But Seeing As You Asked…

As I wrote about yesterday, some guy called me in my office yesterday to argue the Trinity.  I eventually hung up on him, choosing to simply lose since I wasn’t allowed to talk.  I was fine with that.  I mean, it was an unpleasant and an unjust thing, but I was still fine with it.  I didn’t get as upset about it as I would have years ago, in large part because I see that it is just a natural consequence of doing the work of Christ (something I spoke about just this past Sunday).

The fact remains, though, that the guy made certain objective statements in both word and deed.  And I think objective statements can be (and at times should be) be answered.  As I said in the posts about The Simpsons and GQ, if someone says, “I don’t like you,” there isn’t much response I can give or need to give; that is a subjective statement that can’t be measured or countered in any logical way (I can try to show that I should be liked or am likable, maybe, but that’s about it).  If you say, again in either word or deed, that, “X is Y” or some other thing that can be measured, countered, fact-checked, etc., there is a response I can give.  I think I need to give it most of the time.  I need to give it in a calm, even-handed way (I don’t need to be red-faced and screaming), but I do need to give that response.

Such is the case here.  I don’t want to further an argument with this guy; I think that is ungodly.  And I don’t want to wail, moan, get revenge, twist the knife, or any other related thing here on the blog; that’s just lowly.  I do, though, want to counter the objective things the man said in this calm, fair way.  Actually, I want to catalog the wrong things the guy did here and encourage us all not to do them ourselves.  I think that’s a fair way to profit off this exchange.  So here we go:

  • If you want to argue, say you want to argue.  If you want to attack, assault, assail, then attack, assault, or assail.  Don’t hide what you are trying to do under the guise of “asking a question”.  That’s dishonest, and Kingdom workers should not be dishonest.Picture1       This guy was dishonest; he was resorting to deception.  If he had said, “I want to argue the Trinity,” I would have said, “Thanks, but no thanks,” and went my way without investing my time.  I’m not interested in argumentation.  I don’t think Kingdom workers should be interested in argumentation.  This guy should have been open and honest about what he wanted/wanted to do.  So should we all.  I can remember countless times in Bible college when we were taught to be similar dishonest in our approach.  We were told, “Here’s how you get Jehovah’s Witnesses” or given little tricks to trip people up.  That’s not what Christ did; He set forth the truth plainly, as Paul says here.  We should do likewise and do nothing but.
  • Don’t take single statements  of Scripture as absolutes.  That’s what this guy was doing with the pronouns of Genesis 1:27.  He was taking that one pronoun he and, as I called it yesterday, pushing it beyond its legitimate boundary.  The fact of the matter is that language is problematic, and pronouns are doubly so (weren’t we taught in school to use plural pronouns when referring to single subjects so as to remove gender?).  The truth of God (and all related truths) are more than what you find in just one Scripture or statement of Scripture.  I discovered this during my Bible college years when a man questioned me about Hebrews 9:27.  He asked why that verse says “it is appointed for a man once to die” when there were a couple guys who didn’t die (Enoch and Elijah).  I told him he shouldn’t make that (nearly universal) general statement into an infallible absolute.  That was correct in that case and it is correct in all similar cases.  One single statement of Scripture should not be allowed to overrule the entire teaching of Scripture.
  • Don’t make me believe more than I need to believe or answer questions I can’t answer.  Part of my problem with this guy was he was trying to force me to make some theological statement about the nature of God.  The fact of the matter is that I’m not sure what the nature of God is.  I don’t think anybody is, whether they know it or not.Image result for a god you can understandBased on a holistic reading of Scripture (which include the many Scriptures which directly call Jesus God in some way or describe Him as having the qualities of God), I think something like the Trinity must be true.  But I can’t explain that.  I’m not sure I can defend it.  I’m not sure I fully understand it.  And it is very uncomfortable and unfair for someone to try to force me to take some side on it, particularly as they are getting increasingly irate.  Besides that, it ultimately doesn’t matter.  Salvation/the walk with God/the life of faith is not based on what you are able to understand about God (thankfully!).  It is based on whether you accept that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  I can do the one without doing the other.  I have and am doing the one without doing the other (or while doing the other to the best of my ability).  Based on what we see in Scripture, that seems to be enough for God.  It should be enough for you, too.
  • Don’t get irate.  People often ask me where “righteous indignation” is in the Bible.  The answer: it isn’t.  Indignation is rarely righteous.  If I’m wrong, show me gently where and how I’m wrong.  Understand that I’m innocently wrong, that I am far more Apollos than Alexander.  Understand that I will repent once I’m convinced of my wrong.  I will do that, you know.  I do want to genuinely walk with God and will genuinely change if I am shown I am not walking with God.  But to hit me with rapid-fire charges as you get louder and redder-faced isn’t going to do anything for me.  I doubt it does anything for anyone.

That’s the short list of thoughts I had after my encounter with this guy.  And I don’t think my sharing them here is just sour grapes.  It can’t be, as that guy will no doubt never read this post and has already walked away with his Hananiah-like victory.  But I think my sharing them here can be of benefit to us.  As I think I said or at least implied above, I have done some of if not all of these things in my interactions with other people.  Experiencing them from the other side, I see how fruitless and wrong they are, and I am determined not to resort to such things.  I’m hoping more people will make that same resolution.  I think the world and the church would be a much better place if we all did.

