One Last Round…on the house

Answering Justin once again… this time in forum format I intersperse my responses to His comments …. it covers lots of ground.

For those who like to take a good deep draught.

I’m afraid our positions are irreconcilable; I concede only this much. Your position seems to be born-again Evangelical; I am a mainline Protestant. For this reason, I may not post here again.

Yes, retreat to our concrete bomb shelters. I won’t say more about this at this time…. but more often than not this is the outcome for “Christian dialog”. I will refrain from the sharp things I could say about this – for the time being I will simply not countenance implied irreconcilable differences in the household of Christ.

But I will ask if you read Solle’s article, and if you agree with this:

“I have come to believe that, whether we acknowledge it or not, we all function with one of two images of God–the God of life who accompanies us or an omnipotent idol who determines everything. … How we live our lives determines which God we actually believe in.”

I believe in the first God she describes, and consider this to be the same biblical YHWH you mention; I think you worship the second, albeit in your mind without her strong phrasing.

You can think what you want, but I believe Solle has some basic things very wrong. First, one of the primary commandments is to not make an image of God. We should relate to Him. It is rather the image-making and its many devoted sects which is the cult of the idol.

I say it is how we believe that determines how we live. Our actions simply provide the proof of what that is.

Otherwise, we use the same Bible (which not long ago I could read parts of in Hebrew — something I recommend, if only for the sheer joy of the language). And we may confess the same creeds.

This is meaningless to me. People say many things. I am aghast at what the Bible is sometimes used for…. completely at odds with its Spirit and principles.

(Interestingly, Cyrus and Isaiah are incongruous. You know what Isaiah says about the end of the exile. He even calls Cyrus (whom it now seems was far from unbelieving or a tyrant) the Messiah of YHWH! From Cyrus’s perspective, of which we have record, it was Marduk who commanded Israel’s release.)

Like Jeremiah’s Israelites,…

I suspect that we would have a debate on this one. But that would be up to you.

most of us live as though what happens is according to a plan. God will fix everything, we say. Just wait. God’s even using the guys in power for some ultimate good, even if it looks downright evil from down here. We just need to trust it’s for the best.
But when the battle comes to our doors, we start to worry. We gather in the temple, claiming it’s God’s house, “This is the temple of the Lord,” and that God wouldn’t let this happen to us, chanting “God bless America” when the towers collapse. It’s all good. It’s God’s plan.

“Need to trust”. That is an interesting phrase. On one hand it means having faith in God, but that is not the way you are using it. As I read you you equate it with unthinking, responsibility-tossing, herd mentality that is putty in the hands of the tyrants.

I, myself, would not draw analogies between God’s Temple, of any time, and America. I don’t trust in the goodness of my country. It is made up, after all, of faulty humans such as myself. I do however, trust in God. In spite of circumstances- as in the Habakkuk prayer.

I take it, that some of this paragraph stems from the “social gospel” thinking that arose in the 19th century. It has its place.

What did we do? We raised our flags and sent gunners off to kill the unbelievers harboring the group that trained the people responsible, and then flew off to kill more unbelievers in another country that now appears to have been in no way responsible for what happened that Tuesday.

Um. What timeframe is this?

What’s more, we asserted our right to drive whatever the hell we want to drive, just get us enough oil. We traded freedom for a sense of security (“Peace! Peace!”).

After September 11, America had an opportunity to change the way it behaves in the world. We could have changed the way we do business. But no, we chanted, over and over and over, “God bless America,” not in petition, but with teary-eyed certitude that whatever the Bush administration did was necessary and just in God’s eyes.

We? You mean “you”. You mean “someone” you feel is stupidly unthinking. Try to put past administrations policies in those terms “necessary and just in God’s eyes”. I imagine you would have difficulty transposing this idea outside your own point.

I don’t agree with a couple unsaids here. America did not “ask” for 911. That sort of thing is not the righteous payback for all Americas ills. Just as we would not think it was righteous payback to do something similar. I really wonder if you were present in very many of the prayer groups that sprung up after 911. I was. In my own church and in city-wide meetings of many churches.

It was nothing like this portrayal.

This is an empire at its end, grasping desperately to the last of its power. We even heard how the elections could be postponed canceled in light of another terrorist attack. You know what another terrorist attack means? More bombs, less liberty. Said Bush, “a dictatorship would be easier.”

Another terrorist attack means simply that the battle is not over. If we have less Liberty it is due to other causes.

So I repeat Solle’s words: “The fact is, we know in our bones what the will of God is. We know what it means to love our neighbors. We know what it means, in the words of Micah, to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. To say that we do not know the will of God is a lie.”

We have a choice. Again, in this culture, it’s how we vote, it’s what we buy, it’s how we view the competition. And in all of this, it’s what we believe about God.

Such as: If God’s in control of our situation, there had better be a REALLY good reason for all the suffering. REALLY good.

I am beginning to see that your controversy is with God. And you think I am likely to play the apologist. I will instead proffer my manifesto statements:

  1. What we believe will inform how we act
  2. God is in control
  3. We will need to use some faith, barring perfect understanding of our situation and the right thing to do in the future
  4. Some pf what we will do is rely on God through faith and prayer and some of what we will do is act on our principles to produce justice and mercy in the earth

How about this consolation: These are the end times. Just like Paul thought the second coming was imminent. Just like the countless others over these 2000 years who believed the end was in sight. But even if these aren’t the end times, we just need to trust that it’s all for the best, right? Leave everything to God? As long as we repent from our sinful ways before the end, we’re good?

Many have asked, “Where was God at Auschwitz?” It may be more pertinent to our debate to ask, “How much faith resulted from the evil that God tolerated at Auschwitz?” The answer dips well below zero. If Auschwitz was tolerated for the sake of repentence, God really made a bad bet. Out goes omniscience. What have we left?

God is where He has always been. And it is not within your ability to gauge faith levels from any circumstance, good or bad. Auschwitz is an example of the extent of mans power and ingenuity in doing evil. This in no way negates God. God is not responsible for such evil, while He is responsible for loving the human race who perpetrated it to the extent that He allows existance to continue.

One thing we have not covered yet is authority and dominion. In my view, authority and dominion that has been delegated is responsible for insuring either the good or harm that is done.

To return to my original comment, we have three propositions:

– God is omnipotent
– God is omnibenevolent
– Evil exists

Leibniz had his answer. I choose another: A truly good, omnipotent God would not allow evil to exist for a second. He would obliterate it upon sight.

I have said elsewhere that this is modern man’s typical view. Power would obliterate because it can. Might makes right… or it ought to – Nuke them all. Our understanding is better than God’s, because in our goodness we would end the suffering…just as we want to end all suffering and all imperfection with death rays from our righteous lasers: the unwanted, the elderly, the infirm, the imperfectly formed….. euthanasia has quite a following already.

Its proponents have a hard time supporting its “goodness”. So I contend with your definition of a good God on this point.

Now, if God has the power to destroy evil but chooses not to, then God cannot be good. Either such a God does not care, or such a God is sadistic. I knew a pastor who set parties against each other so he could mediate. For him, the evil he permitted between them was the way to peace. He was a sadist. God is not a sadist.

No, God is not a sadist. And I would say that pastor had a perverted understanding of both God and peace. The beginning statements you make are not different from many atheists and pagans I have conversed with.

It comes from problems in defining good and evil, and resigning ourselves to the fact that we are not God. We don’t have what it takes to design the whole of reality. As much as we think we really do know better and would set things up much differently. You, Justin retain faith that there is a God but you are trying to design Him by your idea of God. That is a very hard thing to do….. and retain faith.

This mess is not part of some divine plan. The God who “so loved the world” could not act with such wickedness — not even some so-called “toleration” of evil. A good God could not STAND the existence of evil. Yet evil exists — not good in disguise, just waiting to be shown in its true form; not a “necessary evil,” tolerated for the sake of those who might turn from it. I mean real, cold, sinful evil.

Evil exists. Of what’s left, either God is omnipotent or God is good. You cannot have all three, and I refuse to follow any but a good God: the one who keeps his promises, who acts with love, who seeks peace, who grieves with us when we suffer, who seeks our lives. A God who wants us working with him.

OK, Justin. We know that the account of God is that He doesn’t stand the existance of evil. But part of what takes so long to root out evil is the fact that one must do it without becoming evil oneself. I have never seen this work easily or quickly, but it does work. Much of what is taking place is the outworking of justice. As the saying goes: “the wheels of justice grind slow, but exceedingly fine”. In the meantime one risks looking like a wimpy ineffectual. Or maybe even part of the evil itself.

You may persist with thoughts of a plan, with the limitation of power, the toleration of sin, the disguised good, the persistence of evil merely as an opportunity for repentence. You may trounce my claims and condemn me in whatever way you please. You may even call me unChristian, and I won’t disagree with you. Sometimes I’m not.

I will persist with what I believe, thanks. I do not normally engage in labeling someone unChristian or condemn them. I am not sure why you expect that. I do think you are very wrong in your thinking. But that is correctable…nothing to condemn someone over.

