Archives For christianity

flickr: Jack Newton

flickr: Jack Newton

 

The Easter season is upon us and the focus is often resurrection, Easter egg hunts, and spring. One thing that really isn’t looked at, though, is death.

We, as a society, avoid everything to do with death that we can, even trying to fight age. It is desirable in our society to look youthful and alive. Anything less, and it is deemed undesirable. We fear growing old because it means we are approaching death.. and we fear death because it is unknown territory to us.

Life is but a dream.

We all heard the nursery rhyme as children… “Row row row your boat, gently down the stream.. Merrily, merrily.. Life is but a dream.”

What if that is the case? What if life is just a dream? What if, when we pass away from this life, we go on to another plane or we return home to where we were originally?

What if, when we pass away, we awake?

Death and Easter.

People use spring and this Eastertide as a form of celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, if they are Christian, Pagans celebrate the return of the light and the season of fertility, and, if you are nonreligious, it’s generally about spending time with family, enjoying the lovely weather, and having Easter egg hunts. <*DISCLAIMER* If I have missed a religion, I’m sorry. Christianity and Paganism are the two that I have the most knowledge of that celebrate this season. If there are any others, please please feel free to send me a message or let me know in the comments!>

People do not look at the death that had to occur for the rebirth or resurrection to happen. They avoid that like the plague and instead focus on the renewal of life. Which is fine. But death, whether we like it or not, is a part of life, and should take more of a central part in the celebration of this season.

Why?

As with all things, life comes in seasons. With even the most gentle breeze, that season can become another. Death is but a season ending upon this plane and allows us to pass to the next. Perhaps, death is not even a passing way.. but an awakening.

When the resurrection occurs or a rebirth happens, the person or figure is said to be more beautiful and stronger for it. The reason for that is because they have been made new. They have been recreated.

They have awakened from the dream and can now see with sharper eyes and comprehend with clearer intellect.

The Nature of Death.

The nature of death is an awakening, a shedding of the illusion. Death and life are opposites, but go together. Perhaps they are in an ever infinite loop, one bringing the other, on and on and on.

This Eastertide, think on that. Think on the way life is but a dream, the way that death could very well be an awakening. Life is a journey.

 

  • “We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love… and then we return home. “
    ABORIGINAL PROVERB
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In my last series of posts, I explored the concept of idolatry, and how we are still guilty of this sin today.  While I was writing this series, I had intended to write a post exploring the concept of meditation.  I had not thought at the time that this was related to the idolatry concept, but now that I sit down to write this it seems entirely appropriate to me.  I hope by the end of this post you will understand why.

 

Oh Mark, this will always be my favorite picture of you...

Oh Mark, this will always be my favorite picture of you…

 

But first, let’s ponder the suspicious and sometimes fearful attitude Christianity (at least of the American variety) seems to have towards meditation.  Our favorite icon of the raging fear version of Christianity, Mark Driscoll (pictured above), believes that “yoga is demonic”, and that signing up for a yoga class is “signing up for a little demon class.”  Additionally, back in June of 2013, a prominent political candidate for Virginia Lieutenant Governor named E.W. Jackson made news for his comments on the subject of meditation, wherein he said:

The purpose of such meditation [speaking of Maharishi Yoga] is to empty oneself. [Satan] is happy to invade the empty vacuum of your soul and possess it. Beware of systems of spirituality which tell you to empty yourself. You will end up filled with something you probably do not want.

I find this a curious statement, especially considering that he did not bother to back up his views with any reasoning or proof whatsoever.  But I especially find it curious that what both figures took issue with was this idea of “emptying yourself”.  Why is this such a problem for some people?

Kenosis

empty-288x300Actually, what’s really interesting is that the Bible has a lot to say about “emptying oneself.”  In Philippians 2:6-11, Paul makes an interesting point – he states that though Jesus was in very nature God, he emptied himself.  The word used here is “kenosis“, and it is a self-renunciation – a transcendence of ego.

Paul states that it is because of this kenosis that God exalted Jesus – because Jesus was humble he was made great.  This is in keeping with statements of Jesus such as Matthew 20:26, where Jesus says that whoever wants to be great must be a servant.

And in John 13:1-7, Jesus performs what would have culturally been considered to be the lowest act a servant could perform, and then tells his disciples that since a student cannot be greater than his master, they must also humble themselves.

Additionally, we can think of the idea of being “crucified with Christ” (see Gal. 2:20 for one example) as a metaphor for this act of kenosis.

The idea of “emptying ourselves” is that in order to love another, we have to transcend ego.  And so we need ways to step outside of our ego and minimize it.

Meditation is a practical way of seeking kenosis.  It is a practical way of seeking to take up our cross daily (see Luke 9:23)–crucifying the ego.  It is taking the time to sit down and stop the relentless flow of our chaotic minds.  And it is a practice of training our minds so that we can change the way we deal with the world.

Because all too often it seems that people lose control of themselves. They are controlled by their biases, their desires, and their emotional states.  So meditation is a way of training yourself to overcome this harmful state.  By entering into silence, we crucify the ego, and Gal. 2:20 tells us that when we do this it is no longer we who live, but Christ living in us.  Likewise, Rom. 8:26 tells us that even though we do not know how we ought to pray, the Spirit prays through us.

What is Meditation?

For a Christian, the practice of meditation begins by recognizing the ineffable nature of the infinite God.  The Christian practitioner recognizes that all our language about God – however close we come to the truth – is inadequate, incomplete, and thus partially incorrect.  And so Christian meditation begins at this point, and in response seeks to simply quiet the mind and rest in the silence of God.

lake-meditationIn meditation, the practitioner spends a certain period of time relaxing their body and mind.  Meditation is, in essence, practicing a time of deliberate peacefulness.  In order to achieve this state of peacefulness, though, you must train yourself to empty your mind of the chaos that is normally there.

Most meditative practices will start with focusing on your breathing – the technique is usually to take a deep 3 second breath in, and exhale for the count of 4 seconds.  There is a science behind this–the longer exhale time helps to relax the body.  What’s interesting about this practice of focusing on the breathing is that in both the Hebrew and Greek scriptures, the word that is often used for “Spirit” has the same double meaning–in Hebrew, the word ruach is used and in Greek, the word is pneuma: both words can also mean wind or breath.

So if you think along these lines, you can mediate on the idea that each breath is an active expression of the presence of the Holy Spirit–breathing in, the Holy Spirit nourishes our body, and when we breathe out we are taking part in pouring out the Spirit into the world.

Now, once again the goal is to be able to reach a state of peace where our mind dwells in silence, and in my own practice (and I am admittedly a beginner), I have found an empty mind to be somewhat impossible to achieve.  I am not sure anyone has actually accomplished a complete state of emptiness.  But rather, what you begin to notice as you shut off outside influences–by closing your eyes, breathing deeply, and practicing in a quiet place–is that your mind is normally in a chaotic state of constant thoughts that fly off in many directions at once (no unity of thought, but rather there are many rabbit trails).

For me, this really began to bother me.  I thought “why is it so hard for me to just stop thinking?  Why is it that thoughts seem to fly into my mind unbidden?  It seems almost as if I have no control of my own mind!

One of the things I learned quickly is that rather than simply trying to stop thinking, it was better to try to focus my thoughts on one, very simple thing.  Before I began a session, I would pick a phrase to focus my thoughts on, and in my mind I would repeat this phrase slowly and deliberately–attempting to shut out anything else.  This is known in meditative practice as a mantra.

A Christian practitioner might wish to take a simple phrase straight from the Bible for this purpose–I suggest looking to the Psalms.  For myself, I felt that the phrase “Be still, and know that I am God”, from Psalm 46:10, was appropriate.  Another possible Biblical mantra could be “God is love” (see I John 4:8 and 16).

The mantra should not be too complex, or you will become wrapped up in trying to remember it and the state of peacefulness that is the goal of meditation will never be reached.  Meditation, for the Christian, is meant to be a form of prayer where the practitioner rests within the mystery of the infinite God–where one realizes the inadequacy of words and concepts and simply releases these to God.

Thomas Merton wrote in “Thoughts in Solitude“:

In meditative prayer, one thinks and speaks not only with his mind and lips, but in a certain sense with his whole being. Prayer is then not just a formula of words, or a series of desires springing up in the heart – it is the orientation of our whole body, mind, and spirit to God in silence, attention, and adoration. All good meditative prayer is a conversion of our entire self to God.  One cannot then enter into meditation, in this sense, without a kind of inner upheaval. By upheaval I do not mean a disturbance, but a breaking out of routine, a liberation of the heart from the cares and preoccupations of one’s daily business.

The idea of focusing our thoughts is completely Biblical–for example, in Philippians 4:8, Paul instructs his audience:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

When I first began practicing meditation, I could rarely keep my concentrated thought going for very long before other thoughts would creep in.  But another thing I learned fairly quickly is to quietly, peacefully say “no” to these thoughts.  In my first sessions, the thoughts that crept in would bother me, but I learned that becoming upset does not help the process.  So it is better to simply realize that this is part of the process of training your mind, and to train your mind to notice this happening and to quietly redirect your thoughts back to the mantra.  Over time I began to notice my stray thoughts faster, and would keep the mantra going for longer before I would lose my concentration.

monk-praying-sunsetI should mention that there are many different forms and practices for meditation.  Often, there are guided classes where a teacher will ask the students to visualize various images in their mind.  Sometimes, the act of grasping individual beads in a string (a rosary) is used as an aid for concentration.  Peaceful, simple music can also be used to aid in enhancing the mind’s ability to concentrate–I have personally found Tibetan singing bowls or Native American flute to be very helpful to this effect.  The goal of these practices, however, is always the same: meditation is for training the mind to be able to control its own thought processes and rest in silence, rather than becoming controlled by our thoughts and emotions.

Over time, one who has been practicing meditation begins to notice their emotions and is able to analyze them and care for them, rather than being reactionary.  And as a practitioner of meditation grows, they should be able to carry out the practice in more difficult environments, so that even while walking down the street they could concentrate more effectively on quieting the soul.

The History of Meditation in Christianity

Now, I’d like to take a moment to discuss meditation in Christian history, because it seems that in many Christian environments, this history has been lost.  Far too many people are simply ignorant of the fact that meditation has a long and rich history within the faith.

Historians have traced meditative practices to the Jews of “Merkavah-Heichalot” mysticism, who lived during the Tannaic time period (10-220 CE).  These mystics sought elevation of the soul using meditative methods built around the Biblical account in Ezekiel, as well as the creation accounts.  Additionally, some scholars (Marcus Borg among them) believe that the Essene community of Judaism during the time of Jesus practiced meditation, and argue that Jesus would have been part of this tradition–pointing to his time in the desert or his prayer all-nighters (see Luke 6:12) as evidence that he must have practiced meditative prayer.

Within Christianity, the practice of meditation was taken up by monastic traditions in the Middle Ages. In the Western Benedictine tradition, the tradition of Lectio Divina grew out of Origen’s views (from the 3rd century) of Scripture as sacrament.  St. Benedict (480-543 CE), the founder of this tradition, practiced slow, thoughtful reading of scripture in order to carefully ponder its meaning–which he called lectio divina.  In the early 12th century, this tradition was re-emphasized by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.  Additionally, Guigo II, a Carthusian monk, formalized a progression of Bible reading, to meditative contemplation of the text, to responsive prayer, to a quiet stillness in the presence of God in his book “The Ladder of Monks”.

hesychast-korolevIn the Eastern traditions, hesychasm (meaning “stillness, rest, quiet, silence”) was practiced.  This tradition grew from a reading of Matthew 6:6 where Jesus instructs those who pray to enter into a secret place.  The monks of these eastern traditions would also seek to practice “constant prayer”, and during their private periods of hesychasm would seek to cease registering the senses in order to enter such a deeply secret place that they would be found only in the presence of God.

This practice began with Evagrius Ponticus in the late 4th century, and influenced the writing of John Climacus’ book, “The Ladder of Divine Ascent”, in the 7th century.  Additionally, Eastern traditions would practice the repetition of the Jesus prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner”) as a meditative mantra.

These two practices–lectio divina and hesychasm–were both revived by various figures of the church at various points throughout its history.  A version of lectio divina was even practiced by John Calvin in the 16th century.  But it seems as though one of the results of Martin Luther’s reformation–empowering the common man and de-emphasizing authoritative traditions–was the loss of the meditative traditions to the Western world.  Today, it seems as though a large portion of Christendom is largely unaware that meditation was ever even a part of the faith.  As such, many Christians who hunger for such a practice end up turning to the meditative traditions of other faiths such as Yoga or Buddhist meditation.  I, personally, have no problem with this and believe that turning to these other traditions may serve to build bridges between our faith and these others.  But one of the unfortunate side effects is that it seems that often, those who end up turning to other traditions to fulfill these needs will end up leaving their Christian roots.  And so perhaps it would be helpful to remind ourselves of the deep tradition within our own faith in order to appreciate this practice and reintegrate it.

As this article does not intend to be a comprehensive study on the history of meditation in Jewish or Christian practice, at this point I would like to move on to some of the science of meditation.

The Science of Meditation

Science has begun to study meditation and it’s health effects with great interest.  In order to begin comprehending the effects, I believe it is necessary to understand what EEG measurements have found when examining subjects who are practicing meditation.  An EEG measures the wavelengths, or frequencies, of various brainwaves.  A normal EEG will look something like this:

eeg typicalAs you can see, there does not seem to be any coherence between the various waves.  In contrast, when measuring the brainwaves of subjects during meditative practice, the observed effect is a coherence between the wave patterns:

High EEG CoherenceStudies have shown that this higher coherence is associated with more effective thinking, higher creativity, emotional stability, and the ability to reason ethically.  In addition to the higher coherence of the brain waves, studies have shown that during the process of meditation, EEG activity begins to slow–the internal chatter dies down.  This has also led to the discovery that subjects who practice meditation experience less anxiety and stress–studies have even shown that meditation can help with addiction and eating disorders.  As the EEG waves slow down, the heart rate and functions begin to relax as well–which leads to other health benefits.  Some research has even shown that meditation can lower blood pressure, increase immunity, reduce cellular inflammation, and many other benefits.  And the studies on how meditation physically alters that brain itself have been astounding–the lateral prefrontal cortex (the frontal area, or assessment center) become thicker (just as muscles grow when they are exercised) while it seems that the connections to the fear center of the brain decrease.

It is important to note that this article only seeks to introduce the reader to the scientific studies being done in this area–I would encourage those who are interested to look into the many articles that are available on this subject.  My hope is that the mere introduction of this science, in correlation to the spiritual principles and history, will cause a greater interest in the subject within my readers.  Once again, I will note that I am only a beginner in the practice–but even so, I can testify that I have already begun to notice its benefits on myself.

Don’t Should On Me!

Brett Gallaher —  January 20, 2014 — 5 Comments

Port-O-Potty-e1381947235468

So I went to see an R-rated movie the other day. Well, first I sat through the forty-five minutes of commercials about buying the giant discount popcorn bucket, and then I watched an R-rated movie. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself again. After the popcorn propaganda came the previews (including the preview for that upcoming Coca Cola bears movie, aka the upcoming 90 minute commercial about Coca Cola). Since I had paid to see an R-rated film, the previews were for many R-rated films as well. One time I read the description of the rating itself, being told that minors must be accompanied by an adult. For some reason, it made me laugh. I mean, the content of the film doesn’t change simply because your parent is sitting next to you. Obviously the message is “We don’t care if your kid should see decapitations and raunchy sex scenes at age nine. We just want to make sure you don’t mind if your kid sees it. And don’t sue us by the way.”

Can't beat the real thing!

Can’t beat the real thing!

~

I had to catch myself, because my inner monologue had begun should’ing all over the place. You see, I think one of the un-evolved elements of humanity is our propensity to tell other human beings what they should and should not do, think, believe, or feel. We do it all day long. It saturates every conversation from religion to politics to education to… who should see an R-rated movie. I mean, I was sitting there in the theater thoroughly enjoying the adult humor and language used in the film. Honestly, a few years ago I would not have felt comfortable with such content, but I have changed. Depending on your own beliefs you may think I made a change for the worse, letting my morals slowly decay and allowing my mind to be infected with unholy influences. Maybe not. Maybe you think R-rated movies are more in-line with the real world, unfiltered and consistent with our modern society.

What really struck me was the fact I couldn’t simply enjoy the show without first dealing with these kind of thoughts; I was somehow compelled to entertain fabricated debates in my head regarding the nature of morality. That’s annoying. I mean, I paid $10 (plus the nearly $15 for the giant discount popcorn bucket) so I could yell internally at my third grade Sunday School teacher (who was a lovely woman by the way). Why was I letting people “should” on me from the past? From decades ago?

"Brett! Stop reading Song of Solomon out loud!"

“Brett! Stop reading Song of Solomon out loud!”

~

I observed the actions of the characters on screen. The uncensored tone of the dialogue was refreshing, but it reminded me of how any truth or lesson lying behind the film would be totally lost on certain individuals. The unmarried couple laying in bed after sex, having a real human conversation filled with laughter and joy and hope… none of that would come across to those only preoccupied with condemning the “sin” of premarital sex. The woman abused by her husband of fifteen years shares a dance and a kiss with a younger man in a bar… but she’s an adulteress whore and a drunkard to some. You see, characters in films may not be real, but they represent very real ideas, people, situations, etc. Movies are truly art imitating life.

So, who is to say how we should live? What should we do? What shouldn’t we do? It’s easier for us to get those answers from other people. For some that is as easy as picking a religion. Right and wrong are able to be defined, creating a framework for living. In such a scenario, one must simple do all they can to avoid what is wrong and pursue what is right. This creates a tendency to dismiss “gray areas” as confused or twisted logic, created by dark forces conspiring to trip you up at every turn. Reality is only black and white to many people, therefore anything gray is to be met with suspicion at the very least.

That reminds me of another R-rated movie coming out soon...

That reminds me of another R-rated movie coming out soon…

~

While I won’t fall into the verbal trap of attempting the phrase “You shouldn’t tell people what they shouldn’t do” …I’ll propose what I see as an obvious downside of should’ing on people. To define life (and particularly your life) as existing within any pre-defined framework is to reject the experience of life. If you tell someone else how they should feel, who they should love, what they should do, etc., you are telling them that their own experience, their own journey, their own path is pointless. Their unique existence? Meaningless. And worse, you are tell them that your unique existence isn’t unique either. You’re kindly (or often unkindly) breaking it to them that life isn’t about doing the work of discovering your own place in the universe; you’re saying life is already decided to be [fill in the blank]. Get use to it.

And much worse, you can rob people of some of the most beautiful moments. You have the power to take something miraculous, or freeing, or life-giving, and write it off as selfish, sinful, or even demonic. Any particular brand of happiness not grounded in your particular worldview can be met with ridicule, dismissal, or scorn. And again, the real tragedy is that you reject the truth behind the packaging. You miss out on life, trading it for a concept you’ve elevated to the place of God.

Obviously we can have our convictions. We can believe strongly in principles that guide our lives. We can fight for what matters to us. But it must be the fruit of our own labor, to work out who we should be as individuals. It will involve trial and error. You will mess up. You will get discouraged. But if you pull through, if you discover what is good and pure, what is dark and empty, what gives you meaning and what poisons your soul… if you experience pain and rebirth, if you conquer yourself and find who you really are…

…No one should ever be able to define life for you ever again.

——–

brettBrett Gallaher is founder of We Occupy Jesus, pretty much the best blog like ever. He resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the place they wrote that train song about. Once he shot a squirrel, but he felt really bad about it afterwards. When he’s not changing the world, Brett also enjoys paying way too much for coffee.

Everyday Jesus

summersone —  January 18, 2014 — Leave a comment

Sometimes I stare out the window and contemplate the existence of everything. Are all of these atoms and cells and all the other biology terms that I forgot from high school predestined or is it all just the result of good timing? I would like to believe someone or something created me. I have even given thought to the idea of God creating the process of evolution, like the universe is God’s massive chia pet, all he had to do was add a little water and sit back and watch everything come to life on its own.

unsplash_528b276e41166_1

Of course I’m not allowed to think that and call myself a Christian–that would be blasphemy. I have come to the point where I don’t want to be slapped with that label anymore because in this country, if you call yourself a Christian you have to have a certain belief system full of marriage bans and death penalties.

Frankly, that is a load of crap. I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t come start a revolution to keep two guys from getting married. I know I am not the only one to think these things up. I can’t be.

As my mind is lost in deep thought about the existence of God, the meaning of life, and the theology of man, a sound starts to creep into my consciousness. Suddenly my ear drums are filled with the sound of crying from my newborn daughter and I am awoken out of my day dream by my parental instinct to go check on her.

When I pick her up and look at her, I am reminded that finding God is not achieved by staring at the sun for too long or spending hours with your face buried in books on theology or even the bible in some cases. God is found through the miracle of a new life coming into the world. He is found by staring out the window not to ponder his existence but to see the birds cutting through the air as they take off in flight. He is found by realizing that God is not just found or experienced through the supernatural or extraordinary but the natural and ordinary.

We find ourselves begging for a sign from someone or something and don’t realize that sometimes you must get up off your knees and open your eyes to find it.

___

jonathan summers 2Jonathan Summers is a new writer, craft beer connoisseur, free thinker and brand new dad. He lives in Columbia, MO with his girlfriend. Jonathan will soon be launching a blog of his very own called Beer Dads (www.beerdads.wordpress.com) so stay tuned.

flickr: BartEverts

flickr: BartEverts

 

Can you picture it? Waking up on another Sunday morning, dragging yourself out of bed to go to a church service because the bible says go to church, and you feel like a good Christian when you go. You get to church, you sing a few songs, you recieve communion, you realize maybe you should have done the dishes because your wife told you to, and you judge the people around you. You drive home feeling accomplished.

This is the part of Christianity that needs to die.

This idea of being able to just go to a service and believe that that’s all there is to it. What happened to going because you wanted to learn how to become a better human being?  There are so many positive instructions that Jesus has given us. But when we make Christianity about a couple hour church service one day of the week, we are destroying what Christianity was meant to stand for. It was about the man on the mountaintop saying to treat your neighbor as yourself. To love people. To be humble. Jesus said it’s not about how many words you can say while you pray. Jesus preached going after the lost lambs, and for us to wash each other’s feet.

We weren’t put on this Earth to go to church. We are here to make impacts upon people, even in the smallest of ways, and that’s what the ministry of Jesus was about, that is what Christianity was suppose to be about. Instead we’ve corrupted it (surprise). But that doesn’t mean Christianity is dead. There is hope for the ministry of Christ. It’s up to this next generation of believers to strike down the barriers that the church has put up. It’s about taking what they learn and applying it to their lives. Not to judge others or to shove religion down someone else’s throat but to actually love our neighbor.

Because it seems like to me, Christianity needs a savior.

___

jimmy arwood smHi I’m Jimmy! I live in the great state of Arizona, and I am very involved in politics and spirituality. I am currently a senior in high school looking to go to ASU to major in sustainability. I have a deep passion for many things in life, sports, music, theatre, and social justice. I enjoy working for my church and volunteering. I was selected as one of two delegates to our Arizona’s boys state convention, where I ran for governor and won. I was later selected as one of two delegates to the national convention to represent Arizona at boys nation. I love life, people and the teachings of Jesus

Paul and the Greek Poets

gglenister —  January 2, 2014 — 2 Comments

I have been writing on the subject of how I believe that Christianity is not supposed to be like religion – that is, a system of insiders and outsiders where we are the right side and everyone else is on the wrong side.  This post will be a continuation on this theme – if you have not read my other posts in this series, I recommend you do so:

  • Part 1 explores 5 reasons I believe Christianity is not supposed to be a religion in the sense I described.
  • Part 2 explores the balance between Orthodoxy (right belief) and Orthopraxy (right action)
  • Part 3 explores how one could go about analyzing their belief structure to find out if it was poisonous
  • Part 4 explores how preaching works within the new paradigm of “religionless Christianity”

So I’d like to try to tie things up in this post.  The idea of this whole series has been about moving beyond a system of belief that divides people, and moving into a way of life that brings people together in unity.

The Evolution of “Religion”

In his 1962 book “The Meaning and End of Religion“, Wilfred Cantwell Smith – a professor of comparative religion at Harvard – draws a distinction between the modern word “religion” and its Latin root, religio.  The root of this word is ligare – to connect, tie together, bind, unite.  This is the same root of “ligature”: the stuff that holds a skeleton together.  We see from this history that religion is meant to be a reconnecting – to bring together people who should have never been separated.  It is not intended to be a system that separates people into hostile tribes.

ligamentsBut Professor Smith demonstrates that through the centuries, the meaning of this word slowly changed:

…in pamphlet after pamphlet, treatise after treatise, decade after decade, the notion was driven home that religion is something that one believes or does not believe, something whose propositions are true or are not true, something whose locus is in the realm of the intelligible, is up for inspection before the speculative mind.

We have found in these modern times that this way of treating religion has poisoned it from within and turned it into a weapon tribes wield against each other.  So it has been my argument in this series of posts that what we need for this time is a new kind of “religionless” Christianity which is based primarily in love for our fellow man, and is more focused on uniting over the common goals of the good of society than on common “beliefs”.  This new kind of religion would be based more on fellowship and experience than on assertions of truth.

This is not to say that truth is not important, but rather that I believe the nature of truth is something that binds people together and heals rather than something that should cause strife and conflict.  In “Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening“, Diana Butler Bass writes:

healing-touchIndeed, the word “doctrine,” a word fallen on hard times in contemporary culture, actually means a “healing teaching,” from the French word for “doctor .” The creeds, as doctrinal statements, were intended as healing instruments, life-giving words that would draw God’s people into a deeper engagement with divine things. When creeds become fences to mark the borders of heresy, they lose their spiritual energy. Doctrine is to be the balm of a healing experience of God, not a theological scalpel to wound and exclude people.

I believe that it is important to realize that truth is not an exclusive thing – truth is not some physical thing that one tribe possesses to the exclusion of all others.  Rather, we are all able to perceive truth to varying degrees, and when we work together with different people groups we will have greater understandings of the truth.  In order to understand truth better and more fully, we cannot act as if our tribe has an exclusive grip on truth and all other tribes are lost in darkness, but rather we should realize that there are some truths our tribe may understand better than others, and most likely many others that other tribes understand more clearly than our own.

Paul and the Greek Poets

Paul_Preaching_On_Mars_Hill

A depiction of Paul preaching on Mars Hill in Acts 17

I believe we see this attitude at work in the way the Apostle Paul draws on the wisdom of well-known Greek poets in Acts chapter 17.  In verse 28, we find Paul quoting two distinct figures: the Cretan philosopher Epimenides in the first half of the verse, and the Cilician Stoic philosopher Aratus.

Now first of all, this provides a stark contrast with what seems to be the common attitude of much of American Christianity these days.  It seems that much of the Christian world in America has adopted an isolationist sort of attitude that encourages those within to avoid the outside world, and to see them as dangerous liars who are devoid of all truth.  And this sort of culture encourages its adherents to avoid “secular” things in favor of “Christian” things – trade “secular” music for “Christian” music, “secular” movies for “Christian” movies, “secular” books for “Christian” books, etc.  But Paul seems to draw a contrast with this attitude in Acts 17:28 by drawing on the wisdom of well-known “secular” figures in order to communicate with his audience.  Why is Paul willing to draw from the wisdom of those who are not part of his religion?

I think a major clue is found in what Paul is quoting, specifically.  In the first quote, Paul says that “in him [speaking of God] we live and move and have our being”, and in the second he says that we are God’s offspring – His children.  Paul makes no exceptions in these quotes – he doesn’t specify that you have to be members of a particular religious “tribe” in order to be God’s children.  Rather, he seems to imply that all people live, move, and have their being grounded in God and are children of God.

Over All, Through All, In All

To understand more fully how Paul understands the nature of God, I’d like to examine another statement found in Ephesians 4:4-6:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. [emphasis mine]

The statement at the end of this passages lays out a profound mystery – God is over all things, working through all things, and is in all things.  There is a simple term for this view: panentheism.  Panentheism is the belief that all things rest within the being of God, God is working through all beings and all events, all beings are a part of the life of God, and yet God transcends all things, beings, and events.  In this belief, we cannot isolate God to any one place or time, but we can find God in all places and times.

Cosmos01

This is not a belief that the Apostle Paul invented either – we find traces of panentheism in “Old Testament” passages like this one:

Psalm 139:7-10
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

The prophet Jeremiah writes:

Jeremiah 23:24
“Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?”
declares the Lord.
“Do not I fill heaven and earth?”
declares the Lord.

The gospel of John has a brilliant explanation of panentheism in the first chapter.  The author of this gospel has a very artistic way of using words – often playing on double meanings, and layering multiple meanings over-top of each other.  In the first verse of this gospel, John writes:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

This single sentence is packed full of meaning.  The word translated as “Word” was the Greek word “logos”.  This is a very interesting word, because it draws on the Greek belief that the entire cosmos was grounded in a rational system of rules.  We could call this “science” or “physics” in modern times.  But John is also drawing on the fact that to the Jews, “the Word” had a rich meaning as well.  In Genesis, God creates through his “Word”.  When God speaks, things happen.  For human beings as well, a word is an interesting thing to think about: a word that we speak conveys our thoughts to another person and has an affect on them.  They perceive a piece of our nature through this word.  When a word leaves our lips, it is no longer us, and yet it has its source in us.  An instruction from one person to another might result in actions being taken.  For Jews, they believed that creation was a direct result of God’s word, and thus was a way to perceive the nature of God and to perceive God’s thoughts.  Additionally, the Hebrew Bible was considered to be God’s “Word” – a direct revelation of God’s character.

andromeda-orbit

The Logos of the Universe

But John is saying that the Word is more than the matter of creation, or even ancient scriptures.  The Word is a person.  But this person has existed from the beginning, was with God, and was God.  More than this, all things were created through the Logos (see verse 3), all life comes through this Logos (see verse 4), and all knowledge comes from this Logos (see verses 4 and 9).

Making Sense of Panentheism

These are bold claims, and very difficult to understand.  It would be easy to dismiss this as nonsense if one had no desire to understand.  But I think there is a fundamental truth to this idea.

InterrelatedThink of it this way: all existence is grounded in relationship.  I would not exist were it not for the relationship my parents had, and I would not have continued to have life after I began to exist if it were not for relationships, nor would I have known anything I claim to know if it were not for relationships.

In the classic Christmas movie “It’s A Wonderful Life”, George Bailey learns that he has touched many lives in a profound way.  He sees that if his own life had been removed from the tapestry of history, many other lives would experience loss.

We are all the same way – our lives are dependent on the lives of others for their ground of being.  Without the many lives whose paths we had crossed, we would be very different people, and if you removed enough threads from the tapestry of life, we would cease to exist.  Every being exists within a web of relationships through which that being’s character is shaped.

What panentheism teaches us is that all beings are interrelated.  When you eat a piece of bread, you are not just eating bread.  The grain from which this bread was made was nourished by sunlight, it grew using the nutrients from the earth, the water from the clouds, and the air.  So when you eat this bread, you are eating sunlight, earth, clouds, and air.  And you are benefiting from the work of the people who tilled the fields this grain grew in, and the work of the baker.  So you are experiencing interrelatedness with each bite of bread.

In the Bible, when the Holy Spirit is talked about, the word that is used for “Spirit” is “pneuma“.  Like many Greek words, this word has another meaning as well: breath.  In Genesis, after God created man, he breathed life into him.  We are dependent on air to live – without breath, we die.  But when we breathe, we are experiencing interrelatedness, because the air we breathe has been breathed and expelled by thousands of people before us, as well as animals and plants.  This air has been circulated countless times through the lungs of countless creatures.

deep_breathI believe that it is impossible to understand the doctrine of the Trinity outside of panentheism.  The idea of the trinity is that God exists as “three in one” – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But this idea also holds that God is not more three than He is one, and no more one than He is three.  That one is a head-scratcher.  But if you understand that God is the very ground of being, you can start to understand the trinity.  The Father is the unknowable and unfathomable source of all life, the Son is the knowable manifestation of God, and the Holy Spirit is the interrelatedness of all things.

Imagine it this way – you are standing at the bottom of a waterfall.  The top of the waterfall is unknown to you, and is the source – the Father, for the sake of this analogy.  The water spilling over your face is the manifestation of the waterfall through which you experience and understand the waterfall – the Son.  The water spilling out below you and touching other life-forms is the Holy Spirit.

You experience the waterfall through individual drops of water, but these drops are part of a much greater whole.  If you think deeply about this concept, you realize that the water evaporates in the sunlight, rises to form clouds, and then rains back down to the earth to become part of the waterfall again.

Additionally, creatures drink from the water of this waterfall and this water passes through them back into the ground to become part of streams, to evaporate and become clouds, and to precipitate again down to the earth.  In this way, all creatures have a relationship to this waterfall, and in a way have a relationship with each other through the waterfall.

Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane in John 17 that we will be One, as he and the Father are one (verse 11), “as you [the Father] are in me and I am in you.”  (verse 21)  This is the force of perfect love – relationship so close that the members of the relationship, in their continual self-sacrifice for one another, cooperate in such a close relationship that they become “One”.  Paul elaborates on this in Romans 12:4-5:

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

We are supposed to belong to each other, as cells in a body belong to each other.  The cells of a body serve the body, and in serving the body they are nourished and upheld by the body.  When a group of cells stops serving the body, and the cells seek to serve themselves, this is competition/separation/non-love and in the human body we call that cancer.

human-body-cells-25962548In “Christ In Evolution“, Ilia Delio writes:

To live in the experience of Christ is to live in the experience of relatedness, to be a member of the cosmic family, because Christ is the Word of God through whom all things are related.

The early Christians understood Jesus as a revelation of God’s character – they saw a man whose entire life was marked by radical love, and whose life caused a ripple effect throughout an entire empire.  Because of the effects of the resurrection, the Apostle Paul believed that it is through the universal relationship of divine love that all things are created and sustained, as he writes in Colossians 1:15-20:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

We find through this passage that universal love is not only the goal of creation, but also the means of creation.  When I combine this idea with John 12:32 – where Jesus says that through the act of the cross he will draw all men to himself – I am reminded of the science of a black hole.  Science teaches us that it is because of gravity that all bodies in the cosmos are formed, and at the center of each galaxy is a black hole.  The galaxies themselves owe their very existence to the incredible gravity of these black holes, which are continually drawing all members of the galaxy inward towards them.  I believe that God’s love is a bit like this – drawing all men in to relationship and forming the fabric of being through this love.

Because of the proclamation of universal reconciliation in Col. 1:20, we are freed from the fear of the world, our fellow man, “demons”, and even God, and empowered to reach out with bold acts of love and join in with God’s creative work.  This doctrine helps us to understand that being made “in the image of God” means that at a very deep level – in the core of our being – we are marked by the radical potential to receive the mystery of divine love, and as a result to pour out God’s presence in the world.  And through accepting and extending this love, we enter into partnership with God to become agents of creation through His love.

This idea gives us a whole new understanding of “salvation” – salvation is not being saved from God, but being saved in, to, and through God.  For many Christians, the word “salvation” brings an understanding of being saved from “hell” (for more on this subject, see my series “Checkmate For Hell”), but the word’s Latin roots mean “whole”, “sound”, “healed”, “safe”, “well”, or “unharmed”.  Often people will talk about “finding love”, and will talk about this love making us whole or healing us.  But panentheism teaches us that love was always inside of us – we just needed to give it away.

When we understand that the goal for creation is interrelatedness, we can understand more fully the meaning of Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:25:

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

When we seek to live our life at the cost of others and independent of them, we will lose our life.  But when we draw in to the fellowship of the unity of all things (see Eph. 1:9-10), we will find a well of Eternal Life that will flow out from us into the world (see John 4:10-14).

water-of-life2

The understanding of the full integration with love helps us to understand many other facets of faith.  For example, we understand through this framework that our relationship with creation should be – it is not a relationship of domination and forced control, but rather a relationship of harmony.  We can also understand that the true nature of sin/evil is a resistance to unity that causes division and chaos, but we also understand that this cannot last forever but will be conquered by love in the end.

But perhaps the greatest lesson panentheism teaches us is the true nature of love: that in order to experience love, we must love others, and in doing so we will find that we have always been loved and lovable ourselves.  Love does not act in a way that causes harm to a single living being, but seeks to integrate all life – Ilia Delio sums up this idea in “Christ In Evolution“:

Christ, the fully integrated person, is not a person but the Person, the integration of all human persons fully united in the one Spirit of love and thus fully integrated in relation to God.  The resurrected Christ is the prolepsis of what is intended for the whole cosmos — union and transformation in God.

In the community of God, we will find true peace.  The loneliness caused by isolation will end, as well as all acts of violence and injustice.  The mutual destruction caused by the selfish struggles of rampant individuality will be replaced by a community of peace built on self-giving mutual servant-hood in which all created beings are there for one another, with one another and in one another, and through the interchange of their energies keep one another in life, for one another and together.  And in this community we will truly experience the presence of God, and the power of death will be overcome.

wafer2

flickr: York Minster

 

Perhaps I should have titled this post “5 Reasons Christianity Shouldn’t Be About Religion,” because there’s a common misconception that Christianity is a religion.  Not only that it’s a religion, but that it’s supposed to be a religion.  This misconception is shared by insiders and outsiders alike, it seems.  And it’s completely wrong!

Now, I should pause here and define what it is that I mean when I say “religion” – I’m talking about religion in the sense of being an identifier, or a way of distinguishing one person or another.  What I’m talking about could also be described as “tribalism“.  It’s the insiders and outsiders paradigm–the view that there are some who are favored by God, and some who are not, and that there are easily distinguishable traits which can tell you which group a person is in.

This is a completely warped idea, because Christianity is supposed to be about following Jesus, and there are so many ways that Jesus contradicted this insiders-vs-outsiders view.  Here are just a few of those ways:

1. John’s Baptism

Baptism seems to be one of those Christian ideas for which the historical context has been almost completely lost to the general populous, and as a result some very superstitious ideas about it have risen up.  Denominations battle over the method and timing of baptism: is a sprinkling ok, or should you be immersed?  Can babies be baptized?  Many seem to even connect salvation itself with baptism – I remember hearing one leader assure someone who was worried about salvation that “if you’re dipped, you’re in!”

But when you get a picture of the historical context that “John the Baptist” was set in, you might get a different picture of what this was all about.  In the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day, there was a practice known as “mikveh” – a ritual immersion bath.

Mikveh

Mikveh at Jerusalem temple

The mikveh was a purity ritual, and would be performed after a person experienced various “unclean” events and before entering the temple. A priest would practice mikveh before conducting various ceremonies, and scribes would even practice it before writing the name of God!

What mikveh communicated was that a person had been dirtied by the outside world, and must clean him or herself before entering into communion with God.  The practice of immersing before entering the temple did much to communicate the “insider/outsider paradigm” or the “us vs. them paradigm” that the Jews in Jesus’ day lived within.  It said “those who are not part of our religion are unclean, and we must wash off their filth before entering into communion with God.”

But John the Baptist did something new–he started immersing people in the Jordan river, right out there in nature!  This was a bit of religious theater, if you will, and to the people of the time, the message was clear:

“The real filth that must be washed off is not out there–it’s the temple religion!  Their self-righteous arrogance and apathy towards the people trapped within unjust systems that create poverty is the real dirtiness that must be washed off!” 

John’s baptism was a symbol of washing off the attitude that there are insiders and outsiders–of putting aside the attitude that somehow you’re special and others are not.  In Luke’s gospel, the story of John’s practice of baptism is accompanied by his instruction to share your possessions with the poor (Luke 3:11), indicating that this is part of a larger mission to break down the barriers between classes of people.

When Jesus meets up with John, does Jesus rebuke John for this rejection of the religious practice of mikveh?  Does he say “John, you know that mikveh should be practiced in the temple, so people can prepare to worship God properly!”  No!  Jesus affirms John’s practice in Matthew 3:13-15, and says “It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”

2. The Parable of the Good Samaritan

In Luke 10:25-37, there is a story that begins with an “expert in the law” testing Jesus by asking him what must be done to “inherit eternal life”.  What follows has been covered in different ways in other gospels, but in this version of the story, Jesus throws the question back at the “expert” and asks, “what’s in the law, and how do you read it?”  The expert responds by summarizing the entire law with two commands: love God, and love your neighbor “as yourself”.  The version of this story in Matthew has Jesus saying:

Matthew 22:40
All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

One thing I find interesting is that the apostle Paul skips over the “love God” part and says that the entire law is fulfilled in the commandment to love your neighbor!  (Gal. 5:14)  This might sound curious, but it is a logical inference based upon the fact that Jesus implies that the way to show love to God is to show love to others in such teachings as the “parable of the sheep and the goats” (which can be found in Matthew 25:31-46).

But to return to the story in Luke 10:25-37, in verse 29, it says:

But he [the "expert"] wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

So Jesus tells a story which we commonly refer to as “The Good Samaritan”.  I think that the cultural impact of this story is largely lost on us today, because we don’t understand the animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans.

044-044-TheGoodSamaritan-full

To really understand the story, I think we need to retell it in today’s terminology. 

I think the modern equivalent of the story would involve an Evangelical minister being beaten up and robbed on the side of the road, and as he lies there, another Evangelical pastor passes right by, and then a Southern Baptist deacon as well.  And then, as he is beginning to despair, a Muslim Imam walks by.  When this Imam sees him there, he comes to his aid, taking him to the nearest hospital.  At the hospital, they find out that the minister has no insurance, and this Muslim says “I will pay his bills – just make sure he is taken care of.”  After the hospital has patched up the minister, the Imam takes him back to his house to stay with him until he is back on his feet again.

You see, Samaritans were not seen by Jews as being other Jews–they were seen as another religion altogether.  Not only were they seen as another religion, but they were altogether detested as enemies.  The comparison between how Jews saw Samaritans and how Christians see Muslims today is an apt one, in my opinion.  Just as there were similar religious beliefs between Jews and Samaritans, there are similarities between Christianity and Muslims.  But the differences are considered irreconcilable, and so the “other” is considered a dangerous foe.

But when Jesus is asked “who is my neighbor?”, he deliberately chose an icon that would be seen as dangerous and religiously “other” by his audience.  He did this to challenge his audience’s priorities.  He did this in order to raise the question: What’s more important–your customs, or how you treat other people?

3. The Woman at the Well

In John 4:1-42, there is a scene where Jesus speaks to a Samaritan woman at a well.  There is so much that could be said about this scene – things like how Jesus challenged the cultural views of his day about women and how evangelism ought to work – but I want to focus on one interesting piece of the conversation between Jesus and this woman.

Christ-Encounters-The-Woman-At-The-Well-a-painting-by-Richard-Serrin

But first, we need a little background.  In the first book of Kings in the Old Testament, the nation is Israel is split due to irreconcilable differences after King Solomon’s death.  The two nations were then called Israel and Judah.  Judah contained the city of Jerusalem, where the temple was built.  The Samaritans were part of the area that had been known as Israel–the area that did not contain Jerusalem and the temple.

The Samaritans had taken up the custom of worshiping at Mount Gerizim instead of in Jerusalem.  This had caused a bit of animosity between them and what was now the Jews in Jesus’ time.  The Jews considered the Samaritans’ worship to be illegitimate because of their refusal to come to the temple.

The_Kingdoms_of_Israel_and_Judah__1_2_4152

With this background in mind, we find that Jesus makes a curious statement during his conversation with the Samaritan woman – in verse 21, he says:

…a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.

And then, a little further along in verse 23, he expounds on this idea:

But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.

Jesus is indicating that a time is coming when the place of worship will not matter–it is the attitude of the heart that indicates true worship.

Earlier in this gospel, in John 2:19 Jesus had already alluded to the concept that a body can be a temple when he had said: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”  This was a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own death and resurrection, as the reader finds at the end of the book.  The apostle Paul picks up on this concept of the temple when he says in I Cor. 3:16:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

The idea Jesus presents is that a place is not holy because of its location–any location can be holy. It is the people in the location that make this place holy!  And it is the attitude of their hearts that make these people holy!  So a person who worships the Father “in spirit and truth” can be in the presence of God anywhere and everywhere they go!

4. The Last Supper

The “Last Supper” gave birth to one of the great Christian sacraments–the Eucharist.  The scene of this last supper is set in a celebration of the Passover.  The history of the Passover is set in the Exodus story of Israel – the story goes that even after 9 plagues, the Pharaoh of Egypt still would not release the Israelites from slavery.  So Moses had instructed the Israelites to smear lamb’s blood on their doorposts, and an angel of death would “pass over” them as it went around the land of Egypt killing first born sons.

Passover-doorpost

Jesus takes this symbol and re-frames it in the scene of the Last Supper.  He breaks a loaf of bread and says “this is my body which is given for you.”  And then he passes around a cup of wine and says that it is “the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Lk. 22:20)

What he is essentially saying is that the days of scapegoating and killing other life in order to save yourself are over. God Himself has willingly given His life and blood to end this cycle, establishing a new covenant. Jesus tells us to do this in remembrance of him–and all around the world Christians eat bread and drink wine (or grape juice) in order to remember that night.

But what if there was supposed to be more?  What if, along with accepting the free gift of the nourishment that God gives through bread and wine (which come from His good creation), we are supposed to go out into the world and give ourselves sacrificially to others just as Jesus did?  What if we are supposed to look for the cycles of violence and the victims of those cycles, and stand in the gap in order to break those cycles?  What if this is the deeper meaning behind “do this in remembrance of me?”

In Brian McLaren’s book “Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World“, he writes of a “table of reconciliation and fellowship” understanding of the Eucharist, rather than an alter based understanding where God demands blood before his anger can be satiated:

[I]n a table-centered eucharistic understanding, atoning or appeasing sacrifices are simply unnecessary.  Nothing need be done to appease a hostile God, because through Christ, God has self-revealed as inherently gracious and kind , seeking reconciliation; not hostile and vengeful, needing appeasement. If we need to speak of sacrifice at all, we speak of it in its root meaning: sacred gift. So as we gather around the eucharistic table, we bond to a meaning very different from that of the conventional eucharistic altar; we bond to the sacred self-giving of a gracious God.  As we remember Jesus, from incarnation to crucifixion (and beyond), we see God’s self-giving to the whole world in Christ. Christ himself is God’s sacred love-gift to the world.  At the communion table, then, we manifest God’s self-giving in Christ.

This understanding frames the Christian mission to be one of friendship to the world, where we invite others to dine with us and to talk out our problems – where we sacrificially give of ourselves in order to solve the problems of the world.  This dramatically alters the sacrifice demanding God so many have to the God of Isaiah 1:18, who says “Come now, let us reason together.”  At the table of reconciliation and fellowship, God is not demanding payment – he is inviting us to talk through our issues over supper with a glass of wine.

5. The Cross

I ache when I think of what so much “Christian” theology has done to the beautiful act of the cross.  Theology all too often warps this into something God wanted–as if God had kept a 10,000 year grudge from the first sin, and couldn’t let go of His anger without some serious blood.  But God never demanded blood, and He never demanded that Jesus die the most gruesome and painful death we could imagine. That was us.  God doesn’t demand payment for sin: we do.  So, in Jesus, God said: “You want payment?  Take me.”

Jesus’ whole life and ministry was about standing up for those who were marginalized by society–the rejects, the outcasts, the sick, the deformed, the poor, those of the unfavored gender, the religiously “other”.  He spent his whole life sticking up for those who couldn’t stick up for themselves.

And the response was that the authority structure scapegoated him–that was us, not God.  So what do we do?  We turn around and try to pin that on God, repeating the scapegoating cycle.  We can’t stand to face the fact that God isn’t anything like us, and that He is remarkably tolerant, and had no part in this.

So we make up some story about how God had to have some blood before He’d be satisfied that our sins had been “paid for”, as if it were some sort of capitalistic transaction.

But there are some questions this idea raises, if that is the actual scenario that occurred.  If this is what happened, then what if we had actually responded to Jesus with acceptance?  What if, instead of being rejected by the Jews in power, they had said “well, you’re obviously a really cool guy–why don’t you take over around here for a while?”  Would Jesus have said “wait, wait, wait…see, there’s this plan. You have to reject me.  See, uh…the big guy upstairs?  He’s not going to be happy unless you reject me and kill me in a really gruesome death!  So uh, let’s try this again.”

And if this was really how it went down, then how is it that the author of 1st John can declare that God is love? (I John 4:8, 16)  How can a being who personifies love be a worse father than most earthly fathers?  I mean, if you heard a story about a Dad who had one son that did something that made him angry, and so he turned around and killed the other so he wouldn’t be angry any more, would you say, “Wow, what a loving father!”, or, “That guy is abusive and needs anger management classes”?

And if God really wanted sins to be “paid for”, why did Jesus quote Hosea 6:6 in Matthew 9:13 when he said: “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice”?  And why would the author of Hebrews say (in 10:8): “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”?

And the question I had always asked myself before I came to the conclusions I now have about the cross is: what was it about Jesus that made people reject him?  If he was so “meek and mild”, why didn’t they love him?  Why did they see him as a threat?

We’ll come back to that later.

But if we re-frame the cross in its historical background, we may find a different meaning behind it.  In “The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction“, Peter Rollins writes:

For Roman citizens crucifixion was the most potent sign of someone being rejected by the cultural, political, and religious systems of the day, all of which were seen as divinely established. Those who were crucified were treated as complete outsiders. They were to die naked, alone, and in agony. But the execution meant more than torture and death; it was a sign that the one being killed stood outside of the divinely given order.

In contrast the Crucifixion of Christ today is seen as a key justification of a cultural, political, and religious matrix, a matrix that Kierkegaard called “Christendom.” It is difficult for us today to understand the extent to which this mode of execution signaled the exclusion of the victim from all systems of meaning, because it is so much a part of one for us. The Cross is so integrated into our religious, political, and cultural imagination that its reality as a mode of execution that placed the victim outside of these realms is utterly eclipsed. Instead of being a symbol of standing outside all systems of meaning, the Cross is now integrated into a system of meaning.

The cross was where Jesus became the outsider and lost all meaning.

And when he was near the point of death, he cried “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46, Mk. 15:34).  Some may try to turn this into some sort of theater, like Jesus was just quoting a Psalm (Ps. 22:1) in order to fulfill a prophecy,without really thinking God had forsaken him (as if it were said with a wink at the camera).

It's OK, I'm just playing 'forsaken'. Fun stuff. | flickr: lecates

It’s OK, I’m just playing ‘forsaken’. | flickr: lecates

But the problem with this interpretation is that Jesus spoke this in Aramaic, which was his native tongue, while the verse was written in Hebrew.  Yes, I’m sure that the author of the gospel narrative meant to give a nod to the Psalm, but he deliberately did it in the wrong language, indicating that Jesus actually felt this way!

Jesus’ whole message up to this point had been that God doesn’t reject anyone–and yet here he is doubting that fact in the very moment of his own torment.  And at the point of Jesus’ complete loss, something remarkable happened–in Matthew 27:51 (paralleled in Mk. 15:38), it says that the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

To understand the significance of this, we need to understand what this curtain was.

It was a thick, heavy curtain that separated the “Holy of Holies”–the area of the temple that the Jews believed God physically resided in–from the rest of the temple.  This area was so revered, that only the High Priest was allowed to enter, and only at certain times of the year.  And this curtain was torn.

Many theologians have tried to turn this into a symbol that God was saying “now everyone can have access to me–now that I’ve gotten the blood that I wanted.”  But what if it were indicating something else?  What if the Jewish audience would have realized that this indicated that God was not there?  There was no man behind the curtain–just an empty space.  Where was God?

Out there on that hill, dying from the wounds that the Priestly class had demanded be inflicted on Him, doubting Himself and His own faith.

And instead of accepting how this challenges the paradigm of insiders and outsiders, we turn it into a new system of elites and rejects.

We turn it into a new religion, and we invent this silly thing called the “sinner’s prayer” that’s some kind of magical incantation that gets you in (see Chess Move #7 in my series, Checkmate For Hell).

But everything Jesus had done up to this point demonstrated the truth that the apostle Paul speaks of when he says that “God does not show favoritism.” (Rom. 2:11)  Jesus’ whole life demonstrates the truth of the author of James’ claim that:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
(James 1:27)

And what is “the world” that this author speaks of?  It is the authority structures that create systems of insiders and outsiders!  This is what Jesus stood against throughout his whole ministry!  And what do we do?  We turn Jesus into another system of insiders and outsiders!

I asked, earlier, why someone who was “meek and mild” would be rejected and killed so violently. 

I asked what could have enraged people so much that they would do this.  If you’ve been reading my post and it made you upset, I think you have your answer.

We like our systems of insiders and outsiders–we like to think of ourselves as being favored/elite/inside/special while others are rejected/despised/outside/cursed. 

And when someone threatens those systems, it upsets us.

We don’t want to give up our privilege in order to reach out to our scapegoats. 

We don’t want to face up to the fact that we have hurt others unjustly.

We want to be thought of as righteous and holy while those we have cast out are evil and dirty.

We don’t want to give up our reasons for making other people outcast–we want those reasons vindicated.

And when someone calls on us to reconsider these paradigms, it makes us uncomfortable.

We don’t want to think of ourselves as intolerant, so we crucify the prophetic voices calling us to extend God’s radically tolerant love to the outcasts.

So we bicker over doctrine and ritual.  But the mark of one who follows Jesus is not that they believe the right doctrine or observe the right rituals–it’s that they love (see John 13:35).  I John 4:7-8 says:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

The religion of Christ calls us to cast off all our privilege and status–to reject categories and religions that separate one human from another–and to simply love our fellow man. The religion of Christ calls us to see Him in others who love – even if they don’t call themselves Christians.

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Oh yeah, I'm a rockstar! Geoff is a Pub Theologian and a geeky/nerdy programmer with three super cute kids and an awesome wife who puts up with his quirks. He is also a Progressive Metalhead, which means he listens to loud music that’s also snobbish. Geoff reads way too many books – especially the ones he’s told not to read - and is proud to have been called a “dangerous hairy tick”.

 

 

 

 

What did you think of Geoff’s article? We welcome your comments!

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DISCLAIMER: There are clearly very obvious reasons why Jesus would not call Mark Driscoll after a date (e.g. Jesus isn’t really the “dating” type, Mark Driscoll is married to what can only be described as a “happy” wife, and as far as we know… they are both heterosexuals). However, I have compiled a list of reasons a hypothetical date between these two would not yield the slightest possibility of a second encounter.

Mark Driscoll loves Jesus. There’s no doubt about that. Mark loves Jesus so much that if the Nazarene knocked on Mark’s door with a pair of tickets to see Gravity in 3D, Mark would jump at the opportunity. A dismayed Mrs. Driscoll would nervously wave goodbye from the doorway, clinging to her new book Mark bought her entitled Why My Husband Will Never Love Me. She’d pray she’d have the quiz in the back pages completed before his return.

But most of us know Mark would be back soon with an entirely different opinion of that Jesus fellow. New incompatibilities would come to light. Some might even call them irreconcilable differences. Mark may have friended Jesus on Facebook, Followed him on Twitter, and even created a new contact in his smartphone, but deep down he knows what we all know.

Jesus isn’t calling him back. Why?

1. MARK KEEPS DISSING JESUS’ HOMEGIRLS

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…and pointing in their faces in the girls’ bathroom.

~

You see, Jesus would have eventually brought up his friends, especially his homegirls. Jesus has lots of them. Most of them are called Mary. A few are called Jaquita. One is called Esther. Esther from… the book of Esther, Esther (not Madonna Esther). Jesus and Esther go way back. Well, Jesus was more or less spying on Esther because his Act wasn’t until the Romans showed up, but he was there. But the moment he would have brought up Esther, Mark would have interjected with some less-than-kosher remarks. It’s just what Mark does whenever that broad gets brought up. Exhibit A: Mark’s own words.

“She grows up in a very lukewarm religious home as an orphan raised by her cousin. Beautiful, she allows men to tend to her needs and make her decisions. Her behavior is sinful and she spends around a year in the spa getting dolled up to lose her virginity with the pagan king like hundreds of other women. She performs so well that he chooses her as his favorite.”

[He goes on to say...]

“Feminists have tried to cast Esther’s life as a tragic tale of male domination and female liberation. Many evangelicals have ignored her sexual sin and godless behavior to make her into a Daniel-like figure, which is inaccurate. Some have even tried to tie her story in with modern-day, sex-slave trafficking as she was brought before the powerful king as part of his harem.” -from his article at pastormark.tv.

Jesus would possibly give Mark the benefit of the doubt. Biblical hermeneutics is really hard! He’d politely ignore this one issue and change the subject. Perhaps he’d ask Mark about his own wife, Grace. “Tell me about her, Mark. Tell me about a moment that really sums up your relationship.” If Jesus had read Mark’s book, Real Marriage, so many questions would have been answered. Perhaps he would have taken up Rob Bell’s pottery class offer instead.

Driscoll writes in Real Marriage about his wife
(who deals with depression after sexual abuse):

“My previously free and fun girlfriend was suddenly my frigid and fearful wife. She did not undress in front of me, required the lights to be off on the rare occasions we were intimate, checked out during sex, and experienced a lot of physical discomfort because she was tense…One night, as we approached the birth of our first child, Ashley, and the launch of our church, I had a dream in which I saw some things that shook me to my core. I saw in painful detail Grace sinning sexually during a senior trip she took after high school when we had just started dating. It was so clear it was like watching a film — something I cannot really explain but the kind of revelation I sometimes receive. I awoke, threw up, and spent the rest of the night sitting on our couch, praying, hoping it was untrue, and waiting for her to wake up so I could ask her. I asked her if it was true, fearing the answer. Yes, she confessed, it was. Grace started weeping and trying to apologize for lying to me, but I honestly don’t remember the details of the conversation, as I was shell-shocked. Had I known about this sin, I would not have married her.” [pages 6, 11-12]

So yeah, then there’s the issue of…
2.
MARK’S CREEPY FLOATING TELEPATHIC PORN-O-VISIONx-ray vision

“Hey there, Grandma.”

~

Jesus may forgive Mark for revealing this case of spiritual abuse and all-around “bad husbandry”. He is Jesus, after all. Mark may have a real felt-need to discern the presence of sexual sins in the lives of those around him. Such matters are serious and should never be treated like opportunities to convey spiritual superiority over those in such vulnerable emotional states. That would be a misuse of authority and borderline manipulation. Jesus says a quick prayer for Mark. Afterwards he checks YouTube out of sheer curiosity.

Jesus does a facepalm.

Jesus would send out an emergency text to his homegirls to come rescue him. He’d stall in the meantime. Come to think of it, why was Mark taking him to some abandoned construction site? Scared he’d anger Mark by asking, Jesus would quickly come up with another topic. “Mark, I’m really flattered that you’ve devoted your entire ministry to me. That means a lot. Tell me more about what attracted you to Christianity.” Mark would lean over and whisper two words in Jesus’ ear.

“Real. Men.”

3. JESUS DOESN’T WANT TO FIGHT SWEATY MEN IN CAGES

Wait a minute... This wrestling looks fake!

Wait a minute… This wrestling looks fake!

~

Mark’s vision for Christianity [from Life on Mars (Hill), Bitch Magazine]

“Church today, it’s just a bunch of nice, soft, tender, chickified church boys. Sixty percent of Christians are chicks, and the forty percent that are dudes are still sort of chicks.”

Mark previously encountered difficulty worshiping “a gay hippie in a dress.” But something about those disciples changed his mind. They were anything but hippies. They were real men. Real hardcore, violent men looking for trouble. Trouble for Jesus.

“I’ve gotta think these guys were dudes. Heterosexual, win-a-fight, punch-you-in-the-nose dudes.”

Christianity was about men. Real, sweaty men. The sweatier, the Godlier. Sweatiness is next to Godliness, they say. Wait, that’s not what they say at all. Jesus didn’t want Christianity to be “Manly”. That would imply that there’s something inherently wrong with being feminine. Womanly would mean “weak”. Such an idea is fundamentally insulting to women. It’s essentially saying that women’s main flaw is that they’re not men. Mark would look over at Jesus, sensing the date going downhill. “What’s wrong, Jesus?!”

“Nothing!” Jesus would say. “I’m just… err… um… checking out your YouTube videos! So relevant!”

Mark might try his luck by shifting the discussion.
Obviously we know the futility of even trying, especially since we all know…

4. JESUS IS TOO “PRO CHOICE” FOR MARK

choices-760701

Approaching “Can of Worms” Ohio.

~

Mark would ask Jesus a very significant question. “Are you pro choice?” Jesus may look over at Mark with a smile. Finally Mark would show interest in what he thought. Jesus is an expert on this topic as well. He is a huge advocate of free will. He practically invented it. Maybe this would be a game-changer for the evening. But we know better. Jesus would open his mouth to say, “Of course! Choice is essential to freedom!”

Mark would lash out at Jesus, rudely interrupting him mid-sentence. This misunderstanding would be preventable, if only Mark could suppress his obsession with the topic of abortion. But he can’t.

“Mark, no. That’s not what I-”

“You do not submit to the authority of Scripture! You don’t value human life!” -Mark would exclaim.

After about an hour, Jesus would become fed up with Mark monopolizing the conversation. “You know what, Mark? I’ve had it with your ego, your insensitivity, and your misogynistic rants. You don’t even listen to me anymore! Don’t you understand? Our relationship is all about communication!”

“I can change!” Mark might say.

But it’d be too late. Jesus would have found a ride, possibly like a stranger on a bus, just trying to make his way home, back up to Heaven all alone, nobody calling on the phone (except for Mark). #straighttovoicemail.

In closing: I’m not bashing Mark Driscoll. Mark Driscoll is bashing Jesus. I’m not even talking about any version of the “true” Jesus, or the most “Biblical” interpretation. Some things are mysteries. We can’t know exactly what the historical Jesus would think today. But Jesus represents something life-giving, something powerful and moving and capable of literally saving lives. You may be reading this and have no belief in Jesus whatsoever, or you may be a life-long Christian. That’s not the point. We all have our own views. But at the end of the day, does the Jesus that Mark calls upon resemble a symbol of love, or of resentment? Does Mark call upon a Jesus who saves lives or who shames lives? Does Mark sound more like a spiritual leader or more like a pseudo sex therapist? You have to decide, but one thing is for sure.

Mark Driscoll wants to wrestle with sweaty men in a cage for Jesus.

——–
brettttttBrett Gallaher is founder of We Occupy Jesus, pretty much the best blog like ever. He resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the place they wrote that train song about. Once he shot a squirrel, but he felt really bad about it afterwards. When he’s not changing the world, Brett also enjoys paying way too much for coffee.

signheavenhell

~

This may come as a shock, but despite what your ex says about you, you’re probably not going to Hell. Relieved? Good! But I hate to break it to you that your ex isn’t going to Hell either. What was that? Will you both spend eternity in Heaven? Of course not! Then you’d both be in Hell! Are you paying attention at all?

Now I know what some of you may be thinking (and that’s precisely why I won’t be replying to every comment). How can I, blogger-person, know with certainty who is and isn’t going to Hell? How can a mere mortal know such mysteries of divine judgment? Easy. I used the word probably in the title. If I’m wrong, I’m off the hook (and your ex is going to Hell. It’s a win-win). So let’s not get too hung up on “me playing God” and let’s just enjoy the show. You might learn something. Or not.

