Part 3:

 

 


 

 

For me to embrace some form of Christianity, I'd have to be convinced of two things: (1) that it's true; and (2) that it's good.  Or, to put it another way, I have both intellectual objections and moral objections. Most of my moral objections could be eliminated by accepting Christianity without buying into the Bible as "the inspired Word of God".  (A few months ago, I started writing a detailed response to your "Gutripper" piece, but I realized that you're probably so busy that you wouldn't have time even to read it, let alone to respond to it.)  From a moral point of view, I think I could manage to believe, if provided with sufficient evidence, that there is a deity, that said deity has benevolent intentions toward us, that humans are a fallen race, and maybe even that we can't pull ourselves up completely by our own bootstraps and need help from the deity to reach perfection. 

 

[ you realize that what you have described above is not ‘Christianity’ but some generalized Theism-religion, I hope…

 

 

I'd still, however, have real trouble understanding how animal sacrifice and, later, the death of Jesus had anything to do with the matter.

 

A couple of quick points here:

 

(a) I have an extended study on the tank (in RealAudio and some text) on sacrifice, and the vast majority of the animal sacrifice in the OT was simply for feasts, to facilitate the building of community…the vast majority of animal sacrifices specified in the Mosaic Law were for occasions of festive meat-meals (not often enjoyed by commoners) for the extended family and for the poor/disadvantaged in Israel (i.e., the orphans, widows, and foreign immigrants were invited to these festive ‘parties’). So the vast majority of these have little to do with notions of ‘cleansing’ or ‘dedication’ per se…and those that DO, do not involve the “blood-sating of a vengeful god” images so often associated with this in popular debates…although the RealAudio series will make too many religious assumptions for you (it was delivered to a Christian group at my church, with paradigmatic assumptions about scripture, etc. that you do not share), the general content of the purposes of the various types of sacrifices should be understandable for you.

 

(b) Understanding the ramifications of the death of Jesus is largely a life-time task…the core significance of that death can only truly be understood by listening to Jesus’ own understanding of that death…and that understanding involved several elements:

 

* It was to show us how far perfection will go, in its commitment to helping others (“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. )

 

* It was to show us the very character of God: not a Despotic and Distant Emperor, but one who suffers and serves those in community with Him—even ‘creatures’:  And so when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments, and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. 14 “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. …And… And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. 25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ 26 “But not so with you, but let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. 27 “For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves. And this service was linked to his death: And calling them to Himself, Jesus *said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. 43 “But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

 

* He was very explicit that His death was somehow connected with creation of a new community of persons, characterized by forgiveness and by forgiving:  for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins…AND…”If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.

 

* And the ‘ransom’ word used above, pointed to the character of this new community as freed-people, people freed from legalistic religion, from fear of death, from guilt, and with the possibility of freedom over destructive habits and futile thought patterns (“If the Son set you free, then you will be free indeed!)

 

 

There are many, many other aspects of His death, but the core “message” to US—the part we have to understand ‘going in’—is that it was intended to be an unambiguous expression of God’s love for us and demonstration of the lengths to which He would go in bringing us into a warm, vibrant, freedom-generating, beautiful, and certainty-producing relationships with Himself (and this was clearly what impact the Cross had on those first followers):

 

We have already seen Jesus’ statement about ‘greater love’ (above)

 

John 3.16—so simple, but still such a capsule statement:

 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

 

And Paul’s statement:

 

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

 

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope (2 Thess 2.16)

 

And John:

 

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

 

 

This should be a key point for your consideration, friend…there are BILLIONS of data points and facts and perspectives that have high-ambiguity levels associated with them, but the message of the Cross—according to our best records of Jesus’ own understanding and of the understanding of those who lived and (mostly) died because of lives transformed by that Love—was of unambiguous love of God for us…

 

You need to ponder the ‘why’ of the Cross, and consider ‘why’ it was so strongly associated with the Love of God for you and me…why it was something Jesus seemed to march straight toward (knowing ahead of this death), and its nature as an expression of God’s love is warp and woof of the story…there is no strata of gospel tradition (no matter how much one ‘throws out’ due to various ‘issues') in which this love-motif is not present…

 

