Sunday, August 05, 2007

Reflection

I came across a post by John Piper regarding how he addressed the recent tragedy in Minneapolis with the collapse of the I-35 bridge. There were several points in the post where I sensed Piper going seriously wrong with his view of the world - and I think his view probably is wrong on a number of levels - especially his fundamentalist exclusivism.  However, he ends on a correct note, I think, with this:

"When I sat on her bed and tucked her in and blessed her and sang over her a few minutes ago, I said, "You know, Talitha, that was a good prayer, because when people 'blame' God for something, they are angry with him, and they are saying that he has done something wrong. That's what "blame" means: accuse somebody of wrongdoing. But you and I know that God did not do anything wrong. God always does what is wise. And you and I know that God could have held up that bridge with one hand." Talitha said, "With his pinky." "Yes," I said, "with his pinky. Which means that God had a purpose for not holding up that bridge, knowing all that would happen, and he is infinitely wise in all that he wills."

Talitha said, "Maybe he let it fall because he wanted all the people of Minneapolis to fear him." "Yes, Talitha," I said, "I am sure that is one of the reasons God let the bridge fall."

I sang to her the song I always sing,

Come rest your head and nestle gently
And do not fear the dark of night.
Almighty God keeps watch intently,
And guards your life with all his might.
Doubt not his love, nor power to keep,
He never fails, nor does he sleep.

I said, "You know, Talitha, that is true whether you die in a bridge collapse, or in a car accident, or from cancer, or terrorism, or old age. God always keeps you, even when you die. So you don't need to be afraid, do you." "No," she shook her head. I leaned down and kissed her. "Good night. I love you."

Tonight across the Twin Cities families are wondering if they will ever kiss a loved one good night again. Some will not. I am praying that they will find Jesus Christ to be their Rock and Refuge in these agonizing hours of uncertainty and even loss."

While his apocalyptic and exclusivist views are offensive and wrong-headed, he is absolutely right about God choosing to not intervene.  God could have held up that bridge - or cured the cancer or stopped to murderer - but he didn't.  And he doesn't.

But we can take comfort that as God-of-All-Things, God is going to make it all right somehow.  Somehow this great mess He's left us with (and, yes, we've certainly done our part to ruin) is a great experiment in free will and love and relationship and creation and that somehow, somehow God is going to set all things right. 

What does that mean?

It means that despite Piper's comforting words to his daughter, we are in this, as individuals, on our own.  There are no protective hedges, no angels' wings covering us, no supernatural intercessions that will rescue us from the terminal disease or the madman or even the sloppy engineer.  Certainly God will set it all right, but that is later and for now, we must be prepared to deal with whatever comes on whatever terms we can make in that context.  In this sense, Piper is right (though for the wrong reasons): our only legitimate choice is to labor and work in humility and honesty and to seize and love every moment as a precious gift.  For that is all we can count on in the here and now.

29 comments:

len said...

Jeff,
On what foundation do you place your belief that God will set all things right one day?

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Jeff said...

Len -

On my belief about the nature and character of God as derived from a variety of sources and worldviews. I start from the point that there is a God, and that that God is both personal and beneficient (my personal approach to this looks a lot like the Kalam Cosmological Argument used in Islam). From there I derive my assumptions about God's character based on those presuppositions. This arrives at a position that holds God must will the good for his creation (corporately and individually) and that, despite temporal evidence to the contrary, God will ultimately accomplish his intentions with regard to his creatures.

Jeff said...

Len -

Just to follow up on my response above, I offer the following more detailed explanation of why I reject the idea of God's direct physical intervention in response to prayer. (Note that I didn't say God wasn't moving or acting, but that his movement and actions in terms of physical interaction with creation have no discernible correlation to prayer.)

(1) The problem of God's will - For those who believe in intercessory prayer, it appears contradictory to hold that we should ask God for what we want if we believe he already knows what he wants - and that he knows what is best for us and is going to sovereignly accomplish his will regardless. Thus, intercessary prayer would appear to have little efficacy with regard to having God do what we'd like him to do.

(2) The incontrovertible evidence against its efficacy - At the end of the analysis, there just isn't any evidence whatsoever that praying for supernatural intervention accomplishes anything. Where people claim it has occurred, there are thousands of cases where it doesn't - and believers are left to decide if the "answered prayer" was a fluke overlap of the believers' wishes and God's will or if the "unanswered prayers" were evidence of ineffective faith or praying on the part of the "pray-ers". The conclusion being that there is no evidence that prayers for healing, safety, protection, mercy, deliverance or other requests tangibly verifiable have any result whatsoever.

