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Skeptical BelieverWe continue our Skeptical Believer sermon series this weekend with the theme: ‘Questions Don’t Hurt God’s Feelings.’

At least, fingers-crossed, we’re hoping they don’t hurt God’s feelings.

Just kidding.

As part of the series, I solicited questions and arguments from you all. Here’s one insisting the challenge go the other way:

“I believe in God and I ‘follow’ Jesus and I even believe he was resurrected, but I have hard time believing that Jesus is God.

I think that makes everything more confusing than is necessary (Trinity) when there’s probably another explanation. Isn’t there?”

Despite, what many people assume Resurrection doesn’t reveal Jesus’ divinity. Nor even is it meant, primarily, to secure or signal our life after death.

Resurrection is vindication.

There’s a story in 2 Maccabees that’s unknown to most Christians today but would’ve been formative for all the Jews of Christ’s day.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes is persecuting the people of Israel. But the problems aren’t all from outside Israel. A Hellenizing movement has developed and lured God’s people away from the Torah, erasing the distinctions that mark them out as the people of God.

In the story, Antiochus attempts to force seven brothers and their mother, by suffering severe torture, to eat pig.

After the first brother is killed, the others encourage each other to entrust themselves to the God who judges justly: “God will have compassion on his servants.”

Maimed and tortured, what possible deliverance can these brothers hope for? There’s personal vindication:

“You, who are marked out for vengeance, may take our present life, but the king of the universe for whose laws we die will resurrect us again to eternal life.” (2 Macc 7:9).

Just as with Easter, Resurrection here equals God’s vindication of God’s suffering faithful–and the evidence that God is a greater, more powerful King than the kings of the earth who torture and take a life.

The fourth brother professes to the king:

“Death at the hands of humans is preferable, since we look forward to the hope that God gives of being raised by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life.” (2 Macc 7:14). 

Yet it’s more than personal vindication; it’s corporate too.

The fifth of the seven brothers:

While looking at the king he said, “You, though human, have power among human beings and do what you want. But don’t think that God has abandoned our people.” (2 Macc 7:16). 

You see, this brother connects their suffering with the people’s sins: the brothers are faithful, yet they are suffering for the sins of the people.

And they have faith that their suffering won’t be the last word:

“Don’t deceive yourself in vain. We suffer these things because of our own sins against our God. Things worthy of wonder have happened. But don’t think you will escape unpunished after trying to fight against God.” (2 Macc 7:18).

It’s in the long monologue of the seventh brother that the atoning significance of their death becomes central:

“We are suffering because of our own sins. If our living Lord is angry for a short time in order to rebuke and discipline us, he will again be reconciled with his own servants. But you, unholy man, the most bloodstained of all people, don’t be so proud without having cause. Bloated by futile hope, you raise up your hand against the children of heaven. You haven’t at all escaped the judgment of the almighty God, who oversees all. Now our brothers, who endured pain for a short time, have been given eternal life under God’s covenant, but you will suffer the penalty of your arrogance by the righteous judgment of God. Just like my brothers, I give up both body and life for the ancestral laws. I call upon God to be merciful to the nation without delay, and to make you confess, after you suffer trials and diseases, that only he is God. Also I hope through me and my brothers to stop the anger of the almighty, who is justly punishing our entire nation.” (2 Macc 7:32-28).

The suffering of the brothers in 2 Macc is:

Because of the people’s sins

Which in turn has provoked the just wrath of God.

Their own suffering, however, is due to a faithful obedience to God’s law.

And this should have the effect of abating God’s anger and inclining God to mercy.

To recap, in a nutshell:

A righteous one is martyred precisely because of this faithfulness.

The obedience of the martyr turns God’s anger to mercy, and the people are delivered.

Despite their faithfulness, the martyr receives another’s just penalty.

God vindicates the obedience of the faithful one by raising him from the dead.

So, to return to the question:

It’s quite possible to retain a belief in the resurrection of Jesus that does not require a corollary belief in his divinity.

Jesus, then, is the Righteous One, the Faithful One, whose obedient life lived for God all the way to the Cross, God vindicates by raising him from the dead.

Incidentally, the ‘Righteous One’ is exactly what Paul calls Jesus in Romans 1, and this story from 2 Macc is what Paul has in mind when he writes that it’s the ‘faith of Jesus Christ’ which justifies us.

Obviously someone determined towards cynicism could argue that 1st century disciples, knowing this story from 2 Macc, applied posthumously to Jesus, but even some cynicism is a bridge too far for me.

To so suggest, after all, flies in the face of 2 Macc’ logic and the rest of the tale which concludes with the formerly oppressed Jews, with God’s mercy now on their side, meting out ass-wooping violence upon their enemies.

“They called on the Lord to listen to the shed blood of those who had appealed to God for help” (2 Macc 8:3).

“Once he organized his army, the Maccabee couldn’t be stopped by the Gentiles, because the lord’s wrath had turned into mercy (2 Macc 8:5).

NOT a Jesus story.

 

Skeptical BelieverI know ‘apophatic’ is a mouth full.

Also called the ‘negative way,’ apophatic theology asserts that God (because God is transcendence itself) is essentially and absolutely unknowable. In addition, because we’re finite sinners we’re constantly prone to cast our projections, assumptions and images upon God, rendering God in our image rather than vice versa.

For this reason, apophatic theology is an attempt to strip away our anthropomorphizing of God by confessing what God is NOT rather than assuming what God is.

 

So rather than saying ‘God is mighty’ we profess that ‘God is not hate.’

Instead of calling God Father we first confess that ‘God is not male.’

Rather than praise ‘Our God is an awesome God’ we sing ‘God is not evil.’

While the apophatic tradition is prominent in all the theistic religions of the world, particularly Islam for what should be obvious reasons, Maximus the Confessor and the Pseudo Dionysius are its most noteworthy Christian practitioners.

I mentioned apophatic theology recently in a worship planning meeting, in anticipation of our Skeptical Believer sermon series. In fact, I commented/observed how apophatic theology flies in the face of most over-confident, anthropomorphized evangelicalism and thus is nearly 100% absent from the airwaves of contemporary Christian music.

Andreas Barrett, our resident bard, took my off the cuff remarks on a Mystical, Medieval tradition and wrote up a song that might’ve made Maximus the Confessor smile (doubtful actually, I mean…you can’t have a very good sense of humor if your name ends in Confessor).

295024_10151240304491769_259193053_nAnyway, here’s the song. The lyrics at least. The music’s an upbeat, fiddle-led country tune:

Heaven’s Knot  ♦  Words and music by Andreas Barrett

I don’t know what you are, but do I need to know? 

I may have once upon a time, but I forgot. 

Now your ways are unknown, but I’ll always be your own, 

All the while I’ll be untangling heaven’s knot

Heaven’s not a place to cry, 

Heaven’s not the stars and sky, 

Heaven’s not a place just past the pearly gates.

I don’t know what you are and though it may appear bizarre, 

I will follow where your mystery awaits.

I don’t know what you are and I may never know; 

Sometimes just a clue would hit the spot. 

But when the truth is unseen, I will still know what it means; 

All the while I’ll be untangling heaven’s knot.

Heaven’s not a place to hate, 

You can’t put that on heaven’s plate. 

Heaven’s no eternal isolation zone.

I don’t know what you’ll be, but it’s pretty clear to me: 

Heaven’s not a place for us to feel alone.

Heaven’s not a place to cry, 

Heaven’s not the stars and sky, 

Heaven’s not a place just past the pearly gates.

I don’t know what you are and though it may appear bizarre, 

I will follow where your mystery awaits. 

I will follow where your mystery awaits.

 

Skeptical BelieverWe’re approaching the hump day for our latest sermon series, The Skeptical Believer: Making Peace with Your Inner Atheist.

Two weeks ago I asked for folks to give me some skeptical grist for reflection and you’ve not disappointed.

Here’s one question cum critique that has more philosophic pedigree than the sender probably realizes:

“If God is Absolute Being, completely transcendent (‘amness’ as you said in your sermon) then isn’t it silly and maybe egotistical too to think that God loves us?

How can BEING ITSELF love beings?”

Friedrich Nietzsche couldn’t have put it better.

Actually, Nietzsche put it pretty much exactly that way, only it probably sounded a lot more impressive delivered in guttural Deutsch.

Though he wrote in the 19th century, Nietzsche’s aggressive and passionate atheist philosophy makes today’s New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett look like luddites.

