Thursday, 19 June 2008

God's love and Man's sin

This entry is a response to the discussion ensuing from a friend’s blog entry, to be found here. Be warned that this is a very long post.

There are several issues that bear looking at (from what I see):

1. Is there a 'holding place' for people who die the first death (pre-judgement)?
2. What is sin?
3. God and sin
4. What is hell?

Please do note that what I'll say here is my view, and it's cool if other people disagree. I may not necessarily change my mind, but I'm open to listen :)

With regards to issue 1 - is there a 'holding area' or 'holding space' for those who have already died prior to Jesus' return, to stay in wait for the Judgement Day? - I believe that there is not.

There are several reasons for this belief. Firstly, look at Jesus' statement to the robber next to Him on the cross: "Today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). We can only get to Paradise through the Judgement Day, and Jesus said that it would happen 'Today' (H4594 - this (very) day) . In saying this, I'm assuming that Heaven = Paradise = the new City = the new Heaven and Earth that God promises He will create after having destroyed the current one.

Secondly, a friend of mine's wife had cancer several years ago. I never knew her, but I've heard him tell the story. When she was pretty far gone with the cancer, she started talking about another lady who she could see. Often the two of them (the two ladies) would spend quite a lot of time together. Eventually one day, my friend's wife said to him "I now know who the other lady is! She's my glorified body, waiting for me to move into her. Jesus showed this to me." For this reason I believe that we go straight from our mortal bodies into our immortal bodies (and this goes for the believers as well as unbelievers).

Finally, and this follows on from the second, is the concept that God is out of time, while we are bound to time. This is not an easy concept to grasp, but I guess being a scifi fan makes it a bit easier. One of the teachings of God that resounds throughout scripture is that of His identity: I AM. This means that He IS today, yesterday, and tomorrow, not He is, was, and will be, but He IS. While we are bound by time, God is completely unbound, and is able to see the whole of time in one single instant. This is one of the reasons that we can truthfully say that 'the Kingdom of God is near', and that 'He is coming back soon', because, out of time, these sayings are the truth. In time, however, we've been waiting a very long time, in our terms. This understanding of things makes a couple of things easier to grasp, including Jesus' statement on the cross, "Today you will be with me'. He was talking in the robber's terms, not His own terms, and He does not lie to us. The minute we die, we are in our new, eternal bodies, and before the Judgement throne of God, with ALL peoples who are bowing the knee to our Lord and King.

Please remember that this is my understanding, and that it is by no means set in concrete. It simply makes sense to me, and if this is not the case, then Amen. God knows what He is doing, and I will not be upset if what I state here is not the whole truth. It is merely my limited, poor attempt to understand something that is not always very clearly spelt out in the Word of God.

Now I know that one of the references that we see later on in this comment speaks of the Angels being cast down into hell, and that hell will be cast into the eternal fire. However, if one looks at Strong's references, the translation of hell used in these instances appears to be more relevant to the concept of Hades, or wherever bodies go once the spirit has left them. It should not be linked to the second death. This is my belief.

Now, let's look at the second issue - what is sin? It's been previously discussed that God is love, and that love cannot be bought, not ever. Therefore God could not make us puppets who would simply follow His commands. The reason - He IS LOVE, and love necessarily needs to be reciprocal, and unchained. It must be freely given. He therefore necessarily had to give us a will, and freedom of choice. This is embodied in the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which was planted in the Garden of Eden. God then gave Adam and Eve a choice, in the form of a command. Do not eat from the fruit of this tree. They disobeyed God, and ate from the fruit. 1 John 3:4 says: "Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness." Or in other words, sin is disobedience to the law [of God]. This is why sin can be understood as 'disobedience' to God.

In the Bible, we are provided with the ten commandments (and later, the single, twofold command that Jesus gives us, which sums up the law), which are the covenant between the Jews (and all believers in God) and God. These are the 'if you love me you will do as I command' bit, and therefore, if we are not obeying these commandments (including love the Lord your God), then we are disobeying them. We are breaking the law. For sure, in Romans Paul describes the law as only able to show us where we are going wrong - it cannot save us, while God's grace can and does. But the old man, bound in sin, is not able to obey the law - and even if he/she did, the law could not save.

Something that may interest you is Strong's (G2288) elaboration of what the word 'death' means in the context of Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (KJV)

1) the death of the body
a) that separation (whether natural or violent) of the soul and the body by which the life on earth is ended
b) with the implied idea of future misery in hell
1) the power of death
c) since the nether world, the abode of the dead, was conceived as being very dark, it is equivalent to the region of thickest darkness i.e. figuratively, a region enveloped in the darkness of ignorance and sin
2) metaph., the loss of that life which alone is worthy of the name,
a) the misery of the soul arising from sin, which begins on earth but lasts and increases after the death of the body in hell
3) the miserable state of the wicked dead in hell
4) in the widest sense, death comprising all the miseries arising from sin, as well physical death as the loss of a life consecrated to God and blessed in him on earth, to be followed by wretchedness in hell

Thayer's lexicon indicates that death means 'the loss of spiritual life'. One question that of course arises is, what does this actually mean? I've been looking around on the internet to find out more about this, as I think it will be useful to understand this better. What I've found so far is the following paragraph:

"Salvation" in both the Old Testament Hebrew (YShWIaH and YShI) and the New Testament Greek (Soteria) actually means to "preserve life from perishing". The implication here is that without it our "life will perish". Romans 6:23 specifies "death" as a consequence of sin. John 3:16-18 links "receiving life unto not perishing" to "believing or trusting in Christ". It also links the negative: "being judged unto perishing" to "not believing or trusting in Christ".

accessible from here. For a further discussion on this topic, that document is well worth reading through. If that document becomes unavailable at any time, I have a copy of it, and you are welcome to contact me for it.

One thing that I find interesting in the couple of references that I have looked at in trying to answer the question of what the loss of 'eternal life' means is that no-one actually answers this. They instead focus on what eternal life and salvation are, and the obtaining of these. Perhaps it is not for us to understand these things, but rather to heed the warnings that Jesus very frequently gives us during his recorded time here on earth. This will be further discussed below.

Thirdly, let's look at God's relationship to sin. With these verses, I would like to show that sin and God do not go together - that God is Truth, and that no sin is found in Him or His offspring (all verses from the KJV, again ...).

1 John 3:9 - Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

2 Cor 5:21 - For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

This last is an important. My understanding of what it is saying is that, in Jesus (and be extrapolation, God), there is no sin. So perhaps instead of saying that ‘sin cannot be anywhere near God’, it is more correct to say that ‘there is no sin IN God’. Nevertheless, having said this, it cannot be argued that sin brings about a gulf between us and God, as exemplified in the following verse:

Isaiah 59:2 (NIV) - But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.

Although this is said to the Israelites, it can be applied to all of mankind.

Now to the final problem - that of what hell is.

One of Strong's references to Hell (G1067), as the word is used by Jesus and in the New Testament in general, states that:

"Hell is the place of the future punishment call "Gehenna" or "Gehenna of fire". This was originally the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where the filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned; a fit symbol of the wicked and their future destruction."

As mentioned, it's a good thing to consider the warnings that Jesus gives us concerning Hell (or the second death) (all KJV):

Mark 9:43 - And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:

Mark 9:48 - Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

Luke 12:5 - But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.

2 Peter 2:4 - For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;

Rev 20:4 - And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

This last quote is a very interesting statement. Needs some thought! But nevertheless, these quotes together create an image of a place of everlasting torment, as opposed to the everlasting life/relationship with God, and I do not believe that annihilation or 'a place where God isn't' are meaningful conclusions to draw from what is said in the Bible, when there are statements such as these, and warnings from someone who does not lie.

