The Message of Sin to a Mormon Missionary

I spent quite a bit of time as a missionary seeking out Evangelicals to talk with.  (I spent 8 months of my mission within a mile of Azusa Pacific University, and I would tract through the student housing for fun.)  Most of the Evangelicals that I met approached me with one of two attitudes: (1) ridicule, and (2 ) fear. I have never felt anyone fear me like I have felt in the presence of some true-believing Evangelicals when I was a missionary. I can chalk some of this up to pure physical presence (I was 6″2, and built a sort of like a skinny orangutan) but I am not a particularly hostile person, and I had made it clear that I was there to learn from them if they were.

It seemed that most of the fear came when I expressed my faith with both confidence and demonstrated knowledge of the Bible.  I seemed to be able to explain my faith better than they could, and in a more confident spirit. Because they “knew” I was wrong, this made them fear that they did not have the prowess or ability to correct me, so they simply wanted escape.  They saw me as a representative of the devil, when I knew I was a representative of God. I knew I was not from the devil, I knew I was there to save them, and they seemed to fear the salvation on offer.  Their fear made me think that the Gospel they believed in must be deeply confused.

Of the dozens of conversations I had with traditional Christians of all stripes, only one discussion opened my mind to the possibility that at least some Evangelicals were not afraid  or in contempt of the Gospel I had or afraid the Gospel they had to offer.   His name was John, he was over 50 and had longish blond hair, he was an out-of-work minister and he never smiled during out discussion but he was unafraid, without contempt, and profoundly sincere.  We were introduced by the person he was temporarily staying with. After about about a hour of back and forth questions and discussion, I questioned whether he would consider being open to something new about Chtist, he looked me with eyes that clearly expressed a broken heart, and said that he understood where I was coming from but that I might not have had enough pain in my life to really understand what Jesus offered. This, I could not deny. My life was nearly pain-free up to that point. I had no problems worth mentioning: amazing parents, good health, physical and academic talent, and deep love from many sources, and a deep faith in God, supported by profound spiritual experience.  I did not see what I was missing, I only saw what he was missing.

If I could put my finger now on what I was missing, it was a simple understanding of the fact of sin. At that point in my life, I was plenty aware of the strength that God had given me. It was demonstrated. The Spirit had led me to paths of rigor but they were joyful paths. I did not believe the Gospel because it made sense, I believed it because it worked. It was not until the reality of Sin hit me hard in the face and left me reeling for years did I recognize what I missing what John saw.

Paul Tillich’s words might help me explain what I was missing:

The first step to an understanding of the Christian message that is called “good news” is to dispel the image of sin that implies a catalogue of sins. Those who are bound to this image are also those who find it most difficult to receive the message of acceptance of the unacceptable, the good news of Christianity. Their half-sinfulness and half-righteousness makes them insensitive to a message that states the presence of total sinfulness and total righteousness in the same man at the same moment. They never find the courage to make a total judgment against themselves, and therefore, they can never find the courage to believe in a total acceptance of themselves. Those, however, who have experienced in their hearts that sin is more than the trespassing of a list of rules, know that all sins are manifestations of Sin, of the power of estrangement and inner conflict. Sin dwells in us, it controls us, and makes us do what we don’t want to do. It produces a split in us that makes us lose identity with ourselves. Paul writes of this split twice: “If I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me.” Those who have suffered this split know how unexpected and terrifying it can be. . . .

It is dangerous to preach about sin, because it may induce us to brood over our sinfulness. Perhaps one should not preach about it at all. I myself have hesitated for many years. But sometimes it must be risked in order to remove the distortions which increase sin, if, by the persistence of wrong thoughts, wrong ways of living are inevitable.

I believe it possible to conquer the dangers implied in the concentration on sin, if we look at it indirectly, in the light of that which enables us to resist it – reunion overcoming estrangement. Sin is our act of turning away from participation in the divine Ground from which we come and to which we go. Sin is the turning towards ourselves, and making ourselves the center of our world and of ourselves, Sin is the drive in everyone, even those who exercise the most self-restraint, to draw as much as possible of the world into oneself. But we can be fully aware of this only if we have found a certain level of life above ourselves. Whoever has found himself after he has lost himself knows how deep his loss of self was. If we look at our estrangement from the point of reunion, we are no longer in danger of brooding over our estrangement. We can speak of Sin, because its power over us is broken. It is certainly not broken by ourselves.

