Some questions about Christianity from a newbie

Discussion in 'Christianity' started by sachetm, Sep 10, 2003.

  1. sachetm

    sachetm New Member

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    Hello. I just found this site through serendipity and thought it might be a good place to ask some questions that have been on my mind for some time.

    I was raised Episcopal but somewhere along the line, started questioning what I'd been taught. Here is my present quandry.

    God is imnipotent: all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing. That makes sense to me or He wouldn't be God. Why, therefore, would he create the world (and everything else) "imperfectly" in the first place so that he needed to start tweaking it? That sounds more like something capricious that a human would do than God would.

    What I mean by tweaking is create free will but then come back to earth, "write" an instruction manual that's clearly time-based (the Bible) and also come back down to earth as a man to, once again, tell us what we were doing wrong and how to correct it?

    It seems to me that God would have created the world EXACTLY the way he wanted it to be from the git-go. I can't comprehend the concept of free will, except when... Either there's free will or there's not. Either God is capricious and intervenes when He feels like it or He doesn't. If he doesn't (what I tend to believe) then how do we explain Jesus?

    I've developed a theory that explains this for my own edification but am wondering how Christians would answer these questions. I'm not trying to bate anyone, I just don't get it.
     
  2. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Staff Member

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    Hi sachetm, and welcome also to comparative-religion.com!

    The questions you are grappling with, so far as I can tell from outside of the Christian sphere, are a particularly sticky issue within it - and often used by some elements of Atheism to therefore "prove" that God is evil and malicious (or, more specifically, Christianity is...).

    I'm absolutely shattered at the moment - too much for a properly thoughtfully constructed reply.

    However, what I would suggest are two things for you to ask yourself:

    1. As a mental exercise, imagine yourself as an all-powerful creator of a universe - say, one next door (not too much of an ego-trip, please! :D ). Now, consider some of the many issues that would require addressing. As soon as you think you've solved one issue, another comes up...

    Essentially, you end with the problem of what sort of universe you actually want to construct. If you wanted a full blown Utopian Existence Universe it's hard to imagine how this could be anything but static, from start to finish. Without mistakes, without the option to grow and learn, the dynamism of sentient life in such a universe would surely be very limited?

    Simply an initial pointer, because...

    2. Possibly the real problem is trying to understand God in human terms in the first place. A Supreme Being that is a belching, farting, copulating kind of guy is very Bronze Age and not so fashionable these days.

    Essentially, anthropomorphism simply shapes God into something we demand that God is - it really does make Nietsche ring true with his comments on Man making God in his own image.

    Of course, that does not mean to say that God actually has an objective form in the image of any mortal - more to the point, that we can explore many different shapes and names and facets of God, but ultimately, Divinity is beyond our comprehension.

    When we realise that it becomes just a little unfair to imagine that God would indeed think alike to us - or perhaps in any familiar way.

    Unless, of course, you've woken up feeling very omnipotent! :)

    Just a personal perception, of course, just in case it helps you rephrase your own questions better.
     
  3. sachetm

    sachetm New Member

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    Thank you for your reply, Brian.

    I didn't mean to imply that I, in any way, shape, or form, imagine that I can even begin to comprehend the mind of God. That said, it's quite impossible, as a human being, to not make some basic assumptions.

    I look around at the trees, birds, insects, grass, etc. and see one hell of an engineering job. I look at the operation of the universe and certain of its laws, like gravity, and realize there is most assuredly an intelligence far beyond any I've ever known, at work. That is my "proof" that there IS a God.

    I still, however, do not understand why God would not do sufficient advanced planning to ensure that the world He created was the world He wanted to create. It strikes me as capricious and not very Godly to create it and then have second thoughts.

    Part of my reasoning is this. The world/universe exists in time. God doesn't, it seems to me. It's part of His law of creation. Time implies binarity (is that a word?) There is no dark without light, no good without evil by which to define it. God strikes me to be outside of this inherent dictomy. (Plus I once had an "experience" of timelessness and God--whatever that means--but it certainly had an impact).

    Why then, would God insert himself into His own creation to mess with it?