Nietzsche challenged the general profession of Christians that ‘God loves us.’ Nietzsche did not instead believe the Christian God was cruel or capricious; rather he questioned the assumption that God was capable of loving us.

As strange a pushback as that may sound to Christians, Nietzsche’s is a clever critique.

Inherent to any concept of love, Nietzsche argues is the profound sense of equality it implies between lovers. Indeed, as any married couple can attest, a large part of love is  the recognition of this equality, seeing the other’s existence as valid in its own, recognizing that the other is there equally before you and does not exist simply as function for you. Even in a parent-child relationship, Nietzsche would argue that love there is premised upon the growing equality between elder and younger.

Now if we see equality as a central and necessary attribute to any definition of love, then you can begin to see how whatever we might say about the relationship between Creator and creature, we cannot say it’s one of love.

The relationship is too unequal for love and irretrievably so.

We might say God is caring and compassionate and just and wise towards his creatures but we cannot, because of the infinite, unequal ontological gulf between us, say ‘God loves us.’

For Nietzsche the problem isn’t that God is a wicked boss, the problem is that he will always be a boss- a kind and compassionate slave master nonetheless remains a slave master.

(Never mind for the moment that such an image of God is still fraught with the assumption that God is just another little ‘b’ being in the universe- slave master, after all, is still a creature not a Creator).

Nietzsche’s use of a term like slave master can be distracting but it’s important. Nietzsche understood well what many Christians do not: the distance between God and creation is infinite.

God is not one of us.

And what Nietzsche understood about this infinite led him to loathe God.

Interestingly, Nietzsche’s critique hits upon an insight the Eastern Orthodox have long realized: the gulf between God and humanity isn’t simply a moral one, in the sense that we’re sinners and God is holy.

Even more so, the gulf is metaphysical.

I’ll save a reply to Nietzsche for another day.

But it’s interesting to point out how Friedrich reveals how the incarnation is logically necessary apart from the atonement.

What If There Is No God?

Jason Micheli —  October 9, 2013 — 1 Comment

Skeptical BelieverWe continue our Skeptical Believer series this weekend with the theme: ‘Questions Don’t Hurt God’s Feelings.’

And here’s Woody Allen asking the biggest question of all:

1381692_387083858087384_1966426747_nWhat more could you want for your morning than the silky smooth, sexy sound of my voice cogitating on Medieval metaphysics? Fine, listen to Matt Lauer first and then you can listen to this. Jason with a dog beats Miley Cyrus with a wrecking ball any day.

Here’s the sermon from this weekend:

      1. I'm an Atheist Too

I’m an Atheist Too

Jason Micheli —  October 7, 2013 — 8 Comments

Skeptical BelieverWe kicked off a new sermon series this weekend: The Skeptical Believer: Making Peace with Your Inner Atheist. To bring home a Medieval, metaphysical point, my dog Clara made an appearance in worship and- thanks be to God- behaved herself.
The scripture was John 1.43-51.
I’ll load the audio onto the blog and in iTunes when I have it. In the meantime, here’s the text.

To promote this new sermon series, last week on my blog I asked for people to send me their strongest arguments or questions about God.

Here’s the best (and worst one) I received:

“Jason, there are a lot of questions I could submit to you, but in my opinion, given what science teaches us about the world’s origins, all those questions boil down to the biggest question of all: Is there a God?” 

Back in the summer, when we initially planned this Skeptical Believer series, our goal was to encourage you to question God, to question your faith.

Back in the summer, we hoped this sermon series would give you permission to acknowledge and explore and wrestle with your doubts.

That was back in the summer. But then came September.

In September I preached two sermons: the first on how the Gospels can be trusted as true, and the second on how the Resurrection of Jesus can be trusted as true.

Given the reaction to those sermons, I’m now convinced that this Skeptical Believer sermon series was a terrible idea.

Because you don’t need any encouragement to question the faith.

For some of you, that’s all you do. Question and doubt whatever the Church has taught.

Now I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with questioning; I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with doubt.

After all, by definition the very concept of faith requires doubt.

You can only have faith in what is not certain.

For example, I have faith that my wife will always love me, but that my wife will always love me can never be a certainty.

And if something is not certain then it is not immune to doubt.

There’s nothing wrong with questioning.

Jesus himself in the middle of today’s scripture passage chastises Nathaniel for believing too quickly, too blindly.

