Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Relationship Between Faith and Obedience

This is DAY 2 in a 7-day discussion of claims that non-theists made when I posted a quote about faith on my Facebook Wall.

One reason I think it’s harder for me to really trust God, is that trusting him, according to the Bible, requires a much more intimate obedience. He demands things like “deny yourself” and “take up your cross and follow me.” I fail at these unpleasant tasks every day, but he asks me to try nonetheless. When I do fail, he requires that I confess, that I acknowledge the failure before him, which entails an uncomfortable degree of humility. I am supposed to repent, or to work my way backward to the point where I went wrong (took the wrong path off the straight and narrow way, in the metaphor of The Pilgrim’s Progress) and start again on the right path.

That’s a challenge, because everything within me wants to object: “No, I’m better than that, I shouldn’t have to be so wrong all the time, I should be able occasionally to do what I want and not have to crucify that particular choice or desire.” Wanting to be our own gods is, after all, what got us into all this trouble in the first place. It’s a hard habit to break.

I bring this up so early because I think it’s a fundamentally important point in this discussion. As I observe the objections of various so-called non-theists I see a lot of human pride (unrepented-of) masquerading as intellectual objection. “If God will only do this to prove himself, I will believe in him.” Or “I think our brains are biochemically wired to believe in a God who isn’t there.” (Unspoken: “Therefore I can do whatever I want and not be held accountable.”)

Both of my non-theist friends claim that they were once believers. Given that assumption to be true, they have each revealed in their own writings a specific point in their journey where they launched out onto what would be considered (in the context of the faith they once embraced) a wrong road. Like Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress -- like all of us do from time to time -- they got off the straight and narrow.

But rather than repent (turn and go back, find the right road and start over) they have apparently (so far, and insofar as I can tell from what they have written) persisted in pushing forward on the wrong road. The Bible reveals that this kind of behavior has the effect of numbing us to the voice of God in our lives. We are shouting him down. To our perspective it seems that his voice grows quieter and quieter, until eventually we can’t hear it at all. “There must not be a God,” we conclude – and is that with a tone of relief?

Our study in Romans convinces us that, ironically, we all -- even the Billy Grahams and Mother Teresas among us -- in so many ways and every day, turn down the wrong road. And it is all very easily forgiven (easily in the sense that the enormous price has already been paid, and God is simply waiting for our honest confession of failure). In a moment of lust King David, “a man after God’s own heart,” claimed for himself the wife of a man who was a loyal follower. To cover up his adultery he had this loyal follower secretly murdered. For an entire year (described in Psalm 32) he persisted on a road of hiding this sin, while it burned a hole in his heart. Finally, confronted dramatically by a friend about his sin, he came to another critical crossroads. He could persist down the wrong road, or he could turn and go back. The story can be found in 2 Samuel 12.

God does not force himself on any of us, and King David had the choice of saying to Nathan: “Off with your head!” Instead he chose to repent: “I have sinned against God.”

If you're not astonished by what happens next, you don't get the gravity of the story. Nathan says to David, “Your sins are forgiven.” Just like that. What? That was way too easy. His sin was so grievous!  No matter, the price was paid, it was a done deal.

Yes, there were still life consequences. There always are, which is the nature of sin -- it hurts us and others around us. That’s why God hates it so: sin creates pain all the way around, and separates us from him. But the thing is, it wasn’t about David. Yes, he was a sinner. It isn’t about us. Yes, we are all sinners. It’s about God, and the price he was willing to pay to put us back on the right path … if we are willing to be put.

My point is this: God is constantly making his appeal to us through whatever means he chooses to make it: Repent! Believe in your heart, confess with your lips. Turn back to the straight and narrow. Start again. God’s mercies are new every morning.

I’m talking to myself … I have to do this every day. So it’s not hard for me to ask you (“dear reader”) to do the same thing. I honestly don’t believe any of you so-called “non-theists” out there are any better off – or any worse off – than I am. We are all in this storm-tossed boat together.

That said, I will next address some specific points raised in the various things I read which both of my non-theist friends wrote, so please tune in tomorrow for my take on why it doesn’t make sense to demand “proof” from God.

11 comments:

Elizabeth Grattan said...

And you prove my point yet again.

You think I'm on the "wrong road" and need to get back to the "straight and narrow" and indulge fantasy again.

You call it pride and ignore the very accurate intellectual arguments that there is zero basis to believe in "soul" or "spirit". You don't have to like that your entire belief system comes from only begging the question, but it does.

I think it's flat out dumb for someone to "demand proof from god". I said that to the other poster.

But it is hardly dumb to base beliefs on evidences. And it isn't a mask being worn to hide from the illusion you happen to have.

Suggesting that without a belief in a god people aren't held accountable is a totally false argument. I see theists make those claims a lot. It's baseless.

A human being in no way is required to believe in a deity in order to be responsible or accountable.

It's just that they aren't accountable to your system.

Kris said...

Elizabeth - since you were once a Christian, what do you now believe?

Larry Short said...

I agree that beliefs should be based on evidence. Something tells me it's not going to be productive to argue philosophy with you, but personally I find cosmological and teleological arguments for the existence of God (as first cause and designer) compelling. I also consider Holy Scripture to provide a trustworthy and compelling basis for informed faith.

OK, so it's your turn. What do you believe? And what's your evidence?

