A random set of ‘nots’

What do I believe, well here is a set of random ‘I do not believe’. And on each point I could be wrong!

I do not believe God is outside of time. Contrary to what is often said… in my humble opinion not shaped by a Jewish approach to time. Time is not primarily a scientific measurement but a necessary element ‘attached’ to personality. God awaits the future! With great anticipation.

I do not believe in ‘everlasting punishment / burning in a lake filled with sulphur’. I propose that the imagery used is of the burning up of Sodom and Gomorrah, imagery of total destruction with the smoke of its torment rising up. The destruction was ‘eternal’ – not open to change. So I land on ‘eternal punishment’ not ‘eternal punishing’.

I do not believe in predestination in the sense that it is often used, i.e. predestined to salvation. Every redemptive result is in Christ. Jesus is the ‘eternal elect one’ – anyone who is in Jesus is therefore elect from all eternity. My destiny… if in Christ then his destiny is mine (predestined).

I do not believe in God punished Jesus on the cross. I certainly have more work to do in my understanding of the cross, but there is no appeasement taking place there. God does not need to the cross in order to be able to forgive; we need the cross in order to find the path to forgiveness, and I think we need to back away from simply projecting what human forgiveness looks like on to God. The cross brings freedom from the powers, and that includes sin and death as a power (maybe the two centrally and united powers?).

I do not believe that salvation is a ‘ticket to heaven’. It certainly means finding a home in God at a familial level and becoming another means by which that wonderful era of the new creation can manifest to a level here.

I do not believe that God is male. This should be obvious, sadly not at a practical level. If God is not male we need to rethink so much. And what if (and this I believe) Jesus post Ascension is no longer male… OK I know I was supposed to be writing on what I don’t believe and I am in danger of straying just a tad, so will stop this one there.

I do not believe in a 6 day creation with a resulting young earth. Wonderful myth. Powerful myth. Deeply profound myth. World-changing myth. I think we should read it as (my opinion) intended so that it comes to us powerfully.

I do not believe that God instructed wholesale destruction. OH my this one challenges me and my reading of Scripture.

I do not believe the future is fixed in the sense of a set of events. A God of power could indeed do that… but a God whose very being is love (and all other attributes defined by what love, true love means) will always work with all possibilities to the one goal that we know as the ‘restoration of all things’. Yes, I do not dot all the ‘i’s’ and cross all the ‘t’s’ when it comes to omnipotence and omniscience. For me takes a ‘bigger’ God to act as I suggest. A more knowing God!! And if I am to image this God at any level down goes control and up goes love… and patience without losing hope.

I do not believe that the opposite of ‘election’ (church / those in Christ) automatically means damnation for others.

I do not believe every prayer is answered as we would like. Too many other factors involved! I do not elevate suffering, but how we respond to the setbacks becomes a great help to undoing the slavery that resulted to our sin (the whole of creation is groaning… God works all things together for good with those who love God and flow in God’s purposes). We do not exalt suffering… but it is the path to glory.

I do not believe in a millennial rule on earth, all too symbolic for me in a wonderful book of ‘cartoons’ (nearest genre we have to apocalyptic literature). One day the restoration of all creation withe fullness of God’s three-in-one presence with us. A permanent home for us… and for God.

I do not believe all of this is to burn up and I hope that we don’t simply limp out of here rescued by God. The last part expresses a hope that we can see some evidence of ‘new creation’ realities manifest around us. [And added to the last point, I am not post-millennialist either… just focused on ‘on earth as in heaven’.]

I do not believe that all those ‘outside of Christ’ are therefore devoid of the Spirit. The Spirit manifests in many ways, we who have responded to Jesus at a personal level are to manifest the Spirit as ‘the Spirit of Jesus’.

I do not believe that everything outside of the Christian faith is meaningless, simply that in Jesus is the ‘fullness’.

I could go on. And I could be wrong. This is why I have not signed a ‘statement of faith’. The Christian faith has a core to it – how could it not as it is centred on a Person? Outside of the core the variations are enormous. And I am supposed to find Scripture ‘useful’ and instructive, and to guide me to the Centre.

I hope you enjoyed the cursory run through. Please resist sending me a statement of faith – I am not smart enough to critique or agree with it!

15 thoughts on “A random set of ‘nots’

  1. Very interesting Martin! On one point, I do believe or sort of hope in some fanciful way that God is outside time so I can then pray for people who have died retrospectively that they received Christ on their before their demise or even just after they have passed away. But I can’t doctrinally defend this position really except by saying God is eternal, is just something I really hope is true!!?
    I would be really interested if you could comment on what you think about the both the Apostle’s and the Nicene Creeds and the statements made in them. If you have a chance etc. another time. Thank you.
    There is a lot of other stuff to unpack too in what you have written too.

    1. Time… not being a physicist this is a very difficult one… and from a philosophical perspective it is also incredibly difficult. If God ‘outside of time’ in what sense was there ever ‘a beginning’, was creation also ‘eternal’. Outside of time – in what sense is there personality… think, respond, emotion, choose – all of which is attributed to God. Has the second coming plus every other event happenned in an infinitessimal moment to God – does s/he/they not await that future too?
      Does God relate to time as we do? Is God limited to time in the same way as us? Can we even really talk about God on these kind of matters? God is not an oversized human!!
      For me there are mysteries in the extreme… beyond death being one of them. Faith says those who die in Christ are safe, present with Christ. Second chances, and ultimate salvation for one and all – well in that ‘cartoon’ book the gates of the eternal city are never closed. God will do what is right and mercy will triumph over judgement.
      Obviously a big theme in the Orthodox world is that of the harrowing of hell. If I get to that at some point I might well see it differently to how it is presented, but God is so much bigger than my convictions. Prayer, communication with God is always taken seriously by heaven.

  2. I think I’d go with most of that but – “‘Cartoons’ the nearest genre we have to apocalyptic literature” Martin – you crack me up! 😂

    1. Hi Rob… I think I too would go with most of that!!! Cos I could be wrong. On the cartoons – very difficult to get a comparison… goes beyond metaphors – ‘You frightened the life out of me’… does not mean I need a post-mortem! The over-statement communicates the extent of the fear. NT Wright uses ‘the Berlin wall coming down was an earth shattering event’, but does not suggest a (literal) earthquake took it down. I use ‘cartoon’ in the sense of political cartoons, maybe an eagle with characteristics in its face of Biden / Trump (take your pick!!!) and being ever so watchful across the globe but blind to what is behind it… In that sense the language of Revelation is very ‘cartoonish’ with a lot of OT imagery thrown in – beasts (not domestic) coming out of the Genesis creation accounts.
      Like I said – I think I agree with most of what I write!!

  3. Thought provoking as always Martin. I enjoy this and can see your point on all of it, however, I had an experience that seems to go contrary to your first point, that you believe God is not outside of time. So I slightly disagree with the first one…for now. I was once in a staff meeting on a Wed. morning where we were praying over needs people had written on cards the previous Sunday. One of the cards I had was a guy asking for prayer for an upcoming surgery on Tuesday…the day before. I first dismissed the request thinking his surgery had already happened…but as I went on to the next card…I had a distinctly clear thought that I assumed was God, “Since I am outside of time, you can pray for this man’s surgery today in the same way you would have prayed the day before his surgery. It is the same to me.” Or something very similar to this as memory isn’t always perfect. For me, the message was clear, God was saying to me that it didn’t matter if the surgery had happened yet or not…by praying for him either before or after the event, was the same to Him. Now, I realize this could have been my own thought, based on my own preconceived belief that God was indeed outside of time, that led me to “think” this was God’s thought given to me. However…such things do cause one to wonder…

    1. Your response to Joanna’s comments was helpful. Yeah…God is pretty big, and His ways are a bit beyond my ability to understand…but it sure is a fun journey.

    2. You are not allowed to quote what I am about to write… ‘You might be right, Mike, and I could be wrong’.

  4. Somewhat influenced by Tozer’s assertion that nothing can be outside God, I had been happy with the thought that time (an arbitrary measure of change) was not something that constrained God but rather a factor in his relationship with creation.

  5. Nigel… thanks. Rather than reply to your comment individually and given that ‘point #1 not sure I agree with that one’. It has always been a tricky one. How do we define time – a scientific measurement? If so how does it relate to space – space-time? Is it to be defined by our understanding / experience of personality, where there is a succession of events, responses etc., and certainly the Scriptures attributes such an experience to God – and for the God is outside of time people they have to posit those as anthropomorphisms (human language used of God to explain something but not with a literal application to God).
    God certainly relates to us in time. There was a time when the Second Person of the Trinity was not human – experienced by us and I suggest experienced by the Godhead also. Likewise there are events that are future for God – the parousia, new heavens and new earth.
    Try Thomas J Oord’s short essay:
    I think Greg Boyd goes for God is outside space… but inside time.
    Outside of time of course is very useful if one is of a Calvinist bent (wasn’t sure I could spell that word ‘Calvinist’), and lends itself (sadly) toward a more of an Unmoved Mover approach.
    Ah well!!!
    I put it up as the first point as I thought that will certainly bring about a reaction.
    I blame my YWAM connections. Back in the 70s and 80s Gordon Olson was teaching ‘Open Theology’ before it ever became a thing.
    Of course crazily the Greek idea of the ‘eternal now’ I always thought caused a bit of an issue with statements such as ‘In the beginning’ – what did ‘beginning’ mean to an eternal now. So creation became eternal. The crazy part is I probably think of creation as having no beginning. God the Creator was always creating… indeed I would rather take Gen. 1:1 as a dependent clause (perfectly legitimate with the Hebrew as far as I understand it) – when God… so rather than creation ex nihili there was the emptiness and mass all there all along!
    And finally – what do I know? Very little… and far better to know the God who meets me in MY time frame – whether it is God’s time frame or not is totally secondary.

