Post number 4 (following 'God's nature - obscured'):
I haven’t written a post in this series for a while. In the meantime I’ve been having some great discussions on two relevant topics - which I’ll quickly mention here. At some point I may modify my earlier posts to reflect these subtle changes in my thoughts :)
Firstly I’ve been challenged to recognise the value and limitations of both modernism and post-modernism. The value of modernism is in its drive to know everything, including the details of reality. But it is limited by pride and an excessive focus on ‘reductionism’. The value of post-modernism is in recognising the flaws of modernism, becoming aware of the integral nature of bias and worldview and subjectivity in ‘knowledge’, and becoming aware of system synthesis knowledge (above and beyond reductionistic knowledge). But it is limited by its rejection of absolute truth and inability to challenge the bias it recognises to change. One day I will write a proper article on this, but until then I hope my posts reflect a balanced approach to knowledge pursuit :)
Secondly I’ve been researching the Hebrew concept of ‘spirit’, and I’ve recognised the Hebrew concept of ‘spirit’ is not so much about a ‘non-physical’ aspect to reality (they definitely did NOT believe this was true!), but IS more about an ‘eternal’ aspect to reality. Referring to ‘spirits’ is not really defining what they are, but it is defining their nature and function - i.e. eternal. Exactly how our souls are eternal is up for debate - maybe there IS a separate ‘thing’ called a spirit, but that is definitely not clear in Scripture.
With that in mind, lets talk a little about human nature, in preparation for discussing how God’s nature interacts with ours. This post (along with the next) will be unashamedly deterministic ;) I'll deal with the issue of human responsibility in post number 6.
Remember I'm very keen for your input (and disagreements)!
Humans are created uniquely in the image of God, a pinnacle in the creative expression of His character.
This means we are conscious ‘spirits’, but are created primarily to interact with the temporal fleshly realm. Our souls are thus dualistic in nature - having both spiritual and fleshly aspects and purposes.
Being spiritual means two things. Firstly, we have the potential for spiritual senses - altering our perceptions of reality/pleasure, moulding our character, giving spiritual aspects to our wills/desires/emotions, etc.
Secondly, even when our body dies, we are eternal, meaning our souls and characters are contiguous throughout life and death.
Although God’s character is potentially perceivable spiritually, our fleshly perception is infinitely more influential on our characters than our spiritual perception. This is because we were created to experience and interact primarily with this realm.
Thus ANY evil in the fleshly realm inevitably results in a perception of evil which cannot be combated by mere human ‘spiritual’ perception of God’s goodness. This means that, if any evil exists in the fleshly realm, every single human is destined to fall.
Total Depravity states that all of humanity can ONLY fall and develop sinful characters (collectively known as the ‘sin nature’ of humanity) in the face of life with evil, and that faith is thus impossible.
This was demonstrated by Adam’s Fall, but not CAUSED by Adam’s fall. The curse did not involve forcing Adam’s offspring to have a different ‘fallen’ nature to what Adam originally had. It merely involved a further propagation of evil, which demonstrates we all have the same nature as Adam. This is why God can judge us ahead of time ‘in Adam’, because Adam was a true representative of us.
For humanity to sanctify and develop holiness and faith, God must do something - either supply full total fleshly saturation of His character (eliminates evil, and thus the possibility of faith in the face of evil), OR powerful spiritual perception of His character (beyond our spirit’s natural capabilities).
God requires the existence of evil (and thus human total depravity), and His justice subsequently demands that this evil and sin be dealt with (which is why all men are judged in Adam).
God’s justice is itself a necessary expression of God’s love - possibly the most necessary aspect, because without it the very importance of God’s character to our pleasure is thrown into question. Since God is infinitely important to the universe, sin is infinitely terrible, and only an infinitely terrible display can demonstrate this. Infinite suffering of humanity, or finite suffering of an infinitely important person, is required.
But His love not only desires justice, but ultimately for all mankind to delight in His goodness. How can these things be reconciled?
God Himself - the most infinitely important person in existence - came to demonstrate the seriousness of sin on our behalf, by suffering and dying - the atonement.
The atonement allows God to forgo the removal and punishment of any evil/sin that He sees fit - and so demonstrate other aspects of His love - without compromising His justice.
The atonement is as expansive as God can have it. We know God desires it for the whole world. It is offered to the whole world. It is sufficient for the whole world. And the whole world is required to accept and love it.
But the atonement is none-the-less ‘limited’ in that it only actually keeps a select few people from Hell. Since God can mould all characters as He sees fit, this must be a deliberate act on God’s part, known as election or predestination.
The election has two huge implications. It means that God deliberately separates humanity into two groups, including a select group of specific people to be in Hell, AS PART of His entire aim in all that He does - His expression of Himself, in relation to other beings (I’ll discuss this more later).
And if Hell is inescapable once there, it means that this expression is in fact targeted at a select group of specific people in heaven, and NOT at all of creation.
How does this election work? Scriptures teach that God does not elect based on any intrinsic merit. It also teaches that EVERY aspect of our souls (including faith) has merit attached.
Thus election cannot be based on foreknowledge of our existing/inevitable faith or sanctification. But it must be based on something, since God is far from random!
God has chosen a particular collection of people to develop a particular set of characters, via particular processes, in relationship to the complexities of the rest of His creation (including other people) - SO THAT the end result is the greatest possible expression of Himself to as many people as possible.
- Humans have a dual nature - spiritual, but focused primarily on the temporal fleshly world
- This means that evil in the fleshly world inevitably leads to humanity falling - Total Depravity
- We are judged in Adam because Adam is our perfect representative - we would have all behaved as Adam did
- The atonement demonstrates God’s justice, freeing Him from demonstrating it in other ways (e.g. removing or punishing evil immediately)
- The atonement is evidentially limited, which must be a deliberate decision on God’s behalf - meaning some are elected, others are not.
- The election is unconditional, and yet our faith is ascribed merit in Scripture, meaning the election cannot be based on ‘foreknowledge’ of inevitable faith.
- The election is not random, but is ultimately based on God's drive to use complex processes to maximise the display of His character to as many people as possible.