Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Speaking in Tongues - Understanding the Meaning

The concept and practice of "speaking in tongues" is very interesting to read about and to experience. I will argue that Christians from both sides of this issue do not study Paul's writings carefully enough on this subject to understand what Paul is actually trying to communicate. There is one main passage in the Bible on this subject and five supporting passages. Lets take a look at what the Bible actually says and think through what Paul is mostly likely trying to communicate.

The Five Supporting Passages - Four involving known languages/foreigners and one involving "groaning"
I will highlight in red the parts that refer either to a known language or foreigners who would likely speak a different known language.

Acts 2:1-13
1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. 5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 They were amazed and astonished, saying, "Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 "And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? 9 "Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs--we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God." 12 And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" 13 But others were mocking and saying, "They are full of sweet wine."

So, clearly in this passage "tongues" refers to speaking a different language in order to communicate with foreigners. Interestingly, in a sense this ability temporarily makes up for God creating/separating the different languages at the Tower of Babel. At the tower of Babel God was trying to keep people from banding together to rebel from what He said to do (to disperse throughout the world). After the death of Jesus, God was apparently working to communicate the message about Jesus to all those nations/languages to give them the opportunity to believe and follow Jesus.

Acts 10
28And he said to them, "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. 34 Opening his mouth, Peter said: "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, 35 but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. 44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. 45 All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, 47 Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?" 48 And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.

This passage is less clear on whether tongues is always used to communicate in a known language, but in this case as in the previous case there are foreigners present who would need to communicate and who are being added to the group of early Christians. Also, the phrase "just as we did" seems to imply that this experience was of the same kind as in the previous passage and there is no indication that the tongues were not understandable by those who were present.

Acts 19
1 It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. 2 He said to them, Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said to him, "No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." 3 And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" And they said, Into John's baptism." 4Paul said, John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus." 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. 7 There were in all about twelve men.

Again this passage is unclear whether the tongues were necessarily understandable or not. But since they were "speaking in tongues and prophesying", that seems to indicate that the tongues were understandable since prophesying implies a transfer of information. At very least there is no indication to the contrary.

Mark 16:14-20 (Note: Some reliable early manuscripts do not contain Mark 16:9-20, so this section may have been added later by a scribe as a summary of what was said in the other books, or it might have been removed by scribes thinking it was an erroneous addition...)
Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen. 15 And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16"He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. 17 "These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover." 19 So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed. And they promptly reported all these instructions to Peter and his companions. And after that, Jesus Himself sent out through them from east to west the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.]

This section mentions speaking in tongues but does not comment further and it may or may not have been in the original writings. So this section does not seem to give us any more useful information on the subject.

Romans 8: 18-27 (phrases mentioning "groaning" and prayer highlighted in red)

18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. 26 In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

So, apparently here is a case of the Holy Spirit "groaning" and God understanding the pain that is trying to be communicated because He "knows what the mind of the Spirit is". So, this leaves open the possibility that some unintelligible "groanings" between a man and God are substitutes for actual speech. But note that in this case no actual communication to God is necessary since, as Paul says, He already knows what is needed.

But also note that since Jesus clearly has said that prayer should be in private (a passage that is widely disregarded in most all modern churches and home groups...) this is not a practice that Paul is advocating should occur in church.

The main passage on Speaking in Tongues
As seen above, at least one of the supporting passages clearly says that the tongues were speaking in foreign languages that were understandable by foreigners and at least one of the passages talk about "groaning" as part of private prayer. But none of the five supporting passages have any indication that tongues were used in public when no one present at the time understood what was being said. So, a valid question is whether tongues is always used to communicate to others or whether there is any situation where tongues is used in a groups setting for some other reason than communication. Now lets take a look at the main passage to answer that question.

One key to understanding the Corinthians passage on speaking in tongues is to understand that Paul is responding to a list of questions he received in a previous letter. To see this, take a look at the introductory statements to the surrounding passages:

1 Cor 7:1 "Now for the matters you wrote about:" (concerning married life)
1 Cor 7:25 "Now concerning virgins"
1 Cor 8:1 "Now concerning things sacrificed to idols"
1 Cor 12:1 "Now concerning spiritual gifts"
1 Cor 16:1 "Now concerning the collection for the saints"

So, it appears that from 1 Corinthians chapter seven on Paul is mostly answering questions that he had received in a previous letter from the church leaders at Corinth.

The passage in Corinthians is by far the longest on this subject. It seems at first reading to be discussing two types of "speaking in tongues", one type where others understand what is being said and another type where no one else seems to understand what is being said. But lets take a look to try to understand what Paul is trying to communicate.

Since Paul is responding to a previous question, to fully understand his response it would be helpful to try to infer the question he was responding to.

Dear Paul: What about Tongues that no one understands?
Here is my best guess at the question that the Corinthian church leaders had written to ask Paul which he was trying to answer in this passage in Corinthians. While somewhat of a guess, the question listed below does correlates to the answer that Paul gives and also, given normal human nature, we should have expected this situation to arise as some point.

I would suggest that the question might have been something like this:

Dear Paul,
Some of the most dedicated people in the Corinthian church became aware of how at Pentecost the apostles were miraculously given the ability to tell foreigners about Jesus in their own language. So, they asked God to give them the same ability. And some of the people also believe that this ability to speak in another tongue is a gift from God that all committed Christians should be able to do.

