Conversation with a Friend

(an edited compilation of actual conversations with several good friends.)







* So–another Christian website? Aren’t there enough already? What makes yours so special?

– There are a lot of good Christian sites–to be sure. We have, however, the growing conviction that there are some serious omissions and distortions in the claims made on many of them. Resulting from these distortions and bias is a picture of God which we find very distressing. We have sought to evaluate and explore the truth of these claims for ourselves. What we have discovered will, we have found, revolutionize the way one sees God and how He interacts with mankind. We find it has added enormous depth to our understanding of God and helps make much better sense of the “troubling passages” in the bible.

* Who exactly is this “we” you talk about–and how can you be so bold as to think you can “improve” on traditional Christian interpretations? Isn’t that how “cults” get started?

talk– We are simply a group of ordinary people, with families, and jobs, from all over the world. For the most part, we originally met through various chat groups. We share the common belief that if something doesn’t make sense to us, we need to investigate it until it does make sense. Given the importance of Christ in our lives, we find it especially important to apply that critical thinking to matters of faith. We believe that understanding the truth about God can only be strengthened by examination and study–actively searching for meaning. The danger, we have found, is in NOT subjecting claims–especially religious ones–to honest scrutiny. The absence of scrutiny and honest questioning is what allows cults to flourish. In fact, the acceptance of a set of beliefs without scrutiny is a hallmark of a cult and is REQUIRED. Thus one must abandon his own moral compass (some call this the conscience.) All truth claims must be tested.

* Including yours?

– Yes! especially ours. We are actually disappointed when people just accept our ideas without questioning them. There is great loss of both truth and personal meaning, it seems to us, when people are unwilling to subject their own belief system to scrutiny and a healthy skepticism. But more challenging yet, we believe that even the claims said in the bible to be made by God Himself must be examined.

* But wait: if you subject everyone and everything to such scrutiny as you suggest, who CAN you trust?

– Exactly! Everyone–including us–possesses the capacity to harbor error–thinking it is true. So we must cultivate even the ability to question ourselves–recognizing that, as one with freedom, we have the ability to make self-deceptive choices. Implied then, is that we must be able to exercise the potential to change our minds–as the evidence directs us. We believe that when one makes claims on the basis of authority only, without evidence, there is great danger that false claims will be accepted as true.

* But can’t that be seen as saying truth–truth about God–is unknowable? Therefore, why even bother?

– Well, not really. Truth is real, as is the ability to comprehend it. We believe God is the embodiment of truth and has revealed Himself to us through the bible, but most fully in His Son, Jesus Christ. So the bible and Jesus are our starting points in our search for the Truth about God. The goal is to begin to assemble an accurate description of God–“Picture” of God we often call it–which coheres with reality. Truth, after all, can be said to be a description of reality. But we humbly remember that no “picture” can completely represent God–it is only a partial portrayal. Now obviously, given that we can comprehend truth in small increments–that is, one cannot contain ALL truth–we see the perception of truth as being a progressive matter. Truth itself is total and complete, but our awareness and understanding of it is what grows and deepens with examination. We do not “create” truth; we discover it.

* But if you question EVERYTHING, how can you even get started on your quest for truth about God?

– First, we accept that there really IS such a thing as truth. Therefore the search for truth is a valid one–that is, truth CAN be grasped, understood, and chosen. (Why even talk about truth if it is unattainable?) ’ Second, the process of embracing truth is an ongoing one; we liken it to a journey. It is a continual deepening of an understanding of how things really are. ’ Last, the objective of  questioning must be to honestly discern truth; that is, the integrity of the search for truth lies with the intent of actually finding truth–no matter where it leads. We treat truth as being in the realm of objective reality–independent of the subjective nature of our individual perceptions. Truth is not something to be manipulated, but to be discovered.

* It appears that you have no place for faith then: all you have is reason and logic.

– That is a very common misunderstanding of how we think. Faith so often is thought to mean something like “believ’n something you know ain’t so” or “faith is a leap in the dark” or “where reason ends, faith takes over.” We believe that does a disservice to BOTH faith and reason. Faith is translated from the same word as BELIEVE and TRUST. It makes no sense to trust what reason and logic has told us not to trust. That would be mere foolishness. What makes most sense is to use ALL our capacities in our search for truth and not rely on vague feelings of “faith”. To abandon reason, which we believe God blessed us with also, just when the going gets tough and things begin not to make sense, is the wrong approach. Reason is there to help keep our faith alive and honest and real.  We can not hide things which don’t make sense behind a veil of so-called “faith.”

* What, for example, might another Christian “hide” behind this veil?

– Perhaps the most troubling example is when Christians say that God killed His own Son on the cross–as punishment for OUR sins–and then explain this as a “loving” act. So we ask, “how can love be defined in such a way that it would allow, no–demand, the death of one’s own Son?” The frequent reply is that such love goes beyond our ability to comprehend–it transcends our understanding. In this case then, a heinous act is “camouflaged” by calling it “love.”    It makes little sense to explain something with an appeal to what we DON’T understand. If God’s love is not comprehensible, or is beyond our understanding, then let’s leave it there. It is not valid to call on a concept one has already defined as unexplainable to explain something that would otherwise be unacceptable. So if one claims God’s love is beyond comprehension, they can’t at the same time insist that an act qualifies as being loving. This example has other implications about God which also make little sense....

* Such as....?

– Well, most would agree that our salvation depends on choices that we make. That is to say, we have the valid option of choosing salvation. But for a choice to be real, or actual, it must be between two comprehensible options. If we don’t understand the options, it isn’t really a choice. So if love is described as beyond comprehension, then a choice for love can’t be valid–since it is not really a choice, but only a guess. We MUST be expected to grasp what love actually means if we are asked to choose it. When God says “ My law is a law of love,” that makes sense only if we understand what love looks like; what love really is. Thus God can’t reasonably ask us to chose something which is by definition incomprehensible. And love doesn’t kill one’s own Son under ANY comprehensible system–love does just the opposite; it preserves life.    So freedom of choice, if real, must present comprehensible options. But there are other misunderstandings of the concept of freedom which many Christians perpetuate also.

* How else is freedom misunderstood?

– This Christian misunderstanding follows from the idea that God killed Jesus on the cross as legal payment for sins. It is commonly taught that if one does not accept God’s gift of salvation, God will have to kill him in the final judgment. But that is tantamount to saying “obey me” or even worse, “love me! or I’ll have to kill you.” A “choice” under such a threat can in no way be said to be free–it is a choice under coercion. That describes force–NOT freedom. Thus God is grossly misrepresented. And it makes a mockery of the notion of freedom of choice. God looks like a tyrant under this system. Besides, love can not be forced–it must be won.

* But if God didn’t kill His Son, and doesn’t kill sinners in the final judgment, how DO they die?

– Great question: the sort of question we love to explore as a reflection of the kind of God we really worship. The death of Christ, and the death of sinners in the end, is real death; not some altered state of existence. It was/is annihilation: cessation of existence. We believe that God is the source of life, so to us it makes sense that separation from that source results in death. What kills then is SIN. Romans 6:23 says, “SIN pays its wage–that wage is death. But the gift of God is eternal life!” (Goodspeed) So why would God need to kill when SIN does a perfectly good job of it? God causes life: separation from Him results in death. That is what He warned Adam and Eve would happen in the garden.    We find this truth about God to be GREAT News! To suggest God does the killing is a frightful lie about the character of God.

* Why then do so many Christians miss this way of looking at God?

– That is a difficult question and the answer must have many facets. To us however, the biggest failing of traditional explanations is that the words and life of Christ Himself are not allowed to inform and enlighten the understanding of these issues. When Christ prayed just before He died and said He had finished the work God had given Him, He says that work was to make known the Father. So in Christ we have the perfect manifestation of the Father: God WITH us. God, the powerful, awesome, distant, unreachable, and Holy creator, has come in person to make Himself clearly understood: to make Himself KNOWN to us.    And Christ doesn’t talk about condemnation, or legal penalties, or appeasing the Father, as if the Father needed to have His mind changed about us! Or have some legal issues adjusted. Instead, Christ speaks of our need to be healed: that word heal is translated as Saved! He speaks of relationship, knowing the Father, and even makes the astounding offer of FRIENDSHIP! So the life and words and theology of Jesus Himself is what inspires us.

* So your ideas really do uphold the supremacy and importance of Christ?

– Absolutely! Christ is everything! He came to show us the Father. By demonstrating the truthfulness of God’s warning to Adam and Eve in the garden, that sin–separation from God–really DOES result in death, He reestablished the basis for trust. And a God who is trustworthy is a God I want to live with for eternity! That is the GREAT NEWS!

Bob

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