Thursday, March 23, 2006

A discussion with an evangelist (part 1)

How would I react to an evangelist knocking on my door? I thought about this, and wrote up this fictional dialogue. It is quite long, so I’ve divided it up into parts which I will post separately.

Evangelist: Good morning, sir. Sorry to bug you.
Kevin: Hello. What can I do for you?
E: Can I ask you a spiritual question?
K: Uh, oh.
E: What if you were to die tonight, and stand before God, and he asks you, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” What would you say?
K: I think I might ask, “God, what makes you think I would like to enter your heaven?”
E: Er. . .
K: Heaven is for eternity, right? And it is supposed to be perfect?
E: Of course. There will be no tears, pain, sorrow or sin. Everything will be good. Now, getting back to standing before God: if we read Romans 3:23 –
K: Sorry to interrupt. But I just want to make a humble point here. If someone shows you an incredible act of kindness, how do you feel?
E: An act of kindness?
K: Sure. Lets say your car runs out of petrol on the side of the road, and after many cars have passed you by, a stranger stops to help. He rides to the nearest station and gets you a canister of petrol. How would you feel?
E: I will be very appreciative of his kind act.
K: Why would you feel that way?
E: Well, he has gone out of his way to help another person. What has this to do with heaven?
K: Bear with me. You say he has gone out of his way. What do you mean by that statement?
E: Well, he could have just driven past and ignored me. That would have been the easiest thing to do. But he chose to help.
K: So, in a sense you are saying that the act of kindness has value because the man chose to be kind.
E: Sure
K: Do you think this will be the case in heaven?
E: In heaven, my Ferrari will never run out of petrol.
(both laugh)
K: No, what I mean is, do you think you will appreciate acts of kindness in heaven?
E: I can’t think why not.
K: Let me tell you why I don’t think you will. You have already answered the question to why humans value positive human attributes like kindness, love and compassion. We value these because they are voluntary. A person who shows love could have easily been cruel, right? However, you have also said that there will be no cruelty, jealously or any kind of sin in heaven.
E: That’s what the Bible says: Revelation 21:27 says that nothing impure will enter heaven.
K: If this is the case, then everyone will automatically love everyone else, nobody will be able to choose to be cruel, nasty or jealous – simply because these attributes will no longer exist. In this sense love will loose all of its value.
E: Carry on.
K: But it’s not only love that will suffer as a result of perfection. In heaven, how can someone be truly courageous in the absence of fear? How can someone build character without experiencing hardship? How can anyone in heaven possess gifts and talents if everyone is perfect? If there is no bad, how can anyone appreciate or measure good? Attributes such as courage, happiness, goodness, creativity, inspiration and joy will become absolutely meaningless in a perfect world. By gaining perfection in paradise, we will loose all the contrasting attributes that make us human.
E: I never thought of that before.
K: I have. And that is one of the reasons why I don’t want to enter your God’s heaven.

To be continued . . .

(This post was inspired by the article, Why There Are no Flowers in Heaven)

22 comments:

Kevin Cadman said...

Hi Kevin,

Excellent post! You really are quite an inspiration. See, I'm in a similar position to you, but I'm nowhere near as humble. Your posts really give me something to think about.

I'm keen to read part 2 - don't keep us waiting too long!

r10b said...

Kevin,

Your argument has a critical flaw: you say that in Heaven "everyone will automatically love everyone else, nobody will be able to choose to be cruel..."

Really? On what evidence? You presume that citizens of Heaven are incapable of impure deeds rather than, as Jesus was, freed from the effects of sin and therefore able to live in perfect harmony with God's will. If Jesus was a moral robot, incapable of sin, He could not have been the agent of our redemption. See Hebrews 4:15.

Also, you say "By gaining perfection in paradise, we will loose all the contrasting attributes that make us human."

I disagree that the essence of our humanity is our diversity. Are identical twins less human than any two other people? Nor are you correct in defining perfection as similarity. Those words have completely different meanings. What makes us human is that we, unlike other animals, are imbued with the likeness of God. Again, give me any evidence Christianity teaches that all those in Heaven will be moral automatons. Are you saying that individuality equals ungodliness, and that as Christians become more godly they become a homogeneous blob? That sounds more like Buddhism than Christianity.

Amy said...

