Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lack of God's Response?

There are a couple of passages in the Bible that I just don't know what to make of. One example is Judges 19-20. I was always really disgusted by what was allowed to happen to the concubine (and almost to the daughter) and I was also shocked that the only response God gave was to say which tribe would fight first or whether to go battle against the Benjamites when it was the old man and the Levite's fault in the first place. I know that a big point of the book is that in those days the Israelites did as they saw fit, which brought about a lot of evil. But by remaining silent about what happened to the concubine, yet responding to the Israelites' wanting to go to war with each other, it seems like God didn't consider the actions of the old man and the Levite to be very bad. Although, I guess from the few words God does say, I can't really figure out what his attitude was. Similarly, it bothers me a lot that in Genesis 19 the angels don't voice any opposition to Lot's offering his two daughters to the mob. Certain stories like these, among others, made me really question God's character, if he was actually involved in the situation enough to make direct responses to the people, and yet didn't say anything against what was happening.


Daniel Kim said...

Good question. I have also wondered why God did not stop certain practices or bring judgment down upon certain practices - polygamy, for example. It's clear that certain things were against God's plan, and yet God allowed it to happen, and He seemed to be relatively silent about them for the most part.

Regarding the Judges 19-20, however, I think it's a slightly easier case to answer. As you yourself noted, the whole theme of the book is that "everyone did as they saw fit" - and in particular, Judges 19-20 is all about all the messed up, evil thing that happened during those times. So even though there might not be many words directly from God, the few words that He does utter are words of judgment (wars were forms of judgment in the OT times), and definitely the writer of Judges saw this whole incident as an abomination. So it's not like this whole incident is seen as morally neutral by God.

However, what about the Levite and the old man? The question, the way it's phrased, seems to place the blame of the rape squarely on the old man and the Levite. While what they did was cowardly for sure (the act of saving their skin by offering up someone else), and while I'm in no way excusing that, I think it's overstated to say that the rape was the "old man and the Levite's fault". We have to remember that their lives were in danger from the same wicked people... In other words, they were part of the victim crowd, not the perpetrator crowd.. Of course, they were inexcusably cowardly. As men, they should have gone out there themselves or been killed in the process, which they didn't do - but we should not turn the victims into the perpetrators just because they were so cowardly. Inexcusable cowardice, they were guilty of. Rape, they were not. Once we see these 2 men as a part of the victim crowd rather than the perpetrators, we can perhaps understand the situation a little bit better.

Also, we can really get bothered by the fact that this old man seems to just offer up his daughter to an almost certain death. But the shocking fact is that such treatment of their offspring was quite common in the Ancient Near East, and God's people were supposed to live differently from them. (and in this case, I guess this old man did not). How does God feel about such a culture where their children are offered up almost like sacrifices, almost like bait? How does God feel about human cultures where child sacrifice was an accepted practice? God waits and waits, but He ultimately judges all of Israel for succumbing to that kind of value system of their surrounding culture. God ultimately sends judgment via the Assyrians and Babylonians against not only the Benjamites, but against all of Israel. So let us not mistaken God's momentary witholding of judgment as His indifference.

A similar argument would be made for the behavior of Lot. I mean, Lot is defintely not the guy to emulate in any way. So again, the Genesis 19 text is not being morally neutral about Lot nor the people of Sodom. So it's not that the silence of the angels are saying that what Lot did was fine and dandy. (Actually, the angels did intervene and stop Lot from doing that by striking the perpetrators with blindness and taking his family out of there.) Similar points could be made regarding Lot as I did above.

Zooming out, however, we have to consider why God stays relatively silent about certain acts. Whether it be dispicable acts of cowardice, whether it be something as horrendous as child sacrifice, whether it be something twisted in the culture as polygamy.. why does God stay silent? Well, He doesn't stay silent forever because He comes down with His judgment later, but I guess then the question is how come God doesn't strike right there and then? Say something, say that was wrong - and judge the old man and the Levite and Lot. Doesn't the question really come down to that?

I think the answer to that might be obvious. God witholds judgment because of His mercy. Judgment is coming, but He is slow to anger. And for that, I'm thankful. What would it have been like for God to make a "direct response" to Lot and the old men and the Levites that would have been satisfactory to God's holiness? Wipe them out along with the wicked perpetrators? Maybe just say, "that was wrong, by the way," and then let them go so that they can wage a war of judgment against the Benjamites. Say to Lot, "you should not have done that," and then rescue him and his family.. Perhaps He could have done that. But when I think about it, if God were to do that for every wrong committed -- well, the Bible would be 20x thicker with God's "comments" everywhere, but also, I would shrivel up and die if God were to do that with my life.