As an example, the atheist often challenges to the believer on this point by asking why God appears to hate amputees or other sufferers of physicialy visible ailments. The point being that believers often claim God's supernatural intervention with regard to difficult to understand ailments like MS, cancer, infections, etc. where medical science could not as yet provide an explanation of the mechanism of a sudden remission or recovery. But there has never been a single case of answered prayer for God to heal a severed limb(s) or other easily verifiable disease. Why is this? The skeptics answer is that the claims of healing believers make are always for ailments that are non-falsifiable, and thus, easily made by the believers. Even beyond this point is the problem that for every "miraculous" healing of cancer, a hundred thousand others die painful, difficult deaths - surely with some of them being the object of sincere, faithful, fervent believing prayer.

(3) The arrogance of the belief - Believer are often told to prayer for a mate, for a job, for a quick recovery from a cold, for superior performance on a test or activity or job task - and thousands regularly claim God's "victory" in these mundane activities of life. Yet at the very moment the college student is praying for an easy exam - or the soccer mom is asking for her car battery to continue functioning - there are thousands of human beings around the globe starving to death, dying of thirst, suffering under easily-curable disease, being crushed under the bootheel of heartless dictators and greedy power-mongers. How can we assume God is going to deliver us that job offer we so desperately want when he seems unwilling to save the mother - or her tiny child - from the unimaginably death from dehydration?

There are a few other self-contradictory problems with the idea, but even with the issues above, the critical thinker will at best be agnostic with regard to the efficacy of intercessory prayer. The only real basis for sustained belief in it is that of the biblical literalist - the "the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it" argument. Obviously, this is a fideistic and non-falsifiable position that no argument or evidence is going to overcome.

For those not in that category, however, I contend that at the end of the day, the belief and practice of intercessary prayer is built upon a misreading of Christian Scripture coupled with an incredibly skewed and warped view of reality in the modern affluent West.

Does God provide comfort, strength, patience in response to our submission and prayer? Absolutely. Does he work to transform our character as we submit to his guidance and wisdom and leading? Yes.

Does God reverse terminal illnesses, cause cars to start, hold up bridges that are structurally unsound until the faithful have crossed over in response to our requests? No.

The pattern and movement of God in creation is indiscernible to us. That is, we can't see it, cannot diagnose its presence accurately, cannot correlate it to human activity in any way. God may or may not be involved in or behind things we see happening. Not only is it "none of our business", it is completely beside the point with regard to our discipleship.

Dan Sanders said...

The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth what it needeth to?

Jeff said...

Dan -

I think that is a reasonable position. Now if we could get past thinking it is we who know what is needed!

I like Annie Dillard's position: "I don't have much confidence that intercessory prayer works, but I'll take all I can get."

len said...

Jeff, let me first say that I agree that there is much wrong-thinking when it comes to prayer. And probably a great majority of our praying is wasted on things that are wrong.

Our friend Scott is looking for another church. Some posted on his blog that they are praying for him in this matter. I prayed that God would lead him to the right place. I base this on my Biblically-gleaned belief that God is at work in our lives. That God has a plan for Scott and that God will work in Scott's life to accomplish that plan. Are you saying that such activity is a waste of time on my part?

Jesus gave a model prayer which instructed us in this manner: "give us this day our daily bread". Does this not teach a prayer request of a physical need with the implication that God will provide?

I am curious as to your definition of what you referred to as Piper's "fundamentalist exclusivism". Is this concerning his belief that Jesus is the only way to a relationship with God or is it some other aspect of his theology?

Jeff said...

Len -

Thanks.

There are several questions in your comment, so I'll try to address each.

Regarding your prayer for Scott, I think folks should pray for whatever they like - I'm certainly not trying to set out a new doctrine. I am, however, presenting the problems I see with the view of God supernaturally intervening on behalf of our requests.

For example, you say you prayed for God to "lead Scott". This is a very frequent request in evangelical prayer. But what does it mean? Does it mean for God to give Scott knowledge that he does not have - somehow miraculously placing in his mind information he would not otherwise have? How does that work? What is the knowledge that is supernaturally imbued? Does it mean that God will alter or influence the decisions of others so that certain events will transpire? If so, how do we reconcile this with God's respect for our free will?