If I may ask , what experiance made you not want to be a christian any longer? You dont have to reply, I was just curiouse!

eddie said...

Good post Kevin, and I completely see your point – must be a pretty darn dull place.

But my question to r10b is:
Are you asserting that the condition/situation would be as it was pre the fall of Adam and Eve? I.E. the absence of the knowledge of good and evil? Or are you saying that people will actually enter heaven with the knowledge of good and evil, and unlike pre fall conditions, heaven would be different because they will retain a knowledge of good and evil?
As such, heaven is different, because it’s not a restoration of creation pre A&E?

r10b said...

eddie,

Good question. I'm not sure I intended to infer the things you brought up, but I'm glad you did, they are very interesting.

I am ambivalent about the "The Tree." I'm not sure I consider the "knowledge" aspect as being what corrupted A&E. I place more weight on the act disobedience in the form of idolatry of the Self.

Or are you saying that people will actually enter heaven with the knowledge of good and evil

I believe so, yes. We are not made into heavenly beings by some moral lobotomy. On the contrary, when we are perfected in the immediate presence of God we are more varied and more capable with more knowledge.

...heaven is different, because it’s not a restoration of creation...

Right, I don't think Heaven is essentially a re-Creation.

Those are my current understandings, but you've given me food for thought. Thanks, eddie. And you, too, Kevin.

marc said...

Does anyone really know what heaven is like?

There are glimpses in the bible, much is symbolic and written so people could understand it at the time.

No death, nor sorrow, nor sickness, nor poverty.

Does that mean it will be boring. I don't really see how.

See there the problem, some evangelicals go around with their idea of Heaven and then you have many other denominations with their idea of heaven - no one really knows. I think it is more than we can understand because we are judging by human standards and of course, it isn't a human invention.

eddie said...

I am ambivalent about the "The Tree." I'm not sure I consider the "knowledge" aspect as being what corrupted A&E.
Well, isn't the tree what gave them knowledge of good and evil? I.E. they essentially had no concept of good and evil prior to the fall? Or what then is the purpose of the tree in the story, especially since it's linked with the knowledge of good and evil?

Right, I don't think Heaven is essentially a re-Creation.
What then is the new heaven and earth? Are all these things then happening in a metaphysical sense - another realm so to speak? Thus, earth will not be restored to its former state?

Sorry, just some questions in the story which I can never figure out.

eddie said...

evangelicals go around with their idea of Heaven and then you have many other denominations with their idea of heaven
Again, respectfully, don't they extract some of that from the book of Revelation? I know they stretch a bit, but it does contain quite a bit of detail about heaven, such as dimensions and details of what its like. Or is this all just allegory?

r10b said...

eddie,

Well, isn't the tree what gave them knowledge of good and evil?

Their disobedience broke the previously ideal relationship between A&E and God. The tree was not critical; it could have been the Lemur of Luminosity that God had made forbidden. Their new experience with sin opened their eyes to the existence of evil and thereby the other side of the coin, good. Maybe they had no prior knowledge of good and evil, nonetheless they obviously were capable of sin, right? They were not moral robots since they chose to disobey. The gist of this thread is that in Heaven people will be moral robots and won't be able to sin (therefore Heaven will be a hideous place). Even if we have no conception of evil in Heaven, that would not make us any less capable of sin than A&E were, which makes the story of The Garden a strong argument against Kevin's assertion.

What then is the new heaven and earth? Are all these things then happening in a metaphysical sense - another realm so to speak? Thus, earth will not be restored to its former state?

I was probably off-base with my statement about re-Creation. When I think of "Heaven" I think of the place where God, Jesus, and the souls of the saints currently do whatever it is they do. The new heaven and earth is "post-Heaven" in that sense. No, I don't think the new heaven and earth is merely metaphysical. I hope it's like The Shire!

I'll admit that I'm vague on many particulars about Heaven (God did not reveal much about it to us, why is that?), but if God's mere "handiwork" is this universe and all the diversity of life on Earth, then I doubt that His "serious" project, our eternal home, will be a disappointment. Nor do I think the citizens of Heaven will be grinning zombies. I'd prefer to rot.

. said...

I can hardly wait to read the continuation of this post. I love this place.

marc said...

eddie said
i'I know they stretch a bit, but it does contain quite a bit of detail about heaven, such as dimensions and details of what its like. Or is this all just allegory?

