Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Theological Engineering

Yesterday (and today) - a hard day's work on some computer programs. I don't know how I dare continue to write when I have such an ability to err when coding! The source of error is complexity, tiredness, various levels of confusion over names, forms, and precisions, and human miscommunication to boot.

If it is scarcely feasible to be accurate in a computer language - or only after many tries (at least the feedback is quick), how will we be accurate in natural language? How much more difficult it must be then to express precision about God!

The essential components of Software Engineering are two: 1. a source library that keeps all your old versions, and 2. peer reviews. The source library shows you what you remember; the peer review shows you what you forgot.

Curious, isn't it, that in what seems a purely technical field, an essential component is a human to human process. It is hard to work alone.

There is a technique I am sure to theology too, but I am not engineering God, God is engineering me. The Lord has maybe three-score and ten or four-score years for my theological engineering. I hope my feedback (the joy and laments I produce) gives adequate information so that my library will eventually hold the image Elohim intended. All the interim results will be there too, the child, the prototype teen, the blind, the angry, the fearful, and the half-made who sees others as trees walking. Is there a peer review process in the heavens?

The withering fig is dealing with 1 John - very thoroughly one bit at a time. I always found 1 John tricky to understand - so many statements appear to be opposites and there is so little information on the occasion of his writing. Nonetheless I frequently recall phrases from that testimony of the beloved, few more precious than the authority of the anointing.

Stephen writes : It seems to me that it can’t mean what it sounds like, largely because it would contradict what we’ve already read.

What do we do with the contrast between 2.1 - if anyone sin, ... and the statement concerning sin as lawlessness (3.6) - when we know we so easily fall into error? What is the law that we might think ourselves lawless or never to have known him?

If law is teaching, then lawlessness must be ... failure to learn.
If law is commandment, then lawlessness ... inability to listen and enter in.
If law is convention, then lawlessness is ... unpredictability.
If law is an order, then lawlessness is ... disorder and infraction.
If law is rule, then lawlessness is ... breaking and ignoring the rule.

In the computer programming world, there are several classes of rule: syntax, matching data types, making and keeping your own application rules so that the presented data conforms to expectation, and so on. Lawlessness presents itself as bugs and error messages - unexpected behaviour.

In writing, law is style and trust and reaching out, consistency and surprise. The 'laws' of art, composition, structure, form, and reason express an idea which is taken in by another perhaps or perhaps not as intended. Lawlessness may present itself as artistic, unusual, even creative.

In life, laws of our social structure are for living together without certain kinds of surprise. Family conventions, social mores, traffic agreements, picket lines, and of course the obvious things that are derived from centuries of experience in hospitality, caring, and keeping life in order. Here though we are getting closer to those laws that may give us trouble if followed(!) or not(!) - like not wearing a hat at the right time, or a suit, or carrying contraband without a license.

Then there's the Law of God - how can this complex be approached? There's the moral law, the cultic laws, laws of clothing and food, laws of love, and in some societies, rules upon rules. So Eve said - we mustn't even touch it. She showed herself to be a lawmaker. (And it didn't actually help her avoid the lawlessness of eating whatever it was that was forbidden.) Torah also means teaching or instruction - should we always assume it is a set of rules?

What was John talking about when he used that word lawlessness?

If I go back to my analogy of programming - the two critical items are 1. the source library - this means facing our current version and admitting it has limitations (1.9 if we confess our sins ...) and 2. the peer review from heaven in which we learn to see what we forgot. The eternal Programmer who created us has drawn us to himself in order to make us fully sensible like (1.1) that which we have heard with our ears, ... and approve the next check-in to the library - well done good and faithful servant. Even if not approved for check-in, we will see where the work is needed (3.3 whoever has this hope purifies himself as he is pure... ) and we will have been provided with the material for it. Such provision is the work of the same Programmer who in engagement with us, redraws us in his image. This God does not mind error as long as we enter in to the attention commanded. In effect we do know him and are living in him.

If I had to come to a single statement, and not pairs of opposites as John does to express the love he has known, I would say the only sin is failure to engage. So love God and do what you will - as a greater theologian than I commented. My life in him has many questions. But even if I stumble, and I do, my hope does not fail me for it not just my will that is operative.

And I am glad to say on the purely business front that my programs are happier tonight than they were yesterday morning. They were reviewed and approved for the next stages of their life (but let them not say that they purified themselves).


Beyond Words said...

Please, lurkers here, comment so I'm not the only one! There is much to discuss...

scott gray said...

i think i'm in, now.

Bob MacDonald said...

I have (marginally) oversimplified the view of sin - by the state of sin as disengaged, I mean what others call 'lack of faith' - but even within a committed faith, there are issues related to judgment - through which we offend against each other. These are well noted in Romans and the epistle of James. When we judge others, we stop at the door as if we were in charge. I can only say that this is somehow related to our fear - John's 'perfect love casts out fear' will allow growth past our need to judge (see allso John 5:24) - stephen at withering fig will get to that verse (4.18) soon enough. This likely bears more thinking and fewer words.

Beyond Words said...

This view of engagement really challenges me to trust God's mercy as I live out my calling even when I overstep the bounds, instead of shrinking back and fearing judgment from others.

I had a flight of ideas earlier today, thinking about this post and sin and the fall--and I bring this up because I think we judge each other because of primal misunderstanding about God's judgment. So, please help me with this:

Where was God's mercy in the Garden? (I'm not advocating a literal reading, but digging for the truth here.) If the Curse was at stake, and all the evil and suffering of future generations would follow because of Adam and Eve's proto-sins, why wouldn't God have given them a chance to repent and come back to him? To learn from their sin and "re-engage" with a new level of faith?

scott gray said...

one understanding of the story is that it is an explanation of why we sin.
if god had reengaged in eden, it would have been an explanation of something different.
some people think the jesus story is about god's reengaging with us.
when god chooses not to reengage, is god sinning.....

Bob MacDonald said...

With respect to the story of the garden, God would have no one to contend with or love without the energy of our defiance. But as we learn what is of good and evil, we also learn that in the divine wrestling, God is covering our limitation. So Adam hid, but they were found, and their nakedness was covered with the skin of a slain creature - a life for a life as it were. With Christ - and it has never been that we were without Christ regardless of time, we are reengaged as bride of the bridegroom. Gradually we realize that he made us for himself and himself is for us. So there is not a fall except it is a necessary part of the creation process. Even later Isaiah says - is there evil in the city and I the Lord have not done it? Rhetorical - but poignant. Almost demanding the same energy of love from us that we have been given to use in our rebellion. As for God and sin, Scott, that is impossible, but God and evil - the tension is between Job's wife's comment and Job's acceptance of the gift of evil from the Most High.

Beyond Words said...

That helps, Bob. That explains why there is such joy in the wrestling! I have had a glass of red wine and words fail....I will sit and savor the eternal engagement with Christ and the (new) creation process.

scott gray said...

i love the idea of 'energy of defiance'--great way to think of things, like teenagers and feisty octagenarians.
and conversely, there's not much 'energy of compliance,' then, is there?