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

Friday, July 09, 2010

The prodigal son story and 'divine hiddenness'

Why can't we make the decision to be or not be a Christian after talking with God face to face, instead of the way we make that decision now, where God may as well not exist if you don't think about Him/Her/It?

I think a helpful answer to this can come from the 'Prodigal Son' story. This isn't a philosophical answer; it's making an appeal to psychology and a story rather than philosophy.

The Christian view seems to be that if God made everyone accept/reject Him 'face to face', in a completely upfront way, that fewer people would end up with God than through the 'distant approach'.

Does this seem psychologically plausible/realistic?

I think it is psychologically realistic if we're all in a 'Prodigal Son' situation. Here is the story below from Luke 15:

To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

“A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’

“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’

“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

If the prodigal son hadn't been allowed to experience life separated from his family, then he would never have ultimately accepted home life and the authority of his father (representing God). It's because he got to experience life separated from his family, and the hardships that caused, and not very good benefits, that caused the son to come back.

So a world where we can reject God from a distance allows us to experience being the prodigal son, and a world where we reject or accept God face to face doesn't (because in a world where God is visible everywhere you can't try things out on your own).

And we are in the situation described in the above story. I think that hell is actually living forever without God, and being able to do your own thing for an eternity (which God accurately warns us will become as painful as fire - see here). And, secondly, God has no way of giving a real and lasting happiness to someone apart from that person being forgiven for everything wrong they've done and them accepting that forgiveness, through 'the cross'

So if the right thing to do in the 'Prodigal Son' story was for the father to do the equivalent of divine hiddenness (with the guy's father letting him run off and do his own thing), and our situation is a replica of the 'prodigal son situation', then divine hiddenness should also be the better option for God to use in this world.

[Edit] Here are some additional notes from a discussion over this post at Revelife which helps to clarify some things.

Someone wrote that everyone knew that the father existed in the story, but nonbelievers don't have a pre-existing relationship with God to reject in this world, making it a bad analogy. I wrote:

Probably the standard Christian answer to this is that, and I admit there's no reason to believe this if you're not a Christian, that the Holy Spirit subconsciously/unconsciously communicates to people who hear the gospel that heaven/hell is like the Prodigal Son situation, and if that person wants to make the choice of the son in that story, then - regardless of their beliefs and whether they think Christianity makes zero sense - God supernaturally makes that person have faith. Some verses on this are:

John 6:44: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day."

1 Tim 2:4: "who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth."

Someone wrote that the prodigal son knew how bad life was without his family, but God can't communicate the full gravity of hell to us when someone presents the gospel. I wrote:

I think we already have experience of what hell is in this life, based on my understanding of hell. People experience a bit of hell when they achieve a lot of pleasure but feel empty inside because they aren't doing anything really fulfilling, or when someone has run out of things to do and is mind numbingly bored. Because I think that hell is being able to go off and do our own thing forever "shut out from the presence of the Lord and the majesty of His power" 2 Thes 1:9.

But it's nonetheless the case that we don't experience the full magnitude of this sort of state of being unless we go to hell.

I believe that God is somehow able to communicate the full magnitude of its horribleness in some way to everyone who hears the gospel, but that maybe people don't believe God, or something happens to frustrate God's plan to save someone that isn't reflective of someone's works.

Someone pointed out that you could still be a 'prodigal son' if God was obviously everywhere. So this explanation doesn't work. I wrote:

The alternative to a 'prodigal son' situation is for God to be present everywhere in the world in a very 'in your face' way. On reflection, I think I agree with you that that would still allow people to not care about God and what God wants, and act out the prodigal son story.

Thinking about it, how it would work is that God would rule His own city and people could appeal to him for protection and stuff, and everyone would know with 100% certainty that God exists and the Bible is true, but God could designate areas of the world where people could go off and do their own thing. So you might have a division of the world into areas that embrace God and 'no God zones'. Based on these cursory thoughts, this is how it might have to be.

If so, then that's all well and good for the people living in the 'God protected' areas, but is that plan giving the people in the 'no God zones' the best possible chance at salvation? If those people have to reject God face to face to get away from God, then I believe it would be harder for God to win them back than compared with this world where people reject God from a distance. If you reject God from a distance God can win you back more easily, given enough time, surely, than doing it face to face.

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