Elizabeth Grattan said...

I believe in the human brain.

And the fact that there is zero evidence for "soul" or "spirit" outside of the concepts of this brain.


Suggesting that the scriptures provide a basis again, begs the question.

Larry Short said...

Given the nature of what spirit is supposed to be (residing in the realm of the spiritual, as opposed to the material), what evidence would you expect to find (if it were true)?

Dave Eagle said...

Hi Larry, I understand your original post on facebook was a statement meant to encourage your Christian brethren. I was a Christian for 35 years and back when I was a Christian I would have seen the logic of your statement. But now I see this statement from an Atheist’s point of view and I pointed out that having faith in anything requires a belief that at some point you could find evidence for its existence. The doctor you mentioned, the medicine, the diploma etc could be researched if the person wanted to and verified to be real. Some people do not require much in the way of proof to believe in something but these people are rarely classified as skeptics, other people require verifiable proof before they can believe in the claims of the supernatural/God. I like the phrase extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.
You may find it odd that I would use or quote the bible and call myself an Atheist but I have found that in talking to Christians they will tell me that I am this way because I have never read the bible, but in fact it was when I actually read the bible from Genesis to Revelation that I became an Atheist.
I used the Heb 6: 4-6 reference for humor, I was not saying that God would turn his back on an individual who was once a Christian and then fell away. I was saying that, for me, it is the person who can not come back to God because just like when you are young and believe in Santa Claus, once you come to the realization that Santa Claus does not exist it is impossible to go back to believing in Santa Claus again. Santa would take you back but the person can not go back to believing in him again.
The proof that I stated in my responses to your posts is what I would require as a proof, someone else may require something different and that would be up to them to decide.

Larry Short said...

Thanks David, this is very helpful perspective.

I think that the meat of what I wanted to say in response to your requirement for proof, I said in today's blog posting. It's the longest one and so I beg your patience as you read it. But I think it most directly addresses your situation (from my perspective).

As I mentioned to Elizabeth, I do agree with both of you that faith should be based on evidence. By "evidence" I include what legal courts would also include in their definition: the consistent, factual testimony of multiple eyewitnesses deemed trustworthy. But it's not just that alone. In his letter to the Romans, Paul said that we can learn a lot about God through nature (His creation), which is fundamentally the teleological philosophical argument which I find so compelling. Paul also claims that our knowledge of God is built in to our hearts (what the ancients called "natural law," our conscience or our fundamental grasp of right vs. wrong, good vs. evil.

I realize that there are philosophical arguments against both of these points; for instance, those who argue against natural law being teleological evidence might propose that it's simply a matter of cultural conditioning. But as I look at the reality of life around me, I don't buy it, such an argument seems counterintuitive. As a parent, you don't have to teach kids to do wrong; they know "intuitively" how to do wrong, and they also know that it's wrong. They have a pretty good built-in moral compass of fairness, and they are often unfair despite knowing that they are unfair. Just as a for-instance. I also mentioned earlier about how our conscience condemns us when we sin secretly (in a manner that we don't think should actually be hurting anyone). That to me is evidence of the truth of natural law.

At any rate, at risk of being too longwinded again, let me say I appreciate your position, and your honesty, and your patience as I am seeking to "give a reason for the faith that is within me." I don't think it's fantasy, I think it's reality, and I know there are many other people (some of them way smarter than me, some of them way dumber) who would agree. I don't think smarts is the point.

But I do enjoy and appreciate the opportunity for dialogue. Hopefully we can meet face to face again sometime -- it's been too many years!

Elizabeth Grattan said...

Larry: eye witness testimony is the WORST testimony a court could use. You know this, right?

Also... your question regarding "spirit" again begs the question. You start from a premise that doesn't work, assuming a "spiritual" exists.

There is no evidence of "spiritual". Period.

Elizabeth Grattan said...

Larry you said: "I don't think it's fantasy, I think it's reality, and I know there are many other people (some of them way smarter than me, some of them way dumber) who would agree. I don't think smarts is the point."

Right, because appeals to the masses is often what survival of the fittest comes down to, unfortunately.

But it isn't logical to appeal to masses as some sort of "rational" argument for why it isn't fantasy. It's very much documented that masses manipulate each other. Mob mentalities often give people justification for very very flawed beliefs.

Elizabeth Grattan said...

How did I miss all your comments about "wrong" and such?

Larry: there is no evidence of a moral gene or universal more. That you claim a child "knows" to be wrong and it isn't taught is so subjective. Humans are SELFISH as a species. Altruism simply is not a default. And it is CONDITIONING that causes any behavior of "norm". The study of others happens immediately after birth. Including processing all expectations.

The nature argument doesn't work either. You are appealing to ignorance. Suggesting "nature" is proof of a god isn't backed by anything other than a desire for some sort of "design" or "purpose".

Joe Hendricks said...

Not all non-theists base their agnosticism/atheism on 'lack of scientific evidence' - the post WW2 existentialist authors, for example, based theirs on an experiential philosophy that life is full of absurdity and chaos.

Not all theists are free from considerable intellectual doubt, either. They choose to believe in spite of those doubts.


I see the same variety within the scientific community..an evolutionary biologist is far less likely to "believe" in "free will" than a quantum phycisist.

Interesting and healthy dialogue here, thanks for the link!