The attempt to break the power of sin by the power of good will has been described by Paul as the attempt to fulfill the law, the law in our mind, in our innermost self that is the law of God. The result of this attempt is failure, guilt and despair. The law, with its commands and prohibitions, despite its function in revealing and restricting evil, provokes resistance against itself. In a language both poetic and profoundly psychological, Paul says that the sin that dwells in our members is asleep until the moment in which it is awakened by the “thou shalt not.” Sin uses the commandments in order to become alive. Prohibition awakens sleeping desire. It arouses the power and consciousness of sin, but cannot break its power. Only if we accept with our whole being the message that it is broken, is it also broken in us.

This picture of sin is a picture full of ugliness, suffering and shame, and, at the same time, drama and passion. It is the picture of us as the battleground of powers greater than we. It does not divide men into categories of black and white, or good and evil. It does not appear as the threatening finger of an authority urging us – do not sin! But it is the vision of something infinitely important, that happens on this small planet, in our bodies and minds. It raises mankind to a level in the universe where decisive things happen in every moment, decisive for the ultimate meaning of all existence. In each of us such decisions occur, in us, and through us. This is our burden. This is our despair. This is our greatness. “

(From the sermon  “The Good that I will, I do not” in The Eternal Now

 

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74 thoughts on “The Message of Sin to a Mormon Missionary

  1. he looked me with eyes that clearly expressed a broken heart, and said that he understood where I was coming from but that I might not have had enough pain in my life to really understand what Jesus offered. This, I could not deny. My life was nearly pain-free up to that point. I had no problems worth mentioning: amazing parents, good health, physical and academic talent, and deep love from many sources, and a deep faith in God, supported by profound spiritual experience. I did not see what I was missing, I only saw what he was missing.

    If I could put my finger now on what I was missing, it was a simple understanding of the fact of sin. At that point in my life, I was plenty aware of the strength that God had given me. It was demonstrated. The Spirit had led me to paths of rigor but they were joyful paths. I did not believe the Gospel because it made sense, I believed it because it worked. It was not until the reality of Sin hit me hard in the face and left me reeling for years did I recognize what I missing what John saw.

    Can you go further in detail (perhaps using more layman’s terminology) about this?

    I have also heard a similar sort of thing from some other people — especially Dan Wotherspoon…that what triggered many spiritual experiences and understandings, etc., was coming to a point of pain and loss within their life.

    And I too can say, “Well, you know, I haven’t really suffered that much.” And I recognize that that may preclude me from having certain experiences.

    But then I think: but why would I want to wreck my life? If I am living my life pretty well and having run into major pot holes, then why would I purposefully try to do anything to ruin that?

    So maybe you can say what it was that caused you to understand the “fact of sin”. And can you generalize about things you’ve noticed for others that have either helped them (or hindered them) from understanding?

  2. Dang, this is awesome. I think what brought me to Christ was the hopeless sense of my own brokenness due to mental illness and unspeakable anxiety, and a despair that went so much deeper than disobeying the checklist of rules could ever adequately explain. And it was in the moment that I fully embraced my brokenness, instead of resisting so hard, that I experienced the all-encompassing peace that comes from knowing that even though you will always be broken you are redeemed and fully loved. That literally saved me, which is why I always say I was saved by the grace of Christ.

    I’ve never thought of it in quite this way before, though. Thank you for this, Jared!

  3. This post coincides with talks I am having with my Mormon siblings right now. After years of them not really wanting to go there with me and us talking about everything and the moon but not our faith, it seems like the opportunity to do so is presenting itself again. For what I am grateful.
    The concept of sin is a hard one in Mormonism when it transcends that set of fixed rules to permeate and control our own nature.

    “The attempt to break the power of sin by the power of good will has been described by Paul as the attempt to fulfill the law, the law in our mind, in our innermost self that is the law of God. The result of this attempt is failure, guilt and despair.”

    That is so very true. Still, I am grateful for the spiritual, as well as the emotional breakdown I experienced after years of trying to live up to the law as a faithful LDS, for only when I gave it all my effort and failed, was when I was ready to consider that my problem was so much bigger.

