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By Gregory Love

God is our one true love. We were made out of God’s love, and for that love.

But we don’t always know this. We wander. We drift. Sometimes for years, or decades.

In Pilgrim’s Regress, C. S. Lewis talks about this life of wandering. We seek to fill the God-shaped hole in our heart with finite things…of any shape and type. Material or spiritual, petty or lofty.

Lewis is simply following the Old and New Testaments, the prophets and Jesus; Augustine and the Reformers; and the spiritual traditions of the Jews and Christians. We replace the infinite with the finite. We replace being loved simply for who we are—God’s beloved—for being well-regarded for our traits and achievements.

But these objects of replacement will not fill us. They will not satisfy our soul, or bring us lasting peace or joy, because they are not the thing needed: An unconditional love from the God who made us and who wants a relationship with us.

It is when the finite things fail to satisfy that we may become open to the infinite. Lewis writes:

… if a man diligently followed his desire [for Joy], pursuing the false objects until their falsity appeared and then resolutely abandoned them, he must come out at last into the clear knowledge that the human soul was made to enjoy some object that is never fully given … in our present mode of subjective and spatio-temporal existence.

Two things are true. God wants us to come to God out of our own desire and free will. God wants our “Yes” to God’s own offer of fellowship, a fellowship that will fill our hearts. It could not be any other way if it were to be fellowship.

And God is merciful to those who have wandered away. “I have come to find the lost,” Jesus says (Luke 19:10). But how to seek us for a fellowship that is freely accepted, and not coerced? That is the triune God’s challenge.

One of the ways God does so is through providential acts by which God nudges us. These are not commands. They are not God standing in our way, like the angel with a flaming sword in front of Balaam’s donkey. They are words from the living, risen Jesus to us, and they come in a thousand different ways, from large to trivial events. A scene in a movie. A comment by a friend. A dream. A memory, long forgotten. An opportunity that opens unbidden. God moves us to consider what we are doing with our lives. And Christ continuously says about our ventures, as he did to the Samaritan woman at the well, “This will not fulfill you”; and he then continuously points to the fellowship with God and says, “This will fulfill you…and it will last.” (John 4)

But they are nudgings. And we can resist them, refuse to look at them, repress them.

However, as we wander, the mercy of the triune God comes to us in a second way. God the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of truth, wisdom and life—speaks to us in our inner world. The Spirit converses with our minds and our hearts about those words spoken by Jesus to us, “This will not fulfill you. That will.” God the Spirit counsels and encourages us to freely listen to the guidance of Jesus toward the life that fills our souls.

When we do, our life can take a turn toward the satisfaction that goes all the way down in us.

Gregory Love

Gregory Love teaches Systematic Theology at San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, California. A Presbyterian pastor, Greg’s most recent book, on the meaning of Jesus’ death, is Love, Violence, and the Cross: How the Nonviolent God Saves Us through the Cross of Christ.

25 Comments

  • Kent says:

    Hey Greg, thank you for penning a piece that resonates so well with me and articulates what I believe is the heart of God, Jesus, Holy Spirit. “Nudge” is a word that I’ve heard William Paul Young use as well, and I have latched on to it to help me be better aware of his never-ending pursuit of me for both intimate, daily relationship as well as companionship in His daily great adventures. I appreciate you!

  • Kent says:

    PS—Greg, at which point in the text does the C.S. Lewis quote end? Thanks.

  • RLG says:

    Interesting comments, Gregory. And perhaps as you have pointed out, such a view has historical precedent with many Christians, depending on their theological heritage and denominational background.

    Others might point out that God gave to Adam a soul mate, a suitable helper, that no other living creature could fulfill, to be his life partner, a partner that even parents could not fulfill. As many would likely point out, such a relationship is a creational ordinance given by God to be our first love. And even as Adam and Eve stood shamelessly naked before each other, such a relationship allows and encourages such partners to be open and honest with each other as with no other relationship. Check out Genesis 2, to confirm that God has given this special bond and love as the first love of one’s life. And as to first loves, who wouldn’t be willing to lay down their life for their beloved. Of course, this is just another take on what or who God has provided as a first love. Such a love (unlike what you suggested) is very satisfying to the soul. In the Garden of Eden, the relationship that God garnered from Adam was one of deep respect and obedience. Love? I’m not so sure. Maybe a form of love.

