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Showing posts with label attributes of God. Show all posts
Showing posts with label attributes of God. Show all posts

Monday, January 22, 2018

Reckless Love and Why Words Matter in Worship



In 1996 the alt-rock band Dishwalla became a one-hit wonder with their catchy “Counting Blue Cars." The song isn't well known by its title as much as its chorus:
We said, "Tell me all your thoughts on God
'Cause I'd really like to meet her.
And ask her why we're who we are."
Tell me all your thoughts on God
'Cause I'm on my way to see her
So tell me, am I very far,
Am I very far now?
When I first heard the song, I remember how it was a bit jarring having the singer refer to God as a woman. We know that God is a spirit; which means he doesn't have male or female chromosomes. In fact, there are many places in scripture that portray God as feminine or motherly. God says in Isaiah 66:13-14 “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; and you will be comforted in Jerusalem." Hosea 11:3-4 paint a vivid picture of God as a mother cradling and feeding her children, and there are others as well. However, God has also in scripture consistently referred to himself exclusively through male pronouns. He explicitly uses the term father and it is clear that this is the proper way to refer to him. Christians don't write worship songs extolling Mother God.

Is God's Love Reckless?

I offer this example because of a recent trend in worship songwriting I've noticed. Many popular worship songs aren't very careful with their lyrics and how they portray God. One such song that has grown in popularity is the Cory Asbury song “Reckless Love," published by Bethel Music. A lot of people have bristled at the song's hook. Should we caricature God's love as reckless?

I know that other song have tied God's love to negative actions, such as equating it to the destructive power of a hurricane or one drowning in an ocean. I don't believe such word choices are an attempt to make God an evil force. I believe the writers are earnestly trying to describe a feeling of overwhelming awe about God's mercy and power in their lives, though they seem to lack the vocabulary to say it in that way. They cheat a bit and their analogies bring a picture of breaking apart rather than building up. Still, since those are analogies I don't protest too much.

However, when a worship song teaches that one the attributes of God is recklessness, then the issue is more important and we need to think through what this may mean. To be reckless, as it has been defined, is to be "utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action; without caution, careless." Can God be in any way unconcerned with consequences? Can a holy God be without caution? Can a God who has defined himself as the very essence of love be careless? To use the term brings the very defining features of how God has revealed himself to be under question. And given that the worship we sing is a form of teaching in the church, the words we choose in our worship songs fall under the same admonition of James 3:1 and require a greater strictness.

What about the Positive Aspects of Recklessness?

In discussing this with others some have offered a different take on the word reckless. One friend asked :
But what about these:
  • "Giving, utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action; without caution"
  • "Serving, utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action; without caution"
  • "Loving, utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action; without caution"
When taking the term "Reckless Love" and looking at it in the context of the rest of the lyrics, it's clearly used in the positive sense of the word.
I still don't think this works, and here's why. There is a type of giving that is utterly unconcerned about consequences, such as when someone gives an addict a $100 bill or when parents give their children whatever they ask. That is reckless giving because the consequences of those gifts will actually harm the recipient. In giving, Paul teaches us to be intentional (2 Corinthians 9:6-8) and also that the one who doesn't work shouldn't simply be given food (2 Thess. 3:10). So, it isn't careless giving but thoughtful giving. Similarly, one can serve recklessly. It may be as benign as finishing your child's homework or as dangerous as aiding them in covering a crime or enabling an abuser.

In each of the sentences above, the word that may be used is selfless, not reckless. Selflessness means we ourselves feel it when we give or serve yet value others more. But word matter. Recklessness is not selflessness. So my response is:
  • Giving, utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action = spoiling
  • Serving, utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action = aiding and abetting
  • Loving, utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action= dependency
So to describe God's love as reckless reduces God to at best fallible and at worst dependent. Again, I don't believe the writers or the people who sing the song are intending to this, but one cannot reconcile recklessness with a perfect God.

