Thoughts On Hell, Sin, Grace, Works

I was raised by a United Methodist minister and so, while my father saw to it that theological matters were frequently the topic of discussion (and debate) within our home, the topic of hell rarely came up. Methodists are often known for their outspoken position on many subjects but hellfire and brimstone is not one of them.

Imagine my discomfort, then, when recently my eleven year old earnestly asked me for my thoughts on hell. I knew there was much more hanging in the balance of her question than I was equipped to answer on 30 seconds’ notice, and so I did the only prudent thing I could think of – I asked her for some time to think it over.

That night, I remembered the one time I decided to pigeon-hole my own father into an answer on the subject.  We were alone in a boat in the middle of a mountain lake, the day was beautiful and silent and I felt it was the perfect time to spring an ambush; and so I asked.  He obviously wasn’t expecting my question, but he just slowly exhaled through his teeth as he so often did when he thought deeply on something.  When he finally gave me his simple answer, I found it to be so quietly profound that it would shape my thinking on the subject for years to come.

He said he had no idea what hell is truly like; whether or not it actually resembles Dante’s vision of a lake of fire with capering demons tormenting dispossessed souls with pitchforks.  He said that to him hell was simply the awareness of, and the desire for, God while being completely and irredeemably separated from the presence of God.  He said that if that was indeed the nature of hell, there was really no need to threaten him with Dante’s eternal fire; the cold reality he imagined was, to him, far worse.

So in answer to my daughter’s inquiry, I sat down and began to sketch out my own vision of hell, or at least the mechanics involved, based on my emergent theology.  When I was finished, I found I had actually drawn up a fairly concise summary of the core of my beliefs, not just around hell, but also on the nature of sin, God’s relationship to mankind and my own (again, very simplistic) answer to the old “grace vs. works” conundrum.

So here is a summary of my serendipitous discovery- my personal theology in a nutshell.  If someone stumbles across this post, is gracious enough to read it in its entirety and wants to take issue with any portion of it, please do so.  I am still (and always) learning, though I do I feel these points are scripturally based and not some “Oprah-fied” version of Christian thought.  Finally, while I reached all of these conclusions on my own, I know none of this is uncharted territory.  As in G.K. Chesterton’s analogy of the man who sets out to discover a new land and ends up “re-discovering” Europe a few miles from his own home, I know this has all been covered before, somewhere; but here goes-

1. Scripture tells me- and I believe- that God is perfect in his Goodness, and as such, does not dwell in the presence of sin.

2. God has created and ordained man to reflect both his nature and his will here on earth.  Christ himself made this clear.  Our true “human”-ness, that which is the better part of our nature,  is therefore also our “Godly”-ness.

3. Because of these two points a person cloaked in sin does not reflect the nature of God any more than a dingy, dust-covered mirror can reflect the morning sun. (C.S. Lewis has a great analogy along these lines but I can’t seem to find the quote right now.) Sin, for want of a better description, makes a person opaque. But more than just opaque, sin creates a barrier that precludes the very presence of God in the sinner’s own heart. God, in his perfectness, chooses not to abide in the presence of sin; we, as humans, are free to choose whether or not to allow sin to take root in our lives.

4. As humans we are to pray (converse with God) worship (experience God) and attempt right living (demonstrating God) in order to banish sin in our own lives and “polish” the spirit, therefore more fully reflecting God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.

5. Works, therefore, are merely part of right living as we assimilate into God’s nature. I believe we are saved by God’s Grace, but in that saving, we are expected to continuously define ourselves by doing God’s will in our world. In other words, as we are forgiven a huge debt through Grace, we should actually live as someone who has been forgiven a huge debt.  This outlook and practice is how the world should most clearly distinguish God’s people from others.

6. Heaven then becomes less of a reward, at least in the classic “carrot and stick” sense of the term, and more of a natural extension of one’s relationship with God and one’s continued refinement of the spirit. Someone might counter that this is “salvation through acts” but that is not actually the case, unless one is contrasting this way of life with the alternative of doing absolutely nothing and merely waiting for the kingdom of God.

7. Hell, therefore (and this is where I know I will run afoul of more fundamentalist viewpoints) is less a recompense and more of a logical conclusion to our own actions.  God has given us free will, and just as I have afforded my children free will, this means allowing us to live with consequence. When my children choose to break one of the rules my wife and I have set for them to live by, they know with no uncertainty what the consequence to that transgression will be. Though we may be angry or disappointed in their behavior, the consequence itself does not arise out of our anger or disappointment, but rather their own actions.  It is not retributive; it is simply cause and effect within the framework of our family.

So when one purposefully chooses to allow sin to dominate their life, they are simultaneously allowing God’s presence in their life to be diminished.  When God’s essence is irredeemably extinguished, either by personal rejection of God or by death in sin, that person simply no longer has a place in God’s kingdom.  God’s condemnation, therefore, comes from the framework of free will he has created in his universe, not from a vengeful spirit or personal retribution.  We walk ourselves into hell of our own accord because we have extinguished God from our lives.  To say otherwise is, to me, a refutation of Christ’s assertions that ours is a God of love.

8. Mankind is not perfect as God is, and therefore we are incapable, on our own, of adequately banishing sin to the point where we might reflect something as perfect as God.  Thereby the atonement arising from the sacrifice of Christ’s humanity, even within his own divinity, becomes the mechanism through which God and man can be reconciled.  God experienced life as a human; man experienced a human who represented what our true nature is intended to be.

So that is it; at least as of November 2012.  I’m a neophyte, both in writing like this and in my newly discovered faith. I don’t promote this blog yet because I don’t really feel I write well enough to ask people to read it.  However, if someone happens across it and wants to critique these thoughts I would be extremely grateful for any constructive input.

Thanks, Mark

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28 Responses to Thoughts On Hell, Sin, Grace, Works

  1. Citizen Tom says:

    If you are a neophyte, you are doing a good job of hiding the fact. I don’t see much to dispute in your explanation of Hell.

    What is the purpose of punishment? Punishment is designed to change behavior — to teach those who would sin the consequences of sinning. Hell is not punishment; it is the consequence of refusing to learn. Hell is the consequence of being forever in the state of sinning.

    That’s why Jesus offered us this choice.

    Matthew 7:13-14 Good News Translation (GNT)

    The Narrow Gate

    13 “Go in through the narrow gate, because the gate to hell is wide and the road that leads to it is easy, and there are many who travel it. 14 But the gate to life is narrow and the way that leads to it is hard, and there are few people who find it.

