Ashes

I just wanted to make a plug for my daughter’s new EP that’s just been released today.

It’s a six-track EP/album called ‘Ashes’ and it’s taken her more than a year to create the songs on it. All proceeds go to our local Hospice, Rowcroft Hospice, where Ellie’s Mum was looked after for her last few days on this earth.

It’s priced very reasonably at £3.54 on Amazon, and I am sure it will be on other countries’ Amazon sites too. It’s also avaliable on streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music; just search ‘Ellie Rosie’ to find the links to this and all her other published music.

Click the image below to go to the Amazon UK sales page, where you can also listen to some short preview clips from the tracks on the EP. Ellie is a very talented young lady with a superb singing voice and excellent songwriting skills; even the short clips will send shivers down your spine 🙂

00

Did My Dog Arrive in Heaven?

On the back of my last post about pets being with us in Heaven, here’s a lovely piece shared by my friend Mo Thomas, which I think was originally written by a chap called Keith Wilson. It describes a lovely act of human kindness and compassion to a grieving soul. Let it minister to you:


“Our 14-year-old dog Abbey died last month. The day after she passed away, my 4-year-old daughter Meredith was crying and talking about how much she missed Abbey. She asked if we could write a letter to God, so that when Abbey got to heaven, God would recognize her. I told her that I thought we could so, and she dictated these words:

Dear God,

Will you please take care of my dog? She died yesterday and is with you in heaven. I miss her very much. I am happy that you let me have her as my dog even though she got sick.

I hope you will play with her. She likes to swim and play with balls. I am sending a picture of her so when you see her you will know that she is my dog. I really miss her.

Love, Meredith

We put the letter in an envelope with a picture of Abbey and Meredith and addressed it to God/Heaven. We put our return address on it. Then Meredith pasted several stamps on the front of the envelope because she said it would take lots of stamps to get the letter all the way to heaven. That afternoon she dropped it into the letter box at the post office. A few days later, she asked if God had gotten the letter yet. I told her that I thought He had.

Yesterday, there was a package wrapped in gold paper on our front porch addressed, ‘To Meredith’ in an unfamiliar hand. Meredith opened it. Inside was a book by Mr. Rogers called, ‘When a Pet Dies.’ Taped to the inside front cover was the letter we had written to God in its opened envelope. On the opposite page was the picture of Abbey & Meredith and this note:

Dear Meredith,

Abbey arrived safely in heaven. Having the picture was a big help and I recognized her right away.

Abbey isn’t sick anymore. Her spirit is here with me just like it stays in your heart. Abbey loved being your dog. Since we don’t need our bodies in heaven, I don’t have any pockets to keep your picture in so I am sending it back to you in this little book for you to keep and have something to remember Abbey by.

Thank you for the beautiful letter and thank your mother for helping you write it and sending it to me. What a wonderful mother you have. I picked her especially for you. I send my blessings every day and remember that I love you very much. By the way, I’m easy to find. I am wherever there is love.

Love, God
__________________

You will be happy to know this wonderful story is 100% true.

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” “

 

 32

Merry’s Legacy

Back in 2017, I posted a very popular piece entitled ‘Do Animals Go To Heaven?‘, and a shorter version of it was also republished on the ‘Unfundamentalists’ blog under the title ‘Do Our Pets Go To Heaven?

I would think it likely that most people are familiar with the grief and loss that we feel when a well-beloved pet dies, and so I reckon the piece was so popular because so many people could identify with it, and hopefully many were helped by it too. The essay was particularly well-received on the Unfundamentalists site (possibly because more people saw it), and the ensuing discussion was very touching as I got some lovely comments from people who had been blessed and encouraged by it. Encouragement is what I do, so I was really pleased to see one comment in particular, which I will quote here:

“I lost my best friend, Strudel (German Shepherd), to cancer on Sunday. He was the best person I have ever known, and my heart is broken. Then, this blog showed up in my email box, and I am so grateful to for the comfort it has given me. I write this with tears in my eyes, but I know that he is waiting for me with Jesus in heaven, enjoying plenty of his favorite food (hot dog buns)”

That comment brings tears to my eyes too, even now, years later 🙂

After that comment, the discussion sadly degenerated rather rapidly into some pretty dull theological stuff, which I won’t share here. There are people who, because of their limited theology, believe that pets can’t be in Heaven. They would rather their theology remains intact – which the idea doesn’t really threaten, as animal ‘sin’ is not really an issue – than believe that even they will see their beloved pets again – or that anyone else will see theirs, either. Sad, sad people, without much hope for what Heaven will be like (far, far, better than anything we can imagine!), and who want to drag others down into that mire too. And that’s tragic.

But still the raw emotion of that comment about Strudel demonstrated the point of what my essay was aiming at. The encouragement of the ‘silent listeners’ who don’t get caught up in pointless discussion, who don’t try to argue others out of the real hope they have in the interests of ‘following Scripture’ (whatever happened to ‘following Jesus’?), but who are simply blessed by the things they read that are a million miles away from the harsh, dogmatic and ungentle things that are written on so many faith blogs. That encouragement is what this stuff is all about.

And so, I will share today a couple of things that have really blessed me, in the hope that they will bless you too, my gentle readers.

We begin with the sadness of loss. Gutted to say that, a couple of weeks ago, we lost Merry, who was the oldest of our pet rats.[1] That’s Merry in the header picture for this blog post.

Initially, Merry was a bit of a sad case when we first adopted him. We had four rats already (they were about a year old), and I was in a pet shop buying food and other accessories for them. When in the shop, I always make a habit of going to look at the baby rats (because they are so cute), and there in this cage all by himself was this beautiful white Dumbo rat.[2] And so we rescued him from being condemned to a life of loneliness and isolation, and took him home with us.[3] After displaying some initial behavioural problems, he eventually settled in just fine, after neutering and a caravan holiday (yes we take the rats in the caravan with us), and he turned out to be the sweetest, most lovable little fella you could ever want to meet.

But, like so many rats, he eventually succumbed to a respiratory problem[4] and we had to make the hard decision to have him put to sleep. It was made a little easier because, even as we had him in the car with us waiting outside the vets, we could see him deteriorating: cyanosis (going blue) of the lips, nose and tongue, and no circulation in the ears. It was definitely his time, and having him put to sleep was the compassionate thing to do, primarily because dying of respiratory distress is not a good way to go. Rats only live for two to three years, and Merry was just over two years old, but still, to lose that lovely little character with all his funny habits and his gentle and wise nature – it was terrible.

Merry dozing in his pod

I mentioned in the previous ‘pets/heaven’ essay that my late wife Fiona had really clear and vivid visions from God that brought real comfort to her in times of emotional anguish.

Well, I too had one of Merry after he died. I saw him in Fiona’s hands, having scrambled along her forearms, and sniffing at the ‘camera’ (you know, the dream’s ‘viewpoint’) and Fiona was saying “Where’s your Grandpa?” (that’s me!)[5]. Building once again on my firm belief that our pets go with us into the afterlife, I was greatly encouraged by that vision and I shared it with my daughter too, and it encouraged her.

Pippin

Looking back a couple of years, there was an occasion (when we had four rats) and we went on a caravan holiday (before we’d worked out how to take them with us on a regular basis), and we asked our lovely, kindly neighbours to come in and feed the rats for us in our absence. On our return, the rats went absolutely nuts when they welcomed us back. They came charging over towards us and gave us a right royal welcome, just like if you’d been away from home for a fair while and your dog welcomed you back.

And this brings me to Merry’s Legacy. That vision I had, and like I said above, building on my belief that our pets will be with us in the ‘hereafter’, led me to thinking about what that will be like when we arrive. I mean, I would have liked to have thought that Jesus would be the first to welcome me, followed closely by Fiona. But now I’m not so sure. If I have any dog owners reading this, how often have you noticed your dog hold back behind other humans when he comes to welcome you as you get home from work? It’s never happened once, in my experience. The dogs have always got there first in their enthusiasm and exuberance in welcoming home the humans that they love.

Do you see where I’m going with this? What if the first of our friends to welcome us into Heaven are our pets? What if the dogs come charging ahead and bowl me over with their enthusiastic welcome? How can they not do that; they are dogs! With the humans laughing at their antics, but still left well behind them? So, my dogs Melody, Jasper, Katie, Poppy, Bruno and Zeus. No doubt the cats, Daisy and Tigger, will be off doing their own thing and just being cats. And as for the rats: Zig, Zag, Honey, Rosie, Pepper, Sammy, Toby, Wally, Finn, Obi, Pippin, Merry (Peter and Raven are still with us) – these guys will all be right there and trying to get to me first. Even the chickens, and if you’ve ever seen a flock of chickens charging enthusiastically towards you to see what you’ve got for them, you’ll know what I mean 😀 What a lovely picture that is!

