Thursday, September 29, 2005

What Was God's Purpose?

While listening to our preacher last night in class discussing the fall of man and God's intent for us in the Garden, I formed a question about three things that God did that contributed to the fall.

1) God created free will. 2) God created the tree of knowledge. 3) And the kicker: God then told Adam and Eve not to eat of its fruit.

Satan was not involved in these three things. What was God's purpose? Number 3 really gets me sometimes. It is like a test.

For those that will argue that the creation story is just a metaphor for the nature of man, the question stills hold. God created free will. This I don't wrestle with. What meaning does a relationship and love have if the participants don't have any choice? But if you go with the metaphor, what does the tree represent? Why did God provide a temptation mechanism? What was the purpose--to give us something to choose other than Him?

This led me to another question. If this was a test of choice, and God knew the outcome and had already planned for Christ to be the rebuilder, then was the purpose to provide for a fall so that man would completely depend on God? That is, that man would have to either realize His complete dependence on God or he would have to utterly reject God?

Your thoughts please.

23 comments:

JMG said...

I have wondered about point #3 myself. It's like setting some cookies on the table in front of a kid and then saying "Don't eat these."

God made mankind master over all the other life on the earth (Gen 1.26). It was almost as if man was a god of sorts. But then came the fall, and now man was no longer master over all the plants and animals but now had to contend with them. Satan told Eve that eating the fruit would make people become like God. But really, they were already like God because they were in a position of lordship over God's creation.

This response is not intended to be an answer to your question. I'm thinking out loud here, but my train of thought is starting to derail, so I'll have to get back to you later.

Steve said...

Maybe, man invented god. Seems like man has invented a lot of gods and written a lot of myths in his time.

Also...

Maybe, man's free will is only an illusion.


There are multiple ways by which one can think about how it is that the will of man is not (and also can not be) free. These methods represent considering the issue on different “levels” or looking that this topic from different “directions”, but there’s more than one way by which one can arrive at the same conclusion that man can not be a “free” agent (capable of causal agency). I shall set forth three different views that bring one to the NFW position.

CAUSALITY
Here is one way that the Law of Causality might be stated: “except for the random , nothing happens without a cause.” Causality holds that since there are no observations of objects just “popping” into existence or objects spontaneously acting, it is safe to postulate that there are preceding causes for all things.

As long as I rely on this law holding true, that the universe operates via causality , then I can come to no other conviction than that there is no free will. (Even if it feels like I’m making free choices.) Regardless of whatever is going on in man’s mind about feeling like he has “free” will and that he is a "free" agent of choice, free will must only be an illusion in a causal universe .

In the most simplistic terms, the law of causality informs us that what is happening now is a result of what happened just before now. Another way of saying this is, what is happening now causes what is going to be next. (Which would necessarily mean that the future is the result of the past.) When applied to human will, this rule of causality means that what a person wills is a result of everything that came before in that person’s life.


ORIGINS OF BEING AND BEHAVIOR
Every human being originates from its parents. Our genetic code comes half from our male parent and half from our female parent. In the vernacular this is referred to as individual’s nature. It’s what you are born with, and no one has any freedom concerning their nature.

From the moment we are born, (recent research says even while we are in utero), we begin to interact with the world around us and we are molded by that interaction. Are we fed, are we held, are we talked to, are we kept warm and clean and are we loved? One more element that makes sense to add; teaching, are we taught? This is called nurture, or environmental input. Day by day as we grow the individual’s environment adds to his or her genetic make-up and creates the person that is the individual.

Starting from the first day of your life, all that you are comes from either your nature or your nurture or from both working in some combination. So from the simple observation that human behavior clearly comes from either inherent nature or learned nurture or some combination of the two, again I can come to no other conclusion then what ever is going on in our heads about feeling like we are "free" agents of choice, it is an illusion.

THE NON-CORPOREAL DECISION MAKER
Another way to look at the problem of will is to analyze the act of choosing. What happens when a choice is made? It is readily observable that in making a choice a choosing entity will make the choice either based on criteria that exist a priori to the choice, or it will make the choice randomly. Neither of these alternatives satisfy the requirements of “free” will; the former fails because it negates freedom, and the latter fails because it negates active choosing. This analysis means I can come to no other conclusion then what ever is going on in our heads about feeling like we are "free" agents of choice, it is an illusion.

philosopherknight@gmail.com

JMG said...

