Ten Turning Points: Wrap-up

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From the series, Ten Turning Points That Make All the Difference

Ten turning points have made all the difference—not just for some religion, not just for some people, but for all of reality. It’s time now to wrap up this series with a summary.

This has been a series with a mixed purpose. I had been wanting to summarize the story of history viewed through the lens of its most crucial events. I ended up doing it with a small group at church, so I’ve been writing with a curriculum purpose in mind. At the same time this series has also been just plain old blogging. The result has been an odd blend of the planned and the unplanned, the systematic and the spontaneous. I think someday soon I will work it into shape for use as a real curriculum.

The other purpose I’ve had for this has been to teach worldview. I haven’t used that word, but this has genuinely been a worldview series. One definition of worldview is that it is our answer to questions like, What is reality at its root? Where do we come from? What are we here for? What’s our purpose? What’s our essential problem? What is its solution? Where are we going?

In ten segments I have tried to answer those kinds of questions. The contrast between this view of reality and other views should be obvious, I hope, even without including a study of those other views. To recapitulate the topics:

The first was creation. (Please get the links from the page I linked above. Each topic has multiple pages, too complicated to link here.) God made the world out of nothing but his own creative power. He did not use some “nothing” to do it, by the way. Hawking, Mlodinow, and Krauss might think that a useful “nothing” is a useful idea for explaining origins, but it’s not, for a useful nothing is a something whose origins remain unexplained.

What about the explanation for God’s origin? Here’s the difference: if there is a God, then God is an eternal being without origin. If there is a useful “nothing” that created our universe, there is no reason to think that it is the kind of thing that has no origin. So on a theoretical level, the question is answered already in God’s case, but not in the other.

The second was the creation of humans in God’s image. We came from dust, but that is not all we are. We are “star-stuff,” as Sagan put it, but even that is not all we are. We are more than material beings; we have the imprint of a knowing, loving, rational, spiritual God upon us. Thus we have infinite worth, and thus we also have the ability to do more than what dust and stars can do: we can think, love, feel, decide. We ourselves exist on the edge of the supernatural.

The third was the Fall. In our original creation we were also innocent, but we turned away from that, which meant turning away from God, his life, his empowerment to do right. It meant going it alone, and experiencing the curse of that. It meant spiritual and physical death.

The fourth was the calling of God’s people. This was one of the topics for which my title “turning point” was a poor fit, for it has not been a simple, single hinge point in history, but an ongoing thing since the beginning. God began calling his people back to him right from the start, inviting them into relationship with him, and showing them the way to live.

The fifth was God’s ongoing self-revelation. God has been making himself known from the beginning, through nature, through his acts in history, and through his inspired Word, now collected in the form of our Bible. His revelation has been progressive, not an instant information dump.

The sixth was the incarnation of Jesus Christ. God came in the flesh as a human, affirming humanity while also confirming our need for God in view of our sin.

The seventh was the crucifixion of Christ. In this one great redemptive act of sacrifice (the words I use are inadequate) our God, in Christ, paid the penalty for our sins on our behalf.

The eighth was Christ’s resurrection. He conquered not only sin but also death!

The ninth was the coming of the Holy Spirit. God has come to be with his people in the person of the Holy Spirit, who brings us the power and the direction to understand God’s self-revelation and the calling he continues to place upon each of us; and to be the loving presence of God in and among us.

The tenth is the coming return of Jesus Christ. Our Lord will wrap up history with his return; he will judge the living and the dead; he will remove all sin, destruction and death from earth in his final victory, and he will rule forever.

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15 Responses to “ Ten Turning Points: Wrap-up ”

  1. Hey ThinkingChristian,
    I ran across your post and have a few things to say about the first two points (being an Agnostic):
    I’ve never understood the idea that God created something out of nothing, because if he existed it then wouldn’t existence already had been? Which means there would have had to have been something. Not necessarily human beings or animals and such but SOMETHING, right? And with existence there is time because time and existence are the same thing. So even God’s own existence is dependent on time; through time things exist. So time must have been before or at least the same time God has been because nothing can BE if BEING doesn’t exist. If you’re interested, I go into more detail here: http://www.emptymybrain.com/god-vs-time-who-is-the-true-creator/
    So right there we see that God isn’t omnipotent because his own existence, and hence anything else that is associated with him, is dependent upon time.
    Then you say that God created man in like image. But, as been called to my attention in Rollo May’s “Man’s Search for Himself”, he punished Adam and Eve for eating from the tree of KNOWLEDGE. God was knowledgeable, was he not? So if he created man in like image, why was Adam and Eve created to be ignorant and unaware? That doesn’t sound like “like image” to me. On top of that, what does that say about what God expects of people and what he values? Am I to believe that from that story that I should aspire to be ignorant? Even in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he seems to almost glorify ignorance, weakness and passivity. You mean to tell me that THAT is the ideal man? I don’t wanna make this comment longer than it has to be, but there are a few flaws with that premise that I wouldn’t mind discussing with you.
    And please understand I mean no disrespect. I ask questions with the intent of getting an answer. So I look forward to hearing from you.

