Monthly Archives: March 2015

Why do some respond?

Robert Barron says

We are called to announce the good news to everyone, but not everyone will listen. Once we’ve done our work, we should move on and not obsess about those who won’t listen. Why do some respond and some don’t? Finally, that’s up to God.

Why do some respond and some don’t? Presumably it’s not due to God, but due to the people. This goes to the basic idea in Christianity that humans possess free will, and therefore are free to accept or reject a closer relationship with God.

What is the problem of natural evil really about?

Typically, the problem of natural evil notes cases of extended, significant suffering. From this, it infers a lack of something like the Christian God.

It is natural evil in the sense that it doesn’t directly have to do with human actions.

If the Christian view is taken seriously, however, the problem isn’t why there is suffering, but rather why there is an existence before something like Heaven at all.

This is because almost all times when people are in the mundane existence, they are not full of blissful rapture, say. They do not have the ‘beatific vision’, to use Christian terminology. So, why any of these sorts of non-optimal experiences, instead of just skipping that and going directly to Heaven?

Rather than being the totality of the theoretical problem, it is the instances of extended, significant suffering which make the theoretical issue emotionally acute. It causes us to seriously start to push towards a coherent view of the universe, and make sense of various ideas (like an ‘omni’ God) in light of experiences in mundane existence.

So, instead of ‘why is there suffering?’, the question becomes ‘why is there existence besides a Heavenly existence at all?’

This is to ask, what is the point of non-Heavenly existence? This question in turn leads to the question, what is the context of mundane existence?

The Unicorn

[S]omeday the unicorn will suddenly appear at your side, eyes flashing, nostrils quivering, pawing the ground with impatience. When that happens, do not try to put a bridle on him, or to look for some task for him to do. He will not do it, and there will not be time. No sooner does he appear than off he will go again. So do not pause to think twice, do not turn to look behind you. Leap upon his back, for he is a flying steed, and he will wing his way to the gates of the morning. On that ride problems are not solved – they are dissolved.

(Emmet Fox, Diagrams for Living)

A beautiful metaphor! Fox here is giving an exegesis of The Book of Job, and using the mention of a unicorn as an opportunity to build a characterization of an aspect of the divine will.

Note that this characterization would not happen if Fox were using the contemporary convention of substituting ‘wild ox’ for ‘unicorn’ in the relevant part of The Book of Job (Job 39:10 – Fox is using the original King James version).

A problem with The Bible

For someone coming to Christianity through The Bible, there are a few problems that can easily trip one up.

1. ‘The Bible’ means ‘The Book’, but The Bible is more accurately a collection of texts. It is in a sense better understood as a library than a book.

This means you have different authors, writing in different times, with different intentions, styles, and so on.

These texts were selected because early, prominent Christians thought they were important and at least in some sense divinely inspired.

2. The Bible is arranged roughly in a chronological order. It is not arranged in order of importance to a Christian. For example, the first book in The Bible is the First Book of Moses, known as the Book of Genesis (‘genesis’ = ‘creation’, and because The Bible is arranged roughly chronologically, it’s at the beginning).

Yet, the First Book of Moses is not central to most Christians’ theory or practice. Rather, it is the four Gospels (near the end of The Bible) describing the teachings and actions of Jesus of Nazareth that are the most central, then probably followed by the letters (‘Epistles’) of St. Paul and St. James. This is because what is central to Christianity is not Judaism (from which you get the Old Testament and therefore the bulk of words in The Bible) but (not surprisingly) the Christ, which is the focus of the New Testament, and which occurs late in a chronological ordering.

A more natural ordering of The Bible would array things in an order of importance.

The standard Universal view is that the Book of Genesis is a mythological work – of spiritual and moral allegory. Starting with that book and trying to figure out Christianity would probably not be much easier than starting with the last work in The Bible, The Book of Revelation, which is (more obviously) full of symbolism and allegory.

3. It’s easy to not be able to see the big points amid the details. Befitting what is actually more a library than a book, there are lots of details in The Bible. Different settings, people, themes, literary genres, and so on.

As a start, The Bible is about the character of Moses (Law) in the Old Testament, and Jesus of Nazareth (Love) in the New Testament. Yet, if you were to start reading the Old Testament, it would be easy to not even get to the parts about Moses.

4. Similarly, it’s easy to try to understand The Bible in a legalistic, point-by-point fashion, instead of trying to understand the arc of the narrative, and how parts in one place are answered in another place. For example, in the Old Testament there are ordinances against eating certain things, and reading just that you would think Christians are against eating pork or shellfish. Yet, in the New Testament Jesus says that it is not what a person eats that makes them unholy. It’s very easy to miss context, especially when the relevant context ranges over a large number of books, contexts, authors, and so on.

Which is all to say, it’s important to get the gist of Christianity vis a vis The Bible first, then work on the details, and those while focusing on what is more central to Christian practice.

However, here it is important to keep in mind that different versions of Christianity have different takes on what the gist is. Calvinism is different from Mormonism which is different from Catholicism which is different from Baptist views which is different from New Thought, and so on.