The problem is-

I don’t know many people who are like the Nathaniel in the middle of today’s story, believing quickly and without question.

Instead I know a lot more people who are like the pre-Christian Nathaniel at the beginning of today’s story, the Nathaniel who rolls his eyes dismissively at the notion that any wisdom could ever come from a backward, ignorant, archaic place like Nazareth.

I know a lot more people who are like that Nathaniel, who think all religion is, in a sense, “from Nazareth.”

I mean-

If you think you have to choose between intellectual honesty and belief in God, then you’ve simply not understood what Christians mean by the word ‘God.’

If you think empirical science could ever disprove God, then you’ve only proven that you forgot to investigate the ancient meaning of the word ‘God.’

If you think the biggest question boils down to ‘Is there a God?’ then you don’t realize what Christians- and Jews and Muslims and Hindus and even some Buddhists- mean when we say the word ‘God.’

So what I want to do today is actually the opposite of what we’d planned for this series back in the summer.

I don’t want to encourage you to question your faith.

Or rather, instead, I want to encourage you to question your faith in the assumptions the modern world has given you:

The assumption that the 21st century raises questions to which the ancient faith has no answers.

The assumption that Christianity is not as intellectually rigorous as any other discipline.

The assumption that we as modern people know a great many things the ancient Christians did not know- and that may be true, but it’s also true that the ancient Christians knew a few things very well that very few of you know at all.

Namely, philosophy and logic.

So what I want to do today is the opposite of what we had planned and something different from what I normally do.

I don’t want to encourage you to question God.

Instead I want to make an argument, for God-

I want to make a philosophic argument, one that comes out of the ancient Christian tradition, from Thomas Aquinas, who was probably the greatest thinker in the history of the Church.

I want to take you through Thomas’ argument because if you understand his logic then you will understand what Christians mean, fundamentally, by the word ‘God.’

And if you understand that-

Then you will understand why ‘Is there a God?’ is not, in fact, the biggest question.

Rather, God is the answer to the biggest, most obvious question of all.

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imagesSo you’re going to have put on your thinking caps…or just go to sleep and you can read it on my blog on Monday.

Now first, Thomas would say that not only is the question ‘Is there a God?’ not the biggest question of all; it’s not even a good question.

It’s a bad question.

Why?

It’s a bad question because its premise is wrong.

As soon as you ask ‘Is there a God?’ you’ve fallen onto the wrong track because you’re assuming that for God to be he must be an object to which we can apply the adverb ‘there.’

What do adverbs do? They designate place and location. We use adverbs to speak of objects that have a ‘thereness’ to them.

And so we could say there is a cup of water of there, a hymnal over there, someone sleeping in the pew over there.

Or, we could expand it and say there is a building in Paris, France called the Eiffel Tower. Or there is a planet called Saturn; it’s there on the other side of Jupiter.

But in that sense, ‘there’ is no God.

Because God is not an object in the universe.

And it doesn’t matter how many universes there are, or even if they ceased to be, because God is not an object in any of them either.

You can’t find God like a astronomer would discover a new galaxy or a chemist would discover a new element. God is not object that can be found that way.

In fact, in all the great theistic traditions, an object is the one thing God cannot be.

Even though we speak of God as having human and material attributes- because it’s impossible to pray to an abstraction- God is not an object in the universe like you or me, like the moon or a molecule or a cup of coffee.

Just think of the most important story in scripture for understanding who God is:

Moses at the Burning Bush.

Having grown up pagan, Moses assumes this God he’s encountered is just another object, just another little ‘g’ god, in the universe.

So what does Moses do? He asks for God’s name.

By asking for God’s name, Moses is trying to attach a ‘thereness’ to God: Are you the god of this place or that nation? Are you the god of these people or those people? Are you the god of the soil or the sea or sex?

And what name does God give Moses?

‘I am who I am.’

Or, it can be translated: ‘I will be who I will be.’

In other words, God is Amness itself. God is Being itself. God is Existence itself.

It’s what St Paul says in Acts: ‘God is the one in whom we live and move and have our being.’ 

It’s what St Augustine said: ‘God is beyond our utmost heights but more inward to us than inner most depths.” 

Or, to put it in the words of the most famous rabbi of all:

It’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s pretty damn good. Like the force, God is transcendent: God is beyond everything that is.

But because God is Being itself, God is within everything that is.

