Tag: Theology

Home ~ Theology
A modern look at the Gospel – Did it have to be a cross?

A modern look at the Gospel – Did it have to be a cross?

Few Christian teachings have been sanitized and marginalized like the story of the Cross. When the church first came on the scene, they told an unbelievable story to the world. God send His son to die on a Roman torture device so we can walk in newness of life. Two thousand years later, we just don’t understand what this means. Today, a cross is primarily a symbol of hope, freedom, and peace. When you tell someone that Jesus died on a cross, they don’t cringe. They just shrug. The Gospel is buried so deep in the bowels of history that it loses its offense. Or it immediately offends for the wrong reasons. In 2018, the death penalty is all but abolished. The idea that anyone would demand a human sacrifice far any reason seems absolutely morbid.

In light of this, I want to take a modern look at the cross. This doesn’t mean historical revisionism. We Christians believe that the Son of God died after He was nailed to two literal pieces of wood. If we want to understand the fundamental claims of the Christian faith, then we need to take a good long look at the fundamental moment of the Christian faith. A literal cross. A literal death. We can chose to take it or leave it, but modifying or sanitizing the Gospel was never an option.

I am going to start by addressing a very common question today: Why can’t God just forgive us? The short answer is that there are rules that define even God Himself. This is a difficult idea for most of us. Can’t God just do whatever He wants? To quote C.S. Lewis, “Nonsense is still nonsense, even when spoken about God.” For example, If God is good, then He cannot also be evil if evil is the opposite of good. Just like gravity, light, and time are foundational to our universe, love and justice are parts of the Person of God. That is what we mean when we say that God is Love. God may have invented time and gravity, but He didn’t invent love. He is (and has always been) love.

The law of forgiveness

One small part of God’s character (and therefore existence as a whole) is the law of forgiveness. This law states that every debt or wrong must be paid for, either by the offending party or by the offended party. What do I mean by this? Allow me to explain with an analogy.

Suppose a friend borrows your car and gets into an accident. The insurance won’t replace it because you were not in the driver’s seat. What do you do? If you love your possessions more than you love your friend, you won’t ever forgive. But suppose you do love your friend, and you tell him that it’s okay, it could have happened to anyone. You give forgiveness, and you never bring it up again. Was forgiveness free? Of course not! Your net worth took a hit, and forgiveness means absorbing the debt yourself. If you purchase a new car, you have less money than you did the day before. If you opt to do nothing, you will still lose your vehicle along with the value that it brought to your life.

Forgiveness must always cover the full cost of the transgression. If you steal a penny from me, I can forgive you with ease. If you burn my house down and drain my bank account, forgiveness becomes much more costly. Genesis 3 shows us what exactly was broken, and what it would cost to repair it.

The cost to forgive man

When we decided that we knew better than God Himself, we broke three things. First, we broke the universe (See Romans 8:20). When we lost our meaning and purpose, the world we lived in did as well. It was “subjected to futility,” literally cast into meaninglessness. Now, God created the universe, so it stands to reason that He could do it again. It would take time and power, but it certainly isn’t impossible for God to forgive everyone of this offense without the need for a cross.

We broke more than the world around us, though. We broke our own relationship with God. God told us to refrain from one thing without giving us an explicit reason why. Because God wanted us to love Him, He gave us a choice. When we really love God, we do what He asks of us. Selfishness wasn’t a concept until our first moment of disobedience. Since God is justice as well as love, He can’t forgive us without a payment equal to the transgression. This doesn’t make God angry or hateful. There is a third thing that we broke, and it puts the second in clear perspective.

A busted soul

Not only did we break the world we lived in and hurt the God we lived with, but we utterly destroyed ourselves in the process. In the beginning, we were created in the Imago Dei. The literal image of God. That is all we were. The default choice was an eternal coexistence with our creator. But we changed that. Humankind is the only species in the cosmos to sin itself into existence. When we invented selfishness, we embedded it so deep within ourselves that we became something else entirely. We now have a dual nature – we bear God’s image, but we also made ourselves into a slave. God never demanded our worship; He asked for it freely. But we are now required to worship ourselves. It’s not the default option, it’s the only option. Human nature is an unrelenting and cruel master, but we have no way of returning to our prior state without outside help.