OK, I'm back on my train. Obviously, Adam and Eve had great fellowship with God before the fall. But if they were already like God, were they as dependent on him before the fall as after the fall? How much did they have to exercise their faith? Now that we have Jesus, the head of the church, who shows us what God values, when the church emulates Jesus, we have fellowship with each other and with God, individually and collectively, and our faith in God has the chance to build. Perhaps the fall was ultimately better for mankind, just as trials and suffering today are for our betterment.

JMG said...

Steve, if my free will is just an illusion, then everything else I perceive must be an illusion as well. When I hurt, that's just an illusion, and when I see someone else suffer, that's just an illusion too. So if it's all just an illusion, then everything is pointless. I might as well sit on my couch and eat cookies all day. Then when I get fat, that will just be an illusion too. (OK, I'm liking the illusion idea better if that's the case.)

Causality holds that since there are no observations of objects just “popping” into existence or objects spontaneously acting, it is safe to postulate that there are preceding causes for all things.

So if there's a cause for everything, then working backward, what caused the first thing to happen? God, perhaps?

Laurel Makepeace O'Keefe said...

What happens when a choice is made? It is readily observable that in making a choice a choosing entity will make the choice either based on criteria that exist a priori to the choice, or it will make the choice randomly. Neither of these alternatives satisfy the requirements of “free” will; the former fails because it negates freedom, and the latter fails because it negates active choosing.
I'm sorry but i simply must put my two cents in here;
you say that a choice is made either by drawing from past experience or completely randomly-now that is in effect a choice-and there are still yet other ways to make said choice as well-but the point i want to make here only requires the two you listed and the one that you did not that by your own logic has to be listed IE if we make a decision based on past experience what of the person who continues to make the same self defeating or worse self destructive decisions knowing full well the results they have had in their past --or the person who chooses to benefit from his memory of similar past poor decisions, and thus make different ones this time ---this is free will. he/she is choosing just as they are choosing to not choose and say randomly flip a coin or simply hastily decide rather than belabor the process of deciding-lots of folks do this, while others still decide to do exactly what say their spouse or parent or best thinks they should do so they don't have to decide-another exercise and example of free will.
I find your hypothesis to be oversimplified and reductionist,
despite your written tendency to over elaborate.
I can see how most folks would steer clear of challenging you though, simply because you succeed in confusing them with your hyper-existentialism that in reality, lacks any true logic.

Brent said...

Interesting thoughts... Getting back to the Genesis account itself, I find it fascinating how Christians (myself included up until recently) assume that the events described in the Bible are actual/factual/historical events. Our experience of reality contains no talking animals, no supernatural heroes, no miraculous events that defy the laws of nuture, etc.

When we read literature that contains the beforementioned we automatically put on our fantasy goggles and read it as myth. When we watch movies that contain such displays of the impossible we know that those things really don't happen. Why is the Bible any different?

I suppose some common responses to that question could be "Well, we just have to have faith that God wrote the Bible and did the miraculous things that are described. The people were real and God used them to tell us what our purpose in this world is." or "Why would people make all that stuff up? To trick everyone? The Bible tells us the true way that God has acted in this world. All we have to do is believe it and base our lives on it and we'll get to go to a better place when we die." I used to try to 'get God off the hook' and explain away all the difficulties of Christianity, but I can't do it anymore. There must be a better way to look at all this.

Back to the Bible: I guess my position is that the early Genesis account is metaphor. It tells a story to explain why things are the way they are. Many stories have been written to explain our origins and to describe the condition of man. Metaphor does this wonderfully. The Genesis account is a great story. But it is myth and not factual history.

Now don't interpret this to mean that myth is the opposite of truth. Myths contain truth. The problem with looking at the Genesis account an historical record of the factual events of the past is that it often keeps us from seeing the truth within the story. The Genesis story is true in that it describes the nature of humanity. So does the story of David & Bethsheba and the Israelite exodus.

It is my opinion (of course) that we (I include myself here because I have grown up in the Christian tradition) have taken a mythological past and nailed it down to the floor as our own literal history, perpetuating a perspective that glosses over the realities that we face and attempts to attribute the problems that we encounter in life as "God's will."

