Friday, February 27, 2015

Why would God allow suffering? Part 2

First, so much suffering humans experience—really think about it—is answered in my first point in my previous post (which you need to read!). That is, being victimized—suffering when we don’t deserve it—is almost always caused from another person’s evil choice.

This even counts when family and friends are devastated by someone’s suicide. That person’s decision is causing the suffering. And it is completely unfair to those affected. They didn’t ask for that pain and suffering and trauma. God didn’t cause the pain; the person who died caused the pain.

This counts for so many millions of children dying of starvation. Evil rulers and despots refuse to care for their people. They withhold food and water. It causes their people to die of starvation.

This counts for a whole, wide range of suffering around the globe. Most suffering humans experience in the world is experienced because another person is causing it or caused it. And that’s the real, awful shame: we humans could do good instead of evil.

Second, this really only leaves natural events: you know, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc. That is, some suffering is because of the Laws of Nature. When a construction worker falls off a roof and breaks his leg, it’s the result of the force of gravity. When water fills up a town during a hurricane and people drown, it’s because humans can’t breathe under water. We could go on and on with examples of “natural disasters.” Of course, it’s only a “disaster” when it causes humans to suffer. We don’t call lightning strikes in the wilderness, which can kill trees and the organisms and insects on those trees, a “natural disaster.” It’s just what nature does. It really only bothers us when humans suffer.

Now, it’s crucial to understand that natural laws are necessary for humans. They allow us stability and the capacity to cultivate crops and develop society. Imagine trying to grow crops with dirt floating around in zero gravity. Imagine attempting to build a civilization if there were no natural laws or uniformity: random black holes, fluctuating gravity patterns, stars bursting into existence by the moon, etc. It would be absolute chaos. Human flourishing would be impossible. We need laws. Laws are good for us.

Unfortunately, of course, these laws cause things to happen that can cause humans to suffer, like hurricanes and tornadoes. Hurricanes are wonderful for the ocean’s climate. They feed wildlife in the ocean; they redistribute heat energy in the oceans; they dump millions of gallons of water on land, which is drunk by not only all wildlife and plants, but also humans. I wonder how many millions of gallons of water were dumped into cisterns and wells deep within the Earth when Katrina came to shore.

That is, (at least some) natural events do good (even if we can’t yet know every single way it does good). The only problem is: they can cause humans to suffer. And that bothers us.

So, the question goes like this, “God, why did you create the Laws of Nature like the way they are if they can cause humans to suffer?”

The answer is not revealed in Scripture or in revelation. Could God have created a universe or planet with humans on it without hurricanes? Without tornadoes? Without the rise of cancer or H.I.V.? I guess so.

What I do know is that the suffering natural events can cause is necessary for humans to experience a wide range of character-building opportunities. I can develop courage, patience, sacrifice, generosity, humility, etc. when serving those who have suffered.

And this is the point where atheists can get so mad. I mentioned “character-building.” This leads me to my third point.

Third, in the Christian worldview, your physical/emotional pleasure is not the ultimate good. Your lack of suffering is not the ultimate good. Your physical life is not the ultimate good. God (and what He wants) is the ultimate good. We are not God’s pets, brought into existence to be raised in the most comfortable environment possible, given treats whenever “good,” and kept as happy as possible.

I cannot overemphasize this point enough. When Christians say that God is “all-good,” we do not mean what the typical atheist means by goodness: the prevention of suffering. We do not mean that God wants humans to be happy at all times. God is certainly all-good; it’s just that His goodness is not manifested by making sure we never suffer. God’s goodness is manifested by His unrelenting care for our good. This is the whole ballgame. God cares for my good, not for my happiness. My “good” involves a whole range of character-building experiences in an effort to get us to behave, think, and value just as Jesus does.

Any parent with basic, healthy goals for their children understands this point. I absolutely adore my children. What I most certainly do not want for them the most is “for them to be happy” (the most common expression I hear from parents). What an absurd, childish, silly goal that would be. Crack addicts are happy. Sociopaths are happy. Thieves are happy.

I want my children to develop profoundly healthy, Christian character. And this means that I will deliberately limit their happiness in some areas and even cause them suffering in order for their characters to develop in the way I want.

And to want this is not sadistic. It’s called good parenting. My kids must get ready for the real world. They need to have the character necessary to meet the demands of life. And it’s my job as their parent to make sure their character is ready for adulthood. If I only make sure they are like my pets—fat and happy—then I will have failed them miserably! (Though my pets aren’t fat…spare the emails.)

God, to say it once more, does not want us to be happy all the time. His goal is to form us into the image of His Son. This will involve multiple instances, instances that might include suffering, where I get to develop my character to be like His. 

There is simply no way around this fact: the Christian narrative presents God as one who is chiefly concerned with my good, not my happiness. Jesus suffered and died a tortuous death on a cross. Moreover, He guaranteed suffering would occur to His disciples. There is simply no way around this fact. You cannot believe that God really just wants you to avoid suffering while Jesus, God's Son and the Messiah, died a horrible, suffering death. In fact, Jesus's suffering demonstrates another key element of suffering: that is suffering one person experiences so that another person does not.

And that’s a great thing. It’s a really good thing. We live in a world, with other free-willed moral agents and natural events that gives us plenty of opportunities to develop our character and to suffer on behalf of others; to be really, genuinely morally responsible for other people in their pain and suffering; to be able to suffer ourselves so that other people are morally responsible for us; etc. They develop their character; we develop ours. Our planet is a huge classroom. And every day we have the chance to learn something.

The problem is, many people think that God is the progenitor of the “American Dream.” We think God is good only as much as He makes sure we’re blessed, rich, safe, and comfortable…that our dreams come true. (And let me tell you, I know that this message sells millions of books!) Unfortunately, that’s false. It’s simply false (Read the Gospels and tell me that God is chiefly concerned with my happiness…).

Fourth, not one single thing I’ve said so far makes suffering fun, easy, likeable, nice, or awesome. Nothing. It takes one single picture in our mind of people drowning in hurricane waters, tsumani waves, the winds of a tornado, the starvation of a person without adequate rainfall or produce, the murder of a child, etc. to give us a visceral response to suffering. Believe me, I hate those realities too.

So, I need to be very clear here: the fact that people suffer is not good. The fact that we have the opportunities to develop our character is good.

If there are good reasons for suffering in our world, then why do I still hate suffering? Why do I still have an emotional response to suffering?