Sin has affected my life in a precise and irrecoverable way. I cannot get back what I lost, not through any amount of prayer or faith. And despite the positives that may ultimately result from this evil — which at this point seem slim — they’ll come only by God’s grace, through those dedicated to God’s work in the world.

This view speaks of despair. And I am sorry for the obvious pain you have suffered. The only thing I would say to you is that the Lord is a Redeemer. He is a restorer. We don’t see how there can be a recovery, but that is God’s business in the world… the point of repentence is not to stay in our sorrow but receive that which heals and restores us, and our world.

God grieves with us, and through us God works for change. I believed this long before I would ever need to.

May God’s peace be with you.

And with you, Justin.

7 thoughts on “One Last Round…on the house”

  1. Ilona, I will emerge from my “concrete bomb shelter” to continue this discussion if you consent to the following terms:

    First, with respect to the fact that despite our differing theologies we both claim to be Christian, we shall consequently refrain from moves to disprove these claims. Further, any non-Christian labels we employ (Modalist, theist, atheist, pagan, etc.) shall not be even a subtle means of attacking our respective claims.

    Second, we shall temper the tone of our debate. This is a matter of form. While I respect you as the master of your domain name, I ask you to either confine your responses to the comments box, so we share the same typographic restrictions, or to enable my use of the formatting you enjoy. Alternatively, we can set up a blog which we co-administer. To this purpose I can dedicate a subdomain of

    Third, no more puns on my name.

    What do you think?

  2. I’ll think about it. Truthfully, you are more of a blog power broker than I am. I felt I was doing you a service in highlighting your comments in post form…but I am very new to the political logistics of blogging.

    It will take a day or so to digest what I am viewing on this platform. I am not sure about co-administering blogs. What would be the benefit of that? Exposure for a blog seems sort of hard to build….

    But I will think about these things for a day. In the meantime I might have a post on the terms… just to open comments in a dedicated post to the pros and cons of the things you are bringing up…. I would love to hear from seasoned bloggers on the subject.

  3. I’m less concerned about building a site and an audience than with the format of the debate. I appreciate seeing my text quoted in pretty teal boxes*, but I’m limited to email-style plain text, such as:

    > I am not sure about co-administering blogs.
    > What would be the benefit of that?

    Since I think we’d both like to keep this public, email is out of the question. Given that our discussion has become more back-and-forth than post/reply, it may be best to arrange a system in which we can both post and reply.

    I won’t ask for the keys to your site, and I’m wary to give out my own. A jointly-controlled blog seems to be a good solution.

    As I say above, my intention isn’t to establish a new site, but to modify the format of the discussion. The blog need only last as long as we care to debate.

    * this is not sarcasm

  4. I decided I do not want to take on another site. I have too many that I am now neglecting.

    Perhaps our purposes are different and thus some of the misunderstanding. I can’t quite make out what your blogging purposes are, but mine include allowing the unbelieving sector and the Christian sector become aware of each others dynamics. For better understanding.

    That was the reason I bring up what I have heard atheists and pagans express. The only way I would want that to inflect your comments is if there were real comparisons of likeness.

    And that behooves you to look at. We aren’t that far into what you believe yet. But since you have your own blog with the format you prefer…why not answer me there for the important stuff? That seems to work well for blogs.

    I have to say that if I had more time the idea of a blog that includes several distinctive types of voices..kind of the He said She said sort of thing sounds intriguing. You, me , and a resident atheist sounds interesting. What would you think of calling such a thing if we did that?

    (And everyone wants a public – that is why we blog rather than write in a hard copy journal. We just have different reasons for it.)

  5. My blogging purposes are, first, to practice writing; second, to update and entertain my friends; third, to record my thinking for personal reference; and fourth, to respond to others as I see fit. I may yet respond to our discussion.

    Before proceeding, I should mention my frustration at my inability to communicate what I understand God to be. It’s as though we speak different languages with the same words. In some instances, your objections mirror my intended meaning. A Postmodern dilemma.

    I’m a practicing member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. An overview of the church’s beliefs at: As you say, in itself this probably means nothing.

    I believe that to pronounce faith in a God one must have formed some image or understanding of that God, based on one’s experience. I believe that one who claims to reject God (i.e. an atheist) rejects not God but his or her understanding of God, and ends the matter there.

    I reject what I consider an inaccurate conception of God, and my controversy is not with God but with this image. Namely, I object to the idea of a God who could end suffering but elects not to. Based on my experience — and I’m well aware of its limits — I find this idea in conflict with the God I’ve come to know. What I’ve read, what I’ve observed, and what I’ve heard others say — ministers and laity alike — testifies to a different God.

