Humanness: A Unique View

Most Christians, when asked what makes their religion unique among all the others, would probably reply, “Jesus.” Or, perhaps, with the classic cliché, “It’s not religion, it’s relationship.” (Spend any time around Christianity, and it’s clear that it’s both.) The problem with both of these replies is that there are many conceptions of Jesus. Islam views Him one way, Hinduism another; both are quite capable of integrating Jesus into their frameworks. Christianity itself is infamous for its confusion of sects and church styles, thanks to its ethics on the preservation of life, or in other words, its ethics on not killing others for disagreeing about really important matters.

If we dig a little deeper, most Middle Eastern and Eastern religions — and as a mythography and history buff, I’d also argue this for pre-Christian European paganism — involve a concept of honour and cleanness that seems utterly opposed to that of Christianity. The idea of God lowering Himself to die for sinners is repugnant, when sinners should serve and sacrifice to god(s). The idea of a god taking on uncleanness is perhaps even more repugnant. If one maintains one’s prayers and good works, then uncleanness becomes a matter applicable only to the poor or otherwise downcast. Upstanding society doesn’t need to trouble Jesus and dishonour Him so, does it? In fact, the Christian Scripture quite agrees with this:

“For one will hardly die for a righteous person; though perhaps for the good person someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:7-8

That Christianity asks upstanding society to view itself as unclean compared to the glories of God is in some way understandable, though it might need some tweaking to fit one’s pre-existing beliefs. Shouldn’t we revere God above our earthly state? Of course, if God is God. Humility and willingness to apologize and defer to what’s higher and more powerful than us are good values. But, again, that’s not unique to any one religion. Even non-religious people act that way because it’s practical.

When it comes to liberty, Christianity has some respectable qualities. It’s because of its emphasis on God-given rights, and the liberties that flow from the way God created us, that Christianity is forcibly suppressed in control states such as the former USSR, China, Saudi Arabia, and various other political or religious dictatorships. However, when that liberty becomes so individualistic as to be harmful to others or the fabric of society, and Christianity apparently does nothing — not being a statist religion — one may wonder whether it has any real-world value. It seems to forgive without considering the consequences, or moralize without requiring actual good. That pesky inclination to live and let live seems to interfere greatly here.

There is one way to describe Christianity that resolves all these issues from the root up: The Christian treatment of the body and soul. Unlike every other religion I’ve ever studied or encountered, the Christian Scripture doesn’t treat body and soul as two separate entities coexisting in the same space. Although it speaks of what comes after death, the Christian Scripture is astoundingly vague. No reincarnation, no clear promises of what paradise offers in reward for good works and good morals.

Many Christians actually differ from their own holy books on this. The pop-spirituality phrase, “You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body” makes perennial rounds. (How convenient that it fits in the space allotted by Twitter.) However, this is not the Christian teaching on body and soul, as if one were more alive than the other, or one higher and the other merely earthen.

Christianity, instead, speaks of body and soul not as two entities coexisting temporarily, or a meat machine driven by a magical mind, but as inseparable parts of an individual. Christianity says “body and soul” the same way that it says “arm and leg.” Parts of the whole. And, just as the body can’t be drained of its blood and still be whole and alive, neither can the soul be deprived of the body’s necessary functions and continue on whole within that body. Our existence beyond death doesn’t mean we shuck off physicality like it’s clothing and keep going. It means we have been taken apart by death, brutally dismembered by the fatal sting of sin and uncleanness.

Where does the idea of body/soul duality, rather than individuality, come from in Christianity? Is it borrowed from Eastern religions? Is it some older pagan artifact that Christianity adopted? Actually, the idea is dealt with from the oldest books of the Scriptures to the newest. This idea of separate states of body and soul has a clear and specific definition: Death.

Beginning in Genesis 2:16-17, the story about the tree, the fruit, and the really questionable reptile, death is associated with separating and breaking down. In the day that Adam chooses to separate himself from God’s design, the warning says, “You shall surely die.” From the moment Adam eats the fruit, knowing full well he’s separating himself from God, things begin to break down. Ultimately, Adam himself falls apart — as predicted in Gen. 3 — and returns to the dust when soul and body are separated.