When Jesus was asked about the issue of O.T. divorce, he answered, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning." (Matt 19:8). In other words, there are concessions made by God because of our evil hearts. God stays silent for the time being for much of our evils because, in a way, God considers humanity's current condition and knows that we cannot take His holiness being fully expressed. And I thank Him for veiling Himself that way. I sometimes wonder - if God were to make direct responses to our current world, what would that look like? As Dr. John Bloom said, we balk at child-sacrifices of the Ancient Near East; we balk at action of men who would treat their children as mere things to throw away to benefit themselves - but are we so different when we abort millions of babies per year for mere convenience? What would the judgment of God look like?

God's justice would reign, eventually - but in the meanwhile, we, along with Lot and the Levite and the old man, live in the era of grace.

Hope that at least partially clears some things up. If there are more questions, please ask. Also, if there are other readers who would like to chime in or ask other follow-up questions, please do so.

Unknown said...

Thanks a lot for the thoughtful and thorough explanation, it really did help clear things up.

One other thing that bothered me was the story about Jepthah and the sacrifice of his daughter in Judges 11 (Yeah, I know, Judges again). When I first heard the story I thought it was stupid of Jephthah to make the oath he did (What did he think would come out his door, the family dog?) and abominable for God to allow a person to be sacrificed as a burnt offering to him. On the other hand, I've read some explanations about how the "burnt offering" was a metaphor for someone spending their life in priestly services for God, and that was why it was sad that the daughter, an only child, would die a virgin. This explanation makes a lot more sense to me, but most people I've talked to including older people from our church think the daughter was actually killed as a sacrifice. So it bothers me a lot that either a good God allowed human sacrifice, or the girl wasn't actually killed, (with the character of God hanging in the balance). But either way means that a lot of people are mistaken about the nature of something that was supposed to have actually, historically happened (I don't think this passage is intended to be lyrial or poetic at all), and I'm not sure who I'm supposed to believe. I mean, what if people were unsure when the Bible says Jesus rose from the dead, whether he really did or if it was some metaphor for something else? That would be a pretty big deal, because it's supposed to have actually happened.

Thanks again, Daniel!

Daniel Kim said...

Okay, there are 2 issues in this question.. The first issue is the "If that was an actual human sacrifice, how could a good God allow that to happen?" And the second issue is "if there is controversy about this passage, then doesn't that mean other historical narratives like the resurrection of Jesus are also threatened?" I hope that I am understanding the issues here.. Assuming that I am, let me try to answer...

First issue: I think we already talked about this, actually, in the first comment. We have to understand that except for very rare occasions, God allows evil to happen, even if that evil is done under His name. Remember, God did not command this sacrifice. So if God's character is hanging in the balance in this situation, it is hanging in the balance only because we demand that God put an immediate stop to a wrong or foolish action taken by a free agent. Do you see that? If I were to make a promise, "If I roll my dice and it comes out even, then I will push you into oncoming traffic as an act of obedience to God." - and let's say that happens and God does not stop that. Is God's character hanging in the balance because He didn't stop a foolish/evil act that He never commanded? Let me know if I'm not understanding something here. Besides, we're SUPPOSED to recoil at this chapter. The Israelite readers know that child sacrifice is an abomination, and this chapter is supposed to cause them to recoil at what happened. That's why they lament (ESV, NLT) the daughter of Jephthah.

Second issue: I don't think I can comment too much on the language of this passage, because I am not familiar with the controversy over whether or not the daughter actually was killed. I personally take the plain reading and think that she was actually killed, but I could be wrong. It wouldn't be the first time.

I don't think, however, that this controversy threatens the resurrection narratives or other historical narratives. It's not like the commentators are arguing that this whole passage is ahistorical or metaphorical - they are just arguing about the word "and" in verse 31 being translatable to "or". It seems to me that the entire controversy rides on the translation of that one word. Also, this controversy is somewhat understandable, because it's not explicitly stated what happened to her, and the focus of her and her friends' mourning seems to be about marriage rather than death - which is strange. Well, whatever it may mean, the controversy over this passage arises from meaning of a few words from a very scant passage.

Now, if the resurrection narrative read like: "Jesus was crucified, but the prophecy proclaimed that he would rise to see the light of life. And on the third day, he did exactly that." - and that was ALL there was to the resurrection account, then maybe I might think it might a metaphor. But the resurrection account is obviously not written like that (let alone the extrabiblical historical circumstantial evidence)

So I think it would be a stretch to say that this passage is somehow parallel to the resurrection narrative - so if the meaning of this passage is controversial, then the meaning of the resurrection passage can also be controversial. The slope can sometimes be slippery, but not THAT slippery.