That’s why Thomas would say the only good answer to the bad question “Is there a God?” is to say:

‘No, God…is.’

I know at some point this gets so abstract it can make your brain hurt.

But look, I barely understand how my microwave works so why would we ever assume that God is simpler?

Any God who is easily comprehended is not worthy of worship.

Even still, I want to make this as clear as I can.

Thomas says ‘Is there a God?’ is not a good question, and it’s definitely not the biggest question.

For Thomas, the biggest, most radical, most obvious and, if you grasp it, the most life-changing question to ask is this:

How come?

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The question ‘How come?’ can have many different meanings and you can ask ‘How come?’ at several levels.

And the deeper the question you ask about an individual thing, the more it becomes a question about the world to which that thing belongs.

Until eventually you get to the deepest question about that thing, which turns out to be a question about everything.

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I know that sounds complicated so let me make it plainer:

IMG_1342

This is Clara. Ali and I got her right after we got married.

Suppose you ask the question: ‘How come Clara?’

If you asked ‘How come Clara?’ I could answer the question by naming Clara’s parents at the horse farm outside Richmond where I bought her 12 years ago.

On that level, I wouldn’t need to say anything more. The question’s been answered on that level.

But suppose then you ask: “How come Clara’s a dog?”

And I could answer: Because Clara’s parents were dogs and dogs are born from other dogs.

You see, you’ve now moved to a deeper level of questioning. You’re asking about what dogs are.

You’re saying for Clara to be is for her to be a dog and Clara’s parents are the sorts of things whose activities result in things being dogs.

So now your original question ‘How come Clara?’ has deepened into a question about the dog species.

Your question ‘How come Clara?’ at this new level is a question ‘How come dogs anyway?’

And of course we could answer that in terms of genetics and natural selection. We could say Clara is an frisbee dog because one or both of her parents were awesome frisbee dogs.

Which is then a new and deeper level of the question.

‘How come Clara?’ is still a question about my particular dog who’s eaten at least 9 of my left shoes, 3 lobsters and 1 pot of gumbo in her lifetime, but it’s also a question that’s answered in terms of how Clara belongs to a wider community- not simply dogs but the whole biological community to which dogs belong.

But then, you can ask the question about Clara at an even deeper level.

When you ask ‘How come the biological community of which Clara is a member?’

I could answer in terms of biochemistry. I mean, I couldn’t actually answer in terms of biochemistry but I could find someone to do it for me.

And then from the level of biochemistry you could take the ‘How come’ question to the level of physics, and every time, at every level you can ask increasingly penetrating questions about Clara.

And each time you go further with the question ‘How come Clara?’ you’re seeing Clara in a wider and expanding context.

To put it another way, each time you ask the question ‘How come Clara?’ you’re asking about Clara over and against some other possibility.

The first question ‘How come Clara?’ simply meant ‘How come Clara is this dog rather than another dog?’

The second level question asked ‘How come Clara is a dog rather than another species, say a newt?’

At the third level question, you’re asking ‘How come Clara’s a living, biological creature and not an inanimate object?’

You see, every ‘How come Clara?’ question is ‘How come this instead of what is not?’

Now, the biggest, most radical question is not ‘How come Clara exists as this dog instead of that dog?’ or ‘How come Clara exists as a dog instead of an elephant?’ or ‘How come Clara exists as a living biological creature instead of as an inanimate object?

No, the biggest, most radical question is this:

How come Clara exists instead of nothing? 

Just as to ask ‘How come Clara exists as a dog?’ is to put Clara in the context of all other dogs, to ask ‘How come Clara exists instead of nothing’ is to put her in the context of everything.

You and me, the world, the universe.

How come you instead of nothing? How come me instead of nothing?

How come the world instead of nothing?

Why is there something instead of nothing?

Whatever the answer is to that question, whatever reality answers that question- Thomas says that’s our starting definition for ‘God.’

You see, Thomas wants you to realize that the mystery is not how is the universe.

The mystery is that the universe is at all.

That Clara is.

That you are. At all.

If you grasp what Thomas is saying, it should knock you over and fill you with wonder over every little stupid detail of your life.

It is

Now, if I haven’t lost you yet then maybe you can see how what’s usually called atheism is not actually a denial of the God that Thomas and the ancient Christians believed in.

