Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The answers, sir

Ain’t quite this way…
Someone asked,

Do any of you Christians believe that God may not be as just and kind as we think he might be, and as a result, Satan was trying to stop him only because he was trying to preserve the equality, not to destroy it? So therefore, God is evil or merely neglective, yet still is not good, and Satan is actually not the entity of evil. Because up until now, I thought God is who we need to follow day and night, and Satan needs to be rejected, though that may just be some figurative language and biased perspective hiding what is right?

This question was posed by (I assume from the context) an adolescent non-Christian, someone who is just entering chronological adulthood and was not raised as a Christian. He has been exposed nonetheless to the views of his predominantly Christianised social environment to be able to pose his question at all. This is how I would answer him.

The language of spiritual warfare, that is, God versus satan, comes from the mythological vocabulary of the Bible and other religious scriptures. What one must first of all understand is, that scriptures, no matter how holy or infallible their adherents claim them to be, are mythological constructs, human literature that conveys truth through allegory, metaphor, and sometimes misinterpretation of factual events. The truth conveyed by them resides primarily in the human soul. Scriptures only reflect it.

Regarding Christianity and Christian beliefs, there are two broad categories or versions. There is the children’s version of Christianity, and there is the adult version. The children’s version of Christianity is what you are taught in Christian Sunday School as a child, and then, unfortunately in many churches, it is the same thing that is preached and taught ‘upstairs’ in the Sunday worship and the various ‘adult’ education classes, seminars, and even retreats. Churches—that is, their leaders—need to be needed, and so they perpetuate the children’s version of Christianity at all age levels.

This children’s version of Christianity is not what Christ was teaching about when He says, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 18:3), nor when He says, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these’ (Luke 18:16). What Christ is here commending is what we would call being ‘childlike’ having the kind of trust, absolute trust, that a child has in its parents. The apostle Paul confirms this, writing to the Corinthians, ‘You are not to be childish in your outlook. You can be babies as far as wickedness is concerned, but mentally you must be adult’ (1 Corinthians 14:20).

Then, there is the adult version of Christianity, something that not every adult Christian has. This is not something that is ordinarily dispensed formally in the churches, but something that one acquires by experience, by trying to actually live one’s life as a follower, not just a believer, in Jesus. The adult version of Christianity is the practical theology that cannot be learned at seminary, but which scholastic theology grows out of. The adult version of Christianity is what James, the brother of Jesus, is describing when He writes, ‘Your faith is put to the test to make you patient, but patience too is to have its practical results, so that you will become fully developed, complete, with nothing missing’ (James 1:3-4).

Returning to the question posed, whether or not the one we call ‘God’ really is good—‘just and kind’ is how the question was phrased—and whether or not satan’s role as we usually understand it might not be based on a misunderstanding, we must consider first what is meant by ‘preserve the equality, not to destroy it.’ Equality between what or whom? God and satan? all beings created and Uncreated? Good and evil? The very notion of equality that is the everyday understanding of most people amounts to nothing more than ‘I’m as good as you,’ or in more proper terms, a concept of civic and social equality, an idea which is out of place everywhere except in constitutional terms. Other than there, or in the realm of physical or mathematical propositions, equality is meaningless.

The questioner’s final consideration, whether the decision to follow God or satan might not be only ‘figurative language’ or a ‘biased perspective hiding what is right’ needs to be addressed in two separate ways. First, ‘figurative language’ must be metaphor, or mythological language. Viewed ‘from the outside,’ all our decisions and actions are metaphors and mythology for what is really happening ‘on the inside.’ No one can see that, or know that, except ourselves. As for following God rather than satan being a ‘biased perspective hiding what is right,’ is a self-contradiction, because all human beings have a conscience, a supernatural implant, a ‘thought adjuster’ which ‘tells’ them what is right.

That native, in-born conscience may be modified by social expectations and structures, sometimes to the point that the original ‘right’ is forgotten, being submerged by what one is ‘told’ by external authorities is ‘right,’ yet it is still there, and it is universally the same. The Ten Commandments are just one example of the content of the human conscience being expressed externally in language, but it doesn’t need human language or logic to define or discover it. The categories of good and evil, metaphorically raised to God and satan, are further expressions of it, as are all religions and ethical systems.

The heart of the matter of the question, even before asking which we should choose to follow, God or satan, is whether or not God is good. This is an ancient question, posed thousands of years before it was asked today, and in every generation. There is no easy answer to it. The children’s version of Christianity or of any religion is, of course, God is good. God is whatever ‘good’ means. We have defined it, defined Him, for ourselves. But this is an unwise, half-baked definition. It is not based on experience, at least not on objective experience. If we take into consideration all that happens on earth, and acknowledge that God knows all about it, even that He wills it, then we cannot say that God is good without broadening our idea of what ‘good’ means.

Braver and wiser souls than inhabit the halls of Sunday School Christianity—that is, the saints, those who really do know God ‘as He is’—are unafraid to confess that God is good, but that His goodness exceeds our rational understanding. Their ‘I don’t know, but I trust’ is all they can offer to encourage us to join them in pursuit of the truth ‘on the road to find out,’ never doubting God’s goodness because they ‘know’ that evil is swallowed up by good, just as death is swallowed up by life. But no one who does not dare to enter upon this road can approach such ‘knowledge’ that causes doubt to be swallowed up by faith.

Questions can be asked on this or any topic, but it is in following the Truth that we come to know it is He, not it, that is the answer to every question, and the closer we follow Him the less we ask, because ‘the questions are the answers, sir.’

No comments: