Archive for category Nature of God

The Limit of God

As many of you know, today is Easter. At least, it is for Catholics and Protestants. Even though I don’t classify myself as either one of those, I suppose today is a good a day as any to discuss my thoughts on something which i have been accused of and which many people do not understand. As today is Easter, many people around the world are celebrating the ultimate power of God. That is to say, they celebrate the conquering of the Son of God over death. But really, what is the extent of power God has?

I suppose the best way to go about this is to set up the article with a story. A while ago, I received a complaint from a reader about the article I wrote on speaking in tongues. If i remember what he said correctly, it was along the lines of, “You are denying the power of the Holy Spirit and because of that, you are not a true Christian.” At first this deeply insulted me. I really hate it when people put words in my mouth or try to twist my words into something i never actually nor believe. But after I realized that this guy was probably just trying to get a reaction out of me, I decidedly put the “you aren’t a true christian” out of my head and instead focused on the other bit he had written.

The reader had claimed I was denying the power of the Holy Spirit. However, because he didn’t elaborate further i can only speculate what he meant and apply that speculation not only to his argument, but also to a broader scope of misunderstanding i see from Christians and non-Christians alike. The question that arose in my mind from this man’s comment was this: Is the Holy Spirit, and by extension God, a being of total unlimited power? That is to say, can God truly do anything?

Now before you jump on a knee jerk reaction and yell, “Of course he can!,” lets sit back and ask ourselves what this really means. God having unlimited power to do anything means exactly that, no ifs ands or buts about it. We often define who and what God is by this simple measure: that he can in fact do anything he pleases at any scope he pleases. Anything is a strong word. It does not limit itself to just things like “build a house” or “make an ocean” or “create the universe.” In fact it goes extremely far in its definition of things God could do. It means he could make himself not God. That is the scope of “anything.”

This classic definition that we human’s have placed on God is in fact extremely limiting. This is ironic. By saying God can do anything, we negate his Godliness. For example, the old and worn out argument used by atheists to discredit God’s existence is this: Can God create a rock so big that he himself cannot lift it? This is a dichotomy if you hadn’t already noticed. By saying, “God can do anything,” we have fallen into a relatively simple trap. Because saying yes or no to that question will negate God entirely. If we say “Yes he can make a rock so big he can’t lift it” then we are saying God couldn’t lift the rock. This would mean he couldn’t do everything. And of course, if we say no, the same principle applies.

So this begs the question, can God in fact do anything? The short answer is actually, No he cannot do anything. I realize that at this point the reader who commented before is now thinking I am a heathen, but thats fine. Let me explain my position. The fact is God is indeed a being of infinite power but not of infinite means. There are things that God cannot do. While this list of things he can’t do i short, it is never the less crucial to understand that his power does in fact have limitations.

The first thing God cannot do is negating himself. This is a simple and easy to understand proposition. God cannot undo himself. He cannot make himself not exist. Not that he would ever want to mind you, but the fact is he can’t do it if he wanted to. If he could then he would not be a God of love as the Bible clearly states numerous times. Negating himself would destroy all of existence, not just himself, but everything. There wouldn’t be any “there” anywhere.

The second limitation is much like the first. God cannot become evil. Again, he is the God of love. Becoming evil would make him a liar and would make him not God. You can make the long winded argument that “evil” is the going against God’s will, and if God himself can’t go against his own will because he is God then it wouldn’t really be evil. This is true, but its leaving out the fact he has specifically defined what is good in the pages of the Bible through Jesus. So since he has made a declaration already, he cannot go back on on his word. Granted though, he could unmake existence and start again being evil, but this is impossible from a God of love and mercy.

The third limitation on God is the fact he cannot contradict himself. Because he is the God of love, something that is defined within the Bible, to contradict himself would make him a liar. This is impossible given his nature as the benevolent God we know him as. It is true that he has smitten people before (e.g. Sodom and Gomorra), but this was in the time of the simple law. It was simply, “Do not disobey.” Of course since then the Law has matured, as has humanity, to the point where the Law is now “Strive to be like me.” However, the point is, throughout the history of the Law, it has not been contradicted by the writer while the Law has been in place. Let me be clear though, Jesus was the fulfillment of the law and therefore rewrote the law within the law’s boundaries. (This is a discussion though for another time) So there has never been a contradiction within the law.