Usually someone who calls themselves an atheist is NOT denying the existence of some answer to the question ‘How come there is anything instead of nothing?’

Usually someone who calls themselves an atheist is denying what they THINK religious people believe:

that there is some Great Architect, a little ‘b’ being

called God

who designed and created the world in 7 Days

and now sits up there somewhere in heaven

sending down arbitrary blessings and curses upon the world.

But if denying that makes you an atheist, I’m an atheist too.

And Thomas Aquinas is an atheist too.

And St Augustine is an atheist too.

And most of the entire Christian tradition is atheist too.

 

Most atheists get atheism wrong because they get wrong what we mean by the word ‘God.’

And to be fair, many of them get it wrong because a lot of Christians get it wrong too.

But genuine atheism actually requires more faith.

Genuine atheism refuses to see the mystery Thomas makes so obvious.

Genuine atheism has faith that things just are.

But that’s like saying ‘Dogs just are.’

In the face of all logic and no supporting evidence, genuine atheism insists with certainty that what is, is all there is.

Genuine atheism is content to ask questions within the universe, but cannot see that the existence of the universe itself raises a question that it cannot answer by itself:

How come?

Why is there something-anything- instead of nothing?’

Once you see what Christians mean, fundamentally, by the word ‘God,’ that God is the answer we give to the question ‘How come there’s anything instead of nothing?’ then you can see why it’s stupid for Christians to argue over interpretations of the creation story and why it’s even dumber to suppose science could ever prove or disprove God.

Because what Christians truly mean by calling God Creator has nothing to do with an event called ‘creation’ that occurred at some fixed point in the past.

How the world came to be might be interesting but it’s irrelevant.

Because when we say God is Creator, we mean that God is the Source and Sustainer of Existence itself, now as much as in the beginning and every moment in between.

And God’s the Source and Sustainer not just of the universe but all the scientific laws and mathematical principles within it.

Think about that-

God would still be Creator even if all that existed were scientific laws and quantum states.

Because everything, at every moment, relies upon God for its existence.

That’s why the image of a candle flame is a ubiquitous symbol for God in all the theistic traditions of the world. God’s creative sustaining is like a candle flame in a room at night, and should that flame ever go out, the room would immediately go dark.

 

You could push back on Thomas’ argument.

You could argue that even if its true that ‘God’ is the reason there is something instead of nothing that doesn’t prove that Christianity is true.

And that is the case.

Logically proving that God is rationally plausible does not prove that Christianity is true.

Nonetheless, Thomas would tell you to think about it again.

If everything, as Thomas says, is contingent.

If everything, at every moment, relies upon God for its existence.

If everything in your life, at every second of your life, is a something that could be nothing. Without God.

Then everything, everything in your life, every moment of your life- existence itself- is completely gratuitous.

It doesn’t have to be. It’s not necessary.

Everything, in other words, is gift.

Which is just another word for grace.

And if everything in existence is grace, then God, at an Absolute level, is Love.

I don’t mean God is loving.

I mean God is Love.

And if God is Love, then the universe’s blueprint, its design, its grain, its logic is Love.

Then whatever it means to say a religion is ‘true’ it means that the religion corresponds to the logic of the universe. To the logic of God.

And maybe that’s why, just a few verses before today’s scripture, the Gospel of John calls Jesus just that, God’s logos.

Made flesh.

God’s logic.

 

 

 

 

 

Skeptical BelieverThis weekend we begin a short sermon series entitled the Skeptical Believer: Making Peace with Your Inner Atheist. 

Here’s a quick little film from Mr Deity in which a prominent atheist mocks religion. It’s funny but as so often happens with popular atheism and its resultant satire, the ‘god’ in question isn’t God- at least not how the Christian tradition has conceived of God.

I guess I should point out that the bearded guy is meant to be God, Jesse = Jesus and Larry, the syncophant, is the Holy Spirit. ‘Lucy’ referred to in the sketch is…Lucifer.

Skeptical BelieverThis weekend we’re kicking off a new sermon series, The Skeptical Believer: Making Peace with Your Inner Atheist.

Last week I solicited best-shot arguments for why we should NOT believe.

I’ll give a free copy of Daniel Taylor’s The Skeptical Believer to what I think is the best argument for doubt/disbelief…there’s still time. Lemme know.