My rat Pepper

All these individual, unique characters – people – in their own right, and precious and beloved by us and by God because of that.

So, with all that competition, maybe Jesus and Fiona might not get to me first, then? 😉

The amazing Sammy. This little guy knew how to do tricks.

You see, I think Heaven is going to be so full of wonderful surprises: things we thought we had lost forever; people we thought we’d never see again; pets who were so much part of our lives. And the reunion is going to be spectacular! Maybe I have even created a spoiler today; I mean who’d have thought that their pets would not only be there in Heaven, but that they would be the first to welcome us? But I think we can be sure that Heaven will be immeasurably greater than any spoiler I can give 🙂

Wally in the caravan. He’s only a baby here, but he grew into the wisest rat I have ever known. His wisdom and intelligence were absolutely phenomenal.

Another one of Wally

I often say that God’s two greatest mistakes were a) putting nerves in teeth, and b) giving our pets such short lifespans. Regarding the pet lifespans, I am sure that there’s a deep reason for it, which I kinda have some inkling of (in fact I am sharing some of the wisdom in this essay) and which God reveals in small amounts as we walk with Him, just as He does with all of Life’s Big Questions. I trust Him fully, I know I’ll understand it all one day. and that’s all good. (But the nerves in teeth thing, well no, just no 😉 )

But still, our pets are amazing animals, who in their own way demonstrate to us God’s love and care. When we get to Heaven, I’m sure that we will more fully understand what their function and role has been for us in this life. They are God’s ministers to us – which is probably why cults ban their members from having them. Can’t have the real God showing up, now can we? 😉 And His ministry through these incredible animals – dogs, rats, cats, chickens – is real and tangible. The healing, unconditional love and acceptance that they display mirrors closely those same characteristics in our healing, loving and accepting Heavenly Father. And why not? Is not God capable of showing His character through all His Creation?

Raven. He’s really inquisitive, very fast, super-affectionate and highly intelligent.

 

This is Peter; he’s very affectionate but also very shy.

Merry’s Legacy has been to show me just what these creatures do for us and how much they enrich our lives; how much they minister God to us. And it’s also shown me a good bit more of what my welcome into Heaven will be like. And I have Merry to thank for that.

The pain of the loss of our dear ones – humans and animals alike – will be nothing when compared to the joy of our reunion with them. Remember that divine ‘judgment’ means that all that was wrong will be put right; all hurts will be healed; everything that ever caused us tears of pain and sadness will become just a dim memory. Now that’s Good News! This is the Gospel! If it doesn’t lead you to believe that everything – everything! – will turn out right in the end, then it isn’t the real Gospel, because nothing other than that, as a final result, will even come close to being God’s best for us. Would God stop at anything short of absolute perfection, when it comes to our eternal home?

Go figure.

Finally, I would say that one of the things that we do when saying goodbye to our pets is that we thank them. We thank them for all the love and heartfelt presence they have ministered to us for the short time we had them, and for all the input they have had into our lives. So, I say thank you, Merry, for all you’ve been to us, your family; all you’ve done for us; and all you’ve taught us about selflessness, self-giving, tolerance and gentleness. And I will see you again soon.

Grace and peace to you all

41

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Before anyone runs away, please let me say a word in favour of rats as pets! Rats get a really bad press in the public eye; they are seen as dirty, disease-carrying, vicious and bitey creatures with weird tails, and they give a lot of people the shivers. That, and they are regularly used for the ‘Yeuch!’ factor in game shows such as ‘I’m a celebrity, get me out of here!‘ where lots of (tame!) rats are released into some sort of coffin or box along with the contestant. But in actuality, even wild rats are neither dirty (they hate being dirty and wash themselves at every opportunity), and nor are they vicious; they would much rather simply be left alone. And pet rats, or ‘fancy rats’, are different again from wild rats. In addition to having some differences in the ways their bodies work, they too are clean, and are also beautiful, affectionate, gentle, empathetic, intelligent, caring animals with a very high emotional intelligence and, in some cases, a level of real wisdom that I have not seen very often in humans. They all have individual personalities and they really do make great pets. In fact, I know people for whom rats were recommended as ‘assistance animals’ to help with mental illness issues.
2. Dumbo rats have larger, rounder ears which are situated further down the sides of their heads than the usual ear position. ‘Top-eared’ rats are the ‘usual’ ear pattern for rats. Dumbos, however, are bred specifically to make them more ‘cute’ and appealing to humans, essentially so they sell better. It’s actually been quite hard to find top-eared rats in pet shops recently!

Picture shows two baby rats (‘kittens’) of about ten weeks old; the guy on the left is a top-eared rat whereas the little rascal on the right is a Dumbo. The top-eared fellow’s ears will look smaller and better-proportioned once he’s grown up a bit; don’t forget these are babies.

3. It strongly irks me when pet shops will sell a single rat all by itself by removing it from its group, or when they leave a single rat in its sales cage when all its brothers/sisters have been sold. The isolated rat (sold or unsold) will be bewildered and heartbroken, wondering what they have done wrong, feeling lost and in complete despair. Rats are pack animals; they need to be in groups of at least two, and preferably more. And that isolation was what had happened to poor Merry. Sure, a rat will enjoy human company, but having a proper ‘mischief’ (the name for a social group of rats), will be far more beneficial.
4. Rats tend to suffer from two major health problems: tumours and respiratory issues
5. Because the rats belong to my daughter, their ‘mummy’, I of course am ‘Grandpa’

The Genius of the Cross

Whatever you need the Cross of Christ to be, for you, it will meet that need. It’s often been said that at the Cross, God meets all the deepest needs of mankind. Reconciliation with God? Check. Healing? Check. Forgiveness? Check. Putting to death of the ‘old nature’? Check. A sacrifice? Check. Demonstration of God’s love for us? Check. I myself no longer see the Cross as being the place where Jesus was sacrificed as a Lamb to appease a wrathful god. But if you, personally, need the Cross to be the place of sacrifice, then God is big enough, and the work of Christ at Calvary is huge enough, to meet that need. And that’s fine. Others will likely have different needs, and that’s fine too.

For myself, I no longer see the Cross through the lens of ‘penal substitutionary atonement’ (PSA), where Jesus ‘took my place’. I no longer consider PSA to be a viable Biblical concept, although I do understand why people believe that idea. I used to believe it myself, once upon a time. I’m generally not very good at describing what the Cross means to me, because it’s more of an internalised thing for me, although I have expressed some of my ideas in previous blog posts. I know what it means to me, and I know that I am continually learning more about just what Jesus did there. At the bare minimum, if we fix ourselves to just one particular interpretation, or ‘meaning’, of the Cross, we will miss out on learning so much more about what Jesus did there.

And so, for your upbuilding, here is a beautiful piece by the brilliant Jacob M. Wright, where he presents a superbly logical and totally Biblical idea on a particular aspect of the Cross. As usual, Jacob expressess his ideas with clarity and conviction:


Here is a couple lines from a beautiful and scathing critique of Christianity by Sam Harris. Part of his critique is of the superstitiously violent nature of religion throughout history and its nearly universal practice of sacrificing humans in a myriad of different horrific ways to “appease the gods” or satisfy strange superstitions. I fully agree with him in this particular critique and I believe a very different interpretation of the crucifixion which I will briefly go over afterwards.

“Upon seeing Jesus for the first time, John the Baptist is rumored to have said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). For most Christians, this bizarre opinion still stands, and it remains the core of their faith. Christianity is more or less synonymous with the proposition that the crucifixion of Jesus represents a final, sufficient offering of blood to a God who absolutely requires it (Hebrews 9:22-28). Christianity amounts to the claim that we must love and be loved by a God who approves of the scapegoating, torture, and murder of one man—his son, incidentally—in compensation for the misbehavior and thought-crimes of all others.

“Let the good news go forth: we live in a cosmos, the vastness of which we can scarcely even indicate in our thoughts, on a planet teeming with creatures we have only begun to understand, but the whole project was actually brought to a glorious fulfillment over twenty centuries ago, after one species of primate (our own) climbed down out of the trees, invented agriculture and iron tools, glimpsed (as through a glass, darkly) the possibility of keeping its excrement out of its food, and then singled out one among its number to be viciously flogged and nailed to a cross.”