These types of conversations can go so many directions. I hope, however, that others would at least consider the possibility that these stories that we have based our entire lives on (and our children's as well) may indeed be true, but not necessarily fact.

Brent

JMG said...

Brent, I said sort of the same thing on my blog this morning. However, this does not negate my opinions already expressed here.

Tony Arnold said...

Brent, you did not address the question from the viewpoint of the metaphor. I would like to get your opinion of the question from the stance that the Genesis account is not literal.

What does the tree of knowledge represent in the metaphor? Why did God purposefully create a tempation mechanism and what part of existence does this represent?


Steve, I have a question for you based on your statement:
Causality holds that since there are no observations of objects just “popping” into existence or objects spontaneously acting, it is safe to postulate that there are preceding causes for all things.

What caused the universe to "pop" into existence? What caused the big bang and where did the mass of the universe come from? Science and philosophy have no better answer than religion (I could argue religion has the better answer) on the origins of the universe question. So it all comes down to faith in something for everyone. But some scientists, not all, laugh at my faith in God, while finding it perfectly logical to believe in nothing. I find it more logical to believe something caused the universe to exist rather than it nothing.


I really like this essay which ties into our subject. Hope you enjoy it.
The Poison of Subjectivism

Tony

Tony Arnold said...

Another point for Steve. You said: What happens when a choice is made? It is readily observable that in making a choice a choosing entity will make the choice either based on criteria that exist a priori to the choice, or it will make the choice randomly. Neither of these alternatives satisfy the requirements of “free” will;

My apologies to C. S. Lewis for messing up his statements made in his book Mere Christianity: Consider a person jumping into a raging river to save a drowning child (a child he/she has no relation to). Likewise, the bystander who enters a raging fire to rescue a child while the parent stands by screaming for help for their child.

The choice is not a priori or based on causality of decision just previous. It is not instinctive. Self-preservation would say not to do it. It is not the herd mentality: there is no relation here. It is certainly not a random act or decision. It is a conscious decision to act against instinct, norm, and self-preservation to execute some good. Many have died performing these decisions. I would call this free will.

Tony

Brent said...

One thing that is quite interesting is that metaphors may have been such a part of the way the ancients expressed ideas and explained the world around them that they actually perceived them to be literally true. Kind of messed up if you think about it.

To answer you question, Tony - I'm not sure that we can know why trees were used in the story (which scholars believe is an ancient tradition that was incorporated into the Torah when it was redacted and compiled - see "Who Wrote the Bible," by Friedman), but it seems to me that the connection could be the simple and most obvious: The forbidden fruit is that which we all know we shouldn't do, but do it anyway (sounds Pauline, doesn't it?) and the tree of knowledge of good and evil is that part of us that desires to know why things are the way they are. The story defines us.

Of course, if we are to really consider the possibility that the beginning of our Bibles is not factual history like we once thought, then it does present problems with much of the rest of Judaism and then even Christianity. If the "fall of man" is indeed a mythological way of understanding our condition rather the literal events of history, much of our Christian theology can start to break down.

Many would label me an atheist because of the way I understand and interpret the Christian religion that inherited. This is not the case. Instead I am trying very hard to reconstruct a Christian model of living that can appreciate those things that are transcendent to us and a mystery to us. I'm not sure if I can do it because the deeper I go with this, I realize that much of the Christian tradition bases itself of a view of God and mankind that I don't really subscribe to anymore.

JMG said...

Brent said, Instead I am trying very hard to reconstruct a Christian model of living that can appreciate those things that are transcendent to us and a mystery to us. I'm not sure if I can do it because the deeper I go with this, I realize that much of the Christian tradition bases itself of a view of God and mankind that I don't really subscribe to anymore.

This is why I prefer not to dig too deeply. I am not really afraid of finding something that undermines my faith; rather, I find that so much intellectual exercise takes time away from living. Even if none of the Christian tratitions turned out to be true, I still believe that a life lived according to the model of Jesus, whether he was real or mythical, is the type of life I should lead. It is the most beneficial to me and to those around me.

While I would love to know the Absolute Truth (or I think I would love to know), I'm content in my lack of understanding because I have found a good way for myself in Jesus. I have faith and hope in the future that Christianity teaches, and if it turns out to be wrong, I'll be dead and won't know it anyway.

