Sunday, March 26, 2017

Temptation in the Desert

The air is clear in the desert. They say the stars are spectacular when seen from the desert, with not even humidity to cloud the vision.

When I hear of Jesus being tempted in the desert, I wonder. The temptations in the desert seem unusually clear. We're tempted all the time, but we can't always tell that it's the voice of evil. The disguise of evil is too good for us to recognize it, or there's some confusion, some ambiguity in the offer. We can't always see the choice so clearly: taken to its logical conclusion, stripped of all pretense and decoration.

As others have noted, the first temptation is nearly a reversal of Eden. In Eden: in an overflowing paradise, take one more thing for yourself: a promise of being like God. In the desert: in a wasteland and very hungry, take some simple bread, even one thing for yourself -- by using miraculous powers for your own benefit, not suffering as simply man. And so in Eden a temptation to claim God's power for personal benefit was accepted by people. And in the desert, a temptation to assert divine power for personal benefit was rejected by the Lord. And does the tempter have a sense of irony? The temptation to be like God seems intended to dethrone God, and to take away the value of being "like God" for both God and for us wannabes. (I don't see any signs that there was real interest learning to discern good from evil.)

The other temptations in the desert involved status, pride, power, riches, recognition, safety, and escape from cruel and undeserved hardship. Those temptations have taken down many of us. They are often the focus of our prayers. We're eager to think that any path toward them comes from God. And Jesus did receive those same blessings from God. From God, not from the tempter. In God's way, in God's time. If he had gotten any of that in the tempter's way, they would have been worthless. Would we really have honored Jesus if the story ended there: "And Jesus bowed down, and received all honor and dominion." And everything Jesus received would have remained under the temper's ultimate control since Jesus bowed to him. The tempter promises gifts to his subjects; nothing would actually leave his domain.

If the tempter does eavesdrop on our prayers, it is no reason to stop praying for God's honest blessings. But it may be time to ask for what we once tried to claim: real knowledge to discern good and evil. May God grant us clarity to see, and compassion on each other as we struggle to see.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Why God created

For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32)
I've written before about why God created, hoping to move the conversation beyond the usual defenses that God is not needy. (Of course not. Agreed. The conversation doesn't have to end there.)

Imagine there's no universe, and nothing exists but God alone. What good is it to be omnipotent if there's nothing to do? What good is it to be omniscient when the only thing to know is yourself, or omnipresent if there's nowhere to go? It's also not possible to appreciate the vastness of ocean, or the night sky, unless you're small in comparison.

And I have trouble imagining that there could be any variety without limits. That is: if there's one kind of flower, it isn't another kind; if it's growing here, it's not growing there. So variety comes from being specific, and in that sense limited.


A being of pure spirit cannot taste or feel or touch. So much of the glory of this world is sensual, it helps to be physical to fully know and love it. And then there is companionship, and fellowship, which is enriched by the company of others. At times I think it's possible that God created the world so that he could become human.
This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:32)
And if God did create the world so that he could become human, then I've vastly underestimated how blessed it is to be human.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Once we qualify the scope of "omnipotence", is it meaningful?

I've often heard advice not to engage in all-or-none thinking. But some words seem to exist for the sole purpose of saying, "this is about all." One such word is "omnipotence," used to speak of God being all-powerful, or able to do anything. I think most people would accept "able to do anything that isn't inherently impossible" as a reasonable understanding, rather than a backdoor or escape route.

Is it possible to give billions of people the "image of God" -- including ability to shape our own surroundings and paths -- and have God remain in control of everything? In a discussion on omnipotence, either our mastery over our environment is an illusion -- we are simply God's proxies -- or God has granted us our own domain where we are agents in some real sense.

There are many kinds of evil in this world caused by people: caused by hatred, malice, greed, lust, unfaithfulness, indifference, arrogance, and a whole series of problems that need no introduction to those who have lived enough years. If God is good and can do all things, why not prevent people from harming each other by a use of his power? Typically, Christians view this as God choosing to limit the extent of his control -- a choice that was inherent in the act of creating sentient beings -- in which he gives us an area where we are in charge, for good or ill.

But once we think of God as holding himself back, once we think of billions of agents who are not God's proxies -- is the word "omnipotent" still applicable? A crude understanding of "omnipotent" is no longer accurate; for accuracy, it has to be qualified. And if it is qualified, it is no longer simply "all". Without 'all', whatever is left may not be 'none' but it also isn't 'all'.

Theologians can discuss the intricacies of God's power and speak of the subtleties of "omnipotence". But once there are subtleties involved, is the popular meaning void?

Sunday, March 05, 2017

The art of apologizing

Normally I try to share anything I may have learned or discovered. Today I do not think I should do any more than say: if you want to learn the art of apologizing, this is the best article I have found:

The delicate art of apologizing without making it worse