Monday, April 07, 2008


Synopsis of my faith

A little while ago, someone asked some probing questions in a comment. I promised that I'd answer them when I had time to do the job justice. Unfortunately I didn't take a local copy of the questions, and I'm about as far from a network as I can get (mid-Atlantic) but I suspect if I just give a general synopsis of my beliefs, I'll touch on most of the issues raised. The issue I clearly remember was that of heaven/hell, so I'll make so I cover that, at least.

I don't promise to give a no-nonsense, no-detours tour of my faith - quite the opposite, in fact. However, my hope is that the diversions might give more of a sense of what God means to me than my actual direct words on the matter can express.


I recently preached on Low Sunday (the Sunday after Easter) when the lectionary Gospel reading was that of Doubting Thomas. This naturally invited a sermon on faith, and so I gave one. In particular, I considered the idea that Thomas might not so much have doubted the resurrection, as not felt part of it - that only through experiencing Jesus in a direct way (touching the wounds) would he be fully living his faith.

I readily admit the idea isn't an original one of mine - a friend of mine, a parish priest, mentioned it to me about three years ago, and it stuck in my mind. (Many things he says have that habit - ironically I haven't actually heard him preach, but he has a way with words which I'm sure translates spectacularly to the pulpit.)

Back to my own faith. For me, faith isn't a list of beliefs I consider correct or incorrect. It's not a way of proving anything. In fact, I'm strongly agnostic in that I don't believe the existence (or, importantly, the non-existence) of God can be proved, empirically. Certainly if such a proof were already available either way, all rational thinkers would agree on the result.

Nor, however, do I place faith in the "belief without evidence" category of superstition, with astrology and avoiding walking under ladders. (I'm aware I'm now attracting the ire of the many people who have firmly held beliefs in astrology, and the mockery of those atheists who don't see that their own firm belief in the non-existence of God is also a form of faith.)

My faith is one based on personal evidence. I can't prove God's existence to anyone else, but God has proved it to me in ways which (usually) halt my doubts. That's not to say I don't have times of complete doubt, of course. More on that later, perhaps. The important thing is that it's possible to believe something for good reason and still not be able to prove it empirically. My own reason may be faulty, and my evidence may indeed be wrong - but to assume those things is to take just as much of a leap of faith as to assume they're right. In some ways the only way not to hold a view based on faith is to hold no opinion at all on the matter.


Being based on both reason and personal experience, my view of scripture is different from that of some other Christians. The comments on other posts (in particular "Coming out of the belief closet") suggest that I don't know my Bible as well as my readers. That may well be true, but I would suggest in return not only that I may be perfectly aware of some of the passages to which they're referring, but also that there are plenty of liberal Christians out in the world who have a better knowledge of the Bible than I do, and quite possibly better than that of those readers criticizing me. If it were purely a matter of "those who study scripture thoroughly are always morally conservative and those who just skim are always morally liberal" then I would indeed be concerned - but I think it's fair to say there's a broad range of scholarly opinion.

It doesn't come down to just how well you know what the Bible says, it's also a matter of what you understand the purpose and nature of scripture to be in the first place. I believe that:

Many of the liberal values of today - including those which are broadly accepted across the conservative/liberal spectrum - cannot be directly drawn from the Bible. Where is Christ's decree to ban slavery, or to give equal rights to women? (These may exist in non-canonical pieces of scripture, of course, which begs another question.) The overall teachings of unconditional love are present, and Jesus certainly acted unexpectedly in the company of those whom he would be expected to revile (the Samaritan woman and Zacchius spring to mind) but surely if we were to receive all our wisdom from scripture, we should expect more direction.

Instead, I believe in using scripture as one way of understanding God's nature, will and purpose. It should inform other sources, and they should inform it. I believe God gave us reasoning minds and an innate sense of justice for a purpose, rather than to always defer to a canon of text which cannot possibly speak God's complete message for every situation.