To me, the Cross of Jesus—as an expression of God’s love, in all its ‘practicality’ and full embrace of our problems by a good-hearted God—is a very, very ‘stubborn’ fact. I cannot find a way to lower my ‘confidence level’ in it, no matter how many alternate interpretations I try to come up with…I have studied all/most of the rival views of his death (esp. alleged pagan analogues), but cannot find anything that comes close to explaining the centrality of that act (as an expression of love and victory for us) and/or the centrality of the interpretation of that horror as the ultimate portrayal of the loving heart of God for humans…I can think of many alternate possibilities, but none that have remotely adequate evidence to support them (remember, just a possibility does not count as evidence)…

 

I encourage you to consider long and hard this central tenet of the early proclamation—the Cross as public and earthy and tangible and visible and unambiguous and ‘loud’ statement that the love-breathing God cares deeply, and even painfully, for  us…and that whatever we really ‘needed’ to get back on track with life and perfection and grace and our relationship with the life-giving God, God in His action there ‘took care of’ for us…it's less about understanding (initially) the theology behind the Cross as it is about understanding the Love behind it…it is in that act of understanding and comprehension that we can ‘see’ the heart and movement of an invisible God…

 

 

 

My raising moral questions probably invites another question: Where do I get my "objective" moral standards?  Isn't the existence of objective moral standards by which I presume to judge a deity evidence of the existence of a deity from which these moral standards originate?  My answer: No.  As I stated above, I do believe that moral standards and values are objective, but I believe them to be rooted in our nature as living beings.  Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden and Leonard Peikoff and other Objectivists have provided such cogent arguments in support of this position that I'm surprised to see that theists can still ask this question.

 

This would also take us very far afield…but again, the ‘hard-wiring’ is very ambiguous data in itself…it could be used by the theist just as easily (perhaps even more so, but I’ll leave that argument for another decade)…as for the Objectivist position, I seem to remember from another letter of yours that you ARE aware that academic philosophy doesn’t pay much attention to it…I would also suggest that there may be a methodological similarity between the ‘ethical intuition’ that grounds Objectivist ethics and the ‘spiritual intuition’ that is used to ground some religious beliefs. Just as one cannot ‘demonstrate’ with evidence ANY particular Objectivist ethical maxim (but this doesn’t stop the Oist from holding said maxim as ‘absolute’), perhaps it is inappropriate to require the mystic or believer to ‘demonstrate’ with evidence certain aspects of religious belief (e.g. that a conspiracy-less view of the gospels is a ‘better’ interpretation of the textual and historical facts than is a conspiracy or lunacy view)…Whatever your stance on this, just make sure that you are NOT employing a double standard here; make sure your demands for rigor from the believer are no greater than those for rigor from yourself (or your O-ist friends)…

 

 

I find many, many things about "Christian morality" troublesome.  Let's forget for the moment some of the more atrocious things in the Bible that you've addressed on your web site and look at some less controversial matters.  "Children, obey your parents"?  "Wives, obey your husbands"?  "Do not commit adultery/fornication/homosexuality"?  "Do not divorce and remarry"?  Absolute commands like those are INIMICAL to human happiness and well‑being.  I cannot find myself able to approve them in good conscience.  They do violence to my deepest values. 

 

Unfortunately, you are working with some ‘bad’ or ‘old’ data here, friend…I am not sure who would have glupped these together and EVER called them ‘absolute’ as a package…I don’t want to get too far off track here, but let me make only a point or two: (a) the bible never commands wives to obey their husbands [as I have documented elsewhere on the Tank]; (b) matters of conscience ALWAYS supercede matters of ‘hierarchy’—one should ALWAYS ‘obey God rather than man’; (c) the divorce and remarry issue is highly variable; and (d) as for adultery, “you know not whereof you speak”, friend…I have seen too many betrayed  spouses in my life--up close-- and perhaps you do not know what that kind of pain does to an unsuspecting heart who has completely (and 'finally') trusted someone…to repair such a tear in the soul—to get back to being able to trust any other human being—is a Herculean task, and one not often accomplished in this life by many…the primary relationship in human community—man and wife—is not meant to train us to distrust every other relationship of intimacy…

 