    Also, my love for Christ has grown so much more as my appreciation for what He has accomplished for me on the Cross has become much, much bigger and deeper than what I originally understood it to be.
    “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

  4. Andrew, I don’t think anyone who has encountered their sin got there as an attempt to ruin their lives. Instead it almost always happens from trying to fulfill their lives and realizing how tragically incapable they are.

  5. Tim,

    Yeah, I hear you. That’s why I don’t think it would be possible for me to just “purposefully” try to wreck things to have that experience. But I just don’t feel “tragically incapable”. And I know a lot of people who feel similarly. After all, not everyone is Christian. Not everyone “groks” Christianity or finds it is a missing need in their lives…plus all the people who deconvert from Christianity — how could that be if they had encountered sin?

    I mean, I think it probably goes without saying that just being raised in a Christian tradition (or, proto/semi-Christian tradition for Mormonism) isn’t necessary or even sufficient for such a change to occur, so I’m just trying to figure out what would be the case.

    It just seems that it’s a difference in personalities. Some people have that kind of anxiety of feeling of self-inadequacy; others don’t.

  6. The Holy Spirit (the force that creates faith)…”blows where it will.”
    Some hear…and come to a living faith…and others do not. That’s just the way it is.

    But as long as we have breath…we ought keep putting ourselves in front of that Word. For “faith (trust) comes by hearing.”

  7. Jared, I don’t have time to read all of your article right now, but I’ll be back because the first two paragraphs are very interesting! I LOL about the orangutang.
    Do you mind if I quote from you in something I’m writing?

  8. Jared – I read a great book recently that teaches the concept of sin you describe very well. I wish more Mormons would read it. Here are a couple of passages:

    “[Man is] carnal and devilish, and the devil has power over them . . . even that old serpent that did beguile our first parents, which was the cause of their fall; which was the cause of all mankind becoming carnal, sensual, devilish, knowing evil from good, subjecting themselves to the devil. Thus all mankind were lost; and . . . they would have been endlessly lost were it not that God redeemed his people from their lost and fallen state.”

    “[A]ll men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness.”

    “[A]ll mankind . . . men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; [they must be] born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; and thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.”

    “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and put[s] off the natural man and become[s] a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord . . . .”

  9. JT,

    I agree with you 100% I think that if Mormons took the Book of Mormon seriously then they would be a lot better off. Right now, most only care about a couple of chapters in 3rd Nephi and generally miss the entire point of the book. I would not advocate giving up the Book of Mormon or considering it worthless, I would advocate taking it for what it is and taking its message extremely seriously, regardless of all the silly discussion of “truth claims” and commitment to the righteousness of Joseph Smith.

    I don’t think the New Testament is a magic book any more than I think the Book of Mormon is a magic book, I judge it based on what I judge in every book – the words on the page.

  10. I’ve heard that from more and more Mormons that their view of sin radically changes in their process of leaving the church to accept traditional Christianity. I wonder if the concept of Jesus as savior and what he actually saves us from is simply missed and misunderstood. I mean, its one thing to say Jesus saves us from our sin, but something entirely different to really understand the gravity of that message, not just consequences, but how badly sin infests our lives.

  11. The difficulty with understanding Sin is recognizing that it doesn’t simply infest our lives, it is part and parcel with life itself. When you take Joseph Smith seriously you recognize that according to his cosmological model, Original Sin begins eons before Adam, it is engrained in our personality from before the world was.

  12. @Andrew,

    It just seems that it’s a difference in personalities. Some people have that kind of anxiety of feeling of self-inadequacy; others don’t.

    I don’t think that it is pain is a pre-requisite for understanding Christianity, but enormous pain is just a part of life- that is the message of the Buddha as well as Christ. In my view, Christ is about facing reality. Discovering the reality of despair is as easy as looking out the window, most simply ignore it because they don’t have to/want to worry about it.

    The rich people of the world (i.e. the first world) are generally able to ignore despair, and ignore/deny their sin as well. The history of Western Christianity is as much about denying sin as it is about salvation from it. Although most people equate Christianity with the “Blue Pill”, mainly because of the strange excesses of Christian culture that dominates the world, but, I have found that it feels a lot more like the hard reality of the “Red Pill”. Part of grasping Christianity is understanding that it is not about qualifying for heaven, it is about making sense of the terrifying reality of God and the importance and possibility of love. The problem with the message of the New Testament is the sword that dangerously cuts through culture, leaving a void that is generally filled by bastardized paganism which is Modernism.