This is not to dismiss scripture either, however. When the Bible (particularly the New Testament) appears to go against my own experience, prayers and thoughts, I don't just assume it's wrong. I wrestle with it. Very often I don't end up with a clear answer, which is fine by me. I do not hope to ever understand God completely. I merely pray that I will do so increasingly, and that through that improved understanding (and in the power of the Spirit) I may more usefully serve God and carry out God's will on earth.


One of the areas I wrestle with is that of salvation, and in particular what the alternative is. Wesley famously has four "all" doctrines:

(I've sometimes heard this referred to as three doctrines, with the last two being combined. I would look it up in the my copy of the catechism, but it's several thousand miles away at the moment.)

If all need to be saved, that means there must be a consequence to not being saved. The Bible states several times that this consequence is fiery hell. I find that hard or even impossible to understand in the light of my experience of a God who loves unconditionally. I love my sons imperfectly, but it still hurts for me to punish them however trivially and temporarily (and before anyone calls social services, I'm talking about taking away toys or being sent to their bedrooms). How can a God who loves us so much ever bear to sentence any soul to eternal torture without there even being a positive end result? Our use of punishment for children is to attempt to teach them right and wrong, compassion, obedience etc for the use in the rest of their lives. If they weren't going to learn anything from the punishment, it wouldn't be worth doing at all. With hell, there's (at least Biblically) no "next life after that" that the tormented souls are preparing for.

Moreover, can any non-eternal sin really deserve an eternal punishment? Even if "justice" really is about punishment rather than rehabilitation, about two wrongs effectively making a right, I find it hard to see how eternal torture can really be a suitable punishment for in return for, say, the life of someone who always tries to do good, but happens not to be a Christian.

Then there's the matter of how our salvation is achieved in the first place. How could Christ's tortured death on the cross actually help? Penal substitution has never sounded particularly fair to me. There are numerous options when it comes to theories of atonement, of course, and I have tried to preach on the matter just once, laying out some of those options as best I understand them. Needless to say, it was a sermon without a conclusive answer.

If you've persevered this far (you can see now why I wanted to wait until I had a good chunk of time) you may be wondering whether I'm actually a Christian at all. Indeed, some more fundamentalist readers may have decided I'm certainly not, and that I'm headed for a fiery end, whatever else I have to say in this post. Well, having outlined some of the problems, here are a few of my more positive thoughts.

I do believe we all need saving, although I wouldn't like to claim I understood what from. Annihilation of souls, perhaps? That's actually quite an attractive answer in some ways, although it does leave the question of how to deal with all the Biblical references to hell. In some ways that doesn't matter to me. If I'm told that something really bad is coming in one direction, I don't need to know the details of it in order to realise that going in the other direction is a good move.

I do believe that Christ is the route to salvation. No doubt my use of the definite article has come as a relief to some. Yes, I belief that Christ's work of salvation is somehow, miraculously, the only way we can really get ourselves "right" with God. That doesn't mean I'm as much in the "Christians have it right, all other religions are wrong" camp as you might think though. More on that later. I really don't know how atonement works. It's clearly about mercy, which is a problem in itself. To my mind, if God is just then God can't be merciful. Justice is about people getting what they deserve and mercy is about people not getting what they deserve. There's more to them than that, of course, but that's why I see the two as being in tension. I don't know how God resolves that tension, but that's okay too. I certainly have faith that God is good and if that means God doesn't always demand or execute justice, that's fine by me. Or, perhaps a more likely solution is that the human concept of "justice" is very flawed. (That's intellectually unappealing though: it means that whenever we say that God is a God of Justice, we don't even know what we're claiming. We might as well say that God is a God of Well-Shrimpified Higlingness.)

Understanding of other faiths

I've never been easy with the idea of "my faith is better than yours" - at least not when it's applied to serious religions which have stood the test of time. In particular it smacks of complacency given my original basis of faith. I should extend the courtesy of allowing people to have evidence which they can't use to convince me, given that I'm asking others to extend the same courtesy towards me.

It would seem crazy to believe that when I feel the will of God it's genuine, but when any Muslim feels the same it must be self-delusion. This is not to give equal weight to all understandings of the will of God, of course - I'm not for one minute claiming that suicide bombers have God's blessing on their actions, for example. But likewise I don't claim that every Christian insight into God is genuine. (To take it one step further, I'm not saying that I personally always interpret correctly. I'd be quite amazed if I got things right even a majority of the time.)