So, you need either to skip this part of the ‘moral evaluation’ or read more deeply and widely in REAL Christian ethical theory (and perhaps counseling and therapy case studies) BEFORE resuming a moral judgment…the difference between what the system ACTUALLY teaches and the portrayal of it above is significant. (you have not even mentioned any of the abjectly positive ethical imperatives in the Bible to love and compassion and generosity and service—which the early church, following in the footsteps of Jesus,  “lived out in the face of lions” and with which conquered the Roman empire [I document many of these in a couple of articles in the Tank…make sure you make a balanced and comprehensive judgment, considering all the ethical ‘data’ in the system…Don't settle for oversimplifications and misrepresentations someone handed you…)

 

 

What about, "Obey the dictates of your government"?  According to that one, all Christians should denounce the American Revolution as an immoral war; all American Christians should move to Canada or England and join the other descendents of those who were obedient to King George and didn't see fit to shed blood in defense of individual rights to life, liberty, and property.  And yet I see American Christians blandly celebrating the Fourth of July every year, and thanking God for their country.  Sheesh.

 

Again, this is a misrepresentation or misunderstanding (although a common one, and  probably taught to you by others) of the biblical position…obedience to government is always subordinate to obedience to God (and conscience and love)…and as for changes in Government structures, the biblical examples of how this happens are massively varied, so that the ‘divine right of kings’ doctrine is highly questionable, and CERTAINLY circumscribed by other biblical models (cf. the various ways government changed hands in ancient Israel—everything from seceding from the union to driving a bad ruler out of the country)…So, don’t get hung up on this issue…

 

 

 

Others would raise the question: "Isn't it presumptuous of you to dare to question the great god of all the universe, who created you with this ability even to ask the questions you are asking, and who originated moral standards?"  My answer: No.  Assuming for the moment the existence of a creator deity, I see no problem with the possibility of creating something to be independent and having that creature make judgments about its creator.

 

We are absolutely supposed to be able to make moral 'judgments' of His character! He wants us to! That is a source of thanks, celebration, and respect for Him! That's how we know He is the only Trustworthy One, the only Loyal One…and the One we seek to produce beauty, peace, and goodness in this world! The trees may 'clap' at His reappearing, but the moral agents down here long desperately for the coronation of the Loyal and Loving One. Our moral sense is tuned to His character, so His goodness, trustworthiness, love, and commitment to excellence can be SEEN by us, with joy and peace and comfort the results in our hearts.

 

So, I agree with the theoretical position in your statement, but would also quickly add that--in today's world--we might need a dose of ‘epistemic humility’ in this process…My own thinking on this has developed over the last couple of years, as I have worked through what is called ‘governance’ issues in organizations.

 

It is much simpler to describe what an individual’s duty in a given moral dilemma might be, but it is much more difficult to do so for an individual with some ‘leadership’ obligation. Group leaders, for example, have a considerably more complicated ethical nexus that does the individual non-managerial employee. [In the Tank I discuss two traditional forms of it: the lifeboat ethics scenario (from philosophy) and corporate downsizing/reorganizing (from organizational dynamics).]

 

So, although I can agree that we are created with the ability to make moral judgments of ALL moral agents, I would at the same time recognize that these judgments can only be made when all/most of the relevant data has been surfaced and analyzed. As Jesus reminds us, Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.” (Jn 7.24).

 

In the NT, this works out that we are to start the judging process with ourselves (“cast the log out of your own eye, before pointing out the speck that is in someone else’s”), and when it does come down to judging someone else’s actions, we are supposed to use the same standard we want applied to us (“for with that standard you use in judging others, YOU will be judged too”). For me, this ends up being quite a deterrent to judging anyone without a very deep understanding of the issues, constraints, and options they had before making some action…

 

So, I only caution ‘humility’ and ‘fairness’ and ‘non-superficial’ moral judgments—about ANYONE, including God.

 

And, I would be remiss if I did not quickly point out that God is 'counting on' our moral assessments of Him, to fill our hearts with joy (and with a good example). Our confidence in a morally-good God creates wonderful peace and encouragement, as well as incitement to better ethical behavior. "Be ye perfect, as I am perfect" is to be a starting-point for us shaping our lives after the model of His moral goodness. So, I believe He definitely wants us the make 'ethical judgments' of His character--for the good of our relationship--but that we should suspect 'measurement error' if we come up somehow with a negative view of His ethics!

