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Jun 27 2012

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On forgiving God.

I’ve been told I forgive God too much.

Have I forgiven God? I have.

Was it too much? No.

I spent most of my life carrying an unbearably heavy burden of blaming God for this world’s pain, and on the day they call “conversion,” when my heart quieted and allowed itself finally to feel His touch, we forgave each other. Too many of us walk through life drying up and dying because we can’t forgive.

This world is not perfect. Nothing temporal can be unchanging; nothing changing can be perfect. By the very virtue of pouring forth this temporal universe, God accepted its imperfection. Is imperfection part of what makes us unique to Him? Fascinating? Part of the reason He created us so? Part of the design? Or is imperfection a side effect of the process of creation, the end goal of which is new perfection of a unity of Creator and His Creation? Or, perhaps, both?

Is our suffering, then, God’s collateral damage?

I do not know how the world works, but I know—I feel with everything I am—that God is not an observer of suffering or an “absentee landlord.” In the years when I could not forgive Him for the evil of this world, my mind kept going back to places where suffering was being inflicted on people by people, the powerless tortured by the powerful, and I could find no justification for God if He was present and watched and did nothing—or if He was absent and did not watch. I understand now that my binary was flawed.

This world is not God’s toy, not God’s TV screen. While it is created and shaped in some ways, perhaps, like a sculpture and does not contain all of Him, it is connected to Him more intimately than a sculpture to the sculptor. The world is part of God, a continuation of Him, the expression of His nature, permeated by and filled with Him a bit like a body part, like a lotus flower growing out of Vishnu’s navel. God doesn’t watch the suffering of the world. He feels it. As much as He feels its joy.

At the moment of the beginning of creation, the world individuated from God but only to a certain extent—a simpler thing in its own right yet never separate—and lost its eternity in God but gained its fluidity in time and began to change and to develop so at the end of creation, at the end of time, it could become a thing more beautiful than we, still the children of imperfection, can now imagine—so it could flow back into God’s eternal reality and enrich it with its uniqueness, its temporally experienced Love. Love temporal and Goodness eternal intertwined.

I have forgiven God for the pain of the world, and He has forgiven me for my imperfection. I have forgiven God because our pain is His pain, and He endures it for the sake of the beauty, the love, and the promise the world contains. He has forgiven me because He was just waiting to, because all things imperfect in me are temporary but my love is not, because I am Him, from the beginning of creation and at the end of time.

Permanent link to this article: http://onmounthoreb.com/on-forgiving-god/

7 comments

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  1. RitW

    Hi MC,

    A Question:

    Can the imperfect come forth from the perfect? Can perfection beget imperfection?

    1. River Adams

      Ah. That, indeed, is what they call “a million-dollar question.” You, my dear friend, have put your finger on, perhaps, one of the most difficult problems in theistic cosmogonies, and so many ancient philosophers had to find ways around it, varying their definitions of perfection and ideas of how the material world comes into being. But can perfection beget imperfection? Of course, not so much the biblical but the Judeo-Christian tradition says, “Yes.” And why not? We tend to think of like begetting like, but that’s not exactly true. If that were true, no change would ever take place, not even evolution.
      Still, evolution and progress refer to the imperfect begetting a diferrent kind of imperfect. Perhaps, it’s not the same — a qualitative difference. If we think of “perfect” in traditional ways as “unchanging,” how can it beget anything at all?
      Now, I have neither the precision of language nor the depth of thought to grasp where I am going with this, but my sense of God as Eternal Reality is that it can be neither changing in the way we experience change (because then it would be simply a never-ending temporality) nor static in the way we understand that concept (because then it would be a self-contained entity without an ability to will, pour forth, influence, or comprehend). Limited by human consciousness, I cannot understand how that works, but in my mind I cannot find a way to ignore the necessity of this condition: God is both atemporal and non-static.
      My inability to imagine it does not upset me. Mathematicians know how I feel: many concepts that are supposed to describe this world have been theoretically formulated — concepts we cannot hope to envision.
      What this tells me about the relationship between God and the world, between the “perfect” and “imperfect” is this: “perfection” can be a misleading word for us, but to me it defines “that which contains all” — or, at least, the potentiality for all. Perfection is completeness. This is why I speak of evil, somewhat similiarly to Peirce, as of emptiness, disconnectedness, and lack. Vacuum. Darkness. If God is Good and evil is not of God, then evil is the lack of the reality of God.
      Imperfection, then, can be part. Imperfect is incomplete. It can be good but not all of the Good. An aspect. A simpler version. The imperfect can be poured forth from the perfect by individuating from it to a degree — by being of the same nature with it but lacking some of it. Like a breath that God breathed into His human creation in the biblical myth. Like the Word that God speaks. Like a lotus flower that grows out of Vishnu’s navel.
      Here is another analogy. An artist paints his self-portrait in order to express something of himself — about himself — to crystallize and emphasize on paper something of his nature in a particular form and separate it from himself to a certain degree. To see it from a different perspective. The portrait is less perfect than the artist. It is lesser than the artist himself — less complex and more static — but there is something unique about the medium that interests the artist and enriches his self-awareness. When we, from inside the “portrait,” can focus our eyes just so and see the likeness of the artist even a little bit, even for a moment, our breath catches in our chests, and we call it “Glory.” The majesty of God made manifest in the world.
      What do you think?

  2. RitW

    Hmmm….. well my knowledge is not quite expansive enough to comment specifically on each point and each analogy you raised. However, there are a few things that might be worth saying:

    Perfection must be maintained.

    The 2nd law of thermodynamics teaches us that order in a system must be maintained, by a source external to the system. Otherwise the system will become disordered. God made man (indeed all creation) perfect:

    “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good… ” ~ Genesis 1:31a

    However, God made man with free will, which in the context of this argument/analogy, means that man had the option to rely on The external Source, God, to maintain his perfection. Man, however, opted to rely on himself for maintaining his perfection: Man chose to know “good and evil” and to order his own steps: thereby severing the connection he had to The external Source, God. But, on his own, man is powerless to maintain perfection and hence degeneration from perfection was immediate and precipitous (see Genesis 4).

    (SIDE NOTE: The angels also suffered a similar predicament…)

    The cry of the Believer has since been to regain the connection to The external Source, God, so that perfection can be regained:

    “Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me.” ~ Psalm 119:133

    “Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” ~ Romans 8:21-23

    And, indeed, Jesus came for exactly that reason: He is “The Way, The Truth and The Life” (John 14:6) and thereby the re-connection to God to re-enable His ordering of our lives which he does through the Holy Spirit, which reveals all things to us (John 14:26) and enables in us “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

    Imperfection, therefore, come not from Perfection, but from the choice to disconnect from perfection. Perfection does not beget imperfection; rather, it is separation from perfection produces imperfection.

    Epilogue: Only The Bible teaches this truth.

    1. River Adams

      Okay, let’s talk the analogy of thermodynamics, not that it’s my field by any stretch.
      I gather that we are in general agreement about salvation (interestingly, I recently left an interrogatory comment on that topic at your site). But I am not sure I am comfortable defining anything as “perfect” whose status quo must be maintained by an external force. If it must, it means the system maintained would deteriorate on its own, without support. It means the system in its own nature is disordered. Can we in good conscience call such a naturally deteriorating system “perfection”? So if man had to rely on God to maintain his “order” and could not do so as a closed system, was man by definition “perfect”? From the beginning? Why would a perfect creature make an imperfect decision? This “choice to disconnect from perfection” you cite is in itself an imperfect choice, which means that to make it, humans had to be already imperfect. The choice then would not be the cause of imperfection but the effect of it. Questions like this are very common in the area of the problem of evil and the free-will defense.
      I think your analogy with thermodynamics is a good one, but it turns the other direction for me. The entropic systems you bring up are in fact not perfect — not only that, there is no such thing as “maintaining perfection” in them, right? Because in practical physics perfection cannot be achieved. We cannot achieve or maintain absolute zero or absolute vacuum and so on with any amount of external force. We keep coming closer and yet we’ll never get there. Perhaps, this analogy can work for Genesis to some degree.
      I say this because God in the myth of Genesis says the world is “very good.” Now in human parlance saying that something is “very good” is not the same as saying that it’s “perfect.” In fact, it could be worth barely a B+. (Forgive me, I am still a middle-aged professor at heart.) On its face, the Bible does not claim perfection of Creation. It claims moral value of it. Or, perhaps, it claims that the world was satisfactory. After all, God did step up His praise from “good” to “very good” on the sixth day.
      So I suppose my follow-up question would be why you interpret this verse to say that Creation was perfect.
      I find it fascinating to see how different people find different logical challenges more or less impenetrable. It is easier for me to justify an imperfect creation coming from a perfect creator than to explain how a perfect thing BECOMES imperfect. The latter I cannot grasp. It seems that if the world (or man) deteriorated, it (he/they) had to have carried the seed of imperfection from the start, or the original wrong step would not have been taken.
      You know what I mean?
      This seems to be where we diverge.

  3. RitW

    As usual you raised some very very interesting points. And again i doubt i can answer them all or any of them satisfactorily…

    The point is that creation cannot exist in perfection without God. God is the source of perfection. So man remains perfect or achieves perfection through God working in and through him/her. Apart from God man is unable to be perfect.

    Now this does not necessarily mean that man is inherently flawed, it just means man is inherently dependent.

    Since we speak of physics, consider superconductivity (which can be defined as perfect conduction): According to the prevailing theory, for super-conduction to occur electrons must form Cooper pairs to conduct perfectly. The pairing allows the electrons to synchronize with phonon vibrations in such a way that the are not scattered by said vibrations. Without the pairing the electrons scatter as normal for the non-superconducting state. Conduction perfection then is only attained through pairing.

    Now, most analogies are flawed, so this one is likely to break down at some point. However, i hope it conveys the idea that it is possible for a system to require “pairing” to achieve perfection. To wit, the perfection is accomplished only thru “pairing”.

    This, therefore does not mean man is inherently flawed, it means man was/is not designed to function apart from God.

