Monday, January 31, 2011

Denying the Cat

I was reading this morning from a book called Hiding From Love. I haven't gotten very far in the book, but I made it to the third chapter. The book suggested that the world is not the way that it was supposed to be; it's not ideal. As the book put it, "this wasn't plan A." It struck me as a very Arminian way of looking at things. But then again, is it? It got me thinking.

The Ideal:

On some level, we all believe in "the Ideal." What is "the Ideal?" The ideal is the way which we feel that things should be.

This is a moral ideal. When we do not fulfill the moral ideal, we feel guilt or shame -- unless of course, over time we deaden our conscience to those feelings. When others do not fulfill the moral ideal, we feel angry perhaps, or else we forgive them, and we contemplate whether justice or mercy should be dealt to them. We would not "forgive" someone if they were not "in the wrong." What is "in the wrong" but an evidence of some sort of "right" that the wrong isn't? That "right" is part of "the Ideal." A system of moral imperative; that is part of the Ideal.

This is a practical ideal. When a loved one dies young of terminal cancer, when weeds grow in the backyard, when a tire goes flat -- we feel that ideally this shouldn't have happened. Ideally, in a perfect world, there would be no need for the curse. This curse is a punishment, a necessary part of life at this point, but what is "punishment" but practical consequences of distance from "The Ideal?" If the pain WERE ideal, then it would no longer be considered a negative, and therefore no longer a punishment.

For instance, consider the phenomena of optimism. How do you know that you are being "optimistic" when you say that a trip will go smoothly? Is this not a reference to the fact that we all subconsciously understand that "ideally" trips are helpful and not harmful? What is optimism, if not hope for the ideal? What is pessimism, but expectation that life is not ideal? Either way, there is this understood premise that one circumstance is more Ideal than another. If you say that a particular romance will end in happy marriage, and you call that "optimism," is not the implication that the Ideal ending to righteous romantic longing is fulfillment of that desire?

When we show love to other people, we mentally refer to "the Ideal" in order to determine how to show love. Why do we try to offer medicine and aid to those who come to the hospital? Because somehow we feel that the Ideal is for people to be physically healthy. Why do we give to "charity?" Because we feel that love prompts us to expend effort to help people become closer to that Ideal state.

The Ideal is not one aspect alone. The Ideal includes not only emotional and practical ideals, but also as mentioned before, moral ideals. All of those aspects of the ideal make up "THE Ideal." (I refer to one aspect of the Ideal as "ideal" and I refer to the totality of ideal aspects as "Ideal.") This Ideal is written on the hearts and consciences of every human being. One of my favorite Trans-Siberian Orchestra songs refers to this Ideal in this way:

This night - we pray
Our lives - will show
This dream - He had
Each Child - still knows

We are waiting
We have not forgotten

Ah yes, that claim right there: the dream that each child still knows, that Ideal, is the dream that "He" had. And who is He? The Son of God. What does the song mean, in the lyrics "this night we pray [that] our lives will show this dream"? Very simply, it means that we ought to shape our lives to match the Ideal that God has dreamt up. If we are inspired by righteousness, by God's ideal, then on a practical level we will aspire to live in harmony with that, even when it means making costly choices.

Denying the cat:

"The strongest saints and the strongest skeptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument. If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do.

The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat." (Chesterton's Orthodoxy)

I had to throw that quote in here just to explain where I got this concept of "denying the cat." You see, the fact is, real life is a far cry from the Ideal. "Ideal? What is this 'Ideal' you speak of?" Every salesman telling a bald face lie, every sock that disappears in the dryer, every women who is devalued or taken advantage of, reminds us of this discrepancy between the Ideal and the actual world in which we live and breath.

So how do we explain this discrepancy between reality and the Ideal?

There are many explanations, but one explanation which I do not find plausible in the least bit is the simple denial of this discrepancy.

You see, once you admit a discrepancy between the Ideal and Reality, then you have a problem. Once you know that there is a problem, perhaps it might bug you that this problem exists. Perhaps this annoyance will lead to the search for a solution, but it is an annoyance.

Denial #1 - There is no Ideal, everything has a different ideal.
This objection states that the ideal tomato is not the same as the ideal laptop, and therefore the concept of an ideal applies to every situation individually, but there is no one Ideal which includes the Ideal of everything, since what may be ideal for one entity may not be ideal for another.

From a Biblical perspective, though, in which all beings need God, and God is not only capable of meeting all the needs of the creatures, but also loving (desirous to do so) and has no needs of His own, there does exist one Ideal which is Ideal for every entity all at once. The true Ideal includes the ideal tomato, the ideal laptop, the ideal person, and the ideal world - all at the same time, nothing is lost.

