Happiness

Happiness

Read this first. I’ll wait…

Read the whole story at 24/7 Wall St.

Done? Good. Let’s talk.

I don’t know if the emotion of happiness can really be quantified. But, people, including neuroscientist, Sam Harris, have been working on it for years. Perhaps a better term would be “life satisfaction”. The metrics used in the research included things like, disposable income, education, health and life expectancy, employment, and hours worked. When I looked at the metrics, almost all of them had to do with money in some way or another. Could it really be that money can actually buy happiness?

There was one other correlation that jumped out at me. The US did not make the top ten. More importantly, with the exception of a single outlier: Israel, all of the top ten countries were notably atheistic, or just non-religious. This is not what any religious person should expect to find. Apparently, that peace that passes understanding about which I opined a few posts back, is not just missing in my circle of influence. It seems to be absent in the most Christian of nations.

That is a huge metric to consider. It makes me question my own happiness. I have mentioned before that I am one of the most financially distressed of all my readers. I write this post from the food stamp office. (Personal note: do not use an iPad at the food stamp office). I am about $400 per month short of being where we need to be. I spent the morning in more pain than I have been in for some time. My health is the stuff of medical journals. I do not expect to live past fifty. I can’t seem to find a decent part-time job to save my life. I am near the bottom of the metrics of life satisfaction.

Yet, I am happy.

Frankly, I’m not sure why. I enjoy every moment of life I have, especially the moments where I am not clouded by medicine. My house could use some work that I can’t afford, but I have all of the possessions I need. The only two things I want right now are a spoiler for my car, and an inflatable boat. I suspect I will live just fine without either.

I have many talents and abilities, therefore, my underemployment is temporary. I use a great deal of my time volunteering for causes in which I passionately believe. I use what treasure I have to provide aid to strangers when the opportunity arises. I am serving as an unpaid media relations team-member for Birmingham Faith in Action. I also stay involved in the immigration issue, and any other matter of social justice where my talents can benefit.

This is not a resume, nor am I looking for a pat on the back. This is just how I chose to fill my time while trying to make ends meet. I am happy. I am married to a wife whom I love to the best ability that I can love anyone. Our marital issues and arguments are legendary among our friends. At times, we just make each other miserable. Don’t think this has anything to do with our current finances. We have also had lots of money. Our marriage has actually improved over the years. Despite those undeniable facts, we are happy with one another.

I guess, for me, happiness is not about finances, health, employment, or any of the other mainstream markers. I am happiest when fulfilling the yearnings of my best self. Our finances will improve again, eventually. We will start foster training in about ten days. We have done it before. Never have we been happier or more fulfilled. It was the most difficult thing we have ever done in our lives. I don’ expect it to be any easier this time around. It is less what I want to do, and more what I must do.

I am compelled to advance the life satisfaction of all humanity every way I can. Happiness is heaven. It is salvation, and would that all people be saved. According to the latest research, religion does not tend to get us there. Heaven is not a religious destination, though; it is a human one. I am happy, but I still want that spoiler. I will gladly take donations for it. 🙂

Are you happy? Is it because you fit the metrics of the latest research, or in spite of it? Every few months, Barbara and I will just stop what we are doing and announce to the other, “I’m happy.” I wish everyone could be so lucky.

David Johnson

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LGBTQ

At the time of this writing, I am wearing a pin with a red background and white lettering. It has three rows. The top row are the letters in all caps: SPLC. The second row just has a heart symbol. The third row has in all caps: LGBTQ. If you are wondering what any of this means, you’re not alone. It also took me a moment to figure out what I was looking at. It means, the Southern Poverty Law Center loves Lesbian, Gay Bi, Trans, and questionable gender and preference. The bigger mystery, though, is why I chose to where it.

Several years ago, I marched for a few blocks in a gay pride parade in Portland Oregon. It was a rather large parade that was interfering with me getting to where I wanted to be. So, I did what any enterprising person would do; I stepped in line with the parade and marched along side them till I arrived at my destination. I walked beside them, chanted with them, and sang their songs. Mostly, though, I became aware of how I was being regarded by the onlookers and scoffers, of which I was one just moments before.

No one should be regarded that way for any reason. There was unmasked hatred and disgust in the faces of everyone I passed. This, in a very progressive city. I grew up in a place and time where being black was a crime of which I am most certainly guilty. Being handicapped is yet another crime. Guilty. But worse than either of those is the crime of being perceived as gay, or in support of gay people. That can still get you killed in any state in the union. Since that brief and thoughtless march, I have never been able to look at sexual preference issues the same way.

Without deliberately outing people I care about, I will just say that Homosexuality is in my family, and my wife’s family. We are not alone. It was in churches I attended as a child. It was in schools, businesses, governments, and neighborhoods. The more I get to know people, the more I realize that almost everyone is less than two people removed from someone with a sexual orientation other than heterosexuality.

My religion taught me that this condition was rare, by personal choice, and a sign of demonic possession. Science, nature, and psychology told me a different story. It is prevalent, in some cases, genetic, and a birthright from god. It occurred in nature. This, however is an argument, the weakness of which was just recently made apparent to me. It dawned on me that humans are just as much a part of nature as any other creature. Therefore, even if humans were the only creatures who chose same-sex relationships, it is still a part of nature. Humans are incapable of doing anything unnatural because we are nature. We can do things that are not normative, but not unnatural.

Same-sex attraction, though not the majority position, is both natural and normative. It is not rare, and does not exist only in a certain type of person. Homosexuality exists in the poorest parts of Africa, and wealthiest parts of Europe. It is not new to the current generation. It is as old as humanity, existing in every age, in every place. It is caused neither by disease or demon. It is simply one configuration of the human organism, like it or not. The homosexual is not defective. They are just as fully human as you. Full stop!

Growing up a conservative Christian, I was a vocal objector to homosexuality, and to those who practiced it. Beyond religion, I can find not a single, rational objection to that orientation, and trust me, I’ve tried. I have but one stance on the position. It is the only place integrity will allow me to stand. That is along side those who are fed up with pretending they are something other than what they are, and who demand the right of full expression of what it means for them to be human.

I love LGBTQ

David Johnson

The Ineffectiveness of Miracles

The Ineffectiveness of Miracles

As a kid, I had many questions about my religion that went unanswered. One of those questions dogged me all the way to the end of my faith journey, and I have only been able to explore with one other person. Neither of us ever came up with a satisfactory answer. The question is about the miracles of the bible. Well, more about the people who saw them. Why were the miracles not effective. There’re are a few that stand out to me:

The first is the events of the exodus from Egypt. First, there were plagues aplenty, followed by the parting of an ocean made suitable for crossing on foot. There was food that literally fell from heaven and water from rocks. Despite these clear departures from the natural order, it only took moments fort the people to forget all about them, and start worshiping man-made idols. Either the miracles didn’t happen, they were not very impressive, or the Jews of that time were doorknob stupid. I’m going to dismiss the last one without further discussion.

Another example would be the miracle working profits. The wonders they were able to achieve is the stuff of legend. Yet, with a couple of notable exceptions, the profits died badly at the hands of the people. Repentance never seemed to last for very long. Miracles seldom had any long-term impact on Jewish fidelity to god. Why?

In the Christian scriptures, things get even worse. Jesus is portrayed as the ultimate miracle worker. I’m told that there are some 22 verses that speak of the fame of Jesus. He was a public figure who did public signs and wonders, depending on which gospel you happen to be reading. Even so, there was one passage that showed his own family thought him to be a madman. The Jews knew of his miracles and refused to believe. Why?

Then, there were the events surrounding the resurrection. Not only did Jesus rise, according to the story, but the graves in the area burst open and many recently departed appeared to many others in the holy city. They reintegrated into the life of Jerusalem and would have been around for some time before dying again. In one place, it was said that the resurrected Jesus appeared to 500 at one time. All of this happened in the region and presence of the Jews. Yet, the Jews are overwhelmingly non-Christian. Why?

The Miracle-working apostles didn’t have much better luck. None of the churches they established were very large, and all died out shortly after the apostles did. Despite the grandiose claims of scripture, history shows almost no signs of the effectiveness of the apostles. Even the bible only covers the exploits of a couple of them. Were it not for Paul’s non-miraculous, re-imagining of Christianity, we probably would have never heard of the movement. Why?

My point is that miracles, no matter how grand, were never effective tools for convincing anyone of the existence of god, or the veracity of his spokesmen. I do not believe people are that impervious to the witnessing of a genuine miracle. I would love to see one. I haven’t. We seem to be more easily moved by the story of miracles than the people who supposedly, actually experienced them. Why?

Why are the Jews not Christians in general? How could the ancient Jews turn away from god so quickly after experiencing his miracles. It makes no sense to me. Even I would be forever changed if the curtain of space/time were pulled back to give me indisputable experiences beyond the natural order. I may be beyond religion, but I am not beyond sanity.

A miracle transcends faith. It is concrete evidence. Why does faith succeed where concrete evidence failed. It is an interesting question to ponder during the quiet moments of this fine, Memorial Day weekend. Happy pondering.

David Johnson

Quick Take

Of Prayer and Worry

As you might can imagine, I’ve taken quite a bit of abuse for my lack of theism. I am the one with the absence of faith, therefore, I am the one with the problem. What I fail to see on this side of faith is what I missed when on the other side. I do not see any evidence of the peace that passes all understanding lived out in the lives of those who judge me so harshly.

It seems that the prayer of faith and power should cancel out worry. If anyone should worry, it should be the non-theist who has no magical access to the hidden powers of the universe. No other-worldly being heeds my requests, and bends time and space to fulfill them. I probably have the lowest income of any of my readers, yet, I am seldom worried about the uncertainties of life.

However, I am surrounded by faithful Christians who are constantly fretting and striving and trying to make things happen. They get angry or concerned when things are not going the way they had hoped. I see this in business, church administration, and every other walk of life. They all pray, but seldom have discernible peace. In other words, the talk of prayer and faith seldom translate into anything practical ease of tension, of letting go.

To be clear, I do know of some that buck this trend, and greatly admire them. I also know of many who seem to live a live free of distress who profess not faith at all. These thoughts came to mind, in part, because I found myself in attendance at a bible class where the topic was the power of prayer. I said nothing for the two hours I was there. It has been festering a bit.

During conversation, those same people openly fret over the price of gas, groceries, the lack of work, health, medication, you name it. They do not see the irony of moving so fluidly between prayer and worry. Yet, I am the one with the problem. It is just one of those things that make it hard for me to take religion seriously, or the people who use it to judge those of us who do not practice it.

Christianity would make a much better case for itself if its adherents displayed the practical benefit of their faith by demonstrating peace in the face of turmoil. I simply cannot pour much energy into something that shows no observable, practical benefit. Lord knows I’ve tried.

One last thing. On the other side of religion, I feel more peaceful than I ever did before, I believe the reason is that I am no longer worrying about if I prayed correctly, or when receiving no answer, what I may have done to offend my god. I do the best I can and take life as it comes. I do not worry about that which I cannot control.

How do you stay calm in the face of storms? Sound off in the comments or send me an email.

David Johnson

Beyond Love

Let me be clear at the outset. There is nothing beyond love. What I am hoping to get beyond is the simplistic, formulaic love taught by religion. Every Christian knows at least one Greek word: agape’. It is supposed to be the ultimate kind of love. It is beyond infatuation or eroticism. it is the kind of self-sacrificing love that esteems others greater than one’s self. It is brotherly love, and beyond. It is a universal kind of love that encompasses the whole world.

I say, bollox!

That kind of love simply does not exist outside of sermons. No one loves everyone. It is simply not possible. When love is stretched so broad and thin, it becomes meaningless. The problem is that love is a major tenet of faith in most religions. The possibility of genuine love in a church environment is spoiled by the fact that you are commanded to do it. However, it seems to me that love cannot be commanded. If one demonstrates love because one is commanded to do so, then it is not actually love that is being demonstrated.

In all churches I have attended, there is a forced kind of love that is palpable. That is not to say that the people are not genuinely loving. Rather, it is to say that the people are making a concerted effort to appear loving. There is a subtle, but important difference.

Growing up, I attended churches where the people insisted on calling one another by their last name, preceded by the word, brother or sister. I was brother Johnson for most of my church life. I always found that form of address to be both strained and disingenuous. I actually have two brothers. I never had to call them brother for me to know they were my brothers. I have had friends that were as close as brothers. No formal titles are used among friends. It always struck me that if you had to call someone brother or sister, that was a sure sign that they were anything but.

Love cannot be forced or commanded. There must be the opportunity for hate, or at least, the absence of love. I will confess something that has been true for me for as long as I can remember. There are people in the world that I absolutely do not love. Religion required me to give lip-service to loving everyone, but reality requires a more honest assessment.

There are people, even in churches, that are toxic to me. They have a foul disposition, are judgmental, rude, and mean-spirited. I would not throw myself in front of a moving vehicle to save their life. I do not actively wish them harm. But I also do not ever want to be around them. I believe it is intellectually dishonest to pretend to love someone that you clearly do not even like. That is the kind of love that has no meaning.

Since I have moved beyond religion, I do not love less. In a non-intuitive turn of events, I actually love more. I am free to admit that there are people I do not like, and wish to avoid. That frees me up to make an honest assessment of who I really care about. To those relationships, I am more committed than ever. As for the ones for whom I care little, I do not have to force myself into mandatory environments of toxicity. These relationships can be built up with honesty as the foundation, not dogma.

There is also a matter of empathy. Humans only have the capacity for so much empathy. You can try and spend that empathy on all 7 billion people on the planet, but it would be spread so thin, as to be meaningless. The other extreme is that you can expend your total allotment of empathy on one person, leaving nothing for anyone else. Neither of these extremes work for a healthy society.

In a generalized sense, I love all women. But, if a gunman entered a bank and started shooting, there is only one woman I would stand in front of: my wife. If everyone else in the bank was killed except for my wife, I would consider it a blessing, to borrow a religious term. If I felt the same level of empathy for every faceless victim of a tinpot dictator in some god-forsaken region of Africa, I would need a lot more Paxil than any doctor could prescribe.

Lately, I have been to a lot of funerals, but I have only cried bitterly at one: my grandmother’s. I have seen lots of grand parents laid to rest, many of whom, I loved. But there is no use pretending that I have the same level of love for every individual. I don’t. Such equal levels of empathy are not possible for the human animal.

Having said all that, I now experience real love that is neither feigned or compelled. Knowing that experience makes me hungry for more of the same. I seek relationships with intimacy, that is to say, relationships that involve a high level of personal sharing. I do not have a lot of time for casual acquaintances that go nowhere. Real community requires real relationship.

If I have never been to your house, nor you mine, I don’t know you. Sharing a meal at a restaurant is good; sharing the kind of meal that you would normally eat everyday is intimacy. If I have only seen you when you were at your best, and ready for company, then I don’t know you. It is one thing to know what you enjoy for entertainment; it is yet another to share that experience together.

If you are always agreeable and polite despite how you really feel, then I don’t know you. Until we feel safe enough to disagree, and even argue, then we are not yet friends. I want to know your name. But real relationship requires that I know your kids’ names.

Religion requires us to love one another, but I believe it is even more important, not to mention, demanding, to like one another. I care nothing for religious brotherhood; I am all about human friendship. Relationships, real relationships, require the kind of love that take us beyond religion.

David Johnson

Birmingham Faith in Action

Birmingham Faith in Action

I am a spokesperson as well as a member of the media relations team of the new community activist organization, Birmingham Faith in Action. This seems a bit incongruous as I am most certainly not a person of faith, and the organization is very much faith-based. I came to be involved with the group because a representative visited my church and made a presentation dring the Sunday school hour. I was one of about fifteen that attended, and the only one in that particular meeting who followed up with the group.

Amanda Mullins, the representative, mentioned two issues the group felt was underserved in the city: the macing of school children, and the extortionist interest rates of payday lendors. I have some personal experience with payday loans. However, I do not have any children at this time. Still, I was shocked to learn about the situation in the Birmingham public schools. Birmingham has the highest incedents of macing by school resource officers (SROs), police officers, than any other city in America. None of the incidents involved a student with a weapon, or gang related activity.

With regard to payday lending, there are many distressing facts I could mention, but I will settle for just one: The fine state of Alabama deems it perfectly legitimate to allow these loan-sharks to charge up to 456% interest. These small, short-term loans do not end up being small, or short-term.

On Tuesday, May 8th, we held our first public action which packed the sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Birmingham. We had several presenters, of which I was one. The energy level was high, but more importantly, the media presence was excellent. We got lead billing on television news, with outstanding print and radio media support leading up to the event.

As a result of that action, one of our proposals was put on the docket of the city counsel meeting the following week. We filled the front row of the counsel chamber to witness the passage of our proposal. Less than a week later, Police Chief Roper agreed to a meeting with us to discuss the problem with macing students, even though the department is currently being sued for that very issue. It was a meeting he refused to grant before our public action. He met us on our terms and in our place of choice. After a lengthy discussion. He agreed to every aspect of our proposal. We will be heading up a new commission to explore solutions to the problem.

Birmingham Faith in Action is an example of what can be accomplished when the walls of religion are ignored, or torn completely down. It is made up of a coalition of about 30 churches in the birmingham area. For such a cause, even we Unitarians are considered a church. 🙂

I thought it fit that I provide a more full account of what I have been up to lately. I’ve got to be one of the busiest, unemployed people around. While religious, I would have never been able to participate so fully in such an event. As a rational humanist, I can’t imagine anything I’d rather be doing Great things can happen when we give expression to the yearnings of our common humanity.