Well, those are my thoughts.

T said...

You've made very good and precise explanations. But regarding the mercy of God in withholding judgment, I can't help but think of Adam Smith's words, "Mercy to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent."

While I would very much want to believe that justice is coming for those who perpetrate evil acts, are complicit with evil acts, and those who suffer because of evil acts, what is one to do in the indefinite meantime? For one who has little faith in coming justice, it seems like wishful thinking at best, and at worst, it can be used to excuse evil behavior ("don't worry, they will get what is coming to them."), often by the perpetrators of evil themselves.

For example, cheaters in school. I've heard (supposed) non-cheaters argue against the harsh punishments for getting caught cheating by saying "cheaters are only hurting themselves and need no special punishment." I find that naivete to be destructive and disgusting, as I see cheaters prospering, and dying prosperous, at the grave expense of honest people. At best it is wishful thinking, at worst it would be cheaters pretending to be non-cheaters, saying of themselves that they don't need punishment because "[we're] only hurting [our]selves."

Thanks for putting up this forum. I greatly respect your dedication, professionalism, and the pureness and sincerity I sense in your heart. If nothing else, that is a good witness for the Gospel.

-Michael Tsai

Daniel Kim said...

Michael above makes really good points. Surely, God's witholding of judgment was cruel to the victims of those crimes?!? Shouldn't we fight against the injustices in the world?
Please comment.

Unknown said...

Yes, I guess your first explanation makes sense. I think I was thrown off because when I had heard the story a while back, it was in the context of a person telling me the lesson was that you should keep your word no matter what, and I disagreed with her on that point. I was not sure exactly what God thought about the whole matter, and I didn't think Jepthah should have sacrificed his daughter just because he said he would earlier.

The second issue was kind of half-baked. I didn't mean that it cast doubt on the resurrection, I was mostly expressing frustration that people could draw vastly different conclusions what actually happened from something that's supposed to be a historical account, and then I ended up kind of rambling. I guess there's not much that can be done there.

Thanks, though.

Unknown said...

On the topic of withholding judgment, there is kind of a fine line. If I got zapped every time I had an ugly thought about something or somebody it'd be overwhelming. Even I didn't die outright, I would get very resentful. On the other hand, it's necessary for there to be consequences to our actions. I do think in general, we should seek to carry out justice when we're aware of wrongdoing. But then, humans are also prone to vengefulness, which often ruins the rightness of whatever justice we tried to carry out. So it's hard to decide when to punish, when to hold back. But I think Tim Keller made a good point in his book The Reason For God about how if you do believe in a final judgment, it will help you refrain from needing to take justice into your own hands in a way that amounts to little more than revenge.

Anonymous said...

There are some good points on this topic, and I'm thankful for that because sometimes I struggle with similar issues, especially when I approach OT. To further some of the points on witholding judgment, I think it would be cruel to the victim, if and only if, each moment was the only thing that matters in life. Because there is eternity, it makes sense that God will judge us overall at the end of our life. Not to mention, who can say that they haven't made a "victim" out of someone in their life? Everyone on this regard is guilty, and in fact, repeatedly guilty. Imagine how hard it would be live life if God were to dish out punishment every time we sin. I agree that God witholds judgment out of mercy.

T said...

>On the topic of withholding judgment, there is kind of a fine line. If I got zapped every time I had an ugly thought about something or somebody it'd be overwhelming. Even I didn't die outright, I would get very resentful.<

I think that is not nearly as bad as what the people of the time would do to each other with impunity, in a world where a mob can show up at someone's doorstep and demand their daughters for sex.

>On the other hand, it's necessary for there to be consequences to our actions. I do think in general, we should seek to carry out justice when we're aware of wrongdoing. But then, humans are also prone to vengefulness, which often ruins the rightness of whatever justice we tried to carry out. So it's hard to decide when to punish, when to hold back.<

The problem you posed is that justice can be tainted with biased human vengefulness. The concept of the court system is that a third party can make a decision as devoid of vengefulness as possible, because he is unaffected by the outcome. In a land with no laws or policemen, people had to dispense justice with their own hands, to protect themselves from being overrun by murderers and rapists such as those who showed up at Lot's doorstep.

Suppose Lot wasn't a coward and took up arms to defend his household from these criminals - would that be vengeance, or self-defense? What if his neighbor showed up with sword in hand, and risked his own life to protect another man's family? I would consider that a noble deed, to maim, or even kill those rapists and murderers who lust for the blood and flesh of others. I hardly think such an act can be considered wrong; even if it is done in anger, i think it is unfair to call such an act "little more than (petty) revenge."

