The following has been adapted, with permission, from the blog of Sigve Tonstad (originally posted October 5, 2012). Churches of all kinds across the nation are currently engaged in a month-long "journey of prayer" for America, and Dr. Tonstad has chosen to participate in this way. We will be sharing a handful of his prayer blog posts throughout the month of October.
Me: Dear God, please bless the leaders and the people of Connecticut.
GOD: I love Connecticut. I have poured out blessings on the people of Connecticut for centuries.
Me: The fall colors are nice in New England.
GOD: I couldn’t agree more. Fall colors are one of my specialties. I don’t like death, not even the death of leaves, so I had to make dying leaves as beautiful as I possibly could in order to blunt the sting of death.
Me: I didn’t realize that you are so sensitive. You must have seen death so many times that by now you should be used to it.
GOD: I never get used to death, never! Paul was certainly right when he wrote that death is the last enemy. For me the enmity is personal. If it means anything to the people of Connecticut today, I am determined to bring an end to death. When I bring an end to death, I’ll find some other way to preserve the colors of fall so that nothing will be lost.
Me: You said that you have been pouring out blessings on New England for centuries. The other day you asked me for specifics when I was praying for a blessing on the President and the Vice President. Now I’ll be asking you for specifics.
GOD: I really like Yale University. It has an amazing history. The founders were such devoted people. You cannot imagine how serious they were about studying the Bible. Just imagine people like Abraham Pierson, Timothy Dwight, Jonathan Edwards, and Ezra Stiles. Stiles, bless his heart, made all the underclassmen at Yale study Hebrew, and it was his idea to put the Urim and Thummin on the Yale seal.
Me: I didn’t know that you like Yale. Many Christians believe that you prefer home schools and simple places that some people call self-supporting institutions and that you are hostile to academia.
Me: What do you mean?
GOD: Some people - I think John Hick is one of them - say that sin could not have originated if everything was perfect. They say that there must have been some defect to begin with, in this case a defect in Lucifer, I suppose. Well, they are wrong. There was no defect. Freedom, I want you to know, at least in one dimension, might be to things for which there is no cause.
Me: I see.
GOD: I doubt it, but never mind. People who think that I am against academia cannot have read the Book of Job or other books in the Wisdom Literature section of the Bible. Homer, Shakespeare, and even Milton are far below the level of Job. The poetry of the voice from the whirlwind is as close as human language has ever been to the way I speak. I like poetry, by the way. And the Book of Daniel! Now there is a book to cure the hubris of people who think they know something when they have learnt to pronounce the word 'epistemology.'
Me: But you can’t be happy about the way things are at Yale today?
GOD: I look at the positive side. There is a lot of hubris, but there is also plenty of gravitas. Yale has a great medical school, a law school that is second to none, and a wonderful divinity school. Imagine that, medicine, law, and theology in one university, on one campus! And I really like the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. Did you know that the scholars who worked on it met on the campus of the Divinity School at Yale?
Me: I like the Revised Standard Version, too.
GOD: Don’t get me wrong; there is still room for improvement in even the best translations of the Bible.
Me: You are making me curious.
GOD: I hope you won't hold it against me that I am for the new perspective among scholars that the expression ‘pistis Christou Iesou’ in the letters of Paul should be translated ‘the faithfulness of Jesus Christ’ rather than ‘faith in Jesus Christ.’ The traditional translation is not terrible, but it leaves out the most important thing. It is good and well to have faith in Jesus, but ‘the faithfulness of Jesus’ puts the emphasis on my faithfulness. It would have no meaning to have faith in me if not for the fact that I have proven myself faithful.
Me: I didn’t realize that you take a personal interest in the new perspectives on Paul.
GOD: I do. Can I tell you about something that makes me really, really sad?
Me: You can, as long as it is about Connecticut.
GOD: It is.
GOD: Jonathan Edwards.
Me: What about him?
GOD: He was a very sincere and pious man, one of the most sincere people ever to have lived in Connecticut, a graduate of Yale and a gifted thinker and preacher. He loved me, and I loved him, but he misrepresented me in a way that is almost beyond repair.
GOD: It is almost too painful for me to think about it.
GOD: He said…. he said … (1) that it is not contrary to the divine perfections to inflict on wicked men a punishment that is absolutely eternal; (2) that the eternal death which God threatens is not annihilation, but an abiding sensible punishment or misery; (3) that this misery will not only continue for a very long time, but will be absolutely without end; (4) that various good ends will be obtained by the eternal punishment of the wicked.
Me: He said that?
GOD: He did, verbatim. He meant to be faithful to the Bible, and he was tireless in wishing to get people to take me seriously, but not even the serpent in the Garden of Eden said it worse. Imagine this, attributing to me such severity that I should be willing to inflict intense and endless torture on those who reject me!
Me: You don’t? Many people still believe that you do.
GOD: I need to change the subject. I’d rather think about the fall colors in New England. It is so beautiful there right now. Jonathan Edwards said many nice things about beauty. If only he had understood that the fall colors in his beautiful Connecticut mean that I plan to bring an end to death and suffering. People who grieve when their loved ones die, and people who have compassion for those who suffer are a lot like me even if they don't credit me for the likeness. I don't care about the credit; I'm just happy that they act like me.
Sigve Tonstad is Assistant Professor in the School of Medicine and Associate Professor in the School of Religion at Loma Linda University.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4799