Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Monday, September 28, 2009

A theory on the relationship between the Fall, and suffering today

This is a speculative look at a difficult topic: how does the Fall lead to so much suffering today, especially suffering that seems to have nothing to do with free will?

The Bible says there is a strong relationship between the Fall and suffering:

Romans 5:12: For this reason, as through one man sin came into the world, and death because of sin, and so death came to all men, because all have done evil

Here is a theory of how suffering, death, and sin could be related. It has a few problems, but maybe there is something in it to answer questions in a genuine way.

A while ago I was reading an online comic and in it one character was trying to justify the existence of hell. But instead of saying 'God is a God of justice' or 'God gives us the freedom to reject Him' the character said that the reason for hell was something like: 'God will not allow sin in His presence, because He is a good God'. I thought that was an interesting response, because 'God not allowing sin in His presence' because of His goodness would seem to have nothing to do with hell and suffering, depending on your view of hell.

Later on I got into reading about the philosophy of mind and consciousness. Consciousness is what you feel when your brain processes information. Whatever consciousness is, it seems different from our physical brain. It seems to exist in a 'mental world' quite different to the world of e.g. tables and chairs. Debates in the philosophy of mind are about how a 'mental world' arises out of a physical world.

Thinking about the philosophy of mind, one interesting idea is to say that there are two worlds that humans live in: a physical world and the mental world. So instead of trying to figure out how the mental arises out of the physical, you can sort of give up and say that humans are a combination of the physical and the mental and the mental is in its own world with its own rules. The mental is based on the world of God.

You know that phrase 'God will not allow sin in His presence, because He is a good God'? Imagine that in the mental world, either a mind is connected to God or it's not. If it's not connected to God the mind suffers horribly. The problem is that when we do something wrong, God needs to separate Himself from our wrongdoing, and that means that God has to disconnect our mind from His. This means that sinners' minds get disconnected from God, creating horrible suffering, even if physically everything is fine, and there are no diseases, tornadoes, tsunamis, nothing of the sort...

So physically, God can stop any hurricane, earthquake, disease, accident, anything. But God cannot stop pain, terrible, unrelenting pain, if a mind is not connected to Him in the mental world. Because that's what it feels like for a mind not to be connected to God in the mental world: death and pain.

Somehow, if God remained connected to a mind that wants to do wrong, then God Himself would be 'infected' with sin. Or maybe it's not a matter of choice, and God simply cannot be connected to a mind that wants to do wrong. Either way, you can explain how horrifying pain must exist in a world where there are people who do wrong, even though God is perfectly good and all-powerful.

There are a few big issues here:

1) Animal suffering. They don't really do wrong because they aren't morally responsible. Yet there's a lot of suffering in the animal world. The Bible does say that the animals were subjected by God to the pain that humans are under (Romans 8:19-22), but why?

2) So maybe getting disconnected from God causes pain. But it sure seems that viruses cause pain. One way of getting out of this problem is to say that the pain has to be there anyway, and God chooses to make it look like physical stuff causes the pain. This seems a little bit odd and counter-intuitive... God needs to have a reason to make it look like e.g. earthquakes cause pain when actually our mind getting disconnected from God causes pain. God doesn't add to our pain by making it look like it's the result of e.g. diseases, so at least that aspect makes sense.

3) Suffering is a universal fact of life, and there isn't anyone who doesn't experience it. OK, but some people suffer a lot more or less than whatever is 'average'. Why? This remains a bit of a mystery. Maybe suffering gets 'balanced out' over an eternity, assuming a person doesn't have their sins removed by Christ - Luke 6:24?

On the good side, this theory does fit in with Luke 17:20-21, which talks about what the Kingdom of God involves:

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you."

If suffering happens because our mind gets disconnected from God, then perfect happiness will come when our sins are completely removed by Christ. Because we have never experienced life having our mind connected to God, then this theory explains why heaven is going to be so wonderful, even if it sounds to a non-Christian like it's just a change of scenery. They might ask: what's so great about heaven, just because it looks beautiful? The great thing about heaven is that our soul/mind will be connected to God for the first time, and we will experience life as it was originally meant to be experienced - in union with our creator, feeling the happiness that the image of God was originally meant to feel. We cannot even imagine what this is like - if we could, our mind would not be currently disconnected from God due to sin.

It also explains why no matter how much God helps those who reject what Christ did for them, they must suffer forever if they continue to reject Christ (very reminiscent of CS Lewis' Great Divorce).

In summary, you could say that the theory works like this:

Do we suffer because of a greater good? Yes.

1. Either we are perfect and there is no suffering.
2. Or we are morally imperfect and God becomes evil, because God allows sin in His presence/does not separate Himself from a soul that does wrong.
3. Or we are morally imperfect and there is horrible suffering, but God is perfect and provides a way for us to be free from sin and be truly happy one day (through the cross).

The third option is the best, which is what we see God doing. For the greater good of God remaining free from wrongdoing, we must suffer, assuming this whole system regarding a 'mental world'.

[See comments for clarification]

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

One interpretation of original sin and the Fall

One interpretation of Original Sin and the Fall that I like is that there are two kinds of free will that you can have. In the first kind of free will (which we have) you can be a good or bad person in every choice. In the second kind, God protects you so that you will make every choice for good, but you can choose to 'opt out' of this system and have the first kind of free will, where it can be a struggle to be good in every choice.

In the first kind, God lets you know good and evil for yourself, in the second kind, God gives you His perspective on good and evil, ensuring your perfect goodness (Gen 3:1-5).

So Adam and Eve had a kind of free will where they were guaranteed to be perfect, so long as they didn't choose to work out good and evil for themselves. But God left them the freedom to work out good and evil from their own perspective, and they chose to 'opt out' of His protection. That destroyed their relationship with God, because without looking at things from God's perspective it is impossible not to sin if you have the ability to think in terms of selfish interest (Rom 7:18-24).

But why not just redo the whole thing with a different Adam and Eve? And how come we don't get to be in the Garden and decide this for ourselves (isn't that unfair)?

I think that without experiencing sin and evil, eventually *everyone* chooses to 'opt out' of God's protection, because we just don't know well enough why we should let God protect our choices. So we all share in Adam's sin indirectly, in the sense that we are all born with personalities that would have Fallen if we had started off in the Garden (but after our life, we have learned not to want or do that).

Christ's atonement lets us go back to a state where we see people in the way that God does, which puts perfection within the reach of anybody without regard to their former works, achievements, personality and character traits.

Check out Romans 11:32: "For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all". Maybe we could have started off in the Garden like Adam and Eve, but God skipped this so He could set history up in a way that could save the elect (in my interpretation, anyone who God knew would not resist what Christ had done for them on the cross).

Link to some more speculation on original sin and the fall...

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Why God can't just forgive sin

Let's say that a guy steals something from someone one day. He realises it's wrong and so he apologises to the owner. The owner is a very nice person so he forgives him.

Then he steals from the owner again. He feels terrible so he apologises again. Because the owner is a forgiving person he forgives him again.

Then he steals from the owner again. He apologises again, and is forgiven again.

Then he steals from the owner yet again. He feels absolutely terrible, and so he apologises and is forgiven yet again.

That's a bad situation to have happen. Even so, the principles in this situation apply to all Christians, and for people of any other religion who have an analogous point-of-view.

How so?

Well, let's say I sin against another person. I recognise my guilt and apologise to God. God forgives me.

Then I sin again, doing the same sort of sin, against another person. So I apologise to God. God forgives me unconditionally.

Then I sin again, making the same sort of mistake, some time later. I realise this and so I apologise to God. God forgives me yet again.

Is there any Christian for whom this sort of situation is not the case?

I suppose it's possible that some Christians can perfectly repent of some sins, but there are a lot of sins that will still remain to one degree or another in a Christian's life (even if most of the time they're only expressed in the head, or in a possible situation that hasn't happened).

So imagine that the thief keeps stealing again and again, and the owner keeps forgiving him. That's awfully nice of him, but does that deal with the REAL issue here? The real issue is that he keeps stealing. It's not a matter of forgiveness, in that hypothetical situation, it's a matter of the fact that he keeps stealing and needs to stop it. Forgiveness deals with the owner not taking revenge, but it doesn't deal with the fact that someone who steals all the time is a thief and needs to stop stealing.