  2. Gina,

    There are others here probably better than me at this but to just start with the idea that God’s own existence is dependent on time is simply wrong. God is not dependent on anything. God exists outside of time. In fact, modern big bang theory establishes that time began with the creation of the universe. That fits well with the God’s creation of the universe ex nihilo. Yes, he has and always will exist. It is that eternal existence that gives the only plausible explanation for our existence without the existence of some infinite regress. I hope that is a start. I’m sure others will provide some other and better answers.

  3. @Gina
    The tree in question, if you look back at the actual text of Genesis, was the “tree of the the knowledge of good and evil“, not simply knowledge. See Genesis 2:8-9 and Genesis 2:15-17. In Genesis 3:1-7, the serpent (really the mouthpiece for Satan, the created being (angel) who first rebelled against God) deceived Eve into eating from the that particular tree, thereby disobeying God’s one and only restriction on her choices. The knowledge referred to here is experiential knowledge, not intellectual knowledge. To disobey God is to experience evil firsthand – the consequences for Adam and Eve (and by implication, all humankind) was first and foremost spiritual death, which really means separation from God – the intimate relationship they had with God was broken, and replaced by shame and fear (Genesis 3:8-13). Christians know from personal experience what it is like to have to come into God’s presence and have to tell Him we messed up and ask forgiveness – it is very uncomfortable, to put it mildly, and it is only the fact that we have been redeemed by Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection that we can come to our Abba (Aramaic for ‘Daddy’) and be welcomed (you can read this for yourself in the New Testament books of Hebrews and 1 John, for example).

    However we should read those first chapters of Genesis (historical narrative, allegory, or some combination – see here for an introduction to a theory that is firmly grounded in Ancient Near East / Mesopotamian archaeology), it is telling us some very deep, even profound truths.

    As to knowledge, we see even in Genesis, that Adam was given a task that surely required empirical observational skill and reasoning ability – the naming of the animals (Genesis 2:18-20). Indeed, the tablet theory I linked to above suggests that Genesis 1 actually represents a summary of what God taught Adam about creation over a period of six days, another hint that God expected humankind to be able to understand and learn and reason.

    Being made in the image of God means that we are personal beings, we are self-aware, can think and reason, we have a mind, will and emotions, and we are not automatons with no freedom of choice; we can have relationships, both with God and with each other, we can love Him and each other (for that is one implication of the Christian concept of the Trinity – love and relationship existed from the beginning within the eternal, self-existent God between God the Father, God the Son (who in time stepped into human history as Jesus of Nazareth) and God the Holy Spirit).

    Hope that answers a couple of questions for you.

  4. I might chip into this, I apologise if my first thoughts are ignorant and messy, I haven’t thought about this thoroughly for a while, but making sense of the Adam & Eve story is a big thing for me.

    I suppose part of my questions are along the lines of how and why did Adam & Eve come to disobey God? How significant is the deception of the serpent? If Satan did not exist and the serpent was not there would Adam & Eve still have disobeyed God? If it is a significant factor, then I would backtrack to Satan’s first rebellion. How and why would Satan, similarly created in the image of God, come to rebel against God without any external temptation or deception?

    Also with regards to the personal explanations both of the story and of Christians in general, along the lines of as you say:

    Christians know from personal experience what it is like to have to come into God’s presence and have to tell Him we messed up and ask forgiveness

    I can’t help but be struck by the resonance of this with regards to my own recent personal development/upheavel in personally striving to be good and creating a better relationship with myself (or the world?), so to speak. [NB this is with regards to how you have personally explained it here, Victoria, I have also heard some very unsatisfactory, unresonant, dissonant interpretations in my time] While my dialogue with “God” is not non-existent, the possibility of such progress seems to be indepedent of having faith in Jesus/believing in the Christian conception of God, at the very least. Not that its impossible I’m making such a connection but without consciously realising it, but I am intellectually skeptical, to say the least. I hope I’m not being too rambly-tangential here, and I can see that it is at least superficially irrelevant to judging the veracity of the story – it could well resonate because it is in fact true, but it could equally well be untrue, but happen to be successful because it resonates with the true (but non-Christian) human condition.

