A closed mind is its own punishment, leaving its possessor ignorant of the things it does not know and without worthy confidence of the things it only fortuitously does know.
Jesus was able to forgive sins, not because he is God, but because God had given him authority to do so. This is the recorded inference of the crowds in Matthew 9:8 after Jesus had forgiven a paralytic: “They praised God who had given such authority [to forgive sins] to men.” In the same way, it is reported in the Gospel of John (20:23) that Jesus passed on the authority to forgive sins to his Apostles: “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven” (cf. Matthew 16:19; 18:18). If Jesus’ ability to forgive sins indicated he were God because only God can forgive sins, then by the same reasoning, the Apostles’ ability to forgive sins would indicate they were God. (As an ancillary point may be mentioned the proposal of Jeremias (Die Verkündigung Jesu) that when Jesus pronounced to one, “Your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5 par), this was a divine passive which may be rendered, “God forgives your sins.”)
Ignorance of history is a great evil.
There is wrath with God only because there is evil with human beings. Were there no evil with human beings, there would be no wrath with God. The evil of human beings calls forth the divine wrath as a new feeling in the divine heart and mind. And it calls it forth, not because God is less than perfectly good, but precisely because God is perfectly good. Perfect wrath is the reaction of perfect goodness to evil. But, critically, it is only part of the reaction. For God’s perfect wrath which arises from God’s perfect goodness in response to evil is also always controlled by, ever subjected to, God’s perfect goodness. For again, wrath is but an affection, a feeling, with God. It is no attribute of God. And so it is that with God there is plenteous forgiveness for the repentant. Indeed, so it is that God ever works to turn his human creatures from their evil which calls forth his perfect wrath. Indeed, so it is that God even offers up, sacrifices, what is most precious to him, even his perfect Son, to reconcile us to him, so that in the Son we may no longer be children of the divine wrath, but become children of the divine delight. “God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” (Rom 5:8-10)
Matching our subjective scale of values to the objective scale of values is the intellectual goal of ethics, and to the extent that we are rational, that is, to the extent that we pursue that which we deem most valuable rather than pursuing what we deem less valuable, this matching leads to the attainment of the ultimate goal of ethics, which of course is doing the good, or better, doing the will of God.
If the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews believed that Jesus is God, it is inexplicable that he should have presented the lengthy, complicated arguments that Jesus is superior to angels (Chapters 1-2) and Moses (Chapter 3) which he presents; for in that case all the author would have needed to do, in order to demonstrate that Jesus is superior to angels and Moses, was simply state that Jesus is God, inasmuch as if Jesus is God then of course he is superior to angels and Moses. But the author’s complicated arguments make perfect sense – they are just what we should expect – if he believed Jesus is a man and a man only but wished to press the, then bold, claim that Jesus is superior to Moses and angels.
When we pray, we ought to ask with boldness for whatever we wish of God, our Father, but always with this proviso, whether stated or implied: “Father please grant as much of my request(s) as possible without compromising your greater good purposes.” This umbrella petition, it seems to me, is only a more precise version of the “Not my will, Father, but your will” of Jesus in Gethsemane. Besides expressing our deference to God’s perfect purposes he is pursuing, the value of this umbrella petition is that it enables us to make our requests of God without fretting endlessly over what we should be asking, that is, over whether our requests are reasonable and good. We are enabled to simply make, and make with boldness, whatever requests we desire and place them all beneath the umbrella petition.
The data of the Old Testament, it seems plain to me, evidence a predominating, even if perhaps not uniform, conception of the divine foreknowledge according to which God’s foreknowledge, that is, his knowledge of what definitely will transpire in the future, is limited to a knowledge of what present conditions, including God’s own plans, make definite of occurrence in the future. The most salient, but by no means the only significant, data are the many and varied depictions of God, especially in the Pentateuch and the Prophets, as not foreknowing some things. Thus God has changes of heart (e.g., Gen 6:6; 1 Sam 15:10, 35), experiences disappointment at the unexpected (e.g., Isa 5:2, 4; Jer 3:6-7, 19-20) asks questions about the future (e.g., Num 14:11; Hos 8:5), gets frustrated (e.g., Exod 4:10-15; Ezek 22:30-31), tests people to see what they will do (e.g., Gen 22:12; Exod 16:4; Deut 8:2; 13:1-3; Judg 2:22; 3:4; 2 Chron 32:31), speaks in terms of what “perhaps” will be (e.g., Exod 4:8-9; Isa 47:12; Jer 26:2-3; 36:3, 7; 51:8; Ezek 12:1-3; cf. Exod 13:17), consults with others before making decisions (e.g., Exod 32:7-14; Num 14:11-20; Amos 7:1-9), and so on.