So, let’s change our original metaphor a little. You buy your child a brand new car off the lot. Your child then proceeds to total the vehicle. So you forgive him. What good is it? The car didn’t belong to you when you totaled it. If your child has any hope of experiencing the freedom that comes with such a vehicle, either he will have to purchase another, or you will. This problem is beyond the reach of mere forgiveness.

A matter of Heaven and Hell

Did you realize that God doesn’t own your soul? He owns every atom in the universe, but He gave us free will. He gave us the keys and the title to our own lives. This is why Hell exists. It isn’t a place where He angrily throws us despite our heartfelt cries of repentance. The gates of Hell might as well be locked from the inside. God cannot take everyone to Heaven unless He revokes our free will. And He will not take us in as slaves, only as free lovers. I think that this point is important to remember today. God doesn’t cast you out like a leper. He reached across the gap that we made and offers a medicine for our fatal condition. But He will respect your free will, even if you chose to love no one but yourself forever.

I’m not saying that everyone will find their way into Heaven eventually. Jesus made it clear that our time to chose Him is now. We are like clay. God shapes and remodels us over and over again. But when we see God’s face, we enter the kiln. Self-centeredness cannot exist in the presence of the Almighty. What will be left of you on that day? If you lived for yourself, you will not stand. If you tried to be a good person solely so you could prove that you are a good person, you will not stand. (Self-righteousness still begins with self) If you want to survive an encounter with a holy God, you must begin to embrace Him now. But you cannot do that on your own. We are undeniably selfish, so we can only ever come to Him if we want something besides Himself. How then can we be saved?

The beauty of the Cross

God has promised us a redeemed world. He has offered us total forgiveness and a new relationship with Him. But He gave us our own souls. Forgiveness is of little use if we are physically incapable of accepting it in our current state. This brings us to the matter of the Cross. The greatest act ever committed on our behalf and true center of every good story ever told. God may be all-powerful, but it doesn’t mean that He can do the nonsensical. If we are the owners of our totaled souls, then God must either revoke our free will in order to make the necessary repairs, or He must offer us a new heart that is capable of returning to our previous state of glory.

To the amazement of anyone who is capable of understanding it, God chose the second option. Since He is ultimately good, He wouldn’t create another good creature and then destroy it in order to repair us. In the greatest mystery known to man, God gave us Himself. To repair our damaged dual nature, God took on a dual nature of His own. Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, permanently became man. He faced every temptation know to man for 33 years, but never gave in to them. He showed us how we can get to Heaven, and then He purchased new hearts for us by experiencing the total alienation from the Father that sin creates. For a few hours, the Father suffered the loss of an infinitely good relationship with the Son, and the Son suffered the loss of an infinitely good relationship with the Father. The magnitude of that loss far outweighs the cost of our individual hearts. He didn’t just forgive, He did so lavishly!

But, why a cross?

God used a cross to enact His will for a few reasons. First, the method of redemption was similar to the offense. God suffered the exact same future that we are guaranteed without His intervention. Physical misery, utter futility, utter loneliness and abandonment, death. The Cross was the worst the world had to offer. I once read a doctor’s detailed explanation of the Crucifixion; it’s terrifying. God came to suffer the fate of the vilest of criminals. There are very few humans in history who suffered worse physical pain than Jesus did. Even if someone did suffer more than Him physically, no one has ever become sin on anyone else’s behalf like Jesus did. No one will ever deserve worse than the Cross, so everyone can be redeemed by it.

Finally, the Cross was our idea. God knew what would happen and He sent prophets ahead of time with the signs to look for, but ultimately, a group of Jews and Romans got together and had a trial. If you can’t stand the idea of someone being whipped and nailed to a cross, you have humanity to blame. Humans invented selfishness and therefore Hell. Humans invented crosses. God merely stepped down and offered Himself to us. We did the rest.

