Category Archives: Others’ stuff

Regarding Christians Who Gloat About People Burning in Hell

Before we even start, yes, I’m sorry but there are indeed such people as I mention in my title.

I once wrote that, “[Hell means that God allows the] torment of literally billions of precious people for all eternity, all at the same time as the ‘elect’, those who are ‘saved’, are ‘living it up’ in Heaven and knowing full well that all that suffering is going on ‘somewhere else’.

It’s easy to see why this is such an easy concept for certain Christians to grasp, because it’s mirrored in the way that many Christians reject as worthless those that they despise. So ‘those people’ are suffering? Well, it must be something they’ve done/it serves them right/other such highfalutin’ statement. Because the suffering is going on ‘somewhere else’ and therefore it doesn’t matter.

I do wonder how those with such cold hearts can define themselves as ‘Christian’. I mean, each to their own, yeah, but surely Jesus’s whole emphasis was on ‘Love’? Attitudes like that are as far from Love as it gets, when you think about it. Surely their own definition of ‘love’ should be based on St. Paul’s famous description in 1Cor 13? But it’s a long way from that!

And I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who thinks like that. Here’s a superb piece by one ‘Captain Cassidy’, written in the wake of the Paris terrorist shootings in 2015. I must say that I don’t agree with everything in the essay, but I think he has encapsulated nicely many of the objections I have about Christians being so blasé about the idea of people burning forever in Hell.


I want to talk about Hell today.

There is something truly grotesque about the way so many Christians seem to get off on the idea of people burning in Hell. I’m sure you’ve seen what I have: the way their eyes glitter when they talk about it, the eager tone of voice they get when describing in lurid detail the horrors non-believers will experience there. I don’t think they even realize they’re coming off that way, they’re so desensitized to the idea by now. The idea that a huge number of their family members, loved ones, and total strangers alike are one day going to burn forever and ever and ever is so endemic to their worldview that I’m not sure they even realize what it means or what their gloating implies about them as people. Today we’re going to talk about this mindset and what it means–and why good people reject it.

[…]

[Description of interviews of people trying to help burn victims – Ed]

These interviews hit me really hard. […] All of the people I’ve mentioned here have made one fact painfully clear: out of every single way there is to die, burning is about the most horrible and ghastly one there is. If these victims they’d tried to save had survived, it would be amid years of pain; burns take forever to heal and some never really do. Clearly our species simply didn’t survive serious burns often enough to pass on superior burn-healing capabilities to our offspring in the distant past, because we are really shitty at healing that sort of injury. No wonder Christians years ago used death by fire to punish heretics and dissenters; out of all the really imaginative ways we’ve ever found to hurt people, fire’s about as bad as it gets.So gang, that’s what it’s like to watch someone burn to death. It’s not fun or funny. It’s not cute. It’s not something to gloat about or even feel smugly certain about. Someone has to be seriously disturbed to watch someone suffering fire damage and feel anything but a desire to immediately leap in to help in any way possible.

And had I … suggested that there was something these burn victims might have done to deserve that kind of death, I would not have been surprised in the least if such an encounter ended with me nursing a bruised ego–or ass. Neither of these [people] are gods, and even they would have been more merciful than the Christian god apparently is.

When Christians chirp their various singsong threats, that’s what they are saying to us: we are going to suffer and die an unending death by fire, tortured forever by burning, and they actually look forward to seeing us in that kind of agony. It’s no more than we deserve, by their lights, so there’s no point in wasting empathy or sympathy on us. They regard our rejection of their religious claims as a direct attack upon themselves, and our future torment is nothing more than cosmic comeuppance for not obeying them.