    Here's my theory on a resolution to this problem.

    If in the process of creation, God embedded some form of connection to Him--maybe within DNA--but somehow, someplace--then we would be free to either connect with it or not. That's free will. The Bible, I will cede, contains much wisdom and was perhaps written by men in touch, at least to some extent, with their connection. But there's also a lot in it that doesn't ring at all true within my own heart and seems merely a projection of the human condition upon God.

    From this standpoint, Jesus was a man, like all the rest of us. However, possibly due to the conditions of the universe at the time of his birth, he was able to fully actualize his connection to God to the point that he became one with him--to the extend that a human being can. Jesus did a few things that seem much more human (getting mad at the moneylenders) than Godly. God, it seems to me, would be "above" anger. Humans, however, experience it.

    God remains God. Jesus is a fully-actualized human (fully in touch with that connection) and the Holy Spirit is the connection itself. Jesus articulated what it means to be in touch with that connection and what getting in touch with it, to the extent we can, can do for us. That to me, is the power of his existence.

    I'm sticking with this because it makes sense to me, at least until someone comes along with a better explanation. That's why I asked the question.

    I just don't get the Christian (I'm not sure what I'd call myself at this point) position that God created the world and then decided to mess around with it and intervene, willy nilly, because He didn't get it "right" the first time. That just makes no sense to me. Maybe I'm just not willing to accept a God who would do that.
     
  4. arete

    arete New Member

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    As a fellow newbie(this is my first post) I may not have the technical stuff down yet, so bear with me.

    Anyway, I think you are absolutely right to reject the idea that God didn't get it right the first time. That would make no sense to me either and I really don't believe that is the Christian position.

    I believe you may have actually solved the dilemna by raising the question of free will. The very existence of free will (and few but the most devout determinists would deny its existence) argues that the Creator took an enormous risk in giving his creatures that kind of freedom. The traditional answer to the problem of free will is that human beings who are unable to choose to love God would simply be acting as robots. And that would not be love at all. Instead, in order to share the nature of genuine love (the nature of God himself) he created beings that--and here is his risk--could choose him or reject him.

    The question of whether God 'needed' to create other beings in order to have something to love usually gets raised here, but we can talk about that later.

    Hope this helps.
     
  5. sachetm

    sachetm New Member

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    Thanks for the response, Arete. It's refreshing to be able to discuss these things without fear of being lambasted for being where one is at--to feel emotionally safe to question and discuss.

    I think free will was pretty well a foregone conclusion when God decided to create time from timelessness. Time, by its very nature implies change and change implies one thing vs. another thing which serve to define each other. Note that time also means "things" or matter or there would be nothing to change and therefore, no time. Thus the concept of a binary universe. I know this gets heavy and I often give myself headaches when thinking about it, but think about it, I do. That's just me, I suppose.

    The idea of God wanting or needing love seems terribly human to me. God is not human--at least I don't believe so. One of the goals of enlightenment, walking the path, or self-actualization (different terms for the same basic state of being) is to abolish expectations and achieve total acceptance--especially of self. From this position, things simply are what they are, and that, in itself, I believe, is a form of love. At least at those brief moments when I felt that kind of acceptance, I also felt a sense of love, if that makes any sense.

    Does it seem illogical or weird to assume that God created a capability within "things" to access Him, not so much so that we could love Him, as ourselves and the rest of His creation? Personally, for me, creation is God's "word." To me, humans use words; God creates.

    I know that when I feel closest to God, I feel the best and when I feel farthest away, I feel the worst. Does He need or even want me to love Him or does He give me (the human, a thing) the ability to experience love through a connection to Him and to all He's created? Maybe accepting self and others (all of creation) becomes the same as loving God. Maybe, to Him, it's one and the same as loving Him. IOW, loving God becomes loving self and all else that He's created.

    I've noticed that the kindest, most positive people are the ones who are best able to accept themselves. The opposite is also true. (I'm an educator/counselor so focus on human motivation and behavior a lot.)

    It seems to me that Christianity is too focused on the literal and the traditional and often misses the essence that underlies it. So much Christian doctrine seems to project very human qualities onto God. Isn't that called anthropomorphism or something like that?