 

Also, philosophically, there is a significant problem with the 'judging God' process. If, using the Creator-creature scenario you advance here, God were indeed the source of our moral intuitions, and, as the philosophical Ultimate in the system, was also the measurement standard by which moral action is evaluated (a function of being the Ultimate in a system), then the very concept of 'us judging our own in-built standards, by those in-built standards' becomes nonsensical. At a purely philosophical level, such a situation is not merely 'wrong'--its incoherent.

 

So, we have to be really, really careful here, or we could end up making superficial judgments, hypocritical judgments, or even nonsensical statements altogether. This is a tricky area, and one that encourages tremendous epistemic humility and restraint…

 

 

If I created rag dolls with the capacity for independent thought, feeling, and judgment, and then arbitrarily set some in the display case and threw others into the fireplace, they'd have every right to question my goodness and interest in their well-being, and might conclude, quite justifiably, that I am not worthy of worship.  Yet the latter part of the book of Romans and the entire book of Job seem to suggest otherwise.  I must disagree with the writers.  I think that the rag dolls have every right in the world to question the Dollmaker and to complain loudly.  

 

 

It don’t get the impression that you really understand those passages, friend, based on this illustration about the dolls…I have already written some stuff on the Pauline passage (I assume you are referring to Romans 9), pointing out otherwise, and the book of Job has nothing at all to do with this particular issue (esp. the 'entire book of Job')…a couple of quick responses here:

 

* No one—not even the ‘most consistent Calvinist’ with his sweeping vision of “double predestination”—believes that there was anything ‘arbitrary’ at all about ANY aspects of some decision by God back in ‘eternity’ past. Even those who believe in very strong versions of supra-lapsarian predestination readily confess that God’s plans were ‘according to His good pleasure’ (i.e. He had reasons that came from His good-heartedness, for ANYTHING He “decided” in eternity past). Historically, the Reformed theological tradition (i.e., the ones holding the strongest views of this) have gone through incredibly torturous theological gyrations to defend God from this accusation. The accounts of their theological internecine warfare—although almost comical in the hair-splitting sometimes—reveals a love for God and His works, a DEEP appreciation for the beauty and overflowing love of His absolute heart, and an epistemic humility not consistently associated with that tradition (smile…remember your ‘presuppositionalist Ptooey’?!). If the illustration depends on the choice being ‘arbitrary’, then it amounts to a straw man…

 

* Romans Nine (a) has nothing to do with being ‘thrown into a fire’, but rather with service to God in history [my view]; (b) uses categories that are ‘not closed to membership switching’ [my view]; (c) reflects a situation AFTER the “rag dolls” have persisted in willful, habitual, and “glee-ful” abuse and violation of OTHER “rag dolls” [most everyone’s view]; (d) deals only with the two groups of Israel and non-Israel—as groups, not individuals [minority, but growing exegetical view]; and/or (e) reflects a situation in which ALL the ‘rag dolls’ have ‘chosen’ the fire themselves—in animosity to God—and God decides to at least rescue some, in spite of their protests [Reformed position, in various flavors] or in light of their life-humbled cries for help [“mainstream” position, of classic traditions—Catholic, Eastern, non-Reformed protestant]… NONE of these  options, or mixture of these options, however, can be said to be fairly represented by your illustration.

 

* Paul’s comment about the creature’s complaint is about the attitude first—not the theological issue per se. This is clearly indicated by Paul’s word choices: he describes the objector’s ‘question’ as antapokrinomenous—“an unjustified accusation” and decidedly “anti”-God. It is a rare Greek word (double-compound), with a base used most often in legal contexts (e.g., the objector is making a moral condemnation of God, not just asking a neutral or open-hearted or “I simply want to know” type of question). And the connecting word -- "on the contrary" (menounge)--also indicates a disagreement with SOMETHING in the objector's comment. The structural flow looks something like this: "Who is God, that he unfairly condemns us?…On the contrary, who are YOU, that unfairly condemns God?!"  So, Paul goes after the attitude problem first.