With regards to the angels who God has cast down into hell (2 Peter 2:4) - what I mean by 'eternal beings' is that, like us, they will exist forever, as servants of God. It is definite that the Godhead is an eternal being that we cannot fathom, and IS, while the angels are His servants, and minister to us, His children. Yes, they, like us, are created by God, but unlike us, they were before we were.

Having extracted all of these quotes, one must be careful to read these in the context of the whole Bible. And to this end, elsewhere in the Bible, it is stated that:

Acts 2:27 - Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

Jude 1:23 - And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.

2 Peter 3:9 - The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

This last is perhaps one of the most important verses in the Bible, because it underlines God's love for us, and puts Hell (or the second, spiritual death) into perspective.

So, in summary, what I have tried to discuss here is as follows. Firstly, the concept of a 'holding place' for souls until Judgement day. I do not believe that such a place exists, and have reason to believe that people who die are immediately transferred into their eternal bodies, and present at the Judgement Throne of God as described in Revelations.

Secondly, sin was discussed, and described as disobedience to the law of God. Also, following this, was the fact that sin separates us from God, and that there is no sin in God.

Finally, the concept of hell was discussed. It was found that while the scriptures speak of hell and paradise, it is clear that there is a destination past the judgement known generally as the second death, which is a lake of burning fire which Jesus warns us NOT to head towards. It was also made clear that God does not want any man to go to this place, but that our sin (disobedience to His laws) will send us there if we do not repent and turn back to Him.

Last of all, I would like to reiterate that I do not agree with taking verses out of context, which is why I say that each must be read in context of it's immediate chapter as well as the whole Bible, and that taking verses out of context only leads to misinterpretations of the scriptures. I have tried to stay true to the general message of the Bible here, and if it is felt that I have not, feel free to question me. Also, just remember that this is an understanding that I have developed based on what I have read in the Bible, and that while this is what I believe, if God does otherwise, that's fine by me. But this is what makes the most sense to me.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Trials and Wisdom

The passage from the Bible is James 1:2-8 - reproduced here for your info:

2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

Essentially, there's three questions that arise from this passage - but there are many more.

  1. What does it mean to be joyful in times of trial?
  2. What does it mean to lack wisdom?
  3. What does it mean by saying that we will be double-minded and unstable?
I really wish I had my reference on this first point, as it explained it SO well. It asked exactly what type of joy one should have (of course, the joy in knowing that God is still in control, as well as in the knowledge that one has eternal life), but under what circumstances. Should one be joyful BECAUSE of the trial? Should one be joyful IN SPITE OF the trial - brush it off? Should on be joyful once the trial IS OVER? However, looking at these questions and the text, it does not seem that either of these is correct. The text says that one should be consider it pure joy WHEN one receives trials BECAUSE our faith gets tested when we face trials, and when our faith is tested, we learn to persevere. Persevere in what? In our faith. Because we have faith that God is in control to the last, that our salvation WILL BE MADE COMPLETE in Him, and that we will spend eternity with Him. Only when we come to the end of our lives will we be made complete, lacking nothing.

Now here comes a problem. There are trials, and there are trials. Some of them we cause ourselves, but then others come about BECAUSE WE ARE CHRISTIANS. Not because of anything that we have done, but because Satan attacks us because of Him Who we serve.

Concerning the trials that are of our own creation; we plaster ourselves into corners, make mistakes, and walk down the wrong paths - all through choices that we make. However, God uses these opportunities to teach us - but we need to ask Him for His wisdom. It is only His wisdom that teaches us and enables us to get out of corners.

The trials that are NOT of our own creation, however, are there purely because of the One that we serve Who is in us. When this happens, one CAN be glad of the trial, because it means that we are worthy to be tracked down and attacked by Satan. It means we're doing the right thing, walking in God's will and able to be called His children, His heirs. These trials also need wisdom - to even SEE that this is why we are going through the trial, let alone how to deal with it.

Now, with regard to the double-mindedness and being tossed about by the waves, one can pretty clearly see where this comes in: that without the wisdom from God, we haven't got a clue what to do, and end up going nowhere with a lot of fuss and bother, whereas if we listened to Him and had faith that He would provide us with the wisdom that we need, we'd go places very quickly with little fuss.