The problem is that when they began speaking in what they thought was a foreign language no one is able to understand them. So, some in the church now say that perhaps the foreign language is a genuine one but no one is there who speaks that particular language. So in that case the gift would be valid but no one is able to interpret in order to verify the authenticity of the gift. Others say that maybe the language is actually the language of angels and not of any foreign country at all, so we shouldn't expect anyone to be able to interpret. So, again the gift would be valid, but unverifiable. But still others say that God has not given them the gift of speaking a foreign language all and that they are presumptuously assuming God has given them this ability when He hasn't. So they insist those who are not speaking in a true foreign language have been led astray and should be kicked out of the church, similar to how false prophets were dealt with in the old testament.

So, what should we do about these people who say God has given them the gift to speak in another language but no one understands them and no one can interpret what they are saying? The people involved seem to be some of the most sincere and motivated people in the church and they affirm that Jesus is their lord. But unfortunately this issue seems to be splitting the church.

Leaders of the Corinthian Church

Paul, recognizing that these were just sincere Christians wanting the miracle of speaking in different languages but not receiving the desired miracle, identified himself with them. He affirmed the desire to speak in tongues and he did not try to argue whether a specific instance of tongues was or was not valid. Instead, he said that if no one understands what they are saying (i.e., the miracle of speaking a foreign language isn't present) they should only try speaking a foreign language at home, not in public, or at least quietly to themselves. And he also implied that speaking a foreign language was the least of the abilities that God gives and so people should desire the other abilities more than just speaking a foreign language.

What I think many people miss is how thoughtfully Paul handled this issue. It would be natural for some of the more motivated people to desire the gift of speaking in a foreign language and any other ability that God might give them. But the only way they would be able to use the gift would be to start trying to talk in a different language. So, it seems natural that this question would arise just from our knowledge of human nature. And far from being the fringe of the church attempting to speak in other tongues, the core of the church, the most motivated, would most likely be the people who would want that gift.

Even those who believe that most instances of speaking in tongues today are actually other real languages have to admit, since Paul says that "not all speak in tongues", that at least some instances of speaking in tongues is a result of this natural desire to try receive good gifts from God even when God isn't giving out that particular gift at that time. And they would have to admit that there is no good way to be able to discern between an experience coming from God and the person just trying unsuccessfully to speak another language.

So, there was no way that Paul or the Corinthian church could prove a negative. If some people believed they were speaking another language, how could Paul have proved them wrong? They could always say that it was just a different language that no on in the room understood. So, instead of Paul trying a futile attempt to say they were wrong, instead Paul emphasizes that they should not do that in the church and that they should seek the more important gifts, ones that would help others.

Note how Paul handled this situation very, very tactfully and avoided a possible split in the church. Now let's see what Paul actually said. I will highlight in purple the few sections that seem to say that speaking in tongues doesn't need to be understood by someone else. I will highlight in red the areas that say that tongues should be understood by someone else, or areas that discourage speaking in tongues and I will add my commentary in parentheses in blue.

1 Cor 12-14
12:1Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led. (there is no information transfer with mute idols) 3 Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus is accursed"; and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit. (so both Christians who speak with tongues and those who do not both have the Holy Spirit) 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6 There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. 7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. (so the ability to speak in another known language was apparently considered a separate ability from being able to understand another language)

11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills (so apparently God doesn't give the ability to speak or understand other languages to everyone, but only to who he wills). 12 For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body is not one member, but many. 15 If the foot says, "Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body," it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, "Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body," it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 19 If they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now there are many members, but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; or again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." 22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, 24 whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. 27 Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues (note that tongues is last on the numbered list and is therefore likely implied to be the least important). 29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? (This reply implies that some were saying that all Christians should have the ability to speak in tongues and Paul is refuting that idea) All do not interpret, do they? 31 But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way. (While not prohibiting tongues, Paul is minimizing their importance and asking the Corinthian church to focus their efforts elsewhere)

13:1If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. (having Love for others is more important than receiving special abilities from God) 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. (implies focusing on "spiritual gifts" for their own sake is something a mature Christian should move away from, toward focusing on Love for others and desiring the abilities to help others) 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

14:1Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 2For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. (this is the only place in this passage where Paul says that tongues are not understandable, but read on to see whether he is recommending that as a public practice in the church or not) 3 But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. 4 One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. 5 Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying. 6 But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching? 7 Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp? 8 For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? 9 So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning. 11 If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me. 12 So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church. 13 Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. 16 Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the "Amen" at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified. 18 I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; 19 however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue. (so the key for Paul is being able to give information to others, whether someone is really speaking another language is not important. The key is being able to get the information across, which requires a real language)

20 Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature. 21 In the Law it is written, "BY MEN OF STRANGE TONGUES AND BY THE LIPS OF STRANGERS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE, AND EVEN SO THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME," says the Lord. 22 So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; (to tell foreigners who aren't Christians about Jesus) but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe. (to tell believers and nonbelievers how God wants them to change their lives) 23 Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? (i.e., why wouldn't they just use their normal language??) 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you. 26 What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation Let all things be done for edification. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; (there is no indication that both the tongues and the interpreter are both abilities given by God, but rather the tongue is likely a special gift but the interpreter is someone who normally knows the language, or vice versa) 28 but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. 30 But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; 33 for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. 34 The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. 36 Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only? 37 If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord's commandment. 38 But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. (both sides of the debate are likely to reject the Biblical instruction here. People against tongues are likely to split the church to maintain the purity of doctrine while those supporting tongues are likely to split the church saying they are more spiritually connected to God than those who do not speak in tongues. But Paul upholds the primacy of rationality while not splitting over an unprovable debate about whether someone trying to speak another language is actually from God or not) 39 Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. 40 But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.