    That’s what’s nice about this blog site. It encourages a variety of perspectives on any subject. Your perspective is certainly appreciated. Thanks for your contribution.

    • Gregory Love says:

      RLG, I am actually in complete agreement with you. With this caveat: There are “layers” of “true love.”

      God is our one true love, or should be. That is the entire point of monotheism, and of the first four commandments and the first part of the great commandment from Jesus. As Barth said, God is “our genuine counterpart.” God is our true covenant partner.

      But Barth himself then went on to make clear, especially in his doctrine of reconciliation (CD IV), that God created humans to have an analogy to this ‘I-Thou” relation between God and us; it is to have an “I-Thou” relation with a human “genuine counterpart,” a beloved, a second “I-Thou” relation. This second one reflects the first, the divine-human one. Human partners, soul mates, help mates . . . “the two shall become one flesh.” That is what you rightly talk about. And Yes, that human-to-human fellowship and love is extremely satisfying to the soul; for it, we were created.

      And then there is a third layer, beyond our loving God as our first love, and loving our soul mate as our most intimate human relation: We and our partner are to go forth into the world, and love others in the world. To use our gifts and talents to love them, and move the world toward the kingdom of God. And then, to bring all those experiences . . . the ways they have brought us gladness or sorrow, and changed us . . . back into our “intimate relationship like none other” with our soul mate. This “going forth and coming back” is the way God uses us to change others’ lives, and the way God uses others to feed us and our intimate relationship with our “genuine other.”

      God the Holy Spirit is in charge of it all.

  • George E says:

    Greg — very insightful essay, and the continuum is fun. Thanks!

  • Eric Van Dyken says:

    If the “Perspectives‘ purpose is to express the Reformed faith theologically”, how is this article judged to do that in light of the third and fourth main points of doctrine of the Canons of Dort?

    Select quotes from the Canons:

    “Therefore, all people are conceived in sin and are born children of wrath,
    unfit for any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in their sins, and slaves to
    sin. Without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit they are neither willing
    nor able to return to God, to reform their distorted nature, or even to
    dispose themselves to such reform.”

    “The fact that others who are called through the ministry of the gospel do
    come and are brought to conversion must not be credited
    to human effort,
    as though one distinguishes oneself by free choice from others who are furnished
    with equal or sufficient grace for faith and conversion (as the proud
    heresy of Pelagius maintains). No, it must be credited to God: just as from
    eternity God chose his own in Christ, so within time God effectively calls
    them, grants them faith and repentance, and, having rescued them from the
    dominion of darkness, brings them into the kingdom of his Son, in order
    that they may declare the wonderful deeds of the One who called them out
    of darkness into this marvelous light, and may boast not in themselves, but
    in the Lord, as apostolic words frequently testify in Scripture.”

    “In this way, therefore, faith is a gift of God, not in the sense that it is offered
    by God for people to choose, but that it is in actual fact bestowed on them,
    breathed and infused into them. Nor is it a gift in the sense that God bestows
    only the potential to believe, but then awaits assent—the act of believing—
    by human choice; rather, it is a gift in the sense that God who works both
    willing and acting and, indeed, works all things in all people and produces
    in them both the will to believe and the belief itself.”

    “Having set forth the orthodox teaching, the Synod rejects the errors of those…”

    “…Who teach that in spiritual death the spiritual gifts have not been separated
    from human will, since the will in itself has never been corrupted but only
    hindered by the darkness of the mind and the unruliness of the emotions,
    and since the will is able to exercise its innate free capacity once these hindrances
    are removed, which is to say, it is able of itself to will or choose
    whatever good is set before it—or else not to will or choose it.”

    “…Who teach that the grace by which we are converted to God is nothing but
    a gentle persuasion, or (as others explain it) that the way of God’s acting
    in conversion that is most noble and suited to human nature is that which
    happens by persuasion, and that nothing prevents this grace of moral persuasion
    even by itself from making the natural person spiritual; indeed, that
    God does not produce the assent of the will except in this manner of moral
    persuasion, and that the effectiveness of God’s work by which it surpasses
    the work of Satan consists in the fact that God promises eternal benefits
    while Satan promises temporal ones.”

    “…Who teach that God in regenerating people does not bring to bear that
    power of his omnipotence whereby God may powerfully and unfailingly
    bend the human will to faith and conversion, but that even when God has
    accomplished all the works of grace which he uses for their conversion, they
    nevertheless can, and in actual fact often do, so resist God and the Spirit in
    their intent and will to regenerate them, that they completely thwart their
    own rebirth; and, indeed, that it remains in their own power whether or not
    to be reborn.”

