Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tuesday, or: Here goes nothing.

I'm going to be as blunt and honest as I can about my thoughts and positions on the existence and/or nature of god. I really hope I don't push anyone away with this, and I know there is that potential, but I need to be straight up at this point. And don't take this as a challenge to any of your faiths, simply an explanation of where mine fails.

First, there are a few points on which I have seemingly irreconcilable differences of ideals when it comes to the Bible and God as he is described in it. These aren't "gray areas" either. My beliefs and attitudes aren't aligned even with a very liberal form of Christianity. Primarily, I cannot reconcile the existence of hell with the existence of an all-knowing, all-powerful, just and loving God. I can justify COMPLETELY any suffering people are subject to in this life, given the existence of heaven. It's similar to a young child scraping his knee, an example of relativity. What seems so horrible now will seem trivial given eternity. If the worst kind of suffering in this world was an itchy scalp, an itchy scalp would seem like a travesty, because subjectively, it would be the worst imagineable thing that could befall you. Although that may sound callous, I think it is fair to say that if one could spend eternity in bliss (heaven), memories of harsher times would fade. I mean, we're talking about an ETERNITY of unimageinable joy. Unfortunately, there's a flip side.

I can't use the same logic, or any logic, to explain why an all knowing god would create mankind, knowing full well that we would fall into sin. Or that an all powerful god would allow people to run a course that would doom them to an eternity of suffering. Think about that: spending eternity in a "lake of fire", where there will be no rest, all day and all night (Revelation 14:11). I cannot help but wonder, where is the all-loving nature of God in this? I can't think of any example of love that would condemn the subject of said love to ETERNAL, irreversible suffering. And while some claim that this system is the very definition of just, I beg to differ. This goes back to the all knowing, all powerful nature of God. If god knew that man would fall into sin as he was created, and that the consequence is hell, then god, by logical deduction, created men who he knew (and therefor intended) would go to hell.

Another point I couldn't reconcile is the changing nature of god throughout the bible. In the old testament, god was quick to instruct his people to kill nations who opposed them, men, women and children. Again, this doesn't add up to a loving god, especially considering that the people they slaughtered were destined to be cast into the lake of fire. I've done studies on covenant theology, and on dispensationalism, and neither of them answered to my satisfaction how gods nature could change so much from one of jealousy and wrath to one of grace and forgiveness. This was actually the first big thing that made me question my beliefs. The more I read the old testament looking for answers of how a loving God would command his people to kill men, women and children, the less sense it made. I didn't limit my search to my own understanding of the Bible either, I asked my friends, I asked pastors, no one had an answer. The best answer I got was 'there are some things we'll never know the answer to', and I couldn't accept that anymore.

This is a really tough topic for me, and I honestly wish I had convictions as strong as I once had, I just couldn't go on the way that I had, blindly accepting things that just didn't make sense to me. I feel that I can't accept an entire set of beliefs, regardless of my own observations and personal convictions being in opposition to some of them, and I can't arbitrarily reject the ones I don't agree with.

As far as my attitude towards Christianity as a belief system, I don't have any problem with what Jesus preached, and the example that he set. I do take issue, however, with a lot of the stances the church takes as an institution, and the fact that religion is mixed so frequently with politics.

The genocides that have been committed, the wars that have been fought, the discrimination that has been justified in the name of religion (not just christianity, but all religions), should be an example. By all means, adhere to your spiritual beliefs and convictions, but I don't think that people should make political decisions based on religious beliefs. In my mind, government shouldn't be a moral system, but one of law and infrastructure.

True, basic morality (murder, theft, rape etc) is required for a judicial system, but when the church starts operating in the political realm, it is a slippery slope. The catholic church went that route in medieval Europe, with disastrous, history altering results. That isn't the fault of Biblical christianity, but rather religion in the hands of corrupt (and we're all corrupt) men. The misdeeds of the church in the past never made me question my faith though, again I can understand them in terms of malintent and corruption, and recognize them as being seperate from the true nature of Christianity.

My main problems with Christianity and with God as the Bible describes him are: the existence of hell, and the drastically different natures of God, that is, wrathful and jealous in the old testament, gracious and forgiving in the new testament and in modern times. I spent a long time searching for answers that would make those incongruities in my mind make sense, and I just couldn't do it. I'm ashamed to say that I haven't spent much time in a long time since then defining my beliefs or exploring my morality.