Summary of the main passage talking about speaking in tongues
So, here is a summary of what Paul seems to actually be saying:
  • Don't split the church over debating whether someone is actually speaking a real language or not
  • Different people are given different gifts, not everyone speaks in other languages
  • Speaking in tongues is probably the least important of the gifts that God can give you
  • Having love is more important than being able to speak in tongues
  • If no one understands, have them do their speaking to themselves at home or to themselves
  • Speaking "groanings" to God in private when you are in pain is O.K. because God already knows what you need (communicating information is not necessary in that case)
  • Any gifts God gives you should be used to help others rather than just yourself
  • Paul's view is the authoritative view on the subject
So, here is a summary of what Paul was most likely trying to communicate. It appears that speaking in tongues/interpreting were meant to be special gifts to be able to tell foreigners about Jesus and to understand their responses. When the most motivated of the Corinthians tried to have the same gift, without the same need to communicate with foreigners, various views about what was happening sprung up in the Church. Paul, in characteristic fashion, broke through the surface arguments and went straight to first principles in order to solve the dilemma. He affirmed that those trying to speak in tongues were in fact highly motivated Christians while at the same time he affirmed the primacy of communicating information. The alternative was to take sides in a debate that was unprovable and therefore ultimately un-winnable.

Interestingly, if today's church leaders understood Paul's argument here that would bring back together the charismatic/pentecostal and the more rational/theological based groups in the church. And this passage is a case study for any negotiator in how to go to first principles to resolve a dispute without giving up truth and at the same time maintaining the honor and dignity of both sides of the dispute.

Secular research about speaking in tongues
The technical term for tongues that no one else understands is "glossolalia". William J. Samarin studied modern day speaking in tongues and determined that it could not be a real language, either known or unknown for the following reasons:

"...the syllable string did not form words, the stream of speech was not internally organised, and – most importantly of all – there was no systematic relationship between units of speech and concepts. Humans use language to communicate, but glossolalia does not. Therefore he concluded that glossolalia is not "a specimen of human language because it is neither internally organized nor systematically related to the world man perceives".

On the basis of his linguistic analysis, Samarin defined Pentecostal glossolalia as "meaningless but phonologically structured human utterance, believed by the speaker to be a real language but bearing no systematic resemblance to any natural language, living or dead".

Felicitas Goodman, a psychological anthropologist and linguist, studied a number of Pentecostal communities in the United States, Caribbean and Mexico; these included English, Spanish and Mayan speaking groups. She compared what she found with recordings of non-Christian rituals from Africa, Borneo, Indonesia and Japan. She took into account both the segmental structure (such as sounds, syllables, phrases) and the supra-segmental elements (rhythm, accent, intonation), and concluded that there was no distinction between what was practiced by the Pentecostal Protestants and the followers of other religions.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Free Will and Determinism are the Same

I have been wanting to write on this topic for awhile now, but had more important posts to work on. But tonight I googled "Choose Your Beliefs" and found a post named "You Cannot Choose Your Beliefs". In a sense I agree but on the surface that sounds contradictory to the name and purpose of my Blog. So, I thought I should explain how Free Will and Determinism (or alternatively Pelagianism and Calvinism) are not just compatible, but actually they are two perspectives describing the exact same concept. This is a first rough draft which I will clean up over the next few weeks, but I wanted to go ahead and post it to motivate myself to get this one done. This concept is key to having a rational view of who God is and to resolve some common misconceptions that lead to unnecessary debate.

The difference between free will and determinism is just a matter of perspective. If someone knows/controls a situation then to that person the situation is predetermined. If someone else does not know how a situation is controlled then to that person there is no determinism and everything involves free choice.

For example, if someone knows the way to the airport, was able to put in your mind the desire to go there and they put a roadblock in the way that causes a detour, that person will both know and cause you to take a certain path and they will know ahead of time where you will go. But from your perspective you will have made the free choice to go to the airport down the direct path, but an obstacle in the way will cause you to choose to take an unplanned detour. So, both perspectives of determinism and free will are true depending on how much knowledge of a situation a person has.

Another illustration is what happens when we roll dice. To the casual observer it looks like the result of the dice throw is pure random chance. But to someone who both knows and controls all the forces on the dice during the throw, including the forces exerted by our hands, the air, the surface of the table, etc.., that person can both know and control the result of the dice throw.

Now, just because someone can fully control every aspect of a dice throw doesn't necessarily mean that they actually do control every aspect of a particular throw. Logically they could know all the forces without directly causing each and every force. So, someone with the ability to control all forces on a dice throw could either actively and directly "cause" a certain result or they could passively and indirectly "allow" a certain result and we would not be able to tell the difference.

So, the debate between determinism and free will is just a matter of the perspective and ability of control that the observer has. From God's perspective, everything is fully controlled and known, either actively or passively on His part. So, ultimately the determinism perspective is the most accurate one since God's perspective is the most accurate perspective. But from man's perspective, it is as if everything is free will and nothing is controlled (unless God tells us what he is controlling beforehand). So, the only option man has is to act as if everything is free will and nothing is predetermined, unless God tells us what is predetermined (because only He knows).

The problems occur when people try to mix the two perspectives. It is a fallacy to talk about something being determined when from our perspective everything is free will.

So, here are some examples of mixing the free will perspective with the determinism perspective and getting confused:

If God actually controls everything and to us it just looks like we have free will, then is it right for God to Judge us for our actions?
From God's perspective he created some people to do good and some to do badly, and as creator he has the right to honor those he created for good and to separate out those he created to choose badly. But that is from God's perspective, not ours, so we can't think that way.

From our perspective we have no idea who was created to do good and who was created to do badly. So, from our perspective some people freely choose good and others freely choose badly and are judged based on their choices, and that is true from our perspective.

So, from God's perspective he has the right to do what he wants with what he created. From our perspective it is right for God to reward those that choose well and separate out those that choose badly. Both are perspectives are true and the only time people get confused is when they try to combine the two perspectives at the same time.

Then does that mean that God causes evil and pain?
From our perspective the two sources of pain are 1. man's bad choices and 2. God caused the world to not work quite right after man decided not to follow him (in order to cause men to desire a world that works correctly).

From God's perspective, yes, he does cause, either directly, or more likely, through passive acceptance, evil and pain which are apparently necessary for a greater purpose to be achieved.

But again, since we are human we can only take the first perspective since everything looks to us as free will choices.

What is Time?
One idea that many people hold is that "God is outside of time" or "God created time". But to discuss that idea we must agree on the definition of what "time" is and separate that concept from the concept of "clocks".

"Time" is man's observation of change. Websters says time is a "...measurable period during which an action, process, or condition exists or continues". But all periods can in theory be measured against other periods, so any time there is an action, process or condition, even for God, then time exists. To say that time did not exist is to say that no change could have occurred at all.

A "clock" is "a device... for indicating or measuring time". Note that clocks do not need to exist for time to exist. For example, if the sun and moon did not exist, the passing of years and months (time) would not stop.

To say that God is somehow "outside of time" is therefore to say that God could never "do" anything. Yet every time God speaks, creates or even thinks anything that means that God is going through "time".

If you look at the passages concerning the "beginning of time" in the Bible, in all cases at least some translations do not translate it to say that time was "created". I would suggest that those passages are actually referring to either the creation of our standard clocks, the Sun, Moon and Stars, or that God is eternal rather than having a beginning or end.


In theology, the concept most closely related to determinism is called Calvinism and a competing concept is called Pelagianism. Calvinism is usually defined by five concepts listed by an acronym called TULIP:

Total Depravity (also known as Total Inability and Original Sin) - From God's perspective, all mankind was created to choose badly and then some be redeemed from their depravity, but from man's perspective in theory each person could choose to do right all their life (though no one ever does).

Unconditional Election - From God's perspective he can choose who he wants to make follow him, but from man's perspective those who God chooses to put in the new Jerusalem are those who decide to follow him

Limited Atonement - From God's perspective, he knows who he created to choose good so atonement looks limited, but from man's perspective, we don't know who will choose good so atonement looks unlimited.

Irresistible Grace - From God's perspective, whoever he created to do good will, without fail choose to follow God so grace looks irresistible, but from man's perspective we have to the choice to follow God or not and we have the choice to resist

Perseverance of the Saints (also known as Once Saved Always Saved) - From God's perspective he knows and controls who will be "saved" in the new Jerusalem so it looks to him like every one he has chosen will persevere, but from man's perspective we do not know who was chosen so to us it looks like some people turn away.

So, I can agree that from God's perspective TULIP is the most correct. Therefore, I can say I hold to a full five point Calvinist view. But I can also agree that from man's perspective (the only perspective that is valid to work with in this life) we have full 100% free will and the TULIP concepts makes no difference to us whatsoever (unless we know what the Creator has chosen to do, which is very rarely if ever the case). So, I can say that I am actually a Pelagian, which is normally considered an opposing view to Calvinism.

So, when you lift your little finger it is most accurate to say that, either actively or passively, God caused you to lift you little finger. But that is from God's perspective and that mode of thinking is useless to us. From our perspective you lifted your little finger by your own free will, and we get mixed up if we try to live our life as if we can see from God's perspective.

Doesn't Quantum Mechanics prove Free Will?
Quantum Mechanics does not show that the world at its core is only probabilistic. The uncertainty is in our ability to know where something is at any given time rather than the uncertainty and probabilistic nature being inherent to nature itself. That mistake in reasoning leads many physicists to the belief in the Schrödinger's Cat paradox, which logically cannot be true. That is why you will find Physicists who study Quantum Mechanics who also promote different forms of mysticism, such as the physics who have spoke at the Theosophical Society or those on "The Secret" video.

The closest I have found to this concept of Free Will and Determinism both being different perspectives of the same concept is called Compatibilism. But even Compatibilism doesn't seem to match what I am saying because I am saying that the differences between total free will and total determinism are just a matter of differing perspectives and both are fully true. Compatibilism on the other hand seems to try to somehow mix the two, when I would argue the two perspectives cannot be mixed at all.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Many Definitions of Contemplative Prayer

When discussing the concept of Contemplative Prayer, sometimes called "the discipline of silence", the discussion many times leads to a question of what the term "Contemplative Prayer" actually is intended to mean. At one extreme, some will say that Contemplative Prayer is no more than trying to not think about the issues/concerns of the day in order to focus attention on God (i.e., not much different than regular prayer). And others will say that Contemplative Prayer is like regular prayer, except you are quiet and listen for an extended time in order to give God a chance to speak back to you, since they say prayer should be a two way conversation. At the other extreme, some will say that Contemplative Prayer is emptying the mind of all thought and emotion so that you can experience union with God directly, and that this practice, along with acts of service, can bring unity and peace between the world religions and people groups (as opposed to "belief systems" and "practices/rituals" which divide religions and people groups).

With such a wide variety of meanings infused into the term "Contemplative Prayer", I thought it might be helpful for discussion to compile a sampling of the meanings and expectations various leaders pour into the term. I will use Green to indicate definitions that I think are rational and in keeping with mainstream historical Christianity. I will use Red to indicate definitions that seem to be mystical and that are more in keeping with the practices of the mystics, either the ancient Catholic mystics or Hindu, Buddhist or other eastern mystics.

From a Google definition search (religioustolerance.org):
Contemplative prayer: This is an ancient Christian practice that was suppressed by the Roman Catholic Church during the Middle Ages and is rejected by many conservative Protestants today. It consists of a wordless form of prayer in which one simply exists in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

The definition from Wikipedia:
In Christian mysticism, Contemplative prayer can refer to:
  • repetitive chanting, breathing in a controlled manner or silent concentration to quiet the thoughts and feelings and commune with a spirit that some believe to be God.
  • infused contemplation: a divinely originated, general, non-conceptual, loving awareness of God; a pure and unmerited gift
  • acquired contemplation: for which the believer could strive with the help of grace
  • Centering prayer, which is sometimes called contemplative prayer, although "It is not contemplation in the strict sense, which in Catholic tradition has always been regarded as a pure gift of the Spirit, but rather it is a preparation for contemplation."
The Science of Spirituality's Definition:
They believe that Contemplative Prayer is the same practice, regardless of the religion a person holds:

Definitions from leading proponents of Contemplative Prayer

Please note: For those leaders who have Red in their quotes, let me say that I believe in every case their goals and motives are good. I understand the desire to try to find better ways of doing things than what is common in contemporary society. But I also believe that those methods and belief systems will, over the long term, cause a devaluing of rationality, truth and making distinctions, even more than the concept of "truth" is devalued in contemporary society today.

Thomas Merton:
"Contemplative consciousness is a trans-cultural, trans-religious, trans-formed consciousness … it can shine through this or that system, religious or irreligious" (Thoughts of the East, P34)

"It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, ... now I realize what we all are .... If only they could all see themselves as they really are ...I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other ... At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusions, a point of pure truth ... This little point ...is the pure glory of God in us. It is in everybody." (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, 1989 edition, P157-158)

"I see no contradiction between Buddhism and Christianity ... I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can." (David Steindl-Rast, "Recollection of Thomas Merton's Last Days in the West", Monastic Studies, 7:10)

Richard Foster:
"Thomas Merton has perhaps done more than any other twentieth century figure to make the life of prayer widely known and understood" (Spiritual Classics, P17)

"There are those who feel that the Christian idea of meditation is synonymous with the concept of meditation centered in Eastern religion. In reality they stand worlds apart. Eastern meditation is an attempt to empty the mind; Christian meditation is an attempt to empty the mind in order to fill it" (Celebration of Discipline, 1st edition, 1978, P15)

"Christian meditation has nothing to do with emptying our minds"... "Contemplation goes beyond words and symbols and concepts to the reality the words and concepts describe...; Contrary to much current thinking, contemplation has nothing to do with making our minds blank or having honey-sweet thoughts. As we have observed, its chief aim is to encounter Christ..." (Spiritual Classics, P10, 13, Joyce Huggett, edited by Richard Foster)

Note that, just like when we sleep or when we are focused on one task, all mystics do fill the mind with something, whether they can recall the memory of their thoughts/emotions or not. So that is not the issue. The issue is whether we should be using our mind to think rationally, or whether we should be clearing our minds in an attempt to try to get away from rational thinking...

So, for example, here is one of the forms of Contemplative Prayer that Richard Foster has promoted :
"A fourth form of meditation has at its objective to bring you into a deep inner communion with the Father... In your imagination allow your spiritual body, shining with light, to rise out of your physical body. Look back so that you can see yourself lying in the grass and reassure your body that you will return momentarily... Listen quietly, anticipating the unanticipated. Note carefully any instruction given. With time and experience you will be able to distinguish readily between mere human thoughts that may bubble up to the conscious mind and the True Spirit which inwardly moves upon the heart." (Celebration of Discipline, 1st edition, 1978, P27)

Dallas Willard:
"Now because silence is such a radical thing and it does mean that you give up control of your situation, you can see what a tremendous impact that would have on the American church, in their services, in their meetings of various kinds. Suppose they practice silence in some of their meetings, that would actually give a place for God to break in... And you know that is the way God is, he more or less waits for us to get tired of running things then he is glad to help." (Be Still DVD)

"Genesis began as an oral tradition of narrative stories passed down from generation to generation….These stories [gradually] took on theological meaning….Over time [they] were written down and collected together (Gen 12-50), and a prologue (Gen 1-11) was added….Borrowing from other creation accounts…stories with parallels to ancient Near Eastern religious narrative and mythology were reshaped with monotheistic intent….These strands of varied materials were gathered and edited into the written text…" (Renovare Spiritual Formation Study Bible, Dallas Willard General Editor)

So, if the beginnings of the Bible were ancient polytheistic myths that were reshaped with monotheistic intent (rather than the polytheistic myths being an offshoot of accurate monotheistic history), then Christianity already has much in common with the eastern religions and the Bible may not be fully reliable. You can see why experiencing God directly might be considered by some as a more pure form of "knowing" God than studying the Bible.

Thomas Keating:
"[Contemplative Prayer]... is a process of inner transformation, a conversation initiated by God and leading, if we consent, to divine union. One’s way of seeing reality changes in the process. A restructuring of consciousness takes place which empowers one to perceive, relate and respond with increasing sensitivity to the divine presence in, through, and beyond everything that exists." (Open Mind, Open Heart, P4)

Father Thomas Keating describes "Centering Prayer" which, as defined earlier, is preparation for Contemplative Prayer:

Thomas Dubay:
Father Thomas Dubay has a 13 part video series called "Contemplation: Union with God" which has the most in depth discussion of Contemplative Prayer that I have found. His definition of contemplative prayer is as follows:

Contemplative Prayer is not:
1. a monastic exercise
2. a sterile intellectualism
3. inner introspection
4. an impersonal state
5. exalting in nature
6. visions and revelations
7. strong emotional feelings about God
8. thinking about Biblical concepts (discursive meditation)

Contemplative Prayer is:
1. being alone with the supreme Alone in a wordless presence to Him
2. meeting in mystery with the hidden God, listening to the silent word of God speaking in us
3. an experience of the indwelling Trinity
4. a knowing, loving immersion in the divine beauty of God
5. a waiting and thirsting for God
6. simply living the greatest of all the commandments
7. a divine invasion, the infinite enters our timed existence
8. reliving Jesus prayer in solitude
9. being quenched at the fountain
10. a small gentle transformation into the divine likeness, by seeing God as he really is
11. the beginning of eternal life here on earth

Contemplative Bible Reading... Small Group Discussion Guide by NavPress (The Navigators):
"Your aim is to let go of issues and agendas that occupy your thoughts and move your mind instead to God... The important thing is that your spine is straight... It is most important to relax the muscles in your throat... Slow down your breathing... praying the first phrase as your breathe in, praying the second phrase as you breathe out... Pray also that as you open yourself to the spiritual world that you will be protected from evil... Focus on God: you can do this by means of an image such as meeting God on the road and talking to him. As you inhale pray "Lord Jesus Christ" and as you exhale pray "Have Mercy". It may be helpful for you to find the right place. There is something about "sacred space"."

So, it does seem that there is more than one meaning being used for this term, Contemplative Prayer. In fact, with the wide variety of meanings there seems to be something here for people who come at this subject from almost any perspective.

If you are concerned about Christians you know who never seem to grow out of their problems and you want a new "reformation" of discipline in the Christian church, but you don't want to focus on the Bible passages that point out people's "sins" and tells them that they need to change, then instead you can teach them Contemplative Prayer and hope that experiences during that practice will motivate them toward change.

If you think this is a strange practice and have never heard of the Contemplative Prayer movement until now, then you don't have to worry about doing anything, at least until this teaching comes to your doorstep (as it came to mine)...

If you are wanting to do something to make yourself feel more "spiritual" but you don't want to go into Eastern meditation, you can use the milder, more orthodox definitions of the term. Then later, when you are ready, you have the option to start changing your thinking to use the "deeper meanings" of the same term.

If you think there is nothing wrong with Christians using meditation practices from other religions and are wondering what all the fuss in about, Contemplative Prayer will finally give your beliefs and practices more respectability within evangelical Christianity.

If you are someone who places a higher value on truth than peace and you are eager for a battle where you will be an outsider and an underdog (like the reformers in the decades around the reformation), this is one good opportunity that can keep you busy.

If you want to insure that peace and harmony are maintained (in opposition to those previous people who place a higher value on truth than peace), then you can support the more orthodox definitions of Contemplative Prayer and allow people to continue peacefully using the term Contemplative Prayer, with each person pouring in the meaning that they are most comfortable with. Most people will start out using the milder meanings in any case, so why bother to split hairs over the meaning of the term.

And finally, if you are a Hindu or Buddhist who has felt that Christianity has devalued what your faith has to offer, this practice of Contemplative Prayer should at very least bring an understanding and appreciation of the meditation practices that have been categorically rejected by Protestant Christianity in the past. One of the major walls between Protestant Christianity and Hindu or Buddhist practices may finally be removed.

So, by having multiple meanings for the same term, the practice of Contemplative Prayer can make itself attractive to a large section of society. But since this post is about defining our terms, here is one more definition you may want to understand:

: To be evasive, unclear or confusing; mystification; intending to conceal the truth by confusion

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Understanding Paul Through Speed Limits

One of the key concepts required to understand the Christian belief system is what Paul was trying to communicate concerning Christianity and it's relationship to law. A good modern day analogy to help illustrate what Paul was saying might be helpful: the concept of speed limits.

The Problems with Speed Limits
Speed limits are good. They save lives. But focusing only on the speed limits themselves misses the point and can be a substitute for actually doing our greater duty as citizens, causing us to act inappropriately at times.

Also, in order to receive your drivers license you likely had to sign a document saying that you would obey all traffic laws, including the speed limits, at all times. Yet, many times you have broken that promise by going one or two miles an hour above the speed limit. So, rightfully you have violated your agreement and you should go to the DMV and turn in your license. Just because you have not been stopped by the police does not nullify the fact that you are a law breaker and deserve jail or at least to have your license revoked.

