Five Things in the Bible that Once Embarrassed Me but that I Now Think are Freaking Profound

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Thing #1 – The Trinity
In a surprising number of conversations over the years, the doctrine of the Trinity has been painted as a liability for my worldview. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Muslims, Jews, some Messianic Jews, and atheists and Bible skeptics have all pointed to the doctrine of the Trinity as a dumb idea.

I suppose I grew up thinking that a New Testament Bible believer had to believe in the Trinity by default: clearly the Bible taught that there is only one God (monotheism,) yet He also clearly reveals Himself as 3 persons in the NT. So I felt stuck with this peculiar, “illogical” idea of a monotheistic God who is also 3 persons. But He’s still one God. But He’s 3 persons…It seemed more like an idea I was cornered into believing rather than a belief for which there was good reason. In fact, from other believers I often heard the excuse that the Trinity is a “mystery” that our finite minds can’t comprehend, or whatever.

In college, one of my professors in particular loved talking about the absurdity of Trinitarian belief because he thought it supported his contention that religious belief is irrational. He loved the explanation that the doctrine of the Trinity was a mystery. Of course it was. “It’s a mystery” is what religious people say when their beliefs are irrational.

But I contend that biblical faith is rational (click here.) Furthermore, I now see that the biblical concept of a Triune God is one of the coolest ideas in the universe. It’s an idea that makes me happy every day. I would love to briefly tell you why.

But first let’s address a couple of commonly stated and easily dismissed criticisms:

Objection #1: The doctrine of the Trinity is illogical.
It’s not illogical. If I were to say, “God is one God, and three Gods,” that would be illogical. But the Trinity doctrine states, “God is one essence, and three persons.” One “what”, three “whos.” That’s not illogical, it’s just unique.

Objection #2: The word Trinity does not appear in the Bible.
I’m sorry for even taking up space with this, but Jehovah’s Witnesses have argued this so many times that I have to mention it. The words “totalitarianism,” “antiSemitism,” and “home brew also do not appear in the Bible, but we see these things described in the Bible nonetheless. It’s not incorrect to call them what they are. The fact that some theologians came up with a term to describe a concept presented in the Bible does not mean that the theologians made up the concept as well. They were simply labeling a biblical reality.

Now…onto the coolness.

The freaking profundity of God’s triune nature.
Here’s what I’m so excited about: The fact that YHWH is a trinity means that He is by nature relational, loving, and good.

Now you may be thinking, “Um…I think I’ve already heard that God is loving and good.” YES, but my point is that God’s triune nature is what makes it possible for a personal, eternal, preexistent God to BE loving and good. Allow me to explain each aspect separately:

YHWH is relational
The fact that the Judeo-Christian scriptures describe an uncreated Father, Son, and Holy Spirit existing as one God means that God pre-existed, in community, before there was a creation. This means that in His essential nature, God is and always has been relational. Is there any scriptural support for this idea? There is. Jesus spoke of the relationship He had with the Father before His incarnation (Jn 17:5,24; Jn 8:58; Gen 1:26.) He speaks of being loved by the Father (Jn 5:20; 17:23), being one with Him (Jn 8:19; 10:30; 17:21,22), submitting to Him (Jn 4:34; 5:19, 30), and being sent by Him (Jn 5:24,30; Jn 7: 28,29; Jn 8:42.)

By extension, since we bear the image of God, we are relational too.

YHWH is loving
Love has always existed, and God has always existed in loving relationship, even before there was a creation. His triune nature makes this possible. It is helpful to compare contrasting monotheistic concepts of God: For example a preexistent God that is singular only, such as that described in Rabbinical Judaism or Islam, could only be potentially loving before creation existed. He would’ve been alone in His preexistence, having no object for His theoretical love. Love that is unexpressed is incomplete

In keeping with this, it is interesting that the New Testament explicitly states that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8.) We don’t find this statement in the Koran. The Koran says “God is loving,” as this would be possible once there was a creation – an object for divine love. But the God of Islam could not be loving in His preexistent nature, nor could he be relational. Nor does the Koran describe God this way, or suggest we can have a relationship with God. Islam is not about relationship; it’s about obeying God and hopefully getting rewarded.

But in keeping with the Judeo-Christian God’s relational nature, the whole point of God sending a Savior was to restore humanity’s broken relationship with God. After the coming of Jesus the apostle Paul teaches in graphic terms that the followers of Jesus now have a new relationship as sons and daughters of God (Gal 4:4-7.) This kind of thinking is generally offensive, even blasphemous, to Muslims. Certainly the idea that God could have a son is flatly rejected. The God of the Koran is unknowable. The God of the Judeo-Christian scriptures has made Himself known to us (Gal 4:8,9; Jn 1:18.)

Furthermore, God has designed the most fundamental of human relationships – the family – to reflect His triune, loving nature. Monogamous, heterosexual marriage is (or was at least intended by God to be) a reflection of the unity-in-diversity in love found in the Godhead. The Bible is explicit about this (cf Eph 5:31,32 & Jn 17:20-24.) At creation when marriage is first defined, the aim of the marriage relationship is something called “oneness” (Gen 2:24.) At every level the God of the Judeo-Christian scriptures envisions unity and loving relationship, freely chosen.

YHWH is good
Without going into elaborate detail here, allow me to posit the idea that part of the nature of “good” includes that which is self-sustaining and independent in and of itself. Conversely, evil is merely a perversion of that which is good, and requires the existence of good in order to exist. So evil is always parasitic. For example, the effectiveness of a lie depends upon a context where truth-telling is expected. If everyone always lied, lying would lose its meaning. Likewise, adultery can only exist where there is such a thing as marital sexual fidelity, and so on. Similarly, in the Bible, Satan is not an equal, evil counterpart to God. He is a fallen creature that was once good. Likewise demons are described as fallen spiritual beings (angels.)  Evil is innately inferior to good because it needs good in order to exist. By nature good is creative and life enhancing; evil is destructive and disrupts communion, bringing death.

So the preexistent nature of God means that He is necessarily good, because only that which is good can be complete in and of itself. God does not need us. He did not create us because He was lonely, or bored, or static, or had broken all of His other toys. Relationship, love, and good all existed in perfection in YHWH before there was a created physical reality. In creating us, God was apparently letting us in on the awesomeness of the possibility of loving relationship. If you consider what the most fulfilling aspect of your life is, I would guess that it has to do with loving relationship. On the other hand, if you feel there is a gaping hole in your life, I would guess that what you feel is lacking has to do with loving relationship.

In keeping with this, recall the creation story. God looked at everything He had created and pronounced it “very good” (Gen 1:31.) With one exception. God looked at Adam and said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18.) Isn’t that interesting? Aloneness is not good. Even with God as his companion, Adam was a physical being and thus needed a physical complement to fully experience and express loving relationship. And in the terms described above, the human race could not be self-sustaining apart from such a relationship as the oneness in marriage would result in life.

In the same way, God has never been alone.

So the monotheistic concept of the Trinity, unique among the religions of the world, turns out not to be a liability after all. In fact, it makes possible and comprehensible the existence of a relational, loving and good God. Regardless of whether or not you believe the Judeo-Christian scriptures, it’s worth knowing that they are internally consistent, and that the real possibility exists that there is a good and loving Creator who invites you into relationship.

(Thanks to Pastor John Meyer for insights on God’s relational nature.)

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I Vote That We Stop Forcing People to Do Things

I believe there is a self-evident principle that if someone doesn’t want something, and you try to shove it down their throat, it is highly likely they will spit it back in your face. I hope I’m not the only one who has noticed this, but I’m beginning to wonder.

I’m pretty sure that this is universally true for all shovers and shovees who have ever lived. Apparently it is human nature to both attempt to force our will on others, and, ironically, to resist having another’s will forced on us. I could spend the rest of the day giving historical examples, and so could you. But now that we’ve had the benefit of watching both the right and the left, both the religious and the non-religious, and both the reactionary and the progressive do both the shoving and the spitting, maybe it’s time we step back and embrace a better idea: Pluralism and Freedom. I get that everyone, both shovers and spitters, think they are right. But that’s just the point. When the tide shifts and the former spitters become the new shovers, the world remains just as unenlightened, and oppressive as it was before. That’s why we must maintain pluralism and freedom.

If you are a shover, even if you are right, even if what you are shoving is good for the other person, they’re still not going to accept it. Have you ever fed a baby? Same thing. Except that when it comes to shoving values and concepts down people’s throats, you’re not dealing with a little baby strapped to a high chair. In fact you might be dealing with a big, hairy, angry activist baby who is completely unrestrained. So this is a call for civility and respectful dialogue.

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Since I have a foot in at least two very different subcultures, I want to clarify some recent statements I’ve made extolling the virtues of pluralism. Pluralism can be defined in various ways. For the purposes of this discussion I’m using a definition right out of the dictionary:

“A state of society in which members of a diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain an autonomous participation in and development of their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization.”