  2. Pingback: THE THIRD FEAR | Citizen Tom

  3. sean samis says:

    Matt,

    I was directed to this post from Citizen Tom’s repost. You comments are quite good, and you had me through point 6. Point 7. is where you delve into what Hell would be given the previous points. Unsurprisingly, this is where I think you run off the rails. No blame on you is intended; I think that’s about where the rails end anyway.

    If (as 7. says) “God’s condemnation, therefore, comes from the framework of free will he has created in his universe,” then the Problem of Evil asserts itself. If “God is perfect in his Goodness, and as such, does not dwell in the presence of sin” (in 1.) and “sin creates a barrier that precludes the very presence of God in the sinner’s own heart. God, in his perfectness, chooses not to abide in the presence of sin” (in 3.) then the dilemma: if God is perfect and does not abide the presence of sin, why did he create sin in the first place? Why would God create something that actually precludes his presence and which he detests? How could sin “preclude” God’s presence; is sin more powerful than God?

    If free will leads to sin, does God have free will? If yes, does that mean God sins? If no, then free will does not of itself lead to sin. Why would it lead to our sin? On answer is that we sin because we misuse free will.

    Hypothetical: an adult gives a small child a loaded pistol (something small enough for the child to use: a “Saturday night special”). Is the child responsible for deaths or injuries caused when that child unwittingly fires the pistol? I think most would agree that the adult bears the responsibility, the guilt.

    If free will is the source of our sin, why in Heaven’s name would God give us the very thing that leads us into something that God detests? I cannot make sense of that. If God is perfectly good and all-knowing, then God knew what free will would lead us to. Knowing that it would create sin, God gave it to us anyway. Wouldn’t this make God culpable for the harm caused by sin and negate his “perfect goodness”? I don’t know the answers, but that’s no reason to avoid the questions.

    One response is that, unlike the child, we have knowledge of how to act and therefore we know how to use free will appropriately. God has told us what to do and what not to do. (Bible, anyone?) It’s on us.

    That sounds good until one looks around. Sin and its evil consequences are everywhere. It seems God’s instructions did not work. Why is that?

    The first answer that occurs to me, drawing from my own experience is that God has never spoken to me. Not a syllable. Never. Everything I know about God comes from other humans.

    Perhaps God has never spoken to most people, if any. Perhaps I am quite ordinary in that. It could be said that perhaps God speaks in ways that we don’t know it is he who is speaking. Perhaps; but that does not help much. What God chooses to hide no man can find.

    If I have an impulse to do some act X, how do I know if that is the secret prompting of God? Or a sinful impulse? Unless God overtly speaks to me or you, we have nothing to guide us but the teachings of others who tell us they have been spoken to by God, or who tell us they know what God wants.

    Are not these human guides sufficient? I don’t know how that can be. How can we know these guides are telling us the truth?

    There are literally hundreds–if not thousands–of Christian sects and denominations, all claiming to draw from the same Bible, but they draw sometimes wildly different beliefs. The Westboro Baptists teach things that my Catholic and Methodist backgrounds cannot accept, and vice-versa I’m sure. Catholics and Methodists don’t agree on everything either. If God intended that certain humans instruct the rest of us, why are there so many disagreements? Was God unclear? Did God choose his prophets poorly? Or is human sin so pervasive that even God cannot get around it? Is this something that defies even the Power of God? Again, I don’t know the answers, but that’s still no reason to avoid the questions.

    When we add the non-Christian religions to the mix, the confusions and questions multiply wildly.

    If God is perfectly good and cannot abide sin, why in Heaven’s name would he allow this situation to come about? I truly just don’t know.

    Here lies the appeal of the old saying that “God moves in mysterious ways”. Indeed. If God is all powerful and all knowing, then God can accomplish anything by any means. Martin Luther (who I don’t much like) reportedly said something to the effect that instead of sending Jesus, God could have saved the world with an ass braying in the Alps. I can’t source that comment, but I see no flaw in the claim. So what I cannot comprehend is a purpose or goal that God seeks to achieve which requires God to allow sin to flourish. I can’t think of how there could be any goal to which God did not have infinite flexibility to achieve. If sin and evil are not required, if God could have created the world without them, then their existence is by God’s choice. Evil would exist because God wants it to. But what does that do to the idea that God detests sin?

    So here is where I am at:

    First: God is perfectly good. God is omniscient and omnipotent. God created everything that exists. Nothing exists except that which God wanted to exist. God detests sin.

    And yet: sin and evil consequences of sin pervade the world. Confusion about God’s commands and expectations pervades the world. People who think they are following the word of God persistently murder or oppress those who disagree.

    Perhaps we need blame the Devil/Satan/whatever you want to call him. But wait, did God not create Satan? If yes, then isn’t God responsible (culpable for, guilty of) Satan’s foreseeable actions? Is Satan strong enough to resist even the Power of God? Is sin more powerful than God? Is Satan? More uncomfortable questions.

    Citizen Tom wrote a comment asking, “What is the purpose of punishment? Punishment is designed to change behavior—to teach those who would sin the consequences of sinning. Hell is not punishment; it is the consequence of refusing to learn. Hell is the consequence of being forever in the state of sinning.”

    There is some appeal to this, it tries to address a question I have omitted, what the purpose of punishment is. But the answer opens other questions: what is the purpose of eternally tormenting someone who cannot or will not stop sinning? I could see causing the extinction of their souls upon death, but not keeping them in eternal torment. What purpose could that serve? If punishment is designed to change behavior, what is the purpose of consignment to eternal, endless punishment? It seems gratuitous, and gratuitous suffering seems inherently evil, and God is not evil. Right?

    And what is the purpose of enabling us to do things that harm ourselves and each other and create barriers between us and God? Surely God could foresee such events, why would God enable them?

    I believe that faith does not require one to ignore these questions or to fashion answers to unanswerable questions. I believe that faith requires trust in God’s goodness in spite of those questions. One who cannot have such trust just does not have faith.

    I believe that faith is not belief in God. Faith is belief about the character of God. Faith is TRUST in God’s goodness. The nuance there may be subtle: belief not in God, but in God’s Goodness. Is that even possible? This “Goodness” without God? I just don’t know. I’ve been pondering that for a long time, without a clear resolution.

    • Mark Knox says:

      Sean,
      I’ve just read through your post (twice actually) and you raise some challenging and deeply profound questions, many of which I have wrestled with or continue to wrestle with myself. Let me digest it for a bit and then I will reply back. Thank you for posting your thoughts here. As I said before, I want my notions to be knocked around and challenged- it’s the way we learn and progress in our faith journey.