Why do Christians think this is what happened, and how literally do they take it? Well, the Bible reasons in multiple directions and asks the reader to check and see whether it corresponds with reality. The Hindu is familiar with the wisdom of observing the natural realm; the Muslim with the wisdom of careful reasoning. The Christian is commanded to submit both to the interpretive guidance of the Bible while critiquing for herself whether all is in alignment. The Apostle John relates that Jesus said, “If I told you earthly things, and you don’t believe me, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:11-13) Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the certainty of things hoped for, a proof of things not seen.” The fact that people believe things is proof of something. But in order to provide any useful certainty or proof, there first has to be something certain and provable to believe. There’s no point believing in gravity if nothing holds your feet to the ground.

Because there’s an overabundance of historical, sociological, mathematical and scientific evidence to allow a fair-minded investigator to rationally accept what the Bible says about the observable universe, world history, and the life of Jesus, we then place faith in statements such as, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” (James 2:26) We accept that the soul doesn’t just cease. We accept that it doesn’t simply move on because of biblical passages like Hebrews 9:27-28:

And just as it is destined for people to die once, and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.

The Christian also accepts that death isn’t just the breakdown of our holistic selves, it’s also the inherited breakdown of our spiritual lives:

“And when you were dead in your wrongdoings and the uncircumcision of your flesh [a symbol of being an outsider], He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our wrongdoings, having canceled the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”

Colossians 3:13-14

The Apostle Paul wrote much the same thing to the Roman church as the church at Colossae: “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the violation committed by Adam.” (Romans 5:14) He also taught it firmly to the church at Ephesus: “And you were dead in your offenses and sins, in which you previously walked according to the course of this world…” (Ephesians 2:1-2)

We immediately feel this doesn’t seem fair, but the Bible points us back to the Scriptural view of the holistic human. There’s a weird little Judaic aside in Hebrews 7:9-10, where the argument is made that Christ is of a higher and more enduring priesthood than the order of priests who served in ancient Israel, known as the Levites. It says, “And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, has paid tithes, for he was still in the loins of his forefather when Melchizedek met him.”

This genetic, blood connection is never described as distinguishable from spiritual connection. In the Bible, the human race is one race. We really are all connected, but it’s in death, due to the reality of evil in the world, in humanity, and in ourselves, the reality of wanting to adhere to our own definitions of good and evil and God. This is one of those inarguable realities that we can and do use to question — over and over again, throughout our lives — if and how the Bible is certain and provable.

And so the Christian has no motive to oppress others — certainly not to attack or kill them for disagreement. The work of the Christian in society is life-saving work, not life-oppressing work. Christians will tell you that sin causes harm, and they will defend others. But beyond that, the mandate is to tell you the story of life.

There is a hope in this view of humanity that doesn’t exist anywhere else. Here we come back around to how the answer can be Jesus, freedom can be inherent, honour can be sin and shame, and the divinely beautiful God can die in shame to provide cleanness to sinners. This hope is summed up in a phrase that resonates throughout all the various books of the Bible: “The life is in the blood.” Our spiritual life is as much physical as mental and emotional.

Back to that letter to the church at Colossae: The apostle Paul wrote, “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col. 1:13-14)

This concept of domains is a bit like ogres and onions, with their layers. Definitely not like a parfait, though. We can picture being “in Adam” (that is, existing as a human) as a circle, and each person born as a circle within that circle, and their descendants as circles within circles. At some point, we trip over Abraham, offering tithes to Melchizedek, and further down within his family circle we see Levi, father of the family of priests in ancient Israel. We keep going, and within the circles that are within the family circle of King David, we see Mary and Joseph, each via their own different family circles.

Then, from Mary, we see Jesus and a really bizarre story about actually being conceived from God. A whole different family circle is introduced.

