“You represent God as worse than the devil; more false, more cruel, more unjust. But you say you will prove it by scripture. Hold! What will you prove by Scripture? That God is worse than the devil? It cannot be. Whatever that Scripture proves, it never proved this; whatever its true meaning be. This cannot be its true meaning. Do you ask, “What is its true meaning then?” If I say, ” I know not,” you have gained nothing; for there are many scriptures the true sense whereof neither you nor I shall know till death is swallowed up in victory. But this I know, better it were to say it had no sense, than to say it had such a sense as this. It cannot mean, whatever it mean besides, that the God of truth is a liar. Let it mean what it will, it cannot mean that the Judge of all the world is unjust. No scripture can mean that God is not love, or that his mercy is not over all his works; that is, whatever it prove beside, no scripture can prove predestination.” — John Wesley
If someone were to suggest an interpretation of the Bible that taught that the God revealed in Jesus Christ did something extraordinarily inhumane—say, for instance, that he regularly molests the children he creates—it would be universally spat out by the Church and rejected immediately.
Wouldn’t it be the duty of Christians to stand up against this doctrine and absolutely refuse to believe that Jesus Christ was as cruel and abusive as the most wicked fallen humans? Even if there were passages of Scripture that they failed to know the responses to; even if the arguments seemed strangely effective; not a single disciple of Jesus could ever accept it. They would refuse to believe something innately evil about their Father in Heaven, something that obviously contradicted the heart of the Gospels. They would innately know it wrong, and—by the Spirit’s leading—hate it as much as they were capable of.
But unfortunately, the Devil doesn’t work in such obvious ways, and he’s managed to convince much of the Church that God does something infinitely worse: that he makes fallen and powerless creatures, hates them for the sin he ordains, and predestines them to an eternity of unimaginable torment for doing those very things he makes them to do. I don’t believe for a moment that it is more respectful to God’s sovereignty to allow this to be a possibility—honestly, I believe it’s blasphemous and insulting to Him.
Did he really become incarnate, suffer human life, and die in agony for his killers—all so we could see that he hates, and chooses to proudly damn, nearly all of us? so we could see that he was hardly different from the other pagan idols of child sacrifice and terror? When we compare the evil that many Christians attribute to God to human acts of evil—even in infinitely kinder terms; because no human offense could amount to the harshness of decidedly damning someone—we began to see just how saddening and ungodly our doctrines often are.
Questions? disagreements? thoughts?
the Elder Zosima
I’ve been reading through the Brothers Karamazov, and have been amazed to find such a massive amount of brilliant religious teaching Dostoevsky packed into a fictional novel primarily about murder and romance. The Elder Zosima is a fictional Orthodox elder in the story, and nearly all the quotes in this post are taken from him—mostly all from the chapter ‘Teachings of the Elder Zosima.’ Dostoevsky did mention copying old monastic writings for some of his teachings, but his use and input of it is wonderful, and there’s a lot to learn from the quotes below:
“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”
“Do not forget to pray, my boy. If your prayers are truly sincere, every day a new fervor will appear, a new thought of which you were unaware before, and that will give you new strength. You will understand then that prayer is education. Remember this, too. Repeat to yourself every day and as often as you can:
O Lord, have mercy on all those who will appear before You today.
For every hour, every second, thousands leave this world and their souls appear before the Lord, and no one knows how many of them leave this earth in isolation, sadness, and anguish, with no one to take pity on them or even care whether they live or die. And so your prayer for a man will rise to the Lord from the other end of the earth, although he may never have heard of you or you of him. But his soul, as it stands trembling before the Lord, will be cheered and gladdened to learn that there is someone on earth who loves him.
And the Lord’s mercy will be even greater to both of you, for, however great your pity for the man, God’s pity will be much greater, for He is infinitely more merciful and more loving than you are. And God will forgive him for your sake.”
