Saturday, April 05, 2008

My Next Point

Jeff, who, one might say, has some personal knowledge of these matters, left a comment on my second-to-last-post that set things up well for what I was going to say next about the Milk Guy's charge of arrogance. I don't know how to link to comments, and he delineated the argument better (or more concisely) than I was going to, so I'm just going to quote him here. He said:
It might not be thought out in this way, but I think the "arrogant" argument goes like this:
A) There are many people who are in circumstances that make it easy for them to know Jesus.
B) There are many people who are in circumstances that it literally (or atleast nearly) impossible to know Jesus.
C) Many of the determining factors of A. and B. above have nothing to do with the actions of the person.
This seems to leave open only the following conclusions:
1. Somebody who is in circumstance A. is more loved by God than somebody in circumstance B: If God loved them both the same he would have put everybody in circumstance A. This is where the claims of arrogance come in: it can be said that if you're in circumstance A, in some sense you're claiming to be better, or more loved than circumstance B.
2. The alternative is God is quite random and capricious about who is in A. or B.; if this is the case his love, fairness, and wisdom are all called into question.
I do think that, really, this is what the Milk Guy was talking about. And, as Jeff further says, I don't know exactly how to tease all this out. I mean, I believe God really loves everybody, so I don't understand why some people are in situations where they get to hear about Jesus easily and others don't. But I will say this (and this, and this).

First, just because you live in a place where it's easy to hear about Jesus, doesn't mean you'll accept him. Clearly. So something else has to be in play here, too. Also, there are all sorts of evidences that God has made Jesus known even in places where it should be impossible. I think that (for reasons I still can't get my head around) God would rather use His Church to communicate Jesus' love. But I personally know people from ideologically closed countries who have had visions and dreams of Jesus, and I've read plenty of other historical accountings of other supernatural communications to tribal peoples or individuals, which were only interpreted later. I guess I imagine that God judges us on the information (or relationship) we're granted, and it's His business how much information He chooses to give, though I don't really understand all that.

But anyway, the other irony of this version of the arrogance argument is that it's always linked with what we were talking about before. So . . . people get upset that not everyone has an equal chance to hear about Jesus . . . but then they also get upset when we try to tell them? I'm sorry. This makes no sense.

I wonder if the Milk Guy would be appalled to know that this discussion with him is making me consider going back into traditional missions overseas . . . ?


Jeff said...

Yes!!! You are absolutely right on several counts. The first is the catch-22 that we're put in:
On the one hand, we're often told that it's obnoxious for us to evangelize, but then we're told that if the stakes are as important as we say they are, then we should be doing more.
I'd like to observe 2 important limits to this catch 22. Sometimes, we try to over extend this catch 22, a bit. (I'm not at all saying that you are, Jenn. I'm speaking of Christianity as a group and certainly including myself in this warning.)

Skeptics sometimes observe that there are folks who literally can not possibly have heard the good news. During the Middle Ages, for example, we simply had not penetrated into central Africa or huge portions of Asia.
It can be tempting for us, as Christians to respond with answers like "That's why it's so important that we engage in missionary work today."
But the thing is, that this response misses much of the point of their argument. Barring a missionary time machine, we can not fix a problem that is centuries old. This is a hard argument to respond to... because the onus is on to explain why God would set the whole thing up in the way he did. I think it's a bit of a cop out for us to say "Well, Christians couldn't possibly have gotten to Central Africa in the year 1200, there was no transportation, and they didn't understand" because it's fair enough to observe that God knew these limitations and set the whole system up this way despite those facts.
My second caveat around the catch 22 that you observe: It's tempting for me to want to feel like I have to respond to all skeptics criticisms instead of the specific sketpic who I'm talking to. If skeptic A says that we're obnoxious and skeptic B says that we're not doing enough, I can feel like I'm in a catch 22. But really, I'm not: skeptic A has one argument and skeptic B has a seperate argument.
It is of course true that some skeptics (say skeptic C) will run both arguments at the same time. This is clearly a catch-22, self contradictory.

Finally, I am totally with you that there is no good rational reason why Jesus appeals to people with limited, or strictly negative experiences with Christ-followers. I believe that the Holy Spirit can work through even other religions to prepare space in our hearts for Christ. For example, the author M. Scott Peck spoke about his experiences with Zen Buddhism, which focuses on contradictions inherent in existence.
He said if he hadn't had that training he would have been unprepared to deal with Christian contradictions such as the nature of the trinity of Christ's status us fully man and fully God.

This is such interesting stuff, Jenn. Thanks for the great discussion (and your various encouragement, shout-outs and links to my blog)

heather said...

I'm just going to vomit some thoughts that I don't always like nor do I understand:
- Jacob have I loved; Esau have I hated.
- Sometimes we don't want to be chosen by God. This is usually because we don't know what's going on behind the scenes, but we do know that it hurts now (i.e. Job). Sometimes it's because we're selfish and want things done our way (i.e. Jonah).
- In the story of Moses and Pharaoh, sometimes it says Pharaoh hardened his heart, sometimes it says God hardened Pharaoh's heart, and sometimes it says Pharaoh's heart was hardened (without naming the hardener).
- To Paul (Romans 10), this is the impetus for going out--how will they hear if we don't tell them? In fact, God, for some odd reason, uses humans more than any of the rest of His creation to tell His story and hope. If they don't hear, who's to blame?
- I like what you said about it not being arrogant because of the fact that we're included in the condemnation (until we trust Christ to take that condemnation, which is not a work of my own; i.e. I didn't get myself out of this condemnation). It would be arrogant if this was my statement. It's not my statement.
- Also, I don't know what God's doing around the world in these places. Perhaps people are responding to the Light they see, and God sends them more Light unbeknownst to me.
Does it seem unfair to me? Absolutely. It's unfair that I grew up in a home where God's light was all around me (so did both prodigal sons of the father, I might add, one of whom returned home, the other of whom never allowed his father's love, forgiveness, and joy to penetrate his heart). It's unfair that some who grow up in these homes don't take advantage of it.
It's unfair that God took on this punishment as His own.

Jenn said...

Jeff--thank YOU for similar links, shout-outs, and encouragements--and for interacting with this discussion.

Regarding evangelistic time travel--well yes. I guess that's where my point comes about God being able to make Himself known divinely if and when and where He so chooses, even without us, though (for reasons I still cannot begin to comprehend) He seems to prefer to use us. I don't particularly like the remaining feeling of arbitrariness, but just because I don't doesn't discount the whole Gospel, and, like you said, I guess I have to be kind of agnostic about it, too.

As for my thinking about going back overseas . . . it's not a guilt-trip. It's just a mental acknowledgment of the fact that I guess I do okay cross-culturally (perhaps dependent on which cultural lines I'm crossing), and that throughout my childhood I always did want to be an overseas missionary. I'm not convinced that Stateside ministry will always be me . . . though I'm prepared for it to last some time longer. It's just that this discussion has kind of opened me back up to the possibility of "going."

Heather--those are all really good points. Thanks for the reminders. I particularly resonate with the not-wanting-to-be-chosen part. I'm writing about that currently (I mean, in the next book I'm working on) and I really feel like that's how a lot of the people I talk to feel. Even though I get it, when I see other people not-wanting it, it makes me sad. I also like your last point, about all the unfairnesses. It's nonsense, almost, or crazy, or something. I can't tease it all out . . .

Christianne said...

another thought i had while reading this post (kinda along the same lines as some of heather's) is that in the old testament, God annihilated whole nations of people because they weren't israel. i mean, he chose israel, taught her about himself, gave her the law, asked her for her devotion, promised her the promised land, led her to the promised land, and basically didn't give any of that to anyone else. and then annihilated a lot of them.

perhaps one way "out" of this quandary (though it feels weird to say it that way) is to say that israel was established as a light to other nations. they were meant to be an example to those other nations.

except we can't really get around the truth that God CHOSE israel. he didn't choose anybody else. and then jesus came to extend the gift to everyone. paul says numerous times that he was specifically called to minister to the gentiles. he refers to the gentiles being grafted in as the mystery that God has known from the beginning of time but was only made manifest in jesus. so, again, something God did to include others that took until jesus to make happen. what about all those who existed before jesus who weren't israel?

kind of a similar predicament, i think. perhaps we can learn something about today's predicament if we begin to understand God's heart for this other one?