CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

In a recent post I excerpted some quotes from Robin Le Poidevin's recent book Agnosticism on the moral argument. In this post I want to share some more quotes from the book on the presumption of atheism. I wanted to title it, 'An atheist denies the presumption of atheism', but the more I read, the more convinced I am that he cannot possibly be an atheist. The book seems to be, not merely a description of agnosticism, but a strong positive argument in its favor. Therefore, unless Le Poidevin is merely writing 'speech in character', it seems that he is an agnostic. Nevertheless, he provides a very convincing rebuttal to the presumption of atheism, which is relevant to the discussion between Christians and atheists.


Le Poidevin begins by describing the presumption of atheism as follows:

Atheism doesn't require defense. Rather, it is up to theists to convince us that there is a God. Unless they can do so, we can remain comfortable in our disbelief. Only if they produce a really compelling argument in favor are we obliged to stir ourselves and show just where the argument fails. If there's room for doubt (and there's always room for doubt over arguments for God) then the rational thing is to be an atheist. (p.46)

He goes on to suggest, however, that atheism "is the default position only if some general principle that is clearly correct says that it is the default position." (p. 47) In other words, that atheism is the default position cannot necessarily be taken as the default position! It must be justified on the basis of a more general, sound epistemological principle. The rest of Le Poidevin's discussion consists of his analysis and critique of several such principles.

1) Perhaps the default position should be whatever common ground exists between two disputants. One way to argue for the presumption of atheism, then, might go as follows: both the theist and the atheist grant the existence of the physical world. Since atheism does not go beyond this common ground, whereas theism does (by postulating a non-physical, transcendent cause of the physical world), it should be taken as the default position, and the theist must provide arguments for going beyond it. Le Poidevin replies:

This line of thought might initially be tempting, but it is very definitely wrong-headed. It isn't just theism that goes beyond the common ground. Atheism does so too: it says that there exists nothing more in the world than what both theist and atheist could agree exists. So atheists are not excused, on these grounds, from providing reasons for their position. (p. 47)

An illustration from Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein is apt here: in an early scene the titular comedians are unloading Dracula's coffin. In a sequence repeated for comedic effect, whenever Chick (Abbott) goes into the other room, Wilbur (Costello) sees something strange near the coffin which convinces him that Dracula is really in there. And every time Chick is called back he insists that the coffin (still closed) is empty, because of course no such person as Dracula exists. Now the coffin itself is common ground to both of them, but it is not clear which presumption should be the correct one: that it is empty or that it is occupied!

2) Perhaps the default position should always be the negative position, the one that says such-and-such is not the case, and the positive position always has to be argued for. As Le Poidevin notes, however,

This would be a very dangerous principle to put into practice! Everyday life requires us to have countless positive beliefs about the world, some so obvious that we barely think about them: that we have bodies that allow us to move around, that whatever we see in front of us exists, that there are other people similarly situated with whom we can communicate, and so on. But the philosophical skeptic shows that even these beliefs can be challenged. The skeptic invites you to contemplate the following: despite appearances, your brain does not reside in a body at all, but is being kept artificially alive in the laboratory of some unhinged neuroscientist, who cunningly stimulates your brain in such a way that you have a continuous series of entirely illusory experiences...The idea is ludicrous, of course. But can you think of a reason that enables you to rule it out completely?...Now consider again the proposal that all positive beliefs have to be justified, and in the absence of a totally convincing justification, the negative belief is the default position. Since we cannot conclusively defeat the skeptic, we would have to concede that we should give up our belief that we have bodies that can move around, and so on. We don't want to do this, so we shouldn't accept the principle. (pp.47-48)

3) Most promisingly, perhaps the default position in any debate is the most intrinsically likely one. One might argue that theism is intrinsically less likely than atheism, and so should bear the burden of proof.

The issue here, of course, is how we understand 'intrinsic likelihood', or 'prior probability'. Le Poidevin defines the prior probability of a hypothesis as "how inclined we should be to believe it" (p.49) before we start evaluating the specific evidence for it, and suggests that we can measure its prior probability according to how much the hypothesis rules out: the more it rules out, the lower the prior probability. In other words, the more specific a hypothesis, the lower its prior probability. For example, if a fair deck of cards is randomly shuffled, the hypothesis that the cards will all be arranged in ascending value according to their suites is highly specific and hence highly unlikely: in fact there is only one arrangement out of about 10^68 (1 with 68 zeros after it) possible arrangements that satisfies this hypothesis! On the other hand, the hypothesis that the cards are merely arranged according to their suites, but not necessarily in a particular order, while still quite unlikely, is a bit more likely than the previous one, since it does not rule out as many possible arrangements.

So by this analysis, which has the greater prior probability, theism or atheism? This would depend on how specific each hypothesis is taken to be, in other words how many possible states of affairs each leaves out. Starting with theism, Le Poidevin notes that there may be no one answer to this question, since some versions of theism are more specific than others. He suggests, however, that "this is an area where one simply cannot be too specific. It would be absurd, for instance, to suppose that God wears a red bow tie with white spots. More seriously, although we may be relatively clear about the role God needs to play in the cosmos in order to be worthy of the title 'God', we would be wise to be fairly unspecific about the way in which those functions become realized." (p.51) He then suggests that we restrict our understanding of theism to the hypothesis that there exists a being who fills the following roles:

i) the ultimate and intentional cause of the universe's existence
ii) the ultimate source of love
iii) the ultimate source of moral knowledge

If theism is understood in this way, the debate between theists and atheists boils down to the following situation: theists affirm the existence of a being who fulfills all three roles, while atheists deny that roles (ii) and (iii) are fulfilled by the same being, and deny that role (i) is filled at all. For example, atheists might posit the reproductive drive as the ultimate source of love, and a biologically useful delusion as the ultimate source of moral 'knowledge' (it probably should not be called knowledge on this view, hence the quotation marks).

Le Poidevin then concludes,

Thought of in these terms, does theism have a much lower initial probability than atheism? It isn't at all clear that it does. Of course, once we start filling in the details, going beyond the basic role that God is supposed to play and describing how exactly he plays those roles, then the specificity of the hypothesis goes up, and the initial probability consequently goes down. And the same is true of atheism. Once we go beyond a denial that there is a being that plays the roles in question, and start to fill in the alternative explanations, then the initial probability goes down. It looks, then, as if theism and atheism start on pretty much the same footing. There should be no presumption of atheism, and indeed no presumption of theism either. The initial position should be an agnostic one, which means that theists and atheists share the burden of proof. (p.53)

A couple comments here. There seems to be a tension between Le Poidevin's conclusion here and his reply to the suggestion that all positive positions should bear the burden of proof. Recall that he explicitly rejected that position: some positive positions or hypotheses, including our having a body and being in contact with persons having minds similar to our own, do not have to be argued for in order to be accepted. The question is, which positive positions enjoy this prima facie acceptability (what Alvin Plantinga calls 'proper basicality')? Unless Le Poidevin provides an argument that neither theism or atheism qualify as properly basic, he should not conclude that both theists and atheists share the burden of proof. But he provides no such argument.

Second, it might be suggested that Le Poidevin's conclusion, while perhaps congenial to the theist because it defuses the presumption of atheism, nevertheless puts the Christian theist in the uncomfortable position of holding to a much more specific hypothesis than 'mere' theism as Le Poidevin describes it, which therefore has a very low prior probability. I have three comments by way of reply. First, this suggestion ignores the likelihood that, if a good case can be made for mere theism, the prior probability of Christianity given mere theism would be greatly increased. Take the deck of cards again: while the prior probability of an arrangement where all the cards are arranged in their suites and in ascending order of value is fantastically low (1 in about 10^68, to be exact), the prior probability of that arrangement is considerably higher, given that the cards are at least arranged according to their suites. Second, even if the prior probability of Christianity given mere theism remains low, a low prior probability can be nullified if the actual evidence is strong. For example, even though the unique arrangement of cards we have been discussing is fantastically unlikely, if I see the arrangement emerge with my own eyes when I am of sound mind, perhaps with the concurrence of several others in the vicinity, I should certainly believe the evidence of my senses. It would be absurd to deny that evidence on the basis of the negligible prior probability of the hypothesis. Finally, we should keep in mind the fact that judgments of specificity are not always as clear-cut as in the case of a pack of cards. The attempt to enumerate all possible versions of theism, in order to assign specificity to a certain subset of those versions, is probably a hopeless undertaking.

The contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, Chapter 57, can be found here.

If the reader arriving at the site for Easter Day wants a quick overview of why all the things I've been talking about for +700 pages matter, please see my Easter Sermon from last year 2010 ("Why It All Matters" -- don't panic, it's only five minutes' reading tops. {g})


This book has been my testimony, for why I believe what I do. Despite its length, and its frequent complexity, it comes down to this: why am I a Christian?

The thrust of my argument throughout my book, has pointed toward the conclusion that I should expect God to act in our history in certain ways. I have tried to allow for a potentially wide range of variables in how those actions will someday be (or have already been) carried out. I have even tried not to hang the story entirely on the timeframe in which I think the story actually was carried out.