    In order to grok Sin, I would also have to abandon the notion that it has anything to do with not qualifying for heaven in the afterlife, or soothing insecurities about death. I think it is more real to say that sin is the source of all your pain and disappointment in this life. However it is very difficult to recognize because we are completely wed to our pain as well as our pleasure.

  13. Jared, that may be, but correct me if I am wrong, but LDS don’t view sin as a problem that cannot be overcome; that is to say we can become perfected avoid sin altogether. Sin may be bad, and it may be tough to overcome, but it can be. Through faith, ritual, and personal effort, we can at least begin to eliminate it altogether from our lives.

    If this is an incorrect understanding, maybe someone could clarify how LDS view sin.

  14. “Part of grasping Christianity is understanding that it is not about qualifying for heaven, it is about making sense of the terrifying reality of God and the importance and possibility of love.”

    I like that. Reminds me of this: “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Gal 5: 22-23.) Specifically, how Christianity should emphasize these traits that support the commandment to love your neighbor, and how we are all as free without worrying about the law. Its about doing, not being held in check by making sure we check off certain things.

  15. I think that is how many in the Church see it, but that is not how Joseph Smith conceived it.

    There is no single LDS view of sin because there is no creedal theology. There are some consensus opinions, but I think many of these are as at odds with Joseph Smith’s teachings as they are with the Bible.

  16. Yet, LDS check off certain things. I think they don’t like to think of themselves as having a list of requirements, but they do as far as I can tell. For example, Ray mentioned just yesterday that Baptism is a requirement for salvation, and alluded that other rituals are as well.

  17. Right, The LDS take the New Testament seriously and believe baptism is a requirement that every last human being will have an opportunity to accept. Baptism in the LDS church is the physical instantiation of grace. The Bible teaches that we must be born again. If you are arguing that baptism is not essential you are just as much a heretic from traditional Christianity as the Mormons.

    The ordinances of the Gospel are a given for everyone that wants them. The seminal question of the Church is about what should be done after being born again.

  18. I am not sure this is true: “If you are arguing that baptism is not essential you are just as much a heretic from traditional Christianity as the Mormons.” Certainly, it is highly viewed, but there is some vagary, I think concerning how those who died without being baptized were treated in the early church.

    “The seminal question of the Church is about what should be done after being born again.” OK, and the rituals and ordinances are there if they are wanted, but what if they are not wanted but the person fully believes God saved them and thus the rituals are not necessary? How does such a person fit in with the Mormon belief system? My understanding is that person will never progress and his dedication to the church will be questioned. So, again, as far as I can tell, this means they still have a check list they have to perform.

  19. Slowcowboy,

    You don’t understand Mormonism which is understandable, tons of Mormons don’t understand it either. When it comes to going to heaven, Mormons are completely universalist. Everybody that wants to be in heaven will be because of the atonement of Jesus Christ. For each individual the speed of progression is different, as well as the starting point. The problem with Mormonism is not that the plan of salvation is not full of hope and promise of salvation. Mormonism is about spiritual practice after the assurance of salvation. The problem is, Mormons reject the assurance because they don’t understand the love of God, just like (apparently) most of the “Christian” world.

  20. This is so jumbled. Do you recall a huge conversation I had with someone earlier defining salvation? So, is salvation merely getting to heaven, or is it exaltation? This is still unclear to me, and I think it is an unclear concept. And to be exalted, you have to do the rituals et al. I do know the Mormon goal is not just to get merely into heaven, it is to progress as far as one can, which means, yup, rituals and works!

    With that in mind, it seems plausible to conclude Mormons reject the assurance of heaven because mere heaven is not enough.

  21. Slowcowboy,

    You can’t expect to understand Mormonism from online discussions alone. Whatever conclusion you reach is based on limited information. Mormonism is much more complicated in concept than the Protestantism. Mormons have not spent the millions of man hours thinking through their theology and philosophy like Catholics have. They haven’t simplified their theology in the way that Protestants have. However, in practice Mormons act quite a bit like average Christians, they want the love of God, and they seek to live by the Spirit. They just try harder and feel more guilty when they screw up. Their main problem is that they don’t recognize the love of God, but that is a universal problem.