The Importance of Words and Their Meanings

Words are important. Christians recognize this when we discuss issues like homosexual unions. We recognize the word marriage has a specific meaning and that marriage at its core means the joining of a man and a woman. Christians balk at how popular culture seeks to redefine the term to fit their opinion. We would likewise balk at an attempt to label God as transgender simply because he has spoken off himself with motherly tendencies. The word reckless also has a real meaning. When we try to use that attribute of God, we are trying to pour a new meaning into the word, but it then affects the very idea of God to the listener.

I don't think anyone would cheer a worship song that extols God the Mother. Yet, there is more scriptural support for that phrase than there is for God being reckless in any aspect. Let's face it, entitling a song “Reckless Love" is a little bit of clickbait. The writers want people to ponder the incongruity of the phrase. Yet, this is exactly where caution should be exercised more. Accuracy over intrigue, especially when discussing something as central as God's character, is what is called for. Even if I'm wrong, the very fact that so many are concerned about its message should at least caution us to avoid the song for fear that the danger of misrepresentation is a real one (1 Cor. 8:7-13) .

I can sum up my argument in the following sentence: “Reckless Love" delivers reckless theology brought about by a reckless use of language. I don't think anyone can honestly read that sentence and believe that I've just given the song a compliment. And if that's true, perhaps it's time to rethink teaching that God's love is reckless to our congregations.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?



Last December, a Wheaton College professor ignited a firestorm when she created a Facebook post including a statement that Muslims and Christians "worship the same God." This exposed a very interesting debate that has gone on within Christendom for some time with devote Christians and good thinkers coming down on both sides of the issue.

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? The question may not be as easy as it first appears. Certainly, there are vast differences in the way each faith understands the nature and attributes of God. Jews and Christians hold to a God that is all-loving and who revealed himself through the Old Testament prophets and writings. Christians would go on to distinguish God as a Triune being, one who is three in persons but single in essence. Muslims would reject these descriptions.

However, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam do share some beliefs about God. Each of the faiths are monotheistic in what can be termed a classically theistic way. That is, each understands God as a being who is eternal, self-existing, and necessary. There is no conceivable universe where God does not exist, for any possible universe must have its origin in God. Realize by defining God this way, one defines God as a unique being, distinct from everything else. There can only be one necessary being. So if each faith points to the necessary being as their God, doesn't that mean we worship the same God?

Getting God's Properties Wrong

Philosopher Francis Beckwith argues that we must be talking about the same being. At his blog, Beckwith argues that while Muslims may get many properties attributed to God wrong, that in itself doesn't invalidate the fact they are referring to the God recognized by Christians and Jews. He explains:
But doesn't Christianity affirm that God is a Trinity while Muslims deny it? Wouldn't this mean that they indeed worship different "Gods"? Not necessarily. Consider this example. Imagine that Fred believes that the evidence is convincing that Thomas Jefferson (TJ) sired several children with his slave Sally Hemings (SH), and thus Fred believes that TJ has the property of "being a father to several of SHs children." On the other hand, suppose Bob does not find the evidence convincing and thus believes that TJ does not have the property of "being a father to several of SHs children."

Would it follow from this that Fred and Bob do not believe that the Third President of the United States was the same man? Of course not. In the same way, Abraham and Moses did not believe that God is a Trinity, but St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Billy Graham do. Does that mean that Augustine, Aquinas, and Graham do not worship the same God as Abraham and Moses? Again, of course not. The fact that one may have incomplete knowledge or hold a false belief about another person – whether human or divine – does not mean that someone who has better or truer knowledge about that person is not thinking about the same person.1

Distorting God Beyond Recognition

I appreciate Beckwith's point. Are Christians willing to say that Abraham didn't worship the same God we do because he wouldn't have ascribed the property "Trinity" to him? Yet, I don't think his analogy is quite correct. The Trinity is not the only aspect of God where there is division. The points at which Fred and Bob disagree about Jefferson are not substantial to describing the third president one way or the other. However, if Fred held that TJ was born in Virginia in 1743 and wrote the Declaration of independence while Bob held that TJ was born in Chicago in 1920 and played a trumpet, then it is his assumption that he is speaking about the third president of the U.S. that is in error. There are too many points of difference between the descriptions.