In most cases, when pressed, people will, rather than these two very difficult options, choose a vague alternative explanation that refers to matters of chance "providence". Of course, when considered, this is just evasion. Either God has intervened or he has not. If he has, we are left with the same questions of the basis for God's intervention (why this time? why this person? why not that way?) and how to reconcile it with the larger understanding of God's character. And with the idea of God's will - if he's going to do his will anyway, why does prayer alter his will? If it doesn't alter his will, then it would have happened whether we'd prayed or not. (The usual answer to this is, ironically, that it makes a difference to us in terms of our faith and discipleship that we trust God and pray to him - in other words, the real position of most folks, when pressed, is that the most important aspect of even intercessory prayer is not the alteration of reality through God's supernatural intervention, but the alteration of our character through our trust in God. Of course, this is the position I've already arrived at without the unnecessary ideas of altering reality.)

These concepts are problematic on a number of levels. Not least of which is the idea that God is going to answer your prayer for Scott's job decision when he isn't answering the prayers of the mothers and fathers and wives and children of American soldiers being killed in Iraq. Isn't it something quite exceptional to believe God will choose to obviate natural law and direct a job decision for Scott, but he won't prevent the wheels of a humvee from straying across a roadside bomb? And if that is how God acts, what does that say about God? About us?

Some will here claim we can't know God's will, and he's told us to ask and pray, so we should and then whatever happens, happens. I'm OK with that - since it, in all practical terms, is what I'm saying anyway: we cannot count on, predict or correlate God's action to our prayers. Again, I'm not saying God isn't active or working. I'm saying there's nothing (other than a literal reading of some specific passages of Scripture) to give us any indication of prayer changing things - other than within the human spirit.

As an aside to your comment on prayer for Scott, you mention the the idea that God has a specific, chosen path for each of us, I find the entire concept very problematic. Why would God have a detailed map for our lives (in terms of non-moral choices such as where to live, what college to attend, what job to take, etc.) then refuse to share it with us? God is not a God of confusion. Yet most fundamentalists go through their lives with a belief that God has a detailed plan for us that we are supposed to "figure out". Yet without exception in my experience these same folks are frequently frustrated by not knowing what God wants for them and even in hindsight to look back and say, that wasn't God's will for my life - sometimes as a way to excuse what would otherwise be characterized as poor, ill-advised decision-making or even immoral choices.

God has a sovereign will for creation - he has shared the generalities of this plan through revealed Scripture and through Creation, but not the details - obviously he doesn't think we need to know the details. God's sovereign will is his and is unassailable and inevitable. He has a moral will he has also shared through the human conscience, confirmed in community, codified in Scripture, and echoed (and even refined) in history - and he expects and desires us to seek to live in accordance with that moral will. As to the individual will, there is no evidence for it (again, other than a few passages of Scripture which are open to interpretation) and lots of evidence and reasoning against it.

Regarding Jesus' instruction to his disciples in prayer, have you ever seen the movie Shenandoah? Do you recall the prayer Jimmy Stewart (the father/farmer) offers before the meal? "God, we thank you for this meal - though we did the ploughing, and the raising and the harvesting and the cooking - but we know you had something to do with it - so thank you!" (my paraphrase). We may discuss what Jesus was saying, but the one thing he clearly was not saying was that God was going to miraculously provide our meals for us in a reliable fashion. If that were the case, he's going to have a lot of injustice to answer for from our dead and dying brothers and sisters in places like Sudan and Ethiopia.

What I believe is that Jesus is reminding us to recognize our ultimate utter helplessness and defenselessness in this universe - whatever happens to us, if we want to view it rightly, we will realize that we are ultimately and radically contingent. He wasn't telling us God was going to feed us and protect us. If that is what he was saying, then he was lying. Because many millions of us have starved, been murdered or died in horrible ways all the while under God's watchful gaze. If Jesus was telling us we'd be safe, well-fed and protected - which is what you have to believe he was saying if you read his prayer literally - then Jesus has a lot of unfilled promises to catch up on.

Regarding Piper, it's the idea of God's radical sovereignty and control that is most problematic for Piper's theology. Obviously this traces to Calvinism in general, which I reject. Further, Piper definitely (and incoherently with his own Calvinist ideas) clings to the idea of the elect and the unelect and the ultimate futility of "battling God's will". I'm an open theist. I believe God has by his divine choice given us real and radical freedom and has invited us to engage with him in this enterprise of human experience - he has done so contingently - voluntarily surrending his sovereignty as he has seen fit to allow the grand experiment of love and freedom to play out within the confines of us greater will. I believe Jesus is the only way to a relationship with God, but I'm quite sure I don't believe it the way Piper does, by the way!

