The God We Hold Hostage

March 20, 2008 | 20 comments
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[Revised from the Archives.]

The Garden of Eden story doesn’t have a point.

Like all true stories, the point is the story itself. We can get more than one meaning out of it. We can even get meanings that look contradictory. The mind can gnaw on it.

I went to the temple once not long after reading Perelandra, C.S. Lewis’ take on the Garden of Eden story. Through me, through Adam, through Christ, a 17th century Saxon named Christoph H. came into God’s presence. And I got to thinking about our mortal situation and the Garden of Eden.

Perelandra’s view is that Eve held Adam hostage: break the commandments or you can’t be with me. That view can be found in the temple too if you look for it. But if you’re looking for it, what you’ll most notice is that God is the real hostage.

We are here, having the experience we want, indulging in our sins, squandering the gifts we’re given. And He does what He can to adapt truth and righteousness to Adam’s circumstances (our circumstances) and to Adam’s willingness (our willingness) to receive it. Make marvelous and sacred things stupid and little for our sakes, we say, so we can understand them, and He does.

And every time we sin, we are in effect demanding that the Son come out into our filth and the power of the fiend, or else God can’t be with us. And the Son comes. If you want my feet clean, God, you’ll wash them. He washes them. Dear father, we prodigals write, if you want to see me again you had better come live like a wretch with me in the middle of the pigs. And He does come. He comes to where we are, no matter how demeaning. We think so little of it. We are sickening creatures.

I have a hard time getting exercised about Theodicy–questions about why God lets bad things and tsunamis happen to us. Partly its because I never really believed that Mormonism, which is truth, was really all that clean, airy, liberal of a faith. Holiness is often as C.S. Lewis described in Till We Have Faces: dank and bloody. But mostly its because I don’t think mankind has much grounds to stand on in our complaints.

I seem to see us conversing with Christ: drink a little from this cup, we say. It’s bitter to the taste, true, but we’re leaving and you’ll drink it if you want us back. Drink it, and watch over us while we “find ourselves” and have adventures and learn things and feel fulfilled. I know that cup, he says. It is bitter indeed, and if I drink it I must drink it to the bottom. See this? we say. It’s the world’s smallest violin. We’re leaving, we say. You can drink the cup or be left a lone man in heaven. And he does drink the cup, with all its sins, your sins and mine, that have been brewing and burning these many years.

Original post and comments here.

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20 Responses to The God We Hold Hostage

  1. Ray on March 20, 2008 at 11:49 am

    I think we usually underestimate what the “condescension of God” really entails. When you get a sense of what it means for a God to become “as one of us” and allow us to be “heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ”, it really is a fascinating thing to ponder how arrogant our complaints generally are.

  2. Peter LLC on March 20, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    What’s fascinating about pondering arrogant complaints?

  3. Adam Greenwood on March 20, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    Ray’s comment is pretty easy for me to understand.

  4. Darrell on March 20, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    Pretty easy for me to understand too. Most people have not reached the level of meekness where we can understand how arrogant complaints against God are. I’m not sure that I have yet–totally. But I do find it a fascinting prospect. Something I am going to be pondering about.

  5. Seth R. on March 20, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    You know, this paradigm only makes sense if you accept the Mormon view of God as a pre-existent being situated in a pre-existing universe, seeking free relationships with other pre-existing beings whom He claims as children and calls on to be like Him.

    If you accept the traditional Christian view of an eternal God independently creating His own twisted catch-22s, it really doesn’t make much sense at all.

  6. Bob on March 20, 2008 at 5:14 pm

    #5: Now what are they going to do when they’ve got Seth and I agreeing !?!.

  7. Bob on March 20, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    #7: Or is it Seth and me? ( Damn, I am already back to disagreeing.)

  8. Peter LLC on March 20, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    So has Ray made marvelous and sacred things stupid and little so you can understand them?

    [Ed.–further snark will be deleted]

  9. Darrell on March 20, 2008 at 6:12 pm

    Ouch! That hurt a little.

    Ray makes me think. I guess if that makes me stupid I will accept the belittlement. I do understand that I have a ways to go before full enlightenment. I will keep plodding along though.

  10. Ray on March 20, 2008 at 7:31 pm

    I make marvelous and sacred things stupid and little so I can understand them a little – while I strive to understand them a little more. In that light, I will be saddened if such a profound post degenerates into arrogant complaints about and reactionary defenses of my oversimplification. It deserves more than that from me; it deserves more than that from anyone who is not me.

    Please, everyone, I appreciate your defense of my comment, but let it die. Adam posted an incredibly thought-provoking and thoughtful post; I really want to read what everyone thinks of it, since it snapped by head back and made me think.