      Thanks,
      Mark

    • Mark Knox says:

      Sean,
      I know this will be an extremely long post but your questions and comments were extremely insightful and I wanted to respond back to as much as I could. These responses are all my own. I did have to google the name of Laura Dekker, but everything else was written off the top of my head while pondering your questions in a kind of rambling “stream-of-consciousness” style. If I seem to speak anywhere in these responses with any type of authority, I don’t mean to. I have none- I’m just articulating an argument based on my beliefs at this given moment. If these response don’t resolve anything for you, maybe one or two of them will at least point to something you’ve yet to consider.
      Thanks again for your comments. They were extremely helpful to me.
      Mark

      Ps. My comments are bolded with all but the last having a bullet beside them. Thanks!

      Matt,
      I was directed to this post from Citizen Tom’s repost. You comments are quite good, and you had me through point 6. Point 7. is where you delve into what Hell would be given the previous points. Unsurprisingly, this is where I think you run off the rails. No blame on you is intended; I think that’s about where the rails end anyway.
      If (as 7. says) “God’s condemnation, therefore, comes from the framework of free will he has created in his universe,” then the Problem of Evil asserts itself. If “God is perfect in his Goodness, and as such, does not dwell in the presence of sin” (in 1.) and “sin creates a barrier that precludes the very presence of God in the sinner’s own heart. God, in his perfectness, chooses not to abide in the presence of sin” (in 3.) then the dilemma: if God is perfect and does not abide the presence of sin, why did he create sin in the first place? Why would God create something that actually precludes his presence and which he detests? How could sin “preclude” God’s presence; is sin more powerful than God?
      I’m thinking my use of the word “precludes” might have muddied the water, as I don’t believe evil can actively “preclude” God; evil exists where God does not. I meant that the presence of evil precluded a heart that is able to reflect God into the world.
      If free will leads to sin, does God have free will? (God created free will If yes, does that mean God sins? If no, then free will does not of itself lead to sin. Why would it lead to our sin? On answer is that we sin because we misuse free will.
      I think the basic dilemma here is do we truly have free will? Do we have a God-given choice between doing good and doing evil? I believe that we do; and, in believing that, I realize that in order to create choice, God would have to create something to serve as an alternative to himself. Whether evil is a cognitive, malevolent force or just the out workings of a part of creation God withholds himself from, I do believe that God created evil; and he created it in order for free will to exist.
      • I don’t believe God has “free will” because “free will” describes a state of being created by God. God obviously has choice in what to do with his universe, but free will describes a state that is less than God because it was created by God. Therefore God’s thinking is not bound by free will, and no, I don’t believe that God sins.

      Hypothetical: an adult gives a small child a loaded pistol (something small enough for the child to use: a “Saturday night special”). Is the child responsible for deaths or injuries caused when that child unwittingly fires the pistol? I think most would agree that the adult bears the responsibility, the guilt. If free will is the source of our sin, why in Heaven’s name would God give us the very thing that leads us into something that God detests? I cannot make sense of that. If God is perfectly good and all-knowing, then God knew what free will would lead us to. Knowing that it would create sin, God gave it to us anyway. Wouldn’t this make God culpable for the harm caused by sin and negate his “perfect goodness.
      The question here becomes WHY do we have free will? To which I would ask, what is the alternative to free will- would God simply want automatons in a perpetual stasis of unwavering goodness and worship?
      • But, given your hypothetical, I offer another metaphor- – As parents, do we lock our children away in some insulated environment to protect them from every illness, every injury, every heartbreak; or do we instead impart what love and wisdom and guidance we can and then send them out into the world to find their own way, knowing full well that the world might just devour them? Do we love them less by choosing the second alternative? Are we therefore culpable for any harm that befalls them simply because we chose to give them the freedom to make their own decisions? If not, how then can we hold God culpable for offering us free will, when we have every opportunity to choose the right path rather than the wrong one?

      I don’t know the answers, but that’s no reason to avoid the questions.
      I really love this statement, and it perfectly sums up my attitude on the subject, as well. I think we should question within our faith until our dying breath, no matter where it takes us.
      One response is that, unlike the child, we have knowledge of how to act and therefore we know how to use free will appropriately. God has told us what to do and what not to do. (Bible, anyone?) It’s on us.
      That sounds good until one looks around. Sin and its evil consequences are everywhere. It seems God’s instructions did not work. Why is that?
      I simply think of the fallen world as yet another example of free will, writ large. Throughout the bible we have this cycle of transgression, judgment and redemption occurring over and over at both the individual, as well as the national, level. The habits of the individual are mirrored in the habits of the nation and, on a larger scale, the habits of the world. The fallen aspects of the world, then, are just a reflection of the fallen man. That said, there is also much good and beauty and kindness in the world, just as there are many righteous people among the fallen.
      The first answer that occurs to me, drawing from my own experience is that God has never spoken to me. Not a syllable. Never. Everything I know about God comes from other humans.
      Perhaps God has never spoken to most people, if any. Perhaps I am quite ordinary in that. It could be said that perhaps God speaks in ways that we don’t know it is he who is speaking. Perhaps; but that does not help much. What God chooses to hide no man can find.
      God has never spoken to me, either- not that I myself have ever actually devoted one true moment to preparing my heart to listen. But I do know that God spoke to my father; I know it because my father told me he did and because I knew very well my father’s nature. I will post about that experience in detail sometime, but when I think about this concept of drawing faith from others’ experiences in lieu of my own, it is like the scientific observance of a black hole in space. We can’t see the black hole itself, only the way it affects matter that it comes into contact with. I may not hear the voice of God, but I can observe profound changes in the lives of those he has spoken to and, until he speaks to me directly (if he ever does) that will have to suffice and I’m good with that.
      If I have an impulse to do some act X, how do I know if that is the secret prompting of God? Or a sinful impulse? Unless God overtly speaks to me or you, we have nothing to guide us but the teachings of others who tell us they have been spoken to by God, or who tell us they know what God wants.
      Are not these human guides sufficient? I don’t know how that can be. How can we know these guides are telling us the truth? (I knew the nature of my father
      There are literally hundreds–if not thousands–of Christian sects and denominations, all claiming to draw from the same Bible, but they draw sometimes wildly different beliefs. The Westboro Baptists teach things that my Catholic and Methodist backgrounds cannot accept, and vice-versa I’m sure. Catholics and Methodists don’t agree on everything either. If God intended that certain humans instruct the rest of us, why are there so many disagreements? Was God unclear? Did God choose his prophets poorly? Or is human sin so pervasive that even God cannot get around it? Is this something that defies even the Power of God? Again, I don’t know the answers, but that’s still no reason to avoid the questions.
      To me, the flaw is in the interpretation and in the willingness (or unwillingness) of individuals to internalize God’s word. I believe God’s prophets came and spoke truth to the masses, but they were often rejected by the people until it was too late and hindsight eventually bore out their truths. I believe the words of Christ were (literally) God-breathed and yet, one generation out from his flawless teachings, we see strife in the early church and Peter and Paul themselves arguing over whether gentiles could even become Christians. It doesn’t matter the simplicity or the purity of the message; we will distort it, twist it to promote our own agendas and use it to oppress others. Christ himself was crucified through the actions of God’s own high priests; demonstrating that we humans, left to our own devices and agendas, will get it wrong every time.
      • Scripture is there for us to remember both the commission and methodology for getting it right.