Hope some of this clarifies my thinking (if that's possible!).

Scott said...

Great thoughts. I hope to have time in a bit to process the discussion a little more thoroughly later. I never would have imagined that I would have moved this close to being non-interventionist as I have become.
I'm glad my situation has given a good, non-threatening, situation in which to look. I have long since rejected the notion that God has a specific place for me to go. At the present it looks like I could have a choice between Alabama and California. And it would suck if I didn't get either one. But, if presented with the option I don't foresee their being one correct decision.
I think part of our problem is such a muddled and wishy-washy view on the free-will determinism debate that many of us don't know what to truly believe on any of this.
I want people to pray for me and with me. Not so much that God is going to miraculously point me to a new church home, or that He will intervene and move the other candidate to a new church but because of the community and communion that said prayer facilitates.

In this I quote George MacDonald, "What if the man object in God's idea of prayer be the supplying of our great, our endless need--the need of Himself?...Hunger may drive the runaway child home, and he may or may not be fed at once, but he needs his mother more than his dinner. Communion with God is the one need of the soul beyond all other need: prayer is the beginning of that communion, and some need is the motive of that prayer...So begins a communion, a taking with God, a coming-to-one with Him, which is the sole end of prayer, yea, of existence itself in its infinite phases."

I'm not where Jeff is on the subject but I'm not far either.

Jeff said...

Scott -

Fantastic quote (and by a Universalist, no less)! It captures much of my thought.

For the third time, I'm not a non-interventionist! Who am I to say what God will or won't; does or doesn't do within His creation?

In fact, it is this very agnosticism and humility with regard to God's wisdom, power, mercy and majesty that reinforces my ideas of our prayer being connected in any discernible or understandable way to God's activity. We just are too removed from His vantage point and his nature to see how, if at all, these things connect.

Also bear in mind that I, too, feel the incredible drive to believe that God is going to "take care of us" in the sense that most fundamentalists believe - that our children are safe in His care when they are out of our sight; that our bodies are somehow shielded from the mutiny of our own cells in cancer or the invasion of other vectors of disease. I long to have some confidence that by praying for wisdom, my decisions will somehow be made stronger and more rightly. But the problem is that not only is there no evidence of any of this being the case, there are what appear to be insurmountable philosophical and theological problems with such beliefs.

There is no question that many people find comfort in believing they are shielded, protected and encircled by God's love - especially when they interpret that in physical terms. I believe these things, but short of the physical elements. I believe God will set things right and that the best of our prayers will undeniably be answered eventually, with the selfish, the short-sighted, the vengeful, the greedy request burned away like chaff and forgotten once all things are set right.

Scott said...

I have a class prepared on growing past insipid prayer requests but I've never had the nerve to teach it. One day.
Jeff, if you haven't, you should pick up C.S. Lewis' "George MacDonald." It's chock full of incredible quotes.

I didn't mean to intimate that you are a non-interventionist. I think you are right, we just aren't able to place attribution to what is an act of God and what is not. Another of the reasons why I think apologetics is largely a waste of time.

This time I quote, light-heartedly, from the great theologian Todd Snider:

i was thumbing through the stations on my own television
when i came across a guy on the religious station
singing "somebody's coming" sounding whiter than me somehow
wow
it took me back in time thru dwindling joy
to when i was such a guilt ridden catholic boy
i'm evangelical agnostic now

i don't know what we're doing here
you don't "KNOW" what were doing here
now Christians don't walk out on me just yet
you know whose name i'm yelling as i'm clutching my chest
the one my dad told me to and his told him to
and i probably pray as much or more than you do
believe? s__t, every word i sing
but believing and knowing, those are two different things
and if your trying to change the way a strangers life will have to go
i believe this is where i wanna stick to what i know
which is nothing you know, nothing for sure so
just chill til the next episode

len said...

Interesting points guys. Also glad that we can generally discuss difficult issues without being ugly to each other.

Please understand that I believe we are much closer to each other than people reading this might think. But I still hold to the belief that God is at work in the physical world, not in necessarily the ways many think, but that He still is at work.

