Hell and Grace

The idea of judgement (eternal or otherwise) is rooted in the belief that God is Just, that Justice exists (right and wrong are real). The living may repent (learn) the dead may not. The downside is the wicked suffer in Hell forever (assuming we are eternal, which I believe follows from right and wrong being real. The logic of this is left as an exercise for the reader).

When you stop and think however, it seems that Eternal Damnation is an awfully steep price to pay. I mean, how many people does someone have to kill and how horribly do they have to suffer in the process to justify that killer suffering forever in Hell?  If you think about how long eternity is you must begin to wonder how anyone can really be bad enough for Hell? If it’s a matter of equity (justice) shouldn’t it take eternity to earn eternal damnation?

The flip side of this is that it should also take eternity to earn eternal blessedness (Heaven). Since we don’t have eternity to earn the eternal reward (and it seems most of us are better at earning in the other direction anyway) it should quickly become clear that we can’t earn it. If we can’t be bad enough for Hell we can’t be good enough for Heaven.

This is precisely what the Bible teaches. Men are not consigned to Hell or graced with Heaven because of how good or bad they are. Jesus Christ has earned Heaven for us all if we will believe it and accept it. The only line drawn between Heaven and Hell is the sacrifice of Jesus the Christ of God.

This is entirely consistent with a God of Love, as the One True God must be. The Righteous God of Love has made a way (The Way) for us, to do what we could not do on our own (in our limited lifetimes). But, like God, love cannot be forced it must be received, which implies it may be rejected.

If we will not accept (receive the gift) that God, as the only one who could, has earned us an eternity at the source of Faith, Hope and Love, then how can we get there? And if we can’t get there where else can we go? More to the point, how would that place be different from Hell?

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Faith works, but that may lead to a conundrum.

The fact that faith works is pretty well known. Medical practitioners have used this knowledge for centuries. Clinical studies of medications have routinely had to account for the impact of faith in their research. Some people see results even from a placebo. This is not necessarily bad and ideas and research concerning the beneficial impact of a positive attitude abound.

So we know our faith can have a positive impact in our lives, help us to overcome catastrophes, make us healthier and happier even better human beings, but can we have any assurance those benefits are not merely the side effects of a placebo?

I believe the answer to this question (like so many others) may be found in the Bible, and that answer is yes.

The Bible is among other things a book of histories. It tells the stories of people and places and the intrusion of the divine into the lives of men. These histories were written (even by conservative estimates) over the course of a millennium over two millennia ago. We are instructed in those accounts to remember. From Moses instructing the Jews to commemorate the day of Passover to Christ instructing his disciples at the Last Supper. We are to remember events that occurred in time and space when God intruded in human affairs. Our faith is based on the most significant of those events, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It does require faith to trust that because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, we are loved and accepted by the Holy Creator of the universe. That God did for us what we could not do ourselves.

But that faith is not a belief in ideas, it is a belief in events. We believe the accounts of things that happened as recorded by men inspired by His spirit.

It is one thing to discount the witness of a single person or even a relatively small sample of the population. It is quite another to discount a history of people expressing a common message over thousands of years.

A placebo has no power but belief, but Christian faith is based on the demonstrated power of God in history.

Posted in Christian, Faith, God

Why Faith?

Have you ever wondered why God requires faith?

It seems awfully convenient for someone to say we just need faith when we really need help and don’t see any coming from on high. When all we can do is echo the Psalmist’s cry, “Why do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”

Is it because there is no god there? If we accept that answer it means none of the things we anguish over the questions behind the question really matter.

Either man has a purpose (i.e. he is a created being) or he does not. If he has a purpose there is a creator. If he does not have a purpose the universe is just a machine. There is no good or evil in a machine, but neither is there hope or love. As long as we believe there are such things as hope, love, good and evil we must face the fact that the universe is not just a machine, man has a purpose (i.e. he is a created being) and there is a creator (God) who has defined that purpose.

A point of clarification may help. Faith is not just belief, faith is belief with trust. That’s the hard part. Consider the difference between conviction (i.e. something I am convinced of enough to inspire action) and faith (i.e. belief with trust). I am still in control with conviction, but I must yield control with faith.

It goes back to purpose and creation.

If God is good (and He must be), any purpose for His creation must also be good. Obviously mankind does not always behave in a manner consistent with a good purpose. This disconnect is referred to as “the fall” (though I prefer to think of it as “the rebellion”), and the events are described in the book of Genesis in chapter 3.

It says there the serpent told Eve, “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” That was not a lie, it was a half truth. We did become like God knowing good and evil, but we did not become like God knowing the end from the beginning.

As a result we are capable of judging (compelled to do so), but we are not competent for the task because we don’t have all the information.

It was the knowledge of good and evil that killed us all, but the rebellion is the root of the problem. The rebellion is what drives the compulsion to take the place of God and judge because we have the conviction we know what’s best (not to be confused with exercising our judgement to discern what God thinks is best – He gave us minds and we are supposed to use them).

When I raise my own understanding above the knowledge of God, I continue the rebellion and set myself as god and judge. Faith (belief with trust) is required to end the rebellion and it’s hard because it means I have to give up a confidence based on my own judgement/understanding and trust God for my assurance.

If we think about it there really isn’t any other way. Without faith I am rendered incapable to end the rebellion and relinquish my claim to the throne.

Rightly judging myself inferior to God still leaves me the judge.

It isn’t that God doesn’t care or is capricious with our cares. The righteous live by faith because they have too. It turns out we can’t submit to God, as God, without faith. If we can’t submit to God we can’t fulfill our purpose – to love Him and our neighbor as ourself.

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Work in Heaven

It occurred to me the other day that there will quite likely be work in Heaven.

This may be a great disappointment to some, so I should elaborate.

