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

by K.W. Leslie, 19 June

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.

“WILL OF PRECEPT,” A.K.A.…“WILL OF PURPOSE,” A.K.A.…
“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.

The storehouse of merit?

by K.W. Leslie, 18 June

Jesus tells us to stash our wealth in heaven. Actually he said it this way:

Matthew 6.19-21 KWL
19 “Don’t hoard wealth for yourselves on earth,
where moths and corrosion ruin it, where thieves dig it up and steal it.
20 Hoard wealth for yourselves in heaven,
where neither moth nor corrosion ruins, where thieves don’t dig, nor steal:
21 Where’s your wealth? Your mind will be there too.”

If our wealth consists of material possessions—like homes, cars, electronics, jewelry, cash—we waste way too much time stressing about its upkeep and safety. We hoard more, “just in case.” We encourage laws and business practices which let us keep our wealth… and, all too frequently, aren’t charitable with others. The love of money becomes the underlying cause of all sorts of evil. 1Ti 6.10

Thing is, people skip this whole idea of de-prioritizing material wealth, and focus on the idea of treasures in heaven. Which, because humanity believes in karma, isn’t necessarily a cache of wealth waiting for us in New Jerusalem; mansions and streets of gold and a diamond-encrusted Bentley. Instead it’s a giant stash of karmic wealth: All our good deeds mean God owes us a few favors. A few thousand favors. And someday we’ll cash in on them.

Which is why I actually know certain Christians who don’t request things of God. Not because they think he can’t or won’t come through for them: They’re saving up their favors. At some point, they figure, they’re really gonna need something from God, and that’s when they’re gonna call in their chips. “Santa… I mean God, I’ve been such a good little boy. Can I have what’s on the top of my wishlist?”

God’s kingdom doesn’t work like that. Never did. It runs on grace and nothing else. But karma is a very old, very well-ingrained idea in humanity, and sometimes it’s just gonna leak into our dealings with God. It shouldn’t; it paints a very messed-up picture of him. It makes him sound like he runs on merit—like a congressman.

The point of treasure in heaven is not so we have something with which to purchase prayer requests. Your heavenly wealth is meant for you to enjoy—in kingdom come, sure, and to some degree now. But the idea we’re racking up favors for God is ridiculous. What can we give God that he doesn’t already have, that he can’t already create from nothing with a minor thought? What can we dangle in front of him that a billion other Christians won’t already freely give him?

But of course the folks who think of their treasure in heaven as a storehouse of merit, don’t realize how foolish they’re being. Sometimes it’s ’cause they haven’t experienced enough grace in their lives, so they just assume God thinks like they do—and like everyone else. Sometimes they grew up with a lot of bad preaching—the kind which tells them God loves them so much, values them so much, doesn’t wanna live without them, which is why he sent his Son to die for them—they get the warped idea they can hold God hostage by threatening to deprive him of them. Which ain’t love, you know.

Yep, there are many ways human pettiness and selfishness tends to distort our relationship with God. Turning our treasures in heaven into a karmic bank is one of them.

Demanding a sign from Jesus, and getting the Jonah sign.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 June

Mark 8.10-13 • Matthew 12.38-42, 16.1-4.

I grew up among cessationists, folks who think God has multiple dispensations, and think he turned off the miracles in the dispensation we’re in. Which is a hard view to maintain, ’cause God still totally does miracles. But they try; they insist their anti-supernatural doctrines are more important than God’s revelation. They know better than he does—although they’d never ever phrase it that way.

So whenever they wanted to defend their worldview, they’d pull up this passage, and spin it to mean Jesus rejected and rebuked miracles. Even though he did miracles. Even though he deliberately did miracles as signs to foster belief. Even though God did ’em all the time to foster belief. It was the entire point of the first miracles Moses ever did!

