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Discussion 18 to Talk Back 95
A Reply to Michael Frank's Discussion 17

by: PsiCop

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Michael,

Thanks again for your detailed reply. I hope to do the best I can to deal with your answers to my three questions.

Regarding Question 1, i.e. how an omnipotent being’s planned relationship with humanity could have been undermined, I find I’m almost at a loss to respond meaningfully. Your answer is, honestly, all over the map. Initially you suggest that God set up boundaries. Then you offer the old “free will” theodicy. Then you suggest it’s so that he can αγαπη humanity. And yes, I’m literate in ancient Greek, both classical “Attic” Greek and the κοινη (koiné, “common”) Greek of the New Testament and Church Fathers, so I do know what the word means.[1]

In spite of your multiple, disparate answers to this one question, I’ll attempt to cover them all as concisely as I can.

First, the idea that God places “boundaries” on himself doesn’t help your case at all, logically. If he placed the “boundaries” himself, then he can lift them at will, being omnipotent. Ultimately, even self-imposed “boundaries” or limits on an omnipotent being, cannot and will not change his omnipotence, and therefore don’t change what he’s capable of.

If he chose to permanently reduce his power, then he ceased to be omnipotent when he did so. But this also means he can no longer be the God whom Christians such as yourself worship, since they worship a being who is both omnipotent and unchanging. His setting aside omnipotence would violate both those propositions in one fell swoop.

Also, granting us “free will” does not actually require him to have allowed his plans to fail. Being omnipotent, he could have created a universe in which humanity both had “free will” and in which his plans weren’t derailed by the Fall. Obviously this is not the universe we live in; however, a God who was even at one time omnipotent and thus had infinite choices available to him, would have been able to create a universe meeting both criteria simultaneously.

The business about αγαπη suffers from the same flaw (aside from the fact that “true love” is an inaccurate English translation). God still could have created a universe in which God could αγαπη anyone or anything he wished to, without also having to allow his plans to be derailed.

You also go into the problem of prediction (i.e. God should have known the Fall would occur), as well as a number of other factors. However, they are all equally flawed, and because of the very same problem. An infinite, omnipotent deity can never logically be pinned to one choice by any desire he might have.

Your only alternative is to concede he’s not omnipotent, but that only works if he’s permanently less-than-omnipotent; but this in turn leaves us talking about a completely different God than the accepted Christian one.

I should add that, on this point, your suggestion that God is not omnipotent after all is one that has been made by serious religious thinkers. Perhaps the most famous of these at the moment is Rabbi Harold Kushner[2] . This is, however, actually a rejection of “orthodox” Christian thinking, and is considered heretical at best.

Regarding my question 2, whether Satan knew something about God that rationally encouraged or forced him to reject God, unfortunately, your quotation from Isaiah 14 does not help. You see, the passage you quoted is but a part of something longer. And it has nothing to do with “Lucifer” or “Satan,” or with a primeval rebellion in Heaven. Isaiah 14 begins as follows:

When the Lord will have compassion on Jacob and again choose Israel, and settle them in their own land, then strangers will join them and attach themselves to the house of Jacob. The peoples will take them along and bring them to their place, and the house of Israel will possess them as an inheritance in the land of the Lord as male servants and female servants; and they will take their captors captive and will rule over their oppressors. And it will be in the day when the Lord gives you rest from your pain and turmoil and harsh service in which you have been enslaved, that you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon, and say,
"How the oppressor has ceased,
And how fury has ceased!"[3]

This “taunt against the king of Babylon” (as Isaiah himself called it) continues all the way through the end of verse 21. Verse 22 goes beyond this, yet sticking with the topic of Babylon, and relays how the Lord of hosts intends to destroy that nation, making it “a possession for the hedgehog” and promises to “sweep it with the broom of destruction.”[4]

Hopefully now you understand that the reference to a being “fallen from heaven” who had been “the morning star” was not to some truly heavenly being which literally had been named “the morning star” (Lucifer, in Latin translations[5] ) and fell to earth; it is, instead, a statement of the zenith of power and acclaim from which “the king of Babylon” would one day fall, at the Lord’s contrivance.

For centuries the verses you quote have been used incorrectly, inferring some great primeval war in the heavens had taken place between God and “Lucifer.” Unfortunately, not only is this interpretation wrong, there is no viable excuse for this misinterpretation, since the words of Isaiah 14 are plain, and make it clear that it means no such thing.

