Too often people pick up the Bible with an eye towards judging its, weighing it against what we believe, or want to be true. But in reality, we are judged by the Bible. How can we be judged by a mere book? The answer is the Bible is no mere book. The Bible, unlike other religious texts is not simply a moral guide, or a set of doctrines. The Bible is God. The Bible is Jesus Christ. There is an incarnational quality to the Bible that must not be denied. What we read as moral rules in the text are in fact direct revealed moral orders, order here being used in the sense of an ordered system. When we remember that we are people of the Book, we need to recall that that book is a living thing itself, not an icon of a distant god, but god incarnate in the narrative. When we read of the various relationships in the Bible we are deep reading THE relationship between man and God. Deep reading here is meant to convey something beyond comprehensive reading, it is experiential reading, reading so deep that we become the story and the story becomes us. For this reason when are called to live in Christ we are being called to live in the story of the Bible.
Many people, in fact most people, including Christians find it difficult to live the so called Christian lifestyle. And indeed there is nothing more difficult than to live striving towards holiness. That is where grace comes in. We are to be sanctified, not to sanctify ourselves or our efforts. Does this mean then that people cannot or should not strive to live accordingly? No. Of course not. Simply because grace works in mysterious ways and the most recalcitrant heart can be brought to submission by the in breaking of grace into their lives. What this means is that people cannot live devoted to their own egos (or the service of other peoples egos) and also be capable of living a holy, grace filled life. There must be a moment when our commitment to self-interest gives way to our commitment to living a grace filled, holy life. There is nothing in the world harder to do because we are sinful beings by nature. This is why Jesus Christ had to become the atonement for our individual sins. He became the self-interest that we each embrace in our own ways while on the cross, and it was there on Calvary that our self-interest was conquered, through him. We have but to accept the grace that was meant to replace the hole that will be left when we abandon our self-interest.
With this in mind, Christians need to remember than when dealing with the recalcitrant heart in others, not to mistake it for being laziness or a desire not to practice self-control. Indeed self-interest requires tremendous self-control. I have always said of atheists (for example) that it takes tremendous willpower to choose every day to live utterly devoted to self-interest. While it is true that we are sinners, and that our nature is to show self-interest, it is more true that we were meant for something more. That something is Jesus Christ and in this we find our true self-interest, rightly aligned and in proper working order.
But what of the non-believer who does charity? Here is the thing, people can live for others and still be devoted to misaligned and malformed self-interest, as is the case for those who are not homosexual but who champion homosexual marriage on the grounds that people should be free to live as they please. This is nothing less than radical autonomy and ego run amuck. It is subverting truth, for the idea of self-interest, even as the self-interest serves someone else. The same can be said for people who while in a good marriage, seek to make divorce easier for others.
It is therefore a mistake to believe that those who do not believe, or who are hostile are lazy or lack self-control in a general sense. What they do lack is self-restraint, and I believe there is a difference between self-control and self-restraint.
Does GOD love unconditionally? No. And such an idea is contrary to what the Bible teaches. GOD’s love is a component of HIS holiness. Being perfectly holy GOD abhors that which does not strive towards holiness, which is why HE “hates” sin. Unconditional love is a nice greeting card sentiment, but it is a myth that has no basis in the Bible. Evil is never condoned for example, in a world of unconditional love then even sin would have to be tolerated and indeed loved equally to holiness. What is unconditional is the grace bestowed through GOD’s mercy. In other words “once” we are forgiven, sanctified, washed clean, born anew, or any of the other terms we might use then that forgiveness, that mercy becomes unconditional and irrevocable. BUT and this is very important, to be really forgiven means two things.
1: While we continue to sin, our desire to sin no more. This is where non-Christians see hypocrisy when they really only see human nature continuing despite a desire to be changed. The Christian continues to sin. Our fallen nature does not disappear once we commit to Christ.