 

* Then, Paul points out that God has complete freedom in which "options" He selects among alternatives within human history. Paul had already pointed out that God selected the option to keep a stubborn Pharaoh alive (instead of killing him--this is the import of the OT quote in verse 17, which in Exodus 9.16 actually says "for this purpose I SPARED you…"). After the first couple of rounds of 'let my people go', in which Pharaoh not only didn’t obey God but also ESCALATED the affliction of the Israelites(!), God could have killed him for his atrocities against the million-plus Jews, but God also had the freedom to punish Pharaoh in other ways than immediate death (e.g., exile, revolt/overthrow, capture, disease, international attack, etc). In this case, the punishment was 'turning him over to' his own stubborn and proud heart--hardening as a punishment as in Lamentations 3.65-- (but He left him in authority, wealth, power), and the result was the finishing of the public clash of wills between the God of Israel and the God of Egypt (Pharaoh) in history. Thus, the "hardening" of his heart was a judgment 'option' that God selected from among several (legitimate) alternatives. ..The objector in Romans 9, however, objects that God has no 'right' to complain about Pharaoh for any 'post-hardening' sins, since Pharaoh was at that point 'enslaved' to his sinful bent (and therefore, according to the objector, just "following God's will"). And Paul then invokes the Potter/Clay image, pointing out that Pharaoh would have had NO warrant for complaining against God (at the end) that God had 'further hardened' him unfairly. In other words, when Pharaoh was 'fully hardened' (initially by his choices, and then by God judicially  'turning him over' to those choices), he could NOT fault the Potter for how he turned out! The Potter could have made him into something worse (in judgment for his independent choices), made him into "nothing" via death  (in judgment), and have been fully within His 'rights' as Lord over history.  [Strictly speaking, though, this is probably more a "loose" object lesson for Israel/Gentiles in this passage, since Paul is discussing why the Jews have been 'hardened' and why the 'gentiles' have been honored…so, this exegesis I am laying out here may be entirely off base…but if its only about Israel (which has a LOT of supporting data in favor of it), the issue is even less 'difficult', since it has NOTHING to do with the 'toy soldier' illustration.]

 

* And verse 22 is even clearer an indication of the asymmetrical aspects of this 'destruction' (a la the destruction of Egypt during the conflict--cf. Ex 10.7): "Is Paul teaching a double predestination? This is improbable, because he avoids involving God in this case [i.e. of judgment], whereas he is involved in showing mercy to the objects of his mercy (v. 23). Furthermore, God's patience in bearing with the objects of his wrath suggests a readiness to receive such on condition of repentance (cf. 2:3, 4; 2 Peter 3:9). So 'prepared for destruction' designates a ripeness of sinfulness that points to judgment unless there is a turning to God, yet God is not made responsible for the sinful condition. The preparation for destruction is the work of man, who allows himself to deteriorate in spite of knowledge and conscience." [EBCOT]. Again, this is more likely a specific reference to the Exodus events, with God being patient with the Egyptians (vessels of wrath) and delivering the Israelites (vessels of pre-mercy, due to the pre-arrangements with Abraham).

 

I didn’t really mean to drag you through all this exegesis, and there is very much more to be said about this issue, but this SHOULD suffice to show that Romans 9 cannot be used to warrant your use of the 'rag dolls' illustration. That is simply an unfortunate caricature of the deeper and more complex intertwining of human and divine freedom, choices, responsibility, and options in human history.

 

 

And I question the right of the creator deity to judge the creature at all once the creator has set into being an independent entity capable of thinking, feeling, and judging autonomously.  The dolls don't do what the Dollmaker wanted, so he tortures them?  It's like having kids ‑‑ they're not your property.  Once you get them started, they're independent, autonomous beings with rights of their own, inherent in their being, not things for you to do with as you will. 

 

 

Huh?

 

There is no 'torturing' going on--! And you have completely left out the notion of community and reciprocity in 'doll experience'. The very fact that the dolls are independent, feeling, hopeful creatures are the very reason the Dollmaker tells the dolls to be good to other another! The dolls were created for happiness and fulfillment, and when one toy oppresses and violates another--and steals this happiness and fulfillment from another, in an act of 'sovereign selfishness'--what do you WANT the DollMaker to do? Encourage the exploitation? Exile the offender? Let the violent throw the weaker dolls into the fire?

 

You seem to be missing the perspective of social justice and moral government in your analysis. God's actions in history are about growing communities that love and grow and celebrate and cooperate. Moral government (ideally through human agency, as an expression of community) is essential to that--given the reality of treachery, violence, and greed in the human heart. The Creator absolutely has the right to remove a willfully destructive doll from the community by force…(I have written several articles about the importance of social justice and in some cases, exile, as essential to a community of celebration and peace). Don't let that toy illustration mislead you with its oversimplification and misunderstanding of the nature of good and God…it simply is unrepresentative of the system you are trying to evaluate.