  5. Greetings, Gina, and thank you for the questions. I certainly sensed no disrespect from you.

    These questions about Creation can get complicated. Take, for example, your thought that if God existed then existence would have already been. Existence (or being, a term I prefer for technical reasons I need not go into) was real, it was actual, before Creation, yes. It’s a bit tricky though, to say that, because it’s hard to saying anything about whether being was real without using verbs like “was,” which is just another form of “to be.”

    Anyway, for our purposes if we say there was being before Creation, that’s close enough. That being was in God as he is Being itself, as he is also Love and Justice and Mercy.

    So when Christians speak of God creating out of nothing, we do not mean there was no existence, no being, prior to the Creation. We mean that God created physical reality without requiring physical materials with which to fashion it. He spoke and it came to be, out of his infinite creativity and power. I’ve written previously about this, and how unique the Judeo-Christian conception of Creation really is.

    Now we also understand (from Augustine, 16 or so centuries ago, as supported by modern Big Bang theory) that God created space and time, too. God wasn’t living in space, and he still isn’t. I’ve hurt my brain asking the question, “When God created space, where did he put it?” It’s a nonsense question, really, since there was no such thing as “where” until God created it. Similarly with the question of time. When we speak of “before Creation,” we do not mean at an earlier time, but of that which was logically prior. And of course we conduct all this conversation under the distinct disadvantage that we cannot imaging anything being without its being in space and in time. We’re stuck with being space-time creatures, and that’s all we can conceptualize. That doesn’t mean it’s the only thing that can be. Time and existence are definitely not the same thing.

    Anyway, that solves your question about God’s dependence on time.

    On your blog you propose that God is possibly the personification of time. The problem with that theory is that we know time is not eternal, so you would have to ask the question, how did time come to be, if time is the ultimate reality? Did it create itself? That’s logically impossible. Is it self-existent? If so, then you’re really talking about an attribute of God, not of time.

    Also on your blog you ask,

    if God is nonjudgmental, then there is no such thing as right or wrong, and if there is no such thing as right or wrong what would be the purpose of Heaven and Hell? When we evaluate time we can see that it can actually hold up to this belief because time has no consciousness, so it cannot judge anyone because it doesn’t have the means to do so.

    No one has ever hinted that God has no standards of right and wrong, and clearly he is the eternal judge. He is not nonjudgmental. I don’t know where you got that from. Jesus told us to be careful how we judge because too often we judge self-righteously, blind to our own faults, and ignorant of what’s really going on inside the other person. God is not subject to those limitations.

    Briefly, also: note carefully that time is inert, and cannot do anything. It is our description for the dimension in which things happen. You might as well say that distance is God, and indeed, time is (on relativity theory) another dimension that’s largely identical to the dimensions of distance, except that we have no way to reverse our direction of travel in this dimension. (That’s one of the great mysteries of theoretical physics.)

    You raise other issues on your blog that I will save for a blog post instead of a comment.

    Victoria handled the question of knowledge for you, but feel free to ask for clarification.

    Jesus did not glorify passivity but strength, strength of character. Note that his strength of character in the face of his own impending execution led to his victory in the end. He won the battle. He did it in a most unexpected way, but still he conquered.

    I look forward to hearing more from you.

  6. Alex,

    First, we just don’t know all (or maybe even a few) of the answers. It would be good to be skeptical of anyone who tells you they do.

    When you ask “…how and why did Adam & Eve come to disobey God?….How and why would Satan….come to rebel against God …?” what I hear you asking is “Why is there evil?” Is that fair?

    If it is, the answer is…we don’t really know. What we have is our best take on it and that goes something like this. God grants all his creatures free will. True free will. That means the free will to be able to choose whether or not to love God. As the guardian of the Holy Grail said to Indiana Jones, some (all really) have “chosen poorly”. Adam and Eve did. So did Satan. So do I.

    If you think it’s not fair that Adam and Eve “spoke” for you ask yourself, if you had been given the job instead of Adam, would you have done any better? I know what I would have done. I would have taken all the apples put them in a pie, cut down the tree, used it to bake the pie and eaten the whole thing myself. But that’s just me.

  7. BillT:

    When you ask “…how and why did Adam & Eve come to disobey God?….How and why would Satan….come to rebel against God …?” what I hear you asking is “Why is there evil?” Is that fair?

    This wasn’t explicitly what I had in mind but is essentially what leads me to ask these questions, yes. It is a more a matter of questioning the internal coherency of the biblical narrative in particular.

    It’s just, whether Adam, Eve, or Satan, there seems there must have been a first creation who did choose to rebel, without the bad influence of others.

    I don’t think free will is sufficient to explain “bad” choices. If someone is perfectly rational and perfectly good, but free to do what they choose, surely they will always do good? Is not something along these lines the explanation why the saved, once glorified in heaven, will no longer sin throughout eternity, despite still being free?