    Within a Christian view, God becomes the loving Father, though strong disciplinarian when we're "bad." Mary is the kind Mother, and Jesus, as God's son becomes a brother who will always take care of us if we ask him. The whole system seems like a psychological construct based on human experience of family--especially when taken so literally.

    Personally, I can't see that it really much matters who Jesus was and who he wasn't in relation to God. What does matter is what he preached about how to live ones life, not whether or not he was God come down to earth. Does he have to be God to have worthwhile things to say that are worth listening to? That, again, seems like meddling in what God already created because He didn't get it right from the git-go. (That's not even getting into Christians who focus on belief rather than putting it into action.)

    The same thing is true of the Bible and the Ten Commandments. Did God intervene or did man access God and interpret the message received in the way humans are able? That seems like a far more likely scenario to me.

    The one conclusion I've come to is that Truth is true, whatever it's form and that God loves diversity because He created so much of it. It's everywhere if one chooses to seek it with ones heart.

    I guess I just can't handle the idea of a capricious, meddlesome God unable or unwilling to create things the way He wants them in the first place and needs to start retrofitting. Much too human to me.
     
  6. arete

    arete New Member

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    Well, you are certainly covering a lot of ground here.

    Rather than giving me a headache, your free will, time, matter, change continuum seems about right to me. I suppose God could hae created a universe without free will and with time and change, but somehow the confluence of those things in our own universe suggests that it was designed 'whole cloth'. Our nature 'fits' with the things we know about the rest of nature. I know there are exceptions and plenty of questions to go around, but generally speaking you have made a pretty good case for why God got it right the first time. It all fits.

    I also agree that 'needing' love is a very human trait. In fact I would argue that it is a trait of every created thing. however, it is not a trait of God. I believe that, within the Trinity (yes, it's a mystery) three distinct persons which somehow share a single being, we see love as an apt description of the very dynamic of that internal relationship. In fact, I am inclined to think that apart from the Trinity, love really is reduced to 'need'. The monistic version of God of Islam would seem to have to have created the universe in order to have something to love. In the East, where everything sort of folds in on itself, all is illusion, and the enlightenment one seeks is the dissolution self, love and whatever it's opposite might be (need? cruelty?) would appear to be the same thing.

    Certainly it is not illogical that God would create beings with a need for Him. As created beings it seems to follow that our very sustenance is dependent upon the 'largesse' of the creator. And it also follows that there would be a means of access to this Creator. Especially if the Creator is a 'personal' being. I think both of those ideas are part of the clear message of Christianity.

    I believe that loving our neighbor is an essential part of loving God. Not that they are the same thing, but in both the 10 commandments and in Jesus' words, the most important thing was to love God with all your heart, mind and soul and your neighbor as yourself. So you Jesus does place loving God and our fellow human beings on a par. But if you think about it, he also put loving your self on the same level. Obviously if you hate yourself, and then 'love your neighbor as yourself' you probably won't treat your neighbor very well.

    So all that fits. But the big question would have to be what is wrong with us? Created by God, given the capacity to choose to love both him, ourselves and our neighbor, how did things get to the point where we have the kind of evil that none of us can deny exists in the world.

    From my perspective, the story of the Fall explains it very well. Choosing to go against God's explicit instructions means that a choice was made to turn away from the only one upon whom our very existence depends. That strikes me as a pretty good definition of death. I think it is a matter of God's grace and infinite mercy that we didn't just evaporate the moment after the first sin. Not out of God's vengance, but simply because it was a turn away from the source of life.

    Surely who Jesus is is a very important question. In the Fall, there has to be some means of restoring those who have chosen death. I cannot say that I understand exactly why Jesus death on the cross became the vehicle for that restoration. but I would have to say that i at least understand that his death is only part of it. In the ressurrection we find the real restoration. And a clear illustration of the result that comes of the greatest act of love. Even on the human plane, as Jesus pointed out, there is no greater love than giving up one's life for someone else. Bottom line her, I think, is that had Jesus not been the son of God, in a sense, God himself, his death would not have meant any more than yours or mine. Significant to you me and our loved ones, but on a cosmic scale, nothing like the death of the God of the universe. (Now that is real risk.)

