Baptism/Amazing Grace: A Conversation Over Lunch, Part 3

Justice

But what makes that good? How is it good that anyone is damned — for any reason? I agree that what God wants is, by definition, good, but shouldn’t we able to understand it? Why should God’s notion of goodness contradict our own so severely?

What we haven’t talked about is God’s justice. God is not only good, he is just, and this is a major theme in the Scriptures.

(Lev 19:18 ESV) 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

(Deu 32:35-36 ESV)  35 Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly.’  36 For the LORD will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants, when he sees that their power is gone and there is none remaining, bond or free.

(Pro 20:22 ESV)  22 Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you.

The Scriptures were written to people living in an honor culture. People lived for vengeance, and God taught them to let him handle the vengeance. They were commanded to love their neighbors.

Over time, the culture changed, and the same thing happened in most Christian lands. There are, of course, countless exceptions, but Christians do not bear grudges the way some cultures do. As a result, the British are fast friends of the Americans, although they were at war less than three centuries ago. On the other hand, some cultures still seek vengeance for battles lost many hundreds of years in the past!

I suppose you could argue that we could learn to forgive without counting on God’s vengeance. Right?

Absolutely. I often wonder whether the idea of God’s final vengeance was written to speak to an ancient mindset that no longer exists today. Perhaps the stories of vengeance at the end of time were just a device to push people to forgive.

Do you remember the pedophile in town who raped several five-year old girls? Do you remember how angry people were? How even devout Christians wanted to see him dead? Were they wrong to want the government, God … someone … to take vengeance?

You present a tough case, but is it really necessary that we believe in God’s vengeance to forgive someone who is mentally ill? Really?

I’m not sure I can agree that being a pedophile excuses rape of children. And consider Pol Pot and Stalin. They killed millions. Stalin allowed millions to starve to put his economic theories in effect. Pol Pot killed millions to impose Communion on Cambodia. Should they go to heaven?

No, of course, not! Of course they should pay for their crimes!

(Psa 97:2-3 ESV)  2 Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.  3 Fire goes before him and burns up his adversaries all around.

But God doesn’t have to punish them forever. Eternal punishment seems unduly harsh, even for a Stalin. Why not make him suffer one lifetime for each life he took — but forever?

For that matter, why should Stalin suffer the same fate as my neighbor, who is a good man but who refuses to accept the gospel. How is that right?

So you concede that at least some evil people deserve to be punished, and that God would be right to punish them?

Yes, but the system seems askew. Why punish the same as Stalin a 12-year old who has attained the age of accountability and dies without knowing Jesus? I mean, eternity for a 12-year old is eternity for Stalin …

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31 Responses to Baptism/Amazing Grace: A Conversation Over Lunch, Part 3

  1. Emmett says:

    “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?””

    Of course the answer to this question is, yes, yes I will question why He has made me like this, and why things are as they are. But surely what Paul was trying to get across to us is that we can’t understand these things well enough to ask intelligent questions, much less be able to receive answers. Such questions are ages old and remain futile. At some point we just have to trust that His knowledge so far surpasses ours that we cannot comprehend. Hopefully before we are driven to distraction…

  2. aBasnar says:

    Jay, just an advice: Don’t let your self-conversation run into the debate of “eternal punishment” vs. “eternal destruction”, this would make it unnecessarily long and does not really have much impact on Universalism vs. Judgement.

    Alexander

  3. laymond says:

    God never said we have to agree with what he does, we just have to accept it, and bow to the supreme.
    Jhn 12:47 And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.
    Jhn 12:48 He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day
    Where in scripture does it say that the age of twelve is the age of accountability ?

  4. Charles McLean says:

    Throughout this argument runs the theme of validating how people feel, and what our own values are. While this is appropriate in other contexts, it seems singularly out of place in speaking of God’s character. Again, I find the subtext of a God made in our image, a God who is like us. As a friend once said, tongue-in-cheek, “I think God is exactly like I would be, if I were all-powerful and I could get my act together.”

    Or to mishandle Isaiah, God says, “My ways are not your ways,” and we reply, “That’s right, God, our ways are not their ways.” Sigh.

    This particular fallacy is thoroughly woven into our attempts to understand the character of God. We think of God’s character, but we look at ourselves for comparison. “God would not do that, because I would never do that!” “Of course God thinks this way; that’s the way we all think!” This unchallenged error hurts our understanding more than it helps.

    I don’t pretend to have a deep understanding of the character of God. But as we seek that revelation, I am reminded of the words of Will Rogers: “It ain’t so much what they don’ t know, but what they DO know that ain’t so!”

  5. Alan says:

    Why should God’s notion of goodness contradict our own so severely?

    Because we don’t know as much as we’d like to think. We’re really quite ignorant of God’s ways, his goodness and justice and righteousness. We have no more chance of understanding everything about what God is doing than does an insect crawling across my computer keyboard of understanding what’s going on inside that computer. Maybe we should read Job chapters 40-41 again. For example:

    Job 40:7 “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.
    Job 40:8 “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?

    And then Job’s reply:

    Job 42:1 Then Job replied to the LORD:
    Job 42:2 “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.
    Job 42:3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.
    Job 42:4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’
    Job 42:5 My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.
    Job 42:6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

  6. Norton says:

    “Be holy for I am holy” We are to know something, at least have a general idea of God’s character, if our aim is to be like Him. It may take us a long time to get there, but that is our aim. When men exact punishments that far exceed the crimes, it is usually from uncontrolled emotions produced of hate, fear, or grasping for power. God is not like that and neither should we be like that. However; to argue from another angle, perhaps not acknowledging the God of the Universe, even in ignorance, is a far greater crime than we(I) realize.

  7. Grizz says:

    Jay,

    When your friend can find a scripture condemning 12 year old girls, THEN you can address the ‘why’ question. Until then you should avoid the vain speculations.

    It may be ‘fun’ to engage in verbal sparring about this or that speculative point, but the real rubber meets the road when we talk about problems being personally and directly experienced by the ‘seeker’. Do they really know Jesus? (one cannot follow where one does not recognize the leader) What are they actually struggling with right now? (marriage is on shaky ground, job is stressing them out, money management issues are overwhelming them, intimacy issues, friends seem to be avoiding them, etc., etc.) If they could ask only one question for study and exploration, what question tops their list?

    People are either seeking or just having fun shopping or trying to convert you or ambivalent. We need to make the most of our time in service to finding and addressing the needs of the ones truly seeking.

    Blessings,

    Grizz

  8. Hybrid says:

    Meanwhile the atheist sitting at the other table overhearing the conversation is wondering why two people are attempting to have a nuanced and serious discussion over something that, as best he or she can tell, has no more standing in reality than the average comic book story.

    I don’t mean this as an offensive post. As an atheist, this is my criticism to all of you: even if two of you somehow manage to hash out what you believe (with or without support from the Bible or any other holy book), I’m still standing around bewildered that you’re putting so much energy into trying to reason out how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

    How does this sort of conversation do anything but reinforce my decision that Christianity isn’t factual? I know it may be interesting to theists, fun even, to argue and discuss such matters… but how does it do anything to convince someone like me to believe in your religion?

  9. eric says:

    Hybrid, that’s an interesting point, and from a perspective we need to hear from. I can see why these discussions are less than apologetic. In all fairness I think this site is for the purpose of having these type of discussions in a user friendly forum. And largely aimed at seeking unity in Christ through agreement or the willingness to agree to disagree while remaining in fellowship. Also seeking deeper understanding of Christ through these interactions. I often miss things or have less knowledge than others here and elsewhere and find it helpful to get other points of view. I’m sure you can see the value of having conversations with others to gain a better understanding of something. In football some are better at defense, some at offense, that sort of thing. My personal feeling is that this particular subject is hard to wrap my mind around. One interaction between Jesus and the teachers of the day comes to mind. Jesus told them that they would not be judged for what they didn’t know, but they did know so they would. That leads me to believe that there may be wiggle room. It seems possible that God expects us to know how we would prefer to be treated by others which gives us all a standard to start from. I on the other hand don’t think not hearing of Christ is an advantage due to the fact that it is often tempting to take advantage of others for personal gain, and without building up a defense against it with the aid of the Holy Spirit and others in Christ it would be easy to go down that road. And who can stand before God someday Christian or not and say I didn’t think it wrong to rape or take something from someone weaker and so on.

  10. Charles McLean says:

    Sorry, Hybrid, but the thread itself does not seem to be oriented to provide an apologetic. It is a bit like listening to two automotive engineers involved in shop talk and finding that this doesn’t help you understand why your Volvo won’t start. But I have to scratch my head at the idea that something is not real because no one -even those who study it- understands it completely. If that were so, the origins of the universe, or the nature of subatomic matter, or multi-dimensionality, or the psychology of human behavior would all have to be discarded as subjects of discourse, right along with Christianity.

  11. Charles McLean says:

    Oh, and it’s okay to be bewildered at Christians, Hybrid. Trust me, we are often bewildered at our atheist friends, too.

  12. HistoryGuy says:

    Hybrid,
    Knowing the lack of evidence for a pure atheistic position, I held a staunch agnostic position until late 2004 when I converted to Christianity. Of course, at that moment my free-thinker friends said I was no longer intellectually elite. I appreciate your comments and would love for you to stick around, but I realize it would be a bit like most folks here listening to Dennett and Dawkins talk about memes, while Hitchens (before he passed away) and Harris discuss moral objectivity.

    I would normally ask you, “Upon what basis to you reason that something is factual or not factual,” and then seek to apply your belief consistently to your specific issues of doubt regarding Christianity. But, as Charles McLean said, this is not an apologetic site. Again, we would love for you to stick around, but if you truly are looking for answers for the legitimacy of Christianity, I would recommend the resources at

    http://www.apologetics315.com
    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/PageServer?pagename=content
    http://www.truthbomb.blogspot.com

    or

    If you want one-on-one discussion, Wintery Knight talks with everyone who comments
    http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/category/polemics/

  13. Mark says:

    I think John Loftus in his debunking Christianity blog is a good read. It help me realize when it comes to Gods salvation how inept we are in explaining it. But I am not persuaded by atheism. I’m more intrigued by are starting assumptions of God. Deuteronomy 7 is a place to start are assumptions. Here in these passages love and justice are played out. But how do we juxtapose this with the Gospel? Is the good news some will be saved? Did Jesus die to save a few?
    If he did – we begin to see the will of God is a roll of the dice when it comes to salvation. This why much of the church of Christ theology balances on luck. But if God is truly love and it does all that it explains in 1 Corinthians 13 how is it Gods love has failed? 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.

    Jn 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Is it not right to ask did Jesus save the world? Or is God keeping a record of wrong for those who don’t believe? There has to be more than the apparent contradiction Gods will is that no one perish. This is not wishful thinking on Gods part there has to be more to it.

  14. laymond says:

    What God wants is always “good”
    Mat 18:11 For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.
    Mat 18:14 Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.
    Jhn 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
    Jhn 3:17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

    But what God gets is not always to his liking, when we teach God controls everything, and does what he wants,is a falsehood.

  15. Hybrid says:

    Sorry guys, I should have explained myself a little more in my original post.

    While I am an atheist, I’m still very close to my Christian roots. All of my family and almost all of my friends are Christians, and I love them and don’t want our relationships harmed because of differences of belief. No one knows I’ve given up on belief. Though I believe the likelyhood of Hell being a real place is approximately zero, the people I love still live in fear of it, thus I will not put them through the experience of living the rest of their lives in fear for my soul.

    I still read Jay’s blog fairly regularly… in my years of questioning (way past The Spiritual Sword and Gospel Advocate days but before I arrived at full blown skepticism) I regularly enjoyed coming here. I still often enjoy the topics, but now my perspective is different. To be honest, sometimes I miss believing… I don’t miss the fear, or the cognitive dissonance, or the bigotry, or the pride, or struggling to believe in magic, but I do miss something of the security. Still, I can’t force myself to turn my back on what I’ve come (through honest hard work) to see as reality just because it makes me feel better.

    I know other people who have left their faiths for reasons similar to mine. Usually we’re dismissed, and our struggles with doubt are rarely addressed by church leadership. We may try apologetics, but everyone I’ve ever known (even more so those with an interest and background in science) who has tried to take that route find it to be (to be as polite as possible) completely vacuous. I’ve never known anyone who wasn’t already a believer who was able to find apologetics intellectually palatable.

    I wish church leaders would take more time to address the plight of those of us who can’t seem to help but turning to doubt. The churches that rebuke and shun doubters are far removed from the reality of modern life and will most likely increasingly be relegated to small cult-like groups over in the next few generations. The churches that survive will probably have to be more moderate (really – how often do any of us hear fire and brimstone anymore?) in order to keep their members comfortable in their faith. The issues of atheism and doubt within the church are largely ignored by church leadership – if you’re a lucky doubter, you’ll get a recommendation to read some C.S. Lewis. If faith is the one true essence of this human existence someone needs to figure out a way to do more than gloss over doubt within the church, else in the age of education and internet there are going to be a lot more of us atheists in the pews.

    Thanks for listening…

  16. JMF says:

    …Completely understand where you are coming from, Hybrid. I find solace in (I believe) St. Augustine saying that there can be no faith without doubt.

    I have had spiritual experiences that cause me to be 110% sure there is a God. Yet I struggle with thoughts like, “Why, God, was Hybrid given the kind of intellect that would make him susceptible to doubt? Why couldn’t he be a simpleton that just accepts his preacher’s/pastor’s words and never thinks deeply enough to produce doubt? How is that fair?”

    Always a struggle for me, too. I finally settle at: “A life following Jesus is the best life. Trying to be like him will make me the most loving person I can be, and that is all that really matters.” I’ve had to force myself to be simplistic enough to accept that without further criticism.

    Lastly, you should check out Richard Beck’s blog called “Experimental Theology.” He is about the only writer I’ve found that understands (and sympathizes!) with the doubter. His work has been extremely meaningful to me on my journey.

  17. Charles McLean says:

    Hybrid, I agree that the believer-turned-unbeliever is often dismissed by the church. Sometimes this is an unfitting arrogance, for which I apologize. Sometimes our response is to try our hand at apologetics, but as our view is ultimately based in the supernatural, those who do not believe have no common ground with us, and Christians can get frustrated by that reality. You note that only believers accept apologetics, and I think this is largely true. There are people who come to faith by a rational avenue –read CS Lewis or Francis Schaffer– but once they have, their unbelieving friends call their rationality into question solely because it led them to faith. (A circular trap, but an effective one.) Sometimes we try to connect on practical terms –a common moral code, for example– but this does not go far enough for the believer. For us, Jesus is not just a nice guy with good ideas.

    But sometimes the dismissal you experience is almost a mirror image of the dismissal given to our faith by the unbeliever. What to us is faith (and admittedly NOT sight) is readily dismissed as irrational superstition, mindless follow-the-leader, and magic– on the order of the leprechauns with their pot of gold. Our very ability to reason is called into question, no matter how much evidence one might find to the contrary. Rational and well-educated engineers and lawyers and scientists are instantly converted into snake-handling hillbillies in the minds of their unbelieving friends with no other evidence than a belief in God. Here, we cannot challenge your doubts with reason, because any such challenge is seen as prima facie evidence of irrationality.

    I do not wish to sound superior, but this is the best analogy I know to illustrate my struggle to express my belief in the invisible God to one who does not believe because he cannot see Him. I am walking with my blind friend on a fall afternoon and I mention that the birds are flying south. “Nonsense,” says my friend. “Annual migration is just a fairy tale told so widely for so long that everybody has come to think it’s true.”

    What possible argument could I offer that would be convincing to my friend? What possible evidence could I offer that would not be dismissed as simply the deluded conclusions of more superstitious fools?

    Ultimately, Hybrid, what you do with your doubt is your choice. Many of us have repeated and varied doubts about aspects of our faith, but we choose to believe in spite of those doubts. Some have the same doubts, and take a different path. It’s a personal choice. Believers are not responsible to overcome your doubts, only to be willing to share what they believe, to encourage you to believe– and to be kind in the process.

  18. Adam Legler says:

    Hybrid,
    Check out http://www.pleaseconvinceme.com and listen to its podcasts. It is done by an athiest police detective turned Christian. He deals a lot with things that are not talked about in a church atmosphere and does a great job of critically analyzing arguments against Christianity. I HIGHLY recommend it for those who have serious doubts.

  19. Doug says:

    Hybrid,
    Maybe there’s a reason why you say you are an athiest but continue to read a blog like this one. You mentioned that you miss the security. If you miss it enough, I’d say reading something like Max Lucado’s “The Story” might be of value to you. For most of us here, the Story is the reason why we still believe… the Story is just too complete, to perfect for us to ignore. We feel the tug of God because we are spirtual creations in addition the body and blood and so we go in search of spiritual things in order to better understand ourselves. I pray that you’ll continue to read and study the Story because it’s the only story that makes sense. I will pray for your well being my friend.

  20. HistoryGuy says:

    Hybrid,
    I am sorry someone told you to read CS Lewis. He is great, but the resources I listed are current and more challenging. Strong atheism would posit that there is evidence that God does not exist, but weak atheism (aka agnosticism) posits that there is insufficient evidence to make a dogmatic conclusion either way. Richard Dawkins is a good example of strong atheism, but Christopher Hitchens is an example of agnosticism since he found the fine tuning of the universe to be intriguing. Which kind of atheist would you consider yourself to be? What specifically is the starting point of your denial (a creator, the supernatural, Christianity)? – i.e. denying a creator will instantly deny a supernatural realm and Christianity. What is your primary reason for this denial? – i.e. if this primary reason is proven to be fallacious, you would then accept what you were denying.

    The reality is that Christian apologetics, especially the work of Christian philosophers, is to offer good reasons for Christianity as an intellectual option; it is then ones choice to accept or reject Christianity on grounds other than the famous atheistic cry (that even I use to make) “that is just silly.” Additionally, the evidence for the existence of god(s) and Christianity must be examined separately because a God or gods could exist, but Christianity could still be false (perhaps pantheism, deism, Judaism, or Islam is true?).

    There are many religions, as you know, but people convert to Christianity all the time from other religions as well as from non-belief in God. Most of the world’s best scientist, physicist, engineers, mathematicians, historians, and philosophers believe in a supernatural-creator being, contra atheism. My point is that if one is going to appeal to human experience, which you did, then human experience says belief in a supernatural being is as intellectually viable as atheism; thus, not only is atheism not an intellectually superior position, but consistency of application would actually dictate atheisms minority status as in inferior position.

    You said,

    I’ve never known anyone who wasn’t already a believer who was able to find apologetics intellectually palatable

    My friend, you have not encountered sophisticated atheist and Christian apologists! Apologetics has played a key role in providing an atmosphere for Christianity to be heard and the conversion of many smart non-believers. Antony Flew, though not a Christian, did become a believer in a supernatural creator being (God). Regarding conversion to Christianity, Francis Collins (human genome project), Alister McGrath (biochemist), Peter Hitchens (brother of Christopher Hitchens), and William Lane Craig (revered by sophisticated atheist as very smart and the best apologist today) are a few worth mentioning.

    I have many atheist friends so apologetics is a concern of mine; you are a concern of mine as well! Everyone needs to know why they believe or don’t believe. If you have not already, you need to ask yourself “what is your #1 reason that you don’t believe?” Then, you need to seek to answer that question. Christians know that if the Resurrection is a sham & Jesus did not rise from the grave, then our faith is in vain and Christianity is fake.

    As a plug, in the book “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach” Mike Licona examines and defends the resurrection using the same approach that historians use for arriving at truth from other ancient documents. I pray to my God that you will search for answers, and in so doing, always separate sophisticated atheistic arguments from the unsophisticated atheistic keyboard jockeys on the net and Youtube.

  21. Alabama John says:

    Hybred,
    There is no such thing as a real atheist. When the —-hits the fan, they fall to their knees and seek Gods help. I’ve seen it too many times. We all have a spirit from God that will live eternally is inside us all. We had no choice in having it or not, we didn’t ask for it, and cannot eject it, God put it there.
    This world and religion as we humans have designed it is confusing to us all and to sit and observe it is discouraging at best.
    Do any of us have it all right, no, and we never will, so we depend on Gods grace to cover the parts we do not understand. For some of us, it is the most of our beliefs.
    Some do teach they have it all right and that alone confuses anyone who looks into their beliefs. Beware of those.
    The thing is, just look upward and pray for guidance and try to live your life as honestly as possible and depend on Gods grace for the rest.
    Whether we will admit it or not, that is exactly what all the rest of us are doing!

  22. eric says:

    Hey Hybrid, Me again I thought you might enjoy the book The Science of God by Gerold Schroeder an MIT PHD In physics. It really does a great job of looking at the creation account through the lens of modern science. He also wrote several other books that are very good. Heavy on science. If your like me it’s not interesting to hear people attack science that they don’t seem to understand. Or for that matter scripture they may not understand. So it was refreshing to read someone who understood both and did a great job explaining them together. my email is abblack11@att.net if you ever want to bounce ideas around.

  23. Avatar of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Hybrid,

    I feel highly complimented that you, as a doubter, find something here of value. Thanks for being a reader.

    Obviously, many of the topics are utterly irrelevant to anyone outside the Churches of Christ, and especially for those outside the larger church. But I think you’ll this particular series of interest as we proceed.

    I grew up in the North Alabama Churches of Christ, steeped in legalism. God brought me out out of legalism and showed me his grace. But along the way, there were times when I doubted God.

    I don’t cover apologetics here because so many other sites (some mentioned above) do such a great job of it. But I’m very well read on the subject because of the struggles I went through. And because I just love seeing the finger of God in the laws of the Universe and the billions of years of history revealed by his stars and his geological layers.

    Not all apologetics are scientific, of course. One of the most wonderful things about God I’ve recently learned is that God doesn’t mind if we ask him the hard questions. Job did. Moses did. David did. Indeed, in times of doubt, what God would most want from us is that we confront him with our doubts.

    Consider –

    (Psa 88:1-18 ESV) O LORD, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you.
    2 Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry!
    3 For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol.
    4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength,
    5 like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand.
    6 You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep.
    7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah
    8 You have caused my companions to shun me;
    you have made me a horror to them.
    I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
    9 my eye grows dim through sorrow.
    Every day I call upon you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you.
    10 Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah
    11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
    12 Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
    13 But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you.
    14 O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?
    15 Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
    16 Your wrath has swept over me; your dreadful assaults destroy me.
    17 They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in on me together.
    18 You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness.

    What a sad psalm! There is no resolution. The psalmist pleads for comfort and rescue, and none is promised. It’s entirely a lament — a plea for God’s deliverance. It’s hardly the sort of passage that we read to the unconverted!

    And yet there it is in the Bible. What is the lesson? That God doesn’t care? That no rescue is coming?

    No, the lesson is that God can handle honest complaints. He’s big enough. God wants nothing but honesty from us, even if it’s anger or doubt. Even despair.

    God loves us so much that he wants to be near us at our darkest, direst times.

    I’m a father, and if my kids are ever angry with me (and it happens), I want them on my lap, pouring out their hearts, not running away. I can far better handle the tough conversation, the revelation of hurts and pains, than losing a child.

    But you’re right. Church leadership often struggles to deal with doubts. We aren’t really set up for it. Sometimes it’s because we are whistling in the dark ourselves, afraid that someone else’s voicing of a doubt will allow our own repressed doubts to well up to the surface.

    Sometimes we think God will be angry that such things are spoken. Sometimes we feel ill equipped to respond.

    But there should be no better place to express doubts that in his church. We all have our doubts, but we’re here in the Kingdom, not because we’ve overcome all doubt, but because we believe despite our doubts.

    We’re all like the father of the demon-possessed child who cried to Jesus in desperation, “I believe! Help me in my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

    I don’t know. Maybe the miracle is that we believe despite everything. Maybe faith itself is the evidence that we need.

  24. Avatar of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Eric’s recommendation of Gerald Schroeder’s The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom is a good one. It’s an excellent book, and I’ve taught it in Bible class before. The chapter about time as viewed by God at the moment of the Creation will knock your socks off!

  25. HistoryGuy says:

    Alabama John,
    There are real atheists. I have several friends who have died fully embracing their non-belief. In the public square, Christopher Hitchens recently passed away after a painful and slow battle with cancer; he spoke at a Freethinker convention in Houston Texas 2 months before his death on atheism until death and continuation of his work. Though an enemy of Christ [from a Christian view], he is truly missed by believers and atheists.

  26. Alabama John says:

    HG
    I wonder what he believes today?

  27. Adam Legler says:

    I’d second History Guy. Christopher Hitchens knew the Bible back and forth (from what I’ve seen in debates) but firmly decided not to be a Christian. He led a lifestyle that was contrary to a life pleasing to God, so who knows if that was a major factor in his decision or not. But he was not ignorant of the Christian message and choose his path. Free will that God gave us in action, sadly. For his sake, I hope Conditional Immortatilty is true. Because otherwise, he was a very likeable guy.

  28. Grizz says:

    Hybrid,

    How do you like the life you are now living?

    Does it satisfy you?

    Are you happy with your decisions about your values and ethics?

    Do you long for something better … at the same time despairing of any hope of finding such a fantasy?

    Are you getting fed up yet with all of the dead ends in scientific studies of the origins of life? (NOTE: The difference between a ‘dead end’ and ‘an opportunity to explore alternate theories’ to a scientist boils down to one word: funding. Every scientist can be bought for the price of their next study.)

    It may not matter to you in public how you answer these questions … but I suspect it does in your more introspective moments. When trying to reason out the meaning of life and the value of a life and personal satisfaction with one’s own life, such questions nearly always rise up. I would guess that you asked questions very similar to these before coming to your present convictions.

    Am I far wrong?

    I grew up in a family that attended churches of Christ nearly all of my years before college. There were a few years in there when we stopped attending assemblies, but only very few. And as I grew up I began to notice some advantages to claiming to share the faith my parents and siblings had. So I began to ‘work the system’ to get what I wanted. That started at the summer I turned 10 and continued until mid-way through my freshman year in college. Then I met some friends who called me out on my ‘church game’ – as they called it.

    You see, they had become concerned for me when I began exhibiting what they thought were suicidal tendencies. And they were right. Cutting to the chase, one of them challenged my desire to just end it all by daring me to stop playing games with God and give Jesus a real chance in my life. After all, if I was done living for myself, why not live for Him instead? And at first I pretty much just ignored him and paid some lip service to considering the dare. It did not get real for me until I was just moments away from taking my own life. At that moment of decision, the most inconvenient moment, all I could think of were those words as he dared me to give Jesus a real chance.

    Over the next month I read the four gospels through at least four times each. I also read Frank Morrison’s “WHO MOVED THE STONE?” and Og Mandino’s “THE CHRIST COMMISSION.” At the end of the month I was quite convinced and convicted of the verity of the gospels and of my desire to know Jesus better.

    Maybe that would work for you. Maybe you can easily convince yourself that you have heard it all before. I simply share in the hopes it might help.

    Grizz

  29. Hybrid says:

    Thanks for the thoughts everyone, especially Jay, JMF (thanks for the reference to Experimental Theology), Charles M. (your thoughts on the problem of stereotyping and the trouble with justifying belief are well formed), and Eric for the book recommendation.

    HistoryGuy, to answer your question, I’m an agnostic atheist. I don’t deny that there is a creator/creators, but I don’t believe that such things exist (or that such things have ever been properly defined). I’m already familiar with the individuals you mentioned, but thanks for the recommendations.

    Jay: “But there should be no better place to express doubts that in his church. We all have our doubts, but we’re here in the Kingdom, not because we’ve overcome all doubt, but because we believe despite our doubts.”

    Thanks Jay. Unfortunately such attitudes are too rare. I hope that the church discovers that there are many atheists in the pews who can’t perform that feat, and I hope the generations to follow become more comfortable with doubt and doubters. I don’t think the church is prepared to interact with people who are primed by doubt and skepticism (either within or outside of its own institutions), and I see nothing but heartache for generations to come until the church learns to address (and not just ignore) doubt. Don’t get me wrong – as an atheist I could care less about the loss of any religion, but what I am concerned with is the emotional and psychological health of every member of every religion, and I am saddened by every family and individual that is damaged by how these systems of thought respond to disbelief.

    In closing – respectfully, I don’t think Jay’s blog is the place to have detailed discussions on my own personal atheism. “I” singularly am not the problem the church faces, and I didn’t make my original post because I’m looking for personal connections or because I want someone to proselytize to me; I have plenty of Christian resources and influencers to satisfy me until kingdom come (ha – get it?). I made my original post, somewhat in frustration, because I wanted someone (someone who I know will actually listen) within the leadership of the church to consider the plight of atheists as a whole. I can’t rid myself of my Christian background anymore than I can rid myself of English as my first language – it will always be with me, and is essential to who I am.

    Thanks again.

  30. Hybrid says:

    “I made my original post, somewhat in frustration, because I wanted someone (someone who I know will actually listen) within the leadership of the church to consider the plight of atheists as a whole.”

    I should clairify that by plight I mean “plight” in the face of the assorted claims of theism, especially those of us who already come from a strong religious background.

  31. Alabama John says:

    History Guy,
    I would fit right in at a freethinker convention. I have been a part of many freethinking before and hopefully that is what this site encourages. Freethinking is not limited to nonbelievers. Actually there are more free thinkers in churches than imagined but they are for the most part afraid to speak out for fear of being branded and marked.

    I’ve had many say they don’t understand it all and are not sure what to do, that is not atheism and is very common among honest folks that are pulled this way and that religiously and no wonder they are confused and simply throw in the towel so to speak.

    An atheist to me is one that says there is DEFINITELY no God. To say this would take a person that thinks they know more about life after death than all others and they can’t, none of us can. We all have faith, and building upon it is a decision we all make. Faith in God is born in us, to dismissing inborn faith in God is a decision and that atheistic decision is still faith but faith in the wrong path.

    Enough preaching!!!! LOL

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