[First of a ten part series]
I began this essay after I read a story reporting that “[T]he lead singer of the popular Christian band ‘Jars of Clay’…downplayed the authority of Scripture on moral issues and suggested there was nothing wrong with same-sex-marriage.”
The article says that Dan Haseltine explained himself in a series of tweets:
“I just don’t’ see a negative effect to allowing gay marriage. No societal breakdown, no war on traditional marriage. ??Anyone?”
“I don’t particularly care about Scripture’s stance on what is “wrong”. I care more about how it says we should treat people.”
“Just curious what ‘condoning a persons homosexuality does. Does it change you? Does it hurt someone? What is behind the conviction?”
“It is perhaps less important to know what is ‘right and wrong’ morally speaking, than to know how to act toward those we consider wrong.”
“Tweeting Scripture to settle my questions of gay marriage isn’t helpful. Simple answer to complex questions=meh.”
“Ah! The messiness shows itself! J. False dichotomy. Can we love and judge? Can we not condone and love? Is it our job to convict and love?”
“Arranged marriage? Marriage out of convenience? Marriage out of pregnancy? Etc…It’s as vague a term as Christian.”
As I was reading Mr. Haseltine’s tweets it occurred to me that they epitomize the effects of ideas that defy logic in general, and the logic of God’s Word in particular, but which we nonetheless encounter among people who profess to teach and preach Christianity. First among them is the idea of “unconditional love”.
According to the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, the act of creating the cosmos (i.e., the whole of all things) takes place in and through God’ Word.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was from God, and God was the Word. This Word was in the beginning from God. All things came to be through him, and apart from him not one [thing] came to be. (John 1:1)
And God says, “Become light” and light comes to be.” (Genesis 1:3)
With this in mind, let’s consider the word “unconditional”. It takes root from two Latin words “con” meaning with, and “dicere” meaning “to say”. So a condition is a word or words that accompany the existence of a thing, informing the understanding of it. Where creation is concerned, the Bible makes clear (especially in the New Testament, John 1:1-3) that God’s Word informs the existence of all things. No thing exists apart from it.
But in the word “unconditional” the prefix “un” is privative. The word “unconditional” therefore refers to something that exists on its own, by itself, in conjunction with no word of information. If creation comes to be through God’s Word, so that nothing in creation exists without God’s Word, then the whole of creation is conditional. Moreover, the same evangelist is inspired to write “For in this way God loved the world, such that He gave His only begotten son, so that those trusting in him are not destroyed but have eternal life.” Thus by giving His Word, God shows His love, but the effect of the gift, which is eternal life, is precisely conditional, i.e., it safeguards those who trust in the Word.
But what is trust? Since in this context it involves the difference between destruction and eternal life, it is not just what we call a state of mind. It is literally a condition for existence. We stand, as it were, above an abyss. God’s word bridges the abyss, keeping us from being drawn into it. As long as we stand upon God’s word, we exist. When we step away from God’s word, our existence falls away into abysmal dissolution.
This description conforms to the situation depicted in the opening of the Book of Genesis. God is there, His Spirit restlessly pervading His limitless being. This being without limits is the literal meaning of the original Greek expression from which we take the word “abyss”. Without definite limits, nothing exists. When God speaks, His word communicates by way of His spirit, informing the abyss, which forms itself according to the expression of God’s Word. Thus in and through this expression, light comes to be.
The existence of light depends on the information provided in God’s word. Apart from that information, light dissolves into the limitless, restless being of God from which it emerged. That information provides the parameters that distinguish light from God’s way of being without light, much as the data encoded in a computer program causes the enlightened pixels on a computer screen to distinguish themselves from those that remain dark.
In many respects, this description of the first instance of creation brings to mind Jonathan Edwards’ famous depiction of the human condition, that we are “sinners in the hands of an angry God.” From the perspective of beings such as we become on account of Eve’s mistake, beings uninformed by reliance upon God’s word, the restless being of God is like a storm. His tireless activity seems to have no respect for the parameters that distinguish us from the rest of His infinite being, in which there appears (on account of our perverse will) to be no expression for us; and which therefore gives and takes no account of us. Once informed of it (as we were by nature when Adam and Eve consumed the forbidden fruit), such disregard for the possibility of our existence strikes us from deep within as fearsomely hostile. This our perception makes sense of Edwards’ reference to God’s anger.
Edwards’ reference to the hand of God roughly approximates our dependence upon God’s word for our existence, such as we are. Given the our increased knowledge of how information works as the basis for our existence, a more timely analogy (that also tracks with the full exposition of man’s fallen condition in Edwards’ famous sermon) might be conveyed by the phrase “outcasts in the eye of the storm of God”. This phrase refers at once to the perspective of God (how we appear in His eye on account of Eve’s mistake), and to the relative peace that is possible when we rely implicitly on God’s Word, which is like the calm that prevails in the eye of a hurricane.