2: While the result of Gods mercy is unconditional forgiveness, it is not freely given. We must want it, we must ask for it, and we must embrace it when it is given. God does not and will not save or forgive the unrepentant. GOD’s love is not the love a rapist, aggressive, angry and forced against our will. And on this Jesus Christ is in perfect accord with the Old Testament Prophets. For example, once we are “forgiven” then nothing we do can change that. It is not revoked. But this is not a license to then commit further sin. That is part and parcel of the antinomian heresy. This goes back to faith vs works. Faith is the only way to salvation. Works won’t cut it, but true faith is manifested in works, so while works do not equate to salvation, our faith is questionable if we are not driven to also do good works, just as the candle under a cover gives off no light, neither does the Christian who does not do good works give off the light of Christ.
- book of the Wars of the Lord (Num. 21:14);
- book of Jasher (Josh. 10:13; 2 Sam. 1:18);
- book of the acts of Solomon (1 Kgs. 11:41);
- book of Samuel the seer (1 Chr. 29:29)
- book of Gad the seer (1 Chr. 29:29);
- book of Nathan the prophet (1 Chr. 29:29; 2 Chr. 9:29);
- prophecy of Ahijah (2 Chr. 9:29);
- visions of Iddo the seer (2 Chr. 9:29; 12:15; 13:22);
- book of Shemaiah (2 Chr. 12:15);
- book of Jehu (2 Chr. 20:34);
- sayings of the seers (2 Chr. 33:19);
- an epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, earlier than our present 1 Corinthians (1 Cor. 5:9);
- possibly an earlier epistle to the Ephesians (Eph. 3:3);
- an epistle to the Church at Laodicea (Col. 4:16);
- and some prophecies of Enoch, known to Jude (Jude 1:14).
These books should not be confused with the documentary Hypothesis which states there are at least 4 Biblical authors who to varying degrees created the ancient Hebrew Bible, either from previous sources or out of whole cloth and with deliberate cultural agendas. Rather these lost books represent a narrative tradition that was at one time well enough known to the ancient Hebrew Bible audience that their mention would have been familiar and would have lent authority to the newly compiled Bible. The same is true for the latter books and letters that are mentioned in the New Testament including Pauls pre- 1st Corinthian letter, an earlier letter to the church at Ephesus, an epistle to the church at Laodicea and a possible prophetic work hinted at in Jude, though not explicitly named.
When we think of the idea of brooding we tend to think of images like Achilles brooding in his tent beneath the walls of Troy or of Abraham Lincoln and his well attested melancholic brooding through the White House during America’s Civil War. When used as an adjective this is a very apt definition, but it is not the only. In fact Farmers know of a different, fuller and richer definition by looking at the way a hen broods over her precious and utterly defenseless chicks, anxious and fierce. This is the word used as a verb. Now Jesus Christ is described in many different ways both symbolic and descriptive but a description that is used only once Conveys a sense of Jesus Christ’s human nature as it is mingled with the divine aspects of his being in way unlike any other. Jesus Christ is indeed very like a mother hen, brooding over his precious children.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you,
how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her
chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
Have you ever seen a mother hen gathering her wayward chicks under her wing? So it is with Jesus Christ, and we the chicks scamper about never knowing the dangers we face when outside of that protection. The chick that is lost to the roaming hawk is the chick who wandered away from the wing.
But there is still another way to use the word brood. Have you ever seen a large Specter haunted house sitting on a hill top, one that seems to fill up all the horizon, often seemingly larger than its actual size? We might say such a house broods on the hilltop. So it is with Jesus Christ to the faithful. Externally Jesus broods over his children like a mother hen, but internally, through the Holy Spirit his presence comes to brood over our whole being, taking up real space within us. This is why so many mystics and indeed any one of the faith in times of deep inner turmoil and crisis are prone to fits of melancholy. It is in these moments of deepest despair that we are most diminished. And in being diminished many parts of who we are and what we think we want are displaced. And though Jesus Christ fills up that void if we let him it cannot be denied that we pay a great price in ourselves for what we lose to make room for his presence. As it is said in Hebrews, and I wholeheartedly agree, that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God. But how much more fearful is it to have that Living God fall into your innermost being.
1: What Bible passages suggest melancholy or a brooding nature?
2: How did the different disciples respond to moments of inner turmoil?