Similarly, the entire argument of creating a rock too heavy for God to lift falls within this spectrum. It would contradict his nature as God. To create something that is beyond his measure would require there to be a being even higher than God, or at least a plane of existence beyond. God is it though, so there is no point in arguing it. His power is the limit to which power can be. It would be like asking a king in a country, because he has all the power in the country, to create rain. It is not in the scope of his being to do so. Nor would it be in the scope of God’s power to become more powerful than himself. It would be like telling a circle to become a square while still maintaining its circleness.

The final limitation on God’s power is his power cannot, by self-limitation, extend to negate the freewill of humanity. That is to say, God cannot make you or any one else, do anything against your will. This is true even if you have given your life to God in becoming a Christian. (i.e. just because you are a Christian does not give God the right to infest you and make you do anything against your will. This is the heart of the matter of the speaking in tongues thing.) This limitation is not a one like the others that would simply negate existence or his nature if he chose to have us be mindless robots. Instead, it is a limitation God put on himself before we were created. And by the previous limitation, he cannot go back on it. He did not have to create this limitation on himself, but he did anyway because he wanted to create being who would love him of their own freewill and not because they were programed. To wit, even the slightest messing with freewill in any human would inevitably cast doubt on whether we had freewill or not, so he cannot subvert his own limitation.

Now, before i go any further there are examples in the Bible itself that seem to not match the previous paragraph. The first would be the story of the Exodus in which God hardens Pharaoh’s heart. Ill try to be brief about explaining this and the other example as best I can. You must remember that the book of exodus was in fact written by Moses, or dictated by him, from mostly his perspective. Now does anyone really think Pharaoh was going to let his nice workforce go because of what he saw as coincidences? Remember, Pharaoh was god in Egypt, so he wasn’t going to just give in to some servant worker’s demands about his God and all the bad things that would befall him if he didn’t listen. You think Pharaoh was going to announce in his court that he in fact wasn’t the god he claimed he was? No sir.

The second example would be that of Nebacanezzar whom God purportedly put a curse on and went mad. For that, I never said that God wouldn’t allow a disease to take someone =P

In any case, the fact of the matter is clear. God cannot do anything. But the funny thing is, because he can’t do everything you can imagine, like making the big rock, he becomes the God we know. If he could do anything, he in fact would not be God at all. It’s a really hard concept to fully understand and frankly, i don’t think anyone understands God’s power fully. The fact though is that we need to understand that while God is a god, he is not a God above himself.


The Great Divide

The war isn’t going to end anytime soon. I think thats become apparent in the last series of articles that I’ve posted over the last few months. Science and religion seem to be at odds with one another despite however much I wish they weren’t. So far in this series, I have been focusing on the evangelical Christians and the fundamentalist Christians and their steps that have kept the virtual divide not only open, but widening in their wake. I have not said much about the other side of the fence though. That is, I haven’t made any strides to talk about how science as a community is helping to keep this divide between itself and religion open and widening. So in this last article focusing on science for a while, Id like to present something more personal as I find myself more and more on the science side of the chasm that separates us.

divide1.jpgI am often asked by people of both camps what my true beliefs are. I can firmly say that I have no idea. It is true I was raised a Christian but not as an evangelical one. That is, I wasn’t brought up with God and spirituality permeating every facet of my life. To me, God was simply there, just like air is there, just like the sun is there. It was one of those facts that just seemed to be without forcing itself into matters that had nothing to to with church. And so, without the constraint of religion interjecting itself into anything other than my spiritual life, I was free to study science as much as I wanted without finding myself at odds with my creator.