 

 

 

 

So, unlike Job and Paul, I don't think it's at all presumptuous for an independent and autonomous being to demand answers to moral questions of its creator deity.  And I'm not impressed with their answers, which amount to, "Might makes right; I'm bigger than you and can squash you like a bug, so you'd better do what I say and like it."

 

 

As I indicated earlier, I don't think there's anything wrong with asking moral questions of God (with appropriate recognition of His superior wisdom and our possible limitations at understanding all the issues); I would perhaps have a quibble with your word 'demand'--depending on how much arrogance or implicit 'accusation' was behind such a 'demand' on God. God responds warmly and positively to good-hearted and open-minded questions (cf. Mary's question of 'how can this be?').  (Of course, arrogant demands are negative when made to us humans as well--think about how YOU would emotionally respond to arrogant demands from another.) Although we were created to enjoy individual existence and experience, we are NOT 'gods' per se. We do NOT have radically independent existence, nor do we have power to implement our will exhaustively. We are dependent on God for foundations, and we are dependent on other humans for cooperative existence, and we are dependent on our environment for sustenance. As such, we are not, strictly speaking, 'autonomous' (a law unto ourselves) at all--we exist in community, with God being the Eldest in that community (and therefore possessor of the 'best wisdom' for successful living and celebratory fulfillment). If we ignore the wisdom of the Elder, we risk the welfare of the community (and ourselves, of course). There is more to this than just our individual selves…

 

As for Paul and Job, I don't know who has been teaching you this theology and biblical understanding (since you mentioned you didn’t have a background in this before becoming an atheist), but you need to ask for better proof from them before believing these statements about "what the bible teaches", friend…we have already seen in the case of Paul that 'squashing like a bug' wasn’t remotely involved with Romans 9(!), and it isn't with Job either.

 

God's answer to Job is about wisdom (and wisdom-based power) and the inherent limitations of human perspective--NOT about 'terrorizing power' or 'bug-squashing majesty' (smile). So Kidner:

 

 

"So the LORD answers no-one but Job. That he speaks at all is itself an answer to one of -Job's misgivings: that he will prove endlessly elusive, totally unapproachable.

 

"But he answers out of the whirlwind - formidably, boisterously, never for a moment on the defensive. Job had pictured himself (given the chance) hurling arguments and challenges at him; but the boot is on the other foot. The entire reply is a stream of unanswerable questions, starting with the farthest reaches of time and space, and drawing ever narrowing circles round him of things beyond his knowing, even things as close at hand as the beasts and birds that he would have taken for granted.

 

"Two things at least are happening here. First - and of immense significance - God has changed the subject. All the obsessive talk about Job's plight as punitive is left completely on one side. The inference could hardly be plainer: that Job and his friends have not only found the wrong answers; they have been asking the wrong questions. Indeed, what one writer has called the 'kindly playfulness' of God's raillery ('surely you know!'-'you were born then!') puts Job in his place more as a father might do it to a dogmatic adolescent than as a judge to an offender. Even his direct rebukes, brusque as they are, are not concerned with sins of the past: only with the ravings and tirades of the present. Job's eventual penitence, we can note, is concerned with precisely this, at both 40:3-5 and 42:1-6.

 

I lay my hand upon my mouth ...(40:4.)

 

I have uttered what I did not understand ...(42:3).

 

"Secondly, God is enlarging Job's horizon. The superb poetry, which brings before him the majesty, beauty and exuberance of the creation, invites him to explore in his mind the great context of his being. It will - or should reassure him that his Maker is unimaginably wise and of infinite resource; but it will also bring it home to him that his ash-heap is not the centre or circumference of the world, and that his perplexing role is intertwined with that of innumerable others."

 

Or EBCOT, pointing that it was about God's management and governance (not raw squashing-power):

 

"It was important for Job to know that God was not his enemy as he had imagined. This encounter with the Lord to learn the lesson that God is God was Job's assurance that all was well. Job did not learn why he was suffering; but he did learn to accept God by faith as his Creator, Sustainer, and Friend. To learn this lesson he needed to get rid of his ignorant fantasies, his words without knowledge, brace himself like a man, and learn who God really was. This he was about to do by walking with God through his created universe and being questioned about his limitations as a creature in comparison with God's power and wisdom in creating and sustaining the universe. The speeches, then, succeeded in bringing Job to complete faith in God's goodness without receiving a direct answer to his questions concerning the justice of God. 4-7 The irony in the Lord's words "Surely you know" (v. 5; cf. v. 21) is sharp and purposeful. Job had dared to criticize God's management of the universe. Had he been present at the Creation (an obvious absurdity), he might have known some thing about God's management of its vast expanses (vv. 4-6).

