The Feudal Nature of Existence

Steven asked me, “How do you manage to reconcile Predestination with free will and the idea that God is NOT the cause of evil?

Short answer: I don’t have to. Long answer:

Predestination affects your eternal destiny, not your life here on the earth. Human free will encompasses a whole range of human choice throughout life; it’s the freedom to decide a lot of things, not just that one eternal choice. Nor do I imagine predestination as something cold and hard, reduced to that one single question of eternal destiny, but it’s a question of where God has placed us in His realm. I find the typical debate about free will versus predestination full of false assumptions in itself. The question itself presumes to know things that cannot be known until after we depart the flesh. The whole thing is impossible to grasp from this side of eternity, so it’s a bogus preoccupation. The question stands on Aristotelian epistemology, and I find such an epistemology is presumptuous at best — it asks all the wrong questions.

A mystical epistemology of the heart presumes that all questions are relational, not logical; they are first moral, and only secondarily analytical. The concept of objective truth is a myth. It’s a question of knowing the Person who Created all things. Human reason and logic is a chimera, a thing that doesn’t really exist. It’s a part of the fallen nature, wholly unable to grasp reality in fullness. It’s the wrong approach to every question that really matters, and is good only for the mechanics of how we might implement moral decisions. And both West and East have moved quite a ways from the Ancient Hebrew way of reasoning. Hebrew thinking first and foremost presumes a feudal existence with God up at the top of the chain. Existence itself is personal and relational, so it leaves no room for the great debates of theology; they all arose after the churches lost contact with the Hebrew roots of faith.

I’m fully aware of those historical debates, and I use the terminology that arose from them, but I find that almost the whole range of debate is bogus. I don’t have to reconcile free will and predestination, because the terms themselves carry baggage I don’t own.

Just as a reminder: The curriculum for my religion degree from Oklahoma Baptist University (BA 1978) included the Early Church Fathers and what they wrote in debating each other on theological questions, and it included classes in philosophy from multiple cultures and civilizations along with our own. Finally, that curriculum included a very heavy dose of literature and history of the Western Civilization itself. Not to set myself up as some expert, but to indicate that I am at least familiar with all the questions involved in this stuff. In proper academic terms, I am acquainted with the mythology of our Western heritage as a body of academic pursuit.

We can do a lot better than Western mythology and heritage. Here’s a very abbreviated narrative to institute what I believe is a more biblical approach.

We are born slaves, the property of God our Creator. What makes us slaves is our instinct to believe we are free. God has saddled Himself with a whole world of slaves who reject His lordship by instinct. He alone truly understands how things got that way, and in our slavish nature we cannot comprehend it, so He settles on simply trying to explain how it is now. We weren’t supposed to be slaves, but His children. We have to bridge that gap, though with an awful lot of help from Him. And His help is abundantly generous, because it’s in accordance with His intimate knowledge of what it should take to move us back into our proper place as children of His household. We cannot even want that without His help. True liberty begins by recognizing His ownership and mastery.

It’s all very personal. Indeed, the fundamental nature of all Creation is that feudal relationship. The fundamental question in all things is not, “What is real?” It’s “What is right?” “Right” is whatever God wants for you. Our slavish imagination wants to treat the question as objective, but it never was. There is no “truth” outside of God’s Person. You either begin to know Him or you are trying to avoid Him. Of course, He can read the most intimate thoughts of your mind, so there’s no privacy and nothing you can start with outside of God. You only imagine an objective truth; you posit this thing as a means of childish assertion that you are “free.” So God tolerates us for a while in that state of rebellion.

Some people manage to come to terms with a part of this feudal reality, and they become valued servants. They actually do useful stuff in His household. They still haven’t claimed their full rights as family, but they are tolerable and can gain some of His divine privileges. Some people go all the way, and reclaim their divine heritage here on this earth. They realize that their whole existence, as perceived with their own faculties, is one big lie. While they no doubt struggle with their human perceptions always getting in the way, some part of them perceives that it’s one big lie, and they know they can’t do things based on those lies. It’s all made worse by a whole world that still wallows in those lies, so that it creates an atmosphere that makes the lies all but inescapable.

We who know that we are family are caught in a very tough place. It’s tough because we have to live as His children and manifest His claims and His character in a world that makes no room for it. We have to break a lot of the rules by which everyone else tries to live, not so much in specific acts, but in the very basic assumptions about reality. It’s so bad that most of His children are deeply confused about it. But He is patient and kind; it’s a living and on-going thing, not a static relationship with locks and barriers. It’s all a question of love and moral restraints built into our very existence. It’s vivid and organic, dynamic the whole way through until we die. There is no clear line of departure between “your will” and “God’s will.” There is only the interaction between two persons.