That said, I don't see anything in the Bible which states that Jesus must be taken as the means of salvation during our lives. Suppose each of us stands before God, and Jesus offers us the option of using his death to wipe our slates clean. Frankly, the simplest way of understanding my viewpoint on this is to read The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis, and the section where after the battle one of Tash's followers approaches Aslan expecting death - but instead finds redemption and a greater meaning to the life they've already lived.


I'm not going to try to summarise this post. My belief system is complicated (as is that of most people, I believe) and I certainly haven't exhaustively described it above. To try to boil it down even further would be to invite misinterpretation.

I'm well aware that my beliefs don't correlate well with those of many other people. I don't ask for agreement, although I do request a certain amount of respect for differing beliefs. I don't think much is to be gained by simply belittling someone's deeply held (and seriously cogitated) views. Discussion is healthy, but unfortunately I don't believe a blog like this is a good medium for debate. By all means engage me personally if we ever meet, but it's too easy for electronic media to heat disagreements well beyond any productive temperature.

Finally, whatever your own beliefs, I pray for the blessing of God on you. Apart from anything else, you deserve something for reading all of this! Peace be with you.

Gosh, you should take long flights more often. I don't have the luxury of such so this is a short comment.

Jon, I don't think we are that far apart, you being liberal and me being evangelical, (BTW: evangelical covers a broad spectrum of christians, from far right fundamentalists to self-sacrificing compassionate people who work with societies "outcasts").

On faith: while there is doctrine, theology and tradition, Christianity is primarily a religion of revelation (God revealing Himself to man rather than man seeking God) and relationship (God as Father, Jesus friend and saviour, Holy Spirit indwelling, empowering and guiding). That's not to say that God's truth is not important, but we are broken vessels and often get things wrong.

On scripture: I do believe that all scripture is God-breathed/inspired. But I also believe that it is a set of different types of writings (poetry, instruction, history, parables, etc). The problem comes when we try to interpret literally something that wasn't meant to be so. When there is a conflict between my personal feelings and what it clearly says in the Bible (I'm talking moral issues - I won't go into science/christianity here) then I have to submit to what it says in the Bible.

On hell: I've always understood hell to be the state of eternal separate from God - a consequence rather than a punishment.

On other faiths/salvation: Christians don't have the monopoly on the truth, however I do believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation. That's not being arrogant - it is freely available to all.


Thanks for your thoughtful reply - I *think* it's my (David's) comment you're responding to. In any case, I have to say you've made me realize some of the benefits I've reaped from finally accepting my innate but latent atheism - a more quiet mind.

Such incredible mental machinations and tortured logic are required to accept the claims of Christianity! I know, first hand, having spent much of my private mental life ruminating on the abundant inconsistencies, contradictions, absurdities, and cruelty involved in being a Christian. Trying to square what was presented to me (by my father, a New Testament scholar of some note) as "factual" with my plain observations and thoughts about the actual world I experienced, was exhausting. This is especially hard on logic-respecting geek types like you and I.

There is so much cherry-picking and re-interpretation (thankfully) going on in your post, based on, in my estimation, wishful thinking, that the result scarcely resembles standard/accepted Christian teachings. If I may so bold as to comment directly on your world view: In my limited opinion, you're much too smart and thought-full to remain a true believer for the duration. The more you learn about your faith, the more you'll have to reject or explain away in order to preserve your own good and innate sense of morality, until what remains are a few shards comprising the few good bits of Christianity.

For me, it's much simpler and intellectually and morally more honest, to accept the obvious. There is no indication that any religion on earth is true, in fact there is a great deal of evidence indicating that all religion is man-made - self-serving and based at root on the fear of the annihilation of the "self", itself, ultimately an illusion (a Strange Loop).