Putting it all together

So we have a nearly complete story. God creates us and gives us a free will in the hopes that we will love Him and love each other. We reject Him and find ourselves in a broken world with a broken relationships and a broken soul. He reached out and provided a means of redemption for us. But we still are in control of our own souls. God will only save those who chose it for themselves. Technically speaking, your sin nature will not die until you do. God will give you a down payment now if you choose to accept it. He will come and live in your heart. You will be granted the strength to overcome every act of selfishness if only you chose to use it.

But you shouldn’t expect God to save you if you don’t desire it. God will respect your free will to the bitter end. If you ask Him to leave you alone, He will (almost impossibly) honor that request. The ever-present God will place you outside of His presence, and the all-knowing God will forget you. In short, you will get everything you ever wanted (life eternal without obligation to anyone), and you will find that it could never be enough. It is the most ironic tragedy, but it is nonetheless true.

In Conclusion

As I child, I used to believe that there were Biblical truths deeper than the Gospel. But I am discovering that this is not the case. Just as the alphabet is foundational to all language, the story of Jesus’s death and resurrection is the key to understand every Bible story and all theology. (Full Disclosure: This perspective that I shared today isn’t my own, I have borrowed nearly all of it from men much wiser than me.) As it turns out, there is no inconsistency in the Christian claims that God is Love and that He sent His Son to die for us. The Cross, the real story of blood and dirt, is still the most beautiful story ever told. By examining the offence of the Cross, it’s easy for me to see how it became a symbol of hope and peace. I only pray that we find the faith to embrace the story for ourselves.

Home ~ Theology
Do you know what you believe? A brief look at relativism

Do you know what you believe? A brief look at relativism

If your car suddenly stops working, you can’t fix it with a new paint job. You have to go under the hood. Our attempts to hide the inner workings of our lives from each other only blinds us to our problems.

Relativism: Our unspoken assumptions

Before we begin to explore the question “What is true,” we are going to need to take a look at truth itself. In the Tales of the Poet, I am exploring the relative benefits of beliefs. Relativism (the idea that all belief systems are equally valid/true) can be a great tool when used properly, but most of us use it in a way that is extremely dangerous. Instead of using it as a means of silent introspection, we wield it as a weapon designed to silence those around us.

If you truly believe that the world would be a better place if everyone kept their beliefs private, then the only logical course of action is to keep that belief private. When you force others to conform to this belief, you are tearing apart the very floor you stand on. Argue that everyone else should keep their beliefs quiet while you instruct them, and you are well on your way to becoming the very monster that you had sought to destroy. Relativism seems like a humble notion on the surface, but underneath, it is no different than the belief systems it seeks to replace.

What assumptions make out of you and me

The primary problem with relativism is the prevalence of assumption. Like it or not, everyone has a worldview. Moreover, we live in a culture where our worldviews collide at many points. Look at any hot-button issue today and you will see the danger here. One of the first steps in relationship counseling is to put names to your feelings. Everyone gets angry. The people who know that they are angry will be to exercise self-control. The people who refuse to face their anger will soon find themselves controlled by it.

Our worldviews are dangerous in the same manner. We often pass value judgments on other people because we assume that everyone else is living under our own private beliefs. Many of the divisions between us come from our different belief systems. When we pretend that our beliefs are purely personal, we not only are unable to empathize with others, but we are also unable to understand why we can’t see eye-to-eye.

Allow me to explain with an example.

What assumptions are made in the following titles: Pro-life? Pro-choice? You already know which debate I’m referring to. Pro-life implies that the other group is anti-life. “You are murderers.” Pro-choice implies that the other group is anti-choice. “You hate women and their rights.” The assumptions go deeper than that, though. Is it surprising that many pro-life groups are Christian and many pro-choice groups are atheist or postmodernist? At the heart of the issue is the origin of life. Generally speaking, if life has a divine origin, then, through a series of implications, group A are murderers. If life has a natural origin, then, through another series of implications, group B violates basic human rights. When we embrace relativism, we don’t make religion go away, we just make ourselves blind to it. The communication barrier turns difficult problems into insurmountable ones.

