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Why I’m Critical of “Christian Self-Help” teaching part 2

January 31, 2013

Continued from

Being “made like Christ”

The final answer for suffering is God “making us like Him” (based on “being conformed into the image of His Son”, based on Rom. 8:29, 1 Cor. 15:49, Phil. 3:21, 2 Cor. 3:18, Eph. 4:13), but then why is SUFFERING the only thing that makes us like Him? (The Bible doesn’t actually say this, but the teaching does seem to leave that impression). Is suffering (and being patient and merciful in it) the only attribute of His character? It may be the most important thing Christ did for us, but to define “being like Christ” that way really seems to reduce Him to much less than what He is. Taking this along with the eternal torment of all unrepentant sinners, and groups like Calvinists believing God actually ordains people for this, it seems like God is all about pain. Why is that? Has anyone ever thought about it?

The problem with this teaching, is it leads to an assumption of the “image of Christ” being behavioral, and since it would be behavioral perfection, and we know we do not measure up to that, then this “being made into the image of Christ” then becomes a mundane “growth process” not much different than what any non-believer can do.

Here, CRI’s Hank Hanegraaf lays down the typical formula, (in answer to the question “Does Repetitive Sin Mean We Aren’t Saved?”)

As you get into the Word of God, and get the Word of God into you, you will have a residue of power within you, to withstand the forces and the temptations that come your way from the world, the flesh and the devil. Not only that, but the intake of scripture is the missing link between meditating on scripture and effective prayer life. So meditating on the Word of God helps to develop a relationship with the lover of your soul, and the more that develops, the more sanctified you will become, which is to say you will become more and more like Christ; and you will find those bad habits eventually falling off like barnacles. […but we will always have bad habits, because we will be imperfect until the day we die…]

However, Non-Christians get over bad habits as well. Non-Christians can suffer and grow to be more patient or compassionate. You might try to say that this is just the image of Christ in general (which all men originally have, and was marred in the fall, but still present in all men), but it is clearly made exclusive to believers in many of these statements.

This might seem like nitpicking, but when it comes to something that makes the exclusive claims the Gospel does, it should really be something other than a regular, natural process. Else, you’re just cheapening the whole concept.

What “Image of Christ” really meant was the positional perfection of being totally freed from the condemnation of the Law, which was passing away “shortly” back then (the destruction of the Temple 40 years after Christ’s ascension). That system rendered everyone as filthy sinners, but when covered by Christ, we are seen as “perfect” (even though our behavior is still not).
This is connected with the equally misunderstood concept of “the flesh”. What “flesh” really meant in Paul’s usage was using our physical lineage as the means of reconciliation with God (along with our own efforts at keeping the Law passed down through that heritage). It was referring primarily to the Christ-rejecting Israelites, who thought their status as Abraham’s children made them “the chosen”, rather then one’s position in Christ. That was determined by physical blood lineage, or, “the flesh”. So Paul shows that all your physical nature can do for you spiritually is produce sins (transgressions of the Law; “missing the mark”) such as lust and anger and the rest. In contrast, were the “fruits of the Spirit”.

The Church has taken this as teaching a behavioral “growth process” where the entire purpose of our “walk” is to develop the better behaviors of those “fruits”. This is connected with “running the race”, but most admit we never actually get to the end. Is that really “winning” then? (And then what is the purpose of this when we are supposedly, instantly “perfected” at death? At this point, they’ll usually revert the purpose of this “growth” to “service to others” now, in this life).
But Paul’s point is that “Against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:23). The whole point of Galatians is Law vs Grace, and the walk in the Spirit is about love being the motivation (v.13, 14), and love is what produces the fruits of the Spirit, not Law. Yet “law” is precisely what is being preached in most of the church, in the name of “crucifying the flesh” in order to “walk in the Spirit”.

That this is not what is being described in these passages is proven by the fact that it must be broken down in the teaching into mechanical “principles” and “steps” and a slow “growth” that is not really exclusive to Christians. This is precisely what Paul was calling “the flesh even as the aim was to keep the Law by trying to not commit sins!
So even if it appears to “work”, and you outwardly sin “less”, you’re still preaching something wrong to others, that will likely have less positive results in them, but then this is just attributed to “how hard it is for the flesh to overcome sin”; if not the person not trying hard enough, or perhaps not even really repenting.

The teaching is right, that the problem is “the flesh”, but it’s the teaching that is actually telling people to rely on the flesh (even while speaking against this), by misunderstanding what “the spirit” really is about.

Who’s Side are you on?

It also seems to put a divine stamp on the cold world of suffering, where the teachers tend to dissociate Him from it (even as some insist He is “using” it or whatever). In other words, God is against this world of injustice. Yet, it seems this is the way He wants it. If He wants me to be prosperous, and for you to be poor, that is His “secret counsel”, and He gives you the “grace” to “endure” it, so you better be “content” and change your attitude. It’s obvious all the places one can go [and where people have gone] with that sort of philosophy.
There’s a whole history of these things being used to pacify people, to maintain the status quo. The teachers often sound very compassion-less, telling everyone their pain is for some good purpose.

The typical testimonial approach takes a person who had some horrible experience or disability, and he or she just “chose” to think positively, through “faith”. The person shines from his good choice and attitude, and of course, you feel like a stupid heel for complaining about your far lesser problems. The latest one, just today, I see these postings on Facebook, of Rick Warren on one of Oprah’s shows, and they bring out this guy who had no arms or legs, to prove the point of “choice” as a coping strategy. “This is gonna shut your mouth” she says!

But this ignores other factors. Success is a combination I call “Timing, Talent, Temperament“. This is completely ignored in both American self-help and politics alike, where the successful are praised as simply making all the right choices, which implies that the less fortunate are only suffering for their own mistakes, up to “laziness”, even. And even those three things can be further influenced by various other psychological factors. But again, the trend generally is “one size fits all”.
Timing may have been bad, and his talent limited, but his temperament seemed to be such that the problem could be seen as more of a challenge, even after earlier suicidal feelings (He sounds like a Choleric). In the case of this guy on Oprah, his parents supported him, and he was of a temperament to be able to receive their more motivational “coaching” style “encouragement” (“You can either be angry for what you don’t have, or be thankful for what you do have”, which to me seems cold and trite, and would have been discouraging!)
Not everyone has this natural disposition. Too much is being placed on human will.

(And I couldn’t help wondering how many of these teachers would have handled what was their biggest fear 30 years ago; of being attacked or conquered by the Soviet regime, in addition to the “forces of godlessness” taking over from within; the way they all screamed about those “threats” in those days. Where was this “thankful attitude” then? Even today, with the gun control debate, the hostility towards Obama for the economy and other issues, and the fear toward Muslims, we wonder are people practicing what they preach? Though to be fair, most of these teachers today don’t really say much about politics anymore. But a few decades ago was a totally different story).

They even added “Choice” as a fifth card suit in a poker analogy (which one YouTube commenter points out seems to imply that God is the poker “player”) of what they see as the factors in these situations. In addition to “Chemistry”, “Connections”, “Circumstances”, “Consciousness”.
Always a formula, a quip, a neat little organized principle. It seems so nice and simple. What’s wrong with the vast numbers of hurting/struggling people in the world who just can’t ‘get with the program’; for whom this “victory” seems to be elusive?

Why do people even need compassion, then, if their adversity is all in God’s hands, it’s all a test of their ‘will’, and the “good” outcome is all that ultimately matters?
What the people need then would be coaching through it, and that’s pretty much what we’re getting! (Hence, Horton mentions Christ being transformed into a “life coach” in much Christian teaching).
Yet compassion is one of things they will all teach as one of the “good” things our suffering is supposed to produce (2 Cor. 1:4). Yet here, it’s having an opposite effect.

Again; why should we have compassion on anyone?
Hey, look; that guy has no arms or legs, and he made it fine. You don’t have any real problem [compared to that]; and as he testifies; even if you did, it’s no excuse! All you need to do is “choose” the right “attitude”.

Finance, second Master’s suddenly required by the state for a certain license —in the middle of a recession when jobs are scarce; so we’re paying money for school instead of having a second income; controlling job, (but walking around broke most of the time), etc.; lack of respect in a world (and much of the church) that looks up to the successful as naturally “deserving”, and those who struggle as probably “lazy”; and God never actively counters this; and if God’s answer is supposed to be through the written Word and other believers, then those believers just “comforting” you with those scriptures interpreted that way seems to reinforce or practically validate the problem.

It always made a striking parallel with the horror stories of Christianity similarly proof-texting justifications of racism, which was highlighted by citing passages on “contentment”, under the premise that only Heaven matters. “Pie in the sky when you die by and by”. Of course, those preaching that still enjoyed nice things here, including the benefits of the inequalities. (It really seems like placing a heavy burden on others they would not lift themselves).
It basically started with “God chose us”, with “chosenness” assumed to mean earthly favor and rule. Sound familiar?
This caused perhaps more than anything else, the total disrepute of the faith, as a “control” tool; and I’m supposed to be “witnessing” to my family with this.

The world is geared towards advantage. Telling those with less power to be content, because hardship is good for us appears to sanction the “unfair, fallen world” they warn us about. Faith is hard enough, because the world seems like such a godless jungle (which science essentially insists to us it is), so this just makes it seem God’s “ways” happen to conform to “survival of the fittest” (i.e. DARWINism, the great arch-heresy of the faith), and thus, by appearance, just another attempt at an explanation.

A Perfect Formula

The whole thing seems to fit so well. They cite examples of one person’s problems and negative reactions, and another person’s better attitude, or perhaps even the same person learns some better attitude, then cite the passage on contentment or growth, or things working out for good, and “bingo!” we have a ready-made, relevant, scripture-based philosophy that comes together like clockwork, and will “work”. It’s “hard”, but with some help from the Spirit, we gain this “peace” that transforms our view of everything. That’s the difference.
“The world can’t do it”, many actually claim. Or “I don’t know how the world does it without the Spirit”. But not only do many on the world practice similar “steps to growth”; the results are similar. Notice how the arch-secular figure Oprah can host these “testimonials” by leading evangelical Christians, and it fits right in with everything else on those shows, as she and the fans shout in agreement! This is the ultimate proof that this is no special “supernatural” work available only to born again or “regenerate” Christians!
No one has attained any better level of “growth” than anyone else. If they did, you would hear about it, and everyone would try to copy it. (Some will try to slip in “common grace” available to all).

Even though I [admittedly; or perhaps obviously?] struggle with faith, I value and respect the Gospel concept enough to separate it from pragmatic philosophy that renders it essentially no more truthful than anything else; and if anything, falsified by the claim that it’s a special supernatural “Grace” as they call it, accessible only to converted Christians. (Another example of terms and concepts torn from their original meaning and context).
The purpose of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was not a “growth through positive thinking” philosophy. It was freedom from the condemnation of the Divine Law which rendered mankind as dead sinners.

There are other self-help philosophies that are probably better than this.
What we end up with: “Many sermons are moral exhortations, which can be heard delivered with greater skill at the Rotary or Kiwanis Club. Many sermons offer personal therapies, which can be better provided by well-trained psychiatrists. Why should anyone come to the Church for what can be better found somewhere else?” (John Leith, The Reformed Imperative, Westminster Press, 1988, quoted in Horton, Beyond Culture Wars p.76, who points out that this was originally aimed at mainline churches, but now just as accurately describes evangelicalism!)
On p.145 he rhetorically asks if our sermons are “essentially pep talks seasoned with personal anecdotes and helpful illustrations?” (Perfect description!)

In Christless Christianity, he criticizes the “inward focus” (which ultimately turns glory right back onto man) of the “changed life” concept, and others. He also mentions how many in practice treat God/Christ/The Spirit as an “energy source” we “tap/plug into”. This is especially pronounced in the Charismatic environment I find myself in. (And charismaticism has greatly influenced the broader new-evangelical culture).
This remarkably describes much of the preaching and teaching you hear in churches, books and broadcasts today. While it maybe good in its own right as “self-improvement”, to confuse this with the Bible’s teachings on the power of God only clouds the issue. But it does sell, however.

The entire Christian teaching industry, and much of televangelism is driven by extravagant claims of “the mighty work God is doing today”, (defined as “changed lives”, overcoming problems, supposed healings, etc.), but which do not match the actual day-to-day reality of people’s daily lives, (which are more of a “struggle” as is admitted) and the world sees this!