Currently I am operating under a few basic principles:

1. ALL life is sacred
2. There is a natural order to things, which demands alot of respect. So I try to live my life in such a way that I contribute to the lives of those around me, and leave things better than I found them. This is definitely a work in progress, and I screw up alot, but I try to make decisions based on respect and the outcome it will have on those around me. That includes my friends, my families, and people I've never met.
3. Honesty is paramount. Most of my principles can be derived from 2, including this one, but it took me awhile to figure out that regardless of my best intentions, honesty is always best. Again, this is something I struggle with from time to time. But then I'm not exactly a prime example of a good human being, just one thats trying to figure out how to be a better person.
4. This one is definitely a more personal code, but I feel that I'm cheating myself if I'm ever standing still. I feel compelled to continue to learn and enrich myself on a daily basis, and I don't want to lose that...ever.

That's me in a nutshell, and while I feel that there is a greater force at work behind the universe, I don't know if it's the God of the Bible, or the god of any religion. The thing that scares me the most is that I'll never know for sure, and the thing that comforts me is that regardless of that, I can recognize the difference between right and wrong, and I still have strong convictions and beliefs.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing. It is great that you are able to say what you feel and where you stand as a human being.

  2. I know that it has been a long time since you have written this blog, and have been asking me to comment on it for just as long. I have felt that with a entry such as this, my answer needs to be as well thought out as possible. With a poorly formulated response, not only am I showing a poor example of what I think, but I am also disregarding the gravity of what you have said.
    Let me start with a commendation for the fact that you are honest with your uncertainties when it comes to God. All the mumbled liturgies in the world will not compare in meaning inside of one heart-felt discussion about doubt. When we wrestle with our faith, any faith, that is when it truly becomes our own. But it would be foolish to believe that we will escape unscathed in this battle for our own hearts. Jacob, beloved of God, was never the same after his encounter with the Angel of the Lord. A limp is the least we can hope for, but we must be prepared for some breaks when we take such issues into the arena.So far, all I have only received some bumps to the head and heart, but nothing too major yet. I am still holding on for my big fall, which is sure to come sometime soon.
    As your complications go, I can comment on a few of those. The candle of my faith may just light up the night in a lovely way for you, it may offer warmth to your fingers, or it may be another light for the mantle. Whatever it ends up being for you, I offer it as delicately as I can, because I value the light greatly.
    Your question of hell, and how it can exist when a loving God exists, is not one foreign to me. I have wondered about it as well, but our ideas of heaven and hell are so painted by this world that they end up being extreme extensions of life here. Heaven and hell, while connected to this world, seem to be necessarily foreign to life now. I firmly believe that hell is behind a door, locked from the inside. Heaven will be bliss, yes, but only to those who want to spend eternity praising the Maker.
    My answer, I know, makes God seem to be the passive spectator of our actions, unable to affect our decisions between heaven and hell. I also know the arguments for predestination, and the airtight seal that is around that doctrine. While suffocatingly unarguable, I know that this life plays out different from the drab, colorless idea of no free will. Every decision I have made in this life has arisen from my own predilections, my own reasons. Given a chance to go back to each and every moment in my life, without the curse of prescience, I would see that each was a willing action of my own. If God was the hand behind my strings, than I must admit, I agreed with the movements. Predestination aside, I live life with no knowledge of the future, and take on the consequences of any thoughtless decision I make.

  3. While it seems no consolation to the kindly old grandmother who despised the idea of God and loved her children that she chose to go to hell, it seems kinder to me than than the idea of there being nothing but unknowing nature. Absolution is the cruelest mistress of all, if once robbed of life and limb, I am also deprived my purpose. Being a creature imbued with the sensitivity of meaning, love, and reason, I tremble at the idea of it all being for naught. A moral code enforced when all I answer to is an unfeeling force seems to be a travesty worse than the deepest pit of hell. It seems a sadistic joke, with no callous intelligence to laugh at my pain.
    Maybe I have adorned my life with too many elegant tapestries, and mourn the loss of my beautiful purposes, but if that be so, I have grown too attached to the idea of love and meaning. I know this response, despite my best intentions, falls short of it’s original claims. There are many alternatives to be looked at, but this space is too short to look at them all. I hope this is merely a keyhole to see the ideas under this text. We need to hang out some more for sure.

  4. Yea I definitely want to pick your brain over coffee or something the next time on back. These issues are much larger than our brief time on here could ever do justice to, but I appreciate your honest and thoughtful response, and you laid some heavy stuff on me right now. Looking forward to when we can hash out some more ideas.