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

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Phil 4:6-7: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

What would have to be true for these verses to be giving good guidance?

I think it would have to be that Christians have almost no control over the major events and occurrences in their life, although it often seems that we do. Instead, God must really be the one in control, who orchestrates the major and many of the minor points of our life. Otherwise worry would be the proper, rational response.

The reason for saying this is that anxiety and worry are always about trying to control something that you believe you have power over, and/or the feeling that it will be awful if you mess something up that you can mess up.

So for example, if I didn't think that I had any control over whether a job interview went well, but I just turned up determined to go through with it, then it stands to reason I wouldn't worry at all about how it would go. It's only if I thought I had it in my power to make or break the interview that I would worry.

Also, if I'm taking an exam that isn't very important then I won't worry either, because I can't mess things up by doing badly. Even if I have the power to do well or do badly, the fact that I don't care how I do on it means I'm not going to try and exert any control over its outcome beyond just turning up and doing it. My lack of concern for control means I won't worry about it.

So it's obvious that anxiety and worry is about control: about believing you can control and affect whatever issue or thing you're worried about.

So for God to tell Christians, "Do not be anxious about anything," God is pretty much saying we have almost no control over the major events of our life, or that they can't be messed up against God's will. Otherwise we ought to try to control these events, and therefore should experience a lot of anxiety and worry as part of that control. Also see Matt 6:24-34 where God says the only things that we should worry about are things that we can obviously and easily affect.

A possible exception to this is that, if we reject what God obviously and unambiguously wants for us, then we can completely go against God's will. But even then God could work around it, and in any case God is assuming in these verses that we won't do that.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Does going to heaven involve missing out on the richness and variety of human experience?

There's a common perception that going to heaven involves being 'lobotomized'. That it means being turned into a perpetually happy 'machine' where you are unable to express natural emotions like sadness, cynicism, and so on. Meanwhile you are constantly 'high' on love which enables the saints in heaven to care about people and God the way God wants, like a parody of 'positive thinking' gone wrong.

This view is based on a misunderstanding of how the saints in heaven will be different. The entire difference is summed up thus: whereas now we don't treat other people the way we would ideally like other people to treat us, the saints in heaven will. Whereas now we don't follow the Golden Rule perfectly, the saints in heaven will (Matt 7:12).

Jesus (who is God) felt sadness (John 11:33-36), anger (Mark 3:5), cynicism (when justified, Mark 12:14-15), extreme anxiety (Luke 22:42-44). Jesus felt a full spectrum. He felt every emotion that was compatible with treating others the way Jesus would have ideally liked to be treated.

Heaven won't change people so that they can't get sad, lonely, feel grief, pain, feel cynical (as long as it allows for giving people the benefit of the doubt), anger (when justified) and so on. It only means that we will follow the standard above, which goes along with loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. When someone adds something to this then they are in danger of adding something to heaven that heaven doesn't have - this is where the 'heaven involves a lobotomy' view comes from.

So if our idea of heaven involves missing out on the richness of human experience, then either a) following the Golden Rule perfectly means missing out on the richness of human experience, or b) something has been added to our understanding of heaven that heaven doesn't have.

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Two kinds of forgiveness

The Bible describes two kinds of forgiveness, one of which is a lot more 'powerful' than the other.

The first kind of forgiveness works like this: imagine a thief who keeps stealing someone's stuff - let's say John's stuff. John is so nice that whenever the thief steals from him, he forgives the thief. But the thief never changes his behaviour. John can forgive the thief all he wants, but it doesn't deal with the thief's wrongdoing. Forgiving the thief doesn't make the thief a better person.

John's kind of forgiveness doesn't do much. John's forgiveness won't make the thief stop stealing, it will only prevent John from taking revenge or seeking justice.

If God's forgiveness is like John's forgiveness then God's forgiveness won't accomplish that much. It will do something, but it won't really deal with humanity's issues.

The second kind of forgiveness is more powerful because it changes the person who gets forgiven.

The second kind would work like this: imagine that John accepted the thief's apology and somehow took away from the thief whatever it was that made the thief ignore the badness of stealing. So the thief didn't steal again (unless there was some exception that made it OK).

The Christian view is that to solve humanity's problems, God needed the second kind of forgiveness. Otherwise people would keep doing the wrong thing and apologising for it in a never-ending cycle of wrongdoing and forgiveness.

Col 2:13: "You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins."

The Bible says that for God to use the second kind of forgiveness Jesus had to die on the cross for us (Matt 26:39). God made it so that "our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ" (Rom 6:6), and "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal 2:20). Some kind of 'goodness transfer' happened.

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