And there is every indication so far that life on earth in particular and the universe in general have naturalistic explanations. Of course, the question of existence itself (why is there something instead of nothing) will likely remain forever a mystery, beyond all human understanding (even if science found an "explanation" the question would remain - why is it that way and not some other way - unless the explanation turns out to be some bizarre self-explanatory tautology - which it well might!). But religion fares no better as an explanatory force.

As for the question of God's existence, which is not subject to proof either way, it is a non sequitur in relation to any particular parochial religious beliefs or scripture. God's existence, it seems to me, has nothing whatsover to do with - is orthogonal to - human religions. I'm puzzled as to why the two are so often discussed as if they're inseparable.

I hope you don't think I'm being hostile or anything; I'd never begrudge anyone their beliefs as long as they're peaceful (which sadly is often not the case). Because of my religious past, I just find religion to be endlessly interesting to ponder, especially when I come across smart believers. And I'm not a dogmatic atheist - like you I do have doubts. I'm technically agnostic, perhaps a dogmatic one - "I don't know, and neither do you!".

If I can personally take anything positive away from the Christain Bible it is what Spinoza (my hero!) took away from it. He said that obedience to God consists *solely* in loving one's neighbor (for he who loves his neighbor in obedience to God's command, has fulfilled the Law as Paul says in Romans 13:8).

Of course sadly, like many great thinkers, Spinoza was punished for his beliefs (thought crime), primarily his belief that God and Nature were identical (deus sive natura), and spent his life excommunicated from his religious community. But he never stopped communing and seeking - "I value, above all other things out of my control, the joining hands of friendship with men who are lovers of truth."

Hi Jon,

I would like to comment on this issue you mentioned..."To my mind, if God is just then God can't be merciful. Justice is about people getting what they deserve and mercy is about people not getting what they deserve. There's more to them than that, of course, but that's why I see the two as being in tension. I don't know how God resolves that tension, but that's okay too."

The way God already resolved this tension is the answer to yet another point you raised..."How could Christ's tortured death on the cross actually help? Penal substitution has never sounded particularly fair to me."

If, as you say, God is going to be perfectly just, then he cannot be merciful. And I will not repeat your good reasoning on why. So, God in order to be perfectly just, needs to execute justice thoroughly and, He condemns Jesus to die a tortured death on the Cross, a terrible way to die (one can find detailed descriptions on all that is involved in crucifixion...very, very painful). How does that actually help, as you ask? Well, a small punishment for the sins of all humanity, past, present and future, would not be very just, would it?!

Once God has made sure he fulfilled his nature of being perfect about all He does, in this case, by being perfectly just, He is now "free" to be perfectly merciful. What more perfect a mercy than one that prevents us from getting what we deserve (your words) for ALL that we have DONE, DO, and WILL DO?!

One may say that a more perfect mercy would be to include all humanity on this substitution transaction. However, that would violate the sense of justice that still needs to be can't be just thrown out. So, you must believe in Him (true belief, rathen then mere intellectual assent) as fullfiling the justice requirement in order to partake of the resulting mercy gift.
@Anonymous: The trouble with your logic is that it assumes that punishing one person (however massively) for what other people do counts as justice.

If I robbed a house, and you got punished for it, would that be justice? Not in any normal sense of the word. Justice, to me, isn't "the amount of punishment fitting the crime" - the target of the punishment needs to be the appropriate one.

I'm left with the problem that the only way that God can truly represent justice is if we understand "justice" to mean something very different to human justice - at which point we might as well use a completely different word, like "arglefup". No, I can't say what it means - but then I can't say what justice means in a way that really relates to the normal sense of the word either, if it's going to be applied to a perfectly merciful God.
Wow, thank you. That was an awesome read.
Hi Jon.

I've been a reader of your code posts for a while, but only recently came across this blog. I must say that it's is certainly great to come across other Christians in the same field as me. That said, please forgive my resurrecting a post that is 8 months old :) But I believe I have something to add. I'd be happy to discuss more, because I found this post to be utterly... interesting.

I think it's important to remember why we need salvation in the first place. In Genesis, we can see the beginnings of man. A perfect environment created as God would have it. At this point man is sinless, and as perfect as man can be. Then it happened. Man, God's very good and perfect creation, did something vastly against His will. His only command was broken, man sinned, and as a result was separated from God and from the eternity He has planned out. Man was now cut off from the life giving tree, and from the carefree garden.

Whether or not you believe creation as a factual story or not isn't the current concern, nor does it need to be. This story is, however, in the Bible and therefore principle can be drawn from it. Sin entered the world when man did what was contrary to the commands and will of God. Therefore, I believe a proper definition of Sin should be just that.

Sin: That which is contrary to the commands and will of God.

To preserve eternity for only the perfect, God had to perform some type of justice. In a physical sense, man was cut off from the garden and all of its conveniences and niceties. The close, buddy buddy relationship shared between man and God was stopped, and man no longer was worthy to be in the presence of the Almighty King. I think it's important to note that the first sin wasn't something horribly bad from the mind of man. It was innocent... "Oh come on! It's just a fruit. You won't die from it." But as Sin (action contrary to God) it had to be punished. Therefore, I believe Godly justice should be defined as just that.

Justice: Complete punishment for sin.

The rest of the Old Testament story is God's preparations to enact a perfect plan by which His entire creation may be cleansed from the sin committed first by Adam, and every day since by everyone who's ever lived. To provide understanding in what He must do, he set up a system of sacrifices for the purpose of enforcing an understanding that blood being shed equals forgiveness. Lev 17:11 - Blood makes atonement for life. And for the short term (if you consider 3k years short), the blood was to be the blood of perfect animals, not of the imperfect who committed the sin. A perfectly merciful act (as we should be killed on the spot), by one who is in the process of enacting perfect justice.

These regulations, as well as a vast amount of prophecy all lead up to Christ. Emanuel, "God with us". Jesus came into the world, the personification of the Almighty God. Very important to remember that Jesus, although man, was God. If he was not, there was no other reason for him to have died, for that was the very reason, both from Heaven as well as from man, that he was sent to the cross. Being perfect God, and being a perfect man allowed a sacrifice more perfect than that of an animal. Jesus, our high priest, placed upon his head the sins of mankind, as was done with the scapegoat, and died, removing our sins from us. Sin was now completely punished.

I think its worth noting that the only way for you (collectively), an imperfect man, to provide the satisfaction necessary to cover your own sin, is to take your sin and die as Jesus did, and as man has been doing. However, this had been going on for millennia previously without much success, and all that ever came of it before was death. But because Jesus was God, man, and perfect, eternal death could not be Jesus's punishment. Death was sin's punishment, and death is sin's punishment. Jesus rose from death, and is and will continue forever to be alive and in Heaven. He exists as something of a proxy to God. A proxy which as a single port and implements a single protocol, the "Know Me" protocol. And only by knowing Him can we get to God, Heaven, and Eternity. By going to Jesus, we are stripped of the sin which previously condemned us to death, and that sin is put in its place: the death of Jesus.

Because He is God, He knew that total justice was attainable by not punishing, to death, everyone who sinned. And by setting a plan in motion to bring perfect justice, perfect mercy could also be exercised to those who believe and follow God.
Hi Jon,

I have a number of issues with Christianity which perhaps you can clarify or at least ponder over.

1)To be Christian (and attain salvation) one must believe that Jesus died for the sins of man.
How then did the people before the time of Jesus attain salvation?

2)Is Jesus the Son of God or God Himself?

3)Do you not find it a contradiction that God can die?

4)How can the bible be the word of God when it contains many contradictions. Here is one of many I have come across:

bible, 2nd book of chronicles, chapter 22, verse 2:

"Ochozias was forty-two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem, and the name of his mother was Athalia the daughter of Amri. He also walked in the ways of the house of Achab..."

bible, 2nd book of kings, chapter 8, verse 26:

"Ochozias was two and twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem: the name of his mother was Athalia the daughter of Amri king of Israel. And he walked in the ways of the house of Achab..."

Hi Jon,

I wandered over here from Stack Overflow and I'm sure glad I did. You seem like the sort of person it would be fun to sit down and talk with, which is more of a complement than it might sound. This is a fine summary of your faith and definitely worth pondering.

