Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Does matter matter?

I just read a fantastic interview between , one of my favorite bloggers, and Dr. Michael Wittmer, author of Heaven Is A Place On Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters To God. A few great snippets:

IMonk: How would you identify the typical evangelical misunderstanding of the relationship between heaven and earth, God and human beings?

Dr. Wittner: Many evangelicals think too little of God's physical creation. They wrongly suppose that matter doesn't matter or worse, that matter is the matter. This leads them to suppose that their spiritual soul is good and their physical body is bad and that a spiritual heaven is good and this physical earth is bad. So salvation becomes escapism. The goal of life is to slough off this body and troubled planet and go to heaven, where their divine-like souls can twinkle and shine forever...there is not one verse of Scripture which supports this view. Instead, the biblical hope... is the restoration of this creation.

IMonk: An atheist might say something like this: Christianity claims that God is infinite in every way. This necessarily means that human life has no real value, since all value and importance belongs to God. Therefore, at the core of Christianity is a kind of self-hatred, i.e. you must hate yourself and do away with yourself so that God alone can matter forever. Why would anyone want to be part of a religion that zeroes out the significance of everything human?

Dr. Wittner: Some evangelical leaders unwittingly support this idea when they leave the impression that God is selfish. They say that God exists solely for his own glory. He is like a cosmic vacuum cleaner, sucking up all the glory that we are obligated to give him. While they are right to say that the infinite God is the most real and valuable being in the universe, they are wrong to suggest that God is selfish.

Because God is Triune, a community of self-giving lovers, he is unable to be selfish. Just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit sacrificially serve the others within the Godhead, so they create new others-you and me-to love. God did not have to create us, but given who God is-a community of self-giving lovers-it's not shocking that he would do so.

Here's the point: God is committed both to his glory (because God is one essence) and to our flourishing (because God is three persons who necessarily love the other). So God's infinity is not an obstacle to my value, but because the most valuable being created and cares about me, I have real value. God's infinite value does not cancel my finite value, rather it establishes it.

I wonder if an atheist can make a similar claim to human value. It seems that if there is no God and if this life is all there is, then we and whatever we do doesn't ultimately count for much.

I Monk: Someone once said that we ought not try to be more religious than God. Bonhoeffer enigmatically wrote about "religionless Christianity" Are these ideas useful?

Dr. Wittner: The Christian faith is an earthly, material faith. The physical world is both the object of God's creation and the scene of his redemption. There is no salvation without a physical incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. So yes, evangelicals who sing the Platonic line (and they are many) are ironically attempting to be more spiritual than God. This was the Corinthian problem. They thought they were too spiritual to have sex (1 Cor. 7) and believe in the resurrection (1 Cor. 15). Paul told them that they are so spiritual that they are no longer Christian! (1 Cor. 15:12-17).

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