>But I think Tim Keller made a good point in his book The Reason For God about how if you do believe in a final judgment, it will help you refrain from needing to take justice into your own hands in a way that amounts to little more than revenge.<

I think many times the "need to take justice into your own hands" is not so much a product of a man's petty desire for retaliation, but an assertion of one's life, one's right to live without being victimized by the evil deeds of evil men. Even if humans are imperfect judges, i think some people are capable of very acceptable approximations of justice that protect everyone from grave wickedness.

T said...

>Not to mention, who can say that they haven't made a "victim" out of someone in their life? Everyone on this regard is guilty, and in fact, repeatedly guilty. Imagine how hard it would be live life if God were to dish out punishment every time we sin. I agree that God witholds judgment out of mercy.<

Even if everyone is guilty of making a victim out of someone, I find it had to impossible "justice" being that the man who inadvertently brought up bad memories for someone else (making them a "victim") deserves the same horrible punishment that say, a serial child rapist/killer does.

I was punished handily for every failure in life, whether it be moral or academic. They were a "quick and dirty" way of keeping me in line, and before long I had understood for myself the importance of being a righteous person. I have made efforts to apologize atone for the wrongs I have committed, as I realize the gravity of sin - I only wish others could realize the same, instead I see a grossly flippant and impudent attitude towards personal sin and responsibility in our world.

I believe such attitudes are allowed to develop rampant and unchecked in the absence of a moral authority, one that actively proves there are consequences to sin, until people get the idea that it's bad to do bad things. Can such power to bring justice be abused? Certainly, as so many tyrannical governments and "revolutionaries" have proved. I only hope God will bring a final judgment to all men, because some men become so powerful that no one can bring judgment to them in their lifetime. But in the meantime, are we to simply sit on our hands while obviously evil men commit obviously evil deeds, either against us or against strangers, because "God will bring justice"? In my experience I have seen that that can be used to excuse/rationalize a somewhat cowardly passivity.

Imagine Lot explaining his (in)actions: "Well, *I did not want to take justice into my own hands*, because these evildoers are the Lord's to punish. That's why I didn't offer them violence, but offered my daughters to gang-rape and murder instead - that was the only other alternative to vengeance. Good thing God sent his angels to stop them..." I hardly see how that can be considered a righteous thing to do. And in this world, I have seen much despair needlessly suffered by people "waiting for/on God" to send intervening justice, which came too little and too late, if at all. In dire situations, I am not going to let my hands be tied because "only God's hand is fit to deal justice" - in my experience, God's hand, for all practical purposes, is folded, leaving my own hands with which to fight, for my right to exist. Maybe I have no right to exist, but that's another story.

T said...

lest my comment be taken the wrong way, I have made judgments on people, but never dispensed justice to them. My "fear of the Lord" is great enough to not want to err and become a "misguided vigilante," directing angry, vengeful "justice" against an undeserving target and thus becoming a source of injustice myself.

the times I have made judgments about people, I acted in a way to minimize the damage they did to me, with the intention of not damaging them any more than was necessary to protect myself and others from their unjust ways. as much as I want to see the guilty punished, I am even more loathe to risk punishing the innocent. I do hope that God, a perfect judge will come some day, but like I said i think it is wishful thinking at best, and at worst, an avenue that allows wicked deeds to flourish further.
I find it hard to believe a deity that would send a man to hell for thinking one brief, negative thought about another man (as many Christians have told me, a man deserves eternal death for anything short of divine perfection), to spend an eternity rooming with Adolf Hitler can be the "perfect judge."

T said...

>So let us not mistaken God's momentary witholding of judgment as His indifference.<

What of the wicked men who died unpunished, well before the invasion of Israel by foreign nations? And the innocent men whose blood they spilled, who died unredeemed, undelivered from the violence of the wicked, perhaps waiting for the judgment of God, which never came in their lifetimes?

Even if God can wait a long time to deliver justice, man does have a fraction of God's longevity or power, and thus cannot wait that long to see justice.

Justice came upon Israel as a nation - surely not all Israelites were at the same level of wickedness? Yet they all received the punishment of the most wicked men of their generation, as well as the accumulated debt of wickedness of their forefathers who went peacefully unpunished to their graves many years ago. I hardly find it just that children are punished for the sins of their fathers, or that men are punished for the sins of their neighbors, or even bosses.

A phrase (which I disagree with) oft-heard regarding justice is "kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out." But with the punishments I see in the Bible, it seems to me like God's way of "sorting 'em out" is often to simply "kill 'em all," with stories like the deliverance of Lot's family from Sodom and Gomorrah being the exception rather than the norm.