Our God, the Creator God (and there can be only one), has that attribute of creativity and the power to make it so.  There is an effort to make something, and to make it good (See Genesis 1), there is also great satisfaction in it. If you are reading this obscure blog you are probably a blogger yourself and appreciate both the work and satisfaction of writing.

Any job, from low (pick the one you find most demeaning – priest, ditch digger, politician, lawyer, your own) to high (pick the one you find most inspiring – priest, ditch digger, politician, lawyer, your own) has the potential to satisfy as the result of work, the creative process.

It occurs to me that this is a Good Thing (once again I refer you to Genesis 1) and is therfore part of the quality of life in Heaven.

If you find this idea disconcerting then please read John 14:2 (…many mansions…) and take heart.

P.S. If you are a writer with time on your hands (and why else would you be here?) I highly recommend The Mind of The Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers. Her insight into the Trinity and the Word of God is inspired ( <– carefully chosen word).

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Judgement and examination

1 Corinthians 4:3 – “… I do not even judge myself.”

2 Corinthians 13:5 – “Examine yourselves…”

Examination and judgement are not the same. In court examination is done by the lawyer then judgement is passed by the judge.

In some sense examination offers the hope of correction while judgement concludes the matter.

As we walk with Christ, the Son of the living God, I think it is important to remember these distinctions, both towards others but just as importantly toward ourselves.

We must examine ourselves lest we become complacent or run off the tracks.

When we start to judge ourselves, then we have fallen into the snare of the enemy and are doing his job for him.

Revelation 12:10 – “…he who accuses them before our God day and night.”

What good can come of that?

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Which is easier?

Matthew 9:5 (NIV) Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?

It occurred to me the other day that I always treated this comment by Christ to the Pharisees as kind of a throwaway line. Like it was really more difficult to say “get up and walk” with the miracle behind it rather than to just forgive the sin.

“just forgive the sin.”

I realized what others have known for millennia, Christ knew just exactly how hard it was to say, “Your sins are forgiven.” since “for this reason” He came.

So yeah, it was way harder to go to Calvary than to do a miracle.

But I couldn’t leave it there. I kept mulling it over in my head and it occurred to me that man is approaching the ability to do some of those miracles, like giving the lame the ability to walk again, or to enable the blind to see. This is truly awesome and a wonderful thing.

But we can’t even begin to say, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Oh some will argue that psychologists have been doing this for years, but not really. They may be able to help deal with the guilt, but they can’t cleanse the soul.

What Jesus did on Calvary, and what God sealed with the Resurrection was bonafide sin forgiveness. Wiping away the guilt and regret, really and truly giving us a way to know we have peace with God. Not the hope that if we are good enough, or try hard enough the mistakes we make and have made will somehow be outweighed by our efforts. He gives us the Hope that God through Christ has made a way for us, the way for us, to finally be free from the vicious cycle of failure and disappointment.

Not that we never fail again, but we need not be condemned by it.

And that freedom transforms us, making us the people we have always wanted to be, secure, confident and satisfied, knowing that we are His children and he is watching over us.

That is a miracle indeed.

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Contradictions in the Bible

I classify Biblical contradictions into 3 categories; contradictions of account, contradictions of interpretation and contradictions of concept.

The Bible is not just a book of religious wisdom and insight, it is also a work of history. As such it is liable to the accusation that it is inaccurate in its account of events. These would be contradictions of account.

As it turns out contradictions of account are really hard to establish. The number of people who actually have put in the time and study of history, anthropology, language and the Bible itself is small enough that it is highly unlikely you are one of them. Furthermore those who have, regardless of which side of the fence they start from, bring their own prejudice and (scholastic) reputations to the endeavor. As a result most of us have at best, third and fourth hand knowledge of the context or details around any contradiction of account and multiple differing opinions from experts in the field.

These disagreements (among qualified individuals) do not generally change the story. For example there isn’t disagreement in the accounts that Christ was crucified (public verifiable death), buried and then appeared to many. So the evidence for contradictions of account often depend on the baggage carried to the investigation.

The next type of contradiction is a contradiction of interpretation. The best way to explain what I mean is to use an example. Consider the exchange between Satan and Christ in Matthew 4. Satan quotes Psalm 91 to Christ, who quotes back Deut. 6:16. Both are scripture, so is there a contradiction? Why did Deuteronomy trump the Psalm?

As a friend of mine explains, “the Bible is not a spell book.” Which is not to say we can’t or shouldn’t claim the promises of God. It is to say, however, that you cannot control God through His words any more than you can control Him through His love. This is a contradiction of interpretation rooted in our misunderstanding of who God is. Christ’s response to Satan’s temptation is to clarify just exactly who is on the throne. When we stop and think about it even a little it becomes obvious we cannot manipulate God, and if we understand who He is we would not want to. Contradictions of interpretation are particularly common around passages like John 14:14 or Matthew 21:21. So common in fact they came up in James 4:3. A clear understanding of this point can be elusive.

The last type of contradiction is the contradiction of concept. These are in fact logical contradictions. The idea that eternal God could come in the flesh and die is a contradiction. It is a fundamental aspect of God that He is infinite and it is a fundamental aspect of man that he is not. Salvation, prayer, the Bible itself are all contradictions to the way we imagine things could, would or should be. I Corinthians 2:14 says it best, these things are foolishness.

The last contradiction of concept is, this foolishness works. It comforts the broken, strengthens the weak, overcomes the strong, cleanses the heart, stimulates the mind and satisfies the soul. The fact this works comforts me and strengthens my faith. Think about it, if this were a contrivance of men, it would be rational at a human level. The fact that it only makes sense within the framework of a faith submitted to Him testifies of its divine origin.

And why not? Isn’t it perfectly logical that the foolishness of God would be wiser than men? In fact how could it be otherwise?

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