The Difficulty of Faith

He further points out on p284 (BCW again) that we should accommodate our language but not our message to the world, but are doing the opposite:
“We still speak Christian-eze; we still talk about being ‘blessed’ and ‘anointed’ and use other Christian language that nobody understands outside of the evangelical world”, yet “…are accommodating the message to the world”.
He also says “In our day, the church resembles Corinth, with its attraction to slick preachers, and signs and wonders; an immature church…” (p.228)

This is actually a sign of a lack of faith. We want so much to share the biblical saints’ experience of regular divine interaction, that we must feign it, by hyping up things such as “healing” and “tongues”, and the language we see in the texts (often torn from their original contexts); if nothing else, substituting psychological “growth” as today’s “miracle”, by fusing it with the concept of the “changed life”.

It seems no one wants to admit that [most times, at the very least] prayer’s likeliness in being granted seems to conform to the natural situation. Even if we can’t fully understand it (in which case we take it as the ultimate proof it was a supernatural “answer”). When we admit prayers might not be answered, then we come up with alternate purposes for it (besides “making your requests known to God”), like “it changes US”, or it’s just our “relationship” with Him.

Being that expectations are basically the source of our pain as was mentioned, interpreting these scriptures as “promises” for US today, under the banner of “faith” raises more expectations, and when they don’t come true, and we have to shrug and tell ourselves (or another person) “oh well; we just don’t understand what God is doing”, it is creating more pain and disillusionment with God (and potential judgmental-ism if the disappointed person doesn’t develop the right attitude). It’s for all purposes “playing with our [own] hearts”! It would be God playing with our hearts, if we insist He is the one causing things to happen or not happen for some unknown purpose, but most Christians wouldn’t dare say that. (Only in moments of extreme frustration, some might). But people seem to believe that this is precisely what makes it a “test” from God. (To teach us how to handle disappointments. Another form of “playing with our hearts” is the notion that we gain “relief” from “dying”; i.e “to self”, but this is not actual relief, but still feeling the pain, and having to struggle to “change our attitude” on top of it. Don’t call it “dying” or “relief”, then!)

(The way they make it sound, I often wonder if this “growth” could be quantified. Perhaps into units of “grothions” or “grothons”, or perhaps “growitons“. So each disappointment we react to the right way gives us one growiton, and a bigger disappointment might give us five growitons. Whoever dies with the most, wins, and the more you have, the bigger the prize).

Belief in an invisible God is a very powerful tool, which can potentially be very dangerous in the wrong hands, since it holds great emotional sway and fear over many, yet cannot be readily proven or disproven (sort of parallels the power wielded by early men who discovered fire). It should be used with great caution, humility and love; knowing our human tendency to control others. So we are not to use it to silence people about the “unsearchable counsel of God” when we have been making a lot of extrabiblical speculations on what He is doing all along!
“Trusting God” ultimately winds up meaning trusting men, when teachers use their own interpretations of His promises, and personal experiences (and even revelation) read into them to instruct people on the “walk of faith”.

Faith today is very difficult, and while most will superficially admit this, in practice we end up treating it as if it were as clear as gravity (the notion that there is “no excuse” for unbelief has to be justified. The main passage this is based on, Romans chapter 1, is actually addressing Israel, whom God “showed” Himself to through special revelation).

What I’ve seen is that “faith”, when presented to others, always ends up with a measure of “presuppositionalism” (a term associated as one of the backbones of Reconstructionism, which takes just about everything the world hates about traditional religion to an extreme).
All of your arguments must presuppose the whole premise at some point. Usually, personal internal experience becomes the final arbiter, but then how can we expect others to go by just that? We have to argue that they have had the internal experience as well, which we take to be “conscience”. But conscience alone doesn’t prove all the other doctrines that go along with the entire faith.
So you can’t prove it, can’t disprove it; so that, in effect (whether consciously or not) becomes our ace in the hole, as we just presume and assure ourselves “They know it’s true, so we don’t have to prove it to them, and that’s why God’s penalties are so harsh”. When the world eventually turns away in disgust, and even believers grow weary and desperate, we can just chalk it up to their own “hardness”. (Many churches still try to entertain them back in, though).

It is especially hard for me, going through a difficult midlife crisis, and grappling with the near universal appeal to internal-based healing when I’m accustomed to expecting some form of external validation (both from life experiences, and temperament/type; a Supine in the temperament areas of Inclusion and Affection, and recognition-seeking Choleric in Control, with inferior extraverted Feeling).

I see that Horton does use many of these scriptures on suffering in a similar way, in other books. He also criticizes the “inner” approach in favor of an “outer” one. Namely, a more “catholic” (“high church” or “sacramental”) ecclesiology of communion of the saints, through the Eucharist and “the Word”. Still, the internal implications of this cannot be avoided. He criticizes the notion of “the god within”, but the whole concept of the communion of saints is that the Holy Spirit is WITHIN each saint, binding them together as one Body. And it’s still by “faith” in Someone who’s “unseen” externally, and so can only be accessed internally. The fellow saints are external, but are (admittedly) very imperfect representations of God. The sacraments are external, but only have any meaning through the [internal] faith.
I’m sure he would hold along with everyone else the common application of the the familiar 2 Cor. 4:16: “though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day”, and the even more familiar Psalm 23:4 “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for you are with me”, which are often used to teach that what’s going on in the outer world is not as important as God’s “work” within.

Philip Yancey is a somewhat well-known writer who has stood out from the rest, not being able to offer any magical solutions, or conclusions much different from the others; but just having this compassion in the way he writes. He just relates, not coaches on the path to “victory”.

So let those philosophies deal with self-help. Keep the scriptures focused on the salvation of man, and how we can love and show compassion to each oher.

Here’s a reprint of a very important newer addition to the “abundant” page:

Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh

In order to understand “sufficient grace” [perhaps the most tossed around term at suffering], we should have a better understanding of the subject of the context, which is the “thorn in the flesh”. Much speculation abounds regarding what it is, with everything from a literal thorn to his wife. In the end, they will all agree the principle is that God allows pain, and this “Grace” is generally interpreted as some sort of invisible power (through the Spirit) that makes it easier to cope with life and pain and change your attitude. When explained further, by some, it’s that just the “thankfulness” from the “grace” of being saved from the eternal Hell we really deserve should outweigh any temporal pain we have here, and thus make us content. (Truer to the meaning of “grace”, but it’s still not about any such comparison of literal pain).

Paul had just been given a vision, which by his own admission might have made him “haughty” or “exalted above measure”. As this page: says: “Anyone who had encountered Jesus and was spoken to and commissioned by Him (Acts 9:2-8) would, in his natural state, become ‘puffed up.'”

The “messenger” came from Satan, who is “the Accuser” and accusation is based on violation of the Law. And “the Flesh” is our natural state under the Law, in which many try to justify themselves through works.

So what it looks like, is that this “thorn” is some highlight of a moral or spiritual “WEAKNESS” of his, and doesn’t that word sound very familiar, from our reading of this passage? His weakness (likely some transgression marring that perfect “Pharisee of the Pharisees” image he had once maintained) would be an embarrassment, and make him look like he is in bad standing with God. This is the whole key here.

And also keep in mind, bad situations and “infirmities” and such things as imprisonment, stripes [i.e. bloody welts from whipping], shipwrecks, and stonings, etc. he mentioned were taken by many as proving God was against a person; basically as a sort of punishment for sin, (now doesn’t this sound familiar in modern American religion!) or being the “unchosen”.

This was basically the whole argument of Job’s friends, and the disciples and others Christ warned about thinking some calamity that fell on others was due to them being “bigger sinners”. This thinking pervaded the entire nation of Israel (looking for deliverance through moral perfection, and it has crept right through the covenants into the Church in different ways).
It was all about who God loved and accepted; who the true “Israel” or “Sons of Abraham” were, presumed to be proven by prosperity and power, and earned by adherence to the Law. (Rev. 3:9 is an example of Christ speaking to this. Heb.12’s discussion of “chastisement” also ties it to “sonship”).

So what was the solution for Paul? Well, Christ had borne his sins on the Cross, and forgiven him through GRACE. THIS was “SUFFICIENT” to counter this nagging flaw in his character and realize his troubles were not some sort of punishment from God. (And thus, he could actually “rejoice” in them!)

Hence, Peter compares suffering “as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody…” in which case, you have something to worry about, with suffering “as a Christian”, in which case you should “not be ASHAMED” (NOT “not feel hurt, or desperately want the pain to stop, or have a less than ‘cheerful attitude'”) but let him glorify God on this behalf” (1 Pet. 4:15, 16, eventually leading to the frequently used 5:7).

None of these passages are telling us to have a masochistic outlook, or that our pain is insignificant or good or given by God to make us better people.

So NOW, it all fits together! Paul had a vision of Christ, but to prevent him from becoming puffed up, he was somehow reminded of his sinfulness, but Christ’s Grace is sufficient to cover this “weakness”, and His “strength” is manifest through this; and also ensure that he was on the right track, despite his persecution!

  1. A couple more books:

    Chapman The 4 Seasons of Marriage: Secrets to a Lasting Marriage (Tyndale, 2012) Offered free for Kindle for awhile, so both my wife and I got it (myself, again, now having the Galaxy Tab 7.7 and now reading e-books)

    Winter, the marriage is in serious trouble,
    Spring, either the beginning of love, or the rebirth from a darker period;
    Summer, the peak or prime of marriage,
    Fall, when things begin cooling off.
    (Do not necessarily have to proceed in that order).

    Also heard referenced, Andy Stanley (son of Charles Stanley) Enemies of the Heart: Breaking Free from the Four Emotions That Control You (Multnomah, 2006/2011)

    Guilt – “I owe you”;
    Anger – “You owe me”;
    Greed – “I owe me”;
    Jealousy – “God owes me.”

    I at first thought Shame (Defined as “a sense of not living up to our own ideals”, which can be either our own goals, or others’ expectations —including God, of course; the initial product of the “Knowledge of Good and Evil”, which marked the Fall) would be “I owe me”, based on that definition. I guess it could be “I owe God” in a sense of our connection to Him being assumed to be based on our living up to ideals.
    Then, when we’re angry at God for something, that would be “God owes me”, but not necessarily connected with jealousy. I would think jealousy could be more “life owes me”, (as atheists can be jealous), but then it seems “life” ends up being the de-personification of God anyway.

    Anyway, these are nice concepts these and so many other books introduce, but the overall message of all of these books is basically “attitude change” (including the comparing of people in similar situations, with the “good” attitude people “growing”, while the “bad” attitude people remain miserable. Chapman, for instance, compares two marriage couples who lost a child, which I just feel is oversimplistic and downright insensitive. It ignores many different factors, and reduces everything to what sounds like some magical sounding power placed in our own hands.
    (Including “anger” as a necessary “sin” seems to be heading the way of what teachers like Tim LaHaye insist. It seems that’s the view of the more Baptistic leaders, which I believe LaHaye and the Stanleys share in common).

    The concepts, as nice and interesting as they may seem, end up seeming formulaic, and just a new spin on the same old message. It really seems the entire Gospel (“good news”) is just this “attitude change”, through these “laws to success”.

    And I notice how “the heart” figures so prominently in these teachings. (Horton traces this to the split in fundamentalism, between those more “cognitively oriented” and “confessional” ⦅like “Machen and company”⦆, and “those who were essentially world-denying, emotionally oriented, anti-intellectual, and more attracted to itinerant revivalists who ‘spoke to the heart’ in ways that jibed with American experience and pragmatism. Eventually, this later brand of fundamentalism won, and has marked the movement ever since”. ⦅Beyond Culture Wars, p. 23⦆).

    Some of the more old-line fundamentalists, such as the ones condemning contemporary music, worship, Bible translations, psychological influence, “associations”, etc. in the Church, who would fall into the latter camp of course, I had noticed in my dealings with them, have seemed to have moved back to a more “head”-centered faith. You can see this in their later attempts to use science to prove their positions on Creation and even translation history and music. They would agree with a lot of what Horton says about their main targets of criticism, the New-evangelicals. These are the ones who have retained the “heart”-focus; especially with the infusion or in many cases, virtual merger, of charismaticism into the movement.