In fact, as the more I learned about creation and the universe as a whole, as well as how it all worked, I began to appreciate more and more how God had crafted such a universe that would give rise to us. I began to understand something fundamental that separates my form of Christianity from the evangelical fundamentalists. That fact I found out is probably the definition that divides Christians into two major camps, which I will get to in a bit. I realized that God did not create the universe because he loved us. He created the universe and then he loved us. In other words, he did not create the universe for our meager little species on some backwater planet, rather, the universe was created and we came alone, whether by natural phenomena or not, and God decided to show us love. Our species on a no name planet out back of nowhere received love from the creator of the universe.

divide2.jpgThis fact forces me at least to view Christianity’s creation standpoint from one of two camps. Those who think we are special, and those who think we aren’t special. To those who think we are, it frames their whole worldview, from their politics to their social life. To those who think humanity is special see their religion as the specialists of the special. In other words, they see Christianity (or islam or whatever) as the people who are chosen from the special people and therefore are above everyone else. This does not mean they are egotistical; though some undoubtedly are, but rather that they have some obligation to show everyone else how humanity is special and that we should all just know that we are the chosen of creation. The other side of this are those of us who see humanity as nothing special in terms of nature, but rather we are special only because God love us out of all of creation. I believe, as I think others do, that creation came first and that we came about in some manner God ordained but were not necessarily thought of before it all started. Therefore, we may have just been an after thought and God decided that maybe we could truly love him. I don’t know if thats a fact or not, but it would make us more humble if it were. Humility is the fact that governs these camps. One has humility because they are told to, the other just has it.

So how does this tie in with science? To me, the connection seems simple, science, by and large, is much like the second group I mentioned. They believe that humanity is nothing special, but not because of anything theological, simply because they can see how everything works and empirically deduce that if it happened here, why not somewhere else? That is to say, why should earth be the only planet out of countless trillions of planets with life on it? It is this empirical method that sets them apart from the first group I mentioned: the evangelicals. Evangelicals seem to like everything told to them, where as scientists want to find everything out. This difference is the second source of the divide, only between not just Christians.

divide3.jpgGive a true scientist a bucket of water and they will want to know what its made of, why does the water spin differently than the bucket if you spin the two, why does water behave that way, why why why? Scientists are fixed to a scheme of solving problems through observation. And on their side of the fence this is their source of the divide, though to be truthful, it’s of no fault of their own. Scientists want to measure and test. You by definition cannot measure or test god. Therefore God is not part of science. This does not mean scientists to not believe in god, some do, but it does mean God does not factor into experiments or theories. Why should he? If humans announced they could test God or measure him, how arrogant would we be? We would be admitting level with omnipotence. Scientists will admit their true goal in life is simply to describe how the world around us works. They do not postulate on why the universe is here or what our purpose in life is. They leave that to philosophy.

As one of a scientific mindset, I have no problem separating God from science because God does not factor into gravity, or air, or temperature. God is not a natural being, if he was, he wouldn’t be god. So I can see the scientist’s argument where “leave to Caesar what is Caesar’s” or “leave to God what is God’s.” God only factors into why were are here and where we are going. To say otherwise just doesn’t make sense. But I can see the point the evangelicals make too. They say science is atheistic and hostile to religion. To some extent, they are right. Science is at its basest level, skepticism. God is untestable so he’s also unverifiable. It’s hard to convince a skeptic to believe in something inherently unprovable. Despite what the bible says, you still must have faith in God to believe the bible. Faith in the unknowable disturbs scientists.

divide4.jpgBut scientists could use some yelling at from those of us in the middle. Just as I yell at the young earth creationists all the time, I should really spend more time yelling at the scientists and those of the scientific mind set like myself. But the major difference between the yellings at is the fact that to move creationists to the center you only need to get them to think analytically and not accept everything at face value. On the other hand to move a scientist to the middle require to get them to give up just a shred of analytical thought, something even I have a lot of problems doing. As analytical people we tend to miss the forest for the trees. Science gets bogged down in the details and sometimes misses the overall picture, especially when its not related specifically to science. It’s like looking at the old cliche of the pocket watch in the desert. The scientist would take the watch apart, see how it worked, note how the pieces were made and what from, try to find out when the watch was made, etc etc. He becomes so engrossed with finding these things out; I think he misses the bigger picture. He doesn’t once stop to think, who made it and why is it out in the desert? And if he does, the could use the old cop out, “well thats for the philosophers to debate.” That’s true, but for the person of the scientist I don’t think its good enough. Not to sound like an evangelist, but as a person, are you letting your lab coat dictate your personal beliefs in the spiritual? Just because they are untestable does not mean they do not hold merit. Some scientists have tried to evade the issue altogether by suggestion religion and spirituality are somehow biological. Maybe, but spirituality is not a natural phenomenon, at least in my mind, and should at least be given some credit. Because of our spirituality and our ability to envision something so much bigger than ourselves such as god, we identify ourselves are separate from the animals. I know there are other reasons scientists would say we see ourselves separate, but you have to admit, spirituality is something we can definitely point to as “human.”