When the Christian says “body and soul,” we say it the way we say “arm and leg.” When we say “fully God and fully human,” we also say it the way we say “arm and leg.” Christianity does not view Jesus as an avatar within an incarnation. It doesn’t skate around the humiliation and shame of the cross by claiming Jesus’ god-soul went to heaven while some lowly substitute or empty shell hung on the cross. Christianity doesn’t see divine spirit in tension with human flesh, because God said, let Us make humanity in Our image; male and female He created them, in the image of God He created them. Jesus, son of God and son of man, gave His blood — because the life is in the blood — to cleanse our sins.

Funny thing about being God: You don’t fall apart when the whole universe does. And thus we have the resurrection.

Another separation has happened, and history witnesses it. Writers antagonistic to early Christianity nevertheless independently recorded its events. Down through 2,000 years of failing and falling as human beings, Christians who take the Bible seriously have still managed to die for, rather than to kill, those who hated them, leaving another record for our examination. Death no longer is master over me, Paul wrote. Or, as one sassy 20th century preacher said under threat of violence, “Really? You’re threatening me with eternal life?”

For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for the one who has died is freed from sin.

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all time; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. So you too, consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Romans 6:5-11

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who remain, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore, comfort one another with these words.

1 Thessalonian 4:16-18

What makes Christianity unique? Jesus. Also, relationship, not religion.

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The Arbitrary God

Let’s assume we’ve all read the Judeo-Christian origins story. And, for the sake of argument, let’s temporarily accept it at face value and try to imagine how Christians can, in good faith and with full intellect, subscribe to their own religious text.

Right away, here’s an important objection:

It seems like the Christian God is arbitrary and reactive. He creates people in His image, and then punishes them when they act on the nature He gave them. This seems to go on repeatedly as the book of Genesis proceeds.

I can’t state this strongly enough: This objection is one of the most important and foundational to the Christian understanding of God. Ignoring this objection leads into serious theological error. 

So, if you know a skeptic who makes this objection, embrace them and thank them. All Christians should likewise find this concept of God ugly, petty, and not to be worshipped.

For starters, let’s make a note of what it takes to be God: Being the absolute ultimate being. That’s the brute-force, pragmatic definition. What would that mean?

  • Stands separate from the creation, entirely not dependent on it, entirely aware of it and present with it
    • God is not everything and everything is not God
    • God is not in everything, and everything is not outside of God
  • Knows everything
    • Knowing and seeing everything is different than being everything and also different than being in everything
  • Experiences everything, including love, without need for the creation to contribute it to the divine (love exists within the divine, even before and beyond created things — we don’t exist to complete God’s understanding or experience)
  • Has no beginning or ending (eternal)
  • Is everywhere (omnipresent)
    • Being everywhere is different than being in everything
  • The ultimate Personality
    • what it means to be a person is referenced from the ultimate Person
    • what it means to love is referenced from the ultimate being’s love
    • what it means to hate is referenced from the ultimate being’s hate
    • the concept of good is referenced from the ultimate being’s goodness
    • the concept of evil is therefore referenced from the ultimate being’s goodness
    • Etc.
  • The ultimate unified being — no part of an ultimate being would be in competition with any other part, such as love vs. hate or compassion vs. justice or mercy vs. vengeance.
    • Unified (perfectly together and whole) is different than harmonized (having to be fitted together though the fit may or may not be exact)
  • The ultimate non-singular being
    • If God is absolutely unitarian (both one essence and one person), then God cannot be the ultimate definition of love, because there is no equal person for God to love; the definition of love which we recognize as highest and best — freely given between equals — fails the reality test, the ideas of goodness and love can’t be harmonized, and unity is lost
    • This is addressed through the historical Christian understanding of the Trinity, or three persons in one unity of essence
    • God is not in everything, and everything is not God; God is every person of the Trinity.
  • Initiator, engineer, leader and ruler of everything — ultimate power
  • Ultimate relationship to reality
    • the most realistic being and most logically connected to the world as it really is
    • both ultimately abstract (not bounded by physical reality) and ultimately plain-sense (reality is most clearly and coherently explained by following through on the reasoning of the Ultimate Being concept)

A reactive God cannot be God

… And yet, modern Christianity is full of talk about “God is waiting for your decision to trust Him.” Or, “God can’t bless us when we’re disobedient.” Or, “God is waiting for you to listen to Him.” Or, “Well, God gives you your choices and it’s up to you to live with the consequences.”

The skeptic who wants to barf at this pecking, fretful mother hen of a God is exactly on the right track. So should the Christian be.

If God is reactive, then God has allowed the creation to dictate or control the circumstances and His actions. (This includes all concepts of an “evolving” God who “learns from the creation.”) If something other than God controls the situation and determines God’s actions, then “God” isn’t all-powerful or all-knowing… and therefore not The Supreme and Ultimate Being.

The definition of love is perhaps the key proof of this. If God’s love exists only through expressing it towards the creation and having it returned by humans, then we can in fact end up with an evil, imperfect, arbitrary God. Human love fails at every turn, and its flawed expressions cause as much harm and separation as joy and togetherness.

Arbitrary: it’s a bad word, right?

In terms of human relationships, to be arbitrary is to be whimsical, driven by emotion. It’s a key trait in dysfunctional households: Whatever the issue of the moment, it’s arbitrated by how the most powerful person feels that day. The objection is that arbitrary use of power overrides or removes the ability of others to feel and reason freely according to their own nature.

Again: In human relationships, arbitrary use of power overrides the ability of others to feel and reason freely according to their own nature. This, however, requires another basic assumption: That all humans are created equally, as the Americans would have it, under God.

That’s how the skeptic arrives at a disgusting God who crushes human freedom and human will: by way of assumptions that descend from the western heritage of Christian thought. And the skeptic is in agreement with historic Christianity on this point: An arbitrary ultimate being who’s merely reactive to how we exercise our freedom and feelings, who just reacts on whimsy to how we make our mistakes, really is a dangerous and degrading concept.

Even the moral notion that arbitrary power is wrong derives logically only from the idea of a greater moral judge (arbiter). On the surface, it might seem that “no god(s) at all” is the best argument for not holding arbitrary power over, say, our children when we’re parenting them. After all, if there’s no moral Ultimate, shouldn’t they be able to decide for themselves?

On the contrary, this is one more argument for arbitrary power, not against it. Without a higher, (and, most importantly,) objective standard of moral good, who’s to say it’s wrong for a parent to exercise arbitrary power, at least up to the bounds of the law? Or perhaps even beyond, if they don’t care about social consequences.

“I believe it’s wrong, although it works for some and they’re fine with it” is no real answer, either. What is the subject of that arbitrary power to make of how to use power, if all they learn is that it’s an arbitrary choice? What if they choose to harm others? For that matter, why should society step in? Why recognize pain as harm? Why not accept it and embrace it as the natural consequence of circumstance… also known as karma?

Thankfully, there’s more than one way to look at the problem of power.

Power isn’t the only arbiter

A narrow postmodernist focus only on power dynamics ignores the fuller reality: Certain aspects of life really are purely character-based.

We’re character-based about things like agreed-upon level of cleanliness between housemates. Or how people get along (or don’t) with various other people. And whether one will tolerate the behaviour of another towards oneself, or walk away from the relationship in order to remain as emotionally whole as possible.

So, in fact, certain arbitrary boundaries can be healthy. To ignore them would be to lose an aspect of who we are in personality and character. It would cause us to experience a kind of internal death.

Here, the Christian says, you can see what it is to bear the image of God.

If God is by definition an ultimate Person capable of the infinite expression of everything — love, justice, wrath, compassion, truth — can morality and an accurate view of right and wrong arise from outside God’s character?

To flip that coin to its other face, if they can come from somewhere outside of God, then is God really God?

The Christian definition of God and the secular definition of arbitrary power as evil both require that a personal God be the arbiter, the judge, of good and evil. That people dislike such a proclamation speaks not to a disapproval of the arbitrary, but a demand to be the arbiter — to wield a power that they themselves say isn’t right. This was the exact sin described in the tale of Adam, Eve, and the forbidden fruit.

Curiosity, harmony, and unity

This notion of what it takes to qualify for the job of being God, by the way, goes to the question of curiosity in the Bible’s origins story. Is the curiosity of Adam and Eve an attribute of God that they’re mirroring? If it is, how can it be righteous to punish them for trying out the forbidden fruit?

For humans, to lack curiosity is to lack emotion, to lack intellect, to be somehow defective or ill. It’s an inability or unwillingness to reach beyond ourselves. But by definition, can an infinite and ultimate God reach beyond in any sense?

There are necessary disconnections between the concept of the infinitely whole Creator and the finite, searching creation. This also happens with the emotional attributes Christian theists assign to God: If God’s love is in any way contradicted by His justice or wrath, then He is naysaying Himself and is not living up to the definition of The Supreme Being. He would be them, arguing like Greek idols. Christianity holds as firmly to the unity of God as the Muslim, even while reconciling three persons into it.

The same problem occurs when we finite mortals think about things like love and wrath in terms of harmonizing them. If they have to be fitted together, it suggests they’re separate things that overlap, like a Venn diagram. So, then, what happens when we tread into the part of the wrath circle that doesn’t overlap harmoniously with love? What happens when we tread into the part of the love circle that doesn’t overlap harmoniously with justice?

This view of God implies that there areas where God’s love toward sinners must reach for justice and fail, where God’s wrath against sin must reach for love and fail, and so forth. It implies that to put them together will still result in some sort of disharmony at certain points.

Instead, as A. W. Tozer writes in The Attributes of God, the conception of three persons requires a unified essence, just as surely as a unified essence requires more than one person of God, in order to be faithful to the biblical declaration that “I am the Lord, and there is no other” (Isa. 45:5), “The Lord your God, the Lord is one,” (Deut. 6:4), etc. Wrath against sin is in unity, not merely harmony, with love and justice. Love and justice exist in unity with grief, joy, and every other personal trait assigned to the Creator. The Christian God, being all-sufficient, all-knowing, and all-present, exists in “unbounded, unextended unity” of essence. There is no mere karma, and no number of prayers can harmonize our actions with this holiness — literally, this wholeness — because harmonization is not enough of a moral standard to live up to this God.

The supernatural as an excuse for the arbitrary

We tend to treat moral and ethical principles as basic, meaning not needing justification. Yet we can’t critique religions, moral codes, ethics, or supernatural claims without questioning whether our basis for doing so corresponds to reality — generalized reality, not just one person’s experience of it.

In order to be an honest Christian, we must investigate: Would God, as described by the Bible, be justified in being arbitrary?

Is every supernatural claim just an excuse to exercise arbitrary power or avoid reality (which is simply another way to attempt control)? If not, then which ones are valid?

Are our own principles justifiable as we critique the belief systems we encounter, or are we holding those systems to standards that are arbitrary to ourselves?

Thus the divide…

Here’s the watershed between Christian and skeptic. The Christian, by her own allegation, has come to personally know and experience relationship with the God of the Bible, and to trust God’s character. As such, she evaluates the actions of God as inherently originating from good. Things which conflict with God’s good are evil, not only because of that philosophical conflict, but because in reality they cause harm, and harm to God’s creation is an unjustifiable arbitrary action.

The skeptic is perfectly happy to say they have no personal knowledge of this God, nor would they trust him/her/it if they encountered it (or are encountering it in the Bible), nor do they want him/her/it, thank you. After all, that’s the definition of skepticism, up to a point. But that limit is reached at the word want.

In conclusion, paradoxes of desire and will

The narrative of the Bible, I would argue from the Christian side of the fence, is a mirror for glimpsing our own spiritual state in this moment, now. When we look into it, we bring all kinds of assumptions to the text: Whether an entity can be reactive, curious, or a host of other traits, and still meet the definition of Supreme and Ultimate Being. Whether humanity is inherently good, inherently bad, or some combination of both. Whether an ancient text from a different culture can be arbitrated — judged — on modern morals gleaned from the sum of our own culture’s popular knowledge and how our culture lives that out.

