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Offended by God?

Over the course of my thesis research over the last year or so, I have come across a lot of different reasons for doubting the existence of God. One major stumbling block for those who reject Christianity is those parts of the Bible which seem to justify actions that we consider to be culturally backward, confusing, and irrelevant or, even worse, immoral. And I think that most Christians, if they’re honest, will agree that there are parts of the Bible that they find baffling, frustrating, or, possibly, just plain offensive.

A friend and I were in Alberta for a speaking engagement this past weekend and one of the biblical figures we focused on in one session was Moses. Most people are fairly familiar with Moses and the cluster of stories in his life which are prominent components of our biblical imagination (scenes like the burning bush, the parting of the Red Sea, the receiving of the Ten Commandments, etc). One feature of Moses’ journey that is, perhaps, less well-known is the way in which he boldly interceded to God on behalf of his people when God seemed ready to wipe them out for their idolatry. Moses repeatedly calls on God to remember what he promised, to consider what the other nations would think, to turn away from his anger and show mercy (Ex. 32:9-1433:12-17).

Surprisingly, God relents. Moses’ courage and boldness appear to earn him God’s favour in a manner somewhat analogous to how Job’s blunt expressions of confusion and outrage at his misfortune led God to ultimately declare that he, and not his friends with their neat and tidy religious formulas explaining human suffering, had spoken rightly of God (Job 42:7-10). In both cases, confusion, ambiguity, and outrage were presented to God honestly and unapologetically. In both cases, it seems that God was less interested in human beings pretending that God’s actions and intentions were perfectly obvious, transparent, and morally praiseworthy from a human perspective than he was in an honest acknowledgment of the pain and offense that walking with him can and does cause.

I’ve been reading Timothy Keller’s The Reason for God over the last week or so. Here’s what he has to say about what to think when we come across a passage in Scripture that we find outrageous:

To stay away from Christianity because part of the Bible’s teaching is offensive to you assumes that if there is a God he wouldn’t have any views that upset you…. Now, what happens if you eliminate anything from the Bible that offends your sensibility and crosses your will? If you pick and choose what you want to believe and reject the rest, how will you ever have a God who can contradict you? … Only if your God can say things that outrage you and make you struggle (as in a real friendship or marriage!) will you know that you have gotten hold of a real God and not a figment of your imagination.

In other words, one skeptical assumption worth challenging is that if God exists and chooses to reveal himself to human beings, he is obliged to do so in a way that will simply confirm and validate our (profoundly historically and culturally conditioned) conceptions of what is good, admirable, and admissible.

On one level, I don’t find this much easier to accept than an atheist or an agnostic. I don’t find the idea that my moral conceptions might not represent the last (or at least the best thus far!) word on the question of what God is like to be a particularly comforting or comfortable one. But if I take seriously the fact that human beings are finite and fallen creatures, whose only access to reality is profoundly shaped (in positive and negative ways) by a whole host of historical, cultural, and psychological factors, then it makes sense to say that my vantage point might not be the plumbline which these matters are adjudicated.

In one of my philosophy classes in university, a professor told the story of a friend of his who was a committed Christian and a celibate homosexual. When my professor asked his friend if he agreed with the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality, his friend said that he did not. This, my professor found truly baffling. How could he possibly choose to commit to a religious tradition when he was in such obvious disagreement with it on a matter as important as his sexual identity? His friend said that Christianity made sense of enough important elements of his experience, and that God had proven faithful enough over the years that he had learned to trust and yield to him when it came to matters that he disagreed with. His confusion and disagreement with God were preserved within the context of faith, and with the understanding that it is at least possible that human conceptions of what is right and wrong might require modification.

My professor obviously found this pretty difficult to stomach. What, after all, could be more important than being true to one’s own beliefs (or, more importantly, their sexual identity!)? If anything is sacred in our post-Christian Western culture it is the individual’s freedom to decide what is true and meaningful for themselves. Yet I got the sense that he had a deep respect for his friend, as well. His friend’s position was not inconsistent or absurd. It simply took seriously the fact that human beings don’t see the whole picture and exhibited a conviction that faith does not require us to sacrifice our honesty—before God or before each other.

I find that facing the implications of the inherent limitation of the human condition—even when it comes to our moral intuitions—it is somewhat liberating in a strange sort of way. I don’t have to pretend that I love everything in the Bible, nor do I have to pretend that God’s way of acting in the world makes obvious sense and demands nothing but my reflexive and unthinking praise. Whatever else may be going on in the stories of how Moses and Job related to God, it seems that one important lesson is that God is not put off by human doubt, anger—even offense—in response to their understanding of how he is working in the world.

72 Comments Post a comment
  1. There are questions here I am not ready to resolve and certainly cannot find liberating. I wish I could and I would say that at one point in my life I could have declared them resolved and liberating. I mean that for me it is completely intuitive that God must be beyond my imagination and certainly beyond my categories of moral discernment BUT…
    The quote you posted of Keller also rubs me the wrong way. It brings to mind notions that I have heard repeated over and over again by people unwilling to investigate truth on its own merit. It has sounded more like, “Well, you know that the thing about God is he’s so big we’ll never figure him out.” It’s the great off ramp in the pursuit of spiritual discovery- just at the points when that discovery could actually mean something. The other thing I often hear is this notion that we shouldn’t really keep trying to discover more truth about God precisely because he is both beyond our imagination and because he seems to bring such sharp contradictions to light the more we pursue him. That asking questions about God is an exercise in faith destruction. Again I find this very discouraging. For me it seems exactly the contested nature of my notions of God that seem to make pursuing him worthwhile at all. And while it may be comforting to be reminded of God’s forbearance of our doubt let’s not be fooled into thinking such doubt is inconsequential to him or to us for that matter.
    And the other worrisome thought is how the church has continually reshaped the notion of God in order to produce hegemony rather than real knowledge of who he is. And so in a pluralistic culture where individualism rules the day – the custom God emerges triumphant. And round and round we go it seems.