  22. Jared, I would say the trying harder and feeling more guilty are symptoms of the exact question I propose. And isn’t that what Galatians is all about when Paul tells us that all the works don’t make a single difference in our salvation? 5:4 we see Paul write: “You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”

    There’s much more in the letter, including that we become slaves to the law, and I would think trying harder and harder and feeling guilty are symptomatic of being bound by something that you can never achieve.

  23. @gundek, I mean that that they have stripped away a lot of the Catholic tradition in the Sola Scriptura approach to theology. The Catholic Catechism seems a lot more complex than the Heidelberg Catechism.

  24. Slowcowboy,

    The fact that LDS Christians torture themselves does not make their faith in Christ any less effective vis-a-vis salvation, it just means they continue to torture themselves because of pride and forget redeeming love.

    There are plenty of other Christians that claim to be saved but torture themselves in a similar way. I think the Evangelical message is (should be) that this torture is not necessary and that joy is at hand. I don’t think this is a complicated message, but it is not easy to see for lots of reasons. There are all kinds of idolatry in the world and most everybody serves some cult or another in order to find joy.

  25. “The fact that LDS Christians torture themselves does not make their faith in Christ any less effective vis-a-vis salvation, it just means they continue to torture themselves because of pride and forget redeeming love.”

    When they rely on the works/rituals to progress and reach ultimate salvation, it matters greatly. Again, in the text I put from Paul, Christ actually alienates us if you try to justify yourself by the law. But I think most Mormons, and you seem to be upholding this, don’t think they do their works out of an outright requirement, even though they know if they don’t do them they will never reach the highest level and may be looked down upon. And if I were in that system and didn’t make it to the top but somewhere in the middle, I’d still feel I was in hell seeing what others get to do.

    But I 100% agree with you that the torture is not necessary and that joy is at hand. It is not a complicated message, and really the heart of most Ev’s efforts to spread the Good News. All you need is Jesus. You don’t need to toil about in rituals or in guilt. All you need is God. In fact, I believe I have told you something similar before that the Gospel is not tough.

    You are also right that it is not easy to see. +

  26. Really, you think Sola Scriptura makes theology simpler? That’s intriguing. I’m not arguing for complexity but I thought Sola Scriptura brought about a distinct set of issues that still must engage with the historic Christian tradition.

    I’m not sure the Catholic Catechism and Heidelberg necessarily have the same goals.

  27. Jared,

    You say:

    I don’t think that it is pain is a pre-requisite for understanding Christianity, but enormous pain is just a part of life- that is the message of the Buddha as well as Christ. In my view, Christ is about facing reality. Discovering the reality of despair is as easy as looking out the window, most simply ignore it because they don’t have to/want to worry about it.

    How does this reality support Christ, rather than diminish/preclude Christ?

    Part of grasping Christianity is understanding that it is not about qualifying for heaven, it is about making sense of the terrifying reality of God and the importance and possibility of love.

    What is the terrifying reality of God?

  28. Christianity isn’t about ‘believing in something’…or rightly understanding something.

    It is about ‘trusting’ in Someone.

    Heck…even the devil and his demons believe in Jesus.

  29. Andrew:

    You write, “So maybe you can say what it was that caused you to understand the “fact of sin”. And can you generalize about things you’ve noticed for others that have either helped them (or hindered them) from understanding?”

    My conversion came at a point of “rock bottom” for me. I was simply miserable, but I didn’t attribute my misery to sin. That is, I only realized my sinfulness *after* having “surrendered” to God. I’m reminded of St. Augustine’s maxim that we don’t understand in order to believe, rather we believe in order to understand. I understood sin only after I had repented, and I didn’t even realize that repentance is what I had done, until after I had done it, probably years after.

    The surrender consisted of ceasing to complain and curse God, and submit myself to whatever might be his will for me, even if I didn’t like it. Thus, sin is the refusal to submit to God’s will, and my repentance was making the decision to submit.

    If that’s all that had happened, my conversion might not have amounted to much. But it’s my experience of life after that event, and the comparison of the before and after, that has made my conversion more and more secure. Repentance *works*: It gives you peace in the short term, and happiness in the long term, as you learn better and better how sinful you are and become more and more determined to forsake sin and do God’s will.