  • Steve Mathonnet- VanderWell says:

    Eric, I hope Greg will respond himself. I appreciate anyone who cites and takes Dordt seriously. I think of the lines in the Canons that say “divine grace of regeneration does not act in people as if they were blocks and stones; nor does it abolish the will and its properties or coerce a reluctant will by force, but spiritually revives, heals, and reforms…” I wonder if that non coercive healing and reviving might not be experienced as a “nudge” by many people? In other words, simply the phrase “free will” does not make something necessarily wrong or heretical. Much of what we experience as decisions, will, freedom, nudges, and whispers could actually be the Holy Spirit’s inexorable and relentless gracious work of regeneration. Just a thought!

  • Eric Van Dyken says:

    Hi Steve. Thanks for engaging. I don’t disagree with what you said, but I think that differs from what the author has said. The piece is entitled “Nudging”, and the author goes on to describe what he means by that, including these quotes, which don’t say everything, but also don’t say nothing:

    “God wants us to come to God out of our own desire and free will.”
    “It could not be any other way if it were to be fellowship.”
    “But how to seek us for a fellowship that is freely accepted, and not coerced? That is the triune God’s challenge.”
    “But they are nudgings. And we can resist them, refuse to look at them, repress them.”
    “The Spirit converses with our minds and our hearts about those words spoken by Jesus to us, “This will not fulfill you. That will.” God the Spirit counsels and encourages us to freely listen to the guidance of Jesus toward the life that fills our souls.”

    I take Mr. Love to be a skilled communicator, and it seems to me that he does not choose the words “nudging”, “free”, “freely”, “resist”, “coerced”, “refuse”, and “repress” by accident. In their context, it is difficult to square the use of those words with the quotes from the Canons, particularly phrases such as these:

    “as though one distinguishes oneself by free choice ”
    “In this way, therefore, faith is a gift of God, not in the sense that it is offered
    by God for people to choose, but that it is in actual fact bestowed on them,
    breathed and infused into them. Nor is it a gift in the sense that God bestows
    only the potential to believe, but then awaits assent—the act of believing—
    by human choice; rather, it is a gift in the sense that God who works both
    willing and acting and, indeed, works all things in all people and produces
    in them both the will to believe and the belief itself.”
    Rejecting the following:
    “Who teach that the grace by which we are converted to God is nothing but
    a gentle persuasion” [Nudging, perhaps? – ed.]
    “Who teach that God in regenerating people does not bring to bear that
    power of his omnipotence whereby God may powerfully and unfailingly
    bend the human will to faith and conversion”
    “they nevertheless can, and in actual fact often do, so resist God and the Spirit in
    their intent and will to regenerate them”

    I certainly concur that God’s grace through the Holy Spirit comes to us in many different ways, including nudges, and that we are not simply yanked into salvation, but rather are made (mysteriously) by the sovereign will of God to irresistibly conform our desire to His offer of salvation. I cannot see that this is what the author is saying, on balance. Rather, he seems to be saying the opposite, that God would not, and does not “bend the human will to faith and conversion”, but instead God coaxes us and convinces us to accept that Jesus can give us “life that fills our souls.”

    • Gregory Love says:

      Hi Eric,

      I love what you wrote, and agree with it wholeheartedly. I love that you brought in the Canons of Dordt from the Reformed Confessions.

      Pelagius and Arminius are wrong. They do not understand human nature, nor God’s relationship to us. Concerning these points, Augustine, Luther and Calvin gave the right correctives.

      There main thread of Reformed theology–from Calvin and Bullinger through the Reformed confessions of the 16th and 17th centuries to Barth–affirms this principle, stated by Barth as his summary of the doctrine of Providence (CD III/3): God rules in and over a world of freedom.

      Pelagius and Arminius (and much theology from 1800 on) overturn the first proclamation: “God rules.” They divide up power between God and creatures, including humans: God has some power, and we have some power. We have that power “in us,” innately. Together, synergistically, we and God both act to bring about an effect–whether in our daily lives, or in our salvation. As if the relationship were contractual, or between two equals. The writers of Dordt, like Augustine, Luther and Calvin, rightly rejected this view as going against the good news of the gospel and the biblical texts. “God rules.” We do not. Not even partly. This is why the Reformed faith rightly lifts up one principle above all others: “To God alone be the glory.”

      Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Dordt, however, also guard against the opposite heresy: Claiming that the world over which God rules is not “a world of freedom.” As the writers of Dordt rightly said, we humans are not “blocks and stones.” We are not cogs in a machine. We are not slaves under a master’s whip, our reluctant wills coerced by force. If this were true, God’s ultimate goal of shalom, of the peaceable world in which humans love God and love one another as God loves them, would be impossible. As Dordt says, God acts precisely to awaken the freedom of the person, that was lost with sin and the fall. God acts to bring freedom, to “spiritually revive, heal and reform” the will.

      Do we get any credit for this relation of love opened up with God? No. Because without the continuous actions of all three persons of the Trinity, we would never move toward God. Never move in a healthy, freeing, saving direction. We are, as Jesus said, “the lost.” Those tied up in a thousand different ways.

      “To God alone be the glory.” God saves us. But while the method by which God alters our heart is not moral persuasion (Abelard), your quote from the writers of Dordt is correct: “God . . . produces the assent of the will. . . .”

      How can both be true? God produces the result, and we give our free assent? The logic never works if you think synergistically, but it does if you think in terms of mystery, as Augustine, Luther, Calvin and Dordt do: God works “in and through” the creatures, whose freedom has been sovereignly restored by the free God.

      It is because God wants our freedom that God is love. And as Barth stressed, this trait is what distinguishes the true God from all the false gods, who are indifferent to, antagonistic to, or threatened by human freedom.

      Thanks so much, Eric, for reminding us of Dordt’s contributions on human free will and the sovereign action of our God.

  • Daniel Bos says:

    Greg,
    Thank you for this reflection on God’s verbal and non-verbal communication with us if we have the ears to hear or the willingness to open the door.
    You also reminded me of some Biblical examples of nudging:

    Psalm 32:8–9
    I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.
    Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding
    but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.

    Revelation 3:19–20 [Quoting Proverbs 3:12]
    Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.
    Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

    Makes me want to read “Pilgrim’s Regress.”

    • Gregory Love says:

      Daniel,

      I love the bible texts you brought forth. Yes, one of the ways the triune God moves us is through “counsel”: Through providing wisdom, and urging us to take it. Christ speaks to us these words of wisdom (the Word); God the Holy Spirit, the “Counselor” and “Spirit of truth,” urges us to follow where Christ leads us.;

      “Pilgrim’s Regress” is a very good read. A creative companion to the classic “Pilgrim’s Progress.”

    • Daniel Bos says:

      First there is the gracious and loving instruct, teach, counsel, and watch over.
      Then there is the gracious and loving rebuke and discipline.
      Then there is the gracious and loving bit and bridle.
      We most likely experience all three.

      • Gregory Love says:

        Daniel, you are right: the living, risen Jesus, the Word, speaks to us in all types and manners of ways. And they are not all “nudgings.” Certainly the gospels, and the scriptures as a whole, bear this out.

  • RLG says:

    I’d guess, Eric, you’re not too much of an original thinker when it comes to theology, as closely as you want to follow the Canons of Dort. I don’t think writing articles or commenting here requires anyone to sign a form of subscription. So there is room for latitude.

    There seems in Biblical thinking to be two avenues one can take. One has to do with human free will, the other with God’s sovereign will.

    From God’s vantage point nothing happens apart from God’s direction. God’s got our hairs all numbered and not even a sparrow can not fall to the ground apart from his will. He directs all human decisions especially when it comes to decisions concerning salvation. And apparently his decisions have been made from before time. From this vantage point of acknowledging God’s sovereignty, God is the sole mover and shaker. And there are many Bible verses that support such a point of view.

    Looking at life, as well as salvation, from the human vantage point, humans have complete freedom of choice. The choices that we make daily from small to big are made from a position of free will. We may feel the influence or persuasion of others, but in the end it is my choice, human choice. Joshua 24:15, “Choose this day whom you will serve…” And we know this human free will from our daily experiences. From this human perspective we feel and know nudging from many directions, whether from our spouse or from God or our boss at work, but we make the choice in the end. This human free will is also supported by many Bible verses.

    The Canons look at salvation mainly from God’s perspective and God’s sovereignty. That’s what I hear you pushing, Eric. How much is God involved in our daily lives and decisions and how much are we involved? You decide.

