Posts Tagged ‘God’

A short post between my commandment posts…here is a phrase I heard from someone (Ellis Potter) who had converted from Zen Buddhism to Christianity:

We all must existentially bow and say,
I am small and God is great,
I do not create God in my own image,
God is right, and I am wrong,
God is good, and I am not…

The context was that one or more of these things happens at conversion (or something else along those lines).


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I’ve been thinking about doing short posts about the ten commandments. Here’s the first one, dealing with “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me”.

I will quote Luther in his Large Catechism:

“To rephrase this: ‘You are to regard Me alone as your God.’ What does that mean? How is one to understand it? What is it to have a god? Or, what is one’s god?
Answer: To whatever we look for any good thing and for refuge in every need, that is what is meant by “god.” To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in him from the heart. As I have often said, it is the trust and faith of the heart, nothing else, that make both God and an idol. If your faith and confidence are of the right kind, then your God is the true God. If, on the other hand, your trust is false, if it is misdirected, then you do no have the true God. For these two, faith and God, belong together. To whatver you give your heart and entrust your being, that, I say, is really your God.”

Luther goes on, but I will stop here for now. Maybe tomorrow I will continue it. If not, check it out for yourself if you are so inclined. It is well worth it.

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A Naturalist might ask a theist, or Christian to be specific, for proof of the existence of God. One might point to the bible, and then the naturalist will say that is rubbish, it is full of magic tricks called ‘miracles’. These are impossible, he/she might say, because of Hume’s argument against them: it is far more likely that a witness to such an event is either lying or mistaken, than the laws of the universe have been altered.

But imagine this: You ask for proof of divinity and Jesus rises from the dead and says that death no longer has a hold on humanity if you believe in Him. So you say that is rubbish, because clearly people don’t rise from the dead. Let’s say we go a step further and a miracle of one kind or another happens and you see the reports of it on the news. You then say that that too is rubbish and the whole lot of people must have been drunk, high, or stupid to believe anything they are reporting to have seen (or even better, it was some magician trying to make a name for himself by making a building disappear in NYC…damn those magicians…good special effects these days…). Then, let us say that a miracle happens right before your eyes. What do you say then? “O well, I must have had something bad to eat last night, I’m hallucinating, tired, delirious, insane, dreaming, mistaken, etc etc. You will never, ever, come to the proper conclusion, the truth of the matter, because you exclude miracles from the start. Even if one actually occurred right before your eyes, God proving His divinity and power over natural laws (not that a miracle must be that way), you would still not recognize it for what it is.

In conclusion, when a naturalist claims that they just can’t believe what was written thousands of years ago about miracles, and they sure would like to see some in the present day, preferably right before their very eyes, this very instant so that they may believe, they are mistaken or lying, because they still would not believe.

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“The way of Jesus Christ, and thus the way of all Christian thought, is not the way from the world to God but from God to the world.” p.356 Ethics

An important distinction raised by Bonhoeffer in his Ethics. A distinction, that I personally draw, not that he explicitly wrote about, is that this point is where many religions part ways from Christianity.

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“Before God everything is impure; therefore nothing is especially impure.” p.517 The Epistle to the Romans

A short quote from Barth today. The field is leveled, so to speak, before God…

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“Men seem to proceed on their way in a twilight of indifferent neutrality; and this in spite of all their activity and suffering, their influencing and being influenced, their sowing and their reaping. But what fruits do they secure? What is the upshot of their journey? What signifies their behavior and their prowess? What do they achieve by their words and by their deeds in which they do but discover their own selves? What mean the ‘movements’, the alliances, and the rules within the framework of which they live their lives? Whither do progress and evolution lead them? What is the goal, the TELOS, the purpose of those innumerable ends for which men strive and to which they may, or may not, attain? Do men know the answer to these questions? Or indeed, can they know? In this harvest of human endeavor wheat and tares grow up in such entangled identity that it is impossible to detect which brings forth iniquity and which sanctification (vi. 19). Who is able to judge, and by what objective norm can it be decided, whether the limbs of our mortal body do right or wrong? Who can say whether a thing made by the finite and created spirit of man is evil or good, or whether this or that motion of the soul or historical achievement is iniquitous or holy? May it not be that everything that men do and say and bring into being lies wholly on one side or the other? Is there any visible iniquity which it is quite impossible to interpret as sanctification? Or is there any visible sanctification which may not be called iniquity? We possess, however, no Rosetta stone by the help of which we can decipher the unknown language of human life. We are manifestly ignorant of the harvest which the Lord will carry into His barns; ignorant, too, of the relation between His harvest and ours. And if the meaning of the things we bring forth is beyond our comprehension, how can we comprehend the meaning of our existence? If we do not know our end, how can we know our beginning? Are our affirmations and our negations anything more than chance or whim? When we judge one man a criminal and another a saint; when we destine one to hell and another to heaven; when we believe ‘good will grow better and better, and evil worse and worse’ (Harnack), are we not purely capricious? Moreover, what is good? What is evil? Is it not right that twilight such as this should mark the realm of tension and polarity, of dualism and allogeneity? Here ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ confront each other; here both are alike necessary, valuable, and divine–and, yet we can have no very great illusion about the necessity, value, and divinity of this ‘Yes’ and this ‘No’. Here wisdom can, no doubt, do its utmost to adjust a balance and arrange a compromise–so that the play can run on without a hitch!” p. 225-226 The Epistle to the Romans

Here Barth breaks down the basic questions that all men ought to ask and ponder. I’ve come across many non-religious folks who think that Christians just don’t think about these things at all. That these questions are passed over because they don’t “fit” in to our “religion”. I think Barth shows us how they do fit in, and how they are at the back of everyone’s mind whether they realize it or not.

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“Our transference from the point of view of religion to the point of view of Jesus involves the transference from a well-established attitude towards the relation between God and man to a wholly different method of reckoning. All religions either reckon that human achievements in this world–some concrete human behavior or disposition–constitute a claim to the favor of God and must be rewarded by Him (ii.6); or else they reckon that human achievements are themselves the reward of God, since they are the tangible and recognizable products of a transformation of human behavior that has been wrought by God. So all religions assume either that God will act or that He has acted; making the assumption quite apart from any consideration of the ‘Moment’ when men stand naked before God and are clothed upon by Him. They do not consider before and after to be before and after the ‘Moment’ when men are moved by God; or they suppose either that the ‘Moment’ depends upon some previous behavior or that it carries with it some subsequent behavior: that is to say, they conceive of the ‘Moment’ as in some way comparable and commensurable with human behavior. Consequently, all religions admit the possibility of boasting of what men are and do and have, as though they were divine. In all religions it is therefore possible to disregard or to escape from the paradox of faith. From the point of view of Jesus, however, we must reckon otherwise: fundamentally there are no human works sufficiently significant to excite the favor of God; nor are there works so well-pleasing to Him that they become significant in the world. In Jesus everything that occurs in the world is bent under the judgment of God and awaits His affirmation. The words apart from cover everything both before and after the ‘Moment’ when men stand before God and are moved by Him; for no comparison between the ‘Moment’ and works which are done either before of after it is possible. The Being and Action of God are and remain wholly different from the being and action of men. The line which separates here from there cannot be crossed: it is the line of death, which is, nevertheless, the line of life; it is the end, which is, nevertheless, the beginning; it is the ‘No’, which is, nevertheless, the ‘Yes’. It is God who pronounces and speaks and renders, who selects and values according to His pleasure. And the word which He utters is verily creative, for it brings reality into being. To God belongs what He renders: it belongs no longer to men. What God treats as valuable is valuable indeed–but, for this reason, it is not valuable in this world…The cross stands, and must always stand, between us and God. The cross is the bridge which creates a chasm and the promise which sounds a warning. We can never escape the paradox of faith, nor can it ever be removed. By faith only–sola fide–does mankind stand before God and is moved by Him. The faithfulness of God can be believed in only, because it is the faithfulness of God. Were it more, it would be less. This is the new reckoning.” p. 111-112 The Epistle to the Romans

[This is a follow up to the post on July 3rd 2010]
Now we see some of Barth’s opinion regarding the uniqueness of Christianity compared to other world religions in terms of dealing with works and faith. Again, I have trouble dealing with what exactly the ‘Moment’ is he refers to. He claims that in all religions it is possible to escape from the paradox of faith. But, Jesus closes our escape routes in Christianity. Nothing we can do can “excite the favor of God”. The Action and Being of God is wholly different from the action and being of man; the line of death becomes the line of life; the end becomes the beginning; ‘No’ turns to ‘Yes’. What God treats as valuable is indeed such, but not in this world. We can only stand before God in the paradox of faith.

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