An Arminian’s Prayer by Charles Spurgeon

Find any person saying such a prayer, and I’ll give you a trillion dollars (not Zimbabwean)

“Lord, I was born with a glorious free-will; I was born with power by which I can turn to thee of myself; I have improved my grace.

“If everybody had done the same with their grace that 1 have, they might all have been saved.

“Lord, I know thou dost not make us willing if we are not willing ourselves. Thou givest grace to everybody; some do not improve it, but l do.

There are many that wilI go to hell as much bought with the blood of Christ as I was;  they had as much of the Holy Ghost given to them; they had as good a chance, and were as much blessed as l am. It was not thy grace that made us to differ; I know it did a great deal, still I turned the point; I made use of what was given me, and others did not—that is the difference between me and them.”

Charles Spurgeon

The Suffering Atheist in a Meaningless Universe

“One of America’s most astute thinkers, Reinhold Niebuhr, has recalled to our consciousness a fact which both liberalism and Marxism have ignored with almost fatal consequences to our civilization. Evil, he points out, is something real, not an appearance only, and the proper name for it is sin. Its locus is not in institutions, which are but a reflection of human purposes, but in human nature itself. It is pride, self-righteousness, greed, envy, hatred and sloth that are the real evils and the ones from which social evils spring. When man is thwarted in his attempts to realize justice it is because he is thwarted by his own sinful predisposition. The recognition of this inherent predisposition to sin helps to explain why the best laid plans of men never quite succeed.”

John H. Hallowell, Professor of Political Science, Duke University.

Over three consecutive weeks I listened to a BBC4 production presented by John Humphries, who interviewed the Chief Iman of the UK, the Chief Rabbi of the UK and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Humphries asked them to convince him that God exists in spite of the suffering that exists in the world.

Of the three religious leaders, the Chief Rabbi, for me, made the best points,  but none of them made what I think is a crucial point in a discussion of God and suffering.

It is this: If suffering is a problem, it can only be a problem for a believer, because it arises as a result of faith. Thus it cannot logically be used to argue against faith/belief in God as John Humphries does in his BBC programme.

If you reject belief in God because it brings with it insoluble problems – such as suffering – you end up believing in a dying meaningless universe; a universe that comes from nowhere and is going nowhere; a cruel universe that is indifferent to your needs.

If there is no God, there is no point in resentment or bitterness, because in a Godless universe, there is no rhyme or reason for anything. There is simply no one to resent or blame. However, the notion of an evil god is not on the cards – for atheists and theists. Why would the existence of an evil god be a problem?  Because say we decide that there is a God, but that he is evil, whence did we get our idea of evil? We are appealing to a standard that would exist apart and ABOVE that of the evil god, which cannot be evil itself. Now, if this standard is above evil then surely it has more right to be called God than the evil god. Furthermore, we can only know good from evil, right from wrong because of the fact that we have the primordial idea of “good” and “right.”

If John Humphries – for whom “God” can only connote goodness  – rejects the existence of God because of the evil of suffering, it seems he is also rejecting the idea of  a meaningful universe. In a universe without God (a Creator)  the problem of suffering – or any other human problem – shouldn’t be a problem to Humphries. This is so because in a meaningless universe, human thoughts, hopes, fears, and sufferings follow the same Darwinian rules of nature, raw in tooth and claw. Things are what they – randomly – are.

Reject God; reject meaning.  The irony is this: Humphries believes in a meaningful universe. If he didn’t, why bother to do the programme? But perhaps I’m being a bit silly, for when someone says “life is meaningless,” he means that, though the bits of life have some meaning, when you put the bits together, they have no ultimate meaning – they lead nowhere. The issue, though is that If they lead nowhere, they come from nowhere. If we don’t know where we come from and where we are going, it follows – this is the way we think – that we  have no idea why we are “here.”  So, perhaps, I’m not being so silly, and thus my original question to Humphries stands: “Why bother to do the programme?” The answer, in a meaningless universe (that is, in a purely natural (mechanistic universe) is, naturally: Humphries was programmed to do it.

However, the notion of an evil god is not on the cards – for atheists and theists.

The Passion of Bach: The Heart of Tragedy

I was watching a TV programme on Bach. In one part of the programme, a well-known conductor was being interviewed. He spoke about the deep effect Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion had on him each time he listened to it or conducted it. He focused on a specific part of the music:

“Every time I get to that part of the music, I can’t stem the tears. Just talking to you about it makes me feel the suffering (PASSIONIS – Latin)  and grief.” Passion” comes from the Latin root passio “to render.” So when we suffer, we have to submit to causes that deprive us of our freedom or well-being. (Passivity and Suffering in the Passion of Christ). He added quickly:  “Not that I believe that the person being crucified was anything but a man. You don’t have to be a Christian to feel the pain and the tragedy of such suffering.”.

