Evolution is a big deal in my community. Just about everyone hates the idea, and if you don't hate it, you'd better not let anyone know you don't. As conservative theists, most of us have problems with evolution because it feels like a threat to religion. If nature can accomplish all this order on its own, then what need would there be for God? Those theists who do cling to evolution, however, argue that it really doesn't matter if evolution is true or not. Evolution doesn't necessarily take God out of the picture, because God would still have had to create all matter, create and fine tune all natural laws, and could still intervene in his creation as he sees fit. There is no problem with believing in evolution and a God who is active in the world. Just as we don't believe that God is literally focusing his power on keeping the earth in its orbit, since God had the foresight enough to create the law of gravity to do his bidding, so it could be with evolution. God gets what he wants out of the process because he front loaded the information.
Image from creative commons by John K.
Three verses have long been troubling to me: Exodus 33:20, I Timothy 6:16, and John 1:18. Each of these verses declares that God cannot be seen, either because he is invisible and spirit, or because if we saw him we could no longer live. What is particularly troubling about these verses is that they seem patently false. Genesis 32:30 tells us that Jacob saw God face to face and Exodus 33:11 tells us that Moses spoke with God face to face. This is doubly troubling because the author of Exodus tells us that we can't live if we see God only 9 verses after telling us that Moses saw God face to face.
Today in church the passage on Moses's inability to see God was brought up again, and a strange thought came to my mind. It struck me that not only did Moses and Jacob see God face to face, and arguably a few others, like Isaiah - but the New Testament tells us that humanity has now seen God face to face in Jesus. Jesus is the perfect representation and image of God (Col. 1:15 and Heb. 1:3), and Jesus told us that when we see him, we have seen the Father (Jn. 14:9). So humanity has seen God face to face, and we continue to see God in the life and teachings of Jesus.
Many have seen God, yet we all have lived.
I find myself returning to contemplate the problem of evil time and time again. Maybe millennials (of which I barely make the cut) have a bigger hang-up with the way evil's existence seems to encroach on the possibility of a good God's existence, but I think the problem is much broader than one generation. Whether it's the death of a daughter leading Darwin to embrace his religious doubts, or the holocaust of a whole race which is remembered and lamented in the works of Elie Wiesel - each generation seems to have its own works and workers who wrestle with the reality of evil's existence. Evil is hard to stomach, and especially so if one is a Christian who proclaims the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God who supposedly despises evil.
In response to the problem of evil Christian history has produced a number of defenses for God. These defenses are known as "theodicies." A theodicy doesn't claim to prove that God exists or that its explanation for evil's existence is the correct one, but it merely offers what is a possible explanation for evil's existence alongside a good God. If the theodicy's explanation is logically possible, then evil's existence is not incompatible with the existence of God, even if this particular explanation doesn't end up being the correct one. The goal is simply to show that the existence of a good God and evil aren't logically incompatible. At the moment, the most broadly accepted theodicy on the market is the free will theodicy as refined and presented by Alvin Plantinga. Plantinga argues that for a God to create a world in which his creatures loved him in a meaningful sense, then those creatures would need to have the choice not to love him. God could have created robots that would have never disobeyed him or done any evil thing, but in creating such a world, he would have created a world where true love was impossible. So while it is true that evil exists, it's only in a world where evil is possible that love can exist, and God deems that the existence of love is worth the price of allowing evil.
The Free Will Theodicy (FWT) is a beautiful defense because it makes a lot of sense. Everyone would love a world without evil, but we recognize that we'd all likely prefer a world where we make meaningful choices to love than a world where we were programmed robots - even if the price of love was the existence of evil. Love is such a beautiful and powerful thing that we recognize evil pales in comparison to it. The FWT is a fantastic defense of God, though as with all arguments, there are some problems. But it isn't in the scope of this article to expound on this theodicy or defend it. Suffice it to say that this is the going theodicy in Christianity, particularly Western Christianity. With the acknowledgement of this broad Christian adherence to the FWT, what I want to do, then, is actually draw out some implications this theodicy has for two other Christian positions: nonviolence and Christian anarchism.
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CONVERSION AND TRUTH
Everyone's an evangelist whether they know it or not. You may not be an evangelist for some large, organized religion or cult, but I guarantee you’re an evangelist for some belief. You are likely affronted by my calling you an evangelist because the term has taken on some very negative connotations in our age. The fervor, pushiness, judgmental nature, and self-righteousness of many evangelists likely fuels our aversion to the term - and rightfully so. Nobody wants to be evangelized because nobody wants to be objectified, and objectification is exactly what many evangelists do to potential converts. The evangelist's subject (or victim) is often merely seen as malleable gray matter - a fertile host into which the evangelist (or parasite) can inseminate their ideas.
As an evangelist for Christianity, I take exception to these negative connotations of evangelism, though I certainly understand and agree with their application most of the time. Such an acknowledgement of evangelism’s misuse is a sober warning to me that even in my noblest of desires, my self-centeredness may be the overwhelming motivation with which I lead. But potential egoism isn’t the only way in which I might err. When evangelism fails to be a good thing, its failure must be seen as in one of two areas: the objectification of another (which simultaneously entails the self-centeredness of the evangelist) and/or the untruth of the message - the "good news" being preached.