Reminds me of teachers (whom I despised for this practice) I had who, instead of trying to figure out who was in the right and who was in the wrong in a dispute between students, simply dispenses equal punishment to both, or keep the entire class in detention because a minority of students were very badly behaved. Sometimes I would question the practice of such teachers, some of whom would respond, "well it's your job as students to tell your peers to be quiet and behave, i can't control all of you." I think the analogy I'm making here is pretty obvious.

Daniel Kim said...

ieatsuka, you have brought up a lot of good questions and issues. It'll take a while for the discussion to flesh out.

Some questions to think about that will facilitate the discussion:

1) Do you think people's souls live forever? If people's souls do live forever, does that make a difference in how/when we mete out justice on earth? Or does that at least make a difference on how we view God's justice?

2) It also seems like you have a notion of heaven or hell - that it's a flat place. Meaning that if you're in hell, then you're being punished the same way as Hitler. And if you're in heaven, then you are being rewarded the same way as Apostle Paul? I think that's what you believe, since you say so in several places. If I'm accurate in what you believe, just wondering how you came to that conclusion.

There are other issues, like the dichotomy between just being a doormat and taking justice into your own hands.. I personally think that those are not the only two options, but we'll discuss that later. Let's take it one step at a time, since it can be overwhelming to discuss multiple topics in parallel..

Thanks for bringing up these issues.

Daniel Kim said...

Maybe I wasn't clear in my previous question to actually merit an answer.. so let's try another discussion.

You have stated that the hope for the coming of God is wishful thinking at best and at worst an avenue to allow wicked deeds to flourish. Let's pause and think about that a little. Is it true that the coming of God is at best wishful thinking? What do you mean by wishful thinking? If God were to really come and judge justly, how is that at best wishful thinking? I hope I'm not just picking at semantics here, because I think there's this sense throughout your questions about how the supposed "final" justice of God isn't all that impressive. I think it's indeed not all that impressive, IF and only if the idea of final justice of God is just a fantasy, and even if it's not a fantasy, the victims don't live forever to see it. Maybe we can talk about this.

Also, you expressed a very common objection - that it's unfair that one person's sins affect another person... that it's unfair that the children are colored and punished for the sins of their fathers and subordinates are put into an unfair disadvantage just because their bosses happen to sin. This does seem very unfair. It's the classic objection of "how come we get messed up because Adam and Eve sinned?" Because it's unfair that one man's sin should affect another person's plight and destiny, right? I think that objection is very understandable, and it's something that I myself struggled with for a long time.

However, if you think about it, though, that's just the nature of sin. If I sin against you and do some horrendous act against you, and you end up losing a limb or something - is that fair for you? If a father chooses to sin and raise his child in a sinful way and teaches the child to steal, doesn't that child get a raw deal in life? Yes. However, such is the nature of sin. I think that's why sin is so horrible, and the Bible treats sin always as a relational wrong, and it's not ever seen as a fair thing. It's unfair, it's wrong, and we choose to "mess someone else up" whenever we do it. That's what I realized about my own sins. Every time I choose to sin, I'm making someone else pay unfairly. So God exhorts us: sin no more. Sin is never something that we can take lightly. It's not just a personal, private issue.

So what is our demand of God? To remove the unfairness of sin, perhaps, without removing human free will to sin. Is that possible?

Well, hope that these discussions gave us some things to think about.

T said...

Hi Daniel, all of what you just said makes sense. Didn't I post some other responses here a few days ago, about "flat heaven/hell" and more? However I do not see them - maybe they didn't go through? Hopefully they were not lost because I put a lot of thought into them.

>I think it's indeed not all that impressive, IF and only if the idea of final justice of God is just a fantasy, and even if it's not a fantasy, the victims don't live forever to see it. Maybe we can talk about this.<

I guess that's the main issue with me. I do not consider myself a Christian and have little expectation or hope that a deity will be bringing final justice, or that there is a life after life on earth. I guess a lot of my issues come from my lack of that foundation. But I can see if one really believed God was bringing final justice, it would not be so much of an issue. I remember how some Psalms (IIRC) were pleas with God, asking him how long it would be before he came and delivered justice to the wicked, and at the same time delivered the righteous from their wickedness. So I guess even Christians struggle with "waiting for justice," but unlike me, they have hope and faith that it will come and everything will be set right in due time.

I recently found a quote from Ben Franklin that I strongly relate to, regardless of whether it is having hope/faith in God or in man: "He that lives upon hope will die fasting." I guess my own disappointment with God is a different issue and doesn't really belong here.

Daniel Kim said...