But I do think the story has been carried out.

Not only a story: not only a maybe, a city on clouds, spun from and balanced precariously on the needled tip of a blade of metaphysical inferences.

If somehow you, my reader, don't know what story I mean, you can easily find out. If you cannot find out easily--don't worry about it. If you have been following me even up through the chapters on morality, then you can know enough to do something positive, without needing to know that the story of what will happen, sooner or later, one way or another, has happened.

After all, I readily admit this: there is a difference between being logically sure of metaphysical certainties, and being convinced that a particular story has happened historically. I can spin a story out of my logic, but that doesn't mean the story happened. I can point you to some texts, which (by no coincidence, of course), happen to match what I have been saying fairly closely; but that, by itself, doesn't mean the stories happened.

We still have the responsibility to check a reported story. Maybe the records aren't so good. Maybe somebody has made a series of lucky guesses, or clever inventions, but without an actual series of events to hang them on.

In logical sequence, I should next give my reasons for thinking that the historical bona fides of certain documents are sufficiently accurate for making such a historical judgment. But such a far-reaching project (and even a summary would be far-reaching), is not how I should be ending an already-lengthy book.

So instead, I have tried to give a taste for what story I would expect.

And while this is not a substitute for historical judgments, I think it is an important component for the personal judgments each of us make, regarding all the claims of truth in the world around us.

At the very least, I think it will explain why this particular story should be the focus of so much attention and work, by people of every belief and unbelief, of every degree.

The way the story is eventually told may not be perfect, to our minds as believers--or as unbelievers.

But if you give a fair chance to the story I myself have in mind--

if you don't handicap it with pretensions the story in itself never pretended to have--

if you don't rule out what it is saying by metaphysical fiat--

if you take the time to figure out the standards for other documents from that period, which we consider to be reasonably reliable histories--

if you are willing to recognize credit where credit is due--

...and if you are willing to hope, and to believe, even if only a little, in love...

...then you might just be surprised.

Someday.


This is why I am a Christian. This is why I believe what I do.

I don't only believe certain arguments, and consequent doctrinal positions, to be true--although I do.

I don't merely add to those doctrines an acceptance of certain historical claims as being sufficiently accurate--although I do.

I don't even simply treasure the emergent story for its value and meaning--although I do.

Ultimately, I believe because of personal relationships: the necessity, and fittingness, of accepting my own personhood, and your own personhood, and the relations between us, as being real.

Real persons. Real relationships.

Not only between you and I; but between us, and God.


A friend of mine once wrote something, in a story.

"I don't understand," said a young woman. "Is it a religion? Or is it an ability?"

"I would say," replied the older woman thoughtfully, "that it is a love."


That, is why I am a Christian.


Originally finished Easter Sunday 2000
3rd Edition finished Easter Sunday 2011

may Love Most High belove my reader forever

JRP

[Note: The contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, Chapter 56, can be found here.]

[This entry constitutes Chapter 57.]

God. Is. Dead.

God is dead!! Just as we always knew: He can die! Now we are free, free of Him, free to be the gods we want to be, free to be our own laws, our own inheritance! Free to decide what is good or evil!

We live, though God is dead! We have overthrown the Highest, beat the Invincible! ...well ...we didn't actually 'beat' Him; He gave up the game. But we always wanted to make Him give up on us anyway, yes? Then we would show Him that we didn't need Him, that we could outlast Him!

Ah, but this is even better! We showed Him that His hope is futile, that the Truth which surrenders itself will be digested and expelled as waste! He put Himself at the mercy of His own creations, and we killed Him!


What did the Great Fool think?? That people would just fawn over Him for showing up late to the party!? That after all everyone has been through, He could just tell us He loves us, and we'd all have a happy group hug!? He couldn't even keep it that simple!--He had to open His big mouth one too many times, and stick His nose into the business of people whom He's supposed to be letting do what they want... and we snipped it off! Along with every other part of Him!

Here is Your world, God! Hope You liked how it turned out!

.......


It will happen, sooner or later.

God will come, to let us know some things about Him we need to hear, but which are hard for us to hear as we are.

And we are going to kill Him.

And He is going to let us.

Because it fulfills all fair-togetherness, all righteousness, that He should pay: for loving His enemies enough to let them stay enemies, to let them mess up His story, to let them hurt the innocent--even Himself.

He has given us the holiest of Swords to wield: the dignity of action itself.

And we will drive it straight through His heart.


How? Could be any of several ways.

He will probably set it up so that it shall hurt Him more than any other execution of the time: the maximum penalty.

But I think He will also want to set it up in a way that makes a statement, a symbol.

As a Man, He will suffer the pain of His world to the uttermost; something He cannot do, unless He becomes a Man. As the eternal God, He can, and does, eternally and omnisciently know our sufferings; but only as a Man, can He die like a man, like any of us who suffer in His world.

So, I suspect the symbol of His death will be something that reminds us of a man dying in pain; which is what we suffer, in this world of enemies whom He loves; which is what He will suffer, in this world of enemies whom He loves.

The symbol of His death may also be a symbol of rebellion, in two or three different ways: God, slain for loving rebels, slain unjustly as a 'rebel'--maybe even as a rebel against God.

It wouldn't even surprise me if the death is so horrible, that a whole new word has to be invented for it.

A word like 'excruciating', for example.


Whatever it will be, this is the throne on which we need to see Omnipotent Power reigning: not as something He gets out of the way and puts behind Him, but as the enacted expression of Who He truly is--and of what the Omnipotent Power truly is, despite our first (and certainly our sinful) impressions. This throne of self-sacrifice for the sake of even His enemies, for the sake of all reality, will be the Throne of God Most High, not only at a particular time in our history (though that, too), but in the final revelation: and in the eonian judgment.


For whatever we may do to Him, even if we murder Him in our sins: God is still God.

We can smother His life and bury it under our sin, when He comes to us here on Earth. And He will let us; because it is only fair--it will 'fulfill all righteousness'--that God Himself, at Whose feet is laid the existence of injustice, also suffers from injustice, to the maximum penalty one of His creatures can suffer.

But we cannot snuff out God Eternal.

We can kill the Son, the Incarnate action of God Himself, as far as any person can be killed. We can deny the Action of God, insofar as He ever lets His Action be denied.

But... a person can only be killed so far.


When I, who am a person, shall die, I won't become nothing. That wouldn't be love or justice to me.

When God dies, as a Man, He won't become nothing, either.

Whatever injustice we show to Him, He will not leave justice unfulfilled for Himself.

And it will be important to make this point, too. Not merely to show that 'something is there after death'--we will probably already have some ideas about that, although this might give us some better clues.

Rather, to show that we can do whatever we want, to God...


...except defeat Him utterly.


God is the House Edge. And He is going to play a winning game.

Even when He loses.


The devils, with their own advantages, may get the first clue; or they may, in their selfish delusions, be the last to figure it out.

If you kill God, and He doesn't stay dead--then you might as well give up...

...and go home!


There will be other reasons for Him to make a fairly quick return. He will have been saying some rather odd things; and He will probably have been killed as some sort of traitor (unjustly accused) by the current authorities.

But if He comes back, from the dead, alive and well--better than well--alive, yet obviously, in some way, more alive than He was before...

...then, what does that say, to the people who knew Him, who heard Him?


He was on “God's side” all along. God has vindicated Him--God has vindicated Himself!--even if He did die a cursed death.

He would have to come back quickly enough for His followers to link it properly to His death, probably in some culturally symbolic way.

And, if He is concerned (as I expect) to show that He loves the Nature in which He died and will go the farthest distance to save it, then He will come back, not in a merely mental way, nor with an altogether new and 'spiritual' body--much less as a rotting zombie!--but with the body in which He died, raised and transformed: saved from the groaning with which Nature groans until now as if in childbirth!

This would be the first-fruits promise from Him: the promise that love and justice shall surely be fulfilled, however long it takes: the promise that, as He has suffered with the innocent, so the innocent shall be vindicated!

And that, as He has suffered with the guilty, going down into the pit with all of us sinners, so the guilty shall be raised as well: and raised with this in view, that sooner or later God shall be altogether in all--even in His enemies.


He might decide to come back immediately on clouds and with thunder. He might walk up to the people who executed Him and say, "Hi! Guess what, guys?"

Or, then again, He might not.

The whole point is still to encourage us, as we are, to co-operate with Him.


If He just came back and wrapped up the whole show right then, it would be almost the same as saying that He might as well have done that from the first.

We, His creations, deserve to have a chance to work with Him, here, in our lives, to set things straight--starting with us ourselves. This Nature is His; He loves it; He loves us. He isn't going to pull the plug on it; and He isn't going to simply pull rank and run things directly for us. He wants to work with us; or, more precisely, He wants us to work with Him.

