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Old 08-29-2007, 12:23 AM   #46
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it does make sense. but i think we're mixing two different things. i understand your understanding, and it makes sense to me. what doesn't make sense to me, and what i'm trying to hammer on, are these sentimental notions of "God's Plan" and how we're to have what seems to be an intensely personal relationship with him, and how individualized human suffering is part of said "plan."

basically, if you think God controls everything, and that nothing happens that isn't part of his Will or Plan, then how do we confront evil and suffering and the whole WBTHTGP phenomenon? and i think the answers become less pat when we confront genuine suffering at it's most basic and grinding level.

it seems to me that there's a cruelty embedded in the very condition of being human, and i'm wondering why it's there to begin with, if we're supposed to be all "in his image" and stuff, and if he loves so much and wants us to chat with him everyday though some sort of celestial IM.

having both been through a relatively mild trauma and working on projects where i come very, very close to massive trauma, death, gore, etc., and deal with individuals who deal with this on a daily basis like police officers and EMTs (though they seem to have trained themselves to not get so reflective), i am genuinely troubled by the human capacity for suffering. we talk about the human capacity for good or for evil, but there's something about being constructed of flesh and nerve endings and the existence of pain that i find incredibly unsettling, almost a big, sadistic joke. like we've been set up, somehow, and i don't think we really deal with this horrible reality.

and i'm babbling. i should wash up and go to bed.
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Old 08-29-2007, 02:58 AM   #47
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This is a really rewarding exchange to watch. I don't have much to add right now, but this discussion exemplifies the kind of thing I look forward to coming here for.
Quote:
Originally posted by Irvine511
it just seems to me that these attitudes, these non-doubting attitudes, these attitudes that tell us to praise God even when terrible things happen for it is all His will and who are we to understand, are products of a highly privileged Western society where bad things really don't tend to happen and tragedy is little more than anthropology and something from which to draw a bit of fortune cookie anecdotal wisdom.
I think that may be a bit harsh--I have known people who lived through 'mass suffering' and nonetheless believe more or less the way you describe, and it's not because someone handed them a fortune cookie or some clerical equivalent of a used car salesman gave them some pretty speech telling them just what they needed to hear, and they were simple people so they lapped it up and poof! problem fixed. Rather that after months or years of living alone in their heads with forms of anguish and torment I couldn't begin to comprehend, they 'simply' concluded that this is truly what they believe. I think maybe as much as a reawakening of faith in humanity as in God really; finding accountability to the one within the other. If someone wants to say, "Poor things, if that's the crutch that helps them, let them have it" then that's their right, but I don't say that; to me that's in its own way as aloof and callous as beating back the questions altogether with an easy "Ah but that was man's doing, not God's" or "Someday all will be made clear to us". I'm not saying I understand it, or suggesting anyone else should--it doesn't work for me either; my view of the universe is more like melon's, if maybe a bit more agnostic about God's connection to the 'laws' governing it. And I do agree there seems to be something discomfitingly wrong with anyone who, as one who claims God exists and that that means something wondrous, can look at footage from death camps, flood zones, trauma centers or the like and not be chilled to the bone by the absence of (abandonment by?) God in what they're seeing (though when it's thrust at them as "Justify THIS!" that almost invites it, and perhaps the 'benign' naïveté you described comes in here also). Because what's that all-important relationship worth in moments like that, really? For the sufferer, probably pretty much nothing, and I can't imagine God reaps too many rewards from it either. Part of what intrigues me about this MT book is that I gather it addresses the idea that the despair occasioned by repeatedly contemplating profound suffering, the rawest of vulnerabilities, and the devastating isolation which accompanies all that is itself a form of experience of God as 'direct' as any associated with joy and intense feelings of interconnectedness. It's an idea which has always fascinated me--if that's the appropriate word; I don't say that it's a good or wise experience to intentionally immerse yourself in perpetually.
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Old 08-29-2007, 03:43 AM   #48
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Originally posted by Irvine511