Oh my, I'm sorry about the comment that got lost. I don't see it anywhere, so I'm sorry - you must have put a lot of thought into it that simply disappeared into cyberspace.

Yes, I figured that you might not believe in eternal life or the existence of the soul.. because it seemed like your basic assumption was that this biological life was pretty much it.

And yes, you're right. Christians, even if they believe in the final justice of God, also struggle with the question of injustice on earth. And one might think, as you suggest, that the belief in a final justice might cause someone to make peace with injustice on earth, or even worse, justify their injustice on earth. One might think that being heaven-minded causes someone to disengage with the world. However, historically, I think it would be interesting to note that the vast majority of moral reforms have been brought on by heaven-minded people. Abolition of slavery, civil rights movement, abolition of widow-burning, taking care of the poor and the powerless, etc. have all been propelled by heaven-minded reformers, contrary to the seemingly logical conjecture that heaven-minded people would simply disengage. Perhaps when we think about the psyche of the earth-minded people vs. heaven-minded people, we can understand why.

For the earth-minded people, this life is all there is. And in the end, there is no reward for the righteous, no punishment for the wicked - therefore, the level of "success" in life is not determined by some kind of moral living, but by how well I've navigated through life in a strategic sense (to maximize pleasure, minimize pain). So if my whole society turns toward a certain direction, the strategic thing for the earthly-minded person is to navigate with the society and make peace with the surrounding culture, as Socrates taught. What would motivate me to risk my own life and strike out against my own culture and condemn an evil practice? Just my own sense of rightness or wrongness? But the problem is that if there is no God and no final justice, all of my sense of "rightness or wrongness" of things degenerates to relativistic preference. So for the earthly-minded person, having been stripped of any transcendent morality, the strongest reason conjured up for his battle against injustice is that injustice just "really bothers him".

Now, for the heavenly-minded person, things are vastly different. There is a God who is the ultimate reality. And there is heaven and hell, and my life and my actions are accounted for. Evil is real, not just a preference. And how I respond to evil actually matters to God, even if I die in the process, because for the heavenly-minded person, life is lived out with God as the audience, not society or my own preferences. That is why it is the heavenly-minded person who actually has the motivation and the courage to do something about the injustices of the world - and this is what we see throughout history.

Kant, a non-Christian, went as far as to say that without life after death (and some kind of final, true accounting), our own sense of justice/injustice is just an illusion. I think we can see the truth of that prophetic statement if we listen to the relativistic pundits of our day waxing eloquent about how there is no such thing as right or wrong.

Don't get me wrong, though, I don't think we should believe in God just because I don't happen to like the consequence of not believing in God. I think if there is no God, we should be brave about that fact and live like it. On the other hand, if there is God, we should be brave about that and live like it. But what I'm saying is that if there is no God, then a part of "being brave about that fact" is that we also accept the fact that there is no such thing as true right and wrong, and therefore we should accept the fact that there is no such thing as real "injustice" - all we have is our feelings - that we need to fight against. We can't have it both ways - disbelieve in any transcendent Moral Lawgiver, but fight against injustice as if there is a transcedent Moral Law.

Those are my thoughts.

Daniel Kim said...

An additional thought:

Regarding your disappointment with God - I want to encourage you to talk to someone about that personally. I can tell you that more than any logical argument, the cross of Jesus is a profoundly powerful argument when it comes to our deep sense of disaapointment about some injustice in the world. The cross of Jesus does not make a logical argument - it simply shows that God himself faced the greatest injustice and knows personally what great injustice looks like, what it feels like - I would dare to say - far more than we can ever know.

Well, I hope that you can talk to someone about it and hopefully can reflect on the cross, because I believe that the cross of Jesus profoundly answers our real need beneath our question.

T said...

Hi Daniel,

I read your comments again just now, and saw them in a more acceptable light somehow, and see how they apply (with some qualifiers), where before I was inclined to be more dismissive - my philosophies are much more in line with Ayn Rand (who opposed Kant) than Kant.

In terms of heaven-minded and earth-minded, if you put it in those terms, it seems to me then, that many people who appear to be earth-minded are actually heaven-minded, and vice-versa. I guess a lot of what I heard was earth-minded people trying to appear heaven-minded, hence they made those excuses such as "God will bring justice" to excuse their inaction, or even their own injustice, on earth. Whereas other reformers, even if they are not avowed Christians, feel they are server a greater moral order.

I do believe in a moral law in the universe, relativism is the disagreement of people over what it consists of, and oftentimes relativism too is used by some to excuse behavior they think is wrong: "who are you to judge me?" is a popular defense not only with avowed Christians, but avowed pagans as well.

