Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Entry 32 4.7.11

Entry 32, April 7th, 2011, 11:02pm (ship time)

Today was a day off. I spent most of it reading. Despite my own agnostic sensibilities, I made some more progress in “The Purpose Driven Life,” and I have two quibbles and a pair of observations.

Today's chapter was titled, “The Reason for Everything.” To sum up, glorifying God is the reason for everything.

First, the quibbles. Warren states that “When anything in creation fulfills its purpose, it brings glory to God.” (p.55) However, a page earlier he states, “God's inherent glory is what he possess because he is God . . . We cannot add anything to his glory, just as it is impossible for us to make the sun shine brighter.” Here, I am confused. How can we bring glory to God if he's already as gloried up as he can get? Or are there two types of glory, some “inherent” glory that God has already, and some other type of glory that we can then bring to him by living in a particular way?

This dissonance continues. On page 57 he then quotes 2 Corinthians 4:15: “As God's grace brings more and more people to Christ, . . . God will receive more and more glory.” How can God receive more and more glory if we cannot add anything to his glory? Is there a unit of measurement for glory that we can use here? You'd think in the 2000 years after Jesus' life we would've come up with something. Unless of course the glory that we are bringing God is already counted as God's glory, but in that case, why do we need to bring it to him?

Perhaps the concept of infinity can help us here. In mathematics, a number can be added to infinity. Infinity remains the same; it does not increase despite the fact that a number has been added to it. If God's glory is assumed to be infinite, then it makes sense that we could bring glory to the infinitely glorious. The purpose would be the act of addition, not the end result. I could . . . come to accept that.

The trouble here is that glory has been shown to have energy. If the bible is to be believed (and I'm pretty sure that's something you have to do as a Christian), God's glory has been revealed to various humans at various times, usually manifesting as a bright light (Warren lists several bible verses where God's glory is revealed (incidentally, I don't think that there's any mention of glory having mass in the bible, but I may be wrong)). If glory possesses energy, and God's glory is infinite, then it logically follows that God's glory has infinite energy. This is clearly impossible, because if that was the case than any human being exposed to God's glory would have been instantly vaporized, along with the entire universe. Moreover, God could not have shown anyone half of his Glory in an effort to keep from roasting them, as infinity divided by anything is still infinity.

Conclusion: glory is a slippery subject.

My second quibble comes from a single sentence on page 57. “Will you live life for your own comfort, goals, and pleasure, or will you live the rest of your life for God's glory, knowing that he has promised eternal rewards?” It is the last bit that troubles me: “. . . knowing that he has promised eternal rewards.” This is a rather self-centered motivation for glorifying God. It's the concept of delayed gratification, wrapped up in theology, but even if gratification is delayed it's still selfish. Does this mean that I should glorify God here on Earth with the expectation of personal pleasure in the afterlife? Now I am unsure if the glorification is to be pursued for the sake of God himself, or for my own benefit. I forget the philosopher who observed that it was logically sound to believe in God for the purposes of self-interest, because “. . . if there is no God and you believe, no harm done, but if there is and you don't, you're screwed.” He probably said it a little more formally than that.

The larger problem here, of course, is that I really want Christianity to make sense (just like how I wish people made sense). However, logical consistency is not a requirement of any belief system – that's why they're called belief systems, not sciences. This is really unfortunate, because if I could find one that was logically sound I could just decide to believe in it and have all my questions answered!

But enough with the quibbles. As you can plainly see, I am still struggling to muster enough humility to put aside my knee-jerk contrarianism. On to the observations.

A bible verse on page 58 (John 12:25), caught my eye. “Anyone who holds onto life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go . . . you'll have it forever, real and eternal.” I jumped to my horn case to dig out Mitchell's translation of the Tao Te Ching. Compare the gospel and the Tao (chapter 22): “If you want to be reborn, let yourself die. If you want to be given everything, give everything up.” The theme of letting go is common between the two. In a way, the gospel can interpreted as an exhortation to cease trying, to let go of control and embrace things as they are. Of course, the language is different, as the Gospel says you need to trust that God is in control, while the Tao doesn't seem to need this reassurance.

Some additional parallels can be drawn between the Christian God and the Tao, based on the chapter of Warren's book that I read today. Certainly the concept of the creation of the universe can be translated – the bible says that it was all created by God while the Tao says everything comes from the Tao. Another of Warren's observations caught my eye here as well: “Worship is far more than praising, singing, and praying to God. Worshiping is a lifestyle of enjoying God, loving him, and giving ourselves to be used for his purposes.” This definitely squares with the concept of being one with the Tao; “My teachings are easy to understand and easy to put into practice. Yet your intellect will never grasp them, and if you try to practice them, you'll fail. (ch. 70)” Both emphasize action over words and thinking as the only way to really live their respective systems.

Christian God = Tao” would be an oversimplification, though. There are a lot of problems with that, not the least of which is found in chapter 57 of the tao te ching: “. . . I let go of religion, and people become serene . . .” Oops. Looks like that comparison doesn't work so well after all. Also the fact that the Tao deliberately shuns a system of good and evil (“The Tao doesn't take sides; it gives birth to both good and evil” (ch. 5)) is a pretty irreconcilable difference, as the concept of sin is not really something you can have Christianity without.

My second observation is related to this thought process, but is short and a personal reflection. The fact that I am trying to combine these two ways of perceiving the world is interesting – my instinct is to synthesize a system from those that others have put into place before. This is another small piece of the self-knowledge puzzle; the more I understand about my own natural intellectual methodology, the closer I get to knowing myself.

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