Does God love us or not?

A question recently asked is: if God loves us, why would He send us to Hell. Here is my answer to this problem.

Firstly, God created us for the purpose of having a relationship with Him. However, love can not be bought, or commanded (to echo another blog entry), and therefore God HAD to give us freedom of choice; - do we obey, or do we disobey Him? Now note that the word Sin = disobedience [to God].

Secondly, God is HOLY. Therefore He cannot tolerate sin [disobedience] anywhere near Him. This is why He cast Satan and a third of heaven (eternal beings like God) out of heaven to roam on the earth.

Thirdly, Hell was NEVER created for us human beings. If you read the Bible carefully, you will see that it is the place for Satan and the demons, NOT us human beings.

The tragedy is that we believe that it was created for those of us who disobey God, rather than understanding that it was created for Satan, and that he doesn't want to go there alone - he is fighting to drag as many of us down with him as he can.

I've found that getting a grasp on this reality helps to put the whole heaven/hell thing into perspective - and this is why Jesus spends most of the gospel time (check this out, if you like) warning us that Hell is NOT a nice place ... because it wasn't made for us, and He'll do anything to save us (ie, die on the cross ....).

So it's not with any kind of joy or glee that God boots us off to Hell to join Satan because we disobeyed Him - it's with a breaking heart, because we are blinded [by Satan] from seeing that it's not where we're meant to go.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Risk-takers or Risk-getters

I was just reading a friend's blog, accessible here, in which he asks why the western world that makes us so pre-occupied with eradicating all risk"? I made the following comment against it, which I quite like, so am copying it in here:

I like that bit about the way that we work (and plan!) to eradicate risk. Sure, some of us are risk-takers, and others of us are less so - that's how we are made - but to eradicate risk? To eradicate risk is to live in a dreamworld (or a hypothetically perfect world) where there is no one (and no THING) else to change the status quo. Sorry guys, but this just isn't reality. Those of us who have houses and cars - these could be wiped out in a second. The same goes for medical aid, pension funds (storing up for the future rather than spending now), and all the other niceties that we try to make ourselves comfortable with. I once learned that when we get comfortable, God goes out of His way to make us UNcomfortable, so that we rely on Him, rather than on ourselves or the cushions that we have created to prevent a fall. So yep - let's plan to be surprised ... by God.

The Meaning of Christmas

Written in December 2004
This poem was written after watching a show on TV in England, which had several celebrities reciting the Nation’s favourite Christmas poems. They depressed me so much I set about to rectify the situation – this is the result ……

Year after year, as I look around,
There’s more and more lights, tinsel and sound.
People go shopping for presents galore –
‘Buy bigger, buy better, than years gone before’.

Sometimes I sit down, wonder and think,
Surrounded by wrappings, bought cards and ink –
‘Where’d it all start? What does it mean?
What e’er happened to the spirit unseen?’

What’s the meaning of Christmas? I really must ask!
To find out the answer is such a hard task:
From shopkeeper to milkman, newsreader to priest,
Not one of them knows, from West to East.

I seem to remember some stories of old,
Of Santa Claus, reindeer, and elves young and old.
Of Aslan the Lion, and the wicked White Witch,
Or, did I hear right, of Jesus the Christ?

These I have pondered, the old and the new –
Only one, out of all, stands out true –
Of Jesus the Christ, Saviour, Messiah,
The one whose forgiveness all man must desire.

The baby who to Virgin Mary was born
In a warm stable, ‘midst the hay and the corn;
The shepherds they came from their flocks with great joy
To worship and honour the Spirit-filled boy.

The Wise Men they came with their gifts from afar –
With gold, myrrh and frankincense, followed the star.
Likewise must we, with one accord,
Bow to our King, our Saviour and Lord.

For it is Christ who gives us the meaning
Of the brief season that has us careening
From shop to shop, and from kitchen to parlour,
Till all is gone from our energy and larder.