Here's the problem. The Muslim conception of God reminds me of what you get out of a pressed penny machine at Disney land or some other tourist spot. You start with a penny, which is recognized as legal tender and must be recognized as payment debts in the U.S.2 If you owe a creditor $50, he is obligated to accept 5000 pennies as payment. However, let's say you ran all 5,000 pennies though the Disneyland penny press so they now look like the image at the top of this post. The press distorted the penny so much it can no longer be called a penny. It can no longer be used as legal tender; it's value is only measured by the price of  souvenir's copper bullion on the open market.3

This is exactly what Islam has done to the concept of God. While it began with the classically theist conception of God from the Jews and Christians, it has squished, stretched and distorted the description of God to the point where it has become unrecognizable by Christians or Jews. The Islamic God is capable of deception and evil (Surah 4.142, 14.4). He is not only non-Trinitarian, but anti-Trinitarian claiming that Christians are sentenced to hell (5.72). The Islamic god is not a father with whom one may develop a personal relationship (5.18).The Islamic God can and does change his mind, not in an anthropomorphized or conditional way, but a true change of intent. The God of Islam is actually capricious and not at all trustworthy.

When one looks at how the Allah is described in the Qur'an, it becomes clear that the properties he holds are not those of a necessary being. The descriptions don't fit; they're completely out of place and undermine the idea of a God who is the source of morality, love, and existence. To claim the Islamic God the same necessary being referred to by Christians like trying to use a pressed penny in a gumball machine. It simply doesn't fit.

References

1. Beckwith, Francis J. "Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?" The Catholic Thing. The Catholic Thing, 16 Dec. 2015. Web. 20 June 2016. https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2015/12/17/do-muslims-and-christians-worship-the-same-god/.
2. "Legal Tender Status." Resource Center. United States Treasury, 4 Jan. 2011. Web. 20 June 2016. https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/faqs/Currency/Pages/legal-tender.aspx.
3. "Mutilated Currency and Bent or Partial Coin." Federal Reserve Bank Services. Federal Reserve Banks, 2016. Web. 20 June 2016. https://www.frbservices.org/operations/currency/mutilated_currency_and_coin.html.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Who is God? Infinite, Personal, Transcendent



In his masterful book The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, James Sire begins by explaining Christian theism, and there he starts with the basic attributes of God. As Sire notes, it used to be that everyone knew what the concept of God was within the western world, but that cannot be taken as true any more. People think they know what the concept of the Christian God entails, but they either misunderstand or leave out key characteristics. In the passage below, Sire offers a definition of the God of the Bible and then unpacks it:
Prime reality is the infinite, personal God revealed in the Holy Scriptures. This God is triune, transcendent and immanent, omniscient, sovereign, and good.

Let's break this proposition down into its parts.

God is infinite. This means that he is beyond scope, beyond measure, as far as we are concerned. No other being in the universe can challenge him in his nature. All else is secondary. He has no twin but is alone the be-all and end-all of existence. He is, in fact, the only self-existent being," as he spoke to Moses out of the burning bush: "I AM WHO I AM" (Ex 3:14). He is in a way that none else is. As Moses proclaimed, "Hear, 0 Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD" (Deut 6:4 KJV). SO God is the one prime existent, the one prime reality and, as will be discussed at some length later, the one source of all other reality.

God is personal. This means God is not mere force or energy or existent "substance." God is personal. Personality requires two basic characteristics: self-reflection and self-determination. In other words, God is personal in that he knows himself to be (he is self-conscious) and he possesses the characteristics of self-determination (he "thinks" and "acts").

One implication of the personality of God is that he is like us. In a way, this puts the cart before the horse. Actually, we are like him, but it is helpful to put it the other way around at least for a brief comment. He is like us. That means there is Someone ultimate who is there to ground our highest aspirations, our most precious possession-personality. But more on this under proposition 3.