To be clear, I am not here to advocate on any of these issues. My job is to advocate for truth. You probably believe certain things because someone whom you respect taught you to believe them. If you come away from this website believing different things merely because I told you to, then I failed to accomplish my primary goal. I want you to believe truth because you have looked at the facts and you know what they mean. I enjoy seeking out counter-arguments because it gives me an opportunity to understand my own position more fully. By challenging my worldview, I will either destroy it or make it stronger. Which one happens depends entirely on one question: Do I believe the truth?

What about those of us who aren’t relativists?

If the assumptions I make and the actions I take based on those assumptions are the root of the issue, then I am the problem. The people who are fighting for equality cannot win by changing their beliefs. They must change mine. If I am a racist, then keeping my beliefs to myself will only make the situation worse. I may forget why I act a certain way, but I will continue to act. Before we can fix my actions, we must fix my assumptions. I’m not saying that relativism is all bad. Discouraging people from voicing hurtful opinions is an easy way to clean up the internet. If you are not a relativist, then you are probably a very loud person, for better or for worse.

I do believe that we need to learn to coexist. But burying our beliefs will never fix the problem. If your car suddenly stops working, you can’t fix it with a new paint job. You have to go under the hood. Our attempts to hide the inner workings of our lives from each other only blinds us to our problems. Our nation has collectively thrown religion in the junkyard, but the problems are still getting worse. Hatred, persecution, and racial tensions are still growing. At our core, we are different people with different beliefs. If we want to fix the problems, we will need to find a universal standard to live by. We need to take a long look at truth. Yes, it will be messy. But our current solution has failed. It’s time we bring our beliefs back into the spotlight.

Looking Onward

I know that it is impossible to ask the entire world to adopt one belief system. But the truth is able to shape you as an individual into a peacemaker. I don’t need to convince the world, or even the majority of it, to consider their beliefs before change can happen. The world is a better place because I took the time to seriously consider truth. If you decide to investigate these things (whether here or on your own), you will eventually be able to say the same thing of yourself.

Consider this your introduction to the Tales of the Sage. From here on out, I will make the assumption that there is such a thing as truth. I will also assume that it is possible for someone to find this truth if he knows where to look. Apart from that, I intend to make no assumptions. I want us to discuss every aspect of belief before we take any step. Eventually, I will assume a complete worldview on this website. However, I will not jump there.

When someone tells you what to do, they are asking you to trust their worldview solely on the basis of your relationship with them. I want to fully explain my worldview first so you can know that the rest of my words are trustworthy. I want you to understand why I say the things I say. If you disagree with me, I want you to know exactly where and why. If I just make you angry, it is probably because you are unfamiliar with your own beliefs.

Home ~ Theology
Tales Of Poets And Sages

Tales Of Poets And Sages

Do you really believe that what you believe is really real?

I remember the first time I was asked that question. Go ahead and read it a couple more times. It’s not easy to digest. Do you really believe that what you believe is really real? When disaster strikes, do you find yourself clinging to or questioning your beliefs? Do you know what you are living for, or are you making it up as you go along? When it comes down to it, most of us are hypocrites – people who believe one thing intellectually and believe another thing practically. The man who believes in a personal and all-seeing God shouldn’t struggle with personal addictions when he is “alone” any more than he would when his wife and kids are home.

I think that there are a few reasons for this common hypocrisy. The first is, of course, that some beliefs demand more that we can give. Some people suddenly throw in the towel after spending years trying to be good enough to enter Heaven. The stress of devotion forced a wedge between what they do and what they mean to do. Sometimes, beliefs are simply impractical. I am always fascinated when I meet someone who preaches that humanity is a worthless accident and still gives to charity. The existentialism is impractical day-to-day, so they live according to common law even though they don’t know why. Of course, a lot of us may not know our own beliefs well enough to understand why the examples I gave are problematic. This leads us to the fourth reason for common hypocrisy.