    April 7, 2008
  2. I don’t think that Keller is in any way discouraging the pursuit of truth – he is just challenging the popular notion that this pursuit is undertaken by the sovereign, “objective” individual for whom truth must always confirm and conform to what they expect and desire (even when it comes to morality). If I read him right, he’s saying something like “pursue truth, by all means, but do so with an honest assessment of who’s doing the pursuing.” This seems to be a necessary prerequisite if we’re going to avoid the “custom God” you mention at the end.

    April 8, 2008
  3. I don’t suppose that anyone could overtly discourage the pursuit of truth with any kind of intellectual integrity. And leveling that charge against anyone directly is just angling for a fight. But I can’t help noticing that there are vast areas of intellectual understanding that we dismissively wipe away with comments and rhetoric that points to how unfathomable God is.
    On the whole the project to define God has in my view few reliable roots to anchor a confident let alone dogmaitcally strident view of who he is and how that affects us. It’s not just humility that is required – in my view it is a healthy sense of unabasshed bewilderment.

    April 8, 2008
  4. jc #

    I guess it might come down to where one would draw the line in the relationship. Continuing with the metaphor of Marriage… would you stay married if your husband or wife turned out to be spending there time killing innocent children? I think not. For me there are couple of things about God as he is presented in the Bible that repulse me so much that I would not carry on a relationship with that being. If I am to have a relationship[and I use that term loosely] with a deity it would be one which I did pick and choose the parts I believed about him are true. Like that those passages about God commanding the death of innocents in the Hebrew Bible must be entirely a human fabrication along with original sin, and the concept of hell.

    April 8, 2008
  5. then jc
    if you pick all the parts yourself – he can’t really be God – you are.
    and you remain in that position even if you reject the notion of God outright…
    …bring on the kool-aid

    April 8, 2008
  6. jc #

    If you don’t pick the parts but still believe in a God that morally repulses you will also need a healthy supply of Kool-Aid. If you are not the one choosing the parts you want to believe in you are just subscribing to someone else’s view who has done the job of picking for you.

    April 8, 2008
  7. Dale,

    I think we’re basically agreeing here. Neither of us think that the “well, we just can’t understand it so let’s appeal to mystery” approach is appropriate. Both of us think that honesty and doubt are part of a life of faith. The “unabashed bewilderment” you refer to seems fairly similar to what I was calling getting at in the post with terms like “doubt,” “anger,” and “offense.” These sentiments simply comprise part of the “phenomenology of faith,” if you will – what it sometimes feels like to follow and relate to God from a human perspective.

    April 8, 2008
  8. jc,

    I think you’re right to point out that it boils down to where one “draws the line.” The metaphor of marriage is a limited one (as are all metaphors) which is why the Bible portrays the human/divine relationship with a whole spectrum of them (servant/master, father/child, bride/bridegroom, friend etc). Each metaphor sheds some light on the nature of the relationship, but even taken together they still cannot encapsulate the ontological distance between God and human beings. The criteria for where we will draw the line in deciding about God are, I think, somewhat different than the criteria we would have for a spouse or a friend.

    Three questions:

    1) Do you assume that if God exists, he would not or could not have any views that offend you?

    2) Do you think that the worldview you have chosen is entirely of your own devising? Is there anything in, say, the Enlightenment worldview that has been “picked” by someone else or is it only religious people who are guilty of embracing ideas that have been picked by others?

    3) Are you morally repulsed by Jesus?

    April 8, 2008
  9. yeah my comments aren’t really about agreement or disagreement – its more about the unsettling tension that this issue continues to hold. The fall back trump position – that God is too mysterious to figure out – is incredibly frustrating especially when there has typically been such a huge buy-in to rationality. It just seems too convenient to ditch the system use to determine theology when the system fails to produce answers that are either unpleasant or incongruent both personally and corporately.
    and let’s face it we have developed a wide range of strategies for negating those places where we disagree with God.
    -we can question biblical interpretation
    -we can redact those sections out of the Bible through avoidance
    -we can use the the old switcheroo with the Old Testament/New testament tricks
    -we can claim personal expereince as a new revelation.

    all i’m saying is that the uncomfortable God is not one we actually meet very often. We certainly are loathe to dwell on him and hopefully are still not that arrogant as to deny him altogether.

    sorry rambling

    April 8, 2008
  10. jc #

    Your questions are good and I probably my answers are probably not as well thought out as they should be.

    1. I guess I would assume that God would not have any views that so deeply offend my view of reality as some of the views I have mentioned earlier. That part of Brothers Karamazov does resonate with me where the character says that he is going to return his ticket to God after describing some of the atrocities that have happened against innocent children. I am not sure I can make a general statement here about views that God might have would offend me but I would be willing to overlook. I would rather deal with specifics.

    2. I don’t disagree with the point I think you are trying to make here. I was responding to the point I thought Dale was making against picking the parts of religion that you want to believe in. I think everyone does this to some extent no matter what side of the debate you are on so the fact that you do pick and choose should not be a deciding factor in whether a belief is valid or not. I think there are methods which are better than others when choosing to pick up someone else’s belief. The choosing is not entirely arbitrary.

    3. There are aspects of Jesus or at least some people’s idea of Jesus that does repulse me. Mostly the apocalyptic views of Jesus dividing the sheep from the goats. The parable of the person who goes to hell and begs that his friends might be given some information so that they don’t suffer the same fate bothers me. There are other aspects as well but they offend me to a lesser extent.

    April 8, 2008
  11. I feel the same as you when I read that passage in The Brothers Karamazov. The problem I have is that rejecting God doesn’t solve the problem. If I choose atheism, the suffering of innocent children (right now and throughout history) remains horrifically offensive to me, yet there is no possibility of ultimate justice. Who do I return my ticket to? Why do I even care, if the only reason I’m here to contemplate the matter is because of a purposeless process that rewards strength at the expense of weakness?

    I just don’t see how things get any more morally palatable once God’s out of the picture. Passages like the one about the sheep and goats may pose hermeneutical challenges, but at the very least they hold out the possibility that some standard of moral judgment may be applied at the end of history.