    You are on the right path with 'Truth is True' and it is patently obvious that God loves diversity. Seek him with your whole heart.

    As a counselor you might be interested in a book by John Eldredge, called 'Waking the Dead'. He makes a compelling point that it is through our heart that we come to know God. And that the world, and to an embarassing extent, the church, have done everything possible to destroy the human heart. It is no wonder our relationships go south and we find that we cannot even genuinelyl love ourselves. The deck seems to be stacked against us. But I would still contend, that stacked deck is the result of the Fall, not the Creator's original intent.

    i hope all this makes sense. It's late.
     
  7. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Staff Member

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    Hi arete, and welcome to the comparative-religion.com forum!

    And good points raised - especially as you explained in your first post an issue I was incapable of explaining in far more words!

    Good points raised overall in this dicussion, too - and it is, of course, nice to have discussion without fear of flaming. :)

    Btw, if anyone sees an avatar (pic by their name on posts) that I don't yet have, feel free to point me to it and I'll see if I can collect it for you.
     
  8. arete

    arete New Member

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    Thanks, Brian. I always prefer to avoid flames myself. (It's a Christian thing, I'm sure ;-).

    I figure anyone who is even remotely interested in these issues deserves respect. I may disagree with someone, but as far as it is possible, I will always respect their right to a different opinion.

    Looking forward to interesting and challenging discussions.
     
  9. sachetm

    sachetm New Member

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    Just as a follow-up, I did some research over the weekend. I took a look at the Unitarian Church (which does not describe itself as a Christian Church but has many members who consider themselves Christians) and also the Unity Church. I found Unity beliefs to be very similar to my own.

    I didn't find anything on their site/s (I looked at several individual church sites) that addresses the relationship between free will and intervention by God.

    Unity Church members call themselves liberal Christians. Finally, I've found a label that seems to fit!

    I wanted to thank both of you, Brian and Arete for spending the time to share your thoughts with me.
     
  10. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Staff Member

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    So far as I perceive it, the Unitarian Universalist church has moved quite beyond any original Christian roots, and certainly seems to to have discarded any real emphasis on doctrine.

    It's an interesting group - sometimes I don't wonder if the UU itself is actually developing into a new proto-religion in itself.
     
  11. BlackHeart

    BlackHeart New Member

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    Says who? Why would a "creator of everything" (which I'm assuming is what you mean by "God") have to be loving at all? Why would he have to be *all*-powerful, and not just powerful enough to create a universe? What would make him all-knowing?

    More importantly--why do people assume these are traits of their God? I often wonder where the "all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving" concept came from. (Some folks add "all-present, or swap one of the other two for it.) If God was "all-knowing," then the rules set in the Garden of Eden are nothing more than a cruel joke played on mankind. If he's "all-powerful," then the deaths of infants from dysentary are just more cruelty. If he's "all-loving," then the stories of Hell indicate some serious schizoprenia.

    However, if he's *none* of these things--if he's got tremendous power, but not enough to do everything he wants; if he's very wise & knowledgeable, but doesn't know what people will chose in a given situation; if he loves his chosen people, but despises those who are evil--then the stories, and the reality we live in, make sense.
     
  12. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Staff Member

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  13. Dave the Web

    Dave the Web New Member

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    It is a very major question. How does God account for the actions of individuals if we have Free Will?
    Some fundamentalists would see it as a reason for dismissing others as foolish. My thought it is that there is something beyond the immediate reasoning at work here.
     
  14. sachetm

    sachetm New Member

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    I do see a way to reconcile these apparent discrepancies and that reconciliation lies in human definitions of the terms. At least I've reconciled it for myself.

    Perhaps I should take the link given to get into it further. If anyone's interested, I'll be happy to explain it here, too, with the caveat is that this is what works for me and I make no supposition that it will for anyone else.
     
  15. sachetm

    sachetm New Member

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    Brian, the link you provided isn't working. Wanted to let you know.
     
  16. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Staff Member

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