Let us suppose that in your living room is a fine chesterfield armchair. You have grown to love it, maybe it was handed down to you by a relative, or maybe you saved for it and brought it new. In my case it was one that someone else was getting rid of. A friend comes around one day, and you show them your chair, and they tell you they cant see a chair. You are stunned. Its right there in front of you. They give you a long and convincing argument proving beyond all reasonable doubt that the chair does not exist, not only has there has never been a manufacturer of chesterfield chairs, but there is no such thing as a chair at all. You invite them to try it out – to sit on it, but they maintain that there is nothing to sit on. You sit down yourself – and they respond by saying you are just crouching, there is nothing under you but air.
At this stage there are two possibilities, either your friend is right, there is indeed no chair, its something your over active imagination has created, and your friends arguments are correct, or despite how logical your friends arguments are you are correct there is a chair. His arguments do not make the chair vanish, and however convincing they are the chair still exists as it always has.
It seems to me that for the most part I have felt this way about faith. My belief in God can be seen in the same way as my belief of the chair. That someone might give an argument showing that the chair does not exist has not bothered me, its there – I can speak from experience. Yet recently I have tried to sit down and found myself on the floor. The question I am now faced with is – did I attempt to sit in the wrong spot – or was my friend right – did I imagine the chesterfield armchair?
My initial response to this problem has been to examine that arguments of the person who says there is no chair, to see if I can find a flaw in them. I will continue to attempt this approach – but at the same time, I will keep trying to sit down. As of yet I have no idea how often I will need to find myself sitting on the floor before I give up on my belief that I didn’t imagine the whole thing.
After careful calculation we have established that we can make it through till boxing day! There is some food in the fridge, nectar vouchers, and other such things. I was chatting to my brother the other day about christmas trees, as he was asking for advice on them. I mentioned that we couldn't afford one this year, and the long suffering wife was being very good about this although its a big thing for her. Later on in the day him, and my brother turned up - with an early christmas present - a christmas tree.
The wife is completely delighted, even though its the oddest tree in the world - and bends at a very odd angle (she has always liked the underdog and this improves it no end in her eyes). I am very touched that my brothers got it for us. I dont mention the yearly pantomime i go through with the wife about not wanting a tree, and being fed up with pine needles dropped on the floor - about lack of space. This year i just smile and watch her put up the decorations.
After my last blog i had an offer of some financial help from a reader - one i wont be taking up, but was really very touched by. While this may be a sounding board for feelings of despair at times, i dont want it to be a begging bowl. The offer was deeply appreciated - but we will find a way through, and just having the offer makes us feel a little less alone - and in honest a little guilty for complaining. Its cold outside, really cold - and i have a warm bed tonight, a beautiful wife, and a gorgeous daughter. What more could i ask?
We have now been without any form of income since the 1 December. Our benifits claim has not yet been dealt with. We have £20 in hand. Thats it. Things are looking black. I want to weep. As Winston Churchill once said however, if you find yourself in hell, keep walking. Standing still is not an option. So i fill in application forms, and I look for more things to sell. We have been living since the 1st of December on money from books i have sold. I think i will have to have another look through and see what else i can sell.
Today I 'signed on' for the first time in some twelve years. the experience itself was fairly painless, however it didn't do my ego much good. However, there is a hole in my shoe, and i cant afford new ones. I find myself with a constantly soggy foot, which really isn't a pleasant sensation. Even with the money i will get from the benefits agency, i will still struggle to find money to repair my shoe, its all a bit of a worry really.
to make life really difficult Housing Benefit is not paid if living with a relative. We are living with my parents, renting from them at £500 a calendar month. Unfortunately they can not afford to house us without rent, and so we will have to be put on the emergency housing list, and as such will probably be housed separately. My wife, and baby will be put up in a bed breakfast while i will be offered a park bench on which to sleep. The cost of the bed and breakfast? Yes, you guessed it..more than that £500 a month rent. It feels very dark right now. I am phoning the council again tomorrow morning to see if a better resolution can be found, but admit that i dont hold out much hope within the system. It seems I may soon be officially homeless.
Pending the benefits claim we are living on money i have made by selling books.
The job market is not good right now, although i was amused to see there is indeed a category for clerical - yes indeed, you can apply for a job as a vicar through you local job centre. I indicated at the job centre that i would be happy to take temporary work - but was warned that doing so for anything over 16 hours a week would result in my claim being stopped and me needing to reclaim. A weeks work, would result in a weeks pay, followed by sorting out a new claim, and the inevitable delays and time without money and so i have been advised to avoid temporary work which seems frankly ridiculous by any measure of common sense.
It is the tornados 1st birthday on Thursday. I am aware that what a child needs is love not presents, and in honesty i wouldn't want to run out and spend £40 on tat, however, I confess, i don't feel good about the security i can offer her right now.
some time ago i looked at joining the third order (fransicans) but decided that the local group wasn't for me. I may well still explore other orders. They all contain a vow of poverty in some shape or other - maybe i should be giving thanks that this is being thrust upon me and the family.
In this and a number of other post titled Heretic I will outline current theological dilemmas I am wrestling with. My hope is that posting these questions to this blog might result in finding answers to these questions. Response are welcome.
I will begin by painting a picture of the afterlife, a thumb nail sketch of what is understood by the after life for Christians. I will then look at some of the variations that exist within this belief, before raising some questions about particular problems that come out of these beliefs.
When God calls last orders on the universe a time of judgment will come when all humanity will be held to account for the way they have used the gift of life they where given. All but one person will be found guilty, none will have been found to have used the gift of life to its full. In passing judgment on humanity God will condemn all but the one person who lived a life as intended to Hell. Yet standing behind the one who was found worthy is a line of people who each step within his footprints and our judged not by their lives but by the life of their master. They, as the one who is worthy are given a gift greater than the temporary earth bound life that they lived, they are given the gift of an existence that will stretch through eternity and will be lived in perfect joy and harmony in heaven and on earth. This new existence is beyond the imagination of any human, as to live in harmony with God is that most wonderful of all things. There will be no suffering, no pain, no anguish, no regrets even for those who did not walk in the footprints of the master.
The concept of Hell as eternal punishment for humans has fallen somewhat by the way side in all but conservative evangelical circles, in part this is due to a changing concept of justice. Most of us would not wish on our worst enemy eternal punishment, and we struggle to envisage a crime that could be committed in a human’s lifetime deserving of such a punishment.
While the scales of justice may have not be properly balanced upon the death of someone who has committed horrific acts during their life time, hell as eternal punishment appears to be a vastly disproportion response particularly when viewed in light of the experiences that have led an individual to commit horrific acts. As such the concept of hell as eternal punishment results in injustice occurring.
To address this, some Christians argue that Hell is a place to which people go and die an instant and final death – they simple cease to exist. This belief is called Annihilationism. This in itself carries with it some major problems but I will address these issues at a later stage. Others argue that everyone will go to heaven (Universal Reconciliation) this view was held by Alexendria, Antioch, Cesarea, and Edessa.
Despite the distaste with which the concept of Hell is viewed, many Christians continue to believe in a literal Heaven to which they or a part of them will go after death.
As with the issue of who is destined for hell, the details of who will or won’t make it into heaven appear far less clear to modern Christians than those in antiquity.
Entrance to Heaven
The traditional Christian understanding is that the only route in to heaven is through a personal commitment made to Jesus, in which the individual acknowledges Jesus as Lord and saviour. Some add to this requirement a necessity to live a transformed life from the point of conversion, it is not enough to simple declare one believes, but this needs to work itself out in the life of the individual.
This raises difficult questions about whether a child or someone who has never heard the Gospel message will receive a place in Heaven. A common response to this is the suggestion that God will judge each person according to their knowledge, hence a child might gain immediate access, and someone who has never heard the gospel might be judged according to there belief or unbelief based on the natural evidence of God they find in the world and whether they have followed their own conscience.
Subsequent questions such as what happens to people of other religions, and whether the quality of the proclamation of the gospel an individual has received effects the judgment of their belief or unbelief remains a grey area into which few theologians dare trend.
New Heaven, New Earth?
Even accepting the issues outlined above as solvable, a more fundamental issue exists in the conceptualisation of a ‘new Heaven and Earth’. Many Christians now address the afterlife in terms of a new Heaven, the idea of a new Earth receiving little attention and being conveniently forgotten by all but the most keen end time watchers. Whether addressing a new Heaven, a new Earth, or both, the belief is that a place will exist which is without pain, suffering, pain or sin. This will be a perfect existence spent with God.
In the current scheme of things Christians universally acknowledge that humanity has the capacity to sin, an opportunity that it embraces fully. This in turn is seen as the cause of much of the life’s pain and misery, but is ‘a necessary’ evil in that it is only with the ability to sin that humanity might have free choice in its actions, and so have meaningful existence. If sin is not possible in this new creation (as suggested by Rev 21:4,27) then it follows that:
a)freewill will have been sacrificed to create this utopia, or
b)freewill and a world free of pain and suffering can co-exist.
