The thing is, I’m as much surprised by my 2-year-old faith in Christ as anyone. I’ll be the first to admit that my disbelief, resistance, and straight out antagonism toward Christianity for my adult life came directly from what I saw as the intellectual incompatibility of Christianity and the observable / known and experienced world. This manifested itself in two very broad categories: 1: How could a loving God damn good people who just never knew him or believed in another world religion?
2: If Christianity is true*, why were Christians causing such havoc, mayhem, and strife, rather than promoting peace? This, I guess could be reminiscent of Ghandi’s quote, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Both of these questions, though, were based on an unspoken and unacknowledged premise: That people are naturally good and are merely corrupted by their environment, desires, and necessity. I guess this would mimic Spinoza’s assertion that the forces of fear and desire drive mankind in almost every sphere of life. Accordingly, if mankind is good, then eternal damnation of good people has to be wrong as is the divisiveness of many Christians. The problem with all of this is that I believe that I allowed a critical fallacy masquerade as truth, which completely confused the entire deliberation process. If man is naturally good, then it would stand to reason that somewhere there is a pocket-like utopia of good people who don’t murder, lie, steal, or in all other ways imaginable make each other miserable. This is not the case though. Everywhere it’s the same: anger, frustration, governments masequering each other only to be taken over by another bloodthirsty rebel group that does the same thing. Over and over. The entire history of the world is riddled with violence and tragedy. That’s why we call “happy endings” fairy tales, since they are so obviously untrue. This forced me to change my premise and concede that man couldn’t be naturally good, but rather naturally selfish and arrogant, even to the point of self-destruction. Romans 1 gives a pretty clear explanation of all of this chaos:
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Here, the author is pointing out that the creation itself points to a creator, so to not believe in him is to be “without excuse”) 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. [ . . .] 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. And Romans 8: 20 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22
Here, the author is pointing out that since man rebelled and continues to rebel, God subjugated man and creation (eg. The universe, nature, etc) to “futility.” In other words, for our entire lives, we will strive and strive and strive and fight and claw to achieve but then ultimately we’ll just die like everyone else—all for nothing. No one will remember us and all of our possessions will eventually be in some random garage sale and /or garbage dump. Within only a few generations, we will likely be completely forgotten. So I guess the point is this: God made man and gave him rules to live by to enjoy complete happiness. Man rebelled from God, broke his rules, and sought to be, in essence, his own master / god. Like every government, complete tyranny and rebellion deserves punishment. So by our own acts, mankind deserves death for defying God and spitting in his face after he gave us life and so many material, spiritual, and intellectual blessings. Regardless of God’s patience with us, humanity was stubbornly “darkened in their understanding” and “calloused” (Ephesians 4:18-19),“slaves to sin” (Romans 6:17), “dead in [their] trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), with a deceitful and desperately sick heart (Jeremiah 17:9) that suppresses the truth of God’s goodness, rule, and beauty (Romans 1:18). We are rebellious not only because of what we do, but also who we are. We are “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). Due to this rebellious disposition, the bible says that “no one seeks God” (Romans 3:9-12).
But God, being unimaginably loving and patient, glorified himself by showing mankind mercy through Christ’s death and resurrection, adopting those who follow him as his children and giving their lives transcendent meaning and purpose, rather than futility. (As the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), Christ died to pay what we rightly owed. Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” 1 Timothy 2:5-6 “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time;” Ephesians 1:7 “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace…”)
So through God’s grace, question 1 was gradually answered for me. Since I am now convinced that on our own, humans will just continue to brutalize each other until we die (Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”), my picture of God’s punishment as being injustice flipped completely. Since I believe that he made everything, the universe and everything in it (again, another assumption, but one that I feel is completely justifiable since it seems more reasonable to me that this great complex universe was designed—rules of science, codes of “common morality” and all—it seems perfectly logical to believe in a designer behind the design) then he must also have a complete right to rule over everything.
This makes his punishment of his creation not only warranted but absolutely necessary to maintain his glory and place as creator and sovereign. If he doesn’t reign in and punish those who rebel, how could we accurately say he is the ruler and king over everything?
Indirectly, this changed my answer to question 2: With man fundamentally evil, the process of becoming more like God couldn’t possibly be an easy or simple journey. We are all going to majorly screw it up again and again. But God’s crazy grace is that through our mistakes, he teaches us to be more like himself.
Since that time, I have witnessed countless examples of God’s spirit changing my motives and desires, and molding my heart toward himself. It’s hard to imagine and I know all of this sounds a bit crazy—mostly because it is!—but there’s the truth of it. God has a crazy amount of love and a crazy amount of patience to pursue those who so frequently curse and rebel against him. This was a long time coming for me, believe me. But I can’t express to you the beauty of Christ and his power in revolutionizing your life and filling your life with happiness. In other words, I believe pursuing Christ is hedonism at its purist form since only in him can true, lasting happiness abide, regardless of circumstances (Psalm 16:11”You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”).
For more information about Christianity or the beliefs of the Village church, go here: http://fm.thevillagechurch.net/articles
*(Since “Christianity” can be a murky definition, here is the one I was using: There is an all-knowing, all-powerful, perfectly just, perfectly merciful, triune God-head—The Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit—and that God (the father) sent his son, Jesus to be born as a human, becoming both fully God and Fully man. Jesus lived a perfect life and through his death, he absorbed the full extent of the just wrath of God towards mankind’s rebellion (e.g. sin). And that Jesus was dead, buried, and on the third day rose from the dead, appeared to hundreds of eye witness, and ascended into heaven. Since then, he sent the Holy Spirit to live inside believers and comfort, instruct, convict, and grow them in Christ as they seek to glorify God with their lives and tell others of his sacrifice. Phew! Sorry, that was a bit of a runon thought. )