According to the same principle, in this life Christians will never stop sinning against God and other people, even though God always forgives us. God will always forgive us every time that we honestly ask for forgiveness. But does that deal with the REAL issue here? The real issue is that we don't meet God's standards despite God's forgiveness. Because I'll bet that after we ask forgiveness we don't suddenly become sinless. God's forgiveness deals with God taking revenge, but it doesn't deal with the fact that our actions are not up to God's standards.

This is why God's forgiveness outside of Christ is not good enough to save people. What condemns people is the fact that they don't meet God's standards, and thus can't be with God forever. It's not an issue of God taking revenge, it's an issue of the fact that someone who does the wrong thing can't be with God. God's forgiveness means God won't take revenge, but if we continually want to sin, then we're not up to God's standards and can't be with God.

So God can't deal with sin just by forgiving it.

God needed a form of forgiveness that changes the heart of the person asking for it, so that they never sin again in any possible situation (which is what it means to meet God's standards).

But what kind of forgiveness can do that? Certainly nothing that the owner can give to the constant thief he forgives.

The atonement solved this problem, creating an extremely 'powerful' kind of forgiveness. Imagine all of our evil collected together in a pool of black sludge. You could say that in the atonement God poured out all of our evil onto Christ (although Christ never endorsed it) and we received Christ's perfect goodness in return. God 'gave' our evil desires/intentions to Christ in the areas where we sin, and Christ lives in us, acting perfectly, in return (Rom 6:6; Gal 2:20). So Christ in Christians will one day enable Christians to be perfect by doing everything for us in the areas where we currently sin. Christians aren't perfect only because God is waiting until the 'Day of Redemption' to apply this fully to Christians (Eph 4:30). See here for a longer account of how Christ's death takes away evil.

This is a reason why I think Christianity makes more sense than a religion where the solution to humanity's wrongdoing is for God just to forgive sin. Just like a person forgiving a thief who keeps stealing doesn't solve the thief's problems, so God forgiving our sin if we want to keep sinning doesn't solve humanity's problems.

[Edit] Clarification after someone said to me they didn't get it.

Basically, I was saying that forgiveness doesn't do a lot of things. If I forgive someone for stealing from me, then it means I won't report them or plot against them, but it won't necessarily mean they'll stop stealing. So forgiveness won't necessarily make the forgiven person better.

So the cross is a type of forgiveness where forgiveness DOES make someone better. God puts our evil onto Christ, and then the punishment for it is put on to him, and so it is no longer us living but Christ living in us, in return (Gal 2:20). Luther called it the 'great exchange'.

Philippians 3:8b-9a: "for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ"

And 2 Co 5:21 is good also.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Do people do everything for selfish reasons?

Isn't it true that whenever we do something good we get something out of it? Like pleasure from the joy of helping someone? Does that mean that a good act like helping someone is just another form of selfishness?

The problem with this argument is that pleasure seems to be: "anything that makes an action worth doing to someone". That's how every possible action, good or bad, is a matter of pleasure and therefore (according to the argument) selfishness.

Another way of putting this is that every act requires motivation, and that always means pleasure from doing it.

But wait a second - is this right? Can it really be selfish just to have a motivation? If motivation = pleasure? Seems a bit broad.

I think it's so broad that the argument says nothing. The argument doesn't discover anything empirically but relies on the definitions of 'pleasure', 'act', and 'motivation' to argue.

I would say instead that pleasure in doing something is actually a result of the decision to do that thing (whatever it is). What makes any pleasure selfish or not selfish depends on whether that decision is bad or good/neutral. Once we decide that we want to do something, then we get pleasure from the thought of doing it. So if someone has decided to get pleasure from being really nice, then the pleasure from doing that is selfless, because they didn't *have* to get pleasure from that - they could have gotten pleasure from being selfish. So nice people have done something good for choosing to get pleasure from doing the right thing. That pleasure is not selfish, even though they feel good about helping people, since that pleasure is a reflection of a desire to help people, which is a good thing.

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