We have more than sufficient evidence to be not merely confident but certain of the existence and goodness of God. If we do not feel certain of these things, this is because we have an inadequate knowledge of the evidence or because, though having an adequate knowledge of the evidence, we deceive ourselves into thinking we are yet uncertain. We do this by redefining the term “certain” – and like terms, like “sure” – in this specific context, convincing ourselves we are only “certain” of the existence and goodness of God if we know these things like we know 2+2=4. This is similar to how Calvinists redefine “sovereign” to mean “all-determining”, and thereby deceive themselves into thinking only an all-determining God is a “sovereign” God.
Reality consists of me, gifts, and the Giver of the gifts. Therefore, I face a choice between four options:
- Love the gifts but not the Giver.
- Love the gifts and the Giver, but the gifts more than the Giver.
- Love the Giver but not the gifts.
- Love the gifts and the Giver, but the Giver more than the gifts.
The first choice is not too harshly described as wicked and stupid, but sadly it is the choice of many. If this choice is wicked and stupid, then the second choice is wrong and foolish. And sadly it too is the preference of many, perhaps the majority of those who believe in God, at least in the West. The third choice is the right and wise choice for some, either temporarily or permanently as the case may be. These are the ascetics. They choose to sacrifice the gifts in order to learn to love the Giver. It is a noble choice these make and for them the right and wise choice. But, except for those who need to be ascetics for a time or permanently, the fourth choice is the right and wise choice. It is the ideal. It is what the Giver himself envisaged and envisages for us, as both his ordinary and extraordinary revelation attest.
I will exalt you my God the King, and I will bless your name forever and ever! Every day I will bless you, and I will praise your name forever and ever!
O God, help me understand, I pray, why you created the universe, including human beings, including me. For you have taught me that there was a time when only you were, that is, only you are eternal. All other things have a beginning, and what’s more, all other things are the work of your hands. You are עשׂה שׁמים וארץ, “Maker of heaven and earth”, that is, according to the Hebrew merism, the Maker of all other things. This you have taught me, Father. But why did you create these other things, including me? I had been taught by others that you created all other things for yourself. According to these teachers, you properly love only yourself and can only love yourself. Therefore, your creation of other things was an act of self-love. You created other things in order to exhibit your glory in these things. Now, my God, of course you love what you are, that is, you value being compassionate, pitying, slow to anger, abundant in loving kindness, and so on, just as we value these in ourselves and others. And, my God, of course you love yourself with the self-love which all rational beings should exhibit, namely, the concern for one’s own well-being. So in these respects it is correct to say that you love yourself. But the self-love my teachers attributed to you is altogether different than these things, Father, and I believe they erred in attributing this self-love to you. You have since enlightened me, I believe, that the attribution of this self-love to you stems from Aristotle’s conception of the Prime Mover which influenced what became the so-called “classical” conception of God. According to Aristotle, the Prime Mover is noēsis noēseōs, “thinking of thinking”, or as is commonly rendered, “thought thinking itself.” This Thought Thinking Itself became in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim speculation the God who only thinks of himself, that is, the God who only loves himself.
But, Father, I do not believe this is who you are. While those who make you this believe they thereby make you great, I believe they unwittingly make you small. Indeed, I believe they make you nothing but the Supreme Narcissist. But my God is not the Supreme Narcissist! He is the Supreme Father, the Perfect Father! It is when I remember this, that you are our Perfect Father, that I believe light is shed on the answer to my question: why did you create the universe, in particular, human beings, including me? And this light is from you, for you have taught me, most of all through Jesus, my Lord, to always remember above all in my thinking about you that you are our Perfect Father. And doing this, I believe the answer to my question is revealed to be this: you created us because you loved us. But how can this be, one may ask, seeing that we did not exist prior to creation so that you could love us; for how is it possible to love something before it exists, or someone before she exists? But it is possible! Do not human couples, more or less imperfectly to be sure, do so when they decide to try to have a child? Again, it is true that they are more or less imperfectly moved by love for the child they wish to beget depending on the goodness of their character, and I do not doubt that sadly many couples are not moved at all by love for the child they wish to beget. Nevertheless, it seems clear to me, Father, that human couples do, or at least some human couples do, albeit imperfectly, love their children before they beget them, and what’s more, choose to beget them, again albeit imperfectly, precisely because they love them, love them before they beget them. What we find with human couples is I believe, Father, a reflection of what is true of you, what is perfectly true of you. As good human couples choose to beget children because they love the children, so you chose to beget us, as it were, because you loved us. And indeed the more that human couples choose to beget children because they love the children, even before they are born, the more they reflect you, which is why the better is the character of human couples, the more they are actuated by this motive in their decision to beget a child.