(I hope that doesn't make me sound pesimistic, because really I'm not.)

Brent said...

jmg, I can appreciate what you say.

Here's the thing though: Christianity supposedly bases itself on Truth. If we really are seekers of truth, you would think that we would not want to sell ourselves short. This can become a circular discussion, but I hope you see my point.

Secondly, if Christians were to live the type of Christianity that you are talking about, it would become a much less exclusive group. Christians would appreciate the views of others instead of judging them to the fires of hell. Christians would embrace anyone who has compassion for others, not just Christians. Buddists would sit at the same table as Christians. Hmmmm, it seems that Jesus would have done that doesn't it?

jmg, Marcus Borg describes a state of mind that he calls "postcritical naivety." It is an interesting take on someone who has gone through the process of approaching the Bible and Christianity critically but still choosing to view the world through a Christian lense. His books, "Reading Jesus Again for the First Time" and "Reading the Bible Again for the First Time" are great books. I think that Borg would give you some ways to express where you are at in your Christianity.

Bretn

Brent said...

I don't even know how to type my own name.

JMG said...

Secondly, if Christians were to live the type of Christianity that you are talking about, it would become a much less exclusive group. Christians would appreciate the views of others instead of judging them to the fires of hell. Christians would embrace anyone who has compassion for others, not just Christians. Buddists would sit at the same table as Christians. Hmmmm, it seems that Jesus would have done that doesn't it?

That's exactly what I'm aiming for.

Adam said...

In his book "Yet Will I Trust Him", John Mark Hicks points out that God giving people the choice (and clear option) to leave his will is actually an act of love. He references a scene from the musical "Starlight Express" in which one of the characters demands that his love interest stay with him. His love responds "If I am not free to go, then I am not free to stay."
AE

Tony Arnold said...

Brent, many Christians have done this, in particular Keating and Thomas Merton. Please correct me if I am misreading you, but I sense that you may be judging God and Christianity on the actions of man rather than on their own merit. I wonder if you have are judging God based on some painful experiences in your religious past.

Please do not judge Him because I am hypocritical and fail. It is not His fault. But maybe I am just reading way too much into your words.

JMG, I too have used the argument that Christianity is the best way, so even if I am wrong then I am better off. However, I have been challenged on this thought process. I think that it is a weakening of the Christian stance in order to avoid offending someone. Choosing to act as Christ acted because it is a good example and choosing Him because of who He is are not the same things.

I believe we have to accept Christ as the son of God, as a supernatural being who died and rose from the dead. That is my belief. Please don't get me wrong, I am not making a judgement on what happens to very good people who don't beleive this. I don't know and more importantly I don't have any say in what happens to them. I do worry about them. I am not sure it is enough, but again I stress that my thoughts have no bearing on their end. Only God decides not me.

I believe with all my heart in Christ because of what He has done for me in my life. I really believe in His spirit among us, based on my experiences. And I serve others because of what Christ has done for me. Not just because it is the right thing to do. My weaknesses cause me to fail too often when I rest on that reason.

Tony

Brent said...

Tony,

Yes, you have misinterpreted. I don't blame God for anything because I do not define him the way I used to and the way that you currently do. My current views about life now come from a different definition of God. It is impossible for me to judge him, question him or get mad at him because I no longer look thru the world by holding onto theistic assumptions about the way things work.

It doesn't sound like you have read any of the articles I have posted on previous topics. You might have a better idea about my outlook if you were to read some of them. You may not be interested, though, because it seems like you are content seeing things from your present perspective. I am fine with that, of course. I'm not here to try to convince anyone that I am right and others are wrong (though my language may be interpreted as such). I am here to present a different paradigm if anyone is interested to know how others out there are thinking.

Brent

JMG said...

Tony, I think (hope) I have been clear in our conversations that I do believe in Christ the risen savior--a total package of what he's done and how he lived on earth. My argument comes from what I have to tell my students all the time about audience. When arguing a "religious" position, I cannot assume that all people are on the same page as I am religiously speaking, so I must use the argument that will have the most impact on that audience. An audience who rejects my notion of Christianity must be appealed to in some other fashion.

I've been grading freshman essays, and they've taken a lot out of me. I'm afraid I'm beginning to write as they do, not making sense to even myself. I think I'll gracefully exit this conversation for now because I have many more essays to read.