Another implication of the personality of God is that God is not a simple unity, an integer. He has attributes, characteristics. He is a unity, yes, but a unity of complexity.

Actually, in Christian theism (not Judaism or Islam) God is not only personal but triune. That is, "within the one essence of the Godhead we have to distinguish three 'persons' who are neither three gods on the one side, not three parts or modes of God on the other, but coequally and coeternally God." The Trinity is certainly a great mystery, and I cannot even begin to elucidate it now. What is important here is to note that the Trinity confirms the communal, "personal" nature of ultimate being. God is not only there-an actually existent being; he is personal and we can relate to him in a personal way. To know God, therefore, means knowing more than that he exists. It means knowing him as we know a brother or, better, our own father.

God is transcendent. This means God is beyond us and our world. He is otherly. Look at a stone: God is not it; God is beyond it Look at a man: God is not he; God is beyond him. Yet God is not so beyond that he bears no relation to us and our world. It is likewise true that God is immanent, and this means that he is with us. Look at a stone: God is present. Look at a person: God is present. Is this, then, a contradiction? Is theism nonsense at this point? I think not.

My daughter Carol, when she was five years old, taught me a lot here. She and her mother were in the kitchen, and her mother was teaching her about God's being everywhere. So Carol asked, "Is God in the living room?"

"Yes," her mother replied.

"Is he in the kitchen?"

God's goodness means then, first, that there is an absolute and personal standard of righteousness (it is found in God's character) and, second, that there is hope for humanity (because God is love and will not abandon his creation). These twin observations will become especially significant as we trace the results of rejecting the theistic worldview.1
One point that Sire makes in his summation at the top that he didn't draw out beneath is that God is the prime reality of all things. So many people today make the mistake of including God within some larger reality of existence. That's what fosters questions like "If God is the answer to 'who made the universe' then who made God?" That's a category error. God is the starting point. Without God, existence doesn't even make sense.

I highly recommend Sire's book. It's a great way to understand how worldviews affect not only how one views God, but how it changes the way one interprets all of reality.

References

Sire, James W. The Universe next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 1997. Print. 28-30.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Is God an Egomaniac for Desiring Worship?

There's a famous episode of I Love Lucy where the always star-struck Lucy Ricardo visits Hollywood and wants to see some real movie stars. She decides to dine at the Brown Derby, a Hollywood restaurant famous in the 1950's for its movie studio clientele. She didn't wait long; soon, the maƮtre d' seats 50's icon William Holden in the booth behind her.



Of course, Lucy must turn around and stare at Holden, which understandably annoys the star who simply wants to eat his lunch in peace. After a few uncomfortable moments, Holden decides to flip the tables on Lucy. He begins to stare and sigh at her! This completely unnerves her, who ultimately can't take it. She rushes out of the restaurant, accidentally dumping a plate of spaghetti on the star in her hurry to get away.

I bring up the episode because it plays into a common objection I hear from atheists: "Imagine what an egomaniac God must be if He commanded everyone to worship him!" In fact, a friend wrote me last week and said he was in a conversation where someone asked "Why does God demand to be worshipped?" Is the worship of God similar to Lucy's fawning over Holden? Do only egomaniacs seek out such devotion while well-adjusted individuals would be bothered as Lucy was?

Ignoring Who God Is

In looking at the claim that any god who seeks out worship is egotistical, one should immediately notice that it errs in making a specific assumption. It assumes that God is something on par with you and me. When humans accept worship from other humans, I can see how that is ugly and uncomfortable. That's because all men are equally subject to both the forces of nature as well as their own fallibilities. While the ancient Romans declared Caesar to be divine, he could neither stop Vesuvius from erupting nor stem his own death. It makes no sense to worship a man who has no power that any other man could not also assume in the right circumstances.

God, however, doesn't fit into this category. In fact, it is a function of worship to draw attention to the differences between God and us. Through worship we recognize that God created the universe and its rules are subject to Him. It is through worship that we acknowledge God as the author of life, we are his creation and as such we are subject to him. We also recognize God's goodness and holiness. Worship helps us to remember that we are not God. That's something Caesar forgot.

