Wednesday, June 13, 2007

On Faith

I've been thinking for a little while about this and figured I'd pose my thoughts here (at the risk of frustrating a lot of free will and fundamentalists) to see if conversation sparks. I'm going to stray away from quoting scripture here for two reasons; 1: I want this to be a discussion on the teachings and lessons of the bible from a broad standpoint taking the both the underlying messages and overall rules (I've placed what I think are common truths in bold) we are taught by it without getting bogged down in semantics. and 2: The bible, as good as it is, was written by man. Man is flawed as are the morals of those influencing the writers/translators (ie kings, church bodies, etc). More on this last reason later.

1: Is there free will?

Ok... the God I know is all present, all knowing... past present future, He's there. If He knows before I'm born all of the intricate details of my life, when I'm going to be born, how I'll live, how I'll die, what influence can I possibly have which can change what He knows? Example: I come to an intersection. God knows I'm going to turn left, go down the street a ways, observe something which, however minor, will change my perception and cause me to take different action and sculpt me into what He knows I will one day become and lead to my eventual death. Ok. His knowing this... KNOWING this... can I turn right? If I turn right, does that make God wrong? Can God be wrong? Do I only have the perception of choice?

There are those who fervently believe that free will was the greatest gift God gave to man, but what can I do that He does not already know? Could I have made the choice before I was born? He knew I was going to turn left before I was born. He was already there, wasn't he?

So what does that mean for my life?

I posed this question to a catholic chaplain a while back during a down day in Kosovo and he was very passionate in his response, but it seemed to come more out of frustration from not having an answer than my lack of comprehending his argument. His closing question before simply walking away at my answer (with an open promise to get back with me) was, "So do you just believe we are to be a robot?" My answer was, "Yeah, I guess I am. And I'm happy to be one if it means I'm working inside His machine."

Everything happens according to His will. So then what about 911? How could He want that to happen? I will not pretend to know God's will, but to put things in a different light, how many lives were saved by that action and the loss of thousands of innocent people? Could the cure for cancer reside in the mind of an unborn Afghan child who is a descendant of a person saved by our ousting of the Taliban? Could it be that someone in that building was the next Booth, Dahmer, Jim Jones? Who knows? (Apart from Him, of course.) I don't know the answer to this, but I believe if it was not supposed to happen, then it wouldn't have happened. Did they choose to fly those planes into the towers or was it all part of His plan? Didn't He know they were going to die that way? "But why did He kill them? Why did He waste their lives?" Did He? Aren't we taught that they are in a better place? Aren't we taught that they are cared for in the afterlife? He didn't waste them, He used them for His plan.

Again, I don't pretend to know.

2: Hell?

This is a new question that popped in my head. Actually, it just popped in there in the last day or so, so please forgive the rudamentary explanation... I'm not done in any way.

Is there a hell? I know a lot of preachers, pastors, etc.. out there love to give their fire and brimstone speeches about the threat of eternal damnation, but aren't we taught that God is a God of love? Furthermore, aren't we taught to love the sinner but hate the sin?

If He is love, how could He damn someone to an ETERNITY in hell? Wouldn't they eventually be forgiven? Moreover, and work with me here as this is still in its infancy as far as my obscure thought process goes, what would happen if a mass murderer wreaks havok on the earth and goes to heaven, wouldn't the guilt of the love and care he receives there after his actions on earth be hell in itself? Can you have a heaven without a hell? Who benefits from there being a hell?

Think about it... who benefits from there being a hell? God? What could He benefit? Punishment for unrepentant sinners? Can they not repent after death? The soul lives on, right? What if that sould is truly repentant for the previous life's sin? Is it too late? How much punishment is enough? How much is too much? How much is not enough?

Or is it man? What might man have to benefit from hell? It keeps you going to church doesn't it?
Me? I'm still praying and asking for forgiveness.

3: Jesus Christ is the ticket to heaven.

Many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, christians will tell you that only through the acceptance of Jesus Christ and the belief therein that He is the son of God and died for our sins will get you into heaven.

Dare I question this?

Before I get deep into it, I do believe in Jesus Christ. I believe He died so that we may live. He accepted our burden (and going back to the first topic, the burden for the future sins of the yet to be born) so we may be forgiven... now...

I was watching the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy a couple of months ago and began to wonder about that title topic. "Jesus Christ is the ticket to heaven"

Let me pose this question... Here's this tribe, they love one another, they live in harmony with one another and with the earth. There is no theft, murder, greed, envy... they have nothing and want nothing... they only hunt when they need food... they war with no tribe... I'm sure in some ways they sin, we all do it, but according to fundamentalists, their biggest sin is that they do not know Jesus. They have not accepted Him into tehir lives and have not asked for forgiveness.

Do they go to hell?

I love Jesus... Really I do. He's a great dude in my book. I give him massive props for that whole cross thing. Shout-outs to Him, his dad, and the holy ghost. The Jesus I grew up to know, the God I grew up to know... they love people. They love ALL people... red, yellow, black, white... you know the song. Can you tell me that if a jewish person who lived his whole life in the service of God and man, a man who dedicated his life to living in God's laws, can you tell me that if he died today that our loving God and Jesus would sentance him to an ETERNITY of damnation?!? I can see it at the gates of heaven now.

