Monday, 24 April 2017

Unsurprised by injustice?

In the Bible, there seem to be conflicting views about quite what to expect from God in this life in terms of justice. On the one hand, you have the idea that if you are good, then God will reward that good attitude and action with blessings and safety, and conversely, woe betide the one who crosses God's law. The biblical authors, really early on, worked out that is not at all how it works out in reality. The sun rises on the good and the wicked. Job realised this; others realised this; yet they continued to believe.

Today, faced with the apparent injustices of our world, coupled with other reasons, many no longer feel a need to embrace theism. They don't "reject God". If the world rejected me, I would be the loneliest man alive, but I would still be alive. Rejecting-God language is the language of believers - not of unbelievers. But let's get back to this interesting slice of the biblical worldview that says:

- God is about justice!
- This world is unjust!
- God, what is going on?! This is rubbish, God!

What I like and what I don't like about this biblical view

I really like the way in which writers like Philip Yancey encourage honest and disappointed Christians and seekers (I put myself in both categories) to properly wrestle with the incompatibilities and ask God all the hard questions. Nothing - literally no deep, disgusting or shameful desire or emotion, should be kept from God. He wants 100% honesty, and as a result, we become more honest too. Who would not count it as a blessing to be more integrated and single-minded human?

I also like the fact that the biblical promises of justice can be interpreted eschatologically. That is to say that one day, from a Christian worldview, there really will no longer be any selfishness, pride, manipulation, pain, harm, and so on. To feel a sense of injustice now, is not only a confirmation of the later but a commissioning to do something about it. With Tom Wright's utter blessing, John Dominic Crossan describes the period in which we live as participative and collaborative. What he means is that God enrolls his people is a powerful Judeo-Christian mutation from within the Jewish worldview in order to advance to completion the establishment of his Kingdom, no longer through fairly dramatic and direct divine intervention, but from the new Christian perspective, Christ has spent his Father's Spirit in order to empower his people to usher in this future kingdom rule in the here-and-now.

What is there to not like? Well, like everyone else, there are times when I suffer and question. I hope that I will never give up my faith as a result. I very nearly did do exactly that when in 2014 I realised how weak I saw the direct biblical evidence to be for Jesus being "fully God" (according to my categories), and I can say it was not a very liberating experience. I always want to question things and doubt things - sounds awful, right? But in this context, not liking some aspects of how I see this biblical perspective I think can be healthy in keeping me honest in my faith.

I currently co-host a podcast with my friend Reinald in which I play a role - a role that is true to my mind - of being skeptical about some Christian apologetics. We are scheduled soon to do an episode or two on the question of biological evolution. I always want to identify the risks of the various positions that seem available. I side strongly with the dominant scientific consensus that evolution has indeed taken place to produce life. I enjoy linking this to God's enormous creative ability and the privilege of being shown more of his workings than previous generations (and thereby realise that this is less than future generations). Also, and in part thanks to Reinald's caution on evolution, I am in no way discouraged in thinking this happened despite the limitations in current explanatory power of the workings of evolution. It's humbling, that's all.

But I am nonetheless exposed to risk. There's nothing special about that - all views about pretty much most important things that people debate are exposed to risk. What is my risk? My risk is the deist God. This is the God who doesn't need to intervene much in human history. He set things up so perfectly, why should he? And there's the apparent paradox. A perfect creator doesn't need to fix anything.

What about apparent injustice? Well, it's just about drawing people closer to God, that way they can go deeper and get properly philosophical about truth and God and meaning? It mobilises people into a sense of empowered, corrective action? But what corrective action is there for the profoundly loving and caring Algerian mother in palliative care probably just months away from abandoning her three daughters?

The risk is the same as with evolution. On the one hand, it can be deeply inspiring and mobilising. On the other hand, you can legitimately ask the question: what difference does God actually make, i.e., what is the difference between belief in the active existence of God and active belief in the existence of God? That is my risk. The point is that, at the end of the day, we have a choice. To believe or not to believe, the choice is yours. It is a true choice. Since I am a skeptic, I am deeply skeptical of Christian views that overstep their bounds about the evidence for the active existence of God, and I also feel very skeptical about refutations of the Kalām cosmological argument, from which I am certain all theistic apologetics must flow.

So, belief that justice and injustice have meaning is a choice. To believe that they have theological meaning is another.

I have to confess, as I wrestle with my model of the Triune Hub of first-century Christian faith, why on Earth might God confer a new perspective through me, someone who struggles with the fundamental choices? Perhaps God needs skeptics, loves skeptics even! Maybe they help keep us sane and encourage honesty on important issues that affect him and how he is perceived in his world.

For me, the fundamental choice is eternally preserved by the New Testament writers, who insist over and over and over again, that God acts in this world through his agents. A lot of Christian apologetics ignores this, in part because it undercuts some of their other concerns, such as demonstrating the deity of Christ. But it is perhaps the most radical message of the Christian gospel, right there, that we are significant in this Kingdom-come melarky.

Blessings. Choose well. John

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