    Even though “the heart” does hold a significant place in scripture, it seems too much is still being made of it. It’s never placed above the mind, soul, etc. Rather than the heart being “defiled” by all these other things (emotions we “allow”, sins, and of course, the Devil), Jesus portrays the heart as the source of defilement. (Matt.15:18-9)

    Here is an interesting article from CRI, that criticizes the psychologizing of forgiveness
    I always found it irritating how forgiveness was said to be for our own good, which led to a feeling of a double bind of “get over it or you’re just hurting your own self”. I was already hurt by a person, and they got away with it, but now blame is shifted to me, by “holding onto” negative feelings, often called “unforgiveness”. I’m “doing it all to myself”, or “my own worse enemy” (and with numerous quips and memes added, such as “you’re not hurting them”, “you’re maintaining their power over you”, etc.)
    I’ve seen this used on everyone from rape victims to murder survivors!

    Having heard and gotten this type of “coaching” in the secular world, I noted how I was hearing the same thing dressed up in scriptural verse in the Church. It’s like everything in the world is copied wholesale by popular Church teaching.

    The article argues that the true purpose of forgiveness is reconciliation (which as a Supine in two areas of temperament with inferior extraverted Feeling in the typological function order, is what I would prefer. It’s also “confrontational”, which the Choleric area of my temperament and dominant Thinking likes). Forgiveness is contingent on the offender’s repentance.

    Of course, this is tied to the “conditional” forgiveness of God’s salvation. But where we are imperfect, and need justice to be able to interact with one another, God is perfect, and the only way for anyone to be able to stand before Him is by something unconditional. Placing it upon our imperfect actions and behavior would still leave us as sinners who could not stand before Him, or you end up with Him overlooking our imperfection only if we’re making our effort to “meet Him half way”. This is just a subtle form of works-salvation.

  2. Here is the world’s counterpart to the “divine laws” regarding our “attitude” that Christians appeal to:

    You’re going to get the EXACT energy back from the universe that your put out in it.
    Have you ever noticed that the same people who constantly stay mired up in negativity, hate, anger, fear, despair, and doubt a lot of the times tend to be the same EXACT people who spend most of their lives being sick, miserable, depressed, or are always complaining about one thing or another not being right in their lives?
    I honestly think most people who make those actions a habit are addicted to those negative feelings and secretly love being the victim, and wouldn’t know what to do with true inner peace if it came up and kissed them on the cheek.
    Nowadays, I avoid that kind of energy in people when i see it coming. I used to try to take it on as some kind of ‘ people fixing project’ but not anymore. i have learned to silently pray for folks from a distance, help wherever i possibly can- but son, i gotta keep it movin’ or else that type of energy will attempt to attach itself to the next available empty vessel. if you don’t believe me, just try being in a good mood and have an uplifted spirit and go visit someone who is negative, they will drain every last bit of your energy- and you’ll leave feeling exactly the way they feel.
    For years I thought this world owed me something and was going to lay it at my feet because i was deserving of it, boy was i ever wrong.
    I’m glad i finally figured that out otherwise I might be sitting around crying victim, making a ton of excuses, and blaming the world for my shortcoming.

    Remember, start changing your energy from negative to a positive and watch your life change for the better.
    It’s a law of the universe.

    (And I was just given that “universal law” line by someone else in person, a week ago. The same people who have trashed theism’s “absolute truth” now give this other philosophy that title, and just as dogmatically as the most fiery preacher of old).

    So this is pretty much the same thing the New evangelicals have all thoroughly integrated into their teachings on “the victorious Christian [abundant] life … by the power of the Spirit“. The above reads just like a typical “sermon” of “health and wealth” televangelists!
    The old-line fundamentalists don’t directly use all of the same concepts, but it’s ultimately the same philosophy, as much as they condemn some of the other terminology. I recall the fundamentalist “counseling” class mentioning “some people simply don’t want help” (because they don’t have the right attitude, basically. Even Horton alludes to this, in criticizing “the boots of a good heart and cheerful attitude”, treated as if it were actually part of the “spiritual armor” Paul mentions. It’s what he cited someone as calling it, “Moralistic therapeutic deism”).

    I can’t help thinking “where is all of this positive energy” in the world (Christian or non-Christian), then? Where is all of this “peace”? Only inside of people, but then the only thing that comes outside is all the stuff you see in the world of people? All the backbiting, fighting, robbing and cheating, etc.

    The whole “I once was that way, now I’ve pulled myself out of it, compared to all these losers out there who still think that way”. The whole argument would be nothing without all these “others” (whether directly even mentioned or not) to compare to. Getting that kind of “counsel” always felt to me like rubbing in how far I fell short, and need to go to get to that person’s position. And they would keep gloating of how “hard” and slow it is; all the “steps”, and trial and error, etc. (And then in cases like my father, he really did not have it all together at all, but ended his life in almost the sad state he kept warning me about!)

    I like how the Bible puts it: “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Cor. 4:7)

    This is the way it always is with effort-based philosophies. Just like the racially corrupted religion that focused a lot on “morality”, but condoned oppression (that people like this are still resenting in the first place). It’s what Jesus was talking about in the Sermon on the Mount, about what sins such as “murder” and “adultery” really entail! A lot more than even the most strictest adherents think!
    At this point, people will then appeal to being “imperfect”, but then my whole point is more grace is needed, rather than speaking as if one has it all together.

    The overall point, since this entry is really aimed at Christians, especially the fundamentalistic ones, is how their philosophy becomes nearly identical to the “secular humanism” they decry. There’s nothing exclusive to a “spirit-led life” in this, other than using the names of God and Jesus instead of “the universe” and “energy”. This becomes the secularist’s ultimate proof that it’s all “universal law”, and there is no exclusivity in Christ.
    Trusting in human self-effort, which always leads to judgment of others, either philosophy becomes cold and totally lacking in grace.

    The Gospel is that man was once condemned by divine Law, but this was removed by Christ. This should alleviate some guilt (though we still in practice do things that are “universally” not right), and make us more willing to spread the forgiveness we received.
    But there are still psychological problems we must struggle through. Christian or secular alike, we should admit that upfront, and be more patient with other struggling more than we are.

    [More on subject, moved: ]

  3. Look at this piece of purely secular philosophy:

    There is no such thing as chance. Law maintains everywhere, and all that happens because of the operation of Law. You cannot name the simplest thing that ever occurred by chance – try it, and then run the thing down to a final analysis, and you will see it as the result of law.

    It is as plain as mathematics. Plan and purpose; cause and effect. From the movements of worlds to the growth of the grain of mustard seed – all the result of Law. The fall of the stone down the mountainside is not chance – forces which had been in operation for centuries caused it.

    And back of that cause were other causes, and so on until the Causeless Cause is reached.

    And Life is not the result of chance – the Law is here, too. The Law is in full operation whether you know it or not – whether you believe in it or not.

    You may be the ignorant object upon which the Law operates, and bring yourself all sorts of trouble because of your ignorance of or opposition to the Law. Or you may fall in with the operations to the Law – get into its current, as it were – and Life will seem a far different thing to you.

    You cannot get outside of the Law, by refusing to have anything to do with it. You are at liberty to oppose it and produce all the friction you wish to – it doesn’t hurt the Law, and you may keep it up until you learn your lesson.

    Fall in with the operations of the law. Make it a part of yourself. Get into its currents. Maintain your poise. Set your mind to the keynote of Courage, Confidence and Success. Get in touch with all the thoughts of that kind that are emanating every hour from hundreds of minds.

    This sounds a lot like what you hear in preaching from movements of all stripes (sabbatarian “lawkeepers”, regular Sundaykeepers who also focus on “Law”, including fundamentalists and Reformed, and especially the health & wealth teachers). “Law, not chance” is the main point.
    It is a total generalization of some observable principles in life. A blog called “Throne of Eden” points out one of the main reasons this is becoming so popular is due to the language that is used to describe it.

    Right from the start, you get the word “law”. Thanks to our incredible advancements in the study of science and mathematics, we have been able to determine many forces in the universe which are described as acting within prescribed sets of ‘laws’. For instance, the law of gravitational force, the laws of thermodynamics, Newton’s three laws of motion, Einstein’s Laws of general and special relativity, the law of conservation of mass and so many more.

    So these [“The Secret” DVD authors] write a book about energy. What do they do? They try and exploit people’s basic understanding of physics by using the word Law to describe their own personal theories of attraction.
    The difference between the law of attraction and the laws of thermodynamics is that the laws of thermodynamics are not theories. In fact, the word “law” which is used to describe them pretty much implies they are physical facts of the universe which can be tested and applied to observable objects. The law of attraction, on the other hand, is not a fact. It’s not even a good theory, because there is no basis for testing it. If you can’t do experiments which can yield results for or against a theory, then you have no right calling it a law. Again, language being used to mislead people into believing that something is more important than it really is.

    Of course, what I’ve found from both the secular and religious variants of this, is that they say it IS testable. The problem is, it’s not instantly testable. It’s a lifelong slow “process”. And if you don’t start now, and keep at it everyday, then you’ll never see the results.
    It’s not like a car you can try out, and then return with no commitments if you don’t like it. You basically have to presuppose it’s true first, and then commit to it, in order for it to work. This is not how scientific testing works, but it is how scams work. (Recall, most people who teach stuff like this, both religious and secular, are often selling something in one way or another; or if not, they are trying to convince themselves that what they’ve trusted in and committed to is the right way).

    If you try it and find it doesn’t work, then it must be you did something wrong, and in such a long hard “process” with multiple “steps” and “laws” to adhere to, there are so many places where you could have gone wrong, so you can’t argue against that; and by that time, it’s too late to undo whatever waste or other consequences from all the time and commitment you’ve put into it.

    This lack of “testability” becomes the strength of such nebulous enterprises. Someone can tell you anything all authoritatively, and proclaim it absolute TRUTH, and you can’t refute him, just DO it, or prove yourself an ignorant skeptic.

    Here’s good article touching on this subject:

    Why Don’t My Positive Affirmations Work?

    [see also:

  4. Shia LeBeauf was recently cited as mentioning a “full blown exchange of heart; a surrender of control”.

    This sort of thing is often used as the definition of the “changed heart” and the “relationship with God” (which is often defined in terms of our efforts; likened to marriage and health).
    But where is “control” ever really made the central issue in sanctification? [At least the way they generally apply it, regarding our “attitude” toward things]. That seems to be something read into the Gospel (becoming yet more “Christianeze” language) that is more a projection of people’s own internal “struggles” with control. [The issue of “control” would really be more about people’s efforts or “will” in attaining salvation, which is precisely what is being argued by most of this teaching].

    Meanwhile, God does not come and magically take care of us, where we no longer have to do anything, and he’s literally pulling all the strings. (Just saw one FB meme that says “if God made all of this, He can take care of you”; equating physical power, whereby He creates, with the non-physical, or at best “circumstances interpreted as His special doing” that they associate with His ongoing “care”).
    Life goes on as normal, with us having to go to work and struggle to live every day, in addition to this “daily struggle” of adopting the better “attitude” towards the pains of life; which is what this is really about.

    The true “control” we are to give up is the focus on our own efforts of “giving” something to God. Yet again, common lingo has it all backward.

    Something else I saw recently that was disturbing was about a Christian rapper, Jackie Hill Perry who “came out” as “ex-gay”

    “Ms. Hill-Perry says she was sexually abused by a family friend when she 5. Around the same time, she experienced gender confusion that had coalesced into an attraction to women when she turned 17.”

    She then appeals to an “epiphany”, in addition to a “conscious” [sic] given a sense of the fear of Hell. She then converts and “over time” becomes less attracted to women, and eventually turns heterosexual and marries. [In a video, she says she became “attracted to him, for who he is”, and he “happened to be a man”. In other words, the ideal of love that goes beyond sexual/romantic attraction].

    The FB post I saw this on pitched the story as “disproving” the “homosexual gospel” (and proving “reparative therapy”, where God “not only changes your affections and your heart, but He gives you new affections that you didn’t have”), but the way this came off to me, is an individual personal experience (shared by others, of course) is used as the ultimate proof for everyone who ever lived. In other words “my homosexuality was from being molested [a common stereotype], and I was ‘changed’ by reparative therapy, so there’s ‘no excuse’ for anybody else”.

    Judging the way this “Christian victory” teaching goes [in practice] in every other subject, we do not see what goes on in the bedroom of such people, and whether it’s a “daily struggle for the rest of your life”, or hence only an “attitude change” (i.e. I still really don’t like being with a man, but it’s the “full blown surrender of control”; i.e. forcing yourself to do it, because “it’s not about our pleasure” after all, and struggle is good, etc. We see an evidence in the need to separate the husband’s gender from “him”, himself. But then this can be turned around, to say that if the gender doesn’t matter, then it doesn’t matter if it “happens to be” the same sex, which is one of the LGBT arguments. In fact, the Christians can be accused of reducing relationships to just sex (Which is what they basically accuse “the world” of, but they’re the one obsessed with it!)
    So the focus in the issue is the physical binary gender, which both sides believe shouldn’t be made more important than the soul. The issue then is strictly about obedience to the Law, and those arguing for this then ironically end up as the ones judging according to “the flesh”, precisely as Paul teaches!

    I believe it is wrong to pitch something like that as God actually changing something. It’s our own will (which they will often admit, but it is not a part of salvation; John 1:13) with the big fear element behind it (see 1 John 4:18).
    This is what we try to ‘sell’ to the world, with extravagant claims of God [in theory] in effect making it easy (when it really isn’t), and in case that doesn’t work, behind it is the fear of Hell for rejecting something so “easy”.
    (Imagine how much agony this can create for some people, especially if it might happen to be true that their “orientation” is more than just psychological. Remember physical chemicals ⦅hormones, etc.⦆ are involved in this as well. This parallels the argument of those who deny all psychology and claim “depression” is just “sin” and all “mental illness” is just a “choice”).

    Or, perhaps she really was a true heterosexual whose identity was confused by the sexual abuse, and hence, truly “repaired” by the therapy. (Nobody denies that that’s ever the case; though some angry gay rights advocates do readily accuse the whole “conversion” as being fake.
    On the other hand, that the Church does not teach that a “recovering” homosexual must force themselves to like the opposite sex and enter a heterosexual marriage; that’s voluntary and they can just stay “celibate”; is more evidence of such people who do get married were likely truly heterosexual all along. She may also be simply bi-sexual, and perhaps came to lean toward women because of the negative experience. Then, it’s just a matter of overcoming the aversion to the opposite sex and then sticking only with them. It still says nothing about everyone else who identifies as totally gay).

    Still, I’m sure it wasn’t as simple or easy as it’s being made to seem (like during the “over time…” mentioned, when she changed).

    God could have truly “done” something, but no one else has any way of knowing that for themselves. People have tried it and it didn’t work the way it was testified to (and of course, such people would be accused of not really trying. Then, you get into the whole “God does it that way for some people, and lets it be a ‘struggle’ for others” claim, but by now, you’re getting so inconsistent and abstract and most importantly, further and further from any actual scriptural statements; how can you possibly judge others for not believing it?)

    I don’t know what’s in the girl’s heart, but to put this up as the ultimate disproof of everyone else’s experience (including even trying to appeal to “conscience”) is really just more of the “presuppositionalism” I discussed recently, and claiming from that to know what’s in everyone else’s heart (i.e. overgeneralizing, and based on a misunderstanding of passages, like especially Romans 1).

    On the flipside, you have a girl who came out (but has not indulged in the lifestyle, which again is generally said to be the right thing to do), and this after trying some of the basic regiments often taught, to “overcome” things like this, but is nevertheless criticized by this magazine just for wearing the label:

    Since when did God’s word tell us we would conquer sin with two 40-day fasts and never have to worry about it again. We have to battle sin daily. That’s just the way it is. Mature Christians who understand God’s position on the sin of homosexuality do not suddenly grow unclear about God’s standard for holy living simply because we struggle with temptation. We all struggle. We just aren’t tempted by the same things.

    Blaming God for failing to take away temptation and assuming He must want us to succumb because we feel the urge to do it, is ludicrous! If we acted on every wrong impulse, the world would be in a far greater mess than it already is.

    Consider this hypothetical. A woman or man is struggling with coveting someone else’s spouse on a daily basis. Each time they see this married person, they are attempted to lure them into adultery.

    This author does not understand the problem at all; in order to compare this to coveting or adultery, and lumping all these “struggles” in the same pot; (only this particular one is not their temptation).
    Our sexual desire comes from hormones, which are chemicals that can go awry. Coveting and adultery are basic survival and reproductive drives gone awry, but these are not through chemicals, but rather through the influence of the effects of the Fall (sin). One is behavioral, and usually more affected by choices; the other is purely physical (though there are instances of it being a perversion of an otherwise heterosexual drive overindulged. But such people are not truly “gay”. They do not share anything like this woman’s struggle). Everyone has the propensity for coveting and adultery; not everyone has the propensity for homosexuality.

    Since God didn’t take away the desire to indulge in this taboo relationship, they begin calling themselves an adulterer and saying it’s God’s fault. After all, their failure to rid themselves of the temptation through consistent fasting, prayer, and intimate relationship with the Lord, must mean God wants them to embrace an adulterous lifestyle.

    Hey, God is the all powerful one, so if He doesn’t want this individual hopping in and out of married people’s beds, God needs to take the feeling away.

    Ridiculous, right?

    Temptation is not a manifestation of failure on God’s part, rather it is a revelation of our fallen, sinful nature. Let’s be real. Nowhere in the Bible does it promise us that we will not be tempted. We are instructed, however, not to yield to the numerous temptations we will inevitably face.

    Sadly, it appears that DeJuaii Pace has been deceived into thinking her personal struggle with sin warrants indulgence in it. Prayerfully, God will give her clarity and show her that each of us must die to sin daily (1 Corinthians 15:31). And we must be willing to do whatever we must to fight it.

    But I don’t see where she said she was even “indulging” in anything. In fact, she clearly said she had not had any kind of sex; but was simply frustrated that the feelings (“the thing”) weren’t going away. (Reminds me of Christians I argued with over politics, and they assumed I must be a welfare-abusing leftist ghetto person because I’m arguing counter to their uncritical praise of capitalism).
    All she did was acknowledge that, and acknowledging is not “succumbing”. (In fact, it’s to try to suppress this, as this magazine is perhaps suggesting, that allows things like this to catch you off guard, and then you’re more likely to get caught up in “succumbing” and “indulging” it!)

    Plus, they are using the “I die daily” passage, which from the context is not even talking about getting over sins, through some daily “struggle” that apparently, we never completely overcome. (Yes, it’s understandable to question why God doesn’t “take it away”, when the preaching makes it looks like He is doing some supernatural “work”, but then they pull out these other passages when it doesn’t actually work that way).

    And other scriptures talking about “dying” to sin, are talking about counting on keeping the Law and hitting yourself with the resultant guilt (which is what this site is arguing, of course) for your justification.
    So she is apparently “dying to sin” in that respect!
    [For more on homosexuality, see: ]

    We think we are really coming up with irrefutable answers, but all it is proving to the world that it’s all a “subjective” experience.

  5. This article goes after numerous Christian cliché’s that don’t help:

    A thought that came into mind (and this will figure in light of the above comment), is that Christians may nod to “hate the sin, love the sinner”, but with some, it becomes “but they won’t give up their sin (and this is destroying our civilization)”, so then it basically becomes right to hate them after all (just like God will withdraw His love and pour out eternal hate if they don’t repent before they die).

  6. Just ran across this:
    The West’s big lie about Mother Teresa: Her “glorification of suffering instead of relieving it” has had little impact on her glowing reputation
    Mother Teresa was a very successful evangelist — but a champion of medicine or humanitarianism? Not so much

    Speaking in 1997, she remarked that “the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people,” describing how it was “very beautiful for the poor to share [their suffering] with the passion of Christ.” For Mother Teresa, poverty and sickness were gifts that provided the opportunity to develop one’s connection with God. Her mission was not so much to alleviate suffering but to ensure it happened within a framework of religious belief. Indeed, by her own admission she was motivated by a desire to fulfill her own religious convictions rather than altruistic concern for the world’s poor. “There is always the danger that we may become only social workers … our works are only an expression of our love for Christ,” she told a BBC journalist in 1969.

    If that’s true, then it fits right in with much of Western church teaching on suffering. Many are more into “comforting” people with how suffering is good for the soul. It’s the backbone of the massive teaching industry focusing on “Victory” or “the aundant life”, where the only thing to be changed is our “attitudes”, basically (via the numerous “steps”); then God has “healed” us.

  7. How People Use ‘Forgiveness’ To ‘Shame’ Abuse Survivors

    “Religious people, can be the worst for this. I’ve heard many toxic and abusive statements, like ‘God won’t forgive you of your sins, if you don’t forgive your abusers’, ‘all sins are equal’. ‘I’ve forgiven, so should you’. Which is highly abusive to state.
    This is all ‘shame-shifting’.
    The only person that does need to feel shame, is the abuser.”

    (It should be noted, that Jesus’ “forgive and you shall be forgiven”, in addition to the parable of the unforgiving servant, were aimed at people under the Law, who often thought they were earning their justification through their works, but the whole point was that all have sinned, and would need to be forgiven unconditionally by God. Because the Church didn’t realize an overlap of covenants, they took passages like this as continuing to shape the state of salvation, even as they pledged belief in “faith alone” [“not works”]. “faith” then became the effort of various actions and attitudes, including forgiveness of others, so that salvation could still hinge on it. Hence, this shaming of people suffering).

  8. Good article from last year on a common cliché in both the world and the Church.

    Everything Doesn’t Happen For A Reason

    In the FB post discussion, my comment:

    I had gotten caught up in the religious version of this. Myself looking for “reason” as compensation. But I found, since it’s based on “faith” in the “unseen”, it ultimately doesn’t do much for you. But what’s far worse is that other Christians, believing this, then become cold and start judging your spirituality if you don’t have the right “attitude” (often using “Christianeze” terms like “bitterness” and “offense”). They have plenty of scriptures that appear to support this, but I found most of those were addressing the special situation of the early Church under persecution; not mundane pains and difficulties. So they are reflecting the standard conservative “rugged individualist“ mindset (that’s also colored many Christians’ views in politics). Not once did I ever hear “I’m here for you”; only “God/Jesus is here for you” (and to not be “content” with that, is to effectively ‘reject’ Him! And part of His presence was supposed to be THROUGH other believers. That was the purpose of FELLOWSHIP; not paying a “pastor” to ‘lead’ you in reading the Bible and worshipping and preach a message to you).

    And this is the basis of the entire Christian teaching industry. So when you see that smiling televangelist talking about “joy” and “abundant life”, this is the “shadow” of the teaching.

  9. Here I want to address some common Christians arguments that I don’t think are as strong as we feel they are:

    SUFFERING, EVIL AND GOD’S EXISTENCE? . . . ”If there is no God, the problems of evil and suffering are in no way solved, so where is the hope of redemption, or meaning for those who suffer? Suffering is just as tragic, if not more so, without God because there is no hope of ultimate justice, or of the suffering being rendered meaningful or transcendent, redemptive or redeemable. It might be true that there is no God to blame now, but neither is there a God to reach out to for strength, transcendent meaning, or comfort. Why would we seek the alleviation of suffering without objective morality grounded in a God of justice?” –
    Denying the supernatural eliminates Darwinians from the conversation. Atheist Richard Dawkins claims all is amoral. He writes: “DNA neither cares or knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.” In other words, for the anti-supernatural, earth-bound atheist, we are just clumps of molecules aimlessly bumping into other molecules. We swirl around without any rhyme or reason. There is no good, evil, justice or punishment for sin. We are leaves in the wind, helplessly wandering accidents of time, space and matter. We have no reason for being or future. Darwinists have no more basis to declare what is good or evil than a rock or croaking bullfrog.

    Without any moral being, they have no way to ever see evil punished or injustice made just.

    Yet as we are all created in the image of a holy God, that inner conscience we all have, cries out against perceived injustices, despite the philosophical lies our deluded intellects may or may not, have succumbed to. Despite evolutionary leanings, the atheist cannot live that way. We all make moral judgments daily. He is inconsistent at best and self-deceived at worst. Is a purposeless life philosophy going to bring much peace and joy?

    (Not sure exactly which rzim article this is taken from; can’t find exact title; but it was in a CRI/Equip email).

    The problem I have long struggled with, is that this sort of argument is one of the things that led me into the faith decades ago. But it’s a purely emotive appeal to “good and evil”. (And we try to put it out there as totally “objective”). Yet “knowledge of good and evil” is what’s said in scripture to have begin our problem in the first place. (We focus on the original ACT of “sin” and God’s supposed retaliation for it, and how that caused all pain and suffering, but clearly, man’s problem was shame, and the Law was given to show us we could not solve the problem through our own efforts).