    April 8, 2008
  12. jc #

    At this point I wouldn’t call myself an Atheist. I would call myself more of an agnostic. I am not in a place where I can say one way or another whether a God exists. But for me I think some things can be said about whether the God of Christianity exists or is worthy of worship. Thanks for the discussion anyways. The topic has been on my mind since I heard this song at a concert the other night. I dislike people who quote songs on blog posts and yet here I am…

    When We Fell

    With the threat of hell hanging over my head like a halo
    I was made to believe in a couple of beautiful truths
    That eventually had the effect of completely unravelling
    The powerful curse put on me by you

    When you set the table
    When you chose the scale
    Did you write a riddle
    That you knew they would fail
    Did you make them tremble
    So they would tell the tale
    Did you push us when we fell

    If my mother cries when I tell her what I have discovered
    Then I hope she remembers she taught me to follow my heart
    And if you bully her like you’ve done me with fear of damnation
    Then I hope she can see you for what you are

    What am I afraid of
    Whom did I betray
    In what medieval kingdom does justice work that way
    If you knew what would happen
    And you made us just the same
    Then you my Lord can take the blame

    April 8, 2008
  13. The song is certainly a very pointed way of expressing the human predicament. But I return to the question of where the curse against God/reality acquires its moral force? I don’t see how agnosticism gets us much farther than atheism.

    On one level, choosing faith in the God of Christianity obviously makes one accountable to God; but I think in important ways it also dares to hold God accountable for the world he has made. The cross of Christ is, to quote one author, “God’s only self-justification in a world such as ours” – both for what it makes possible in the present world of our experience, and what we believe it will make a reality in the future.

    April 9, 2008
  14. Maybe it’s because I’ve been a Christian for a long time… maybe it’s that I have experienced God’s pursuit of me in my sin and turning away from him… maybe it’s that I am on a journey of scriptural discovery… or it could just be that I love my God and what he did for me (and everyone) through his son Jesus is indescribable grace from a holy, righteous God. I find it unbelievable to think that our puny little human logic, emotions and spirituality would even think it ‘alright’ (I dont’ think that is the word I’m looking for) to be offended by God. I don’t get it. I’ll agree, there are behaviors that are an offence to God that I’m not so sure should be so offensive to him that he would kill you over it. But then… it seems to me that it’s the same old thing that gets us in trouble every time – pride. All of this is arrogance, pure and simple.

    April 9, 2008
  15. Catch-22 #

    This is just silly; maybe your thesis is not broad enough in scope. Your restricted scope is the only way to account for finding a lot of different reasons for doubting the existence of God.
    Your reference to outrage is misplaced and contradictory in light of the passages you reference. Moses and Job never displayed outrage, as you are implying, toward God. We can debate this point if you wish. Why would we not be confused by the actions of all powerful God? Because we believe something is ambiguous, is that it reality? Who are you implying can understand all the knowledge of God? Starting a cult? We have the Bible and it states clearly the do’s and don’ts. The old testament writings were referenced not discounted by the new testament.

    The story about the professor is a testament to postmodernism and relativism. The friend’s position is inconsistent and absurd. Whether the friend follows the tenants or not is another story, but to deny the tenants exist for one’s own moral justification and imply that the reason is we are “just not seeing the whole picture” is bias interpretation. So honesty is already sacrificed, ironic?
    Moses did not get to go to the promised land because of his unrighteous anger when he hit the rock rather than do what he was told(Numbers 20:9). I think we need to tread a little more lightly about what we think God will or will not do especially if we as believers have submitted to Jesus and possibly have relinquished certain aspects of free will.

    April 9, 2008
  16. i think the ensuing dialogue has proven my misgivings precisely.
    There is no accounting for conviction. Strongly held, rationally deduced, ‘spiritually experienced’, incredulous or even weakly/ambigously held held. Conviction is a tool that people feel entitled to wield reglardless of whether they have an apprenticeship in the position they espouse or not.
    and that is precisely why sort of inflated or dismissive statements about God cause me to quiver.
    Ryan – what do you think about this position?
    I read somewhere recently that about all we can expect to do in the project of knowing God is through perpetual deconstruction.

    April 9, 2008
  17. Catch-22 #

    Is that a conviction held or non-position? It seemed dismissive so I’ll go with conviction.
    It was hard to tell.

    April 9, 2008
  18. Hi Maria,

    I don’t think it’s quite as simple as saying that “all of this is arrogance, pure and simple.” I’ve been a Christian for a long time as well, and I’d like to think that I’ve experienced God’s pursuit of me in my sin and am on a journey of scriptural discovery. I can assure you that I also love God to the best of my ability and am eternally grateful for what he has done in Jesus Christ. And yet, I still have doubts. Indeed, I think that as long as we see through a glass darkly, doubt will remain an irreducible component of honest faith. It may not be experienced to the same degree by all Christians, but we all have to navigate a world where Christ’s victory over evil does not always appear obvious.

    I think that arrogance and pride come in a variety of forms. I agree that it is arrogant to make ourselves out to have God-like autonomy, which is why I said (in the main post and in comment #2) that part of living honestly before God and each other is a realistic assessment of ourselves and that we are to obey even when we disagree. But some might consider equating doubt with a lack of spirituality, faith, commitment to Scripture, or love of God to be a bit proud and arrogant as well. I think we need to have the grace and the honesty to admit that faith isn’t going to look exactly the same for all people at all times rather than implying that those who don’t experience God in a certain way are somehow less spiritual or faithful than those who do.

    April 9, 2008
  19. Catch 22,

    I’m curious to hear more about how all this is “silly” and how my “restrictive scope” is the only thing that could account for finding reasons to doubt God. What scope, exactly, do you think I am working with?

    “Moses and Job never displayed outrage, as you are implying, toward God.”

    I think you’d better read the book of Job again (you could start with 3:23, 7:11, 10:2-3, 13:3, 13:15, 23:3-5, 30:20-21). If Job’s speeches don’t count as protest and outrage, it’s hard for me to know what would. It’s also interesting to note who God considered to have spoken rightly of him in the end of the book. It was Job, with all of his “blasphemous” complaints, not his self-righteous friends who had neat and tidy theological answers for the causes of suffering (Job 42:8). I think this should at least encourage us to pause before declaring doubt to be an illegitimate part of a life with God.