I have received a lot of responses so far, some predictable, some ancient and intractable and others truly, profoundly (dare I say…Christianly?) moral.

Here’s an argument that echoes an experience I had in my first theology class at UVA. It was a small class and our TA had been slicing and dicing Thomas Aquinas’ proof for the existence of God on the chalkboard when a classmate spoke up, like he was talking to himself:

“That all makes sense, logically, but why is it that some people have an actual experience of God but I never have?”

A reader of the blog put a similar point this way:

“I’ve never had an experience that’s even remotely close to anything described by other believers….no miracles, no healings, no “encounters with the risen Christ,” etc. All I’ve had is the vague sense of rightness in the world (this world screams “I love you”) while walking through the woods while the sun is going down. Stuff like that.

Without an experience of God of any kind, how can I believe on the same level that others do?

And why would I be expected to? And why would the God who created the human brain reward me for essentially silencing it?”

It’s a good rebuttal, if not of God then definitely how religious people so often speak of God. If there is a God, then why is it that so many haven’t experienced God’s presence or reality? And why have others?

Does the fact that so many people never experience God for themselves ‘personally’ call those people into question? Or God?

Is it more likely that religious people who claim to have experienced God are actually deluding themselves? Attaching the ‘G’ word to their own psychological experience?

Or does God simply keep his people, actively or passively, from experiencing him?

And thus keep people from believing in him?

And if so, even if God is real is such a God worth believing worshipping?

I suppose you could say its’ their fault, that such people have allowed their doubt or cynicism or rationalism or apathy to close them off to the possibility or presence of God (and I’m sure in some cases that’s exactly the problem).

But then isn’t that not a little like blaming the victim? Is big enough to take the blame?

A Reason to Doubt God

Jason Micheli —  September 30, 2013 — 4 Comments

Skeptical BelieverThis weekend we’re kicking off a new sermon series, The Skeptical Believer: Making Peace with Your Inner Atheist.

Last week I solicited best-shot arguments for why we should NOT believe.

I’ll give a free copy of Daniel Taylor’s The Skeptical Believer to what I think is the best argument for doubt/disbelief…there’s still time. Lemme know.

I have received a lot of responses so far, some predictable, some ancient and intractable and others truly, profoundly (dare I say…Christianly?) moral.

This is an example of the third- and what I take to be the most compelling- kind:

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“Why someone wouldn’t believe in God?

My sister is profoundly mentally retarded.

She was born with a clef lip and palette.

She is 44 years old and still has trouble walking.

She still wears diapers.

And she is deaf.

And mute.

 

And she gets mad.

When she gets mad, she smashes her head into a corner.

And busts it open.

And it bleeds like mad.

Having known her, I know what I wouldn’t have known otherwise:

That there are multitudes of other people with similar conditions.

Nobody talks about caring for the retarded.

We all have sympathy for the sick child (and with good reason), but people like my sister are forgotten about by the mainstream (by God?).

People like my sister are made into jokes by callous people (“What are you, retarded or something?”).

My sister is cared for by an underpaid, overworked, and understaffed group of huge hearted people.

But, that’s an example, at least in my mind, of why someone would challenge the belief in God.

I’ve gotten over it, but it’s mostly by saying that I simply don’t get it.”

Jason talking:

I wish I didn’t need to make the point, but my time in ministry tells me I can’t repeat it enough:

If you feel the need to ‘explain’ this woman’s disability, ‘justify’ God’s purposes in it or, for that matter, say anything pious at all (eg: ‘God is with her in her suffering’)…

Then you’ve just made this ‘Reason for Doubt’ a ‘Reason for Disbelief.’

Next weekend, we’ll begin a 3 part sermon series called The Skeptical Believer: Making Peace with Your Inner Atheist.

I get to kick-off the series, and I thought I would do so by tackling Doubt and Disbelief as seriously as I possibly can.

And I’d like your help.

What do you think is the best, most compelling reason not to believe in God?

It can be an intellectual argument or it can be a moral argument. Your choice.

If you’re a believer, what’s that nagging doubt in the back of your mind?

If you’re a believer without any nagging doubts, first get real and then put yourself in the shoes of a skeptic and give me a reason not to believe.

If you don’t believe in God at all, give me your best case.

I’ll give/send a free copy of Daniel Taylor’s book, The Skeptical Believer, to the person who gives the best argument.

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