Admittedly, it might come to pulling rank, sooner or later, if we, as a species, insist on messing things up; or if the devils who refuse to get A Clue insist on ruining everything of His they can get their claws into. Really, there isn't much difference between a rebel and a rebel.

If a line is ever crossed (and I expect this line will eventually be crossed), past which we cannot get ourselves out of trouble with only some help from Him; then He will have to intervene to the maximum.

But I expect Him to let it play out as far as possible, so that everyone, even the devils, will have the best chance to learn the lesson.

True, it will likely involve the innocent (or the relatively innocent, like me), suffering for the sake of the guilty (the ones who are sinners, like me).

But in principle, that won't be any different from before.


What will be different is this: we will have heard, many of us, that God has Himself truly paid, for letting us ruin our lives and the lives of others. We, some of us, will know the price for our sins: that God Himself voluntarily suffers with the innocent and with the guilty, reckoning Himself along with us, in hope of a Day of the Lord to come when all His creation shall be raised to vindication.

We will want to let others know, that despite all appearances, all pain, all evil, even at the apparent end of hope:


God does truly love the world.

Including His enemies, too.


[Last: after word, fore word]

Robin le Poidevin is the author of an introduction to philosophy of religion called Arguing for Atheism, which atheist blogger Austin Cline calls "one of the best books on atheism which is currently available." More recently he has contributed the Very Short Introduction to Agnosticism for Oxford University Press. I have been unable to ascertain whether he is a full-blown atheist or an agnostic, but at the very least he is highly skeptical about religion, which makes his comments about morality and conscience all the more remarkable. They are presented in the context of demonstrating the ultimate ambiguity of all arguments for the existence of God, but they seem to me to lean very much in the theistic direction. To reverse well-known expression, with enemies like this, who needs friends?


We all know what it is like to have a conscience, and it sometimes gives us a hard time. But what is the source of this thing that prompts us to certain actions, makes us refrain from others, and which generates feelings of guilt or satisfaction? Sometimes, no doubt, they are a response to the perceived approval or disapproval of our actions by other people. But very often we have these feelings before being exposed to judgment in this way. Moreover, even contemplating a certain action can be enough to induce these feelings. For John Henry Newman...the moral conscience pointed to a divine source...even if we are not apparently being observed by any human onlooker when we act as we should or shouldn't, or just contemplate doing so, it feels as if we are being observed and judged, and we experience the associated pride or shame. Why would we do this unless there really were such a being observing and judging us, and communicating this judgment to us? For Newman, God is the inescapable conclusion. But let us put the point more modestly and say that the phenomenon of conscience shifts the probabilities somewhat in favor of theism.

But does it? There is an alternative explanation of the source of conscience, and that is that it is the result of both positive and negative conditioning, in which good actions are rewarded and bad ones punished, making us anxious or fearful at the mere thought of performing or avoiding certain actions. We experience approbation and disapprobation when we are at a very young and impressionable age and we internalize these judgments. When we act, it is as if we are being watched by a parent or by someone who has authority over us, because those were exactly the conditions under which we took our first steps towards understanding right and wrong...

That may seem plausible enough, but it cannot be the whole story. The actual experiences we had when young don't seem enough to explain the all-pervasiveness of conscience. Sometimes we did bad things and got away with them; sometimes we did good things and no-one knew. Sometimes we were unjustly punished or unfairly rewarded. Those meting out the judgment may themselves have been morally flawed. And our conscience is stirred by actions we perform as adults that have no counterpart in our childhood experience: how could blind associations generalize in this way? Moreover, this 'conditioned fear response' approach to conscience doesn't explain the peculiarly moral sense. We feel embarrassment and shame over many things we do that have no specifically moral content...The thought of speaking in public or appearing in certain forms of dress may evoke strong anxiety or embarrassment, but no moral sensations. So what aspect of conditioning explains the moral dimension of our emotions?

We could try supplementing the social conditioning account by one that sees conscience as the legacy of both biological and social evolution over millenia, in which dispositions to certain kinds of behavior-generally, those that contribute to greater social cohesion-are selected for at the expense of those that are damaging to social groups...So what of Newman's suggestion that our moral feelings intimate the existence of a judge: that the kinds of feelings we have are those we would feel before the gaze of a moral being? We could say that this is just a product of evolution; that these kinds of feelings are more likely to be selected for than those that don't involve the sense of a judge...

But there is still something missing from the purely secular account of conscience. Conscience directs us to moral properties of the acts themselves: the act (of murder, theft, and deceit or charity, compassion, and sacrifice) is itself good or evil. That property does not appear to reside in the mind alone. It may be that an action must originate in an evil thought in order to count as bad, but the badness of the action is not the same thing as the badness of the thought...This is the (real or apparent) objectivity of our moral judgments. Now, if the conscience whose promptings give rise to these judgments is a result of a combination of biological and social selection plus psychological conditioning, where does this sense of objectivity come from? The mechanism is perhaps something like this: we witness, or think about, certain actions, such as deliberate deception, and they induce feelings in us, say of disapproval. This feeling is then somehow projected onto the act itself, resulting in what appears to be a perception of the act's badness.

But this projection-if that is what it is-is very puzzling. It doesn't happen when things induce pain in us, for example. The experience of something may be accompanied by pain...but we don't then project the pain onto the thing that causes it. We may recognize a property in the object as the one that causes the pain, but the painfulness remains firmly fixed to the experience itself. Things are not intrinsically painful: it depends how they are presented to us. Why, then, when actions induce moral feelings in us, does the moral aspect of the experience not just stay fixed to the experience itself, rather than being projected onto the action, so that the action is seen as intrinsically good or bad, however it is presented to us? It isn't at all obvious that there is an explanation of this in terms of natural selection. There is certainly a close connection between moral feelings and feelings of pain and pleasure: guilt is a kind of mental pain, and moral satisfaction a kind of mental pleasure. The intensity of these feelings is enough to explain the role they play in the reinforcement, positive or negative, of certain kinds of behavior, without the need for them to be taken as detecting objective moral properties in the world. And yet they are taken in this way. Why? Perhaps we have to accept that this is just how things are, that it is simply an accident of nature. But in the light of the God hypothesis, they become more intelligible: such feelings truly are the perception of the goodness or evil which is quite independent of any human beliefs or practices, and which points ultimately to a divine source. (pp. 63-67)

[Note: The contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, Chapter 55, can be found here.]

[This entry constitutes Chapter 56.]

It's only fair--isn't it?

God will intentionally set Himself up, to be rejected by all His people: by His special chosen who carried His light, and by His other children who perhaps have been doing the best they can with what they have. Not only those who we might consider desperately evil will reject Him, but those we would be inclined to consider the very best.

For even the best of us have sinned, abusing the grace of God Most High.


He will have done plenty of things, to show He is good; but He will also give them just enough rope to hang Him, if they want to--on His own timing, if not theirs.

And the unjust of this world--very likely even some of the (relatively) just ones who just don't understand!--will want to hang Him.

The unjust of any worlds intersecting this one, will certainly want to hang Him, too.


Why, you ask, would any person dare to unjustly treat God?? Perhaps the other people don't really know that they are condemning the Author of Life Himself to death, but why would rebel angels, who presumably know better, dare to do that?!

I testify, my reader: as a sinner--even as a sinner who knows God--I sometimes unjustly treat God!


I most certainly confess there are times when I simply turn away from the truth, the light I can see. This is a sin anyone can do, whatever specific knowledge he or she has. There is no difference here in principle.

What I do in my life, all sinners do in theirs, whether we are human or rebel angel. We will be standing together, in principle, against God Himself when He comes.


Not that this will take much courage on anyone's part. He isn't likely to merely show up and tell people, "Hi, I'm God!"

He might say something of this sort later, or to people (whether friends or enemies!) who have the best advantages to accept what He is saying (whether they do accept or not!) But not at first, and not I expect to everyone at any time--because, as strange as this may sound, He will have more important things to help them learn.

So He will tell them other things first; and maybe give out little hints here and there, as the situation suggests. Different people will remember different things, in different ways, of course; but since what He will be saying is so important, God will probably find a way to let all of them contribute to the record of this event, so that a sufficiently accurate composite picture may be built--even out of inaccuracies, or misunderstandings, or ignorances.

He won't have come to tell people Who He is, exactly; He will have come to tell Who His Father is--His Father, and ours.

He will tell them--maybe even in His very name--the Lord God saves.

But He will insist on a fair judgment, for people who know Him, and for people Who don't.

The people who know Him won't get specially let off, just for knowing Him.

The people who don't know Him, aren't going to be held specially responsible merely for not knowing Him.

Those who simply misunderstand, will be pardoned, even if they commit what seems the worst blasphemies against Him--for they do not know what they are doing.

But those who do understand, and who insist on not understanding--they will have eyes to see, but will refuse to see, and so they shall reap the consequences of their choices, and will be blinded.

They will have ears to hear, but will refuse to hear, and so they will be deafened.

Those who insist on judging to an unfair standard, will be judged according to that standard themselves--so they can learn better, not because God is unjust.