Simply put, many of us don’t believe what we say we believe because we just don’t care. Let’s be honest, how many books on worldview have you read before you came here? If you have avoided arguments about truth so far, then there is little I can do to raise your opinion of it. This is why I want to start our journey here. I want to look at the benefits of belief. I think that we can figure out what truth claim will give us the most fulfillment without having to use any word that ends with -ology. Once this first adventure ends, then perhaps we will have the stamina required to speak like sages. Until then, welcome to the Tales of the Poet.

Home ~ Theology
Tales of the Poet – Introduction to belief

Tales of the Poet – Introduction to belief

For this first post, I want to take a look at some of the major belief systems we will be encountering on this journey. Many religions and philosophies are similar in form, so we shouldn’t have to compare more than a handful of them in order to get a general understanding of how our beliefs affect us. I expect each post I share to draw the lines between beliefs a little differently. Sometimes, the lines are clearly religious. Sometimes, they’re philosophical. The three categories I chose below are broadly (and somewhat vaguely) religious. I have known Atheists in the first category. I know many Christians in all three. I’ll try to avoid using labels that cause a fuss. The goal is to see where we are and where fulfilment lies.

“We should follow the rules.”

I can’t begin to guess why you follow the rules. Maybe you’re trying to get into Heaven. Perhaps you’re trying to transcend the illusion of pain and mortality that we call life on Earth. Or you’re trying to improve your karma. Maybe you just think that the world would be a better place if everyone followed the rules. Every society, religion, and government has its own set of rules and list of reasons for following them. Despite these differences, we all can agree on a few things. Rules are important. They make the world a better place. We feel good about ourselves when we do the right thing. The rules separate us from animals. People who don’t follow the rules tend to make a mess of things and hurt the people around them. It is not always easy to follow the rules, but it always pays off in the end.

“But the rules were meant to be broken.”

Life is too short to follow the rules. You are a radical free-thinker, or perhaps you are just taking a break from religion. Either way, you want more out of life than any stuffy monastery can give you. Life is meant to be lived. It doesn’t mean we should break important rules. Murder is obviously bad. But religion is too. After 2000 years of fighting over which rules we should follow, don’t you think it’s time we took a break? If we all set aside our differences, the world would be a much better place.

In other news, you’ve either found your it, or you are actively looking for it. Community service, a good career, a great sex life. Whatever it is, it brings more meaning and fullness to your life than religion ever will. When will the rule-followers realize that happiness comes from the little things in life? The rules are not important. It is.

“Actually, it’s all about a relationship.”

Since the beginning, man has seen the problems with the world and felt a need to repair it, escape it, or transcend it. Every religion that we have ever encountered had demanded that we work hard in order to improve our lot in life (or transcend this world, earn our salvation, etc.). The only exception to this rule is Gospel Christianity. The Christian God provided a solution on His own. No strings attached, if you want to know God and be His friend (forever), you can. If you just want the stuff that He gives you, He’ll respect that, too (even though it will never satisfy you). When you die, you can either be in community with Him and His people forever, or you will be left by yourself forever. Your choice. The rules themselves are a result of the relationship, but they don’t have meaning on their own.

A note on religion

I know that the “religious” category was quite concise. For the sake of the introduction, I don’t mind making it one category. However, some questions will require me to draw different lines than I did here. For example, if you want to ask what the purpose of pain is, then you will have to divide it into western religions and eastern religions. Western religion focuses more on the world itself. It is real and needs to be fixed. Eastern religion teaches that the world is an illusion and needs to be transcended. The differing approaches to pain require us to chose a different dividing line. I know that unique belief systems may be glossed over from time to time. If you want to hear my thoughts on a specific philosophy, let me know in the comments.

Where to go from here:

This was the final introduction before we get into the thick of things. I promise. From here on out, I want to focus on specific application questions. How would my day-to-day life change if I really believed X? Would I become cheerful? Depressed? Generous? Resentful? Life’s greatest questions have all been answered 100 times over. Let’s see which answers are worth their salt. Thank you for joining me on this adventure. I’m trying to get a post out every week or two.