Friday 19 February 2016

What kind of love does God have for Men?

In reading the Bible, whatever the proper interpretation may be, it must be compatible with a wholly loving God -- and that wholly loving God means at least as much as what common sense would suppose love to mean.

Our wholly loving God is at least as loving as the most ideally loving earthly father or mother is to his or her children - and then more.

It is not a matter of God having a different kind of love than men - and this Godly type of love sometimes seeming to us as something more like hatred or cold justice. God has the same kind of love as we do for our family when that is a good family - only much more so. (Or, we have the same kind of love as God - only less so and imperfectly.)

God regards and treats his children as an ideal parent would (and almost anyone can imagine an ideal parent - even if they never had one, or cannot be one)

If we knew the whole situation, if we understood what had really happened in events described in the Bible; it must be that we would recognize that we ourselves would behave as God did - if only we were wholly Good, wholly loving.

So, when we come to a passage in scripture such as the story of Abraham and Isaac - which is perhaps the most shocking part of the whole book:

Then we should - we must - interpret the story from the perspective of a loving Father in relationship with his children. Whatever this story means, and there are several suggestions, and differences of opinion regarding its status as history or parable; it can only be interpreted within that loving context. Such passages should never be regarded as putting God's love in doubt - and if they have that effect on you, at the end of the day it is the scripture which much yield ground - not the lovingness of God.

(Of course, this means that we do not and could not derive our knowledge of the love of God entirely from scripture. But that is common sense. Even those few Chrstians who say that scripture is both sufficient and inerrant - even when considered line by line - do not actually live-by this principle.) 

If we we 'judge' God by the best of our own standards - he will exceed them. But Christian faith entails that we assume that God is wholly good, wholly loving. This is not up for discussion, God's love for us cannot be analysed or critiqued or put in doubt using any kind of 'evidence' - whether from the Bible or elsewhere.

Our God IS love, and if there is any conflict with this belief and anything else - it must always be the other thing which gives ground (and never the love of God). 

If we read or are told something about God that does not match up to the best of our standards - then this does not in any way challenge the reality of the goodness of God we can be sure that there has been a mistake somewhere, some lies, ignorance, honest human errors, or simple lack of knowledge.


Anonymous said...

Many Christians won't agree, and it will upset some of them because they believe the bible can never err. That is a sad thing, and I do not like the idea of upsetting good people, but yes, I agree with you - it is what we must go by.


Jacques said...

Your position is perfectly logical. If we know (or think we know) that God is perfectly good and loving then, on pain of incoherence, we must hold that any seeming evidence to the contrary -- such as Biblical stories in which God is seemingly immoral or hateful -- is somehow incorrect. And as you point out, there are many options. We can suppose that the people who wrote these stories were misinterpreting events, or leaving out crucial details, or ignorant of something. We can suppose that, to the extent that these stories depict God in ways inconsistent with our (presumed) knowledge of His nature, they reflect personal or cultural prejudices that have been added on to the real truth about what happened back then. Or we can suppose that the stories are all true, but that on a correct interpretation (which we may not yet have discovered) they are not really inconsistent with our knowledge. But then, wouldn't it be equally logical to reason as follows: since God is perfectly good and loving, and since the 'God' of the Bible is not perfectly good and loving, the 'God' of the Bible (or the Old Testament, anyway) is not God? In other words, why should we take our knowledge of God's nature to count in favor of a specific kind of Bible-based theism, requiring some complicated interpretation or reinterpretation of the Bible, and a fair bit of philosophizing, rather than taking it to count against Bible-based theism of any kind? Why is it so important to hold on to the Old Testament, the Bible as a whole?

Bruce Charlton said...

@J - It depends on whether you believe that the Bible is divinely inspired. I do - so I would regard it as extremely foolish to chuck it out. The more information we have on divine revelation, the better.

Jacques said...

Ok, but for me the problem is that we don't actually know how to interpret the many OT passages that certainly _appear_ to depict God as hateful and vengeful and imperfect in a way that seems compatible with the belief that He is loving. At least I have no idea of how to do this, except in ways that seem (to me) very dubious and ad hoc. It would be rational to think that, since to the best of our knowledge these OT passages mean what they appear to mean, it is accordingly not too probable that the OT is divinely inspired. Or, alternatively, that its being 'divinely inspired' in some basic or global sense is compatible with much of it being deeply false. Wouldn't that be just as rational as sticking with your belief that it's divinely inspired? (And if it would be, does that give you any grounds for skepticism about that belief? It would for me.)

Bruce Charlton said...

@J - You need to accept or reject the truth of Christianity first, before the Bible can be evaluated. If Christianity is accepted as true, then there is a need to understand how truth works - how truth comes to Men - and my impression is that there is considerable variation in this even among genuine Christians.

What might help is to compare Christianity with something that already you do regard as unproblematically 'true'. For me that was science - I am a scientist. When I read a scientific paper that is true, I do not expect it to be true line by line. In particular, it is normal for me to reject quite a bit of the interpretation of what the results mean.

Similarly, in the Old Testament there are sections where I interpret it as saying 'this is what happened' - for example, X was warned that if he continued to sin in such a way, then Y would happen - X contnued to sin in such a way and Y happened.

Then the human interpreter says that God did this because - whatever... And sometimes posits motivations that are incompatible with God's nature.

But then the Old Testament is like Newtonian science in the sense that it was inadequate in the light of Einstein - Einstein would not have been needed if Newton was perfect. Jesus would not have been needed if the Old Testament world was perfect - and clearly it wasn't; and one way it was not perfect was the understanding of the nature of God.

So far as my own life as a Christian goes, clearly (like most modern Christians) I focus strongly on the New Testament - and especially the Gospels. But there are many ways of being a Christian. There have been many real Christians who hardly ever read the Bible - but (for example) get the word from the church, or they pick-up the essence and atmosphere of Christianity from the society around them, and/or by participation in ritual, or by prayer and meditation.

For some people the faith is very simple indeed, and does not involve a book. Since God is within each of us, and can also communicate directly with each of us - this is not surprising. In fact, someone coule be a CHristian in the ways that matter even if they had never heard of Christ.

That is a minimal approach, and is true. But in practical fact, in this world, with all the many distractions and counter-pressures - and especially the modern Weste where the basic set-up is actively evil (moral inversion, nihilism - a metaphysics of despair), real Christian churches are extremely helpful. However, they are rare - and most of the (once large) mainstream Christian churches probably do more harm than good - overall, being primarily political and only secondarily Christian-ized.

But some Churches or denominations seem certainly to do more good than harm among their members. I am not a member of the Mormon church, nor do I attend it; but I find it a beacon of light and strength.

For other people, reading Scripture has a similar benefit; the Bible has been a life-saver, inspirer, friend and rock. This is a fact - but it is not the case for every individual.

Anonymous said...

Dr Charlton:

"In fact, someone coule be a CHristian in the ways that matter even if they had never heard of Christ."


"I am not a member of the Mormon church, nor do I attend it; but I find it a beacon of light and strength."

My opinion only of course, but in the same way that people who have never heard of Christ, but behave in Christian ways are Christians, you are a Mormon, because you believe as a Mormon. It makes no difference that you don't attend Mormon churches or temples. In fact, I would say that you do attend a Mormon Church in a way because you 'attend' 'Junior Ganymede', and talk to a Mormon community, discussing the spiritual and divine.

You have often said that Mormon Christianity seems to you to be the most true version of Christianity.

This all adds up to being a Mormon.

You are a Mormon in spirit, which is the most real way to be anything at all.


Bruce Charlton said...

@Seeker - Well, I do not regard myself as a Mormon - nor am I so regarded by Mormons (I am usually described as a Mere Christian, using CS Lewis's terminology) - so it isn't really true!

Anonymous said...

OK - you haven't committed to the Mormon Church, then are there any others that have things to say that you value? I recall that you have commented positively on Orthodoxy at some time (I think it was you).


Bruce Charlton said...

@Seeker - It is not so much about committment as that I do not lead the life of a Mormon - and that would be essential to being a Mormon.

As for other churches - I regard myself as unaffiliated, but in general I think it is a matter of finding a local real Christian church (i.e not a front organization of secualr Leftism).

The church I most attend and support is an Conservative Evangelical Anglican church which is active, young, growing, family orientated and has admirable youth progams (the Church of Englans as a whole is in a terrible state - but there are a few autonomous islands which look to African and SOuth American bishops for authority - the organization called GAFCON).

On the whole conservative evangelicals, and conservative Protestants generally are the only mainstream Christian churches that have at least have men, youth, vigour and above-replacement sized families (which are indices of a church being viable rather than dying).

I believe that Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists share these features - but I don't know much about them.

Doctrinally Eastern Orthodoxy and the SSPX (and some other Latin Mass type) Roman Catholics, and break-away Continuing Anglicans are solid - but these are often tiny, generally aged, women dominated etc. - but local conditions vary.

I am a Mere Christian with a wide net for acknowledging Churches as Christian - essentially if they acknowledge Christ as divine Lord and Saviour then I am prepared to accept self-identification as 'Christian'. But most self-identified 'Christian' churches currently do more harm than good since they prioritize and give primacy to the usual secular issues (the fight against sexism, racism, equality, diversity, foreign aid, global warming and the rest of it).

Even these liberal faux-Christian, collapsing and secualarizing churches may have a minority of real Christians in them, sometimes very fine Christians - but remaining Christian in such a church is a constant battle, and many people either give up or become bitter and angry.