They (we, I) will not be condemned for the sins that are past, but for the sin they know is a sin and refuse to let go of.

So long as they do not let go, they are not seeking forgiveness--even if perhaps they say so, to themselves or to God or to other people.

And so long as they are not seeking forgiveness, they cannot be forgiven; for forgiveness is a co-operation, between a person and God.

But if they will seriously try, God will help them get through; starting now, in this life, not waiting until the eonian fire must be faced full on.

We deserve that help; for God is our Father, and we have claims on Him for His responsibility to us.

He wants to give us that help, even though it may seem slow to us; we will need to be patient: patient, to the agency of our Father.

He will rescue His bride (who is the human soul, including my own), and clean her, and marry her forever--if she will let Him rescue her, if she will let him clean her, if she will choose to marry Him.

If she does or does not, God still will persist in pursuing her; but He isn't going to force her. He will let the consequences of her refusal play out in her, so long as she continues to refuse.

If she insists on playing in the foulness, then foul she will be; and foul she will likely make others she can reach.

That is the awful dignity of her causality.

Although sooner or later, God will put her where she at least can no longer befoul anyone else. He will not leave her alone there; He will give her Himself, and He will wait patiently on the bleeding edge of time, working, working, trying to work with her, until...

...until, whenever. It is partly up to her.


These are the sorts of things the Son will say. He will say them different ways, but this will be the gist:

"The Lord God saves; and if you insist on denying that the Lord God saves, then you cannot be saved."


It isn't a question of ignorance about God; He will, sooner or later, make Himself known to each of us. He will even go further, and make Himself known within our history, sooner or later, so that as many people as possible will have the benefit of knowing Him before we die. It does make a difference; and we all deserve it, for we deserve to know the Truth.

But it isn't about us knowing this or that doctrine, or about doing this or that ritual; and it certainly is not about knowing a particular name and using it like a magic passcard--even if that name is, itself, "the Lord God saves"!


So we can expect Him to work in a peculiar way.

He will be spreading good news, healing people, maybe doing other miracles to help for belief and for relief.

But--He will sometimes tell people:


"Hush! Don't tell!

"This is a secret. Not too fast, softly, softly. The kingdom comes like yeast rising in dough.

"Trust Me; at least be willing to trust Me, personally, if you possibly can--and I promise you, I will give you whatever reasons you need, for trusting Me, sooner or later.

"I will tell you Who I am when I think you are ready to hear; I will even ask you on occasion when I think you are ready to learn more.

"But what is more important, more crucial, is your change of mind, your willingness to stand up, even under torment, even if you have never done a single worthwhile act in your whole life, and declare the truth that something is right, and something is wrong, and mean it!

"If you do even this, and nothing else, I promise you: you will be with Me in paradise.

"But you have to mean it.

"If you mean it, and resolve to keep meaning it, I promise I will take care of the rest.

"And I promise: when you see Me, you see the Father."


I think it might be rather amusing, if the Son happens upon any devils in His travels. They're likely to know right off the bat exactly Who He is, if they have any advantages in perception thanks to their own nature. They might be quite surprised to see Him, here, 'vulnerable'--and in disguise.

I can imagine them trying to blow the secret, like petulant children wielding whatever little sufferings they can wield, if only by doing so they can show they have power over others.

I can hear them now: "What are You doing here!? Hey! Hey! This is the Son of God!!"

And I can hear Him now: "Shut up, and get out."

Except for the suffering these itinerant devils might otherwise be causing, I can almost imagine Him swallowing a smile.

I wish I could see it, and be in on the joke. Imagine: a nosy reporter pushes his way up to an officer trying to walk through a hall incognito. "Hey, you're the Commander-in-Chief!"

Now, imagine him, not even bothering to say 'no comment'--but yanking the batteries out of the microphone.

It would look just a little suspicious, hm? A mere 'no comment' might mean anything; but making them shut up about it, would leave behind a clue for the curious to follow.


And, in a way, that would also be the point: leaving behind a trail for the curious to follow. Helping them with some news they need to hear, but also leaving pieces of the puzzle for them to figure out on their own.

Why? Because it is a personal relationship; between a Person Who loves us, and we snippy humans who are rather too concerned with our own goings-on to pay much attention to God... unless He piques our interest.

But it is a personal relationship between God and those other rebels, too: the ones who may have a clearer clue What's Up. The ones who always did have a better clue; but who have deluded themselves, that if they could just find a way, they could beat the house edge. They’re just sure, in the heart of their selfishness, as sure as any of us in our sins, that they don't really need Love Most High. He can suffer; He suffers with them.

That means they can have power over Him--to an extent.

It is a power He allows them, because He loves them.

But it is a power they want, and a power they insist on having: they will hurt anyone and anything they can, with pain or with pleasure if pleasure will do--indeed, to hurt with pleasure would be more attractive to some of them, because pain at least is a warning that something is wrong, while pleasure is supposed to be happily appreciated... and so, is seductive.

They will hurt us, and hurt themselves, to make Him suffer, to have the power over Him they want.

It is the only power over Him they can have.


But they will take what they can get, and delude themselves from this that they can win.

And then... here He will be.

Vulnerable.

Just as they always dreamed it would be, someday.

Now they can make Him suffer more than ever before! He is too powerful for them normally, even coming now in this way... but He is laying it all down, throwing it all away, letting Himself be crushed by these cattle!

Well, we'll join in; we'll crush Him, too!

And then... oh, and then!!


God shall die!!!


[Next: the sword to the heart]

[Note: The contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, Chapter 54, can be found here.]

[This entry constitutes Chapter 55.]

I have no clear idea of how this Child would think, as He grows into manhood. God will have poured Himself out, continuing to enact His own specific part in the story of humanity. We might say the finger of God will be gently touching the earth; a mere hum of His voice; a finite trickle out of the river of His eternity.

I can only use metaphors, and I am well aware of the problems involved in imagining this accurately--which, I am also well aware, is likely to prove a stumbling block for an honest sceptic.

But I appeal to the reasonableness of what I have said before. I am quite sure God exists, and has particular characteristics including a particular personal character. I am quite sure of my own sin and corrupted character. And I am reasonably sure of how this all fits together.

Consequently, I am quite sure that sooner or later, God will do this: even if only for me (if I was the only one who needed it.)

And I am quite sure of what at least some of His intentions will be, in coming.


There is no good reason to call attention to Himself before He reaches a certain age--what that age would be, I can only guess. An age of responsibility, within the culture He chooses, I think; He will have some things to say to them, and He needs to be of an age where they will be prepared to listen. Fancy miracles alone won't be enough to guarantee acceptance; they will only be enough to guarantee a crowd hungry for something interesting to see.

And He has some things to tell them; some things which will be good news, but which will be a very peculiar good news, which many or all of His listeners are going to have problems with--not merely in understanding, but as personal problems.


Not merely as personal problems, but as perceiving a threat.

Not merely as perceiving a threat, but perceiving a threat to their own self-importance.


There will be a wide spectrum of response to what He says; and if He does do anything flashy, there is likely to be fear as well as amazement.

Better, in other words, if He has reached, say, late teens at the earliest, depending on circumstances. He might need to be older, in order to make best use of the historical situation, of course.

He ought, at least, to be old enough to run for His life, if necessary.


Why not just blast them with power, if He is ever in danger?!--or is ever in danger too soon?

Because that wouldn't be the point: He won't be here to show off how much of a muchness He is, but to show how much He loves us... even in putting up with our eccentric moods.


It may be that He knows Who He is the whole time; or it may be that as He grows, the synthetic shape of His own Incarnate natural/supernatural relationship (similar yet different from our own) will also grow, allowing better communication with the Father as He becomes older; or it may be that He will have no special power and specific knowledge before a certain time. I do not know.

He probably will want to have a tradeskill, to sweat for His food the way the rest of humanity mostly does. I doubt He would be a mere accountant or writer like me!--He would be a builder or creator or grower of some sort. Although He will also be a scholar, in His own 'amateur' way, I think, just as any of us can be. It would only be fair if He also had to work for His knowledge, like us, as well as for His food and His place to rest--wouldn't it?


But sooner or later the time would come to travel, to start letting people know Who He is, and (more importantly) to start helping people know better the Father that He, and we, have.

I doubt He would choose special modes of travel, except perhaps for symbolic reasons--always temporary. Maybe once or twice in an emergency, or to make a point, He might travel in a way that was... odd. Otherwise, I suspect He would do what everyone else is doing. If everyone has a buggy, a buggy it would be. If a bicycle, a bicycle. If most everyone is walking from place to place, I expect that He will walk, too--especially in order to be with these people whom He loves. (This might even itself be a reason for Him to come at a time and place where walking is the norm!)


What would be His core message?

The simplest way I can imagine to state it, would be:

"God is a better Person than you think He is!"


But I can go a little further than that, I think.

After all, the reason for this Incarnation is to communicate with us better, from our side of the synthetic breach--a breach that happened due to rebellion.