Exodus 4.1-9 KWL
1 In reply Moses said, “Look, the Hebrews won’t believe me, won’t hear my voice:
They’ll say, ‘The LORD didn’t appear to you.’
2 The LORD told Moses, “What’s this in your hand?” Moses said, “A stick.” 3 The LORD said, “Throw it to the ground.”
Moses threw it to the ground. Now it was a snake!—and Moses fled from its face.
4 The LORD told Moses, “Reach your hand out and grab its tail.”
Moses reached his hand out, grabbed it—and in his hand it was a stick.
5 “In order to believe the LORD God of their ancestors appeared to you—
Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, Jacob’s God.”
6 The LORD told Moses again, “Please put your hand to your chest.”
Moses put his hand to his chest, then held it out: Look, his hand was leprous, white like snow.
7 The LORD said, “Return your hand to your chest.”
Moses returned his hand to his chest, then held it out: Look, the flesh was restored.
8 “If it happens they don’t trust you, don’t hear the voice of the first sign,
the Hebrews will trust the voice of the last sign.
9 If it happens they don’t trust these two signs, don’t hear your voice: Take water from the Nile.
Pour it into something dry, and the water which you took from the Nile will be blood in the dry vessel.”

God’s okay with giving us signs. Okay with people asking for signs. Jg 6.36-40 What he’s never okay with, is hypocrisy—is people who ask for a sign, but have no intention of believing or recognizing it. He sees no point in providing signs for such people. They’re not worth it.

Cessationists fall straight into this category. Doesn’t matter if you perform a miracle right in front of them. They’ll just do as certain Pharisees did, and claim Satan empowered it to deceive them. (Apparently in this dispensation, God can’t do miracles, but Satan can. Wait, which of them is Almighty again?) Jesus warned those Pharisees they were blaspheming the Holy Spirit, but good luck warning cessationists they’re committing the same sin: They’re vaccinated themselves against that accusation by redefining “blasphemy” so they’re not really committing it. Then they keep right on committing it. I’d really hate to be them on Judgment Day; I’m pretty sure they’re gonna try to psyche themselves into thinking the entire experience of getting judged by Jesus is also a devilish trick.

Anyway here’s the passage they pull out of context: When certain Pharisees in Dalmanutha requested a sign from Jesus, and Jesus, who knew no sign would work on them, blew ’em off.

Mark 8.10-13 KWL
10 Quickly getting into the boat with his students, Jesus went to the border of Dalmanuthá.
11 Pharisees came and began to debate Jesus, requesting a heavenly sign from him, testing him.
12 Groaning deeply in his spirit, Jesus said, “Why does this generation ask for signs?
Amen, I tell you if anyone gives this generation a sign…”
13 Getting into the boat again, Jesus left the Pharisees
and went to the far side.
Matthew 16.1-4 KWL
1 Approaching Pharisees and Sadducees asked Jesus for a heavenly sign to show them.
2 In reply Jesus told them, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It’s red; clear sky.’
3 And in the morning, ‘Storms today, for the sky is red and gloomy.’
So you know to interpret the face of the sky—and can’t interpret the signs of the day?
4 An evil, adulterous generation pursues signs—and a sign won’t be given them other than Jonah’s sign.”
Leaving them, Jesus went away.

The Textus Receptus adds ὑποκριταί/ypokrité, “hypocrites,” to Matthew 16.3. Which is fair; it’s precisely what the problem was. These folks had every intention of watching Jesus do a sign, or point to an existing sign… only so they could debunk and dismiss it. They didn’t want proof. They wanted to set him up to fail.

If we ever approach God with the same lousy attitude, of course it deserves condemnation, and we shouldn’t expect God to take such requests seriously, ’cause he won’t. But cessationists treat all requests for a heavenly sign as if they deserve condemnation. ’Cause to their minds, they do: God turned off the miracles, so how dare we ask him to switch ’em back on for our selfish, petty reasons? And so forth.

Basically cessationists are preaching out of their unbelief. But enough about them today.

The Orthodox/Catholic schism.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 June

History books tend to refer to the Orthodox/Catholic schism as “the Great Schism.” And history teachers have the bad habit of mispronouncing schism, which is 'sɪz.əm not 'skɪz.əm —as well as oversimplifying and underplaying what really happened.