So, of course when I say the word “Hell”, a lot of images come to mind. Let’s just focus on the basic Hell for now, the one with the fire and the brimstone and the screaming and the pitchforks and the Mormons. You may edit out the fire, or imagine it’s invisible so Hell can be “dark as Hell” too. Maybe it’s just really really humid, or really really smelly. Imagine that place that is just so terrible that the only thing worse is staying in that doomed-from-the-start relationship with your ex, whose very memory is preventing you from enjoying a simple blog post.

MY GOD! LEAVE US ALONE!

Where were we? Oh yeah! The blog post!

So, yeah. I’m just not buying the whole Hell thing. It just doesn’t add up. Not that everything adds up in life, but this one really takes the “not adding up” cake. I can give you four good reasons why you can just rest a little easier tonight. You’re probably not going to Hell because…

 1. INTERSTELLAR SPACE TRAVEL

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If we’re going with the model that involves fire, or at least really really hot stuff like plasma, then stars create an awkward dilemma for eternal Hellfire. I personally grew up hearing that Hell was in the center of the earth. This is by no means a universally accepted location, but it emphasizes the notion that Hell is really really hot, much like the center of our planet. But we all know that there are much hotter places than Earth’s core. While our pale blue dot’s center tops out at about 5430 Degrees Celsius (or 9806 Degrees Fahrenheit for all you folks from ‘Merica) which actually matches the surface temperature of our Sun, it’s snow globes compared to the solar core sporting a whopping 15,000,000 degrees Celsius. (If you’re waiting for the Fahrenheit amount, you’re missing the point).

So, there’s no way God would choose Earth as the host for this party. He’d go big. He’d really show off how bad he wanted us to burn by putting us inside of a star. But if you think the Sun is the logical locale, think again.

Meet VY Canis Majoris…

If you look closely, you can actually see the Sun crapping its pants.

If you look closely, you can actually see the Sun crapping its pants.

~

Stars get larger and larger. Therefore, if Hell exists anywhere in this universe, it must be in the largest star. Well, we don’t know which star that would be, or where it is exactly, but we know that any of these stars are going to be hella-far away. When your ex dies, they’d have to travel there. There’s only two viable methods of interstellar space travel. Light speed wouldn’t work, because the next closest stars (Alpha Centauri A, B, and Proxima) are still over 4 light years away. Ain’t nobody got time for that! God would have to use wormholes to transport us to his abode of infinite justice. He’d be bending space, just for us. Isn’t that sweet?

That sounds like an awful lot of trouble for God. Why didn’t he just put us closer to Hell? He’s basically deferring to his magic teleportation powers to bypass the scientific limitations (the very limitations that he… set up… himself). In Scripture, God rarely allows such wormhole teleportation. Obviously we remember when Jesus floated up in the air and waved goodbye to the audience, saying really profound stuff before he disappeared. You think he’s letting you cruise the cosmos like his own kid? Fuggetaboutit. And just think, even if God somehow did transport us to his flame of choice, he’d have to teleport us every time that star burned out. That’s a lot of effort to punish us for keeping Playboy magazines under the mattress.

Okay, so we’re only on #1 and we’ve already concluded we’re probably not headed to any Hell located in this universe. You’d think that’d pretty much cover our bases right? But I bet there’s at least a few of you out there who believe there’s a spiritual world, all misty/spooky and shit. Well, I didn’t forget about you folks. Don’t worry, because you’re probably not going to that Hell either, because of…

2. CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEMS

Ouch500

“Thank you for physical pain, Jesus!”

~

Have you ever undergone a surgical procedure where anesthesia was required? In other words, were you ever unconscious while someone cut you open and tinkered around inside of you? Luckily for you, you didn’t feel a thing. Well, if you did feel anything then you’re probably the proud recipient of a large medical malpractice settlement and you’re too busy drinking champagne from golden chalices to remember the unpleasantness. When you die, you don’t feel anything anymore. Nothing. There’s no central nervous system to send those “ouch” signals to the brain. Heck, there’s no brain activity when you die either. There’s not a whole lot of anything going on in the “you” department after it’s all over.

Now obviously many of you may be worried about “spiritual fire”. Your body may be gone but your soul remains, right? God is pissed and wants your soul to suffer for all that crap you did with that filthy body of yours. Well, think about what “spiritual fire” would mean. If you are a soul and you can still feel pain, still have thoughts, still experience suffering and all the stuff that comes along with a spiritual Hell, then…

C’mon, people… you know this one…

If your soul provides all the comforts and discomforts of a body… then you never needed a body in the first place. God made the Earth for a bunch of meat-sack soul-containers to bump into each other and start wars and buy over-priced health insurance, for no reason. If God wanted you to suffer after you die, then why make a physical you at all? Why make a physical universe at all? If the universe matters at all, it matters more than our own physical presence within it. That’s right. If there’s a spiritual Hell, if there’s a Hell somewhere on “the other side”, then that’s like God giving this side a big middle finger.

Now I know this is only #2 and we’ve put together a decent case against Hell existing in either this universe or some spiritual realm, but if I know Christians (and boy do I ever), I suspect that a few are reaching for their trusty dusty Bibles right now. I’ll get mine out too. But guess what? You’re still probably not going to Hell because…

3. FOREVER AND EVER ISN’T ALWAYS “FORVER AND EVER”

FOR-E-VER

FOR-E-VER

~

“If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” – Revelation 14:9b-11 NIV.

Pretty heavy stuff, right? The smoke goes up forever. Eternal torment, right there in black and white. At the end of time, God kicks some serious human ass. But that verse… it sounds familiar. It reminds me of another verse, an earlier verse.

Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch, her dust into burning sulfur; her land will become blazing pitch! It will not be quenched night or day; its smoke will rise forever. From generation to generation it will lie desolate; no one will ever pass through it again. – Isaiah 34:9-10 NIV.

Edom is still burning? Really? I mean, it is the Bible. And the Bible is the source of authority on all the Hell-talk anyway, right? But we don’t have to simply trust Scripture this time. I’m sure we can just confirm this ourselves by finding a recent image of Edom. Get your popcorn, grab a couple loved-ones, lower the lights, and let’s enjoy the never-ending carnage together!

Maybe it's "spiritual smoke".

Maybe it’s “spiritual smoke”

~

Hmm. This is awkward. Maybe the Bible just likes to talk a big game. Maybe the Bible uses terms like “forever and ever” to emphasize the extent of the destruction, not the duration of the destruction. Maybe Hitler doesn’t need to boil in lava for eternity; maybe God just wants to look down ominously from the ledge inside Mount Doom as Hitler grasps the Ring of Power in a moment of evil defiance before he melts. There’s actually a whole neat theology about this called Annihilationism. If you’re interested, check out this article.

I don’t know about you, but I’m just more smitten with this God fellow than ever!

Still worried you might find yourself in a leaky rowboat in a lake of fire? Don’t be! Because…

4. MOSES WOULD NEVER LET GOD LIVE IT DOWN

moses460

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I’ve mentioned this before, and I’ll never cease mentioning it. Moses totally schooled God in Exodus 32. Here’s the Biblical proof, if proof is the right word.

The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” Exodus 32:9-10 NRSV.

Okay, so God was like “Leave me alone. I’m pissed. I don’t even want you to talk sense into me, Moses.” But then Moses does the righteous thing by disobeying God and giving God three reasons why he’s wrong to be so bitchy.

But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people. Exodus 11-14

Oh, Burn! (pun intended).

If this verse tells us one thing, it’s that God, even Old Testament pre-Jesus God, had mercy. He never stays mad. He goes for a drive, gets a drink, watches the game, and then comes home ready for love. Plus, he knows that if he really goes over the edge one day, he loses. If there is a God, he’s not interested in losing. Have you ever wondered what it would look like if he really tortured conscious souls for eternity? He’d literally become more cruel than any notion of Satan we’ve ever heard of. If you happen to believe in Satan, and if you even attribute every crappy thing that ever happened to his doing, none of it could ever compare to God creating a Hell. If Satan had a good 5 million years of chaotic fun with humanity, that would never come close to God’s eternal reign of terror, confining countless souls to a fate much worse than death, with no chance of learning their lesson, with no chance of redemption, for crimes they may or may not have been aware of.

Honestly, if Hell is real then God should give every newborn baby a birthmark across their forehead that spells out “Hell is real. That’s why I’m giving you this very clear birthmark because I’d be a big jerk if I didn’t tell you directly. Sincerely, God, Your loving cosmic overlord.”

IN CLOSING: Obviously these four reasons I have given are really four cans of worms I have opened up for you all to enjoy. I do not pretend to know what actually happens when we die, but my studies and sarcasm lead me to write on such topics for educational and entertainment purposes. If you’re an Atheist, God bless you for reading this far. I find myself between agnosticism and pantheism, terms you should know if you want to know anything about me. Having grown up in a fundamentalist home (in the South), this discussion never stops. Hell is a topic that influences everything from who we vote for to how we talk to our parents at Thanksgiving. Hopefully this article has helped you smile a little more and fear the flaming abyss just a little less.

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brettttttBrett Gallaher is founder of We Occupy Jesus, pretty much the best blog like ever. He resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the place they wrote that train song about. Once he shot a squirrel, but he felt really bad about it afterwards. When he’s not changing the world, Brett also enjoys paying way too much for coffee.