We are in a mess.

It is a falsity to say that people never knew we were in a mess, until such-n-such a time. Go back to the earliest documents, the earliest stories, all across the Earth, and you will find hints of a Golden Age when we weren't in a mess; which implies, by consequence, that we are in a mess now.

You will find some people believing the heavens are perfect, and the Earth is a sump; that we must somehow rise to the heavens, and be part of them--even if only by drinking beer brewed the way the beer goddess brews it for the heavenly clans!

But even where people worship the Earth as divine; even if you find an early culture where 'anything goes', and life is a party, and sex is free for the asking or the taking, and fighting is almost as good and maybe better than sex--you still, I guarantee it, will find people occasionally claiming that somehow they, at least, have been wronged.

Which implies, by consequence, that people at least understand the concept, and accept the reality, of people wronging other people.

Honor is a noble thing--when backed by charity. Honor without charity, is merely pride in superior behavior. The ancients did, and many people today still do, put a great value on honor; yet unless we read carefully, we are likely to mistake some of the reasons why they (as individuals or as groups) put such value on 'honor'.

At any rate, we may expect the Son to come to His people, pagan and otherwise, at a time when pagan-and-otherwise both have a clearer idea than usual, that somehow we humans have messed up, and need help relating to God--or at least, help relating better to something better than themselves.

Maybe the temple sacrifices just don't seem to be working anymore (did God ever say He wanted a Temple?); maybe the orgies aren't fun anymore, or maybe the orgies are showing themselves to be as empty of meaning as being on drugs; maybe the philosophy just doesn't seem to be answering enough (or anything?) anymore; maybe the secret mysteries, for the elite, are too mysterious, to the extent that a suspicion is growing... that what they hide, is nothing.

Maybe the people who were supposed to be the heroes, now are showing themselves to be villains. Maybe power is corrupting more evidently than usual; maybe the best of humanity is crushing itself, imploding under its own weight of being the best.

Whatever the details (and those details are speculations of mine), He will come to a time and place that is ready to hear:


"Yes, things are messed up. But there is hope. Yes, you are personally responsible for some of what is messed up. But God loves you anyway. You are people, persons, not puppets of fate, not animals yapping in the street.

"God," He will tell them, "is your Father; and He loves you even more than a human father does--even though you are rebels against Him.

"God," He also will tell them, "loves sinners; and He is committed, by His love and His justice, to working with them, to the remittance, the sending away, of their sin. Their sin, all sin, will have to go, sooner or later: everyone will be salted by the eonian fire, and you are going to be burned if you insist on clinging to what you know is wrong.

"And, if you insist on being lazy and uncharitable, if you insist on taking no responsibility for your behaviors--especially if you claim to be the servants of God, and misrepresent Him in that way--it will go hard on you.

"Yet all those who thirst for righteousness will be filled, and their hearts made pure. All who are pure to the bottom of their hearts, will see the face of God. And all those who sorrow shall be comforted!

"If you will start, if you will seriously commit yourself to changing your mind, to 'repenting'; then you will find God to be helping you already.

"He is ready to forgive you, and to help you, and to help you help other people. He is already acting toward this, before you even have heard that you should make a decision to allow Him to help you.

"It will be dangerous, accepting that help, even though the help is from God; for there are enemies in the world, who are not going to like this in the least.

"But, your Father in the heavens loves those enemies, too; and He will never stop giving His justice and His love to them.

"Oh--you hadn't thought of that, had you!? God loves your enemies, too!

"You had better get used to it, and be glad He loves all His enemies; for you are also His enemies!

"There is no getting around it. If you seriously intend it, that's the same as doing it. Even if you never had the courage to try to seduce your neighbor's wife, you still committed the adultery by willfully wanting to. Even if you murder your brother merely in your heart, you still will face the eonian fire.

"And even if you don't seriously intend to think it, you are still sick; and you have some responsibility, to try to choose whether you will be helped. If you know you are sick, and refuse the help--then that is the same as if you choose to have those behaviors."


This isn't going to sit well with a lot of people.

It is one thing to be healed of a sickness--and He will likely do a lot of that, where He has opportunity... where He has people willing to work with Him, for themselves or for the sake of others.

But it is another thing to be told that our thoughts are also actions, which we are responsible for to some extent--responsible enough, that we need to be purged somehow.

We must suffer God to work with us; we must let down our pride, and our defenses, and trust Him to do the right thing.

Otherwise, we will suffer something else: the way we will suffer if we insist on holding our breath.


But, trusting someone to that extent, even God, isn't easy.


And the Son will know this; He won't lean upon a split cane, or smother a smoldering wick. He wants the cane to be healed to the flexible steelstrength of a sword, and the wick to grow into a volcanic power.


But, with power, comes responsibility.

And eventually, we must take up our responsibilities.

Nor does God exempt Himself from this.


He has the greatest power; He has, even with no blame, the greatest responsibility.

And it is only fair, that He pays, too.


But, He won't be paying for sins that He has done--for He has done no sin.

He will be paying for letting us be free to contribute misery upon our fellows, and upon ourselves.

He will be paying for our sins.


That's what we wanted, isn't it? To know that God does play fair; to know that He does sympathize with our suffering in this unjust world?

Even to know, that God, damn Him, will get His!!


Yes; He will.

Even though He is innocent, His creatures are not. And He has let them, has let us, has let me, be that way.

And sooner or later, He will say and do enough to make Himself a problem to people, even though He is blameless.


His friends will desert Him.

His friends will even betray Him.

He will give up His life, and drink the fullest death any person can drink: even to the horrid depths of being tempted to despair.

And it will only be fair, if He does this having been unjustly accused; falling foul of the world He has made.


It happens to the rest of us. It should happen to Him--right?


[Next: the price for our sins]

[Note: The contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, Chapter 53, can be found here.]

[This entry constitutes Chapter 54.]

To this lynchpin people, at the heart of a world ready to hear the news, God will act, and send Himself, to be God with us, Immanuel.

A great Light will shine in this wilderness, a light for all the chosens: for those whom God had told they were chosen, and for those still searching, and for those who have trudged or have flown past hope into outright despair; for the good men and women and children, such as they are...

...but most especially for the enemies of God--who are all of us, sinners.


Within all the work God does, He lets us sinners have our own way, because He loves us too much to let us be something other than real boys and girls.

But this produces a hideous disparity.


It looks like God doesn't exist.

It looks like God doesn't care.

It looks like God is a monster.


So what, if I say that God suffers, too!? That is a metaphysical deduction, requiring wire-thin argumentation to establish--and hey, maybe I made a mistake, have I ever thought of that?!


Yes, actually, I have. That is why I keep track of what I do, and continue to polish my thoughts on the subject.

But if I am right, then sooner or later, through a historical process about which I could make a few preliminary guesses (though admittedly fewer, perhaps, than if I didn't already have a culture and a history in mind--for I am not a great prophet), God will come to pay the bill for our sins, yours and mine; will come to pay for the world He made; will come to pay for loving His enemies.

And He will pay to the fullest, while still being God Himself.


He will come as a Man, in order to represent the idea of agent-to-patient.

I do not know whether He will beget children or not; I suspect not, in order to prevent problems in future generations, though I am not sure.

But He will come as a child, Himself, the way we all do; in blood and pain and fear and ignorance, born into the synthetic inheritance: for this is not to be merely a manifestation.

This is to be a sharing of our burdens.


Probably He will be born poor; for God will want to show that He is not the sort of God we naturally imagine a King to be--the way we, as sinners, would want to be, if we were the Kings, or Queens, of the world.

He will be born within the culture of this one chosen people among all the people He loves; His life will be lived linked to the light He has ever been shining progressively through them.

And, of course, if He has ever promised them He would come, then to them first He will go.


To them He will go first--not to damn everyone else in the world by showing favoritism to these people.

No, He will go to them, to be damned Himself: by the world He made, and by the situations He has allowed, and by the enemies He loves.


He will already have a mighty task, a mighty adventure, ahead of Him. So, I expect that He will need to come in a way which is slightly unusual, to say the least.

He will, for His birth, fix the synthetic inheritance.

He would not be doing this for His own convenience, but rather to give Himself no excuses at all.


God always could set aside His love or justice, as it often looks to us He does; He never has nor shall, but He could do it. The Father could refuse the Son; the Son could betray the Father; the Spirit could refuse to act toward fulfilling fair-togetherness between persons. God would cease to exist, along with everything else, past present and future; but He could do it.

So He will take the risks we take, so far as He allows us risks; but He will take more risks than we take, for we do have some excuse for what we are.

He will have no excuses. He will not let Himself off that easily.


God would want to come in a very odd way, as a sign to be looked for, I think.

And I am certain that He would not, will not, allow Himself to have our excuses for our failures.

Whatever temptations He will suffer, shall be His to suffer fully--more fully than us, for we do have some excuses for what we do. That would be only fair.