    • Gregory Love says:

      RLG, you are right that our lens for seeing what is happening in our lives and in the world is not necessarily what God sees, or what God is doing. Our perspective is finite and flawed (sinful). God’s is not. Ours is shaped by our experience, and by our reason, and by our emotions. God alone sees the whole sweep, and sees it with realism and accuracy.

      You are also right that our limited minds and experiences cannot grasp fully or accurately how the free God works “in and through” free creatures to bring about a singular effect. That is a mystery, analogous to understanding how the Son of God takes on and acts “in and through” full humanity, while fulfilling that humanity rather than encumbering or stunting it.

      But we can understand that mystery through analogous language. Some of our analogies and concepts lean toward the first truth: “God rules over all things.” The danger is that some of these can begin to look tyrannical. Some of our other analogies and concepts lean toward the second truth: God rules “in and over a world of freedom.” The danger is that some of these can begin to look synergistic (Pelagian).

      But we use the analogies nonetheless, because we have to talk about the experience of God acting in our lives somehow.

      • RLG says:

        Gregory, you said that I was right in suggesting that we cannot grasp how God sovereignly works in our human free choices. I did not suggest that, but I believe you are suggesting it. You call it a mystery, one that is beyond our understanding. You suggest we understand this mystery of contradictory ideas through analogous language. The truth is that these two ideas are not so much a mystery as they are a contradiction, plain and simple, and analogous language does hide the fact of contradiction.

        You suggest that we have to use analogies in order to somehow understand the experience of God acting in our lives. But isn’t it strange that we don’t have to use analogies to understand the free will choices we make everyday. Where do we cast the doubt?

        • Gregory Love says:

          RLG, The Rationalists would agree with you: To say “We act freely” and “God acts freely in and through our actions,” and both actions produce one and the same effect, is seen by them as a contradiction, plain and simple.

          So I base my statement on divine revelation as witnessed in scripture; and from that, I find it also fitting my experience.

          The true question for you is this: Do you also hold the Rationalist’s view of Jesus? They also said it was “a contradiction, plain and simple” for Christians to claim that one and the same person, Jesus from Nazareth, was both fully God and fully a human being. The Rationalists said that logic/reason, and experience, dictated he had to be one or the other, but not both. Do you agree with the Rationalists on this, or disagree, and why?

          Further, if you do not agree with the Rationalists, but instead believe Jesus was both fully God and fully human, then you will need analogous language to explain his being, life and action. For example, those who wrote the Nicene Creed had to use analogies to explain who he was.

          If you agree that analogous language is needed to describe Jesus, as those writing the creeds did, then you should affirm that the corresponding experiences also need the language of analogy. Because, for example, if Christ dwells inside the believer, Rationalists cannot explain that. We have no language to describe two beings, Jesus and a believer, making their home together in the same heart.

          • Gregory Love says:

            RLG, I forgot to mention that there is a group, those who see a syncretistic relation between divine and human action, that agrees that bringing together sovereign divine action and human free choices is a contradiction. The syncretistic group includes Pelagius, Arminius, many 19th-21st century Evangelicals, and Process Theology (Whitehead and Hartshorne).

            The position I describe is from what is called the “double agency” school, that includes Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Barth.

  • RLG says:

    Thanks, Gregory, for your further response. We obviously take completely different positions. Although my background is Reformed, my present position would come much closer to deism, which is a belief in the existence of God based on the evidence of reason and nature, with a rejection of supernatural revelations such as the Koran, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Jewish Scriptures and all other so called supernatural revelations. Most deists believe that God created the world and established natural law but has since remained indifferent, or is not active or minimally active in the unfolding details.