Showing Proper Deference

A general and a private are both human beings. We would expect any doctor in the emergency room to try and save both lives with equal effort. Yet a general would demand a salute from a private. Is this arrogance? A father would demand obedience and respect from his son. Would that be considered arrogant on the part of the father?

In both cases, the show of deference and respect by the younger person is considered right and appropriate. Worship shows the proper deference to God. The Father is He who gives us every good and perfect gift and in him we exist moment by moment. Thus it is good and right to show deference to God for his provision and sustenance. How other than worship could such deference be recognized?

The Objection Points to the Necessity of Worship

Lastly, worship is necessary for humanity. In raising the charge of egotism, the atheist is actually demonstrating why proper worship is necessary for human beings. Worship is necessary to humble ourselves. By objecting to even the concept of worship, atheists demonstrate subjecting oneself to another is not a task to take lightly. It raises all the flags to uncover our desire to be subjected to no one and nothing. But certainly the atheist, like Caesar, has no control over either his own mortality or the forces of nature. Sure, scientific advancements allow us to cool our homes but they can't stop a volcano. They may prolong life a couple of years, but they cannot grant immortality. Worship humbles us and reminds us to not become egotists ourselves.

Worship shows proper respect to God, it differentiates God from us, and it humbles us by reminding us just how limited we are. It isn't God who is egotistical because he commands us to worship; it is our egotism that worship of God guards against.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Is the Trinity a Contradiction?

In my recent series on the essential beliefs of Christianity, I received a comment from a reader who claimed that I hadn't offered a cogent argument for the Trinity. This isn't the first time I've heard the claim that the Trinity is a contradictory concept. The doctrine of the Trinity has been challenged by everyone from Jehovah's Witnesses to Muslims as contradictory.

What is a Contradiction?

A contradiction occurs when someone asserts a claim resulting in the conclusion that A does not equal A at the same time and in the same way. To briefly understand what I mean, take this well-worn example of a syllogism:

      1. All men are mortal

      2. Socrates is a man

These two premises are not really controversial. But we can know something else about Socrates by looking at them:

      Conclusion: Socrates is mortal.

This conclusion follows necessarily from the premises. There is no escaping it. Socrates is part of the set "all men" and if everyone in the set of all men are mortal, Socrates must be mortal, too.

But what if I make an additional claim about Socrates, such as:

      3. Socrates is immortal

If I assert premises #1, #2, and #3, I would have a contradiction. Socrates cannot be both mortal (from #1 and #2) and immortal (from #3) at the same time and in the same manner. Premise #3 could of course not be talking about the physical body of Socrates but referring to his work. In such a case, statement #3 holds no bearing on the other two statements, since they are completely different concepts. But if statement #3 means immortal in the same sense that statement #1 does, then Socrates cannot be a man and immortal because it would mean that Socrates is mortal and while he is at the same time the opposite of mortal. Both cannot possibly be true.

The Argument Against Contradiction

Since we know now what it takes to call an idea contradictory, we can use this understanding to see if the Trinity fits the definition of a contradiction.

      1. If the doctrine of the Trinity defines God as being both one and more than one at the same time and in the same manner then it is contradictory and therefore false.

Next, we declare that God is monotheistic. This is a staple of Christian belief:

      2. There is one God.

But Christianity teaches of a plurality within God. Supported by scripture, it makes the claim that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit can express themselves differently. The Son may pray to the Father or submit to His will. The Father may send the Spirit, and so on. But they are each called God. So, we get another premise:

      3. The person of the Father is God, the person of the Son is God, and ;the person of Holy Spirit is God.

      4. Therefore, God is one being comprised of the persons of Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit (from 2,3).

If we are to now claim that the Father is a being, the Son is a being, and the Holy Spirit is a being, we would have a contradiction. You would have God is three beings and God is one being. Certainly both cannot be true. However, that is not the Christian doctrine. The Christian doctrine is that God is one being comprised of three persons. In my last post I showed how personhood is separate from being. We can create a sub argument here from the facts of that post:

               5a. Personhood is not the same as being if the number of persons of an entity differs from the number of beings present in itself.

               5b. A plant is an entity whose number of persons (zero) differs from the number of beings (one) present in itself.

               5c. Therefore, personhood is not the same as being.

So, because we've clarified the concept of personhood and being, we can add an additional proposition to our argument:  

      6. Therefore, God can be one being comprised of a different number of persons without contradiction (from 4,5c).

      7. Therefore the doctrine of the Trinity is not contradictory ( from 1,6)

By arguing thusly, one can see that the doctrine of the Trinity is not contradictory. One must add additional premises to the argument, and those premises must properly reflect Christian doctrine.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Christian Must Believe There is One God

Yesterday, I began a series talking about what beliefs someone must hold to be considered a Christian. While there are many different Christian denominations that exist, there are certain beliefs that are essential which all Christian denominations hold. These core beliefs identify Christianity from all other faiths and I had said there that the Nicean Creed is a really good starting point for identifying just what are those essential beliefs.

The first section of the creed sets affirms a core concept of God that stems from the Jewish Old Testament. It reads:
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
Right off the bat, Christianity is identified as a monotheistic faith. One God and no others. This is key to all subsequent understanding of God, especially when considering His attributes.

For God to be Almighty, there can only be one

God is first identified as "Almighty." Most people understand the word God to mean a being that is all powerful. But that also means that God must be a single being. For if God is almighty, then He can have no equal. As a contrast, some later versions of Zoroastianism held to a concept of two beings, one good and one evil, who were equally powerful and locked in a constant state of war.1 But you cannot claim that a god is all-powerful if that god cannot win a fight with his enemy! The fact that the war exists at all shows that the god has limited power; his power cannot govern his foe. The problem would of course get worse with multiple gods, limiting the power of one's god even more as the other gods multiplied.

So, in order for God to be Almighty God, He has to be a single being. This is a straightforward logical understanding of God. Christians believe in one Almighty God (Deut 6:4, john 17:3, 1 Tim 2:5). That means that faiths such as Mormonism are excluded from Christianity immediately. Mormonism holds that many beings can become just as God the Father is now2, making God something less than what the creed establishes.

Mormons also believe that God has progressed through time to become God.3 He wasn't always almighty but he is now. Such a statement is self-contradictory since there is some mechanism (the eternal progression law or function or whatever) that God cannot have dominion over. Instead, He must obey its precepts to become God himself. That again means that the God of Mormonism isn't Almighty.

All of reality depends on the One God

The next part of that first sentence declares that God is the maker of heaven and earth, whether those things are part of the natural world (seen) or the spiritual world (unseen). All of creation relies upon God for its existence. God didn't need to create the universe, but He chose to do so. This makes God completely without dependence and when He creates, He creates out of nothing (Gen. 1:3-29, Heb. 11:3, Acts 14:24-25, Rev. 4:11). But in the Mormon view of God, the universe is eternal and God simply reshapes and refines pre-existing materials.4 If this is so, then we again see that the god Mormonism affirms is not the God of Christianity. Therefore, we can quickly declare that Mormons fall outside the definition of Christian by their denial of these essential attributes of God.

References

1. Shapero, Hannah M.G. "Is Zoroastrianism really a dualistic religion?" Pyracantha web site.
http://www.pyracantha.com/Z/dualism.html 11/29/1995. Accessed: 4/15/2014.

2. Adams, Lisa Ramsey. "Eternal Progression." Encyclopedia of Mormonism.
http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Eternal_Progression Accessed: 4/15/2014.

3 Robinson, Stephen E. "God the Father." Encyclopedia of Mormonism.
http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Heavenly_Father Accessed: 4/15/2014.

4 Nielsen, F. Kent and Stephen D. Ricks. "Creation, Creation Accounts." Encyclopedia of Mormonism.
http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Creation,_Creation_Accounts Accessed: 4/15/2014.
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