Letting Yourself Lose

True story that happened just five minutes ago:

My office phone rings.  I answer it.  The guy on the other end (whom I don’t know and whose number was listed simply as “Private Caller”) asked me if I could “answer a Bible question”.

“I’ll give it a try!” I said in my normal goofy way.

This guy then proceeded to read Genesis 1:27, stressing that the pronoun used for the Creator is he (that is, singular).  The guy then quickly fell into an angry diatribe about The Trinity.  His question became an assault as he demanded to know if I believed in The Trinity  and why and how I could consider myself a Christian if I did believe in The Trinity.

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In the few instances I actually got to talk, I tried to explain that The Trinity (a word admittedly not found in the Bible) is our best attempt to convey the whole teaching of the Bible and that he was pushing pronouns far beyond the degree to which they were supposed to be pushed.  He did not agree.  In fact, he didn’t give me much chance to explain.  Instead, every statement I made brought several rapid accusations from him.  I then tried to tell him that I had been asked to answer a question, not have an argument.  Finally, I hung up.

And I hated to do that.  I tried to avoid doing that, in fact, because I knew if I did that he would claim some sort of victory.  “That guy couldn’t answer any of my questions,” I can imagine him saying (after, of course, reframing the story to remove his aggressive interruptions and unwillingness to listen).  “He just ran away from me.”

That bothers me.  I’ve got a strong sense of justice.  I hate what is wrong being called right (even if that wrong is mine).  I didn’t want to give this person the chance to do that, and couldn’t stand the fact that I had given him  the chance to do that.

Yet that’s what my faith often calls me to do.  It may sound strange (especially if, like me, you come from a church/bible college background which presents debate as a spiritual practice), but it is true.  The fact of the matter is that God doesn’t want us to argue and sometimes calls us to lose arguments.  He tells us to throw in the towel when further fighting is ineffective and counterproductive and becoming ungodly.

My favorite example of this is in Jeremiah 28:

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Jeremiah did not continue to trade blows with Hananiah.  Rather, when he saw that Hananiah was just diatribing rather than dialoguing, he just walked away.  He came back a little later to drop a personal word from the Lord on Hananiah, but he walked away from that first encounter.  He did not continue to debate the false prophet in front of the crowds.

Jesus famously teaches something similar:

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He did not instruct us to trade blows with those who reject us (and reject Him through rejecting us).  He instructed us instead to “shake the dust off our feet” and move on.

On top of that, Paul tells Timothy:

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Despite what I was taught in my home church and in Bible college, an argumentative spirit is not a Christ-like spirit.  Debate is not a righteous spiritual discipline.  It is the opposite, in fact.  It is clearly not what God wants.  It produces the opposite of what God wants.  Arguments lead to several ungodly behaviors: anger, insinuation, insult, etc.  It is so easy to fall into those things.  I worry, in fact, that what I wrote above about my encounter with this guy skirts the border of those things.  That’s why God doesn’t want us to argue.  That’s why when it comes to arguments, even “spiritual” or theological or doctrinal arguments:

What does a “Lord’s servant” like me do in this strange game?  Well, he has to lose.  That’s what Jeremiah did.  That’s what Jesus did on many occasions as well (such as in Luke 9 when He simply walked away from the village that rejected Him).  That’s what Paul often did, too.  And I guess that’s what I did.  I couldn’t walk away from this guy literally, but I did hang up on him.  I hung up on him as nicely as I could.  I didn’t want to hang up on him since even that can be seen as aggressive, but that was about the best I could do in the situation, and I did it the best I could do it.  I let myself lose, in other words.  And that was the right thing to do.  I might not like it, but that was the right thing to do.

 

Obvious Evidence

I once read something by Stephen Hawking.  I read it on an episode of VH1’s Pop-Up Video, but I read it nonetheless.  Hawking said (and I’m paraphrasing) that time travel must be impossible because if if were possible we would encounter visitors from the future.  In other words, if a certain proposition (i.e., time travel) were true, there would be observable evidence (i.e., people from the future) of that truth.

Image result for stephen hawking time travel visitors from the future

I believe something similar can be said about the character or nature or “heart” of God.  Those who disbelieve in God often offer His character/nature/heart as reasons for their disbelief.  They say He is cruel.  For example:

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Personally, I have never understood this argument.  To me, it is basically saying, “I don’t believe in God because I don’t like Him (or, more accurately, who I imagine Him to be).”  I don’t know what kind of logical fallacy that is, but it has to be one of them.  Disliking something can’t evidence against the existence of something; something that exists exists whether you like it or not.  And if something doesn’t exist, how can you dislike it?

Image result for butch patrick simpsons it doesn't make sense

But there are more objections to this argument than merely personal ones.  There is evidence against this argument, the same evidence Hawking used against the suggestion of time travel.  If God really were a cruel being, we would see His being cruel.  He would be smiting people all the time.  There would be hellfire and brimstone all over the place.

Is that what we see?  No.  We don’t see that any more than we see visitors from the future.  We don’t even see those who deny God and/or say vile things about Him smited (or is it smitten?) in this way.  And that fact that we don’t means only one of two things: 1) either there is no God (in which case we are then left with a host of problems, such as the source of morality and the purpose of existence) or 2) God isn’t nearly as bad as we think He is, isn’t nearly as big on smiting as we accuse Him of being.

I side with the second one.  I think that fits the evidence (all the evidence) the best.