David Johnson

Spirituality

A friend of mine who follows my blog asked me a very important question that is, itself, worthy of a blog post:

“Hey David how you doing? I am just curious. Now that you have moved beyond religion, do you consider yourself to be a spiritual person any more?”

This was such an important question, I didn’t feel that I could just pop off a quick response in an email without giving the consideration it deserves. In one of my last sermons from the pulpit, I described myself as a deeply spiritual person. I stated that religion was the number one impediment of spirituality. I think I still believe that, but a few definitions are in order.

What exactly do we mean by spirituality? Different people will have different definitions of the word. A religious person might think of spirituality as a deep connection with the other worldly entity that we think of as the third person of the godhead. In Christian parlance, he dwells within us and guides our non-corporial spirit. in the ways of righteousness.

Others think of spirituality as a non-physical connection to the spirit part of other human beings. This understanding still requires a believe in ontological dualism. That is to say, we are made of bodies: the stuff of the natural world, and spirit: the stuff of the world beyond. Some will even extend the spirit world to include all of nature, a kind of pantheism where god is in everything.

Needless to say, I do not believe in these definitions of spirituality. I do not believe in spirits, ghosts, or disembodied eminations of personhood. No. I do not consider myself the spirit brother of the rock, the antelope, of the cosmos. If it must be understood in some metaphysical sense, then no, I am not spiritual.

However, I do not believe that metaphysics is the only way to understand spirituality. I am a humanist and a naturalist. That does not mean that I am bereft of a sense of owe and wonder. I study science, and physics in particular. I’m not so good with biology. I am amazed by every aspect of the universe, and of life. I do not worship it in any religious sense, but I most certainly appreciate the majesty of it.

Without religion giving me a false sense of dominion, I am more free to explore and appreciate my true place in the universe. I am not the center of it. It does not bend to my will. It does not notice my presence, and will not shed a tear when I am gone. Neutrinos flow through my body, detecting me no more than they detect a rock. My essence will be preserved after death no more than that of a single-celled organism.

If that sounds depressing, you might be missing the point. The same stuff of exploding stars that produced every element on the periodic table, is the stuff of which I am made. I am not brother to the rock; I am the rock more evolved. Just ask anyone who has suffered kidney stones. I am not a little lower than the angels, but a little higher than the apes. Everything in this ecosystem, including me, is a part of the continuing story of the universe.

I do not own nature, nor am I above it. I am as much a part of it as a blade of grass. Recognizing my place in the universe serves to keep me grounded. I, therefore, recognize my place within humanity. I have no special revelation that makes me superior to other humans. I was not granted superiority by birthright. The universe does not favor me any more than the lowliest peasant in some unpronounceable country.

When I look into the face of another person, I see myself. Religion did not allow me to do that. Wearing the religion tented glasses, I saw a sinner in need of saving. I saw someone who was separated from god, and therefore, from me. Without such glasses, I just see me.

I see myself in the drug addict, the prostitute, the mentally disabled, homeless person, the despot king of some uncivilized tribe in deepest Africa, in Hitler, in Gandhi, in Manson, and Mother Teresa. I also gain a greater understanding of myself when I study the pig, the rat, and the chimp. Teachers have been telling us for years that we are what we eat. That gives me an appreciation of what I put into my body to sustain it. When I see the field of grass and lilies, I get a sense of what will become of me when I am gone.

That is my idea of spirituality. With that in mind, I am more spiritual than ever.

David Johnson

Orthodox Jews Hold Anti-Internet Rally

I read an article this morning that just left me shaking my head and face-palming. Just as I am trying to make peace with communities of faith in my heart, I come across this headline:

http://www.theverge.com/2012/5/21/3033568/orthodox-jews-anti-internet-rally-new-york

“A rather unusual event took place in New York City this past Sunday: the New York Mets’ Citi Field was filled to capacity with Orthodox Jews — males only, in keeping with the religion’s code — who were there to attend a rally about the dangers of the internet. So populous was the gathering that nearby Arthur Ashe stadium (20,000 capacity) had to also be rented out, while women interested in observing events were provided “viewing parties” in Orthodox neighborhoods of Brooklyn and New Jersey”.

The article goes on to explain what the orthodox Jewish problem with the internet is. As you might imagine, there is too much pornography. They are also against social networks like Twitter which foster a sense of closeness from a distance, while making people more distant in person. I have tried to avoid mocking religion for the sake of mockery, but some things just deserve to be mocked.

Here is the solution to the Jewish problem with the internet: Stop visiting porn sites, and close your Facebook account. Done! This rally is an example of why I abhor religion. People talk about a personal faith and relationship with god. The great irony is that the moment they talk about it, it is no longer personal; it is public. They do not just want to share the fact that they have this faith; they want to impose it on others, and judge others by their lack of faith.

In this case, it is no enough for these orthodox Jews to personally disapprove of the internet. They want to ban the activities of others as well. All this is bad enough, but it gets worse. The whole affair has the nausiating stink of hypocracy. They are not just trying to push a narrow-minded agenda on the world, they are trying to sell a product. This whole affair is sponsored by a Jewish group selling internet filtering software. This is the point where I would say something about following the money, but that seems obvious and cheap, so I will avoid it.

Also not lost on me is the view of women expressed in the fact that they were not allowed to be at the event, but had to have seperate veiwing venues. Don’t even get me started.

Hopefully, my closing sentiment will be understood and forgiven by the good level-headed people who follow this blog. Speaking of whom, I would like to publicaly acknowledge my appreciation to those who are new to the blog and choose to follow it on a daily basis. I receive a notice whenever new people follow the blog. Thank you. So please indulge my final sentiment on the matter:

Religion must die! Just die!

David Johnson

Why I Still Go to Church

There is no denying it; I still go to church every week. There is almost no explaining it, either. Yet, I believe it is only fair to explain to those who ask and wonder, why exactly it is I still go to church. I suppose it is easier to begin by what is not at the root of my continued church going. I am no longer searching for spiritual answers. I do not believe in a traditional god. I am not going to start back believing. There is no chance I am going to suddenly see the light. I am not looking to settle the question of if there is a god. That question is well settled.

I also do not go because I enjoy the pageantry and ceremony. I don’t pray, sing, meditate, take communion, or any other religious activity. I only enjoy the sermon insomuch as it is not bible-based. I am embarrassed by the superstitious aspects of church meetings. I do not give money to churches. I do not believe they are great conduits for benevolence, with very few exceptions. I don’t actually care about lushly carpeted, air-conditioned, multi-million dollar campuses. Nor do I care about professional orators.

Before I tell you what I do enjoy, let me tell you where I go to church. Almost every Sunday, I attend the local Universalist Unitarian church (UU). This is a church that looks a lot like a traditional church from a distance. It is replete with church building, a person with title of Reverend, membership requirements, and a weekly contribution. On Easter, they even have a type of communion. Okay, it is a flower communion. There is no cannibalistic symbolism, but it is still communion by name.

It has all the outward trappings of church without any of the substance. The songs are devoid of religious content. There is no talk of grace for wretched worms, or old rugged crosses. The prayers are without specific direction to an all knowing, all loving god for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The sermons are life lessons rather than religious instruction, and end without hint of an alter call. The collection is not god’s holy tax to do his holy work. It is to support the organization and help it fulfill its fiscal responsibilities. UU in in the shape of religion for those of us who are familiar with religion, but without the essence of religion for those of us who have grown beyond it.

I have also, once, visited a Quaker meeting, sometime known as Friends. As near as I can tell, there is no quaking going on. Similar to UU, the Quakers are a non-creedal body. They do not have a prescription for salvation or specific religious practices. Much like UU, they avoid the usual trappings of religion. Unlike UU, they do not replace those trappings with anything. Where UU will have a service that provides a typical order of worship without the content of worship, the Quakers provide nothing. The “worship hour is an hour of silence, broken only by the occasional moved by the spirit with something to share. Otherwise, there is just silence.

After that, they offer a non-religious prayer, and break for a while in fellowship and snacks. After a few minutes of that, they reassemble for a second hour of discussion about whatever topic is on the agenda for the day. Quaker involvement in social justice. It was quite lively. It seems to be another good church option for the non-religious. You can always skip the first hour of silence if meditation is not your think. It is certainly not mine, but I did find some value in quietness.

Today at UU, the church was dealing with the death of a prominent member. The husband of the minister died. It was not unexpected, but still tragic. In all of my experience with church, I have found that there is nothing like death to bring out faith language in that environment. I admit to a morbid curiosity about how this non-religious church handled the reality of the death of a beloved member. There was nothing of the sermon to indicate it was a sermon from a preacher of a church. It was completely secular, authentic, and the most beautiful and meaningful service of its kind that I have experienced.

There was also a special bridging ceremony for a graduate who is transitioning from youth to adulthood. It was a beautiful ceremony that reminded me that one need not be religious to appreciate life’s many transitions, and the ceremonies that accompany them.

I continue to go to church because religion continues to be a reality for a significant part of the population. I cannot just write off the majority of humans because they insist on having faith in things that I do not. It would be wrong of me to simply divorce myself from humanity in the same way that so many of the faithful would divorce themselves from me for my faithlessness.

I once asked Bishop John Shelby Spong what people of my generation should do with the church. He acknowledge the fact that so many of us have simply moved on and left church people to their own devices. He encouraged me to stay and try to find a way to remain involved and be a thorn in the side of the traditional religionists. I have attempted to do just that, but not just for the sake of being a thorn in the side. I want to maintain a dialogue with people who are different from me. Once dialogue ends, war begins.

I feel compelled to find a way to engage with the faithful. I stubbornly believe that we can find common ground when we give expression to the yearnings of our common humanity. I not only go to church, but I am involved with an organization called Faith in Action. It is an interfaith organization that is devoted to positive, political change in the Birmingham community. The organization is heavily focused on faith. My focus is on action. We work together well by focussing on our common humanity. When religion is set aside, preachers and non-theists can stand shoulder to shoulder to affect change.

That is why I continue to go to church. Some weeks, it is harder than others, but I persist. Hopefully, all of my readers will continue to engage in the effort of living out the reality of a common humanity.

David Johnson

Beyond Morality Part Four

Life without morality is shocking! My change of perspective on important matters was immediate. Without morality, I lost the ability to judge the behavior or character of fellow human beings. No matter how many times Jesus says, “Judge not!” we can’t seen to help but judge with each drawing of breath. To evangelize is to engage in a type of judgement. The act of sharing your faith with another person outside of an assembly for that purpose, assumes that the person with whom you are sharing stands in need of the information.

The premise behind inviting someone to church is that the person is not already a part of a healthy, well-balanced church. The attempt to save a person’s soul is an acknowledgement that you believe that person’s soul needs to be saved. You cannot engage in the most innocent act of evangelism without judging. In the denomination of my youth, we had already pre-judged everyone a candidate for hell fire who was not a card-carrying member of that denomination.

Without the ability to judge others based on what they were wearing, or doing, or saying, I had no idea what to think of them at all. I realized just how much of my thoughts about other people were tied up in judging their fitness as a member of society. I remember when I first ran into a situation that challenged my ability to judge. It happened when I was a teen.

A member of my father’s church was an uneducated man of the land. He was talking about something to do with his cows. He used a common swear word to describe something he stepped in. I was shocked. We all were, and we did a pretty good job of hiding it. For his part, he never even suspected we thought he said anything wrong. That is just the word they used out in the field. I couldn’t figure out if he had sinned or not. For some reason, it was very important for me to know.

Now, when I here a person publicly swearing, I don’t know what to make of it. This is a person who is speaking in the vernacular of his peers. That person has been raised up with that language. It means nothing to them. They are not trying to offend, just converse in the way they learned was acceptable. I find that my inability to judge those who speak in a coarse fashion has desensitized me to the shock of hearing common speech in public. It has become a none issue. If I am the one who is offended, then I am the one with the problem.

Sometimes my wife will see a woman walking in a certain way, dressed in a certain way: a way that sets off the alarm on her morality meter. At such times, I might foolishly try to engage her in conversation about the matter. I might ask, who taught that woman to dress like that? Did her mother dress and walk like that? Might this woman be doing the only thing she knows how to do to support her five children from five different fathers? Understand, one can never win a debate with his wife on anything. But, sometimes this diffuses her instinct to judge. She is not unique. We all judge.

When the option to judge is taken away, there is very little left for the person of conscience to do but act with grace. If I believe the woman of ill-repute is one of life’s victims in need of assistance, then I am bound to offer assistance rather than judgement. The same is true when I encounter a drug addict or alcoholic. It is taking time, but my brain is gradually being rewired to see these people as fellow humans in need of a hand, or a kind word, or something, anything other than judgement. I’m getting there.

Since I have dropped religious notions of morality, I have provided aid to strangers without once considering their worthiness of that aid. For most of my adult life, I have been quick to offer aid to strangers, but it has always come with judgement, and that has surely colored the aid I have offered. Now, I don’t care how they arrived at their current predicament. I assume they have a drug problem, or a sex problem or a mental, emotional, or maturity problem. What they do not have is a sin problem. So I can spare the sermon, and the holier than thou attitude I used to bring to such situations.

I have also made great strides in eliminating self-condemnation. I am no longer racked with guilt every time I fail to live up to the standard of perfection I was raised to believe that god expected and required. When I act selfishly, I try to be sure that act does not cause harm to any member of society. I only feel guilty when my selfish behavior cause harm to society. I do not fear hell, therefore, I do not have to be constantly afraid of death, and the second death. It is so much easier to face mortality when one does not fear what happens next.

I am not a sinner. I am not imperfect. I am a perfect human with all the glory and divinity that humanity entails. The yearnings of my greater humanity is to be a better human. I require no faith or creed to accomplish that. Putting aside ancient notions of sin and righteousness have already made me a better son, sibling, husband, neighbor, and citizen. It happened without notice or fanfare. The world is a better place, and I have a better place in it. I don’t know how else to explain it. laying down my judgement laden notions of morality has opened me up to a whole new world.

…And I like it.

David Johnson

Beyond Morality Part Three

This is not the final part of the essay that I promised the last time. It is a rather dense subject. I will try and make this the penultimate post on the matter.

There is no such thing as good and evil. There is only one human’s judgement of another human’s behavior. Before developing that theme any further, I need to address the persistent notion of absolute morality. The only way for such a thing to exist is if there was an absolute standard held by an absolute standard bearer. That standard must be clearly transmitted to all people at all times in all places. What I am describing is a god who cares about human behavior. Absent all this, there is no possible means of determining what absolute morality is.

Some will claim that the absolute law is written in the bible. But, there is no agreement on what that law is, even among those who accept the verbal, plenary inspiration theory of the bible. We also cannot say that it is built into every human conscience. As we have already considered, there are many who do not have what we think of as a conscience do to mental illness. If morality is based on each human possessing the same moral antenna to receive the same moral signals, then we most certainly do not have it.

That said, we do have something that resembles morality enough to confuse us. I contend that all we have are social mores that determine what a given community at a particular place and time deems to be beneficial or harmful. I further contend that what we mistake as good and evil are just points on the continuum of societal benefit vs. societal harm. There is another continuum: on one end, complete selfishness, on the other, complete selflessness. A person is deemed to be good or evil, or having done good or evil based on those two scales. I am defining society as one person, up to every person including yourself.

Every motive or behavior can be broken down to its quotient of selfishness and societal harm Something that is completely selfish, but causes no societal harm might be considered morally neutral. Something that is completely selfish, and causes the maximum amount of societal harm would be considered evil Something that is completely selfless, but that cases a great deal of societal harm may not be considered evil, but devastatingly misguided. While something that is selfless and causes the maximum amount of societal benefit would be considered righteousness.

Today, we consider human slavery to be immoral. Once upon a time, it was not so. Slavery was considered to be, at worst, morally neutral. How do we account for such a shift in morality? Once upon a time, slavery was seen as providing a great deal of societal benefit. It allowed the wealthy and powerful to stay wealthy and powerful. Since these were the only members of society that mattered, then slavery made a great deal of sense. Today, we understand that slavery is an act of extreme selfishness, and it cause members of society that matter, a great deal of harm. When the harm outweighs the benefit, and the motive is determined to be selfish, then the act will always be considered evil by the society at large.

A few words about selfishness… We have talked about circumstances where selfishness goes unchecked. Children, psychopaths, the senile, and abused are groups that tend to show pathological selfishness. A baby is all selfish appetite. There is nothing in the universe more important to a baby than that babies wants and desires. We do not hold that selfishness against a baby because the baby knows nothing else. We expect that with care and training, the baby grows into a child that is not selfish. I do not know what age it is, but at a certain stage of development, extreme selfishness is no longer acceptable.

If a person continues to exhibit that same level of selfishness as a teen, we would say that the child has a problem. He either has a mental illness, was reared incorrectly, or is evil. In either event, there is most certainly a problem. There are different levels of selfishness. We all have the garden variety of selfishness when we recognize there are other people who matter, but for something harmless to society, we consider only ourselves. Then, there is narcism. This is the felling that we are the most import person. Perhaps we are the only one that matters. Finally, there is sociopathy. That is when we are incapable of empathy. At the end of the spectrum is solipsism. That is the belief that you are the only one that really exists. All of these are levels of selfishness.

The solipsist and the psychopath are the most dangerous to society because they are quite literally incapable of acting any other way. They do not even recognize you as real. They are no more disturbed by killing one of us any more than we are by smashing a bug. For them, the disconnection is even worse. They can treat you well, or brutally murder you. Both acts are morally neutral to them. Until medicine makes tremendous strides, there is nothing society can do with such a person short of complete institutionalization.

