Sunday, November 18, 2018

An Answer to the Moral Dihlemma of Theism

Let's say you're omnipotent, and you want to make a clock. There are two ways to do it:
The first way would be to create a dial with hands that always point in the right direction in response to the actual time. The big hand would move around the dial once every hour, always landing on the twelve at the exact moment the little hand arrives at whatever o’clock it is, simply because you commanded it to. You could either command it to follow that pattern for all eternity, or else you could dedicate one small part of your infinite mind to physically moving it according to that pattern. There would be nothing of what we call clockworks inside, just a giant cosmic miracle dial responding to your decree on its own.
The second way would be to build it with all the wheels inside meshing together, timed by the flywheel, driven by the powersource, working with utmost precision, insuring that the hands point to the right numbers on the dial at the right time of the cosmic time progression. Any addition you made later on would be powered by and in sync with the existing clockworks. It would be designed to work all on its own without any effort from you - except you could add an input device whereby you could make any corrections, such as, “increase speed by one millionth of a second”. We'll talk more about this input device later.
From reviewing all the evidence, both from science and from scripture, I'd have to conclude that a certain Omnipotent being that we know, chose the second of the two ways, the “clockworks” model when creating this universe. A lot of folk religion does seem to favour the “miracle dial” method, as well as, perhaps a few early scientific models. However, even early scientists as Aristotle and others leaned in the direction of a clockworks type of universe.
How does science point to a clockworks model? There are the four forces (that we know of), gravitational, electromagnetic, the strong and the weak; and we now know that atoms consist of dozens of types of particles, each rendering possible, various facets of our existence, including life.
Though we've always taken it for granted, actual life integrated with physical substance isn't an easy thing to come by. We know that rocks can't be living. Minerals can't hold life, nor can any other elements or simple compounds - although we now have very complex electronic circuitry with the right programming to make it act like it's alive (isn't that right, Alexa? “Yes, that's right”). But only the extremely elaborate intricate structure of the DNA molecule can actually hold life. We still don't know how it works, nor how to recreate it. All we can do is grow it from existing DNA.
When God said, “Let there be light,” the big bang occurred at just the right intensity to divide that initial microscopic speck into a humongous mass of photons, all at the right density to enable the formation of atoms of every size and type - the clockworks that would eventually enable life. Had that big bang been even the slightest bit more intense, physicists tell us, all that would have been enabled would have been hydrogen atoms. Life could never come about. Anything ever so slightly less intense and the universe as we know it would, again, not have been possible.
Even at the right intensity, the time still had to be right. The Omnipotent Being said, “let light be separated from darkness.” Ripples appeared on the outward flowing stream of light, and gravitational and magnetic forces began to go to work at pulling it together to form galaxies and stars. The nuclear reactions within each star formed the various particles into atoms, splitting them again, completely dissolving them and remaking them into atoms again, while some that had spun off beyond the outer periphery formed into planets. When at least one planet had cooled sufficiently, God said, “Let the water be separated from dry land, and let an atmosphere appear.” Only then, was life even possible. We are living in what is called, “The Goldilocks Zone” where it is, like junior Bear's porridge, “Just right!”
So, how much time passed between these events that led to it being “just right” for life of any sort to make its appearance? Some say billions of years, others say only a few days. The thing about such intense gravitational force as was present at the big bang, is that it greatly speeds up time, so the first couple of aeons could have been a couple of days. To God, it doesn't make any difference anyhow, as a day and a thousand years (or a billion, as far as that goes) are all the same. It was all a part of fixing the clockworks to accommodate life, and setting up that relatively short Goldilocks zone where humanity could live and roam, and fulfil his destiny.
There is reason to believe that the seventh day of creation was much longer than twenty four hours. According to Hebrews 4:3-11 we are still in the seventh day. God has been resting, and it remains for some of us to enter that rest.
So, God told man on the sixth day, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea, the birds in the air and every living creature that crawls on the earth.” God gave His creation over to humanity for safekeeping, set His alarm clock, and rested.
Well okay, He's not exactly sleeping. Remember, there's that input device whereby He can make adjustments, and that is through interaction with humanity, to whom He gave the authority to manage things. That input device is, in fact, the life that He breathed into man that brought him to life. So, humanity is both a product of the grand universal clockworks that God had spent so much time designing and developing, and alive with the breath of God Himself. Where other creatures are simply products of the clockworks, and therefore subject to determinism, humanity is above that and is capable of true creativity, making decisions that can't be predicted by knowing all the maths. So, humanity, created in God's own image, holding God's life in his DNA, both belongs in the physical universe that produced that DNA, and transcends it. He is a higher order of being, meant to be God's own friend. That's who God gave the authority over His creation.
But we also know that the first couple of humans blew it, creating a Mess (with a capital M) that all humans coming after would have to live with, so God has been making heavy use of the input device.
Everyone is affected by The Mess, some more than others, and in different ways, prompting many to say, ‘It just isn't fair!” There's nothing about The Mess that's fair. People are enslaved, bullied, tortured, slaughtered, bereaved, left destitute, while others reap the benefits; all because of how human nature has been skewed.
Early humans took on board something that they were told not to, and that gave us an acute sense of good and evil. On the surface that sounds good, but look closer. What it was, was an obsession to compare everything. The first humans looked at each other and then at themselves and said, “Your body is beautiful, but mine? Oh dear! Stop looking at me!” (To this day, we think of nudity as evil, but God made it clear that that’s only because we think it is, when He said, “Who told you you were naked?”)
