Showing posts with label #Attributes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Attributes. Show all posts

19 May 2023

Changing God’s mind.

If you know your bible—heck, if you’ve seen The Ten Commandments movie with Charlton Heston—you know the Hebrews had a major lapse in behavior when they were at Sinai.

The previous month, the LORD handed down his 10 commandments, then Moses hiked back up the mountain to get further instructions, and while gone the people decided they wanted an idol. Whether this idol was meant to represent the LORD or some other god, we don’t know. What we do know is the idol violated the very command the LORD handed down last month. Ex 20.4-6 Understandably, the LORD was pissed.

Exodus 32.7-14 NRSVue
7 The LORD said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8 they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” 9 The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10 Now let me alone so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, and of you I will make a great nation.”
11 But Moses implored the LORD his God and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” 14 And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

That’s right. The LORD changed his mind. That LORD. The Almighty backed down. A lowly human got him to do it.

It’s far from the only passage in the bible where God changes his mind. There are dozens. Here’s a few notable instances:

  • God regretted making humans. Ge 6.5-7
  • God regretted making Saul king. 1Sa 15.11
  • God relented from destroying Jerusalem with plague. 2Sa 24.16, 1Ch 21.15
  • God showed Amos two visions that he immediately took back after Amos protested. Am 7.3, 6
  • If a nation repents, God takes back the disaster he had planned for it. Jr 18.8, 26.3, 26.13, Jl 2.13-14, Ps 106.45 Like Judah Jr 26.19 and like Nineveh. Jh 3.10
  • If a nation goes rogue, God takes back the good he had planned for it. Jr 18.8, 10 And gets really tired of doing this. Jr 15.6
  • We used to be God's enemies, but now we're his friends. Ro 5.6-11

Problem is, these changes in God’s intent flies in the face what many Christians believe. Because these folks don’t believe God changes his mind. Ever. At all.

02 February 2023

God’s character.

No doubt you’ve heard of the fruit of the Spirit. Unfortunately, for way too many Christians, they’ve only memorized Paul’s list Ga 5.22-23 and whether they actually strive to practice love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc. is a whole other deal. They know these are virtues, but too many of us are kinda just expecting them to appear spontaneously, rather than really work with the Holy Spirit on our character.

Okay. What are these virtues in relation to God himself? Does he exhibit them? Is he loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, etc.? Or have we never made any such connection? Maybe doubt we even should make such a connection, ’cause we’d rather imagine God as offended at humanity’s sins, mournful over humanity’s sins, ready to smite people over their sins, absolutely fed up over people’s sins, eager to offend and outrage people back (after all, they offended him first!) and so forth? Do we figure these traits aren’t in any way practical, considering God needs to be super-duper vengeful right about now?

In other words, do we figure humanity’s sins have flipped God over 180 degrees, and made him fleshly?

I’ll leave you to ponder that idea, and whether our ideas about the wrath of God haven’t somehow turned him into Zeus. But as you hopefully know already, if you wanna know what God is like; if you wanna identify God’s attitude and character traits, the best thing to do is look at Jesus the Nazarene. Does he exhibit the Spirit’s fruit? Or when you read the gospels, do you figure Jesus likewise is triggered and enraged and ready to call down fire because he has HAD IT with these maggot-farming Judeans?

If so, I don’t know what bible you have, or what sort of demented “Christian” movie you’ve been watching. Every bible translation I know of, reveals the Spirit’s fruit describes Jesus’s character. And since Jesus is God, the Spirit’s fruit describes God’s character. Christians think and act fruitful because the Spirit within us thinks and acts like that.

So this being the case… whenever we look at the LORD’s behavior in the scriptures, what attitudes should we attribute to him? Fruitful ones? Or fruitless and fleshly ones? Which traits sound like Jesus, and are therefore God’s?

…Unless of course you don’t believe Jesus is God. Not really. Plenty of Christians flub the concept of trinity, and imagine Jesus is only a segment of God, or a mode of God, or even isn’t really God; he’s just a really important creation—he’s the Son of God!—but not God himself.

And if Jesus isn’t fully God, then it’s understandable—even okay—if Jesus and God are entirely different individuals. Not one in purpose, will, intent, attributes, and character; two distinct deities, like Zeus and Hades. Who are playing a cosmic game of “good cop bad cop” with humanity: God’s the bad cop, eager to roast us in hell, and Jesus is the good cop, trying to get us forgiven and saved—not from sin and death, but from God himself. ’Cause God’s super murdery, but Jesus is more about peace and love than Ringo Starr.

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard fellow Christians express this demented idea. All sorts of Christians. Even people who went to seminary and studied way more theology than I have, and should know better! Christians who should know the apostles wholly meant it when they wrote in the scriptures how Jesus as the image of God, Cl 1.15 someone whose very nature is that of God, Pp 2.6 the only-begotten God who accurately reveals who the Father is like, Jn 1.18 and if you’ve seen him you’ve seen the Father. Jn 14.9 Who identified God himself as love, 1Jn 4.8, 16 and defined love by God’s gracious attitude towards us. 1Co 13.4-8 Yet despite knowing these scriptures, they still think God is wrath, and Jesus opposes him. God is the angry Old Testament tribal deity, and Jesus is the loving New Testament global deity… and of course they like Jesus way better.

But this twisted view of God is unbiblical and heretic. Again: Jesus is God. If you think God’s character is all bile and rage, you’re wrong. Get rid of that idea. God’s character is Jesus’s character. Jesus is all about peace and love; so is God.

12 September 2022

God is the Father of Jesus.

We Christians worship God.

Which god is that? Well, we point out he’s the One God, יהוה/YHWH, “Jehovah” or “the LORD” (in all capitals, customarily), the God of Abraham, Isaac, Israel, Moses, David, and the Hebrew prophets. But both Jews and Muslims figure they worship that god too, so what makes us Christians any different from them? Simple: We believe God’s a trinity—whereas they don’t—and he’s uniquely the Father of Christ Jesus.

Uniquely the Father of Jesus. Because monotheists are generally agreed that God’s the Father of humanity. He created us, so he’s our Father. Duh. Says so in the bible. Moses, when he was yelling at the Hebrews, said as much:

Deuteronomy 32.6 ESV
Do you thus repay the LORD,
you foolish and senseless people?
Is not he your father, who created you,
who made you and established you?

Throughout the Old Testament, God’s called the Hebrews’ father—and really everyone’s father, ’cause he made everyone. Jesus likewise calls him “your heavenly Father,” Mt 5.48 and compares our relationship with him like that of fathers with their kids. Lk 11.13 His Prodigal Son Story Lk 15.11-32 is all about God’s fatherly forgiveness.

Monotheists figure by the very same reasoning, of course God’s the Father of Jesus; he created Jesus same as he created you or me. But that’s where we Christians will say, “Wait; hold the phone; no he didn’t create Jesus. Jesus always existed. He’s God.

Which’ll confuse them. Heck, it confuses Christians! If God’s the Father of Jesus, yet Jesus himself is God, we’ve got a paradox brewing, don’t we? Well, kinda. So we gotta explain how God’s a trinity; one God, three persons, one person’s the Father, another person’s the Son, and both of them are the one Being who is God.

When Jesus described his relationship to our heavenly Father, there’s something way different going on than we see between us and our Father. ’Cause Jesus describes himself as the Father’s only Son. You know how John 3.16 goes:

John 3.16 ESV
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Jesus is our Father’s only Son, his unique Son, his Son in a way that I’m not. ’Cause you know the Lord’s Prayer; he’s our Father. Mt 6.9 Yet Jesus is the one and only Son.

Another paradox? Not really.

28 July 2022

Yahweh-Yireh: God sees us. (And provides… but that’s a different idea.)

Genesis 22.12.

My church’s musicians finally got round to learning “Jireh,” an Elevation Worship song which mixes together the ideas of God being “Jehovah Jireh” and “my grace is sufficient for thee.”

Kinda like the Don Moen’s old song “Jehovah Jireh” did. Here’s the Moen song:

Jehovah Jireh, my provider
His grace is sufficient for me, for me, for me
Jehovah Jireh, my provider
His grace is sufficient for me
My God shall supply all my needs
According to his riches in glory
He will give his angels charge over me
Jehovah Jireh cares for me, for me, for me
Jehovah Jireh cares for me

And he does! Anyway, y’notice Moen stitched together a couple different things from the scriptures: There’s the name “Jehovah Jireh.” There’s the “grace is sufficient” concept, which comes from when Paul complained to God about something he suffered from, and God’s response was, “I’m not curing that. I want you weak; it reveals my strength. So you’re just gonna have to settle for my grace.” That’s an extremely loose translation of 2 Corinthians 12.9, a verse that’s also heavily quoted out of context, but I’m not discussing that one today.

Oh, and the “supply all my needs” bit comes from Paul and Timothy’s statement to the Philippians at the close of their letter:

Philippians 4.19 KJV
But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

Buncha provision scriptures. Moen’s trying to remind us of a biblical principle which Jesus expressed better in his Sermon on the Mount: Stop worrying. God provides way better than, thus far, you’ve been expecting him to… so stop underestimating your loving Father, stop stressing out, and let him provide.

Matthew 6.25-34 KJV
25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? 26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? 27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? 28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 and yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? 31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. 34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

God provides. And a lot of Christians like to remember that—and love the Moen song—so they’ll call him “Jehovah Jireh.”

But here’s the problem: “My provider” is not what Jireh means. It means “seer.” God sees us.

02 June 2022


MONOTHEIST mɑ.nə'θi.ɪst adjective. Believes there’s only one god.
2. Believes there are various beings called “gods,” but one of them is mightier than the rest, and only that one is worthy of worship (or to be recognized as the capital-G “God”).
[Monotheism mɑ.nə'θi.ɪz.əm noun, monotheistic mɑ.nə.θi'ɪst.ɪk] adjective.

Most of the pagans I encounter believe in God, in one form or another; very few are nontheist. Oh, they may not be religious at all… towards God, anyway. They’ll get fully religious when it comes to sports, politics, music, or whatever their favorite recreational activities might be; they simply worship weed, fr’instance. God, not so much.

But when you talk to ’em about God at all, by and large they figure there’s only one God.

Most of that is because of western culture. There’s a lot of Christianity and Judaism in European history, and both these religions insist upon one God… so yeah, the idea works for them too: One God. Or they have a middle eastern background, and Muslims are most definitely monotheist, so they are too. Or they’ve dabbled in eastern cultures, and picked up a few Hindu and Buddhist ideas, and even though there are thousands of gods in Hinduism, the branches of Hinduism which have really caught on in the United States have been the ones which emphasize pantheism, the idea the universe is God. Well there’s only one universe (although they might recognize there’s a multiverse), so in their minds there’s also only one God.

I have found it extremely rare to find a pagan who believes in multiple gods. Oh, there are some—like the capital-P Pagans who are trying to bring back pre-Christian European religions, and deliberately have multiple gods. Or the Yoruba gods, or the Chinese folk religion’s ancestors, or old-school Hindus of Indian descent who don’t care what Oprah Winfrey’s favorite Hindus teach about pantheism; they have straight-up multiple gods, and worship a few favorites.

But my experience is not the baseline for humanity. For that, you need proper stats taken by proper scientists… so I found a report by the Pew Research Center in 2017. They figured as of 2015, Christians are the largest religious group, at 31.2 percent of the earth’s 7.3 billion people; followed by Muslims, unaffiliated, Hindus, Buddhists, folk religion, and other religions. (Jews made up 0.01 percent of the world’s population.) Put the Christians and Muslims together, and this means 55.3 percent of humanity—more than half—is definitely monotheist.

12 May 2022

Unitarians: Those who insist God’s not three.

UNITARIAN ju.nə'tɛr.i.ən noun. A person or doctrine which emphasizes God’s oneness, and rejects the doctrine of the trinity.
2. [capitalized] A member of a church or group which asserts this belief.
3. adjective. Having to do with this belief, or with unitarians.
[Unitarianism ju.nə'tɛr.i.ən.ɪz.əm noun.]

Christians correctly understand God’s a trinity. One God; three people (or “persons,” as theologians prefer, but it’s bad English) who are the one God. Well, most of us do; there are holdouts who insist he’s not. They tend to fall into one of two camps:

  • MODALISTS. Those who say the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God… but really all three of them are just one person. Not three people. Just one person in different modes.
  • UNITARIANS. Those who say the Father is God—and the Son and the Holy Spirit are not.

People are more familiar with unitarians—mostly because there are entire unitarian denominations, like the Unitarian Universalists, the Unitarian Christian Church, and Unity Church. (The United States has even had four Unitarian presidents.) But that’s also because unitarianism is very obviously non-trinitarian, and very obviously denies Jesus is God. Whereas modalists will never say Jesus isn’t God. For that matter you’d likely never even know they were modalist… until you start asking ’em about trinity and they reply, “Well I really don’t like to use the word trinity to describe God…” then go on to explain why they say he’s not.

The main difference, y’notice, is modalists believe Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God. Unitarians do not. Well, generally unitarians do not; some of ’em are kinda pantheist and believe everyone is God. But for the most part, they insist God is One: One person, one being, one heavenly Father (or Mother; some of ’em aren’t particular); our Creator, the Almighty, and infinitely good. And while they consider Jesus to be Lord and Savior and King, they don’t consider him God. Same with the Holy Spirit—although I’ve known a few unitarians who believe the Spirit is God, but like modalists, don’t believe he’s a different person than the Father. To them, “Holy Spirit” is just one of God’s titles, like when certain indigenous Americans refer to God as “the Great Spirit.”

But unitarian doesn’t just describe Christians. Technically it describes everyone who believes in the One God, and doesn’t believe he’s a trinity. Most unchurched pagans figure there’s one God, aren’t so sure about Jesus, and know nothing about the Holy Spirit—and this description would mean they’re unitarian. Every Muslim would be unitarian: They definitely believe in one God, believe Jesus is a prophet but not God, and believe the Holy Spirit is a messenger of God but also not God. Religious Jews are unitarian, Sikhs are unitarian, Baha’is are unitarian.

But if you’re unitarian and call yourself Christian, you’ve chosen to ignore the scriptures which reveal God as a trinity. Which puts you outside historical orthodox Christianity and makes you heretic. And here I gotta remind you heresy does not send you to hell—but it does greatly interfere with getting to know and trust God, so it always needs to be dealt with.

05 May 2022

Christians who don’t believe God’s a trinity.

God’s a trinity. Jesus is God, his Father is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; yet there’s only one God, an idea which shoulda sunk in after read in the Old Testament about the Hebrews trying to worship multiple gods. Nope, there’s just the One God—and these three are the One God.

And that’s a hard concept for a lot of people. It’s a paradox, and they simply can’t allow God to be a paradox: God is reasonable, rational, logical. Not impossible. And when we’re trying to explain our belief in God to other people, it’d help a whole lot if he didn’t sound impossible. So they downplay trinity as much as they can… and in some cases, dismiss it altogether. God, they insist, is not a trinity.

Some of these people happen to consider themselves Christians. Sometimes really good Christians, as opposed to Unitarians who consider Jesus and his teachings to be optional. They actually strive to follow Jesus’s teachings. They just… don’t really care for the trinitarian idea. Lots of them lean more towards modalism, the belief God isn’t three people (or in theologian-speak, “persons”), but has different modes—and sometimes he’s the Spirit, sometimes the Father, sometimes Jesus.

Problem is, modalism—and any other theory about God which denies the idea of trinity—is inherently flawed. We Christians didn’t just make up the idea of trinity. We found it in the bible. We tried to explain it, couldn’t, and came up with a doctrine which states what little we do know… and likewise what we can’t say trinity is, ’cause it goes too far, and it’d be wrong. God’s not a three-headed, three-bodied, three-pronged being. He’s not a committee of three gods which speak in union, like the Mormons posit. He’s not one guy with three personalities, like someone with dissociative identity disorder whose three alters happen to also be nice guys. He’s not working in three modes.

These alternative ideas are wrong, and often so wrong it gets in the way of people’s relationship with God. (And may get in the way of their salvation.) That’s why we call ’em heresies.

Of course people regularly, incorrectly think “heresy” means bad. (Usually ’cause certain cultish heretics are really bad people.) So they’re gonna be offended by my calling them heretics. “I’m no heretic. You are. You’re the heretic. Trying to get people to believe in three gods…” No I’m not; three gods is a heresy too.

But okay, in the interest of fairness I’ll present their point of view. Generally they stick to five points.

28 April 2022

Trinity: The paradox in the middle of Christianity.

TRINITY 'trɪn.ə.di noun. The godhead as one God in three people: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
[Trinitarian trɪn.ə'tɛr.i(.)ən adjective.]

In the scriptures, from the very beginning of the scriptures, it’s strongly emphasized that YHWH, the LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, is one. Israel was to have no other god.

Deuteronomy 6.4-5 KJV
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: 5 and thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
Exodus 20.3-6 KJV
3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 5 thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6 and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

One God. No other gods. Got that?

Well, Israel didn’t always get that, which is why the LORD let their enemies conquer them, drag them off to Assyria and Babylon, and keep ’em there till it finally sunk in. After which, idolatry wasn’t so much the problem anymore; hypocrisy was. Still is. But I digress.

Okay, one God. Till we get to the gospels, and the teachings of Jesus, and the rather obvious statements from the gospels that Jesus is actually, literally, YHWH. Jn 1.1 But, y’know, he’s now human. Jn 1.14 He came to earth and walked among his people, and explained who God is so we’d understand him better. Jn 1.18

Yet Jesus talks about his Father, “whom you say is your God.” Jn 8.54 They’re two different people. But wait… wasn’t it spelled out in the Old Testament how there’s only one God? Weren’t the Israelis dragged off to exile because they refused to acknowledge this?

Then Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit. He’ll pray to the Father, who will send us this παράκλητον/parákliton, “helper, assistant, advocate” (KJV “Comforter”) who’s gonna both dwell among us, and in us. Jn 14.15-17 It’s also made pretty explicit this Holy Spirit is likewise God. So there are three different people who are God. But wait… one God, right? Unless the Israelis got sent into exile for nothing.

This idea of three people (or to use the way theologians much prefer to put it—and rebuke me all the time for not putting it—three persons) who are nonetheless one and only one God, is called trinity. And it’s the hardest concept in Christian theology. It’s brought far wiser men than me to ruin. It’s based on two ideas, both of which are absolutely true. And both absolutely contradict one another.

  1. There’s only one God.
  2. Three individual people—Jesus, his Father, and the Holy Spirit—are God.

Got that? Good. Hold both ideas in your head at once. Accept and believe both. Never dismiss one idea in favor of the other, or try to explain away one by using the other. And there ya go. That’s the trinity.

18 November 2021

Earthly sovereignty, and God’s sovereignty.

As I wrote in my article on God’s sovereignty, humans have some messed-up ideas about how it, and God, works. Largely because we confuse human sovereignty with divine sovereignty, and think God acts like we would act, were we sovereign.

Jean Calvin (1509–64), who came up with various beliefs about how salvation works which we nowadays call Calvinism, was a medieval theologian from France. If you know European history, you know France for the longest time was an absolute monarchy, in which the French king ran his nation like a dictatorship. His rule was absolute. He wasn’t bound by law, because he made the laws and could unmake them at will. He wasn’t held in check by any parliament or court. He answered to no emperor. He didn’t answer to the pope either; if he didn’t like the pope he’d just get rid of the current one and appoint a new one. I’m not kidding; French kings actually did this more than once.

L’état, c’est moi”/“The state; it’s me” was how Louis 14 (1643–1715) put it: If you defied the king you defied the state, which meant you were a traitor and he had every right to kill you. Heck, if he merely found you inconvenient, like Naboth was with Ahab, 1Ki 21 he’d kill you; unlike Ahab he’d suffer no consequence, because the medieval view of “divine right of kings” meant even God’s law didn’t apply to him.

To Calvin, that’s sovereignty. That’s what it looks like. But human kings have limits, and the LORD does not. Human kings can only tap the gold and resources in their kingdom, but God can create new and infinite resources with a word. Human kings can only enforce their will with soldiers, which die; God can likewise enforce his will with a word—but if he chooses to use angels instead, his angels don’t die. Human kings also die, but Jesus is raised and won’t die again.

To Calvin, God’s sovereignty was everything the French king’s sovereignty was… times infinity.

Thing is, the French king was human, and humans have gone wrong. We go particularly wrong when we’re handed absolute power, and nobody bothers to put any checks or balances on it. Our natural selfishness turns into something absolutely monstrous, and even the best kings, like David ben Jesse, fall prey to it… and people die.

Now if you believe medieval French propaganda about how this system was all God’s idea (it’s called the divine right of kings after all), you might develop the idea God’s cool with power-mad kings because he himself exhibits some of these power-mad traits. And you’d probably use that belief to justify the idea of divinely-appointed absolute rulers. You certainly wouldn’t have a problem with it—which is why Calvin felt he could safely preface his 1536 book Institutio Christianae Religionis/“Institutes of the Christian Religion” with an introduction to King Francis 1 (1494–1547). Surely Francis would appreciate the ideas about divine sovereignty; it looked just like his sovereignty. Might even have inspired him to flex it a little more, had he read the book.

But like determinism, this idea of meticulous sovereignty is a human idea, overlaid upon the bible, overlaid upon theology—and it doesn’t belong there. Because it’s inconsistent with love, with grace, and with the essence of God’s being. Love is who he is. Yet Calvin’s Institutes says nothing about it. Never reminds us God is love; never quotes the proof texts. Because to Calvin, God isn’t defined by his love, but by his might. God’s sovereignty is central and vital to Calvin’s understanding about God. Take it away, and he’s not God anymore.

It’s why Calvinists struggle to understand exactly how God became human, because if Jesus really did surrender all his power, it means to them he’s not God anymore. So he can’t have. He must’ve only been pretending to be a limited, powerless human… kinda like the Docestists claim, but not as heretic. More like God in a human suit, kinda like Edgar in Men in Black but less gross.

17 November 2021

God is sovereign. (So, our king. Not our puppet master.)

SOVEREIGN 'sɑv.(ə)r(.ə)n noun. A supreme ruler.
2. adjective. Possess supreme or final power.
[Sovereignty 'sɑv.(ə)r(.ə)n.ti noun.]

Typically when people talk sovereignty, they’re speaking of the adjective. They’re talking about supreme or final power, and who has it. Like a nation. Our country claims the right to do as it pleases, despite what other countries are doing, or trying to get us to do. If other countries want to cut pollution, and want us to sign a treaty which agrees to do so, but our president doesn’t believe in climate change and sees no reason to make our businesses stop dumping their garbage into our air and drinking water: Hey, we’re a sovereign nation, and those other nations can go pound sand. More carbon for everyone!

More often lately, people talk about individual sovereignty: They claim they’re sovereign citizens, who can do as they please and no government can tell them otherwise. If they want to refuse vaccines or get an abortion, how dare any government force them to act against their will. True, our governments recognize no such claim, because our Constitution entrusted Congress with this sovereignty, but you try making “sovereign citizens” practice eighth-grade reading comprehension. They’re sticking with fourth grade, and they’re sovereign and you can’t make ’em.

Obviously the way Christian theologians define sovereignty is way different. There, we’re talking about God’s sovereignty: His power, and right and authority, to rule the universe.

Which he does. He created it; he has the unlimited power to do with it, and make it do, as he pleases. He knows it inside and out, and knows best how to run it, so we believe it’s best if we defer to his wisdom about how it works. He’s setting up a kingdom meant to rule the cosmos, and Christ Jesus is its king. All this stuff is in the bible; arguably it’s the primary thing the bible’s about.

We Christians largely agree God is sovereign over the universe. There are certain Christians who take the deist view, and think God created the universe to run on its own, like a really good and well-wound-up clock. But then he left it to fuction on its own, without his input or interaction. Certain cessationists believe God doesn’t do miracles anymore, and believe this is why: He left us a bible, and doesn’t need to talk to us anymore, nor offer any supernatural corrections to the way the universe is running. He left us and forsook us; we’re on our own.

The rest of us agree God is king of the universe. Where we disagree is how he does it.

The scriptures make clear God issues commands, either to nature 2Ch 7.13 or to us humans. 2Ch 7.17 He’s almighty, so he can enforce his commands: Make us obey, or penalize us when we won’t. And he has every right to command us, for he made us to obey these commands. They’re good works, Ep 2.10 and if we don’t do as designed, he has every right to correct us. Even unmake us.

Yeah, there are Christians who believe God has no such rights. They won’t say it in these particular words; they know how rebellious and heretic it sounds. So they fudge around it and claim God gave us free will, and he loves our free will so much, he’d never ever interfere with it. At all. “The Holy Spirit is a gentleman,” they insist, “and will never interfere with your life unless you grant him permission.”

Okay yes, God gave us free will. (Duh.) God gave your kids free will too. Does that mean when they get the idea to paint the cat, you’re gonna let ’em? Not unless you really hate that cat. (Often not even then.) Free will means we have the ability to choose our own course of action… but God has free will too. Freer than ours; we’re limited and he’s not. God can almightily clamp down on our bad choices. Just ’cause he doesn’t always, doesn’t mean he doesn’t and won’t.

Some people are dying, and are fighting off their deaths as best they can—but God’s decided their time’s up. No, he’s not passively letting them die; it’s his idea. He can decide that, y’know. Tell them God would never interfere with their free will: They don’t wanna die! Yet he isn’t granting their requests for longer life. Death is totally interfering with their free will.

Likewise people whom God has decided don’t get to become wealthy. Or women whom God decided don’t get to be mothers. Men who wanna pursue one vocation, but God reroutes them to one he prefers. People who wanna move in various directions, but God both shuts the door and closes the window. Ac 16.6-7

See, either God’s in charge, or we’re in denial: We’ve decided he’s not really, and make no attempt to submit to his will or approval. Jm 4.15-16 Not the smartest plan. But it’s indicative of Christians who believe God’s kingdom hasn’t arrived yet, and won’t be here till Jesus returns. Till then, they intend to enjoy life and do as they wish. They imagine once Jesus transforms us in his return, 1Co 15.51-52 he’ll vaporize our selfish nature—so there’s no point in currently fighting it. Go ahead and sin; we’ve got grace. Till the King comes, sin gets to be king. (Scriptures to the contrary. Ro 6.1-2, 14)

The sovereign of the future.

What’s these lawless folks’ justification for saying God isn’t currently our sovereign?

Most of it comes from typical human messed-up ideas about how sovereignty works. See, when we get hold of too much power—the level varies from person to person—we turn evil. We won’t even realize it’s happening. We’ll imagine we’re benevolent dictators; we only want what’s best for our subjects. But we figure the only way to give ’em what’s best is to take control over more than we should. Give ’em no freedom at all; give ’em terrible consequences for even thinking of going against us. We imagine it’s the only way to keep everyone happy. In reality it only makes the tyrants happy.

Since God hasn’t utterly taken away our free will and turned us into mindless robots, and since God doesn’t immediately strike people with lightning whenever we break a command, lawless people presume God must not have taken his throne yet. ’Cause if they were in charge, heads would roll. God must therefore have put off his reign till Jesus returns. Then Jesus can be the tyrannical dictator who reprograms all the resurrected Christians into automatons who never even think of sinning, and all the non-Christians get tossed into hell. (What about the millennium? They don’t believe in it.)

What about the present? Who rules the universe right now?

Ah. There, many Christians assume after sin and death entered the world, God fled like a king going into hiding during a coup d’etat; like King David fleeing Absalom. 2Sa 15.14 God retreated to the territory he fully controls, i.e. heaven. From there he’s amassing a giant invasion army to take back his world. When God offers us strength and support nowadays, it’s like a king in exile smuggling ammo to his loyalists in the resistance. It’s kinda covert, ’cause God supposedly doesn’t want to tip his hand. But just wait till he invades. Oh, just you wait.

Whom does this scenario place in charge of the world? Satan. Jesus referred to “the ruler of this world” more than once, Jn 12.31, 14.30, 16.11 and in Jesus’s tests in the wilderness the devil claimed it itself is that very ruler. Lk 4.6 Jesus said “the ruler of this world” has been judged, Jn 16.11 so it can’t be God.

This is why Christian mythology claims God originally set a vice-regent in charge of the earth, named Lucifer. But power went to this archangel’s head, and it rebelled, so God fired it and had security throw it out. Like any deposed sovereign in serious denial, the devil is issuing statements from Mar-a-Lago, calling itself by its old titles, demanding obeisance as if it deserves honor. These myths became the basis of a lot of medieval theology and poetry, and of course present-day novels, and sermons about hellfire. None of it’s biblical though. I suspect it’s Satan padding its résumé: It was never that important or powerful in heaven, and rebelled ’cause it coveted power.

The rest of Christendom tends to skip the myths and focus on the kingdom. Which exists in a paradox of both being here already… and yet Jesus has yet to bring the kingdom with him when he returns. So God is sovereign, but not everyone recognizes his sovereignty yet. They will, Ro 14.11 but not yet.

Conditional sovereignty.

In the Old Testament, God’s the sovereign of Israel. They don’t have a king; don’t need one. God’s their king. Jg 8.23 He identified them to a Pharaoh as “my people,” Ex 7.16 the God of their ancestors, their God too, they his subjects. Lv 26.12

Okay yeah, later they wanted a human king, despite God being their king; 1Sa 12.12 they thought it’d be more stable a form of government, ’cause self-control wasn’t working for them. God was okay with the idea, but he considered these kings nothing more than his vice-regents: They answered to the real sovereign of Israel, who really reigned: The LORD. True, a lot of ’em did as they pleased, and paid the LORD lip service… and when they did, got in deep trouble with their boss.

This concept continued into the New Testament, but God’s kingdom expanded beyond Israelis and now includes everyone who comes to worship and follow the LORD and his anointed king Jesus. God’s still sovereign—the king over every Christian.

What about the rest of the world? Well, the bible kinda waffles back and forth between how God rules the world… and how pagans have no relationship with him.

God reigns over all the nations. 1Ch 20.6 Those who disregard God, aren’t his people. Ho 1.9
God judges all the nations. Jl 3.1-3 Conversely, those who weren’t God’s people, now are. Ho 2.23, 1Pe 2.10
God’s kingdom is over all. Ps 103.19 Those who are now God’s children, formerly weren’t. Jn 1.11-13
  Legitimately, sovereignty only belongs to God. Ps 22.28
  In certain cities, God has those who are his—and those who aren’t. Ac 18.10
  Don’t yoke yourself with unbelievers, for Jesus has no relationship with them. 2Co 6.14-16
  If Jesus’s Kingdom were of this world, it’d act a whole lot different. But it’s not. So it doesn’t. Jn 18.36

You notice a lot of the proof texts differ between Old and New Testaments. In the OT, God was definitely sovereign over Israel, yet its authors claimed his sovereignty over the world. In the NT, God is sovereign over Christendom, and its authors state he’ll take sovereignty over the world—eventually. Not yet. When Jesus returns.

The way I phrase it is God has a valid claim to the world, ’cause he created it; but he has no relationship with those who reject him. That’s why he hasn’t saved them, hasn’t blessed them, hasn’t filled them with his Holy Spirit. Nor does he hold them to his laws: He lets them go their own way. (To destruction, but still.) He lets ’em have their evil hearts’ desires, Ro 1.24-25 and the obvious end result is their current awful behavior.

Romans 1.28-32 KJV
28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32 who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

Properly, God’s sovereignty is a conditional sovereignty: He’s Lord when we make him Lord. Yes, he’s still Lord when we have nothing to do with him—but his current priority is to win these people over, not rule them as unwilling subjects. It may feel sometimes like he’s punishing them for being unwilling subjects, but really they’re just suffering the natural consequences of following the wrong sovereign.

But this time will come to an end. Always does. For many, it’s at death. For many whose evil is so destructive, God simply has to intervene sooner. And once Jesus returns, that’s it for everyone.

Meanwhile, those who don’t follow God still get his grace. No, not his saving grace; that’s for those who trust him to save them. It’s what theologians call prevenient grace, the grace that’s always been around, pointing us to God. It’s the grace where the sun rises on the evil and good, where the rain falls on the just and unjust. Mt 5.45 It’s those situations where pagans get the fringe benefits of living among Christians who show them compassion (we are showing them compassion, right?) and love their neighbors. And it’s the grace which gives them plenty of opportunities to quit a life which isn’t working for them, and finally turn to God.

Calvinist sovereignty.

If you recall what I wrote about typical messed-up human ideas about how sovereignty works: People imagine sovereignty as absolute power over everyone and everything in their domain. They can do whatever they like with their subjects. In fact they’re not really sovereign unless they wield that control. Their will is supreme.

This was the way kings worked in the Middle Ages, particularly France. Hence this was the way French subject Jean Calvin imagined God as king. He’s almighty, so he already has the level of absolute power we humans can only salivate over. Nothing and no one can stop him. And Calvin was a determinist, so he concluded nothing does stop God: This universe is precisely the one he wants.

This universe? Have you seen this universe? It’s crap.

True, Calvinists admit, it’s crap. For now. God’s in the process of reforming it. It looks like crap now, but everything’s going according to God’s wonderful plan, and nothing can frustrate it, for God pulls every string. Everything we see, everything which happens, every action, every electron—it’s all precisely where God wants it. For if he didn’t want it, it wouldn’t be there. But he does, so it is.

Um, what about evil? Oh, our Calvinist strawman would say, evil’s no problem. God’s still in control. He’ll do away with it eventually, but for right now, evil is precisely where he wants it. Again, if he didn’t want it, it wouldn’t be there. But he does, so it is.

Wait, God wants it there? Again, if he didn’t want it… yada yada yada.

Well why in the cinnamon toast hell does God want it there? Doesn’t he hate evil? Hasn’t he denounced it like crazy? Doesn’t he claim to be holy, i.e. utterly separate from evil? What in the ten heavens is the Lord YHWH doing suborning evil?

Here our Calvinist strawman usually comes up with some convoluted argument about how God can micromanage the universe, including the micromanagement of all the evil in the universe, yet magically keep his hands clean. There’s a bit in there about the difference between God’s revealed will in the scriptures, and his secret will which he keeps only to himself—and the evildoing is apparently part of the secret will. ’Cause God hasn’t explained to us why he made evil part of his plan. Remember, they insist this universe is precisely the one he wants, so evil’s here on purpose. Yet somehow it’s not hypocrisy for him to regularly, loudly, even angrily condemn the very same evil he makes humanity do.

They have no good explanation… but their usual excuse is “Who are you to question God?” Ro 9.20 Yeah the plan sounds like it’s utterly f--ed up beyond reason, but you just gotta trust the plan. Trust that God’s good. Trust that he’s able to have two entirely different, contradictory wills, yet not be an almighty schizophrenic hypocrite.

After their intellectual jiggery-pokery is over, they’re gonna come away very satisfied with their explanation. Not so much us.

’Cause that’s the problem with a micromanagerial God: If he really does control everything in the universe to the degree Calvinists claim, he’s included way too much evil. More evil than good, y’notice. So much evil, we can’t actually call him good! He’d only be good once we redefine “good” to mean “whatever God does.” And y’know, a lot of Calvinists actually do redefine “good” like that. Good and evil aren’t based on the Law and sin, on selflessness and selfishness. They define it based on whatever God feels like doing from one day to the next. It’s relative. It’s foundationless.

As the apostles defined love, micromanagement actually violates it. Love doesn’t demand its own way! 1Co 13.5 It violates self-control, which is one of the Spirit’s fruits, Ge 5.23 and one of God’s character traits. God must limit himself and the control he wields: He wants us to follow him of our own free will. God is love, and love hopes all things; 1Co 13.7 it doesn’t force all things.

That’s why evil exists: Not because it’s part of God’s inscrutable plan, but precisely because it’s not. God wants us to be good, but we seldom use our free will for good. Nor does evil’s existence mean God’s not almighty: He can, and often does, step in and stop it. At the End, he’ll get the outcome he wants and expects, not because he has to control every little thing in the cosmos, but because he’s mightier than chaos. Real power doesn’t need to pull strings. It commands and is obeyed. Ge 1.3

Micromanagement is how humans would behave if we were sovereign. Not how God behaves. We humans covet power so much, we’ve simply projected our personal, selfish wish-fulfillment upon God. Calvinists claim it even honors God: Their concept of sovereignty describes him as almighty, majestic, all-benevolent, and wise. Which he is. But the reason Calvinists talk up all those traits, and spend so much time on God’s greatness and mightiness and goodness, is ’cause they’re trying to distract themselves and us away from the problem of evil in a deterministic God’s universe.

Because people wanna know how a good, almighty God can permit evil. Because if they were almighty, they wouldn’t—and they’re not even good! So shouldn’t a good God do it? Calvinist answers to this question are so twisted and offensive, antichrists regularly use them to argue there can’t be a God… or if there is, he’s a dick, so don’t worship him.

’Cause if God’s a micromanager, he’s a monster. Which is why I’m absolutely not a Calvinist.

The king is coming.

But rather than end this piece on a giant bummer, I’m gonna remind you Jesus is coming someday to rule his kingdom.

How do you imagine Jesus will rule? Like the Calvinists, a lot of us project our own flawed ideas about leadership upon him: We imagine a benevolent dictator, or a micromanager, or a kindly grandpa who’s too busy napping to notice we’ve raided the liquor cabinet. You wanna understand God’s sovereignty properly, you gotta read the gospels. What does Jesus say God’s kingdom looks like? ’Cause that’s exactly what God’s sovereignty looks like.

Till the kingdom fully arrives, God’s outposts of the kingdom—his churches—are likewise meant to look that way. They don’t always look that way, and that’s our fault. Not everyone is truly following our king. Once Jesus takes personal, direct control, things’ll straighten up in a hurry. Meanwhile we must continue to pray for this to happen—as Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.” Lk 11.2 KJV Pray for God’s sovereignty to be recognized, and therefore followed. For him to have his way—because we his people recognize, and contribute to, his kingdom.

05 October 2021

When you know Jesus, you know God.

At the beginning of John’s gospel we read,

John 1.18 KJV
No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.

God, being spirit, Jn 4.24 is invisible to us material creatures. So in order for the folks in the Old Testament to see him, he had to show them a visible representation of himself. It’s not literally himself; it can’t be, because he himself is invisible. So the Old Testament folks got to see a burning bush, a column of cloud, or a pillar of fire, which represented the LORD’s presence. (And notice how he kept deliberately choosing representations which had no solid form. Hope you can recognize why.)

But in Jesus the Nazarene, God presents something which is exactly himself. Visible, so we can see him. Easy to hear and understand—when we’re really listening. A fully accurate depiction of who God is. You wanna know God? Get to know Jesus.

John 14.8-11 KJV
8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. 9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? 10 Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake.

Loads of preachers and theologians love to list any of God’s attributes which reflect his grandness and power. Like his omnis: Omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnivorous, and so forth. ’Cause we humans covet power, and rarely for the best of reasons. So we’re attracted to God’s might, and rejoice that we have a powerful God.

Again, rarely for the best of reasons. There’s this assumption that because we have a powerful God, it somehow makes us powerful and right, and our message and religion and influence oughta also be powerful. Or at least it would be powerful if we’d just grab hold of that power… and smack the world upside the head with it.

But power belongs in God’s hands, and no other. It’s not appropriate for humans. And Jesus demonstrates this: When he became human, he deliberately depowered himself. Pp 2.7 Yes he did miracles, but that’s because he tapped the Holy Spirit’s power. Ac 10.38 And the reason he told us we can do as he does, is ’cause we have the same Spirit. Jn 14.12

Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, and Jesus exhibits these fruits better than anyone. He puts limits on himself. Far more limits than we bother to put on ourselves. Which means all these “omni attributes” which preachers love to list, don’t apply to Jesus. He surrendered them, and his will, to his Father.

That’s why the people of Jesus’s day had the darnedest time recognizing him as God. Humans expect God to be almighty… but see Jesus and think, “Well he’s not almighty. People resist him, and he lets them. People insult him, and he doesn’t strike them down with lightning. He doesn’t enforce his will. Heck, he got himself killed. What kind of weak, ineffectual God is that?”

Not weak at all. Self-controlled.

26 August 2021

The explosive power of God?

DYNAMIS 'daɪ.nə.mɪs, ' or DUNAMIS 'du'nə.mɪs noun. The extra-mighty sort of power God possesses.
[Dynamite power 'daɪ.nə.maɪt 'paʊ(.ə)r noun.]

Alexander Pope wrote the saying, “A little learning is a dangerous thing,” in his Essay on Criticism in 1711. It’s frequently misquoted “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” and constantly taken out of context: People assume Pope meant it’s better to have no knowledge at all. Knowledge is power, but power in the wrong hands is dangerous.

Read his whole poem, and you learn what Pope actually meant:

A little learning is a dang’rous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.

Yeah, for those who lack a little learning about what a Pierian Spring is, that’d be a fountain in ancient Macedonia (which is not the current country of Macedonia) dedicated to the Muses, the Greek goddesses of wisdom and talent. Drink from the spring, and you’re supposed to gain their wisdom, and be able to understand profound truths. But if you don’t take a big drink from it—if you only take little sips from a 6-ounce Dixie cup—you’re not getting a full dose of wisdom. You’re only getting tiny but partial insights. Only half-truths.

That’s what Pope considered dangerous: A little learning. A partial knowledge. Don’t be satisfied with tricks or trivia. Dig deeper.

One obvious example is what popular Christianity claims about “dynamis power.” I first heard it before I went to seminary and learned Greek. I’ve heard it countless times since.

Pastors are impressed by how similar the word δύναμις/dýnamis is to our English word dynamite. And of course it’s similar. After Alfred Nobel patented “Nobel’s Blasting Powder” in 1867, he decided to give it a more clever name: The Greek word for power, plus -ite. So it’s not a coincidence the two words are similar. Fully deliberate on Nobel’s part.

So these pastors will spend a lot of time on “the dýnamis power of God” (or dúnamis, depending on whether they know an upsilon is pronounced i instead of u, and usually they don’t). They’ll spend a lot of time on how dynamic or dynamite it is. Or as one of my pastors loved to put it, “the dynamite power of God!” ’Cause once the Holy Spirit gets in there and does something, BOOM!

It’s an exciting image. It’s that excitement which indicates someone’s been sipping from the spring of knowledge again. Not drinking deep.

When I first heard this idea, I thought it sounded clever. But what did I know? I hadn’t learned any Greek yet. And even for quite a few years after my Greek classes, I perpetuated the error: God’s power is ’splodey like dynamite. But one Sunday 14 years ago, after yet another sermon on the explosive power of God, I decided to finally double-check the idea against a Greek dictionary. And as you can guess, no that’s not what dýnamis means.

25 August 2021

Defining God by his might, instead of his love.

People have all sorts of ideas about what a god is. To the ancients, a god was simply a non-human being who was mightier than they, who had power over nature, and if you worshiped them they might control some nature for you. To present-day westerners, whose ideas of God have largely been influenced by Christianity, God is properly defined as the mightiest being the universe. The Almighty. Nothing and no one comes close.

Which he is, but people tend to fixate on that definition instead of God’s own description of himself—as love.

Exodus 34.6-7 KJV
6 And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, 7 keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.

It’s kinda obvious why: Humans covet power. And God’s all-powerful. So, same as with the ancients and their gods, we figure if we suck up to God just right, he might use his power on our behalf. Even grant us a little power.

So whenever Christians write theology books, and start writing about the attributes of God, that’s where we typically start: God is almighty. God is the Almighty. He’s El Šaddaý, God Almighty; El Elyón, the Most High; El Jefe, the Boss. (Okay, that last one’s Spanish, not Hebrew, but he is.) And then we go into detail about all the ways he’s almighty, usually with Latin-derived words beginning with omni-. He’s omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, omnidirectional, omnivorous… well, considering he discouraged the Hebrews from certain ritually unclean animals, maybe not omnivorous; Jesus didn’t eat shellfish. But those theology books surely do pound away at the omnis. Because we’d surely like to be omni.

And sometimes speculate what it’d be like to be omnipotent. Could God really do anything? Really anything?

SHE. “God is almighty, right? So could he create a rock so heavy, he can’t lift it?”
ME. “Yes. Of course he could create such a rock.”
SHE. [figuring she got me] “But if he can’t lift it, then is he really almighty? Is he really God?”
ME. “Well first of all, God isn’t defined by his almightiness. But second of all, it’s a poor sort of almightiness that can’t create paradoces.”

Yeah, this person didn’t realize this wasn’t my first go-around with this particular question. I grew up inflicting it on my Sunday school teachers, just to see whether I liked any of their answers. (Seldom did I.) Theology professors still use it to mess with the minds of their students. I came up with my own answer back in seminary, just to mess with the minds of my theology professors.

But the reason Christians confound themselves with the paradox of truly being able to do anything—including contradictory things, however much that might bend our brains—is because we love the idea our God can do anything, and wanna explore that idea. Explore it a lot. Explore it a little too much.

And in some cases go too far, and forget even though God has the power to do absolutely anything, there are all sorts of things he can’t do. Not just “will not do,” not just “refuses to do,” not just “could do but won’t”—things he can’t do. Because to do such things violates the core of who he is. God is love, and can’t violate that attribute. Can not.

So is he almighty? Sure. So long that we remember “almighty” means God has the complete, unlimited power to do whatever he wants. If we’re only talking about complete, unlimited power to do anything at all, no. God’s never gonna be wicked. Period. It’s not who he is.

Those who love and covet God’s might, have a big problem with me making this “qualification.” Because they don’t wanna put any limits on God’s might. Even though God himself puts limits on his own might. He has way more self-control than we do. But those who covet power wanna claim, with no qualifications whatsoever, that God does have the complete, unlimited power to do anything at all—and we should be in awe of this raw power, and worship it.

Whoops, I mean God. And so do they. Kinda. But maybe not.

See, this is the inevitable problem with defining God by his might instead of his love: We humans have the bad habit of worshiping our favorite things about God, instead of God, the being, himself. We love to talk about God’s might ’cause we worship might. We love to talk about God’s unlimited resources, ’cause we worship wealth. I know this one music pastor who loves to talk about how God gets worshiped round his throne, ’cause he loves worship, and by “worship” this guy usually means music: He loves music. I won’t accuse him of worshiping music itself, but he does love music.

But when we worship God’s love… well, God is love. When we strive to define love the way the scriptures define love, and love God and our neighbor as commanded, we are by Jesus’s definition Mt 22.36-40 worshiping God. It’s not really misdirected worship. It’s correct worship. Worshiping might will quickly turn into idolatry; worshiping God’s love will always turn into worshiping God.

24 August 2021

God is love.

No doubt you’ve heard “God is love” before. If we wanna understand it better, it helps to read St John’s context, from his first letter.

1 John 4.7-16 KJV
7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. 9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. 12 No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13 Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.
14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. 15 Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. 16 And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.

John wrote his letter to address the problem of gnostics in Ephesus—and really throughout the Roman Empire—who claimed all sorts of things about God and who he is, about Jesus and whether he’s even human, and about how to identify God’s followers through their secret knowledge—whereas the scriptures teach us to identify fellow Christians by our fruit. The most obvious fruit is love, and if we don’t have that, we quite obviously don’t have the Holy Spirit within us, because above all else, God is love.

How do we know God is love? Duh; before we even knew to love him, he sent Jesus to die for our sins. And when we repented and confessed and turned to him, he gave us his Holy Spirit—who is God himself. If a person has the Holy Spirit within them, and is actually following the Spirit like we should, there should be obvious signs of it. Namely God’s love. “Love is of God.” 1Jn 4.7

And if we don’t see love—and sad to say, there are a lot of Christians in whom we really don’t—John doesn’t go so far as to say these people doesn’t really have the Spirit in ’em. He only says “He that loveth not knoweth not God.” 1Jn 4.8 If we knew God, we’d know love’s a big big deal to him. Because it’s who he is. God is love.

John says the words ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν/o Theós ayápi estín, “God is love,” twice in this passage. 1Jn 4.8, 16 There’s no ambiguity in them. God is, present tense, love. And ayápi is the same word the KJV elsewhere translates as “charity,” and St. Paul defines thisaway:

1 Corinthians 13.4-7 KJV
4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5 doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6 rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7 beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

More than one preacher has noted this is a pretty good description of God himself.

23 August 2021

God’s names. (And a bunch of his adjectives.)

New Christians—and a bunch of us older ones too—tend to be fascinated by the fact God has a lot of different names.

No, I’m not talking about the different words for “God” in other languages: Theos, Deus, Dios, Diyos, Dieu, Dia, Dio, Zeu, Gott, Gud, Hudaý, Bog, Buh, Elohim, Allah, Ulah, Dev, Ram, Atua, Kami, Haneunim, and so forth. Those are neat too, as are the different ways humanity has rendered “Jesus.” But people who are into that, are more into languages. Your average Christian is more into the many different things God is called in the bible.

James Nesbit is selling this poster of God’s names. Without the watermark, I expect.

There’s “God,” of course. There’s “the Lord” or “the LORD,” depending on the original-language words we’re translating. There’s his personal name “I Am” or “YHWH” (or “Yahwéh”) or “Jehovah.” There’s “the Most High” and “the Almighty”…

And I haven’t even got to the titles yet. Like Mighty God, Ancient of Days, Alpha and Omega, Lord of Hosts, and so on. Go to your average Christian bookstore (assuming your local one hasn’t shut down, or moved to the internet) and they even have a poster covered in God’s titles. Suitable for framing, if you’re not a teenager but still like posters.

Bust out some Hebrew to go along with it, and some Christians will get sloppy with excitement. I can write articles about God’s attributes till my fingers go numb, but many a Christian doesn’t give a rip about theology: They just want easy ideas which they can meditate upon and come up with their own insights about, and one of the easiest ideas to mentally play with is one of God’s names. So they just love God’s names.

There’s just something about them. Because, as many Christians teach, there’s power in God’s name. Jr 10.6 Power, power, wonder-working power. Power to break every chain, break every chain, break every chain.

But I should first point out these many names of God… are not necessarily what God names himself.

Fr’instance “God.” In nearly every culture, a god is what you call any being who’s mightier than a human—stronger, smarter, longer-lived, heals quicker, or what have you. It’s why superheroes tend to be called gods—and every time someone in a movie refers to Superman or Thor as a god, we Christians balk: They’re not gods. “There’s only one God,” as Captain America said in the first Avengers movie, “and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.” But in ancient pagan cultures—and regularly among today’s pagans—it is how people think. Once you become more than human, you become a god.

So you suck up to gods as you do a warlord or king. ’Cause it’s more powerful than you, and could either do things for you, or smite you. It might have expectations on you, or capriciously decide it doesn’t like you.

But to the ancients, gods weren’t all-powerful. Gods could only control, or reign over, one particular thing—like weather or sex. Even the mightiest of gods wasn’t the creator of all things; ancient myths always had the first gods making the universe out of pre-existing materials, which nobody made… and often the pre-existing materials made the gods, like when Ouranos and Gaia made Chronos. Likewise these gods weren’t even moral beings. (Well, Baldr was good. But of all the gods in pagan mythology, it’s pretty much only him. And they killed him.)

In contrast, the anceint Hebrews, we Christians, and Muslims are monotheists: There’s only the One God, and he’s a supreme being; he’s God over all, not just individual things or nations, and he created heavens and earth Ge 1.1 instead of heavens and earth creating him. We don’t consider any other “gods” to be legit. When we use the word “god,” we monotheists only mean the One God. Who’s almighty, and good.