Obviously I disagree with you on quite a few points (otherwise I wouldn't be writing). But as I started to think of ways to refute your points, I remembered the passage in Mark chapter 9 where the disciples complain about a man who cast out demons in the name of Jesus but wasn't a follower. Here's what He answered:

"Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward."

So that's it. We don't get our reward by holding this or that doctrine or belonging to a certain group or doing good deeds. All that matters is if we are making our way closer or farther from Christ Himself.
Or, maybe the Bible, Kuran, Hindu writings, Talmud, Aztec herioglyphs etc., are all just stories written by humans trying to explain the mystery of existence to themselves. That is, the story of Jesus is no more true than the story of Zeus.

Occam's razor would tells us that this is the most reasonable explanation.

Then again, Zeus was not known for being a reasonable God! I myself prefer Thor, he's sexy.
I would agree with Tony's interpretation of hell. To me hell, contrary to being an active punishment and torture handed out by God, is the pain and anguish of being apart from God. God cannot let sin into heaven, and so those who are sinful (have not been redeemed) must be cast out. I see it less as a punishment (as your example of the corrective punishment of your children suggests) but more as an artefact of a terrible situation -- sin cannot enter heaven and not everyone is redeemed.

That does, of course, raise several other questions, not least why everyone cannot be redeemed. But I do think it helpful to view hell as the pain and anguish of being separate from God and a consequence of sin not being allowed into heaven than some active punishment by God.
My thoughts on your post.

I agree with your beliefs on the Bible. It is the inspired word of God. But to assume that it holds all the answers to everything that you will ever need to know in any situation is just not right. We have been given the ability to pray and ask for personal guidance to know God’s will for us.
Also, the Bible was not written in English. It had to be translated. Sometimes translation is difficult and meanings are hard / impossible to perfectly preserve. Which leads me to completely agree with this statement: “Taking each phrase of the Bible as literal truth is problematic in terms of consistency and understanding”

I believe that damnation is the end of progression. The fires of hell are not true burning, but sorrow for the more advanced salvation we could have enjoyed.
Only a small few are truly cast out. (Ones such as Judas Iscariot who have committed a true "eternal" sin.) All the rest will be redeemed in God’s time. (God's is Eternal and Eternal punishment is God's punishment and he knows the end of it.) After that, my faith believes that we will eventually receive a place of happiness (in relation to our spiritual valor in this life). (There are more details on this that make sense both logically and spiritually if you are interested.)

Christ’s atonement was infinite in nature. As such it is beyond full mortal compression. That is not to say we should not try, but I don’t believe that we can fully understand the mechanics of how it works. His payment was not just on the cross but in Gethsemane as well. The suffering he endured is beyond our ability to even understand. But somehow, by it the laws of justice can be appeased. If we repent then we exercise this appeasement. God is just. Always. But with Jesus Christ’s Atonement God is able to be merciful. You use the phrase “Penal substitution”. Think of it more as paying a debt. When we sin we are borrowing money we don’t have and that we have no way of paying back. Through the miracle of the atonement, Christ can pay back our debt and God can be merciful. Without the atonement we are all toast. Justice would demand that we be punished, and punished forever as we could never pay back our “debt”. That is why God’s plan to send his son to atone for us is so wonderful. It allows for both Justice and Mercy to exist together.

>>Understanding of other faiths.
Having a loving God means that he will try to improve the lives of all his Children, regardless of how they worship. I do believe that God’s will can be more fully followed and his sanction can placed on the actions of some and not others. But to say that only one faith is “right” denies the good done by many under the inspiration of God.

