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

What, you thought there were only 10 commandments?

by K.W. Leslie, 12 June 2023

Most Christians are familiar with the fact there are 10 commandments. Not so familiar with the actual 10 commands, Ex 20.1-17, Dt 5.6-21 but we do tend to know there are 10 of them, and it wouldn’t hurt to live by them. In fact the Christian nationalists among us think it’d be a good idea for the whole of the United States to live by them… although it’s a bit of a puzzler how we might simultaneously enforce “You’ll have no other gods before me” Ex 20.3 and “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Amendment 1

Some of us have also heard the idea there are 12 commandments. Where’d the extra two come from? Well, someone once asked Jesus his opinion on the greatest command.

Mark 12.28-31 CSB
28 One of the scribes approached. When he heard them debating and saw that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, “Which command is the most important of all?”
29 Jesus answered, “The most important is Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Dt 6.4 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. Dt 6.4-5, Js 22.5 31 The second is, Love your neighbor as yourself. Lv 19.18 There is no other command greater than these.”

Since these two commands aren’t among the 10, certain Christians tack ’em on at the end.

But there’s far from just 12 commands. There’s 613.

Technically there are even more than 613. But when you combine redundant commands—namely all the commands repeated in Deuteronomy, like the 10 commandments Dt 5.1-21 —you get 613 of them. Or at least that was the conclusion of Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon of Spain (1135-1204, also called Maimonides by westerners, Rambam by Jews). Moshe listed them in his book Sefer Hamitzvot/“Book of Good Deeds.” He had slightly different priorities than Jesus, which is why he put loving God at 3 and 4 in his list, and loving neighbors at 13.

These commands are mostly for everyone. There are many Levite- and priest-specific commands, which don’t apply to the general population. (Although Pharisees customarily practiced ’em anyway, figuring all Jews oughta be as ritually clean as priests.) There are also many gender-specific commands, which apply to men and not women, or women and not men.

And let’s be honest: There is a double standard in the Law. Women and men may be equal in Christ, Ga 3.28 but not under Law. Fr’instance there’s a test for a wife’s faithfulness, Nu 5.11-30 but no such thing for husbands. ’Cause patriarchy. Under that system, men could have sex with any woman in their household. The Law abolished many of patriarchy’s customs—no they couldn’t have sex with just anyone they wished. But though abolishing patriarchy was God’s ultimate goal, with only monogamous people in leadership, 1Ti 3.2, 12 with men loving their wives like Christ loves his church, Ep 5.25 he didn’t do this outright in his Law. Though certainly the test of a wife’s faithfulness under the Law was considerably better than the previous patriarchal custom… which was to kill her without a trial. Ge 38.24

Meaningless things.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 November 2022

Ecclesiastes 9.11.

“Time and chance” is how the King James Version renders עֵ֥ת וָפֶ֖גַע/et va-fegá, “a moment and an accident.” I tend to interpret it as dumb luck, ’cause that’s the concept the author of Ecclesiastes is going with. Dumb luck exists, and it’s why the best and brightest aren’t guaranteed success.

Ecclesiastes 9.11 NKJV
I returned and saw under the sun that—
The race is not to the swift,
Nor the battle to the strong,
Nor bread to the wise,
Nor riches to men of understanding,
Nor favor to men of skill;
But time and chance happen to them all.

Yeah, our culture teaches otherwise. And no I’m not talking about our wider secular culture; I’m talking about popular Christian culture. Loads of Christians insist nothing happens outside God’s intricate plan for the cosmos. He’s got everything mapped out, everything under his thumb; even evil and chaos and destruction and sin are part of the arrangement. Dumb luck can’t exist in the realm of our sovereign God. There’s no such thing as luck. Everything’s determined, and everything happens for a reason.

They absolutely hate when I point ’em to Ecclesiastes. ’Cause it’s part of our Holy Spirit-inspired bible… yet its author relentlessly insists plenty of things happen for no reason. At all. It’s the entire premise of his book.

Ecclesiastes 1.1-3 NKJV
1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
2 “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher;
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
3 What profit has a man from all his labor
In which he toils under the sun?

I’ve actually had people try to explain Ecclesiastes away, as if the book’s “pessimism” no longer applies or matters in the Christian era. The author’s a descendant of David who called himself קֹהֶ֣לֶת/Qohelét, “preacher.” Most folks assume it’s Solomon. And, Christians will tell me, Qohelét wrote it when he was depressed. Because he lacked revelation of God’s grand will of purpose, he didn’t know God has a plan for everything. So he wrote it out of his utter faithlessness. It’s in our bible as a warning to people who likewise lack faith. You know, like Job’s friends. Don’t be like those guys.

That’s just how dead set certain Christians are in demanding their worldview: Let’s overturn entire books of the bible by claiming they’re ironic.

But the reason the Spirit inspired this book, and the reason we kept it in the bible, is ’cause Qohelét’s right. He makes it clear God isn’t behind every fumble, every failure, every accident, every coincidence. God’s behind a whole lot of things!—but certainly not all. Some things aren’t him. Evil isn’t him, and claiming God causes evil to happen is pure slander. Common slander, but still.

To Qohelét, some things are just הֲבֵ֤ל הֲבָלִים֙/havél havalím, “vapor of vapors,” which the KJV calls “vanity of vanities.” It’s a Hebrew idiom meaning “the most evanescent of vapors.” You know how, on a cold day, you can see your breath, but it quickly disappears? This disappears even more quickly. It immediately disappears. It’s the breath of that breath: Here one instant, gone the next. Can’t hold it, can’t catch it, can’t chase it. It’s empty, unimportant, meaningless. “Vanity,” the KJV puts it—it’s less than meaningless, ’cause time spent on it is time utterly wasted.

Does anything happen for a reason? According to Qohelét, anything God does happens for a reason. But everything else? The vapor of vapors.

Jesus’s top command: Love God.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 October 2022

Deuteronomy 6.4-5.

The reason people say the LORD has 613 commands in the bible, is ’cause Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon counted them. Just went through the bible, plucked out all the commands God gave to Moses (and a few he gave to Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Israel), combined all the repeated ones, came up with 613, and compiled them in his Sefer Hamitzvot/“Book of Good Deeds.”