Those people are damaged, perhaps beyond repair at the current time. But what they are absolutely not is evil. Due to their ranking on the selfishness scale, they tend to do a great amount of societal harm. One may be tempted to ask, what then, of the emotionally stable, well balanced human being who simply chooses to behave with extreme selfishness and causes harm. To that, I would say that there is no such person. If a person is behaving with extreme selfishness and is causing societal harm, that is evidence of mental and emotional imbalance.

A few less words about selflessness… I have very little to say about selflessness. The reason is that I simply do not believe that such a state exists without some type of mental or emotional defect. When one is completely selfish, they tend to be destructive to society. When one is completely selfless, they tend to be self destructive. They are the ones who will sacrifice themselves for others without good cause. They will often esteem others as greater than themselves, developing an inferiority complex. Such a person is easily taken advantage of. They stay in abusive relationship because they do not feel their needs are more important as their abuser’s. Pathological selflessness is just as much a problem as pathological selfishness.

Because I believe that even our good is motivated by selfishness at some level, I do not believe there are many who are truly selfless. Every good deed we do is something that we want to do, or it makes us feel good about ourselves. Even becoming a martyr can be done selfishly. A monk who denounces worldly possessions is no less selfish than a businessman who hoards worldly possessions. They often achieve the same sense of accomplishment by taking opposite paths. Society considers a behavior something good if it benefits society. They are less concerned about your motives.

I have been thinking about the morality continuum for some time. This explains why some acts are moral in some places and times while at other places and times, the same acts can be deemed immoral. To the rough degree we can all agree on the definition of selfishness and societal harm, we cone to a rough approximation of morality.

Next time, I will discuss the ramifications of this insight.

David Johnson

Beyond Morality Part Two

So where exactly does morality come from?  When I write “good” and “evil”, read “righteousness” and “Sin”.  Outside of the context of religion, these words, literally, have no meaning.  Only religion can provide the definition for sin.  It is the transgression of god’s law.  It is every action in opposition to god’s divine and perfect nature.  Righteousness is anything in keeping with gods will and nature.  It is pre-defined for us.  It is not up to us to decide what is right and wrong; it is only ours to learn it.

Though accurate, the above definitions are incomplete.  Righteousness and sin are only the fruits of external forces acting upon us.  We are incapable of doing anything good without the force of goodness that comes from god.  We are also not the authors of sin.  Rather, we are its victims when we give in to the external force of evil, personified by the devil.  These moral forces are greater than all of the forces of nature.  We do not perform acts of righteousness or sin; we surrender to either of the external forces of good or evil.  Once surrendered, righteousness or sin is the product.

The important thing to remember is that the only choice we make is our choice of external force to which we surrender.  If we surrender ourselves to god: the personification of good, then we do righteousness, and are righteous.  Surrendering to sin means that we do, and by extension, are, evil.  We take on the nature of the personification to which we surrender.

This is why it is said that a Christian literally takes onboard, the spirit of god.  The indwelling of the spirit is another way of saying we are possessed by the spirit.  He takes over our lives, a little at a time.  Eventually, we are completely dead to ourselves and alive in the spirit.  We do not do good; it is the spirit that is within us.  It is through his righteousness that we are made righteous.  It is his goodness, never ours, that is displayed through us.  Left to our own devices, we are but wretched sinners, incapable of anything good.  We are righteous, only to the degree that we allow the spirit to possess us.

The same is true for evil, almost.  There is the wrinkle that we are already evil.  We are born sinners, sinners yet while in the womb.  Notice the non-too-subtile difference.  To become righteous, we must do the right things or invite god into us in the right way.  Only when god takes bodily possession of us do we become righteous.  To become evil, we don’t have to do anything at all.  Being born is quite sufficient for that.

This is why Christians believe that demon possession was always the fault of the one possessed.  Either by passively leaving god uninvited, or actively inviting demons into ourselves, we open, or leave ourselves open to demon possession.  Once we are possessed by one of the personifications of evil, we cannot help but do evil.  Still we cannot complain that the devil made us do it.  According to scripture, we are only tempted when we are drawn away by our own lusts, and enticed.

Understanding the orthodox Christian view of righteousness and sin leaves us to accept one of two options:  Either we have to accept good and evil as tangible forces, replete with accompanying personifications, or we have to conclude that there is no such thing as either righteousness or evil.  There is only humanity, and the complexity of our brains, language, and social structure.  Once we stop viewing the world through the lens of an artificial, external morality, the world becomes a very different place.

I believe we already see through the lie of morality for what it truly is, though we do not always acknowledge it.  Let me provide a couple of examples of what I mean.  There is a mental disorder known as psychopath.  We say that such a person has no conscience, no moral compass.  Such a person does not know the difference between good and evil.  That condition is really a repudiation of the classical concept of morality.  What they are missing is not a conscience, but the ability to feel empathy toward anyone else.  It is an extreme form of narcissism.  They only recognize themselves as fully human.  They are able to invest nothing in the humanity of others.  It is a medical, not a spiritual malaise.  One day, we will be able to cure it, not with exorcism, but with medicine.  We are enlightened enough to recognize that people who are mentally ill are not evil; they are just sick.  

We are quick to call a seemingly promiscuous woman a sinner.  We would say that she is choosing to do evil.  But, when we look into her case more closely, we might find a girl child born to a drug-addicted prostitute, sexually abused from the moment it was possible.  She quickly learns how to use sex as a survival tool, the only one she was ever taught, and that, inadvertently.  Perhaps she has to raise her younger sister in that environment from the time she was a child.  She becomes pregnant, and is married at age fourteen.  Some years later, you see her on the street.  Knowing her story, is she evil, or an innocent victim of circumstance?  The enlightened human has no trouble making the call.

I was faced with this woman in the parking lot of a Walmart this weekend.  She approached me and my wife, distraught, disoriented, and desperate.  She was obviously medicated and mentally challenged.  Without going into detail about what she wanted, (it was really something anyone could have provided), I immediately agreed, and took responsibility for her until she was safe.  After that unexpected mission, I was livid, not at her, but at all those she had approached before she got to me.  It is a wonder that she was still alive.  How many of the people she approached for help were good Christians who immediately saw her for a sinner, and left her to die.  The story of the good Samaritan is really more about the no good religious people who used morality and religion as excuses not to act.

In every instance where a person might be tempted to apply moral judgement, good or evil, I will show you a person who is merely living out their humanity in all its fullness.  Like the child, the senile octogenarian, the sociopath, or the abused girl, we are all just a part of this natural world, living out, to the best of our ability, what it means to be human.  We are not the victims of external, personified moral forces.  A pet dog is mistakenly considered good when he obeys a verbal command or does something entertaining.  He is not good.  He has simply learned a useful, survival technique.  A dog is not evil when it snaps at a child, even though we say, “bad dog!”  That, of course, is silly!  The dog is not bad, just unadapted to that situation.  We are no different, except in our advanced complexity, not in our nature.

In what I expect to be my concluding thoughts on the subject, I will share how this insight has changed my interactions with people, and has permanently altered my understanding of what it means to be fully human.

David Johnson

Beyond Morality

The first little town I came to on the road beyond religion was more notable for what it was missing, rather than for what it possessed.  There was absolutely no trace of sin.  I don’t mean to say that no one did things that were not BEST practices for humanity.  It is just that no one had a concept of sin or evil.  For that matter, righteousness was also a foreign concept.  It was a land of the completely amoral.  Please do not get that confused with immoral.

They were amoral in the same way that a storm or a beast of the field is amoral.  No one ever thinks of a lion as having done something wrong by chasing down, and dining on an antelope.  No on thinks of a storm as sinful anymore than they think of a sunny day a righteous.  They are completely without moral content whatsoever.  Come to think of it, the entire universe is without moral awareness.  One day a star shines brightly; the next, it is a supernova.  Galaxies form and reform as they collide with one another.  Nothing stands in judgement of their moral behavior.

When you think about it, the only creatures in the entire universe that we consider to have the capability, or need for a moral compass are humans.  Where does that idea come from.  As stated in posts past, it comes from a belief that we humans are not really a part of nature, but above it, and of a different substance.  We think in terms of two classes of intelligent beings sharing the planet: animals and humans.  Animals are made in the image of the natural world; humans are made in the image of god.  We, alone, have the capacity to know right from wrong.  We, alone, have the capacity to do good and evil.

What provides this unique ability is the spirit, essence, breath, endowment of god: a being that hails from outside of nature.  God is the embodiment of goodness, or so goes the orthodox teaching.  Therefore, good and evil are not native to this world.  We humans have an otherworldly essence that is capable of moral choice.  It is that which keeps us from being just an animal of a higher order.

Unfortunately, since I do not believe that we humans were implanted here by a being beyond our space/time reality, I am forced to conclude that we are animals of a higher order, taxonomically speaking.  As such, we are no more capable of evil anymore than the hungry lion.  Due to our enormous brain to body ratio, we are capable of exponentially more complex societies.  It is that complexity which demands more of our social interaction with others than, say, a pride of lions.  If our mental capacity was as limited as theirs, so too would be our capacity for complex interactions.

Some might at first balk at my emphasis on mental function, and the hint that it might be connect to morality.  But on closer inspection, I think you will see where I am coming from.  Everyone who has ever watched the Spiderman movie knows, with great power comes great responsibility.  A baby is fully human in every since of the word.  Yet, no one actually believes that babies are evil.  That is an extremely warped religious doctrine that I find highly offensive.  A baby is without sin because a baby is incapable of doing anything wrong.  She is incapable of such wrongdoing because of her limited mental capacity.

What age must a person attain before possessing the ability to sin?  It is sometimes referred to as the age of accountability.  So, what age is that?  2?  7?  15?  It’s hard to say.  Most would say it depends on the person.  What they really mean is that it depends on how quickly they mentally and emotionally develop.  At what age does a person grow beyond the age of accountability?  70?  80?  Who knows?  not all elderly people become senile of childlike.  Yet, those who do, are not labeled as sinners because they sometimes say or do inappropriate and embarrassing things.  It all depends on the mental and emotional maturity and stability of an individual.  Even for the most orthodox of Christians, in practical application, capacity equals morality, not ontology.

I feel a part two coming on, which is another way of saying I’ve had a long day and I’m tired.  Also, there is no way to cram all of my thoughts on the subject into one post that is easily digested in one sitting.  We will pick this up again real soon

David Johnson

Quick Take: Journey’s End; New Frontiers

From the very first post, to the close of the previous series, “Sins of the Father”, I have shared the first half of my journey.  I have tried to be as detailed as I could be without being redundant, just how I came to travel the road that has taken me beyond religion.  There was no sudden fit of pique, no childish rebellion.  I came to this place clearheaded and eyes wide open.  I have no doubts and no regrets about leaving faith behind.  I have burned all my bridges and I’m not going back, nor do I want any part of that life to follow me where I am going.

I’m not done, you see.  I’m at a cross-road.  I can go either left or right.  I choose neither.  I will keep going forward.  I no intention of leaving the path I have set.  I don’t know if this will resonate with anyone out there, but for me, religion was not a choice; it was the path laid out for me by destiny.  I never gave up on it; I fulfilled it.  I reached the end of it.  I do not, now, turn from the path.  I keep going to see what is on the other side

There is no reason for the road to be a dead-end.  I was shaped by the South, by its customs and culture, and music and religion.  That was the clay used to form me.  But now that I am formed I will not stand still, dry up, and become a statue in the pose in which I was rendered by others.  My clay is still wet.  I am not finished becoming.  I was set upon a path, and expected to stop where I was told.  I didn’t.  They said there be dragons.  I’m no longer afraid of dragons.  I have gone beyond that place where others assigned as my destination.

Speaking of a destination, I don’t rightly have one.  The road ends where it ends.  Who am I to stop at some arbitrary point along the way and call it my destination.  I have already seen wonders on the road beyond religion, experienced life and love and full humanity in this brief period of time.  Would you like to know what happens to a person who ignores the stop sign and keeps going; going beyond religion?  So would I.

…And I’ll tell you all about it each step into this undiscovered country I take.

To the journey.

David Johnson

Sins of the Father Chapter Twelve, the final chapter

Chapter Twelve

 

The Work of His Hands

 

 

 

Free Will

 

In a last ditch effort to exonerate god for any wrongdoing, we throw the final hail mary: free will.  We are told that in the beginning, god created the heavens and the earth.  Well, that wasn’t the beginning, even by god’s standards.  There were already angels and demons.  There had already been a war in heaven.  We know this because the serpent was already evil, as we have already pointed out.  There were enough beings to have a war.  God had already completed at least one cycle of creation before our beginning ever came about.

One thing that was already an aspect of god’s creation was free will.  God created free moral beings.  In order for morality to exist, there must also be immorality.  Good and evil are on the opposite sides of the same moral coin.  The logic goes that you can have morally neutral beings or free will beings, but not both in the same being.  It also follows that where there is good, evil must be present as an option.  There is no such thing as a one sided coin.

God, however, is the exception to this logical rule.  God is presented as completely good without any possibility of evil.  It is not that he chooses to do no evil: it is that he cannot choose to do evil.  It is not within him to lust, or murder, or lie, or any other immoral thing.  It is not a part of his nature, nor can he take on such a nature.  God can no more be evil than a man could fly under his own power.  You just as well ask circles to be square.  God is the world’s only one sided coin.

A philosophical question worth asking at this point is would it be possible for god to exactly reproduce himself?  Since god is perfect, we assume that everything he creates must also be perfect.  If god is good with no possibility of evil, why are his creations not equally good with no possibility of evil?  Is it possible for god to make other one sided coins?  I think not.

Consider the angels.  They were free will beings long before we were created.  Look at how that turned out.  God ended up with Satan, a war, and a third of his angels arrayed against him.  Most of that is based on conjecture and misunderstood scriptures.  Who knows what really happened.  All we really know, or think we know, is that something went horribly wrong.  Suddenly, the all powerful, all knowing, all loving god was surrounded by evil for which he was in no way responsible.

Either god involuntarily lost, or voluntarily surrendered control of his creation.  This happened because of the mechanism of free will.  God decided to take a walk on the wild side and see what happens if he makes intelligent beings that can make moral decisions for themselves.  He further decides to let free will take its course without him forcing moral choices one way or the other.  There is one extraordinary aspect of this free will we enjoy.  God, himself is a free moral agent that has no capacity for evil, yet he created us as free moral agents with a capacity for evil.  He endowed us with a quality that he, himself does not possess.  Why, never mind how, would he do such a thing?

I can think of three possible answers.  God wanted to exercise his graciousness.  He could not do that if his creatures were without fault.  Sin must exist so that grace may abound, despite Paul’s attestations to the contrary.  Another possibility is that god wanted to give glory to the son, and the son, glory to the father.  Think of it as a deified mutual adoration society.  The third reason is that god wanted to be loved.  Love cannot be forced.  It must coexist with the option of rejection.  There is some biblical support for all of these options.  None of them are fully satisfying.  All of them suggest that free will has nothing to do with us and everything to do with god.

Ultimately, free will fails as a theodicy along with all the rest.  God is still the author of free will.  More than that, he is in control of it.  It could even be said that free will does not really exist.  It is a matter of sovereignty.  Philosophically, there cannot be two beings sharing the same realm, both with absolute sovereignty.  What happens when two sovereign wills collide?  An unstoppable force can never meet an immovable object lest one ceases to exist.

The bible is all too clear in all too many places that god maintains sovereignty over all of creation.  He gives up nothing to us.  When necessary, he will overwhelm our will so that his will is done.  No matter how many times god says in plain language that he hardened Pharaoh’s heart, we will not believe it.  Even though Paul says that god made some to be flower pots and some to be chamber pots, we will not believe it.  Well, I finally believe it.  The god of the bible is in control of everyone and everything.  There can be no free will defense because there can be no free will outside of god.  The illusion of free will is the best we can claim.

 

 

Paradise Lost

 

In the beginning, god created paradise.  There can be no other word for it.  Eden was everything that we could ever hope for.  We had perfect bodies and minds.  We had perfect companionship.  We had a perfect home with perfect air and perfect water.  We had a perfect occupation.  We even had a perfect relationship with god.  Why was that not the beginning and end of the story?  How could perfection beget imperfection?

Maybe things weren’t so perfect after all.

The first hint of imperfection was that man found no companion for himself among the animals.  When god corrected that problem, he created another by making a woman that was dumber than a snake.  The snake had his mind set against god.  That seems like a design flaw.  The garden had no security system to keep the devil out.  Oh, and one of the trees bearing enticing fruit was forbidden.  Perfection is starting to look a little less perfect.

About that tree, why was it there?  The garden would have been home to humankind today if not for that tree.  Was it really necessary.  Eating the fruit gave man knowledge that god did not want him to have.  Is that really true?  If god did not want man to have the knowledge, why make the knowledge available in the first place?  If the knowledge had to exist in some tangible form, why not put it outside of the garden where it could not be found?  If it had to be in plain sight, why not make it unattractive?  There is simply no explanation for that tree being there at all except to serve as a temptation for evil.  As we all know, god tempts no man with evil.  Really?

Adam and Eve were set up for failure.  They were more innocent than clever.  They had a tempter residing in the garden with them.  They had an attractive temptation place there by god.  They had no hope.  As I have already stated, their transgression did not bring sin into the world; god brought it into the world in the form of the serpent.  I have no doubt that had Adam and Eve rebuffed the serpent’s advances, god would have sent them a talking orangutan with an even stronger temptation.  Make no mistake about it.  Eden was no paradise; it was a death trap.  Adam and Eve were the first victims.  We are their true heirs.

