Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Immortal Conversation, Part one of ∞ #hashtag

It is bad form to start a piece of writing with a quote and particularly bad form to start a piece of writing with a block-quote. With that in mind, this is me babbling for a line or two so that this posting will not start with a block-quote.
We should not, however, refuse to engage in the "immortal conversation" invited by the liberal arts. The great existential questions demand our attention: What is the meaning of life? What is truth and how can it be found? What is beauty? What is good? . . .Is there a God? What is love? How should I live my life? What do I owe to others? . . .The great gift of the liberal arts has been to keep this conversation alive. It is in this sense that it is better than other forms of educations.
from, Noddings, N. (2013). Education and Democracy in the 21st Century, p. 57 (Yes, I know that isn't a proper APA citation, but no one cares who or where the publisher is from).

This is part one of an infinite series on the immortal conversation. The question I am going to begin in this discussion is "Is there a God?" The thing is, the answer to this question does not really matter. Shocking, I know, but let me explain what I mean with the use of a flow chart.
If you say that there is no God or that there is a God, but he has no plans for our lives, you end up in the same place, where God is irrelevant. The real question is, "Does God have a plan for our lives?" That is a question worth spending the rest of eternity discussing. So, we will suppose that there is a God and for the sake of conversation we'll stick to the with the perspective of Christianity, as that is the only faith on which I feel even remotely capable of discussing. Someone else will have to lead their own immortal conversation if they have a different concept of God.

So, what does the Good Book say? For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV). So God has a plan for us? But why does this verse start in the middle of a quote. Let's look at the whole passage.
This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you (Jeremiah 29:10-12 NIV). So it seems God is talking specifically to the people of Israel. He has a plan to bring them out of exile and return them home. So, I looks like God has no plan for our lives. Well, that's depressing, but probably not true either.
In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. (Proverbs 16:9 NIV) That one is pretty straightforward. So, it looks like God might have a plan for us after all. In fact there are probably a couple other verses that say something about God having something planned for us, even if the most often quoted verse for Jeremiah (the verse you see on bumper stickers) probably does not apply to individuals at all. Still, that does not tell us what the plan is like.

I made plans for this weekend. Then, when the first thing went wrong, my plans were shot. Is that the type of plan God has for us? God has a plan to lead us through a life of paradise, but the first time we step out of line we mangle the rest of plan. From there on out, the plan is shot.

The other idea of plan is one of a wide road (Yes, I have read Matt 7:13). We can pick which lane we want to be in and where we want to stop. We can slow down or speed up. At times though, the road is going to constrict. We're going to have to get into one of the lanes or pull off the expressway. Maybe that's what God's plan is like.

Similarly, maybe God's plan is like a dark hallway. In that case we sort of fumble around trying to find a direction, but run into natural boundaries (walls) that guide us either forward or backwards.

Maybe God's plan is for everything to be predettermined and there is no free will, in which case it is okay that I spelled a word wrong earlier in this sentence and there is no need to go back and fix it.

If God does have a plan for us, what should we do about it? It suddenly becomes much more difficult to make decisions. If something goes poorly, is that God telling us to stop? Have I deviated from the plan or is the challenge part of the plan? How do we make decisions when we face difficulties in life. Maybe this is my one and only shot I am going to get. It might be hard, but maybe the plan does not include another opportunity. Is failure ever part of the plan?

How precise is this plan? Is ever human interaction mapped out before us? Is it God's plan that I help the second homeless person I see on the street today and the plan for the person walking 10 minutes behind me to help the first homeless person I saw today?

So, there we have it, the immortal conversation in progress. It a process that begins with questions and ends with even more questions.

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