A Curious Girl

The musings of a girl who is curious in both senses of the word. Life, God, and York. Oh, did I say York? I meant Bradford!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Stuck in the angst!

I remember when I had a life.

Now I seem to spend my days spending too much time on the internet and thinking about what to cook for tea (I'm having boiled eggs tonight).

Lizzie et al asked if I wanted to go to the Minster Ball tonight. Unfortunately I didn't get a ticket on time. The Minster Ball features good food, good music, crappy heating, and a speaker explaining the Christian message.

Now I suspect the CU would probably engage one of their better speakers for an event that costs £27 a head, but I wasn't amazingly eager to hear someone remind me what I find annoying about the CU. Or talk about Hell. Again.

Warning: More angst follows. Lots more angst. Take heart - if you're sick of it, imagine how I must feel :)

The trouble is, I've never really bought the whole "Bible as the inerrant word of God" thing. Actually I missed a Christian Union talk about it yesterday... but anyway. I was reading Deuteronomy last night and there was a bit where God told the Israelites to destroy all the nations that he gives them. I know I'm getting a bit "natural law theory" (as opposed to "Divine Command Theory") if I say I can't imagine God commanding that, but I can't. As the Sola Scriptura people and other fans of inerrancy tend to point out, if you're going to say that some of the Bible is untrue, what about the rest of it? I agree, it's a problem, but usually it doesn't bother me because I believe that since we can have a relationship with God, relying on a (let's say, almost entirely accurate) historic document is less important. It may be useful (cf 2 Tim 3:16) but what's essential is knowing God and obeying him.

This feels like a nasty confession to make. I've heard lots of people say that Bible inerrancy is really important and if you don't believe it you must be erring, and quoting that story about Billy Graham telling God that he was going to accept the Bible as the word of God and feeling an awesome peace... I probably am erring, but I've never believed in Biblical inerrancy. Partly it's just that I've never heard an argument that convinces me. Ultimate Realities argued that the Bible says it's the Word of God, God has no superiors who can give evidence to his case, therefore the Bible is the Word of God. All very enlightening, no doubt, but it doesn't convince me. It's not, I might add, that I don't believe the Bible is true. No matter how you might twist the inerrancy argument, the claim that the Gospels (for example) are entirely a work of fiction doesn't hold much water. But we have a problem when saying the Bible is inerrant, in that it's certainly not the only book that claims to be inspired by God. The Qur'an, for example, claims to be inspired by God too and although I don't agree, I admit that there's definitely a good case.

It troubles me because I seem to be going through swathes of Scripture at the moment but God seems to be refusing to pass comment. And everyone with opposing viewpoints seems to believe they have the right interpretation. There are hordes of arguments for every direction, yet I remain stubbornly unconvinced by any of them...

The Hell angst remains. I am bothered because I want to believe that it is not true, and wanting to believe something makes it so much easier to actually believe it. (Case in point: Did you believe in the tooth fairy? She takes your teeth and gives you money... what do you have to lose??) But the old "what if you're wrong?" lurks. You see, people don't just believe in Hell because of what they read and what they're told, it's because if Hell is true and we *don't* believe it, we might just end up there anyway... I remember Rowan Atkinson doing a sketch as the Devil ushering sinners into Hell... "Atheists? I bet you feel like a right bunch of nitwits, don't you?"

Even in my rather pathetic career as a scientist, I understand the importance of discovering truth rather than looking for the truth I like and believing it (Philosophy is really the science of ideas... or should I say that science is the philosophy of the physical).

I'm stuck, to be honest. Hell is too horrifying, Heaven too absurdly wonderful, God is too perplexing, Christ is too inscrutable. I cannot honestly understand why so many Christians seem content to believe in Hell, and a Hell far more horrific than C.S. Lewis could dream up... still haven't read The Great Divorce, but from excerpts I've read, Lewis seems to believe that you have to be really determined to get into Hell, which contradicts the view of charming theologians like Jonathan Edwards (no, not the triple-jumper) who believed that God is dangling us all over Hell and wondering whether to drop us or snatch us away. Such a belief does not make me want to believe in God and my repentance is pathetic, hoping more that he'll spare me (and everyone else) from the awfulness of Hell than that I can spend eternity with him. I cannot comprehend why such a horror would be necessary, useful or glorifying to God.

But then... a little voice suggests, if nearly all Christians believe in this God, this God who suffered greatly at the hands of his creation (but still much of his creation's going to be abandoned to endless anguish or destroyed...) if nearly all Christians are happy about this, believe that God is still good and merciful and even reasonable, then why don't I get it? Why am I such an emotional wreck at the mere suggestion of it? (I appreciate a story by universal reconciliation believer Charles Slagle, which I think captures some of the madness) Could it actually be that I am the terribly mistaken one... That God is trying to get the truth into my head, but I keep clinging to the nicer ideas and if I'd just get on with submitting to his will and the correct interpretation of the Bible, the evil idea that God will eventually heal and save his entire creation will eventually go away.

