Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Obedience in Heaven?

Cipriano, coming to you live from my favorite Starbucks.
Just taking a break from my reading of an excellent book entitled:
Why I Became An Atheist.
Written by John W. Loftus.
The subtitle is A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity.
As some of you may know, I also am a former preacher. I was in the Christian ministry for several years, and over the past decade or so have come to a place of gradually rejecting the claims of Christianity.
For those interested, a brief history of this process can be seen HERE. And HERE. And STUFF.
I am not what one would call an atheist, per se, but moreso an agnostic. But I am nowhere near being finished this journey. My perspectives are ever-changing.

Something on page 252 of Loftus’s book really made me do some Bookpuddle-style pondering -- to me it is humorous but I hope I do not offend anyone who may… take offense.
On page 252, Loftus is citing some of the ideas of a theist [a believer] named David Wood. The gist is that Wood argues that in heaven the saints will be in the unmediated presence of God and in this realm there will be no moral choices, even if free will is present.
Loftus explains, “They [the saints] wouldn’t desire to rebel against God, and even if they did, they would know doing so would be futile.”
I paused. [So did Loftus, I am sure of it…]
Because I began to imagine the idea of “obedience” in heaven.
You know? OBEYING God, in heaven.
It is one thing to consider obedience while on Earth and still alive in our mortal bodies [not sinning, remembering to worship and stuff, etc.] but, in heaven, I cannot fathom what saintly obedience would consist of!
As Loftus later points out [same page] “What is the value of this to God? Why does he want anything?”
Good questions!
Think about it, it is really intriguing.
I know there is that classic answer out there… “He desires that we worship him!”
And I have heard Christians going on and on about how they will worship God endlessly in heaven. I myself have said it, and believed it, in the past.
And I think that we sort of equate this “worship” with the “obedience” thing.
To worship God is to somehow remain obedient to God.
But how would we do this, the worship part, I mean?
By endlessly singing to God? Or telling him stuff?
Have any of us ever watched American Idol?
ALL OF THESE PEOPLE THINK THEY CAN SING! And let’s face it, most of them are absolutely horrid.
Is it possible that the Creator of Heaven and Earth wants to listen to this kind of caterwauling forever? If you really think of this scenario for five or six seconds, you see the absurdity of it.
What then does the “obedience” entail?
As Loftus points out, obedience implies “want” and hence [ipso facto] “need.”
How can I have anything that God can possibly “need?” And so much so that God “needs” it ETERNALLY!
Heavenly obedience. What does it MEAN?

Maybe there are signs posted here and there? –

Perhaps the soothing harp-music is interrupted one morning with –
“OK, listen up guys! Winter’s almost here! I want to see twelve cords of wood stacked up against yonder angel-barracks by sundown! Is that clear?"
And everyone [no grumbling allowed] simply picks up the nearest axe and commences chopping?
Is this the way it is?

“Hey, you! Yes, cowering behind that shrub. Run down to Gabriel’s Pharmacy and pick me up a jumbo-bottle of Jehovah-Strength Tylenol©. And make it snappy! What with creating a hitherto unknown galaxy all afternoon I’ve given myself one holy-Moses of a headache!”

“Y-y-y-es, Your M-m-majesty! You w-w-will g-get no argument from thy servant!”
And off, over the golden cobblestones, the obedient fellow runs…

Some things just takes a little thinkin’ is all!

Check out the author's webpage and get his book.
I highly recommend it to all who want to think about things worth thinking about.



Anonymous said...

Hey thanks so much for your nod. I appreciate it very much.

You got my attention by the uploaded image at amazon. Would you please remove it?

Let me know further what you think of my book. I hope it helps. Maybe you'll reconsider your agnosticism after reading chapter 23.


Cipriano said...

I removed the amazon image!
[Although it is difficult for me to remove anything with "Nicole" on it!]

Merisi said...

Good morning, Cipriano!
I am sure glad that I didn' read you last night, after a beautiful concert for viola, flute, and harp! I went to sleep all happy about the prospect of one day being able to listen to harp-music forever and ever. Oh Cipriano, just tell me, pleeease, that at least Aelusus exists, or is all hope gone with the harp-less wind? ;-)

Anonymous said...

interesting post Cip... made me pause too.

There are a number of things that are, as you say, very much worth thinking about here.

Loftus rejects Christianity (as in his title) and that leads me to wonder whether his critique is of Christianity or of Christ. These are two hugely different subjects and the argument for them being treated separately is strong.