>But the problem is that if there is no God and no final justice, all of my sense of "rightness or wrongness" of things degenerates to relativistic preference. So for the earthly-minded person, having been stripped of any transcendent morality, the strongest reason conjured up for his battle against injustice is that injustice just "really bothers him".<

Speaking against injustice tends to get one laughed at, because one has no "transcendent morality" as you said. But in this day and age, speaking against some injustice WITH a transcendent morality, one is not only laughed at, but hated as well for being "pretentious," "self-righteous," and who knows? That person may really just be selfishly claiming some divine right or authority when they really have none. For example, I don't know if you've heard of the "Westboro Baptist Church," but their credo is "God hates the world." I as many others regard them as a twisted cult: I describe them as "themselves hating the world, and claiming God's authority to justify their hatred."

Absent of a loud voice from heaven, it seems in the arena of earth, moral authority, whether transcendent or not, is largely a matter of volume and power. Does our justice system dispense justice because an action simply "really bothers" the people at large? Sometimes I get a sense of being bothered by something, even when intellectually I've told myself it is nothing to be bothered by - and I see other people bothered by things too, even though they don't understand why. Perhaps it is an indicator of a divine sense of right or wrong still buried in our hearts.

Anyways, I do believe in Moral Law - must I necessarily believe in a Lawgiver? And even if I do, is the Lawgiver necessarily the Christian God? Other religions also believe in a Lawgiver - but their beliefs about him/it vary greatly.

T said...

Regarding flat heaven/hell, I was on another forum where this topic got a mention. The talk was about a 14-yo committing an armed robbery of a pizza guy with a gun, however the delivery guy was a former cop and shot him in self-defense. Many, Christians included, were quick to condemn the boy and celebrated the timely end of a would-be murderer before he could harm more people. Others, citing Christian values, were more compassionate.

One Christian (whom I think moderately well of) had this to say:

I heard a story, I have no way to know if it was true or not, about an incident that happened in Vietnam. A squad on patrol was taking fire from some cover, Some kind of agricultural field, and they realized it was only one or two people involved. They surrounded the field, and kept getting closer to the shooter(s). Eventually, they flushed out two 13 or 14 year old kids, with empty guns. Kids wound up dead, after they surrendered.

This is nothing new in war; it has happened before, it will happen again. Kids probably deserved it. They had probably wounded/killed other servicemen in the area. If nothing else, enemy activity cesaed in this area for quite a while after the locals found out that the Americans would kill kids, if they had guns. If I had been there, I would have probably done the same thing. 14 or 40, a murderer, or in the context of this thread, an armed robber, deservers what he gets. In the case of the 14 year old armed robber, I would have probably done the same thing! The difference is, I wouldn't be so gleefull in seeing a young person, so full of potential, wiped off the slate of the living, and , if you believe the way I do, sent screaming into eternal Darkness, eternal torment, eternal seperation from God. It ain't a video game, boys. That kid is burning in Hell right now, and will forever.

I don't have much compunction about putting down a person or a snake, or any other varmint that threatens my life. I have never taken a pet or a farm animal to the vet to be put down. I always take care of it myself. I hunt, and raise animals for food. But human beings are made in the image of God Almighty. This same God invented genocide. He told the Isrealites to kill some of the other nations man, woman, child, and beast. But He didn't tell them to like it. David asked God to "teach my fingers to kill..." . Soloman said there was a time to kill. There is no doubt there is a time to defend yourself, but we should also remember the verse".. ere but for the grace of God go I..". We are all equally guilty before God, and we all deserve death, and hell, and ultimately, the lake of fire, and eternal seperation from God. It saddens me that we. and I include myself here, are so quick to consign another to the wrath of God. As long as the boy was alive, there was a chance he could have been redeemed. It is too late now, because as I say, he is burning in Hell as we speak.

I really can't explain it, but when God saved me, I began to see that I was spared this awful fate, and I began to realize how fortunate i was to be spared it. It is probably the hardest thing for you to get your mind around that anyone has ever tried to expalin to you, but I really feel for the sorriest human garbage their is. You see, I was in the same position, before God, as they are. I never commited an armed robbery, or raped anyone's daughter, but I did lust after goods that weren't mine. I did lust after women I wasn't married to. To God, it is all the same. The saddest part of all this, that kid probably wanted enough cash to get an x box, or an ipod, or a pair of shoes, or maybe just a pizza. Would I have shot him? Probably. Would I be glad another POS was off the street? Well, let me ask you this, Have you ever wanted something that wasn't yours? Have you ever lied? Stolen? Even a crayon or pencil still counts. Have you ever taken God's name in vain? Disrespected your parents?