So what really happened? Jesus’s church split. Not because one faction went heretic, so they needed to split: It’s over stupid, petty, political things.

I know: Both sides claim it was neither stupid nor petty, but vitally important. Of course it’s because they picked a side. They’re either pro-Orthodox or pro-Catholic, and wanna defend their team. But just like the Catholic/Protestant schism, there’s no defending the fruitless behavior both before and after the division. Both sides acted like power-hungry politicians, violated Jesus’s command to love one another, Jn 13.34 and seriously hindered the church’s growth in both maturity and ministry.

Let’s begin at the beginning.

As y’might know if you read Acts, Jesus’s church began with 120 people: The Twelve, Jesus’s family, and a few dozen other students. It rapidly grew to thousands, began to include gentiles, and spread all over the Roman Empire and beyond. Even though individual groups, or churches, met in homes throughout the Empire, it was all considered one body—Jesus’s body, one church, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one Holy Spirit. One unit.

Of course other units began to crop up. Starting with the dispute between those who wanted the new gentile disciples to get circumcised before they could become Christian. The Council of Jerusalem was convened to sort this out, and ruled in favor of grace. Ac 15.1-31 Yet a number of pro-circumcision Christians felt the apostles went way too far, and persisted in teaching their legalist ideas. Which is why Paul had to write,

Galatians 1.6-9 KWL
6 I’m wondering at how you so quickly switched from your calling in Christ’s grace
to another “gospel”— 7 which isn’t another gospel.
Is it that someone’s bothering you, and wants to twist Christ’s gospel?
8 But even when we, or an angel from heaven, “evangelizes” you away
from what we evangelized you, you’re to ban them.
9 Like we said before, and I say again now: If anyone “evangelizes” you away
from what you received, you’re to ban them.

Banning turned into excommunication, the practice of removing disruptive or heretic people from your church. And if you can’t get to Jesus other than through his church (an ancient Christian belief which many of today’s Christians totally don’t believe—as demonstrated by how they don’t go to church) it’s sorta like they doomed you to hell… which is why heretics would usually start their own churches, and excommunicate their excommunicators right back.

So when Christians began to ban pro-circumcision legalists, d’you think these guys went off and started their own heretic churches? Knowing humans, probably so. That would be the very first church split.

And there were others.

Did Paul write all his letters in the bible?

by K.W. Leslie, 13 June

Most figure yes. A minority say no. Here’s why.

There’s a type of ancient literature called pseudepigrapha su.də'pɪ.ɡrə.fə which means “fake writings.” Basically it’s stuff which claims it’s written by someone, namely someone from the bible… and it’s not; it’s Jewish or Christian fanfiction. It’s like the book of 1 Enoch, which was supposedly written by Enoch ben Methuselah, and obviously wasn’t. (Couldn’t have been. Dude didn’t speak Hebrew!) And yet people knew of the book; Jesus’s brother Jude straight-up quoted it. In the bible. In our bible.

Why did people write such things? Well like I said, fanfiction. They wanted to teach their ideas, and figured the best way to do it was with a book supposedly written by an Old Testament or New Testament saint. Sometimes they wanted people to really believe it was written by that saint, so they’d take the book seriously. Sometimes they were okay with people knowing better. Problem is, people would believe that saint wrote that book… and might change their beliefs accordingly. After all if an archaeologist dug up a book which Christ Jesus himself appears to have written, and you believed Jesus literally wrote it, you’d follow it, right? If I believed it, I certainly would. (But I’m pretty sure he never did.)

So when the ancient Christians determined which books they consider scripture—which books are now part of our New Testament—some of their favorite books were actually pseudepigraphal books. Like the Gospel of Peter. Yep, there’s a gospel of Simon Peter! Egyptian Christians knew of it, which is why both Origen of Alexandria and Titus Flavius Clemens wrote of it. But Peter didn’t write it, and once the ancient Christians figured this out, they stopped treating it as scripture.