    Moses might not have displayed outrage in the same fashion as Job, but he certainly felt free to disagree with God (Ex. 32:11-14). All I was trying to imply in the post was that these men were honest with God, even when they were confused by or angry with his way of working in the world.

    “The story about the professor is a testament to postmodernism and relativism. The friend’s position is inconsistent and absurd.”

    How exactly is resolving to obey God and commit to a life of faith in spite of how one feels inconsistent and absurd?

    “Whether the friend follows the tenants or not is another story, but to deny the tenants exist for one’s own moral justification and imply that the reason is we are “just not seeing the whole picture” is bias interpretation. So honesty is already sacrificed, ironic?”

    I don’t know what this means, so I can’t respond.

    April 9, 2008
  20. Catch-22 #

    Christ came for our salvation not to rid the world of evil? So I agree any link there would not be obvious.

    April 9, 2008
  21. J #

    Catch-22,

    “Christ came for our salvation not to rid the world of evil?”

    Is this a typo? As it is, it’s incoherent.

    April 9, 2008
  22. Catch-22 #

    I think you may be looking at the situation purely philosophically. When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When we are analyzing a preponderance of evidence (historical, scientific, mathematical) sure there is doubt. You are making doubt out to be an entity like the “corporation”, I think it’s a bit of a stretch and smacks of bias.
    So why do you call them speeches rather than protest and outrage. I suppose he was cursing God and dying? What are you talking about:
    7 “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. 8 Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has done.” Job 42:7-8
    You are wrong and don’t seem to be able to read.

    How exactly is resolving to obey God and commit to a life of faith in spite of how one feels inconsistent and absurd?
    This is inconsistent. You say to obey and commit to God, yet the friend is picking and choosing which parts of the Bible to adhere to. Isn’t the whole scripture authoritative? God breathed. Did not the entire host of eyewitnesses of the early church attest to the veracity of the Bible? Is there a partial Christian? Let’s call it what it is, someone not adhering to Biblical principles.
    So if the friend espouses to be a Christian, they should agree that the objective values laid down in scripture are correct. If they agree to the objective values, then they have to come to terms with where they are short. If they disagree with objective values, then they are not being honest when describing themselves as a Christian per se. Ironic? No?

    April 9, 2008
  23. Catch-22 #

    J,

    You seriously can’t break that down?

    The world is evil, Christ didn’t come as a conquerer of evil or victor to take a kingship on earth. He came to die for our sins.
    Simple, yet historically backed concept.

    April 9, 2008
  24. Catch-22 #

    By the way, not trying to be “overly” sarcastic. 🙂 Please, take it with a grain of salt.

    April 9, 2008
  25. J #

    Catch-22:

    I wasn’t going to break down something that wasn’t written clearly. (Using good punctuation is always helpful.)

    As to your explanation, I agree that Jesus died for our sins. I would disagree with you slightly, however, in that Jesus does even more: he conquers evil and establishes a kingdom on earth through his life, ministry, death and resurrection.

    Simple, yet historically (and scripturally!) backed concepts.

    April 9, 2008
  26. Catch-22 #

    Conquers evil? Then why is there evil in the world? Can’t have free will if evil is conquered in the world. Connundrum.

    Establishes a kingdom on earth? This could take a few tangents. What is your reasoning? Spiritual, physical?

    scripture is historical 😉

    April 9, 2008
  27. Maria #

    Ryan,
    I never commented on doubt. I am commenting on your notion of being offended by the God who, you as a believer know, saved us through Christ’s death and resurrection. What is offensive about that? I have to ask, how does your obvious doubt in God’s loving actions in all he does – whether we understand it – influence an atheist or agnostic to change their position on faith? It seems that the kind of faith you speak of is no better than the doubt of God’s existance that an unbeliever would have. You offer no hope for the ‘human predicament’. Why would I choose Jesus if I would still then be filled with doubt – and worse than that offense!? Jesus changes us through the power of the Holy Spirit to be conformed in our thinking and doing into his likeness because human notions of right and wrong do need modification – there is no room for doubt on whether we need modification. The reason I said that being offended by God is arrogance is because it assumes that human notions of right and wrong should define God’s actions. God is above all holy; so much so that he sent his son to die for us – in his endless love and grace – so he could interact with us his creation. The challenge believers should present to the world is not more knowledge of God but more relationship.

    April 9, 2008
  28. “I think you may be looking at the situation purely philosophically. When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When we are analyzing a preponderance of evidence (historical, scientific, mathematical) sure there is doubt. You are making doubt out to be an entity like the “corporation”, I think it’s a bit of a stretch and smacks of bias.”

    I don’t know what the link between doubt and a corporation is supposed to mean, nor do I know what bias you might be talking about. All I’m “making” doubt out to be is normal part of the experience of fallen and finite human beings.

    Re: the ending of Job, you’re going to have to explain a little more clearly how I’m “wrong” and “unable to read.” Are you disagreeing that God said Job spoke rightly of him whereas his friends did not?

    Speaking of reading, you seem not to have noticed the part in the story of my philosophy professor and his friend where I said that he was a celibate homosexual. Picking and choosing which parts of the Bible to obey is precisely not what this man was doing. He was choosing not to be sexually active because of what he believed Scripture taught, even when he disagreed with it.

    April 9, 2008
  29. J #

    “Conquers evil? Then why is there evil in the world?”

    Jesus breaks the hold that evil has on the world, but that doesn’t mean that it’s complete. Paul talk a lot about this, how we’re in an already-but-not-yet situation.

    “Can’t have free will if evil is conquered in the world.”

    Well, yes we can. Christians claim that in Eden there was no evil, but we had free will, and we look forward to the time when, God having fully established his Kingdom, we will have free will unencumbered by evil.

    “Establishes a kingdom on earth? This could take a few tangents. What is your reasoning?”

    The Bible.

    April 9, 2008
  30. jc #

    Catch 22… I think you ought be a little more civil here.

    April 9, 2008
  31. Catch-22 #

    Re: the ending of Job, you’re going to have to explain a little more clearly how I’m “wrong” and “unable to read.” Are you disagreeing that God said Job spoke rightly of him whereas his friends did not?

    Quote Ryan: “It was Job, with all of his “blasphemous” complaints”

    Don’t try joining my side now.

    He was choosing not to be sexually active because of what he believed Scripture taught, even when he disagreed with it.

    Quote Catch: “So if the friend espouses to be a Christian, they should agree that the objective values laid down in scripture are correct. If they agree to the objective values, then they have to come to terms with where they are short. If they disagree with objective values, then they are not being honest when describing themselves as a Christian per se. Ironic? No?”

    Hey, I didn’t even refer to sexuality; I dealt with disagreement with scripture as authoritative. This disagreement with scripture could be anything, lying, cheating,stealing… Think on that.

    April 9, 2008
  32. jc,
    I actually think ‘j’ is being a little less civil than ‘catch-22’. But it doesn’t matter. Is this a debate? If it wasn’t, it is now and so be it. Don’t be over sensitive.

    April 9, 2008
  33. Catch-22 #

    J,

    Nice questions. Let me ruminate on an answer. Here is the easiest.

    “Well, yes we can. Christians claim that in Eden there was no evil, but we had free will, and we look forward to the time when, God having fully established his Kingdom, we will have free will unencumbered by evil.”

    Satan was in Eden. So that may just be a claim.

    April 9, 2008
  34. Maria,

    “I never commented on doubt. I am commenting on your notion of being offended by the God who, you as a believer know, saved us through Christ’s death and resurrection. What is offensive about that?”

    Where did I say that Christ’s death and resurrection were offensive?

    “I have to ask, how does your obvious doubt in God’s loving actions in all he does – whether we understand it – influence an atheist or agnostic to change their position on faith? “It seems that the kind of faith you speak of is no better than the doubt of God’s existance that an unbeliever would have. You offer no hope for the ‘human predicament’. Why would I choose Jesus if I would still then be filled with doubt – and worse than that offense!?”

    I don’t doubt God’s loving actions. I’m simply admitting that I don’t always understand every specific instance of how he works in the world (i.e., the story of Abraham being told to sacrifice his son, God commanding the wiping out of women and children – are these things obviously unproblematic from your perspective?). To be honest, I’ve found that in my interaction with atheists and agnostics that they are much more willing to enter into dialogue with me when I don’t minimize their doubts and acknowledge that the world doesn’t exhibit unambiguous evidence for Christianity. If it was that obvious, faith wouldn’t be necessary. Believe it or not, I’m often accused of being too hopeful. The point at which the atheists and agnostics I interact with often begin to disagree most sharply with me is when I insist that Christ is, ultimately, the only hope our world has.

    “Jesus changes us through the power of the Holy Spirit to be conformed in our thinking and doing into his likeness because human notions of right and wrong do need modification – there is no room for doubt on whether we need modification.”

    I absolutely agree. This was one of the points of my initial post.

    “God is above all holy; so much so that he sent his son to die for us – in his endless love and grace – so he could interact with us his creation. The challenge believers should present to the world is not more knowledge of God but more relationship.”

    How can you have a relationship with God (or anyone else, for that matter) without knowledge? Knowledge is an essential component of any relationship. And part of any authentic relationship is a willingness to be honest about how one is feeling even if, as I’ve said throughout, our responsibility is still, ultimately, obedience. As I said earlier, I am greatly encouraged when I see in Scripture that people can bring their doubt, fear, and confusion to God without him being upset by it. God knows us and all the limitations that we face; he knows that we are dust, here today, gone tomorrow. I think he would prefer that we trust and obey him even when his way of working in the world isn’t clear to us than he would that we pretend that it’s all obvious to us.

    April 9, 2008
  35. J #

    Catch-22:

    “So that may just be a claim.”

    That’s what I said. “Christians claim…”

    Anyways, my saying that was to suggest that your assertion (“Can’t have free will if evil is conquered in the world.”) may not be the last word.

    Maria: I know I’ve been frank, but I’m not sure how I’ve been uncivil.

    April 9, 2008
  36. Catch 22,

    Did you notice the quotation marks around the world “blasphemous?” I was kind of being sarcastic. I’ll repeat the question: Are you disagreeing that God said Job spoke rightly of him whereas his friends did not?

    As to your confusion re: this guy’s decision to obey God despite his confusion and disagreement, I’m sort of running out of ways to respond. When you were a kid, did you ever have to just obey your parents, even though at the time you thought they were crazy? And when you got a bit older and learned a bit more were you able to see that it was good that you obeyed despite your disagreement at the time? That’s all I’m getting at here. Do you think that God would rather the guy be “true to himself” and his desires, or obey until his understanding progressed?

    April 9, 2008
  37. J #

    Maria:

    I should also add that I’m not sure where you got the idea that this was a “debate.” Judging from how the thread began, jc and Ryan were engaged in some back and forth in which there were questions posed, comments made, and so on. It had more the character of a discussion. In other words, no one was out to “win” or “convince” the other person through their arguments (as is the nature of a debate).

    April 9, 2008
  38. Hi Ryan. Not much to add here, but after reading some of the comments in this thread, Becky and I have to say that we appreciate (now more than ever) how rational, coherent, and articulate you’ve been in our past discussions.

    You probably know this, but the reason why I prefer to have discussions (and yes, debates) with you is that your philosophical mind appeals to mine more than the likes of the Catch-22 and Marias of the Christian world.

    So, thanks again. And keep on’ keepin’ on.

    Jerry (and Becky)

    April 9, 2008
  39. Catch-22 #

    “Did you notice the quotation marks around the world “blasphemous?” I was kind of being sarcastic. I’ll repeat the question: Are you disagreeing that God said Job spoke rightly of him whereas his friends did not?”

    No and No. Maybe I took your comments the wrong way.

    “As to your confusion re: this guy’s decision to obey God despite his confusion and disagreement, I’m sort of running out of ways to respond. When you were a kid, did you ever have to just obey your parents, even though at the time you thought they were crazy? And when you got a bit older and learned a bit more were you able to see that it was good that you obeyed despite your disagreement at the time? That’s all I’m getting at here. Do you think that God would rather the guy be “true to himself” and his desires, or obey until his understanding progressed?”

    There is a vast difference between the brain of a child and adult developmentally. In the grand scheme of things, I agree with obeying until understanding has progressed. I am arguing against calling it a moral/righteous situation, rather than a stage to progress from.