The third option is the original assumptions are incorrect, and that freewill does not necessarily result in sin.
In scenario a, freewill is designated to be of less importance than this peaceful future existence. This argument may indeed be seen as justifiable, but if this correct then it seems the current scheme, one in which freewill and suffering are allowed to exist is a poor creation, particularly as we have knowledge of a far better scheme, which is indeed the future plan of the creator but has for some reason not yet been actualised.
Option b, is an attractive one, and seems to follow with the argument that all humanity is capable of resisting sin, Jesus providing the ultimate proof that it is possible to do so. For this new creation to work then each individual must choice to not sin, the failure of one individual to make this choice threatening the entire scheme. How likely is an individual to make a choice to sin, having seen the full Glory of God? We are told that Lucifer was a fallen angel, which even if viewed metaphorically tells us that such a fall is at least possible. It seems that if heavens population is to be large then the likelihood of such a fall seems high, almost inevitable. This would result in the new creation becoming sullied and failing to achieve its aim.
The third option as mentioned is that the freewill does not necessarily result in sin, yet, we are told that all have fallen short of the glory of God, and so it seems that even if this is not a necessary consequence of freewill, it is at least the likely outcome.
Reconciling the problem
This is where I stumble, it seems clear that traditional models of belief regarding an afterlife are deeply flawed. Whether this should result in a belief that there is no afterlife, or that current concepts of afterlife need to be revised is unclear. Comments are welcome.
Tonight is my last night in a theological collage. At some point i will post some reflection on what is done well and what is done poorly in the training of priest, but tonight its far more about feelings than anything else.
As an ordinand I was given a key to the chapel, in the evening before sleep i would go and sit in the chapel a pray. It was only after the decision to leave had been made did it occur to me that that the door to the chapel would be locked to me. As a priest, you spend a life time with the shared cure of souls, and with it you have the keys to 'the house of God'. Life is far more certain than for most. You know you will be housed, and you are given a good living - a stipend.
As I have walked around the grounds tonight i have felt a profound sorrow for all that is lost to me in leaving. I will not serve at the Alter. The hopes i held for things that could be done in a church will have to be left to others.
Mostly I feel very alone, and very worried about the future. What will i be doing for a living in six months time? How will I support my family? How will I work through my relationship God? I have a fear in sharing even here my doubts my questions as i have no desire to draw others into doubt, its not a comfortable place to be, and i have no desire of platitudes in reply to questions that tear me in two - or three.
Yet despite the doubts, the worries, and the fears, still i pray - still I call out to a God though i expect only silence in reply - Hold me till morning comes, and place your blessing on my wife and daughter.
After church this morning an elderly member of the congregation came up to me and the long suffering wife and said:
With the noice you daughter makes, i just wonder, had you thought of leaving her at home?
i was tempted to point out that we dont have a nanny but instead said, you know the bible says Jesus got very cross when people tried to stop children coming to him.
She responded - yes dear, children, not babies.
The long suffering wife left in tears. It only takes one person in each congregation to insure that people are put of. Congregations are in decline, and it seems that for someone with a baby there is a sign outside saying you are not welcome here. The tornado is not incredibly loud, she is good natured, and if she does cry we take her out, but if she is gargling a bit we dont. This is not an isolated incident however, we have experienced the same thing in 4 out of 5 churches we have been to.
I realise that some like an atmosphere of silence of peace, a chance to concentrate and focus on God. However, if people are sent away for 3 years when they have children then they will never come back, as maybe is shown by our emptying churches.
Hello, how do you do, welcome to this the new home of my blogging. As frequent flyers will know this will be an irregular program of ramblings about my home life and the occasional step into matters theological.
me - Andy Nomynous. I am 34 years old, and have just exited from training for the preisthood. the current plan is that i will become a theologian in some shape or form instead. How this will be achieved is as yet very unclear.
The long suffering wife - The long suffering wife has been married to me for some seven years? I am guessing seven years anyway.. but i'm not good at dates and things. In marrying me she joined in a roller coaster ride that has led from one disaster to another - despite it all she still declares she love me.
The tornado - our soon to be year old girl. She is very high energy, very smiley, and much to my surprise not yet broken. I haven't dropped her once, or lost her! This has come as an incredble shock to everyone who knows me.
Sinful Theology? Well one of my big topics of study currently is sin. What is it? What is good? What's it got to do with God? I am also a heretic. I lurch from one set of unbelief's to another, normally with a great deal of clumsiness.