I appreciate Harris’ brilliant words here in so much as he is exposing the wrong way of seeing Christianity. This is why we need to continue to overturn Calvin’s model of the atonement and show that with Christ we do not have what every other religion has in terms of slaughtering a creature to appease its god with blood, but rather we have a subversion of sacrifice and an overturning of normal sacrificial thinking.

I would start by pointing out that if the bloody torture and crucifixion of Jesus was demanded by God to appease his wrath, then why are Jesus torturers and killers considered evil in carrying out this act, if they were merely fulfilling a necessary barbaric human sacrifice ritual unto God and with every drop of blood appeasing him?

Here is the normal sacrificial routine: those bringing the sacrifice are considered righteous and pleasing to God by bringing an offering to slaughter unto God. Now contrast with Christ’s Passion: The ones carrying out the act are evil, not pleasing to God. And the one bringing the offering (“I lay my life down of my own accord”) is God himself who is offering himself to humanity. This is the opposite of a divine wrath-appeasing human sacrifice model. This is completely turned on its head.

If they were carrying out an act that in itself was good and pleasing to the Lord, namely torturing and killing Jesus as a human sacrifice to satisfy God’s wrath, then why did God go about it the way he did? Why didn’t Jesus just explain to his disciples to tie him down to an altar, slaughter him, and burn his flesh as a pleasing sacrificial aroma to God? Instead we have the opposite playing out, that it was an evil act and that it was God offering himself up to the hands of sinful men, rather than humans offering a sacrifice to God. The Passion is a subversion of the sacrificial system.

Furthermore, we have Paul explaining that God offering himself to be killed by the hands of sinful men was an exposure and defeat of the principalities and powers and it was God making peace with humanity, in contrast to a sacrifice where humans try to appease and make peace with God. Usually it was man trying to reconcile God to himself through their offering to God but here we have God reconciling the world to himself through his offering of himself.

To go further, the normal pagan sacrificial ritual was to satiate the bloodlust of the gods with the flesh and blood of the sacrifice. Whereas in the Passion narrative, God’s flesh and blood is offered to us, and we are the ones who eat and drink the flesh and blood of God.

The Passion shows us to be the ones with the bloodlust, not God. God subverts this nearly universal practice of sacrifice to expose something at the heart of humanity and to transform human thinking concerning who God is and who we are. We are thus transformed by coming again and again to remember this act of self-giving, unconditionally forgiving love, remembering the One who does not demand blood but lays down his own life to make peace. We partake in this act, we receive unconditional forgiveness, and we are called to be transformed into peacemakers ourselves.

This is how Jesus’ sacrifice was pleasing to God. Not because God demanded it or was satisfied with a blood offering, but because as the writer of Philippians says, Jesus “emptied himself”, demonstrating the humility of a servant, laying his life down in non-violent forgiveness, dying a victims death at the hands of violent humanity. This was a perfect act of love, and thus God exalts Christ to supreme authority, that at his name, everyone will surrender and every tongue confess that this love is the supreme authority. Within this act of divine love is the reconciliation of all things.

God did this at the risk of being thought of as normal sacrificial thinking, that is, an animal or human being offered to God to satiate his bloodlust and appease his anger. Yet even when people see it that way, it still communicates the final doing away with sacrifice with an act of self-giving and peacemaking which begins to deconstruct these sacrificial paradigms in social thinking. Even when one cannot see the powerful subversion of sacrifice at work in Christ’s act, and they see it through the lens of normal sacrificial thinking, it still begins the necessary deconstruction of sacrificial thinking and begins to end sacrifice once and for all in civilization, and begins to point to a God of self-sacrifice, forgiveness, self-giving love, and reconciliation, which begins working itself through human thinking and overturning our violence and enmity with Christ’s act of peacemaking and reconciliation.

 – Jacob M. Wright, used with his kind permission

10

A Good, Good Father

This is a brilliant insight by Jamie Englehart. I need add no more, except to say that it really fits with the general theme of my blog in that God is a good God!

Over to Jamie:


Jesus came to reveal the Father, not the law giver, or judge, or even a King, but a Father who desires relationship with His offspring.

When we view God and scripture through a legal, judicial lens, we will get excited about judgement, justice, punishment, and rendering evil for evil, and like the idea of God sending calamity, especially on those who have hurt us. These are not the days of Job or Elijah or Moses, but of Jesus.

However when we view God and scripture through Jesus which is a new and better covenant lens, we will view through the lens of family, relationship, mercy and grace, love, reconciliation, and the forgiveness for our enemies.

When we realize that His righteous judgements are from the heart of a loving father who is seated on a throne of grace and mercy and not in a courtroom, then we will run to Him and not from Him. He is a holy, righteous, and just Father who does chastise and correct those that are His, but it is from a place of loving correction and not punitive. Mercy triumphs over judgement, and TRUE justice or the God kind of justice is mercy and compassion (Zech 7:9).

If we are more patient, loving and kind as parents than our God, and we would not do to our children what we are ok teaching that He will do to His, then our God is NOT like Jesus. He is a good, good, Father and according to Jesus much better than the best of us.

 – Jamie Englehart, shared with his kind permission

20

Proximity Fixes Everything

Here’s a great piece by Michael McElyea:


Prior to 2018 and the awakening within that I had, the place I was running with was the statement that “proximity fixes everything and nothing else will”

I still believe that wholeheartedly, except I see this in an entire new light

I want to say that although I’ve moved past the theology I am so thankful for the Pentecostal world

I adore it with my whole heart

At least they taught and stressed and emphasized that this thing with God is not merely some beliefs to hold sacred, but an invitation into an experience, a communion, a fellowship and a nearness to not only the Father of all of this beautiful creation but the very lover of our souls

But the proximity message was as if God was over there in this holy place that I was not and I had to seek to be there I had to pursue him I had to ascend this mountain….in other words I had to get on this hamster wheel called religion and strive strive strive, I had to do in order to be…..having lost that I am not a human do-ing but that I am a human be-ing

Once the concept of the incarnation became a deep seated revelation in my heart, Jesus destroyed my hamster wheel

Once understanding that there’s never been any objective distance or delay or separation between Him and I, it changed my entire life and is continually changing my life. I’ve been “saved”, from lies, I’m being “saved” as we speak, and I will be “saved”

Proximity fixes everything, the truth that I was joined to him from my conception, never been separate, he’s with me in my darkness as well as on my mountains. And when my life contradicts my true self, it doesn’t take weeks of me condemning myself and grinding out to be a good person and get back into his nearness again, but that he’s always near, closer than anything else, and I’m reminded of who I am, that I am in Christ and Christ is in me. Restoration

And I’m reminded that love is the essence of my being, it’s my DNA, that I’ve been formed and fashioned for love, through love, to love and In the very image and likeness of Love himself…..by the very One who is nothing other than pure Love

He asked me and he received, he sought me and found me, and knocked until my door within opened. He put me on his shoulders as One, clothed me in righteousness, found the image that was lost, and we together are moving forward in this journey called life

Love has the final word

Proximity does fix everything, and we’ve always been woven together. The message is Union. There’s an incarnated human be-ing seated upon the “throne” in “heaven” announcing this perpetual union, as well as your dignity and glory and beauty, forever and fully immersed into the divine dance of the ages

This applies to every single one of you who reads this

Change the way that you think

He’s better than you’ve been taught

– Michael McElyea


Shared with Michael’s enthusiastic permission 🙂10

Except by Me

I’m sorry to say, but, in general, Fundamentalist Evangelical Christianity loves to be exclusive.

Black and white thinking: saved or unsaved; in or out; blessed or cursed.

We are the Chosen Ones; everyone else is wrong to some degree, and we are the only ones who have most of it right at least.

In the Old Testament (OT), so beloved of the more judgmental sectors of Christianity, there are – of course! – lists of people who are ‘excluded from the assembly’; in other words, they’re not allowed to ‘go into the presence of God’. The main list that springs to mind is the one in Deuteronomy 23:1ff[1], but there are others too.

Quite apart from those exclusion lists being part of the Old Covenant, of course, many modern Christians have not only revived the lists but have also enthusiastically gold-plated them by adding people from groups that they personally – or corporately – disapprove of. For instance, LGBTQ+ people, unmarried single parents, men who don’t wear ties 😉 , well, the list goes on and its contents vary depending on whom you ask. Maybe it’s best not to ask then? 😉 But it’s going to be that the main criteria for a given ‘exclusive’ Christian’s exclusion of certain people from the Kingdom of Heaven are: a) (in the wider sense) anyone who is not a ‘Christian’; b) (more narrowly) anyone who is not in their specific denomination; and c) (in the narrowest sense) anyone and everyone who does not believe the exact same things as he does. I suppose it gives them a sense of superiority or something.

