Thursday, March 30, 2006

Fallen Philosophies

My friend ochuk has had an interesting ongoing discussion about falling away from faith on his blog. I began to respond, and then realized I have my own damn blog, and don't need to abuse his comment board. I don't know whether this is interesting or thought provoking for those who don't believe in Christ, but I'd love to know your thoughts as well.

You can read the posts for yourself, but it is essentially a discussion of what it means to fall away from the Christian faith. Today's post focuses on the four philosophies used to describe how this might manifest itself.

The problem inherent in any of these philosophies (and in the broader discussion) is mankind's inherent tendency to make it about him. We want to make this about will power and winning races and achievement and fabulous prizes. In an attempt to relate to this desire, God infuses the Bible with comparisons to races and prizes. These metaphors are encouraging, and make some sense of an intangible enterprise, but they do not completely explain it.

We want desperately to make this about works (see Catholicism) and not about faith. Why? Because behaving and acting a certain way seems a much easier target for spiritual enlightenment than faith. A rich man can do right by giving away some of his fortune. A nice man can devote his time to charities or social work. Etc... etc...

This is old philosophical territory. Christ provides the answer that at first seems simple, but in practice requires a suspension of earthly values that is profoundly difficult. Not only does Christ command us to do good, but he requires us to extend grace to those who do not. Further, he requires us to accept his grace when we do not. The latter two are difficult for most, the third impossible for some.

See, our inherent guilt complex wants to make faith also about punishment (see Catholicism again). We are accustomed to negative consequences for our actions. That's how the world works. It feels right, and so we project this value system onto God, and ignore grace, or redefine, or add modifiers to it.

Once we have assessed ourselves on this guilt/rewards continuum, we locate a philosophy that gels with our view of God's grace. Those who have very consistent faith patterns, free of peaks and valleys, read the Bible as one in which we can fall from faith at any time. Those who spend months away from the faith, only to come back and achieve great things from the Lord (depression-sufferers tend to fall into this category) have a view of grace that is all-encompassing, wherein God never leaves you behind, whether you turn your back on him or not. Industrious people tend to look toward a heaven where rewards go to those who worked the hardest.

But all of these descriptions are problematic in that they draw a line in the sand. Some people get heaven, some don't, some sort of. How the chips fall depend on what you've done. Metaphors about races and prizes are taken in excruciatingly literal terms, and we measure our faith accordingly. Obviously, that doesn't work, but I still can't see a heaven that doesn't reflect our lives here on earth.

If Heaven is a kingdom devoted solely to God (recall that no such kingdom, even the church, exists on earth) than only that which makes sense to God makes sense in heaven. In one of his essays, C.S. Lewis describes hell as being in the constant presence of heaven, but completely unable to understand it.

Personally, I want to understand God, to know him, to engage him, and be like him. To the extent that I have devoted myself to that pursuit, (and I'll concede that I'm doing a lousy job of it now) I will enjoy his presence eternally. Perhaps that isn't the most theologically accurate interpretation, but I can't imagine failing by this standard


Blogger Adam Omelianchuk said...

Thanks for writing about this Kevin. I think people come up with these ideas first, to interpret the Bible, second to protect a presumed theology, and third to answer hard questions about why any would walk away from God.

What is interesting about the NT is that the Apostles did not spend that much time explaining all of this. They seem to 1) preach a gospel of grace, 2) implore people to live lives worthy of it, and 3) warn those that don't. I don't think Paul or any of the other big cheeses would validate any of the philosphies that were outlined because all of them are defective.

1:32 PM  
Blogger Kevin Sawyer said...

I agree. I think part of the need to explain it in concrete terms is the whole "what if I died today?" thing. I don't think anyone, at any given moment, feels all that holy or sanctified.

1:43 PM  
Blogger renee said...

"How the chips fall depend on what you've done."

and this still comes out to be expecting something of me that i simply cannot offer. even when the only work asked of me is to love Jesus, i fail miserably and would venture to guess that i'm not alone. this is beginning to make less sense, not more, to me.

8:45 AM  
Blogger haynes said...

I guess the way that I look at it is the idea of God shouldn't matter. That you shouldn't live your life a certain way because Jesus told you to and because God's got a special seat with your name on it if you do, but helping people is the right thing to do. Appreciating and respecting the world around us is the right thing to do. Understanding the vast differences across the spectrum of humanity and tolerating them for what they are, because it's the right thing to do, and you'd expect it from anyone else. I don't need a God or a Jesus or a book to tell me this. And i know that it's hard for a lot of people, and i understand that there's no clear way to outline what is "right" and what is "wrong" and both change from person to person. But I do believe in a universal morality that people can achieve. And I don't think that can be acredited to God. I think it's a natural thing. As natural as the freaking birds flying south for the winter. I just also believe in a corrupt race of people that will never be able to come to terms with that.

I don't know if I actually said anything.

Nice post, though. I appreciated it.

6:36 PM  

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