    April 9, 2008
  40. Catch-22 #

    “I should also add that I’m not sure where you got the idea that this was a “debate.” Judging from how the thread began, jc and Ryan were engaged in some back and forth in which there were questions posed, comments made, and so on. It had more the character of a discussion. In other words, no one was out to “win” or “convince” the other person through their arguments (as is the nature of a debate).”

    Debate/discussion, makes no difference to me; I have no philosophical objections to people that opine. 😉

    April 9, 2008
  41. Jerry,
    Your emotive comments on where I fit into the Christian world are a low ball attempt to derail my input as they don’t line up with yours. Ryan’s philosophical mind appeals to yours because it agrees with it.

    Ryan,
    I have read your blog enough to deduce that you’re a Christian because you find no better ‘solutions’ in your mind (Tell me if I’m wrong). Let it grab your heart and your passion. Find your joy man, before you lose your faith.

    Blaise Pascal writes his Confession:
    “In the year of Grace, 1654, On Monday, 23rd of November, Feast of St.
    Clement…From about half past ten in the evening until about half
    past twelve,
    Fire,
    God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob,
    not of the philosophers and scholars.
    Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.
    God of Jesus Christ
    “Thy God shall be my God.”
    Forgetfulness of the world and of everything,
    except God.
    He is to be found only by the ways taught in the
    Gospel.
    Greatness of the human soul.
    “Righteous Father, the world hath not known
    Thee, but I have known Thee.” [John 17 : 25]
    Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.
    I have separated myself from Him
    “My God, wilt Thou leave me ?”
    Let me not be separated from Him eternally.
    “This is the eternal life, that they might know Thee,
    the only true God, and the one whom Thou hast
    sent, Jesus Christ” [John 17 : 3]
    Jesus Christ.
    I have separated myself from Him : I have fled from
    Him, denied Him, crucified Him.
    Let me never be separated from Him.
    We keep hold of Him only by the ways taught in the
    Gospel.
    Renunciation, total and sweet.
    Total submission to Jesus Christ and to my director.
    Eternally in joy for a day’s training on earth. Amen.”
    This is my prayer for you Ryan… that you would have this type of heart experience.

    J,
    Debate: a contention by words or arguments: as a: the formal discussion of a motion before a deliberative body according to the rules of parliamentary procedure b: a regulated discussion of a proposition between two matched sides. (Merriam Webster Dictionary).
    Just thought a definition would help… there’s nothing wrong with debate.

    April 9, 2008
  42. jc #

    Ryan,
    “But I return to the question of where the curse against God/reality acquires its moral force?”

    Could you explain this to me. I don’t think I understand what you are getting at here.

    April 9, 2008
  43. Ryan,
    You said;
    “God knows us and all the limitations that we face; he knows that we are dust, here today, gone tomorrow. I think he would prefer that we trust and obey him even when his way of working in the world isn’t clear to us than he would that we pretend that it’s all obvious to us.”
    Very well put; I agree.

    April 9, 2008
  44. J #

    Maria:

    I didn’t say there was anything wrong with debate.

    This forum is not “a deliberative body” examining a “motion” according to “the rules of parliamentary procedure.”

    Your “exhortation” of Ryan to “Find your joy man, before you lose your faith,” your quotation of Pascal’s poem, and your prayer for Ryan to “have this type of heart experience” fail to address the “propositions” that Ryan named in his blog.

    If you want to debate, fine. Quit preaching, start listening, and then actually debate.

    April 9, 2008
  45. Well, this has been fun. I haven’t engaged in this type of exchange in quite sometime. Thanks…

    I won’t quit preaching and I won’t quit exhorting the saints. That is what believers are instructed to do (2 Timothy 4:1-2). I hope that I never stop being preached at and exhorted in my own life; it reminds me of my pride and brings me to repentance.

    Ryan, my intention is not to offend.

    April 9, 2008
  46. Jerry and Becky,

    Thanks very much. I appreciate the kind words.

    April 9, 2008
  47. Maria,

    “I have read your blog enough to deduce that you’re a Christian because you find no better ’solutions’ in your mind (Tell me if I’m wrong). Let it grab your heart and your passion. Find your joy man, before you lose your faith.”

    I’m sure your intention is not to offend, and I appreciate your input in the discussion, but I have to say that I find this comment a bit troubling. I am a Christian because it makes the most sense to me, certainly, but just because I present myself in a certain manner in a (limited) forum such as this, doesn’t mean that my faith doesn’t go beyond an intellectual level.

    My experience of faith may not be the same in every respect as yours, but I have sacrificed a lot of money and over half a decade of my life to pursue the gifts and interests that I believe God has given me. To suggest that despite all this God has not “grabbed my heart,” that I have no joy, or that my faith is somehow in jeopardy seems very curious to me.

    April 9, 2008
  48. jc,

    I was loosely quoting a passage in Susan Neiman’s Evil in Modern Thought. She was basically saying that an atheism that is based on moral protest has difficulty accounting for where its firm conviction that the world ought not to include evil and suffering comes from (I mentioned something about this way back in comment #11). If the human story is, at rock bottom, nothing but a brute survival game, why would it occur to us that reality ought to be different than it is (or that God ought to have made a better world)?

    April 9, 2008
  49. J #

    Maria:

    “I won’t quit preaching and I won’t quit exhorting the saints. That is what believers are instructed to do (2 Timothy 4:1-2). I hope that I never stop being preached at and exhorted in my own life; it reminds me of my pride and brings me to repentance.”

    Fair enough. There is a time and a place for preaching and exhortation. And yet sometimes a well put question is best, while at other times, silence is better. Unfortunately, too many Christians don’t listen enough before preaching and exhorting, and what ends up happening is that they start answering questions that nobody asked. It’s rather off-putting.