Because it’s suffering. It’s pain. We’re supposed to have emotional/psychological response to suffering so that we go do something about it. And no amount of intellectual answers make our visceral, emotional responses go away. They shouldn’t.

Now, this is a very big deal. Why? Because most who reject Christianity because of suffering do so because no amount of explanation makes the emotional response to suffering go away. It still bothers them tremendously. My point here is: it should. I don’t know any Christian I’ve ever met in my life who is also not terribly bothered by the suffering in the world. If you’re waiting on suffering to feel good before you’ll consider Christianity, then I’m afraid you’ll be waiting forever.

Fifth, understanding why suffering occurs will never ever make suffering easier to experience. That’s not how the psyche works. To be very clear—the very best response to suffering is to grieve, not to seek for answers as to “why.” I don’t like to have my tooth pulled even though I know perfectly well why it needs to be done. Knowing “why” doesn’t make the suffering go away. Suffering still hurts no matter what I understand. Of course it does; it’s suffering.

Sixth, in the Christian worldview, which is true, all suffering will be punished or rewarded. The ancient prophets believed that God caused the ancient Jews to suffer from time to time because of their disobedience. That is, God would inspire certain nations to attack the Jews or cause droughts, etc.. This caused much suffering. In the New Testament, we learn that God no longer does that. God’s punishment for all humans who are not Christians will take place on what we call the Day of the Lord (Yom Adonnai) or Judgment Day. Of course, embracing the gospel obviates judgment.

And for Christians, we will be rewarded for our role in the Kingdom of God by the grace of God (e.g., Matt 16:27). The apostle Paul, who was betrayed, beaten multiple times, shipwrecked multiple times, hungry often, imprisoned constantly, was also concerned, worried, or depressed for his churches at all times. He knew suffering. He knew it well. And he gives a response to his immense suffering in life that only befits the Christian worldview:

“Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal” (2Co 4:16-18 NET).

Seventh, ancient Jews and Christians never once saw suffering as evidence that God didn’t exist. They questioned God’s thoughts. They might question His attentiveness or awareness to a person’s plight. What they didn’t do was become atheists. And we don’t have evidence (though it certainly might have happened) that any Jews ever stopped being observant Jews because of suffering.

The same is true of Christians. They might return to believe in their former gods, but they wouldn’t turn into an atheist. Very few people in the ancient world would qualify as an atheist. However, Christians most certainly could reject Jesus after they experienced suffering (e.g., Mark 4:17; Hebrews 6:4-6). This is why Christian authors constantly encouraged their audience to “endure” or “to conquer” (the temptation to reject Christianity)—to make it to the end faithfully (e.g., Mark 13:13; Hebrews 10:36; throughout Revelation).

Eighth, perhaps the most common reason why a Christian is able to survive immense suffering in life is the one reason that is most allusive and frustrating to atheists: because we trust God.

Now, why in the world would we do that? Is because we’re just stupid? Blind to the truth? Oblivious? Desperate to believe in something? Just because it brings us comfort? Perhaps. Perhaps there are Christians who believe they can trust God for these reasons. It’s just that I don’t know of any serious, thinking Christian who would espouse such views.

I sure don’t trust God for those reasons.

I trust God during suffering for two reasons: (1) The biblical narrative demonstrates to me that God can be trusted. God uses every single event in history in His grand scheme of establishing the kingdom of God. Jesus’s ministry and life, death, and resurrection tells me that God is profoundly loving. It tells me that in the midst of extreme suffering, He has not abandoned me. It tells me that suffering is to be expected and that He is the best source of comfort I have available. (2) My personal experiences of suffering have been so much more tolerable because of the real, actual presence of God. I haven’t experienced God’s peace all the time or in every experience. Nope. But, I have enough to know that He’s present with me.

And this isn’t unique. You can speak with millions and millions of Christians who will tell you the same thing. They will tell you that they have really, genuinely felt a kind of hopeful peace in the midst of suffering that sustained them. Go ahead. Ask them.

Finally, I want to end on this analogy…a parable if you will. Imagine that you commit to picking me up for work one day because my car broke. But, you never showed. Because of that, I got fired. My boss didn’t care why I didn’t show. It now means I must move to a cheaper place. My kids won’t be able to get those braces they need. My wife will have to work longer hours because of it.

Someone comes up to me and asks me about the suffering I’m going through. They inquire as to why I’m going through it. I tell them it’s because I counted on you to follow through on your commitment to me. This person declares, “You really think that your friend exists?! Really?! Where was your friend when you needed him?”

I respond, “I don’t know. He hasn’t told me yet.”

The person continues: “You really think any friend would do that to you? Either your friend doesn’t exist, and you’re just delusional and seriously need medication; or, your friend is a villain. There’s simply no way around it. Either your friend is a fairy tale or evil.”

(What would you think of this person’s charge against you?)

I might respond, “No…no. You don’t know my friend like I do. And this is crucial: if you knew my friend like I do, you would trust him. I know enough of my friend to trust him when things happen that I don’t understand. Eventually he’ll tell me why his absence caused this suffering. But for now…I trust him.

Now, don’t miss this: Imagine how hard it would be for me to convince you that my friend is trustworthy without you knowing him like I do. No matter what I said to you, you’d not be fully convinced that my friend is fully trustworthy. You’d think me a little crazy. Moreover, and maybe more importantly, you'd never place your trust in my friend based solely on my testimony about my friend. The only way to trust a person is get to know the person personally--yourself. So it is with God. You might think I could trust him; you'd not be inclined to put your trust in him yourself. This is precisely why we don’t ever start with someone’s absence when getting to know someone’s character. We start with what we do know about the person.

Christians don’t make some blind leap of faith into the unknown. We don’t begin with absence and just hope we’re right. We trust a God who revealed Himself in Jesus of Nazareth. We start with what we do know and then trust Him with what we don’t know.

And until you know God the way most Christians do, no amount of response to the problem of suffering will suffice. And I don’t blame you! I wouldn’t trust someone I didn’t know.

But, boy…am I so glad I know Him.


I hope you do too.

(Want more? Keep reading here and here.)

Why would God allow suffering? Part 1

It seems the most common explanation for why a person either can’t believe in the Christian God, or abandons their Christian faith, is the existence of evil and suffering.

The classic response goes like this: If God is all-good, he wouldn’t allow evil/suffering. If God were all-powerful, he wouldn’t allow evil/suffering. So, either God is either not all-good or not all-powerful, or perhaps, both.