Notice the ending phrase, “within the confines of a common civilization.” In a free and pluralistic nation, every subgroup, though free to exist, must embrace the overarching fundamental values of the nation. In the case of America, that would include the concept that God has endowed all people with certain inalienable rights, and that we are a nation governed by a constitution, not by rulers. If a subgroup were to come in and decide that everyone should be governed by, let’s say, Sharia Law under a theocracy, that would essentially promote revolution, not pluralism. Those people should go live somewhere else.

I agree with whoever said “America is more of a stew than a melting pot.” Groups and individuals need not lose their distinctive identities here so long as they can agree to allow others the same freedom, and accept the basic values of the nation. In our fallen, broken world, I contend that this is the best we can hope for in terms of societal structure. But in order for this to work, we all have agree that if and when our people get in power, they should not use that power to force everyone else to conform to their political views. Otherwise pluralism and freedom will come to an end. By now it should be understood that we don’t want government imposing a religion, a non-religion, or some other “ism” on the population. After all, what are the odds that a handful of politicians have gotten things figured out to the point that it’s a good idea for them to force people to comply with their personal views, and to punish those who don’t? Yet here we are again, watching it happen.

The cool thing about pluralism is that it’s like the equivalent of a free market, but with ideas. Even stupid ideas should be allowed to be put out there. If an idea is truly bad, people ultimately won’t buy it. So even racists and holocaust-deniers should be free to express their views. Because their views can then to be shown to be horrendous. But the great thing about pluralism is, it also allows the possibility that there are good ideas that may seem stupid, but which are actually merely unfashionable. Pluralism allows the opportunity for those ideas to be examined, and tested, and to potentially gain traction if they are deserving.

This can be seen clearly in the area of religious belief. Religious belief has been intellectually unfashionable for well over a century now. Since Voltaire (1695-1778,) scholars and really smart academic people have repeatedly predicted the extinction of religion. This has become known as the secularization thesis. It goes something like this: “Belief in God will inevitably die out as the human mind is emancipated by modernization and scientific enlightenment.” It’s inevitable. Except that, whoopsie, the fashionable academic atheist’s predictions have exactly not come to pass. Religion is exploding all over the planet, even in modern and enlightened countries, in both open and closed countries, much to the consternation of the smart people.

We can talk about whose fault this is, but it certainly hasn’t been for lack of atheist governments trying to force atheism on their populations. As in the former USSR. Or in China today. When Mao Zedong came to power in 1949 there were an estimated 700,000 Christians in China. Under Mao it was widely assumed that China would become a leading example of a fully secularized, postreligious society. But today the Chinese government logs 16 million members in the official, registered church (the TSPM.) However, it is well known that tens of thousands of illegal, unregistered house churches exist throughout China as well. No one knows the precise number of Chinese in these churches because the government will not allow foreign survey companies to ask questions about religion, but the best estimates are at least 70 million.

While China is very diverse culturally, it is not a pluralistic nation where opposing ideas are free to compete in the public square. (For example, censored Chinese search engines do not acknowledge the government’s massacre of civilians in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.) The astonishing growth of Christianity has occurred against the wishes of the Chinese government, sometimes in the face violent suppression. One political lesson from this could be: If you try to shove something down people’s throats, you probably won’t get the result you hoped for.

Many nations have “anti-conversion” and “apostasy” laws. In these countries if you are born a Christian you are generally free to live as a Christian, but persuading others to become a Christian is a punishable offense. Many Islamic governments equate leaving Islam (apostasy) with treason, punishable by prison or even death, depending on the country. On top of being grossly arrogant and barbaric, this is just really bad marketing. Don’t laws like this make it appear that the majority religion is unable to stand up to criticism?

My point is that this business of shoving things down people’s throats never ends well.

I think it is beyond dispute that America’s pluralistic society and constitutional government were founded on Biblical concepts, but that doesn’t make America a Christian nation anymore than that makes it a Jewish nation. Our Judeo-Christian underpinnings simply form a superior basis for guaranteeing basic rights and freedom for everyone, regardless of belief. Underneath it all is the idea that, while humans are intrinsically valuable because they bear the image of God, we are also corrupt and thus can’t be trusted with power. This humbling idea fits perfectly with the structure of pluralism, freedom, and keeping the power of the church, the corporation, and especially the government in check. I say let’s all embrace the fact that we’re all the same in that none of us has it all figured out. Maybe those of us who disagree with each other can respectfully learn a thing or two from each other.

Until we do have it all figured out, I vote that we stop forcing people to do things.