Anyway because such books exist, sometimes we get bible scholars who wonder whether some of the books which are in our New Testament… aren’t actually pseudepigrapha. Maybe some of Paul’s letters aren’t really Paul’s letters, but written by some overzealous Christian who wanted people to think these were Paul’s letters, and get Christians to take their ideas more seriously because they were “Paul’s.”

Of course it’s just as likely we got a bible scholar who wants to make a name for themselves by questioning the authenticity of a book of the New Testament.

Who wrote “the books of Moses”?

by K.W. Leslie, 12 June

The first five books of the bible are commonly called “the books of Moses.” They’re also called תּוֹרָ֣ה/Toráh, meaning “Law,” because the Law’s in them; Greek and English speakers also call them Pentateuch, which comes from πέντε τεῦχος/pente téfhos, “five tools.” (I know; people regularly claim “Pentateuch” means “five books”—and they don’t know Greek, so of course they get that wrong. “Book/scroll” in Greek is βίβλος/vívlos, the word we got “bible” from.) I tend to call these books Torah, as I will throughout this article. They are:

ENGLISH NAMEWHICH MEANSHEBREW NAMEWHICH MEANS
GenesisbeginningBerešítat the beginning
Exodusmass departureŠemótnames
Leviticusof the LevitesVayiqráand he called
Numbersnumbers; duhBamidbárin the wilderness
Deuteronomysecond lawDevarímwords

Hebrew names tend to come from the first word of a book or psalm, and the Torah’s book titles come from verse 1 of each book. The English names are translations of the Septuagint’s Greek names.

They’re called the books of Moses despite Moses not being in Genesis at all… but his ancestors were, so there’s that. Largely they tell us the creation of the Hebrew people: How they got into Egypt in the first place, how they became Egyptian slaves, how the LORD rescued ’em, how God covenanted with them and gave them his Law and the Levantine coast/Canaan/Palestine/the land of Israel. They’re the oldest books in the bible (weird young-earth creationist theories about Job aside), and predate the rest of the books by at least four centuries.

And we don’t know who wrote ’em.

Well we don’t. In this article, for convenience, I refer to Torah’s author as “Moe.”

Moe is not Moshe ben Amram, the prophet and judge who led the Hebrews out of Egypt, whose English-language name is Moses. We know Moses wrote parts of Torah. Big huge parts. More than once the LORD ordered Moses to write down his commands and rulings, so Moses obviously wrote those parts. Ex 24.4, 34.27, Nu 33.2 And Deuteronomy is almost entirely a first-person speech given by Moses to the Hebrews—so he composed that part, though realistically someone else wrote it down; possibly as a transcript, possibly from memory. (Yeah, some people have that good a memory.) But since Deuteronomy ends with Moses dying, Dt 34 he can’t have written that part.

But Moses isn’t the person who put Torah into its current form. And most scholars, regardless of how they think Torah was assembled, agree at least one person ultimately did this. So I call him “Moe.”

The Deuteronomistic history.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 June

How some of the books of the Old Testament share a theme—and likely an author.

When I was growing up, I was a little curious about who wrote the books of the bible. Supposedly Matthew wrote Matthew and John wrote John and the three letters named for him (plus Revelation) …but Timothy didn’t write Timothy, and since Samuel was dead way before the end of 1 Samuel, it stands to reason he didn’t write 2 Samuel. Naturally I wanted to know who did write the books, but none of my Sunday school teachers knew. One of ’em speculated it was Solomon.

Fact is, people back then people didn’t put their names on their writings. Even David didn’t put his name on his psalms: Whoever compiled the psalms together, added his name to the psalms which had traditionally been ascribed to him. It’s a safe bet David did write ’em. But the other anonymous books of the bible: We don’t know who put them together. The authors felt the story, and God, was way more important than their own names.

Anyway. In 1981, bible scholar Martin Noth theorized the books which Jews call the “former prophets”—Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings—and more than likely the book of Deuteronomy along with them, are all part of one large history, edited together by one person. Or one group of people. Noth named it “the Deuteronomistic history,” named of course after Deuteronomy.