The major objection being: there is no way an omnibenevolent and omnipotent Being would allow evil/suffering.

First, let’s get one type of suffering out of the way with celerity, viz., suffering caused by someone else’s evil choices. Every time someone is murdered, beat up, raped, lied to, betrayed, etc., it’s because a human has made an evil choice. So, to be clear, when a free-willed moral agent decides not to do the right/good thing, but instead chooses the bad/wrong/evil thing, it can involve causing another person to suffer.

And of course, it sure is easy to focus on the suffering other people cause with their evil choices, and not pay attention to the suffering that we cause when we choose to do evil. Evil choices aren’t just done in other people. Suffering isn’t just caused by other people. We do it. And we do it well.

This kind of suffering, i.e., suffering caused by someone’s evil choices, isn’t usually that difficult for people to accept rationally.

So, to answer the question, “Where is God when people suffer from another human’s evil choices?” We say with ease: He’s certainly aware and very, very disappointed that the person is doing the evil. God hates evil. The one doing evil could have just as easily done the right thing. This is why hell is a moral necessity: moral agents who choose evil will receive a response from God. And they won’t like it. Our evil choices do not go unnoticed.

And remember, free will is a great, great good. It allows for morality, good choices, and good character. It allows us to do genuine good deeds to other humans, animals, and creation.

So, to say it once more before moving on: there is no reason to have outrage over suffering caused by the evil choices humans make. It is not God’s fault at all that a person chooses evil and causes suffering; it’s humanity’s fault. It is simply ridiculous to blame God for a person’s choices. Be mad at them! Be outraged at them! God is not to blame for what a free-willed moral agent chooses. This is why evil has nothing to do with God’s goodness (humans are to blame) or power (God doesn’t control our free will).

Second, there is a kind of suffering that any rational human basically accepts. This is the kind of suffering we experience when we’re the cause of the suffering, or when we’ve given someone else permission to cause me to suffer. When my muscles hurt after I’ve been to the gym, it’s perfectly acceptable to me. It’s my fault. I chose it. That suffering is acceptable and fair. When I suffer at the doctor’s office when the needle is inserted into my arm, it’s perfectly acceptable to me. It’s my fault that I went to the doctor when sick. I chose to be in this position and knew the consequences. There is no moral outcry over this kind of suffering.

The same is true for suffering that other people experience when they are the cause of the suffering. When someone crushes a can on their forehead and it causes a terrible headache later, that’s perfectly acceptable to me. It’s his fault. That suffering is acceptable and fair. There is no moral outcry over this kind of suffering.

The kind of suffering that demands an explanation by most people is when a person suffers for a reason that is not caused by the person. That is, people especially demand to know why suffering occurs when a person is a victim.

It is basic human psychology – we all want to know why we’re experiencing suffering to determine if the suffering is fair or not. One of the most disturbing things I’ve ever heard was a woman on a 911 call. She was fighting off an attacker who was about to rape her. She yelled out, repeatedly, “Why?! Why?! Why?! Why?!” through her tears. Now, do we really think that she wanted an intellectual reason for why she was about to be raped so that being raped would be OK with her? Nonsense. The reason why she bursts out with those repeated demands to know why is because of humanity’s deep rooted sense of justice. It’s not fair that this man is about to rape her. It’s not fair. She wants to know why he would do this to her when she’s done nothing to deserve it. If he were to give her a reason that he thought was justification, would she had said, “Oh. I get it. Go ahead and rape me?”

Of course not. She’s a victim. I imagine another thing she would have screamed out had it occurred to her in that horrible event is, “Don’t do this! This isn’t fair! I don’t deserve this!” And she’d be right. She would be vindicated; he should be in prison, being raped.

My point now is this: the moral outcry people have toward suffering really only occurs when a person feels that the suffering isn’t fair. When it’s not deserved. When the person who is suffering isn’t the cause of the suffering, or didn’t give someone else permission to cause the person suffering.

So, the real problem with suffering is this: there is suffering in the world that is not the person’s fault. That’s what bothers people. And the demand humans have from God is this: “Why do you allow suffering for which there seems to be no justification? That is, why do humans suffer at times when it wasn’t their fault? Why would God cause or allow that kind of suffering?”


I have a few things to say in response. That comes in Part 2.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

How to re-earn someone's trust after I've betrayed him/her

Trust is like a savings account. Healthy people let their “trust account” fill up slowly. When a person demonstrates trustworthiness over a period of time, the trust account gets full. This allows real, deep, rewarding bonding.
Betrayal empties the trust account. Whether it’s your friend, family member, or spouse who betrays you, betrayal depletes the trust account severely. This is especially true in marriage. For example, a spouse’s infidelity depletes a trust account in full…instantaneously. $0 left.
I’ve known dozens and dozens of people who’ve been betrayed by family members, co-workers, friends, and spouses. I’ve been betrayed several times in my life from people I deeply trusted and loved.
Being betrayed is one of the most wretched experiences a human can have.
sad-couple.jpg
The other day I did a counseling session with a man who has had a sexual relationship with a woman for years, including during the first couple years of his new marriage. His new bride just discovered the truth. He told me that she was still committed to him, though she’s in immense pain. He wanted to meet to ask me what to do next.  
I told him there are four absolutely necessary, foundational things he must do in order to restore his marriage. (Though it's a debated issue within Christianity, just know that my own view is that if a person repents of their sins within a relationship, it is better to work on restoration. Yet, I do believe that infidelity is certainly a justifiable reason to end the marriage.)
(Note: these steps are applicable for the one who betrayed someone. If you’re the victim, then there are other steps for you. Also, while these steps were given concerning infidelity within a marriage, they are applicable to any close relationship.)
#1 = You must absolutely be sure that you want to remain committed to the covenant you made with her and God on your wedding day. There can be no gray area or middle ground. In this man's case, he had yet to bond completely with his wife because he was splitting his time, energy, and sexual pleasure with another woman. This couple hadn’t really been married yet. And I told him how crucial this first step is: If he wanted to make things better just to make his wife happy, then he would probably be unfaithful again, or at least, leave her in a few years holding resentment toward her. I reminded him of what he already knew: that’s not what Christians do. They make a covenant and maintain it. If he repented of these sins, and she wanted to remain in the relationship, then there was still hope that they could get fully bonded. He needed to make up his mind first. Would he throw away his covenant for good, rescinding the covenant he made in his vows? (Not good) Or would he finally, really commit to the vows he made? 
This first step includes stopping whatever pattern you had previously and receiving accountability. This is especially true if you have an addiction. Get with a Christian counselor and really figure out what led to those decisions. You need to separate your past from your present. This allows you to really get committed to your marriage vows.
#2 = You must absolutely absorb—carefully listen to—all of the profound pain, rage, and grief you caused her. And this is crucial—you cannot, under any circumstance, make excuses for what you didTake it. Take her emotions. Listen. Just sit there and listen. Don’t make excuses; don’t obfuscate; don’t circumvent. She will need to spew, and you are the one she needs to spew on. You’ve been carrying around poison and you just dumped the poison on to her. And she has to get it out. On you.
Now, if this takes years, so be it. Take it. She didn’t cause this. She’s a victim to your awful, stupid choices. Take it for as long as she needs to spew. In every single couple I’ve counseled through the years, the ones that did not reach restoration after betrayal, it was because this step was avoided. I’m telling you, if you don’t take it—all of it—then the person won’t feel validated. And without validation, she can’t heal fully. The trust account will never, ever get refilled. The person will just be terrified that you’ll do it again and then not take responsibility for it.
I once went to a basketball game with a guy I barely knew from church. He told me on the way how he had affairs during his marriage before…but hey, he was in a bar and had drunk too much. What was he to do? This is called “playing the victim.” And it ruins relationships. I thought: “You should have left the bar and kept your freaking zipper up.” Shockingly, they are divorced now…
Take full responsibility for your actions. It's the only way to heal.
#3 = When she’s done spewing on you for that episode, apologize. Really apologize. Say exactly how what you did caused such destruction. You must name the damage you’ve done to herName it. Tell her what stupid, evil, horrible choices they were. Tell her how you recognize the pain you’ve caused. Tell her how profoundly sorry you are. And mean it. If you don’t mean it, it’ll just make her more angry and sad and it won’t help her or you or your relationship. So, really, really, deep down, apologize every single time she spews on you. Forever. Never stop (unless she says it’s OK to stop apologizing, which is possible).
#4 = Go out of your way to demonstrate change and trustworthiness. Nothing—not one single thing—is too small. Does she need you to send a picture from your phone where you are every five minutes? Then do it. Does she need to purchase a tracking device to put on your car? Then do it. Does she need you to call her every hour to tell her where you are? Then do it.
And the second you make excuses and come across defensive, she’ll know you’re hiding something and you’ll continue to maintain an empty account.
Remember, your trust account is utterly empty with her. Nothing you say matters. Nothing. So, you must demonstrate that you can be trusted.
Here’s a tip: ask her what you can do re-earn her trust. Give her options like the ones I just mentioned. Let her see that you’ll stop at nothing until she sees that you can be trusted now.
Those are the four necessary steps you must do. Now here’s the deal: she doesn’t control how long the grief will last. Remember, you did this to her. It’s not her fault. If you accidentally had a car wreck and she broke her legs, she can’t control how long it takes her body to heal. She CAN decide to go to physical therapy; she CAN NOT control how long it takes to heal. This is even more so with emotional trauma.
Therefore, if five years from now you catch her really angry or crying because of what you did years earlier, go through the last three steps again. It doesn’t mean she’s holding it against you. It means she’s grieving. Now, if she’s been going to a counselor, surrounding herself with Christian friends who support her, and you’ve been perfectly trustworthy, her pain will diminish. (If you’re reading this and disagree, then we do disagree. You can spare me the emails and comments. I’ve seen and experienced too many times where people do, in fact, get back to complete trust and restoration, even if it takes years.)
And, years from now, after you’ve both been healing, it’s OK to add a #5 step. After you complete Steps #2-4 in that particular episode, and only after, it’s OK to then say, “is there anything I’m doing now that hurts you?” You’re helping her see that the past is NOT your present. Don’t go there until you really think she’s healed much.
What if she never gets over it? What if she continues to rage at you and hold it against you for several years? While there is no magic number in the years it “should” take, it might be the case that she’s not being deliberate in the healing process. I wouldn’t tell her thatEver. I would suggest you both go to a counselor if you wonder, and let the counselor bring that issue up.
Follow these crucial four steps. And of course, a "step" that underlies all of these steps: pray, pray, pray. Ask God for wisdom. Ask God for healing. Go see a trusted Christian counselor. Reach out for support and help. Don’t give up. Give it time. God can do incredible things through the healing process. Be deliberate and allow the Spirit to do His great work in you and your relationship.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A response to other responses to Fifty Shades of Grey

Boy! There have been so many essays, blogs, podcasts, and other responses to the book and movie, Fifty Shades of Grey. This book, at one point, was selling two copies every second. It’s sold over 100 million copies so far! The movie’s opening four-day weekend made over 90 million in revenue! What is extremely clear is that this book and movie appeals to a very, very large segment of the population.

To be clear, I haven’t read the book or seen the movie. Partly because it wouldn’t help my mind/heart to see so much nudity. I’m a Christian and Christians care much about purity, or what we call, “holiness.” To help myself not lust, it’s easier if I just stay away from it altogether. Another reason I’ve avoided it is because I’ve heard and read repeatedly that it’s just an awful movie (i.e., in its script, acting, etc.). And I hate wasting my time (and money!) on awful movies.

But, I have read many reviews of the movie and have seen several interviews from the actors and writer concerning the movie. So, I’m convinced that I have a firm grasp of the contents of the movie. . .enough, at least, to make some reflections on the movie, and more importantly in this post, some reflections on how people have responded to the movie.

This last sentence was important. I’m mostly concerned with reflecting on people’s responses to the movie.

For example: There is one article that is circulating widely online (shared about 500,000 times so far), by Miriam Grossman, MD. It’s entitled, “A Psychiatrist’s Letter to Young People about Fifty Shades of Grey.” You can read the full article here: http://www.megmeekermd.com/2015/02/a-psychiatrists-letter-to-young-people-about-fifty-shades-of-grey/

Dr. Grossman suggests that this movie “promotes” six “dangerous ideas” in the male character, Christian, and the female character, Anastasia:

“1. Girls want guys like Christian who order them around and get rough.” Dr. Grossman said that a “psychologically healthy woman avoids pain.” And that “she dreams about wedding gowns, not handcuffs.”
“2. Guys want a girl like Anastasia who is meek and insecure.” Dr. Grossman says that this is “false” as well because a “psychologically healthy man wants a woman who can stand up for herself.” He wants a woman who can correct him when needed.
“3. Anastasia exercises free choice when she consents to being hurt, so no one can judge her decision.” Dr. Grossman says that this logic is “flawed” because the decision is still wrong because the behavior is self-destructive.
“4. Anastasia makes choices about Christian in a thoughtful and detached manner.” Dr. Grossman finds this statement “doubtful.” Why? Because the male character, Christian, gives Anastasia alcohol, because they have sex early in their relationship, and because he manipulates Anastasia into signing a contract.
5.   Christian’s emotional problems are cured by Anastasia’s love.” Dr. Grossman says this so-called “cure” only happens in the movies.

And finally,
“6. It’s good to experiment with sexuality.” Dr. Grossman says this one is a “maybe.” But who can experiment with sexuality? Dr. Grossman says, “adults in a healthy, long term, committed, monogomous relationship, AKA “marriage”.  Otherwise, you’re at high risk for STDs, pregnancy, and sexual assault.”

I have a few reflections on Dr. Grossman’s reflections, regardless of whether or not she’s a psychiatrist.

First, Dr. Grossman’s insistence (and every other blog I’ve read on this issue shares the same view) that this movie “promotes” these ideas is at minimum, bizarre to me. If this fictive story is accused of “promoting” certain values and behaviors, then every single movie, song, poem, book, blog, essay, or anything ever communicated in any form is “promoting” values and behaviors.

OK, fine. But is that what we must believe about all art, narrative, song, or movie? In the movie, Independence Day, Will Smith killed a bunch of aliens. Did that movie promote killing aliens? In the recent movie, Kingsman, secret agents kill a bunch of people (I just saw this movie). Does this movie promote murdering people?

I simply don’t see why this movie has been singled out among all movies, books, songs, etc., as “promoting” something when so many other movies never get scathing reviews of other values and behaviors that are clearly immoral. Where was the outrage at the murder, lying, stealing, and other values and behaviors in the movie, Goodfellas? Where is the outrage of all the death in the movie, Kingsman? Where is the outrage in nearly every single movie that is released today that supposedly “promotes” lying, stealing, murdering, affairs, gossip, etc.? Hollywood is pumping out filth every weekend and there is no outrage at all.

If Fifty Shades were a sermon, I’d concur: it would be “promoting” certain values and behaviors. If Fifty Shades were a documentary attempting to persuade an audience, I’d concur. But it’s neither. It’s a fictive movie. And I don’t know one fictive movie I’ve ever seen (that wasn’t released by a Christian studio) that didn’t “promote” at least some unchristian, immoral values and behaviors.

Where is the outrage on them all? Do we ban them? Why didn’t Dr. Grossman plead—beg—us all not to see all those other movies like she does with this one?

Maybe it’s because she thinks this movie is exceptionally pernicious. Perhaps. But that leads to my second point.

Secondly, her final point about experimenting with sex as safe within marriage utterly subverts her entire post. I was shocked to read it! If this movie, and its supposed values and behaviors that it’s "promoting" are so overwhelmingly dangerous, then how in the world does marriage make it OK?

According to her post, if a husband wants to do the things Christian does, he’s an immature deviant. If the wife wants to do the things Anastasia does, she’s a manipulated, self-destructive deviant. I guess if they’re married it’s cool. In what way does the covenant of marriage make the immaturity, manipulation, self-destruction, or deviance go away? According to Dr. Grossman's own post, if she were being consistent, surely she would be forced to think the married couple who behaved in such ways is in horrible shape and needs counseling immediately or divorce?

To say it once more: why is it dangerous and unhealthy to do these things while they’re dating, but perfectly acceptable if they’re married? What is it about being in the state of marriage that transforms these things from “destructive” to “healthy,” or from “dangerous” to “safe”?

That doesn’t follow at all. And it makes the entire post logically unsound. (If she had been arguing in her first five points that the real danger is STDs, assault, etc., then she'd be consistent. But, she didn't. She thinks the movie is dangerous, according to her first five points, due to the emotional/psychological affect it has on people. And if that's the real danger, then it would still hold true in marriage.)

Thirdly, a point about sexual fantasies. Her first point is that "healthy" women dream “about wedding gowns, not handcuffs.” Based upon what data or research could she possibly make this suggestion? Is it really the case that these are mutually exclusive truths? A healthy woman can’t dream about a wedding gown and simultaneously have a fantasy that involved “handcuffs”? That doesn’t follow at all.

In fact, there might be about 100 million women who might beg to differ (i.e., most of the audience who purchased the book).

Now, if a woman genuinely desires to be beaten and/or raped, then yes: this is self-destructive and therapy should be sought immediately. But, it doesn’t follow at all that if a woman has a sexual fantasy of some sort of domination (which is, in fact, a very common fantasy for many women), she can’t be “psychologically healthy.” (I distinctively remember a well-adjusted Christian woman who was majoring in counseling as an undergraduate, who told a girl friend that she "longed to be thrown." She meant to be dominated to some degree by a man. I remember it because I had never heard it before that day!)

Look, the brain finds certain things attractive. It just does. Now, to be clear: if it desires certain things that are patently immoral (in the Christian worldview)—say pedophilia or bestiality—then it’s time for a good therapist.

But, I know of no Christian doctrine being violated if a woman has a fantasy that involves “handcuffs.”

Now, some final thoughts that are not about Dr. Grossman’s reflections.

First, what is missing from so many responses to this movie from Christians is the most basic immoral sexual act presented in the book and movie: having intercourse with someone who is not your spouse. Jesus and the early church utterly opposed sex outside marriage (e.g., Matthew 19). It's not how God designed sex to be used. It’s funny and sad: the Bible says nothing at all about acting out sexual fantasies; it says tons about sexual immorality and marriage. Yet, people are overwhelming ranting about the immorality of the fantasy and very little about the immorality of sex outside of marriage.

Second, it says something about our culture that this has struck such a nerve. Those vampire movies made millions and they sold millions of books. Does that “promote” the morality of vampires? Is that why teenagers love it? No. Because those stories are about teenage unrequited love and desire. It addresses a need and experience they have. The same is true with this movie. It gives us a really good glimpse into what, apparently, millions and millions of people feel they need: raw, sexual passion, especially by a dominating male.

Of course, one might deduce several things from this fact. That’s for another post. Yet, I think it might be more profitable to reflect on the state of millions of people who ingest this graphic material. That, to me, would be quite interesting. To say it this way: This movie didn’t put a desire into a hundred million people; it merely demonstrated that it was there all along. And a more productive study would be to examine those people and deduce what it says about the state of their sexual desires than merely to vilify the movie that touches on a desire people already possess.

Third, where is the enormous protest for films, songs, poems, and books that really, clearly promote domestic violence? How many hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on songs that celebrate what some man did to “his b***ch” or “hoe” or whatever? In fact, we give those people Grammy awards! We praise them for being the best! (Not that I concur with their decision; I think it’s uncreative and trash.) My point is: where is the Facebook outcry? Not to mention the billions of dollars spent on producing and purchasing pornography? Where is the outcry? You know why? Because we’re used to it. That’s why. It’s because “men have needs” and “boys will be boys” and other galamatias. We celebrate today what used to be considered the most deviant of possibilities.

I know, I know. Fifty Shades is novel and popular so it’s an easy target. Eventually, the posts will stop and so will the Facebook shares. That is, until another popular movie is released.

Fourth, if your children want to go see that movie, then disallow them if you don’t agree with the morality in the movie. Have a talk as to why. Whatever reason you disallow them to see it, I encourage you to explain exactly why. Let this be a lesson in how what you watch, see, hear, and experience matters to your character development. Then, of course, explain why it’s OK for them to watch all those other movies they’ve seen that also “promote” so many immoral things and yet this one movie is completely off limits. If this makes you inconsistent, then it says something about your parenting you might want to address.

Fifth, of course I completely oppose domestic violence. When a man or woman doesn’t ask for the sexual fantasy that involves some type of pain, then it should never be performed. Ever. It’s that simple. And if your spouse wants to cause you pain for her/his sexual satisfaction and doesn’t respect your boundaries, then go see a Christian therapist. If nothing changes, divorce his/her junk with a smile on your face. You are not simply the object of someone else’s sexual fantasy. That’s not how healthy marriages work at all. (Notice how I’ve said nothing about single people performing sexual fantasies because I’m assuming a worldview advocated by Jesus of Nazareth, who would never embrace sex outside of marriage.)

Finally, I really encourage you to consider doing the whole “love and marriage” thing Jesus’s way. Why? Because God designed us, marriage, and sex. His way is always the best, most healthy way. (Here’s a link to a talk on that issue you might find helpful.)

So, what do I think of the movies’ values and behaviors? I don’t live that way. I don’t get drunk; I don’t have my wife sign contracts of secrecy for anything I do; I don’t attempt to address emotional needs by sex; etc.. I wouldn’t want my kids to see it because I’m convinced Jesus wouldn’t watch it. It demonstrates (I don’t think “promotes”) so many values and behaviors that are not Christian. I attempt to avoid any movie, song, book, or whatever that has so many aspects of the narrative that are counter to Jesus. I’ve turned off multiple movies, shows, and songs in my lifetime. Life’s hard enough as it is. I don’t need anything that makes it harder to live according to the loving, peaceful,  pure, Kingdom-centered teachings of Jesus. My flesh is too weak.


That’s my view, at least.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Monday, February 2, 2015

"What's your best evidence for the resurrection? And what about Jesus's divinity?" Some questions from a professor friend of mine.

Hey David. I'm asking different people I know (who I know have thought carefully about this) this question. What do you find to be the top two or three most compelling reasons to believe Jesus was raised from the dead? I'd appreciate any thoughts you have along these lines. Thanks.

Hey brother!

I hope you and your family are well! It feels like it was yesterday that I was walking down in that swamp-like, muggy-smelling corridor to the student lounge at Baylor. At the same time, it feels like a lifetime ago.

It's difficult for me to decide what the top compelling reasons are, so I might have to list more than that. Here's my best attempt to triage:

1. Saul/Paul was an adamant opponent of Jewish Messianists and had the job of arresting them. He almost certainly never met Jesus, and was certainly no friend to His followers! Then he absolutely changed sides (on the issue of Jesus, of course, not on the issue of being an ethnic Jew) and went around, in the face of profound persecution on all sides, telling everyone that Jesus was resurrected and the living Lord. I think the resurrection best explains his "conversion experience," theology, mission, message, and hope.

2. From within decades (at the latest; I like the works of Richard Bauckham, Larry Hurtado, and Tommy Wright on this issue), the earliest Jews were writing songs to Jesus as living Lord, praying to Him, healing people in His "name," baptizing in His "name," celebrating His death at atoning, and preaching "boldly" in His "name." Jews didn't do things like that. Ever. They didn't even do that with the other major messiah-figures and prophets near His life/death ("Messiah figures: = Judas of Sepphoris (4 BC), Simon of Perea (4 BC), Athronges (4-2 BC), Menahem (AD 66), John of Gischala (AD 67-70), Simon bar Giora of Gerasa (AD 68-70), Lukuas of Cyrene (AD 115), Simon ben Kosiba/Bar Kochba (AD 132-135); “Prophets”: John the Baptizer (AD 20s), The “Samaritan” (AD 26-36), Theudas (AD 45), The “Egyptian” Jew (AD 56), An anonymous “imposter” (AD 61), Jesus son of Ananias (AD 62-69), Jonathan the Weaver, refugee of Cyrene (AD 71).) So, not one movement of which we know claimed that God had vindicated the main follower by giving Him a new, transformed, Spirit-infused body after he died. Either the group disbanded or followed the main leaders' next-in-line brother. Why didn't the earliest disciples just follow James? I think the resurrection best explains why the earliest Jewish Christians talked, acted, and thought as if Jesus were alive and well, present with them, and governing the events of history as Ruler with God the Father.

3. Related to #2 is the fact that doing all those things in the "name" of Jesus implied profound theological facts about Jesus. As Bauckham says, they put Jesus within the "identity of God." (and very early on!) Whether hymns written to Jesus as God/Lord (spread throughout NT) or rewriting the Shema (1 Cor 8:6), these Jews deliberately included Jesus into the divine identity--and this kind of thing had never been done before (again those authors I mentioned above give enormous evidence for this). I think the resurrection best explains why they would include Jesus in the divine identity.

I think these are my top three reasons for believing the resurrection actually happened. I guess it comes down to: a profound, unheard-of change in theology and praxis for multiple Jews (even His enemies!), within years of the event.

I would also add:
4. Every text which speaks of Jesus appearing to His disciples demonstrates that not one single disciple believed He (a) would be raised and/or that He (b) was actually raised. It's amazing to me that not one disciple was looking for it. So, in addition to Paul/Saul (though I think this category is different because they knew Jesus), they, too, must be convinced. I think the resurrection best explains why they all changed their minds.

5. Like I said in my response a few years ago, at least some of the them died because of their belief (e.g., Paul, Stephen, James, at minimum, not to mention 2nd cent. people like Ignatius). I think the resurrection best explains why people would be able to tolerate torture and/or death (rather than kinda' believing it or making it up altogether).

6. Something I've alluded to a few times, but to make it a different category: it's shocking to me that such widespread belief in the resurrection occurred so early. If this were a later legend, shouldn't it take some decades or whatever? In any case, several DIFFERENT authors of the NT speak of or assume the resurrection within a few years (especially when they speak of Jesus as "living Lord" or "Lord,"--that certainly assumes that Jesus is alive and ruling...they never said things like this for Moses or Abraham or whomever because they weren't alive and weren't ruling). I think the resurrection best explains why the changes happen so fast and are so widespread.

7. Of course, we have early traditions that it occurred. 1 Cor 15:3ff speaks of the "tradition handed down" in language that was technical with Jewish circles (we know this because of how the language was used within rabbinic literature). I the resurrection best explains where this very early tradition comes from.

8. I think Tommy Wright is very helpful on this final point: When Jews spoke of resurrection, it was (a) a periphery topic, not central to any Jewish belief, praxis, or literature; (b) would occur to a group of people (all Jews or faithful Jews or whatever); and (c) would occur at the shift of the ages, when the Yom Adonai would happen. (A fourth commonality might include the typical belief that resurrection would be include the FORMER body of the person.) The earliest Jewish Christians (a) made resurrection central to their belief and praxis; (b) constantly and consistently said it happened only to one person (at this point in history) and; (c) happened in this era, not (only) at the shift of the ages/Day of YHWH. (And of course, the NT presents Jesus as having a new body of the new age). I think the resurrection best explains these changes in belief.

9. Other anecdotal things like the fact that priests and Pharisees are even converted (in Acts 15 it mentions them in passing). I think the resurrection best explains why the very people who helped kill Jesus are now part of the community of people praying to Jesus, singing to Jesus, preaching about a resurrected Jesus, etc.

I think that's all. Maybe I ought to add one more to make an even 10...

Love you brother! DP

Let me ask you one more thing, especially about the first few sentences of your #2. I've long been dumbfounded (and grow only more so) that we don't see more tension about just these things. The issue of Jew/Gentile sucks up all the oxygen in the NT documents, but we don't see overt wrestling with the strikingly new Jewish behavior of praying to Jesus, worshipping him as Lord, etc., especially as it relates to their unflinching claim that there is one God. I'm not sure the pre-Jewish explorations of things like a personification of Wisdom help alleviate this shocking silence. Not sure what to make of it.

Hey,
Yeah, I'm also amazed by those additions in the identity of God.
For me, I really do find it compelling that the reason why we don't see more "tension" is because it was simply assumed as fact that Jesus was resurrected and ruling as living Lord. I get the feeling of "of course He shares the identity of God!" throughout the NT.
Of course, there are texts which suggest that "tension" to unbelievers (e.g., 1 Cor 1:23 and Rom 11:11). But, overall, isn't the silence of how UNbelievers wrestled with Jesus's divine identity due to the fact that the documents were written to people who already held such views? It sure is easier to see how unbelievers wrestled with Jesus's divine identity in 2nd cent.+ documents (via the apologists).
Again, this sure demonstrates that a very high Christology was extremely early. Surely there would have been more NT-era documents attempting to convince people that Jesus should be held alongside the Father if it were developed later. I always think of 1 and 2 John, of how there were people "from among us" (1 John 2:19; 4:2) who don't even believe Jesus was human! That's amazing to me, especially when I consider what it would take for me to think that a person wasn't really human, but merely a soulish being who appeared among us.
And I think you meant, "pre-Christian" explorations of Wisdom, and not "pre-Jewish"? If so, I think those explorations actually help us make sense of the relative silence. Right? If there were a clear precedent for holding to a creative Agent alongside the Father, wouldn't that make it much easier to conceptualize the Son/Jesus/Logos/whatever? (Bauckham and Hurtado make a similar claim.) I think it helped "the medicine go down" easier and faster. This, mixed with the resurrection, I think, makes the most sense of such an early acceptance of such a high Christology.
That's my view, at least.
DP

Ok, I think I miscommunicated. Was writing quickly and using that stupid ipad onscreen keyboard so wasn't expressing myself well. Yes, no doubt it is the fact of the resurrection that so easily allows them to make the claims they were making about Jesus. But think about what you wrote, "Of course, he shares the identity of God." My Lord! What could a first century Jew have understood in that claim??? The only possible way they had to process that would be something like the pre-Xian (yes, you're right, that was a mistake) explorations of Wisdom. What I find still puzzling, even still, is that you've got a clearer "duality" here between the Father and the Son (nevermind the Spirit) and we don't see more theological wrestling among early Jewish Christians about how this doesn't overstrain the continued claim of monotheism.

Seems like this very logical question (certainly logical to me) doesn't really start heating up until the 2nd century, as best we can tell. And by the end of the fourth century, Nyssa is still having to write to other claimants to the Xian faith a piece entitled "Why Not Three Gods?"

Bauckham demonstrates that Jews thought only God (a) created all things and thus, (b) ruled over the creation He made, and thus, (c) was worthy of worship (e.g., see Rev. 4:11). All other beings, including supernatural creatures of all types, were never to be worshiped because they did not create and did not rule.
But the OT and other Jewish literature makes the distinction in the aspects of God's creating and ruling, where Wisdom is the AGENCY of creation. So, I wonder if putting Jesus/Word into that schema allowed them the distinction of which you speak (e.g., Heb 1:2). That is, you can still be in the identity of "God" (create, rule, be worshiped) and have different functions.
I think the reason why the nothing really "heats up" until the 2nd cent. onward is because of the audience: Greeks/Romans.
So, I guess I still don't find it shocking that the first several decades of JEWS could adapt to these additions since they had clear precedence. Greeks/Romans didn't. Thus, with THEIR gods all being ontologically distinct with different wills, etc., Christians had to explain it in ways Gentiles did. (Of course, I think that's where things got screwy, like all that "generation" and "begetting" language which smacks of subordinationism. Earliest Jews didn't use that language to explain Jesus's divine identity.)
To say it this way: it seems to me (especially after reading those scholars) that Jews had no problem being Christological monotheists because they had the parameters or matrix or model to do so in their history.
Greeks/Romans did not.
(What I find so fascinating is the fact that early Christian apologists didn't constantly appeal to the resurrection as evidence that Jesus wasn't just a dude or whatever. I would expect much more about the resurrection. Instead, we get a whole lot of stuff about being older than their beliefs because of Moses, or the fact that Christians are moral, etc.)
DP

Furthermore (forgive my rambling questions), even with a firm conviction that Jesus was raised from the dead, what do you think most accounts for their conclusion that they needed to worship him as God, rather than simply seeing him as a vindicated Messiah through whom God worked powerfully?