Christianity is born in crisis. What I mean is that no one simply becomes Christian because they were already having great lives. They must first become aware that there is something wrong, and then that there are correctives. Remember that salvation is meaningless to the person who doesn’t know he or she needs to be saved. The Holy Spirit is not like some predator that strikes unawares. When the apostles felt the spirit descend it was only after they were broken and desperate, after their promised earthly king apparently failed and was put to death. I like to evoke it this way.. Christianity was born over three days of pain and uncertainty and of fear and anger and confusion. Later minds called this the dark night of the soul.
Quench: satisfy one’s thirst
Sate: satisfy (a desire or an appetite) to the full
It is true that most people accept the beliefs of their community but there are more than enough people who do not to make this general rule meaningless. Look at Christianity and how it moved across the world compared with say the beliefs of Polynesians. Or for that matter Islam or Buddhism. Religion as a secular concept answers a person’s inner needs. Think of it this way, everyone gets thirsty and thus need to have thirst *quenched, water is the most omnipresent (drink around, but not everyone needs to drink water in order to be merely *quench their thirst; you can drink wine, or soda, or juice, etc. BUT. And this is important, only water exists in a pure form as part of our natural environment. What’s more water is a foundation component of human biology. We are made of water and designed to run on water as if it were a fuel.
Spiritual emptiness is like thirst. When it gets hold of you no amount of “science” or rationale will *sate that thirst. So people turn to things that *quench their thirst only. Now, different people can *quench that thirst in different ways, drinking from the Christian gospel, or from the Tao, or from Sufi meditation or twirling or yoga, or what have you. These all serve to *quench thirst to some degree. But never all the way because these are all substitutes for the substance that is both natural and that we are made of to begin with, namely water.
For this same reason the idea that multiple gods can be true is logically absurd. Because all people come from the same source and are made of the same stuff and ultimately have the same core values and same core desires and motivations. Polytheism is then akin to a soda fountain, filled with sugary drinks that are appealing because they cater to a specific desire, but never actually and fully address the core need, which is spiritual thirst. They *quench but never fully *sate our thirst.
What can fulfill or *sate that core need? Only a single substance, one that occurs naturally, and that we are made up of, so we come back to water. Which by the way is why the Bible so often uses water imagery, from rivers to wells to describe exactly what I am saying here. But of course many other religions use similar imagery so we are left with this conundrum…
There is either a single agent by which our thirst can be *sated, or there are other agents that can at best only *quench our desires but never fully *sate our needs which is the same as to say there are no agents that fully*sate those needs.
Why do I accept the single source as opposed to no source or many sources? Simply because the thirst is very real. People may desire a thing that doesn’t exist, they may long for something that has never been seen, they might seek to become something they are not but a person will never actually suffer a thirst for something that they do not need in order to survive. An alcohol longs for a drink but does not need to drink alcohol. A drug addict seeks for a new, stronger drug but doesn’t need the drug. What’s more the alcoholic and drug addict are not made of alcohol or drugs. They are made of water and thus need water to survive, they need the single source that is both external and at the same time part of what they already are. That is what thirst is, both physical and spiritual thirst, needing to be refilled with a substance that is already a part of you but that for some reason has been depleted or displaced.
That is why I reject polytheism and embrace monotheism. But why do I accept God and not some other monotheistic deity? Two reasons, the first is personal. I simply find my thirst quenched through that particular source of water and not through any other source. I find many other substances to be sweet but none nourishing. The second reason is more complicated, but in a nutshell it is this. I call it the man in the desert motif… I have never run across a Hindu who fell to his knees desperately seeking communion with Kali. Nor have I ever encountered a Buddhist who passionately sought after comfort in the abstract ideal of that philosophy. Does this mean none exist? I won’t say that but in the end all people are motivated by the personal and not the abstract. We are creatures of community and so we sometimes must look for answers in communion with other people.
And that brings me to why I reject atheism…
Atheism is in a sense a form of polytheism, one that rather than claim many or all gods are valid instead makes the claim that no god is valid. This is an absolutist stance that demands two things…
1: That atheists have the only truth (which to be fair is a claim that is made by Christians)
2: That any personal experience that contradicts that absolutist atheistic truth must be rejected. In effect saying that your direct personal experience is invalid because I happen not to have shared in it.
Why can I so easily reject atheism? Because even though as a Christian I believe in a very particular idea about God, I value the beliefs of other people for what they are, attempts at alleviating their thirst. Though we share the same need, which is the source of that thirst, we seek alleviate in different ways. I happen to believe that through my religion people are &sated, while other religions people are only *quenched. But atheists rather than respect the thirst of another person, rejects that the other person has a thirst at all or if he does accept that thirst in someone else he ignores the value of having that thirst *sated, let alone *quenched. Now an atheist will argue that he is simply liberating other people from a false thirst, or perhaps will offer something entirely artificial and completely external as a substitute for a natural substance, i.e. science or pure rationalism. But in the end both of these are mere methods to diminish the value of the other person, and to minimize that other person’s thirst.
In this way atheism, though it claims to rooted in humanism is in fact very anti-humanist in its very structure. This is also why purely socialist forms of government MUST by default be atheist, because no individual experience or belief can ever be allowed to override the larger, subscribed truth. In other words, no individual thirst can ever be allowed to be *sated from an un-approved well. The old phrase religion is the opiate of the masses is in fact misaligned because atheism is the real opiate of the masses. It dulls the atheist’s senses towards the experience of his fellow man and sets his own experience as an absolute and not subjective reality. The difference is this… A Christian has an absolute reality that finds common ground in subjective experience, even the experiences of other faiths. That subtle difference is what matters most.
So I and billions of others around the world and throughout history share in the belief in a single God, Jew, Muslim and Christians and in that, though fundamentally different in doctrine, we are all brothers and sisters in a shared core faith making doctrinal issues less about religion and more akin to family squabbles from a very dysfunctional family. With those who subscribe to polytheism or indeed even agnosticism, akin to very distant cousins. Atheists on the other hand, being required to have a commitment to an absolute reality that does not allow for subjective experience is like unto a whole other species of man with no familial relation at all.
Now I will close by saying this. Every atheist on this forum will no doubt attack everything I have said, and probably do so at a very personal level, ignoring the fact that I have said nothing intrinsically negative about anyone’s expressed beliefs. Why will they do this? Because like I said, atheism is a philosophical stricture that demands absolutism to a single system and that must reject out of hand any subjective experience, i.e. the divine or supernatural is not real because I do have not experience the divine or supernatural.
And to be fair, there will no doubt be some Christians and maybe a Muslim or Jew or some other religious person here or there that will disagree with me because I dared to claim that we are all brothers and sisters in the same core faith. To you I say this… Before there was an Islam, before there was Christianity there was God as revealed to and through the Jews and before that revelation there was only people on different spiritual journeys listing to a source they did not fully understand, one that none of us fully understand. That is the core of our three shared faiths and of faith in general. I would suggest that rather than argue about the veracity of the core faith we would be better off confining the argument closer to home. I said above that this is like a family squabble and so it is. I now suggest that the key differences, while of tremendous, earth shattering importance amount to this, who is the right earthly representative, is it Jesus Christ, or Mohamed or is it a still pending Judaic Messiah? All that amounts to three brothers gathered at family table arguing over the father’s last will and testament. They each know that two brothers are illegitimate bastards, all three make their cases but the proofs of their claims rest on their claims themselves. The danger in this is that while only one brother can win out in the end and the other two must lose, if the argument is not kept constructive then all three brothers will end up killing themselves and their respective families but if things are kept constructive then there is at least a chance at reconciliation. And this brings me to my last point. As a Christian I am called to evangelize. It is part and parcel of the whole package, my marching orders you might say. But too often we lose sight of the reason for this by calling on salvation, without really understanding what that actually means. To be saved, to have salvation is nothing less than to be reconciled to God, and to be reconciled to God means to be taken back to that moment when there was no barrier between us and Him. So while many in overzealousness will offend I call on the person so offended to remember that what is happening is not a deliberate attempt to cause offence but an misplaced eagerness to offer reconciliation, or to put it this way, to pick up important items that have been falling out of your bag as you walk down the street and reconcile them to where they belong.
In this I know the core truth of my faith, I know that faiths limitations and though I know the limitations I find no weakness in them, but a firmer more resolved strength.