And, in a way, such a directly engendered birth would also be somewhat safer, so far as His mission (not His personal well-being) will be concerned. The always Self-Begotten 2nd Person of God, will need to have as much access to God the Father as humanly possible; limited though that will be.

He will be the action of God; God taking action; the finger of God.

He will be the Son of God.

But also, He will be the Son of Man.

Fully God, fully Man.


Would God, as poured out, be 'fully God'?

To be honest, it depends on what we mean by 'fully'. He can hardly be, as Incarnate Man, in every place at every time; although within the eternal transPersonal Unity, this omnipresence is not only certain but necessary for every place and every time. He will be taking on limits; yet even as God Eternal, He still submits to self-imposed limits. God the Son surrenders eternally in unity to God the Father. God surrenders a portion of His infinitude, in order to create a portion at all, something not-infinite, not-God; although He could bring this part to life again, to any degree He wishes, at any point, or at all points, of its existence.

God already limits Himself, in order to be Who He is, the Creator; even in order to be, period, He 'limits' Himself (if we wish to think of it that way) to being only a self-consistent reality--to being, as He Himself, only real.

Yet He is still God, fully God. One limitation from infinity, leaves the infinity in its fully rich reality; while also leaving the new limitation.

So, yes, He could be 'fully' God, and yet be 'fully' Man--more fully human than any of us, in fact, for He will not give Himself the excuses of our corrupted synthetic shape. We are not quite the humans we were intended to be; but when God comes, He will be.

Or, almost He will be.

For He will still be His mother's child.


He will thus bear part of the synthetic inheritance; He will in His own way humble himself to need salvation, a progression from where He is to what He ought to be: a salvation not from His sins, but from the result of sin that He Himself shall voluntarily bear. He will be, like us, a person of sorrows--of sweat, pain, cramps, even diapers and 'swaddling clothes'. No, I do not know how much of this would have been ours anyway; I suppose in some form it would still exist, only not in a debased and occasionally crippling way. But God the Son will take on as much of the synthetic inheritance of our species as He can, for better and for worse, while remaining Who He is. And God the Father will not abandon the Son to the tampering of devils.

Although the Father will give over the Son, He Himself begotten, to the torments of devils.

God will not be spared those.

He will only be 'spared' our excuses.


The Son will be born; probably poor, as I suppose, if this will best get across the message of the humility of God. I expect the parents will have had some advance warning--if He comes as the new Adam, free from the curse of Adam's sin, although not voluntarily sharing the curse of Adam's suffering, then He will do some fixing of the genetics; and He will want people someday to know that this was how He came, facing what we face without even our wretched cursed shield.

So I entirely expect that a maiden will conceive, and give birth to a Son, Who will be God with us; and in order to help us understand the point, I expect she will be a virgin.

Thus the need for some special advance warning, so it won't be too much of a surprise.

Besides which, the woman will not be a sock-puppet, either. This is not a seduction or rape, such as may be found in other stories. She is a person, and deserves to be part of the choice, deserves to have her full share of responsibility in what is happening. This might even be a remarkable departure from the norm, in whatever society is chosen for this event.

Some other advance preparations would also be made, although of a subtler sort. The Son will live His life within this culture, and will want to show how God fulfills the promises of God, not only for this culture, but for the world.

So, we may expect some hints of this event to be scattered, not too plainly perhaps, through whatever preparatory traditions precede His birth; perhaps dating back to the first ancestor of this particular nation, and beyond into the mists of myth and legend.

Yet there might be (I do not insist on it, although I think I could hope with good faith on it) some more recent preparation, too.

His specially chosen people would probably have had some idea in advance when He is coming; but He isn't only coming for them. He is coming for everyone, for all of us.

I have no problem imagining that God would alert some pagans, or maybe even some sceptics, some outright unbelievers--some people whom his 'chosens' would consider to be enemies of God, although they are no more enemies than the rest of the world, including the people whom God has chosen. It wouldn't be a bad idea to call together some representatives of the best of the rest of the world, to witness the coming of the fulfillment of their hopes, too. Not merely the rich and wise (some of whom may be called to see this, even among the pagans), but also the poor and ignorant (the true 'pagans', or peasants, themselves)--although probably the poor men would be closer to the event in time and space to begin with, lacking the resources for much travel. (They might receive a more glorious advance preparation, too--once more the humble would be exalted.)

Again, I do not insist on such things; but the possibility is worth keeping in mind, I think. It could happen any of a number of different ways; we should keep a sharp watch for something special, with the right sort of signs--something special, and something also humble, almost hum-drum. Fireworks, yes, maybe; but the birth itself would need to be something to which we can all relate--very 'natural', even. Maybe a birth without any special advantages.

Maybe even a birth at risk.


For God will be coming onto rebel territory, small, weak, easily killed, completely dependent, just as we all are.

And there are monsters here in our world.

Although, it wouldn't do for God to throw Himself to the monsters, just yet.

That would come later.


[Next: the good news]

[Note: The contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, Chapter 52, can be found here.]

[This entry constitutes Chapter 53.]

I could follow Abram through his story--history or legend or both as we have it. But I would rather show, if I can, the intrinsic harmony underlying this odd and disturbing story--a harmony I could expect the general principles of, if I know enough of God beforehand to have some clue how He will work.

So, I will go back instead to our nameless chosen ancestor of the knowledge of God, as if I did not already know to suspect his name.


He may not get along very quickly with his knowledge--or more precisely with his learning. But it would be important to teach him that God works slowly, sometimes through channels seeming at first to be unprofitable. The lesson might be almost anything, so long as it is linked to the filling of a promise, in a fashion that this man, and people like him throughout the world in later history, could easily appreciate.

Such as a wife who remains barren through the couple's old age, for instance; barren in the face of a promise from God.

The man needs to be taught that God will work with people's choices, even if those choices happen to be something God would have preferred that they not choose. If, for instance, God promises a blessing to this man, and to the world, through his offspring; and if the man has offspring by a woman whom God did not select for that purpose; then God would still keep His promise, and protect the child, despite whatever harm might be later wrought by the consequences of this choice.

And, the man needs to be taught that God doesn't just sit there up in the sky overseeing everything: instead, He works personally with His servants.

Working 'personally' in the heart would be a difficult concept to get across at first; and after all, there is nothing stopping God from putting in a physical appearance to make the point rather more plainly.

So, let the man know that God appreciates this Nature, and appreciates communing personally with people.

Sharing a good hearty meal, together, would go far along this line.

Let the man know that God has a sense of proportion and humor; that He can appreciate a joke; that He can laugh, and can help to laugh.

Let the man know that God is willing to be worked with, even will tolerate some honest dissension, especially if the dissension has what seems to the man a good end in view--even if by such toleration God seems to lower Himself too far in the eyes of those who would never lower themselves like this if they (the sinners) were God!

But also let the man know that God knows more than the man does; and sometimes will do things which the man is not going to understand--even to the point of seeming to go back on His own promises of fidelity.

The man is a real person, being a child of God--just as we all are persons who are children of God.

So, what if God did something that looked hideous and evil?


If we already know something about Him, how far are we willing to trust the goodness we think we know, in the face of our own fear and anguish?

The man may or may not pass such a test. In God's awful humility, He is willing to besmirch His own apparent character; as we can see every day around us, in the most powerful argument of the sceptic: the suffering of the innocent.

God might as well make this point, too, as clearly as possible from the first.

He will go further than to show this by proxy, as we see around us today.

He will do it by direct command.


But God will also make the point, that it is not God's will after all that the innocent should suffer--even though He may set up such a situation.


Later, God may let His character be smeared some more, by the descendants of this man. Yet He will work with them, however stubborn they are to Him, however cruel they insist on being to others.

A culture will be born, fathered specially by God to show what it means for God to be a father to us all.


Not the best culture in the world--although they may think of themselves that way in their pride, and although they will carry the thread of the knowledge of God, tenuously in their unkempt hands.

Not the worst culture in the world--for they still must be competent enough to survive to some extent!

But they may be near the bottom of the barrel.

They haven't been chosen for their own merits; they may even have been pulled out of total obscurity and powerlessness, once they became numerous enough to warrant being called a 'people' instead of merely a 'tribe'.

Nor will they be chosen for their own strength--they may seem like grasshoppers next to the mighty men around them.

Not chosen for their own wisdom. Certainly not chosen for their own goodness.

They will be a rough, tough bunch.

A hell's angels of a people: willing to exploit whatever power may come their way, for their own advantages.


And God cannot simply poof them into being saints overnight, if He is committed to treating even these wretches as people.

Even though He will have to sacrifice His own character, to some extent, upon the altar of their survival, while trying to get them to learn Who and What He is--which I could easily expect, as this will be part of the point for God to choose them at all, for all our sakes--He will work with their choices, and with their limitations.

He will temper them where He can. Where another culture would rape the women and children whom they wiped out, God will edge them toward more mercy--a shadow of mercy, by our standards perhaps (standards which may well have been grown out of such a history as I am proposing), but something these people will be marginally willing to work at.


