Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Mistaken View of Love

Dr. William Lane Craig’s recent podcast entitled “A Mistaken View of Love” can be found here. Please listen to it. I used the same title here because while he answers a mistaken view of love, he does so while himself holding a mistaken view of love.

The mistaken view of love that he addresses is summed up in the statement, “Love is not a feeling; love is a decision.”

The idea that he counters with is that a full and mature love will involve affection. He points out that “the Bible affirms that God has genuine compassion.” Instead of supporting this by citing where the Bible says this, however, he points out the etymology of the English word, “compassion”. He says that the word means to “have feeling with the other person; to be connected with that other person emotionally.” He says that instead of “saying that love is not an emotion, maybe what we should be saying is love is not merely an emotion.”

He, of course, attributes the mistaken view of love he is answering to Calvinists, legalists, and Muslims. This may be the case with Muslims. The category of legalism is too broad to pin something like this on. There are legalistic charismatics or semi-pelagians, for example. His idea of Calvinism is that a fully sovereign God is too harsh a concept. It goes to show that he doesn’t fully understand Calvinism.

But perhaps he has God’s impassibility in mind. This is a disputed doctrine, even among Calvinists, that essentially says that God is not motivated by passion. That is to say that God doesn’t experience emotion like his creatures do. This excludes, obviously, the incarnated Son of God in his humanity. The Bible typically anthropomorphizes God. In descriptions of God, we see that he has hands, eyes, a heart, a face, wings like a hen, breath, etc. Descriptions of emotion attributed to God are likewise probably anthropomorphisms as well.

The reason I say that is because we know today that emotions involve physical functions. We are walking chemical factories producing hormones and endorphins that generate emotional states that were created to drive appropriate actions. Because of the fall, our emotional states are often inappropriate for specific situations. When we are wronged, for example, a heightened anxiety level may produce anger that if acted upon will cause us to fail to be gracious. While fear of social repercussions may drive us to refrain from acting inappropriately on this anger, the proper way is to deny the emotion based on a desire for God and his will to be done over and against our own will. Because we are in an inappropriate state of emotion, this must be disimpassioned. It is rather trust in God’s steadfast love over and against passion that allows us to behave lovingly for others.

So in some respect love is a decision in that acting in love often requires a decision. But I also agree with Craig that it is more than a decision. In a perfect world, it will involve appropriate emotional responses. But this isn’t a perfect world. So what is love and what is its relationship to emotion?

Let me discuss emotion first. It’s a woefully vague word that typically lacks nuance. When we use the word, we typically think of our own personal experience with emotion. Since our emotions are temporal, we typically don’t have the capacity to feel all emotions simultaneously. When we feel a couple of competing emotions at the same time we are often left confused and befuddled. But our experience with emotions is that we are both motivated by them and wrestle against the way inappropriate ones would motivate us to behave. God doesn’t have this problem because isn’t motivated by temporal emotions. Emotions in some limited way, however, are a picture of some of God’s attributes. While God is not motivated by emotions, he is motivated by his attributes. But all of his attributes are eternally unified. That means that God loves and hates all at once; that he is merciful and wrathful all at once; that he is gracious and just all at once. It’s hard for us to understand the fullness of this truth because we possess fallen, limited minds.

And so the love of God is no mere emotion. All of his other attributes are wrapped up in it; All of them. So it’s reasonable that he is impassable. That brings me to the definition of love. It isn’t a decision, although it results in decisions over and against wayward emotions. It isn’t an emotion because it can be wielded most effectively when not motivated by some emotional attachment. Jesus talked about this in Matthew 5:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48, ESV)

So loving when we lack an emotional motive for doing so is likened here to “being perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.” Chew on that for a while.

But it still doesn’t fully define love. The famous John 3:16 hints at the definition:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, ESV)

God’s love involves the giving of his Son. How did he give his Son? As a sacrifice. Love involves sacrifice. Paul admonishes husbands in Ephesians 5 to “love your wives, and Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” How did Christ give himself up for the church? He died on the cross as a sacrifice to atone for her sins. Husbands are called to love their wives by living sacrificially for them. But John came out with a clear statement about love in John 15:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13, ESV)

So love necessarily involves sacrifice. But here we also see that that sacrifice is not for oneself, but that it is for someone else. I like the way my pastor phrases it. He defines love as seeking someone else’s best interest above your own. This definition of love is far deeper than the decision to sacrifice for someone or that it will involve some emotional attachment. It goes against the idea that we should compete against others so that we can be winners while everyone else is losers. It means that we should be willing to lose so that someone else can “win”; that they can receive all the benefit. And it means that we will do that for our enemies as well. Tough love is used to refer to being hard on someone because you know it is good for them. True love is tougher because it requires us to be hard on ourselves because it’s good for someone who doesn’t deserve a good thing.

And none of us are capable of doing that without living in the power of Christ who did that for us.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Pros and Cons of an iPhone versus a Droid – and God is Sufficient For All Our Needs

A few years ago I got my first smartphone. It was a Blackberry Storm. I enjoyed it although it had some quirks. Occasionally, you had to pull the battery so that the memory would reset. So when it came time to renew, I upgraded to a Droid 3 by Motorola. It was a good upgrade at the time. It worked well and did far more than the Storm. Additionally, you didn’t have to remove the battery to reset the memory. Frankly, all you had to do was wait until the battery died, which wasn’t long. Fair enough, though. It didn’t last much less than the battery on the Storm. The Droid3, however, still allowed me to pull the battery if only to make myself feel better. I liked the hardware keyboard that slid out.

I discovered the problem a few months after I got the phone. The Droid 3 and another Droid phone would no longer receive Android OS upgrades. Sure, you could jailbreak it and install the upgrades yourself with some trouble, but that would void the warranty. I had hoped for the fix to some bugs, but to no avail. Both Motorola and Google have been unhelpfully silent. I can imagine the confidential meetings with each one pointing the finger at the other:

Motorola: “You didn’t make upgrades that were compatible with some of our phones!”
Google: “Your phones are too crappy for our software!”

So who gets jammed? The customers.

For the most part, I’ve enjoyed my Droid aside from a few stupid quirks. I’ve also turned my nose up at Apple products. I like having control over my computing devices. I don’t like being subject to the whims of a company who has me subject to their proprietary software. I like to be able to open up a computer or device and change hardware, install custom software without any hassle, etc. if you want to program for your Apple, you need to purchase a license. So get an iPhone? No thanks.

During this time, my wife has been through a Droid and a couple of iPhones. She has an iPhone 5 now and still had an iPhone 4 that was in good condition. The battery on the Droid 3 is dying. I could shell out $80 or so for another battery, but the keyboard is wearing out and the Android software is old and buggy with no hope of an upgrade. I also noticed that my wife and kids were Facetiming each other. (My kids have iPod Touches.) At a loss for which new phone I should go with, my wife suggested I try her old iPhone 4 to see how it compares. Now that I’ve had it for a couple of days...

...I’ve been making a short list of pros and cons:

Platform: The iOS has been bug-free so far. It’s made for Apple products and Apple products for the iOS. Any problem and you have only Apple to blame. So they make it work, and it works well according to plan. You can count on the iPhone getting the latest updates. You can’t count on a Droid getting the latest updates.

Speed: One of the more frustrating things about the Droid/Android is that when the memory even thinks about getting full, it loses all kinds of speed. I would sit there and repeatedly punch the Back key waiting for an app to close as though repeatedly punching it would make it move faster. I knew how slow it was by how many times I punched it before it decided to close. Occasionally, it would even freeze completely. Even turning it off was impossible. What did I do? Pull the battery. I haven’t had this issue with the iPhone yet.

Battery: The life of a normally functioning battery is probably about the same. The benefit of the Droid3 is that you can actually change it yourself. iPhone? Nope. Take it in and pay someone else to change the battery. Most smartphones are going to non-removable batteries anyway, so it’s not just the iPhone.

