Q: In Chapter 8, he writes, “How much more right, then, has God to give commands, since he is the Ruler of all creation… For all must yield to God just as, in the government of human society, the lesser authority must yield to the greater.” Is he advocating that a theocracy (a government ruled solely by God or strictly under ‘biblical’ rules, laws, and principles)? Is that the best form of government? Why or why not? Do you think it was God’s original intent for mankind to be under a theocracy? Explain.
I don’t like theocracy, and I do not want to live under an Ayatollah or the Taliban.
Maybe I’m fooling myself, but I don’t think that God indented a theocratic government.
God didn’t intend for any government. God gave the 10 Commandments to guide the people on how to live, other than that people pretty much did whatever they needed to do. Every so often there was a disagreement and Moses arbitrated. It was his father-in-law Jethro who gave him the advice that instead of trying to do everything himself, assign wise men to do most of the work and defer to Moses cases that required his attention.
As time passed, people who spoke for God tended to be more and more dogmatic and lacking in God’s love and mercy. Disagreeing with them on what God’s will is was such an affront that it was a death sentence. In America we see how people discriminated upon those who had a different opinion of God and wisely decided to keep God and government separate.
Manicheanism was a major religion that was founded by the Iranian prophet Mani in the Sasanian Empire. Manichaeism taught an elaborate dualistic cosmology describing the struggle between a good, spiritual world of light, and an evil, material world of darkness. Through an ongoing process which takes place in human history, light is gradually removed from the world of matter and returned to the world of light whence it came. Its beliefs were based on local Mesopotamian gnostic and religious movements. Manichaeism was quickly successful and spread far through the Aramaic–Syriac speaking regions.
It thrived between the third and seventh centuries, and at its height was one of the most widespread religions in the world. Manichaean churches and scriptures existed as far east as China and as far west as the Roman Empire. It was briefly the main rival to Christianity in the competition to replace classical paganism. Manichaeism survived longer in the east than in the west, and it appears to have finally faded away after the 14th century in southern China. contemporary to the decline in China of the Church of the East during the Ming Dynasty. While most of Manichaeism’s original writings have been lost, numerous translations and fragmentary texts have survived.
Mani’s teaching dealt with the origin of evil, by addressing a theoretical part of the problem of evil by denying the omnipotence of God and postulating two opposite powers. Manichaean theology taught a dualistic view of good and evil. A key belief in Manichaeism is that the powerful, though not omnipotent good power (God) was opposed by the semi-eternal evil power (Satan). Humanity, the world and the soul are seen as the byproduct of the battle between God’s proxy, Primal Man, and Satan. The human person is seen as a battleground for these powers: the soul defines the person, but it is under the influence of both light and dark. This contention plays out over the world as well as the human body—neither the Earth nor the flesh were seen as intrinsically evil, but rather possessed portions of both light and dark. Natural phenomena (such as rain) were seen as the physical manifestation of this spiritual contention. Therefore, the Manichaean worldview explained the existence of evil with a flawed creation which God took no role in forming but rather was the result of Satan striking out against God.
Manichaeism presented an elaborate description of the conflict between the spiritual world of light and the material world of darkness. The beings of both the world of darkness and the world of light have names. There are numerous sources for the details of the Manichaean belief. There are two portions of Manichaean scriptures that are probably the closest thing to the original Manichaean writings in their original languages that will ever be available. These are the Syriac-Aramaic quotation by the Nestorian Christian Theodore bar Konai, in his Syriac “Book of Scholia” (“Ketba de-Skolion“, eighth century), and the Middle Persian sections of Mani’s Shabuhragan discovered at Turpan (a summary of Mani’s teachings prepared for Shapur I). These two sections are probably the original Syriac and Middle Persian written by Mani.
According to Mani, the unfolding of the universe takes place with three “creations”:
The First Creation: Originally, good and evil existed in two completely separate realms, one the World of Light, ruled by the Father of Greatness together with his five Shekhinas (divine attributes of light), and the other the World of Darkness, ruled by the King of Darkness. At a certain point, the Kingdom of Darkness notices the World of Light, becomes greedy for it and attacks it. The Father of Greatness, in the first of three “creations” (or “calls”), calls to the Mother of Life, who sends her son Original Man (Nāšā Qaḏmāyā in Aramaic), to battle with the attacking powers of Darkness, which include the Demon of Greed. The Original Man is armed with five different shields of light (reflections of the five Shekhinas), which he loses to the forces of darkness in the ensuing battle, described as a kind of “bait” to trick the forces of darkness, as the forces of darkness greedily consume as much light as they can. When the Original Man comes to, he is trapped among the forces of darkness.