STOP! Take stock! Make time to think
Of the reason for all the wrappings, bought cards and ink –
The joy on the faces of those who receive,
And the gift that God gives to all men who believe.

Discovery of Nothing

A recent article published on News24 on 4 Oct 2006 discusses a recent discovery scientists made of ripples in the fabric of the universe. The article goes on to say that these ripples in the microwave radiation explain why the universe is lumpy, and concludes that this discovery adds to proof that the Big Bang Theory is correct.

The final statement made in the article is that Man needs to know his origins and his place in this world. The age-old question: "Why am I here?" This is the question I wish to consider in this article.

Why is it that we always ask the question, "Why am I here?" Why do we need to know our origins? The easy answer is that we have an inate desire to have the answer to these questions. We are questioning beings, and we look for answers to these questions. But the next question (if you excuse the repetition) to ask is, "Why do we have this desire to know?"

If scientists believe that the universe originated in a big bang, that life evolved out of a soup of atoms and chemicals, that everything is by chance, and that we, as Man, are no better than a small frog, then why do we have to know the reason why? There would be no reason for us to ask. We would just accept our place in the food chain of this world, and struggle for our existence alongside all the other animals that have evolved.

However, we do ask, and we do question. Therefore I would argue that our origins differ from the Theory of the Big Bang. That we are asking for a reason, and the reason is that we were made to ask questions. That we were made to need to understand our origins. I would suggest that the scientists should stop looking to the ends of the universe for the answers to questions which originate on Earth, and are to be found on Earth. Perhaps the answer is not as far-fetched as you think!

An Inconvenient Truth

I recently had the privilege of watching the documentary 'An Inconvenient Truth', which portrays Al Gore's presentation on Global Warming. It is an excellent presentation, and should not be missed - if only so that you can tell your grandchildren why you did nothing about global warming. The facts conveyed in it are undeniable, for a serious searcher of the Truth. All around us, we can see the signs of a world in trouble.

Over the past decades there have been many natural disasters - earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, typhoons, hurricanes, floods, droughts, storms. If one watches the news, however, it hits you that these are coming with increasing frequency. Not just more of one type of disaster, but almost daily there is a new occurrence of one or another disaster. All of these disasters are purported to be symptoms of the phenomenon Global Warming.

Even in my native country, South Africa, there is evidence of this turbulence closer to home. If you have been to the beach - especially along the Eastern Cape coast - you may have noticed some really stinky pink sponges. These sponges are evidence of a faulty sea ecosystem. They are the cleaners of the ocean - much like a vacuum cleaner, or filter - and are 'supposed' to be really deep down in the ocean, GLUED to rocks. But now, we find them washed up on a beach after a storm, stinking us out of the place. They are NOT supposed to be there. Rather, we should have seaweed. Has anyone noticed the lack of seaweed lately? Yep, we get these stinky sponges instead. THEY would appear to be almost all that's left along our coast - apart from kelp - and even they are not where they're meant to be.

Does anyone remember the movie, The Day After Tomorrow? I watched Al Gore's presentation, and I realised that, although the time frame in the movie is likely much reduced, it is based on none other than hard-core, scientific, FACT! OUCH! Something like that should make us think twice. But does it? Most of us are so busy with our lives, trying to keep pace with the important business of our lives, that we do not have time to spare a thought for the world we live in. And guess what - if it dies, we do to!

The Day After Tomorrow talks in the beginning of an iceberg bigger than the size of Rhode Island breaking off an ice shelf in Antarctica. Listen to this. The movie was released in 2004, four years after just that happened. Read the following, extracted from Wikipedia (for those of you who question the merits of Wikipedia, a fact is a fact is a fact):

Iceberg B-15 was the world's largest recorded iceberg, with an area of over 11,000 km² it was larger than the island of Jamaica. It calved from the Ross Ice Shelf in March 2000, breaking up into several pieces in 2002 and 2003.

For interest's sake, Rhode Island measures in at 3144 km squared, which is nearly a QUARTER the size of the iceberg.

In 2002, the Larsen B Ice Shelf disintegrated, following the Larsen A disintegration of 1995. Both of these events are attributed to global warming effects on Antarctica, where the temperature is rising by 0.5 degrees centigrade a decade.

So, do we have a problem, or do we have a problem?

All this is very well, and troubling - but there's an even greater, 'inconvenient' truth, that many people forget. Yes, some of you may have guessed what I'm getting at.

THERE IS A GOD OUT THERE - and He's coming BACK!!!

There was once a man who lived on this earth - somewhere around 2000 years ago. He lives in the Middle East, in and around Jerusalem. He said things that people had never heard before, and did things that people had never seen before. Lame people started running around. Blind people started seeing. Deaf people began to hear. Dead people came alive again. Sick people became well again. This man taught that we must each love our enemies. That we must stop disobeying his father, and that we must ask for forgiveness.

But what was even stranger - this guy seemed to know he was going to die. And he kept saying that he would only be dead for three days. He had twelve disciples, and none of them believed him. They told him off, in fact - something he didn't like. Then one day, when he had been talking to some person they couldn't see - someone who this man called 'Father' - one of the disciples, who had been given a huge amount of money, came up to this man, and kissed him. Suddenly there were Roman Soldiers everywhere in this peaceful garden, and they captured this man. They took him off to Jerusalem. They beat him, questioned him, and tortured him. None of the disciples could bear to stay around. They had believed in this man. He had done such great things. But now he was just another man, incapable of defending himself against these mighty soldiers.

Then the next day, the Roman Soldiers took him out to a hill outside the city. There were two other criminals with him, and they each dragged a cross to the hill. There, they were nailed onto the crosses, and stood up in the ground, for all to see. Naked and bloody, they stood there. This man, this had-been leader, and two criminals. This man must have done something really wrong to get himself nailed up there. But he didn't seem to really mind being there.

Then he said some really funny things. He said "Father, why have you forsaken me?", and then later, just as he died, he cried out "It is finished!" What is finished???

Well, that was the end of the story. He was taken down from the cross, and put in a tomb that one of the rich locals had said he could have. Then, three days later, one of the women who had been his disciple went to the tomb - but it was empty. An angel asked her why she was looking for the dead, because this man was not dead - he was ALIVE!

Over the next few weeks many people, including his disciples, saw this man. Suddenly they understood what it was that he had been saying to them for the last three years. Suddenly they realised that all that they had been taught was not in vain. Suddenly they realised that this life was not important - except to tell others what they had learnt. And what had they learnt?

That this man, who's name is Jesus, was God. That He had loved each person on this earth SO MUCH that, instead of staying in heaven, He came down to earth, to live amongst us, to show us the way to heaven. He came that the whole world may know, and believe, that He is the One who created the world, the universe, and each one of us. He came that the whole world may believe in Him. He came that the whole world may repent from their disobedience, and instead love and obey Him.

But - do we?

Are we really prepared to obey Him? Are we really willing to love Him? Are we really prepared to give up our lives - our cushy, material, earthly, lives - for obedience to Him? And what does this obedience require? In Luke 14:33b, Jesus says, "... any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple."

What does this mean?
Must we give up our possessions? Yes, if God wants it.
Must we give up our time? Yes, if God wants it.
Must we give up our friends? Yes, if God wants it.
Must we give up our family? Yes, if God wants it.
Must we give up our money? Yes, if God wants it.
Must we (gasp) give up our lives? Yes, if God wants it.

Are we prepared to do these any of these things? Are we prepared to make the greatest sacrifice - tell the whole world the GOOD NEWS: that Jesus had redeemed us for eternal life, and that to reject Him is the stupidest thing that we can do - at the cost of our own lives?

But why should it be at the cost of our own lives? Because people don't like to hear it. They don't want to know about Jesus, His death, His resurrection, and His redemption. But why?