The Hebrews apparently lacked a single word for “the universe.” Therefore, God communicated to them that he is the creator of the universe, and/or they interpreted God’s communication to them that he is creator of the universe, by use of a merism, that is, the combination of two contrasting words to refer to an entirety. God was described as “Maker of heaven and earth” (עשׂה שׁמים וארץ). I find this an especially lovely way to refer to God as creator of the universe.
It is remarkable which of his attributes God, according to the Book of Exodus (chapters 33-34), chose to reveal to Moses when Moses asked God to show him his glory. Children of the classical theistic tradition that we are, we would expect God to reveal to Moses that he is asei, omnipotent, omniscient, etc. But according to the narrative God says nothing about any of these attributes. Instead God lists a series of character attributes: compassionate, merciful, long-suffering, kind, faithful, etc. (Exod 34.6-7). It would appear that God would have us prioritize these attributes, that is, his perfect character, in our thinking of him.
I can think of no better means of determining what one values most than finding out what one would be most sad to lose (even if they could not lose it). I wonder then: how many would be sad to lose, more than anything or anyone else, God? Not God’s gifts, including “heaven” so understood, but God himself?
Those who out of generosity, even love, choose to bring a child into the world, and thereby hazard the suffering they will experience if the child chooses not to reciprocate their love, are uniquely positioned to appreciate the risk of suffering God took when out of the superabundance of his generosity, even love, he chose to beget, as it were, human children who may or may not choose to reciprocate his love. Further, those parents who have actually experienced the suffering inflicted by a child who chose not to reciprocate their love are uniquely positioned to appreciate the suffering God experiences from his children who choose not to reciprocate his love. And yet even these uniquely-positioned human beings, these human parents, surely cannot appreciate the magnitude of the suffering, of the pain, that God’s children who choose not to reciprocate his love cause him. For not only does God have so many of such children, but he also endures these children harming one another and more significantly harming those children of his who do choose to reciprocate his love. And the harm done is not trivial. It includes in its compass the entirety of the evil done by human beings to one another, seeing that we are all God’s children. Given this, perhaps Peter van Inwagen does not exaggerate when he writes, “. . . when we no longer see through a mirror darkly, when we know as we are known, when God’s sorrows are made manifest to us, we shall see that we have never experienced anything that we could, without shame, describe as sorrow.”
Dogmas like those of so-called “Calvinism” and the traditional doctrine of “hell” as God-inflicted unending torments so plainly represent God as an Anti-Father that, given the teaching of Jesus that God is our Heavenly, i.e. Perfect Father, they may be deemed as Anti-Christ. Therefore, such dogmas should only be treated with scorn and contempt. Thomas Jefferson saw both these points clearly, writing in a letter to one Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse in 1822, “Who is the true and charitable Christian? He who believes and acts on the simple doctrines of Jesus, or the impious dogmatists as Athanasius and Calvin? Verily I say these are the false shepherds foretold as to enter not by the door into the sheepfold, but to climb up some other way. They are mere usurpers of the Christian name teaching a counter-religion, made up of the deliria of crazy imaginations, as foreign from Christianity as is that of Mahomet. Their blasphemies have driven thinking men into infidelity, who have too hastily rejected the supposed author himself with the horrors so falsely imputed to him. Had the doctrines of Jesus been preached always as pure as they came from his lips, the whole civilized world would now have been Christian.”
As the Greatest Possible Being, the greatest possible gift God can give is the opportunity to reciprocate his love, that is, to enter into a relationship or fellowship of love with God (amicitia Dei). This means creating persons of such a kind and in such a world that they have a real choice between identifying with God’s interests or not, that is, between choosing to seek God’s well-being as their own or not. This in turn means renunciation, sacrifice by God of his happy repose, since it means creating beings capable of harming him: directly by failing to love God and indirectly by failing to love other creatures of God and themselves – the last they do by failing to love God and other creatures. God has given to other creatures, for example, non-rational animals, lesser gifts, while he has given to human beings the greatest gift he can possibly give. Oh the depths not only of the wisdom and power of God in the complex governing of the world (the divine providence) to give us this gift, but also of the love of God in the renunciation, the sacrifice, of his happy repose – in the choice to suffer – to give us the gift! “The creative love of God which maintains us in existence is not merely a superabundance of generosity; it is also a renunciation, a sacrifice” (Simone Weil).