Scott, when it comes to non-violence (and other issues) you recommend that we begin with Jesus. It is Jesus who said that when we pray in secret the Father will reward us openly. It is Jesus who said that if evil fathers know how to do good things for their children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him. Does not Jesus come on the scene and introduce to us the concept of God as a loving Father who is concerned with our lives and active in them? Jesus' own words indicate that He was following where His Father led.

Jesus taught that when He left the Comforter would come, that He would guide us into truth, etc. I believe God's Spirit does indwell all who believe. It is a great mystery. I pray for Scott because I do feel God will direct his path. It is Scott's responsibility to make wise decisions, ask the right questions, and so on. Philippians 2:12-13 captures, I think, this tension and mystery. We are told to work out our own salvation for it is God who works in us both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Of course I sometimes feel like the only guy out here who still thinks Paul has some authority in matters of faith!

This has been on my mind a lot lately. At 7:00 last evening I sat in a conference room at Vanderbilt Medical Center. One of my church members had surgery. But the doctor told her husband that when he opened her up he found cancer. That hits someone like a ton of bricks. Jeff, you said: "It means that despite Piper's comforting words to his daughter, we are in this, as individuals, on our own".
I just can't hold to the statement that, despite Piper's words, or anyone else's, this family is on their own. I prayed with them. No, I don't expect God to miraculously intervene and strip her of cancer today. But I equally don't believe that this family is on their own. I believe that God will work in amazing ways. Jeff, what would you tell someone in this situation?

Jeff said...

Len -

You said,

"God is at work in the physical world, not in necessarily the ways many think, but that He still is at work"

As I've said three times previously and now for a fourth time - I believe that (or at least I believe that it is possible), too. So we agree.

You also say,

"Does not Jesus come on the scene and introduce to us the concept of God as a loving Father who is concerned with our lives and active in them?"

Absolutely. But then we have to draw realistic conclusions from that. Does that phrase mean God is going to protect us from harm? From disease? From hunger? From poverty? Apparently, it does not mean that, because we all know how many good and faithful servants are victims of just such suffering.

So we're left with some options. Believe that Jesus was lying and that God doesn't care. Sorry - no good for me.

OK, then we can believe Jesus only meant those things for certain people - maybe folks born in America or folks who go to the right church? No thanks.

Or we can believe that Jesus didn't mean anything about our physical conditions - health, wealth, property, etc. - when he said God loves us and will care for us. OK, at least that option isn't outright immoral or nonsensical.

And, Len, you say,

"I pray for Scott because I do feel God will direct his path. It is Scott's responsibility to make wise decisions, ask the right questions, and so on."

This goes back to what I said in my first comment - you can believe this if you so choose, but you're believing it is "non-falsifiable" - that is, there is no evidence I can present to you that would make you believe otherwise. As such, it is a fideistic belief - one you arrive at not through rational reasoning but through other means. Such belief cannot be passed on to other people by argument, teaching or reason, because it is of itself not a part of those realms.

I'm not saying it's wrong, I'm just saying it makes no sense and I don't believe it. And if I don't believe it - and it is irrational - you can't convince me of it (even if it happens to be right). I further conclude, from that, that God can't hold me accountable for not believing something that is tacitly unbelievable.

But, of course, I could be wrong.

You write,

"I don't expect God to miraculously intervene and strip her of cancer today. But I equally don't believe that this family is on their own. I believe that God will work in amazing ways. Jeff, what would you tell someone in this situation?"

Forgive what now appears to be a bit of hyperbole. By "on our own", I just meant that God wasn't going to come down and protect us from the dangers, pains and tragedy of this life. I strongly believe in God's presence and comfort; in the communion of saints as a refuge and solace.

So, actually, Len, I'd do exactly what you did. I'd sit. I'd weep. I'd pray. I'd ask for patience, for strength, for peace, for trust and faith. And I wouldn't expect a miraculous recovery from cancer; but I might expect a miraculous display of faith and strength in the face of inhuman cruelty.

I'm trying to figure out where you and I aren't in agreement!

Scott said...

I believe strongly that we are rewarded. I don't necessarily believe that the reward can be reducible or quantifiable. Exactly what God does or doesn't do in the midst of my prayers is a mystery to me and there is nothing in my life that I can pinpoint solely to the power of prayer as much as I would like to state differently.
My middle daughter has not experienced any pain in her legs over the last month or so. Does that mean that she doesn't have JRA? Possibly. Is prayer involved? I don't know and I can make no verifiable claim that it is.

