Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Box God Needs To Be In

There is a popular saying within the Christian community that has become a kind of truth "that shall not be questioned." It is one of those "Christian-speak" phrases that we all repeat but that, like anything else that "everybody knows," actually ought to be questioned.

Now, I know what people mean when they say it -- that we should not put limits on God in our thinking; that God can do anything He wants, no matter how hard it is for us to believe. But if we are going to claim to think clearly about our convictions, this is one that we better revisit.

One problem with this way of thinking is that God cannot do whatever He wants. Moreover, those who think He can are prone to accepting and promoting some improper theological ideas about Him. And, as is always the case, bad ideas lead to bad consequences. For example ...

God cannot do things that are contrary to His nature:
  • He is morally perfect so He cannot sin and He cannot lie. This is closely related to the corollary that, because of this moral perfection, God's perfect justice cannot allow sinful acts to go unpunished. This is a serious problem for those deny the existence of eternal separation from Him (i.e. "hell").
  • He is omniscient so He cannot be ignorant of the future. The Open Theists out there may want to reconsider the implications of that one.
  • He is logical and the laws of logic descend from his character. Therefore, He cannot make a square circle or a "rock so big He cannot lift it." My (fake) apologies to the sophists who think that these and similar challenges are really clever.
  • He is eternal and self-existent so He needs no cause for His existence. I wish the New Atheists (Richard Dawkins in particular) who can be counted on to repeatedly ask "Who made God?" in every book, article, or debate they ever participate in, would understand this simple truth. It is a philosophical category error to continue asking the same question while continually ignoring the plain answer. God is, by definition, the First Cause of all things.
These are a just a few of the things that define the box God has put Himself in. It is the box that defines his character and his character is the source of ultimate reality. If truth is correspondence to reality, our failure to acknowledge these attributes of God means that we are opposed to reality -- that we are denying the truth. Since living in denial of reality is defined as a delusion, our failure to keep God in the proper box leads to a corrupted view of reality and all kinds of theological inconsistencies. Bad ideas about God lead to bad real-world consequences.

One of those bad ideas is another misused bit of Christian-speak that gets a lot of play from those who insist that "Christianity is a relationship, not a religion." This phrase is true as far as it goes of course. Our faith does entail a uniquely intimate relationship with God. But that relationship must be built on a proper view of who that God is. If the relationship is with the wrong God, or the wrong kind of God, it is a flawed relationship ... and it will fail.

As I've said before, a religion is simply the way we see the world. Everybody has one. Christianity is a religion too, even if "religion" has become a dirty word. It is a religion based on a proper view of the God with whom we are in a relationship -- a God who defines the box He lives in.

It turns out that we better keep God in a box and that we better understand how that box is defined. If I'm right, doing so will help us avoid most of the silly Christian ideas that have become all too common these days.

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