The love of Christ would have been to jerk that kid up by the seat of his pants, and beat him till he forgot about whatever caused him to robb the guy. Unfortunately, that wasn't possible. Be very careful when you judge others, lest God judge you by the same standard. I can't remember where it is, but someone in the Bible asked God to " in wrath remember mercy". We should follow Chris at in this. After all, we are all sinners, and we will all die one day. I would hate to be judged by the standards some of you set.

I quoted him in his entirety - words such as his, and words I've heard in many other sermons and outreach events, which revolved around making a good person morally comparable to the rapist or robber - "equally guilty," so that theoretically, Gandhi and Hitler could be roommates in hell. However, another devout Christian whom I regard highly, wrote this response to the first Christian:

>Where do people come up with this bulls**t? This is moral equivalence gone to the extreme to compare raping and robbery to lusting in one's heart for a woman or a thing without taking action, without stepping over the line.

I'm sorry, it may sound holy, but if you think about it, its just [cow manure].<

I was quite glad to hear that, as I was long of the same opinion, but every Christian I heard from told me otherwise. The pervasiveness of this idea seemed to belie something quite wrong underneath: by putting a decent and moral person on the level of the rapist (and naturally, vice-versa), it becomes impossible for even a moral person to speak a word against immorality...again, "who are you to judge me?" The frequency of the times I've heard that being used by someone in the wrong to counteraccuse the person rebuking him, suggests to me how much corruption these statements are being used to hide.

So I guess I just wanted to hear that Heaven/Hell aren't flat - what do you have to say about Heaven/Hell being flat or not?

Daniel Kim said...

There are many issues that you bring up, so I'll try to limit my answer to short replies...

Yes, I think the Bible talks about differences in punishment (Luke 12:47) and also in salvation (1 Cor 3:15).

However, regarding how Christians say that they are just as sinful as some horrendous criminal, etc.. I think you might be processing those sentiments a bit too technically. Most people, when they say that they are just as guilty as a criminal, they are saying that not out of some desire to flatten all moral differences, but out of a devotionally powerful (and true) realization that there is no FUNDAMENTAL difference between them and the criminals. There is a fundamental difference between a criminal and angels or God. But for us humans, we can see the same thread of sin (although they are not actuated and therefore lesser in degree) through our own hearts. So in that sense, we are fundamentally sinners, just like the criminals that show up on the evening news. It does not follow from that, however, that we can therefore no longer point out wrongs in others. What should follow is that we judge ourselves first so that we may see clearly, and then point out the wrongs in others (Matthew 7:5).

Regarding the necessity of a Moral Lawgiver... You are right in suggesting that it does not necessarily lead to the Christian God. But at least this Moral Lawgiver should care about morality, should care deeply about sins, etc.. Also, this Moral Lawgiver must also have the power to create in human beings some kind of a moral gauge that responds to sins. And in that light, admittedly, the Judeo-Christian God does seem to fit the bill pretty well, better than any other gods that other world religions put forth.

Regarding your claim that when we refer to some transcendent morality and speak out against injustice, we get laughed at... Well, I don't think that's really the case. I don't think the world laughs at civil rights activists or human rights activists. When environmental activists speak, they refer to some kind of a transcendent moral "responsibility" for us to not mess up the earth. Why should we not just enjoy my time on earth? I am not going to be here to see the damage, so who cares about future generations? Of course, environmentalists would balk at that (rightfully so) and they will talk as if we have some transcendent responsibility to the future generations. They don't get laughed at.

Now, what is odd is that the same people, when asked if they believe in some transcendent morality, would actually say "no". That's just a very strange thing.. they are being inconsistent and don't realize that they are cutting the limb that they are sitting on. But anyways, I don't think people laugh at transcendent morality. They might mock the idea of transcendent morality on paper, but in their daily lives, they cannot escape the fact that they refer to it and use it all the time. Try asking a racial-equality activist how they can justify fighting against racist laws that got passed by majority vote. They cannot escape talking as if there is some transcendent morality. So I think we can engage people in conversations by asking these questions.

That's about it.. hope this helped..

Anonymous said...

Daniel, thank you for reading and thinking critically about all I had to say, and for your insights and sincerity. It's helped me identify some of the causes of various un-Christian thoughts I have (often due to the behavior of other self-proclaimed Christians).

You've cleared up a lot for me, and I the sense in much of what you have said. That being said, I'm sure there's much more you have not said, which I may or may not agree with. :P But I have little doubt that your faith is built on a solid foundation of not only reason, but courage.


Michael Tsai

Daniel Kim said...

Thank you for your kind words. I want to encourage you to continue to seek with an open mind, as you have been.