"Well, rabbi, I see you helped the homeless... check. You walked old ladies across the street... check. You didn't murder, cheat, steal, covet... yada, yada, yada... check, check, check. You ran a suicide prevention hotline and ministered to alcoholics and drug abusers... there's bonus points. You saved 150 kids from a burning orphanage... oh yeah, He's REALLY going to like that one. Oh... I didn't see this.... oh no... You didn't accept Jesus. Ok. Off to hell with you. Nope. There's no appeals process, that's it. Enjoy the summers and say hi to beelzebub for me. We used to be bros before that whole "falling out", pardon the pun."

4: Earth in 7 days

Creationism? Evolution? Intelligent Design? Creative Evolution? Who knows? I know I wasn't there... beyond that... it's up to God to know. All I know is He put us here to take part in His will on His earth. How He did it... I don't know. I'm just thankful He did beccause I'm enjoying my time here.

How do I imagine it taking place?

I see God as being able to make everything happen and I see man as being unable to put the process into words.

Oh, and I also think God's nephew came over during the design process and He let him help (do you capitalize "God's nephew" references like you do His references?) How else can you explain the dodo and the duckbilled platypus? (And why do we call it the "duckbilled platypus"? Are there other kinds of platypuses without duckbills? And what is the plural of platypus? Platypi?)

5: The Bible is God's word.

I do believe the bible is a guidline for how we are supposed to live our lives. I also believe that the bible was written by man in that it is flawed. Man has no words for the majesty of God, His grace, His love, nor His kingdom. We simply cannot express in any language current or dead His wisdom or His power. The word "awe" does not begin to describe how utterly dumbfounded we should be in trying to imagine one billionth of God's will or presence.

The bible is a book by men, for men (the "collective" men, ladies. I'm not being sexist here, just archaic.)

Men are flawed. Men sin. Men have ulterior motives. Men form allegiances to groups and ideals. Men have opinions. Men form groups, groups hold power.

How many books of the bible are there? How many in the new testament? Are these the only writings to survive from this time? Where are the others? Why are we not shown them? Surely someone collected them. Why aren't we seeing the writings telling us of Jesus' days as a carpenter? Was He any good at woodworking? Did He invent IKEA? Who is controlling this information? Who has the libraries of this information? Who doles out which portions we are allowed to read? Why these sections and not others? Can we not understand them? Are they poorly written? Has there not been enough time to translate them? Why don't we teach it all if any at all?

Did man interject the portion on tithing? Did man interject the portion on hell? Did man interject the portion on "an eye for an eye" or the "love your enemies"? What about the 7 days of creation? What about the ability of a man with wealth entering the kingdom of heaven? Which parts are corrupted by man? At which point are the stories metaphoric or literal? Who do we rely on to make that determination and who do we trust to train or appoint these people? Is that because it makes us feel comfortable? Is it because we should choose what we are taught?

Some things have to be taken on faith. Refer back to my first point again. Everything for a reason and to an end.

See, I don't know everything. I'd better go now before lightning strikes me and leaves me unable to post this.

Whaddaya think? I'm interested.


Jim B said...

Hi Tim,
I came across your blog just following the next blog button. I've asked these questions myself and didn't get too far answering them until I stepped out of the mainstream Christian dialog. These are both mystical and practical questions that touch on our human/divine interaction. Opening to personal divine experience through prayer, meditation, and the perception of our existence (creation) leads one to look at these questions in a different way. It gets one away from the dualistic thinking that traps one into either or questions when the better question leads to a both/and answer. As to the question of free will or no free will, the answer becomes, yes. God may know what we are going to do but that doesn't mean we don't have the choice when we make it. Step outside the duality, transcend the limits you put on God and on humanity. In studying about karma I came to understand a deeper expression of free will and how God can exist in universe where it works. To me the real gift God gave was a consistent existence in which we can function and come to know God within it.

Peace, Jim

Josee said...

To answer your questions (in my opinion, of course) ... yes, yes, don't know, of course not and not exactly. May I suggest the gnostic gospels? Specifically the book of Thomas where he writes of Jesus' teachings about the spark of divinity within us all and the kingdom of heaven being on earth.

To elaborate, yes, I believe in free will. My life may be vaguely mapped out by my Creator, but I often choose some pretty circuitous routes to come to the places where ultimately I'm meant to be.

And, yes, I believe there is a hell. A popular saying among my crowd is: Religion is for those afraid to go to hell; spirituality is for those who've been there. Hell, to me, is living apart from God. Period. It is surely a hellish existence to be blind to God's kingdom all around you.

As for Jesus being the ticket to heaven, I've asked the same question myself. When I was a child, I remember a hymn based on a Bible verse that said, basically, when Jesus returned "every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that [he] is Lord." And it occured to me, "If every knee bows and tongue confesses, then everyone will go to heaven, right?" The "seeing is believing" folks, however, may not be quite as blessed as those who believed without seeing. By that, I mean, they didn't have the lifetime benefits of faith that the faithful experience.

The Bible was meant to be allegorical. Even the Catholic church recognized this in Vatican II. Only the simplest of minds insist on the seven-day creation story. Much of the old testament is poetry and allegory, old Jewish law and history. And that brings me to the last point ...

History is written by the winners and winners almost always win by brute force and intimidation. The Bible is inspired by God, but written by men. You're right, men are flawed, men have ulterior motives.

Here's a link to the Gospel of Thomas, among other early Christian writings:


And yes, I believe in hell.