Denial #2 - We often are wrong about what the Ideal is, and therefore it's just a figment of our imagination and is not an objective fact.
For instance, a child may think that eating more candy would be ideal, but a parent knows that such a reality would not actually be ideal. Take this one step further, and one can argue that everything we think ideal is just based on our limited perspective.

Again, from a Christian perspective, although we never know everything perfectly, we do believe there is objective truth. We are often wrong about what truth is, and that does not at prove that truth does not exist.

Denial #3 - Reality IS the Ideal.
All of our moanings and complainings about how people "should act" different, or qualms with death and curses - all of that is because the Ideal contains us believing the Ideal is not ideal and then some of us come to new understanding and contentment that this IS the way it all should be.

Evolutionists, for instance, take the path of the third ideal. There is no fall, no sin nature; everything is as it should be. The selfishness and killing and disease is all part of the Ideal system which promotes only the survival of the fittest. Suffering and even immorality, then, is ideal - as a part of their complete Ideal.

But if this is ideal, how can they complain if their wives cheat on them? Or if strangers kidnap their children? Is that not also ideal? Is there not nothing better than this? They complain about their proclaimed Ideal, and therefore contradict themselves.

For a more sharp contradiction, though, some Christians claim that reality is the Ideal because God has willed it. Not holding to the belief that God could allow something that He does not want to happen (for indeed, if anything happened that God did not "want" to happen, how would He be Sovereign?), some claim that God wants sin to occur.

Do you remember that song which mentioned "this dream He had?" By this logic, this reality we see around us full of blasphemies and darkness, this IS the dream He had. This is what He wants, and there is nothing more Ideal than this. So what is the contradiction here?

  • If suffering is ideal -- being part of the Ideal and being desired by God qua the end He has in mind -- then we should not complain about it.

  • If sin is ideal -- being part of the Ideal and being desired by God qua the end He has in mind -- then we should not complain about it.

  • If sin is ideal -- being part of the Ideal and being desired by God qua the end He has in mind -- then God would not speak against it.

If God speaks against something, then by definition it is not Ideal, for who determines the Ideal but God Himself? Now, you can have a good result even when the means are not ideal: some pain helps us to grow. But you cannot have the totality of the Ideal if there is one aspect which is not Ideal. This is the essence of "Ideal." Ideally, we would all be perfect and grow without needing discipline and suffering.

If God calls one aspect of the ideal an "abomination" to Him, and abominations are not ideal, then there is a problem. If God complains about an ideal part of the total Ideal, then part of the Ideal is not truly Ideal. And if the Ideal is not Ideal, then the very concept of an Ideal is a contradiction. Furthermore, if the concept of an Ideal is not a true concept, then we have no basis on which to define optimism, help, or morality.

The Discrepancy:

There is gap between what we righteously hope for, and what actually occurs. There is a gap between the ideals put forward in the Scripture and in the Laws of God and the actions of men around us. There is a gap between heaven and earth. There is a discrepancy between the way things ought to be, and the way things are. This gap between the way things ought to be, and the way things actually are, ought not to be. The world not being ideal is not ideal. Those who say it is ideal for the world to be less than ideal do not understand the concept of "Ideal."

If there is anything in the world about which God says "This is an abomination," then the world as it is must not be what God views as the Ideal for this world. If we ask "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven," we confess with our mouths that heaven is closer to the Ideal than this earth is - that God's Ideal is more closely followed there.

We are called, here on earth, to personally aspire closer and closer to God's Ideal. How will we be able to pursue this ideal, or a life of good works pleasing to God, if we claim that God wants sin and that sin is also ideal (an aspect of the Ideal)? If we believe in the sin nature, and affirm the doctrine of the fall -- the classic Christian explanation for the discrepancy -- then we cannot also affirm that the way the world is perfectly the way God desired it to be. And if we cannot affirm that the world is now ideal, then we must hold to the belief that God allows the world to to vary from his desired Ideal, for some reason.

Whether this reason be that God desires His own glory, or that God desires "true relationships" with His creatures, it must be clear that God, in allowing the world to be less than ideal, acted intentionally. It must also be clear that God allowed this fall from the Ideal and did not indeed desire this fall from the Ideal, or else, again, the fall would be Ideal, which leads to contradiction.


JD said...

Really good! Nice way of disproving different interpretations of how the world is or isn't. And to answer the initial question, yes, it is a rather Arminian way of looking at things.

drwayman said...

I really liked this and particularly enjoyed the conclusion: God acted intentionally.

That sounds like a God who is worthy of worship.

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