 

 

Vessels of Destruction

 

“For the Scriptures say that God told Pharaoh, “I have appointed you for the very purpose of displaying my power in you and to spread my fame throughout the earth.” So you see, God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to listen.

Well then, you might say, “Why does God blame people for not responding? Haven’t they simply done what he makes them do?”

No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who were made for destruction. He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory. And we are among those whom he selected, both from the Jews and from the Gentiles.” (Rom 9:17-24 NLT-SE)

 

This passage sounds way too Jobesque for my money.  Here, again, any hope of theodicy has been removed.  Like Lee Harvey Oswald, Pharaoh could have been dragged away shouting his last public words, “I’m just a patsy!”  God wanted Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened.  Can we stop already with the spiritualizing of that term?  The bible even tells us why god wanted that outcome.  God wanted to make a show of power and make himself world famous.

For this infamy, god pounded the Egyptians mercilessly and killed all their first born sons.  Time and again, Pharaoh was convinced to do what was right.  Time and again, god hardened his heart so that he did what was wrong.  God prepared ten plagues and he was bound and determined to deliver ten plagues.  Pharaoh’s repentance be damned.  Pharaoh was born and raised up to be a vessel of destruction, and by god, that is what he was going to be.

How did sin enter into the world?  God made, and is still making, vessels of destruction.  These vessels cause destruction in the world just as they, themselves, are slated for destruction.  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Because god put bad people there to do bad things to good people.  If no people are handy, he will use a Satan.  If no Satan is handy, he will do it himself.

Why does he want these things to happen?  Perhaps partly, to build your character and prepare you for the next life.  If this is prep for what is to come, then count me out of what is to come.  Mostly, he does it to magnify his own glory.  He will be loved and praised and feared, even if he has to torture and murder almost everyone who has ever lived to accomplish it.

Why does god choose some to be evil?  As in the book of Job, the answer is a thundering voice from the whirlwind demanding to know who you think you are to question the almighty god.  You’re not even a worm.  You are nothing more than a lump of clay.  Can it even be called genocide or cruelty if all that is being smashed is a world of clay people?  Make no mistake about it.  Vessels of destruction are part of the work of his wonderful hands.

 

 

Sickness and Suffering

 

“And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” (John 9:1-3 KJVS)

 

In some ways, we have come full circle.  We are left scratching our heads and trying to puzzle out why sickness and suffering are allowed.  In previous chapters, we explored the connection of suffering with sin.  We looked at a few ways that suffering is explained in connection with sin.  The bible has much to say on the topic and it is all confusing and contradictory.  It is little wonder the disciples were confused when they saw the blind man.

They had been taught by their sacred scriptures that suffering came as a result of the sins of the father, generational curses, and the like.  Being good Jews and faithful to what they had been taught, they believed it.  Unfortunately, they had also been taught that the individual who sinned would be the only one who paid the price for his sin.  This was a different and contradictory teaching from the one they had accepted.  But, being good Jews who tried to do as the scripture taught, they accepted that teaching as well.  Their notion of suffering was a conflation of all the various teachings of scripture, no matter how confusing or contradictory they were.

Then, along comes Jesus.  They see a situation that might help clear up the confusion.  With both feet firmly planted, they ask Jesus which theodicy is right.  Jesus once again takes their legs out from under them.  In no uncertain terms, Jesus says that neither theodicy is correct.  This man is blind so that god can show his power.  If, in fact, the man was born blind for that purpose, then it was god who made him blind.  It was not human nature or original sin or the fall or the devil or free will.  It was the work of god’s hand.

God produces sickness and suffering so that his power can be made manifest.  Well, I say his sick little plan has failed.  Where is the manifestation of his power?  I see plenty of sickness and suffering.  Where is his mighty hand of deliverance?  Also, does it matter?  God is the doctor who goes into a perfectly healthy village in a third world country.  He releases a virus into the population and kills many and causes all but his favorites to suffer.  At some point, he declares that he has the cure.  All it will cost is the love, devotion, obedience, and praise of the villagers.  For a select few, he doles out the vaccine: only enough to treat them, never enough to cure them.  This mad doctor is both the cause and the cure of all the problems in the village.

According to Jesus, god is that mad doctor.  He causes people to be sick and afflicted.  He brings people down with disease and disgrace.  Sometimes these things are used as a punishment for when you get out of line.  Other times it is a test for when you have been righteous.  Still other times it is for no reason, as with Job.  In all cases, it is so god can strut his stuff in his own time and way.

Well, I want to opt out.  I don’t want to be a patsy.  I don’t want to be a pawn in the cosmic game.  I don’t want to be a poker chip in a cosmic bet.  I don’t want to spend a lifetime of suffering just to bring some form of glory to such a god.  I just want to live my life and be left alone by all of the cosmic bullies.  But, of course, that is not an option.  I must either cower before the might of god and, if I am lucky, life forever with him in heaven.  Or, the unspeakable alternative.

 

 

The Second Death

 

“He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”” (Rev 21:6-8 NIV)

 

“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands.  May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s holy people.  If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one foot than to be thrown into hell with two feet. May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s holy people. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It’s better to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, ‘where the maggots never die and the fire never goes out.’” (Mark 9:43-48 NLT-SE)

 

Either you enter into the kingdom, or you are sent to hell: a place where the maggots do not die and the fire never goes out.  It is the second death, as if the first death wasn’t bad enough.  When Adam sinned this brought physical death into the world according to some views of the story.  We were originally meant to live forever.  From the day that Adam bit the fruit, he and all his kin were condemned to death.

And what a death it was.

In a since, the whole world died.  One might say the whole world went to hell.  Not only is death a reality, it is a hellish reality.  Consider the countless ways we die.  Starvation, exsanguination, evisceration, asphyxiation,  strangulation, deprivation, cannibalization, death by bullet, blade, and beating, slow, lingering, torturous deaths, fire, falling, fear, all these and more should compose enough horrifyingly hideous hells to satiate the most diabolically dreaded deity.  Unfortunately, it is still not enough.  The god of the bible requires even more.

Depending on your interpretation of scripture, your after death milage may vary.  For many, hell is the flaming eternity that awaits those who did not please god.  What is the crime that brings you to this end?  It might be  anything from telling a lie to picking the wrong denomination.  Misunderstanding some fine point of doctrine may well be enough to do the trick.  You thought you were heaven bound all the way up to the point when you opened your eyes and found yourself burning in hell.  Turns out the formula you used for your baptism was slightly off.  Oh, well, you deserve what you get.

As it turns out, your death by pancreatic cancer is not death enough.  Smoked yourself to an emphysema end?  Not good enough, I say, not good enough!  Drank your way into a cirrhosis sendoff?  Did depression lead you to your doom?  Have I got bad news for you; that was only the first death.  Unless you are one of the precious few who found their way into the narrow gate, there is a second death awaiting you.  You will be raised up from the first death and given a new body: one that can hold together under unspeakable, endless torment.  If that does not make you want to praise the name of Jesus, then I don’t know what will.

Conclusion

 

 

 

I have been a Christian for as long as I can remember.  I was baptized when I was seven, but I knew, and accepted the basic tenets of the Christian faith long before that.  I drank it in with my mother’s milk.  I grew up hearing the sermons of my father who was a preacher for most of my childhood.  I was one of three exceptionally talented sons.  It was not long before I took my rightful place in the pulpit.

I was a skilled orator and an even better singer and musician.  My career in the church was a sure thing.  My future was well established.  There were, however, a few bumps along the way.  I grew up in the conservative, mainline churches of Christ: the non-instrumental variety.  Mine was an order of strict adherence to the literal interpretation of scripture.

We took a high view of scripture.  We believed that every word was inspired by the holy spirit of the godhead.  Each jot and tittle was chosen by god and carefully preserved through time.  The bible was not just the inspired word of god in a general way; it was a magic book.  Somehow, all the right words were put into a canon of scripture.  The process was a human process in appearance only.  Behind the scenes, god was working it all out just the way he wanted it.

I was not only convinced of the infallibility of the bible, but also of the infallibility of my understanding of the bible.  My denomination was not merely some organization created by men.  Rather, it was the one, true outpost of the kingdom of god in this world.  Only those who believed as I did were a part of the eternal kingdom and bound for heaven.  Everyone else was merely a vessel of destruction good only for hell’s kindling.

We had very particular beliefs and understandings about what the bible had to say.  We thought that there was a biblical answer to every conceivable question.  No matter how pedestrian the inquiry, the bible had something to say about it.  There was only one right answer to any question.  Choosing the wrong answer put you outside the fellowship.  We always taught doctrine in one, clear, unified voice.  We were always of the same mind and the same judgement.

Except, we weren’t.

We disagreed about many things.  Not only did we disagree, we divided.  We would spit congregations over issues such as whether there should be a kitchen in the church building.  I personally caused more scandal over leading songs without wearing a tie than I care to recall.  Should women wear hats at all times in the assembly?  Be careful how you answer.  The wrong answer could send you straight to hell.

I was in my late teens when I realized that something was badly wrong with my denomination.  Not long after that, I realized that there was also something badly wrong with me.  I was starting to seriously question some of the issues that my church took for granted.  I gave everything a second look.  By my early twenties, I became convinced that the church of Christ position on instrumental music in worship was just plain wrong.

That may not seem like a major issue to you.  But to me, instrumental music was a salvific issue.  Actually, everything was a salvific issue.  The fact that I had been wrong about that my whole life was a discovery that rocked my world.  I never recovered from it.  I could never again honestly consider myself a member of the mainline church of Christ.  Had I made that public, that would have been tantamount to revoking my membership in the kingdom of heaven.

It didn’t take long before the entire doctrinal house of cards that I inherited came tumbling down.  If we were wrong about that, then we could be wrong about anything.  If we could be wrong about anything, then we could be wrong about everything.  I soon came to the conclusion that we, in fact, were wrong about almost everything.  I still hung on to my respect for scripture.  My belief that we were wrong did not come from a casual disregard of the word.  Rather, it came from a careful study of the word.  Our own bible had condemned us.

It would be some time before I started questioning the authority and accuracy of scripture.  When I did, I was faced with some nagging questions that just would not go away.  Why does the bible appear to contradict itself in numerous places?  Why does one writer seem to teach different things in different places?  Why does the new testament seem to teach a different moral law than the old?  Who really wrote the book of Hebrews?  How, exactly, did we end up with the sixty-six books of the canon?  Where are the original documents of the bible?  They don’t exist?  How, then, can we be certain we have made all the right guesses?  If the evidence shows that some of the books of the bible were written pseudonymously, should we stop using them?  Once the floodgates were opened, there was nothing to stop the torrent of questions.  Worse yet, we didn’t seem to have any answers other than the stock “Shut up, kid!”

I did eventually shut up, but I didn’t stop searching for answers.  Truth was more important to me than faith.  The more truth I found, the less faith I had.  I learned to distrust the religious establishment, as all perspectives coming from that quarter were biased.  I also found all other perspectives to be hopelessly biased as well.  It seemed that very few people were actually concerned with the truth.  They were more interested in selling books and maintaining their power bases.  There were few people who were willing to embrace an inconvenient truth.  For a long time, I wasn’t either.

Now, I find myself near the end of a long and arduous faith journey.  At the end of this journey, I find that I am at the end of my faith.  I am angry and bitter.  I have been lied to for my whole life by people, most of whom, had the best of intentions.  I don’t know if they were wrong about everything, but they were certainly wrong about a lot of things.  They were wrong about enough things so that I consider all the voices of my past completely lacking in credibility.  I will never again be the victim of someone else’s faith.

I will only accept the answers that I can understand and figure out for myself.  I am a voracious reader with above average intelligence and a heart and passion for the truth wherever it leads.  If the designer/creator of this universe wrote a book that gives me definitive instructions on how to live my life, then he did a poor job of transmitting the information.  There is nothing magical about the bible, or any other holy book I have encountered.  God has the power to make himself known.  Let him do so and I will believe.  He supposedly did it for others; he can do it for me.

Till then, I will maintain my belief in a powerful being who is the first mover in our universe.  All of nature seems to proclaim such a being exists, or existed.  Religion, however, is another matter entirely.  It seems that religion is man’s attempt to understand more about the first mover than he has chosen to reveal of himself.  Religion also has been used as a tool to control and manipulate other people.  Nothing in nature demands religion.  No special revelation has convinced me of its veracity.  If there be a sacred call to religious piety, I have not heard it.  I reject your religion and replace it with none of my own.

Instead, I will take what has been clearly revealed to me of life, love, and liberty.  There is information about morality and goodness written in the heart of every human being.  We sometimes disagree on the details, but by and large, we agree on the major issues.  When a society goes too far off the path of general revelation, the rest of the world eventually steps in to correct the situation.

I believe in good and evil, but not as substances or ideas or personifications apart from humanity.  I have no reason to believe that there is a moral god that is actively working to bring about good in this world.  If there is such a god, he is failing miserably.  I do not believe in eternal life in a new heaven and a new earth where everything comes up roses.  If god could not create free will beings that would not choose sin this time, what makes me think he can do any better the next time?  No, it is time to put myth and monsters to bed once and for all.

There is one book of the bible that I find useful and full of practical wisdom.  It is the book of Ecclesiastes.  It declares that this life is all there is.  Ultimately, all is vanity.  Enjoy the wife of your youth, eat good food, drink good wine, live life to the fullest without worrying over much about things beyond our knowledge or control.  This is my creed.

I do not seek to change your mind or convert you to my way of thinking.  Religion is largely a benign drug.  It can even have positive side effects.  If you find comfort in the myth of a loving god who walks with you in your struggles, then be comforted.  If stories of hell fire scare you straight, then all the better for society.  If Jesus’ message of loving your neighbor is the only thing that makes you take notice of the needy, then I’m all for it.

As for me, I have heard enough bedtime stories to last a lifetime.  I do not need a loving god to walk with me through my struggles.  I need a god who will protect me from the forces that cause my struggles.  I do not need a hell to scare me straight.  The IRS is sufficient for that task.  I know exactly who my neighbor is.  If god wanted to take care of them, he would not be relying on someone like me for the job.  I am without power or resources.  He holds the whole world in his hands and orders the events of our lives.  I will do my part as a human being, but I refuse to try and do his job.

I do not require any sacred, magic books to tell me how to live my life to the fullest.  I have seen the results of those who try and live their lives according to sacred books.  They start wars or are the victim of wars.  They oppress the helpless or are themselves oppressed.  They try to control the lives and choices of others when they cannot even control their own lives or make good choices.  They have just as much divorce and family issues.  They are just as addicted to the poisons of this world.  They are just as greedy for money, sex, and power as anyone else.  I find no magic in the magic book.  I find only men and women doing their best to figure out the unknown and living their lives the best way they can.

Finally, it should be said that I am not closed to new discoveries.  I embrace new knowledge.  I crave it.  If the god of the bible exists and I have misread him, I humbly apologize for my misapprehension.  I boldly invite him to make himself known in a way that I can understand.

I do believe there is a god.  I see no evidence of any continuing activity by god that suggests he is interested in a personal and loving relationship with his creation.  I see no clear instructions for life other than that which one might call general revelation.  Perhaps a road to Damascus experience is somewhere in my future.  If so, I will shout it from the mountain tops.  Until then, I look forward to seeing what life is like for me without Jehovah, Yahweh, Elohim.  Somehow I suspect that nothing will change.  It is hard to notice the absence of that which was never there.

Sins of the Father Chapter 11

Chapter Eleven

 

Prince of Darkness

 

 

 

Angel of Light

 

“If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.” (2Cor 4:3-4 NLT-SE)

 

Who is this prince of darkness, angel of light (talk about contradictions) or my personal favorite, god of this world?  That last one must have given translators fits.  In fact, it did.  You can tell by just flipping through several translations to see how they treated this passage.  Most, if not all, try to downplay the god part by using a small letter g instead of a capital.  Some downplay it by changing world to age so that it reads god of this age.  That is a very significant difference.  God of this world implies supremacy.  God of this age implies limitations.

The above quote takes it head on and names Satan as the god of this world.  It also suggests that those who are perishing are doing so because the gospel has been hidden from them, and that Satan, the god of this world is the one doing the blinding.  Take a moment to digest the full implications of this passage.  There are those who are going to be lost.  There will be no salvation for them.  They are without hope.  They are in this condition because Satan, the god of this world has hidden the truth from them.  If Satan has that kind of power, then he is truly a foe to be reckoned with.

Some translations deal with this problem by downplaying the devil’s role in causing people to perish.  They render the passage so that those who are perishing do so by their own choosing.  They are simply drawn to Satan because of their having been already blinded rather than Satan being the one who blinds them with his godlike power.

The problem is there is simply no way to exonerate god and keep him all powerful at the same time.  Something has to give.  The consensus has spoken.  Some of gods power has to go.  He is very powerful.  Yet he is limited by his very goodness.  There are some things that he cannot do, such as lie or do anything wrong.

If god is incapable of doing all of the wrong things in this world, then someone else must be to blame.  There has to be a foe with godlike powers who’s mission is to contend with god.  The evil one is the god of this world, but his plans are subverted by the god of good.  God manages to take the evil that Satan planned and turn it for good.  It is a cosmic tug of war, punch and counterpunch, thrust and parry.  God is stronger and will ultimately win.  But make no mistake about it, between the two cosmic superpowers, it’s game on.

 

“Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.

“The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’

“‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed. “‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.

“‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’”” (Matt 13:24-30 NLT-SE)

 

What’s this?  It seems the enemy has considerably more power than many Christians wish to grant him.  According to the parable, the farmer: god, plants good seed.  This is classic theodicy.  God did everything right and is not to blame when things go wrong.  Back to the story.  After the undocumented workers planted the good seed, something happened that was beyond the farmer’s control.

That night when the workers were sleeping, the enemy came in and planted weeds among the wheat.  Time to pause and reflect.  If the farmer is god, how did the enemy get into the field in the first place?  God does not sleep.  God is the ever vigilant, good shepherd who watches over his flock so that things like this do not happen.  Was god asleep at the wheel?  Did he not post a guard?  Who is this enemy that he can bypass all god’s vaunted security and have the time to plant weeds all through the field of wheat?

When the workers come to the master to tell him what happened, they rightfully ask the same question, how did this thing happen?  The master plants the blame squarely on the shoulders of the enemy.  He defends himself by saying that he did everything right.  It was the enemy who ruined things.  The workers are still troubled and want to know what to do about the problem.  The master is helpless to do anything about it until harvest time.  Let the wheat and the weeds grow up together.  We will sort it out later.

The reason this particular theodicy is so indigestible to me is because it portrays god as helpless.  The master in this parable is not all powerful or all knowing.  He did not know that the enemy was going to come that night.  The enemy was able to sneak in past his guard.  The master was not able to keep the enemy from planting weeds.  Nor was the master able to do anything about the weeds once they were planted.  The master is getting his lunch eaten by a bully and can do nothing about it for the time being.

Who, then, is this enemy?  Where does he come from?  For many Christians, the first time he is named is in Isaiah 14.

 

“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations” (Is 14:12-13 KJVS)

 

The word, Lucifer, means morning star.  It probably refers to Venus.  The word can also be rendered bearer, or angel, of light.  Many Christians believe that the morning start referenced in the passage must be speaking of Satan: the devil.  We latch hold of the description of a being who was cast out of heaven because of his arrogance.  The Jews do not have a doctrine of Satan, however.  They, and many others, see this passage clearly referring to the King of Babylon, not a superhuman foe of the almighty god.

Still, the imagery surfaces again in the new testament.

 

“When the seventy-two disciples returned, they joyfully reported to him, “Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!”

“Yes,” he told them, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning! Look, I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy, and you can walk among snakes and scorpions and crush them. Nothing will injure you. But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven.”” (Luke 10:17-20 NLT-SE)

 

“But I will continue doing what I have always done. This will undercut those who are looking for an opportunity to boast that their work is just like ours. These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. In the end they will get the punishment their wicked deeds deserve.” (2Cor 11:12-15 NLT-SE)

 

In both passages, Satan is described as a fallen light or an angel of light.  This is a fascinating description for the undisputed prince of darkness.  Both the above passages have other interesting components.  In the first, Jesus’ disciples come back from a successful mission trip.  They are excited because of all of the miracles they were able to perform.  Jesus seems to break out into a bit of a song.  Right there, on the spot, he declares victory over the enemy.

The problem with his declaration is that it seems a bit premature.  The enemy is still walking among us and is more powerful than ever.  He is causing sickness and suffering, storms and sadness.  The blind are still blind and the lame are wheelchair bound.  A few passages in the bible may declare victory over such things, but experience tells us a different story.  If those things were a sign of the enemy’s power, then the enemy is stronger than ever.

In the second passage, Paul suggests that the enemy is able to disguise himself as an angel of light.  This was a real problem for Paul.  In other places, we are told that the very elect might be deceived.  He said to some of his followers not to listen even if an angel from heaven came to tell them something different.  Obviously, Paul was worried about the metamorphic power of Satan to convincingly appear as an angel.

The other thing Paul is worried about is that Satan is not alone.  He has followers here on earth who are also able to disguise themselves as good guys.  The passage seems to imply that these are people who are intentionally throwing their hat in with Satan.  The people of god have quite a fight on their hands.  First, they have a god who may not be as all powerful as they were led to believe.  Second, they have a rogue angel with unfathomable powers who has aligned himself against god and his people.  Third, the enemy has friends, all with masterful disguises that can deceive even the very elect.  With all this aligned against us, how are we to cope?

 

Partners in Crime

 

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, you open the book of Job and find that god and Satan are not the arch enemies we were led to believe.

 

“One day the members of the heavenly court came to present themselves before the LORD, and the Accuser, Satan, came with them. “Where have you come from?” the LORD asked Satan. Satan answered the LORD, “I have been patrolling the earth, watching everything that’s going on.”

Then the LORD asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.”

Satan replied to the LORD, “Yes, but Job has good reason to fear God. You have always put a wall of protection around him and his home and his property. You have made him prosper in everything he does. Look how rich he is! But reach out and take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!”

“All right, you may test him,” the LORD said to Satan. “Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don’t harm him physically.” So Satan left the LORD’s presence.” (Job 1:6-12 NLT-SE)

 

There are so many troubling aspects of the book of Job, I hardly know where to begin.  I suppose the first thing to consider is whether the story is a portrayal of real events or just a sort of religious fiction.  Should it be taken literally or allegorically?  Who wrote the story?  Was it Moses?  Was it Job?  Was it a variety of sources compiled and conflated into one story?  There are no definitive answers to any of these questions.  Scholars do not agree on the historicity, authorship, or even the message of Job.  Some would love to vote it out of the canon entirely.  Personally, I believe you have to completely jettison the book of Job in order to maintain any form of theodicy.

One of the messages that comes through loud and clear is that all of the bad things that happen to us come from god, and god alone.  Job is an absolute repudiation of any theodicy that includes an all powerful god and the enemy known as Satan.  In fact, the book of Job is a repudiation to all theodicy.  God neither requires or desires your defense.

Job’s three friends present the traditional view and defense of god.  They proclaim that god would not abuse a person without good reason.  They believe that Job must be harboring some secret sin.  This would justify the harsh actions taken by god.  It never crosses their minds that Job is being attacked by some superhuman enemy of god.  They never suggest that Job must endure because Satan is loose in the world and attacks the righteous.  They know that all things, good and bad, come from god.

The book of Job does nothing to repudiate this belief.  Rather, it strengthens it.  The repudiation is of the notion that god does not inflict the righteous.  At the end of the story, Job’s three friends are made to repent of their belief that god would not do such a thing.  They are the ones who are proven wrong, as are all who wrongly try to exonerate god for the evil done in this world.  To make the point even stronger, Job, throughout the book, accuses god of treating him unfairly.  Job maintains his innocence and insists that he is a righteous man.  He refuses to lie about his character just to let god off the hook.  God vindicates this stance by saying that Job was right all along.  Jobs rejection of theodicy earns him a gold star.  Make no mistake about it, according to the book of Job, god is in control and is the sole reason why bad things happen to good people.

Naturally, this is a problem for many Christians and non-Christians alike.  Who needs a god that allows bad things to happen to you even when you are doing what is right, especially when you are doing what is right?  With a god like that, who needs a devil?

In the previous section, I pointed out that the new testament renders the devil as a powerful being who is able to frustrate god’s sovereign plans.  The devil of the new testament is a master of disguise and has plenty of help.  He can actually take possession of people.  Even Jesus’ disciples could not cast out all the demons.

In Job, Satan is not the arch enemy of god.  In fact, he, though having been cast out, still has a key to the throne room of god.  More than a key, he seems to have a right to be there.  He was among the angels.  He was not in disguise.  No alarm was sounded.  God is not alarmed by his presence.  God and Satan engage in a friendly chat.  When god asks Satan where he came from, Satan does not attempt to lie or misdirect.  He says that he has been patrolling the earth and watching what was going on.

God does not condemn or berate the prince of darkness.  He does not send him away in disgust.  He does not ban him from his activities on earth.  Instead, god suggests Satan’s next project.  He wants to know if Satan has considered his servant, Job.  Make a note, here, it was not Satan’s idea to test Job; it was god’s.  Satan could not get to Job because god had a hedge of protection around him.  The new testament Satan would have been able to overcome this hedge of protection.  In fact, the new testament god provides no such hedge.  The Satan of Job, however, could not get past god’s defenses.

The story would be unpalatable enough at this point, but it gets considerably worse.  God revokes his protection of Job so that Satan can have his way.  Satan has to ask permission and is also limited to the rules god laid out.  This type of arrangement is suggested once in the new testament.

 

““Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.”” (Luke 22:31-32 NLT-SE)

 

Here, again, is an example of Satan asking permission to run god’s people through the sifter.  This does not sound like the same Satan that is able to overpower and deceive god’s elect at will.  As we know, Jesus’ disciples were run through the blender.  Does that mean that god gave Satan permission to sift them?  Perhaps god pointed them out and asked Satan to do his worst, Just as he did with Job?

My point is, with this view from Job, Satan is powerless to do anything that god does not want him to do.  It is not just that god passively allows bad things to happen to good people; he actively participates in singling them out and telling the enemy just how to attack them.

It gets worse.

Job is innocent of any wrong doing.  Also, god had no good reason to inflict Job with suffering.  This is not just my opinion; this is taken from the story.

 

“On another day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him.

And the LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.”

Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.”” (Job 2:1-3 NIV)

 

This is almost a repeat of the passage in chapter one.  Again, Satan is presented along with the angels before the lord.  Again, Satan is back from a search and destroy mission.  Again, god points out Job as a blameless and upright man.  This time, however, god points out that Job has maintained his integrity even though Satan has incited him to ruin Job’s life without any reason.

This passage is troubling for two reasons.  One, god implies that he was incited, tempted, by Satan.  However you render the word, clearly, god was influenced by Satan’s challenge.  The purveyors of theodicy will defend god by suggesting that god was always planning to test Job in this way.  He just chose to do it in a way that coincided with Satan’s request.  In other words, Satan was fulfilling god’s preexistent will.  Unfortunately, the bible says that Satan incited god to do it.  Did god initiate the ruin of Job, or did Satan?  Either answer is equally bad as the other.

The second problem with this passage is that god acknowledges this ruination of Job was done without cause.  Again, the defenders of god will say that god had a hidden purpose that would bring about a greater good.  This is not what the bible says.  It says that it was done without cause.  The whole incident is reduced to little more than a cosmic bar bet.  Job is reduced to nothing more than a pawn so that god can make his point to Satan.  God already knew that Job was faithful and righteous.  God did not need to test him.  If you are still defending god after reading Job, you missed the point.

It gets worse.

God is a bully who does not have to be accountable to anyone for his actions because he is bigger and stronger than you.  This is not my opinion.  It is right there in the text.

 

“Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? “Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this. “What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years! “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs? Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up [God’s] dominion over the earth? “Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water? Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?

The LORD said to Job: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!”

Then Job answered the LORD: “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer— twice, but I will say no more.”

Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm: “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his? Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor, and clothe yourself in honor and majesty. Unleash the fury of your wrath, look at every proud man and bring him low, look at every proud man and humble him, crush the wicked where they stand. Bury them all in the dust together; shroud their faces in the grave. Then I myself will admit to you that your own right hand can save you.

Then Job replied to the LORD: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. [You asked,] ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. [“You said,] ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 38:1-5, 12-13, 17-23, 32-35; 40:1-14; 42:1-7 NIV)

 

Understand the sequence of events.  These last few passages happen near the end of the 42 chapter book.  It starts with god conspiring with Satan to destroy a perfectly good man for no good reason except to make a point.  With god’s help, Satan takes everything away from Job including the lives of his wife, children, servants, and his dog.  He then takes away Job’s health.  Job is left in such misery, he can barely take a breath without torment.

Job’s friends defend god and try to get Job to repent.  When Job maintains his innocence, his friends accuse him of at least being prideful.  Job refused to acknowledge even that, insisting that god was doing this to him despite his innocence, not because of any guilt on Job’s part.  Job makes the mistake of questioning god, demanding to know why this was happening to him.  Job made it clear that he was prepared to accept his punishment if sin was found in him.  By that point, Job just wanted to know what he had done to be so offensive to the most high god whom he had served all his life.

Job feared that if god ever answered him, he would come as an angry whirlwind and beat him down to a pulp.  He was afraid of god.  He thought that god would not listen to him or allow him to present his case.  As it turned out, Job was right.  All of his fears came true.  God appeared in a whirlwind and gave Job the dressing down of a lifetime.  God came with booming voice and fearsome visuals.  He let Job know how powerless he, Job, was, and how powerful, he, god, was.

At one point, god suggested that when Job could match him in power, only then would god dane to listen.  Job was cowed before the all mighty god of the whirlwind and apologized profusely.  At that point, he hated himself and just wanted to curl up and die.  By the way, god never answered for his actions by giving even a hint of justification accept that he could.  In classic bully form, might makes right.

It has been suggested that the Satan in the book of Job is different from the one mentioned in the rest of scripture.  This argument is based on the fact that the character, role, and limitations of this Satan are different from the true lord of the flies.  I have no real problem with that argument except that it seems a bit arbitrary.  Still, if one can argue for a different Satan in Job, it is also fair to argue for a different god.  The god of Job also has nothing in common with the god of the bible.  Job’s god is capricious and malevolent.  Job’s god is the stuff of nightmares.  Job’s god dispenses with any need of a devil.  He neither requires nor appreciates your theodicy.

Over the last two chapters, we have explored various causes of evil and suffering in the world.  One by one we have eliminated all of them as having any explanatory power.  Human nature, original sin, the fall, and the devil all fail to account for all the sin and suffering in the world.  They all fail, in part, because the bible does not fully support any of them.  All of these causes ultimately end up going back to the original source of all things, god.

Sins of the Father Part Four Chapter Ten

Just a quick note to the readers of this blog.  Here is the point in the book where I let off some steam.  You have to understand that when I first wrote this, I was never intending anyone to read it.  The work was not written for you; it was written for me.  I’m just at a point in my journey where I can share some of what that journey looked like at certain points in time.  You can read it as a religious polemic, which it is, or you can read it as autobiographic data, which it is even more.  But if you want to know me better: where I have been and where I am going, I encourage you to read through the ugly bits.  They can’t be left out of this sort of exploration.

By the way, I don’t disavow anything that I wrote.  I still believe the points I was making hold up under scrutiny.  I just probably wouldn’t present in this way if I were writing today, and for an audience.

Enough palaver.  Let’s get to it.

 

Part Four

 

God of This World

 

 

 

As I approach the end of this work, I can feel my anger level rise.  I do not know at whom to direct my anger as I no longer believe in the god of the bible.  Therefore, I direct it outward at those who use the manmade holy book to browbeat the beleaguered.  I direct it at every messiah who came before and after Jesus and used myth to manhandle the meek.  I direct it at the ignorant people in my life who raised me up on fable and fear.  Most of all, I direct my anger at the god of this world that allows evil and suffering on a scale that overloads the mind.

At this point, I cast off any attempt to make a clear and cogent argument.  At this point, I am just pissed.  Consider this final part a lifetime of stored up ranting.

Chapter Ten

 

The All Mighty God

 

 

 

Omni-god

 

The omni god is perhaps the most difficult of all doctrines to grasp and to accept.  It is the aspect of god that requires more blind faith than any other.  Omni means all.  God is all everything, without limits.  Here, logic and reason have no place.  We are asked to check in our natural skepticism at the door as there can be no rational foundation for such claims.  From what I have read and observed, when a believer ceases to believe in one of the omni principles, his faith in god is challenged, if not destroyed.

The reason for this is simple to understand.  If god is not all powerful, why would anyone want to follow a god that might not be able to help them.  If god does not know everything, what is the point.  Perhaps some other power will win after all.  Even if you believed in such a god, you would not feel obligated to dedicate your life to him.

Consider god’s omni characteristics.  God is all powerful.  That means that there is nothing he cannot do.  Never mind the logical fallacies that seek to trip god up on this point.  We do not have to ponder the rock too heavy for god to lift before having problems with this one.  All we have to do is ponder the condition of the world.  According to the bible, his desire is that all people should be saved.  Yet he cannot do anything to make it happen.  He seems to be powerless to stop the wicked from harming the innocent.  He cannot stop mindless natural disasters from wiping out the faithful.  He has no power over disease, hatred, bigotry, or evil in general.  The list of things he can do seems small compared to the list of things that render him impotent.

God is more than just all powerful, though; he is all sovereign.  There is not only nothing he can’t do, there is no will that can oppose his will.  If god wants something to happen, it will happen just as he planned it.  If god wishes for a thing to not happen, rest assured, there is no power on earth that can make it happen against his will.  Ancient Christian formulation requires a person to say that he or she will do a thing only if it is the lord’s will.  It suggests that the sovereignty of god cannot be thwarted by our plans, nor can our plans be accomplished if god does not ordain them.

Since god is all sovereign and all powerful, that leaves nothing that can happen in this world that is beyond god’s control or desire.  If we are to be faithful to the omni god, we must stop exonerating him for the presence of evil and suffering in the world.  It did not slip in past his guard.  It did not happen through an agency acting against his will.  Nothing can overpower him or subvert his will.

God also cannot be surprised by anything that will happen as he is all knowing.  That’s right, he knows everything.  He knows everything from the extremely mundane like how many hairs are on each person’s head, to the extremely essential like the name and location of the attacker who lies in wait for your preteen daughter.

Speaking of location, he is fully present in all locations.  There is no place that escapes gods notice.  He does not only observe every evil thought or act, he is there when it is done.  He is present with you and every other person on the planet.  He is with you where you are and will be at your destination when you arrive.  He will also be there, as he is now, at every step along the way.  While we’re at it, let’s just throw in omni-temporal for free.  That means that god is not just in the moment, he is in every moment past, present, and future simultaneously.

If this makes god sound like some indifferent, universal force of nature, that cannot be further from the truth.  This is obvious when you consider that god is all loving.  This is an important point since the bible makes god out to be the personification of love, itself.  Still, in order for us to understand what it means to be all loving, you have to modify your definition of love.

 

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (1Cor 13:4-7 NLT-SE)

 

Love is patient, kind, not boastful, proud, or rude?  Really?  Have you ever read the book of Job?  In that book, god is portrayed as all the above, and worse.  Love is not jealous?  Really?  At least five passages in the bible plainly declare gods jealous nature.  Love does not demand its own way?  Really?  What is a command from a sovereign if not a demand of his own way?  Love is not irritable?  Really?  How many times has god shown irritation with his people?  Love keeps no record of being wronged?  Really?  Love never gives up?  Love never fails?  Really?  Why are so many people going to hell?

Does god allow the innocent to suffer?  Does god  brutally punish his children for minor offenses?  Does god kill babies and commit acts of genocide?  Does gods wrath last for generations before being appeased?  Is god the personification of the kind of love you want to have anything to do with?  Love for the human has been clearly defined.  Defining god’s love is not so straightforward.

God is all resolute.  That is to say, his resolve is unshakable.  He never changes his mind.

 

“And Samuel said to him, “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to someone else—one who is better than you. And he who is the Glory of Israel will not lie, nor will he change his mind, for he is not human that he should change his mind!”” (1Sam 15:28-29 NLT-SE)

 

In this scene, Saul just got some bad news.  He was about to lose everything.  The prophet assures the soon to be deposed king that god’s mind will not only remain unchanged, but implies that it cannot be changed.  His argument is that god is not human that he should change his mind.  This is very clear in the above passage but it conflicts with countless others where god was presented as more reasonable and would, on occasion, change his mind.  If god did not change his mind, Moses would have been killed prematurely because god had set his mind to do it.  Moses, pleaded with god to spare the people time and again.  Yet we are to somehow believe in the immutability of god.  Really?

The point of all of this omni stuff is to show that god is ultimately in control of every aspect of his creation.  Nothing is out of hand or beyond his reach.  We do god an injustice by suggesting that some things are happening against his will.  That cannot be.  Rather than seeking the source of all unpleasantness in the world, we should be asking god why he causes such calamity.

 

 

The Buck Stops Here

 

“I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” (Is 45:5-7 KJVS)

 

“Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? Shall there be evil in a city, and Jehovah not have done [it]?” (Amos 3:6 DRBY)

 

Before moving forward, I will note that the word evil in the above passages does not refer to a moral act.  Rather, it refers to bad things such as disasters.  Even so, I am not convinced that moral activity and calamity are all that different in concept when referring to an act of god.  In spite of the fact that god vociferously insists on his role in causing bad things to happen to people, we are even more insistent that some other force was the cause.

There are four forces other than god that get the blame for all of the evil in the world.  There is mankind, natural causes, the fall, and the devil.  I do not have a guess as to which of these forces is blamed most frequently.  When people talk about the problems of the world, they tend to use some combination of all of them.  It seems what people are really saying is that the cause of the problem is anything but god.  That seems a little odd seeing that god is the only one with any real power.

The one with the least power is mankind.  The bible portrays man as a powerful agent of evil.  In fact, throughout most of the old testament, man is identified as the cause of all of the bad things that happen.  We are desperately wicked.  We are so filled with wickedness we cannot even realize how much wickedness we have in us.

 

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer 17:9 KJVS)

 

“And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t.” (Rom 7:18 NLT-SE)

 

“For I was born a sinner— yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.” (Psa 51:5 NLT-SE)

 

In the above passages, it is painfully clear that humankind is infused with evil from birth.  We are the instigators of inhumanity toward one another.  We enslave those who are weak and vulnerable.  Guns do not kill people; people kill people.  Rape, plunder and pillage cannot be blamed on natural disaster.  There is nothing natural about the way we treat one another.  We lie, we cheat, we steal, we murder, we lust, we covet our neighbor’s wife.  Why do we do all these horrific things?  As we all have said at some time in our lives, we’re only human.

Is it really fair to blame man for the evil that he does?  Do we call the shots, or is someone else pulling the strings?

 

“And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; and the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ And the LORD said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’ Now therefore behold, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has declared disaster for you.”” (1Kings 22:19-23 ESV)

 

I seem to recall that god hates a lying tongue above most other evils.  Why will the prophets be filled with lies?  Is it because they chose to do evil, or because god put a lying spirit in them?  For that matter, why did Pharaoh not let god’s people go?  Was Pharaoh that stupid, or did god actually harden his heart so that god could deliver his people in the fashion he wanted?  Does god just decide to make some of us vessels of evil?

 

“For the Scriptures say that God told Pharaoh, “I have appointed you for the very purpose of displaying my power in you and to spread my fame throughout the earth.” So you see, God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to listen.

Well then, you might say, “Why does God blame people for not responding? Haven’t they simply done what he makes them do?”

No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who were made for destruction.” (Rom 9:17-22 NLT-SE)

 

Well, I guess that answers that.  Paul asks a rhetorical question about why god blames us for not responding to him when we are simply doing what he makes us do.  It seems to me this question deserves a response.  The only response we get is that we do not even have a right to ask the question.  God does what he does.  We have no more right to question god than does clay in a potters hand.  I do not believe we can blame man for the evil in the world.

Another favorite whipping boy is nature.  We say that a person died of natural causes.  It wasn’t us and it wasn’t them.  No one caused it to happen, he just died.  Nature is the cause.  That is what we say when a storm blows through a village and takes out all the homes and the people in them.  When Hurricane Katrina blew through New Orleans, some speculated that god was acting against that city for his own undisclosed reasons.  The louder cry came from those who assured us that god does not act in such an indiscriminate manner.  They obviously never read large portions of the bible.

I started this section with god taking the credit for the disasters that had befallen his people.  The passages seemed to imply that there are no natural disasters.  God is the cause of all such evil.  To be sure, it would require a powerful being to wrest control of the elements from the all mighty god.  As for it being a mindless process, does the rain just happen to fall, or does god cause it to fall.?Let’s just say that is why we call it an act of god.

We have willful man and mindless nature to blame for evil, yet that is still not enough to exonerate god.  Even if you shoehorn all the bad things that happen into these to categories, the question remains, how did man become wicked and nature become a force for calamity?

This is a touchy issue.  The question deserves a bit more attention.  After all is said and done, god is the one who made man and nature.  God is perfect and declared his creation good.  What, then, accounts for all the evil in the world.  The answer is that the world, like Humpty Dumpty, had a great fall.

This is probably the first arrow in the quiver that people reach for in defense of god.  It is the most basic answer to the question, why do bad things happen to good people.  It is because there is sin in the world.  We have had a great fall.  The fall suggests that at some point in creation, all was well.  Creation was perfect and man was, in some way, a reflection of the image of god.  Something catastrophic must have happened in order for sin to enter into the world.

 

“When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. Still, everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses—even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did. …For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. …For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many…

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone…  Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners…” (Rom 5:12, 14-15, 17-19 NLT-SE)

 

In the above passage, I cut out all the parts about grace so that we could focus on the ultimate cause of sin entering the world.  Paul makes it very clear that he blames Adam for the fallen condition of the world.  This is a bit odd as in another of his writings, he blames Eve.  Still, the choice to sin was made by mankind.  That did not just have an affect on the ones who sinned; that brought sin into the world.  It is through Adam we die, not through ourselves.  While it is true that we all sin, the psalmist says that he was born a sinner.  Adam brought sin into the world.

Just how did Adam accomplish this total collapse of paradise?  He was just one man.  He was not a god with the power of god.  Adam could not create.  I doubt he could build a fire or fashion a wheel.  Remember, he was so innocent, he did not even know he was naked.  He was a newborn babe.  He could no more be held responsible for bringing down the ecosystem of perfection than a baby can be held responsible for starting a war.

Yet there it is, writ large in scripture for all to see.  The newborn man must shoulder the blame for bringing down the mighty work of god.  How did he do it?  He ate some fruit that was sitting there in the middle of his garden home.  That’s it.  There goes the neighborhood.  Clearly it’s not god’s fault.  Except…  Who put that tree there in the first place?  Who made the fruit desirable?  Who put the talking, cunning serpent in the garden, a serpent with the ability and inclination to deceive the woman?  Could it have been anyone other then god that set up all those conditions.

One more question.  If the serpent was already in the garden and had the inclination to subvert god’s plan, why does Adam get the blame for bringing evil into the world?  The serpent was clearly evil.  Therefore, evil was already in the world long before Adam took a bite.  In his attempt to exonerate god for the condition of the world, Paul created an argument with an irresolvable internal consistency.  Adam was tempted by evil to do the first evil.  That is not possible.  Evil in this world preexisted Adam.  Adam did not cause the fall; he was a victim of it.

Who, then is responsible for the fall?  Who is the author of sin that now dominates this world?  There is no doubt that sin is having its way.  It is everywhere: omnipresent.  It knows just how to trip us up and when we are at our weakest: omniscient.  Its power to entice and deceive even the very elect seems to be without bounds: omnipotent.  Time to stop blaming Adam for the mess we’re in.  Only a god could cause this kind of damage on a global, spiritual level.  Will the real god of this world please stand up?

Sins of the Father Chapter Nine

Chapter Nine

 

Messiah

 

 

 

The New Testament

 

When we think of the new testament, we often think of the last 27 books of the bible.  That is a mistake as the division in the testaments is a device of men, not of god.  The first century Christian never conceived of an old testament and a new testament.  For them, all sacred writings were nothing more or less than scripture.  Why then, do we make this artificial distinction in sacred scripture?

The reason is both obvious and curious.  We make a distinction in scripture because of the point at the division, something new was happening.  By the time Jesus came onto the scene, it was not your father’s Judaism.  They had fallen considerably in the eyes of the world, and in their own eyes as well.  It had been a very long time since anyone thought of them as a superpower.  When is the last time anyone thought of Turkey, or Greece, or Italy as a world beating superpower?  Whatever answer you come up with, it had been longer than that since the Jewish glory days.  Once, they were like the modern day America.  They sunk to something like a modern day African state.  They were not even worth spitting on.

They did not just slowly decline from greatness.  They were ruthlessly beaten down by every powerful nation within reach.  They were forced into a type of slavery that rivaled the Egyptian captivity.  It may have been even worse.  They were systematically stripped of every vestige of identity.  At times, they had lost their collective memory of who they once were.

That sort of domination does bad things to the one being dominated.  We have seen a bit of what that is like in our own American history.  When we took slaves from Africa, we did not just capture them and force them to work.  We stripped them of everything that identified them as a people.  We destroyed their family groups.  We took away their languages.  We abolished their religion.  To make matters worse, we were not interested in replacing it with something better.  We raped their women.  We had brutal overseers beat them into submission.  We forbad them the privilege of learning to read and write.  We would not allow them to own property.  It was a very dark time for the American slave.

Some who conquered Israel did so with a genocidal fervor.  They set out, not to kill the people, but to obliterate the culture.  They did a pretty good job of it.  Perhaps some of the hatred leveled at the Jews was due to the Jewish attitude of superiority over the rest of the world.  The Jews were convinced that they were greater than all others because their god was greater than all other gods.  They took much joy in rubbing that fact in the face of a lot of people.  Nations were eager to show the Jews that their god was not as powerful as they believed.  This point was proven so thoroughly and for so long that even the Jews believed it.  There were only a handful that kept the faith.  As a nation, Israel was beaten to a pulp and left for dead.

This is why Judaism looked so different in Jesus day than it did in David’s time.  The Jews had forgotten who they were and absorbed the traditions and cultures of their conquerors.  We can get a glimpse of what the change must have looked like.  The American black is nothing like the African black.  They live in two different worlds and have very different world views.  The American black knows virtually nothing about Africa, from which their ancestors came.  They speak the language of their captors.  They have the values of their captors.  They practice the religion of their captors.  They marry the women of their captors.  That is the sort of makeover the Jews had gone through.

Suddenly you see things in the gospel accounts that were foreign to the ancient Jews: things they seemed to accept without question.  We see the synagogue appear out of nowhere.  Money changing was a requirement to pay temple taxes.  The Jewish hierarchy was subject to Rome.  There were multiple denominations of Judaism.  As an average Jew, it was impossible to know who to listen to.  They had little idea of what orthodox Judaism was, let alone what teacher had the purist teaching.  It was a mess.

What remained from the glory days was the desire for justice.  They wanted their freedom.  They wanted their nation back.  They wanted to overthrow their enemies and reestablish the dominance of Israel.  They wanted god to show himself and fulfill his promises which the Jews saw as outstanding.

The trouble was figuring out exactly how god was going to fulfill his promises.  Different branches of Judaism had different ideas on the subject.  The bible gives us only one of those views, but in the real world, it was never quite so clear cut.  There were some that resonated with the message of Jesus.  There were plenty more that did not.  The Christian bible is rather self serving as it presents only the books and ideas that help tell one particular side of the story.  Even so, that is the story we have.  As Christians, to paraphrase a country song, that’s our story and we’re sticking to it.  What the Jews of the bible clamored for was a redeemer, a savior, a messiah.

There is still the question of what type of messiah they had in mind.  What did salvation look like for them?  From what did they want to be saved.  When answering that question, we will also discover the answer to another equally important question: when did they expect this salvation to take place.

The easiest question to answer is from what did they want to be saved.  You can rest assured that salvation was something very different for them than it is for us.  We might say that we want to be saved from the consequences of our sins.  Some might even want to be saved from the reality of sin in their lives and that which permeates the environment throughout the world.  For still others, salvation is just an assurance that they will not go to hell.  Yet others want to acquire the joys of heaven.

For most Christians, salvation is a two part proposition.  We somehow accept the offer of salvation from Jesus and in doing so, we are saved from that moment.  This initial stage of salvation, though, carries few tangible evidences of that salvation.  For most, their salvation is a matter of faith as they have no other way to prove it really happened.  As I have stated before, and probably will again, their lives are just as much a mess today as it was before they were saved.  Their marriage is still falling apart, their health is still declining, and their bank account balance is still shrinking.  Our enemies still have power over us and we are still helpless to fight back.  One might be tempted to ask, from what have we been saved?

The real salvation that brings an end to pain and sorrow and tears and toil does not actually happen until the second coming.  A Jew might be tempted to ask how many times does our messiah need to come?  Why do we even need a second coming?  It seems the first one didn’t get the job done.

For the Jews, salvation had only one meaning.  They wanted to be saved from oppression and suffering.  They did not have a nuanced view of sin.  For them, if you wanted to be free from the bonds of sin, you just had to stop sinning and make the proper atonement.  They would not have understood a dialogue about sin between two modern Christians.

For them, sin had tangible results.  Forgiveness meant that the consequences of sin would be lifted and they would have a fully restored relationship with god.  A fully restored relationship with god meant that they would prosper in a tangible way.  You could say that the Jewish gospel was the original prosperity gospel.  They did not serve god because they felt warm and fuzzy about him.  Most of the time, they were afraid of him.  They served god because he offered them tangible and immediate protection and prosperity in this life, not in some future life to come.  For them, that protection and prosperity was all wrapped up in the nation status of Israel.  In short, they wanted to be a superpower again.  At the very least, they wanted to stop being the world’s whipping boy.

Some Jews made it their mission in life to help make this dream a reality.  Some did it by forming terrorist cults and slitting the throats of their enemies one at a time.  In Jesus day, there was no military.  Terrorists were the closest thing to an army the Israelites had.  The terrorist method did not work.  There was no army, and there could be no military victory.  The Jesus sect found a way to declare victory without ever firing a shot.  That, in essence, is the story of the new testament.

 

 

To Manufactured Triumphs

 

In Star Trek the next generation, season 7, episode 4, “Take Me Out to the Holosuite,” Captain Sisko encounters his arch rival from the academy.  It is a Vulcan with far superior speed, strength, mental capability, etc.  The Vulcan brings his ship to the station for repairs.  While there, he challenges Sisko to a game of baseball, just to carry on the old rivalry and humiliate the captain further.

Sisko accepts the challenge and takes it all too seriously.  He whips his crew into shape for the big game.  The outcome of the game was as expected: a lopsided victory for the Vulcans.  Rather than being humiliated, Sisko and his crew rise above the petty rivalry by some good humored taunting and a manufactured, rhetorical victory.  It was a heartwarming story at a time in the characters’ lives when they could really use a victory.  There was no way to attain an actual victory on the scoreboard, so they did the next best thing.  They simply manufactured a victory.  It was one of the greatest manufactured victories of all time.  The greatest manufactured victory of all time goes, hands down, to the Christians.

Before taking a closer look at the manufactured triumph, let us look again at the victory the Jews had in mind.  Remember, they had been in captivity for longer than any of them could remember.  They could only imagine what it would be like to be a free, autonomous, and powerful state.  Their sacred stories told of such times.  They understood those stories to imply that the promise of a victorious state was an everlasting oath.

Also remember that they had not seen what they considered to be justice in a very long time.  Most of them had never experienced anything resembling fairness.  To them, justice had been too long delayed.  They were in despair that god may have completely forsaken them and left them for dead in the hands of their enemies.  They cried out for deliverance.  It was not a spiritualized sort of deliverance, but a tangible one.

It was much the same when the children of Israel were enslaved in the land of Egypt.  They were being tormented for reasons beyond their comprehension after a long period of prosperity in the land.  They suffered under the lash and cried out to god.  They were not asking for some type of spiritual solace.  They were asking for a literal deliverance.  They were looking for the same type of deliverance in Jesus’ day.