it just seems to me that these attitudes, these non-doubting attitudes, these attitudes that tell us to praise God even when terrible things happen for it is all His will and who are we to understand, are products of a highly privileged Western society where bad things really don't tend to happen and tragedy is little more than anthropology and something from which to draw a bit of fortune cookie anecdotal wisdom.
If we go based on this logic, then the places where there is no privilege and plenty of tragedy would be actively fleeing God. But how then do you explain the explosion of faith -- specifically Christianity -- in places like sub-Saharan Africa? On a missions trip there last year, witnessing miracles on the order I've never seen, a child said to one of the doctors there, "You people in the West want God. Here, we need Him."
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Old 08-29-2007, 04:15 AM   #49
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Originally posted by Irvine511
basically, if you think God controls everything, and that nothing happens that isn't part of his Will or Plan, then how do we confront evil and suffering and the whole WBTHTGP phenomenon? and i think the answers become less pat when we confront genuine suffering at it's most basic and grinding level.
I agree with you -- the answers become less pat because they become more profound. The nature of free will means living with the results of decisions I've made, which means that -- in some insane way -- I have been invited to become an active partner in human history, for better or worse. Which makes the pain we inflict on each other each day -- whether psychological, spiritual, sexual, or emotional -- all the more intense.

Quote:

there's something about being constructed of flesh and nerve endings and the existence of pain that i find incredibly unsettling, almost a big, sadistic joke. like we've been set up, somehow, and i don't think we really deal with this horrible reality.
What's the old saying -- only those who love deeply hurt deeply. Our sensitivity to both pleasure and pain is what makes us human, I suppose -- and would we really sacrifice the promise of pleasure for the threat of pain?

As an aside, a book I read in high school, when I was going through the first of several spiritual crises, was really good on this subject -- "The Problem of Pain" by CS Lewis. Read in conjunction with "A Grief Observed," it paints a vivid portrait of a believer who experiences among the deepest pain anyone can.
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Old 08-29-2007, 06:44 AM   #50
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I think the message I take home from these exchanges is that while belief in God may be beneficial, God himself is useless.

Entitled to maybe some grudging respect for past laurels, but vulnerable to the challenge What now, Old Man?

That's not a challenge to those who believe, but a challenge to God himself.
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Old 08-29-2007, 01:26 PM   #51
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I think the message I take home from these exchanges is that while belief in God may be beneficial, God himself is useless.
Actually, I rather think the opposite -- for me, following the Scriptures without knowing the Author is useless, since so much of (Christian) belief centers on the identity of Christ, the Personhood of God, and His desire for relationship with us. The whole book is less a book of rules (although there are certainly some) than it is a love story to His people, and love needs both a lover and beloved. I think this is one of the reasons why there is so much hypocrisy in Christianity -- people take the book without the Author. When that happens, you can apply whatever truths you want -- and unfortunately for a lot of Christians, that leads to self-righteousness, pride, and judgmentalism.

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Entitled to maybe some grudging respect for past laurels, but vulnerable to the challenge What now, Old Man?
Given how much suffering we humans inflict on each other every day, and given that there are more opportunities than ever for us to completely annihilate ourselves at any given opportunity, I would hesitate to imagine a world where His hand was stayed completely.
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Old 08-29-2007, 01:41 PM   #52
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Originally posted by nathan1977

The whole book is less a book of rules (although there are certainly some) than it is a love story to His people, and love needs both a lover and beloved.


i don't have the time to get into anything in-depth (will get to that later tonight) but this struck me. i can see the Jesus "story" as something of a love story, but do you see the God of the OT as loving his people? the angry, wrathful, smiting, petty, jealous, genocidal God who doesn't think twice about wiping out the planet with a flood if he is displeased?