  30. “…as you learn better and better how sinful you are and become more and more determined to forsake sin and do God’s will.”

    I haven’t found that to be the case with me.

    As my sin is ever before me, I realize that I am bound to it. As Paul says in Romans 7.

    But that I have a Savior who has put that sin (all of it) to death in my Baptism (Romans 6). And holds none of it against me. And declares me holy and righteous for Jesus’ sake.

    That’s what they call the “good news”.

  31. theoldadam,

    sure, I can see the difference between belief and understanding and trust, but at some point, it seems that certain people get to a point where they are at “rock bottom” as it were and they say, “why not trust god”?

    But if someone doesn’t get to that point, then they wouldn’t do that. Especially since for a lot of people, it certainly seems that how deity is portrayed isn’t all that trustworthy.

    Agellius,

    Interesting…especially your comments that you hadn’t realized it was repentance until after you had done such…that you hadn’t realized your misery was due to sin until after you had repented.

    But how did you get to a place where God was real enough to complain to and curse at, rather than a non-figure? In other words, there was a change from complaining and cursing God to giving in and submitting…but this still implies a basic belief in God. It goes along with theoldadam’s comment that the difference is not about belief but about trust…

  32. Cowboy,
    You always make good observations:

    “LDS don’t view sin as a problem that cannot be overcome; that is to say we can become perfected avoid sin altogether. Sin may be bad, and it may be tough to overcome, but it can be. Through faith, ritual, and personal effort, we can at least begin to eliminate it altogether from our lives.

    If this is an incorrect understanding, maybe someone could clarify how LDS view sin.”

    In theory, your description is true with one caveat.

    I’ve heard plenty of lessons which said “sinful human nature can be overcome by putting on Christ” but that it is a process that may never be completely achieved in mortality. In other words, with the help of Christ we can overcome sin to a high level.

    I remember one authority putting it this way, “We need to live our life in such a way that we have no desire for sin.”

    Anyway, that’s the theory and some people have done it like Enoch & Melchizedek. But even these had the help of the Lord. No man is capable on his own of becoming perfectly sinless. Jesus excluded but he was a God.

  33. Andrew,

    The Holy Spirit creates faith when and where He will.
    There’s no pat formula.

    He gives His Holy Spirit in Baptism…adopts in Baptism…and when faith comes (whenever…however) then Baptism is complete.

    But it is a process. It’s not a one time event. We need to be kept in faith. We live from faith… to faith.

  34. Andrew:

    You write, “But how did you get to a place where God was real enough to complain to and curse at, rather than a non-figure? In other words, there was a change from complaining and cursing God to giving in and submitting…but this still implies a basic belief in God.”

    I can’t say exactly how I got to that point. I wasn’t raised with religion at all. If you had asked me I would have said I was an atheist or an agnostic. But my theory is that people naturally believe in God, and have to learn to disbelieve. I had learned to disbelieve from my parents, who were professed atheists. But that didn’t stop me from being angry with God.

  35. theoldadam,

    That kind of thinking makes sense to me if it gets put in God’s hands. But there are plenty of other people who say that it’s our choice to believe/have faith/etc.,

    Agellius,

    Yeah, I hear that trope about atheists/agnostics a lot, but I don’t really perceive things like that. I mean, I certainly didn’t learn to disbelieve from my parents. But God just doesn’t seem apparent from my engagements or interactions with the world. And I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t like that — the major thing that has changed for me was that I have stopped pretending or lying to myself about trying to believe what I have been taught is true.

    So it wouldn’t make sense for me to be angry with God, because that to me would seem like a false attribution. Attributing anything in this universe (good, bad, or indifferent) to God seems like a false attribution.

  36. “Mormons believe that Enoch and Melchizedeck lived without sin?”

    The LDS church believes Enoch, Melchizedek and some others were “translated”.

    This means they reached a level of sinless perfection. They were not like Jesus in that they never committed sin during their lives. They became sinless over time and were therefore worthy of translation.

    The Apostle John was translated as well. At the end of his gospel it is clear Jesus promised that he would never die. I would suppose that John too reached a level of sinless perfection as well in order to qualify for translation.

  37. Andrew,

    Plenty of people are just plain wrong.

    The Bible is where we learn that we cannot choose God. Jesus told Nicodemus as much. St. Paul speaks of it. And the Gospel of John says it flat out, “…we are not born of the will of man, but of God.”

