physical/philosophical ones. I can't do it. Nor will God be communicated so cheaply. It will take all of a life - sweat and tears, breath and blood - to show who that One is that has so imposed the reality of himself on me. I hope you meet him in spite of me.

Jonathan Blake said...

jennypo,

I wouldn't blame yourself for not being able to communicate God clearly. The idea of God is full of paradox and contradiction (I've heard that some forms of religion embrace this paradox). It is impossible to present clearly because it isn't a clear idea. The God that most people belief in, the idea that they carry around in their mind, makes no logical sense. This is like many of our ideas, but we don't ask people to worship our other ideas.

The idea of original sin is a good example of how we try to make sense of scripture but end up creating an atrociously unjust system. Original sin makes no sense to me when I allow myself to question its basic assumptions.

Steven Bently said...

The obvious reason that no one can communicate the concept of a god clearly is because a god has never been seen. A god is a concept invented by men, that's the reason a god must surely be expressed as a 'he'.

How would you all like for me to write a book about you, not having ever seen you, yet porporting having discribing you in perfect detail?

All you need is a little faith to believe what I wrote about you is totally true.

Zeke said...

I hope you meet him in spite of me.

Jenny, I thought long and hard about how to respond to this comment. You probably believe that your words came from a place of real humility, but they just come across to me as thoughtless and arrogant. Who are you to assume that I have or haven't "met" God? I'm a man who came to belief almost 15 years ago and since then have served in a number of different ministry positions, including the deacon board of a church for three years. Since then, like Slapdash, I've been struggling with what I believe or don't believe.

Rest assured, you aren't standing in the way of me and God. You're just reminding me why I cant stand evangelicalism anymore. It's chock full of stuff like this.

I should wrap this up by saying that I'm sure you are a very nice and decent person, and your sincerity is obvious. But most evangelicals, being so steeped in their insular culture, have no idea how they come across to people outside the culture. So here's some straightforward feedback for you... take it for what it's worth.

Jon F said...

I do not accept the idea that we are born bad, sinful, and in need of redemption. I do not accept that God the father had his own son murdered to satisfy his own anger against the human condition that he created in the first place. What sort of God is that? You, me, and everyone else - we are made in the image of God and that’s good enough for me!

Slapdash said...

I've been following the comments with interest... thanks for weighing in. A couple of thoughts:

- In the context of my inner city single mom example, someone talked about the consequences of sin, and someone else noted that we are all responsible to help. I couldn't agree more. Yes, all choices carry consequences. What I was trying to convey, poorly now that I re-read it, is that we are not *only* saddled with trying to clean up, or otherwise deal with the consequences of others' sins, God himself marked us all as guilty before we even got in the game, thanks to what Adam and Eve did. And that just doesn't seem fair or right to me. I think my example muddied the waters.

Slapdash said...

I'd also like to note that conversation seems to have moved to questions around God's love being manifested in choice, part of choice is being able to choose sin, etc. That's a familiar and recurring conversation.

What I haven't seen much of here (though I should re-read the comments to be sure) is much discussion over my initial questions: what are the MECHANISMS through which this original sin spread through all of creation?

Sure, someone noted that our modern weather problems are attributable to the broader environmental problems we've brought down on ourselves - an example of us reaping the consequences of our actions. Fine. Okay. But that's a modern phenomenon. As far as I can tell, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and the like existed pre-industrial revolution, so if you take modern human/industrial activity out of the equation, how do you explain natural disasters as a 'consequence of the fall'?

jennypo said...

Slapdash, I liked this:

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-religion/1906948/posts

As to the environmental problem, I can't say any more than the Bible does because I don't have the educational background, but the Bible is clear the that earth was substantially changed as a result of human sin in Noah's day. "...the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven (canopy) were opened." Genesis 7:11

There is a chaotic power of destruction that works in our world. We can see its results everywhere. It reaches each of us. But those who love God and know his hand upon them can testify that the destruction God allows to touch them is not chaotic - it is measured, and results in beauty, purity, and love.

Steven Bently said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Frank said...

jp,

Oh no, you wouldn't be as smart and wise as the bible god is.

He supposedely used Noah and his family as a filter, to filter out the sin (wickedness)of the world, (although he could have just changed everyone's heart, sinse he's supposed to be in the heart changing business) and for his thanks to god, Noah got drunk.

What sin did the animals and trees commit? None!

And then soon there after, we have soddom and gammorah, the wicked city, it was not ok for Lot's wife to look back at the city, but it was ok for Lot's two married daughters to get him drunk and have sex with him and both have his baby.

And being a female, you know how much you would just love to have your fathers baby???

Your Bible
What a crock of BS.

Nate said...

I would love to talk to you about this and many other questions you have. It would either make you love God completely, or reject him forever. If you ever want to, just email. I could be an anonimous outlet for you. (PS- I know why you crave quiet often.)

The "stain of original sin" is not a stain, but a genetic reengineering that happened. God made it possible for Adam and Eve to die. Leaving the glorified body that we should inhabit during his thousand year reign on earth. Also, it awoke emotions. Lust, kindness, anger, love, envy, joy etc... With these now released, mankind became the beast that he is today. Either bad or good based on how they deal with these emotions. This is the good or bad in the world.

Yes, God is also the cause of all good or all bad in the world because he does have the power to fix it. But does not. Also, one third of the angels were cast out of heaven, not just Lucifer. Because with emmotion, we have to choose which we are going to let rule. We will never have to make that choice without the proper information. Therefore, we must have pain and sorrow, health and hapiness. Otherwise we would not be able to pick our path.

Natural disasters. God made the world with rules. The world follows them. Sin has absolutely nothing to do with nature.

Sorry too long already. Just trying to give some quick explanation. Last thought. Pastors are basically bible illiterate. They are taught phrases like a parrot from their seminary to spout back at "X" type of chllenge to their faith. Those I am sure you feel are wrong, and have felt that they are wrong for a long time. They are wrong. If you would like to know what my beliefs are, I am more than willing to share tehm with you.

Jonathan Blake said...

The "stain of original sin" is not a stain, but a genetic reengineering that happened. God made it possible for Adam and Eve to die.

So you're saying that we could engineer our way back into an immortal state without God. Excellent!

Nate said...

No, I don't think that we as mere mortals would be able to undo God's work.

It is just what we believe to be important to God is what drives these views. I don't think that God pays tons of attention to things that just happen according to the rules he set up. Like tornados, hurricanes, and tsumani's. It is what he does after these that is to his benefit.

Dave said...

I didn't have the time to follow this whole discussion but from the original post I thought I would suggest a reading I just finished that sees the garden story, particularly in regards to Eve, quite differently. It was called Eve and the Choice made in Eden. You might not agree with all of the tenets of Mormonism but you might find their understanding of the Garden story interesting. On of their basic articles of faith states: "We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression."