February 20, 2011

Faith part 3: The Ballad of Jungle Joe

Posted in Faith tagged , , , , , at 4:20 PM by E. M.

God has all the knowledge in existence.  In order to fully know God we would have to have all the knowledge in existence.  But since we don’t, we can only believe in God by faith. And as we saw in the last post, faith in God can be considered reasonable faith because it is based on knowledge and experience.

But God doesn’t JUST ask that we believe in His existence, He wants us to believe in in Him TOTALLY!

Based on the fact that there are almost 400 references to faith in the Bible, faith is obviously a critical part of a fellowship with God.  Why is faith so important to God’s plan?  Let’s look again at the components of faith.

Rational faith seems to be the willingness to rely on something that we do not have full knowledge of, based on some degree of prior knowledge/experience that we have had with the object of faith. In order to have faith, you must intentionally choose to ask the question “what don’t I know?”  That is a contrastive question!

The reason that faith is so important to God’s plan is because Reasonable faith requires humility and contrastive thinking.  And contrastive thinking is the way to become more righteous.

On the other hand, comparative thinking is antithetical to faith in this case because when you are comparative, you are relying only on what you do know. And again, since our knowledge is limited, we cannot fully believe in God if we are comparative.  This is the reason why the second dispensation failed!

If a person should reasonably believe in God because of their knowledge and/or experience of God, then the converse must also be true – one should NOT reasonably believe in God if that person has NO knowledge or experience with Him.

This brings up one of the skeptics’ favorite “contradictions” concerning faith in God and salvation.  It takes a form similar to the encounter below, which I have heard so many times I have come to refer to it as “The Jungle Joe Paradox”.  It goes something like this:

“You Christians say that all people are doomed to Hell from birth and the only way to be saved into Heaven is to believe in God.  Well that’s fine for people in America where there is a church on every corner and 24-hour Christian television, but what about the people who live in primitive jungles?  They may go their entire life without ever meeting a Christian or reading the Bible.  According to you, God is going to send them all to Hell because they never believed in Him.  That’s totally unfair and I can’t believe in a so called “loving God” who would operate like that.

When a cynic or an atheist presents this argument, it is usually not out of a sincere desire to know God’s plan, but more as a deflection to take the focus off of their personal unbelief and project it onto the hypothetical “Jungle Joe”.

The silliness of that objection can easily be shown by asking them a few questions.  I first ask them if they’ve had an opportunity to choose a college, a career, a place to live, and a spouse during their life.  The answer is usually yes.  Then I ask them if the relative predicament of an anonymous person living in the jungle played a role in any of these decisions.  The answer of course is no.  Thus they acknowledge that they are fully capable of making choices that have great impact on their lives without taking Jungle Joe into account, and the decision about their eternity should be no different.”

However, essence of the dilemma does deserve to be addressed.  If there are people who have no knowledge or experience with God, it would be unjust of God to hold them accountable to have reasonable faith in Him. However, the Bible makes it clear

For what can beknown about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. – Romans 1:19-21 ESV

What this verse is saying is that the nature of creation itself testifies to God’s existence.  The first 8 posts in this blog proves God’s existence based solely on logic and reason. The reason Jungle Joe can be held to the same level of accountability as someone in the “civilized word” is that man has an innate knowledge of God whether he has been exposed to organized Christianity or not.

No matter what geographical, political, or social situation in which a human being exists, they are universally aware of six things

  1. There is a transcendent being who is all powerful and created the universe – People are inherently theistic, you don’t have to convince a young child or “uncivilized” man to believe in God; it’s natural to them.  Atheism has to be taught.
  2. This transcendent being is not indifferent to his creation and interacts with it/us – People in primitive societies acknowledge that deity(s) intervene in their lives.  There are no deists in the jungle
  3. There is an absolute right and wrong (good and bad). – Moral relativism is another creation of “civilized society”
  4. The rightness (righteousness) originates in the transcendent being and wrongness (unrighteousness) is all that is in opposition to him – We all inherently know that we need to be justified
  5. Like righteousness, justice exists, is absolute, and is mediated by the transcendent being – We all inherently know when we are being treated unfairly and we all expect justice to be equaled out.
  6. Man’s natural tendency is to be unrighteous and unjust (sinful) – all societies and cultures have to impose rules/laws to enforce good behavior.

Here’s the most important part – if, after realizing that it is impossible for him to be always and completely righteous and just by his own power, Jungle Joe contrastively appeals to the transcendent being (and Him alone) to rescue him from his unconquerable desire to do evil, then he has shown the faith that God desires, and it is counted to him as righteousness in the same manner as the Old Testament saints [Galatians 3:6-9]. But if he decides to justify himself and/or appease the deity by his own actions, his situation is no different than any other unbeliever.

Everyone has enough knowledge of God to have reasonable faith in Him.  Whether or not we choose to have faith is up to us.

Biblical faith is based on hope that something good will occur.  But there is a darker form of “faith” that is actually the opposite of Biblical faith and can result in evil.  Next time, we take a look at “fear”.

June 2, 2010

The Humble God

Posted in How to be Right tagged , , , , , , at 12:08 PM by E. M.

The key to becoming like God is to be righteous.  We become more righteous by becoming more right.  The best way to become more right is for someone with all the information in existence (God) to guide us.  We can only accept that guidance if we are willing to be contrastive, otherwise known as humility.  But if the key to righteousness is humility, and God is completely righteous, then is God humble?  Does God think contrastively?  I say yes.

I believe that our entire history on this planet is the process of God contrastively proving that His plan for our righteous is the correct one.

God’s specific plan for our righteousness is called “salvation”.   It is the plan that He has had from the beginning, and its something that we will discuss in detail later in the year.

God’s plan is the right plan (because He’s God after all), but it’s not the only plan.  As we’ve seen in the last couple of posts, it is theoretically possible to become completely righteous by using contrastive thinking to get rid of all our wrong thoughts, and allow God to give us the right information to replace the wrong ones. Then as long as we choose to only do and say what God tells us for the rest of our lives, we could use our complete knowledge of righteousness to be completely just, and presto! We can walk up to God’s throne and say, “move over, there are two of us now!”

While this is theoretically possible, God knows that it is practically impossible, because only someone with a nature that is always and completely right and just would always choose to be right and just.  And of course man’s nature is NOT right and just.

With this correct information about our nature and our inability to always choose righteousness of our own volition, God could have rightly implemented his ultimate plan for us on a unilateral basis right after creation.   This would have been right.  But it would not have been just.

It would have been unjust not to allow man every reasonable opportunity and situation to take the righteous path of choosing God of his own free will, no matter how improbable.

If God would have unilaterally implemented his plan, man could justly ask, “well God, how do we know that your way was best?  If we’d been given the opportunity to do it on our own, how do you know we wouldn’t have chosen you?”

As long as there is even a hypothetical chance that man could choose righteousness outside of His plan, a just God has to allow man that opportunity.

As I said before, our entire history on earth is the story of man experiencing and living out God’s contrastive process.  Gaining an understanding of this process will help bring resolution to many of the questions and “mysteries” that many of us have about how and why God does things the way he does.

So far we’ve looked at why God has a contrastive process for our righteousness, next week we’ll examine how He does it.

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May 25, 2010

Deafening Pride

Posted in How to be Right tagged , , , , , , at 12:08 PM by E. M.

The meaning of life is to be one with God, which means we have to become like God.  God’s nature is always and completely Right. We can intentionally make progress toward being more right by examining every belief we have and actively trying to prove them wrong.  This process is called contrastive thinking.  The Biblical term for this mindset is “humility”.

The opposite of contrastive thinking is comparative thinking.  Comparative thinking is the process of actively trying to prove yourself right.  It is the unwillingness, or inability to consider the possibility that you could be wrong.  Comparative thinking is the state of justifying yourself without regard to whether or not you are actually right.  While contrastive thinking is difficult and makes us uncomfortable, comparative thinking is comfortable and makes us feel good about ourselves.  There is a Biblical term for comparative thinking.  That term is “Pride”.

Throughout the Biblical text, God strongly advocates humility and condemns pride.

But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “ God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)

When pride comes, then comes shame; but with the humble is wisdom. (Proverbs 11:2)

A man’s pride will bring him low, But the humble in spirit will retain honor. (Proverbs 29:23)

The essence of this philosophy is echoed even in our own interpersonal social relations.  Most people respect someone who has the strength to admit they are wrong, learn from it, and grow from the experience.  But no one really likes an unapologetically prideful and arrogant jerk – except teenage girls (and adults with the mentality of a teenage girl).  However, God has a much more practical reason for His position on pride and humility.

Remember that it is God’s desire that we choose Him so that we can be one with Him for eternity.  Thus is it logical to assume that He would want to aid us in our endeavor to become like Him by being more right.  And since God has all the Right information, the best way to aid us would be to provide that “righteous” information to us.

In order to hear and accept righteousness from God, we obviously have to be willing to hear and accept it.  This requires our willingness to be contrastive, because as we saw in the last post, it is highly likely that much of the information we have in our heads is wrong and needs to be corrected and replaced.

But in the words of one of my favorite quotations, “the surest barrier to truth is the assumption that you already have it”.  If you believe (or have convinced yourself) that you already possess righteousness and are unwilling to consider that you may be wrong (i.e. you are prideful), then you will reject any righteousness that God tries to provide you and you will remain “wrong” and further from what God desires.

God values humility (contrastive thinking) because it is the only method by which we can ever be more right.

It is the only way we can accept His righteousness.

It is the only way we can be more like God.

It is the only way to successfully fulfill the meaning of life.

It is the only way that God can get what He desires.

God condemns pride because pride makes all these things impossible.

This brings us to an interesting question.  If the key to being like God is to be humble, then does that mean that God is humble?  The answer is yes.  In fact, it could be said that our entire history on this planet is God’s process of contrastively showing that His plan for humanity is Right.  More details next week.

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May 18, 2010

Jellybeans of Righteousness

Posted in How to be Right tagged , , , , , at 2:08 PM by E. M.

THIS IS YOUR MIND . . . YOUR SWEET, DELICIOUS MIND.

The point of our existence; the meaning of life – is to be like God so that we can be one with God and share in God’s perfection and joy.  The Bible details the mechanics and methodology of this concept, and we will begin exploring them a few posts from now, but as we did when discussing and identifying the First Cause, I want us to understand the process of being more like God through logic, reason, and systematic analysis (hey, that sounds like a great subtitle for a blog!)

God’s nature is Right and Just.  In order to be like God, we would have to be right and just.  God is always and completely Right and Just because He has all the information in existence.  We do not have all the information in existence.  Individually, we only have some of the information in existence.  So the best we can hope for presently is to be completely right in the small sub-set of knowledge we possess and progressively add additional “right” knowledge.

The problem is that a lot of the information we currently have is not “right”.  Right now you have a set of beliefs in your head about all kinds of things, politics, religion, social welfare, health, economics, the best place to get a good steak (that would be Jockos in Nipomo, California by the way), and you are certain that what you believe is correct, otherwise you wouldn’t believe it.  But when we look back over our lives, we will see a litany of things that we once believed were right, but that we later discovered were not.

For example, when I was 16, I was convinced that Tanya Robinson loved me and that she was only dating our high school quarterback in order to make me jealous.  I later realized my error (few girls try to make a second-string line-backer jealous).

Nevertheless, at the time we held our presently acknowledged “wrong beliefs”, we were absolutely sure that they were right.  Thus it is logical to assume that some, if not many, of the things that we now believe right, are actually wrong, and we may be convinced of their wrongness at a future date (except for Jockos.  They really do have the best steaks on earth).

So what’s the solution?  Jellybeans! (Stay with me).  Picture your mind as a bowl full of red and blue jellybeans that represent everything you know and believe.  The blue jellybeans represent the beliefs you hold that are right, and the red jellybeans represent the beliefs you hold that are wrong.  So how do you become more right?  Simple, you take out the red jellybeans (wrong thoughts) and replace them with blue ones (correct thoughts).

But we have a problem.  Remember, we think that all the beliefs we currently hold are right, even the ones that are wrong!  We think all our jellybeans are blue.  We’re mentally colorblind.  Now what do we do?

What if I told you that color was not the only difference in the jellybeans?  What if I told you that the red jellybeans all have a tiny bump on them that could only be discovered under careful scrutiny, but all the blue ones were completely smooth?

In this case, the way to make sure you get rid of the red ones and keep (and add) blue ones would be to take EVERY jellybean in the bowl and examine it carefully for the bump.

In the real (non-jellybean) world, this means that in order to be more right, you need to take EVERY thought and belief you hold and actively try to prove it wrong (examine it for the “bump”).  If you can’t prove it wrong, then you can be comfortable that it is right, but if you do prove it wrong, then you discard it and replace it with correct information.  This is called contrastive thinking.  Thinking contrastively involves looking for a flaw in your thought process.  This flaw is usually a contradiction.

The opposite of contrastive thinking is comparative thinking – actively trying to prove yourself right.  The reason that comparative thinking is inferior is because it assumes that all the jellybeans are blue (and we know that is not true), while contrastive thinking presumes the possibility that red beans exist.  Contrastive thinking does not mean that you assume you are wrong.  It means you are wiling to consider the possibility that you could be wrong.

Comparative thinking is the source of just about every conflict.  Think about it, every argument you’ve had with another person is a matter of you thinking that you are right and trying to prove it (comparatively) to someone else who has a different idea but also think that they are right.  You both get angry and frustrated because neither of you are wiling to back down from your position.  Unless someone is willing to admit that they may be wrong, the situation either escalates out of control, or the “we agree to disagree” stalemate is called (which basically means you both just wasted your time).

But imagine if two people in conflict decided to be contrastive instead of comparative.  If two people had a difference of opinion and each person discussed the ways that their beliefs could possibly be wrong, then there would be no conflict, no anger, and no frustration.

Imagine it on a larger scale.  What if every group, religion, or nation that had a conflict with another decided to be contrastive?  What if each side tried to prove their own beliefs, intentions, opinions assumptions and aspirations wrong?  The result would be . . . world peace! (I cannot take credit for this particular piece of brilliance.  I first heard it here),

So with all these nifty benefits, how come people are not more willing to be contrastive?  Because it hurts!  No one wants to think that they are wrong.  We like being right!  It gives us comfort, order, and security.  Plus, it easy!  Even young children easily master the art of comparative thinking.  How many 4-year-olds have you ever heard say, “maybe candy is not my best dinner option”?

Being contrastive takes strength, discipline, and emotional maturity.

There is a term in the Bible for contrastive thinking.  That term is “humility”.  An examination of the Bible will show that God holds humility in high regard for some very important reasons.  We’ll explore them next week.

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