 

 

In other words, God's reply to Job, although it definitely reminds Job of where he is in the order of things, is more focused on wisdom and moral governance issues than on  'who's bigger?'

 

 

 

I have to ask you, based on the huge volume of work you've provided on your web site in response to moral accusations against the god of the Old and New Testaments: Don't you ever get tired of making all these explanations and excuses for all the "bad" things in the Old and New Testaments that people bring up to you?  If there were one or two or three of them, maybe it wouldn't be so bad.  But there are SO MANY, and when one starts trying to make up excuses for all of them, a bigger picture starts to emerge, and it isn't pretty.  You often refer to the "big picture" in terms of evaluating the evidence, but it strikes me that you miss the big picture when you provide these detailed responses to these very specific questions.  People have certainly thrown at you a lot of reasons to doubt God's goodness, and have certainly thrown at you a lot of "disturbing" passages.  You've dealt with them piecemeal.  I can't help wondering if you've lost the ability to see the forest because of having had to work so hard on every leaf on every tree. 

 

Oddly enough, it was actually the 'big picture' that gave me increasing confidence in doing these types of questions. Before all these studies, I had a big picture--vague and sour--of them, based on not having studied them closely, and therefore they were 'nagging issues' and things that bothered me (and were things I hoped to find answers to someday). But once I started getting into the details, I started seeing that up close they looked very different and revealed better things perhaps seen by a casual reader. I started seeing how some of the accusations were simple slander, from those who 'spun' ambiguity in a negative fashion. I saw how many of the more stereotypical ones (e.g., slaves , women, punishment) had amazingly beautiful structures hiding under the surface (e.g., the anti-slavery thrust, the very progressive view and protection of women, the humane and constructive core of legislation). I saw how the whole package was designed to support community celebration (e.g., sacrifice), compassion for the disadvantaged (e.g., tithes, laws), and individual freedom and joy (e.g., redemption and reconciliation). I was consistently amazed at how long God waited before visiting anyone with judgment, and how persistently he implored them for honesty, faithfulness, and kindness.

 

I also saw an interesting pattern: the more cruelly and more heartlessly people treated one another, the more the prophets spoke of judgment and God's anger (instead of His 'blessings'). The OT contains a surprisingly large percentage (given that God does not enjoy punishment and warnings) of strong language by God about judgment, punishment, etc., and although all of these judgment oracles could literally be read aloud in less than a week of time, they varied in frequency, duration, intensity, and vividness with the actual atrocity 'level' of the people to whom they were addressed. In other words, if Israel had practiced the Law internally, loving God and one another truly, then all the 'oracles of judgment' would have been announced only against invading nations. And, had Israel done its appointed task of being a kingdom of priests--modeling the beauty of a God-indwelling culture, teaching the nations of this Law, and interceding for each other before the Lord--there might not have been ANY 'oracles of judgment'…So much of the unpleasant situations and verbiage in the bible is due directly to the unpleasant acts, attitudes, and habits we manifest to one another.

 

And, though often fearful at first, once I dove in, I found the 'reasons to doubt God's goodness' evaporated, and what I was left with was its opposite--reason to trust His wisdom and grace, and amazement at the goodness of His heart. Even in very difficult cases, there was still more than adequate reason to give God 'the benefit of the doubt'. And so many of these accusations were based on faulty understandings of the biblical story (typically) or on inadequate or unbalanced theological understandings (often).

 

What emerged was a different 'big picture' that what you suggest: The pattern of these alleged 'crimes' of God (supposedly telling me something about God), ended up after in-depth study to be only a pattern of unwarranted accusations (tell me something about the accusers).

 

The forest is very, very visible to me--the trend line is VERY clear. In a historical context filled with atrocity and hopelessness, the story of God's inbreaking in history intersects this 'nasty here and now' and brings life, light, warmth, grace, and transformation to it.

 

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