The Second Creation: Then the Father of Greatness begins the Second Creation, calling to the Living Spirit, who calls to his five sons, and sends a call to the Original Man (Call then becomes a Manichaean deity). An answer (Answer becomes another Manichaean deity) then returns from the Original Man to the World of Light. The Mother of Life, the Living Spirit, and his five sons begin to create the universe from the bodies of the evil beings of the World of Darkness, together with the light that they have swallowed. Ten heavens and eight earths are created, all consisting of various mixtures of the evil material beings from the World of Darkness and the swallowed light. The sun, moon, and stars are all created from light recovered from the World of Darkness. The waxing and waning of the moon is described as the moon filling with light, which passes to the sun, then through the Milky Way, and eventually back to the World of Light.
The Third Creation: Great demons (called archons in bar-Khonai’s account) are hung out over the heavens, and then the Father of Greatness begins the Third Creation. Light is recovered from out of the material bodies of the male and female evil beings and demons, by causing them to become sexually aroused in greed, towards beautiful images of the beings of light, such as the Third Messenger and the Virgins of Light. However, as soon as the light is expelled from their bodies and falls to the earth (some in the form of abortions – the source of fallen angels in the Manichaean myth), the evil beings continue to swallow up as much of it as they can to keep the light inside of them. This results eventually in the evil beings swallowing huge quantities of light, copulating, and producing Adam and Eve. The Father of Greatness then sends the Radiant Jesus to awaken Adam, and to enlighten him to the true source of the light that is trapped in his material body. Adam and Eve, however, eventually copulate, and produce more human beings, trapping the light in bodies of mankind throughout human history. The appearance of the Prophet Mani was another attempt by the World of Light to reveal to mankind the true source of the spiritual light imprisoned within their material bodies.
Augustine of Hippo was a devoted follower of Manichaeism before he converted to Christianity in the year 387. This was shortly after the Roman Emperor Theodosius I had issued a decree of death for all Manichaean monks in 382 and shortly before he declared Christianity to be the only legitimate religion for the Roman Empire in 391. Due to the heavy persecution, the religion almost disappeared from western Europe in 5th century and from the eastern portion of the empire in the 6th century. According to his Confessions, after nine or ten years of adhering to the Manichaean faith as a member of the group of “hearers”, Augustine became a Christian and a potent adversary of Manichaeism (which he expressed in writing against his Manichaean opponent Faustus of Mileve), seeing their beliefs that knowledge was the key to salvation as too passive and not able to effect any change in one’s life.
Some modern scholars have suggested that Manichaean ways of thinking influenced the development of some of Augustine’s ideas, such as the nature of good and evil, the idea of hell, the separation of groups into elect, hearers, and sinners, and the hostility to the flesh and sexual activity.
Q: In Chapter 7, Augustine discusses his views on what God is or is like. He writes that “God is a spirit, a being without bulk and without limbs defined in length and breadth.” What do you think he means by the word “spirit”? What is “spirit” anyway? Do you share the same view about God as he does? Why or why not? Is God just pure Mind? Have most Christians adopted this view of God when they “envision” or form a vision of God? Do people have “spirits”? If so, are they any different from souls? (Remember Augustine’s neoplatonic thoughts when he thinks about the soul.)
Interestingly enough this question came to me quite recently in an online discussion with a Muslim. She had apparently read a part of the Old Testament that mentions God’s hands and asked if the God of the Old Testament had a body.
In a similar way this question came to mind when I was playing “World of Warcraft” a few months ago (now ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat), and one of the things you fight is demons, which the Bible also describes as “(evil) spirits”, and we were told to attack them with a sword, or bow-and-arrow.
But seriously now, even in college they would “show” that the early Jewish commentaries on the Old Testament were apparently confused about this topic and were supposedly debating each other for quite some time until finally an agreement was reached that it was symbolic, or anthropological speech about God.
This confusion, which can be found in an inter-faith discussion, a cultural phenomenon, and a post-modern reading of classical commentaries, is, I believe, a farce.
Obviously we shouldn’t get our theology from a computer game, but otherwise the discussion is usually brought up out of utter confusion by what we mean by a “literal interpretation” of the Bible, or a mocking of it.
Coming back to the questions, I would describe a “spirit” as an “independent center of consciousness and personality”. A spirit, at least the Spirit that is God, is not bound by anything material; no atoms, no energy, no space, and no time.
Our spirit, on the other hand, is, and I go back to C.S. Lewis yet again, is however bound to these things. But not “locked up” in them, but “bound up” with them. We are creatures of time and space. In fact, we are creatures.
Interestingly enough I would argue that angels and demons are also partially bound up in space-time, though they are not intimately connected to matter and energy like we are. But that is a side-note.
In that sense we are a spirit and a body, which is also why we are assured to get new bodies and will live on the new earth, instead of going to heaven and floating around like spirits. Though the latter may be a temporal stage between death and resurrection.
As for Augustine, he may very well have overlooked the centrality of the new earth and the resurrection, but for that I have to do some more studying.
When it comes to envisioning God as having a body, that may indeed be what Christians do. He showed Himself in visions (Isaiah 6 for example), but on other occasions He is shown in silence (1 Kings 19) and yet at other times it is only hinted at that He can be seen (Exodus 34).
Yet John 4 clearly states that God is Spirit. Yet interestingly enough that was said by Jesus, who is the incarnate Son of God.
Oh well, it is complicated, but if we assume, rather safely I might add, that God created the world, and if both ancient philosophy, centuries of theology and modern science all say that in “reality”, matter, energy, time, and space are all the same, and that God must exist outside and independent of it. And if we also assume that God, by virtue of being the creator of all of this reality, is free to manipulate this reality in such ways as to give Himself a shape, be it in a vision, a theophany or an incarnation, then that in no way diminishes the fact that God is Spirit. Just makes a bit more interesting.
Finally, the difference between a “spirit” and a “soul” is something I used to understand, but now I tend to think that any distinction between the two is only practical and not metaphysical.
Q: In Chapter 12, he seems to imply that God had already set a plan for his salvation, executed partly through Monica. Do you believe that God has a plan for your life (i.e. that He has already set up where everyone would be born, the time, place, your parents, your career, your school, who you’d marry or not, when you would die, etc.)? If so, does that give you great comfort or trepidation, or even anger? Or is God’s “plan” subject to change out of our own free will? Is the universe free and open or is everything predetermined and free will is an illusion? If the universe is free and open and subject to change, what does that imply of God’s actions with us and the universe? (Think of in terms of the notion of love in a divine sense.) (Extra credit: If you believe that everything was predetermined by God, then was evil, death, and suffering all part of God’s plan as well? And if so, how can God still be called ‘good’ then?)
The notion of predestination managed to keep me up late at night for many years. On the one hand, God guarantees free will. On the other, prophecies abound in the Bible. At the same time, the Bible prohibits the reading of heavens or palms or similar things. But then again, God allows people to ask for signs. And the Magi sought out Jesus based on a star in the sky.
It’s bewildering. To splice things apart:
- Free will means that humans are equipped with the faculties needed to create their own paths on earth.
- Prophecies imply that God knows the future and is willing to share it with (some of) us occasionally. Still, some come to fruition, while others do not.
- Astrology, numerology, palmistry and other forms of reading the future are (mostly) prohibited in the Bible, and punishable, though not always. The fact that they are mostly prohibited implies some legitimacy (aka, if these were practices devoid of any substance, they would not be condemned time and again).
- And yet, the Bible also states that the heavens proclaim God’s glory. (This point can be interpreted in two ways: one is, as above, in a cosmological, perhaps literal sense; the other would be more metaphoric: we can see the glories of God by staring at a magnificent sunrise, for example).
- The three Magi followed a star that told them that a king was born. The fact that their trip was informed by reading the heavens (aka, astrology), and that their gifts were accepted and have been revered by some branches of the Church ever since (mainly, the Orthodox) stands in direct contradiction with the explicit prohibition in other parts of the Bible.
So how do these things stand together? Is God a master plan-maker who has designed the life path of each of the billions of people who have ever and will ever inhabit the earth? Is that true for all creation? And is that written somewhere for us to read? Or not?