I guess where I enter into the conversation is from the standpoint that prayer does change things. it changes me. It changes our relationship to God and our relationship with one another. It foster community and the receptivity for transformation.

And, ultimately to me, prayer facilitates me coming to the conclusion that, to quote Julian of Norwich, "all will be well, and all shall be well, and all will be well."

I agree, Len, that God will direct my paths. Scripture is clear. But I think that path is where my will becomes indistinguishable from His.

Great discussion. I'm ready to end this job search so I can get into some meaty fare on my blog again!

Jeff said...

Julian of Norwich? I thought that was Gabe Dixon!

Jeff said...

Kidding aside, Scott, Gabe Dixon's lyrics based on Julian's quote sums it up for me:

"All will be well - you can ask me how, but only time will tell."

Prayer is efficacious - I believe it works and accomplishes and moves, but not in the ways we so often hear it proclaimed as doing so - much to our detriment, I believe.

Scott said...

But it is Gabe Dixon that pointed me to Julian of Norwich.

len said...

When you made the statement that we are on our own I logically concluded that you meant it. I sensed no hyperbole in what you said.

There is faith involved in my beliefs. I base them, in large part, on my belief that the Bible is an writing which is inspired by God. That may or may not be the case. Pure reason may not help me arrive at the end, but it is not an unreasonable position to hold. You may not agree, but I think your are overly harsh to describe that as irrational.

Scott, have you or your wife in any way expressed thanks to God for the condition of your daughter? I imagine that you have. Simple question: if you don't believe that God intervenes, then why do we express thanks to Him? Jeff, do yo thank God for anything physical?

Jeff said...

Len -

I was clarifying that my point on the "on our own" statement was poorly worded on my part - and that my subsequent clarification is a better statement of what I believe.

I didn't say belief in the text of Scripture as inspired was irrational. But there are counterfactual and illogical beliefs that people hold that they supposedly base on passages of Scripture. Most Christians would hold that the more radical of these beliefs (snake-handling, anyone?), while based on passages of Scripture, are based on a significant misunderstanding of the intent of those passages. However, if you're a person believes you've been bitten by a poisonous snake and survived unharmed as part of a religious ritual, I'm pretty sure I won't be able to convince you that your interpretation of that one small section of the gospels is incorrect.

In that sense, people who say they believe God is working, but frame that belief in such a way that God only gets credit for when a prayer is "answered" and then humanity or Satan get the blame when the answer doesn't come, are holding a "non-falsifiable" belief - a belief that cannot be overcome regardless of the evidence against it. This isn't because the position is unassailable, but because the believer has created a rationale that isn't subject to question or the laws of reason and logic. In that sense, such a belief is "unreasonable" in that it is not subject to the rational processes of reason. This doesn't mean the belief is wrong or difficult to understand or very probably even a sympathetic position to hold. If you take that as harsh, I don't really know what to tell you. I'm just trying to be accurate with the terminology.

Regarding what I thank God for, I thank him for the Creation, for the gift of life and the joy of living; for love; for his ultimate security and salvation; for an eternal home free from disease and poverty and suffering and violence. I praise God for the joys of love and family and relationship and community - all remnants of his perfect creation now spoiled by sin.

I don't think this is a small list. In fact, I can't believe God has been so good. And believing and thanking God for these amazing gifts doesn't fly in the face of my own experience and the experience of everyone I've ever known with regard to God's activity.

Further, don't discount the fact that we all want to believe there is a cosmic cop riding herd over the insanity around us. When an out of control bus narrowly misses our car, we all (atheists included) probably honestly think "thank God!". But this is no measure of belief. And it then begs the question - if God gets the credit for saving me, why would he not get the blame for killing someone else? And then we're back to my original concerns that remain unaddressed.

Jeff said...

Len -

I want to follow up on your comment about belief in Scripture, because I think this is where we ultimately have a parting of the ways.

I believe that Scripture is a reliable guide and revelation of at least a part of His will. I believe it was written by humans for human purposes and then, somehow used by God to inform us. I don't believe it's a science book or a history book nor do I believe that it must be literally interpreted. I do not believe it is above the laws of reason and rationality that God created and gave us. Thus, I believe in the resurrection because I think Scripture is a reliable (enough) witness to history in those texts and because of all the supporting narrative and exposition about the event, before and after.

