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, August 20, 2010

Does God help those who help themselves?

Suppose there's something you're struggling with or you have a persistent desire that hasn't been fulfilled. Can you only depend on God's help if you basically fix the problem yourself, if you "step up" in some impressive way and solve the issue on your own? Does God help those who help themselves?

I find it helpful to think about this whole issue in terms of two general points:

1. Someone once said to me that they didn't fully understand God's love until they had children, because it just crystallised how much God's love for us is not about us doing anything to earn it. Of course, if you have kids, then you basically just want them to do well. You want them to succeed and flourish in life and be happy, and you don't impose a series of hoops or challenges or requirements on that. And you act to bring that about, as far as you can. Now, most parents certainly don't follow a rule: "Parents help their children when they help themselves" in relation to their kids, and we admire and respect that as a part of being a good parent. So the question is: is God worse than most parents? I would certainly hope not. So that counts against "God helps those who help themselves." See for example Rom 5:6: "When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners."

2. The other point comes from a joke which illustrates the other side of this. There's a Christian, let's say 'Andrew,' who is having money problems, and he prays to God, "Dear God, if you help me win the lottery, I will be an incredible Christian. I will build a church, give a lot of money away, witness to heaps of people" and so on. But he doesn't win the lottery. So he prays again, "God, I'm at my wit's end. I will do anything for you if you help me win. Please, let me win!" But he doesn't win. So he prays again, "God, what do you want from me? What am I supposed to do or say? I will do anything for you if you help me win!" And then God answers him from heaven, "Andrew, help me out here. Buy a lottery ticket." See for example Psalm 32:9: "'Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.'"

The second point shows that if we pray, for example, to find a job but don't send out any resumes and suchlike, then God literally CANNOT answer our prayer. That could be the case sometimes. But, even if it is, God will try and help us as much as a loving parent would, which goes far beyond helping those who help themselves. Although sometimes God may not fulfill a persistent desire because of greater, at present inexplicable reasons, but we can't conclude from this that He doesn't love us completely, especially when one considers that e.g. God died on the cross for us, which involved, in Jesus taking our sins, more than 'just' being crucified.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Broken free will

We like to think that we have free will and can decide our own values and to act on those values. But let's say someone's free will wasn't working properly. There are probably a number of ways this could manifest, but what would be the main problem that you'd see if it did happen?

Let's say that I have a certain principle that in certain circumstances people should do XYZ, including me. And that's not a principle I reluctantly accept, but one that I want other people to follow and for me to follow.

A free will that doesn't work properly would be a free will where I'm unable to act consistently on the principles that I hold near and dear. That sort of free will would be like a car that occasionally breaks down for no reason, or a computer that crashes every now and then for no reason. Because a free will like that is a free will where someone is effectively unable sometimes to choose what they have chosen.

Using that standard it seems that possibly everyone has a free will that is broken in some ways, because we all seem to affirm principles that we hold near and dear, and yet no one, unless those principles are very prosaic, can consistently act on those principles 100% of the time. So our free will, if we have it, is broken in some way. It doesn't work the way you'd expect it to work in theory, and perhaps the way it was intended to work.

These thoughts were prompted by a reflection on John 8:34-6: "Jesus answered them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.'"

And Romans 7:15: "I don't really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don't do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it."

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Thursday, August 05, 2010

Where does sin come from?

An interesting theory on where sin ultimately comes from...

God is perfect, but why couldn't He make us perfect just like He is? Where does sin come from?

There's an answer that I find helpful on this issue: because of reason X, which is true in the same way that 2 + 2 = 4 is true, only God can be 100% perfect. That is, only God can be a completely perfect being.

Therefore God cannot make any other being equal to Himself in perfection. So God can make beings that are 99% perfect, or 99.999...% perfect, but only God can be 100% perfect. This is a fundamental limit on the nature of reality and God's power, because only the creator, only God, can be completely perfect.

Of course, in reply, it might be said that a computer program can be made to perfectly calculate someone's tax returns, and what about a perfect circle existing? So some types of perfection can be made outside of God, mainly relating, I guess, to something achieving a defined purpose. But only God can be completely perfect in every way. So a perfect circle cannot be completely perfect like God can be completely perfect. I think this makes sense.

So Adam and Eve could be created 99.9999...% perfect, but not perfect like God is. And neither can we.

And from that tiny, tiny amount of imperfection, after maybe billions and billions of years (it doesn't say how long they were in the Garden), Adam and Eve experienced the 'Fall'. And we would have done so in the same position, because we have a tiny, necessary amount of imperfection as well. The Garden was a good situation but, ultimately, it can't work forever.

The only way around it is for God to insert Himself into reality as a created being, with our vulnerabilities, and overcome our 'necessary imperfection' - our ability to be tempted by evil - by being God as well as human.

The way it works for God as a created being is that, for instance, Jesus would never sin in any possible situation because He is God although He was tempted because He is human (Heb 4:15).

Then God-as-a-created being absorbed all the effects of our necessary imperfection - our sin - into Himself on the cross, as a result of which everyone can "be found in [Jesus], not having a righteousness of [their] own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ" (Phil 3:9).

That solves the problem created by our necessary imperfection, which is the way it always led to sin - it's not a problem if you have a goodness which is not your own, but which is Christ's.

Ultimately, God found a way to forever sidestep our necessary imperfection through the cross, in a way that wasn't available in the 'Eden setup', although the Eden setup was 'very good' (Gen 1:31).

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