Theo Todman's Web Page - Notes Pages


Ensuring People Believe

(Text as at 15/09/2007 19:39:22)

(For earlier versions of this Note, see the table at the end)

How would I have made sure all humans believed I existed?

Well, we first of all need to consider what God is alleged to have done. It appears to be two-fold.

  1. A General Revelation to all mankind.
  2. A Special Revelation to a particular people, who were to act as a channel to all.
I have two problems with this, though before explaining and investigating these, I will first note that the problems for a “conditional immortality” view of the human person, combined with a view that “you can’t be judged for unbelief if you’ve never had the opportunity to believe”, make this combined approach much more sensible. However, these “soft” doctrines themselves are not held by staunch evangelicals, who presumably believe the “hard” versions (eternal conscious torment for all who have not explicitly confessed Christ) because they think they are either directly Scriptural, or logical consequences of Scriptural teaching. What we can deduce from this is that we all have a tendency to reject interpretations we find abhorrent, even at the cost of not being “true to Scripture” (we simply leave the “difficult” verses on one side and hope the Lord will reveal their true meaning to us one day.

Taking this a bit further, the “fire and brimstone” approach is so abhorrent that anyone with any human sympathy will do anything to weasel out of accepting that Scripture teaches it. Take the mystic Julian of Norwich. One of her most famous sayings, along with the vision of the walnut in the hand of God – representing the whole universe and showing how insignificant it is compared to God – is “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well”. I’ve not investigated Julian’s theology, but I gather that she believed in hell, but believed that the souls of the wicked went through it in some way. Now I think this collection of thoughts is rather wonderful, and that if the soul is immortal then something like it must be true if the justice of God is to be maintained.

However, it might be pure wishful thinking and Ian Paisley and his cohorts may be correct to bark at people that they (if unbelievers) are in danger of such suffering, and that the blood of their friends and relatives are on their hands if they don’t bark at them in their turn. But who can believe such stuff? The argument seems to be that the cost to Christ was infinite, and the reason was that the cost was infinite is that the penalty was infinite, and if the penalty isn’t covered, then it must be paid, and as there are only a finite number of people, then the penalty for each is infinite. But it seems to me that, if this is the game, then God set it up and it’s unjust by ordinary standards to imprison people in a game they didn’t ask to play and make them pay an infinite price for losing. We can always wheel out the trump card that God makes the rules, but then God isn’t good because he’s good, he’s good because he’s God, whatever he does. But this God doesn’t seem to e the God of the Bible.

So to we will reject the immortality of the soul and eternal conscious torment for all who fail to explicitly believe in Christ. This leaves us with questions about Special and General Revelation. Is this what we’d expect?

Well, it does seem to be what’s claimed by the world religions. Unfortunately, it’s always their Special Revelation that’s the true one, and all other supposed Special Revelations are taken to be variously distorted versions of this, or extrapolations from General Revelation.

Take General Revelation first. This is that the characteristics of God – is power and goodness – are exemplified by the things that are made (ie. by nature). Well, it’s certainly true that looking at the vastness of the universe, it would be surprising if its creator turned out to be a creature within it. But I don’t suppose any culture has believed that, though they may have thought that God or gods temporarily took the form of a created thing for the purposes revelation, a view that Christianity seems to share, though taking a better exemplar than most. The trouble is that the creation appears different to different cultures depending on their circumstances – whether they are subject to droughts, floods, earthquakes; whether they live in a desert or enjoy a green and pleasant land. Their God tends to follow suit. (Sylvia’s Response1). Consequently, natural revelation leads to a right muddle. In addition, God’s goodness is more manifest in the green and pleasant lands (apart from in the dark Satanic mills) than in the deserts.