What does the biblical mirror show me about my own finite willingness to follow curiosity, to follow the telltales of my own limitations past my basic assumptions, towards the unknown?

In a world of ongoing cultural shifts and moral inversions, what if this book is the forbidden fruit, the thing which will make me know good and evil like God does? And if so, then am I throwing off the shackles of a reactive, arbitrary mindset if I reach for it? Am I enslaved by arbitrary, reactive thinking if I don’t?

The Dog and the Handler

“It’s not mysterious. It’s not eerie. It’s a beautiful sight, a dog trusting his nose, ignoring his handler’s efforts to get him to unstick himself from the flypaper scent that he’s stuck to. The dog who ignores the handler’s gaze, which is irrelevant to the task at hand. This is what real faith should look like — hard and unwavering… The dog’s commitment to the truth in the face of your moving away… The dog pointing his nose or paw or whole body at the scent, telling his handler, You bloody idiot! It’s here!”

-Cat Warren, What the Dog Knows

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

-Hebrews 11:1

We all have a dog and a handler within us: an intuition (a concrete body of knowledge built through hands-on experience and training), and an intellect (reasoning and abstraction). Our ability to key in to reality — emotional and spiritual and relational, sometimes even physical — depends on whether the handler controls the dog so much that it learns to alert only in response to the handler’s indications, rather than the reality around it, or whether the dog is given freedom and trust enough to be able to show the handler things unseen, though just as real.

At the same time, the dog can’t do its work without the handler on the team, training the dog, knowing where to start the search. These two function together, not separately, in mutual respect for each other.

This is what real faith should look like — hard and unwavering. It’s realistic, brought about through the external input of hands-on experience, but at the same time, it’s oriented by the compass of reasoning that’s been taught through outside references. Both internal wellsprings need to inform each other by utilizing time-tested things outside themselves.

We have senses that our various cultures teach us to ignore. What the west ignores, the east may embrace, and vice versa. Every dog is a different breed and colour. However, the most crucial and universal sense may be what Calvin called the sensus divinitatis, or sense of the divine. Often, the cues to crush that sense come directly from culture, upbringing, and peer influence.

Scripture says that unbelievers know God (Rom. 1:21), but it also says they do not know him (1 Cor. 2:1415:341 Thess. 4:52 Thess. 1:8, compare 2 Tim. 3:7Tit. 1:161 John 4:8). Evidently, then, we must make some distinctions, for in some sense or senses, knowledge of God is universal, and otherwise it is not.

Rom. 1:18-32 is the classic text on this question. Here Paul stresses the clarity of God’s revelation to the unrighteous. God reveals his wrath to them (verse 18), and makes truth about himself ‘plain to them’ (19), ‘clearly perceived’ (20). That revealed truth includes his ‘eternal power and divine nature’ (20). It also contains moral content, the knowledge of ‘God’s decree that those who practice [wicked things] deserve to die’ (32). Significantly, the text does not state that this revelation in nature communicates the way of salvation. 

John Frame, “Unregenerate Knowledge of God”

Sensing the existence of something divine isn’t enough to let us intuit or reason through how to connect to the divine. In fact, when we follow our own mysticism and our own cherished ethical comforts, such as people are basically good, it’s not that the handler is training the dog badly: it’s that the handler is trying to train the cat.

Now, if you put the cat in charge of the team, the best you can expect is a benevolent anarchy of subservience to the cat’s comforts and a starved, neglected dog. The cat may purr and snuggle and make you feel good, but its nature hasn’t been designed to serve the same functions as a dog.

According to what Romans 1 says, the first glimpse of truth is when we’re able to perceive God as wrathful. Before that, we puttered along obliviously, not even getting wind of a warning of this news. But it’s not the last glimpse. There’s a whole scent trail to follow, things which eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man; all that God has prepared for those who love Him. (1 Cor. 2:9)

The question is, what’s to be done with this? Can the soul bear to proceed further and discover the rest of the picture of a God who is also love? Or will we do as most do, as described in Romans 1? Frame continues:

The knowledge given by general revelation is not only a knowledge about God, a knowledge of propositions. It is a knowledge of God himself, a personal knowledge. For Paul says, not only that the wicked have information about God, but that “they knew God” (21).