    Here is another example. Let us assume that there is a tree that is perfect in every way. If a branch was severed from that perfect tree, the branch would no longer be perfect, because it was not designed to function apart from the tree. It isn’t that the severed branch was made imperfectly, it is that the branch is not designed to survive apart from the tree.

    (About the physics: perfection is not achieved in “practical physics” because of man’s interaction with the system: God does not have that limitation)

    About the “very good”:
    The best i can say at this point is that it seems to be a reasonable deduction that the creation was perfect from the use of the Hebrew words ( http://www.studylight.org/desk/view.cgi?number=02896 AND http://www.studylight.org/desk/view.cgi?number=03966). However, it is hard to be dogmatic on that point. Though it does follow if one assumes that Perfection (God the Creator) will necessarily beget perfection (the entire creation).

    (By the way, i did not see your comments on this topic on the RitW site… sorry about that… but i will check and try to find it.)

    1. River Adams

      I love the way you put this: “This does not necessarily mean that man is inherently flawed, it just means man is inherently dependent,” “not designed to function apart from God.” I whole-heartedly agree with you on this, and in truth, when knit-picking definitions of perfection, I was probably approaching the concept too narrowly, only from the point of view of a closed system. Who says it has to be? You’re right, and of all people I should have known better.

      All right, then. This helps, but it does not yet resolve all my questions. I hope you don’t mind another follow-up.

      Showing that the world was initially perfect by appealing to Hebrew usage does not quite work for me. The word Genesis uses for the first five days is “Tov,” which means “good,” and the expression used after God surveys the whole Creation on the sixth day is “Tov m’od,” which means “very good.” Unlike many other expressions that suffer in translation to English, this one is quite close – you might say analogous. A reasonable inference that “tov m’od” means “perfect” probably comes from our own assumption that God is perfect and produces only perfection, the very assertion we are now testing.

      Your tree branch analogy, however, is great. I could have used it in a classroom to explain sin when I was talking about sin as separation from God. As I am now less interested in the minutiae of definitions, this becomes not a debate for me but a pure genuine question: In the system of thought in which you operate, if the perfect God created a perfect world with the perfect creature Man in it who was not designed to function outside of God, what prompted the separation? Much like with a branch that does not suddenly decide to jump off the tree contrary to its own nature but is blown off by wind, broken off, or falls off once it’s withered and dead under its own weight, there had to be an external force (which pushes us into a dualist or even polytheistic cosmology) or a pre-designed need for sin (which suggests that sin was not a mistake but a God-planned progression of events). Either that, or the sinner wasn’t perfect. His connection with God wasn’t perfect. Something wasn’t perfect.

      That’s just the logic I can’t seem to escape. You have found a way through it. Can you explain that step in detail?

  4. RitW

    About my assertion/inference that “very good” = perfect. You are absolutely right; it does come from “our own assumption that God is perfect and produces only perfection”. so i do need to learn more about that… hopefully i will soon.

    Now to your latter question: “what prompted the separation?”

    At this point it seems that Scripture pins this on “free will”. Free will if it exists must also have intrinsic to its concept the potential to make ALL choices: good and bad. And since we now consider choice, the branch-tree analogy is insufficient and must be replaced. Not exactly sure what to replace it with… but consider a classroom full of children with a teacher.

    Let us define perfection as the children obediently responding to the teachers instructions and staying within the parameters set by the teacher. Imperfection we will define as deviation from the teachers instructions. If the children have no choice but to obey the teacher then they are essentially robots, without free will. If, however, they have free will then there is always the possibility for disobedience, for deviation from perfection.

    Therefore. with free will there obedience is always in question: will they obey or chose their own way? Even when in the “perfect” state (as defined earlier) there is always the potential for choosing to leave it behind.

    in other words, imperfection is not the issue: “free will is the issue. Consider if the perfect god begat the perfect creation it would remain perfect in perpetuity without free will.

    If i am a watchmaker, and i make a perfect watch (i.e., it keeps perfect time and never needs winding/batteries), that watch will remain perfect forever, because no piece/part/component of the watch has free will. However, if the components of the watch had free will, they could choose to realign themselves within the watch (as they see fit) and perfection would vanish.

    Now, if i the watchmaker have made a perfect watch with components that have their free will… it is imperative that i communicate with them and enable them to remain in their predetermined positions so that perfection can be maintained: but i can’t force them to without taking away their free will. Again, imperfection is not the fundament, it is the result of exercising free will incorrectly.

    Finally, let us consider Eve in Genesis 3. Careful reading shows that the central ploy of the serpent was to get Eve to exercise her free will contrary to God’s design.

    Hope this answers the question adequately… BUT i hasten to emphasize my own weakness, immaturity, lack of understanding and that i too “see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13). If in all this it turns out that i am wrong, i would not be surprised… my hope in this exercise is that God will through it give us a glimpse into Truth. And that we will grow stronger thereby.

    God Bless!

    P.S.
    I found the comment: it was truncated by the dashboard and appeared as a simple but complete statement. The deep questions were hidden.

    I hope to respond to them soon… though i will be going thru some challenges in the next few days that might delay my response somewhat…. please forgive me if that indeed obtains.

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