Road planners study the best ways to decide how fast you should go. They weigh all the various issues and choose the appropriate maximum speed for the area, considering that you could crash and/or kill someone (including children). So, the speed limits are likely better information than you could come up with. But the speed limits are fixed for all times and all situations. They cannot reflect the nuances of weather, whether children are around or not, etc... So, the posted speed limits are never the most optimal speed. Sometimes you should be able to drive faster safely, and other times to be safe you should drive below the limit. So, at best, speed limits are a best average guess at what a good speed should be in most situations.

The Correct Attitude Toward Speed Limits
People have many different attitudes toward speed limits. Which one of these attitudes do you normally take?

1. I should do whatever it takes to never break the speed limit (normally driving significantly below the limit)
2. I should go below the limit but it is O.K. if I go over a little from time to time
3. I should go right at or just a little below the speed limit
4. I should go right at the speed limit as much as possible, not over but not normally below either
5. I can go right at or a little above the speed limit
6. I can go up to five miles above the speed limit (since police generally will not give tickets for that)
7. It is O.K. if go any speed as long as I don't get caught

Which one of these attitudes do you practice? Which one is the right answer? The right answer from the perspective of Paul is "none of the above".

Answer: Study the best ways to decide how fast you should go, weigh all the various issues and go the appropriate speed for the situation, considering that you could crash and/or kill someone (including children). Don't worry about getting a ticket, rather worry about doing what is best in all situations.

Note that this is a much higher standard than any of the seven options above. And it calls people to be more thoughtful and rational rather than blindly following standards. So, if you were shocked to understand that you were a law breaker before and deserved jail, now, even more shockingly, you find that you are supposed to live to an impossibly high standard. What hope do you have of meeting this higher standard if you couldn't even meet the simple speed limit standard?

The speed limits can be of great help to you in deciding what speed to go, since the road planners have already gone though the work of trying to determine the best speed. But we have already noted that the speed limit can only be a best guess and cannot be the best actual speed for every given situation.

Speed Limit Enforcement and Grace
The goal of the police is to get people to follow the rules in order to reduce problems to society. Speed enforcement is really only intended for those people who at some point want to break the speed limit. If they see that you actually intended to follow the rules, they will many time give you grace, unless your actions encourage others to break the rules. And they will generally not pull people over unless they are going five or more miles an hour above the speed limit.

But grace can be abused. On our highways many times it is socially acceptable, and even expected, to go well above the posted speed limit. And allowing society to accept law breaking in one area of life can cause the same thought processes to flow into other areas of life. A dilemma for road planners is whether to raise the speed limits, allowing a greater number of more severe wrecks, or should they lower the speed limits, causing the vast majority of people to break the law. One answer to that dilemma may be to keep the best speed limit but raise the penalties significantly. That would keep most people from breaking the law and it would keep down the number of severe wrecks.

Specific applications of the best attitudes towards speed limits
Analysis of some specific situations helps clarify this nuanced view of law.

What would the person do in an area where there are no speed limits? Some people would want to go much faster than posted limits, without thinking about how they might hurt other people.

What about an area where the speed limit seems too low? A good citizen will judge the risk and benefits of going against the speed limit. If they go above the speed limit they will willingly accept a ticket or jail time for that choice. Also, they will take into account that, even if they normally follow good practices concerning speed limits, they also need to take into account how they will be encouraging other, less conscientious people to break the speed limits when they should not do that. In these cases, it seems prudent, after doing what we can to get the speed limit changed, to accept and follow the speed limit as an example to others who may not understand the specific issues involved (and taking into account that you may be incorrect in your assessment of the speed limit being too low).

What about an area where the speed limit seems too high? A Christian will again in this case evaluate what should be the speed limit and if they should go lower they will do that. And just as they would work to get low speed limits raised, they should work to get speed limits that are too high lowered.

What about in emergencies, like when going to the hospital when someone is dying? If a life is in the balance then the driver needs to balance the benefits of getting to the hospital sooner with the risks of hurting others in getting there. If the risk is low and the benefits are high, then it seems morally acceptable to break the speed limit laws, though the driver should be willing to pay the ticket if they are pulled over.

What if you don't remember the speed limit? Sometimes I forget what the speed limit is. If I did not understand the first principles of what the speed should be, then I may not know how fast I should go. But if I understand the first principles, then I will be more likely to go a correct speed even if I do not remember what the speed limit actually is.

The Problem with Laws and Rules in general
The old testament, and governments in general, intend for people to understand the meaning of laws from first principles. The ten commandments are not the ten most important laws, but rather they are ten summarized categories of the other laws. Unfortunately, for some people the laws of the old testament (and the laws of their state) became the focus in and of themselves and the first principles behind the laws were sometimes neglected (Mat 23:23). Jesus and Paul affirm that law is good, but they point people back to the first principles behind the many laws (Mat 5:17-18, Rom 3:31).

It is true some laws are symbolic or may apply to a specific cultural situation but even the symbolic laws show us how important symbolism is to a culture. We should work to translate symbolic laws into appropriate symbolism for our culture today (such as laws against flag burning).

The Correct Attitude Toward Law and Rules in general
People have many different attitudes toward laws, and rules in general. Which one of these attitudes do you normally take:

1. I should do whatever it takes to never break a rule of any kind.
2. I should be careful to not break rules but it is O.K. if I break the rules from time to time
3. I should try to get away with as much as possible, with out breaking the actual rules themselves
4. I can break the rules that no one really cares too much about, as long as I try to keep the rules people care about
5. It is O.K. to break any rules as long as I don't get caught

In the old testament it at first seems that it was expected a person should obey laws at all costs, that was like answer number one. And in early Israel people did what is right in their own eyes (and that was not considered good) like answers 2 though 5.

So, which one of these attitudes do you practice? Which one is the right answer? The right answer from the perspective of Paul is "none of the above".

Answer: Study the the needs of society and decide what the best laws should be, weighing all the various issues and doing the appropriate thing in each situation, considering the effects you could have on others (including children). But since you may not have fully studied the issues and/or you may not fully know what is going on in a given area, laws are likely better information than you could come up with, so you should normally be happy to submit to a given law. Don't worry about getting punished for breaking the law, rather worry about doing what is best in all situations.

Note that this is a much higher standard than any of the five options above. And it calls people to be more thoughtful and rational rather than blindly following standards. So, if you were shocked to understand that you were a law breaker before and deserved punishment (like some of the wording in the old testament), now you are supposed to live to an impossibly higher standard. What hope to you have of meeting this higher standard if you couldn't even meet the simple standard of following the various laws?

Law and Rule Enforcement vs Grace
Is god, or governments for that matter, just waiting to pounce on us if we break the rules? No. They would rather us obey and hope for our reformation into people who will obey.

Is God, and governments for that matter, waiting to isolate us if we continually, willing want to do things that hurt others? Yes. While that is not their first choice, if we continually hurt others then at very least we need to be separated from society.

The new testament, and the goal of government in general, is like the person who is free to understand the situation, look at the laws, rules, etiquette, etc.. and then do the appropriate thing, which is almost always to follow the given law or rule. The problem with western society today is that many people interpret laws, rules, etiquette, etc.. to say that they are free to decide what we should do on their own, but without regard for either the rules or first principles.

The Christian view of laws and rules prepares us to live in a good society. If all people understand and strive to follow rules appropriately, that in and of itself would make a society much closer to being like Heaven...

Specific applications of the best attitudes towards laws and rules
Analysis of some specific situations helps clarify the Paul's' view of law.

What would the people do who lived when there was no laws written down? People would do what was right in their own eyes. That would be good only if they fully understood the first principles and were motivated to make an informed decision in each case. But normally that is not the case.

What about laws/rules that don't seem just? Normally a Christian should obey the laws but if a law is considered potentially unjust, then a Christian will judge the risk and benefits of going against the law. If they go against a particular law, then they must be willing to accept the punishment for disobeying that law. Also, they will take into account that, even if they normally try to do what is right, they also need to take into account how they will be encouraging other, less conscientious people to break the laws. In these cases it seems prudent, after doing what we can to get the law changed, to accept and follow the law as an example to others who may not understand the specific issues involved (and taking into account that you may be incorrect in your assessment of the law being unjust).

What about laws/rules that seem to be too permissive? A Christian will again in this case evaluate what should be the law and if they should go do more than the law requires then they will do that. And just as they would work to get an unjust law overturned, they should work to get laws that are too permissive to be more restrictive.

What about in emergencies, when it seems breaking laws may be a good thing to do? If a lives are in the balance then the person needs to balance the benefits of breaking a particular law with the risks of hurting others by breaking that law. If the risk is low and the benefits are high, then it seems acceptable to break a particular law, though the person should be willing to pay the price for breaking that particular law.

What about the good person who doesn't know the laws? All of us break some laws at times, but it our commitment to honestly try to follow the laws of the state that makes us a good citizen, not the fact that we actually attain perfection in following all the laws. But we do have a responsibility to know the state we are under and to know the laws that state requires. To expect to be a considered a good citizen while following the laws of a different state is no reasonable.

Billy Graham believes that good people from all religions go to Heaven. That is theoretically true, but the problem is the definition of who is "good". God considers a person "good" when they follow all of His laws appropriately. The problem we have seen is to really follow any given set of laws is an unattainably high standard. So, the "good" people from other religions that Billy Graham thinks should go to the Christian Heaven can not actually exist. If their religions are true, then perhaps they go to Nirvana, or whatever their religion believes happens after death. But if Christianity is true and they are not following the Christian God and His laws, then they cannot be considered part of Christian society, either before or after death.

How to understand Paul's attitude towards laws
Paul was well educated. He understood that many seeming dilemmas are caused by a lack of understanding of the first principles underlying the concepts of law and grace. So to resolve the perceived problems Paul points the reader back to first principles: love your neighbor. In doing that he is not nullifying the concept of law. On the contrary, he is fully supporting the concept of law.

Note that the same concepts apply to all the various forms of "law", including rules, best practices, etiquette, standards, etc.. All are different forms of the general concept of "law".

We should honor and be grateful for good laws, since they are the out workings of our caring for each other. We should work to change inappropriate laws, since they are not fulfilling their intended function. And we should strive to follow good laws, even when we can get away with not following them and/or when there is a personal cost involved with following a particular law.

We should break laws where necessary to follow higher first principles. But that should only be done in extreme circumstances where the letter of the law is not performing its intended function, and where breaking the law will not encourage others to break the laws when they should not.

Regardless of the correctness of our actions (such as rushing someone who is dying to the hospital), we should gladly accept law enforcement without expecting grace, because law makers many times are not able to make distinctions between when a law should be broken or when it should not be broken. To do so would make an unwieldy law (like the tax code...). Be grateful when grace is extended to you and do not use it as license to break the laws.

Teach your children and others the full concepts of law and grace and how they relate to each other. This is not an ancient or abstract concept, but one that can have a profound affect on how we live our lives.