JMG said...

Hey Tony, this is off topic, but as much as I have enjoyed seeing Vandy make this comeback, I really hope that they lose today.

:-)

jettybetty said...

My head is spinning! Life has beem busy here, so no time to comment--but I have been trying to keep up on the *conversation".

For Tony's initial question, I mostly agree with Brent:

"The forbidden fruit is that which we all know we shouldn't do, but do it anyway (sounds Pauline, doesn't it?) and the tree of knowledge of good and evil is that part of us that desires to know why things are the way they are. The story defines us."

What I would probably include with that is something that Tony said initially--God wants us to love Him and His ways, but He won't force us to it.

Of course, it might not be that simplistic as Brent has mentioned several times.

I have taken some graduate theology. I have taken them just because I am curious, enjoy them and thought I couldn't know too much about God. In many ways I can agree with what JMG so eloquently stated:

"This is why I prefer not to dig too deeply. I am not really afraid of finding something that undermines my faith; rather, I find that so much intellectual exercise takes time away from living."

The past few years I have been busy raising kids and believed my time much better spent in pouring into them what I could.

However,(long ago, now) in one of my courses we were studying something like the documentary hypothesis and the prof asked us to if we would believe in God if we didn't have the Bible--and how we would come to that conclusion.

This was a defining moment to me and I will give you the whole thought process if you like, but the bottom line to me is this--some things you must take as faith. There are some things that do not seem to mesh, but the God I believe in is so much wiser than I am, just because I cannot personally make every part of theology come out tied up in pretty packages--doesn't mean God cannot. In fact, I am certain I don't want a God I can totally understand. I want one that has mystery to Him. Otherwise, He would be too much like me--my inner being longs for Someone I can worship. I stand in awe of God partially because I cannot understand Him.

Another thing I agree with that has been tossed out here is Christians (so called or whatever) have not behaved as we see demonstrated in the life of Jesus or taught in the New Testament. I think that can only change as one by one we understand and accept our call to discipleship. I think this point alone discourages the masses to not accept Jesus.

As much as I desire that lifestyle for myself, however imperfect I am being at living it I believe it is the only way. I firmly believe there is no other way than Jesus. Am I to love Muslims, Jews, Buddists? Absolutely, entirely--but I have a non-negotiable belief in the empty tomb. I don't really care if you are Arminian, Calvinist, Pre-trib, Post-trib, Mid-trip, Amillenial, instrumental or acapella. I do belief in Jesus as my Savior is essential. Call me stupid, call me child-like, but I believe Jesus is the One and only. I know I can't *prove* it necessarily--but I choose faith.

Brent, you have some really interesting comments--I have already ordered the book "Who Wrote the Bible"--I will read it. Just ask Tony and JMG--if you mention a book here about theology--I probably will read it!

Blessings!
JB

Tony Arnold said...

I appreciate all the comments. I didn't misinterpret what you said JMG, and you write extremely well.

I just used your comment as a basis to make another point of what I believe.

Brent, no I have no read the articles and books you mentioned, but only because I have a list a mile long already and it seems less and less time to read, which I love to do. I have but your suggestions on my reading list, but it will be a while. I need to stop blogging and get back to reading.

Also, I am very glad you keep commenting. Don't stop Brent, you communicate objectively, which is not easy to do. I have a hard time doing it. Just like you though, if I see things differently or disagree I will freely write it. I hope everyone continues to do the same.

Laurel Makepeace, I really enjoyed your comment.

JMG, on the MTSU comment, see your latest blog post. Argggghhhh!

Tony

Paula said...

I heard an interesting thought this weekend that relates. The person said,"here's the question. If man were perfect in the garden, will man be even better in for eternity after having to go through life outside of Eden?"

My thought was, "we'd better be!"

In Eden man didn't get to be indwelled by God. God in His goodness gave Himself to us, though, in the fullness of actually making our home inside of us.

Maybe the answer to my friend's question, and yours, is that we're offered deeper intimacy now because we realize our need for God and invite Him inside.

Hope I'm making sense. I'm really tired and off to bed now!

Tony Arnold said...

Thanks for posting Paula, interesting thought about God giving Himself in the Garden, we did not need to seek. But after the fall, we must seek God. He does promise to be there if we seek Him.

Tony