But, to be fair, the reasons and the heart behind these actions and attitudes are not my target today; instead, I want to use an excellent piece, by Jacob M. Wright, to show why the main verse normally used to justify exclusiveness – John 14:6 – is actually a really inclusive passage of Scripture, not exclusive as it has of course been twisted to mean. Let’s take another look at it:

(John 14:6)

On the surface, when Jesus says “No-one comes to the father but (except) through Me”, it does look at first sight as if that’s what He’s saying, especially when we see the word ‘except’, which is of itself an exclusive kind of word. Jesus is the only way to the Father. And in a sense, I agree, but for other reasons which are not germane to this present piece. I too have written on this idea before in this blog (but I can’t remember all the places, but one such piece is here 😉 ) There is also Acts 4:12, which appears to say a similar thing, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name [Jesus] under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” But, look, I’m going to stop blathering and let you read Jacob’s piece; it’s a real eye-opener, and will give you a great perspective on this verse. I learned something new from Jacob when I read this.

Here we go:


“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6)

Today, I would like to discuss this statement. Typically this statement has been interpreted by many Christians as an exclusive statement, but I would like to show how it can and should be interpreted as an inclusive statement. Usually when you hear this verse, it is a Christian trying to use it to basically say that you must be a Christian by saying the sinners prayer or believing the correct things about Jesus in order to “go to heaven instead of hell.” This is just not what the verse says.

Rather, Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father but through me.” This is the same as saying, “Everyone who comes to the Father, comes through me.” It’s like saying, “No one is alive on earth but through breathing the air.” Yes, and everyone who is alive on earth is breathing air. In other words, everyone who has a relationship with the Creator, has it through the Spirit of Christ at work within them, whether they know it or not. Jesus was simply pointing to himself as the incarnation of this reality.

Christ was a universally ever-present reality before he assumed the body of Jesus of Nazareth, and still is now. As John tells us, he is the divine Logos through whom the universe was made, and his life is the light of all mankind (John 1:3-4), not just Christians. Furthermore, Paul tells us that in him we all live, move, and have our being, as well as that the whole universe exists and is sustained in and through Christ (Col. 1:17).

So, with this in mind, Jesus is simply saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. If anyone knows God, they know him through me and my Spirit at work within them.” Jesus was simply saying that he is the embodiment of the universal Christ that John and Paul later attested to. By this, Jesus was both saying he is the inclusive universal reality that everyone can and does access AND putting exclusive importance on his own life, teaching, and person that signifies and clarifies this reality.


– Jacob M. Wright, shared with his kind permission

I’d just add as a final point that there are many other verses that agree with Christian inclusivity (did I just invent a new phrase?? 😉 ). A good place to start would be in the list of Scriptures given by Mo Thomas in the recent post of his that I shared here.

And in any case, if there is no Hell, as I firmly believe, what other conclusion can there be but total inclusion? Even if not in this life, certainly in the Hereafter…but hey, why not start now?

Grace and peace to you 😀10

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Ah, surprise, surprise – good old Deuteronomy again! Don’t you just love it? 😉

Worship to Go

This entry is part 38 of 38 in the series Fiona

A few evenings ago, while driving in my car, I had the most precious and profound worship time, and I thought I would share it with my readers because it illustrates the raw power of real worship, and its ability to change the hearts of those worshipping. This was a very special worship experience for me, and although it will probably not have the same effect on other people, I wanted to share it also because I want to try and show just what happens when the Spirit orchestrates worship – even on an electronic mp3 player – for the building-up of the heart of the believer.[1] Plus of course it will probably bless my readers anyway 😀 For me, Her ‘playlist’, and the order in which the songs appeared on my player, were a deliberate setup in order to maximise the blessing for me. And it was absolutely wonderful! So I am sharing the story, the individual tracks, and (later on) the tracks all spliced into a single continuous piece in order hopefully to let you experience something of the profound time I had the other evening, and to hear how all the tracks flow together. This is worship leading at its best; thank You, Holy Spirit!

So, on this particular evening, I was driving up to Exeter (no, not to go flying! 😉 ) and, as is my usual custom, I had some worship music playing. I’ve done this for years, just so long as there’s no-one else in the car that the music will annoy 😀

Well, my iPod was set to random play, and the first song to come up was ‘Jesus we enthrone You’, segued[2] into ‘Ascribe Greatness’, from the Dales ’82 tape ‘Praise God in His Sanctuary’. These songs, and the way in which the ‘worship session’ went, are the reasons why I have included this piece in my series about my lovely late wife Fiona. These two songs, especially, held great meaning for us in the early part of our lives together and, on this particular day, they led to a tremendous time of healing for me, right there in the car.

Not long after we’d first begun dating, in 1982, we went to several worship evenings together at the Dales Bible Week in Harrogate. These two songs therefore have for me a lot of deep meaning and personal identification, and they bring back many happy memories of those days. In particular, I found that on this journey they actually recreated, in small measure, the feelings I had when we were first dating.

It was Fiona’s first Bible week, and she loved it; the worship especially. Fiona always had the heart of a worshipper, and those were the days where she first experienced what it was like to worship in a huge congregation of 8,000-plus people, using new and exuberant songs like these.

Lyrics are here, in case you want to join in[3]

The sound of the ladies’ voices, when they sing without the men, sounds very much like Fiona’s voice, and whenever I listen to these Dales ’82 songs, I always fancy I can hear her voice. Of course, that’s highly unlikely, given that there will have been about 4,000 ladies singing there each night, but, well, because we were there for most of the meetings that week, we are likely on the recording! Anyway, we learned these songs at Dales, and brought them back to our home congregation at Guiseley Baptist Church. We had them both at our wedding, and Fiona came in to the tune of Ascribe Greatness. Nearly thirty-three years later, we also sang it at Fiona’s funeral.

At this point, then, gratitude and worship were flowing, and the iPod segued into the perfect intro of Terry MacAlmon’s ‘Worship Interlude‘. Even the key transition was seamless, and Terry’s first words on the track, ‘Thank You Lord’, were just what I was feeling: an immense gratitude for Fiona’s life and for all the great times we’d had together. Time for me to sing in my Spirit language, because words were simply not enough to express what I was feeling[4].

The song followed into a mild key-change and then, to my complete amazement, into one of the most healing songs I have ever heard – and in the key that the (unconnected) Worship Interlude had just changed into. Honestly, the transition was simply seamless. But this song? It was My God and King, by Shauna Chanda, accompanied by Terry MacAlmon, and this particular piece holds so much meaning for me, because it was involved in the healing of deep hurts not long after I lost Fiona. Can you see how perfectly these songs were ‘set up’ for me? 😀

Lyrics[5]

Wow. Just, wow. And as you can imagine, at this point I was well aware that the Spirit was orchestrating the randomisation on the iPod!

Next, along came a Vineyard song from our early days as worship leaders and my being Director of Music at my church – again, perfectly seamless with regards to the key (stayed in the same key) – I worship You (I give You all the Honor) by Carl Tuttle:

Lyrics[6]

For so much of our lives together, especially when we lived in Yorkshire, we spent a lot of time living ‘on the breadline’, where we often had to search the house for the last two coins needed to buy a loaf of bread or whatever it was we needed. And I have to say that God has never seen us go short; He has always provided for all our needs – physical, emotional, spiritual. He’s been faithful (a God of faithfulness, as we have already seen above), and this song was the next up – the classic hymn ‘Great is Thy faithfulness‘, and this one is the Hosanna Music version:

Lyrics [7]

…and then leading into the very next song, Brian Doerksen’s Faithful One, another early-90’s Vineyard song which I introduced and led at my old Church in Leeds:

Lyrics[8]

And then, to finish, and perfectly timed as I was reaching my destination, my favourite worship song of all time, When I look into Your Holiness, in its original form (to me, at any rate), from the Harvestime tape ‘Let Your Spirit Rise‘, and preceded, as on the tape, with the classic song ‘As the Deer’. This was how I learned these songs, and this tape, again, was pivotal in my early development as a worship leader, and with Fiona by my side. We used to play this tape all the time when we were decorating our first house 🙂

Lyrics[9]

Well, I mean wow. What an amazing song set, and so well put together with transitions, keys, relevance and dynamics. It was obviously set up to minister healing in me from more of the damage I took when I lost Fiona – and it worked. I arrived at my destination feeling more whole than I have in a long time, and refreshed by the Presence of God[10]. And that night, I dreamed about her again, with yet another healing dream 🙂 This, again, is all part of the healing, which is progressively and each time bringing deeper and deeper wholeness to my shattered soul, to levels I can only guess at. I am definitely in the hands of the Master Physician, and the Spirit is doing Her work through the worship, orchestrated as only She can do it.

Here, for your edification, is the entire set, combined as a single track, with all the transitions left in place just as they were that evening.

While it isn’t possible, nor indeed desirable, to try to recreate the worship experience I had, still I wanted to share the set with you because, at the very least, it shows just how songs can be woven together to produce a remarkably relevant worship experience. And, anyway, this is great music! I hope it blesses you 😀

Grace and Peace to you

10

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Remember that the Spirit is not ‘caught on tape’ as such, but recordings of worship music have the ability to stir up the spirit of worship in the believer. The same Spirit that was present in those worship meetings is right there with you, right now.
2. A segue (pronounced ‘segway’) is when one song flows into another
3. Jesus, we enthrone You
We proclaim You our King
Standing here in the midst of us
We raise You up with our praise
And as we worship, build Your throne
And as we worship, build Your throne
And as we worship, build Your throne
Come Lord Jesus, and take Your place

Ascribe greatness to our God, the Rock
His work is perfect, and all His ways are just
Ascribe greatness to our God, the Rock
His work is perfect, and all His ways are just
A God of faithfulness, and without injustice
Good and upright is He
A God of faithfulness, and without injustice
Good and upright is He

4. You may rightly be wondering what was happening to my driving while all this was going on! Well, one of the things about worship in the Spirit is  that it takes up very little of my ‘mental resources’; worship is so much of a way of life for me that I find it completely effortless. Sure, there are times when I need to stop singing and give it more concentration, but even then, even if I am only listening and not joining in the singing, still the presence of God burns right there in my heart while I negotiate a roundabout or complex junction or whatever.
5. My God and King
To You alone I sing
You’re the face I seek
For all eternity

My God and King
To You alone I sing
You’re the face I seek
For all eternity

You’d be my dream come true
Just to be with You
How I’d see brand new
With eyes for only You

My God and King
Through the storm I sing
Covered by Your wing
This song of love I bring

You’d be my dream come true
Just to be with You
How I’d see brand new
With eyes for only You

You’d be my dream come true
Just to be with You
How I’d see brand new
With eyes for only You

You are my dream come true
Just to be with You
Now I see brand new
With eyes for only You

With eyes for only You

With eyes for only You

I have eyes for only You

6. I give you all the honour
And praise that’s due Your name
For You are the King of glory
The Creator of all things

And I worship You
I give my life to You
I fall down on my knees
Yes, I worship You
I give my life to You
I fall down on my knees

As Your Spirit moves upon me now
You meet my deepest need
And I lift my hands up to Your throne
Your mercy I’ve received

You have broken chains that bound me
You’ve set this captive free
I will lift my voice to praise Your name
For all eternity

7. (The arrangement is slightly different in that they do a slightly different mashup of the first two verses and refrains. Works for me)

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever shall be.

Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see:
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided–
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

8. Faithful One, so unchanging
Ageless One, You’re my Rock of peace
Lord of all I depend on You
I call out to You
Again and again
I call out to You
Again and again

You are my Rock in times of trouble
You lift me up when I fall down
All through the storm, Your love is the anchor
My hope is in You alone

9. As the deer panteth for the water
So my soul longeth after Thee
You alone are my heart’s desire
And I long to worship Thee

You alone are my strength, my shield
To You alone may my spirit yield
You alone are my heart’s desire
And I long to worship You

 

When I look into Your Holiness
When I gaze into Your loveliness
When all things that surround become shadows in the light of You
When I’ve found the joy of reaching Your Heart
When my will becomes enthroned in Your Love
When all things that surround become shadows in the light of You

I worship You, I worship You
The reason I live is to worship You
I worship You, I worship You
The reason I live is to worship You

10. My friends that I was meeting up with maybe noticed the radiance; I really don’t know!

Dip Your Brush in Reality

Over the years of writing this blog, I have often mentioned that there seem to be Christians who will try to squeeze every bit of Bad News out of the Good News that they can.

In reply to that sort of behaviour, here is another great piece by my friend Mo Thomas:

Dip Your Brush in Reality

“God was in Christ, reconciling the WHOLE WORLD to Himself, not counting men’s sins against them.”
– Either this is blasphemy or ultimate reality.

“In God WE live, move and have our being”
– Many say this only applies to some in a particular setting.

“There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father OF ALL, who is OVER ALL, IN ALL, and living THROUGH ALL.”
– There are reasons people find to limit God as Father of only a select few.

“Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for EVERYONE, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for EVERYONE.”
– Most would argue FOR the universality of Adam when he fell, but AGAINST the universality of Christ when Jesus succeeded.

Years ago, I would have quickly dismissed the startling implications of these and hundreds of other passages with rebuttals like:

1. You must first understand context
2. Many other verses frame a different message
3. All doesn’t mean all in these cases, only those who believe
4. It’s more important to focus on receiving Christ into your heart than on Christ receiving you into His

…and then, I would have proudly carpet bombed my own list of proof verses and used them to bolster my exclusive position.

Premise: the WAY we interpret scripture reveals our heart and exposes the lenses we use to see the world.

Response: Abba, show us how You see the world. By Your Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation, dip Your brush in Reality and paint beautiful portraits of God in our imagination, portraits that don’t require fear or manipulation for people to respond and receive Your Great Love.

– Mo Thomas


As an addendum, Mo also compiled this set of Scripture references:

I pull these out every once in awhile to remind us that it’s NOT a stretch to see this theme in scripture:

Genesis 12:3 — All peoples on earth will be blessed through Abraham.
Genesis 22:18 — All nations on earth will be blessed through Abraham’s offspring.

Psalms 22:27 — All the ends of the earth and all the families of the nations will acknowledge God.
Psalms 65:2 — All men will come to God.
Psalms 86:9 — All nations will worship and glorify God.
Psalms 103:8-9 — God is compassionate, will not always accuse and will not be angry forever.
Psalms 145:9-10 — The Lord has compassion on all His creation and all He has made will praise Him.
Psalms 145:13 — The Lord loves all His creation.
Psalms 145:14 — The Lord upholds all who fall.

Isaiah 25:6-8 — God will prepare a feast for all people, He will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers up all nations. He will eliminate death, wipe away the tears from all faces and remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth.
Isaiah 45:22-23 — God has sworn an oath that every knee will bow before Him and every tongue will swear by Him.
Isaiah 49:6 — God’s salvation will be brought to the ends of the earth.
Isaiah 54:8 — Although God will hide His face in a surge of anger, He will also have compassion with everlasting kindness.
Isaiah 57:16-18 — God’s anger is not permanent. Although He punishes man, He will heal, guide and restore comfort to him.

Jeremiah 31:33-34 — All men will know God, from the greatest to the least.

Lamentations 3:31-33 — The Lord does not cast off forever. Although He brings grief, he will also be compassionate.
Ezekiel 18:23 — God does not take any pleasure in the death of the wicked. Rather, He is pleased when they repent.
Micah 7:18 — God does not stay angry forever.

Matthew 18:13 — Like the man who owns a hundred sheep and is not willing to lose even one, God is not willing that any one be lost.
Luke 2:10 — The birth of Jesus is good news for all the people.
Luke 3: 5, 6 — John the Baptist quotes Isaiah’s words that all mankind will see God’s salvation.

John 1:29 — Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
John 3:35 — God sent Jesus to save the world.
John 4:42 — God has committed all things to Christ.
John 5:25 — Even the dead will hear the sound of Christ and all who hear will live.
John 6:37 — Everything that God has given to Christ will come to him.

John 12:32 — When Jesus is lifted up from the earth, he will draw all men to himself.

John 12:47 — Jesus came to save the world.
John 17:2 — God granted Christ authority over all people so that Christ may give eternal life to all that God has given him.
Acts 3:20-21 — Jesus must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything.

Romans 3:3-4 — The unbelief of some will not nullify God’s faithfulness.
Romans 5:18 — The act of obedience of one man (Jesus) will bring life for all men.
Romans 8:19-21 — Creation itself will be liberated and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
Romans 8:38-39 — Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ.
Romans 11:32 — God made all people imprisoned by disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

1 Corinthians 15:22-28 — All will be made alive in Christ, but each in his own turn and ultimately Christ will subdue all his enemies, eliminate death and God will be all in all.
2 Corinthians 5:15 — Christ died for all.
2 Corinthians 5:19 — Through Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself.

Ephesians 1:11 — God will bring all things under heaven and on earth under Christ.
Ephesians 4:10 — Christ ascended higher then all the heavens to fill the whole universe.

Philippians. 2:9-11 — Every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (In 1 Corinthians 12:3, Paul writes that no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit)

Colossians 1: 19-20 — God was pleased to reconcile to Himself, all things on earth and in heaven through the blood of Christ.

1 Timothy 2:4-6 — God wants all men to be saved and to know the truth. Can God’s desire be thwarted?

1 Timothy 4:10 — God is the Saviour of all men, especially (not exclusively) those who believe.

Titus 2:11-12 — God’s grace, which brings salvation has appeared to all men.
Hebrews 2:9 — Jesus tasted death for everyone.

1 John 2:2 — Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only ours but of the sins of the whole world.
1 John 3:8 — Christ appeared to destroy the devil’s works.
1 John 4:14 — Christ is the Saviour of the world.

Revelation 5:13 — Every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, and on the sea will sing praises to him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb (Christ).

Revelation 21:4-5 — God will dwell with men and he will wipe every tear from their eyes, death, mourning, crying, pain and the old order of things will pass and everything will be made new.”

10

That Other ‘Dratted Verse’…

[Author’s Note: This essay is about a verse in the ‘Letter to the Hebrews’. No-one is certain who wrote that Epistle, but for the sake of convenience I will here refer to the writer using the masculine pronouns ‘he/him’ and as the ‘writer’ rather than presuming either a name or a gender] [1]

I once wrote a piece about a Bible verse that seems to cause more trouble than any other; the one ‘dratted verse’ found in 2Timothy 3:16 where it supposedly says that ‘all Scripture is God-breathed…’ and about how that verse, or at least the modern-English translation of it, is used as the basis for the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture, and thence used as a weapon by Christian religious zealots to beat people over the head. Of course. For more on that idea, please see the piece I wrote earlier.

I so wish that verse wasn’t in the Bible 😉

So, then, today’s journey into the mysterious world of misused Scripture texts takes us to the Letter to the Hebrews. Here, in Chapter 9 and verse 27, is found the Other Dratted Verse:

(Heb 9:27)

I so wish that verse wasn’t in the Bible, either 😉

And I’ll tell you for why.

It’s because the verse is regularly used by certain Christians as a proof-text – a Bible verse that supposedly proves a person’s point – for the doctrine that death is some sort of ‘deadline’ (pun not intended; I detest such things!) for fulfilling, well, whatever condition they want to impose on you.

Usually, the thing they are touting is that if a person does not ‘accept Christ’ [or other religious requirement of their choice] before they die, then it’s off to Hell with them, and of course they will naturally have to pay for their own handbasket. And because the verse in question, Hebrews 9:27, appears to support this idea, it has become virtually exclusively the verse used to ‘prove’ that doctrine; in fact I can’t think of another such verse. Like many doctrines, this whole idea tries to negate the concept of God being all-loving and all-merciful, and of course it also reinforces the Hell doctrines that I stand so vehemently against, because the inference is that at this ‘judgment’, everyone will be found guilty [2] and end up going there – apart, of course, from the one preaching, and his denomination, because naturally they alone are the people who have received the ‘one true gospel’ 😉

So, you see, this verse has been used continuously, for some time now, as a high-pressure sales closing technique. Buy your salvation ticket now, folks, because tonight you might be dead and then it will be too late! I could rant about the rights and wrongs of such an approach, but I am a man of mercy and I will spare you. But still the fact remains that generations of pushy evangelists have misused this verse in this pressurising manner, presumably each of them picking up the technique from the ones they have watched and learned from. [3]

And Heb 9:27 is the verse which is used as the proof-text to show that the moments just before death are actually a person’s ‘last chance’ before the opportunity closes. They need to ‘repent!’ by then, or else!

That’s why I wish this verse was not in the Bible!

But that stuff I have written above – is that really what the verse actually means? Or have those Christians simply read into the verse the things they want to see there, as happens so often with other ‘proof-texts’? And would it surprise you if they had? 😉

What else could the verse possibly mean, though, if not the interpretation that we’ve always accepted? Well, we need to look a little closer at the context. If you read the sentence itself, it’s like, ‘Just as it is set for man to die once, and then face the judgement, so also …’ and so on. This shows that the phrase is being used as a comparison (as we will see below); it is not intended as a standalone proof that death is followed by some sort of judgment. The writer is not trying to show that death is the last chance to ‘comply’; he is simply setting up the next part of his argument.

Seeing this important point, then, the first thing we can note from Christianity’s abuse use of this verse is that the first stanza of the verse – the part that contains the point they want to emphasise – is the only part that is generally used. It’s very rare that the quote is continued into the concept it’s being compared to. I think it’s safe to say that most Christians probably can’t quote the rest of the verse as readily as they can the first part. But key to understanding this verse is the knowledge that the writer is using a Hebrew poetic device known as ‘synonymous parallelism’ where he compares two concepts in the same verse. To omit the second part of the verse, as they do when they only use the first part of the verse, is to fail to do the whole verse justice because we will miss the point its writer was originally intending to make. Worse than that, not only does it not do the verse justice, in fact, but also it demonstrates a complete lack of respect for the Scripture and its proper interpretation, which I am absolutely sure is intentional in some cases. Some people will do it from ignorance, sure, but for those who understand the proper exegesis of Biblical texts, they should not interpret that text in the way they have. To deliberately use the text in this way, when you know how to do proper exegesis, is simply dishonest plain and simple. It is extremely clear that the sentence structure is quite deliberate and it is perfectly apparent that ‘parallelism’ is definitely what the writer is doing. The part about dying once and facing judgment has neither meaning nor contextual relevance unless the writer’s argument is continued into the next stanza, so that he can finish what he was saying; the comparison is not complete without continuing the sentence. This should be obvious to any perceptive general reader because v.27 begins with ‘For just as…’ implying that there’s something else to follow the sentence. So, for example, if I said, ‘Just as the sky is blue, so is the ocean’, then that carries meaning.  If, however, I just said, ‘Just as the sky is blue…’ it wouldn’t mean anything. ‘Just as the sky is blue, what?’, would have to be our next logical question, because you expect that there will be a conclusion to the comparison. This is the same thing here. ‘Just as it is appointed….so….[something else]’. Now that makes more sense.

So now if you look at the local context, you should be able to see it:

 – Heb 9:27-28

Do you see it? It’s quite obvious when it’s pointed out, isn’t it?

Even if you read the header picture for this blog post, with the text on the brown background, you can immediately see that the phrase is not complete, for the reasons already explained. Taking this lack of completeness into account, then, we can see straight away is that the bit about ‘die once and then face judgement’ is actually not the main thrust of the writer’s argument. As already stated, he’s using it as a comparison; as an analogy or even an allegory if you like. He’s saying “Christ’s one-off sacrifice to take away the sins of many people is analoguous to when man dies once [as the quotation claims] and then faces judgment”. He then goes on, in Chapter 10, to expand on the idea of just what the analogy compares to, and all that stuff is really what this Scripture section is all about. The idea of death being a person’s ‘last chance’ is not in any way what is being presented in this context.

I hope that’s clear.

And there’s a fair bit more to it than that. Like, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but that idea about ‘die once and face judgment’ is found nowhere else in Scripture[4]. In our verse in Heb 9:27, the writer is not quoting a Scripture passage when he makes this assertion. However, in other passages in the Epistle, where he is making a major point from a premise in his Scripture (to us, that would be what we call the Old Testament), it is obvious that he is quoting Scripture. That such a quotation is not apparent does not of itself mean that it is not a Scriptural idea, of course, but for us nowadays with powerful search tools, we can look and see for ourselves that it is not a text from anywhere else in the entire Bible, in either the Old or the New Testament.

So, if we take that whole context and non-Scriptural quote into account, we see that the verse cannot in fact be used to prove post-mortem punishment or judgement, because a) he’s not talking about this as a way proving it, and b) the context suggests that the phrase is probably an already commonly-accepted idea or some other premise (an ‘axiom‘), and that it is also extra-Biblical in origin – quoted from another source outside the Scripture – because it’s not as if the writer is quoting an Old Testament passage like he does in other parts of his letter. Or like Jesus does when he says ” ‘You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye…’ ” in Mt 5:38, quoting Ex 21:24. And so, the axiom is not Scripturally founded. Sure, it’s in the Scripture as we know it nowadays, but the writer’s argument is not presented as being from a Scriptural perspective from his point of view, like he does with other points in Hebrews. Maybe it’s folklore or something that he’s got the idea from. Maybe it’s a ‘they say that…[something is true]’. It could be anything. He might as well be quoting the song lyric, “All you need is Love”, for all the Scriptural precedent it has! This idea of ‘die once and then face judgment’ is nowhere near as powerful, nor as conclusive, nor as firmly quoted, as are his Scripture references. In fact, it’s almost as if he simply plucks the thing out of thin air! Where does that idea come from? It is not made clear, which suggests that the writer thinks its veracity unimportant from a doctrinal point of view – because it’s being used as a comparison, not as a doctrinal point.

And the fact that it is in the Bible as we know it today is not sufficient to make it an objective fact, given its context of being a quotation, and especially from an undefined source which was almost certainly not a source which was considered Scriptural when Hebrews was written, else the writer would have made that clear.

This all means, then, that for people to use Heb 9:27 as the sole proof-text that people face judgement immediately after death is nowhere near as straightforward nor as ironclad as they would like to claim. It is an accepted principle of doctrine formation that no major belief/doctrine should ever be founded on a single verse of Scripture, but, sadly, this is what seems to have happened here.

But even if it were true; even if just before death is, as they claim, the last chance a person has to ‘put things right with God’, or whatever other thing they’re trying to push on you, then you would expect it to fit with the entire arc of the Scriptural narrative. But it doesn’t. If we’re going to explore how this idea fits in with other Scriptural concepts, and if Christendom is going to claim (as they so often do) that we should ‘Let Scripture interpret Scripture!’ [5], then they should take into account other parts of the Scripture. So let’s take a look, shall we?

For me, the major issue with the ‘die once’ idea is this: Christ died, and therefore all died (2Cor 5:14). Everyone has died in Christ already, and it could reasonably be argued that at His death was when that judgement happened, because the death of Christ was God’s judgement on ‘sin’ in that it was nailed to the Cross and destroyed (Col 2:14). Furthermore whoever has died in Him (and that’s everybody, whether they know it or not, under 2Cor 5:14) has passed from death to life and will not be judged.

You see, Jesus said in John 5:24, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life”, implying that belief means that they have crossed over from death already, i.e. they have already died, and this is supported by the numerous references made by Paul (especially in Romans; see below for examples) about us being dead, considering ourselves dead, and all that sort of thing. The Greek word for ‘Life’ there is the word ‘zōēn‘ which usually implies life of the eternal quality. And because of that ‘crossing over’, they will not be judged, either.

Now, granted, Jesus is here speaking about those who ‘believe’, and not necessarily about those who do not. But still the points remain: a) all have already died in Christ and therefore have crossed from death to life; b) those who believe, according to Jesus, have already crossed over from death to life because they believe. (There is tension between those ideas, but for Biblical studies and indeed the faith life in general, tension between concepts is the normal state of affairs!) Anyway, it’s analoguous to them having already died, as Paul says in Romans. So, then, for the believer, are they going to face this judgment after having died? In fact if Jesus says that those who have eternal life will not be judged, where then does that ‘judgment’ after death, as claimed in Heb 9:27, come from? Jesus says we will not be judged. This is even more evidence, in my view, that the Heb 9:27 passage is non-Scriptural in its source.

Furthermore, in 1Cor 15:22 it says that ‘…in Adam all die…’ too, but also ‘…’in Christ shall all be made alive’! So, if all die in Adam, which is probably referring to the actual physical death of humans, does that count as the one death after which we face judgment? Is the judgment part of our being originally in Adam, but now we are made alive in Christ – as it says in that verse? Or does it mean that because we are all human? (the Hebrew word meaning ‘Adam’ can also be taken as meaning simply ‘human’, so that it simply means simply being human means we will all, one day, die)

And in other places, like Ephesians 2:2, it says that we were “…dead in our transgressions…”, and then in Eph 2:5 he says God “…made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions“. Do you see this? It’s almost as if the Scripture is talking about our ‘death’ as being a thing of the past because we died in Christ; when we were dead in our transgressions, God made us alive in Christ. This is a done deal; it is a fait accompli. Of course, harsh religious types would like to deny this incredibly good news, but I have shown directly from their own Rulebook that it fits in with the incredible generosity and completely unfair and unearned Grace of God that this is the sort of thing He would do for us without us even having to ask!

Oh, bless God, this is really such good news! You see how quickly the dark shadows, cobwebs and bad news flee away when we open up the words in the Bible and examine what they really mean, rather than what we thought/have been told they have meant for all these years? And then discover far more glorious truths behind all the whitewashed-tomb stuff the Pharisees would have us believe? How the fear, the dread of death and its supposedly ensuing (and presumably, according to most religious people, adverse) judgment, vanish like smoke on the wind! In fact, I often wonder if this preoccupation with actual physical, bodily death is simply the result of humanity’s innate fear of that death. I therefore wonder if our previous assumptions about the ‘die once’ death in Heb 9:27 is simply due our preoccupation with that bodily death, blinkering and blinding people to the – let’s face it! – almost unbelievable, fantastic truth that as far as God is concerned, somehow we have already ‘died’, and that Jesus has defeated that death once and for all in His own death and Resurrection!

And so it is actually not ‘…appointed for man to die once and then face judgment…’, because there are all these other ‘deaths’ involved too. In other words, which ‘die once’ death are they talking about? Adam’s death? The death of our sinful nature on the Cross, ‘if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him’ (Rom 6:8; 2Tim2:11)? Or maybe the ‘second death’ in Revelation 20:14? If there’s a ‘second death’, then how can it be for man to die once? Granted, when Hebrews was written, Revelation was not a part of any Canon of Scripture, simply because the New Testament did not exist at that time. But it is still clear that the Bible is not clear on this (see what I did there!). And then there’s the idea that we have ‘died to sin’ to take into account too (Rom 6:2; Rom 6:6-7 – I mean come on, Romans 6 is full of this stuff!)

Let’s also remember that, according to Paul, there’s the ‘resurrection body’. Does this all not put into a new light the ideas on the immortal ‘resurrection body’ described by Paul in 1Cor 15:35-58? Can we see how this new body (that we supposedly receive after death) is incompatible with the idea of post-death judgment? According to Paul, our old body is ‘sown corruptible’ but is ‘raised incorruptible’. To me, this means that although our bodies as they are now will physically die, yet we will be raised up in an incorruptible body; a body of perfection, with no sickness, disease or infirmity. And surely one of those infirmities that will be missing when it is raised is the sickness of sin. So, in this alleged post-mortem judgment, what will there be to judge? We are waiting for the redemption of our bodies (Rom 8:23. If God is for us (which, of course, He is!), then who can be against us? (Rom 8:31). Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies! (Rom 8:33)

Surely this is why we are ‘already judged’, as Jesus said in John 5:24? When we are transformed at death into this new resurrection body, what possible place will there be for sin and judgment? Sin, and therefore the reason for any kind of judgment, will not stick to that new body at all. How in fact can God condemn anyone of whom He said, ‘I will remember their sins no more’ (Heb 8:12, quoting Isaiah 43:25)? No, no-one can bring a charge against God’s elect. If there are no charges, then there can be no judgment, even if that judgment is ‘not guilty’. And in any case, how can that Resurrection body, which is immortal (1Cor 15:50-54) die again? It’s immortal; by definition this means it cannot die. So how can that body ever be subject to a ‘second death’ (Rev 20:14) in response to any adverse judgment?

Can you see it?

From all this, then, it is apparent that in this verse of Heb 9:27, it’s far from the clear-cut, simple idea that ‘you die and then you are judged’ that Christendom has so far espoused without question. Oh, sure, they’ll say ‘well the first death precedes the judgment (for which you are raised up and given a body in which to face that judgment) and then there’s a second death’, but it still doesn’t take away that the actual words they use are ‘man…to die once’ – so what place is there for a second death? And neither does it remove the confusing issue of just which ‘death’ the writer is talking about in our verse in Heb 9:27, nor about how the ‘resurrection body’ is involved.

Of course, the harsh Religious types who love to weaponise this verse will not like these ideas one bit, and as usual it’s not those people who I am trying to convince. They can believe what they want to believe.

But I want to be able to take away, from my ordinary everyday readers who have often been bruised by this verse used by vicious religious types, the fear of death and what follows it. Harsh believers believe in a harsh god. Harsh believers believe the strange idea that god can love you ‘unconditionally’ all your life and then at the very instant that you pass from this world into the next, he instantly becomes a ravening, vicious monster who actually now, all of a sudden, has all along had tacit conditions that you should somehow have known about and that you are now, surprise surprise, going to be penalised for not knowing. And all because of that split instant where your body ceases to function as a living organism any more. Well, according to their own Rulebook, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8). He doesn’t change, and neither does His Father. It’s almost as if they are trying really hard to make God look bad, once again, whereas in actual fact there is no darkness in Him; none at all (1Jn 1:5). And when Jesus says in Mk 12:27 that “…God is not the God of the dead, but of the living”, and even more significantly in the synoptic passage in Luke 20:38, the text also has the extra detail, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive“, then that too throws some more confusion into the ‘standard’ interpretation of Heb 9:27 because it blurs the distinction between what we understand as death and how God sees it. If God sees even the ‘dead’ as ‘alive’, where then does that leave us in our exegesis of Heb 9:27?

While I was looking for a suitable header image for this post (the one above the title), I simply put ‘Heb 9:27’ into Googe image search. And most of the references that came up were of the harsh, nasty, horrible-god kind of flavour, and easily demonstrating my point about the ‘deadline’ idea being the main use/abuse/interpretation of this text. You can even clearly see that in many of the cases they have only quoted the first part of the stanza, and thus openly demonstrated that they have ripped the verse out of context.

With this kind of harshness on display, coupled with that sort of unethical, or maybe even deceptive, practice of using verses out of context, is it any wonder that so many people nowadays, in some ways including myself, want nothing to do with Christianity? Try that search yourself; I guarantee that the results will be disturbing 😉 What you will see will be a million miles away from the real love of Christ.

But still my point is demonstrated by those search findings: this is the text used to ‘prove’ that once you’re dead, you’ve run out of time. And I think that in this essay I have managed to show that there is, at the very least, much cause for concern about using this text to prove that idea, and indeed about interpreting the text in the way that it has been interpreted.

I believe I have shown in this piece that even when (and in fact especially because of) taking into account what some Christians refer to as the ‘whole counsel of Scripture’ [6] (Acts 20:27), Heb 9:27 does not categorically mean that when we die physically here on this planet, we go straight to some sort of judgment.

In fact, we could even say, again taking into account the ‘whole counsel of scripture’, that the converse is true, if we assume that God is unconditionally all-loving. I mean, Love never fails (1Cor 13:8). Look at 1Cor 13 and Romans 8:38-39; there is so much in those passages that declares the unilateral strength of God’s love, and its power to keep us in His hands despite anything we do or don’t do, and in spite of man-imposed deadlines. If it says ‘Nothing’ in all creation…can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus’, then that ‘nothing’ includes not having made the ‘right decision’ by the time we die. Religious people with an agenda like to qualify the love of God; in a way, to restrict access to that Love, but in fact it is not subject to their provisos or conditions. It’s not now, and it never has been. Unconditional means unconditional. If you introduce a condition, it ceases to be unconditional by definition. And this drives the Pharisees nuts, because they think it’s because of their own righteousness that they are made acceptable to God, even though they would doubtless deny this. This is why the Cross is foolishness to them.

Finally, let me also point out that the sting of death has been drawn:

What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. (Romans 6:8-10 Message)

On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
(Isaiah 25:7-8)

Here is my summary: The statement in Heb 9:27, that “…man is destined to die once and then face judgment…”, is not a Biblical axiom. That concept is found nowhere else in Scripture unless it is read into it.

The idea of immediate post-mortem judgment is not the main thrust of the argument in the passage forming its context.

The concept of this ‘once’ death is not as clear-cut as it first seems. Which death are we talking about, and what about the ‘second death’ mentioned in Revelation?

There is no place for after-death judgment because a) we are already judged, and b) the ‘resurrection body’ has no place for judgment.

Conclusion: The arguments from this Bible verse ‘proving’ that idea are therefore a flawed premise. Hebrews 9:27 cannot be used as a watertight proof-text to show that human death is the point at which they have run out of time in order to respond to God (or, more usually, to those who claim to be His people). There is no fear in death, because Jesus has defeated it.

Wow! Now that’s good news!

Let me leave you with this beautiful piece of writing from John Spinks, in his superb book ‘Cult Escape‘:

“This perfect unconditional love [of God] does not have terms and conditions, stipulations, requirements, demands, obligations, prerequisites, boundaries, time-scales or laws to obey.

“To receive it, you just have to believe.

“No, not believe to get it, but believe to realise that it is and was already there, waiting patiently for you to open your door and allow it in.

“This is because this perfect unconditional love will not violate your will. It will not push your door down and force its way in. It will not roll its eyes in frustration and get annoyed with you when you refuse to accept its gentle knock on your door. It will not threaten to punish, hurt, or destroy you. There is no fear in this love, absolutely no fear whatsoever, not one iota of fear in fact. There is nothing to be scared of. There is no fear that one day this love will lose patience with you.

“There is no fear that it will ever run out of time. [Emphasis mine – Ed]

“This is because it is eternal, it lasts forever, it never gives up, it never changes, and it never changes its unconditional nature. It never eventually introduces conditions. It never puts you under the remotest form of pressure to conform or obey. It does say follow but only in the meekest, humblest, gentlest of ways, so gentle, just like a still small voice, that if you are making a noise you might not even hear it.

“If man is making a big noise in your life by putting pressure on you, telling you that you are under law, giving you conditions to meet, placing boundaries around your life, expecting you to meet certain requirements, any requirements, tying you into terms and conditions, controlling any aspect of your lifestyle via rules, commanding you to follow him, teaching you that your identity is determined by your level of conformity to his latest dictates, demanding unswerving loyalty to whatever he tells you to believe…..

“…..then you are unlikely to hear the still, small, ever so gentle voice”.

 – John Spinks, Cult Escape, Kindle Edition, location 2385

 

Grace and Peace to you


My previous ideas on post-mortem judgment and the ‘timing’ of ‘repentance’ can be found in this piece from May 2015

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Regarding the ‘Writer to the Hebrews’ – no-one is really certain who wrote the Letter (or ‘Epistle’, which means the same thing) to the Hebrews. Some name Barnabas as being the author, some think it was Priscilla, and yet others suggest Clement of Rome. There are also many who consider that it was St. Paul who wrote it, and indeed in my Bible school we were told that the reason why it was not omitted from the Canon of Scripture was just in case it was written by Paul. If there was any chance it was written by Paul, then they didn’t want to miss it out. Clearly there was also sufficient support, in the various ecclesiastical Councils down the ages who had a part in determining the Canon, for it being a work of St. Paul for it to be included, even if only on that basis of not wanting to miss it out. And there was also considerable near-contemporary support for the opposing view, that St Paul did not in fact write it. The writing style, as read in the English translations, is very different from the style used in the letters generally accepted as being written by Paul, like the letters to the Corinthians, Romans and Ephesians. It’s also different enough even from the style used in the ‘disputed’ letters. But it could also have been Paul writing far more formally than he did in the gritty, practical and down-to earth epistles to people he knew personally in Corinth and Rome. A letter to a more generic audience could easily have been written more formally rather than informally/personally, and certainly the learned style of the writing could reflect Paul’s upbringing and training in the Jewish faith, and the detailed knowledge of Jewish beliefs and how they relate to Jesus’s life, death and Resurrection could certainly have been from Paul. Or, again, they could have been from any learned and articulate Jew-turned-Christian. I personally have no strong opinion on the subject. In Christendom generally, the jury is still out on the matter, and probably always will be. For more on this subject, which is in itself quite fascinating, take a look at the Wikipedia article on the subject.
2. And that is, of course, assuming that such judgment will be along the lines of the modern, adversarial ‘law courts’ system, as opposed to God’s judgment which always emphasises restoration and redemption rather than retribution and vengeance
3. Personally, and somewhat cynically, I consider that what it really is is that they want to try to influence or brainwash you before it’s too late for them; before you are forever beyond their reach by passing on into that place where the problems caused by such people are but a dim memory. But that’s just me being cynical again 😉
4. Some would argue that the parable of the Sheep and the Goats in (Matthew 25:31-46) both infers it and is referring to it, but that’s not the case and especially as you consider the wider context of Mt 25. It’s not the case, that is, unless you actually superimpose this present verse from Heb 9:27 on top of it and say about Mt 25, ‘Ah! Jesus must here be referring to the post-death judgment that Hebrews talks about in Heb 9:27!’ In other words, it’s a circular argument
5. The idea of ‘Let scripture interpret Scripture’, which itself is not a Biblical concept!
6. (Sorry for all the footnotes! I’ve just got a new WordPress plugin to help me use footnotes, and I am enjoying playing with it 😉 ) The idea of the ‘whole counsel of Scripture’ invariably means that they are using all the proof-texts they want to prove their view, while conveniently ignoring the ones that disagree. And/or, they are finding nasty verses to counteract the Good News that you are trying to share. So, really, it’s ‘the whole counsel of Scripture, as far as we are going to take it’.