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, September 24, 2010

For freedom Christ has set us free

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." - Gal 5:1.

One of the 'paradoxes' of Christian teaching is that loving and serving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and loving our neighbour as we love ourselves actually sets us free rather than 'enslaves' us.

So what's going on with that? Surely loving your neighbour as you love yourself is impossibly difficult.

I think a key element in explaining why it's not some kind of 'slavery' comes from the Christian view of human nature: that when God made us He made our minds like His mind in many ways (the image of God idea). One aspect of God's mind is that it is love (1 John 4:8). So our minds were designed to be just as loving as God's. Just like God fulfills His nature through love, so do we.

We don't feel our minds are really like this (in that you can be happy without being very loving), but that can be explained as a result of people being able to create their own happiness from contradicting this system, as one of the 'powers' of free will, so we can make our own happiness from other things.

The Christian 'system' gets legitimacy because when we act according to the above described view of human nature we are actually acting according to the original 'blueprints'. Because of the 'blueprint' idea God's desire for us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves is not supposed to be this horrible duty we are obligated to fulfill, but, ideally, in some way 'freeing', despite its incredible cost (1 John 5:3).

Okay, this may sound nice in theory, but how does it address the arduous nature of 'love your neighbour as you love yourself'? Why should we beat ourselves up for not following an impossible standard? As the Bible says, it is, after all, impossible to follow even though it's a legitimate standard (1 John 1:8).

One point that Christianity makes is that God just wants us to accept what Jesus has done for us on the cross and doesn't want us to beat ourselves up for failing to keep an impossible, but legitimate, standard that He knows we can't meet (trying to meet it in order to please God would actually contradict the accepting Jesus part according to Gal 5:4). Because of what Jesus has done, we won't need to try hard to follow it one day, but it will, one day, come as naturally as drinking water. I think Phil 3:9 explains some of the mechanics of how this works: "[I have given up everything to] be found in [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ."

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

One of the disadvantages of sin is that we can't properly imagine heaven

There are some aspects to eternal life that people often find hard to understand. In this life we get bored and it can be hard to imagine how an eternity doing anything - even living with God - will not get boring if life in heaven is like life now.

Something that should comfort people on this issue is that, in the Christian view, one of the disadvantages of doing the wrong thing is not just spiritual death (being disconnected from God, Rom 6:23) but also that we don't experience the sort of joy and contentedness that God originally intended for humanity and this affects our ability to properly imagine eternal life with God.

Even when we are not suffering in any way it's obvious that there is something 'less than ultimate' about human happiness. And you'd have to imagine that God, it would seem likely, actually enjoys living forever (and in some sense has already lived forever). So we're probably missing something.

Surely whatever we're missing, that isn't as nice as what is the case for God, must be connected to our currently being either apart from or actually separated from God.

So we've always known a quality of happiness less than what God experiences, and this is why we can't imagine properly what life will be like once we experience "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" in the Kingdom of God (Rom 14:17). It will involve experiencing the peace and joy that God has (Matt 25:21). And our inability to experience this happiness now is why people think that eternal life with God will get boring and have problems.

Some good verses on this are:

1 Cor 2:9: "However, as it is written: 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him'"

Psalm 16:11: "You will make clear to me the way of life; where you are joy is complete; in your right hand there are pleasures for ever and ever."

Psalm 36:7-8: "How precious is your unfailing love, O God! All humanity finds shelter in the shadow of your wings. You feed them from the abundance of your own house, letting them drink from your river of delights. For you are the fountain of life, the light by which we see."

Rom 8:18: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us."

Just like sin can eventually cause someone to become separated from God, so in this life it causes problems even where there is no suffering.

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Friday, September 03, 2010

Why would God allow Satan to do stuff?

One of the reasons why belief in a devil - a malevolent being who tempts people into doing more bad things than they would otherwise do - is criticised is that it is hard to imagine why God would allow such a being to tempt humanity (another problem of a mind without a body is not as difficult because it's possible there can be bodies that aren't physical in the sense we're accustomed to). Let's re-examine this 'absurdity' from a philosophical point-of-view.

There was a debate on Nightline a while ago (YouTube link) which discussed the existence of the Biblical character Satan. One of the persons in favour of an actual Satan said that she became a Christian because such a character existed, or in a skeptical explanation because she experienced a negative force that acted like Satan (i.e. self-destructive urges in human nature).

I find this statement interesting because it seems that many, many people become Christians because there is a sort of self-destructive or selfish force within people. What sometimes happens is that people's lives are falling apart and they need to make a choice between giving in to the self-destructiveness, and falling into an 'abyss', or giving their life to the Jesus of the gospels. In this way many people decide to do a complete turnaround and commit their lives to Jesus.

I see hence a reason why God might allow humanity to be tempted beyond what would 'normally' occur. A Satan character could magnify and make more extreme the self-destructive impulses within us. A lot of the time this would just be bad. But sometimes, through being forced to make a stark choice between life/death, becoming like Jesus/self-destruction, 'Satan' would actually accomplish the opposite of what is intended (something like, 'Hey, this is what will turn my life around and give my life meaning and purpose').

This seems like a reason for God to allow a 'Satan' to tempt humanity, if that's what it would accomplish. But I think two conditions need to be satisfied from a secular moral point of view:

1. The first condition would have to be that people are being saved from an ultimate separation from God in the process, which is, in reality, a really horrible fate.
2. The second is that this process is the ONLY thing that will cause some people to change their mind and choose to live forever with God rather than apart from God.

Presumably, if there was another way to save someone, then God should employ that way instead.

Looking at the second condition, what's a list of things that often make people want to be with God rather than be apart from Him? Often people are drawn to Christianity by feeling some sort of emptiness, lack of fulfillment, a feeling of hopelessness or pointlessness to life without God, discontent with the whole idea of serving oneself rather than God after seeing the 'bad side' of sin, the idea of perfect relationships in the afterlife rather than messed up ones now, a hope for 'another kind of happiness' that is eternally fulfilling and great, as well as other reasons.

These thoughts are negative thoughts that Satan could easily magnify (i.e. in Satan's desire to make life harder for people). They are also thoughts that tend to encourage a lot of people to follow Jesus and be with God forever (note: one reason why I associate 'follow Jesus' and 'be with God forever' is that it makes sense to me that you could only ever go to heaven as a free gift and I don't know any religion that teaches this apart from Christianity).

So if Satan can magnify these thoughts, and having these thoughts sometimes makes the difference between someone choosing to be with God forever rather than be apart from Him, then does Satan have a useful role? Can God use Satan? It seems so.

So allowing a 'Satan' to do stuff under these two conditions and only if these two conditions are satisfied could make allowing Satan to do stuff an overall good thing, and these conditions make some sense.

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