Everything is impossibly complicated

Archive for May, 2013

G-d’s Love for His People

R. C. Sproul Jr. has an article on “hesed,” which he translates as “loyal love:”

God loves His people genuinely, immutably, loyally. Both the love and the loyalty are, of course, tightly bound together. That is, just as one cannot love capriciously so one cannot be loyal without love. God is for His people, and will never cease to be for them.

It’s a beautiful idea. But the irony is not lost to me of using an Old Testament Hebrew word to motivate an idea about G-d’s commitment to a group of people who’ve replaced the original group of people that the term referred to. If G-d’s election is irrevocable, then how is it that His election of Israel has been revoked? If His grace ensures the perseverance of the saints, then how is it that the entire original nation that He elected has failed to persevere?

And if His “hesed” for them has failed, then how strong can the idea of “genuine, immutable, loyal” love really be for us?


Slate has an article on why we should legalize polygamy. What’s interesting to me are the Christian responses to the idea. Tim Challies had a short, rather fatalistic comment:

It’s just a matter of time. Society’s got no foundation left to battle this…

As mentioned in the Slate article, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council worries:

If love becomes a definition of what the boundaries of marriage are, how do we define that going forward? What if someone wants to immigrate to this country from a country that allows multiple spouses? Right now they can’t immigrate with the spouses, but if the parameter are simply love, how do we prohibit them from coming into this country? If it’s all about just love, as it’s being used, where do we set the lines?

And Rick Santorum also sees the slippery slope:

“So, everybody has the right to be happy?” he said. “So, if you’re not happy unless you’re married to five other people, is that OK?”

The thing that confuses me is why Christians seem to see polygamy as a greater evil than homosexuality. There’s ample room for arguing in favor of polygamy from the Bible, which is not the case for homosexuality. The Old Testament, at least, offers a number of examples of polygamy from important characters (Abraham, Jacob, David, etc.), and while it’s possible to argue that they were all in sin (which is the standard argument I’ve heard), it’s also at least possible to see the record of their behavior as an implicit justification.

The problem for me is not that Christians should agree that they have to support polygamy because of these examples in the Bible. What bothers me is that in this case, where there’s at least a legitimate argument for seeing polygamy as valid, there seems to be a sense that it’s actually worse than something that’s much harder to see as valid.

It gets down to a fundamental attitude of intolerance–that is, an unwillingness to see reasonableness in an idea that you don’t like or agree with. Maybe for many Christians the idea of homosexual marriage is too much at odds with the Bible to be seen as reasonable. But polygamous marriage does, at least, have a strong, reasonable argument from the Bible. If we can’t get along with people who support something we don’t like, if we can’t get past the fact that we don’t like it to see the reasonable arguments that can be made for it, then we’ll continue as a society to keep trying tactics to have our opinions forced on everybody else, and there will be no peace.

Incidentally, while this post focused on Christians, so-called “progressives” suffer from the very same ailment.

Christianity and Mysticism

I read an article on Challies Dot Com about the increasing influence of mysticism on Evangelicalism (http://www.challies.com/articles/the-boundaries-of-evangelicalism). The author is concerned about this influence, given that the two ought to be opposed.

I find the attempt to distinguish between Christianity and mysticism interesting, because one thing that becomes readily apparent when one studies Judaism is that Christianity is mysticism. That is, the topics that form the core of Christian belief are, in Judaism, the material of mysticism: heaven and hell, the nature of G-d, the nature of the soul, the Devil, the supernatural understanding of history. The idea of Jesus dying on the cross for sins is a mystical concept. So is the idea of becoming part of his body. And so is the idea of the trinity.

Core Judaism isn’t as worried about making sure your beliefs on hell, or the structure of G-d, or whatever, are correct. In Judaism, you don’t follow the Law so that you don’t go to hell. You follow the Law because you’re a Jew, and the Law is what Jews do. G-d founded the Jewish nation, yes, and you’re obeying Him by following the Law, yes, but at the end of the day, the Law is proscriptive. You’re supposed to do–why isn’t as important. (To be fair, due to the influence of Chassidism, this description isn’t entirely accurate.)

Christianity is mystical to its core. Its main concerns are the nature of G-d in the Trinity, the meaning of Jesus’s death on the cross (understood as the ultimate victory), and eternal reward or punishment in heaven or hell. As a whole, it rejects the idea of following the Law. Some parts (Protestantism) even reject the idea that doing anything has any importance. Everything happens via the vehicle of the mystical Grace of G-d for the purpose of the Glory of G-d, and the only proper goal of life is the understanding that everything that exists is only an emanation of that Grace. The goal is understanding, not action–that’s mysticism.

What’s really interesting is that for some reason (or reasons), much of Christianity has felt the need to see itself as non-mystical. Thus came the “canon law” of the Catholic Church, that tried to essentially become a new law-based religion while still rejecting Judaism. So also comes the article at the beginning, trying to strictly and logically define what is proper, based on rules and guidelines–including rules for the proper way to feel awe at a sunset! It is certainly a curious experiment: making a practical religion out of a mysticism.

Do Unto Others

I’ve had some discussions where I’ve tried to defend Muslims against being painted with a broad stroke as following a religion that inherently produces evil. Sometimes in the course of those discussions, I’ll make some argument against my opponent based on what the structure of his/her beliefs appears to be–based both on other things the person said and assumptions about what the person might believe based on group affiliation. Trying to make those kinds of arguments then results in an angry rebuff in the form of: “I hate it when people assume they know what I believe!”

But wait…isn’t that what you’re doing to Muslims?


When G-d closes a door

and sets the house on fire,

open a window

and watch the rain

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