  38. theoldadam,

    But that is basically just you calvinisting. all your arminian brethren — for various reasons — disagree. Are they “just plain wrong”? OK, maybe. But why do so many think that way?

  39. It is in our nature to believe that WE control everything. Even the relationship with God.

    The Bible clearly contradicts them on this point and that is why they are wrong. Plus, one just needs to examine one’s self to see that we are in bondage to sin and dead in our sin.

  40. I think the other angle to your main point, Jared, is evil and suffering.
    From what I have read, LDS theology (and I know a few friends) seem to view suffering, and evil things that happen to us, as a test sent by God to strengthen us and test to see if we are good enough for heaven. This explanation breaks-down and fails to explain life when we encounter real suffering, encounter real evil. Its an answer that works for a 20-year-old American male from a good family with good health, but it doesn’t speak to the condition of an Iraqi Christian on the run from the Islamic State, or a starving African mom. Trying harder to live a sin-free life so the gospel will ‘work’ for them isn’t going to help them.

    Sin, and its consequences of suffering and evil, cannot be overcome by human effort, although we are supposed to ‘give it our all’. ‘Agency’ can’t get you past mental Illness (Katie, I was moved by your thoughts), or explain why I can’t keep myself from blowing-up at people. Only the idea of ‘original sin’ in the hearts of man/woman, which God reaches down and heals, makes sense to me.

  41. Andrew S:

    1. Theoldadam is not a Calvinist.

    2. Arminians also believe in mankind’s total depravity and inability to choose God.

  42. Man’s inability to choose God apart from the grace of God is not a Calvinist doctrine; it’s an Augustinian doctrine. It’s affirmed by all orthodox Christians.

  43. But I was under the impression that there is a difference in thought about how much choice there is exactly involved in this…

  44. All orthodox Christians agree that man is totally unable to choose God apart from the grace of God. But past that, there’s a lot of difference in terms of how exactly that plays out.

    The Calvinist says that everyone is is born dead in sin and totally unable to choose God, but that God gives his irresistable saving grace to the elect.

    The Arminian says that everyone is born dead in sin and totally unable to choose God, but that God gives his prevenient grace to each person, restoring their free will and allowing them to freely choose God or reject Him.

    Lutherans (like theoldadam) and Roman Catholics would say something else.

    But we all start out in with the same initial point: that everyone is born dead in sin and totally unable to choose God until enabled by God’s grace.

  45. ” God gives his prevenient grace to each person, restoring their free will and allowing them to freely choose God or reject Him.”

    So in other words, the amount of choice is a difference between the systems, at the end of the day.

  46. theoldadam’s statement seems to be saying, “You know, some people just don’t get God because God doesn’t want them to.”

    OK, well, that’s not their fault.

  47. No, you have it backwards. Nobody gets God because we are in a state of rebellion against him that is completely our fault. And no, we don’t have the power to un-do what we’ve gotten ourselves into, but that doesn’t absolve us of responsibility. If I jump off a cliff, I can’t un-jump, but that doesn’t mean it’s not my fault I’m falling.

  48. Andrew:

    I sense a bit of a misunderstanding involving something I said. I did say that faith is an act of the will. But nevertheless it’s a response to God’s taking the first step. Faith (like everything else) is given by God and, like a gift, is either accepted or rejected by us. Faith is sometimes called a new birth, and like our first birth, it doesn’t come at a time and in a manner of our choosing. Still, unlike the first birth it requires our consent.

  49. Kullervo,

    OK, but where I get caught up is that the setup is supposed to be a God who created us and knows who we are intimately. He created us with our nature. He already knew this was going to happen. He knows we will reject him because that’s how we were made.

    Or, alternatively, we are the way we are because of something Adam and Eve did (without even having knowledge of the full consequences) a looong time ago.

    So the Christian setup sounds to me like, “We rebelled (as God knew we would, because that was the nature he created us with), and therefore it’s our fault because we did it, even though we didn’t create our natures; we just acted in accordance with them.”

    Agellius,

    I guess the struggle is people keep saying that no one would choose God on their own accord. theoldadam says that faith is given, and that’s just God’s plan. The Holy Spirit blows where it will, etc.,

    So, when you talk about it being a gift and we have a choice, I think, “but from the get go, other people are already created as rebellious. People are already created to not believe this stuff.”

