Thursday, November 18, 2004

My comments on Snyder's comments... about Akerman's comments... Yeah, something like that! Plus, musings on the importance of both faith and works

By: UnrepentantNewDealer

Well, as all the other participants of the theological chat room discussion in question have already posted their comments on the blogosphere, I suppose I should as well.

1. God does seem to want companionship, but not as we think of it. We are as far removed from God as prokaryotes are from us. There is a gap between us and God. But companionship, and an intimate relationship with God, implies coequal status between us and God. Friendship is not true friendship unless it is between two equals who can relate. We are obviously not God's equal, so it seems more than just a tad presumptuous and, yes, even arrogant of us to think that we can have a true intimate friendship with God. The relationship between God and mankind is indeed like that between a father and a son. It is a respectful relationship, but it is by no means, an equal one. This does not make any the less "real" or "intimate". We cannot reach to God, but God, through Jesus, who saw the world through our eyes and had human friends, can reach to us.

So, then, why did God create Humanity if not for companionship? Here is a possibility, though it has no more biblical basis than the companionship theory, that is to say, none at all. God created the heavens and the earth and all things in the Universe and thought that "it was Good". The wonder of God's creation was pleasing to God, but He had no one to share His happiness with. Of all His creations, only the angels were able to truly appreciate the glory of Creation, but they were servants. God wanted to create humans "in His image", mortals that could appreciate God's finite creation (not the eternal Heaven, but the temporary Universe) best because they were a part of it (as the angels were not) and because they alone of all God's mortal creations could reason. Only with Humans, could God share how pleased and excited He was with Creation. After all, when you do something you're really proud of, don't you want to show someone else?

This is, as I stated, just a possibility, to take or discard as you see fit. That is the beauty of God's creation of mankind: we have been given highly advanced minds of our own to ask our own questions and draw our own conclusions. In that way, we were created "in His image."

I fear I have wandered from what I set out to do. After all, not being omniscient like God, we cannot even begin to comprehend His motives in creating mankind, or in doing anything else for that matter. All right then, enough idle speculation!

2. On the matter of prayer, I don't think God needs to hear us pray for something we specifically need for Him to do it. He acts independently of our prayers. To believe otherwise is to believe that God is changeable, that His will is subordinate to the wishes we express in our prayers. This is not to say that God can't "answer prayers", just that He was going to do that anyway. Still, prayer is the only means of communication we have with the Almighty, so it is a good idea to pray. If you need things, pray for them, but not selfishly, only pray for what you truly need. After all, in the Lord's Prayer, we ask that God "give us now our daily bread," which we need so we don't starve. Perhaps more important is to pray for others, to pray for the resolution of conflicts and violence, to pray for friends and family and even complete strangers.

Above all, we should always condition our prayer requests with "thy will be done." Lord, I acknowledge that I need you. Please continue to provide me with what I need and what I want, but above all, Lord, your will, not my will, be done.

3. Our ability to reason is the very hallmark of humanity, God's greatest gift to man. The whole point of the Protestant Reformation was that every person is equal in God's eyes and therefore, every person is equally capable of reading the Bible and interpreting it for himself. We do not need to be told what the Bible says and what it means, we can read it ourselves and interpret what it means. To interpret, we use the rational intellect that God gave us to draw our own conclusions.

4. Moving on to something else. It seems to me that too often we lose sight of what the Lord requires of us. This is a trap that Evangelicals in particular seem to fall into: trying to have an "intimate" relationship with God and trying to convert others by talking about this personal "intimate" relationship. All of which is fine and good. So, you have faith. But God wants more of us than that.

In Matthew 25: 31-46, Jesus tells us that at the end of days, He will separate all people who have ever lived into two groups. The group at his right hand He will allow into Heaven, because:

"'I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'"

Vice-versa for the other group: those who did not help the "least of these", the disadvantaged in society, were condemned to "eternal punishment."

Pretty straightforward right? James, in his self-titled biblical book, chapter 2, verses 14-26, also concluded that both faith and works are necessary for salvation: "For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead." Our faith, if it is a true, living, vibrant faith, should lead us to do good works. The works should be a byproduct of our faith. If we, as Christians, do not help "the least of these", our faith is dead and God has no use for dead faith. That is a trap all to easy for Christians to fall into, thinking that merely professing a belief in God is enough. We know what the Lord requires of us: "He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" --Micah 6:8


What follows is part of an original AIM conversation on this topic between Akerman and myself that took place last night. I provide it in the hopes of clarifying my beliefs. The great Greek philosopher Plato wrote his philosophical tracts in the form of an imaginary conversation. This technique seems to me to be more useful than telling you straight out what I believe. The screen names have been changed to protect the innocent:

Michael Smith: I have noticed that Evangelicals in particular put too much emphasis on having a "personal relationship with Jesus" and converting Jews, Catholics and the "Unsaved" and not enough emphasis on tending to "the least of these."

Smith: After all, Jesus said it himself, that's how you get to heaven

Michael Akerman: I'm inclined to agree

Smith: And it is the humane thing to do

Smith: One might even say the Christian thing to do

Akerman: I think it's selfish, but I doubt God really puts much weight on it. I'm more inclined to think he lets people into heaven as long as they try their best.

Akerman: Just because their misinformed, doesn't mean He'll cast them out

Smith: Well, yes, if they try to help "the least of these", then they get in. If not, well... there's always the fiery inferno of Hell!

Smith: ;)

Akerman: Heh

Akerman: ;)

Akerman: Incidentally, I was thinking about the works thing

Akerman: I think the reason I was against it is that it makes it sound like you should try to do works

Smith: Well, you should

Akerman: But that strikes me as merely a puffed up selfish act to try to gain salvation

Smith: It should be a byproduct of your faith

Akerman: I think you should just do them, without trying

Akerman: Right

Smith: You do good works, not to get to Heaven, but because you are Christian and that's what we do, following Jesus's example

Smith: "And they'll know we are Christians by our love" [a song I learned a long time ago in Sunday school]

Akerman: I also think you can get into heaven without works, if you feel truly sorry that you didn't do more good.

Smith: Eh, don't buy it

Akerman: And accept Jesus, and all that jazz

Smith: Seriously, what excuse could you have?

Akerman: Misinformation and the temptation of sin

Akerman: The lost lamb is more beloved in heaven

Akerman: When he comes back, the prodigal son is fed the calf

Smith: "Gee, now that I know that I'm condemned to go to Hell because I didn't help the 'least of these', I regret I didn't do much good. Now can I get into Heaven?"

Akerman: Not that way

Akerman: I'm sure God would be snookered by that

Smith: Well, come on then

Akerman: The "truly" part is important

Smith: If you are Christian, you should obey Jesus. Everyone knows Christians should "treat others like they want to be treated," etc.

Smith: There is no excuse, if you are a Christian in a nation that doesn't persecute you and deny you access to the Bible so you can find out what the Lord requires of us

Akerman: But God forgives you for being lost, so long as you realize your wrongdoing. God did not put us here to be Christians, but to realize Christian ideals

Akerman: It's more important to understand what's right than to do what's right

Smith: No, if you understand what is right, you should do what is right.

Smith: Common sense

Smith: No excuse

Akerman: I know you should

Akerman: Have you ever read the Prodigal Son?

Smith: I think you're setting the bar for getting into Heaven too low

Smith: Yes

Smith: It is not entirely relevant

Smith: To this

Akerman: He who returns from sin is rewarded for such

Smith: Yes, he returned from sin. But that is drawing meaning from one parable and ignoring Jesus saying point-blank, "Those who help the least of these go to Heaven, those who don't, don't."

Smith: You're taking things out of context

Akerman: Give me the exact quote from the Bible where Jesus says that

Smith: Give me a few minutes, I'll find it

Akerman: A paraphrase just represents your views

Akerman: My contacts are wonking out. BRB

Smith: Matthew 25:31-46. Or, if you prefer, Luke 19:11-27. I'm not going to type it all out. It's too long and you're perfectly capable of reading it.

Smith: This is backed up by Jesus's other sayings and the book of James.

Smith: So, there!:-P
[Much extraneous material deleted. You're welcome.]

Akerman: As far as the passages about the least of these, you are correct. However, I think God judges not by action, but by intention. There is no reason that, given enough time, a Christian in America shouldn't do works. And they would if they were a real Christian, to please God. But there are many situations in which it is simply unfeasible, such as a murderer in prison who comes to a true realization of his wrongdoing, and is truly sorry. He has very few, if any, chances to do good works, but I think God would still admit him to heaven as a prodigal son

Akerman: I'm not saying it's alright to voluntarily avoid works

Smith: True. He is "the least of these". Christians should minister to him

Smith: And when he gets out, if he does, he should serve the least of these

Akerman: Just that it's not the most important thing. True intention to do works is more important, and if you truly intend to do works and you had the chance... well, you'd do them anyway, so it's exclusive

Smith: Right. A convicted felon on death row can't do works, true. But that is a rare case. In the Western world, anyone who wants to do good works can, providing they aren't breaking a law

Akerman: Most can

Akerman: Not all

Smith: Action should follow from faith/intention

Akerman: There are other exclusions, but they are rare

Smith: So, for most of us, works are necessary

Smith: As a byproduct of a living vibrant faith

Smith: Not as part of any special effort, just coming naturally. That's what James is saying

Akerman: I also think this clause of intention holds true right until death. If someone had done evil their entire life, but came unto the realization of God as they died, they would be saved. This is probably pretty rare, though

Akerman: Hard to say if it's rare

Smith: Right. So if Hitler had had a deathbed repentance, well, then, he'd go to heaven

Akerman: Because they're generally dead by the time they could tell us

Akerman: If it was a true repentance

Smith: Since he shot himself, this example is doutfull

Akerman: But he committed suicide, so he didn't

Akerman: Heh

Smith: Stalin then. He died of "natural causes." Or so the KGB always maintained...

Smith: ;)

Akerman: Yes

Smith: One momento

Smith: Read Micah 6:8

Smith: Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God

Smith: Same thing

Smith: The one flows naturally from the other

Akerman: Right