>>My Thoughts
Religion is a hard subject. It involves something that is core to a person’s identity. As such we are drawn to want to share this “core” with others and at the same time we want to protect it from the influence of others. I think this is one reason why it causes so many heated debates. Either way, I liked your article and would love an opportunity to discuss “core” beliefs in a non-heated manner if you like.
On a completely unrelated note, I am reading C# in Depth and absolutely love it. Great Book!
Stephen Schaff
There is no God, there is no need for salvation and your idea of faith is stupid and insipid rationalization. Amazing how you grew up Christian, I bet your parents were Christian? What's the likelihood you would have grown up to be Muslim or Hindi with Christian parents? But of course you're a Christian now not because of your upbringing but because you just happen to believe in what is true. Get a clue. Obviously a high rep on StackOverflow doesn't equate with rational thinking. God is a delusion. And on that part about "mocker of atheists" I know very few atheists that would deny the existence of God if you could just provide some kind of evidence that isn't your own imagination running a little wild.

You think that punishing another person for one's sins cannot be just. I full heartedly agree. Yet, it was not another person that was punished, but God himself took on the punishment.

Was Jesus fully man? Yes, and it is said that he experienced all temptations as we do. But he also was fully God.

One of the errors we make is to believe that Son of God is literal. In ancient culture somebody became a son (huios) when 30. He was then proclaimed to fully represent the father - in credit transactions for example.

Jesus was fully God - and he was the son of God for as much as he represented the Father on earth. He did so perfectly - "I do nothing unless I see the Father doing it".

So God in his perfect mercy decided to take the punishment on himself, to fulfill perfect justice. And whosoever accepts this in faith will be spared from punishment or rather eternal separation from God.
Extremely well put, Jon. (I found your blog after following a link from a coding forum reference to "short but complete" programs.) You have given a succinct summary of not only your faith, but mine, and I suspect that of many others as well.

Since I was a child in a Catholic school I have had many questions that I felt, if asked, would be frowned upon by my former Catholic teachers, my current Baptist in-laws, and everyone in between. As such, I felt myself feeling more and more separated from my religion, and as a result from my faith as well. Recently this feeling of separation has even let me to declare to my wife that I'm no longer sure that God even exists. Part of this is definitely due to my ever-stronger aversion to the teachings of the Baptist church that I now attend with my wife, but the questions have always been there regardless.

Your post is a great reminder that faith and religion do not always go hand in hand, and that we all have doubts from time to time. I know it sounds silly, even petty, but just reading the similar views of someone else is very reassuring. Part of it is your writing; you have a way of stating your views that leads me to believe you should be writing a book about faith, not just blog posts. It is a gift; use it.

Thanks again, Jon, and best of luck to you in the future.
Faith is the answer to all and without it we have a hard time getting through tragedies. I always combine my hope with my faith and love in my heart and that allows me to write and keep inspired.
"atheists who don't see that their own firm belief in the non-existence of God is also a form of faith"

Wrong. Swap the word God for Batman to see why.

"atheists who don't see that their own firm belief in the non-existence of Batman is also a form of faith"

The only difference is there is significantly more evidence for the non-existence of Batman than for the non-existence of God. Abatmanists have a more justified faith than atheists, in my opinion. Certainly I know of no ordinarily rational person who claims to have a personal experience with Batman while I know plenty of perfectly rational people who claim a relationship with God. Claiming belief in God is equivalent to belief in whatever mythical character you might insert in the sentence simply ignores mountains of evidence.

A more profitable approach would be to address the evidence itself rather than apply a false analogy.
I am taking issue with the inappropriate generalisation you make in your description of atheist. You describe a subset (possibly a majority) of atheists and proceed to accuse all atheists of being the same.

I am not one of the atheists you describe. I have no “firm belief in the non-existence of God”. If I did, I would not have read this post and I would not seek and evaluate evidence.

