Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sam Shamoun Responds

A day ago I posted a response to a comment by the brilliant Christian apologist Sam Shamoun.

Following is his response to my post:
Traeh, some brotherly advice. Go back and study the Scriptures more carefully because the theology you are espousing is unbiblical and borders on heresy. It seems you are more into the almighty free will of man than into God's sovereignty.

Spend less time philosophizing and more time exgeting Biblical texts such as Job 14:5; Psalm 33:10-11; 115:3; 135:6; 139:16; Proverbs 16:1-4.

If I had more time I would dissect your entire post and refute it Biblically. But unfortunately for you I don't have that kind of time right now.

So Traeh I appreciate it if you don't chime in with very bad analogies which demean God and exalt the free will of man. You insult me when you do that.

And here is my response to Sam's response:
Insult you?  I don't see how my having a perspective insults you.  Perhaps we've misunderstood each other. But since I'm hardly infallible, it's possible I've insulted you somehow without being aware of it, in which case I'm sorry.

I have now read the verses you cited.  I grasp and everyone else should grasp the obvious: that if you don't respond to this it's not that you agree or have nothing to say, but that you are busy with other debates, work, life.

I'll go through the verses you referred me to:

Job 14:5 says to God that He has determined man's days and decreed the number of his months, and set limits he cannot exceed.

My response to this verse is:

1. I understand there are limits set by heaven that human beings cannot exceed.

2. The above statement by Job contains nothing I can see that requires one to conclude it allows of no exceptions or qualifications whatsoever.  Job could be speaking of a general pattern or rule, not a rule without any qualifications. For example, people sometimes repent and may live longer than they would have lived otherwise. Or less long. I think I have heard Sam -- or perhaps it was David -- point out that God is very patient and gives human beings many chances to repent, but at some point unrepentant human beings will fall into hell. So, Sam, doesn't God's patient waiting mean that God hopes for something He is not sure will happen?  He hopes a human being will repent and be redeemed, but He is not sure that will happen, He is not omniscient about that question, because it depends on human decisions not yet made.

3. Apart from possible qualifications to the rule in Job's time, Job's statement in the above verse does not say the rule will always be true in the same exact way for all times.  What if, as human consciousness matures over centuries and millennia, a more co-creative partnership in questions of personal human destiny, appears in the relation between human beings and God?  The notion that there is nothing new under the sun is an ahistorical and thus pre-Judeo-Christian perception of things; the ancient perception of time as cyclical was superceded by the Jewish discovery of unreapeatable history and therefore of unique personal history and true, unrepeatable individuals.  Couldn't the divine and the human have advanced a little, and couldn't our knowledge of them also have advanced a little, since the time of Job's inspirations?  I see nothing in truth that calls for us to take Job as the last word. 

Psalm 33:10-11 says that God foils the plans of the nations but the plans of God stand firm forever through all generations.

Sam, I believe and know that God is and eternally will be the highest.  But that does not mean He is omnipotent or omniscient. Psalm 33:10-11 does not say that human beings have no freedom, nor does it say that God controls every single thing and every single action and thought of every person at every moment, i.e., that He is omnipotent. 

33:10-11 says that God, the living truth, foils the ambitions of the nations; they seek to endlessly expand their earthly realms and powers and to banish death in an earthly way, all at the expense of truth and goodness. What the above verse says is that God is never in the long run defeated or resisted; sin is always eventually defeated.  God in the long run coordinates all things and ultimately redeems and makes good all sin.  But none of that, nor the verse above, requires that God be in control at every moment of our every action, i.e., that God be omnipotent and that human beings have no real freedom.

Psalm 115:3 says that God is in heaven and does whatever pleases him.

Psalm 135:6 says God does whatever pleases him in the heavens and on the earth, and to the bottom of the oceans.

In terms of logic, the statement that God does whatever pleases him, whatever he wants to, does not necessarily mean, does it, that He is omnipotent and can do just anything and everything notionally conceivable.  On the contrary, suppose God only wants to do what He can do. Then the above psalm verses could represent not God's omnipotence, but harmony between His desires and His powers. 

Psalm 139:16 tells God that His eyes saw the writer's unformed body and that all the days ordained for him were written in God's book before the first of those days came into existence.

My above response to the Job verse will stand for a response to Psalm 139:16, since they deal with the same question.

Proverbs 16:1-4 ends by saying that God works out everything for His own ends, even the wicked for a day of disaster.

16:1-4 does not require a belief in omnipotence nor a disbelief in human freedom.  It can mean simply that God always wins in the end, in the long run. 

None of these verses by themselves shows that God is omnipotent or omniscient, nor that that there is no such thing as human freedom. 

You say I am demeaning God and exalting human freedom above God.  I certainly don't want to do that.  And if I'm mistaken, I hope I can learn to see my mistakes.  I believe that one reason Christianity is relatively weak in Europe and by some accounts weakening in the U.S. is that people too often demean and misunderstand God and Jesus by conceiving God as if He were like an omnipotent tyrant and dictator whose pervasive surveillance extends omnisciently even to all the outcomes of all our own decision-processes, even before those outcomes have been reached.

To avoid misunderstanding, I probably should have said at the very beginning that I understand that in the deeper sense, the freedom that Christ brings is responsibility, not license. Was it Augustine who said, that provided you are truly loving, you have absolute freedom, you can do whatever you will?  Love -- love properly so called and not the many counterfeits -- seems to be that form of reality in which absolute freedom and absolute responsibility become one.  I wonder if my not saying the like earlier is one reason you reacted in the way you did, as if I had been promoting the ethos of libertines.

No comments: