The words of Jesus are absolutely compelling. But the fact that we do not have free will is absolutely compelling. God tells me one thing, which is very compelling. The Bible tells me something different, which is very compelling.
I have ambitions, through which I aim to alleviate suffering. Sometimes this seems noble. But then I am struck by the fear of acting in a way that is not totally submitted to Jesus.
The warnings of hellfire carry weight because the teaching of Jesus is so compelling. Yet when I commit to follow Jesus I soon remember that because we have no free will, the idea of sin, which is key to the teaching of Jesus, doesn’t make sense.
So I think, the Bible must be wrong. I almost feel certain of this. I lay out logical thought processes which convince me that Biblical theology is illogical. But then I consider that the Bible describes everlasting torment for those who don’t believe.
I consider everlasting torment and how cruel it would make God. Yet I also know there is great joy in following Jesus. But how can God punish people in hell for acts that He, by His sovereign will has caused them to do?
So I consider God wouldn’t be so cruel as to send people to hell. But then this is to deny the teaching of Jesus, who claims to be God. And yet Jesus seems kind, which makes me think God must be merciful. But then I consider hell, and that God is willing to show no mercy to some, according to Scripture.
But all I have to do is put my faith in Jesus to avoid damnation? No, for I must also pick up my cross and follow Him, which could involve great suffering, even martyrdom. But surely this is preferable to eternal punishment. All the martyrs of the past chose worldly suffering over eternal suffering.
But then there are martyrs for Islam as well as Christianity. How am I to make sense of that? I consider this and reflect that surely God has a role for every human being, not just those who follow Jesus, and He unfolds the lives of Muslims and atheists, as well as Christians.
Then I consider the doctrine of double predestination, and how it is the only way to understand Christianity if God is sovereign over all events. But it is such a cruel doctrine, and I don’t want to accept that God would be cruel.
Here lies Martin Elginbrod
Have mercy on my soul Lord God
As I would do were I Lord God
And ye were Martin Elginbrod
Are all Christians as afraid of God as I am? Why is God so frightening if He’s a loving God?
The Bible speaks of God’s wrath over sin. Why then, does He not just unfold a universe without sin? If hell exists, and God is sovereign, He must choose to damn people. Even though He has been in control of everything they’ve ever done.
But the Christian will say, we DO have free will. No, Christian, we don’t. When you pray to God, Christian, you ask Him for things that prove that you know He is in control of your life in its entirety. You pray for Him to bless your marriage, your children, your spiritual life, your job. And then you claim at the same time you have free will? Christian, you are in error. You say ‘God is in control’ because that comforts you, but then you say ‘We have free will’ because the Bible teaches sin. This is a logical contradiction at the very heart of the Christian faith, which I cannot ignore.
But maybe I should ignore this contradiction, and adopt the position of Pascal and his wager? Even if Christianity makes no sense at all, maybe I should just do my best to live in accordance with Biblical theology? Yes, that’s what I should do. But then, despite my prayers for peace and clarity, the free will problem comes up again, and I am certain that we don’t have free will.
Look, it’s obvious. God’s being is boundless. He is omnipresent. There is not a place where the being of God ends and freedom from God begins. There is nothing outside of God’s control. I know the to be true. We do not have free will.
The solid truth that we do not have free will is a knock down argument against Christianity, isn’t it? Or perhaps, in line with Pascal’s wager, I must ignore this truth and believe the gospel, because that is my only chance of avoiding hellfire.
Yes, that’s it. I must obey Jesus. The words of Jesus are so compelling. “I am the way, the truth, and the life” “I am the light of the world” “I am the bread of life” “The only way to the Father is through the Son”.
Well, either these claims of Jesus must be true, or they aren’t. They are incredibly persuasive, especially in the context of the whole Bible. But maybe those people who compiled the Bible did so in such a way as to make it as convincing as possible. Maybe they left out all the contradictory and troublesome bits, and put together something theologically cohesive just to make the argument for Christianity as compelling as possible. Bart Ehrman and others have studied the Bible in incredible depth, and come to the conclusion that it is not trustworthy, so why shouldn’t I agree with them?
Oh gosh, Jesus said ‘He who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God’, that means I can’t be fit, because of these thoughts that I am having that are doubting the veracity of the Christian faith. But God is controlling these thoughts, so there’s nothing I can do about it.
I suppose God might want to damn me. Then there’s nothing I can do. Does God want to damn me because I can’t make up my mind about Christianity? But He is the one who is causing me to not make up my mind, so why doesn’t He just make me make up my mind?
Perhaps all of this questioning is a demonstration of my fear of God, and my love of Truth, which would be something that would please God. Perhaps the most important thing in life is to be kind, to do good, and to love my my neighbour as myself. Then it doesn’t seem so important that everything I do is in line with Biblical theology, I just have to love people.
Didn’t Jesus say that the whole of the law is to love God and love my neighbour? I think I do love God and love my neighbour, so maybe I am safe. But the Christian would say loving God means loving the Christian God, and loving the Christian God means being submitted to Jesus, and I don’t think I am fully submitted to Jesus, otherwise I wouldn’t be thinking like this.
Actually, come to think of it, do I even know Jesus? In the past I have been so immersed in Christian life in a very genuine way. I have sung songs about my love of Jesus in a very genuine way. I have preached about Jesus to others in a very genuine way.
Perhaps I am a backslider, but I hate that term, because it doesn’t appreciate my struggle. I am not backsliding, I am trying to establish TRUTH. But yes, there it is again, Jesus is the way, the TRUTH and the life, so I must follow Him.
But actually, so what if Jesus said He is the truth. If someone else says they are the truth, then should I follow them? Why are Jesus’ words to be believed over and above anyone else?
Well, the Christian would say, because Jesus is God. Well that settles things, doesn’t it? If Jesus is God then He has all authority. But the Muslims claim that calling Jesus God is the worst sin there is. There are a billion Muslims who believe this. So are these Muslims going to hell? Or are all Christians going to hell, because claiming God has a son is blasphemy? Muslims believe this! What if they are right?
If the Muslims are correct and Jesus is a prophet, then maybe Christians should be more humble. Perhaps if Christians were to embrace Jesus as a prophet, then common ground could be found among Muslims and Christians. Perhaps the divinity of Jesus is a fabrication.
But there are compelling scriptures in the Bible that demonstrate Jesus really did claim to be God, so how are we to know? Perhaps we cannot know for sure, and that is why we have to have faith. So I suppose I must put my faith in Jesus, and do my best to wholeheartedly follow Him. But I am not in control of whether I do that or not, it is God who controls that.
My goodness, my Christian readers are going to think I am an awful person for wrestling so much about things which they find relatively easy. The scripture comes to mind about the man who built his house on the sand, it had no foundations. I suppose that’s what my Christian readers will think of me — Steven is such an idiot because he can’t just put his faith in Jesus and make the commitment.
But Christian, God is in control of my life, I have no choice in the matter! Maybe some Christian readers think that’s a cheap cop out. But God know the truth of the matter, which is that I am being completely honest.
I get excited when I think about my plans for the future. But I don’t know whether my plans line up properly with biblical theology. Maybe it’s selfish have plans and dreams. But don’t they come from God? Doesn’t every thought we have come from God? Of course it does. But this means God must want me to be struggling with all these issues.
Perhaps God does want me to struggle with these issues, because He is refining my character and teaching me about Christianity through my struggles. Yes, that would make sense. That is a comforting thought, that all of this might be part of God’s plan, and that He doesn’t hate me.
Why would God hate me? He has made me exactly the way I am.
I’m so tired of this struggle. Sometimes I enjoy the struggle, sometimes I hate it. I love my writing, because I think it contains important and deep insights. But then the Christian might say that any book which doesn’t reflect submission to Jesus is pointless. Maybe I should burn every copy of every book I have written that doesn’t demonstrate submission to Jesus.
But hang on, another thought. Within Christianity there are countless denominations and countless viewpoints. Isn’t Roman Catholicism the only true faith? That’s what Roman Catholics believe. But then Roman Catholics often talk about how everyone will be saved eventually, perhaps after a spell of purification in purgatory. Perhaps I should commit to Catholicism because it’s the largest Christian denomination… can all those Catholics really be wrong?
But the idea of the Pope! All those fancy robes and the way people worship him. Protestant Christians hate all that. It certainly doesn’t seem to line up with the teaching of Jesus.
Which reminds me, I haven’t taken communion for ages. Maybe some Christian readers will think that’s another reason why I’m struggling. Perhaps my Anglican readers would think that, because communion is a big part of the way they practice Christianity.
But then my friends in Hillsong church barely ever take communion, and they don’t think it’s important to do it regularly, although they do once a month or once every two months. They are much more relaxed about it than the Anglicans.
I think some Christians sin all week long, and then they take communion on a Sunday and say a few prayers, and thereby are cleansed from their sins, which they then go off and commit again. Well, perhaps this is okay? Or are they living a lie?
This feels good to be getting my thoughts out in the open. But it hasn’t brought me any closer to settling my predicament. Do I embrace Christianity or don’t I?
I will have to make a decision soon, because God surely hates indecision. Even though He is causing my indecision, I am 100% certain of that.
Look, I must be taking all of this way too seriously. 99% of the people on the planet don’t care at all about these things. They just get on with their lives. Agonising over Christianity in this way must make me very strange. But actually, it doesn’t feel strange because it is honest. And anyway, the Bible talks about entering through the narrow gate, which leads me to think only a small number of people will be saved, so all those people who are getting on with their lives are going to end up in hell anyway.
But actually, maybe it’s the case that even if someone has lived a life of sin, entirely outside of the Christian faith, but then on their deathbed confesses Jesus, they will go to heaven and everything will be fine for them? God could certainly choose for that to happen. God can do whatever He pleases. Maybe to God, someone who lives their entire life in sin but then repents on their deathbed, is just as valuable as someone who tries to do good works for their entire life.
Protestants argue that works are not important, but are a natural sign of true faith. Roman Catholics on the other hand argue that works are crucial. So either millions of Catholics are wrong, or millions of Protestants are wrong. So how am I to know which denomination to choose?
Maybe I need to find a spiritual guru to support me with these struggles. I tried talking to a priest in Wandsworth about panentheism but he didn’t say anything helpful. I think most of the people in the Anglican church who are priests don’t even consider half the things that I do. Not that I should be judging them.
I think about my relationships, and how they have always been much better when I have been following Jesus. There is always a joy when one feels one is serving the Lord. When I’m serving Jesus I become more aware that I must honour my father and mother. Well, my mother passed away long ago, but I become more aware that I should honour my father. It’s easy to forgive others when one is conscious of God’s forgiveness.
Actually, that’s quite reassuring. Maybe God is forgiving. But then why does He damn people to hell?
Okay folks, I’ll leave it there. This was a stream of consciousness and I haven’t re-read it or edited it at all, I’m just going to publish it as is. So it will be full of errors. When I started writing I wasn’t really planning to publish this as a blog post, but it could be interesting for readers to see the kind of things that I’ve been wrestling with. If you read the whole thing, let me know in the comments (you deserve a reward!) I doubt many people will, though, it is rather lengthy.