I am an atheist because so far my view of the available evidence strongly suggests that all of humankind’s stories about gods are fiction. Like many atheists I know, I keep an open challenge to any theist to provide any evidence. Any at all. This is the opposite of the “convinced” atheist in your generalisation.
@Anonymous: Assuming you were addressing me, could you tell me where I accused all atheists of behaving the same way? There's a vast range of behaviour from atheists - just as there's a vast range of behaviour from Christians, Hindus etc.
Jon, my comment was referring to the sentence in your entry that reads, “those atheists who don't see that their own firm belief in the non-existence of God is also a form of faith”.
So surely that means you're not one of *those* atheists, doesn't it? I wasn't generalising about all atheists, I was talking about a specific subset.
Hi Jon, I've been making use of your stackoverflow gems for quite some time and I only just stumbled upon this blog this morning when I saw your tweet about writing a sermon. I really enjoyed this blog entry and read it with a mix of surprise and delight. Wonderful!
Thanks for coming to the states Jon, it was a pleasure meeting you at the lunch table on Wednesday. Personally I look at Thomas as a truth seeker rather than a complete doubter. My brother and father passed away over the last few years and if someone told me they had just had a conversation with them I'd want to see some proof, in the way of talking to them myself.
Wonderful! Can't tell you how pleased I was to discover that the champion of Stack Overflow was into Jesus. Bless you Jon - Big love and prayers from a fanatical, fundamentalist, evangelical, Charismaniac.
"atheists who don't see that their own firm belief in the non-existence of God is also a form of faith"

Wrong. Swap the word God for Batman to see why.

"there is significantly more evidence for the non-existence of Batman than for the non-existence of God ... I know plenty of perfectly rational people who claim a relationship with God"

There is no evidence, so it is equivalent to batman existing. "claiming" does not constitute evidence. Many people claim Xenu exists, and fairies.
As an atheist, I envy people like you Jon, my twin sister is Christian and sometimes I wish I could believe in the same way that she does, I think my road to salvation may be longer and have a few extra bumps and turns along the way, but perhaps one day I can see things the way she does, because it brings great peace to so many. I know people will say it brings war too, and that conflicts over religion have cause so many deaths, but as a concept, as a belief to hold within oneself, I imagine it brings great comfort. Particularly when I think of my loved ones and my family.

Thank you Jon, I admire you for both your ability technically, and your faith.
If I robbed a house, and you got punished for it, would that be justice?

No, not if I were punished against my will for a crime that you committed. But if I volunteered to endure the punishment that was owed to you, then yes, justice would be served. And that is exactly what Christ did on the cross. He, as God incarnate, voluntarily submitted to the will of God the Father in order to endure the punishment that you and I as sinners both deserve. In so doing, Jesus satisfied God's wrath against sin once and for all (who would believe). This substitutionary atonement accomplished by Christ on Calvary was foreshadowed in the Old Testament sacrificial system. It is why Paul and the other New Testament disciples ceased practicing animal sacrifice, i.e., because a Greater Lamb had been slain for their (and our) sins.
Hi Jon,

I honour your approach as it is totally honest and sound.
But we are dealing with spiritual truths, natural thinking is unable to correctly interpret the Word of God. This is not to say it is totally unsound, but certain truths must be revealed by the Spirit. Remember how the learned religious folk at the time completely missed Christ by using natural thinking.

You hit smack on when you say that a just God cannot be merciful.
This is the reason behind Christs atonement.
It is enables a merciful God to be just.
Christ, like the first Adam, ate the apple of sin that Eve took.
Christ BECAME sin.
Christ became ONE with us.
As Christ partook of our sin, He too was thrown out of Gods presence.
( He that knew no sin became sin.. He that NEVER was separate from the Father was rejected)

Same picture as Adam and Eve were BOTH thrown out of the presence of God.
But whereas Adam sinned... Christ did NOT.

Now Christ was ONE with us in sin.
So then ALL of Gods just and righteous anger fell on Christ.
Christ was smitten for was as if WE were smitten.
Christ went to hell for was as if WE were in hell.

For Christ and sinful man were ONE.

As all Gods justice fell on Christ.. all fallen mankind need not suffer judgement.
Christ paid that all.

BUT... if we refuse His sacrifice, if we refuse His justice, if we refuse to make HIM our head...
then we are NO longer ONE with Him.

Then we must OURSELVES be smitten, beaten and sent to hell too.

This is why it is completely true that EVERY religion outside of Christ is false.

ONLY those that are ONE with HIM benefit from the sacrifice HE paid.
Any other way leads to hell.

I hope that helps my dear brother.
I also am a software engineer and highly respect your contribution to the IT world.

A good book on this is "Identification with Christ" by EW Kenyon

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