And so God will assassinate His own reputation, for love of these wretches.

...these wretches who could be you and me, just as easily.


And He will feel, and will always feel into eternity, every thrust of every sword, whether He directly commands the deaths, or whether this people merely attribute what they want to His commands--either way, God suffers with the innocents, too; and even, though His chosen people will probably be long in understanding this, with those who were not at all innocent: just like the dissonant people whom God has chosen Himself.


It is a terrible world these people inhabit.

It still is a terrible world today, across our planet.

There is plenty of blame to go around; and more than enough.

But God suffers, too.

And He will pay the bill, for what He has loved even the wretches of the world so much as to allow.

But no one, in the beginning, will know this yet.


These people must be taught more; taught to be better than they are; taught that God really does not want this oppression of power going on.

However similar they are to the people around them; whatever their shortcomings, which will certainly be many; they will have the thread of the knowledge of God, glowing, growing where it can.


"Whatever power and authority I give you," God will tell them, sooner and later, with ever increasing clarity and insistence, "is not to be used for your own self-aggrandizement. It is to help the poor, the powerless, the alien sojourning in your land, the disenfranchised, the sick. You are to show them love and justice, and you are to be a light to the lands around you. You are to be the salt of the earth. You have been the sort of people whom I want you to learn to help; so learn from your own past, and help these people, even when they are your enemies. This is Who I truly am--I am the God Who loves the least of people."

Whoo-hoo! We're chosen by God, the God, Most High above the Highest, to be the light of the world! Yeah! Thhpppt on all you other people! Our God is the best, most kick-ass God; you-all better bow down to us! And you can start by, um, setting up some temple prostitution sites around here... ack, no, kill them, kill them all!... Damned pagans, trying to ruin us! How dare you!? We're the best! In fact, you should be sending us your queens and, y'know... hey can we have a king?

"No."

We wanna king! Like those other guys have! How can we be the coolest most awesome nation in the world, without a king?

"By showing kindness, and mercy, and by standing for what is good..."

Yeah, yeah, we can do that better with a king!

"If you have a king, I warn you, there will be trouble."

We'll take it! We're tough, we can handle it! Especially with You on our side, yeah!

"Learn the hard way, then. Here: I will give you just the sort of king you want; and I will take the responsibility for doing so."

Aw yeah, we're bad now! Let's go kick someone's butt! Damned pagans over there, good place to start with... um... actually, they're pretty tough... waitaminute, aren't we supposed to be great? C'mon God, you promised!

"...And meanwhile, I'll be busy over here picking out the sort of king I would have preferred you to have, if you’re going to have one. Oh, you need help against the pagans? Here, try this fellow."

Wow, this guy worked out pretty good, for some little hick yanked up out of nowhere...

"Just like you-all, by the way."

Yeah, yeah, whatever--hey we like this guy! With this guy, we can't lose!

"Yes, you can still lose. Because 'this guy' is only a man, just like you; no matter how much he loves Me, He still is a sinner..."

Hey, God--can we have a Temple, like those other guys?

...and so it goes.

These people will still be people, shepherds and potters and farmers and bakers and prophets and priests and kings; they will be an example to the world--but not quite the sort of example we might expect, nor quite the sort of example they're likely to expect.

They are sinners, called by God to be something better, to represent something better.

But when God calls sinners to represent Him, you may be completely assured that He Himself will not be coming out of it smelling entirely like a rose, even a rose of Sharon.


At best, He will smell like a sheep.

Maybe, on occasion, like sheepdung.


Sooner or later (and if we all know whom I am talking about, it was sooner and sooner and sooner...), as sinners whom He loves, they will break His heart--as well as do their best to break the heart of everyone else within reach, including the hearts of their own people.

They will stand for all of us--whether we like it or not.


And we will owe them a life-debt we can never repay.

For despite all their stumblings, and adulteries, and murders, and lies, and idolatries, and treacheries...

...they, in God's terrible humility, will have carried the light of the world.


And it will be within their tradition, within their historical context, within the troubles they will have dug themselves into in their pride, despite all the lessons they were given--whenever they have reached the time they not only are ready, some of them, to listen in the misery of their punishment to the most important lesson of all; but also whenever the historical contexts around them are just right, in a time when the greatest and best things humanity can make are imploding under their own strength, crushing themselves and crushing this people--when all the chosen people of God are ready, whether they know it or not, to hear the best news of all...

...then God will humble Himself still further, to teach this message, this lesson, this news, to them.


And then--it will be time for God Himself to pay the price for this world and the people in it He has made.

(People like God’s chosen people, like you and me: the sinners.)


[Next: the Son of God]

[Note: The contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, Chapter 51, can be found here.]

[This entry constitutes Chapter 52.]

It is the beginning of a history--not of all humanity’s history, not of Nature, but of a particular story enacted by God, with us and for us, within the Nature we inhabit.

God is beginning His greatest adventure: giving us hope in this life.

For we --live-- in this life!--and God is committed to this Nature and to us, the synthetic persons He has molded, shaped, grown, begotten, within the womb of our mother.

But quickly or slowly or some combination thereof, God will do it in His own time; for His purpose is not to provide some technical 'method of salvation'.

Salvation from sin is a personal act, an act of God to co-operate with us as persons, and act of ours in response to the graces of God the Merciful and the Compassionate.

But He wants people in this history, sooner or later, to know more about Him and what His love truly is, than our own fanciful guesses and imaginations (and lusts and fears and hates) can tell us; more than He can tell us, and more than we can hear, merely within our corrupted hearts: hearts corrupted to expect some things of ultimate power and certainly not others.

He wants as many people as possible to work with Him as closely as possible, in this Nature; but one thing we need to know, in order to understand Him as a Person, is that while He can work swiftly He also works slowly (by our natural standards), subtly, spiritually from within, with His enemies--not only with the best of humanity (whoever they are), but with the dullest, most treacherous, least promising of us all.

Yes, He also does some things quickly, explosively even; and He will show us that, too. But we already have some idea of the power of quickness, of force, of heat, of cold, of wrath, of ravishing, of raw compassing energy.

And we are too quick, ourselves in sin, to envy or to worship mere power.

So I expect He will mostly work slowly, in ways which to our first natural guess would be folly--thinking, as we in our rebellion would do, in terms of how we would show those upstart rebels if we (the upstart rebels) were God!


Also, God will keep in mind the needs of His other children who are tampering with our Nature. The devils will also be taught some lessons--if they will listen and pay attention.


So, where to begin?

Start with someone who has some resources; that will mean someone in one of the core societies of the world.

But start with someone who isn't a vaunting hero, a haughty priestess, a vicious tyrant. Those are people whom God loves, too; but He does need to work with someone who has some immediate promise.

Someone not too good, someone not too bad: there will always be time for treachery later--and God will put Himself, at all levels, in line with that treachery, whenever it happens.

Someone who, in his own small derivative way, can begin to represent God more clearly to the world.


Would this be a man or a woman?

Whatever weaknesses a male may have, as follower or as leader; still at the most common (even 'vulgar') of levels a man represents a begettor, acting upon a receiver, to bring about creation.

Then again, a woman might more appropriately represent us all, all of creation, all of us who are affected by God.

I lean in the direction of expecting a man, in this case.

Not simply because this person will be regarded as an authority figure and the majority of societies throughout the world, worshiping in our sin the effecting of mere power to cause results, would more easily accept a man in this role; after all, God might choose a woman specifically to undermine the merely prevalent notion of authority!

Nor because this man, in representing us, must also represent our actions of responsibility in the story of atonement; after all, women can also act and might serve even better as a symbol of the derivative act-ers we all are.

No, I lean in the direction of a man simply because I also expect a woman will in fact be given an even more important role in the story eventually, fulfilling all these positive notions I have mentioned, as well as contributing a gift no man could possibly contribute to the story. And it might unbalance the story if the key human figure at the beginning of this story was also a woman.

So, not neglecting other possibilities of fulfillment, I will expectantly use the masculine to refer to this person.


Where to pick this man?

This man will be given the gift of vocation: he is to represent, eventually, a calling by God. People of his time, wherever they are in the world, may not have (or may no longer have) clearly in mind the concept of a calling.

Enchantments there may easily be in their epics, Sumerian, Egyptian, Peruvian, Chinese, Irish. But not yet an enchantment of love, true love, giving for the sake of the growth of the beloved in character and spirit. Enchantments of lust, yes. Enchantments of strength, yes. Enchantments of worldly wisdom, to some extent yes. Enchantments of death, most certainly!

Enchantments of life? Maybe.

But life, by itself, isn't love--or, rather, the Life of Lives is Love, but no one knows this yet (or else they have forgotten.)

Calendars they may have, yes; and accurate, and mathematical they may very well be, showing (to us) not only cleverness and sophistication, but also some strand of long-running knowledge that predates what we call 'history'. Even today, there are tribes in distant parts of the world, who somehow know the paths of stars they cannot see. They remember, through their culture; but someone once must have seen those stars--or else, they were told.

