Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dialogue with a Muslim, Part 2

These are follow-up responses to the e-mail I received in reply to my answers. (3) and (10) were eliminated because the answers ended up being covered elsewhere within the e-mail. Enjoy!

1. So you said that God the Father and the Son are not the same being, but they have the same essence. Does that mean that their nature is the same? Is God just His nature? That's probably a stupid question though, right, because He's not physical, so what else would He be? Argh, my head's already starting to hurt...So, okay, technically, God can exist within time? And He can be dependent on food and stuff? And He can exist in two places at once?...Basically, I don't understand how something can be three, and also one. 

        We must be careful here to make a distinction between "beings" and "persons." The Father and Jesus are not the same person, but they are the same being. Don't worry if your head starts hurting; far more intelligent people than we are have struggled with this! It does mean that their nature is the same; it is the divine nature. As to the questions about being in time, the kalam almost seems to necessitate the first cause being in time! But beyond that it should be pointed out when we speak of Jesus' incarnation, we are speaking specifically of his humanness (traditionally, we say "human nature." I however have avoided this with you deliberately because we do not mean "nature" in this sense as the same as "essence" when we used "nature" interchangably with "essence" earlier. Basically, we mean two different things by the two uses of "nature." Here, we mean "that which makes one a human" instead of essence.). This is why we may say it was not God that died in his divinity but his humanity. It is not the human flesh that is in two places at once, but divine omnipotence (which means, traditionally, that God is causally active at every point in space and time). This can become very complex, but we must not confuse complexity for contradiction! Finally, it is vitally important to recognize that saying something is three and one at the same time and in the same sense is logically contradictory, and hence impossible. But the good news is that God is three in number of persons, but one in being or essence! Hence we avoid a contradiction. Does that at least come closer to helping?

2. Sorry, I'm still a bit confused as to how Christians who wrote down Jesus' (pbuh) teachings knew that they fully grasped the meanings of his words...So, in the case of Jesus, why didn't the gospel writers just write it in Aramaic to ensure that they didn't mess up God's words? Maybe not consciously--heck, probably not consciously, seeing as they were dedicated individuals--but maybe they sent the wrong "vibe", or something. I mean, think about it. God's words. Those are pretty huge, in my opinion. Why'd they risk unconsciously leaving out meanings? 

        There are a couple of answers that can be proffered. Remember that translation does not inherently mean the lack of an idea, and no one need be 100% beyond all shadow of a doubt in order to say he knows he has represented faithfully Jesus' words. A point that goes with this is that Jesus was not dictating teaching to be written down (view this in contradistinction to Allah and Mohammed for comparison and reference, I would think), but rather teaching in general. It's worth noting that no verses of Jesus' words are disputed as to their translation from Greek to English, for instance, even if all nuances are not retained (another important aspect of translation philosophy is that simply because a word contains a particular nuance, it does not follow that nuance applies to the meaning in all situations. This is why context is key!). Sure, it is always possible in a strict logical sense that someone misremembered a particular phrase and then gave a separate meaning, but without any reason to think so, we shouldn't let it bother us. Why? Well, first, because we can be reasonably sure (as I mentioned in the last email) that the words spoken were the words given. Secondly, we can be reasonably sure to trust translations in general (as just discussed). And finally, and perhaps the biggest point, is that the Gospel writers just did in fact write the Word of God! So their writing in Greek is held in Christian doctrine to be the inspired Word of God, so that Christians can believe the words were retained correctly. I must also emphasize that even if some of the words of Jesus were wrong and the Bible were not to be the inspired Word of God, all that follows is that the Bible is not the Word of God; it would not logically follow that Christianity is false! We could still examine the NT documents as historical documents to see the likelihood of the claims of Jesus as being true or not. As to the Gospels recording Jesus' words on the Cross, I assume you are referring to different writers recording different sayings (I think). The Gospel writers did not attempt to make four identical records of what happened--we might wonder what the point was! Rather, each writer chose to emphasize different things. Therefore, we shouldn't view John's writing Jesus' instructions to John to take care of Mary, the mother of Jesus as John's saying that he didn't say "I thirst" and whatnot. Rather, these are complimentary. Remember, there's no reason why Jesus could not have said all of these things! :) The inspiration of Scripture is an interesting topic. The Gospel writers had their own various purposes. John's was ostensibly to evangelize Jews not living in Palestine in the late first century (hence why he takes it for granted that his audience knows about particular Jewish feasts, customs, etc., but not about particulars of the exact time and place, like the Sadducees and their beliefs [since they were local to Palestine and gone by 70 AD]). Luke wrote to a partiuclar person (Theophilus) to convince him of the truth of the message of Jesus Christ by evidences (like I am doing to you! :) ). Mark wrote an early record focused on action (hence many miracles recorded in a short manuscript). Matthew wrote to establish the genealogy of Jesus Christ and the legitimacy of his claim to be the Messiah. All are very useful as they are and I love them!

4. So, basically, all those Jews had been worshiping the wrong version of God?...So, sorry, to rehash: God reveals parts of His nature slowly. So, He might later reveal that He's not actually just, or that He has another son or something? Is that allowed? What if He reveals that He can lie? 

        Don't be sorry; I love answering these! Christians do not say that they had a "wrong" version of God, but rather incomplete. It wouldn't be morally wrong, and while one can argue factual incompleteness is incorrect, they nonetheless did not deny the Trinity (in fact, Isaiah teaches the Messiah would be God, and born of a virgin. A somewhat implicit, if dormant, view of the plurality of persons in the Godhead). I would answer your final two questions directly as "no." Here's why: 1. God cannot do things that are contradictory. Titus 1:2 is one of two places that explicitly (rather than implicitly) teaches that God cannot lie. Hence, since he does not do contradictions, it is impossible for him to later reveal he can lie (unless he was a liar from the beginning, which surely is blasphemy!). 2. Perfect Being Theology, which asserts that God is a maximally excellent being in all things applicable, demands moral goodness, and it is not good to lie as an objective moral value. While it is epistemically possible for God to reveal a fourth member of the Godhood, this is nonetheless highly unlikely due to Christian eschatology teaching the fellowship of Christians and OT saints with God as revealed in three persons, hence, since this is discussing the eternity future, it is unlikely.

5. Haha, at least I got a straight answer. And I guess I'm roasting too, eh? That stinks. Ah well. You win some, you lose some. (I'm not actually that nonchalant about it, evidently, since I'm emailing you, haha.)

           Yes, but is grieves me so much. I can only imagine how your friend feels, since he/she knows you. I am glad to hear you are not so glib about it. Please understand, I would never, ever try to intimidate you or scare you into believing in Jesus (no one can make you anyway). But no matter what one's view of punishment is, you nonetheless will miss out on the forgiveness, mercy, love, and grace that is freely available to you. I am being very sincere when I say that just hurts to think about it. God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

6. Sorry, people don't depend on medieval Christians views of things? I was reading St Augustine's work today (man, that guy is wordy), and it sounds to me like his teachings majorly influenced current Christian theology. I'm no expert though, so I guess maybe they didn't? And I see what you're saying. But you know the Pope? I mean, if his ancestors said Hell was one thing, and he said it was another, and there's papal infallibility, er...well, I mean, how does that work? 

        Well, to be fair, Church historians classify Augustine as a church father, as he came a few hundred years before the medievals. He is very influential, though. However, no major doctrine depends upon Augustine (when discussing essentials, anyway). As to the Pope, I have the luxury of not being a Catholic. :)

7. If God's spirit is the Holy Spirit, does that mean Jesus doesn't have a spirit?

        Keep in mind when we say "God" in your question here we do not mean the Father, but the spirit of the essence that is the Godhood. So Jesus, as a man, had a spirit. But theologians differ among themselves as to what Jesus' spirit was in the incarnation. Some say it was the divine essence, or the Logos, itself. I don't see any particular problem with this view, though I am not dogmatic.

8. I see what you're saying, and that actually occurred to me, but doesn't that whole Jesus/atonement thing sound like a huge charade that God could easily have gotten out of by tweaking His own rules a bit? I mean, why didn't He just forgive sins if someone repented?...Shouldn't the path uphill--to sincere repentance, to forgiveness, to betterment--be enough to forgive a person? Seeing as He did make us sinners and all...

        It's very important to remember God did not make us sinners, but man freely chose to sin in the garden of Eden. But my friend, the rest just is the problem! We can never earn our own salvation. It is a gulf that cannot be crossed. Why? Precisely because God cannot tweak his own nature. Philosophically, it is impossible to go beyond one's own nature. What about God? God is "limited" by his own nature since he is the foundation of logic. THat is, logic and truth do not exist apart from God. Because of this, whatever is logical or true is such as a reflection of God's nature. There is no one specific Bible verse that spells all of this out; however, there are several verses that explain God is holy, God is just, God punishes the wicked, God is merciful, God is loving, God is willing that all should not perish. But then why are not all saved? Why do some receive punishment then? If God can tweak his own nature, surely he could simply choose everyone. That is exactly what he wants to do, biblically. But he cannot. Further, there are philosophical considerations. If someone is the objective standard of morality (which the Bible does state in Matthew 19:17 and Mark 10:18), then these morals cannot be violated (else they don't really exist objectively in the first place). In any case, there is nothing that can logically be done to undo a sin; what has been done has been done, on pain of logical contradiction! But if a perfectly holy God exists, then sinners cannot be saved. Unless, that is, there is a morally perfect man who never sins, and who offers himself as a sacrifice. This could not happen from a naturally-born man, because of sin in one's nature. But God could do it. And he did! :)

9. Weren't Adam and Eve chillaxing in Heaven originally? So, whilst they were up there doing their thing, God had already decided that people would go down to Earth? But after they ate the apple, He changed His tactic and said that they'd have to wait for Jesus to atone for them? So He was going to send them down to Earth anyways, even without them sinning? The sinning was just convenient, I guess.