      When we add the non-Christian religions to the mix, the confusions and questions multiply wildly.
      If God is perfectly good and cannot abide sin, why in Heaven’s name would he allow this situation to come about? I truly just don’t know.
      Here lies the appeal of the old saying that “God moves in mysterious ways”. Indeed. If God is all powerful and all knowing, then God can accomplish anything by any means. Martin Luther (who I don’t much like) reportedly said something to the effect that instead of sending Jesus, God could have saved the world with an ass braying in the Alps. I can’t source that comment, but I see no flaw in the claim. So what I cannot comprehend is a purpose or goal that God seeks to achieve which requires God to allow sin to flourish. I can’t think of how there could be any goal to which God did not have infinite flexibility to achieve. If sin and evil are not required, if God could have created the world without them, then their existence is by God’s choice. Evil would exist because God wants it to. But what does that do to the idea that God detests sin?
      Earlier this year a 16 year old girl from Holland named Laura Dekker became the youngest person to solo circumnavigate the globe. Her parents were roundly criticized by folks in thier community and the Dutch courts even tried to order her to be homebound. However, with her parents’ help, she won her court case and sailed off into certain danger. Most folks would look at those parents and say “what’s wrong with those people? Are they insane letting their little girl sail off on her own? Were they incapable of restraining her?”
      The truth is her parents were absolutely capable of keeping her from making that voyage. She simply couldn’t have done it- not only without their consent but without their continued support.
      But they let her go, and look what she accomplished. That’s the way I see God; he gives us his guidance and his word that he is with us, and then sets us off into a broken world. We could die or be killed, be tortured for our beliefs, have our children stripped from our arms in the middle of a tsunami. God doesn’t want any of those things to happen to us anymore that Laura Dekker’s parents wanted anything bad to happen to her, and yet he sends us into the world with the assurance that all will be set to rights in the end.

      So here is where I am at:
      First: God is perfectly good. God is omniscient and omnipotent. God created everything that exists. Nothing exists except that which God wanted to exist. God detests sin.
      And yet: sin and evil consequences of sin pervade the world. Confusion about God’s commands and expectations pervades the world. People who think they are following the word of God persistently murder or oppress those who disagree.
      Perhaps we need blame the Devil/Satan/whatever you want to call him. But wait, did God not create Satan? If yes, then isn’t God responsible (culpable for, guilty of) Satan’s foreseeable actions? Is Satan strong enough to resist even the Power of God? Is sin more powerful than God? Is Satan?
      I’m fairly certain that Satan, if Satan exists within the form most Christians suppose him to, exercised his own free will and was cast down for his sins. Satan is not more powerful than God- we see in the book of Job that God had to allow Satan to afflict him. Without God’s assent Satan could not have touched Job, a righteous man. The story of Job was, to me, a test of free will. Just how much adversity could a righteous man endure before turning away from God. Job shows us that it can be done; that a human can endure almost any adversity and remain steadfast.
      More uncomfortable questions.
      Citizen Tom wrote a comment asking, “What is the purpose of punishment? Punishment is designed to change behavior—to teach those who would sin the consequences of sinning. Hell is not punishment; it is the consequence of refusing to learn. Hell is the consequence of being forever in the state of sinning.”
      There is some appeal to this, it tries to address a question I have omitted, what the purpose of punishment is. But the answer opens other questions: what is the purpose of eternally tormenting someone who cannot or will not stop sinning? I could see causing the extinction of their souls upon death, but not keeping them in eternal torment. What purpose could that serve? If punishment is designed to change behavior, what is the purpose of consignment to eternal, endless punishment? It seems gratuitous, and gratuitous suffering seems inherently evil, and God is not evil.
      In 2009, I had the opportunity to study in Jerusalem. Our leader, who was both an extremely gifted academic and a Christian, took us down into the Hinnom Valley. This valley, which had been made impure by child sacrifice and other rites being performed to Canaanite gods during the reign of King Solomon was, in Jesus’ time, a midden- a trash heap where people literally rolled garbage off the city walls or the surrounding hills into the valley and where fires were consistently kept burning to get rid of the trash. When Jesus spoke about hell, he referred to it as Gehinnom or Gehennah- this was the term used to describe this midden, and Jesus, as was his way, was giving the people of Jerusalem a tangible reference for the wages of sin. To me, Hell is more about the trash heap than the fires, but again- if I end up there it will be because of my own life choices, not an angry God.
      And what is the purpose of enabling us to do things that harm ourselves and each other and create barriers between us and God? Surely God could foresee such events, why would God enable them? Because again, in Job God was testing how far a man could be obfuscated and still not sin.
      I believe that faith does not require one to ignore these questions or to fashion answers to unanswerable questions. I believe that faith requires trust in God’s goodness in spite of those questions. One who cannot have such trust just does not have faith. YES!!!!
      I believe that faith is not belief in God. Faith is belief about the character of God. Faith is TRUST in God’s goodness. The nuance there may be subtle: belief not in God, but in God’s Goodness. Is that even possible? This “Goodness” without God? I just don’t know. I’ve been pondering that for a long time, without a clear resolution.
      This last paragraph, and especially the first sentence, really resonated with me. I think that is a perfect description of faith.

      • Citizen Tom says:

        Sean and Mark

        What an interesting thread! I will let Mark have first shot at Sean’s latest comment. Here are just a few observations on this one.

        Like Mark, I am no theologian. Whatever authority I have, I borrow from the work of others. And I don’t think has concrete answers. Faith is required.

        We Cannot Solve This Problem

        It is a disturbing thought that stings our pride, but we cannot understand God.

        Ecclesiastes 11:5 Good News Translation (GNT)

        God made everything, and you can no more understand what he does than you understand how new life begins in the womb of a pregnant woman.

        Just as a child has faith in the wisdom of his or her parents, we must have faith in the wisdom of God.

        Are some parents undeserving of such faith? As we grow older, we learn that no human parent will ever deserve our unreserved faith. No human being can serve successfully as our God. At some point, every human being will fail us.

        Has God failed us? Will He fail us? If we judge God as we would an imperfect human parent, then our faith in Him will be weak. We must remember He is God. We must also remember that God will be our parent for all eternity. We see only an instant of His plan. We have little conception of His plan’s beginning and only the faintest inkling of where it will lead.

        God Did Not Create Evil

        The Bible says God is holy, that God is love. Therefore, if we believe the Bible, we can logically assume God did not create evil.

        Consider also that evil is nothing. Thus, creating evil would create nothing. Evil is nothing more than disobedience to the will of God. When we disobey God, that disobedience is evil. The one does evil creates the consequences that we call evil.

        Even though evil is not good, because it serves a greater good God allows is the consequences of evil. Why? Perhaps evil is necessary for free will, and God considers free will the greater good. Unless our choices have consequences, then how can we exercise a free will?

        Here are a couple of posts that address the subject of evil.
        http://citizentom.com/2012/12/04/the-search-for-the-most-virtuous-versatile-blogger-part-9/
        http://biltrix.com/2012/12/06/the-problematic-of-human-suffering/

        God’s Voice

        Does God speak to each of us? Perhaps not. I certainly do not recall hearing His voice. Nonetheless, I believe He communicates with us. Because He is the Creator and Master of our universe, we can know something about God. Every day we can His Glory in the grandeur and the unbelievable detail of His creations.

        We can also hear our consciences, a creation of His that talks to each of us individually. No, our consciences are not God’s voice, but our consciences do help understand what it means to be obedient to God.

        There is also the Bible. What is the Bible? Is it God speaking to us? No. Not directly. However, because God inspired the Bible, we can study the Bible and learn something about the will of God.

        What Is Faith?

        I believe that faith is not belief in God. Faith is belief about the character of God. Faith is TRUST in God’s goodness. The nuance there may be subtle: belief not in God, but in God’s Goodness. Is that even possible? This “Goodness” without God? I just don’t know. I’ve been pondering that for a long time, without a clear resolution.

        An excellent statement of the problem. Stating a problem correctly is the first step in finding a solution. May God bless your search?

      • Mark Knox says:

        Hey Tom- it’s been a crazy week and I haven’t had to time to respond to your reply with the level of attention it deserves. I really enjoyed this little summation and I agree 100% with the majority of your points, including your thoughts on Sean’s excellent definition of faith. I guess the only area I would question, and that’s it really- just a question, is around God creating evil. While I do tend to agree that God, in his perfection, probably would not actively manufacture something he abhors, I do believe he at least creates an environment, even if just a vacuum devoid of his presence, within which it can thrive. John 1:3 tells us that “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” so I have to believe that, if for no other purpose than offering us free will, God had/has some hand, whether passive or creative, in the genesis and continuation of evil. But even here I think we have pretty common footing for the most part and, while it is important that the question be asked, I find that the answer itself is not crucial to my faith or my theology. You write well and your points, as well as Sean’s, have been an immense help in shaping my thinking on this subject, and I thank you for taking the time to respond and help think through this.

  4. sean samis says:

    Mark,

    First, I’m sorry I called you “Matt”; I don’t where that came from. You can call me Stan, that’s what my dog-tags in the Navy said! “S-E-A-N? No, that can’t be right! S-T-A-N, that’s better.”

    Anyway, I appreciate your “stream-of-consciousness” response, but I don’t want to reply likewise. My experience is that those kinds of “streaming” give and take become messy and so entwined it’s impossible to be sure what’s being said by who. So I took some time to think about a structured response. I can’t say that I succeeded in writing one, but I tried. Sorry for the delay, it was unavoidable.

    I think the key to this is to think about your comments regarding whether God has “free-will”. I asked that question and you replied,

    “I don’t believe God has ‘free will’ because ‘free will’ describes a state of being created by God. God obviously has choice in what to do with his universe, but free will describes a state that is less than God because it was created by God. Therefore God’s thinking is not bound by free will, and no, I don’t believe that God sins.”

    Think about it this way: does God have existence? One might say (following your lead above) that existence describes a state of being created by God, that our existence is imperfect, limited and temporary, therefore, GOD DOES NOT EXIST. Huh? WTF?

    If God exists, then his existence is infinitely more profound than our existence, but that difference does NOT mean we exist but God does not! God’s existence would simply be a much greater existence than ours.

    Likewise, God does have free will; especially if God “has choice in what to do with his universe”. The difference is that human free will is limited. I’d say it is limited in at least three ways.

    Human free will is limited by IMAGINATION; we cannot want or “will to choose” things we’ve never even thought of. Probably very few 18th century people wanted a Samsung Galaxy SIII.

    Human free will is limited by what I will call PROCEDURAL IGNORANCE. Odd term I confess, but what I mean is that even if we could describe a smartphone to Ben Franklin, he’d have no clue how to build one. I’d like a transporter (“Beam me up Scotty!”) but no one knows how to build one, so my will is thwarted.

    Human free will is also limited by a RESOURCE CONSTRAINT. I’d dearly love to walk on the Moon. And we know how to do it; it’s been done. But I can’t afford, and society in general can’t afford to make it possible for me to do it.

    God’s free will is under none of these constraints, it is under NO CONSTRAINT. What God wants, God gets, exactly to order. It is just that simple. God can imagine any possibility, God knows how to achieve any goal and God can create whatever resources or conditions needed to achieve anything. God has free will, more than that: God has Über Free Will.

    Understanding that, getting your head wrapped around that idea is KEY.

    Many of your responses to my questions relied on metaphors comparing God to humans, but such metaphors are inherently misleading. Human Kings, parents, and others are always acting under constraints that simply do not apply to God.

    You wrote, “what is the alternative to free will-would God simply want automatons in a perpetual stasis of unwavering goodness and worship?” If we humans wanted to raise our children in perfect and unwavering obedience and goodness, we might have to make them automatons because our choices are limited. God’s choices are infinite. He suffers no limit. The metaphor fails.

    God could make sure we all are simply able to reason correctly about moral questions. If we all can have thumbs, we could all be made rational. God could also make sure we all have clear and unambiguous information about the larger ramifications of bad choices, which would inform our rational decision making. God could also make sure we all have the requisite emotional connection to each other, the empathy–if not compassion–to appreciate and care about the quality of life lived by others. Having well-created rational abilities, clear information, and consciences; evil choices would be as rare as persons born without thumbs, and as easily dealt with.

    You might say “but that makes us into automatons”. No. I have two children. I am as certain as anyone can be that they are both more rational than their average peers, both well informed, and they both appear to have consciences they listen too. I don’t take credit for any of that.

    And they are not automatons. Sometimes convincing them to obey is a real chore. The older one is in Law School; the younger is on a path to being a professional musician. My kids don’t like all the same music or clothes or food or books or pastimes. Their temperaments have been widely different since birth (one was a defiant handful since Day One, the other a mellow Go-With-The-Flow kid from the start). They are distinct persons. But they both can reason well, have a good grounding in right-and-wrong, and follow their consciences as best one can. Again, I take no credit for any of this.

    Why does God not make us all rational, morally informed, and conscientious, AND ACTUALLY FREE? He could, why didn’t he?

    We human parents don’t “lock our children away in some insulated environment …” etc. because our choices are limited so we do what we can and hope for the best. The metaphor fails because God’s choices are not limited, he can do whatever he wants. He need not “hope” for anything. He could create a world that does not “devour” his or our children, but he did not.

    Could have, but didn’t. Why not? God did not have to create a “fallen world”, but he did. Why?

    You wrote about “this cycle of transgression, judgment and redemption occurring over and over at both the individual, as well as the national, level”. What is the purpose of this cycle? Perhaps if you or I were in charge, this would come about. We might find it necessary, but the metaphor fails: what does God create through this painful, horrifying, evil cycle that God is unable to create otherwise?

    What is God unable to simply bring into existence? Nothing, because God can simply bring ANYTHING into existence. No matter how good, beautiful, glorious, complex, satisfying, etc. etc. etc., God can simply invoke its existence.

    Humans have to plan, and work and struggle and hope to make anything. No matter how careful we are, sometimes we burn the toast. But the metaphor fails: God, by a snap of his fingers, by the slightest gesture, and it is done in the manner and detail he desires. Exactly to specification.

    You wrote that “the fallen aspects of the world, then, are just a reflection of the fallen man. That said, there is also much good and beauty and kindness in the world, just as there are many righteous people among the fallen.”

    But why is anyone or anything “fallen”? If “fallen” means not meeting God’s expectations or desires, then nothing can be “fallen”! God gets what God wants exactly as God wants it to be. It is as simple as that. The world cannot be “fallen”; it is as God intended it to be; it simply cannot be otherwise.

    You wrote an explanation about how God’s words were twisted and distorted or ignored or misunderstood by people. Your description is pretty good, but why did God want that to be? You may say that God does Not Want it, but God gets what God wants, nothing can bar his way.

    Whatever is, is because God wants it to be. Nothing can defy or evade God’s will. No thing and no one. If free will enables such a thing, it is because God wants it too. God can give both freedom and moral wisdom, such that we are free and willingly obedient. But God did not. Why?

    If God wants us to defy or evade his commands, on what grounds can God punish us for doing what he wants? On what grounds, I should ask, OTHER THAN MIGHT MAKES RIGHT. Is that the basis of God’s Goodness? I hope not. I really REALLY hope not.

    One could say that the Scriptures give us clear direction, but we both know that is just not so. The scriptures have been misinterpreted and reinterpreted and mangled into a vast number of patently evil uses. God could prevent this, but he does not. Why? God could ensure that at least a Few Good People always got it right, and were positioned to lead the rest of us. But that is not how it is. Why?

    God can give us the power to choose evil, and the wisdom to freely reject evil. But instead evil is everywhere, it is commonly chosen, the “cycle of transgression, judgment and redemption” occur “over and over at both the individual, as well as the national, level”. “Holy Men” and “prophets” lead us in a parade of horrors. The world is “fallen”. Why would God choose such a thing? He Did Not Have To.

    I stand by my earlier conclusions. I believe that faith does not require one to ignore these questions or to fashion answers to unanswerable questions. I believe that faith requires trust in God’s goodness in spite of those questions. One who cannot have such trust just does not have faith. I believe that faith is not belief in God, it is belief about the character of God; it is TRUST in God’s goodness.

    But I also wonder, why would God want us to need such faith in him? What is such trust for? It is all a mystery, but what is the purpose of the mystery? I just don’t know.

    • Mark Knox says:

      Stan- :)

      Thanks again for your thoughtful response- I apologize for the previous format of my reply- I obviously failed in my attempt to find a concise way to respond without having to restate many of your original points, as I really dislike paraphrasing someone else’s responses. I can see, however, where that would have become cumbersome over time.

      There is nothing in your entire section on God possessing “free will” that I fundamentally disagree with. I believe we are largely on the same page in that regard and I think you must have simply misconstrued, probably due to a lack of clarity on my part, the point of my response to your initial question. The point I was making, obviously not very clearly, is simply that “free will” is a term that is applied to the human condition, and traditionally describes either an absence of pre-determination or at least a clear choice between God’s will or our own (evil being included in the latter choice). I was saying that God does not have “free will” because he does not HAVE to have free will. He simply IS will; which I believe is the point you also were making throughout that section.
      To me, asking if God has “free will” is very much the same as asking if God is “ethical”. Ethics, much like the concept of free will, is a description of human circumstances, and He transcends our very limited concepts of both.

      I really liked your description regarding man’s three barriers to possessing complete free will. It’s obvious you have thought long and hard on that subject.

      I did disagree with your statements- “But why is anyone or anything “fallen”? If “fallen” means not meeting God’s expectations or desires, then nothing can be “fallen”! God gets what God wants exactly as God wants it to be. It is as simple as that. The world cannot be “fallen”; it is as God intended it to be; it simply cannot be otherwise.”

      This, and some other statements a few paragraphs down the line, seem to be the beginnings of an argument for pre-determination rather than free will. My belief in free will is the only answer I can offer in response. God makes the rules and God gives us choice. I would argue, rather than your statement of “nothing can be fallen” instead that “everything can be fallen”. If neither the individual nor the world needed to be set to rights, then there would be no need for redemption/salvation at either level, and yet this is the pattern God has set in motion.

      I noted that several times you took issue with my metaphors because I am using examples of parent/child interaction to offer a way of looking at God’s relationship to man, and, as God is not subject to the same constraints we are as humans, the metaphors “fail”.
      I would probably disagree for two reasons-

      First, a metaphor is simply a method of making comparisons, in this case using something we do understand (parenthood) to help explain something we either can’t adequately articulate or don’t understand (God’s will/reasoning and its bearing on us).
      Second, this is the metaphor most associated with God’s relationship to mankind in scripture- to the very point of us referring to him directly as Abba/ Father- and as such I’m pretty satisfied that it does work; across many levels and in explaining many different circumstances. Scripture also frequently tells us that God is like a shepherd and we are his sheep. If that metaphor fails simply because God is not limited to the wordly constraints of a common shepherd, then really all such metaphorical explanations are off the table. We are, after all, essentially just second guessing the mind of God.

      Which leads me to my last response. Many times over as I read your post and your questions of “why does God do this” or “what is God’s reasoning here”, I found myself mentally responding (and completely without snark) “I have no clue, why don’t you ask God”. Only He has the answers to so many of your questions.

      In college we had a chemistry professor that came in every day with one pants leg tucked into his boot and the other one out. We called him “Dr. Zoltar”. It wasn’t always the same legs and the combination didn’t seem to follow any particular pattern, but day after, it was consistently one in and one out. We sat around and came up with all kinds of theories, most of them derogatory, as to why he ended up with his pants legs that way each day- but really, why did he? Was he making a statement? Was it something to do with the way he pulled on his zippered Italian-style boots each day? Was he just trying to freak us out? We were never short on theories and postulations but the only one who ultimately ever knew was him, and for all I know he went to his grave with that answer.

      To me it is the same with God- we can offer explanations and postulations and agree and disagree until we are blue in the face and after all is said and done, we will not have moved one inch toward true answers. Only He knows the “whys”. Everyone has different experiences that come into play and everyone is at a different point in their journey, and I agree with the point you seem to be making that we must always be careful that we don’t arrive at particular conclusions simply because we want those particular conclusions.

      I love this quote by Rainer Maria Rilke in his Letters to a Young Poet-

      “I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

      This will suffice for me for now.

      • sean samis says:

        Mark, I am sorry I did not respond to your comments posted on December 11. I simply lost track. This is entirely my fault. I do think those comments of yours are worthy of acknowledgement and reply.

        Mark, you ended your second paragraph with, “God does not have “free will” because he does not HAVE to have free will. He simply IS will; which I believe is the point you also were making throughout that section.

        I must confess I am not sure what the phrase God simply IS will even means, so I am quite sure that is not the point I was making in my comments on God’s free will. I also see no value in resisting saying that God has free will just because human free will is less than God’s; human existence is less than God’s but I don’t sense any resistance to saying that both God and us have existence. If God and man can both have existence (tho’ God’s existence would be of an infinitely greater order) then both God and man can have free will; God’s would be infinitely greater.

        I don’t argue for predetermination for man or God, but free will does not require God to be unaware of the entirely foreseeable consequences of humans having free will; the whole point of human free will seems (in your descriptions) to be to enable us to choose evil. If God gave us that choice without adequate preparation, evil results are quite obviously going to happen. Given its manifest foreseeability, we would hold a mere human responsible for such a gifting; do you propose holding God to a lower standard?

        Your comments on the uses of metaphors is perfectly valid but begs the point I think. Metaphors based on human parenting which try to explain why God might allow evil are fundamentally flawed because human parents have only human abilities, sometimes we parents must do what we must do, even when we very much love our children. God is bound by no such constraint; God is not bound by any constraint!

        God, if he is all powerful, has the ability to do whatever he wants and get whatever results he wants. God does not need to do something because he had no other recourse. God is not “only a fallible human”.

        It is true that metaphoric comparisons between God and parents are found in the bible. With respect, that these metaphors are biblical does not make them logical. The whole point of these metaphors is to say that sometimes parents are required to do “bad” things because they have no other choice; and so is God. These metaphors are used (in the bible and in religious education) to try to explain why God allowed something awful to happen, but do so by implying that God was required to allow the awful thing. But if God is truly omnipotent, God is never required to allow anything he does not want.

        You are correct when you say that if metaphors fail “simply because God is not limited to the worldly constraints of a common shepherd [or any other human], then really all such metaphorical explanations are off the table.” These metaphors should be off the table; such metaphors illuminate little and fog up the question. These metaphors lead to the conclusion that God is not all-powerful; that his actions are driven by necessity that God cannot escape. Humans–whether kings or parents–are driven by necessity; God is not. God can do whatever God wants to do. Take away the requirements of necessity and these parental metaphors become worse than useless: they become misleading.

        You express frustration with my persistent questions “why would God do this or that”. I share your frustrations. You are tempted to tell me to “ask God.” I have, many times. I have received no answers so far.

        My initial comments to you ended with a statement of what faith is, which you said you liked a lot. I said in part, “I believe that faith does not require one to ignore these questions or to fashion answers to unanswerable questions. I believe that faith requires trust in God’s goodness in spite of those questions.” I ask these frustrating questions because they have an answer it took you a while to get around to: “I don’t know.” It’s important to say that, because neither of us knows; no one does. One cannot come to terms with a mystery if one never acknowledges that the mystery exists. The mysteries my questions delineate tell me that nothing about God is clear at all. If the truth were known, then these mysteries would not be so numerous; we’d have explanations; we’d not need any snarky answers. But the truth is as you say: we have no clue.

        The way I see it, there are three possibilities:

        1. God hates evil but is limited in power, and cannot eliminate evil. Whether intended or not, this is the claim implied when we compare God to kings or parents. Humans have do to what they can because their powers are limited; some evil is unavoidable by them. If God cannot get what he wants except by permitting evil, then God is also limited in power.

        2. God is omnipotent and wants evil. This is the least likable of the three, but if God actually is omnipotent, evil would have to exist because God wants evil to exist. Be careful: if you think God tolerates evil as a means to an end, that is an argument based on God’s lack of power (number 1 above). If God is omnipotent, then evil (like everything else) would exist only because God wants evil to exist for its own sake. Evil would not be a means to a good end, evil would be an end, a purpose, a goal.

        If both numbers 1 and 2 are unacceptable (as they are to me), if it is unacceptable to you that God wants evil, and at the same time if it is unacceptable to you that God might be limited in power, then you (and I) are left with …

        3. God is omnipotent and hates evil. If that is true, then logic simply cannot tell us anything about God. Abandon logic all ye who enter here. This does not mean God can’t exist, it does mean that logic is useless when trying to understand God. Every time someone tries to invoke some logical argument to show that God is Good, they implicitly (unknowingly?) reject number 3 and embrace either number 1 (God is limited) or number 2 (God wants evil). If those first two are intolerable, then you’ve discovered that, with regards to God, logic is useless.

        Again, this does not mean or prove or imply that God does not exist, it only means that logic cannot help understand God. That is only troublesome if you value understanding more than believing.

        I have written this before, and I will restate it now: properly used logic never comes to a false conclusion, but often it cannot reach any conclusion at all. With regards to God, that is the case; logic reaches no conclusion; it simply can’t.