Personally, I would encourage a rejection of Christianity in order to accept Christ... at least for the sake of a healthy relationship with him.

As I read your description (and the glimpse of Loftus' description) of the character of God, I started to translate this into human terms and realised that it was hard to see how the "obedience implies want therefore need" thing would work in terms of me and my wife, say. (As you know, Paul drew the analogy between Christ and the church and husband and wife. I often find this very helpful as I extend the analogy both ways to develop my understanding of both my relationship to Christ and my relationship to my wife. I hope you'll forgive me this as I realise you may not actually hold to this analogy.)


My wife can want me to bring her flowers but I don't think that she would say she ipso facto needs me to. And I think she would baulk at any connection between her expressing this desire and the word "obedience". In fact, if I approached it as obedience, I don't think she'd appreciate me getting flowers for her at all. If I did, I risk turning what could have been something that reinforced our love into a stumbling block to our relationship.

If this situation is hard to apply to my wife, who loves me imperfectly, it's hard to see how it can apply to Christ, who loves me perfectly. But maybe you're seeing something I'm not.

Just a thought: Do you think there may be a misunderstanding of what Jesus meant by the term "obedience"?

I wonder if Mr Loftus will follow this discussion (which I hope he will) as I'd love to know his thoughts more fully on this point, as I would of course your own Cip.

Anonymous said...

Arukiyomi...all I can say is ARGHHHH!!!! Just stop!!!

Cipriano said...

I am excited about the furtherance of this particular thread here, but tonight I have been preoccupied with some distressing family news... perhaps tomorrow evening I shall have more time.
Thank you all for reading... and thinking...!

Cipriano said...

Hey, all readers. How art thou?
I am at Starbucks right now, a couple of ladies at the next table are talking real loud in a foreign language and sort of throwing my brain a bit off kilter [feels a bit like being in Acts chapter 2 just before Peter explained what was going on, you know?] but just the same, I will try to dialogue with my friend Arukiyomi here a bit.

I have been pondering what you may be referring to as there being a difference between Christianity and Christ, or the acceptance of either… “thing”.
To me they are sort of one and the same in the sense that everything about Christianity seems to me to involve everything about Christ. Perhaps you mean the word “religion” [in general] as compared to Christ? Or… or…. you mean the sort of institutionalization [dogma, doctrine, accepted orthodoxy etc.] as opposed to the living person of Jesus Christ.
I’m thinking that perhaps you mean this last thing.

But at the same time, to speak of this vibrant “relationship with Christ” is to presuppose many things. You speak of it as though it is something that everyone can and/or is able to experience, and clearly this is not the case. Even from just a cultural perspective, any sort of understanding of “Christness” is simply not available to hundreds of millions or maybe even billions of people in our world today. In other words, this “relationship” is sort of meaningless to them.
And even in cultures where the “acceptance” of Christ is espoused and practiced by the faithful, the entire validity of the experience is not objectively transferable. Granted, this is the case with any conviction where a concept of “love” is involved. In other words, my acknowledgment of your love for your wife does not make me love her as you do. Nor does your acknowledgment of my love for my mother make you love my mother as I do. In this sense love is perhaps the most subjective of all feelings.
But here is the crucial matter → A love for Christ is similar.

However, I would like to discuss several important ways in which it is NOT similar. [Afterward I will touch upon this original issue of “obedience”].

One way in which the relationship differs from all other relationships we are a part of is that Christ is not in some physical place right now. He is not reading this blog, or trimming his fingernails, or roasting marshmallows around a campfire. Nor is he even doing more Jesus-y things like giving a little homily on a hillside.
He just isn’t.
The only place that Jesus in any sense “exists” is in the literally interpreted pages of the Bible and in the literally rendered extrapolations of the mind. [We say he lives in our heart but he really lives in our mind.]
I am strongly suggesting here that the “relationship” we are talking about is not unlike the kind that exists between a child and that child’s imaginary friend.
What I mean is that the relationship is never reciprocated in any way that the devotee could not have mentally fabricated on their own!
Oh, yes. We can put out that extra place setting to appease our six-year old daughter, but have any of us ever actually seen the imaginary friend EAT the little dollop of mashed potatoes on that plate?
No. Those potatoes have to be given to Rover later on, or shoveled out into the garbage pail. And even as the child watches this entire clean-up process, she believes with all her heart that the imaginary friend enjoyed those potatoes!
As adults we may look upon such devotion and make-believe activity and find it quaint.
But do any of us go on from there to conclude that the imaginary friend actually exists outside of the mind of the child? [← the believer?]
No, we don’t.
I know what I am talking about here because I myself had this imaginary friend.
The only difference being that I was an adult, not a child.
I had granted my imaginary friend infinite powers of beneficence, because I was told that this was his main attribute.
Did he ever let me down? Well no, he did not. Because he did not exist in the first place.
And thankfully, my mind stayed intact enough so that now, years later, I can stand back from that entire situation and begin to live in greater levels of awareness and reality.