But these calendars may represent to them an unbreakable wheel--the triumph and domination of mere reaction and response, weighing down and overwhelming the choices of our will: the curse of our corrupted selves.

They may have some idea that the Earth is corrupted, and the heavens are divine. They may also have some idea that the Earth is blessed, and that somehow, some way, we ought to be able to share in the blessing of the Earth--even in the blessing of the heavens upon the Earth and by the Earth.

But their idea of blessing would be limited; they--we--need to learn more, of what it means to be blessed, and of what it means to suffer for the blessed and for the blessing.

And they cannot learn more, merely by studying the heavens and the earth--for the heavens they see are themselves Nature, and can at best be only a symbol, not the Absolute.

These people will, however, act; they will be quite impressed (and rightfully so) with the inherently magical power of actions and choices. Writing will become one such magic; and although our own 'modern' senses are often dulled to its wonder and its meaning, writing is still an enchantment today--sometimes holy, sometimes dark and deadly, always awful: full of awe, for those with eyes to see, and with ears to hear.

If, my reader, you do not believe me, try walking down the quiet aisles of a library, preferably an old one; and feel the enchantments coursing around you, shards of will encased in ink and paper, dormantly waiting yet almost twitching with carried intent--waiting for a supernatural creature to read those words and waken the enchantment.

Such enchantments will also exist in those days, usually spoken, perhaps occasionally written; dark enchantments for the most part, but laughing enchantments, too. We see television specials on 'the ancients', and perhaps we find the ancients dull, brutish, barely cognizant, far too serious. Well, perhaps they were; there is some evidence in what now remains, that the earliest civilizations and earliest 'savages', could take themselves rather too seriously. But there is also evidence that they laughed, had fun, enjoyed themselves.

As sinners, indeed, they would have enjoyed their selves a little too much!

But then again, my reader: so do you and I.


This is the humanity (perhaps not necessarily in our distant past) out of whom God will choose someone to begin working with Him for the history of our atonement.

Maybe not a priest, locked into the rituals or even the seductions of power.

But an idol-maker would do. Someone who has some working knowledge, in quite a literal sense, of what the 'gods' seen all around him 'are'.

Someone who, perhaps, has come to the conclusion, inspired by the Living God, that these gods are only wood and stone; but who, rather than give in to fatal scepticism, wishes for something better; perhaps already is hearing something better, speaking with the expected voice of an ancestor.

Someone good enough by the grace of God to look for what light he can see, and then to look for more light thereby.

Yet someone unsaintly enough, that he could be any of us.


There could be any number of such men (or women), scattered around the world, in any year.

But this one particular man will carry a message, a lineage, a tradition, an idea, a vocation.

So he will need to be located where he, and his descendants, have the greatest opportunity to spread such an idea and such a message, to as many different people as possible--sooner or later.

This is where he must be sent, as an externally enacted symbol of vocation: to a hinge, a pivot, a 'cardinal point' between such historical forces; and perhaps he should come from a time and a place where his call for vocation would be most distinctive: a time and place where ‘normal’ people do not ‘normally’ expect to receive such calls!

But it would also help if this cardinal point, to which he is called, is a land in which people could flourish. Moreover, I can see how it would help if someone already in that land knows at least a little more about God than this man does!

This man, after all, is not being chosen for his own sake, nor for having special wisdoms and insight better than anyone else. Probably plenty of men, and women, will have had such flashes; for God is still busy working with everyone He can, to whatever little extent remains possible--in this life. Some of those men, and women, would have achieved roles of importance and authority in their societies: the salt of the earth, the sheep who do not know their shepherd, are already on the march, carrying on the family name, doing what they can to keep the light shining in the dark.

It would be to one such man, or woman, that God's chosen man would be sent--for God will choose less than the very best our world has to offer. This man will be helped by those who are better than he; for that is what the best people do.


The man is nudged; he is called; he is sent.

And almost as importantly as being sent at all:

he goes.


He goes, for without going the call to be sent will be void. He goes, without knowing the future of what will happen. He goes, creating a story, a history...

An adventure.


The great heroes and kings of antiquity were born great heroes and kings (and queens) from the beginning, born of the earth and the sky perhaps, the mighty men--the Nephilim.

But this man is only a man, like any of us, not the strongest or richest, not the wisest or the most good (according to whatever light still shines in the dark).

Yet he will have resources; for he can hardly be in a position to know God enough, to trust God enough, to let God provide all resources needed. That trust will come later, maybe to him, certainly to his descendants who will carry on the ideas and traditions that he learns and receives. This is to be a learning process: for him and for his descendents.


But it also is an adventure: the adventure of a man, the adventure of Mankind.


We all, most of us, know who this man is; we have heard his name, read his story, maybe dismissed it as legend or myth.

We know of a man, perhaps the man of whom I am talking, who went; to a place far away that he could feasibly reach; to a hinge--a cardinal point--of cultures, and of history.

There, we are told, he met a mysterious priest-king, a peacemaker, who knew far more of this chosen man's God, than did God's chosen man himself.


Melchizedek, the priest-king of Bethel, humbles himself to bless the inheritor whom his God has chosen; Abram, the exalted father, humbles himself to receive the blessing from a man who knows more than he does.


And the journey of the good news of God--a news now new to even the mysterious ruler of Bethel, that the Lord Most High works wonders through the dusty and unremarkable--has begun.


[Next: the harmony of dissonance]

In the previous post in this series I presented some quotes from Craig Keener's recent book, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, relevant to some general questions about the nature of the Gospels. In this post I include quotes from Keener on Luke-Acts in particular. I will continue to follow the Q&A format.


Why should we think that Luke-Acts is historical and strives to present an accurate account of the beginning of Christianity?

Various factors support the thesis that Luke conceives of his project as primarily a history. Unlike a novel, Luke uses sources abundantly in his first volume (usually agreed to be at least Mark and "Q") and presumably in his second volume as well, although we cannot distinguish the sources clearly in Acts. Luke's claim to investigate or have close acquaintance with his information (Lk 1:3) fits historical works, and his occasional use of the first-person plural (e.g., Acts 16:10) emphasizes the involvement considered ideal for a good Hellenistic historian. (p.86)

What does Luke's preface in (1:1-4) tell us about the genre of the work and about Luke's competence as a historian?

[L]uke-Acts also includes what appears very much like the prefaces found in histories. Granted, they also show some features similar to the scientific treatise tradition, a tradition that not surprisingly overlaps in some of its features with those of history works more narrowly defined (but not novels)...Given Luke's clear statements, especially in view of parallels to such claims in historical works, Luke-Acts would easily enough project a historical genre (especially in view of the following narratives) to a first-century audience. (p.88)

What is the context of Luke's claim of 'thorough knowledge' (Lk 1:3)?

For Greeks the very term used for research or investigation, historia, left "no doubt possible about what was considered the defining characteristic of the genre"; it focused on "the interrogation of witnesses and other informed parties" and then weaving their responses into a cohesive narrative. Even if some writers failed to travel to all the places their narratives covered, travel was apparently a familiar component of historical research...Polybius avers that investigation is the most important part of writing history. His proposed method for conducting investigation, given the limitations of space and time, was to interview people, critically evaluate reports, and accept the most reliable sources...Greek historians often traveled to the locations of events and consulted those considered reliable sources. (p.89; quoting C.W. Fornara)

What are we to make of the 'we' sections of the book of Acts?

Opinions do vary regarding his 'we' sections...Nevertheless, I believe that evidence for his genuine participation in some later events in his second volume, Acts, is very strong. 'We' appears only sporadically, whereas a fictitious 'we' in a novel normally appeared throughout the work. Without comment (as if the audience knows the identity of the narrator), the 'we' appears incidentally in Troas, leaves off in Phillipi (Acts 16: 10-16), and resumes years later, again in Philippi (20: 6-21: 18; 27: 1-28:16). It does not appear at more theologically pregnant points where it would be most useful (say in Acts 2, 10, or 15). As one might expect for eyewitness material, the 'we' sections tend to be among Luke's most detailed material...Most current scholars believe that the proposal of a literary device for sea-voyages misreads the evidence; the proposal of a fictitious literary device more generally is also questionable. Although entire works could be pseudonymous, Luke does not name himself, and his first audience seems (and Theophilus surely is) aware of his identity...More relevant is first-person narration in histories; like third-person narration naming the narrator, this narration nearly always indicated the actual presence of the author on the occasions noted...

What is the relevance of his connection to Luke's 'research' for the gospel story? The 'we' departs for Judea with Paul in 20:5-21:18 and departs from Judea up to two years later (see 24:17) in 27:1-28:16. The narrator probably spent most of the interim in Caesarea, but even this location would have afforded Luke the opportunity to become more 'fully acquainted' with reports about the Judean events (if not geography) that he depicts. (p.91)
(P.S. On the issue of the reliability of Acts, there is no better treatment than Chris Price's Genre, Historicity, Date and Authorship of the Acts of the Apostles)

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