        Where evidence and logic fail; faith must suffice. You can know or have faith, but not both.

      • Mark Knox says:

        Sean,
        I think, at least from where each of us are respectively in our attempts at understanding the nature of God, we run the risk of circling forever like some M.C. Escher painting; you asking unanswerable questions, me limited to answering metaphorically. I think your third possibility is ultimately the only viable one; we don’t know and must therefore simply decide what we believe. The other two possibilities stated here and earlier in the thread are merely another version of shrinking God down into the parameters of our own understanding which, with all due respect, doesn’t stand up under the weight of your own argument.

        Again, I will say in defense of metaphorical explanations, that I feel they are the only way we can begin to understand the nature of God. The bible is full of them and Christ himself spoke parabolically in order to explain God’s relationship to mankind; the prodigal son and his forgiving father being one of the most perfect examples. If one believes, as I do, that the bible is the inspired word of God, then one must accept the devices presented within that word as something akin to what the Buddhists would call “a finger pointing at the moon”. Not the thing itself but a methodology for directing one toward the thing itself. However, as the Buddhists would also point out, if one becomes too focused on the finger, they will not properly experience the moon.

        I do like what Lewis says on the subject-

        Of course we cannot fully conceive a Being like that: just as, if we were so made that we perceived only two dimensions in space we could never properly imagine a cube. But we can get a sort of faint notion of it. And when we do, we are then, for the first time in our lives, getting some positive idea, however faint, of something super-personal – something more than a person. It is something we could never have guessed, and yet, once we have been told, one almost feels one ought to have been able to guess it because it fits in so well with all the things we know already.

        I appreciate your statements on the nature of faith, and I have enjoyed your input because it forces me to meet my own beliefs and to decide which things I have resolved, which things I have shelved temporarily and which things cause me to still hunger after an answer. I hope we are both ultimately able to experience God not within the limits of our own understanding, but rather outside of those limits, in true faith. To an atheist, the concept of faith seems like a cop-out or manipulation; to a believer it feels like the most natural thing in the world. And to those of us in the middle still trying to figure it all out, I guess we have to either build our faith from our own arguments and those of others, or simply decide what it is we are ultimately able to believe.

  5. sean samis says:

    Tom and Matt;

    I should be clear about this: I am no theologian either. I work in IT. I did graduate from law school last May, but I do not practice in law.

    And I do appreciate your responses. I don’t know the answer to this puzzle. So Tom, your heading that We Cannot Solve This Problem is quite correct. But it is important to understand that the Problem exists. If we cannot solve it, we also cannot dismiss it; it remains real even if it is unsolved. Having faith requires us to be honest, and acknowledging this Problem is part of that honesty. I think some want to dismiss this problem because it reveals a big, gaping hole in their religious certainty. This hole is a good thing; it’s the constant reminder that we are all imperfect and must resist judging the faith and goodness of each other.

    I admit I am not satisfied defining “evil” simply as “disobedience of God”. If God told you to do something horrible, does that horrible act become “good” just because God told you to do it? Would you be obligated to question God’s command?

    So let me ask you both (Matt and Tom) and anyone else who cares to contribute: is the statement “God is Good” meaningful and important to believe? Is it more meaningful and important to believe than the statement “God is X” where X is undefined? If “yes”, why?

  6. Pingback: WHY DOES GOD ALLOW EVIL? | Citizen Tom

    • sean samis says:

      Nah. I’m just up to my hips in work-related-alligators. I’ll be replying to this (and several other) posts in the next few days. Sorry for the delay, but it is what it is.

  7. Pingback: WHY DOES GOD ALLOW EVIL? | Citizen Tom

  8. Pingback: CITIZEN TOM LISTS THE BEST OF 2012 | Citizen Tom

  9. sean samis says:

    Mark;

    You wrote that “we don’t know [the true nature of God] and must therefore simply decide what we believe.” Exactly. No one can use logic to establish the truth of their belief; my only objection is when people try.

    Like you, I don’t like the first two possibilities (of God being limited or evil).

    I don’t object to the metaphoric devices you used or which are found in the bible. I object to placing too much weight on them, trying to use them to “logically prove” things about God; these metaphors cannot bear-up under much logical scrutiny.

    You finish with “I guess we have to either build our faith from our own arguments and those of others, or simply decide what it is we are ultimately able to believe.” Agreed.

    I am interested in what you make of this: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2013/jan/08/god-unknowable-faith?CMP=twt_fd

  10. sean samis says:

    I notice this blog’s gone dormant. I hope it’s because you’re busy and not something I said.

    • Mark Knox says:

      Hey Sean-
      It’s absolutely the former rather than the latter. We can agree and disagree without offense, and I haven’t taken anything you’ve said in any spirit other than that of two guys with different experiences and observations trying to figure this whole thing out. I’ve welcomed and enjoyed your observations and questions and even your critiques. I am simply going through a difficult period in my life right now personally, and I’ve been somewhat distracted over the past few weeks. I’m going to try to recommit to reading and writing posts, as I’ve learned a great deal since I first joined WP.

      As for the article you linked to, I liked it very much and it seemed to arrive at the same conclusions you and I overlapped around; namely that God is ultimately unknowable. I read the comments section, which I normally don’t do, and sadly it seemed to be the same old back and forth blather that claims believers are naive and/or stupid and that atheists put too much faith in their own observations and interpretations, depending upon which side the argument is coming from. I’m glad our discussions transcended both the tone and the stale arguments so often found in such discourse.

      Please always feel free to comment or challenge as you see fit; your responses will always be welcome.

      Take care,
      Mark

      • sean samis says:

        Mark,

        I’m sorry to hear you’re in a difficult time. I hope you are able to persevere through them, such times are always temporary. But I hope you are able to bear up until the pass.

        When you are able, we could continue our conversation or merely say hello. This topic could consume anyone, or merely be a path to a better understanding. I appreciate your patience with me, and hope you are well.

        Best Regards.

      • sean samis says:

        Mark; hello. How are things going for you lately? Better I hope…

        best regards.

      • Mark Knox says:

        Sean- without whining I’ll just say it’s been a tough year. I’m trying to find my way back to thinking about things other than divorce and heartbreak and emotianl devastation. I sincerely appreciated your comments and the good conversation and I’m sorry I just stopped responding without a better explanantion. Take care,
        Mark

  11. sean samis says:

    Mark, I am so sorry to hear about your troubles; these are things I’d not wish on anyone. I assumed something was up. When you’re ready to, I’d love to re-engage in our conversation, but I expect you have bigger fish to fry just now. Be well, take care of your self and your kids.

    sincerely.

    sean s.

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