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

Saturday, September 24, 2011

God's suffering

One thing that distinguishes Christianity from other religions is that in Christianity God is supposed to have experienced the evil and suffering that humanity experiences in everyday life. Jesus is supposed to be God in the same way that you are you, and I am myself (John 10:30, Mark 2:5-12, John 14:9). This means that although God hasn't taken away evil and suffering in this life, God has experienced a pretty broad range of evils and sufferings, which, I suppose, is more comforting than if it wasn't the case.

The fact that God has suffered from the things that we go through means that God can more easily have empathy for what it's like, having been in our situation. God knows exactly what we're going through. God's ability to emphathise with our situation reminds me of John 11:33-5: "When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who were crying with her, he was deeply moved and troubled. So Jesus asked, "Where did you put Lazarus?" They answered him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus cried."

An interesting aspect to God's suffering is whether Jesus on the cross experienced more than purely anguish at his situation and physical pain. When Jesus "bore our sins in his body on the tree" (1 Pe 2:24), did this involve more than being crucified? One analogy I have heard about this is that you can imagine humanity's sins like a big pool of black sludge, and then this is somehow collected and poured onto Jesus on the cross.

If so, then Jesus' crucifixion involved much more than the anguish of his situation and physical pain. It also involved the pain of carrying humanity's sins, which could be quite horrible. Carrying all of humanity's sins would be an act on a massive scale. It is also an act with a terrible nature - we don't know what it feels like to carry someone's sins, but it could be really horrible. Perhaps it is the most painful experience anyone can go through. And maybe Jesus was also spiritually separated from the first member of the trinity in some way while it happened (Mark 15:34), which could be quite awful for God to undergo.

Suppose this is correct, then perhaps God is the one who has suffered the most in the history of the world.

This is a very surprising idea. Normally when we think of suffering we don't see God as an example of the miseries in the world. We might imagine a starving child in Africa, or someone with terrible chronic pain, or a victim of horrible evil. But, actually, according to this reasoning God is actually the person who has suffered the most in history. God's story is a good example of what it means to live in a world of pain and evil.

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Friday, September 02, 2011

Is God pro-Western?

A while ago I had a conversation with a Chinese friend who is not a Christian about Christianity, and one thing she felt was that Christianity seems to be a mainly Western religion, and we discussed whether most people in heaven will be Westerners. Western people throughout history seem to have had the best chance to hear the gospel and therefore perhaps an implication is that God prefers Westerners?

There are various ways that one could take to answer this point. For instance, in Revelation 7:9 God emphasises His inclusiveness:

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

But I think it is interesting to reflect on how the future may be very different to the past. It's possible that by the time Jesus returns, Christianity will have become a much more significant presence in the East and South of the world compared to its North and West. Some statistics on its growth in the East-South from here say:

"In 1900, Europe and North America accounted for about 85 percent of the world's Christians. By 2050, that number will have shrunk to about 25 percent.

During the same period, he said the number of Christians in Africa have, well, skyrocketed seems too tame a word. In 1900, there were 10 million; in 2000, 363 million. By 2015, Jenkins expects 500 million. And, by 2050, he predicted that Africa would become the first continent to have 1 billion Christians. Put another way: One of every three Christians in the world will be African - and that's not counting the Africans who will have moved to the United States or Europe."

…"But by 2025, as Europe continues down the road of secularism, "Africa and Latin America will be jostling each other for (that) title," Jenkins said."

And from here:

"By 1949, out of an estimated population of 450 million, there were just over 500,000 baptized Protestant Christians. Anonymous internet columnist Spengler speculated in 2007 that Christianity could "become a Sino-centric religion two generations from now."
The current number of Christians in China is disputed. The most recent official census enumerated 4 million Roman Catholics and 10 million ‎Protestants. However, independent estimates have ranged from 40 million to 130 million Christians."

As this is happening, Christianity is suffering in the West. When people from non-Western cultures come to the West they sometimes assume that everyone is Christian or that the West is essentially a Christian society. This impression is way off base, although somewhat less off base with America which is quite a religious society. The West is now a post-Christian culture where church attendance and rates of serious Christian belief is dropping overall. From here:

"Ireland is not an exception. Every major religion except Islam is declining in Western Europe, according to the Center for the Study on Global Christianity at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass. The drop is most evident in France, Sweden and the Netherlands, where church attendance is less than 10% in some areas."

So I would say that there is evidence that the proportion of non-Westerners versus Westerners who are Christian is steadily growing, so much so that some commentators say that Christianity will become a mainly non-Western religion within our lifetimes.

A second important point on this is that it's only recently in human history that there have been billions of people living at any one time. See this chart.

In 1000 AD there were 275 million people alive, in 1650 - 500 million, in 1800 - 1 billion, at 1930 - 2 billion, which has skyrocketed to 7 billion now, with 9 billion people expected to be alive in 2025.

This matters because, to use a thought experiment, if 90% of Christians are Western in AD 1000 when there are 275 million people in the world, but 60% of Christians are non-Western in AD 2100 when there are 9+ billion people in the world, then which group has more Christians when you compare the two times? Obviously, the non-Western group would have more Christians by a massive margin, even though 60% is less impressive than 90%.

This indicates that if the population of the world keeps getting larger, and Christianity completes the shift from a very Western-associated religion to a South or Eastern-associated religion, then more non-Westerners will have been Christian in history. Evidence from demographic changes can support this general view.

So, in conclusion, it doesn't matter what the proportion of non-Western versus Western Christians are because, according to the Bible, God 'does not show favouritism' (Romans 2:11). And someone from every ethnic/cultural/linguistic group will go to heaven (Rev 7:9). But I think you can reasonably believe that at the end of history Christianity will not be considered a mainly Western religion.

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