Ecce homo (Behold the man)

Ecce homo (Behold the man)

The tragedy is that this deeply sensitive man of music could not see that this Death means much more than a human tragedy; it was a  Death that brings life; the only Death that can bring LIFE.  Failure to grasp the meaning of this Death is what lies at the heart of tragedy.

Omnipotent Impotence: Bertrand Russell’s Free Man’s Worship

After spending a long life flitting between the clamourings of boisterous philosophers  – Hegel, Moore, Bradley, Plato, Wittgenstein – Bertrand Russell went to his “rest”.  At one period he was into mind-matter dualism, then into neutral monism (no, not “neural” monism – he had more than one brain cell). He ended his life a materialist. The distressing thing about materialism is that it cannot offer any consistent account of  experience. It’s all talk. Matter ends up as natter.

In his “Why I am not a Christian”, Russell rejects the Christian belief in an ultimate reality. That is not to say that he didn’t spend much of his life in the quest for ultimates. The two ultimate philosophical questions are, first, how do we know what we know?, and, second, “how should we live?” Russell was  only interested in the first. As for the second, he lived as he pleased.

He was never sure about how we know anything. Why then was he so certain that Christianity was wrong? Whatever his reason, it couldn’t have had anything to do with Christ’s claim that “I am the way the truth and the life,” because if Russell didn’t know what was true, or what truth was (except “my truth, your truth”) how could he be so sure that Christianity was not true? The reason is that he loathed all religion, and Christianity in particular. In the preface to his “critical essays”, he says, “I am as firmly convinced that religions do harm as they are untrue.” Why, reasoned Russell, throw reason to the dogmas?” Religion, Russell said, neither advances civilization nor can it cure any of the world’s troubles. Besides, he says, there’s no life beyond the grave. Is there!

In his article “A Free man’s worship” (1903), he concludes: “Brief and powerless is man’s life; on him and all his race the slow sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way.”  Russell didn’t reject worship per se, for he worshipped the “empire of chance”. Out with the shrine not built with human hands[1] and in with the “shrine I have built,” says Russell. Here is Russell on the “free man’s worship”: “to worship at the shrine his own hands have built, undismayed by the empire of chance.” Imperious matter will have its chance. As Lady Catherine de Burgh imperiously chirped: “I will have my share.”[2]

“Brief and powerless is Man’s life (laments Russell); on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way.”  (Bertrand Russell’s, “A Free Man’s Worship”).

The free man caught up in the chance intrigues of “omnipotent matter” – omnipotently impotent. R.I.P?

[1]  So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.  For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,  nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything (Acts 17:22-25)

[2] Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”

Of goads and nails

Alvin Plantinga, the Christian philosopher, did his graduate work at the University of Michigan. At Michigan he considered the most important philosophical question to be “what is the truth about this matter?”. His question was often greeted with disdain and as extremely naïve. The specific matter was not what mattered to the scoffers; what mattered was that one would think that truth about any matter mattered.

We use the mind in our socialising, working, playing and many other activities. But, what is the human mind ultimately meant for if not searching for truth – THE truth?

God holds people accountable not only for what they believe but also for how deeply they think about what they believe. My posts are considered by some to be too “intellectual”. Isn’t it possible that deep discussion is confused with “intellectual” (that is, “high”, “scholarly”, “academic”)? The Bible teaches – it commands – in many places to know and understand truth. Commands? Yes. How can Christians obey the command to understand when such a thing is not expected of the “world”? Because when Christ comes to in live them, the Spirit of truth comes to dwell within. If “within” then deep within.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you (John 14:15-17).”

The Spirit of truth is not like a magic potion, which, once ingested, automatically garnishes the gut with divine wisdom. In Christianity, eurekas are rare. The psalmist says “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope (Psalm 130:5). Why does he wait for the Lord? Because he knows that the Lord’s word is true, that his hope in the Lord will never be futile. How does he know that? Because he knows God’s word. How did he get to know God’s word? He obeyed it. And you can’t obey something you haven’t studied.

“Study (be diligent) to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Where is the word of truth (the word of God) to be found? In the One True Shepherd. Christians need to be like nails firmly fixed onto the words of the One True Shepherd – Jesus Christ.  if you are a Christian, how much of your time is devoted to studying the God’s word  – the Scriptures? How much time do you spend on books of which “there is no end?” (King Solomon).

“The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My [child], beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. Ecclesiastes 12:11-12.