I just feel like there's no hope. Probably that's an exaggeration... but even if the Heavenly city is wonderful, and when we're there it's just like one of the nicer bits of Revelation, I think of those outside - according to traditional Christianity, they're weeping and gnashing their teeth, or the second death has come and they're just gone. I wonder how the Father can possibly be happy with such an arrangement. Doesn't Ezekiel say God takes no pleasure from the death of the wicked? Doesn't Jeremiah say that no one is abandoned by the Lord forever? But one day we'll lose our heart for the lost, stop loving the unsaved, and they'll be lost to torment, shame or oblivion. Perhaps. I cannot be convinced by any argument right now. Perhaps the "reconciliation" case is flawed, but whenever I read the arguments against it, all I seem to see is hate and hopelessness. (It's an extreme example, but see Don C. Hewey's refutation of 213 Questions without answers) I even feel that some of the refutations are narrowminded in themselves (see for example CARM's explanation of 1 Tim 4:10).

Still, what can I do? I shouldn't tell God what to do, but I'm having a lot of trouble trusting and serving him right now. I think how in October I was praying for "Kate" my housemate, who is an atheist, so that she would be convicted that God is real and I could tell her about Jesus. Last night we watched the news about a Muslim who may have been inciting religious hatred, so we talked about the craziness of Leviticus and discussed whether children who didn't eat their dinner would be stoned to death. I am a fantastic Christian example </sarcasm>.

Anyway, my boiled eggs await me. Have a good evening folks.

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  • At 2:55 pm , Blogger Dave K said...

    I guess it comes down to your view of God.

    Do you think he is so amazing, holy, and loving, that rejection of his rule is a terrible evil when you do it? I don't very often, but I know from the rare times when I have tasted the wrongness of rebellion against our creator, that I should think and feel that it more often.

    It's a bit like a spiral, the more you consider your unworthiness of anything but punishment, the more you realise the beauty of the cross and long for resurrection, the more you see that the more you hate sin when you see it, etc.

    God takes no joy in the death of a sinner, but if he is to recreate his world there is no point in peopling it with people who will simply destroy it again. We are the problem with creation, and it is only through putting our old selves to death in Christ that resurrection of ourselves and the world can happen. Either we accept the judgment of ourselves and accept we need changing or there is no hope for the future. If we refuse to see ourselves change, we will continue to bring the world down round our heads. God will not let us do this to his New Jerusalem (thankfully); he is perfectly justified in letting us do this outside the city walls if that is what we choose for ourselves.

    Ahhh! I if only I could put into words the beauty of God. Only by meditating on that can we accept the rightness of his judgment on our rebellion. Sadly I haven’t captured much more than a glimpse of his beauty in this comment, so I won’t have convinced you.

  • At 3:16 pm , Blogger Helen Louise said...

    Hi Dave,

    Wow, it's like you know me... You say, "I won't have convinced you" as if you know that I am contrary enough to jolly well try to be convinced, just to prove you wrong :)

    Just wanted to thank you for your comments recently.

    Do you think he is so amazing, holy, and loving, that rejection of his rule is a terrible evil when you do it?

    I was thinking about various God things last night, and remembered something my best friend said to me a few weeks after I became a Christian. We had just started secondary school - literally I left primary school in rebellion and went to secondary school in submission (I'm not sure I can say "as a Christian" because I didn't find out about Jesus until someone mentioned the cross in a Christian Union meeting...). My friend, who had been a Christian her entire life, said to me "I asked God for a Christian friend at this school. This is even better!" And I remember having a glowing sense of being in God's plan - of a God who doesn't just answer our prayers but genuinely gives us what we need. He could have just placed my friend with any old Christian, but instead he worked on her currently non-Christian friend. I think he was showing off :)

    So do I think rejecting God's rule is a terrible evil? I am inclined to be lenient to those who don't know God and understand him. Obviously God knows their hearts and so is much better placed to judge than I am. But for myself? The answer is... well, "probably"... The fact is, I fail to see any "terrible evil" as requiring a sentence of conscious torment for eternity - or at least any terrible evil committed within a finite lifetime. And I can't understand why God would allow that or take pleasure from it, or even what the point of it is.

    I do agree that I'm a sinner. The fact that Jesus would go to such extremes to save me for eternal life is both humbling and awesome.

    The argument of "free will" doesn't seem to work though. The argument seems to be simply that God gives us free will now, so that if we use it wrongly he will take away our free will and abandon us for all eternity. (I'm sorry, I think people have hinted at me getting over-emotional about this but there really isn't a way to use any term describing Hell without pushing an emotional button). He loves us enough to give us a short chance at accepting redemption, but doesn't love us enough to allow us to repent in the agony of hell.

    I must say, I think far too much of God - of his power, of his love, and of his supreme creativity, to really take the idea of eternal torment seriously. Granted, as I said in my other blog, I think there's a case for it, but even if people are to be condemned eternally, the idea of conscious tormenting agony is so ridiculously barbaric that trying to call God "just" in spite of it really beggars belief.

    Anyway, I think I'll post some questions for Hell-believers in my next blog post. You're welcome to respond :)

    Nice to meet a fellow Yorkie!


  • At 10:00 pm , Blogger Dave K said...

    From a similiarly contrary person...

    I didn't mention the words 'free-will' on purpose. I think they bring all sorts of conotations not found in the bible. I was not using an argument from free will, and certainly not describing God 'taking away' our free-will. All I talked about was responsibility, and consequences.

    I do not know how to address an argument which goes 'I think far too much of God to...'. However I wonder whether you are using a standard of 'goodness' you worked out before involving God in your thought-processes, which you then use to judge the nature of the source of all that is good. If we work out what we believe God should be like before we listen to him we will end up with a pale imitation, even if it prevents some temporary angst, and solves some puzzles.


    Forgive my stridentness, and the incompleteness of all I've writen. It's been a long day, and I'm only giving as good as I get.


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