    Like you, I doubt the goodness of my country. But I _would_ draw parallels between Solomon’s Israel and our own culture, as Walter Brueggemann has:
    (I like this magazine.)

    A Gospel with definite social and political implications; not Charles Sheldon’s “Social Gospel,” per se. Nor nukes, lasers, or euthanasia. I believe God sides with the oppressed against the powers that cause and profit from oppression, and calls us to criticize these powers.

    You wrote:

    “President Bush is an elected official with authority to lead the country. Every president is chosen by God in that sense.

    “The opinion would be whether that was a blessing or curse, but no one rises to leadership of a country without somehow fulfilling the will of God. Not that we understand all the purposes.”

    I simply disagree. The logical extension affirms Hitler’s rise as “somehow fulfilling the will of God.” I simply disagree that God had anything to do with Hitler’s power. I do believe God had much to do with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s active opposition to Hitler, and that Bonhoeffer acted more in accord with God’s will than Hitler did. And I believe many theologians would back up my belief.

    “It is our responsibility speak against the evil and uphold the good. Let’s figure out what that is.”

    I believe we already know.

  6. In rereading my post, I think “inaccurate” is … well … inaccurate. “Misguided” better expresses my meaning. Not exactly, but better.

  7. In outlining your beliefs, you say:

    “I believe that to pronounce faith in a God one must have formed some image or understanding of that God, based on one’s experience. I believe that one who claims to reject God (i.e. an atheist) rejects not God but his or her understanding of God, and ends the matter there.”

    In the sense of religious history, perhaps you have a point, but I try to stick with the point with fellow Christians that we are not forming God in our image nor to our perception of image, but that there is a personal God Who Reveals Himself.

    Then our business is discovery. And that is an objective and not a subjective discovery. We are getting to know Someone Else.

    While your definition of an atheist is novel, it doesn’t match up with those whom I have known. They do reject the idea of God presented to them, and they do have personal reasons for that very often. But their view of God is that there isn’t any…. and that demands a very broad conception, including everything they see around them. It is a type of world-view, although it is couched in negative terms. It also has its own sects and flavors.

    I do think an atheist rejects God. Digging down to the why of it … there is a place for discussion. But not for now.

    “Namely, I object to the idea of a God ”

    And in this, you are not far from the atheist. This is not an insult… there are many atheists who have honest quandaries. But if you are only working with “ideas” of God, rather than understanding a real God, you are working from yourself. As atheists do.

    “I object to the idea of a God who could end suffering but elects not to.”

    That word, “elects”, concerns me. It is a judgmental sort of word, without having presented evidence in the trial.

    Be careful of your logical extentions, they may not include all the possible meanings.

    I think that the focus and emphasis are wrong. I don’t believe that the problem is the idea that God doesn’t change things, but that we don’t.

    It is in our jurisdiction how we act and treat our fellow man. It is unreasonable to expect God to jerk away our jurisdiction just because we decide to do evil. He set up consequences, and the system, and our freedom and powers.

    He intervenes in prescribed ways. We can find out those ways if we bother to look carefully at His Laws.

    But I object to the idea that one could expect to have God stand over one with lightening bolts in hand to zap perpetrators of evil. Because evil has a progression, and its beginnings are inconsequential in our sight and not in God’s. At what point whould God zap Hitler? As a misled adolescent with potential for great perversion and harm? Or in a judgement day when all is said and done?

    I see why one would have to form an idea of a weak God who _can’t_ do much of anything, in your case. But then you are adding weight to evil. You would be saying that evil is stronger than God. I don’t think you want to say that.

    Because we all know that evil triumphs upon the earth at times, and the Nazi regime is evidence of that.
    “Bonhoeffer acted more in accord with God’s will than Hitler did”
    Yes, but _WHY_.

    Why can we know that, if not believing that ultimate control lies with God? And that He rewards the good? And likewise the evil with their just due? Eventually…

    “I believe we already know.”

    I’m sorry. I don’t. Simply because we think we know many things, only to find our perceptions very wrong.

    My contention is that we must look above our perceptions. Then we will know. We must know right and wrong from God somehow, and some of that is resident within ourselves, but not perfectly, not wholly.-and that is where my contention will be.

    I gave much more consideration to your first quote than you might think. It raised questions for me of “What is the significance of grace in ones faith?” Is it all started with Grace? God giving the faith? Making the first steps in revelation? Is grace needed all through the process? See. Theological.

Comments are closed.