“Brothers, do not fear man’s sins. Love man in his sin too, for such love resembles God’s love, the highest possible form of love on earth. Love God’s creation, love every atom of it separately, and love it also as a whole; love every green leaf, every ray of God’s light; love the animals and the plants and love every inanimate object. If you come to love all things, you will perceive God’s mystery inherent in all things; once you have perceived it, you will understand it better and better every day. And finally you will love the whole world with a total, universal love.”
“Every day, every hour, every moment, examine yourself closely and see that your appearance is seemly. You may, for instance, pass a small child; your face may be angry, you may be uttering wicked words, and there may be rage in your heart; you may not even notice the child, but as long as the child sees you in that state, that unseemly and ugly picture may become engraved in his innocent little heart. So, without knowing it yourself, you may thus have sown an evil seed, which perhaps will sprout within the child, and all simply because you failed to control yourself before the child, because you failed to cultivate within yourself a considerate and active love for others.”
“My brother, a dying youth, asked the birds to forgive him. That may sound absurd, but when you think of it, it makes sense. For everything is like the ocean, all things flow and are indirectly linked together, and if you push here, something will move at the other end of the world. It may be madness to beg the birds for forgiveness, but things would be easier for the birds, for the child, and for every animal if you were nobler than you are—yes, they would be easier, even if only by a little. Understand that everything is like the ocean. Then, consumed by eternal love, you will pray to the birds, too. In a state of fervor you will pray them to forgive you your sins. And you must treasure that fervor, absurd though it may seem to others.”
“…the Eternal Judge will only call you to account for what you can understand, not for what you cannot, and by then you will see everything in the true light and you will not protest.”
“Attend tirelessly to good works. If, before going to sleep at night, you remember something you have not done, rise at once and do it.”
“Have faith to the end. Even if everyone else on earth goes astray, give your life to your faith and keep praising the Lord, even if you are the last of the faithful left on earth. And if you find another being who has preserved his faith, there will be a world of living love, for you will fall into each other’s arms and praise the name of the Lord with fervor. For in the two of you, His truth will have been fulfilled.”
“If you should shin yourself and be weighted down until death by your sins or by a single sinful act committed spontaneously, rejoice for the righteous and be happy, for, although you have sinned, they have not. If the evil deeds of men sadden you greatly and arouse in you an anger you cannot overcome and fill you with the desire to wreak vengeance on the evil-doers—fear this feeling most of all, and at once go and seek suffering for yourself, because you too are responsible for the evil deeds of all men.”
the Kindness of God—July, 2012
“Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” — Romans 2:4, KJV
The word translated “goodness” in the King James Version would be better translated, (as many other versions do translate it) as “kindness.” The word is chrēstos in the Greek: Paul uses it elsewhere in his epistle to the Ephesians, saying “And be ye kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.” The meaning would clearly be better translated, both in the Pauline context and in the context of the statement in Romans, as “kindness,” not “goodness.” Both words would suffice, but “kindness” adds dimension and clarity that “goodness” would make the verse lack.
The kindness of God, Paul writes, leads men to repentance. And so here is the difference between the Gospels and much of Christian evangelism:
Evangelism has largely consisted of Christians threatening their listeners with an eternity in Hell, as an attempt to scare the nonbeliever into conversion or repentance. Salvation is then pathetically misrepresented as the act of escaping Hell—and evangelists appeal to fear and selfishness in their listeners, as if a selfish and fearful person is any better off by simply calling himself a Christian. The concept is both ridiculous and un-Biblical.
The fear of Hell does not lead men to repentance, at least to any true kind. Paul lays it out clearly!—the kindness of God leads men to repentance. Jesus is not a simple scapegoat by which we dodge punishment. Professed conversion has been prioritized above true salvation. A person who loves righteousness, and therefore rejects the presentation of a faith that appeals to his own selfishness and fear, is not far from the Kingdom of God. He must be infinitely closer than a person who would accept such a self-centered idea, no matter what it calls itself—even Christianity.
“But how could a man ever be saved apart from Christ?”
He couldn’t! Apart from Christ we can do nothing—but I believe that Jesus is far less concerned with what we call ourselves than we often are. Much of evangelism has put its listeners in a position farther from understanding Christ than they’d be in had they never heard a word about him.
Would Jesus have us call ourselves Christians, and live in selfishness? even worse, would he have us call ourselves Christians for selfish reasons? would he have us take his name in vain? would he have us use him as a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card? is this why he died?
“God is Light, and in him there is no darkness at all.” There are many who would rightly reject what they’re taught of Christianity on the very basis of believing such a truth. What these people may embrace, even unknowingly, is true Christianity. They may call themselves what they will, or classify themselves as whatever they like; they do believe in a good God—unlike many professing Christians—and they have the faith of children, however ignorant they might be.
I’ve yet to understand how Jonathan Edwards’ famous “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” presents anything near what Paul presents:
“The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell…Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation. Let every one fly out of Sodom: “Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed.”
Is this the Gospel? that we should embrace the very selfishness Jesus died to defeat? that we should “fly from the wrath to come?” that we should flee from the merciful Father he died to reveal to us? Never.
As we also begin to see, the doctrine of the Trinity is abandoned altogether: evangelists threaten their listeners into fleeing from a hateful and wrathful God to be saved from Him by his loving and understanding Son. God is portrayed as an abusive Father who grudgingly accepts the blood of his own Son as a sort of make-up payment in place of the blood of his other children. Did we forget that when we see the Son, we see the Father? Jesus becomes portrayed as entirely different from God, the Holy Spirit is forgotten altogether, and the Trinity is disregarded for the sake of more conversions.
What could be more confusing? what could be more right to reject? I don’t mean to say that it is ever right to reject Christ or his Gospel, but it is certainly right to reject each and every perversion of it—even if it calls itself Christ himself.
The kindness of God leads others to repentance, and to forget this is to forget what led us as well. We love Christ, and we love others—not because we fear the flames of Hell—because he first loved us. We embrace Christ because he calls us to deny ourselves, not because he calls us to delight in our selfishness.
No matter what terrible and disturbing things any man can preach about God, we can cling to the truth of the Gospels forever, “that God is Light, and in him there is no darkness at all.” This message, and no other, truly will lead us to repent—in true, lasting faith—as we walk with Christ.
a Passage from “Phantastes”—George MacDonald
“He has died well,” said the lady.
My spirit rejoiced. They had left me to my repose. I felt as if a cool hand had been laid upon my heart, and had stilled it…It was not that I had in any way ceased to be what I had been. The very fact that anything can die, implies the existence of something that cannot die; which must either take to itself another form, as when the seed that is sown dies, and arises again; or, in conscious existence, may, perhaps, continue to lead a purely spiritual life. If my passions were dead, the soul of the passions, those essential mysteries of the spirit which had imbodied themselves in those passions, and had given to them all their glory and wonderment, yet lived, yet glowed, with a pure, undying fire…
Ere long, they bore me to my grave. Never tired child lay down in his white bed, and heard the sound of his playthings being laid aside for the night, with a more luxurious satisfaction of repose than I knew, when I felt the coffin settle on the firm earth, and heard the sound of the falling mould upon its lid. It has not the same hollow rattle within the coffin, that it sends up to the edge of the grave…
Now that I lay in her bosom, the whole earth, and each of her many births, was as a body to me, at my will. I seemed to feel the great heart of the mother beating into mine, and feeding me with her own life, her own essential being and nature. I heard the footsteps of my friends above, and they sent a thrill through my heart…I rose into a single large primrose; that it said a part of what I wanted to say; just as in the old time, I had used to betake myself to a song for the same end. The flower caught her eye. She stooped and plucked it, saying “Oh, you beautiful creature!” and, lightly kissing it, put it in her bosom. It was the first kiss she had ever given me…
I knew now, that it is by loving, and not by being loved, that one can come nearest the soul of another; yea, that, where two love, it is the loving of each other, and not the being beloved by each other, that originates and perfects and assures their blessedness…all love will, one day, meet with its return. All true love will, one day, behold its own image in the eyes of the beloved, and be humbly glad. This is possible in the realms of lofty Death. “Ah! my friends,” thought I, “how I will tend you, and wait upon you, and haunt you with my love.”
My floating chariot bore me over a great city. Its dull sound steamed up into the air—a sound—how composed? “How many hopeless cries,” thought I, “and how many mad shouts go to make up the tumult, here so faint where I float in eternal peace, knowing that they will one day be stilled in the surrounding calm, and that despair dies into infinite hope, and that the seeming impossible there, is the law here! But, O pale-faced women, and gloomy-browed men, and forgotten children, how I will wait on you, and minister to you, and, putting my arms about you in the dark, think hope unto your hearts, when you fancy no one is near!
With this, a pang and a terrible shudder went through me; a writhing as of death convulsed me; and I became once again conscious of a more limited, even a bodily and earthly life.
Sinking from such a state of ideal bliss, into the world of shadows which again closed around and infolded me, my first dread was, not unnaturally, that my own shadow had found me again, and that my torture had commenced anew. It was a sad revulsion of feeling. This, indeed, seemed to correspond to what we think death is, before we die. Yet I felt within me a power of calm endurance to which I had hitherto been a stranger. For, in truth, that I should be able if only to think such things as I had been thinking, was an unspeakable delight. An hour of such peace made the turmoil of a life-time worth striving through…
I will end my story with the relation of an incident which befell me a few days ago. I had been with my reapers, and, when they ceased their work at noon, I had lain down under the shadow of a great, ancient beech-tree, that stood on the edge of the field. As I lay, with my eyes closed, I began to listen to the sound of the leaves overhead. At first, they made sweet inarticulate music alone; but, by and by, the sound seemed to begin to take shape, and to be gradually moulding itself into words; till, at last, I seemed able to distinguish these, half-dissolved in a little ocean of circumfluent tones: “A great good is coming—is coming—is coming to thee, Anodos”; and so over and over again…I know that good is coming to me—that good is always coming; though few have at all times the simplicity and the courage to believe it. What we call evil, is the only and best shape, which, for the person and his condition at the time, could be assumed by the best good. And so, Farewell.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” — Isaiah 55:8-9, KJV
To understand the statement God makes here through the prophet Isaiah, we must start by paying attention to the statement preceding it. It seems apparent that the statement is moreso a confirmation or elaboration to what was previously stated than some type of unrelated interjection to the passage. Fortunately, the words earlier in the passage present the statement about the sovereignty—and even character—of God drastically differently than the context in which it is usually quoted:
“Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price…Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
So what then is the context and background of the statement? God’s ways and thoughts are unlike those of men because he will have mercy upon them; he will abundantly pardon. In what way are God’s ways higher than man’s? the verse makes it plainly clear—he is Love; he is rich in mercy; slow to anger and quick to compassion. To everyone that thirsts, even to those without money or righteousness, he is the Prodigal Father waiting for them; he is the tireless Shepherd searching for them. Women may forget their sucking children, but the Lord will never once forget or abandon a single soul he creates. His ways and thoughts are higher!—infinitely higher than ours.
What sort of higher does the passage suggest? a common use of this verse is to justify a very dark and disheartening view of God’s sovereignty. I absolutely have no intention to offend or condemn any person or their faith—there’s nothing I would like less—but I do feel a calling to diligently understand and defend the message of the Gospels as well as I can understand them, and to also ease the minds of anyone who’s troubled by the same interpretations of them that trouble me. The understanding I object to is this: God’s ways are higher than ours, and so he therefore makes use of his omnipotence by seemingly arbitrarily and unfairly controlling and condemning his creatures. What right, after all, hath the clay over the potter? He acts as some over-arching bully who blesses and curses, loves and hates, and saves and damns for his own glory. How this way of what seems to be cruelly treating his creation in any sense glorifies himself we are left hopeless to understand; his thoughts, after all, our higher than ours. It is not our place to question them.
The problem with citing this verse to support this interpretation is that the verses preceding it could imply nothing less than the exact opposite. He will abundantly pardon, Isaiah promises, for his ways are not like our ways! he is rich in mercy and slow to anger! he forgets nothing that he has made, but instead numbers the hairs on each of his children’s heads! he is of such love and compassion that he would rather forgive his murderers than destroy them, and would rather die than be without them! what could be more unlike the ways and thoughts of his people than his own ways and thoughts? As the hymn describes it;
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
It is God: His love looks mighty,
But is mightier than it seems;
’Tis our Father: and His fondness
Goes far out beyond our dreams.
But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.
To say that God’s sovereignty is a license by which he both—by his own standards—malevolently and unjustly abuses creatures he has made is to suggest that he has ceased to be God. God absolutely has every right—infinite rights—to treat his creation how he pleases. He is the very definition of goodness. But it is because he defines (and has defined) goodness, that he is forever incapable of doing evil. Though his power is beyond all understanding, and his sovereignty is beyond all dominions, the God revealed in Jesus Christ is a God who has bound himself, by his own eternal self, to goodness and love. Love is inseparable from him—it flows through and drives every creature, decision, and plan he makes. God would certainly have the right to condemn every soul in creation, to flood the earth again, and to torture his most righteous servants out of sadistic pleasure—but he would no longer be God, and no longer be worthy of any worship in Spirit and in Truth. A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand! God has required us to love justice, and that the keeping of promises is inseparable from his holy nature—how could he remain the God of the Bible if he then broke his promises and acted unjustly? he would be calling us to be lovers of both justice and cruelty. His universe would be a sovereign mockery, with him as its everlasting king, both commanding his children to serve two masters and condemning them for attempting to.
No doctrine or interpretation can ever magnify even near deeply enough the extent of God’s sovereignty and authority. All creation exists for his pleasure, and for his pleasure alone. In his infinite compassion and care, however, his pleasure has consisted of nothing more than redeeming and loving his depraved and sinful people. His ways and thoughts are completely unlike those of fallen human nature. Human nature, both the Bible and experience tell us, is prideful above all else. We seek nothing more than our own gain and pleasure—how blessed are we that our God’s ways are unlike ours! he does not spend his time toying with us as the worthless and wicked people we are; he delights in pleasuring and rescuing us more than he has ever delighted in boasting of himself! his satisfaction is that we may be satisfied, and his heart rejoices at even the smallest working of love in ours. All heaven celebrates victoriously at the willful return of even one soul that was his to begin with. He has bound himself to everlasting justice, mercy, love, and forgiveness, and there is no respect of persons with him.
This is our God, from everlasting to everlasting, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. For him to contradict himself would be for him to cease to exist. What could be better for us than that he is absolutely unlike ourselves? the promise that his ways and thoughts are unlike ours is one that the most meek, merciful, and pure believers should find peace and comfort in. From him and through him and to him all things exist, and it is the hope of all humanity that God bears no resemblance to it.
‘Could God Himself create such lovely things as I dreamed?’
‘Whence then came thy dream?’ answers Hope."
The Everlasting Man—Quotes and Highlights
I finished up reading The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton a while back, and thought I might as well post some of my favorite quotes from the book for those who haven’t read it—it’s really in-depth and well-written stuff. C.S. Lewis said the book “baptised his intellect” and was one of the most fundamental influences on his faith. The basic premise of the book, to put a background behind the quotes, is that Chesterton analyzes and recounts the basic history of man and religion, and argues that all history and religious pursuit of men ultimately ends and finds satisfaction in Jesus Christ. This analysis ranges from everything such as polytheism & cavemen to war & the early church.
“Some of the very rudest savages, primitive in every sense in which anthropologists use the word, the Australian aborigines for instance, are found to have a pure monotheism with a high moral tone. A missionary was preaching to a very wild tribe of polytheists, who had told him all their polytheistic tales, and telling them in return of the existence of the one good God who is a spirit and judges men by spiritual standards. And there was a sudden buzz of excitement among these stolid barbarians, as at somebody who was letting out a secret, and they cried to each other, ‘Atahocan! He is speaking of Atahocan!’”
“A novel in which a number of separate characters all turned out to be the same character would certainly be a sensational novel. It is so with the idea that sun and tree and river are the disguises of one god and not of many.”
“…I cannot but think that most mythology is on another and more superficial plane. But in this primeval vision of the rending of one world into two there is surely something more of ultimate ideas. As to what it means, a man will learn far more about it by lying on his back in a field, and merely looking at the sky, than by reading all the libraries even of the most learned and valuable folk-lore. He will know what is meant by saying that the sky ought to be nearer to us than it is, that perhaps it was once nearer than it is, that it is not a thing merely alien and abysmal but in some fashion sundered from us and saying farewell.”
“The God who could not have a statue remained a spirit…It is often said with a sneer that the God of Israel was only a God of Battles, ‘a mere barbaric Lord of Hosts’ pitted in rivalry against other gods only as their envious foe. Well it is for the world that he was a God of Battles. Well it is for us that he was to all the rest only a rival and a foe. In the ordinary way, it would have been only too easy for them to have achieved the desolate disaster of conceiving him as a friend. It would have been only too easy for them to have seen him stretching out his hands in love and reconciliation, embracing Baal and kissing the painted face of Astarte, feasting in fellowship with the gods; the last god to sell his crown of stars for the Soma of the Indian pantheon or the nectar of Olympus or the mead of Valhalla. It would have been easy enough for his worshippers to follow the enlightened course of Syncretism and the pooling of all the pagan traditions. It is obvious indeed that his followers were always sliding down this easy slope; and it required the almost demoniac energy of certain inspired demagogues, who testified to the divine unity in words that are still like winds of inspiration and ruin. The more we really understand of the ancient conditions that contributed to the final culture of the Faith, the more we shall have a real and even a realistic reverence for the greatness of the Prophets of Israel. As it was, while the whole world melted into this mass of confused mythology, this Deity who is called tribal and narrow, precisely because he was what is called tribal and narrow, preserved the primary religion of all mankind. He was tribal enough to be universal. He was as narrow as the universe.”
“Indeed the Book of Job avowedly only answers mystery with mystery. Job is comforted with riddles; but he is comforted. Herein is indeed a type, in the sense of a prophecy, of things speaking with authority. For when he who doubts can only say, ‘I do not understand,’ it is true that he who knows can only reply or repeat ‘You do not understand.’ And under that rebuke there is always a sudden hope in the heart; and the sense of something that would be worth understanding.”
“The crux and crisis is that man found it natural to worship; even natural to worship unnatural things. The posture of the idol might be stiff and strange; but the gesture of the worshipper was generous and beautiful. He not only felt freer when he bent; he actually felt taller when he bent…When the man makes the gesture of salutation and of sacrifice, when he pours out the libation or lifts up the sword, he knows he is doing a worthy and a virile thing. He knows he is doing one of the things for which a man was made. His imaginative experiment is therefore justified.”
“There must surely have been something not only mysterious but many-sided about Christ if so many smaller Christs can be carved out of him. If the Christian Scientist is satisfied with him as a spiritual healer and the Christian Socialist is satisfied with him as a social reformer, so satisfied that they do not even expect him to be anything else, it looks as if he really covered rather more ground than they could be expected to expect. And it does seem to suggest that there might be more than they fancy in these other mysterious attributes of casting out devils or prophesying doom.”
“There is a sort of notion in the air everywhere that all the religions are equal because all the religious founders were rivals; that they are all fighting for the same starry crown. It is quite false. The claim to that crown, or anything like that crown, is really so rare as to be unique. Mahomet did not make it any more than Micah or Malachi. Confucius did not make it any more than Plato or Marcus Aurelius. Buddha never said he was Brahma. Zoroaster no more claimed to be Ormuz than to be Ahriman. The truth is that, in the common run of cases, it is just as we should expect it to be, in common sense and certainly in Christian philosophy. It is exactly the other way. Normally speaking, the greater a man is, the less likely he is to make the very greatest claim. Outside this unique case we are considering, the only kind of man who ever does make that kind of claim is a very small man; a secretive or self-centered monomaniac.”
“Divinity is great enough to be divine; it is great enough to call itself divine. But as humanity grows greater, it grows less and less likely to do so. God is God, as the Moslems say; but a great man knows he is not God, and the greater he is the better he knows it. That is the paradox; everything that is merely approaching to that point is merely receding from it. Socrates, the wisest man, knows that he knows nothing. A lunatic may think he is omniscience, and a fool may talk as if he were omniscient. But Christ is in another sense omniscient if he not only knows, but knows that he knows.”
“Now compared to these wanderers the life of Jesus went as swift and straight as a thunderbolt. It was above all things dramatic; it did above all things consist of doing something that had to be done. It emphatically would not have been done, if Jesus had walked about the world for ever doing nothing except tell the truth…This is where it was a fulfillment of the myths rather than of the philosophies; it is a journey with a goal and an object, like Jason going to find the Golden Fleece, or Hercules the golden apples of the Hesperides. The gold that he was seeking was death. The primary thing that he was going to do was to die. He was going to do other things equally definite and objective; we might almost say equally external and material. But from first to last the most definite fact is that he is going to die. No two things could possibly be more different than the death of Socrates and the death of Christ. We are meant to feel that the death of Socrates was, from the point of view of his friends at least, a stupid muddle and miscarriage of justice interfering with the flow of a human and lucid, I had almost said a light philosophy. We are meant to feel that Death was the bride of Christ as Poverty was the bride of St. Francis. We are meant to feel that his life was in that sense a sort of love-affair with death, a romance of the pursuit of the ultimate sacrifice. From the moment when the star goes up like a birthday rocket to the moment when the sun is extinguished like a funeral torch, the whole story moves on wings with the speed and direction of a drama, ending in an act beyond words.”
“Every attempt to amplify that story has diminished it. The task has been attempted by many men of real genius and eloquence as well as by only too many vulgar sentimentalists and self-conscious rhetoricians. The tale has been retold with patronizing pathos by elegant sceptics and with fluent enthusiasm by boisterous best-sellers. It will not be retold here. The grinding power of the plain words of the Gospel story is like the power of mill-stones; and those who can read them simply enough will feel as if rocks had been rolled upon them. Criticism is only words about words; and of what use are words about such words as these? What is the use of word-painting about the dark garden filled suddenly with torchlight and furious faces? ‘Are you come out with swords and staves as against a robber? All day I sat in your temple teaching, and you took me not.’ Can anything be added to the massive and gathered restraint of that irony; like a great wave lifted to the sky and refusing to fall? ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me but weep for yourselves and for your children.’ As the High Priest asked what further need he had of witnesses, we might well ask what further need we have of words. Peter in a panic repudiated him: ‘and immediately the cock crew; and Jesus looked upon Peter, and Peter went out and wept bitterly.’ Has anyone any further remarks to offer? Just before the murder he prayed for all the murderous race of men, saying, ‘They know not what they do’; is there anything to say to that, except that we know as little what we say? Is there any need to repeat and spin out the story of how the tragedy trailed up the Via Dolorosa and how they threw him in haphazard with two thieves in one of the ordinary batches of execution; and how in all that horror and howling wilderness of desertion one voice spoke in homage, a startling voice from the very last place where it was looked for, the gibbet of the criminal; and he said to that nameless ruffian, ‘This night shalt thou be with my in Paradise’? Is there anything to put after that but a full-stop? Or is anyone prepared to answer adequately that farewell gesture to all flesh which created for his Mother a new Son?”
“Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave…But this madness has remained sane. The madness has remained sane when everything else went mad. The madhouse has been a house to which, age after age, men are continually coming back as to a home. That is the riddle that remains; that anything so abrupt and abnormal should still be found a habitable and hospitable thing. I care not if the sceptic says it is a tall story; I cannot see how so toppling a tower could stand so long without foundation. Still less can I see how it could become, as it has become, the home of man.”
Commentary on 1 John 1—Part 2
6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:
A constant theme in John’s epistle: sin has no fellowship with Christ. To walk in darkness is to walk in sin—namely hatred and selfishness. Pride is at the core of all evil, any man who wishes to focus on and please himself will never enter the Kingdom of God—such is a child of the devil (That is, he bears the devil’s likeness, not that he has ceased to be God’s child—nothing can revoke the Universal Fatherhood of God. Have we not all one father? (Mal 2:10)). The darkness John speaks of seems to be interchangeable with hatred and pride.
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
John does not abandon his readers to a discouraging statement of condemnation: but if we walk in the light—as Christ is in the light, we have both fellowship with Christ and one another. The theme of cleansing is notable in John’s epistle; it seems to imply both justification and sanctification. Here the cleansing from all sin is the entrance into fellowship one with another, and consequently with Christ. In this verse, it seems to resemble the justification of Paul—an entrance to the Body of Christ and communion with him.
The condition, however, for the cleansing is if we walk in the light; so it could be argued that the cleansing is dependent on our devotion—our obedience—to Christ, distinguishing it from Paul’s justification. Paul’s grace is not dependent on any human performance, but this active cleansing would perhaps appear to be. Cleansing, unlike justification, is not a one-time experience, but an active process by which the Father prepares his children for eternity.
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
Another verse that puts a condition on active faith in Christ—those who say that they have no sin are first deceiving themselves. and second making God a liar (1:10). Perhaps he clarifies this so that the cleansing from all sin of the previous verse is not mistaken to mean that human readers have thus become perfect in and of themselves after Christ’s forgiveness. God does view his redeemed as perfect—he sees Christ’s blood in place of their sins—and as far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed their transgressions from them (Ps 103:12). This does not mean, however, that sinful nature has left any human—only that God has forgiven and forgotten the sin. Paul is careful to point out the sinful nature even of himself, saying: For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I (Rom 7:15). But he makes yet another clarification!—Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me (Rom 7:17). The effect of God’s forgiveness and banishment of our sins ought to humble and awe us, not give us any sort of reason to boast of our own merit; even the sin that dwelleth in us causes us to do what we hate every day.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
John continues his back-and-forth pattern of condemnation and forgiveness: if we confess, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, as well as to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Here confession is brought into the picture: confession is evidence of humility, it is admission of failure. In confessing, we humble ourselves before God, and in doing so he is both faithful and just to forgive us.
How is it that God is just to forgive us? justice is dependent on God, never ourselves. Justice means that God has what he wills, that he is given back what is taken from him, and that his offenders repent and are reconciled to him. He is certainly not just in the view that justice revolves around humanity, why would he ever send Christ if he was just in his dealings for our sake alone? what need would he have? but supposing justice, meaning “right relationship,” is centered on the Father, it is only logical that he is just to forgive sins, just in reconciling all things to himself, and just to carry out whatsoever he wills (Col 1:20).
An excerpt that furthers this point from “Justice,” by George MacDonald: “Suppose my watch has been taken from my pocket; I lay hold of the thief; he is dragged before the magistrate, proved guilty, and sentenced to a just imprisonment: must I walk home satisfied with the result? Have I had justice done me? The thief may have had justice done him—but where is my watch? That is gone, and I remain a man wronged. Who has done me the wrong? The thief. Who can set right the wrong? The thief, and only the thief; nobody but the man that did the wrong.”
Justice is not dependent on anything but the will of God, who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4). For this reason, he is just to forgive each and every sinner who repents.
John adds that he is also faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, repeating the message of the verse 7 but adding these two attributes of God as his background, means, and motive for his doing so. This would seem to imply a difference in forgiveness and cleansing, that is—justification and sanctification.
10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Virtually the same point as verse 8, but John adds that not only do we deceive ourselves, but make him a liar and reject his word. He simply adds severity here and re-emphasizes his point of the sinful nature of all men, with or without the justification, the word, of God.