The Reason for God

I asked for and received Timothy Keller’s The Reason for God for Christmas.

I am just a chapter or two past the middle. The first section addresses the major doubts / obstacles to faith that the pastor has seen, and the other half gives reasons that support faith. Overall, I think it’s a great introduction / survey — enough to quell or satisfy many questions and reassure many insecurities.

Let me repeat — I am enjoying this book. I appreciate it. And it has already helped me with some of my own doubts and concerns.

There are three things so far that bother me, though.

One is minor. In several places, Keller notes that “Everything is relative” is itself an absolute, or something similar. I know technically that’s true, but it still seems like an annoying “gotcha!” tactic. It seems there ought to be a way for a relativist to get around that.

One is more significant. Keller’s thought about hell is like Lewis’ — it’s not that God sends people to hell as a punishment, but more that people choose hell themselves by not desiring God — and hell is “just” separation from God. In isolation, this view seems all nice and fair and sensible, but I would really like to see a book or article that directly addresses the biblical language about hell — not just the “fire” and “darkness” and “gnashing of teeth,” which Keller does address, but the language of “casting out” or “casting into” that Jesus uses, or Paul’s language of “vessels of wrath fitted for destruction (Romans 9:22)” (I know, if I were a better person I’d take the time to look up and cite all these references. I can at least refer to the Sermon on the Mount for Jesus’ use of “casting” — somewhere in Matthew 5-7 where he talks about your eye or hand or foot causing you to sin.)

I really don’t relish the idea of double predestination, but I want to reject it for biblical reasons, if I can, and not just because it’s unsavory to me.

Finally, and this one’s personal:

When Keller talks about “fire” as a metaphorical image of hell conveying “disintegration,” he has this to say:

Even in this life we can see the kind of soul disintegration that self-centeredness creates. We know how selfishness and self-absorption leads to piercing bitterness, nauseating envy, paralyzing anxiety, paranoid thoughts, and the mental denials and distortions that accompany them.

To which I say, I know no such thing! A correlation is NOT necessarily a causation. Yes, self-centeredness, selfishness, and self-absorption tend to co-occur with the other things he mentioned, but which causes which? Or isn’t it more spirally, with each providing feedback to aggravate the other?

Keller’s formulation might suggest that the antidote to bitterness, envy, anxiety, paranoia, denials, and distortions is to simply stop focusing on one’s self. As if that were easy, or even entirely possible.

It reminds me of people who say that optimists are more likely to enjoy life, as if someone could just choose to become an optimist. You might as well reverse it: that those who enjoy life are more likely to be optimists.

I think it’s more accurate to say that the Fall not only separated us from God, but from ourselves and from each other as well — and that is enough to explain both selfishness and paranoia and distortion and the rest.

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9 thoughts on “The Reason for God

  1. I like to think of the Fall as having separated us from our ability to have and sustain a meaningful relationship in the way that God originally intended – that includes our relationship with God and our relationship with ourselves. Our faith and salvation allow us the possibility to “line up” with God, re-establish that relationship which then allows all of our other relationships to align themselves again. All of our relationship alignments are dependant on keeping ourselves aligned with God. I saw a great illustration of that one time using cardboard rectangles for the people and yarn to connect them in their relationships.

    I’m glad you are enjoying the book. Personally, I have some issues with Tim Keller – we have many in our church that have begun to almost worship the man and his writings, especially our two pastors. It has begun to lead to some interesting twisting of scripture – subtle, but twisting nonetheless.

  2. I understand the issues thing — especially being around people who idolize him. I don’t have that situation, but he is popular in the blog world so I hesitated to get his book. My former pastor recommended it, though. I do like his tone and approach much better than some other Reformed folks — he doesn’t come across as strident, smug, or disrespectful, and he remembers that the essentials of the faith come before Reformed distinctives, important as they are.

  3. I like Tim’s book. We will always have some criticism of any author. ….whether it is subject matter, balance, etc. Discussions or teaching with discussions are probably better than a book at times because we may misunderstand or an author may not adequately express what he wants to express.(I think we sometimes over analyze things –but where theology is involved perhaps we need to analyze every detail–I am not sure)

    The fall does mean we are all self-centered. Self-centeredness creates all kinds of messes. I am not sure I get what you are saying about correlation vs. causation. The whole choice of Eve involved self interest over God’s . It was all about self. I do see this as a main thing in our sinfulness. I do see this leading to all of the things Tim mentioned. I see this in my own life. I see this especially displayed in my MIL’s life. You quouted that Tim states:”We know how selfishness and self-absorption leads to piercing bitterness, nauseating envy, paralyzing anxiety, paranoid thoughts, and the mental denials and distortions that accompany them.” I don’t see how you can argue against that–it is pretty basic. You ask which cause which….are you saying for instance that paralyzing anxiety causes selfishness and not the reverse? I am not sure I understand what you are arguing.

    I came to your blog through a google search on forgiveness vs. reconciliation—and found a post you made in 07 which I thought was pretty good. Do you know of any books that discuss this more fully especially in regards to human relationships (ie human to human)?

  4. Nannykim,

    That’s exactly what I’m saying — we can’t know for sure to what extent paralyzing anxiety and selfishness cause or reinforce one another. We do know for sure that they go together. That’s correlation.

    Did selfishness lead to Adam and Eve’s sin, or did their sin lead to selfishness? Yes, they disobeyed — but I wonder if perhaps they didn’t experience the full extent of selfishness until they fell.

    Selfishness, like so many other aspects of sin, is not something we can recover from by ourselves. It requires the grace of God to intervene in our lives. On our own, we either embrace it or try to abolish the whole self and not just selfishness.

    I don’t even like the word selfishness — it sounds as if being a self is a bad thing. What’s bad is setting ourselves up as our own lords and saviors. When we are right with God, when we acknowledge him as our Lord and Savior, our self-interest and God’s interest are realigned… not completely in this life, but already beginning.

    As for forgiveness and reconciliation, I don’t know of any particular books to recommend. What came to mind is the book called Boundaries, which I’ve heard about but haven’t read — it likely addresses this issue, but other things as well.

  5. Ok–thanks–I will check into the book and see what it is about.

    I see what you mean concerning the selfishness issue.Our sins can circle around and feed each other–surely. But ultimately all sin comes from ourselves.

    It just seems that Eve chose to put herself in the place of God. ….or she chose the selfish desire to be like God. One study Bible puts it like this: “As a result, first of all, the anti-God, self-aggrandizing mindset expressed in Adam’s sin became part of him, and of the moral nature that he passed on to his descendants (Gen 6:5; Rom 3:9-20).” It was anti -God and pro -eve or pro- Adam– ie pro -myself.

    I agree with this–that our mindset is anti-god and self-aggrandizing. I think of Mark7:21–“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slader, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Also Matt 7: 11 If you then who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children……” We are called evil. And James says in 1:14 that “…each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire”.

    I don’t see how you can separate our desires from ourselves or our selfishness. Being a self is a bad thing as far as I can figure out……that is being an “old” self. ie Rom 6:6 “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” Eph 4:22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of our minds, 34 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness”.

    So basically our old selfs are pretty bad–all parts of us have been effected in such a way that we need a new self, a new birth and as Eph 2 states we were dead in the tresspasses iand sins…..and He is the one who “made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved.”

    But we are charged to keep on putting off the old self and keep on putting on the new self (the Greek verb is a continuous action if I remember correctly.

    So I guess it is all in semantics–what you mean by self etc…..

    I just wanted to throw all of that in the mix–but you don’t need to respond—I know Mom’s only have so much time—I am not familiar with who you are , but see a picture of a Baby at the top 😉 Have a blessed day!

    What are these desires and where do they come from—from inside out of the heart. Why? self is operating with self in mind and not God in mind and we are often deceived or blinded by our own sin—but ultimately we act our of our desires (self).

  6. I agree with you about total depravity — and the need to put off the old self and be regenerated.

    However, what I’m arguing against is the idea that having a self at all (old or new), being an individual person, is bad. God made us as individual persons and called it good. He also made us for relationship, saying it is not good for the man to be alone.

    Nowhere in the Bible do I get any hint that we should strive for the nirvana of nothingness, non-self, melting into everything. Not even that we should stop having desires — but that we should submit our desires to God. We, being evil, still know how to give good gifts to our children — we are so evil we cannot save ourselves, but we still bear the good image of God.
    It’s the self-aggrandizing that is bad, not the being a self at all.

    Not to worry, I’m not into the prosperity gospel or anything like that, and I don’t think God’s purpose is to help us in our self-actualization. He is the one who actualizes us — regenerates us and sanctifies us into the self he created us to be.

  7. Yup–I like what you say there at the end–that He is the one who “actualizes us–regenerates us and sanctifies us into the self he created us to be”. He is wonderful. I love the fact that his grace works constantly to transform us—I love this verse—LOVE IT: 2 Cor 3:18–“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

  8. Ok. I stopped by your blog (and need to read it more: lots in common!).

    I will address your objections:

    1. I am sure some really erudite de-conversionist who wants to argue the point (about the statement of relative truth being an abslute) with Tim can do so, but the people who respond best to apologetics – seekers who want to have their final concerns addressed and believers who want assurance that they didn’t buy into a cult – really go “aha” with that thought. It seems to do the trick for them and open their minds to realize they are no more dogmatic and irrational than the other side!

    2. I know that Tim absolutely believes that hell is a punishment for sin, a punishment that includes eternal separation from God (what could be worse?). The book probably isn’t as clear on that point as it could be.

    3. From what I know of Tim, the kind of self-centeredness he talks about here is the deepseated selfishness that is at the root of all sin. It’s that commitment from Romans 1 of the sinner to worship self above creator. I think this will become more apparent in his book about idols. So, this self-centeredness, self absorption, selfishness is in a way the root of all sin.

    Hope that is enlightening.

    By the way, the sermons are better than the books, IMHO!

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