Why does the child not care a whit that the potatoes were gobbled up by Rover?
Because imaginary relationships are not based on evidence. Nor are they weakened by lack of reciprocity.
But real relationships are powerfully affected by both things!
And this is where I would beg to differ [with you] that your love for Christ [or God] is so similar to your love for your wife. The two scenarios are not synonymous. I would even argue that the Apostle Paul’s imagery [and Jesus’s, for that matter] is in need of serious revision.
Jesus, far as we know, was not a husband. Nor was Paul. If you are married and love and respect your wife, you know more about the subject of marital love than either of those two men.
The love relationship with Jesus is based entirely….. let me say that again, entirely, as in 100%, on faith. The love relationship with your wife is based on actuality.

When it comes to obedience [“wow, finally Cipriano!”] the real issue is not in the distinction between the words “want” and “need” as much as it is in the SUBJECT being discussed.
The person[s] doing the wanting and/or needing, not to mention yet the desire for obedience.

You have argued that your wife would take offense to flowers brought to her out of a desire to be “obedient.” She would prefer flowers that were presented to her because you “wanted” to give them to her. Granted, this is probably quite true. The thing is, it is entirely VALID for your wife to “want” you to bring her flowers. And from time to time, you should do so.
What I am stressing though [in my blog] is that I don’t see why GOD would “want” flowers.
We say, “Oh no! God does not want flowers necessarily, he wants _____.”
Whoa whoa whoa…. stop right there.
What is the word that fills that blank?
To me, no matter which word we put in that blank it is simply CRAZY!
And here’s the kicker → It’s INAPPROPRIATE!

He wants our heart.
He wants our devotion.
He wants “obedience.”
So there we are back at that word “obedience”… well, WHAT DOES OBEDIENCE IN HEAVEN MEAN?
Obeying the Ten Commandments?
I myself could come up with more meaningful and important commandments if I just decided to write a blog about it! The Ten Commandments? Is this what God wants from us?
All day long I have been wondering how it is that I might be more obedient to God, were I to truly think this is a topic worthy of agonizing about [which I don’t].
But I’ve been putting myself in that zone, you know?
And I can’t think of a single thing, really. Again… he wants me to sing praises to him? What if I was born with two heads? Should I thank God for that? Or what if I had contracted leukemia when I was seven years old? Should I praise him for that, too? Praise him from both of my two mouths on my two heads?
Do you even see how absurd this could be?
Why does he “need” this? He’s supposed to be GOD!

The love relationship with Christ is based 100% on mindless-faith and un-reciprocated devotion. The kind of faith we are talking about here amounts to the choice to adhere to an untruth.
And “belief” is not as simple as the usual dichotomies we set up for ourselves to be content with.
The glass is half full ← → The glass is half empty.
You know what?
Sometimes the glass is just twice as big as it needs to be.

Tell a devout Christian his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anybody else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept its every incredible claim, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever.
-- Sam Harris, in The End of Faith

Anonymous said...

What an interesting conversation! I am not a Christian (though I began life as a Lutheran). My vision of "God" tends to be the spark/soul/heart/life whatever you want to call it that resides in everyone and everything. That spark is Divine and sacred, but it does not belong to any being called God.

I think Christ has a lot to say about this. Doesn't he say God is within or something like that? He was a very good teacher whose teachings people have managed to turn to their own purposes in many ways.

Anonymous said...

Arukiyomi, perhaps you reject Islam but not Allah? For Islam is a religion too. Perhaps you should consider Allah rather than Islam?

The parallel is obvious.


Cipriano said...

Oh hey, that's good, John.
Yes, indeed.
-- Cip

Anonymous said...

Cip... very busy finishing a course off here so I'll post bits of a response rather than everything in one go.

1. love as I define it is not a feeling but a choice therefore, it is something that everyone can do in relation to loving Christ. On this basis you can love my wife too.

2. I think many Muslims, particularly in this day and age, would also prefer you to consider Allah and not Islam as it is popularised (demonised?) I have done both having lived in muslim cultures and talked to many muslims about their religion and also read the Koran on my own and explored how Allah has revealed himself. I would expect anyone who considers following Christ to do the same in relation to Christianity and the person of Christ.