    1. I think that’s what I meant by “a factor” in God’s relationship with us. Not saying that there is no time with God. Even “and God said…” has a before and after. Always enjoy your ponderings!

  6. And maybe a final comment… Sometimes we experience something in a very clear way that we have an interpretation to that seems so obvious, but perhaps there is a different explanation for. That makes for a lot of ‘fun’ and we can report it as we experienced it but probably inside we need to think that we might not be explaining this in a factual way – as something observably verifiable. Probably a number of readers will have had experience of those who have passed on from this world of the dying (we do not live in the land of the living!!). That makes for some interesting theologising and wrestling with Scripture.

  7. There is so much to unpack for folks bound up in human form, forced to see life through human constructs and interpreting everything with a human bias.

    Creation waits for us to take off our blinders…life and death are in the power of perception.

  8. There’s a lot of this that I don’t think I believe either, having jettisoned a number of things that were impressed on me (in a well-meaning way) in my youth. Others who attend my current place of worship would doubtless consider me a heretic if they knew the half of it. They would probably be particularly concerned that I don’t consider the scriptures to be “inspired” in the same way that they do. I think their view is very much that God was completely in control of the person writing, or something like dictating a letter, whereas I see much more “human” in the writing. If God gave me some idea, would I do complete justice to it as I wrote it down? I don’t think “inspired” therefore means “perfect” and so some allowance has to be made for the mindset of the person writing, which could include the general understanding of the time when it was written. Reading of scripture then has a certain degree of tolerance built-in. Of course people generally prefer certainty to tolerance (although buildings that are designed to sway withstand earthquakes rather better than rigid ones). Perhaps that links to the “wholesale destruction” non-belief? And perhaps the apocalyptic writings show this most (or indeed least!) clearly – I’ve also heard them referred to as being like sci-fi. No wonder we are warned not to try to use them to work out times and dates! This is picture language to try to describe a scenario that the writer couldn’t really fit into their own earthly context to start with.

    1. Hi Sheila you sum up where so many travel… I like the simple way you put the Scriptures as ‘inspired’ but not ‘perfect’. So many would object to that, but you open up a freedom and a constraint with that. Eventually I have to ask – as does everyone else – and what am I going to do with what I read.

  9. To the degree, and in whatever way, this blog, this thread, this group of correspondents are representative of any particular form of church family… I find this conversation a total delight, not because people are wrestling with things that are a bit big for us (we can always go back to the ‘Fathers’ to see how such negotiations first happened). What pleases me is the happy confession that how we give public assent and how we hold private questions are not necessarily the same thing. May it ever be so, until some sort of final arrival.

    It’s in the hints and nuances, little words that suggest pages of possible meaning. Your comments, Sheila, are the common language of our traditions. It has always, to my little mind, seemed obvious that the contortions required of those poor little verses in Timothy should be forced to carry a burden that they are so clearly not intended to carry. If what we say implies that scripture is inspired then it is our ideas of inspiration that will be forced to change. And, if indeed it was written by Paul, why does he make some earth-shattering definition of scripture just this once, almost as an aside, in a letter to a young protégé, that was never intended to be read publicly. Could it be, perhaps, that the writer is doing nothing of the sort? Far from being the thunderbolt that establishes for all time and everywhere the ultimate authority of the Bible, on actual reading, we see that authority is not the category that the writer describes. Scripture is described and applied, for Timothy, in a thoroughly utilitarian way… it is useful, so use it. For me the point of this is that by loading unintended import onto this definition of the book (excluding the NT of course because none of the writers knew they were writing it) we have enforced a definition of our relationship with scripture that itself might benefit from some adaptation, not least to its and our relationship with reality. The Lutheran vision, inevitably, tried to reverse the dominant equation. It suggests that our traditions are drawn from scripture and find their authority there. A very dubious contention. This sought to replace the more Catholic contention that it is the tradition that provides the authority of scripture. The book is authoritative because the church makes it so. Here again, profitable conversation requires redefinition of the idea of something being authoritative. Today people prefer to think about authenticity or some such. Then others react and redefine the redefinition, sometimes surprisingly (I could follow a common example by bringing in Hauerwas at this point, but I won’t. Oh, I just did!)

    Perhaps it is just a necessary rationalisation to wonder if it is our certainties that make us stupid, just because our uncertainties are becoming so commonplace. As I get older, which seems to be happening awful quickly at present, I lack the belligerence that I always lacked, only more so. There was a sweet little exchange on, I think, Andrew Perriman’s blog a long while ago. Instead, he suggested, of thinking that religion is what humans create when they are frightened or fundamentally ignorant (salvation being science). Why not see that religion is what people do to find expression for wonder. That religion is, or perhaps should be, more of a question than it has been allowed, at least in public, to be. Instead of finding our way with a dynamic orthodoxy that constantly seeks to maintain soft faithfulness to gentle praxis, even at the ultimate cost, we resort to forms of dogmatism that are driven by conceptions of power that might, at last, be failing us rather more happily than we care to admit.

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