Life as a Random Variable March 8, 2010Posted by Matt in Christian Beliefs.
Tags: Christian thought, god, life, providence, random variable, Satan, statistics, theodicy, theology
Please note that the following blog entry is the product of some of my thoughts from the past day or so and I realize that the ideas presented here may have several holes in them that can’t be covered in just over 400 words.
Life is a series of variables. Some are random occurrences that take place like the roll of a dice and some are dependent upon our actions, which are in turn dependent upon a whole litany of datum from our lives, whether it is education, experience, temperament or others of untold number. Though it may be realistic for us to correctly predict the outcome of individual events or some series of events within a band of error, the quantity of variables becomes so great that it is impossible for us to map out the entirety our lives with any degree of certainty.
I say this because I find myself greatly bothered by the common idea in Christian circles that all things happen according to a plan set forward by an all-powerful God. Once we place the Zoroastrian-influenced concept of a devil in its appropriate mythological place, things become even hairier. The absence of cosmic warfare places the responsibility for evil at our feet and at the divine feet of God. Thus, we must sincerely ask the questions that bother us so without resorting to the pat answers pervading the Christian religion, particularly when it deals with events beyond our control. We look at the random misery around us – from small children dying of cancer to earthquakes decimating some of the poorest regions on earth – and we must ask the simple question, why? If God is truly good and in power of all things upon the earth, why do such events take place?
Maybe there is no plan. Maybe things just happen beyond our control, events which are beyond our ability to stop, and the important thing is how we respond to them. When the die is cast and the random variables of life turn up in a way beyond explanation within the classic paradigm of Christian thought, perhaps we would be better off acknowledging that some things are even outside the realm of God’s providence. This then absolves God of responsibility for evil and instead places the “blame” upon the random statistical fluctuations of an imperfect universe.
Stuff happens and that’s really all there is to it. All we can do is get up, dust ourselves off and move forward, keeping in mind that there is no force in this world more powerful than love. We embrace God and come to the realization that maybe some things are even outside the sphere of divine power. And that, in turn, is okay and perhaps even a bit comforting as we confront the mysteries of life.
Talking Theology with a Five Year Old September 17, 2007Posted by Matt in evil, Rachel, theology.
Tags: evil, human nature, Rachel, Satan
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Originally Posted 9/17/07
My daughters are very analytical children, always asking questions about everything from natural phenomena to the origins of the clothes on our backs, but this weekend one small query from her threw me for the proverbial loop.
“Daddy,” she asked with an inquisitive sort of look on her face, “Who is Satan?”
I was taken aback for a moment with the immensity of her three word query. How do you answer?
Do you take the premodern viewpoint that the devil is a celestial being constantly waging a dualistic war with God that he is doomed to eventually lose? Do you fill her with Dantean stories of eternal torture to frighten her into doing the right thing? Do you tell her of a shadowy figure, bathed in darkness and with an unquenchable yearning for death, destruction, and corrupted human souls?
In other words, do you tell them something that you believe to be in error?
My children are rather intelligent, if I do say so myself, but I don’t think she is quite ready to grasp the idea that I would espouse. I don’t think she could understand that the idea of the devil is a metaphor for a human nature that tends toward the worship of self. I think she would have trouble with the idea of the devil as an excuse for behavior that is not consistent with the way of Christ. I doubt that I could tell her about how the notion of an evil supreme being most likely came from the influence of the dualistic Zoroastrians on early Christians.
Do you tell a small child that we, all of humanity, are the devil?
Well, in order not to bruise her delicate psyche and turn her into a religious cynic like her father, I took an easy way out.
“Well, honey, some people think that Satan is a really bad thing that is against God and tries to make you do what you are not supposed to.”
This time my non-answer placated her inquiring mind without resorting to the invalidation of my own beliefs, but it won’t be long until I will be forced to give stronger explanations and at this point. Then, before you know it, the investigations will turn to ideas of sin and evil and the social constructions behind them and, once again, I will be flabbergasted and at a loss for a correct answer that will not tear down the belief structure that she has built.
Whew! Nobody every said that parenting was easy….
Lead Us Not Into Temptation January 4, 2007Posted by Matt in Uncategorized.
Tags: Jesus, Satan, temptation
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Originally posted 1/4/07
Scriptures: Matt 4:1-11, Luke 4: 1-13
Following Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit, with which he had just been imbued following his immersion, then led him deep into a wilderness to be tempted. This calls to mind a later passage when Jesus is teaching his disciples how to pray and one of the lines is, “Lead us not into temptation,” implying that God Himself may put us, a fallen but loved people, into situations conducive to our self-abasement in evil behavior. So that we, like Jesus, may be tested under the duress of perceived pleasure and excitement and power, to give up what matters most.
We read that Jesus was led into the wilderness where He fasted for forty days (As an interesting sidenote, Jesus was not the first one to fast for 40 days – Moses and Elijah also did it), a seemingly impossible feat that would have placed Him in a severely weakened condition – both physically and mentally – and that was when temptation struck. Though we may not be suffering physically from near starvation, it is amazing how allurement of immorality seems to strike when we’ve been nearly subjugated by circumstances. He was also in the wilderness, alone, with no one there beside him to hold him up and urge him onward. In this same way, a lack of community can easily lead to self-degradation in us because we can’t go it alone – we need other people.
We also must remember that this took place directly after His baptism – the time when he took the initial step of obedience. When we make that decision, the biggest decision we will ever make, to put off ourselves and grasp ahold of the robe of God, even just the hem of His garment, indubitably the shadow of wickedness will fall upon us. Now, whether you believe in Satan as an actual demigod-like being or as a social construct of early Christians to put their human shortcomings in perspective (this is a whole series in itself), we can see that Jesus faced trials of the type that anyone would be hard-pressed to resist.
First we see the temptation of food – a tantalizing bit of carnality to sustain this shell of a physical body. With an empty belly and weeks worth of borborygmi, the arduous nature of this task would be tough for anyone who needs sustenance for survival, but Jesus gave him the equivalent of an Old Testament-style verbal smackdown and looked beyond the physical demands of his languishing body to trust in God.
Next He was tempted to flaunt his position as the Son of God by heaving Himself from the pinnacle of the temple so that angels would rescue Him and prove His divinity. It would be difficult to be in a capacity of such power and prestige and not want to boast of your importance. Jesus, though, answered him simply with another jab of scripture recitation.
Lastly, on top of a high mountain looking out over all the world He was tempted, like Adam was millenia earlier, to rebel against God to gain supposed power and rule over the world. Jesus again tersely answered with scripture that “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only,” and it was then that the invitation of iniquity ceased, at least for a time.
In the same way, we are constantly bombarded by the seductive lure of things that are harmful to us – whether in body, mind or spirit. In the same way that Jesus was baited with a loaf of bread to fulfill his temporal yearning, we battle addictions – alcohol, drugs, sex, food or any other host of behaviors that may be licentious in nature. In the same way that He fought the allurement of His prestigious station, we must combat the urge to think ourselves better than others or to use our higher position or ability to show off or lord it over those around us. Lastly, we must fight the primal urge within us for power. Much like Adam and Eve wanting to become like God, we cannot let our human desire for riches and power take control of our actions. Remember, “What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul.”
The temptation of Jesus, then, is a vital lesson to us as Christians dealing with the day-to-day enchantments of immorality whispering in our ears and beating us over the head for attention. It is possible to battle our primal urges toward misdeeds, and, though we may lose more often than we like, as Christians we have the directions to win in the end. So keep the faith, even when you are feeling beat down and alone, and remember the promise that God holds for each and every one of us.