I think anyone who wants to be fair has to realise that there is quite obviously a distinction between the divine (in whatever form you consider it) and how humans interpret that divinity. I think, John, that this is valid distinction and one which cuts through a lot of crap by helping people realise they can accept Christ if they cannot deal with Christianity itself.

all for now...

PS... didn't know you rated me book blog that highly to put it on your top list of blogs Cip... thanks for the link.

Anonymous said...

one further thought:

Cip, you said that Jesus just doesn't exist because he isn't anywhere physically now.

Surely that position is just as absurd as a position that claims he does exist physically now.

So, all you've proved, I believe, is that you're absurd as me. Well done but I could have told you that anyway ;-)

Cipriano said...

Arukiyomi, thank you for your response. I must concede that you are right, concerning your "one further comment" about my surety.
It is true that what I have said about Jesus not physically existing anywhere ought to have been prefaced with something along the lines of "In my opinion".

In so many of these type of speculations we are dealing with PROBABILITY I guess, weighed against what we [as individuals] can accept as intellectually tenable information.
It just strikes me though [remember Arukiyomi, I am a former 100% believer in the heavenly Jesus that has a never-ending lapful of children when he is not quietly knocking on a vine-covered door or holding a sheep across his shoulders...] it just strikes me though as significant that we do not apply the same sort of "believability" factor to ANY other area of our life. For everything else, we demand some sort of evidence.

But you are right... I cannot know that Jesus does not exist. But [in my opinion] I cannot know this in the same way as I cannot know that the planet Pluto is not infested with ostriches and kangaroos. It's just that when it comes to any sort of element of "probability" I would bet both my right and left one that the only place ostriches and kangaroos exist is right here on Earth.
[It is true, I am one absurd guy. That much is a fact!]

Anonymous said...

another further few thoughts...

1. thank you for your response to my absurdity. Now, taking your "in my opinion" stance, I notice that you say you now walk in "greater levels awareness and reality." This is interesting. How do you know that this is so? It strikes me that reality is a binary factor. It either is or isn't. So, how you can have greater levels of reality seems difficult to me. Awareness, yes, that is variable. What is it that has now given you a greater awareness of God?

2. I don't believe that the love relationship with my wife and the one I have with Jesus are not founded on two different things as you said. Are you or have you ever been married? I can assure you that after 14 years of marriage, "actuality" does not come into it. In fact, the oft heard "you're not who I married" is testimony of this. Our minds deceive us into thinking that we are making a perfectly rational commitment to a being we think we are very much aware of. In actual fact, once the sugar coating wears off, cold hard facts aren't going to keep your relationship alive. As a husband, you need to make choices to love and cherish your wife. These are based, not on the value you perceive your wife to have through her character, looks and actions towards you. If they were, you'd go mad. Instead, you make those choices based on a value you place on her DESPITE the actuality of her shortcomings. In fact, it's a value that she doesn't even see herself often.

Where does this value come from? Can it be empirically tested or rationally reasoned? Nope. Often it flies in the face of what your mind is screaming for you to do. But my wife rests secure knowing that no matter what she does and is, I will stand by her and commit myself to her 100%. It's a faith that she is doing the same for me that keeps us ticking over, even in the hard times.

My decision to commit to God is based very much on this. I don't have all the answers. I have doubts. The actuality of God wavers in my mind on a daily basis. That's okay. It's okay because my mind is only area of my entire commitment to him. When my mind fails me, as it does with my wife, I commit to him based on other factors. One of these is, of course, faith. And when my faith wavers, my mind kicks in and you are really helping me strengthen that area through your blog which is why I love to follow it.

3. Finally, I must get around to the entire point of your original post which was about God needing obedience in heaven. And you reiterate the centrality of your point in your subsequent post asking why God should want anything if he's God.

Absolutely.... from one point of view. That is the view that when you want something, the only reason you would want it is because you yourself have need of it.

But what about the purely motivated desire for something because someone else needs it? Haven't you ever wanted people in pain to have relief from that? I'm sure you have. But having that want doesn't for a minute presuppose that you yourself are in need of pain relief does it?

So, perhaps God wants our eternal obedience not because, as you might suppose, he is an eternally insecure being forever trying to hide the reality of his fallen divinity. Rather, he wants our eternal obedience because, as our father, he knows what's best for us and therefore guides us into behaviour will truly fulfil us.