    April 9, 2008
  50. I guess I find how you present your faith troubling. Curious as it may be…

    April 9, 2008
  51. jc #

    Ryan,

    I suppose there are atheists or agnostics who would base there beliefs on the moral protest. That’s not really the reason why I hold the positions I do about God’s existence. I think that a more core reason why I possess the beliefs about God is that I think that what we believe to be true about reality must be based in experience. If I don’t experience God then it’s likely he does not exist or I can’t know he exists in a meaningful way. I don’t really want to discuss that. I find its a bit of a conversation stopper. I think if I want to engage someone like yourself in conversation then we can talk about what I view as inconsistencies in Christianity. Like why doesn’t the God of the Bible seem to live up to the morality of modern Christianity?

    I am not sure I see Neiman’s point. If life without God is just a brute survival game then I suppose evil’s existence would just be a fact of life. Since evil opposes life one would probably seek ways to limit its effects as much as possible. If someone comes a long telling you that a being exists with all of the attributes of the Christian God and then you start thinking about how that view of God could coexist with the reality you see around you… I don’t know why you wouldn’t start asking questions. The logical inconsistencies would beg a lot of questions. I don’t understand that the existence of those questions would lead to a belief that God must exist for those questions to even be asked. Perhaps I am putting words into your mouth or misunderstanding you.

    …Stupid Sharks.

    April 9, 2008
  52. J,
    True, it is off-putting and I would agree I have been answering questions no one asked. But it is based on what I have read in this post as well as others by Ryan.

    As one who talks – a lot – being silent is not a natural state for me. Yet, God – in his infinite wisdom – has placed people in my life to teach me to hold my tongue. My opinion means nothing; and niether does yours or anyone else’s. Only truth stands firm in time. I believe that truth is in God’s Word; His revelation to us of who He is. Call me stupid if you must…

    Going back to the original problem I had with this post, being offended by God – I can not fathom the gall of humanity to question our creator in this manner. We are an offense to God! That is where I stand. Don’t put me in a box of ‘those Christians’. I wear my passion for Him on my sleeve and I won’t apologize for it. I never said I was perfect or that my love for Jesus is always pure; but I concur with Peter when he answered Jesus and said “Lord, you know everything…” (John 21:17). Our love is incomplete; without grace, where would we be?

    The thing is… I really like the quote from Timothy Keller’s book! How right he is!

    April 9, 2008
  53. Catch-22 #

    “Fair enough. There is a time and a place for preaching and exhortation. And yet sometimes a well put question is best, while at other times, silence is better. Unfortunately, too many Christians don’t listen enough before preaching and exhorting, and what ends up happening is that they start answering questions that nobody asked. It’s rather off-putting.”

    Ah, I find this is not solely Christian attribute. 😉 I agree it is off-putting.

    “I think if I want to engage someone like yourself in conversation then we can talk about what I view as inconsistencies in Christianity. Like why doesn’t the God of the Bible seem to live up to the morality of modern Christianity?”

    I don’t think we see modern people sacrificing babies to “gods” in the modern world. But live and let live I suppose. Except little babies that need to be sacrificed to Moloch. Scope and perspective seem seriously lacking.

    “If life without God is just a brute survival game then I suppose evil’s existence would just be a fact of life.”

    If there is no God, would there really be evil? “Chances” are probably not.

    April 9, 2008
  54. Catch-22 #

    There is no edit button so I can’t go back and place a smiley (or correct punctuation). 🙂 Or change Molech to Baal. God wiped out some very bad people in the old testament.

    April 9, 2008
  55. Maria,

    I feel I must point out that the Keller quote was the source for the title of the blog post. I was not advertising to the world that I, personally, am offended by God. Far from it! I was challenging the skeptical assumption that everything God does ought to be perfectly obvious to us all the time and arguing that even when things don’t make sense to us, as limited human beings, our obligation is to obey and trust God through what we can’t understand.

    As for God being “offended” by us, and human beings having “gall” to question their creator, I go back to what I said earlier about Moses and Job. God is not afraid of our doubts and questions, nor does he seem to expect us to keep silent about them (e.g., the Psalms of lament). I would say that our sin is an offense to God, but I don’t think that human beings are offensive to God, in and of themselves. God said that his creation was good, and he has gone to extraordinary lengths to reclaim what has been damaged and defaced by sin. Together, I think this paints a picture of a God who actually thinks quite highly of human beings.

    April 10, 2008
  56. jc,

    “If life without God is just a brute survival game then I suppose evil’s existence would just be a fact of life. Since evil opposes life one would probably seek ways to limit its effects as much as possible.”

    The question Neiman’s asking is: upon what are you basing the claim that evil opposes life? How do you even know what it is? Where does the ability pronounce morally upon God/reality come from? Whatever opposes life might be deemed inconvenient or unpleasant or something to be avoided, but why morally “evil?”

    “If someone comes a long telling you that a being exists with all of the attributes of the Christian God and then you start thinking about how that view of God could coexist with the reality you see around you… I don’t know why you wouldn’t start asking questions. The logical inconsistencies would beg a lot of questions.”

    The thing is, someone didn’t just come along with the idea of a God with the attributes of the Christian God. The attributes predicated of God are, Christians believe, a response to his concrete actions in history. The Christian God is too odd to have been the result of pure speculation. We moderns are not the first to find the reality around us morally troubling. In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis reminds us that “at all periods the pain and waste of human life was equally obvious… At all times, then, an inference from the course of events in the world to the goodness and wisdom of the Creator would have been equally preposterous.”

    When I argue our moral intuitions point to God I am not saying that they entail the claim that he has to exist – I am saying that they are suggestive. A creature who expects better from himself/herself and from the world can be plausibly accounted for with the Christian framework of a good world gone bad and in the process of redemption. I don’t think the same can be said (at least not as straightforwardly) on the assumption that we’re the result of a purposeless survival game.

    April 10, 2008
  57. Ryan,
    Touche. Just one more reason why blogging has become a thing of the past for me… what you write isn’t always clear to those who read. It does seem that you at a minimum find some affinity with those who are offended by God. And I gues that’s good… it’s loving and allows you to be more tolerant than me.