If you haven’t heard of Rabbi Moshe, he’s a big deal in rabbinic Judaism. Jews often refer to him by Rambam (or “the Rambam,” in case you confuse him with another Rambam—it’s an acronym, RMBM, with vowels thrown in so you can pronounce it). Western philosophy courses tend to call him by the Latin version of his name, Moses Maimonides. He lived in Spain in 1135-1204.

Rabbi Moshe also listed the commands in order of importance. To his mind, the most important was the first of the 10 commandments, and while Christians think it’s “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” Ex 20.3 Jews figure it’s actually this one:

Exodus 20.2 NKJV
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”

No really; it’s a command. It identifies which God we’re to follow. There are plenty of other beings which identify themselves, or which others identify for us, as God. Plenty of pagans will talk about how “the universe” is pointing them a certain direction, or wants ’em to do something. But for us monotheists, the universe isn’t God; it’s one of God’s creations. For us Christians, God is the being Jesus identified as his Father—and when this being first identified himself, it was as YHWH/“the LORD,” Ex 3.14-15 the name he permanently chose for himself. He’s the God who rescued the Hebrews from Egypt. That God is our God.

Identifying which God is our God, is actually vitally important. It’s why theology books tend to begin by nailing down which God we follow: The Father of Jesus and the God of Israel. (There’s usually a bit in there about whether God exists and how we know this… which is entirely unnecessary when you’ve met him. But a bothersome number of theologians aren’t sure they have… which is a whole other discussion.)

Okay, so that’s Rabbi Moshe’s number one command. It’s a good one. But now let’s ask God himself—or more specifically God incarnate, our Lord, Christ Jesus.

Mark 12.28-31 NKJV
28 Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?”
29 Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. 30 And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ Dt 6.4-5 This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Lv 19.18 There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Jesus identifies the most important command as what Jews call the שֵׁמַע/šemá or Shema, the “declaration” of faith. They repeat this verse to publicly declare the LORD is their God.

Deuteronomy 6.4-5 NKJV
4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

The first part of this passage actually does the same thing as Rabbi Moshe’s number one verse: It identifies which God we follow, and that’d be the LORD. And the LORD is our one and only lord. We’re monotheists; we don’t follow multiple gods. (And Jesus isn’t another god; he’s the same God.)

More than that, we’re commanded to love the LORD. Moses said it’s with all our heart, soul, and might; Jesus expanded “strength” into “mind” and “strength,” lest people think strength was only a mental or physical exercise. It’s both. In case anyone was looking for a loophole, as people so often do, Jesus plugged it.

God doesn’t believe in no-win scenarios.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 August 2022

Back in seminary my theology professor introduced us to the concept of the tragic moral choice. Ancient Greek playwrights invented it for their tragedies: One god ordered the hero to do one thing, and another god ordered him to do just the opposite. Obeying one god meant sinning against the other god. And like us, the ancient Greeks recognized sin has dire consequences… and wanna bet their plays would show the consequences?

Now, we Christians don’t have multiple gods with conflicting wills. We only have the One God. Yes he’s in three persons, but the wills of all three persons are in absolute sync. God’s not the problem. We are. We sin, and we live in a sin-plagued world.

So in the Christian version of the tragic moral choice, we’re thrust into a scenario where all the possible outcomes are gonna be bad. The only choices we make are gonna be sinful ones. We can’t win. That’s just the world we live in.

Fr’instance imagine you’re hiding Jews from Nazis who wanna murder them. Suddenly the Nazis come knocking. What do you do?

  • Duh; lie and say there are no Jews there. Except lying is sin. Yeah, it’s a really minor sin compared to Jews getting killed—and if the Nazis find out you’re lying, you’re getting murdered. Still, this is the option most people unthinkingly take, as the best-case scenario. Still, lying is sin.
  • Give them up; let them be murdered just to save your own skin. True, you didn’t lie, but you did passively permit evil, so that’s sin.
  • Try not to literally lie, and hope the Nazis misinterpret you and go away. Most Christians prefer this one… usually because we don’t recognize God doesn’t do loopholes. Still lying, no matter what you might tell yourself to salve your conscience. Still sin.

Basically you’re going with the least-evil option. But don’t kid yourself: They’re all evil. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Tragic moral choices make a really good intellectual problem, and great drama. But they’re really bad theology. ’Cause unlike the Greek gods, who’d mess with humans and watch us squirm for fun, God loves his kids and doesn’t abandon us to such tragedies. Says so in the scriptures.

1 Corinthians 10.12-13 NRSV
12 So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13 No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Christians commonly misinterpret this to mean, “God will never give you more than you can handle,” which isn’t so. He regularly gives us more than we can handle—because he’s meant to handle it for us, and we need to stop striving and start trusting. But when it comes to temptation, he wants us to win. And there’s always a winning option. In every temptation.

Y’see, God doesn’t believe in the no-win scenario. Even though we might.

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

by K.W. Leslie, 17 November 2021
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.

The 10 commandments.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 November 2020

No doubt you’ve heard of the 10 commandments, or as they tend to be stylized, “The Ten Commandments,” as if they’re a movie title. (Which they were, repeatedly; the one with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner is the best-known.) In Hebrew they’re called the עֲשֶׂ֖רֶת הַדְּבָרִֽים/aserét ha-devarím, “10 words,” or “10 lessons.” Specifically they’re the 10 commands the LORD spoke aloud to the Hebrew people from Sinai (or Horeb), a mountain somewhere on the west coast of the Arabian peninsula.

No, the 10 commandments aren’t the only commands God gave the Hebrews. Nor the first. Nor even the greatest: When Jesus was asked about the most important commands, he listed none of the 10 commandments. He listed two other ones: Love God and love your neighbor. Mk 12.29-31 Those Christians who have no idea the LORD gave about 613 commands in the Law—and that’s not even counting Jesus’s commands in the gospels—sometimes take Jesus’s top two commands, add ’em to the 10 commandments, and actually talk about “the 12 commandments.” Again, as if God only gave us the 12.

The 10 commandments are significant because they’re the ones God considers important enough to tell everyone audibly. And we get ’em twice in the bible: In Exodus 20 when the LORD declares them himself, and Deuteronomy 5 when Moses reminded the Hebrews of them.

Today I’ll give you Everett Fox’s translation. (He didn’t put the LORD’s words in red though; I do that.

Exodus 20.1-13 Schocken Bible
1 God spoke all these words,
2 I am YHWH your God,
who brought you out
from the land of Egypt, from a house of serfs.
You are not to have
any other gods
before my presence.
3 You are not to make yourself a carved-image
or any figure
that is in the heavens above,
that is on the earth beneath,
that is in the waters beneath the earth;
4 you are not to bow down to them
and you are not to serve them,
for I, YHWH your God,
am a zealous God,
calling-to-account the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons,
to the third and the fourth [generation]
of those hating me,
5 but showing loyalty to the thousandth
of those loving me,
of those keeping my commandments.
6 You are not to take up
the name of YHWH your God for emptiness,
for YHWH will not clear anyone
who takes up his name for emptiness.
7 Be mindful
of the Sabbath day, to hallow it.
8 For six days, you are to serve, and are to make all your work,
9 but the seventh day
is Sabbath for YHWH your God:
you are not to make any work,
you, and your son, and your daughter,
your servant, and your maid, and your beast,
and your sojourner who is within your gates.
10 For in six days
YHWH made
the heavens and the earth,
the sea and all that is in it,
and he rested on the seventh day;
therefore YHWH gave the Sabbath day his blessing, and he hallowed it.
11 Honor
your father and your mother,
in order that your days may be prolonged
on the land that YHWH your God is giving you.
12 You are not to murder!
You are not to adulter!
You are not to steal!
You are not to testify
against your neighbor as a false witness!
13 You are not to desire
the house of your neighbor,
you are not to desire the wife of your neighbor,
or his servant, or his maid, or his ox, or his donkey,
or anything that is your neighbor’s!

And, because they’re important enough to be in the bible twice:

Deuteronomy 20.6-17 Schocken Bible
6 I am YHWH your God
who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a house of serfs.
You are not to have other gods beside my presence.
7 You are not to make yourself a carved-image of any form
that is in the heavens above,
that is on the earth beneath,
that is in the waters beneath the earth.
8 You are not to bow down to them, you are not to serve them,
for I, YHWH your God, am a zealous God,
calling-to-account the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons
to the third and to the fourth [generation] of those that hate me,
9 but showing loyalty to thousands
of those that love me, of those that keep my commandments.
10 You are not to take up the name of YHWH your God for emptiness,
for YHWH will not clear him that takes up his name for emptiness!
11 Keep the day of Sabbath, by hallowing it,
as YHWH your God has commanded you.
12 For six days you are to serve and to make all your work;
13 but the seventh day
is Sabbath for YHWH your God—
you are not to make any work:
you, and your son, and your daughter,
and your servant, and your maid,
and your ox, and your donkey, and any of your beasts,
and your sojourner who is in your gates—
in order that your servant and your maid may rest as one-like-yourself.
14 You are to bear-in-mind that serf were you in the land of Egypt,
but YHWH your God took you out from there
with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm;
therefore YHWH your God commands you to observe the day of the Sabbath.
15 Honor your father and your mother,
as YHWH your God has commanded you,
in order that your days may be prolonged,
and in order that it may go-well with you
on the land that YHWH your God is giving you.
16 You are not to murder!
And you are not to adulter!
And you are not to steal!
And you are not to testify against your neighbor as a lying witness!
17 And you are not to desire the wife of your neighbor;
you are not to crave the house of your neighbor,
his field, or his servant, or his maid, his ox or his donkey,
or anything that belongs to your neighbor!

God’s will isn’t complicated. But we sure make it sound so.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 November 2020

When I was a kid, parents and pastors encouraged us to learn and follow God’s will. Wasn’t just a kid thing either. Churches encourage everybody to learn and follow God’s will. It’s what churches do.

How do we do this? “Read your bible!” we were told. So we did. And… we found it had a lot of interesting stories, good advice, confusing visions, super boring genealogies, clever advice, inspiring poems, commands which were sometimes startling (“Wow, look at all the weird stuff God made the Hebrews do. Wait, does he still want us to do this?”) and sometimes made total sense (“Don’t eat bats. Well duh.”).

But… we were still generally confused about where to find what God’s will is.

Ah, said our youth pastors: It’s in the biblical principles. Apparently once we read enough bible, we’ll notice certain common themes throughout, and realize, “This seems like something God cares about.” To hear our youth pastors explain it: Turns out this—the connecting the dots between verses to find the underlying philosophy—is how we deduce God’s will.

And we can totally do this on your own, but lucky for us young people, the youth pastors already knew a bunch of the principles. So that’s what they taught us: Things like tithing to your church, and obeying your parents no matter what, and courtship instead of dating, and only voting for prolife candidates. And various other things which oughta make us into good conservative churchgoing citizens.

If you wanna learn a bunch of these principles, we were told, Bill Gothard has seminars! So, in my early 20s, I attended one. Gothard has books full of biblical principles: Stuff he extrapolated from bible. Well, more accurately, already believed… but then Gothard went digging through his bible for proof texts, found ’em, and insists his principles are bible-based, not merely bible-compatible. (Okay, you gotta massage some of those verses to make ’em fit, but still!)

I already explained how these “principles” too often get deduced improperly, or get read into the bible instead of read from it. This article’s not really about them anyway. Lemme set ’em aside.

’Cause whenever newbies and kids come to me, or pastors, or any other mature Christian, with questions about God’s will, they’re not asking about biblical principles.

“What’s God’s secret, evil plan for my life?”

by K.W. Leslie, 19 June 2019

In seminary I was introduced to the Calvinist idea God has two wills. Sometimes it’s called a “twofold will.” (As if that doesn’t also make him sound a little schizophrenic.)

There’s the will he’s revealed to everybody in the bible. This’d be found in the Law, expounded upon in the Prophets, interpreted by Jesus’s teachings and the apostles’ instructions. It’s the stuff he expects us, his followers, to do. So get out that bible, look it up, and obey.

But there’s apparently a second will: God’s plan for the whole of creation.

From the time he first made the world, to the point he’s gonna restore it, to our infinite eternal future with him, God’s set a plan in place for everything. But unlike the first will—the one he revealed to everybody—God hasn’t revealed this second will. Oh, he revealed he has a plan. He just hasn’t told us any of its details. It’s none of our business. True, if he feels like it, he may sometimes choose to reveal bits and pieces of the plan to his prophets, just to let ’em know he’s got this. Otherwise he keeps it to himself.

The revealed will, which contains all God’s precepts in the bible, they call God’s will of precept. The other, God’s grand scheme for the universe, would be God’s will of purpose. My theology professor described ’em like so. (Well sorta; I shortened his big long sentences, and put them in my own words.)

God’s “two wills.” Assuming you believe he’s double-minded.

If you’re not familiar with these terms, you might’ve heard them called other things.

“Should Be”“Shall Be”
“Preceptive Will”“Purposed Will”
“Commanded Will” or “Will of Command”“Decreed/Decretive Will” or “Will of Decree”
“Revealed Will”“Unrevealed Will” or “Secret Will” or “Hidden Will”
“Permitted/Permissive Will”“Efficient Will”
“Moral Will”“Sovereign Will” or “Absolute Will”
“Voluntas signi” (will of sign)“Voluntas beneplaciti” (will of good pleasure)

In short, the stuff he commanded, and his other plans for the universe which he keeps to himself.

Sounds good? To many people it totally does. It’s why this view is so popular. It explains why we can say “God’s will can never, ever be frustrated”—even though people sin constantly, which appears to be a clear violation of God’s will. It also makes God’s plan feel absolutely, certainly guaranteed: God is in such careful control of the universe, our sins and plans can never ever stop him. His plan will happen. Take it to the bank.

But. The big, big problem with the will-of-purpose concept is it means God is evil. Seriously. Follow my logic:

  1. Everything in the universe—seriously, everything—is part of the will of purpose. God sovereignly controls everything in the universe, and because God determines how everything in the universe is gonna go. It’s all in the plan. All.
  2. And our fallen world is full of evil. Not just a little evil; not just a few bad apples. Humanity is profoundly, totally corrupt. We’ve corrupted the world right along with us. If everything’s part of the plan, our evil is part of the plan. That’s a lot of evil. Every murder, every rape, every lie, every act of violence and oppression.
  3. The will of purpose isn’t merely permitting or allowing things to happen. It’s always described as an active, creative will. God has decided all these things will happen. He’s actively making them happen. Including, y’know, all the evil.

So while the commands make God sound all moral—’cause he defines sin, and tells us not to commit any—the will of purpose puts him behind the scenes, triggering all the sins humanity commits. And then he comes round and condemns us for the sins he made us do… and if we don’t repent (because, I remind you, he programmed us not to!) he sends us to hell. So it seems God’s a bit of a hypocrite too. Wasn’t hypocrisy the one thing that annoyed Jesus more than anything?

Now, when you present these objections to Calvinists, they’ll immediately object right back: God is not secretly an immoral monster. Because the bible says he’s not!—and they follow the bible. Okay, so they can’t reconcile how the bible says God is good, with their will-of-purpose idea. But since they figure both must be true, it’s therefore a mystery, a paradox we can’t explain because God hasn’t given us the details we need to sort out the discrepancies; we just have to trust him on this.

Calvinists regularly pull the “It’s a mystery” card whenever their doctrines violate bible. Way easier than admitting they’re wrong. And we can do it too, for fun! “Yeah, I know Jesus tells us to be generous, but I’m gonna give nothing to the needy and spend it on myself. because my doctrine says I don’t have to. How’s that reconcile with Jesus’s teachings? Well it’s a mystery!”

Not really. Self-centeredness is usually the root cause of all such “mysteries.” We’d love to live in a universe where we pull every string; in our fantasies, we usually do! We incorrectly imagine we’re a lot like God—and God should’ve created a universe like that, right?—so we project our desires upon God, and imagine he pulls every string, and find a bunch of proof texts in the bible to back our idea up. But if such a universe existed, it most certainly can’t be this one. Way too much evil.

“Biblical principles” and extrapolating new commands.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 January 2019

In my early 20s I went to a conference presented by youth pastor turned lifestyle guru Bill Gothard. (He didn’t present ’em in person; we watched videos.)
Bill Gothard. Wikipedia
His organization, the Institute in Basic Life Principles (formerly Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, formerly Campus Teams) goes round the United States to teach young people “basic biblical principles” which would keep them on the straight and narrow. Gothard ran it till 2014, when he stepped down ’cause of molestation accusations. Since the statute of limitations means he’s not getting prosecuted, it looks like he’s quietly slipping back into ministry as the scandal fades from everyone’s memory.

Gothard is hugely popular among Fundamentalists, who promoted him ’cause his teachings are right in line with conservative Christian culture. He doesn’t just teach people to memorize bible verses, pray, and go to church. He claims the bible says we should obey our parents no matter what, women should obey their husbands no matter what, and everyone should respect authority. Plus rock music is of the devil, public schools are hopelessly corrupt (so homeschool your kids), Christians need to dress conservatively, Christians should have loads of kids, and Christians should never borrow money.

I’m picking on Gothard a lot in this article, but he’s far from the only guru who does this. Financial gurus like Dave Ramsey claim they also gets their ideas from the bible. Leadership gurus like John Maxwell say much the same thing. Political activists on both the Christian Right and Left claim the basis of all their thinking comes from bible. Hey, if you’re an Evangelical, our ideas should be grounded in bible, right? (And even if we’re not Evangelical.)

Because of Gothard’s never-borrowing teachings, I actually wound up leaving my Fundamentalist church. ’Cause the church wanted to take out a loan so they could hire two pastors. It was a bad idea for lots of reasons, but Gothard had convinced me borrowing was a sin, so I was outraged when the congregation voted for the idea. “Well they’re not following God,” I concluded, shook the dust off my feet, and started going to my sister’s church.

Where in the bible are we commanded to never borrow? Well we’re not. In fact we’re commanded to treat people fairly and graciously when they borrow from us, Ex 22.25, Lv 25.37, Dt 15.8, 24.10, Lk 6.35 which implies God considers borrowing to be acceptable behavior, under most circumstances.

So how’d Gothard convince me it’s not acceptable? He claims it’s a biblical principle, an idea which isn’t explicitly stated in the bible—there’s no command which says “Thou shalt not borrow”—yet the bible teaches it anyway. If we read between the lines.

Not one of the “biblical principles” of Christian gurus are biblical commands. ’Cause if they were, the gurus could simply say, “The LORD commanded”—same as they do when they point out the LORD forbids murder, theft, and adultery. But, claim these gurus, there are tons of proof texts which suggest the authors of the bible, even though they never stated these ideas outright, believed these principles. So maybe we should believe these principles.

Assuming, of course, these aren’t human ideas, fleshly ideas, which God’s actually trying to oppose and get rid of. Like polytheism. Or patriarchy and sexism. Or racism and slavery. Y’do realize these ideas are easily found in the bible too, right? And other than polytheism, Christians have straight-up used the bible to teach God approves of them. But they’re not of God. They’re the worldview of the ancient middle east. So it stands to reason they’re in the bible. But their existence in the bible is not the same as their endorsement by the Holy Spirit. Same as the bad advice of Job’s friends, we’re meant to use our heads, realize this, and reject those principles.

Not that gurus really think about that. They have something they wanna teach, think they can prove it with the bible… and as demonstrated by the way they quote scripture, really don’t give a rip about historical context. It just gets in the way of the ideas they’re trying to promote.

So I’m certainly not saying there’s no such thing as biblical principles. Just that we oughta pay attention to whether the “biblical principles” we dig out of the bible are legitimately something God endorses. ’Cause if he does, you’d think he’d have explicitly said something. He’s not shy, y’know.

The “Your will be done” prayer.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 November 2018

Not just praying it for others, but ourselves. And meaning it!

The “Your will be done” prayer is part of the Lord’s Prayer. Obviously it’s the “Thy will be done” bit. Mt 6.10 I’ve already discussed where we’re praying for his will to be done. Today it’s more about how we fulfill that particular prayer of his. Yep, it’s about doing God’s will.

Typically when Christians pray “Your will be done,” we’re not talking about ourselves. We’re talking about everyone. “Thy will be done on earth,” is how the full clause goes, so we’re thinking about how God’s will gets done on earth as a whole, and by all humanity instead of us as individuals. When we pray it, we’re praying humanity collectively does God’s will. We’re not always remembering that we—you and I and everyone else—have to do God’s will too. Usually we’re thinking about how everybody else really oughta follow God’s will, ’cause they don’t, the earth sucks, and it’s their fault.

So when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we’re not always praying that we do God’s will. We make it a prayer for everyone else. Everyone not us.

But we are part of collective humanity, and today let’s get away from how everybody else isn’t pulling their weight. When you pray “Your will be done,” trying praying it this way: “Your will be done by me.”

’Cause we do wanna do God’s will, right?

Well no, we don’t always. Let’s be honest. We wanna do our will. We’re ready and eager to do God’s will when it coincides with our will. God wants us to go to church, and if we like church, this is no problem! And if we hate church, this is a huge problem, and suddenly we’re gonna be very receptive to any Christian who tells us we might not have to go; that “the communion of saints” is an option, that you can forsake gathering together, He 10.25 and that you won’t grow undisciplined, weird, heretic, and less loving because you’ve no one to sharpen your iron. Pr 27.17 Basically we’ll just do our own thing, cling to any excuse for why God might be okay with it, and even imagine it was all his idea, if we can mentally get away with it.

So, sometimes we wanna do God’s will. Which is why we need to keep praying this prayer. We need to learn to always wanna do his will. We need God to not let us get away with weaseling out of it.

When you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 May 2018
SUPERSTITION su.pɜr'stɪ.ʃən noun. Belief or practice based on a false idea of cause and effect. Usually faith in magic, luck, karmic consequences, junk science, or ignorance. Sometimes irrational fear of the unknown.
2. Belief or practice held despite reasonable contrary evidence.
[Superstitious su.pɜr'stɪ.ʃəs adjective.]

Obviously the title comes from the Stevie Wonder song. (And if you don’t know it, you’ve been deprived. That bassline alone makes it a classic.)

Christians might claim we’re not superstitious: We trust Jesus, not circumstances! But spend any time at all among us, and you’ll find this claim to be utter rubbish. In my experience, Christians are generally more superstitious than pagans.

A lot of this comes from dark Christians who are entirely sure devils are lurking under everything they don’t like. I grew up among such people. Some of ’em actually tried to teach me rock ’n roll makes people extra receptive to demonic possession, because the backbeat runs contrary to the human heartbeat. (It doesn’t; that’s stupid.) They had lists of all sorts of things which make people extra receptive to devils: Your radio, your television, your phone, your computer; certain books, certain movies… The public library is just teeming with critters eager to jump us, if these folks are to be believed. And no they’re not.

Some of it comes from Christians who were taught by young-earth creationists that we can’t trust science. So they don’t. But that leaves ’em open to believing all sorts of junk science—all of which is created by quacks, charlatans, fearmongers, and liars. They give people a false sense of “wellness” when in fact they’re not well at all. They get Christians to shun vaccines, avoid medication, fear psychiatry, reject basic treatments, refuse blood transfusions, and replace tried-and-proven methods with vitamins, herbs, oils, scents, homeopathy, and “eastern medicine.” (Which, more correctly, is pagan “medicine.” Y’ever notice how many doctors in the United States were born in Asia? Easterners believe in science!) It’s the same crap witch doctors tried in Jesus’s day—and left people so plagued with evil spirits, Jesus might’ve had to do more exorcisms than cures.

Some of it comes from Christians who have no idea how God talks to us. Often their churches never taught ’em, and sometimes don’t even believe God talks. So they had to figure it out on their own, and of course they’ve guessed wrong. Or they found some pagan ideas about how “the universe” speaks to us, gave ’em a try, they seemed to work, and that’s become their go-to method for “reading the signs,” interpreting the clues God supposedly leaves us in nature. Thing is, most pagan ideas are based on karma. So no surprise, a lot of the Christian practice of signs-interpretation is also based on whether we’re “worthy enough” for God to do stuff for us.

And some of it is just minor, silly things. Fr’instance my youth group once held a raffle, and just for evil fun I found us a roll of tickets whose numbers all started with 666. Many of the adults in our church were pleased to buy our tickets… till they found out what their ticket number began with. Some of ’em wouldn’t even touch the tickets. That number is a serious boogeyman to a lot of people.

But superstition betrays two things: People don’t know or trust God as much as they claim. And people are seriously deficient in commonsense. In some cases they suspend commonsense, ’cause they think they have to; they think they’re not allowed as Christians to trust science, or think it’s some sort of faith compromise.

But the reality is the Christians who tell them to do so, the people they look up to for spiritual guidance, are superstitious fools. So superstition gets spread instead of faith, even disguised as faith. Hence Christians get mocked for being morons.

It’s a cycle we’ve gotta break by using our brains: Demand evidence. Demand proof. Test everything. Same as we do (well, should do) with prophecy. 1Th 5.21 Don’t be gullible; be wise. Don’t be superstitious; persistently pursue truth.

Killing the pigs.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 May 2018

Mark 5.11-20, Matthew 8.30-34, Luke 8.32-39.

Picking up where I left off: Jesus and his students traveled to the Dekapolis, a province (well, more like 10 provinces) in northern Israel inhabited by Syrian Greeks, located on the far side of the lake. They encountered a man (Matthew says two of ’em) infested with the sort of evil spirits which pagan Greeks worshiped as minor gods, a.k.a. demons. The spirits were making the poor demoniac’s life hell. They realized Jesus wouldn’t tolerate what they were doing to the man, and would order them out of there. But they had an idea, which maybe they could get Jesus to go along with.

Mark 5.11-13 KWL
11 There was a great herd of pigs grazing near the hill.
12 The demons begged Jesus, saying, “Send us to the pigs, so we can enter them!”
13 Jesus allowed them, and coming out, the unclean spirits entered the pigs.
The herd stampeded to the cliff over the lake—like 2,000!—and drowned in the lake.
Matthew 8.30-32 KWL
30 Far off from them was a herd of many pigs, grazing.
31 The demons begged Jesus, saying, “If you throw us out, send us to the herd of pigs.”
32 Jesus told them, “Get out.” Coming out, they went off into the pigs.
Look, the whole herd rushed off the seacliff and died in the waters.
Luke 8.32-33 KWL
32 There was a great herd of pigs grazing on the hill.
The demons begged Jesus so he’d send them to enter the pigs
Jesus allowed them, 33 and coming out of the person, the demons entered the pigs.
The herd rushed off the cliff into the marsh, and drowned.

You might remember devout Jews don’t eat pork. It’s because the LORD identified any animals which aren’t ruminant, which do have split hooves, as ritually unclean. And God specifically singled out pigs, Lv 11.7 because nearly every other culture raises and eats them, and the Hebrews might get the idea a popular food animal might be an exception.

No, ritual uncleanliness does not mean pigs are sinful, nor that eating them is a sin. The only consequence in the scripture for eating an unclean animal is you couldn’t worship. You’d first have to baptize yourselves and wait till sundown. Realistically, if your only worship consisted of going to temple three times a year, Ex 23.14 technically you could eat pork all year long, abstain during the temple festivals, and you were good. Well, not that good. But good enough for worship, which is why certain Jews eat treyf (unclean things) all year round, and only abstain for the holidays.

But Pharisees strived to stay in a constant state of ritual cleanliness. Their custom dictated that you had to be ritually clean to go to synagogue, and they wanted to be prepared to enter the synagogue at any given time. (Lessons went on all week long, y’know.) So this meant a constant state of ritual cleanliness, which means no pork ever. In fact the idea of a herd of pigs, raised on land that was historically part of Israel’s covenant, would’ve bugged Pharisees greatly.

Anyway some commentators figure this fact puts a new spin on the story: Here are some animals which shouldn’t even have been in Israel anyway. So Jesus likely had no qualms about the demons destroying them, and even permitted them because he wanted the pigs dead. Go ahead demons; purge Israel of its swine.

Okay, now back up a few yards and let’s think about how contrary to Jesus’s character this interpretation is.

“Efficacious grace”: When God’s grace turns dark.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 February 2018

Because popular culture tends to define God by his power, not his character like the scriptures describe him, 1Jn 4.8 a lot of Christians do it too. The result is a lot of bad theology, where God’s love, grace, and justice unintentionally (but hey, sometimes very intentionally) take a distant second to his might and glory.

Take grace.

Properly defined, grace is God’s generous, forgiving, kind, favorable attitude towards his people. It’s what reaches out to people who totally don’t merit God’s attention whatsoever, loves us anyway, turns us into daughters and sons of the Most High, and grants us his kingdom. It’s amazing.

But when you imagine God’s single most important attribute is his power… well, grace looks extremely different. It’s no longer an attitude. It’s a determination. You will receive God’s grace, become his child, and be on the track for heaven. Or none of these things will happen, because God’s grace will never touch you, because God doesn’t want you. No we don’t know why; he just doesn’t. No you can’t change his mind; piss off.

I know: Under this redefinition, God’s grace is still amazing… but only for its recipients. For everybody else, God seems arbitrary, and downright cold. Because only a third of the planet considers themselves Christian. (Figure some of them aren’t really, and figure there are those, like Abraham ben Terah, whom God’s gonna save despite their inadequate knowledge of Jesus. I think it’ll still come out to be a third.) This means God’s perfectly fine with two-thirds of humanity going to hell. If so, he created an awful lot of unwanted people… and is deliberately making hell more full than heaven.

Yeah, that’s the usual problem when you make God out to be deterministic: Suddenly his plans for the universe are mighty evil. But hey, determinists don’t care: God wields all the power they could ever covet, and they’re going to heaven. They get theirs.

Calvinists tend to call this deterministic form of grace irresistible grace. Although lately a number of ’em realize just how rapey “irresistible” sounds, so they prefer the term efficacious grace—that if God decides to be gracious to us, this grace is so powerful, so mighty, it will have an effect upon us, and will do as God intends. ’Cause to their minds, the Almighty doesn’t merely want things, or wish for things: He determines things. And since he’s almighty, what force in the universe could possibly stop him from getting his way?

Has God predetermined everything in the universe? Evil too?

by K.W. Leslie, 05 February 2018
DETERMINISM di'tər.mən.ɪz.əm noun. Belief every event is fixed in place by external causes other than human will.
[Determinist di'tər.mən.ɪst noun, deterministic di'tər.mən.ɪst.ɪk adjective.]

I first bumped into the idea of determinism when I was a kid, ’cause my parents let me read Mark Twain. A lot of people assume, thanks to Tom Sawyer, that Twain was a children’s author. Not even close. And in his later years, after so many of his family members died and Twain became more and more cynical, some of the things he wrote were mighty disturbing. What are the chances I read that stuff? Yep, 100 percent.

In Twain’s novella The Mysterious Stranger, some 16th-century German boys encounter a young angel named Satan (named for his uncle—yeah, that uncle) who takes them on adventures. At one point, young Satan introduces the boys to the concept of determinism.

“Among you boys you have a game: you stand a row of bricks on end a few inches apart; you push a brick, it knocks its neighbor over, the neighbor knocks over the next brick—and so on till all the row is prostrate. That is human life. A child’s first act knocks over the initial brick, and the rest will follow inexorably. If you could see into the future, as I can, you would see everything that was going to happen to that creature; for nothing can change the order of its life after the first event has determined it. That is, nothing will change it, because each act unfailingly begets an act, that act begets another, and so on to the end, and the seer can look forward down the line and see just when each act is to have birth, from cradle to grave.”

“Does God order the career?”

“Foreordain it? No. The man’s circumstances and environment order it. His first act determines the second and all that follow after.”

The idea of being locked into a fixed future depresses the boys. But the angel Satan cheers them up by pointing out how, because he’s an angel and exists outside this chain of cause-and-effect, he can interfere, and change their futures for the better. To the boys’ dismay and horror, Satan’s idea of “better” doesn’t look at all like theirs: Some die prematurely, some go mad, and in one case a person lives a long, happy life… but goes to hell.

Later in life I discovered Twain, or Sam Clemens as he was known in his private life, grew up Presbyterian. Must’ve been paying attention to all the Calvinism taught in those churches. Because Calvinism is pretty big on determinism.

Determinism, the belief we’re all victims of circumstance—and that even our free will is bound to do as circumstances have conditioned it to do—wasn’t invented by John Calvin and the Calvinists. Nor even St. Augustine of Hippo, whence Calvin first got the idea. It predates Christianity, predates the Hebrew religion, predates the written word. Humans have believed in it since they first saw one rock topple another, and thought, “What if all of life works like that?” Every religion has its determinists.

Free will. And God’s free will.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 September 2017

A will is the ability to make choices and decisions. Might be limited in what we can choose. Fr’instance when I’m at In-N-Out Burger, I can either order a hamburger or cheeseburger; I can’t order a tuna sandwich. But the fact I have a choice, any choice, even a really small one, means I get to exercise my will. If they give me no choices—i.e. they’re out of cheese—I still have the choice to get a burger, or not.

Yeah, various people are gonna argue a limited free will isn’t truly free. Which reminds me so much of little kids who throw tantrums ’cause they don’t like any of their options. “But I don’t want cherry or pistachio ice cream! I want chocolate. If I can’t have chocolate I’ll have nothing!” And as the patient parent will usually respond, “Well, that’s your choice.” Limited choices are still choices. Even if you’re not given any options whatsoever, you still get to choose how you’re gonna accept that fact: Cheerfully, or bitterly.

Now if you wanna talk someone whose free will is pretty much unlimited, let’s talk God.

God’s almighty. He can do whatever he wishes. Including stuff we’d consider impossible: If he wants to change the direction of time, and move it backward instead of forward, he can do that. (Has done that. Is 38.8) I really don’t have the power to enforce my will, most of the time. It’d be handy if I could manipulate time like that. Whereas God has infinite power to enforce his will: If he wants to do it, he can.

So why’d I say his will is “pretty much” unlimited? ’Cause there are certain things God won’t do. Being almighty, he can. Being God, he won’t.

Like sin. It goes entirely against God’s character, which he’s never gonna violate, so he’s never gonna sin. He’s okay with bending “natural laws” whenever he wishes, but he’s not when it comes to certain moral principles. He’s willing to forgive sin, but not willing to no longer call it sin, and pretend it’s not a problem. He’s willing to change his mind, but not willing to renege on his promises. He’s willing to accept and save anyone, but not willing to force people to love him.

Now there are various Christians who confound being almighty with being God: Their definition of “God” is based on power, not character. Ability, not love. They figure since God has infinite, unlimited power, he has to be able to exert it… and if he can’t, it means whatever’s limiting him, not God himself, becomes almighty. If God will never break a principle, it means the principle is functionally God instead of the LORD.

Kind of a bogus idea. Who decided God would never break certain principles? God did. He put his own limitations upon himself. There are no external forces controlling him; he’s entirely self-controlled. (It’s why self-control is a fruit of the Spirit—these character traits are God’s character traits.) If God’s obligated to do anything, it’s only because he obligated himself to do it. Ain’t no strings on him.

Not that various immature Christians don’t think we’ve found strings we can tug on. Christians regularly claim they discovered one of God’s promises which applies to them, and they’re trying to hold him to it. “Lord, you promised no weapon formed against me shall prosper. Is 54.17 So I hold you to that.” Okay, first of all that statement was made to Jerusalem, not any generic Christian who wants God to magically make ’em bulletproof. Second it’s a statement about Jerusalem’s future: God said he’d rebuild it with precious stones and a God-fearing government, and under these conditions he’s gonna defend it. These conditions haven’t yet been met, which is why the present-day nation of Israel sometimes gets bombed. As for Christians, we’ve been promised persecution, Mt 10.21-22 and God is in no way obligated to fulfill out-of-context prophecies just because we really wish he would.

I’ve noticed the same Christians who doubt we humans have free will, are of two minds about God’s free will. Either they figure God has no free will either—he’s limited himself so much, he can’t move any further than we, which is why there’s so much evil in the world; he’s powerless to prevent it. Or they figure God has unfettered, unlimited free will… and because he could easily stop evil, all the evil in the world must exist ’cause God wants it there. (If not put it there.)

Both ideas are horribly wrong. But then again these folks are wrong about human free will too. So at least they’re consistently wrong.

The age of accountability?

by K.W. Leslie, 18 May 2017

How old do we have to be for God to hold us responsible for our sins?

Wait, doesn’t he always hold us responsible? Well, not according to certain Christians.

See, from time to time a child dies. Which sucks, but this is life, and sometimes life sucks. It’s always sad, and grieving parents frequently look to their religious friends for some kind of comfort. ’Cause we know something about heaven, so they wanna confirm with us that heaven is precisely where their kid went. Mommy and Daddy’s little angel, happy and pain-free, will forevermore be looking down upon them.

Yeah, it’s never fun breaking the news to them that we don’t become angels when we die. ’Cause it’s such a deeply-held pagan belief. Some of us never have the guts to tell ’em otherwise. Hey, we figure, they’re grieving; let ’em believe their kid’s an angel. What’s it hurt? (Well, them. The belief will just become even more deeply-held, and then it’ll be a real pain trying to later explain how heaven really works.)

And it’s never fun breaking the news to them that, unless we trust Jesus to take care of our sins for us, we still own our sins. Therefore we don’t inherit the kingdom of heaven. And since they never raised their kids to trust Jesus any…

…Well you see where I’m going with this. Few Christians have the nerve to tell any grieving parents any such thing. We chicken out.

Lots of us instead embrace this idea of an age of accountability: There’s an age where God deals with us as a responsible human being. Before that cutoff point, we don’t know any better; we’re innocent; we’re spiritual minors; God couldn’t possibly hold our sins against us. For everybody before the cutoff, God practices universalism: Everybody goes to heaven. No exceptions.

Your pagan friends’ dead kid? Just squeezed in at the cutoff. Definitely in heaven. God would never send a five-year-old to hell. Six-year-olds definitely; hell’s chock full of ’em, screaming their bratty heads off. But never five-year-olds. Yes, little Tafadzwa is definitely in heaven. Yes, Tafadzwa now has baby wings like a little cherub.

Oh, it’s an utter copout. ’Cause the age of accountability isn’t in the bible anywhere. Seriously, not anywhere. It’s pure fabrication, invented to soothe grieving parents, and calm worried ones. When their pagan kid just died, parents wanna cling to hope, and Christians really don’t wanna be the ones to puncture it. (Well, most of us. There are certain a--holes who take a perverse glee in telling people, “Hey, it’s unlikely your kid was one of the elect, so they’re not in heaven.” I’ll get to them.)

Quite often it’s the Christians themselves clinging to hope: Their kids aren’t following Jesus, and they’re super worried the kids are gonna be pagan or apostate or even antichrist. So they wanna know there’s still a chance. The age of accountability is 30, right?

Now since this article is tagged #Grace, you can likely guess there actually is hope somewhere before the end of it. But you’ll have to bear with me as I dash several of the false hopes.

When we remake Jesus in our image.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 September 2016
PROJECTION prə'dʒɛk.ʃən, proʊ'dʒɛk.ʃən noun. Unconscious transfer of one’s ideas to another person.
[Project prə'dʒɛkt, proʊ'dʒɛkt verb.]

When we’re talking popular Christian culture’s version of Christianity, i.e. Christianism, we’re not really talking about what Jesus teaches. We’re talking about what we’d like to think Jesus teaches. We’re talking about our own ideas, projected onto Jesus like he’s a screen and we’re a camera obscura. We’re progressive… and how about that, so is Jesus! Or we’re conservative… and how handy is it that Jesus feels precisely the same as we do?

Y’know, the evangelists told us when we come to Jesus, our whole life would have to change. But when we’re Christianist, we discover to our great pleasure and relief our lives really didn’t have to change much at all.

We had to learn a few new handy Christianese terms:

“I think…”“I just think God’s telling me…”
“I strongly think…”“God’s telling me…”
“I feel…”“I just feel in my spirit…”
“I don’t wanna do that.”“We should just take that to God in prayer.”
“That scares me.”“I just feel a check in my spirit.”
“That pisses me off.”“That just grieves my spirit.”
F--- you and the horse you rode in on.”“I’ll pray for you.”

and we learned a few handy ways to act more Christian. Like learning all the Christian-sounding justifications for our fruitless behavior. Like pointing to orthodox Christian beliefs as the evidence of our new life in Christ; it’s way easier to learn and repeat than to develop fruit of the Spirit. Like how to act like Christians when surrounded by Christians, but be your usual pagan self otherwise, and never once ask yourself whether this is hypocrisy.

As for what Jesus actually teaches, for actually following him: Christianists figure we do follow him. ’Cause we believe in him. Jn 6.40 That’s how you get eternal life, right? Jn 3.16 Just believe. Nothing more. So we do nothing more. We’ve got faith, God figures this faith makes us righteous, Ro 3.22 and being righteous means we’re right. God rewires our minds so everything we think is right and good and usually infallible.

Problem is, that’s not how we become right. That’s how we stay wrong. That’s how we wind up arrogantly assuming the way we think, is the way God thinks. That all our depraved, self-centered motives are spiritual insights into how God’s gonna bring glory to himself. How God’s sovereignty and God’s kingdom works. How God’s sense of justice and wrath is gonna affect all the people in the world who, coincidentally, are the objects of our ire, spite, and disgust.

God’s ways are not our ways. Is 55.8-9 All the more true if we never bother to study God’s ways. But when we’re Christianists we think we know his ways, ’cause we have his Spirit (whom we barely follow), learned a few memory verses (some even in context!), skimmed a bit of bible, heard Sunday sermons for the past several years… and all our Christianist friends believe the very same way we do. There’s no way we could all be leading one another astray.