Later, someone said to his brother, “You are better than me, so God loves you more than me, therefore, I hate you!” That led to the first murder.
Later still people began saying, “Sex with you is nice, but I could have a better time with someone more beautiful/handsome than you;” and, “You have a prettier woman than I have, and a stronger beast of burden, nicer tools and more land than I have; but I'm stronger than you, so I'm taking it.”
Actually, the basic desires aren't bad in themselves. A healthy sex drive is a good thing, and some desires and urges are simple survival instincts. It's when we're obsessed with comparing the quality or quantity with what others have that it gets out of proportion.
And so, because some were stronger than others, while following the same skewed logic, we've ended up with the unfair Mess that we're in.
Now, question and answer time:
First, how can a loving God allow those things to happen?
The answer: remember the Two possible ways for an omnipotent being to build a clock? Had He chosen the Miracle Dial method, that would be a very good question. If everything worked simply because He had His hands on it making it work, then everything would run perfectly, and all the aforementioned evils wouldn't be happening. But He didn't do it that way. He went with the Clockworks model, designing the universe to run according to the laws of physics and quantum mechanics in a cause-effect continuum. Moreover, because humanity is a transcendent being, as well as an integral part of the clockworks, we had the power to screw things up on a grand scale, which we did.
Then why didn't the Omnipotent Being do something about that before things got out of hand?
Keep in mind, the nature of the universe He made, the clockworks, the careful timing, the laws of physics and the quantum mechanics, and all the preparation that went into the Goldilocks Zone; it's clear that God took no shortcuts. All of that work went into the preparation of humanity's place in the vast clockworks of the universe, as a functioning part of the clockworks.
So, let's rephrase that question: Why didn't the Omnipotent Being do something he hadn't ever done since detonating the Big Bang; and stick His finger into the clockworks, stop the universe, undo the human mistake and then start it off again where it left off?
That's not His way. He had already put humanity into the pilot seat, and had begun His day of rest. Humanity was given the freedom of choice, and with that comes living with those choices. Freewill is a dangerous thing.
Perhaps the next obvious question would be, wasn't God morally wrong in giving humanity freewill when He knew where it would lead?
There are many angles to that one. Part of the assumption is that it was like trusting the keys of the family car to a young child. Others picture it as setting a bowl of sweets on the table, and telling the two-year-old, “Don't touch!” The way the Adam and Eve story is often told, one quite easily comes away with that conclusion. However, if we examine the accounts more carefully, we might get a far different picture: The first man had already named all the animals, and, according to Rabbinical tradition, used sounds that matched the nature of each creature, like a well studied Kabbalist would. So, was Adam no more than a small child? Perhaps it was more like the father entrusting the keys to the car to a son nearing adulthood, who already knows how to drive safely and responsibly, and has already proven himself on many occasions. The son is ready, by anyone's standards to be trusted with such a potentially dangerous machine. But he still messes up at the critical moment, causing death and destruction. Who is morally responsible for that?
That leads us to another angle: why was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil there in the first place?
One thing we don't pretend to know is what ultimate purpose it served. There are a few theories, such as: maybe it was meant for later after humanity had matured to a certain level; or that it was simply there to test humanity's obedience; or as a chance to exercise his power to choose. Perhaps none of them completely satisfy everyone, but there is the other consideration: Adam, as we observed, had been there longer, knew what was what, and knew what he was doing. Eve was a new arrivals, so she was easily deceived.
When Adam discovered that Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit, why didn't he take Eve by the hand, lead her to where God would be walking in the cool of the day, and say, “I'm afraid we've had a miss-hap. Eve has gone and eaten from that tree you told us not to, because the snake told her it was good for her. Isn't there anything that can be done for her?” He didn't do that. He simply ate of it himself, knowing full well what the consequences were (and people point to the Genesis story to show how superior men are to women. How was that superior?).
Yet another angle is, would it really have been better to be products of determinism than freewill? If we were, would we be enjoying the levels of creativity that we do, pushing the limits to what's possible, or indeed, even discussing freewill versus determinism? It's clear from a close examination of Scripture that God's intent in creating humanity was to enjoy companionship on that level.
It's on that level that we see that God, by making use of that “input device”, initiated a mid-course correction intended to eventually bring everything back into line with what it's supposed to be. As anyone knows, who fixes things, some fixes may take a while, and in mid-fix, look even worse than when we started out. That Fix (with a capital F) involved instituting a covenant with various ones, which gave the Omnipotent One the leeway to manifest His Omnipotence in a limited way (things like parting the Red Sea, etc) without overstepping the mandate He had given humanity. In fact, that was the whole point of having a “chosen people”, so He could “legally” maintain a presence on the earth so He could carry out the Fix. Humanity created The Mess, humanity must play a vital part in The Fix.
What about those who have been suffering in the meantime, simply because The Fix is still in the works? What of those who have never heard of The Fix?
The traditional assertion is that every man, woman, boy and girl, puppy and kitten who hasn't read aloud the Sinners Prayer from the back of a Chick tract, will spend all of eternity burning in the intense fire of hell; it doesn't matter how miserable their life was on earth.
I believe there is a hell, and also a world to come, in which the meek will inherit the earth. I also believe that being fully initiated into God's Kingdom is through repentance and faith - being born again by the Spirit of God. However I also believe it is a mistake to assume that Theologians have distilled the sum of all truth from what we can read of scripture. I do believe God is just, and besides being omnipotent, He is all knowing. He knows the lives of every abused child, every slave, each bullied and beaten vulnerable person, from beginning to end - and He's just. I can only trust Him with that. That’s a part of having faith in Him.
We do get some vague hints from the Bible, the following from Yeshua's parables:
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus: A rich man who had everything, but never showed mercy to poor diseased Lazarus who sat at the door grabbing what crumbs fell from the dishes as they were being carried out to be washed. Both died, the rich man went to hell, while Lazarus went to a comfortable place and was held in the bosom of Father Abraham. We're not told that Lazarus was a born again Christian, nor whether he was Torah observant; only that he was receiving compensation for a life of misery. The rich man was, apparently receiving just compensation for non Torah observance, particularly of those parts of the Torah that command us not to neglect the poor of the land, to see to the needs of the widows and orphans and the refugees - about consuming the earth's resources without giving anything back.
The parable of the sheep and the goats: At judgement day, the Judge of all the earth sits on His throne, directing some to move to His right, and others to His left. To those on His right He says, “I was sick and you helped me; I was hungry and you fed me; I was imprisoned and you visited me etc… enter into the joy of the Lord.” Those people replied, “Huh?” “When did that happen?” “I've never even been to church!” “I never saw you…” And the Judge replied, “Oh yes you did. When you befriended that homeless kid, when you went out of your way to check how that very sick looking man was doing, when you paid out more than you could afford to feed that family… you were doing it to me.” To those on His left, He had other things to say.
As I said, the above are hints as to God criteria for judgement. A major one is according to how we judge others. Yeshua said, “Don't judge and you won't be judged. By what standard you judge others is how you will be judged.”
I picture one of us standing in the queue at the final judgement: The man just two ahead of you approaches the throne and says, “I was really bad, I know. I had such a bad temper, I beat my wife and my kid A couple of times, and…”
The judge interrupts him, “Yes, you confessed that to me, and by my grace, you were beginning to overcome in that area. You were on your way to becoming a truly good gentle husband and father before your father-in-law shot you. You are forgiven. Enter into the joy of the Lord.”
The one just before you approaches, saying, “I'm not sure I'm worthy to enter. I couldn't keep my hands to myself, always flirting, my wife divorced me…”
“But you kept looking to me for forgiveness, and you were slowly being transformed by my grace. Enter into my joy.“
Then it's your turn. “I can't think of any reason I can't just enter, can you? I mean, I wasn't nearly as bad as those other two, and they…”
“Not so fast. What about when you went to church wearing a shirt that hadn't been ironed, or that time you were seen picking your nose in front of the City Hall? And then there's the time you bent over to pick up a coin, and the top of your bum was showing!”
“C'mon! Those are such small thing! Those two ahead of me were…”
“I can't judge you the same as them. You wrote your own rulebook when you judged others by how they conduct themselves in public, so I have to judge you by the same standard you judged them.”
Maybe not exactly like that, but you get the idea.
James says in his epistle that by fulfilling the commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves instead of judging and favouring some over others, we qualify ourselves to be assessed by the royal law of liberty.
This brings us to our biggest obstacle; by taking on board the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we've made ourselves experts in judging others, and that, in turn, subjects us to judgement.
By showing mercy, giving people the benefit of the doubt, forgiving personal offences, releasing grudges, we place ourselves under God's mercy. However, we can't simply “unknow” the Knowledge of Good and Evil, can we! As much as we try to forgive and forget, it just keeps coming back. Also, some wounds are so deep that we find it impossible to forgive. That's where we especially need The Fix.
Just as The Mess was created by humanity, so also was The Fix, in the person of Messiah Yeshua. The Omnipotent One had been spending all of human history setting it up so that He, by human consent and cooperation, could send The Fix in the person of His Son, the human, Yeshua.
After spending a lifetime telling us about The Fix, Yeshua Himself became the target of every injury, abuse, slander, false accusation, and was finally subjected unjustly to the most torturous death imaginable; absorbing the shock of all human injustice, while uttering His last words, “Father, forgive them.”
As a human, Yeshua had the authority of a human, but without the setback of having gone wrong. He expended all the energy He had been given, and all the authority He had, until there was no more to expend, so He underwent death. Thus it was the perfect exercise of human authority, completely undoing the Mess, making The Fix available to all of humanity.
So, what exact was it that this perfect exercise of human authority enabled the Omnipotent One to do? Something along the line of what He did with the first human, when He breathed into him the Breath of Life. It was so powerful that it brought Him back to life, complete with his body, but in a highly enhanced state. What's more, because it was officially enabled by human authority, it has the potential to affect all humans, solving all the world's problems, eventually bringing resurrection from the dead (in the same enhanced state). It's a force greater than we can imagine, and it's been in our hands ever since.
So what's wrong? We’re like a bunch of kids sitting on top of a machine more powerful than a nuclear reactor, but we're fighting over a game of marbles. … a bit like having a supercomputer in our pocket, and using it to look at pictures of cats, and getting into arguments with people we've never met (I possess a device, in my pocket, that...) Isn't that just like us?
So now the fix is in place, it's there in the clockworks, but it's still up to humanity to apply it. That's what we're on about now - some of us anyway.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Among my FaceBook friends, there people of every type, from Tea Party goers to Wall Street Occupiers, from anarchists to libertarians, even someone with Neo Nazi sympathies as well as Zionists, and of course Trump lovers and Trump haters. No, I'm not just maintaining FB friendships just to brag about my “collection”; I sincerely value their friendship, and I intend to keep them all, if you don't mind.