Memory: The iOS has a feature that I enjoyed on the Blackberry: you can easily shut down background programs and clear out memory. Android will let you see the programs after waiting several seconds for it to find them all. You can try to shut them down. You might be successful; you might not. If you are successful, the Android software just might start it back up again.

Additional memory: I like the fact that I could add or swap out supplemental memory cards. Not every Droid has this, but mine does. And I used it plenty.

Battery heat: Because the memory can be kept clean, the iPhone seems like it runs cooler than the Droid3. I knew when my battery was draining quickly because it would heat up like a skillet on my hip. I could cook supper on my Droid if the battery lasted long enough. You don’t need an app for that. It’s built into the system. All the Droids together might be able to melt the polar ice caps.

Apps: I was concerned that I would have to pay for a lot of iPhone apps. Nope. All my favorites, or similar ones, are still free. There are some I found that were even better than the apps for the Droid. So both are free and the iPhone apps seem to work better.

Syncing: I despise iTunes. I always have and unless something changes, I always will. I liked being able to sync music without converting half of my library on the Droid. I liked being able to sync without making copies of the songs I want to sync into a separate folder. Additionally, I like having direct access to the file system. Since I don’t have that on the iPhone, that’s one big thing that Droid has over iPhone. On the Droid, I didn’t have to sync to put songs on my phone. I could drop music directly into the directory on the phone and it was there when I switched the USB connection back over to “charge only”.

Facetime: Google Talk didn’t work. Every time I turned on background data I was pestered with messages saying that Google Talk couldn’t initialize. I didn’t have anyone to talk to on Google Talk anyway. I tried to get Google Talk to work if only so that I wouldn’t get that error message all the time. I sought help from Motorola and Google. No help. Meanwhile, my wife and kids were Facetiming each other. As soon as I set up my Apple account Facetime worked. Imagine that. Now I can pester my daughter when she’s doing her homework:

Me: “Hi, Hope!”
Hope: “Dad, I’m just in the other room.”

Virtual keyboard: I like a hardware keyboard. I’m always mistyping on the soft keyboard. But the iPhone’s soft keyboard seems to be a little easier for my big fingers than the Android’s soft keyboard. I might be able to live with it.

So, the iPhone is looking like a strong option. It’s not looking good for the Droid overall.

But that brings me to another issue. Sometimes we treat God like a smartphone.

We look for churches like we shop for phones, or cars, or houses… or even spouses these days. We like God as long as he works. But the moment he stops doing what we think he should be doing, we question whether our fidelity has been misplaced.

It’s only human nature to expect whatever god we worship to provide what we expect. In ancient days in the Middle East, tribes would take their gods into battle. The victor would demonstrate by winning that their god was the best. Tribes that were particularly victorious often had trophy rooms where they stored the gods they had conquered. It’s kind of like the drawer full of old phones that you’ve replaced because they weren’t good enough for you anymore.

But the true God of the Bible isn’t like these false gods. He didn’t need to be taken into battle per se. He went before his people. Sometimes he promised success in battle. Sometimes he promised that his people would be defeated for their lack of obedience so that they would come to a place where they would cry out for him in their need. Sometimes he called for difficult times, not because his people were disobedient, but precisely because they were obedient. And he used the difficult time his people went through in order to accomplish a much greater purpose that was not understood by his people at the time.

When we go through difficulties, we are not to treat God like a product that we invest in so that it serves us. We are here to serve God. Do we trust God or do we trust the conveniences that he gives us? Do we take him at his word that we will suffer for him and rejoice in that he will be with us through difficult times? Indeed, we should trust him for there is no other. There is no other god. There are only idols that vie for our hearts with false promises of convenience or some other well-being. And the idols themselves do not truly vie for us, but rather we for them. We invent promises and place them in the mouths of false gods.

Who would invent a God who brings his children through difficulties for his own glory? For unrighteous man, this seems cruel. But for a righteous God, the result is a sanctified heart. God is not a cell phone that we should discard him when it seems to stop working. He is the Almighty God, Creator of all things, who provides us with all that we need to be with him in the last day.