Good question. I don't think we should see a direct causal relationship between the resurrection and Jesus within the divine identity (though of course they're related!). Instead, it was His ascension, His receiving a "name above all names" (God/YHWH), His being given full authority to rule over all creation, His eventual judgment over all creation, etc. that caused them to worship Jesus. It seems to me that resurrection is the only and necessary way to get to those other things.
Larry Hurtado often says something like this in his books and interviews: "Not only did the earliest Jewish Christians worship Jesus, they believed that they were compelled by God to do so. They worshiped Jesus 'to the glory of God the Father,' as if God demanded they worship Jesus."
So, to list them out, I imagine some reasons would include:
(1) the firm, historical association of Jesus with the Son of Man figure who rules over all kingdoms (Dan 7:14; throughout Gospels, including Matt 28:18; cf. Eph 1:20-23), and since He rules over creation, he is to be worshiped--since only God rules over creation;
(2) the historical association of healing, exorcising of demons, raising the dead, etc., in "Jesus's name" demonstrates his authority over supernatural reality--and only God does such things, and thus, should be worshiped;
(3) Jesus's forgives sins in His ministry and via the Spirit's authority in His "name" within the Church -- and thus, should be worshiped because only God forgives sins;
(4) The very early belief that Jesus was the agent of creation (e.g., 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:15-16), and since only God creates, Jesus should be worshiped.
(5) And, it sure seems to me very likely that Jesus said things during His actual, historical ministry that gave people the impression that He should be worshiped (too many to quote here!; but texts where He forgives, and judges, and gives commandments to follow, and creates, etc.). Thus, the earliest Christians were just being naturally obedient--as if they said, "Yep. He was resurrected. He was right all along. He wasn't just a dude. We should associate Him completely within the divine identity since He did things that only God can do."
(6) Finally, I think, the spiritual experience of the presence of Jesus within the earliest community was all the "proof in the pudding" they needed.
Perhaps there are other reasons.
Pax, DP
This is all very helpful. Thanks. To your point about Jews being able to relate to this apparent "duality" in God easier than Gentiles, think about the letters Paul (or "Paul") writes to Gentile audiences in which Jesus is presented as one to be worshipped as God and yet is distinct from the Father. If what you're saying is true, wouldn't he feel compelled to account for this somehow.
My Lord, I felt this strain mightily as I was talking to that Hindu girl. How can I get her to see I'm not talking about two gods here? I'd expect to see more of this in the NT documents. Second, when you say it was only in engagement with Gentiles that they introduced "screwy" language of generation and betting, I'd only say in response that those terms come out of one of the Jewish texts most obviously related to the personification of Wisdom (Proverbs 8.22ff). Those were the precise terms JEWS were given to think about Wisdom in (not Gentiles). And it does smack of subordinaionism. And THAT raises the force of my question again. Why worship him without qualification, as one would worship God??? And if he IS God, in the terms found in texts like Proverbs 8, how can we think of a God that is himself and also a bit less than himself. These questions just seem obvious to me. I would think that would have been the biggest issue to emerge in the NT documents, especially those arising from within the internal Jewish discussions of Jesus. But in fact, zip, nada.
One of your great gifts is your ability to synthesize lots of information and present it in a logical, concise manner. Not nearly everyone can do that. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk through all this with me. It's like having a virtual Jack in the Box to hang out in.
Hey!
First, thank you so very much for your kind words! That was really encouraging to me! I laughed at the Jack in the Box comment! I forgot!
And, I appreciate what you're saying about Paul's letters to Gentiles (perhaps Ephesians and Colossians?), though I sure think there are some converted Jews in there too.
I wonder if the reason why there is no (apparent) struggle with understanding Jesus within the Godhead is because Paul (and the early church) were much more concerned with getting those pagans to stop their other religions. That is, like good Jews, they were simply more concerned with orthopraxy than orthodoxy. Of course, that was done within a believing community, not to non-believing Gentiles with their philosophical backgrounds.
So, I still think Jews didn't have (too) much to struggle with it because they had the "milieu" ready for them. Concerning how these Jewish Christians spoke to new Gentile believers, they seem to just focus on them stop having sex with prostitutes (e.g., 1 Cor 6) or going to foreign temples, or whatever.
Perhaps later, when evangelization wasn't just taking place, but philosophical speculation/apologia, it was easier/more likely for them to speculate about the Godhead?
Concerning the "generating" and "begetting," I knew you'd think of Prov. 8. But, remember, what I said was specific to the earliest Christian community. I said, "Earliest Jews didn't use that language to explain Jesus's divine identity." And this is true. They relied upon Psalm 110:1 by far the most of all their scriptural allusions when explaining Christ's exalted/divine state in the NT. I don't think Prov. 8 was used once in the NT to describe Jesus's relationship with the Father (and if it's there, it would be very rare indeed).
So, yes, those terms are "Jewish." But, using those "Jewish" terms to argue for Jesus's identity was certainly a LATE development among a Greek-speaking, Gentile audience. And it was their late use of those texts that, in my humble view, got things so "screwy." I wish they wouldn't have used them that way.
Concerning explaining things to that Hindu girl, I get you! The model I appreciate the very most is William Lane Craig's. His social trinitarian model goes something like this:
Human souls have various faculties (e.g., feeling sensations, holding beliefs, being rational, etc.). Whereas human souls can only have rational capacities to constitute one person, God, as a soulish being, has the faculties to have three rational capacities. This means that God can rightly be called a tri-personal being. As a soul with those capacities, He is still one soul (being) but three persons (centers of consciousness).
He gives the analogy of Cerberus: the three headed dog. All heads are canine; all are one being. Yet, there are three different heads (centers of consciousness), and thus, three "persons" associated with the one being, Cerberus. (of course all analogies break down!)
Have you heard a better model? You can read what he believes here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/a-formulation-and-defense-of-the-doctrine-of-the-trinity
Peace! David

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