  50. Or, alternatively, we are the way we are because of something Adam and Eve did (without even having knowledge of the full consequences) a looong time ago.

    Adam and Eve acted with full freedom–unlike us, they weren’t born already dead in sin. They had the ability to chose God on their own, and they had sufficient knowledge of the consequences. They knew better, and they had the ability to choose better, so their rebellion against God was both knowing and willful. And we were in Adam when Adam sinned, so we are just as guilty as Adam is for that first knowing and willful treason against the utter holiness of God.

  51. The fruit was of the knowledge of good and evil.

    How could they have had sufficient knowledge of the consequences before partaking?

    Or do you think that is also a famous misunderstanding of the garden narrative.

    and how does being in Adam when Adam sinned actually make us guilty?

  52. How could they have had sufficient knowledge of the consequences before partaking?

    Because God told them not to eat it, and that if they did, the penalty was death.

    and how does being in Adam when Adam sinned actually make us guilty?

    Because somehow he was our perfect representative?

  53. Andrew, I am not sure on whether or not I have a choice. I am not certain one way or the other. I do know God is supreme, and give him that credit. Does he give me the agency, to use the word, to choose? I don’t know for sure. But even if he did, he ceded that to me, and that does not alter his supremacy.

    What else do I know about this issue? If he chose me, he is supreme and loves me. I am thankful for that. If he merely gave me to power to choose, he did so out of his love for me and is supreme for loving me in that way. I know that either way, God can force someone’s hand and bring them to him without question. Just the same, like Pharaoh, he can harden their hearts.

    So, the way I see it, I simply don’t know whether he drew me in with certainty in such a way that I had no choice in the matter. Are you certain that you have no choice?

  54. I am certain of my current perception that I have no choice here*. But I am aware that perceptions could change.

    *If I stated it another way…I actually did once read a Calvinist who said (and sorry for the paraphrase…I may have botched this up, “People do have choice. People are free to do what they will, but they are not free to will what they will.”

    I interpret it like this: I am free to follow my inclinations, desires, etc., etc., But I don’t choose those inclinations, desires, etc.,

  55. I actually did once read a Calvinist who said (and sorry for the paraphrase…I may have botched this up, “People do have choice. People are free to do what they will, but they are not free to will what they will.”

    I interpret it like this: I am free to follow my inclinations, desires, etc., etc., But I don’t choose those inclinations, desires, etc.

    I am a Calvinist and I approve of this message. And so do Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin and R.C. Sproul, at least.

  56. “I am certain of my current perception that I have no choice here*. But I am aware that perceptions could change.”

    So, when your perceptions change, will you be aware of whether or not this is your choice? I know your pretty much deny an ability to choose things/ideas, but its an interesting question to consider whether you recognize any will on your part when perceptions do change.

  57. slowcowboy,

    Well, wouldn’t that be the big change — the change in perceptions would be a change in perception about whether choice is possible — and it certainly could include a re-evaluation that choice was happening all along. I was intrigued by Agellius’s earlier comment:

    I understood sin only after I had repented, and I didn’t even realize that repentance is what I had done, until after I had done it, probably years after.

    I imagine the same thing could happen on the choice front. that is… “I only understood the chosen aspect of belief after [insert some change], and I didn’t even realize that [insert some change] is what had happened, until it had happened, probably years after.”

    But I don’t know what [some change] would be.

  58. Of course we don’t know what [some change] will be unless we know the future. And it often does take us a while and some distance to recognize what actually happened in a given situation.

    Personally I am not able to take a definitive position in the Calvinist/Armenian discussion, though. I see that we are able to make choices but as it applies to accepting Jesus unto salvation, I see both sides as having credible arguments, precisely due to the fact that God is a loving God but who is also omnipotent.

    Its one of the questions I see within Christianity where there is room for disagreement without disclaiming one as heretical. What I think is most important is Kullervoo’s point that ability to choose is secondary to the starting point.

    I know you don’t like the idea that you are not in control of your condition before God, but that is precisely what is the more important part of the discussion of salvation.

  59. I’m ok with the idea that I am not in control of my condition before God. Just saying it doesn’t make sense to say it’s my fault if it’s God who’s pulling the strings. But there’s no skin off my nose for that.

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