[I came across some written discussion I had with an agnostic friend of mine, we had some fairly lengthy discussions, many of which contained some very valuable content. I have recorded my responses, and think it may be an interesting series to post on my blog, for the benefit of others – this is not quite what I typically would minister to people, but more along the lines of apologetics (sort of), yet it ranges through a series of of interesting questions (the gentleman I was writing to is nothing if not thoughtful – he’s also somewhat cantankerous and abrupt sometimes, thus my occasional sharpness). I will endeavor to leave these as little-edited as possible, I hope they will be beneficial to believers and serious inquirers into Christianity. Feel free to comment or share thoughts. (Part 1, Part 2)
Here are two messages combined, I’ll give little intro to each of them, as I found that I summed up Stan’s (not real name) thoughts at the beginning of each. The content is essentially as I’ve titled the post.]
I appreciate sincerity, honesty above gentleness. Don’t be concerned about offending me in our talks provided you’re in earnest. If you do, I’ll get over it.
I think the core of our discussion as it has evolved at this point is whether man has intrinsic goodness within him, and how does the biblical perspective apply (in addition to almost a ‘how can we help ‘evolve’ Christian thinking to make it more suitable to society?’).
I can’t help but feeling that there is some level of attempt at self-justification within some of your points (whether consciously or sub-consciously), as there generally is at any point that we consider our ability or desire to be valued or accepted. The value and power of the Gospel above other messages hangs largely upon this point, however: that our good works, good morals, or good intentions are irrelevant. It is not these things which justify us according to scripture. Our simple faith in Christ is that which makes us righteous in God’s sight. Having faith in Christ does, however, significantly alter all of these things (our good works, good morals, and good intentions).
I do not point out negative aspects of the gods of other religions out of distaste, merely to state the perspective that while one God is unattainably virtuous (as some may describe Him), and so set apart from humanity, yet possessing the qualities that man’s inward built morals strive to attain (which depicts well the concept that WE are created in HIS image), the concept of other gods are clearly based upon the moral failings of man. This contrast depicts gods which are set apart from man merely by their power and arrogance, and represent well gods created in the image of man.
As I believe that the God of the Jews (the God of the Old Testament, rather) is one and the same God as that of the Christians, I must almost disagree with your statement that He is more ‘wily’ than the God of the Christians.
Though many may not realize this because of the differences in the covenants made, the New Testament (NT) reveals God to have exactly the same personality as the God of the Old Testament (OT). The folly on either side is to see God as: rules and judgement (OT) rather than a personality, or to see God as: compassion and forgiveness (NT) rather than a personality.
The entire bible is the revelation of a PERSON, not a decree, or a concept. If you carefully read the scriptures you will find all of these traits (rules and judgment; compassion and forgiveness) in both New and Old Testaments.
A point that I heard on actually a Catholic radio station the other day in the context of talking about the differences between Christianity and Islam which stated a point quite well (and appropriately for our discussion). The statement made was: ‘Muslims declare that the Quran is God’s final revelation to man. Christians believe that the PERSON OF JESUS CHRIST is God’s final revelation to man.’
This is important to note. Like the Muslims, we have a book which we believe to be the inspired Word of God, we believe it is infallible and wholly true, yet we believe it was written for us so that we may come to know the PERSON of Christ, not so that we can obey all of His rules, and jump through all of its hoops in the hope that God may, because of our obedience to His book, grant us to enter paradise.
From this last note I perceive the question to be: ‘What is the bible to me, and how does it as such further my acquaintance with God; and, additionally, what other readings / other life experiences contribute to my acquaintance with Him?’ Here’s a question which could take centuries to begin to scratch, yet I’ll make an attempt at painting concise responses as well as I can (preferably aided by the Divine Spirit Himself so as to paint the response in a way you can understand).
I saw at one point (perhaps in a ‘vision,’ though not so concrete as what one may call hallucinatory) an image of the face of Christ outlined by the words of the Text. It was almost something like a 3D ‘Magic-eye’ image. All of His facial features were brought out only by the Text. I think this is, perhaps, the best word picture I can imagine of what the bible is in relation to God. As though a sheet were draped over an invisible object; He is invisible, but the Word reveals His form.
God is an invisible, yet very present personality whom we can experience in a number of ways.
An illustration has been used countless times to make all religions equal, which doubtless you’ve heard at some point. That illustration is this: An elephant wanders into a village where four blind men live. Each blind man encounters one piece of the Elephant: the ear, the trunk, the leg, the tail. And as each blind man describes his portion of the elephant thinking that his own experience defines the whole. This is an apt illustration, but not as a parable that all religions are equal, rather it is the story of the bible itself. God’s word triangulates, revealing the Truth of God from several different angles so that we can attain a three dimensional understanding of who God is, what He approves of, what He disproves; what His intentions are, how He feels about our actions, what He wants for us, etc., etc., etc.
The book itself is not God; indeed just like a ‘Magic-eye’ image, one person can look at it, and immediately see the picture, others may spend their whole lives looking without perceiving the image. Knowing God’s word gives us spiritual SIGHT; this is the very facet you’ve heard spoken, and hymns sung about: ‘I once was blind, but now I see…’ and just as Christ, Himself said: ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.‘ He’s not talking about your BODY, He’s not talking about your physical auditory response (though it takes input from one of your senses to be taught of God, whether heard or seen).
[I strike this paragraph only because it was a more personal tid-bit directed to Stan, in my growing to know his personality; the book I recommend here is largely because I thought he would find it intellectually stimulating, not necessarily for deeper spiritual value. Thus I don’t necessarily recommend the book to the average inquirer (though it was interesting and insightful in certain regards)] As
you mention, I do read other things. In fact I began reading ‘The Confessions of Saint Augustine’ just recently, and I’ve been thinking of you through a lot of the content. I haven’t finished it, so I can’t speak for the whole (and he makes some assumptions based on contemporary doctrines of his day that I don’t wholly agree with, many of which I see incorporated into modern Roman Catholicism), but so far I would suggest it to you as a book you would find philosophically interesting, as well as addressing some of your questions about Christianity. Upon occasion I find myself reading too much, however. I tend to intellectualize things overmuch [sometimes].
My wife’s grandfather said to me at one point (really for the purpose of discounting some of the more spiritual manifestations of Christianity, as these are sometimes confused with emotionalism – which is quite different – and it was clear this was the conception he had taken) : “I think Christianity is more of a cerebral experience.”
At the time his statement struck me as ‘off,’ but only after spending a little time thinking about it did I solidify in my thinking the reason why. The mind is only one element of our being, it is powerful, and God gave it to us, He also uses it as a venue through which to communicate with us, but our emotions are exactly the same in this way. These are more abstract, and generally must be interpreted through the intellect, but they, too are a part of us. They too are instilled within us by God, and they too are instruments through which God communicates with us.
Yet intellect vs. emotions, too, is not the point because (John 4:24) ‘God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.‘ The mind and emotions are both a part of our temporal ‘soul,’ being responses of your physical brain (and truly the spirit and the body intersect at the same physical juncture, or we could never experience anything spiritual in any tangible way either – which is (I suspect) part of the difficulty in spiritual things for most people).
The spirit is a different sense altogether – though your mind and emotions are usually the venues through which God communicates with your spirit. Again this makes it necessary to have the anchor of God’s word which is, as it says: ‘…living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.‘ (Heb 4:12)