Wednesday, 21 March 2012

False Starts, Or Another Reason Not To Believe In Heaven

I should say this up front: I don't believe in heaven as a spiritual plane of existence to which my consciousness will go after my death. The Bible presents a number of diverse views about the matter, revolving around words and phrases like "paradise" and "new creation" and "the heavens." I've learned to be gracious with other Christians who adhere to it because it's really not that important. I've learned to be especially gracious with fellow Christians who (intentionally or otherwise) centre their faith around the reward of "getting into heaven."

Amazing grace indeed.

Perhaps a strong, extra-biblical reason to discount belief in a heaven is the question of why God didn't get it right first time. If he can get it right a second time, why not get it right the first time and avoid all the evil along the way?

For me, the answer lies through interpreting the visions of the future (paradise, the day of the Lord, the second coming, the new creation, the kingdom of God) in the same way that we talk about what life ought to be like as lived here and now. The gospel is about how we should live now. I think it's easy to reduce Jesus down to the point of what he did for us on the cross. Even though that's a significant event, it's an over-simplification and also misses the point of the gospel.

I like that gospel should actually translate as message rather than good news. The gospel isn't all good news. It's got some bad news. Good news for the oppressed. Bad news for the oppressor. But what's the bad news? The bad news is that the oppressor, who gains by oppressing someone else, has to stop doing it and look after the oppressed.

Ouch. Sounds harsh. #sarcasm

And what's left when the gospel is enacted by humanity? The lamb (oppressed) can sit down with the lion (oppressor). The lowly are lifted up and the lofty are brought down so that they are equals before God and each other. The people at war with each other make peace and live peacefully. And so on and so on. Does it sound like a great idea? Absolutely. Can we do it today? Absolutely. That's the hope of the gospel and the faithful work of every Christian.

I think that the Bible doesn't tell us to wait until after we die to see this kind of reality. I think that it tells us to make it happen today.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Late Starts

One of the more plausible arguments against a creator God with a personal interest in humanity centres around the long time between the start of the universe and the appearance of humans. If the universe is over thirteen billion years old and humanity has only appeared in the last few hundred thousand years, it seems like God waited a long time for the arrival of the species for whom he created the universe.

Imagine God saying, "Let us create a vast universe and put processes in place so that humans can exist on a single planet... eventually."

The typical argument that comes back is that God is outside of time so he can afford to wait. Sure he can, but if we're so important to a creator God why not make evolution happen faster? Maybe God has something larger in mind. Maybe humanity isn't the jewel in the crown of the universe, but still with some importance to God.

Or will the next stage of evolution be more important to God? If pre-human humanoids weren't worth saving, how valuable will post-human humans be?

No answers here today, just questions.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

One God is not One Lord

It's Lent! I like a good Lent and this time I've started through the Corinthian letters, in which I see Paul's great formulation that repeats throughout his work.
1 Cor 8:5-6 Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
One God and one Lord. Paul keeps the two quite distinct throughout his writings. The way he writes about them is different. They do different things. They want different things from humanity. In fact, the sense I get is that Paul emphasises their difference more than he writes about their unity. The unity of God the Father with the Lord Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit appears to come more from Johannine sources.

But what's the difference? Something I'm thinking about is whether, for Paul, God the Father is power without authority whereas Christ is authority without power. After all, God "highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name" (Php 2:9) and Jesus "emptied himself" (Php 2:7). Is the relationship between the two one of complimentary emptiness? And if that's so, how does the Holy Spirit enter into the picture? Whatever "the spirit" does, it's confounded by the typical translation issues from Greek to English. The capitalisation of "Spirit" in most modern English translations doesn't help resolve the matter.

Unity does not mean equivalence. Paul's explicit differentiation should not be ignored.