Well revelation is one hard book to understand. I don't think it is allegory but some is symbolic. Some times, despite being told the opposite - we don't have all the answers.

I remember being at a Vineyard Church (i'm at another one now) and being told all we would do is worship continuosly...soft rock forever...aaaaggggghhhh:¬)

eddie said...

Their disobedience broke the previously ideal relationship between A&E and God.
But how would they have known what disobedience was, unless they had some compass to know good (right) from evil (wrong)? That’s where the story kind of dismantles itself. In order to be obedient, they had to know about making choices, and making choices infers knowing right from wrong – which you kind of agree about.

The gist of this thread is that in Heaven people will be moral robots and won't be able to sin (therefore Heaven will be a hideous place).
But then you have no guarantee that in heaven people might not decide to disobey once again. On what basis will they ALWAYS choose the right thing, given the history of Satan and the human races (according to the story)? It’s kind of another type of Pascal’s Wager, because you don’t know that people will not choose evil once again above God in that place.
Theists seem to say this is going to be a very blissful place where there will be no more tears, etc., but I would be mortified and not able to enjoy the *trip* if I know my loved ones are being torture somewhere in a fire. In fact, it will be on my mind all the time (which is another story).

Even if we have no conception of evil in Heaven, that would not make us any less capable of sin than A&E were, which makes the story of The Garden a strong argument against Kevin's assertion.
How, given that as he asserts, no evil will enter heaven? Without evil, we have no concept of good. The Ying/Yang allegory. We need to know to one to know the other, but from my understanding, that’s not what he asserts Revelation says about it.

When I think of "Heaven" I think of the place where God, Jesus, and the souls of the saints currently do whatever it is they do.
What is a soul? What does it do? How do you know it exist?

The new heaven and earth is "post-Heaven" in that sense.
Well, on what basis do you decide that NEW all of sudden means POST?

marc
Well revelation is one hard book to understand.
Maybe, maybe not, considering that it 80% of it is quotation of the Old Testament. Have you ever thought that it had nothing to do with the “next” world? And why would God leave such an obscure, hard to understand book for people? What fascinates me more it is how people arbitrarily and subjective decide when it’s “allegory” and when it speaks of the future place.

I remember being at a Vineyard Church (i'm at another one now) and being told all we would do is worship continuosly...soft rock forever...aaaaggggghhhh:¬)
No kidding, they would have to lock me up …

c ya!

marc said...

Eddie - I suppose interpretation of any scripture is down to a certain amount of opinion. We are told by some denominmations that if you become a member of church 'X' then you must follow all church 'x's doctrine. But what if that contradicts your understanding? change churches? or maybe it is the case that you can exist as a Christian without having to embrace one denomincations doctrine...sorry waffling there!

How do we know a soul exists? Without souls we would not have James Brown the father of Soul, so they must exist:¬)

Some good questions eddie. I shall ponder them.

R10B said...

But how would they have known what disobedience was, unless they had some compass to know good (right) from evil (wrong)?
God told them. See Genesis 2:17, "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat."

On what basis will they ALWAYS choose the right thing, given the history of Satan and the human races (according to the story)?
On the basis that the citizens of Heaven are God's elect, He has justified them, etc., and Satan isn't around to tempt them into sin.

Without evil, we have no concept of good. The Ying/Yang allegory.
I'm not sure we are understanding each other. We both seem to be thinking that:
1) A&E were possibly not created with the knowledge of good and evil(KoGE),
2) yet they sinned, and
3) they did not have KoGE until they sinned.

What I'm saying is that their lack of KoGE did not prevent their sin. In the same way if those in Heaven lack KoGE they are not incapable of sin any more than A&E, at least not by some lobotomy that Kevin insinuates, but the presence of God (and the absence of Satan)among the elect.

What is a soul?...
Later.

on what basis do you decide that NEW all of sudden means POST?
It doesn't. It was just a frame of mind I got stuck in. I was wrong.


marc...
I suppose interpretation of any scripture is down to a certain amount of opinion.
We have to differentiate between our struggle to comprehend some teachings of scripture and the fact that their true meaning is not open to interpretation. God is not post-modern.