So, my FB experience often includes memes and comments from just about every perspective, praising Trump, cursing him, as well as for and against every other issue from guns to refugees. It's also hard for me to express any political opinion without offending someone. So, what do I do?

More often than not, I don't.

That's not a cop out. It's just that there are things that are far more important to me, namely the Kingdom of God. The Church doesn't stand or fall depending on who’s in power or what laws are passed. Christians in places like China, the old USSR and Africa have demonstrated that over and over.

Now, I'm not against Christians voting and being involved in the democratic process. I did vote, not for or against Trump, but for UK to remain in the EU. I live in Northern Ireland where the consequences of Brexit are becoming more and more obvious. But I think, at this point, it would be an even bigger mistake to turn around and disregard the choice made by the people and remain in the EU in spite of it. The damage done to democracy would far out last the damage of leaving the EU.

When both sides love their own political agenda more than they do the democratic process, even to the point of scuttling the normal political process for the sake of their agenda; we no longer have national politics, but civil war - or more accurately “civil cold-war”. In sports, it's called bad sportsmanship (which also happens).

I'm very much afraid that some places very close to our heart, are in a state of civil war.

Living in Northern Ireland gives me a perspective on this (I stop short of saying “unique”). I'm a participant of a “24-7” prayer cell in S. W. Belfast, where we've been both praying for and working towards reconciliation between the two communities.here. A lot has improved, but also a lot of work still needs to be done. Ethnic reconciliation has been close to my heart for quite some time.

But now, I'm also seeing another area badly in need of the ministry of reconciliation; the rift between conservatives and liberals.

I realise there are issues at stake that are very important, such as what's the proper response to refugees and immigrants (legal and illegal); how much ought to be spent on military or on welfare, or health and education; what laws should be passed regarding various moral issues, how to legislate guns - the list is endless. But we must not forget that there are Christians on both sides of these issues who truly love God with all their heart, soul and strength, and their neighbours as themselves, even if they disagree on what’s good for their neighbour.

The solutions to these problems do not ultimately lie with changing the laws, or voting in this politician or that, however wise and wonderful. Nor will the same laws and politician, however sinister, stop the Kingdom of God - that is, once believers realise where our strength lies.

We desperately need the ministry of reconciliation very close to home.