In reality, Satan (or Lucifer or whatever name you wish to assign this being) is merely a Christian legend, and the Bible actually has very little to say about him. The most important reference to him in the Old Testament is not in Isaiah, but in Job; yet there is no suggestion of any “war” between him and God, merely an intellectual contest before “the sons of God.”[6] The Satan of Job is more of a “friendly rival” to God, than a true enemy who had to be hurled by main force out of heaven. The main reference to Satan in the New Testament is, as you quoted, in Revelation, however, he is already at war with God in that book, so it doesn’t explain what reasons he had, if any, to rebel against God.

The bottom line is that you haven’t been able to explain why Satan could not have had a genuine, reasonable objection to God that forced him to “rebel,” assuming he did so.

Concerning my third question, why God chooses to “speak” to humanity only via certain means, I have to point out that — as with your response to question 1 — you offer a conflicted answer. While you admit that God can and does speak to humanity in many ways, you maintain that he nevertheless prefers to do so via the Christian Bible, but that this is mixed with other kinds of communication. You said:

The Bible is, as I said, the best collection we have of God’s speaking to man. Also note that much of it is not directly through the face meaning of the texts, but through symbolism, and parity, and other ways that God’s Holy Spirit reveals as you read and seek for revelation.

In short, you seem to want to have it every possible way. You want the Bible to have primacy, even if you admit perhaps there are problems with that, and that it cannot always be taken literally and must be read with the help of the Holy Spirit. But you haven’t shown how or why this is the case.

The truth of the matter, as I said earlier, is that there are many people who claim God has spoken to them directly, and many writings that claim to be of sacred origin (or which are thought to be sacred). A lot of them are of Christian origin, though perhaps derive from a form of Christianity you and other modern Christians might not recognize or even accept as “Christian” (even if they are).

One of these documents, known as the Gospel of Truth[7] , even goes so far as to provide answers to the questions you and I are discussing right now:

… [I]gnorance of the Father brought about terror and fear. And terror became dense like a fog, that no one was able to see. Because of this, error became strong. But it worked on its hylic substance vainly, because it did not know the truth. It was in a fashioned form while it was preparing, in power and in beauty, the equivalent of truth. This then, was not a humiliation for him, that illimitable, inconceivable one. For they were as nothing, this terror and this forgetfulness and this figure of falsehood, whereas this established truth is unchanging, unperturbed and completely beautiful.[8]

During classical times, “orthodox” Christians made a value judgment about this and other Gnostic Christian texts, that they were not truly “sacred”; since then nearly all Christians have agreed. But objectively there is nothing to support this value judgment — aside from “orthodox” Christians’ dislike of these documents’ Gnostic content. It cannot safely be assumed that God cannot speak to anyone through them — or that the Holy Spirit cannot use it to “guide” people as they learn about God — or however you want to put it.

Ultimately, then, the answers you’ve provided to my three questions, are just not that helpful. You used a “shotgun approach” to answering the first; in answering the second you used an inaccurate interpretation of a Bible passage; and your third answer is ambiguous.

I’m sure all of these answers are meaningful to you and you very likely don’t understand why they don’t suffice for me. Some of what you cite is of very old standing in Christian apologetic circles, so chances are, my comments appear — to you — to be irrational, reflexive objections to what “everyone knows” is true. Your “free will” proposition, for example, comes from the “free will” theodicy, which is very old, but for reasons I explained — and as has been noted by others, even some theologians — it simply does not hold up to scrutiny.[9]

Footnotes:

  1. The verb αγαπαω (from which the noun αγαπη comes) had a number of meanings, based on the context and the period, and was used in several ways. The majority of the time, though, workable English equivalents for the noun αγαπη are “charity,” “compassion,” and/or “affection.” Generally it had a less emphatic, and more embracing, meaning than other Greek verbs for “love,” even though Christians have, since classical times, reinterpreted the word to have meant a “higher” form of love than others. This makes passages such as John 21:15-17, where two such words are contrasted with each other inside of sentences, more interesting than you likely hear in a typical Christian Bible study. However, that said, it might be best not to get sidetracked by Greek semantics.
  2. The author of, among other books, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (1981).
  3. Isaiah 14:1-4, NASB (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah 14:1-4&version=NASB)
  4. Isaiah 14:22-23, NASB (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah 14:22-23&version=NASB)
  5. Isaiah 14:12, Vulgate (http://www.biblestudytools.com/vula/isaiah/14-12.html)
  6. Job 1:6, NASB, for instance (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Job 1:6&version=NASB)
  7. http://www.answers.com/topic/gospel-of-truth
  8. Gospel of Truth 2
  9. See e.g. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and New World Encyclopedia, etc.