For the captive Jew, that deliverance would come in the form of a messiah.  Once again, this was not some over spiritualized concept.  A messiah was nothing more than a king with god’s blessing.  The term, anointed one, has to do with the ceremony of appointing a king.  Christ is just another word for messiah.  It was not a particularly spiritual term and it was not specifically reserved for Jesus.

In fact, there were many messiahs.  Saul, David, and Solomon were all considered messiahs as they were anointed ones of god.  They were not god, they were simply god’s servant in the role of a king.  Son of god and son of man also did not refer to god.  Nor were they terms reserved exclusively for Jesus.  In fact, son of god most directly referred to the Davidic line of kings.  Son of man was also in use long before Jesus came on the scene, the point is, none of these were particularly spiritual terms.  They referred to special men appointed by god to fulfill a role.

References to Jesus as the son of god, son of man, and messiah, marked him out as one contending for the kingship of Israel.  That is the only thing messiah indicated to anyone who associated the term with Jesus.  As it had come to be used in his day, a messiah was a deliverer.  He would not be a peace time king like Solomon, rather, he would be a conqueror.  To be any other kind of messiah was to be no messiah at all.

Now, you can begin to understand why the Jews throughout history, have rejected Jesus as a messiah.  To them, he was no messiah.  He has not restored the throne of David in the heart of Jerusalem.  He raised no armies and overthrew no oppressors.  His followers did not grow prosperous or victorious in any tangible way.  Not only did Jesus not save Israel, he might be blamed, by some, for its destruction.  Things certainly got worse, not better.

In no tangible way did he fulfill the role of messiah.  Even if he did all of the legendary miracles ascribed to him, that would make him nothing more than a prophet, perhaps even a son of man, as they understood the term, but not a king.  In order to make Jesus into a messiah, he and his followers would have to redefine almost every word in the Jewish dictionary.  That is precisely what they did.

 

 

“Everything You Know Is Wrong”

 

Some years ago, there was a Weird Al Yankovic Song called “Everything You Know Is Wrong.”  Yankovic is a musical comedian who exchanges the words of popular songs for words with comedic value.  In this particular song, Yankovic evokes many dreamlike images.  The images conflict with each other.  In this song, contradictions abound.  Every aspect of the song represents one impossibility after another.

The chorus does not clear up any of the mysteries in the verses.  It emphatically states that…

 

“Everything you know is wrong.  Black is white, up is down and short is long, and everything you just thought was so important doesn’t matter.  Everything you know is wrong.  Just forget the words and sing along.  All you need to understand is everything you know is wrong.”

 

Surely, Yankovic never intended to write a gospel song.  Unwittingly, that is exactly what he did.  With the words of the chorus quoted above, Yankovic gave a clearer and more accurate summary of the gospel message of Jesus than any preacher I have ever heard.

Every aspect of the message and presentation of Jesus screamed to the people that everything they knew and expected and hoped for was wrong.  The meaning of traditional acts and common words was transformed into something different.  Jesus even made it clear that the teachers of the law, regardless of denomination, had everything exactly backward.  Consider the sermon on the mount.  It starts out with a bang and just gets better from there.

 

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.  God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.  God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.    God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.  God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.  God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.” (Matt 5:3-12 NLT-SE)

 

In these few sentences, Jesus redefines what it means to be blessed.  This was not the Mosaic view of blessing.  This is not a Davidic formula.  David would be praying that god smash out the brains of his enemies’ babies.  This is also not a prophetic formula.  Job would not recognize any of this as a blessing, nor would the wisdom writers.  No one in Jerusalem and in all the known world considered themselves blessed because they were persecuted.

Consider the people who are supposed to be happy and considered blessed by god in the Jesusic formula.  The poor, the sad, the humble, the unjustly treated, the merciful, the peacemakers, and the persecuted.  Under the suffering sinner, or the generational curse formulations, most of these people were in their condition because they were getting exactly what they deserved.  In these few verses, Jesus contradicted the Patriarchs, Moses, the kings, and the prophets.  That was only the beginning.

With his next breath, he tells them that they are not useless, but useful.  They are the salt of the earth.  More to the point, they were the light of the world.  A shining light should not be hidden under a bowl.  They were not to think of themselves as the shame of the world, but the light of the world.  The world would see their good works and glorify the father rather than laugh.

Next, Jesus informs them of his commitment to the law.  It is the most important thing to Jesus.  It is his purpose to see it fulfilled.  He makes it clear that whoever breaks, or teaches someone to break the smallest of laws will be least in the sight of god.  It is at this point in his speech where he begins to redefine much of what people understood to be the law.

Thou shall not kill became thou shall not hate.  Thou shall not commit adultery became thou shall not lust.  Disagreements were to be settled out of court.  Divorce which was regulated under the law of Moses was strictly forbidden with few exceptions.  Swearing solemn oaths was no longer allowed.  The old ideas about justice such as an eye for an eye, also regulated by the law, was now wrong.  There should be no retaliation or seeking legal recourse for being wronged by another.  Now, if someone steals from you, you should give them even more.  If someone hits you, make yourself an easier target for the next blow.  Jesus is just getting warmed up.

 

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matt 5:43-48 NLT-SE)

 

Which part of the law did Jesus get that from?  Be perfect?  Really?  He goes on to tell them that they are giving incorrectly and praying incorrectly.  Then, he drops another bombshell.  He tells them that the way to have their sins forgiven is by forgiving others.  He emphasizes this by saying that if they do not forgive others, they, themselves will not be forgiven.  There is no such doctrine of forgiveness in the law.  Back then, god was into smiting the enemies of his people, and his people were looking forward to it.

After telling them that they were fasting incorrectly, he dropped yet another bomb.

 

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” (Matt 6:19-21 NLT-SE)

 

In this passage, Jesus redefines what it means to have treasure.  Storing up earthly treasure was the goal.  That was, after all, the whole point of prosperity.  Jesus casts earthly wealth in a bad light.  What did that say about the ancients who were rewarded with earthly wealth?

Jesus when on in this manner throughout the rest of his ministry, redefining what it meant to be a Jew in good standing, and what reward and expectation should be like in this brave new world.  The people were no longer poor, or hungry, or sick, or abused; they were blessed.  Their reward was waiting for them in the heavenly realm.  All they had to do to get it was to keep the law and be perfect as the father is perfect.  You may think you kept the law by casting out demons and doing good deeds, but you still may be sent away as a stranger to god.  Suffer well and bless the ones causing you to suffer.  Be satisfied, even happy with your lot in life.  Bear your unfair treatment quietly and be humble.  That is the new definition of victory.

The rest is history.

Jesus’ followers crowned him king even though he left the scene with promises to return with heavenly hosts.  The kingdom was invisible, not of this world.  The treasure was in the heavenly bank.  There was a mansion waiting for each faithful disciple.  The lord would take revenge in his own good time.  Consider persecution a badge of honor, in fact, it is a sign of righteousness.  Don’t try to save your life: that is the best way to lose it.  Don’t try to be first in line.  Give way to others; by doing so, you will be first.  Everything in the life of the Jew was recast so that it was no longer a bad thing, but a good thing.  They just had to hang on a little longer and their reward would be arriving soon.  That has been the line of the great religious hucksters for the last two thousand years.

Sins of the Father Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight

 

Apocalypse

 

 

 

A Whole New World

 

There is a common theme shared by all of the afore mentioned formulas of sin and suffering.  Original sin, generational curse, and suffering sinner all lack a necessary component of justice.  Original sin is great for explaining why the world has gone to hell in a hand basket.  It just does nothing to explain why wicked people prosper.  Suffering is the default setting and reward is random.  There is no justice in that.  Generational curses make it impossible to keep up with who is supposed to suffer and who is supposed to prosper.  The problem is that if you happen to be a part of the generation that is cursed, there is no hope of redemption offered to you.  Again, Justice is thwarted.  The suffering sinner solution is only effective on paper.  It sounds fair but you do not even have to look out of your window to realize that life is not fair.  What they needed was a formula that took the best parts of all the existing philosophies with the addition of a justice component.

Just any justice component would not do.  Suffering sinner offered a justice component, it just didn’t work as advertised.  It was too idealistic.  They needed the type of justice that would be considered fair, yet was not subject to measurement.  They needed justice that transcended human comprehension or experience.  They needed a way to convince people that even though life was unfair and that they were suffering without cause or disproportionately, It would still work out well for them in the end.  Also, the evildoers who were nonetheless prospering, would get their just deserts in the end.

Here again, the problem is with experience.  Good people died without relief, and bad people died without paying the piper.  This view of the end where justice is served was like nothing ever experienced in this world.  That was a problem until people started to think that perhaps justice did not have to be experienced in this world.  Perhaps justice could be experienced in some world to come.  What type of world would that be?

The answer is that it would have to be a whole new world, or at least a whole new world order.  It would require many things that were inconceivable in this world.  For there to be justice for all people throughout history, there would have to be a resurrection from the dead.  Whether that resurrection is spiritual or physical does not matter.  There just has to be some reality where people who were wronged in this life would be rewarded in the next.  God would make it up to them somehow.  The same is true for the evildoers.  They would have to be raised from the dead so that they could experience the punishment that was long overdue.

Resurrection is not the only new thing needed to provide ultimate justice.  An explanation was required for why things went so wrong, and stayed so wrong for so long.  Part of that explanation is that there were other forces at play.  It was not just god versus man.  God is clearly too powerful for his good intentions to be thwarted by us.  There had to be some other cosmic force with which god had to contend.  If god is the personification of all things good, then it made sense that there had to be a personification of all things evil.

Other apocalyptic ideas also came into view.  If there was to be justice for those who were wrongly treated during their lifetimes here on earth, then they must live some place presently that is pleasant.  Even we believe that justice delayed is justice denied.  It only makes sense that there must be a region for disembodied souls to wait for the final justice to take place.  There must be a place for the good and a place for the wicked.  It would not be fair for them to be in the same waiting room.  Eventually, this grew into the doctrine of heaven: a place of eternal bliss, and hell: a place of eternal torture.

With all of these new apocalyptic tools, we can fashion a better justice component.  With a better justice component, we can finally fashion a doctrine of sin and suffering that everyone can live with and will withstand the test of time.

 

 

Suffering Servant

 

With the apocalyptic ideas in place, we can now introduce the fourth explanation for sin and suffering.  Because there are so many tools, and because these tools did not just spring into being all at once, there are many variations of the central theme.  I call it the suffering servant solution.

With the suffering sinner explanation, bad things happened as a result of you doing bad things.  Good things would happen if you stopped doing bad things and started doing good things.  There was a one to one relationship between works and reward.  For the suffering servant, the equation was turned completely upside down.  It actually was more in line with the reality people experienced.  If you were prospering, you were probably doing so by oppressing good people.  If you were suffering, it was probably because you were doing what was right.

Not to worry, though.  A time is coming when your suffering will end and you will be prosperous, if not in this life, then in the life to come.  As for those who caused you to suffer, they will be the subjects of godly vengeance, if not in this life, then in the life to come.  If justice is put off until the next life, the justice will be infinitely magnified.  You will not only have joy and prosperity, you will have infinite joy and prosperity.  The same goes for the ones slated for torment.  You will not just pay for your finite sins, you will pay infinitely.

The suffering servant model is the clear winner of the eschatological battle for the Christians.  It is the most satisfying explanation of sin and suffering we have.  It incorporates a justice model that, though not fully comprehensible to us, still gets the job done.  The big questions are now resolved but that leaves many little questions yet to be answered.  Though the proponents of this view share broad agreement, there is still much to be worked out.

Some of the details seem minor but create major doctrinal challenges.  We are introduced to a whole new set of questions that have numerous and conflicting answers, even in the bible.  The old testament and the new just cannot seem to get on the same page.  That is the first of a number of problems the apocalyptic view has to face.

 

 

Beginning of the End

 

When did these apocalyptic ideas start to take shape?  What marked the beginning of this new end times view?  This is a fair question as you do not find most of the major ideas of the apocalyptic view in the old testament, yet they abound in the teaching of Jesus and his followers.

Among the things you do not find in the old testament is a doctrine of heaven and hell.  There is no clear teaching of an afterlife that includes reward and punishment.  There is no doctrine of Satan as the personification of evil, or a hint that he is in control of things in this current age.  These are major themes of apocalyptic theology that are just not present in the vast majority of scripture.  Why?

This requires a lot more attention than it has received in my experience.  In Judaism, there is no doctrine of heaven and hell.  That is because they only use the old testament scriptures.  There is nothing in the old testament scriptures that indicates eternity in a different realm of reward and punishment outside of this world.  For the Jews, this world is all there was, and ever would be.  If there was life after death, that life would be here on earth.

When god warned Adam and Eve of the consequences of eating the forbidden fruit, he told them that the day they ate of it, they would surely die.  I would readily agree that death is no picnic, but compared to hell, death, as the song says, aint no big deal.  That was only the first of many occasions god could have unveiled the reward of heaven or the threat of hell.

Throughout the old testament, god spoke to his people through prophets and other spokesmen.  He promised them many rewards for serving him, as well as many punishments for disobedience.  God is never shy at such times, he colors his promises with lavish detail.  The children of Israel knew exactly what was awaiting them based on their behavior.  Never once did god promise them a home with him for all eternity.  Never once did he threaten the wicked with life after death in torment for all eternity.  Throughout the old testament, there simply is no such thing as heaven and hell as we understand it today.

Also conspicuously absent from the old testament is the character of Satan, the personification of evil.  What you find is that the people of god were subject to the myths, superstitions, and belief in the false gods of their captors.  They borrowed much from the religion of the Egyptians, and even more from the Babylonians.  They had much to fear during their time as captives.  They also had much to explain.  Why was their god not delivering them from the clutches of the enemy even after they repented?  For some, a powerful archenemy of god must have seemed very appealing.  Unfortunately, god himself, dismisses the notion of any rival.  As we will later see, god takes the credit for the good and the bad that happens to Israel.  There was never an enemy of Israel that god did not direct and control.  According to the god of the Jews, there is no devil.

 

 

Eternal Life

 

The cornerstone of the apocalyptic solution to sin and suffering is an afterlife where all will be made right and justice will prevail.  Without an afterlife, there can be no Christianity.  According to Paul, the whole point of the resurrection of Jesus was to lead the way for the general resurrection of the dead, and the ushering in of a new age.  If Christ did not rise, then all is meaningless.  Resurrection and eternal life are the lifeblood of the new testament.  Surely these doctrines have been around from the beginning.

Unfortunately, along with heaven, hell, and the devil, resurrection and the afterlife of eternity did not make it into the old testament, at least the pre-exilic parts of the old testament.  There is a distinct difference in character of the books written before the exile and those written after.  I will not attempt to provide a history of the exile.  Let us just say that many bad things happened to the people of god.  They never quite recovered.

One of the things that happened was a drastic shift in their worldview.  All of their previous answers to the question of sin and suffering went right out of the window.  Their experience graphically showed them that they could not count on the old formulas for justice.  Between the time of 200 BC and 100 AD, the genre of literature called apocalyptic writing was at its height.  These writings were all presented as dreams or visions from god.  There was usually an angel involved to guide the seer.  The purpose of these visions was to give the seer a glimpse into the near future so that they could know and convey to others that justice was on the way and that the end was coming soon.

There are two keys to understanding apocalyptic writing.  The first key is that they all were primarily concerned with the issue of justice.  The second, and perhaps more important key is that they were intended for a contemporary audience, not a future one.  None of the apocalypses are about us.  They were to assure the people of the day that justice was on the way and would arrive very soon.

A growth of the doctrine of resurrection and the afterlife can be traced to the post-exilic period.  This is where life forever changed for the Jew.  The Jews of Jesus’ day were very different from the Jews of millennia past.  In many ways, they had to redefine themselves and rebuild their identity.  In doing so, they became more fractured than ever before.  By the time Jesus came along, there were at least seven distinct flavors of Judaism.  They did not all believe the same things, nor did they agree on a cannon.  One of the things on which they most definitely did not agree was the doctrine of resurrection and eternal life.

You have heard of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  You already know that they were two competing sects of the Jews.  There is relatively little information to go on as most of what we know about the Sadducees comes from the writings of their enemies.  As with all histories, the winners get to write it.  I will add a few things to the record that you might not know and that make the battle between the two groups very interesting.

The Sadducees were the religious conservatives of their day.  They largely rejected the oral tradition that had been handed down and curated over time.  They only considered the torah: written law, to be authoritative.  They also rejected the rich commentary tradition of the Pharisees.  They believed that the Pharisees did violence to the purity of the books of Moses by their endless interpretations.  They believed the Pharisees were too susceptible to the surrounding culture.  In other words, the Pharisees were shameless liberals.  The Sadducees were strict interpreters of the true text of holy writ.

Another interesting fact about the Sadducees is that they were of the lineage of Levi.  They were of the priestly line.  Theirs alone was the responsibility for the temple.  The Pharisees had developed a broader understanding of who was in charge.  It would seem the Sadducees had a better case.  They were the rightful leaders of the temple and protectors of orthodoxy.

Here is where it gets interesting and relevant to the topic at hand.  The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection or the afterlife.  They rejected the fundamental tenets of apocalyptic teaching.  They did not do so arbitrarily.  They did so on the basis of scripture.  Such teaching was not in the Pentateuch, therefore, it could not be from god.  They did not believe in an expanding cannon.  They would not have looked to the writings of the prophets for authoritative teaching any more than we look to Luther or Calvin.  We consider what they had to say, but we see them as flawed and mistaken in many aspects of their teaching.  The Sadducees, the religious conservatives, the priests, the keepers of the faith and defenders of orthodoxy were opposed to the innovative teaching of eternal life.  They were not alone.

 

“ O LORD our God, others have ruled us, but you alone are the one we worship.  Those we served before are dead and gone.  Their departed spirits will never return!  You attacked them and destroyed them, and they are long forgotten.” (Is 26:13-14 NLT-SE)

 

“O God, remember that my life is but a breath, and I will never again feel happiness.  You see me now, but not for long.  You will look for me, but I will be gone.  Just as a cloud dissipates and vanishes, those who die will not come back.  They are gone forever from their home—never to be seen again.” (Job 7:7-10 NLT-SE)

 

“It seems so tragic that everyone under the sun suffers the same fate. That is why people are not more careful to be good. Instead, they choose their own mad course, for they have no hope. There is nothing ahead but death anyway. There is hope only for the living. As they say, “It’s better to be a live dog than a dead lion!”

The living at least know they will die, but the dead know nothing. They have no further reward, nor are they remembered. Whatever they did in their lifetime—loving, hating, envying—is all long gone. They no longer play a part in anything here on earth. So go ahead. Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart, for God approves of this! Wear fine clothes, with a splash of cologne!

Live happily with the woman you love through all the meaningless days of life that God has given you under the sun. The wife God gives you is your reward for all your earthly toil. Whatever you do, do well. For when you go to the grave, there will be no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom.” (Eccl 9:3-10 NLT-SE)

 

“I also thought about the human condition—how God proves to people that they are like animals. For people and animals share the same fate—both breathe and both must die. So people have no real advantage over the animals. How meaningless! Both go to the same place—they came from dust and they return to dust. For who can prove that the human spirit goes up and the spirit of animals goes down into the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better for people than to be happy in their work. That is why we are here! No one will bring us back from death to enjoy life after we die.” (Eccl 3:18-22 NLT-SE)

 

That is about as clear as it gets: Those we served before are dead and gone.  Their departed spirits will never return, Just as a cloud dissipates and vanishes, those who die will not come back, There is nothing ahead but death anyway, So people have no real advantage over the animals. How meaningless! Both go to the same place—they came from dust and they return to dust. For who can prove that the human spirit goes up and the spirit of animals goes down into the earth.

What can we say then about the doctrine of eternal life?  We know that it was not a universally held belief by the ancient Jews.  It was outright rejected by the keepers of orthodoxy and strict interpreters of the written law.  It was never taught by Moses.  Pre-exilic Jews would not have understood justice in these terms.  For them, Justice was supposed to happen in the here and now.

I must ask myself which is more likely.  Was apocalypse always true but never taught or written about for the first few millennia, or was it an adaptation of various myths and cultural beliefs of the people who ruled them during the bad years?  I am forced to conclude the latter.  We have a detailed history of first things, from the creation of the world to the creation of the nation of Israel.  We have an account and explanation for everything that was important to them.  We have the law in painful detail.  We have genealogies and inventories and census data.  If it was important to the Jews, we have it summed up in the books of Moses.

What we do not have is any hint of apocalyptic teaching.  Judgement and justice came from god who had no rival.  Righteousness was a matter of keeping god’s law.  Reward and punishment were handed down in this life.  It seems that justice delayed was justice denied for them as well as us.  Where then, is the justice of the apocalypse?  When is it supposed to arrive?  What form will it take?

Sins of the Father Part Three Chapter Seven

Part Three

 

A World of Trouble

 

 

 

Yahweh would judge me for my wickedness, just as he presides as judge of the whole world.  But who judges the judge?  I will not be judged by god until he answers for his own crimes.  Time and again, he has avoided facing the judgement seat.  No one is righteous enough to be his judge.  Yet if righteousness is the criteria for serving as judge, then he does not qualify to judge me either.

I am tired of being told to shut up and keep my questions to myself.  I will ask my questions and I would have an answer.  My questions are not new or original.  They have been asked many times and answered in different and contradictory ways.  Everyone is just guessing and hoping they are right.  I am tired of guessing.  I would have an answer.

I charge the god of the bible with atrocities beyond evil.  I charge him of being capricious and malevolent.  I charge him of being distant and uncaring.  I charge him of being indifferent to the sin and suffering and groaning of this world.  I charge him with being responsible for the sin and suffering in this world.

Jehovah, how do you plead?

Chapter Seven

 

The Wages of Sin

 

 

 

Original Sin

 

God does not enter pleas in courts of men.  If he did, I am sure he would enter the plea of not guilty.  All faithful Christians would support him in his claim of innocence.  The one thing that most Christians agree on is that god is not culpable in any way for the condition of sin and suffering in the world.  God created a perfect world with perfect creatures full of possibility and promise.  The world of trouble we now live in is a direct result of our own actions.  We are getting exactly what we deserve.  We are reaping the wages of sin.

I will outline four formulations of sin and suffering that exonerate god from any wrong doing and place the blame for our condition squarely on our shoulders.  All of these formulations have a few things in common.  They all exonerate god, they all try to explain the problem of sin and suffering, they are all contradictory, not complementary, and they are all in the bible.  The first of these is the doctrine of original sin.

 

“Sin came into the world through one person, and death came through sin. So death spread to everyone, because everyone sinned. Sin was in the world before there were any laws. But no record of sin can be kept when there are no laws. Yet, death ruled from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin in the same way Adam did when he disobeyed. Adam is an image of the one who would come.

There is also no comparison between ‹God’s› gift and the one who sinned. The verdict which followed one person’s failure condemned everyone. But, even after many failures, the gift brought God’s approval.

Therefore, everyone was condemned through one failure, and everyone received God’s life-giving approval through one verdict. Clearly, through one person’s disobedience humanity became sinful, and through one person’s obedience humanity will receive God’s approval. As sin ruled by bringing death, God’s kindness would rule by bringing us his approval. This results in our living forever because of Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 5:12-14, 16, 18-19, 21 GWORD)

 

“As everyone dies because of Adam, so also everyone will be made alive because of Christ.” (1Cor 15:22 GWORD)

 

“Indeed, I was born guilty.  I was a sinner when my mother conceived me.” (Psa 51:5 GWORD)

 

“‹Even› inside the womb wicked people are strangers ‹to God›.  From their birth liars go astray.” (Psa 58:3 GWORD)

 

It is hard to find a doctrine more clearly stated in the bible than this one.  It is also hard to find one more offensive and difficult to swallow.  According to the doctrine of original sin, Adam, the first human, brought sin into the world when he ate the forbidden fruit.  Think about this for a moment.  The universe was absolutely perfect.

All was just as god envisioned it would be.  Then, one day Adam takes a bite of fruit.  As far as we know, it was the only sin he ever committed.  The punishment was so harsh, it affected all humankind that flowed from the seed of Adam.  It not only affected people, it affected the entire universe.  The farthest reaches of the farthest galaxy was forever tainted by the sin of Adam.  All of creation groans from the burden of sin.  The tainting of the air and water, the poor crops and harsh weather, disease and death are all a result of the one sin of one man.

In the doctrine of original sin, we do not actually have to do anything to be doomed by sin.  It is in the air we breathe.  It is now a part of our very nature.  We are ontologically sinners.  According to the psalmist, we are born guilty.  We are sinners from the time of conception.  Wicked people are strangers to god even inside the womb.  This is truly a desperate situation where we have no hope.  God is so righteous, he cannot bear the presence of sin.  Sin is such an offense, all sinners deserve the worst conceivable punishment, unremitting, for all eternity.  Just being born in this fallen world is a crime worthy of death.  After death, it is worthy of eternal torture.  Original sin explains all the suffering in the world.

Unfortunately, this view of sin and suffering tries to explain too much.  First, it is completely morally repugnant.  Even if you could live a perfect life as defined by god’s law, it would not matter because you were born into this sinful world and are a sinner by nature, if not by behavior.  It is an unfair scenario because you never have a chance to be anything other than guilty.

Secondly, it denies innocence.  If we are guilty from conception, then there is never a time when we are innocent.  Both of the above passages from Psalms makes this point abundantly clear.  But those are not the only passages in Psalms that make the point.  There is another that is even more graphic:

 

“And you, Babylonians—ravagers!  A reward to whoever gets back at you for all you’ve done to us; Yes, a reward to the one who grabs your babies and smashes their heads on the rocks!” (Psa 137:8-9 MESSAGE)

 

Why would the psalmist want to take out his revenge on the innocent?  The answer is simple.  To this writer, there is no such person.  Everyone is guilty.  The babies were guilty even before they were born.  Even more interesting is the fact that the writer of this vile sentiment was perfectly comfortable expressing these views before the all righteous and loving god.  Based on god’s casual disregard for the lives of children, it would appear the psalmist was correct in doing so.

Perhaps you are willing to agree with the bible’s assessment that there is no such thing as innocence.  Your challenge, then, is to decide which parts of the bible you will believe.  Remember, one of the things that god hates is the killing of innocent people

 

“The Lord your God may expand your country’s borders as he promised your ancestors with an oath. He may give you the whole land he promised to give them. He may do this because you faithfully obey all these commands I am now giving you—to love the Lord your God and follow his directions as long as you live. If this happens, you may add three more cities of refuge to these three. That way, innocent people won’t be killed in the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you won’t be guilty of murder.

Suppose someone hates another person, waits in ambush for him, attacks him, takes his life, and runs to one of these cities. If someone does this, the leaders of your city must send for that person. They must take him from that city and hand him over to the relative who has the authority to avenge the death. He must die. They must have no pity on him. The guilt of murdering an innocent person must be removed from Israel. Then things will go well for Israel.” (Deut 19:8-13 GWORD)

 

“These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,” (Prov 6:16-17 KJVS)

 

The above passages state in no uncertain terms that there are indeed innocent people in the world, and that killing them is a high crime before god.  This presents a real problem as it appears we are dealing with two different gods.  One god makes no distinction between the guilty and the innocent.  Because of original sin, there is no innocent person.  The other god despises the shedding of innocent blood.  Will the real god please stand up?

 

 

Generational Curse

 

I know this must have been a problem for some of the early writers of scripture because they came up with a competing view of sin and suffering that addresses the problem of shedding innocent blood, though it did not solve it.  There had to be the possibility of innocence or there could be no shedding of innocent blood.  In stead of original sin, some opted for generational curses.

 

“Never have any other god. Never make your own carved idols or statues that represent any creature in the sky, on the earth, or in the water. Never worship them or serve them, because I, the Lord your God, am a God who does not tolerate rivals. I punish children for their parents’ sins to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” (Ex 20:3-6 GWORD)

 

“Then he passed in front of Moses, calling out, “The Lord, the Lord, a compassionate and merciful God, patient, always faithful and ready to forgive. He continues to show his love to thousands of generations, forgiving wrongdoing, disobedience, and sin. He never lets the guilty go unpunished, punishing children and grandchildren for their parents’ sins to the third and fourth generation.”” (Ex 34:6-7 GWORD)

 

“The Lord is slow to wrath and great in mercy, overlooking wrongdoing and evil, and will not let wrongdoers go free; sending punishment on children for the sins of their fathers, to the third and fourth generation” (Num 14:18-19 BBE)

 

“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Deut 5:8-10 NIV)

 

Again, this is a very clear teaching.  There is no way to interpret it to mean anything other than what it says.  God was a big proponent of the generational curse.  I read somewhere that the bible considers a generation to be about forty years.  I usually think of a generation as twenty years: the amount of time it takes for a person to grow up and have children of her own.  Regardless of how you count generations, 80 to 160 years of offspring is a long time to suffer for the sins of a relative you never met.

Theoretically, this means that someone could be innocent until they sinned.  By doing so, they would only foul things up for the next few generations.  After that, the bloodline would be pure again.  In practice, though, this could never be the case.  The reason is because everyone sins.  As sinners, everyone becomes an enemy of god.  As long as a person has even one progenitor in the previous three generations who sinned against god, that person is still under a curse.  It is a cycle that never ends.  Therefore, even with generational curses, there can still be no innocence in the world.

 

 

Suffering Sinner

 

The third view of sin is, if not the most common, perhaps the most satisfying.  It closes the loophole on the suffering of the innocent once and for all.  In this solution, we are not held accountable for the sin of Adam, nor are we held accountable for the sins of our fathers.  In the formulation that I call the suffering sinner solution, we are held accountable for our sins, and our sins only.

 

“Why do you quote this proverb concerning the land of Israel: ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, but their children’s mouths pucker at the taste’? As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, you will not quote this proverb anymore in Israel. For all people are mine to judge—both parents and children alike. And this is my rule: The person who sins is the one who will die.

“Suppose a certain man is righteous and does what is just and right. He does not feast in the mountains before Israel’s idols or worship them. He does not commit adultery or have intercourse with a woman during her menstrual period. But the father will die for his many sins—for being cruel, robbing people, and doing what was clearly wrong among his people.

“‘What?’ you ask. ‘Doesn’t the child pay for the parent’s sins?’ No! For if the child does what is just and right and keeps my decrees, that child will surely live. The person who sins is the one who will die. The child will not be punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child’s sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behavior, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness.” (Ezek 18:2-6, 18-20 NLT-SE)

 

This represents a shocking about face in policy for a god who is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.  Did god hear the cry of his people who declared his previous ruling unjust?  Did god see the error of his ways and amend the law so that it would be more fair?  Did some man invent scripture in the name of the lord so that he could be viewed as just?  I have actually heard it stated that the above passage does not represent any type of change whatsoever.  That is how god always dealt with sin.  That is just pure and simple denial.

Notice the progression.  First, we are punished for sin just for being born a sinner into a sinful world.  Innocence is not possible.  Next, we are only punished for sin on a limited generational basis.  We are still held accountable for the sins of others, but only those of our ancestors.  However, because sin happens more than just once every four generations, the curse is still perpetual.  Finally, we are held guilty for our own sins only.  Our ancestors may be damned, but we will still be saved as long as we live according to gods decrees.

To fully understand why this very appealing doctrine of sin and suffering fails so miserably, you must consider the other side of the coin.  People of the bible were not just seeking answers to why we suffer; they were also trying to figure out why we prosper, and how to do more of it.  The children of Israel, like all people, went through periods of great suffering and great prosperity.  In formulating theories of sin and suffering, they were also formulating theories of righteousness and reward.  Both sides of the equation had to equal out or the equation was no good.

Consider the original sin formula.  The universe has experienced a great fall and everything in it suffers the consequences.  This is unfair, not just because their is no possibility of innocence.  It is unfair because some people actually prosper in the fallen universe.  There was an explanation for suffering but there was no explanation for why people prospered.  More to the point, there was no way to figure out how to get on the prosperity side of the equation.

Although generational curses were only a slight modification to original sin, the flip side of the coin was very different.  God cursed to the third and fourth generation.  But for those who were faithful to him, he blessed a thousand generations.  This explanation meant that no one could keep a scorecard and predict who should be blessed and who should be cursed.  You might see a good person being cursed but reason that his ancestors were wicked, therefore, it was fair.  You might see a wicked person being blessed but you figure that he is being rewarded for the righteousness of his ancestors.  This theory answered both why we suffer and why we are rewarded.  It just did not allow one to keep track.

We probably would be using that formulation today if not for the nagging question of how one breaks the generational curse.  Those who were prospering were pretty happy with the explanation because it meant that they came from a faithful and pious lineage.  If your child becomes ill, everyone starts wondering what you did wrong.  In any event, there was no way to escape the curse.

Enter the suffering sinner solution.  This formula addressed all three problems.  The soul that sins is the one that dies.  There is a one to one ratio between sin and punishment.  Repent, and the punishment was lifted.  There is a one to one ratio between repentance and forgiveness.  Live righteously and prosper.  There is a one to one ratio between righteousness and prosperity.  You can see why this system is so appealing.  It is immune from any claim of unfairness or unpredictability.

The system seems so perfect, you may wonder why it was not implemented in the first place.  I suspect that you do not read about this type of system earlier for the same reason it fails today.  It is like the weather man who says that it will be blue skies and sixty-five degrees all day, yet you look out of your window and see grey skies and torrential rain.  The suffering sinner solution does not work because it is demonstrably untrue.

Just look out of your window and you will quickly see what I mean.  Bad things are constantly happening to good people.  Good things are constantly happening to bad people.  And repentant people are still paying for their sins.  In no area of experience does the suffering sinner scenario hold true.  Good and competent workers get their retirement funds stolen by evil bosses before they get unjustly fired.  People who eat healthily, exercise regularly, and do not smoke or drink get fatal diseases.  Frugal people who save their money wisely and spend it sparingly get wiped out by economic downturns.

Fame, power, and prosperity often come to the untalented, the corrupt, and the lazy.  Lifting of curses are seldom observed.  The drug addict who is truly repentant and on his knees in prayer daily still wakes up the next morning as addicted as he was the day before.  The depressed in Christ, still need as much Zoloft as the depressed atheist.  The suffering sinner solution announces that life is fair.  The one thing that just about everyone can agree on is that life most definitely is not fair.

The only reason this theory has survived for so long is that we want it to be true.  If there is a loving and just god who watches over every aspect of our lives, then it must be true on some level, even if it is a level we cannot see or experience.  An oversimplification of the message of the prophets to the Israelites was a form of the suffering sinner theme.  If you disobey god, you will suffer.  If you repent, god will forgive you and lift your suffering.  If you do right, he will reward you.  The prophets had some success with this message, but it ultimately failed because it just did not align with experience.  What they needed was a new formula.