So, despite the rather fanciful “witness of the stars”, I think that General Revelation is too vague to be of much value except that it shows God to be big. (Sylvia’s Response2). But it’s far from clear that all the attributes of God are manifest simultaneously, and there are obvious concerns that the facts imply that if God is all loving, then he’s not all powerful, and vice versa. The normal response is that we need faith to see behind the surface features, but this just denies the effectiveness of General Revelation, if there is one. What nature does show is that the world is in a mess (with or without mankind making things worse), but there are more natural explanations than the Fall for this. Even those pretty stars in the sky are often the remnants of explosions that have consumed whole galaxies. The heavens proclaim the glory of the Lord best if you’re ignorant of what the heavens are, and treat it all as a firework display inaugurated for our benefit. (Sylvia’s Response3).

But maybe, the world being as it is, God’s stuck as far as General Revelation is concerned. Maybe if I was God, I’d have placed some tighter constraints on the appalling horrors (natural and man made) that occur so that my goodness was a little more obvious. Or I could make my existence obvious by theophanies. Just why is everything so secretive? Why is faith so important? After all, it’s difficult enough to be faithful to someone you can see exists, as the divorce-courts testify, so why does God have to play hide and seek in order to test mankind, if that’s what’s going on? Why does salvation have to be by grace through faith, rather than purely by grace (or maybe “through love”)? (Sylvia’s Response4).

The supposed Special Revelations contradict one another so cannot all be true. We’ve discussed the Religious Supermarket5 before, and my contention that there’s little a priori reason to expect that any of these pretenders to the title is the true one. However, I’m willing to believe that if there is a true one currently on offer, it is Christianity. (Sylvia’s Response6).

So, we can assume that the Special Revelation God adopted was to school up a single nation in his ways in preparation for sending his Son. It would be difficult to describe this plan as anything other than a disaster, and it’s the genius of Christianity to see that this disaster was expected – indeed planned - all along. Except it would have been a worse disaster from a salvation-historic point of view if the vessels of wrath hadn’t been so recalcitrant, but no doubt God would have worked something else out, and the Romans rather than the Jews would have got the blame.

Alternatives open to God are just what liberal theologians allege to have been the case. God implants a religious sense in all men, in some – the prophets, ascetics, mystics, pious, the good people and so on – more than others; and this sense is worked out in the various human contexts. While there is no specific salvation-event on this view, it has the advantage that the gentiles are not left hanging about in darkness for millennia waiting for the Jewish or Christian missionaries to get round to

Another alternative open to God (one that I think in fact obtains, if there is any Special Revelation at all) is to use the human authors with all their failings and ignorance (though they will usually be people of “special” insight), and to speak to the people in ways they can understand. I’m not sure at present whether the root of my “problems” with Special Revelation are with the Bible itself, or with the fundamentalist interpretation of it. (Sylvia’s Response7). Genesis 1 seems to me to be so obviously poetic that I don’t think it was even intended to be taken literally by its human author (though I wouldn’t be worried if he had had that intention; God could work with that). (Sylvia’s Response8).

Table of the Previous 4 Versions of this Note:

Date Length Title
13/09/2007 21:21:36 8577 Ensuring People Believe
29/08/2007 20:24:00 8369 Ensuring People Believe
28/08/2007 23:31:12 3005 Ensuring People Believe
28/08/2007 14:51:22 24 Ensuring Believers

Note last updated Reference for this Topic Parent Topic
15/09/2007 19:39:22 562 (Ensuring People Believe) Thinking God's Thoughts After Him. T1

Summary of Note Links from this Page

Ensuring People Believe. S1 Ensuring People Believe. S2 Ensuring People Believe. S3 Ensuring People Believe. S4 Ensuring People Believe. S5
Ensuring People Believe. S6 Ensuring People Believe. S7 Religious Supermarket    

To access information, click on one of the links in the table above.

Summary of Note Links to this Page

Religious Supermarket. T1 Revelation The Great Plan of God Thinking God's Thoughts After Him. T1  

To access information, click on one of the links in the table above.

Text Colour Conventions

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019

© Theo Todman, June 2007 - May 2019.Please address any comments on this page to output:
Website Maintenance Dashboard
Return to Top of this PageReturn to Theo Todman's Philosophy PageReturn to Theo Todman's Home Page