So, Perfect Father, it is not because you loved yourself that you created us; it is because you loved us! You wished to share with us blessedness, or happiness. And in what does this happiness consist? Well, Father, have you not fitted a wider universe for us in which to exist, and does not this wider universe provide for us delights of almost endless variety? There is food and drink, sexuality, knowledge and understanding, art and beauty, and so on and so forth. Is it not obvious that these things you have created for us to enjoy and in enjoying them to be blessed, or happy? But, Father, there is still something lacking in these, not lacking absolutely but lacking relatively. That is, in and of themselves, these things are all good and therefore provide enjoyment and so happiness. Yet the sensitive human heart feels there must be yet something more, something greater. The sensitive human heart knows that all these goods, as genuinely good as they are, are yet none of them summum bonum, highest good. And the sensitive human heart knows that the happiness produced by the enjoyment of each of these goods is, though genuine happiness, yet in no case summa felicitas, highest happiness. And how could it be otherwise, my God?! For no matter what goods you surround us with, none of those goods are you! You are Summum Bonum! You are Summa Felicitas! This is why inquietem est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te, as Augustine wrote. “Our heart is restless until it rests in you” because the goods you have surrounded us with, though they all be truly good, cannot compare with the Good which is you, their Creator. And therefore the happiness provided by the enjoyment of these goods cannot compare with the happiness provided by loving fellowship with you, their Creator. In this sense, then, I can affirm with Augustine, fecisti nos ad te. “You made us for yourself” not as an act of self-love as the “classical” theistic tradition has it, but as an act of love for us. You created us because you loved us and so wished to share with us blessedness; and loving us perfectly as a Perfect Father, you did not and do not withhold from us Summum Bonum and Summa Felicitas. That is, you do not withhold from us yourself! Oh Father, thank you for not withholding yourself from us! Thank you for not withholding yourself from me! I shall in turn not withhold myself from you. Oh help me, Beautiful Father, Perfect Friend, Lover of my Soul, my God and my King, not withhold myself from you! I know you will grant me this wish Father! For so great is your love! So great is your love!
The most important question we can ask ourselves is this: what is the purpose of our existence, or why are we here? The answer, joy of all joys, is that we are the creatures of the Greatest Possible Being, that is, an All-Perfect God, who has created us in order to make us happy. To this end he has surrounded us with delights innumerable. But greatest of all, he offers himself to us. He offers us the opportunity to love him as a Perfect Father and Perfect Friend. He does not compel us to do so. No, that would not be love. He can only give us the choice to return, to reciprocate, his love which he lavishes upon us. What wonderful news! The answer to the most important question is the greatest answer possible! How could any answer to the question be better? How could there be any better reason for our existence? Thanks be to our Most Beautiful God!
The great English philosopher, John Stuart Mill, has somewhere observed that mankind cannot be too often reminded that there was once a man of the name of Socrates. That is true; but still more important is it to remind mankind again and again that a man of the name of Jesus Christ once stood in their midst. – Adolf von Harnack
To love our neighbor is important, but to love God is more important. So the nature of the case makes clear upon reflection, and so Jesus taught when asked what is the greatest commandment, answering, “The greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. The second is to love your neighbor as yourself.” Furthermore, loving God with all our heart, soul, and strength does not diminish or distract loving our neighbor. On the contrary, it inspires and deepens the love of our neighbor. It inspires the love of our neighbor because it furnishes an additional reason for the love, namely, that our neighbor is valuable to God and so their well-being means God’s well-being. And it deepens the love of our neighbor because it motivates us to seek our neighbor’s greatest need, which is to be reconciled to God their Father, without compromising our pursuit of their lesser needs.
People are right to reject ridiculous doctrine and the ridiculous interpretation of the Bible upon which ridiculous doctrines are built. And if people reject the entire Bible outright thinking the Bible actually says the ridiculous things they have been told it says, then that is understandable. It is hasty, but understandable. Same goes for the rejection of Jesus. As Thomas Jefferson said about the likes of John Calvin, “Their blasphemies have driven thinking men to infidelity (unbelief), who have too hastily rejected the supposed author himself (Jesus) with the horrors so falsely imputed to him.” In short, the Christian Church has messed it all up. The beautiful, reasonable teaching of the Bible, and the beautiful, reasonable Jesus they have obscured, in fact, worse than obscured, with the specious interpretation of the Bible and, as Jefferson said, the horrors falsely attributed to Jesus. But having said all this, we must be careful to not give able people, a free pass to not seek God with all our heart and strength. Many, even most people interested in God, including Christians, do not take the time and effort to devote to the matter the attention it deserves. Think about it: if there is a God, what greater obligation could there be than to try to do his will? He gives to us everything: life, breath, everything. Therefore, above all else we must strive to do his will. And his will is not burdensome! Indeed, doing his will is the only thing that gives us ultimate happiness, or well-being. But the tragedy that is lived out in one life after another one day after another is the choice day after day to choose to do everything else but seek to know and love God, or almost worse, to choose to do the bare minimum of seeking to know and love God. God is not stupid, and he is not some impersonal force. He knows who is really seeking him and who is not. And he does not want perfunctory “love”; he wants FRIENDS, SONS. He wants people to truly try to love him, to become friends of his, sons and daughters. That is what Jesus was at pains to teach. He was trying to teach people to forget about everything and become friends of God. I think if people try to do this, then regardless of the obstacles in terms of false doctrines or whatever else may be in there heads, God will help them to get past all that. As Jesus said, “Seek and you will find.” I know that this has been true for me. Again, I cannot emphasize strongly enough that God is a real person who wants a real relationship of real love with us. THAT is what it all comes down to: there are those who have such a relationship and those who do not. Those who have that, those who have chosen to be partners with God, friends with God, sons and daughters of God, they are the ones who can count on living forever with God. Those who have not, they cannot count on anything beyond the grave. They have chosen for their portion a short “life”. They have not chosen God.
. . 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. — Peter van Inwagen
Specious interpretation of the Bible, that is, interpretation of the Bible that is superficially plausible but actually wrong, is the life-blood of erroneous theology.
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.
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.
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 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.
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?
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.”