Scientists may see things the way those of us in the middle ground see things, as far as how humanity is nothing special. However they either cant, or wont ask the important questions that are personally applicable to them. Its all well and good you know how the first cells might have formed from folding proteins, but will that help your personal life? Its great you know the universe is expanding, but will that help you in death? So many scientific friends I know are afraid of death because they believe in no god. But not because they are afraid of hell, they are afraid of mortality being the finality of existence. They are scared of not existing and all that entails: a missed opportunity to make a mark on civilization. In some ways this view of spirituality not pertaining to them or not being intelligent thought is the key to why they help split society.

divide5.jpgTheir side of the divide is to look down on those who use faith too much. Granted some of us use faith where faith is necessary, but we don’t use it to facilitate every aspect of our lives simply because we are told something by a preacher. Unfortunately, a vast majority of Christians are like the evangelicals. As a result they fuel the stereotype of Christians being anti-intelligent bible thumpers. Science looks down on them because they don’t use any thought at all for their worldview. Science on the other hand perpetuates its own stereotype of being ivory tower people who refuse to look at anything other then facts and trying to discredit religion (even though they don’t directly) by scoffing at those who are in religion. And in-between there are those of us who look at both sides and shake our heads. Science discriminates against religion because they don’t like faith-based assumptions. Religion discriminates science by making claims that go beyond the scope of what religion teaches (i.e.. creation science). As a result, both camps refuse to talk to each other and have taken to throwing mud. So many souls and so many minds could be saved here if they just got along.

In the end, there’s not a whole lot I, nor probably any one person, can do about it. Science people will continue to hate Christians because of the lot that tries to wedge the two apart. Christians will continue to hate scientists because science wants to be skeptical of everything, including god. In the end, I don’t think either side is “right” but if I had to pick one thats more right than the other, id pick the scientists simply because I’m sure there is a way to prove God through logic at least, not necessarily experimentation. The evangelicals only offer canned arguments and irrationality. But I think, really, that if the two sides at least agreed to disagree on a few little issues than both would benefit monumentally from each other. That’s just my opinion though.


An Aspirin for Every Headache

I think fortitude is something that we christians seriously lack. And i don’t say that to merely be provocative and belligerent either. I really think that when it comes right down to the facts of life we are in no better position, possibly even in a worse position than our “ungodly” counterparts on the other side of the fence.

The reason i say this is because of the problem with pain. Countless books, lectures, sermons, inspirational posters, and Bible verses are all dedicated the issue of pain. They remind us constantly that pain exists, that the world is filled with it, and that god can protect us from it. And yet it seems that when pain rears its ugly head in our faces we seem to reel back in fear and hide in the shadows behind our picture of what God is to us.

Case in point. I have a friend who recently heard from a friend she had back in high-school. This old friend and my friend had had a falling out some years back over religious issues. Basically the other friend was going to be the perfect little girl for god. No dating, no kissing, no alcohol, church on sunday and Wednesday, everything she was going to do in her life was going to glorify god. And to her credit, from what i know of her, she kept this up for a long time. My friend said she was insane, probably from the fact that she had to constantly listen to her bemoan the fact that she could never get a boyfriend. Well when you never let physical attraction even once dictate your choice in mates and then when you do happen to land a partner you tell them you won’t kiss or hug them until you’re at the alter, what do you expect? But i digress. It seemed that the issue didn’t even phase the friend that her choice to be loyal only to god was hindering her own wishes, but she was pretty much content otherwise. She did drive my friend nuts by preaching to her every time she got the opportunity about how she wasn’t living according to god’s purpose and she would never be happy if she didn’t, inadvertently pushing my friend further and further away from wanting to be associated with people like that (e.g. every christian she knew).

And then suddenly, the friend’s mom died. I don’t know how or why, but she just upped and died one day. naturally the friend’s life was shattered. And she dropped of the map for several months after. So then the other day she calls my friend up and catches up some. Turns out now she’s living with her dad and her step-mom (he parents were divorced long before any of this by the way) and has turned to a life of drinking, cursing, and generally being a heathen (well… relatively speaking). She was even considering to go and lose her virginity for no real reason other than to do it. I laughed at first because of the hypocrisy she was displaying. I find irony like that funny no matter how tragic it is (I’m evil like that). But then as it sank in i realized something that brings me to this article now.

The girl snapped. Why? Because her mom died? Well yes, but more fundamental than that. Pain. She snapped because of the pain. granted, it was a horrible pain having your only real family just die like that, but its the same kind of pain people feel everyday all over the world. And yet she fell so far. Why? The problem with pain is that she expected it to never happen to her. and thats where we christians generally fail at life.

We normally sit on our high horses talking about the great life we have with god and how he will protect us from earthly pain. And should some pain arise in someone else’s life other than our own its simply brushed off with “well god has a plan for you.” But then it happens to us and all the rules change. Suddenly that godly way of life we were living seems to have netted us nothing. all that supposed sacrifice for god and we are left trampled under the wheels of life in the mud for all to see. Then the taunting begins. “where is your god now?” “Why did god let that happen to you?” “if there was a god he obviously hates you.” And these are just from yourself!

When we have the problem of pain, our world shatters around us. pieces falling down like glass and we stand in our broken cathedral looking up at the dark sky above and just ask “why me? why me god?” We thought up to that point we were exempt from having these blows dealt to us because we were living for god. Bad things only happen in retribution for sin, right? wrong. There was never a guarantee for safe passage through life. yes we are told god CAN protect us from pain, but that doesn’t mean he WILL. And nor should we expect him to.

We do have a guarantee from jesus himself. He guaranteed the opposite. He told us if we join him in christianity we enter a life filled with more pain than normal people. “take up your cross and follow me” isn’t just a nice thought about how we will walk with him and let him carry it for us. The cross doesn’t just symbolize the sins we have to carry, but the pain in carrying them and of life in general. We marginalize pain until it happens to us. We tell ourselves before the earthquake how exactly we will react. And when the quake hits, we panic. And this is the main difference between christians and non-christians. The non-christians have been doing drills, but we tend to stand there confidently that the building you’re in will never, never crack or crumble. And when it does our notions about the world and life and torn asunder and the world looks at us as fools.

And thats what we are if we continue to think that a life with god is a life free from pain: Fools. Its for this reason I always harp on teens and kids who want to get baptized as soon as possible because their friends are doing it and the ministers who encourage it. They don’t sit back and think about what they are doing. They are told from the get go that this is a kind of trade. “you join us and life is smooth sailing.” Its not a bargain, its you initiating yourself into a world darker than you can imagine with god there as a flashlight. You are not completely alone, but you are still on your own. people who think that the dark world isn’t really there are blind. People who think that god will shine like the sun onto that world are disillusioned. people who walk without the flashlight stumble, but at least they cant see the terrors. And people who walk with the light see everything, including the darkness.

Thats why i think that fortitude is something we generally lack. If we don’t have any fortitude and instead delude ourselves into thinking life will be peachy if we live by the rules we will end up like the friend who snapped. I know, I’ve been there myself. but having come out of it, it would have been easier, and it still would be easier, just to throw the flashlight away and hide in the shadows than to confront the beast of pain in all its gruesome glory. We need to teach others to hold to the flashlight and open their eyes and not rely on god to protect them from life, lest we lose them to the darkness as well.


L’amore a la mode

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