Stop worrying about Heaven! Stop worrying about your “eternal salvation”! It’s all the wrong questions. Worry about your personal individual response to His call to reclaim your divine heritage as His child. Seek to restore all that privilege in the here and now. You are hard-wired already to understand this stuff, but it requires fighting off the persistent arrogance of our cursed human nature. Don’t trust your own mind to answer any important questions up front; it’s all a matter of pleasing the Father. When you deeply and fully embrace His ownership, all of the moral implications will settle themselves out. Your brain is not so mighty as to resist the Flaming Sword at the gate back into Eden; it will humble itself when it’s skewered on that blade. But it will attempt to flee that blade at every opportunity, so let your heart be the real “you” and keep chasing down the brain with that sword.

About Ed Hurst

Avid cyclist, Disabled Veteran, Bible History teacher, and wannabe writer; retired.
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6 Responses to The Feudal Nature of Existence

  1. Iain says:

    Another bullseye!


  2. Benjamin says:

    Definitely gives me some food for thought. Thanks, Brother.


  3. steven says:

    What you call “Predestination” would be more accurately called Monergism. I’m agnostic in the Monergism vs Synergism debate, so I’m willing to listen to you as much as I’m willing to listen to a Synergistic Mystic like Kalomiros. However, don’t expect me to accept Monergism as conditio sine qua non for Christian Mysticism. I see it as a non-essential doctrine.
    Actual Predestination is Fatalism, which implies denying free will and making God the Cause of Evil (ex. Islam, Calvinism). What do you think about the Divine Command Theory?

    Your Baptist degree relies on Carolingian historiography, so its biased. This bias is enough to make you unable to actually understand the Early Church Fathers (aside from Augustine, the only Church Father that the Carolingians actually understood), Byzantium, the Schism or Eastern Orthodoxy. Just see how I’m able to find gaps in your teaching, to outsmart you despite the fact that I’m a youth while you are an old man.
    Have you read The River of Fire, which I linked some time ago?

    Slavery: Sometimes, we use the same word to mean different things. There is any reason I shouldn’t interpret “God has saddled Himself with a whole world of slaves” as “God has saddled Himself with a gulag planet”? I hope so. Otherwise, I have to point out that Thomas Aquinas, who practically worshipped Aristotle, explicitly compares the relationship of man and God as that of slave and slaveholder. Aquinas took this idea not from the Bible, but from Plato’s Phaedo: “The gods are our guardians, and that we are a possession of theirs”.
    What do you believe God wants from us: Love or Submission?

    Off-topic: Can you give me any proof that ANE slaves were treated better than Greco-Roman slaves?


  4. Ed Hurst says:

    As I read it, Divine Command Theory is essentially correct. God’s personal character defines morality; there can be no valid reference to any system of morality outside of God. However, the perception of God’s moral character is entirely individual. There is no objective reality, only experience and perception. Reality is whatever God says it is, and it’s fungible — one person’s perception is as good as another. We can share our perceptions; naturally we would tend to do so to some degree. But we are all under a divine obligation to turn to God and commune with Him personally, and it is inevitable that taking such a path would result in conflicts. A limited conflict is part of our fallen nature.

    Yes, I read the River of Fire. Whether you detect a Carolingian influence is of no great consequence. We all start somewhere; since there is no absolute truth such as can be quantified and described by the intellect, we take what we have and bring it to Christ’s feet. God takes responsibility for where we’ve been; He uses us as we are when we come and leads us where He wants. Some of us are useful to Him as products of Carolingian influences, some from other influences. None of the various influences are “right” for everyone. Reality itself is as variable to each of us as a real person would naturally be. What matters is our faithfulness to Christ within the limits of what we are now.

    The difference between love and submission is mere semantics to me. You cannot have one without the other. God portrays Himself as an ANE feudal sheik; He offers adoption into His family, but will accept hired servants. Everyone else is a slave. The last group is most of humanity at any given time; they reject Him and His will, but do serve His purpose much the same way as cattle are herded. Servants aren’t so personally committed but can become acquainted with Him and His ways. Family is lovingly committed to His wider agenda, though no one of us fully comprehends what that is.

    As for proving that ANE slaves were better off than Greco-Roman slaves, I can’t offer ready references. I’m not much on footnoting everything I read. My position on that is the result of reading tons of stuff over a lifetime. It’s a question of two entirely different civilizations, and the question of which is better is itself subjective. But that the two are different is simply obvious by just a little reading.


  5. steven says:

    “However, the perception of God’s moral character is entirely individual. There is no objective reality, only experience and perception”
    I agree. However, how can you say then that something you believe is “plainly stated” in the Bible, implying that there is some kind of “objective” exegesis? You once went so far as to accuse me of “disputing against Scripture”…

    “Yes, I read the River of Fire”
    What do you think about it?