    You say you base your statements (positions) on divine revelation as witnessed in Scripture. But all religions believe that their Scriptures are divinely inspired or God breathed and therefore completely reliable and truthful. What makes the Bible divinely inspired and not the Koran or the Scriptures of other religions? I’ve heard some Christians suggest that the teachings of other religions (such as the book of Mormon) are obviously bazar and not believable as a word from God. But none of these other religious Scriptures are any more bazar or unbelievable than the teachings of the Bible. The Bible teaches that God is a three person entity, of which the second person (Jesus) came down to earth from heaven and took on human form as a baby. Now that’s bazar. Yes, that Jesus was completely human and completely divine at the same time is bazar and does not stack up to reason. The Jesus from birth forward never sinned in thought, word, or deed. That’s bazar. That Jesus, as a child, performed miracles (Catholic Bible) is bazar. That Jesus walked on water is bazar. That Jesus fed 5,000 men plus women and children from a child’s lunch with much food left over, is bazar and very unlikely. Doing the same on another occasion with 4,000 people is bazar. The Jesus healed 10 lepers instantly (only one returned to say thank you), is bazar and very unlikely. That Jesus brought John, Mary and Martha’s brother, back to life from death, after his body had begun to stink, is bazar. That Jesus changed water into wine for a wedding feast is also bazar. And there are many other teachings about Jesus that makes the Bible no less bazar than the Scriptures of any other religion. But of course all these bazar ideas about Jesus is what contributes to his legendary character, fanciful but not grounded in objective reality. So when Christian scholars want to paint other religions as bazar and unlikely in their teachings, they should look at Christianity first.

    It is when the legend of Jesus becomes the basis of a Christian theology that analogies have to be used to make sense of many of Christianity’s teachings, such as with the contradiction of human free will and divine sovereignty, or the dual nature of Jesus Christ, or the immaculate conception of Jesus, or the supposed fall of humanity along with a so called actual historic Adam and Eve, or that Jesus has ascended back to heaven where he presently reigns in all authority over heaven and earth (you could fool me), or the soon return of Jesus Christ (how soon?). And that Jesus indwells inside the believer means a multitude of different things to a variety of Christians, showing its unlikelihood. So again, I wonder what makes Christianity any more believable than the multitude of world religions? That you base your statements on divine revelation as witnessed in scripture is not a convincing argument, especially to those outside of Christianity who view the Bible’s Jesus as a greatly embellished character, or a legend, but less than historic as to his embellishments.

    Whether one considers me a Christian, I guess, is a matter of opinion. Thomas Jefferson who removed most of the New Testament from his Jeffersonian Bible referred to himself as a Christian, even though he was a deist. But he greatly appreciated the moral teachings of the New Testament. Sorry for the lengthy comment.

  • RLG says:

    Gregory, another comment in regard to your position. You said, “I base my statement on divine revelation as witnessed in scripture; and from that, I find it also fitting my experience.” But of course what you understand Scripture to say is not the same as what another Christian may understand. There are many different positions on what it means for Christ to indwell the Christian. And that seems to then mean the experience of these Christians (with differing interpretations of Scripture) will be different from your experience.

    An example. A close friend of mine has cancer and has had it for over four years. Just recently she had a PET scan. The day after the exam and the day before she went on vacation with several friends, her oncologist called to tell her she was basically cancer free. Se was very excited and full of praise to God for such a good report. It lifted the spirits of all those on vacation together with her. When she got home, her oncologist asked her to come into the hospital to go over the results of the PET scan. It turned out the radiologist had misread the scan. After two further readings by different radiologists the report was that there was cancer in her lungs, as well as in her liver. This proved to be very disappointing and her demeanor quickly changed from joy to sadness. This sounds like your Christian experience. Based on what you understand Scripture to teach at the time, your experience will follow, just as my friend’s experience followed what her oncologist had told her. The Christian’s experience is subject to change based on what they believe. Based on what one believes about driving safety, will determine the way that person drives. So, Gregory, I can’t say your theory of the Christian experience makes much sense, especially when there are so many differences of belief among Christians.

    So what does this say about “nudgings”? Is the Spirit nudging me to get into a serious relationship with a particular person? Is the Spirit nudging me to buy a Cadillac or a Ford? It all depends on what I believe at the time.

    • Gregory Love says:

      Hi RLG, Thanks so much for your thoughts. Lots of thoughtful reflections here.

      The turn to reason and to the empirical method (experience) for understanding God in the 18th century, including by those who were Deists (Jefferson), helped end the horrific wars of religion between the various groups of Christians in Europe. Reason is an important source for our knowledge of God and the world. Experience, including the scientific investigations, are also important.

      And Yes, today we know that all of our experiences, of everything, are influenced by our internal world, and by our external culture. No investigation is without the bias of our own values, language, culture, goals, past experiences. . . . whether in politics, economics, family life, science, religion.

      But I am not a thorough-going relativist or subjectivist. There are facts to be discovered, and theories which are more reasonable than others.

      Further, while each Christian’s experience is unique, we can also talk to one another, and make our experiences of God public. Then we can see if any of our experiences are common or frequent; whether they repeat themselves, or are shared.

      You are right that there are many hard to believe elements of the Christian faith. The nature miracles. The healings. Raising Lazarus from the dead.

      The two biggest staggering claims, however, are of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and of the incarnation.

      Are they bizarre ideas? Yes. But are they any more bizarre than the alternative meta-narratives about why we are here? No. As Anthony Flew, the greatest Rationalist and Skeptic against Christianity and belief in a god of the twentieth century, came to believe late in his career: It was even more bizarre to believe life, and human consciousness, just came here out of chance from an original big bang. He changed his mind, and said theism was more believable. More reasonable.

      Reason is essential for life, and for faith. It also has its limits. Reason can do many things . . . except the most important things in life. You talked of soul mates. Reason cannot prove that your soul mate loves you, or explain why your soul mate loves you. Nor can it tell us why we so long for such love, and find it so fulfilling, if we all come from an indifferent and accidental universe. We treat the world, and our own personal lives, as if they are meaningful. But that is an irrational act if Reason shows us the universe is indifferent to our existence, and came about for no particular reason whatsoever.

      What makes the Christian story more reasonable than deism is given in your sentence about deism: God, after making the world, has perhaps “since remained indifferent” to it, and to us. You told your story of your close friend who has cancer with passion and emotion; you care about her. But your deistic god might not care about her at all. Or about her hopes and dreams, her family. Or about you.

      And reason and science cannot answer that central existential question: If there is a God, does God care about us? About this woman, as a unique individual, here for a certain time?

      The only way to know is if God comes Godself and tells us. And those are the stories given in the old and new testaments. God coming and saying to us, “You matter in the scheme of things. You matter to me.” Those “comings” of God reach their paradigmatic moment in the incarnation. God got close. God became one of us, a creature. One of the reasons God did so was so God could look us in the eye, use our own language and nonverbal communication, and say, “You matter to me. I love you.”

  • RLG says:

    Gregory, if you are using Anthony Flew to support your view of God, you might do well to check him out again. You are right to say he turned away from his long held view of Atheism, but he turned to deism, not theism, as the correct alternative. In fact he dismissed a so called conversion to Christianity or to any other religion. His allegiance was to deism, which dismisses belief in so-called supernatural revelations of God. So the Bible is not his source for believing in God.

    I think you may be confusing deism with atheism. They are not at all the same. As said earlier deists believe in God based on the evidence of reason and nature alone, apart from any supernatural revelations. For many of the reasons you fault atheists in you last comment, Anthony Flew (as a deist) would agree with you. That’s why he turned away from atheism. He died, not as an atheist, nor as a Christian, but as a deist.

    You talk of the two biggest and staggering claims of Christianity, the incarnation and the resurrection. I realize there are those, such as Lee Strobel, who go to lengths to give solid evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. But his failing is that you cannot isolate the resurrection from the rest Jesus’ bizarre (thanks for the correct spelling) characteristics or embellished actions or those of other Bible characters.

    It is in regard to these two staggering claims, that you turn to Flew for support. But no where does Flew support the incarnation of God (Jesus) or the resurrection. He was not a Christian, yet, in the end, believed in a God who created the world and universe rather than believing it all came about by chance.

    As to God’s personal involvement in the creation, God has provided, somehow, in creation for caring relationships whether amongst humans or even among most animals. And healthy relationships could well be an expression of God’s love and care, without his personal involvement. So I don’t have to rely on Bible stories to believe that God is a loving God. I see it in the created order.

    Thanks again, Gregory, for an interesting dialogue. Blessings to you.

    • Gregory Love says:

      RLG, Thanks for continuing the conversation. I am sorry I was so unclear.

      I do know the difference between atheism and deism. And I know that Flew went from atheism to a deistic form of theism. He based this change of mind on recent astrophysics and cosmology, and on what cosmologists call “the anthropic principle.”

      I didn’t mean to give the impression that Flew believed in Christianity or the incarnation, resurrection, or divine revelation. I know he did not.

      My only point was that every meta-narrative of the large sweep of cosmic history and of human history in particular includes fantastical (hard to believe) elements. So the only choices are to go without a meta-narrative (which is functionally impossible; everybody lives by some meta-narrative, even if it is “All is meaningless”); to to choose one with fantastical elements.

      In my view, the most reasonable narrative is the one that coheres with our innermost longings, and our social dreams. We want our life to have a meaning that lasts. We want intimacy, as you indicated in response to Sunday August 12’s “Our True Love” blog entry. We want a world of justice. A view that says we long for these things because they reflect God’s own nature, and they are the reason for which God made the world, and they are the future toward which God is moving, thus makes a coherence between our longings and Reality.

      Now of course, it could all be untrue. But that statement, “not be true,” can be said of any, and every, meta-narrative. Including the deistic one. And the atheist one.

      The fantastical element in deism is found in your ambivalent statements about the deistic god’s relation to our world. And to any and every individual. Above your spoke of this God’s potential “indifference” to the world that God made (through an initial creation of natural laws and with an energy influx). Immediately above you say that you believe the deistic God is a loving God, and you see this evidence in the created order (such as in human relations of love).

      The problem is that all the evidence of human cruelty and natural violence and indifference suggest, to the objective view of reason and observation, that the indifference of the deistic God is at least as likely as believing God is loving and wants our best. A deistic God who is amoral and capricious, a combination of good and evil, creativity and destruction, is also a logical bet (which is why many world philosophies and religions went this route).

      Resolving on an all-good God who loves each individual infinitely cannot be gained by reason and empiricism alone. More information is needed. One can go to one’s individual human experience of the divine (popular since the Romantic movement and today); or to belief in an innate presence of the divine within the self (spiritualities East and West); or to divine revelation. I find the last the most reasonable of those choices, because it makes sense that an all-good God, whose nature is love and who created us for love, and who wants a relationship of love with us, would reach out to us. God would attempt to communicate that love. Just as if I loved someone, I would want them to know.

  • RLG says:

    Well, Gregory, I think we are coming close to the end of our dialogue, not that we couldn’t continue debating for a long time. Whether a deist or a Christian, we both would admit we are considering an infinite God. Nature, nor the Bible, does not tells us all there is to know about God. Both fall far short. I believe that religions are manmade attempts to explain further the God who reveals himself in nature. And these religions go in many different directions in their explanations, most often conflicting with each other. The Christian religion uses the Bible to explain God. The Bible is mostly a story book with some teachings, and some poetry. And from that story book, Bible scholars have tried to formulate a systematic theology explaining further the God of creation. Many Bible scholars, many explanations of the Bible, often conflicting with each other at important points. Hence we have such scholars throughout history calling each other heretics for their misinterpretations of the Bible (Calvin, Arminius, etc.) and their misrepresentation of God.

    I also believe that creation is the one true self revelation of God. It is his own handiwork. As several recent articles on The Twelve have pointed out, God’s revelation in creation is amazing, and makes most people stand in awe, not only of the creation but of the creator. And I think much of life is that way. But does nature tell us all we want to know about God? I suppose not. Does nature and reason leave us with questions? Sure. But I would conjecture, that in God’s mind creation and reason are enough. By basically considering only creation and reason, will people come to different conclusions about God from each other? Sure, creation is not a systematic theology of God. But I doubt that God wants us to pigeon hole him into the exact ways he relates or has to relate to humankind. So, I’m quite satisfied with the creation and nature as God’s self revelation. As Christians might say or sing, “Our God is awesome.”

    But why not Christianity, other than the reasons already stated. A big hole for me is the doctrine of predestination, not just predestination unto salvation, but predestination unto damnation. I honestly believe the apostle Paul was more of a hyper Calvinist than just a Calvinist. I believe that, when considering salvation from God’s vantage point and not the human vantage point, the apostle Paul (and the Bible) teaches a double predestination or a supralapsarian view of salvation. And, yes, the Bible teaches free will, but that is looking at salvation from the human vantage point. That God credits all people with Adam’s sin and sinful nature before they are ever born means apart from Christ all people are doomed even before they get to start. They come out of the womb sinners and with a natural inclination to sin, according to the Bible. So it is no wonder that the Bible teaches that all have sinned and fall short of God’s standard of perfection, or there is none righteous, no not one. People were programmed to be failures, even before birth. But from those programmed to failure (and the resulting eternal damnation) God chooses some for salvation. And he leaves the rest for what they were programmed for, damnation. In other words, double predestination. And somehow this serves God’s eternal purposes and decrees.

    So if you think deism doesn’t provide adequate answers about the end game of life, I don’t think Biblical Christianity does either. And I would much prefer a deistic approach to God. Gregory, I have truly enjoyed our dialogue over the last several days. It’s been helpful to me and I hope, maybe helpful to others.

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