(A four minute read)
I’ve been thinking a lot about absolutism and relativism lately. Which leads naturally to thinking about life and death.
Before you nod off, know that this won’t be a Humanities 101 lecture. I won’t channel Frances Schaffer either (although he was right about many things). This is just some light musing from my frequent state of semi-confusion.
On the relative scale there is worst, worse, bad, better, good, best. On the absolute scale there is Good and then there are the rest of us. The creatures. The created ones. Since we can’t be good enough to make it There, we can’t make it anywhere. At least not after death.
Don’t worry: I’m not obsessing with death per se, even though I’m about to turn 65. It just seems like the best example because it comes to all of us.
Only the absolute scale can measure this. Either we are alive, or we are dead. There’s no room for ‘kinda dead’ or ‘sorta dead’. Even the term ‘half dead’ is only an idiom, as illogical and useless as ‘half pregnant.’
So there are things in life that must be objectified. There are absolutes. Death is one of them. What happens after death is also an absolute, but there remains a tremendous argument about what happens There.
As a Christian I believe there’s some sort of life after the death experience. It’s promised in the Bible. It also just seems logical that there should be something after the transition through death, just as there is something after the transition through birth. A transitory life that includes self-awareness is devoid of meaning unless it prepares me for something.
The well-worn ‘classroom preparation/test’ metaphor is apt here. However, if life is actually a test, then it’s wrong to call God a God of Love. More like God with a clipboard. I prefer to think that life is a choice (God’s choice), and then a series of choices by me that move me toward God or away from God.
The Eternal Problem
The key then, is which direction am I moving when I Bite the Big One?
Sooner or later, believer, agnostic or atheist, we all come face to face with a living God who created us. At least that’s what I believe. I imagine Him leaning in, not malevolently, but with kindness, and asking me, ‘So?’ Since He already knows what’s in my heart the question would seem irrelevant, except that I have free will. I’m allowed to speak.
I’ve been allowed to speak for almost 65 years now, and most of what I’ve spoken does not bear repeating; much of this I admit to, but am not proud of.
We imagine God as having a great memory – the best memory in fact. After all, He is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-seeing so must be all-remembering as well. Except He’s not. He can just as easily be all-forgetting.
The Bible has many reassurances of this. Here are two:
First, we get the bad news: ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.’
Then the good news: ‘ If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ 1
Bad news again, where God says, ‘you have made Me burdened with your sins; you have wearied Me with your iniquities.’ But then immediately we are stunned by, ‘I even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and will not remember your sins.’ 2
Why? Why would God declare that sin is not acceptable in His presence but then invite us in, sin and all, and, oh – none of this makes any sense unless God truly is a loving entity, not an angry vindictive one.
It’s easy to argue that this apparent inconsistency in God’s behavior shows that He IS vindictive, because He is ‘inconsistent’. The logical fallacy that follows is that He is ‘arbitrary’. But that imprints human values on God, which doesn’t work. Human values are relative. God’s are absolute. And we don’t necessarily understand them.
I’ll argue instead that if He were vindictive He wouldn’t offer us a way out of our sinful, selfish madness.
It’s the darnedest thing. He loves me so much I got free will. Which means I can endlessly choose things He doesn’t like. But He’s not a cop; I don’t get arrested and jailed and then put on trial and executed. Not if I say I’m sorry.
That’s the way of grace. And grace must exist because free will exists in a world where sin exists. And all these are absolute.
1. 1 John 1:8-9
2. Isaiah 43:24b-25