    If our hope is God punishing evil, then we end up looking forward to others’ destruction, and thus wind up lacking grace ourselves. The Israelites (including the Disciples) had come to think this way, but Christ had to correct them on that. Then, if we are honest, we realize that if others (not just atheists, but even other supposed “believers”, like those who believe something wrong we deem to forfeit faith in the “true” Savior) can err and end up on the “punished” side, so can we. Like I found that when the problems of the world were too unbearable at times, other believers didn’t want to hear it, and just pointed to the afterlife, and when that didn’t pacify, then they begin questioning your salvation for “not trusting God”. But then what good is that if both you and the people who did you wrong end up condemned?

    The point is, I think some of these arguments we come up with are not as strong as we think. And it seems to be putting down “intellect” in favor of the heart, but remember, the heart is “deceitfully wicked” as well. (So then, others will take this point and put down the heart in favor of a heady system of arguments, but only the conclusions of their “intellect” are allowed).

    Here’s an article that offers the usual reasons that people lose faith:

    But some of what we call “evil” isn’t really evil; it’s purely nature, and we can say the “evil” or “sin” then lies in 1) man’s knowledge of good and evil, whereby he interprets nature as evil 2) man following nature instead of the “integrity” supposedly demanded by “conscience”.

    Looking for the source of the above article, I found this one:

    1. The Objective Reality of Evil

    (“Naturalistic evolution cannot explain the intrinsic dignity and worth of every single person. What can explain this is that each person is created in the image of a good God, and is fully known and unconditionally loved by Him.”)

    2. The Limits of Human Knowledge “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,” etc.

    While this makes sense, it still leaves us back at square one.

    3. A Response of Freedom

    What kind of world God would have made depends on what God values. According to Christianity, what God values above all is relationship. But for relationship to be meaningful, it must be freely chosen; for relationship to be freely chosen, there must be the possibility of it being rejected; and wherever there is the possibility of rejecting relationship, there is also the possibility of pain and suffering.

    The Bible affirms this truth from its very first pages. We find a story of people who are in intimate relationship with God, and who know what He has asked of them. But then they hear this voice in their ears, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1). And they begin to doubt God. They begin to doubt that He knows what’s best for them. They begin to doubt that He is for them. Ultimately, they begin to doubt what He has actually said—his word.

    And then they sin.

    From temptation to doubt to disobedience to shame to hiding to finger-pointing to suffering—is there really a question about whether this story speaks the truth about the human heart? When I read it, I have to admit that it resounds with the truth about me.

    The “relationship” argument (which sounds nice, but ultimately becomes the basis of judgment. If you’re using your mind only and not having that “relationship” with Him; THAT’s the whole problem; it is your fault; it’s you who ‘turned away’ from Him, and that’s why you’re not really saved).

    But they are reading so much into the texts that is not really there. It’s all about “doubt” vs “knowing what’s best for them”. That’s not what it says. They’re projecting into the text the reason why WE fall into disobedience, but we’re already “fallen”; Adam and Eve weren’t, when the serpent first approached them.

    4. What It Takes To Be You

    It’s typical to think of the problem of evil like this: we picture ourselves in this world of suffering, then we picture ourselves in a world with far less suffering. And then we wonder, “Shouldn’t God have created us in the other world—the world with far less suffering?” That’s a reasonable thought.

    But it’s a thought that relies on a philosophical mistake. It relies on the assumption that it would still be you and me who would exist in that other world. And that is highly controversial. Let me explain.

    He then recounts a story of his mother and father dating, his father sees a ring on her finger, and when she says it’s from an old boyfriend, he takes it and throws it from the Brooklyn Bridge into the river, and she “loved” this. This sort of “alpha-male” rewarded aggression used as a positive anecdote doesn’t help me out, in a world as an Aspie, where it seems just breathing wrong around people draws their wrath and leaves you mateless for years, which is then often curtly blamed on you. —and even then, once you get one, you have to hear how lucky you are someone “tolerates” you so much!

    But that’s part of why this anecdotal approach gets on my nerves, because on one hand, they’re debunking “fantasies” we often create (regarding relationships), but then they always are able to offer these storybook sounding personal experiences like this that seem downright unrealistic. I’ve heard others testify of seeing some woman in church or wherever, saying “that’s the one for me”, and then he does get her. (Which then of course is attributed to God). Listening to stuff like this, it sounds like they are from another world. This does not help with where God really fits in with it. Of course it’s easy for people with these experiences to believe in divine intervention. (But of course, others’ different experiences, such as with doubt or especially now, sexual preference, are usually held as “no excuse”; for if “victory” worked like this for them, this is what God does for everyone; but “in His own timing”, which of course is the “out” for when it is seemingly not working like that). It further goes along with a godless world of principles such as “survival of the fittest”, which they attribute to “the Fall”, “free will”, “God leaves it this way because He wants ‘relationship'”, etc. but it sure benefits them, while being against others.

    We often wish we could take some piece of suffering out of our world while keeping everything else the same. But it doesn’t work that way. Changing anything changes everything—and everyone.

    Why didn’t God create a different world? Well, it depends on what God was after. It depends on what God values. And what if one of the things He values, values greatly, is you, the people you love, and each person who will ever live?

    Sometimes we wish God had made a very different sort of world, but in doing so we unwittingly wish ourselves out of existence. And so the problem of suffering is reframed in the form of a question:

    Could God have wronged you by creating a world in which you came to exist and are offered eternal life, rather than creating a different world in which you never would have lived?

    5. The “Best Lives” Thought Experiment is basically the “pain is good” argument.

    “Criticism without alternative is empty. It’s easy to get mad at the world God has made. It’s much harder to say the world God should have made instead.”

    I’ve always realized this, especially with an introverted Thinking perspective that points out what’s incorrect from a subjective perspective, and extraverted iNtuition, which searches for ideas and alternatives, though is not good at implementing them or even finding ones that are viable. Whether religion or politics, it’s hard to come up with something better, as we watch different sides of every issue take a stance, but ignore the opposing points.
    But this basically gets into “this is the way it was meant to be”, and by direct implication the way God wants it. Of course, they dodge the obvious problem with this with the “Fall” and “free will”. Ironically, this essentially Arminian assumption fails to realize how the whole premise is grounded upon Calvinism’s argument that “God ordains the sin, but holds man ‘responsible'” (which calls into question the whole notion of Him being a God of love and true grace).

    This point also short circuits Heaven as incentive to have the right attitude in this life; for I can imagine Heaven as that perfect world without suffering (Philip Yancey even quoted someone once to the effect that Heaven will be whatever we missed in this life, whether love, safety, etc). But then, creating a copy of this world, but removed from its overall context of survival (which involves pain, suffering and power), is what creates the seeming “boring” place people who question this complain of.  What then will be the purpose of day to day living?

    Of course, on this point people can only fall back on “eye has not seen”, but then you’ve lost any real incentive. (Most people at that point will fill it in with the “relationship with God”; that just His “presence” will be so pleasant (and it’s supposed to already be so now, when we don’t actually “see Him”), but by now, it’s so abstract and conjectural, I don’t see how it can provide any incentive.

    6. The God Who Suffers With Us

    The night before his death, as Jesus wrestled with what He knew the next day would bring, Jesus said to his friends, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow, to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). Think about it. The God of the Universe, the Creator of all things, saying He is overwhelmed with sorrow, even to death….

    If you’ve ever experienced deep depression or thought about dying, Jesus is right there with you. There is no depth of agony and helplessness we can experience in this life that He doesn’t understand.

    The loving parent is not the one who never allows suffering in a child’s life. The loving parent is the one who is willing to suffer alongside their children. And in Christianity this is exactly what we find.

    As nice as this almost universal sentiment is, it is still reading a bit more into scripture than is actually there. The Cross is God’s way of forgiving us, and while Hebrews 5:13 says “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered” and 4:15 “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin”, this then is taken to lead back to the whole “relationship” thing, and again, if you don’t develop the right attitude from this, you’re possibly not saved (and there’s a couple of other passages from Hebrews they can use for this such as 12:8).

    But what I find basically cancels this out is the point of #5; that this is the way He wants things. When suffering, I could try to imagine God somehow “suffering” there with me, but when the Christians’ main answer is that He “allows” it because He’s “sees the end”, then I end up picturing Him smiling down on the suffering instead! If you complain enough, then they begin portraying Him as the offended party, for He is holy, your sins “offend” this “holiness”, and yet He was nice enough to ‘offer’ you Heaven anyway, and yet you are negating the work of the Cross if the salvation from Hell it brings you doesn’t make everything that happens on this earth no longer matter (and thus you may still be heading there, as salvation must not have present to have “changed” you).

    Just what does this really mean, when you can’t actually see someone suffering next to you, and the teachings are mixed when it comes to whether there are any “feelings” or not. Let’s face it, as the memes say now, the notion of someone who can do something (i.e. all powerful), but doesn’t, is just as problematic as someone who would so something (i.e. truly empathizing), but can’t. Saying “we can’t understand His ways” over and over just loses any meaning after awhile. Then you should stop claiming to know anything about God, or at least not so dogmatically assert other things regarding faith and purpose.

    In reality, we are supposed to feel God’s presence “with us” through other people, but when they are sidetracked by some of these teachings, you’re basically left all alone, to just try to “feel” some sense of God, by yourself, after the church routine and all the activities and group prayer are over.

     7. A Matter of Perspective

    Finally, the challenge of suffering is in part a challenge of perspective, and it’s important to remember that our current perspective is not the full perspective.

    The Bible says that the eternal life that God offers to every person will be one where “God will wipe every tear from our eyes,” where there will be “no more death or mourning or crying or pain”

    This is the “it won’t matter in Heaven” argument.

    But the problem it’s not addressing is how to get through life now. If Heaven is to be our incentive now, then what good is it if it’s something we can’t even fathom? (which again ties into the 5th point). You just have to “choose” to believe in something “good” that awaits us, with absolutely no foretaste or precedent (I say if it’s so good how our egos are diminished by life circumstances now, then why should they be gratified in some other world? We can appeal to the “Mind of Christ”, with the reward of “exaltation” in Philippians, but as Christ Himself said, this was voluntary (John 10:18). Much of what we face in life is not voluntary). But since when does what we “choose” to believe determine reality? All of life constantly reinforces that reality takes no input from us; it just “is”. Then, add to that, that God is the one who wants it this way, then what is this other world they are promising us?

    Episode 064: “The Inescapability of God” with James N. Anderson

    Although the Bible teaches that God’s existence is evident from nature, it has become commonplace in modern society for people to doubt or deny that God exists. This article contends that six aspects of our lives that all of us take for granted—existence, values, morality, reason, mind, and science—can only be explained adequately on a theistic basis. (1) The existence of contingent things—including humans—ultimately depends on a noncontingent, self-existent God who freely created the universe. (2) Objective value judgments about things within the universe presuppose an absolute standard of goodness that transcends the universe, by which those things can be judged good or bad. (3) Objective moral judgments about human actions presuppose transcendent moral laws that in turn require a transcendent moral lawgiver, as even many atheists concede. (4) Our rational faculties must find their ultimate origin in a rational source; reason cannot come from nonreason, and naturalistic evolutionary explanations of our cognitive faculties are self-defeating. (5) Our possession of conscious minds cannot be explained on an atheistic materialistic basis; naturalistic evolutionary accounts of the emergence of complex conscious minds assume the very thing they purport to explain. (6) Science rests on a host of foundational philosophical presuppositions, including two assumptions that cannot be justified apart from a theistic worldview: (1) the universe is orderly and rational and (2) our minds are well-fitted to comprehend that order and rationality. Insofar as atheists take these six things for granted, they have to depend on God even while they deny His existence.

    But this doesn’t prove a particular idea of God, such as “the God of the Bible”. Notice, the [continued] focus on “atheism”, but since the age of the internet, and participating in debates and seeing articles against theistic doctrines such as creationism, from what I’ve seen, the official default technical position of the opposers favoring “science” is more accurately agnosticism. It’s not known. Religion wants to be considered a science basically (to be taught alongside it, to be seen as concrete and absolute as gravity, etc.), but does not produce the empirical evidence that has come to define true “science”. I’ve seen relatively little absolute “there is no God” argument, yet Christians argumentation remains focused on the “atheists”. That’s because this argument would only hold against them.

