Book Two: What Christians Believe
To be a Christian you do not need to think that everything in every other religion is wrong. Where Christianity and another religion disagree, however, you will side with Christianity. The vast majority of people today and throughout history have believed in God. Some have believed that God is beyond good and evil (pantheists), while others maintain that God strongly differentiates between good and evil. One of the problems with pantheism is that if God is everything, then nothing can really be against his will or wrong. When I was an atheist my argument against God was that the universe was unjust. But where did I get my sense of injustice from? If I admitted that a real standard for justice didn’t exist, then I had nothing on which to base my argument. Furthermore, if there is no justice or injustice in the universe, how would a part of the universe come to see that it was unjust? In order to claim that the universe was unjust, I had to have a standard of justice by which I judged it. The fact that I could see injustice in the universe showed that my atheism was too simple.
The universe is obviously bad in some ways, but it also contains creatures who know that it is bad. Christianity teaches that the world was once good and has gone wrong. Dualism teaches that there are two equal powers (one good and one evil) that fight against each other in the universe. The only way that we can call one good and the other evil is by using a third thing, an independent standard. An eternally evil power would have to love evil for its own sake, but we see that people only love evil because it procures them pleasures or they find it useful. Badness is spoiled goodness; it is parasitic. Where good does not exist, evil cannot exist. Therefore an independent, evil power is impossible. Christianity identifies the great evil power with a fallen archangel (i.e. a good being that has been corrupted). The universe is a battlefield, but it is a war of rebellion, not a war between equals.
If a good God created a good world, how did evil enter it? God gave some of his creatures the gift of free will. By definition, God cannot make someone with free will always do what’s right — coercion destroys freedom. Having a free will makes evil possible. It is worth the risk, however, because it also makes love and goodness possible. Sin comes from putting ourselves in the place of God; making ourselves the centre. God did not abandon the world after it went wrong. He prepared people for the coming of his Son. Then, amongst the Jews, a man appeared who claimed to be God. He was either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. Studying his character and speech shows that he wasn’t either of the first two options: He is the Lord. This means that God himself came into enemy-occupied territory as a human being.
Jesus’ death puts us right with God. There are a variety of theories as to how the atonement worked, but what is important is seeing that it did work. The reality of the atonement goes much deeper than any of our models. Even if we don’t understand how it worked, we need to see that Christ’s death took away our sins and conquered death. We need to repent, which means we need to learn a whole new way of living in light of the reality of Christ. God in Christ laid down his will and suffered and died, paying our debts. We can come to share in Christ’s life, death, and triumph. God uses baptism, belief, and Holy Communion to spread the Christ-life to us. I don’t understand why, but I take it on Jesus’ authority that this is how God has arranged it. When a person has Christ’s life inside of them, it doesn’t mean that they will be perfect in this life, but it does mean that whatever good they do is done by Christ. He is really in us. The church is his body.