One of the most important considerations prior to discussing anything is coming to an agreement as to the existence of truth. In an extremely relativistic society, one can’t just assume that truth is an agreed upon foundation. When coming to the discussion of materialistic atheism, both Christians and atheists would tend to agree that truth exists. To the atheist, truth is vital, as this truth is what guides lives, and this truth is what usurps God from his power as he no longer becomes a necessary explanation. It is by embracing science and its study of the natural laws and truths that we can fully know what is real and how we should act. In this way, atheists and Christians share much in common in their starting position, as both are rational positions. The major distinction lies in what evidence one allows based on certain presuppositions.
Rights are strange things. They're something which most people have not possessed throughout history. Women possessed few. Children possessed practically none. Minority groups and the lower class had few. Historically, rights just weren't recognized or given. Even today we see many groups who perceive that their rights are being infringed upon.
But as a Christian, I've struggled with this whole notion of rights. While I applaud the justice aspect of rights being received by all groups in society, I fear what such a fight has done to the church. It just seems a bit off when I see Christians mustering up fear and intensity around each election cycle, as we seek to ensure that our religious rights are secure. It seems strange to me that our personal rights or the rights of our church warrant our sacrificing of other moral requirements for political leaders, or the sacrificing of the rights of others so that our rights may be secured. The invocation of rights by Christians, especially in our politically charged climate, so often seems to be antithetical to the Bible, as we seek the sacrifice of others that we may not have to die to self.
[I wrote this article around 2010, and the thoughts and writing style may represent some of my early thinking. Nevertheless, I needed an article for this month and thought this may be worthwhile, and something to build on in the future.]
Perhaps one of the greatest problems the atheist worldview faces is the issue of the natural versus the unnatural. All of their subjective basis for morality and action (epicurianism, survival, or whatever they select) is based on nature. Nature causes us to feel pain, and pain is a feeling most would choose to abstain from. Likewise, pleasure is a feeling that humans tend to enjoy, so pleasure is generally accepted as a good thing. Morality, for the atheist, is based upon these natural things. This may not seem like an outright problem, but considering that evolution of our species is defined as a change over time, one begins to see that what is valued or valuable today may not be the standards and morality of tomorrow.
We have faced some significant and overt spiritual battles over the past few years. One of those battles involved us actually rebuking a demonic presence we perceived was oppressing our family. Upon our rebuke, the issues IMMEDIATELY (and I can't emphasize that word enough) stopped. Needless to say, for me - someone who is not very attuned to the immaterial/spiritual aspect of Christianity, that was a wake up call. It really got me thinking of the ubiquity of demons, principalities, powers, etc.
One of the big questions I had is whether or not evil spirits are able to hear our thoughts. Such an answer would be important for two reasons. First, if they can't hear our thoughts, then praying in my head, while useful and important to speak with my heavenly Father, is not a direct rebuke and confrontation of the evil spirit in my midst. To do battle, then, I should speak audibly. Second, if evil spirits cannot read my mind, then that may influence what I want to say out loud. There may be some fears and weaknesses I don't want to verbalize, which they could use to their advantage were they to know.
Photo from scop.io by Jose González Buenaposada
Communion is an extremely important event for Christians, or at least it should be. Jesus tells us that it’s something we ought to do in remembrance of him, and many faith traditions believe that there is a very real, but mystical means of grace which is manifested in the meal. Our church, and many other churches in our denomination, partake of communion weekly, as we strongly value the mystical bond of communion, not only in its binding of us to Christ, but in the way it binds the community together.
The New Testament takes communion very seriously as well. In fact, it is so serious that Paul viewed it as a life and death matter. In I Corinthians 11 Paul declares that some people have “fallen asleep,” (i.e. died) because they participated unworthily in communion. While most pastors don’t go around scaring people away from taking communion with the threat of death, most churches do remind partakers that the matter is considered a very serious one. In light of this, participants are often reminded and encouraged to examine themselves before God and repent of sins prior to taking communion. I think this is a great practice and a somber reminder to reflect on our lives and the work of God. However, it seems quite apparent that this concept of general reflection and general repentance misses much of the weight of Paul’s admonishment.
I grew up saturated in Western religious thought, which is something I didn't realize until relatively recently. But of course a fish doesn't realize she's in water until she's taken out, right? I only began to realize my bent when I started researching Eastern Orthodoxy prior to our move to Romania. I then realized how much of our beliefs are simply taken at face value, without ever exploring their foundations. One aspect of Western thought which was highlighted most significantly by a comparison to Orthodoxy is the juridical nature of our doctrines. Western thought is extremely juridical - which means it's very logical and law-like. You can tell you're immersed in that type of thinking if what I just said sounds like a positive to you, as that statement has little to no value in and of itself. In fact, there are a number of downsides to being juridical.
*The views and ideas on this site are in no way affiliated with any organization, business, or individuals we are a part of or work with. They're also not theological certainties. They're simply thinking out loud, on issues and difficulties as I process things.