Nevertheless, according to Paul, the wicked do not make proper use of this revealed knowledge. Rather, they ‘by their unrighteousness suppress the truth’ (18). He continues, ‘although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools…’ (21-22). Paul describes their foolishness as idolatry (22-23). In his view, idolatry is not an innocent search for the divine or the result of honest ignorance. It is, rather, willfully and culpably turning away from clear revelation of the true God. So it is ‘exchanging the glory of the immortal God for images…’ (23), exchanging ‘the truth of God for a lie’ (25).

Frame, ibid.

The first thing we want to lie to ourselves about is God’s wrath towards sin: The infinitely powerful grief, anger and outrage of God towards the evil and harm our choices have brought into the world. We begin by exclaiming that God must not be good if He allows bad things to happen. Then we end by discovering in the biblical account that He does in fact judge, punish and intervene to stop evil — and saying we want no part of such a harsh God and the healthy boundaries He imposes upon our various penchants for doing evil.

Most of us give up being dog handlers in favour of being cat herders. This first knowledge is more than anyone can bear, unless the grace of God Himself really does intervene to soothe the spirit with a greater and realer comfort than petting the cat can provide.

There are several problems in this dilemma. First, if the Creator God is good, why is there evil in the world? Secondly, if the Creator God is evil, why is there good in the world? Thirdly, if we do away with this Creator God nonsense altogether, where can we anchor our concepts of personhood, purpose and meaning? Is there anything but the shifting sands of our own opinions? Does any of the pain we’ve experienced even matter, or are we ultimately, utterly alone in our most secret sufferings?

Here, we come upon what the dog knows: The scent of truth that eludes our inner handler and all his or her reasoning and overthinking. That truth is that there is both good and evil in the world, and thousands of years of human effort through religion, good works, social engineering, morality, ethics, and all the best of human love have failed to advance us in goodness or even in moral sophistication. There is nothing new under the sun.

The very, very best we can do is to reimagine the world as something it isn’t: to exchange the truth for a lie.

And that’s not doing anything at all, in reality. We never find out where the dead bodies really are. The innocent take the blame for crimes they didn’t commit, and the guilty go free. Our own perception of justice becomes irreparably warped.

The harder way is to train the dog in the wisdom handed down and then to trust it, rather than controlling it to the point of uselessness. If, by God’s grace, He intervenes to show us how to train our intuition even the tiniest bit, we find ourselves called to something beyond the superstition that matters of life and death are mysterious and eerie. Though it’s stark and harsh, we find ourselves compelled to pursue the trail we can’t see until we find the putrefying corpse that emits its odour through these tangled woods.

Death cannot be untimely if there’s no good; death cannot be death if there’s no evil. And yet, death is.

Of course the wrath of God is awful. It means death is real, and worse, it means there’s no hoping in ourselves, even though we bear His very image.

Though we try to march on past this indication, more and more entangled in our own false narrative of events, that dogged sense of the divine keeps pointing to the evidence and the reality. Usually, we manage to untrain it, starve and neglect it. The cat’s affection will cultivate our ego, our own sense of prowess in the living of life, at the expense of nature and reality.

Yet the cat is still a predator, quietly destroying birdsong in the garden, digging up the flowers and leaving excrement in exchange. She’s indiscriminate: Though she takes the rodents and their damage and diseases, she takes the better things too. Even without active intention, just by following function, the cat and her toxoplasmosis come — affectionately, warmly, comfortingly — to take our sight and mind and health. Death still is.

For the sake of cat lovers everywhere, the author would like to acknowledge that this metaphor, like all metaphors, is not meant to be a literalistic representation of the character of either dogs or cats, just as dogs or cats are not meant to literalistically represent the character of either our sense of the divine or our sin nature, and that this metaphor occurs primarily to provide delight and validation to the incomparable, incorrigible Quixote, whose leathery Texan hide and quick wits enabled him to survive the long over-persistence of a feline demon beneath the sink.