  11. Huston on March 20, 2008 at 7:46 pm

    I’ve been thinking a lot along these lines lately, due to my own failure to be more patient and forgiving. Reading Jacob 5 again recently reminded me just how much the Lord gets down in the dirt and works His hands to the bone for us, no matter how many times we refuse to grow any good fruit. And yet, knowing that, I get frustrated with others. There seems to be a manifestation of the ungrateful servant (Mattehw 18:23-35) in me; perhaps in us all. It amazes me that our Father can bear with me this much…it’s not like I fall a little bit short, it’s a whole whopping chasm. What right do I possibly have to spend one moment content with my constant weakness, much less have the audacity to ever be irritated by anyone else?

    What do you know? It turns out that what the world needs now really IS love, sweet love, after all! : )

  12. Paradox on March 20, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    Those ideas sound a lot like Children of Eden, the musical I’m in right now.

    But considering it goes off on little tangents about asymmetric clouds, I’m not sure it’s entirely doctrinally sound either;)

  13. Melinda on March 21, 2008 at 12:01 am

    I don’t have anything thoughtful to add to the discussion, but I’ve read this post three times now. I really like this post and it’s making me think.

  14. Bookslinger on March 21, 2008 at 12:15 am

    Not just hostage. This concept of holding God hostage may fall under a broader category of making a-priori demands of God for all sorts of things: our faith, our allegience, our service.

    And not just demands for action or decrees on God’s part, but all of us at times seem to demand, most often unconsciously, that his nature, attributes, characteristics and personality conform to our notions of him.

    I’ve seen it both believer, non-believer, and in myself: “If there is a God, then……”, “God has to …..”, “God would never ……”

    We know very little about those laws that are irrevovably decreed in heaven upon which all blessings are based. We can read some few things about them in the scriptures, but we often don’t really believe or accept that they can apply to us. We can read in the scriptures about the things that judgements and curses and scourges are based upon, and again, we fail to see how they can apply to us.

    Sometimes, God does grant us what we ask for, even when we ask amiss, and let’s us suffer the consequences, as in the affair of the lost 116 pages of manuscript.

  15. Adam Greenwood on March 21, 2008 at 11:07 am

    The ‘God in the dock’ idea, eh, Bookslinger?

  16. Latter-day Guy on March 21, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    I have read and re-read this post (and quite enjoyed it), but there is a detail that I don’t get.

    And every time we sin, we are in effect demanding that the Son come out into our filth and the power of the fiend, or else God can’t be with us. And the Son comes. If you want my feet clean, God, you’ll wash them. He washes them. Dear father, we prodigals write, if you want to see me again you had better come live like a wretch with me in the middle of the pigs. And He does come. He comes to where we are, no matter how demeaning.

    I seem to see us conversing with Christ: drink a little from this cup, we say. It’s bitter to the taste, true, but we’re leaving and you’ll drink it if you want us back. Drink it, and watch over us while we “find ourselves” and have adventures and learn things and feel fulfilled.

    There is something in these bits (which are rhetorically effective; that is, they discourage sin) which may distort (at least my understanding of) LDS atonement theology . They seem to present a situation of ongoing suffering for Christ. I suppose this is tied into which model one accepts for the atonement (penal substitution, etc.). If it is something of a tit-for-tat payment, then this is fairly accurate. If the payment Christ made is based on a different model, then describing it in the above terms could be less helpful. Of course, I could be misreading this altogether.

    In any case, interesting stuff, Adam.

  17. Adam Greenwood on March 21, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    Sir,
    I’m open to tit-for-tat payment. Or, at least, I get as much understanding out of that as I do out of other models of the atonement. And under that model my post would be about the series of our little ransom demands and God’s responses that make up our lives. I didn’t write the post with that particular model in mind, though, and I believe the parable in the post could apply to any model of the atonement where we by sin or deliberate choice have made it necessary for Christ to suffer for our salvation.

  18. Christian on March 24, 2008 at 3:00 am

    Adam, the equasion changes somewhat in the construct where those of us who commit serious sin against a greater knowledge must drink of that bitter cup ourselves, with Christ.

  19. Carl Youngblood on March 24, 2008 at 11:52 pm

    Adam, although I think I understand the point you’re trying to make, from a more literal perspective, wouldn’t you say that such arrogance prevents the atonement from taking effect? I am reminded of Elder Featherstone’s comments about a man who expected repentance to be easy and took Christ’s suffering for granted: http://tinyurl.com/3yanmk. He said that this young man would need to go to “Gethsemane and back” before he could truly repent.

  20. Tatiana on March 25, 2008 at 8:44 am

    I love this post. I’ve been thinking about it all week. Adam, you’re so right.

    My atonement model is that Christ’s willing innocent death for love is what it takes to awaken and open our hard, proud, ignorant hearts.