To begin with, God left physical laws that govern how our universe runs. These can be measured, anticipated, described and reproduced. They are the grand design, or sets of designs, that describe much of the natural world. In effect, they prescribe behavior of the natural world. Astronomers are busy predicting the end of the universe as we know it based on collisions of black holes that they can foresee far into the future. In that sense, the universe is predestined to a large measure.
The same is true for human beings: from DNA to IQ to socio-economic circumstances, human beings have a large measure of their abilities and possibilities pre-determined. While free will is real, it is limited by these circumstances (in theory, I have the option to buy a Manhattan penthouse, but my bank account says otherwise). But I think things go a lot deeper than that.
Here’s a story that my mother told me: my grandmother became a Christian sometime in her 20s, and before this happened a Gypsy woman read her palm and told her that she would marry a man who would die early in life. With this knowledge, and after meeting my grandfather, she spent her Christian, married years praying that her husband be spared an early death. When he turned 40 or so, my grandfather had 2 or 3 freak near-encounters with death, being spared at the last second (in one incident that I recall, a bus almost ran him over, only to have a young man push him out of the way just in time). He died soon after though, long before I was born.
I have had certain incidents in my own life that were timed in such a perfect way that they could hardly have been a coincidence.
What I am left to believe is that God has a multi-faceted grand plan for every single person, including a master-plan for the entire creation, and that this plan is written somewhere. In the NT, Jesus talks about each of us having a place within the body of the church. In a sense, that’s predestination. I think there is a spectrum of choices that we can make, and the outcome for each is predetermined. Sometimes, one choice will take us in a vastly different direction than a different choice made at the same time would have. Other times, two seemingly opposing choices will take us to the same spot, and that’s when people feel the touch of fate most strongly. And if there is, indeed, a master-plan for all creation and for all human history, it would make sense that some people would be born for certain very clearly defined roles. Could these be evil in nature? The OT would say a resounding yes. It offers examples of God turning people over to Satan for very specific purposes. In the grand scheme of things, if God is in control, he must have a very different view of creation than our limited one. It is how I believe that all creation is governed by love: the primary law that defines the natural world is love. I think science is its language.
Q: In the second half of Chapter 8 (p. 66), he writes, “How can sins of violence be against you, since nothing can injure you? Your punishments are for the sins which men commit against themselves, because although they sin against you, they do wrong to their own souls and their malice is self-betrayed.” Do you believe that God is affected or injured, perhaps emotionally, by sin? Or are we hereby anthropomorphizing God too much here – that is, seeing or describing God too much as acting or being like a human being? Or is he too perfect to feel moved by our actions? Is God totally unchanging (called the ‘impassibility’ of God in theological terms) in this sense or can he change? Does that go against what the Bible says of God? Cite any biblical examples for or against the notion that God can change. Are God’s laws and punishments (as stated in the Bible) more for our sakes than it is for God’s as Augustine seems to be implying here?
In this chapter, Augustine focuses much of his attention on various forms and degrees of sin (like lust, violence, and sins against nature) that mankind commits against God, and he also spends some time writing about God’s laws or commandments. He writes that “these sins are hatched from the lust for power, from the gratification of the eye, and from gratification of corrupt nature… [and] because of them, O God most high… our lives offend against your ten-stringed harp [a reference to Psalm 144:9].” Then he injects a bit of neoplatonism (and even a wisp of Aristotle’s ‘Unmoved Mover’) here where he seems to combine Plotinus’ all-encompassing, indivisible, unified, and transcendent ‘One’ with God’s character and being, when he asks, “How can sins of violence be against you, since nothing can injure you?” The One (or God) is eternally unchanging as being the source of all things; however, that begs the question if the One is emanating the Mind, the Soul, then Matter and Individual Souls, doesn’t that mean that the One is generating some sort of change within by the very act of generation or emanation?
Can God be injured? Can God be hurt (emotionally) by sin?
In Christian philosophy, some theologians have bestowed upon God the attribute of impassibility, that is, the doctrine that God cannot suffer. A lot of this came about in early Christian theology to combat against cases of anthropomorphism (giving God too much human-like qualities). For instance, to protect God’s nature or being, theologians claimed that God did not experience envy (in most cases which is a sin) or have envious feelings, or as opposed to us who are prone to be affected by sways of passion that affect our judgment and actions, God is immune to it. The late British theologian Colin Gunton in his book Act and Being: Towards a Theology of the Divine Attributes, writes, “[the doctrine of impassibility] prevent us [from] attributing to God compassion and other forms of action which appear to be intrinsic to a full biblical account of his action.” Furthermore, “it is a doctrine that damages as well as supports the gospel, for it undoubtedly served as one of the motive forces behind Nestoriansim, which divided the person of Christ in order to preserve the eternal Son from the taint of suffering. (Divine impassibility provides support for Arianism also.)” As Gunton further points out, there is a problem that occurs when you get to Christ’s incarnation and suffering on the cross. If God was impassionate or impassible, then it implies that Jesus didn’t really suffer for our sins on the cross, which severely cripples, if not negates, the gospel entirely. As a theologian who defends the Trinity, he believed that all three members of the triune godhead suffer individually and collectively or at the very least feels something in order for God to be called a compassionate God. For God, “Such suffering as we speak of must come from within rather than being something imposed as foreign to the being of God.”
Some persons might point to Malachi 3.6: ‘I the LORD do not change’ and James 1.17: ‘[God] does not change, like shifting shadows’ as evidence of God’s impassibility, but Gunton points out that these verses deal with “indefectibility of action, not with abstract ontological closedness.” It seems evident in many other verses in the Bible that God is subject to change and does apparently suffer. For instance, in Genesis 6.5-6: “the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth… And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” Furthermore, Judges 10.16 states: “And they put away the strange gods from among them, and served the Lord: and His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel.”
In regards to God changing his mind in response to human actions or repentance:
In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”
Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
4 Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: 5 “Go and tell Hezekiah, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. 6 And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city.’”
– Isaiah 38.1-6
Also, when Yahweh burned in anger against the Hebrews for making the golden calf, he told Moses that He was going to destroy them all and start all over again. But Moses interceded on behalf of his people and “So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.” (Exodus 32:14 NASB)
As the German theologian Karl Barth pointed out in regards to God’s repenting and changing His mind, this is totally against the Platonic description of God:
The fact that He is one and the same does not mean that He is bound to be and say and do only one and the same thing… This was and is the way that every form of Platonism conceives God. It is impossible to overemphasize the fact that here … God is described as basically without life, word or act… God is certainly the immutable, but as the immutable He is the living God and He possesses a mobility and elasticity…
In other words, “God allows himself to be affected by the antics of his creatures.” Barth prefers to “speak of God’s constancy rather than immutability. ‘God’s constancy – which is a better word than the suspiciously negative word “immutability” – is the constancy of His knowing, willing and acting, and therefore of His person.’” And I will not go into Jesus’ compassion and whether or not he was moved or swayed by the actions of people, because I think that it is self-evident throughout the gospels.
In regards to whether or not God’s laws and punishments (as stated in the Bible) are more for our sakes than it is for God’s as Augustine seems to be implying here, Augustine states that we or humankind “corrupt and pervert their own nature, which you made and for which you shaped the rules.” I think it partially works both ways: God is grieved by our sins, as stated in detail above, and He gives us these laws (whether they come to us internally, socially, or through revelation) and punishments (or disciplines us) out of compassion and love at times for our own benefit so that we will not tear each other up. We need his laws to expose our sins and to see his holiness. I believe that it is a mutual (covenantal) relationship between God and mankind that He has set up so that He can express his love and care for us, and at the same time helps us curb our self-destructive tendencies and points us to how we should properly relate to one another to a certain extent.
 Gunton, Colin, Act and Being: Towards a Theology of the Divine Attributes, (Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 125.
 Gunton states that this has to do with the notion of perichoresis and the economy of God’s action with respect to Trinitarian theology.
 Gunton, Act and Being: Towards a Theology of the Divine Attributes, 129.
 Gunton, Act and Being: Towards a Theology of the Divine Attributes, 131.
 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, translation edited by G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1957-1975), 2/I, 496.
 Gunton, Act and Being: Towards a Theology of the Divine Attributes, 57.
 Gunton, Act and Being: Towards a Theology of the Divine Attributes, 58.
 Of course, this assumes that believers believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the incarnate Son of God as most professing Christians do.