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.
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.”