[q]Given how much suffering we humans inflict on each other every day, and given that there are more opportunities than ever for us to completely annihilate ourselves at any given opportunity, I would hesitate to imagine a world where His hand was stayed completely.[/q]

but how much suffering is inflicted in "His" name? i guess i think, as Yolland mentioned, we can only go so far with the whole "God doesn't kill people, people kill people" refrain. many, many look at the blueprint of their religion and see it as not just an excuse, but a justification for hatred and suspicion that can turn murderous, and they can just as easily point at you and call you something akin to a false prophet because you take a different approach. and, i think the question still stands -- if you do think that His hand intervenes in the world, where is he when we most need it? where is it in Darfur? in Iraq? on the beaches of Sumatra or Sri Lanka? in Chechnya?

the other thing i'll add to this is that i recommend everyone check out the website, and perhaps order the video, of an oustanding PBS Frontline documentary, "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero."

it addresses much of this. and it's superb.
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Old 08-29-2007, 01:48 PM   #53
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and because i can't resist, let me toss out one quote from Ian McEwan that gets to the heart of what i think i'm trying to get at, though i don't share his atheism:

[q]But I think my cumulative experience of life suggests to me that the distribution of misfortune is completely random. Children die of cancer and bad people live a long time. Good people get crushed by a truck. ...

In other words, if there is a God, he's a very indifferent God. The idea of prayer seems to me almost infantile, this appeal to an entity who could intervene -- who clearly hasn't intervened. Or if he has intervened, he's done so malignedly. It sort of makes me rather feel sad when I heard priests talking about Sept. 11 and reminding us that God moves in mysterious ways. Well, spare me this God, I say. I prefer to regard this in human terms.

When those planes hit those buildings and thousands of innocent people died and tens, twenties, hundreds of thousands of people started to grieve, I felt, more than ever, confirmed in my unbelief. What God, what loving God, could possibly allow this to happen? I find no resource at all in the idea, and it saddened me to see, hear, listen to priests tell us that their "sky god" had some particular purpose in letting this happen, but it was not for us to know it. It just seemed to me sort of irrelevant, at least. And I could probably think of stronger words for it -- an offense to reason really. We have to understand the events of September the 11th in human terms. ... The healing process, too, is one that's in our hands. It's not in the hands of the "sky gods." It's only for us to try and work it out.[/q]
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Old 08-30-2007, 12:58 PM   #54
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Originally posted by Irvine511

i don't have the time to get into anything in-depth (will get to that later tonight) but this struck me. i can see the Jesus "story" as something of a love story, but do you see the God of the OT as loving his people?
I do, actually. Throughout the OT you can see incredible promises of blessing that stem from a relationship with God, and consistent human unfaithfulness. Yet no matter how unfaithful we are, how willing we are to engage in patterns that ultimately lead us into bondage and slavery, God always brings us back. He does not spare His people the results of their wandering (if He did, we really would be mindless automatons, wouldn't we?), but He always tries to move them towards a future filled with hope. Jeremiah is an amazing book filled with both God's heartbreak at how far His people have wandered from Him, to the point where they have become captives in Babylon, but also incredible words of love and promise that He will bring them home again.

Quote:
but how much suffering is inflicted in "His" name? i guess i think, as Yolland mentioned, we can only go so far with the whole "God doesn't kill people, people kill people" refrain.
Two thoughts on this. I'm not sure how much of the suffering inflicted by God's name can actually attributed to God himself. I don't think humans need much of a reason to kill each other. Tribalism, money, religion -- people will use whatever reasons they can to subjugate each other, and have throughout time. Again, it's my belief that when people live outside of relationship with the Author of the Scriptures they're quoting, those verses can say pretty much whatever anyone wants them to say, and can justify whatever base human desires they want to.

The second thought is that I think we are naive to assume that God is the only force working in the universe, and if we accept the existence of a Being devoted to working for good, then it's only logical to assume there must be an opposite opponent.

Quote:
i think the question still stands -- if you do think that His hand intervenes in the world, where is he when we most need it? where is it in Darfur? in Iraq? on the beaches of Sumatra or Sri Lanka? in Chechnya?


You brought up 9/11. I remember on that day how newscasters repeatedly talking about how no one knew how many tens of thousands of people were in those buildings. And in the weeks that followed, as story after story came out about people who should have been in the office that day and weren't, for one reason or another, it struck me that perhaps that is the measure of God's grace -- not that bad things don't happen, but that bad things are not as horrible as they could be.

Have you seen "God Sleeps in Rwanda"? It's an incredible documentary, Oscar-nominated a couple of years ago, and includes stories from women who were affected by the genocide whose faith should have been eradicated, but wasn't. And the stories of God moving in Africa are profound. And knowing missionaries who are on the ground in Iraq and Chechnya and Darfur, trying to feed and house and clothe refugees and those in poverty, I can say that He is there too -- oftentimes having to work against the darkest excesses of our own broken humanity. For better or worse, He has given us agency in our world, and it's frightening to see how we have used it.

I don't recall the interview where Bono talks about how in essence it was us who threw God out of the Garden at the start of time, but I think that sets up an interesting prism through which to look at the relationship ever since.
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Old 08-30-2007, 02:37 PM   #55
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I do, actually. Throughout the OT you can see incredible promises of blessing that stem from a relationship with God, and consistent human unfaithfulness. Yet no matter how unfaithful we are, how willing we are to engage in patterns that ultimately lead us into bondage and slavery, God always brings us back. He does not spare His people the results of their wandering (if He did, we really would be mindless automatons, wouldn't we?), but He always tries to move them towards a future filled with hope. Jeremiah is an amazing book filled with both God's heartbreak at how far His people have wandered from Him, to the point where they have become captives in Babylon, but also incredible words of love and promise that He will bring them home again.




and when they disobey, he kills them all?





[q]Two thoughts on this. I'm not sure how much of the suffering inflicted by God's name can actually attributed to God himself. I don't think humans need much of a reason to kill each other. Tribalism, money, religion -- people will use whatever reasons they can to subjugate each other, and have throughout time. Again, it's my belief that when people live outside of relationship with the Author of the Scriptures they're quoting, those verses can say pretty much whatever anyone wants them to say, and can justify whatever base human desires they want to.[/q]


this, i think, dances around the earlier question of just how much we can blame on people, and how much we can actually blame on God/religion/The Bible. if it's invoked so often as a means of justification for all sorts of horrible behavior, isn't there something about the source material that makes it such an easy rationale?




[q]The second thought is that I think we are naive to assume that God is the only force working in the universe, and if we accept the existence of a Being devoted to working for good, then it's only logical to assume there must be an opposite opponent.[/q]


this seems to me to be a contradiction of your earlier assertions of free will -- for if the Devil makes us do it, does that mean we have free will?








[q]You brought up 9/11. I remember on that day how newscasters repeatedly talking about how no one knew how many tens of thousands of people were in those buildings. And in the weeks that followed, as story after story came out about people who should have been in the office that day and weren't, for one reason or another, it struck me that perhaps that is the measure of God's grace -- not that bad things don't happen, but that bad things are not as horrible as they could be.[/q]


we can all look at the bright side of a plane crash or a car wreck (hey, there were four girls in the car, but only the two in the back were torn to pieces), but that seems like we're making excuses for our abusive spouse. he only threw me down the stairs, at least he didn't hit me with a baseball bat! it just seems terribly co-dependent and automaton-humble when the end result is you still had 3,000 people incinerated and crushed on a random Tuesday morning.



[q]Have you seen "God Sleeps in Rwanda"? It's an incredible documentary, Oscar-nominated a couple of years ago, and includes stories from women who were affected by the genocide whose faith should have been eradicated, but wasn't. And the stories of God moving in Africa are profound. And knowing missionaries who are on the ground in Iraq and Chechnya and Darfur, trying to feed and house and clothe refugees and those in poverty, I can say that He is there too -- oftentimes having to work against the darkest excesses of our own broken humanity. For better or worse, He has given us agency in our world, and it's frightening to see how we have used it.[/q]


i haven't seen the film, but i have heard of it, and i'd need you to be more specific when you talk about how god is "there" in these places, or the "miracles" you've spoken of -- it seems to me that if something not-horrible happens, it's possible to take it as evidence of God's love for us. it becomes very horoscope-like. we take events and work them so that they fit the narrative we've already decided is correct -- that God loves us and is working on our behalf -- and it's less that i think that is incorrect (it could be, as an agnostic i won't dismiss the idea) and more that i don't think it holds logical water because it becomes incredibly subjective.

and for every person who's been through the fire and found God -- and i know there are many -- there are others who've been through the fire and decided that, no, there's no there there. i wrote a journal entry on this a while back, and not that i'm at all comparing my experience to the greater calamities of human history, the experience of physical trauma left me more alienated to notions of a supranatural force and more in touch with the precariousness of the flesh, and how it is the flesh that produces consciousness and self-awareness, that it is all biologcially based, that nothing is external.

but that was my experience, and it was thankfully not as serious as it could have been.

and as a counterpoint to the Rawandan documentary, here's a quote from Dasha Rittenberg, a Holocaust survivor who had a different reaction to human savagery:

[q]I can only describe evil by giving you what I remember. Not what I read in books, but what I with my own eyes and ears heard and saw. Evil. What happened to my parents? They were the last people to leave the ghetto and they were taken to Auschwitz. I know that they were burned into ashes. My mother, my father, my three brothers, my younger sister, my uncles, my aunts, their children, burned into ashes. That's all I have seen in humanity is evil. I have seen hangings. I have seen shootings. I saw one man, his name was Mischka. He was a Ukranian. He was drunk. He would just go killing every single day. He had to have his blood on his hands -- Jewish blood. Evil. You want to hear more? So? All the ghetto life, the hunger, the poverty, the lice that were crawling on my body. Evil. Evil people just patting their dogs and then killing a child because it was Jewish. Evil? OK? Hitting, slapping, for no reason, because you were not even in line with the next person. Being hit by dogs and bitten -- the blood running out of your feet. Evil. People would go to sleep every night and get up in the morning and eat and drink and be evil. Were they too created in the image of God? I don't know. What does it say about God?[/q]





Quote:
I don't recall the interview where Bono talks about how in essence it was us who threw God out of the Garden at the start of time, but I think that sets up an interesting prism through which to look at the relationship ever since.
so, again, bad things happen because we are bad? Grandma gets cancer because she's been bad? because others have been bad?
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Old 08-30-2007, 11:15 PM   #56
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Wow. The discussion continues.

I just read this great blog at www.relevantmagazine.com on this subject. Here it is.

Doubting Teresa
Posted on August 30, 2007
Filed Under Jason Boyett |
I read with great interest the recent news about Mother Teresa’s battle against doubt and uncertainty in her faith. In a new collection of her letters called Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (which releases on Tuesday, Sept. 4), readers will apparently get an intimate, transparent look into the emotions and spirit of one of the most revered religious figures of the 20th century. Most of us have been pretty surprised at what these letters reveal. The famed nun — a woman who dedicated her life to serving the poorest of India’s poor in the name of Christ — tells of her nearly lifelong struggle with spiritual emptiness and the silence of God.
There’s been plenty of bloggy commentary about the contents of the book, most of which hit news cycles a few days ago to ramp up the book’s publicity campaign. Some have criticized the publisher for exposing these obviously private (and pain-filled) letters to the public — Teresa apparently wanted them destroyed, but the Vatican held onto them as the potential relics of a saint-to-be — but I’m thrilled to read them, because they give me hope. Here’s an excerpt:
If there be God – please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul… How painful is this unknown pain – I have no Faith.

“Thrilled” is probably the wrong word to use in relation to someone’s private spiritual pain. No one wishes spiritual emptiness on anyone else, particularly those of us who struggle with it from time to time. I don’t rejoice in her suffering, just as I don’t rejoice in my own doubt and spiritual dryness. But I have hope because “I have no faith” is a statement I can identify with. It tells me that Mother Teresa, the super-Christian, was just as human as me.
Mother Teresa has always been an inspiration to me, but she was so high up on a spiritual pedestal that I could hardly relate, a living icon of sacrificial love and the simple life of a Christ-follower. Say what you will about the canonization process and merits of sainthood, but she had serious credentials. Decades of sacrificial service, selflessness, and heart-breaking work on behalf of the “least of these.” Wisdom. Compassion. Simplicity. Perspective. All things I aspire to, and all things she seems to have had in spades.
And yet we have this one thing — this spiritual darkness — in common. My darkness comes and goes. Some days I trust completely in the life and resurrection of Jesus and am deeply committed to the radical fullness of life in the kingdom of God. But some days I find myself…wondering. Wondering why some people seem to have a broadband connection to the voice of the Almighty when all I’m getting is the crackly static of some distant AM station. Wondering why some people are overcome with emotion during what they consider to be a Spirit-filled worship time, while I’m just thinking, “Boy, the worship leader sure knows how to use a good key change and drum crescendo to good effect.” Wondering why some days my prayer life consists of little more than a mumbled recitation of the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema, while others are not content unless their prayers are also accompanied by shouting and weeping.
My doubt and uncertainty have been constant companions ever since my college days, when I started reading more widely and studying more theology and breaking out of the Southern Baptist bubble in which I grew up. But it seems that Teresa dealt with her doubt from as early as 1953. She died in 1997. That’s nearly 45 years of crackly static.
Does this darkness cast any doubt — pun, unfortunately, intended — on the possibilities of her sainthood? I’d be surprised if it did. Because as impressed as I was with her before these letters were made public, I’m more impressed now. She worked and lived and suffered for God for decades, even though the felt presence of God was virtually absent from her life. She gave and gave and gave — pouring herself out on behalf of others — with almost nothing available to fill her back up. She felt abandoned by the God who had called her to such a difficult ministry, and yet she continued in that ministry for the rest of her life.
Abraham dealt with God’s absence for large periods of his life. Job asked hard questions of God with few answers (at least, until the whirlwind). David wrote psalm after psalm bemoaning the Lord’s hidden-ness. “How long will You hide Your face from me?” he asked in Psalm 13. In Gethsemane, Jesus questioned God’s plan — I’ve always read “take this cup from me” (Mark 14:36) as a statement along the lines of “isn’t there any other way?” — and notably dealt with God’s absence on the cross. The disciples even doubted the risen Christ when he appeared to them post-resurrection.
And now, we learn that Mother Teresa doubted, too. A lot.
So why are we so afraid of doubt? No one ever seems to talk about it at church. We put on our happy Best Life Now (TM) masks and shiny spirituality and sing our way through another couple of verses of the latest victorious praise song and don’t tell anyone we’re struggling with uncertainty. Why? Probably because it scares us: we think maybe our faith is unraveling. It’s messy: we’re not willing to admit we don’t have it all together. It’s socially unacceptable: I’ve been to churches that publicly ask you to “leave your doubt at the door,” because a doubting spirit can, according to their theology, mess up the effectiveness of prayer.
But the story of Mother Teresa — along with the stories of Jesus and David and Abraham — gives me hope. It lets me know I’m not alone. It gives me the freedom to be real, to admit I’m not always tight with the Almighty. And it reminds me of grace. I’m not saved because my theology is rock-solid. I’m not saved because of the certainty of my faith. I’m not saved because God always feels real to me. Nope. I’m saved because of Jesus.
So was Mother Teresa, the patron saint of doubters.
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Old 08-31-2007, 12:03 AM   #57
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i still don't get the "saved/not saved" obsession.

do people realize how patronizing that is to non-Christians?
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Old 08-31-2007, 12:08 AM   #58
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do people realize how patronizing that is to non-Christians?
Some people just don't care.

It sickens me.
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Old 08-31-2007, 12:28 AM   #59
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i still don't get the "saved/not saved" obsession.

do people realize how patronizing that is to non-Christians?
What don't you get about it? That's the whole point of becoming a Christian -- to be saved from your sins. That's why Christ came.

Also, keep in mind the article I posted was written for a Christian magazine, so of course the audience identifies with the saved part. So in this case it's not an "obsession." Does that make sense?

And actually, what the author says toward the end is incredibly beautiful and he's right. The promise of salvation isn't made based on our feelings, or theology, lack of doubt or anything else. It's based on the work of Christ on the cross and our acceptance of that. That's it.
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Old 08-31-2007, 12:40 AM   #60
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i still don't get the "saved/not saved" obsession.

do people realize how patronizing that is to non-Christians?
Is there supposed to be an expectation that they shouldn't be?
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