    Its of great consequence as long as you rely on your Baptist degree (i.e. on Western historiography) to accuse the Early Church Fathers of being Hellenistic heretics. A false accusation is a serious sin. Its written: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Exodus 20:16). As John Romanides explains in The Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness of Religion, Patristic theology (Eastern Orthodox Mysticism) is Heart-led:
    “The sickness of religion is caused by a short-circuit between the heart and the brain. This is what causes fantasies which distort the imagination and in varying degrees cuts one off from reality. The cure of this short-circuit has three stages which will occupy us in some detail later. They are: 1) the purification of the heart, 2) the illumination of the heart, which repairs this short-circuit which produces fantasies, of which both religion and criminality are by products, and 3) glorification, which makes one uncreated by grace and by which one sees the uncreated ruling power of God which is a simple energy which divides itself without division and saturates all of creation being everywhere present, though not by nature, and ruling all of creation. The Bible calls this the “glory” and “rule” of God and those who reach glorification “prophets” and “sent ones (apostles).” What is sick is the “spirit of man” in the heart which in the early Christian tradition came to be called the noetic faculty, not to be identified with the intellectual faculty of the Hellenic tradition whose center is in the brain. In its cured state within the heart the noetic faculty allows the brain to function without fantasies of which religion and criminality are by-products. In this cured state the noetic faculty prays without ceasing while the brain goes about its normal chores. This unceasing prayer of the noetic faculty keeps the short-circuit between the brain and the heart in repair without impairing the imagination now free from fantasies which are the main tools by which what is called the “devil” makes his slaves. Thus we have “noetic prayer” in the heart and “intellectual prayer” in the brain which is the foundation of the prophetic tradition of both the Old and New Testament. This was the center of the apostolic Church which became the Orthodox Christianity of the Roman Empire”

    By “Submission” I meant specifically what O’Brien calls “power”:
    “The real power, the power we have to fight for night and day, is not power over things, but over men.’ He paused, and for a moment assumed again his air of a schoolmaster questioning a promising pupil: ‘How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?’
    Winston thought. ‘By making him suffer,’ he said.
    ‘Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing. Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but MORE merciless as it refines itself. Progress in our world will be progress towards more pain. The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement”
    This implies that Love and Submission are not just different, but incompatible. Love requires Free Will. Submission requires to suppress Free Will through Fear/Coercion. Its written: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).
    Notice that Fatalistic (Calvinistic/Muslim) theology could be summarized as “God/Allah is Evil, but Might makes Right”. Fatalists (Calvinists and Muslims) worship a Cosmic O’Brien.

    Regarding the relationship of man and God:
    1. Does your belief differ from the belief of Aquinas I pointed to previously? If so, how does it differ?
    2. Do you think I’m family, hired servant or slave?

    Are you sure that ANE slaves weren’t tortured and raped as in American prisons or Russian gulags? I ask because in Big Happy Family you argue that the purpose of ANE Slavery was to help the prisoner, i.e. a restorative approach. However, as the testimonies of American inmates show, this requires to treat prisoners humanely.


  6. Ed Hurst says:

    I don’t draw boundaries of thought and definition where you do, Steven. I never said my boundaries were God’s; I said that the boundaries I draw are the result of my encounter with God. I’ve also said quite often that my boundaries aren’t going to work for everyone, but that they work for me. Maybe we can share some ideas, and maybe we can also share some work in the gospel message, but we can never come up with the same answers to all things, nor should we want to. The more distance we have between us, the less likely it is we should work together.

    Yet both of us can be doing the same good work of God in this world. Romans 14 covers it rather well. It’s not a question of whether you are a member of God’s family, but whether it’s effective and good obedience to try and make yourself a member of this family of faith. In this family, you are an ally. The question of what we share or don’t share in our ways of thinking, our choice of terminology, and the various traditions that make us able to see a clear path of service to God — those have nothing to do with whether we can respect each other as children of God.

    So when I say the early Church Fathers are Hellenized, it’s my story. If it speaks to your heart, then we have grounds for cooperation in pursuing faith. If it conflicts, then it marks territory on which we cannot come to terms. So while I agree with the words of Romanides in the quoted passage, I can assure you we do not come to the same place on how to proceed in following God’s call on our lives. Again, we all start somewhere, and nothing in the revelation requires that we all arrive at the same place in this life. Without my intellectual background, I cannot address the gospel to those who share my background. Your background and your conclusions fit you for an entirely different audience. You should spend more time reaching that audience.

    As regards ANE slavery/prison: Apparently you are asking for a kind of proof that does not exist. I can only extrapolate based on a wide reading in ANE literature, far more than just the Bible. Inserting the quote from O’Brien was pointless, since I would reject any interest in power myself, and my God doesn’t fit O’Brien’s outlook. You waste time asserting I am somehow compelled to come to your logical conclusions. I don’t put much trust in logic in the first place; it’s a very limited tool.


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