    I would say the Christian Gospel is the one that strikes at the root of our main problem, of the shame arising from the “knowledge of good and evil”.
    But as for “proving” it logically to everyone, I’ve found that to be totally futile. People have made their decision, and the New Testament does not tell us to keep trying to argue against people who’ve already made their decision. Christ had said to pick up and move on. But of course, most Christians settled in Western nations aren’t itinerant disciples, to have anywhere to move on to. This all is evidence that something has changed in God’s plan, anyway, and that God must be operating on a complete grace. Whenever the tangible evidence argument runs out of steam, then they fall back on “faith”, but if salvation were in seeing all this supposed had evidence in nature, and believing based on that, that wouldn’t be “faith”; it would be the same sort of natural wisdom that leads one to walk around a pit instead of through it. And it would basically be a “work” of our own effort or “will”.

  10. A bunch of discussion s on Facebook about Grace and works. A couple of comments and answers:

    I wonder about the moments in the lives of others when they were saved. My own came about when I realized I could not forgive myself for a horrible thing I had done. I could forgive anybody who had acted to harm me, but never could I find forgiveness for myself. I was very anti-Christian at the time, but God sent the right person into my life at the right time, and I suddenly understood that this God had the power to forgive. I wanted to repent even more when I came to understand that every sin I have ever committed was not just against a person, but against the God who created me and stood alone in judgement over me. My repentance was a groveling, messy one, and motivated from a place in my heart that I could never see before. While repentance “may” be necessary for salvation, I have a hard time seeing how a person could be saved and not repent.

    I think that illustrates that a lot of this debate is because we all know deep down inside how sinful we are. There are different approaches to this.
    Denial, where the total nonbeliever says “Oh, that religious stuff is all nonsense; I know I’m a good person, and if there was a God, he would ‘understand’ anyway“. The religious version of this (and yes, there is one, and it’s all too common), is to think one has ‘repented’ of all his sin, and so whatever he does now (in his “changed life”) is OK, or at least justified in some way.
    Another approach is remorse, and either an attempt to “make up for it”, namely through works, or sometimes, to accept grace. But what often happens, is we project this onto others, and say, “because I felt so much shame, and needed to ‘repent’ (whether that means works or just ‘faith’), then that means no one else can be saved without remorse/shame/repentance/works/’personal faith’, etc. either”. We basically ‘project’ our own sense of sinfulness onto others, and this we need to beware of. (And then, hence the need for some to continuously try to preach “works” or some other move of the will, to others).

    Since I had seen a suggestion that perhaps “Ultra Grace” (as one called it) people were operating on a “guilty conscience”, I saw the need to further address that point; but yes guilt feelings do figure in that, and they are naturally stoked by Law/repentance/works preaching. But that doesn’t mean that that is right. The ‘conscience’ isn’t always right, and “repentance“ preachers have always been the first to turn against ‘conscience’ (and also, especially, ‘sincerity’ and ‘trying as hard as I can to be good’) when someone says “but my conscience says what I’m doing is OK”. The conscience can go the other way and be too “weak” (restrictive of things that aren’t really sin) as Paul discusses, and most importantly, Satan, rather than being someone who leads people into “fun”, is really an “accuser” (the entire meaning of his name).

    So God can be truly operating off of Grace, and Satan (or just “the flesh”) will come back with the Law and guilt; and not the other way around. The purpose, while disguised as “lovingly leading us to repentance and salvation”, or “just ‘pleasing’ God”, is to oppose the work of Christ (in Satan’s case), or self-assurance of our own justification (in the case of the flesh; which also opposes Christ).

    The “Good News” is that we do not have to sit and be terrorized by those feelings, or be be frantically motivated to try to “do“ something (whether physical or mental), to appease God; only for that to likely not even be enough in the end.

    This, is NOT saying “DON’T do good works” (as a few people keep charging over and over). This is what’s always leveled at us; it’s like the only way people can think. Again, that’s another projection of the sinfulness we feel inside, partly from being so obsessed with ‘sin’, from not believing in a total Grace, and thus wanting to take care of it ourselves, with our ‘will’. Yes, it’s about being “off the hook” (as one person told another, in sarcastically conceding the point), because Christ was the one who was ON the hook (the literal nails of the Cross) in our stead.

    Fruits of the Spirit are not qualities inherent in fallen men, but are achieved only by God’s grace. None are righteous, but the Spirit produces righteousness within His children. The remaining sin that dwells within the believer reminds him of the futility of his own effort, his dependency upon the Spirit, and his constant need for God’s grace and mercy.

    I think there’s a big misconception here, as the “fruits of the Spirit” described are “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”, and to say that these “are not qualities inherent in fallen men, but are achieved only by God’s grace” has led to the belief that only born again Christians have ever displayed these traits, which is so inaccurate, it’s not funny.
    So then all sin in society ends up having to be totally unbelievers’ fault, and nothing Christians do can ever be wrong or contribute to problems.
    When forced to acknowledge that non-believers can have these things, then we come up with this notion that it’s “fake”, or then we switch to “these are works that don’t save”, such as what’s been called “common grace”.

    The utter irony of all of this is, that these are supposed to be works of God (the Spirit “producing” them), but then we admit they don’t come “automatically”, given the “remaining sin that dwells within the believer” and the “pull of the flesh”, and come up with this philosophy that the reason God leaves it there (rather than vanquishing it instantly as you would think) is to “remind him of the futility of his own effort, his dependency upon the Spirit, and his constant need for God’s grace and mercy”.

    Yet, since it’s not automatic, then when they begin explaining how to gain these fruits or behavioral “rightousness”, they describe a need to “cultivate” these “fruits”, and it’s a list of “steps” that all consist of self-willed efforts, that are admittedly “not easy”. So then this “grace and mercy” we “need” gets reinterpreted as some sort of motivation to continue to embark on this regiment, and “dependency on the Spirit” becomes just an “attitude” of “joy” and “peace” in the midst of this difficulty we gain by the right actions (such as prayer, Bible study meditation, thankfulness, service, etc.).

    Since it’s so “hard”, then many of course slack off and fail to develop these fruits, which then becomes yet another occasion for judgment of some groups against others (like old line fundamentalists against new evangelicals, and “Lordship salvationists” [who are grossly perfectionistic closet Calvinists] against nearly everyone else; i.e. 2/3rds of professing Christians are lost “tares”; after all, “only few will be saved”).

    THIS is what has turned me toward this “ultra grace”, after trying to practice it for 20 years, only to have it all dashed by preaching like that, realizing that it is in fact right if the doctrine is taken consistently. At what point do we realize that this is in no stretch of the imagination “good news” any more, and is bona-fide “works” salvation?
    And people of other religions and even no religion can do these things. The only difference is that Christians are doing it for “God” rather than some other purpose, and have more motivation, especially through fear, and especially in some of the sins nonbelievers don’t see as important, but the Church has focused on.

    That’s what showed me what “dependence on God” really means.
    The “fruits of the Spirit” is contrasted with the “deeds of the flesh”, which of course are the usual preached against sins (but also includes “discord, dissensions, factions”, which are often caused by teachings like this, as stated), and the reason all the “self-effort” is so “hard” to begin with, is because “flesh” means any effort of our own will (John 1:13). And all it does is produce those deeds; hence, that endless “struggle” when we in that same flesh try to go against them. So the “fruits of the Spirit” is what reminds us how much we fall short, and thus need to depend on Christ, and not our efforts to will ourselves into mastering them.

  11. Someone posted a photo of a deer just standing and allowing cheetas to eat her, while staring in the distance to see her children escape, and thus sacrifice herself for them; which was of course supposed to be a picture of what Christ did for us. Someone pointed that this was a hoax, and she was just staring, out of being in shock.
    This reminded me of analogies I used to hear in preaching.

    Trying to compare death from nature (whether stuff like this, or accidents) to Christ was always disturbing to me. Like I always used to hear a fable about a drawbridge operator whose son is down in the bridge somewhere, and the father suddenly had to quickly open the bridge, crushing him, to save a ship approaching (or maybe it’s closing it to save a car approaching).

    While the whole “father sacrifices son” theme of course is a direct analogy; it still doesn’t fit, because when we, or an animal die, that’s a permanent loss (at least from the perspective of this physical life). Christ on the other hand got His life back in three days.

    This analogy is designed to stoke our emotions toward the loss of someone, and thus make us sympathize with what Christ did for us (supposedly in order to “appreciate” it more), but the reason why there is such emotion is because of the permanence of the loss, even if we believe we will see them again after we live out the rest of our lives and then die. And since this is nevertheless “unseen”, and thus only by “faith”, there is still a measure of uncertainty about it, on top of having to live for an undetermined amount of time without the person.

    The point of Christ’s death obviously is not really about “loss”, because He (and of course His Father) knew all along that in three days He would come back. (it’s also not meant to be something put up next to our suffering to diminish them and tell us to be “thankful’, or motivate us to give something back, as the “All this I Did For Thee” tract message implies, in addition to the graphic descriptions of the whipping and crucifixion injuries that the same type of churches that use stuff like the bridge analogy and tracts like that would also use).

    Perhaps it can be described as more of a gesture to show Him taking on punishment for the sin we all sense deep down inside (from our guilt and shame from the knowledge of good and evil) we deserve. The “innocence” of Himself (in addition to the lambs and other “clean” animals who prefigured Him) was to appeal to our emotions, but it was more about “the good paying for the bad”, than a comparison to the grief of regular human death.

    Saw this posted:

    Here is the testimony of a Chinese Christian: “I walked through the road of life and had fallen into a great ditch. The ditch was filled with depression, discouragement, and sin. As I lay in that ditch, Mohammed came along and said, ‘It’s your fault you’re in the ditch. You offended Allah, and this is your just punishment.’ Then Marx came by and said, ‘You’re in the ditch because of class warfare. You must revolt.’ But after the government changed, I was still in my ditch. Then Buddha came along and said, ‘You’re not really in that ditch. You just think you’re there. It’s all an illusion of the mind. Be at peace.’ Then Confucius came by and said, ‘Here are the 10 steps of self-attainment by which you can get out of your ditch. If you will struggle, you will climb out eventually.’ But as much as I struggled and strained, I couldn’t get out of the ditch, because it was too deep.

    “Then one day, Jesus Christ came by and saw me in my ditch. Without a word, he took off his white robe and got down in the muddy ditch with me. Then he lifted me up with his strong arms and got me out of the ditch. Thank God that Jesus did for me what I could not do for myself.”

    The irony is, the Church in PRACTICE has taught all of those same things! Just change the “Marx” one from “class warfare” to “culture warfare” and you have what many Christians have preached when addressing society and politics.
    Say you can’t see or feel Jesus there with you (when the problems of life get to be too much), you get something that nearly amounts to Buddha’s answer (i.e. saying this life doesn’t matter; only the spiritual world, etc). Ask what you can do to be more closer to God, and “feel His presence” like that, and you get Confucius’ answer. Ask why God does it this way and doesn’t make it easier, you get Muhammad’s answer (which is really more typical for the Church than for Islam, all in the name of “the doctrine of sin” and of course “God” instead of “Allah”; like are they kidding to point this at some other belief system?)

    All this is doing is just throwing more dirt at other religions and philosophies they always dump on anyway, not realizing they do the same things. It can be a textbook example of “projection” of the “Shadow”.

    If the “ditch” was guilt over sin, then it would at least be a more scriptural ideal. But instead, the “ditch” is said to be “depression” and “discouragement” in addition to just “sin” by itself. (Again, when they begin breaking down how to “overcome” these things, you get the Confucius-like “steps”, with God only giving you “help” in it).

    So now, looking for where the notion of Christ “suffering in/with us” (which is often the final “comfort” for the pains of this life) comes from, it seems the closest thing to that I can find is Hebrews 4:15 “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
    The whole context of the chapter is “rest”, from “works”, where Christ as “high priest” is being contrasted with the physical priesthood that was coming to an end (the theme of the entire epistle), which was a system of religious “works” and fear of condemnation. Like everything else, they extend it to a more “relevant” self-help sort of theme.

  12. Here’s another one that deserves discussion:

    Interesting point on a distinction between “pain” and “suffering”.
    Pain is an immediate sensation (physical or emotional), where “suffering” is about a prolonged state. In the KJV, “suffer” means “allow”, and it’s basically “allowed” as you can’t do anything about it.

    That said, this is just the same formulaic response that seems to be just memorized from everyone else.

    Even goes as far as to start with the typical claim to acknowledge the unhelpful formulaic (or “pat”) answer of *others*:
    “well-meaning Christians and misinformed Churches have made the problem worse by simply throwing a band-aide answer”

    so you think this answer will be different.
    But then, they say the same exact things others say, with the same anecdotes or analogies, and most importantly, deflection:

    “Pain is, in most cases, a good thing. If you touch a hot stove…”

    “The Bible chooses to focus more on the response to suffering rather than the causation.”

    “He says I’m with you and I will not leave you”

    “God is redeeming all things for His good and our benefit.”

    “The assumption in that question is that we know better than God and that we are the center of importance.”

    “The reality is our understanding of God, of suffering, and of love are all severely limited. We are finite beings trying to grasp at an infinite God.”

    “God sees the larger picture and is orchestrating everything for his glory, which is to our benefit. You and I are not the center. There’s a larger story unfolding that you and I are not privy too. We have to ask ourselves if we trust that God’s plan is good, even if at the moment it doesn’t seem good. That’s what faith demands, believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.””

    I think the reason so many of us struggle with this question of suffering is that we can’t trust God. We demand answers and that God fixes our problem(s). Thus insisting to be at the center. We think there’s no way something good could come from our suffering. The problem is, you and I are stuck with an extremely limited view. We can only see what’s right in front of us. God sees the larger picture. Is it possible that maybe something bigger is unfolding? Something we cannot see or even understand.

    The point I’m trying to make is that until we put God at the center, we will struggle with this question of why suffering exists. Until we understand that there are things we will not see this side of heaven, this question will cause us to stumble. Until we place our trust that God’s plan is good, even when it doesn’t seem to be, we will never be at peace with this question.

    “God uses it for good”

    it’s just “temporary”

    He’s just being “patient”; (waiting for more people to be saved)

    …to see what we will “choose”.

    But many of these things are poorly defined, and some (like the last ones) are totally speculatory.

    What does “being with you” mean when you can’t see Him, and some claim to “feel” Him, but if you don’t, then, they say it’s “faith, not feelings” (which is the ultimate answer), but the pain and suffering is totally, concretely felt and experienced?
    Painful things we do not have to “just believe” in our “heads” and/or “hearts”. Instead, “life” always FORCES us to “come out of our own heads” to deal with it! Else, we face more tangible “consequences”!

    As I’ve said elsewhere, what would it mean for God to NOT be with us, or not supply our every need, or for Him to “leave” or “forsake” us, then? Since every physical and emotional calamity imaginable has in fact happened to Christians; the only thing we are absolutely spared from is ending up [eternally] lost! That is what these scriptures are ultimately pointing to!

    What is this “glory”? That’s something tossed up at everything people don’t like, but is hard to justify (such as Hell and especially Calvinistic “reprobation”, where people are pre-ordained there!)

    And of course, the “larger picture” and “eternity”, which are completely unknown. Anyone can say anything about that, and who can answer it? Those have notoriously been used to dismiss or even justify suffering now.

    Then, the whole “free will” argument:

    “God designed humans to love. But love requires a choice. Love cannot be forced, it must be chosen. Thus God had to give us the ability to chose, He had to give us free will. Without it, we cannot truly experience love.”

    “Of course, we knew the consequences of free will. We rebelled against God, and still do. And our actions brought evil and suffering into the world. ”

    “We are the creators of suffering. It’s not by God’s design, it’s by our sin. God allows for suffering, but
    He did not create it.”

    This is based on the notion that when Adam sinned, God basically ‘retaliated’ by making life difficult. So He brought in conditions causing suffering as punishment, and while you might argue man ‘earned’ it, you can’t honestly deny that God caused it. That’s making Him passive, like He couldn’t help create thorns and earthquakes –which are examples of things man did not ‘DO’; man must have MADE Him do it, or they just came up on their own.

    Here’s an outline of what causes suffering:

    •The energy of the universe pushes matter to be constantly changing.

    •Living beings need the matter they depend on (bodies, shelter, etc.), to stay the same, to sustain the living state (i.e. “survival“)

    •This is what makes the universe what we call “violent”, and life “difficult”, as we are essentially going against nature

    Even in terms of the suffering we inflict upon each other:

    •Instincts (both survival and reproductive) far outshine conscience, and especially “revelation”.

    •As part of this, nature “rewards” those who master fulfilling the instinctual demands the best

    •Even conservative Christians acknowledge this whenever they promote “rugged individualism” and defend systems like capitalism, and appeal to concepts like “bootstraps” and “delayed gratification”.
    Pain and suffering come from the randomness of the universe and man’s part of it comes from the survival instinct not mixed with higher standards of integrity

    •The Fall was placed on “the ground”, not “the entire universe“ (which would have been called “the heavens and the earth” if that was intended). So the natural laws that govern, for instance, a black hole devouring a star, are not because of “Adam” (as many conservative Christians seriously argue, to the point that there CANNOT be other life out there because it’s all “affected by sin“. Some try to place it on the fall of Satan, but that is going way beyond scripture; it doesn’t say what, if anything, was cursed when he fell, and it’s not even sure whether the “Lucifer”/King of Tyre reference is really even referring to Satan).
    To try to extend scripture to that extent is to go way beyond the actual revelation.

    •So much of the stuff men do to each other is simply the principle of “power“; systems vs individuals, (“united we stand, divided we fall”), and between systems or individuals, relative “size” or “weight”.
    °This is the nature of the universe. If this is the “Fall”, that changes everything. This would include things Christians accept, such as “rugged individualism”, which is precisely what drives these teachings.
    Nature itself (which was supposed to have been created “very good”) is what’s bad then, and it wasn’t just the ground being “cursed”, but then all the laws in the entire universe were vastly different, and even matter would be different, and the Garden of Eden be a totally different kind of existence in another dimension.

    To say all suffering was caused by us actually is what puts us at the center, which is so ironic coming from them, who always criticize man thinking he’s at the center. They would in actuality be from God essentially changing the laws of nature, all in reaction to man’s sin.

    So these teachers should really start out confessing they simply don’t know. That’s the ultimate conclusion, but only after stating all of this other stuff that aims to look like they know, while at the same time silencing the questioners. Saying they don’t know off the bat wouldn’t look good, and definitely wouldn’t sell (books, sermons, etc.)

    It’s just highly annoying when people rise, offering an ‘ultimate’ answer, but just say the same old thing, ultimately blaming the sufferer in one way or another. This is precisely what Job’s friends did, and perhaps that story was an illustration of how man essentially can’t really relieve others’ existential suffering but so much.

    More on this kind of teaching:

  13. View at

    Looked like it would be another good addressing of the issue, but turns out to be just another defense of the past and blaming present people for their own disillusionment.

    Kempis spoke about the condition of the heart and possessing the virtues within. He spoke about how to suffer well, how to avoid too much speaking, how to carry the cross, and how to pray. Kempis provided a manual on the Interior Life. And this is the next poverty of modern Protestantism — there is no interior life. The practice of prayer as a daily discipline is lost and has been replaced by the temporary emotional fix you get from contemporary worship music. I love contemporary music, I’m a musician (well, once I could call myself a drummer. Probably not now.) The idea that one should endure a long and protracted struggle against sin is almost never spoken of. Holiness is barely mentioned. Instead of repentance we have music as self-soothing. Something to make ourselves feel better without any amendment of life. There is simply no teaching on developing an awareness of our inner state, our mental life, and interior prayer.

    The other comments from Sampson betray what I consider to be a shallowness in the faith that he shares with a great many others who have fallen away. His comments about miracles, pastors falling, biblical contradictions, hell and judgmentalism are the sort of ill-informed, unserious, and superficial protests that are entirely too common. These are the protests of people who do not pray through problems, don’t read to find answers, and don’t seriously seek out wise spiritual voices to gain insight. These are the protests of a person who has done very little add substance to his own faith. That can’t be laid at the foot of any group or church. That also seems to be a problem of our age, that people expect answers to come to them easily. It seems we are in an age when we expect that we would unlock the mystery of union with the Christ with little more than casual inquiry.

    So anyone who has issues with these things simply didn’t “pray through” problems. Prayer just magically brings some feeling of “peace” over you, that makes everything you go through feel fine. Of course, if someone prays and says they don’t feel anything, “it’s not by feelings, it’s by faith”. Faith being defined as believing in something even against apparent evidence. But how is that by itself, and with no feelings, going to make the problems of life, and all that other stuff go away? It’s just a simple memorized answer thrown out just to say you’ve refuted the questioner or objector’s challenges.
    Other religions and secular philosophies have the same coping techniques. What do you have to offer that they don’t? It must be more than “peace”.This is what they’re not answering, and simply deflecting, as the people keep on leaving, and they keep on pointing blame.

    One comment, agreeing with the article:

    The bottom line is always the same — personal responsibility concerning what you do with the grace each of us are continually being given (you know, Phil 2:12 and all that). My new favourite theologian is Fr. John Behr (Eastern Orthodox; find him on You Tube!) who so refreshingly emphasises what many earlier generations knew: the path to God is always via one form of martyrdom or another (CS Lewis also knew this very well). Now that will always be an unpopular message with many, especially now in the end times of that train wreck we call evangelicalism.

    Here we see the typical view of “grace” in terms of “giving back” (something we must “do something’ with, which does not understand what “Grace its, at all), and “the past Christians had it right, compared to this wayward generation today” who just want everything too “easy”.

    So the past Christians did nothing but suffer “martyrdom”, and then at some point, some generation just revolted and decided to do whatever they want. All the power and pomp (and what the conservatives today are complaining they have lost), and the abuse, political evils done under the banner of “the faith” etc. NEVER figures in these assessments of Church (and societal) decline. The article spoke of part of the “poverty” within modern Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism, as “a certain kind of historical amnesia. Large swaths of history and parts of the church are largely neglected in the theological formation of clergy.” This is what we see here. Of course, what he means here is the sugarcoated rendering focusing on the “good” only, through “appreciation for what Christians have thought, believed and practiced throughout history.” This always ignores all of the negative stuff and power abuse, and blames (isolates/splits) all the problems on some later generation.

    Here are a couple of comments that get more to the issue:

    The crisis in Christianity imho is mainly the fact that whatever your denomination may be the focus of the church is on dogma, intellectual arguments, culture war battles, and religion as a profitable business. People have figured out that all of that is simply empty words and posturing in the corporate America business model. Yes, good works are done, but they are simply an activity the business model engages in. People want to experience the divine. None of the above has anything to do with making space for that sort of experience.

    In your article, you make the same basic series of arguments I’ve read in other blogs, etc.: that they had a “shallow, unserious faith” (essentially suggesting that maybe they weren’t believers in the first place); admitting that evangelicalism today is badly broken, but that it can (and must) be fixed and addressing certain core issues, or we’ll just see more of these defections; etc.

    Your underlying presupposition is, however, that it CAN and should be fixed. I disagree, and think that it’s beyond repair.

    One major crisis you don’t even touch upon, moreover, that affects this discussion: the American 81% white evangelical blindly loyal support for Trump. I know personally dozens of ex-evangelicals for whom that was the last straw. What about that? Or Christian dominionism, which is increasingly involving itself in all sorts of levels of American government? The Religious Right? Project Blitz? And on and on.

    And none of that touches on the major deconstruction theologically that many of us ex-evangelicals have undergone. I’ve been a pastor (12 years), followed by a PhD then 8 years as a Bible college teacher. I can assure you, I WAS a serious Christian who then found the faith wanting on multiple levels, and walked away from it all. Address THOSE issues, and you might just be figuring out what the real problems are within evangelicalism today that is causing people to abandon it in droves.

  14. Awhile ago, while going through a bunch of old gmails from Academia, I ran across something I wanted to comment on, but couldn’t find it again. It might have been by fellow freelance paper writer Timothy L Price who had done several essays mentioning the “Kingdom of God”, which would have been the context.
    So instead, I just now find something capturing the same concept I had seen, from an Anglican site criticizing leader NT Wright, whom they apparently see as compromising the faith somehow, or “a secret Gnostic who was addicted to his own abstract verbosity”, and believes “all you have to do is to accept Jesus as Lord: you do not have to believe the Gospel.”

    So here is one person’s comment quoting another, in the topic “the Problem of NT Wright”

    ‘When Adam and Eve sinned, God ejected them from the Garden of Eden in case they should eat of the Tree of Life and live forever. If they had done that as sinners, they would have been trapped forever in a world where sin ruled – with no escape – a terrible fate. But if they (and the rest of mankind who followed) were allowed to die, God’s work of salvation would be able to set them free so that, after their earthly death, they could live once again eternally in God’s presence. It might be harsh for the period of each individual’s earthly life but it was a punishment of pure and undeserved love in the long run because, at God’s own cost, salvation was offered to all who were prepared to repent and receive him into their lives. The harshness lay in existence within a world where the chaos of sin and death were woven into the fabric of how our physical world would work without God’s sustaining presence (as had been intended at the time of creation).

    And that’s where we all are now – in a fallen physical world where things go wrong because God has withdrawn from it and let it run on as an imperfect form of what he had first intended. We may experience golden times for a while but tragedy always comes along in the end. We can’t even assume that our joys and troubles will be evenly distributed. Life isn’t even fair in its happiness or misery. But however well or badly we have fared, our physical death is certain and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it.

    So what perfect sense it is for us poor mortal creatures to seize that chance of eternal salvation before it’s too late. What utter kindness of God to allow things like Covid-19 to happen without intervening to stop them. However could one call such things kindness? Because they remind us of our mortality, frighten us into humility, cause us to reflect and realise that we are helpless, hopeless creatures, bounded by death, and that we need to cry out to God who is aching to hear us and receive us back into his eternal kingdom.
    Covid-19 is horrible, but its lesson surely points us to something wonderful.’ “

    So this is explaining all the suffering of life as somehow making salvation possible! One striking thing about it is the admission that God has “withdrawn” from the world; it’s without his “sustaining presence”! Most other Christians insist He is just as “present” as He was in the Garden (and, that the universe and its laws still exist, is His “sustaining” them). —Only, of course, the catch, is that now it’s only by “faith” and not by “sight”. This ties right into to the problem of how having a world “running on” laws of death and destruction, is supposed to “prove” God (“general revelation” argument), when it instead makes it look like naturalism is true (where the existence of God as a specific “personal” entity is at best, unknowable, but of course, the argument is that God has still “shown” everyone through all of this. Just like Augustine arguing God made the scriptures ambiguus to “challenge” us, because of the “fallenness” of our minds! So then, across the board, God is sending mixed messages to us by pulling away from creation, leaving only ambiguous evidence, and then demanding we figure Him out from all of it. It ends up only serving to to justify damning everyone!)

    There’s absolutely no scripture supporting this; it’s just an insight that tries to put everything together. (And the commenter is accusing Wright of “sophistry”!) The first mistake is this world being left to just “run on” (my words exactly a lot of times!), being associated with the “death” of man preventing him from an eternal fallen existence. He could have just as well ended the world and started over, then. Sent Christ right away, even.

    The irony, is that as Anglicans, they too, like sister movement Calvinism, follow Augustine with his electionism,* where sin and death is apart of God’s whole plan from the beginning. Being “reminded of our mortality, frightened [there’s that fear motivation, of course!] into humility, caused to reflect and realise that we are helpless, hopeless creatures, bounded by death, and that we need to cry out to God” is only effective for those “called”. What this comment is saying God was trying to prevent, is precisely what God has decreed for the majority of the world, with the exception of a relatively few “elect” people! What sense does that make? (And again, I remind people that you shouldn’t now start putting down “our limited human reason” in expecting things to “make sense”, when arguments like this are pure [unscriptural] “reason”, and poor examples of it at that!)
    So God causes man to die to prevent him from spending an eternity of misery; but then the entire definition of “death” is a default eternal misery!
    The argument then would be He did it only for the “elect” (and of course, the typical old exhortation for us to see tragedies like COVID and all other pain, as good, because they make us fit for a salvation we didn’t deserve!
    *Though should note, many here do seem to be mentioning “free will”. So perhaps, like Roman Catholicism, they’ve unofficially moved back away from election?)

    In any case, this is just another attempt to explain life in a way that bolsters their traditional teachings on pain and suffering. (And they criticize “works righteousness” on one hand, but then also criticize what they see as not enough that you “have to do”).

  15. Here I run across what starts out as an interesting essay:

    Satan is not denying what God says, but rather mocking it. “He’s not saying God didn’t say it; he’s saying it’s ridiculous. It’s laughable. He’s saying, ‘Was he such an idiot, such a jerk, to say that? Did he really say that?’” From there, we get the term “sneer”; first of a string of reactions starting from the Garden: “the sneer, the lie, the tree, and the call”.

    We then go into a whole discourse about kinds of humor, and brings it to the Biblical account of the Fall. “The lie” (from Satan), of course is “If you obey God, you’ll miss out. If you obey God, you won’t be happy. If you obey the will of God, it’ll cut you off from other options. It will keep you from being all you want to be. You will not thrive and flourish.” (He doesn’t even “go after the existence of God”, or His Law or holiness at this point!) It’s strictly “If you obey God, you can’t trust his good will. You can’t trust him. You’re going to have to take your life into your own hands.”

    Several more paragraphs building the point, with the typical anecdotal references to other authors; then we get to “the tree”, which was basically a test of obedience (though he doesn’t put it that way).

    You can see why stealing could be bad, and you can see why killing can be bad, you can see why adultery can be bad, but not eating from a tree. What was the big deal about the tree? What was so bad about that? What was the logic behind the prohibition?
    What if God had actually given Adam and Eve an explanation?…“Well, if you eat from the tree, there will be infinite suffering and misery and death for the rest of human history.” They would have gone, “Never mind. There’s a whole other … I mean, the rest of the world. There are all of these other trees.”

    You know what? The reason God didn’t give them the explanation is crucial to why the decree was so important and what it was all about. If he had given them the explanation and they had said, Oh, I’m not going to eat from the tree … Why? Because cost-benefit analysis. ‘It’s not worth it.” That’s not really obedience, is it? That’s cost-benefit analysis. That’s self-interest. You’re still in the driver’s seat.

    No, no. Here’s what’s going on. God was saying to Adam and Eve, “My children, I am God, and your life is a gift to you, and this world is a gift to you. I want you to live as if I’m God and you are living by my power. I want you to live as if this world is a gift and, therefore, not your possession to do with any way you want. I want you to see your lives are a gift from me and, therefore, not yours and something you can do with any way you want.
    Therefore, don’t eat from that tree. This is your chance. You can either choose to treat me as God and to treat your life and the world as if it belongs to me and, therefore, you have to use it as I direct, or you can put yourself in the place of God. You can act as if your life is yours and that you generated it. You can act as if this entire world is yours and you can use it any way you want. You can treat me as God, or you can put yourself in the place of God.”

    Behind the rules is, “Don’t put yourself in the place of God. Obey the rules because you’re not God.” God says, “Obey my rules not because of cost-benefit analysis, not because you see why, but because I’m God.” Do you realize that virtually everything that’s wrong with us in this world is you and I putting ourselves in the place of God? This is the problem.

    From here, we finally get to the real point: “anxiety”, which we have

    because I have an idea of how my life has to go, how the church has to go, how things have to go in history, and I’m afraid God, who’s in charge of history, isn’t going to get it right. He’s not going to do it the way it needs to be. I know better. What am I doing? Why am I eaten up with anxiety? I’m in the place of God. See this is the sin behind these other sins. This is the thing that’s staining us.
    Because of the mistrust, we put ourselves in the place of God. “I can’t trust God, so I have to do it myself.” How do I deal with worry? I deal with worry by saying, “I don’t know; God knows.” I pull myself a little bit out of the place of God, and I start to feel better, and by tomorrow I’ll be back.
    All of our problems are coming because we’ve done what the Serpent asked us to do.

    Several more paragraphs driving this point on, with more anecdotes, etc. and goes back through the four stages, with “the call” (as we “hide” from God and “ourselves”) and how Christ went through the same four stages, but at the point of His “tree” (the Cross) obeyed, and died, (where the serpent told us if we disobey we would live).

    The first and last points are an interesting study of the passage. But the central point basically is that anxiety is “the lie” of “You can’t trust God”, “and all the poison in your life is because you don’t believe God loves you. You don’t believe in the grace of God; it’s “…the belief that ‘Basically I’m on my own’.”

    This is the typical “toxic positivity” approach the Church has completely bought into, as I discuss on the Abundant Life page and elsewhere. It basically assumes that everything that happens in life is because God is doing it. If it’s a completely binary matter of either you “controlling” it, or God controlling it, and you’re unhappy because it’s obviously not you controlling the things that are happening, then it can only be God, then. Most Christians at this point try to deny that, and come up with stuff like “permissive will”, or blaming the Fall, etc. But with a name like “” it’s obvious we’re dealing with a very strict Calvinism (Reformed theology), and they likely do believe in “the absolute predestination of all things”.

    You also have this article: which correctly chides Arminianism for answering “if God left us all in our sin and saved no one” with “yes, we are sinners and justly deserve God’s wrath”, but if God decided to pardon a number of these ill deserving sinners, but gave over the others to the justice they deserve, these same people suddenly cry out “that makes God unfair”. What both camps fail to consider is God’s full Grace, and that God is not setting up a plan to trap men (whether all, many, or whatever) in a path of “death” (and make it look like they really “deserved” it, when the doctrine states they were helpless in getting themselves into and out of that situation) just because He can (i.e. “do whatever He likes”). The whole point of “grace” is that He’s not doing whatever He could do, just because He can!

    Both Calvinists and Arminians, turning “grace” into this nondescript ‘thing’ we “believe in” that cures us of our anxieties of life, have completely missed this whole point. They follow Augustine, whose City of God is what conceptualized “satisfying justice” as “the primary purpose of Hell”, and the Arminians just modified his views to allow for “free will”. Augustine apparently had a very sinful pre-Christian life, and allowed the guilt to corrupt his teaching, leading to both his “unconditional election” (as the antidote to sin), and in ironic contrast, his “chaste severity” (hyped up sexual standards leading to everything from celibate priesthood, to the entire church’s long obsession with everything sexual, to the point of total suppresson, even in marriage, and sexual sin elevated above every other kind of sin).
    This was basically the fruit of a deep seated “anxiety” (the original anxiety of sin Adam experienced) that was just stuffed behind this twisted combination of grace (but only for some), and hard works (to “prove” one’s election and keep our sin natures under control), instead of trusting in a true Grace. But the entire “historic” Church just followed him (in one way or to one extent, or another, even if rejecting the “Catholicism” he was associated with), and used his doctrines for control (of our desires and attitudes) and lost total sight of what true grace is!

    Our anxiety, as part of our aversion to pain, along with desire of pleasure, our reactions to pain and pleasure, and punishing of those who inflict pain, and rewarding those who give us pleasure (the mental mechanism by which we try to both seek “justice” against others and “earn” good things ourselves), are but utilities for us to follow the command to “be fruitful and multiply” (survive). It’s true that we have made pleasure an end in itself, but then many Christians, in trying to use the Bible message to “fix” man, have turned it into the opposite of making pain an end in itself!

    The aim of this teaching always to pacify, and thus control people. So typical of all of “historic Christian” teaching, is turning the Fall into a tug of war between God and man around pleasure vs pain, which this is ultimately about. We want “pleasure” (including “ease” or even “knowing why”), something painful happens, we resist it, and this is “fighting against God”.
    The connection of “anxiety” to the Fall (including “being like God”) is true! But it’s not about accepting pain or giving up pleasure through “obedience” (the Fall, including “anxiety” as one of its fruits, came because of the disobedience; the initial disobedience was not because of anxiety). When they fell, “the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked”. (Gen.3:7) They then began the process of the “hiding”. God eventually acknowledges “the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil” (v.22). So that part about “being like God” actually wasn’t “the lie”. The common teaching is true, that the lie was about “taking things into their own hands”. But it’s wrong in applying it to handling mundane life situations. Like “being anxious” about health, job, living arrangements, relationships and people, etc. These things aren’t what fell apart right there in the Garden, when it was still just the two of them and God. It was their standing with God that was immediately affected, as evident by their hiding. And after the Cross, the issue continued to be whether people would trust Christ, or trust their own efforts (i.e. the Law). Both then in the New Testament, and continuing up to now, in the “church age”.
    Turning this into a virtual shaming of people who don’t suffer life with a “right” attitude completely obscures the Gospel, and turns it into more of the world’s cold unempathetic toxic positivity, and the accusing of these sufferers of buying Satan’s lie and trying to be God is itself reflecting the message of Satan, the “accuser”!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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