    It seems to me that in order to do wrong, there must be some deficiency in their goodness or rationality, which would seem to contradict the notion that they were created in the image of God (and would require explaining why God would create them in such a way). I genuinely want to know what the best responses are to such questions; the typical day-to-day answers I hear for Satan’s rebellion are along the lines of envy of God, or selfish desire for his own glory, but again, having such desires in the first place would seem to imply he was created not good, which seems contradictory.

  8. Alex,

    Great questions and a plea for HELP! from my fellow believers! However, I believe my explanation is consistant. It wouldn’t be a true choice unless one could actually make it. Remember we are God’s creation, not God himself. Only He is perfect. We are created in his image. We are not cookie cutter replicas or demigods or perfect. Is that a flaw in His creation?
    I don’t think so. To create beings that would always choose do good would be, in reality, to give them no choice. And remember, our understanding is incomplete but that doesn’t mean it isn’t reasonable.

    Anyone else like to help Alex (and me!)?

  9. @Alex, BillT
    Perhaps the misuse of free will and the choice to disobey God (at least in Adam and Eve’s case) had to do with the fact that they (and we) are finite beings, and cannot know everything the way God does? Same with the angels – even as powerful supernatural beings they are still finite beings.

    Just throwing that out there to think about.

    Also, when Adam and Eve actually did disobey God’s command to not eat the fruit of that tree, He held them accountable for their actions – seems to me that this presupposes their ability to choose to obey or disobey – after all, if they could not choose to disobey God, they would not have disobeyed Him, even in the face of the serpent’s deception

  10. Thanks Victoria. Finite beings is a more understandable description than mine. Better to know what were are than are not. And your descrition of their accountability mirrors our own. It is we who are responsible for our sin. It is we that created hell and choose to go there. It is we who desire to be our own god (sin) and thus separate ourselves from Him.

  11. Perhaps the confusion comes from a misapprehension of the word translated as ‘good’ in Genesis 1 and 2.

    It could simply mean that what God had created was exactly as He intended it to be (that is, fulfills His design plans for the purposes He has chosen), for we read in Genesis 2:18 that it was not good for man to be alone – without his counterpart in Eve (woman) it would not be possible for him to fulfill God’s command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (have children that is).

  12. …for we read in Genesis 2:18 that it was not good for man to be alone…”

    Yes, Adam needed Eve to be complete.
    It’s an indication of God’s humility that even in “perfect” relationship with Adam He was, by himself, not enough.

  13. Alex,

    You have started a really great discussion here. A few very brief thoughts on some of the issues that I would be happy to expand upon if you are interested in further discussion.

    It seems to me that in order to do wrong, there must be some deficiency in their goodness or rationality, which would seem to contradict the notion that they were created in the image of God (and would require explaining why God would create them in such a way). I genuinely want to know what the best responses are to such questions; the typical day-to-day answers I hear for Satan’s rebellion are along the lines of envy of God, or selfish desire for his own glory, but again, having such desires in the first place would seem to imply he was created not good, which seems contradictory.

    Along the same lines as Victoria, We should consider good to be fit for the purpose God intended not perfect. It’s not clear why having a deficiency in rationality or goodness contradicts the notion of humans being made in the image of God. When we talk about God we use the terms analogically. God does not exist in the same sense we do, is not good in the same sense we might be … etc, therefore even if we were perfectly rational we would not be identical in rationality to God.

    I don’t think free will is sufficient to explain “bad” choices. If someone is perfectly rational and perfectly good, but free to do what they choose, surely they will always do good? Is not something along these lines the explanation why the saved, once glorified in heaven, will no longer sin throughout eternity, despite still being free?

    Our knowledge is incomplete so anything on this matter is speculation but my thought is that one difference is that those in heaven choose to be made perfect, we say yes to God transforming us. That’s a transformation that begins here and now.

    While my dialogue with “God” is not non-existent, the possibility of such progress seems to be indepedent of having faith in Jesus/believing in the Christian conception of God, at the very least.

    My position on this would be that whenever you align yourself with the truth that God has revealed (either through nature or special revelation) there will be progress even if you did not realise that was what you are doing. What does become tricky is if your spirituality is of an entirely subjective nature then progress is measured against an internal standard. Christian spirituality, in contrast involves, in part, a subjective experience of the self that is then illuminated by an encounter with a God that is separate from ourselves. The outside reality that sheds light on our inner reality. It is not a pleasant experience to have your failings lit up by the light of God. Any honest appraisal of ourselves will show the truth of the distinctive Christian belief that we cannot, by an act of our own will, live up to a standard of behaviour that is truly good. I personally come face to face with the truth of Rom 7:14-25 every. single. day. It’s hard to deny.