    April 10, 2008
  58. Catch-22 #

    Ryan,
    Our offense taken at God is because of our ideology, our bias about how something “should” be, rather than what is. I’m not saying that we can’t question, lament, be bewildered; but encouraging anger/outrage toward God as a normal thing is a touch… well crazy. If one considers God powerful, then there better be hope that God IS loving/merciful or an attitude like that is going to get an instant lightning bolt. Moses didn’t “remind” God of anything, but Moses’ intercession and Moses’ righteousness where credited to him. That’s what stopped God from cremating the Israelites, righteous intercession; penitent pleading. Sodom and Gomorrah, how many righteous people would have spared the cities from God’s wrath? We have Jesus interceding for us now, but refusing that protection is going to have repercussions.

    I agree that doubt can exist, but after Thomas was shown the evidence he no longer doubted. John the Baptist doubted as well. But these where doubting the Messiah had come, not whether God existed. In retrospect, with the knowledge we have considering the eyewitness accounts, we have the benefit of seeing how prophesy unfolded. Abraham, David, Job, Daniel etc… looked toward a redeemer. The prophesies concerning the Messiah (choosen one) were way before Jesus was born. If Jesus is wrong, then we should all be Jewish. So take a pick, Christianity or Judaism. Gonna be tough to be devote without a place to sacrifice though. However, if one hasn’t gone looking for an answer to questions, then the reality is that none will be found.

    God said his creation was good before evil entered the world. (J there is no free will until there is a choice 😉 ) Once evil entered the world, entropy (decay, progression to disorder) came into play. What has been reclaimed? Our spirits/souls in certain cases, but certainly nothing physical.

    April 10, 2008
  59. No lightning bolts just yet, I’m happy to report.

    April 10, 2008
  60. Catch-22 #

    Expecting some?;)

    April 10, 2008
  61. Catch-22 #

    Ryan,

    Can you comment further on this:

    “And I think that most Christians, if they’re honest, will agree that there are parts of the Bible that they find baffling, frustrating, or, possibly, just plain offensive.”

    April 11, 2008
  62. I don’t know what to say beyond what I said in the initial post and in subsequent comments. I mentioned two examples that I, personally, find puzzling in comment #34 above. Was there something specific you were looking for further comment on?

    April 11, 2008
  63. Catch-22 #

    Well the Isaac one is too easy to explain, and God didn’t let Abraham kill Isaac. So lets go to the killing of women and children: what example would you present specifically?

    Specifically, the scope in which the event took place would be interesting to delve into. Why you feel this is an inconsistency.

    April 11, 2008
  64. I’m glad you’ve found easy answers to these kinds of questions that are satisfying to you.

    April 12, 2008
  65. Anonymous #

    I don’t mean to say easy, more simplistic. 😉

    April 12, 2008
  66. Maria #

    Interestingly, today in Sunday School, our teacher began a six week course on Hell and described the doctrine of Hell as ‘offensive’. The hairs on my neck stood up! I had to ask him about using that word as a descriptor. His use of the word was to describe how some feel about the doctrine of Hell. Funny how he just so ‘happened’ to use that word… hmmmm.

    I was re-reading mdaele’s first comment and his closing words stood out to me;

    “… the other worrisome thought is how the church has continually reshaped the notion of God in order to produce hegemony rather than real knowledge of who he is. And so in a pluralistic culture where individualism rules the day – the custom God emerges triumphant. And round and round we go it seems.”

    It is worrisome indeed. But I think I feel that way for different reasons than are expressed here. More often than not, it is less of the one true God that we get, not more; we cut out the parts we don’t like as we deem them ‘offensive’.

    mdaele also says;
    “… to discover more truth about God precisely because he is both beyond our imagination and because he seems to bring such sharp contradictions to light the more we pursue him.”

    I don’t think God’s character contradicts itself as revealed to us in scripture.

    April 13, 2008
  67. The example I used in the initial post was of someone who did not feel free to cut out the parts deemed “offensive,” who resolved to obey despite his feelings on the matter, and who acknowledged the situation honestly. This seems, to me, to be the best way to approach the relationship between two parties as unequal as God and human beings which is why it’s the view I’ve advocated throughout this discussion.

    April 13, 2008
  68. jc #

    Some the reading material I have been into has suggested that the book of Job has two different authors. This is probably old news to a lot of people but new to me. There was somewhat convincing evidence that the poetic parts of the book disagree theologically with the parts of prose in the book. Have you heard of this view? What do you think of it?

    What are we to make of role of God in this book? He seems to make a bet with Satan over whether Job is still going to worship him even though he suffers from great evil. So apparently God smites Job’s 7 sons and 3 daughters to prove something to Satan. It all seems to be good in the end because God decides to replace all of Job’s kids and property in the end. I don’t know if this book is supposed to reveal the character of God to the reader or if it supposed to cause more confusion.

    April 18, 2008
  69. I’m familiar with the various views regarding the authorship of Job, but I don’t see the prose frame as being in theological disagreement with the larger poetic part it brackets. No matter how many authors were involved or how long a period of time went into the book’s composition, it seems to be one big canonical guard against reading evil and suffering exclusively as punishment for sin and coming to simple conclusions about God and evil.

    April 18, 2008
  70. jc #

    It does seem to be a guard against those simple conclusions about sin and punishment but it does not seem to help much over all. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture of God. It just seems like another instance where humans can only shake their heads in bewilderment at God’s actions and justification[in this case the lack of] for his actions.

    April 18, 2008
  71. I agree, it doesn’t paint a very pretty picture of God. There’s an undeniable mystery – even sheer incomprehensibility – about the way the story is laid out. I’m not particularly tied to the prologue being a blow-by-blow historical account of what transpired between God and Satan (the literary genre seems to call that into question – although I’m open to correction here). The way the book is framed seems to be geared toward wrestling with questions like: Do we love God only for what we can get from Him? Is misfortune always tied to human “moral performance?

    At the end of the day, though, God’s speech from the whirlwind is still one of frightening mystery and sheer power. It seems that God’s response to Job’s questioning about evil is just a display of brute force. It’s probably not what Job wanted (or what you and I would like) but it does affirm that God is, ultimately, sovereign over evil. Plenty of things that I would like to know about this story remain unexplained, but, as I’ve said many times, a world where evil that is incomprehensible from my perspective is somehow redeemed by God is more morally palatable than a world where the evil remains incomprehensible but the hope of ultimate reconciliation is out of the picture.

    April 18, 2008

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