I believe in the miracles of Scripture - based on faith, yet knowing that these might be hyperbolic exaggerations of events that occurred. However, if the Bible claimed that evil people have horns or that red devils with tails hide behind corners, I would reject that because I have no experience of such things and lots of evidence to the contrary.

On this basis, I reject a 6-day creation event. I reject a world-wide flood, but not a large-scale, regional one. I reject the idea of televangelists casting out demons or causing the lame to walk. I believe it could be done by Jesus, at a point in history and in time where it served God's sovereign will, but have no evidence for (and lots against) the ongoing miraculous activity we read about in Scripture.

len said...

Jeff,
Thanks for the clarification. Maybe I just haven't grasped your communication style yet.

My concern is that you are dismissive of my beliefs, which may not be provable, but are not unreasonable or without some evidence. Yet in your first response to me you say your foundation is based on a variety of sources and worldviews. You seem to criticize me for having fideistic beliefs which are non-falsifiable, yet you are the same way at the very foundation of your beliefs.

Jeff said...

Len -

I don't know when this turned to a discussion of your personal beliefs. I'm not saying anything about what you do or don't believe but trying to comment on general concepts and ideas. You asked me questions and I tried to answer them based on my opinions and perspectives. This isn't personal and I'm not passing judgment on you or your belief system except where I've been asked specific questions and tried to provide specific answers.

Since I don't know what it is you do believe - since you haven't shared that with me and have instead chosen to ask me to comment on your questions - I don't see how I could have been dismissive of them or critical of you.

At this point, I think I've been more than expansive in my explanations and bases for my opinions, beliefs and concerns. I would appreciate you stating clearly your beliefs and the basis for them and provide your responses to the concerns and problems I have raised for some of the traditional fundamentalist positions.

If I hold, as you claim, fideistic or non-falsifiable positions, I'd like to hear what you believe they are and then determine if your claim is accurate.

Brian Littlefield said...

What a terribly Deist perspective. It would be nice if you at least attempted to back up your views Biblically, rather than just presenting a counterpoint to another author/blogger.

Jeff said...

It's all in there, Brian, you just have to look.

Brian Littlefield said...

Actually, I see just one citation of scripture in this whole chain, from the original post through all of the comments, and it wasn't posted by you.

Are you, in fact, a Deist? Do you believe that the Lord will only "make it better" when He returns, and that He intentionally is hands off until then?

Jeff said...

Brian -

I'm not a deist at all. In fact, I repeatedly said in the comment chain that I believe God is active, moving, sovereign and making things happen all the time. I don't know if you know which definition of "deist" you're using, but the above description is the exact diametrical opposite of the definition I'm familiar with.

What I have claimed is that it is impossible to correlate with any accuracy or repeatability the circumstances of the world with the activity of prayer. That is, God may or may not be acting when based on our prayer, but it is impossible to look at a particular event and say, with any kind of certainty "that was God acting to answer my prayer".

It doesn't mean God isn't acting.

It doesn't even mean God isn't acting based on our requests (though I don't think he is).

It does mean that I cannot say which events are the direct results of God's activity or which might be the result of prayer. This kind of hubris on the part of believers undermines our own theology and our proper focus on discipleship.

Brian Littlefield said...

Okay, the dictionary definition is:

Deism - The belief or system of those who acknowledge the existence of one God, but deny revelation.

In conventional wisdom, this translates to roughly what the Wiki article on the subject says:

Deism differs from theism in that according to Deism God does not interfere with human life and the laws of the universe.

A subset of this which afflicts Christians is the belief that God does not act personally among us. He's responsible for weather and oversight of things like governments, but at an individual level, is nowhere to be found.
That's what your theology sounds like.

But it's contrary to the Bible.

Matthew 21:22
If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.

Mark 11:24
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

If the Lord tells us He will answer our prayers, what does it say about a person who doesn't believe He answers our prayers?

Jeff said...

Brian -

All I can tell you is to re-read my post and the above comments. I've made it clear that my position is nothing like the definition you quoted as I clearly state I believe God to be living and active and involved in human affairs.

I would note, however, that though I do not hold a Deist position, your proof-texting does little to establish a legitimate counterargument to Deism.

Jeff said...

Regarding your question on belief about answering prayers, I would, again, clarify that I didn't state God doesn't answer prayers, but that we cannot correlate our prayers to God's activity.

Regarding your last statement, I would just add that there are plenty of ways to interpret those few passages you quoted that don't require God to supernaturally grant our wishes. I just disagree with your one narrow interpretation.