It was a very short period of time before a lot of bible scholars signed on to Noth’s theory. It makes perfect sense. Though many conservative scholars (myself included) don’t agree Deuteronomy oughta be included in the Deuteronomistic history. Even though Deuteronomy does repeat a lot of commands found in the previous three books. There are good reasons Deuteronomy is bundled together with the Law, not the Prophets; and good reasons the Deuteronomistic history is inspired by that book, and not just prefaced by it.

People tend to refer to its author (or group of authors) as “the Deuteronomist.” Since—for no good reason—Christians have traditionally assumed Samuel wrote Joshua, Judges, and Ruth, if not half 1 Samuel, I’ll call the Deuteronomist “Sam” for short.

Who wrote the bible?

by K.W. Leslie, 10 June

A lot of times, we don’t know. And that’s okay.

No, the answer’s not “God.”

The bible was written by prophets, people who heard from God and shared what they heard. Out of humility, some of ’em didn’t necessarily describe themselves as prophets, but all the same, that’s what they are: Their God-experiences inspired them to write about him, and thus we have the books and letters which make up our bible.

“God wrote it” is the short answer people give when we’ve no clue how God works. We assume God did with his prophets the same as he did with Moses: He stated a bunch of things, and the prophets took dictation like a secretary. Or they assume how the Holy Spirit “inspired” the authors was to work the prophets’ hands like a puppeteer with a marionette, and made them write the bible.

Generally they’ve got micromanagerial ideas about how God works, and figure had to take absolute physical control of the circumstances to guarantee we have the bible he wanted… ’cause he didn’t trust his followers enough to describe him accurately. Really they don’t trust God’s followers enough. Which I get; we suck. But there are such creatures as trustworthy believers, and the Spirit did trust ’em enough to get him right.

So yeah, whenever some skeptic states, “The bible was written by men”—okay it was. And so what? The dictionary was likewise written by women and men, and I don’t see ’em dismissing the dictionary as unauthoritative. Those who wrote the dictionary, know what they’re talking about. Same deal with the prophets who wrote the bible: They knew God. They wrote what they knew. Their testimonies are trustworthy, solid stuff. We should be able to easily defer to their knowledge: The God they describe is the very same God we know.

God didn’t have to write the bible in order for it to accurately, infallibly describe him.

Okay. As for which prophets wrote the bible: We know the names of a number of its authors. The New Testament letters have their authors’ names on ’em. The prophetic books likewise. But a lot of the books actually have no name on them at all… so we don’t know.

Pilgrimage: Off to meditate.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 June
PILGRIM 'pɪl.ɡrəm noun. One who goes to a sacred place for religious reasons.
[Pilgrimage 'pɪl.ɡrəm.ɪdʒ noun.]

Lots of Christians go on pilgrimage.

Might be a trip to Israel, to see where Jesus was born and buried. Might be a famous cathedral, an important monastery, a house of prayer, a room where a miracle happened, a place where revivals have been known to break out. Might even be the campground, chapel, or church building where you first gave your life to Christ Jesus—which is partly nostalgia, partly pilgrimage. Pilgrimage takes all shapes.

Various Christians might go on pilgrimage because they think the holy places might make ’em holier (and certainly make ’em feel holier) but the places aren’t gonna do anything; they can’t. Only the Holy Spirit makes someone holier. And since we Christians carry him wherever we go—collectively we’re his templewe bring the holiness into these places. If we have any profound experiences in them, it’s not because of the places themselves; it’s because the Spirit within us uses the situation to work on us.

Because Christians recognize the Spirit’s in us, so the places don’t convey any special holiness, a lot of us tend to dismiss pilgrimage as unnecessary, wasteful, or even superstitious. (I mean, lookit all the people who think holy places make ’em holier!) So they don’t see the point, and don’t go anywhere. Some of ’em hate to travel anyway… and isn’t it convenient how their beliefs match their comfort level?

But there is some value to pilgrimage, which is why I recommend it. And the most important reason is meditation.

We don’t go to, say, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, because it makes us holier. It doesn’t. We go there because it makes us think. We step in the building, ignore the crowds and the gaudy decorations, and think, “This is the exact location on this planet where Jesus rose from the dead.” We contemplate what he did there… and what he might yet do there. It’s one thing to imagine these places. It’s another to physically immerse yourself in them, see the three-dimensionality of it, touch the walls, breathe the air, be there.

Humans sometimes need tangible things to really grasp an idea. It’s why Jesus has us do holy communion. And it’s why pilgrimage puts some depth into your relationship with God which, frankly, is absent when we don’t go to holy places… and bring the Holy Spirit along for the adventure, and see what he shows you.

Affection—versus love.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 June

Affection is one of the eight things our culture defines as love. It—or more accurately a Greek word which gets translated that way, στοργή/storgí—took up a chapter of C.S. Lewis’s book The Four Loves, in which Lewis described it in some detail. Mainly to talk about what traits of storgí might be sorta-kinda godly. For even though affection isn’t at all what Jesus and his apostles meant by αγάπη/agápi, it’s got its positive qualities.

But no, it’s not a fruit of the Spirit. Anybody can be affectionate. Plenty of pagans are. It can be a good thing, and have positive effects: People tend to be accommodating to those for whom they have affection. But as you know, “accommodating” can be either a good or bad thing. Looking the other way as your kids commit crimes isn’t a good thing. People are way too affectionate towards our favorite vices.

Years ago I was curious to find all the instances of storgí in the New Testament, to see how various translators interpret it. To my surprise I found it’s not even in the NT. The authors never used it. It does appear four times in the apocrypha—in 3 and 4 Maccabees, books which only a few Orthodox churches include in the bible.

Er… why’d Lewis write a Christian book in which he spent an entire chapter examining a word not found in the bible? Mainly because Lewis wasn’t writing about bible. The Four Loves is about love—and as a scholar who studied and taught on the ancient Greek classics, he was really teaching on the classics. How the ancients perceived and practiced love. ’Cause the ancient Greeks had plenty to say about storgí, even though the bible doesn’t.

Storgí, and its verb-form στέργω/stérgo, refers to the mutual love parents and children have for one another. Or siblings. Or kings and subjects pretend to have for one another. Sophocles used it to refer to friends; Herodotus used it for spouses. It means you accept this other person. You’re fond of them. You show a preference for them. You’re content with them. You’re satisfied with them. You put up with them, or adjust to them.

It’s what we English-speakers mean by “like.” (But it doesn’t go as far as the popular phrase “like-like.” Just “like.” You don’t like-like your parents; ewww.)

As I said, not in the bible. Mostly ’cause in the Hebrew culture, they leapt straight to describing their affections as אָהַב/aháv, “love.” They didn’t really bother with degrees: You either love or hate something or someone. Jesus said if we follow him, we gotta hate everyone else. But only by way of comparison: We love him so much, comparatively we hate everything else. It’s extreme-sounding language because, much like French, Hebrew and Aramaic didn’t have different words for “like” or “like-like”: You loved something or you hated it.

For this reason a translator, or someone trying to describe Hebrew ideas in ancient Greek, wouldn’t have a lot of use for storgí: It wouldn’t sound strong enough. You only like your father and mother? Phooey to that. In the New Testament, the writers described people who loved their fathers and mothers, with the largely interchangeable words φίλος/fílos and agápi. They weren’t just affectionate towards these parents, or liked them, but loved them. Jesus described people who loved their parents, Mt 10.37 and his Father as someone who loves us. Jn 16.27 God isn’t merely affectionate towards us. He loves us. He is love, so it stands to reason.

We can talk, as Lewis did, about all the ways people are affectionate towards family members, and whether this behavior sounds anything like storgí. But if you wanna start quoting bible, or wanna grow closer to God, ditch storgí. God doesn’t want us to merely like him. (And none of this secular bushwa about how you can love someone but not really like them; that’s not love either.)