        Oh no, they were created on earth. They did not exist until the sixth day of creation according to the text. As to your question about suffering and salvation...if only you knew! Believers in North America do not really suffer, but around the world they are persecuted, beaten and killed for their beliefs. In fact, Paul of Tarsus (who suffered so much) wrote that his life's purpose was this: "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death." That's in his letter to the Philippian believers in chapter 3 verse 10. Jesus said the world would hate us, and people would think they were doing God a favor by killing us. Paul elsewhere said "all who will live godly...will suffer persecution." It's not easy once you become a believer. But none of these sufferings save us. No amount of our suffering ever could. But I do want you to know it's not all fun and games. I have never been beaten, but I've been ridiculed. I've never been killed (obviously), but I've hated and told I was irrational. The idea that the life of a Christian is easy can only be true if one isn't making any difference in the world. :) You certainly are not stupid! I'm glad you've brought these things up. I keep emphasizing the fact we can be forgiven of our sins. All one has to do is to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that he came to the earth to live as a man and die for the forgiveness of sins, and that he was buried and then raised from the dead by God on the third day. If you believe that in your heart, and ask God with your mouth to be saved, you will be (cf. Romans 10:9). Notice what is not required: you do not have to have a perfect understanding of the Trinity, or live a good life before you get saved, or earn a doctorate in theology. Anyone who understands the Gospel can be saved. I beg you to consider it. I am not a fool. I know I am asking you to change your worldview. But that's the beauty of God. He can help us do the seemingly impossible.

11. Sorry, new question, but this just occurred to me. Does God know exactly how He's going to act? Would it be very silly to say that God doesn't have free will?

        Yes, God does know exactly how he is going to act. He even knows how he would have acted in any other circumstances. That's part of his omniscience. God also knows how every possible person would have acted in any other possible scenario. These are called "counterfactuals," and they're a part of God's "middle knowledge," or his knowledge of what free creatures would freely do in various situations. God knows what would have happened if John Wilkes Booth had not chosen to assassinate President Lincoln, God knows what you would say if someone presented you the Gospel five years from now instead of today, etc. God does have a free will, but having a free will doesn't mean choosing from every logically possible option. All that is required for a will to be free is that the agent be the true originator of his choice. So while God is not free to lie, he nonetheless is free to choose what to say (or even refrain from speaking). Does that help at all?

12. Another one, but this shouldn't take too long. :) What denomination are you, if you don't mind my asking? Also, do you believe in original sin? And you know people who have never heard of Christ through no fault of their own? Are they going to go to Hell too?
        I am a Baptist, and I do not mind you asking. :) I do believe in original sin, in that I believe Adam and Eve sinned, and hence passed along a propensity to sin along to their offspring (aka the rest of us). I am planning on writing a blog post soon about your very thoughtful question concerning those who have never heard. Suffice it to say for now that I believe God holds every person responsible for the light he/she does have, and thus there may potentially be some who have never heard of Christ who nonetheless go to Heaven. Hint: Job in the OT. He wasn't a Jew, and so knew of no Messiah, and he wasn't around for Jesus. And of course the Ninevites (did Jonah really stop to tell them about a Messiah? Or did they repent from coming judgment as the narrative says). Then there is Apollos (who was around preaching about God knowing only the ministry of John the Baptist and not Jesus, despite the fact this was probably 5-7 years after Christ's death and resurrection. Was he not saved? Of course he was!). Anyway I rest my case for now, and will write a better post about it later this week.

But wait, sorry, with regards to the kalam argument: If time doesn't exist outside of the Universe, then, well, wouldn't the Universe just have "occurred"? I mean, wouldn't "nothingness" become "somethingness" automatically, because it was meant to? I guess this is going too deep for me, so sorry if I'm messing it up.

        You're right that if no time exists without there being a universe then the universe's first moment would be the first moment. Hence, it's not inaccurate to say it occurred. However, this wouldn't refute either of the kalam's premises. What does that mean then? It means that the universe still requires a cause, and hence even if there is a temporal boundary point to the universe and thus the universe has existed for every moment in time, it still requires a cause.


  1. Golly, this person sounds like a real charmer! Probably a child genius in her own right. I have no doubt that she will be an enormously successful individual and help bring about world peace.

    Haha, just kidding! :)

  2. I think that's a safe bet. lol :)


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