We are told by some denominmations that if you become a member of church 'X' then you must follow all church 'x's doctrine.
Yes, denominations impose their view of doctrine on members, but that's not why a person should hold a particular view of doctrine. We are required to hold to what we learn by our own study of Scripture. If it's an important point there should be no compromise.

Kevin Parry said...

These are all thought provoking comments! I’ve been reading the discussion between R10b, eddie and marc with some fascination.

My wife and I spoke about this issue the other day. It got us wondering: when Jesus was on earth, did the potential of sin exist within him? Was it possible that he could sin? Or was he totally incapable of sinning, even if he choose to? I think the fact that Satan tried to tempt him is Biblical evidence that Jesus had the potential to sin, and I think that this is what R10b was arguing.

Now, this begs the question: if Jesus was capable of sinning on earth, but chose not to, is he capable of sinning in heaven? Does the potential of sin still exist within him while he sits on the right hand side of the father? If so, will this also apply to Christians who enter heaven; will the potential of sin also exist within them?

If the potential of sin will exist in heaven, what will be preventing everyone (including Jesus) from sinning? If I understood correctly, R10b argued that the potential of sin will still exist in heaven, but Satan is not around to tempt anyone. If this is the case, who tempted Satan when he decided to sin against God in heaven? He managed to realize the potential of sin without any help.

If Satan could rebel against God on his own, is it possible that Christians will be able to choose against God in heaven as well, without Satan’s help? Is it possible that Jesus himself could rebel?

Sorry if this comment is not clear; like eddie, I’m also trying to figure all this out.

Kevin

Kevin Parry said...

Amy wrote:

If I may ask , what experiance made you not want to be a christian any longer? You dont have to reply, I was just curiouse!

Hi Amy. Thank you for your question. There was no single experience that made me leave the faith. While I was a Christian, most – if not all – of my experiences linked to Christianity were positive in nature. Rather, it was Christianity itself was what prompted me to leave the faith.

There are many reasons that led me to leave Christianity, but there are too many to cover in this comment. What I will do is summarise the main reasons in a separate post, and publish it on this blog in the next couple of weeks. So please come back in a few weeks and let me know what you think.

Kevin

R10B said...

Before I reply let me make clear that I am thinking along with you all in this conversation. I try not to pull thoughts out of thin air, but I am not as well-rounded in all matters of theology as I'd like to be; I am making some of my propositions based on other ideas that I hold with more confidence. I am also about to read two books by Robert Alter Genesis and The Five Books of Moses that might shed some light on the subject for me.

I'll pass on the Satan question for the time being.

Regarding Jesus' capability to sin I found an article that expresses my understanding very well, better than I've been able to do I think. Here is a quote from the article:

"Jesus Christ, though capable of sinning in his human nature, possessed a divine nature that made such a thing unquestionable. Not because he could not sin, but because he would not sin. Jesus hated sin. His desires were holy and perfect. Jesus gave no mind to sin, because his thoughts were holy and perfect. His motives and his will were perfect, and so he never would have chosen to sin. "My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of him who sent me" (Jn. 4:34)."

Kevin asked...If the potential of sin will exist in heaven, what will be preventing everyone (including Jesus) from sinning?

The same thing that kept Jesus free from sin during His time on Earth, the same power Christians have access to but due to the corruption of sin fail to claim for themselves until we are perfected.

When we enter Heaven and are perfected we will be like Christ, fully claiming that power. The only thing that will be taken away is the hold sin has over us. I don't believe that being "like Jesus" means that we will be like each other or like any one personality. We will remain ourselves as intended by God. Being like Jesus will allow us to be unique and diverse, but not sinful. It is not my sinful nature or sinful acts that define me as human or unique; they are in fact barriers to freedom, happiness and self-expression. I look forward to experiencing life without sin. I see no downside.

eddie said...

God told them
That would be like telling a three year old not to touch a hot plate. As a “loving” and responsible parent, you remove the hot plate from them, until they can understand WHY it’s not good for them, which in A&E’s case could only have happened after they gained knowledge of good and evil. This is truly a moral paradox of the whole Christian theology. God hold them responsible for something which they had no way of knowing the difference between right and wrong – so say the story at least.

On the basis that the citizens of Heaven are God's elect, He has justified them, etc., and Satan isn't around to tempt them into sin.
But in that sense, Satan was a good “spirit” (whatever the heck that is) before he got corrupted, so for all we know, the whole creation/fall story can play itself out once more. But like I said, I have yet to find a theist that can explain “spirit” to me, so all this stuff of what happens there is purely conjectural.

What I'm saying is that their lack of KoGE did not prevent their sin.
It’s really a contradiction, as I explained above. I don’t see a “father’s” heart in God’s actions in this story.

On sin
If we are to understand “sin” as breaking God’s commandments, then Jesus in fact did sin by working on the Sabbath. Also, the later epistles tell us that if a man knows how to do good, and he does not, then it is sin to him. Thus, Jesus (being one with the all knowing) not preventing Judas from committing suicide IS sin. And so we can make up a couple of different scenario’s based on the Bible’s own definitions. Jesus even lied according to the Gospels, and you know the old idiom: you break one of them, you break them all.

later ...

r10b said...

As a “loving” and responsible parent, you remove the hot plate from them, until they can understand WHY it’s not good for them

Before a child is capable of reason, yes. A&E were not infants.

I have older kids and they do not completely understand the consequences of some of the actions available to them nor why they should or should not do certain things. As a loving and responsible parent do I lock them in their rooms? No, I tell them about those consequences and turn them loose. They should trust that I love them and that I have knowledge they have yet to acquire. In a loving relationship trust preceeds understanding. When that relationship is with God, sometimes trust supersedes understanding altogether.

It’s really a contradiction, as I explained above. I don’t see a “father’s” heart in God’s actions in this story.

As I explained above it is neither contradictory nor unfatherly.

If we are to understand “sin” as breaking God’s commandments, then Jesus in fact did sin by working on the Sabbath.

Yea, that's what the Pharasees thought, too. But was God's commandment really that one should not expend any physical energy on the Sabbath, or was that merely legalistic hyperbole added by those seeking praise for their own righteousness? Jesus' reply was "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27-28). Jesus knew that the Sabbath was intended by God to be a day set aside for spiritual and physical renewal. He did not break the Sabbath. He did not sin. He just upset the self-righteous religious leaders.

Thus, Jesus (being one with the all knowing) not preventing Judas from committing suicide IS sin.

Really? You mean that unless Jesus prevents every single corrupt deed that occurs on the face of the earth (omnipresence) that He is equally responsible for all those sins? You've extended sins of omission from including all acts Jesus should have done but didn't to all acts anyone did that Jesus didn't prevent!

If that argument makes sense to you then, well...I'm sorry to hear that.

eddie said...

As I explained above it is neither contradictory nor unfatherly.
You can really rationalize it any way you want, but he fact is, Genesis tell us that they only knew right from wrong AFTER they ate from the tree. Before that, they had no idea who is telling the truth – God or Satan. And as it were, Satan was the one telling the truth, and God lied, because they did not die on that day (no matter how much translations whitewash the real language. Read the originals.)

But was God's commandment really that one should not expend any physical energy on the Sabbath, or was that merely legalistic hyperbole added by those seeking praise for their own righteousness?
According to the OT, it was God’s commandment, and according to David, it was GOOD and to be kept, and not to be reinterpreted by anyone. It makes Jesus a false prophet. It had nothing to do with legalism, because Israel understood it as God’s will, given by God himself, and commanded by him NOT to be broken, and anyone who told them to break it, was to be considered a FALSE teacher. That is the OT in a nutshell. I.E. – no matter how much Jesus claimed or was consigned divinity – it was an antithesis from what God told Israel to obey.

He just upset the self-righteous religious leaders.
That certainly is the Christian explanation, but it doesn’t fly in the face of the Jewish understanding of God’s law and commandments.

You mean that unless Jesus prevents every single corrupt deed that occurs on the face of the earth (omnipresence) that He is equally responsible for all those sins?
That’s what the NT asserts – not me.

You've extended sins of omission from including all acts Jesus should have done but didn't to all acts anyone did that Jesus didn't prevent!
Again, that’s what the NT writes, but I was saying it in reference to the human Jesus. God (the spirit) is another story all together …

r10b said...

That's quite a unique understanding of Scripture you've developed for yourself, eddie. I'm sorry that, having lost any trace of common ground, our dialog on this topic has hit the proverbial wall. I look forward to other conversations.

eddie said...

r10b

Sure thing. I have no doubt that we will circle this one again.
;-)