We didn’t pick the correct religion out of all the thousands in the world, you see, and from there the correct permutation of Christian doctrines out of the 40,000+ available. We didn’t manage to feign adequate belief in the utter nonsense spewed by Christian apologists and leaders. We found no reason to believe in this god who spent so much time and effort deliberately obfuscating his existence to ensure that there’d be no proof whatsoever of his existence. We figured out that there was no more reason to accept Christianity’s claims than there is to accept those of any other religion. And for our great sin of using our divinely-granted consciousness and discernment, we deserve to burn to death forever. We deserve to be set on fire after we die and tortured without any hope of mercy, redemption, reconciliation, forgiveness, parole, or escape.

Most Christians don’t even think about how absolutely appalling this doctrine is–how blatantly manipulative, how openly terrorist in nature, how beyond-blitheringly cruel and evil it would be for any earthly despot to institute a punishment even half as ghastly as Hell. Even worse are the Christians who do think about it, though; they have to find some way to reconcile such a concept with that of a loving god, and the ways they find of doing that are nothing short of obscene.

Why it’s only moving the problem one step over to claim that “people send themselves to Hell.”

The idea of Hell as I’ve outlined it clearly does make some Christians hugely uncomfortable. And it should. It’s an evil, nasty, mean-spirited, fearmongering, openly terrorist and extortionist doctrine that is 100% incompatible with the current reigning Christian view of its god as gentle, loving, and merciful.

That doctrine is fine with a lot of Christians–the sort who openly gloat about dead soldiers and picket children’s funerals, or those Calvinist sorts who seem perfectly at ease with the idea of their god being an asshole–but most Christians are part of our culture whether they like it or not, and our culture is moving away from that kind of cruelty. So they’ve evolved some two-steps meant to distance themselves from the more troubling ramifications of their own ideology.

I’ve talked before about these distancing acts. The whole “love the sinner/hate the sin” dance is one of them; it is meant to give Christians an excuse to be nasty and hateful to others. They don’t especially care if their dance fools anybody outside the tribe; it’s done for their benefit, not for ours.

The current two-step around Hell is one of their current favorites, though.

Follow along with the dancing red ball:

Assumption A. Allowing people to be tortured for any length of time is evil and monstrous.

A1. The Christian doctrine of Hell involves people being tortured forever by fire.
A2. That would normally make the author of such threats evil and monstrous.
A3. But the Christian god can’t possibly be evil and monstrous.

Conclusion. Clearly that means that the evil and monstrosity is coming from somewhere else.

Assumption B. Whenever a doctrine seems to contradict Christian ideology, it’s not the doctrine that is in question, ever, nor the ideology that is at fault; there is always a way to reconcile them somehow.

B1. So clearly it’s people’s fault that they are facing eternal torture. It is not this god’s choice that people suffer, nor his desire.
B2. The Christian god must have nothing to do with Hell, so people must be sending themselves to Hell to be tortured eternally by fire.

Conclusion. It’s totally not our god’s fault at all that people end up in Hell getting tortured forever by fire. Overall conclusion: Hooray! He’s (still) a loving and merciful god!

I’ve heard a dizzying number of excuses along these lines offered by Christians to explain why Hell is not a monstrous and evil idea:

* People choose to throw themselves into Hell.

* People don’t want to be with Jesus in the afterlife, so they do this to themselves on purpose.

* Would you want to have a rude guest in your house for a party? (I used this excuse myself.)

* The doors of Hell are locked from the inside, not the outside. People who go there don’t want the Christian god around.

* Hell isn’t a punishment; it’s a consequence for non-compliance, just like death in a car accident is a possible consequence of not following seat-belt laws.

* Hell was designed for demons, not people, so of course it won’t be pleasant for people to be there.

And some heretics even try to make for themselves a Hell that is not fiery, eternal, and physically painful–even though such a Hell looks nothing whatsoever like anything in the Bible.

All of these excuses depend on a few ideas that categorically put the entire Christian faith on its ear. These excuses all require that the Christian god be something besides all-powerful, for him to be an idiot, or for him to be malevolent enough to punish people for his own inability to provide evidence enough to compel belief in him. As Neil Carter’s so ably described, tons of Christians figure this stuff out and end up following the evidence right out of the religion. We deconvert because when we tried our damndest to find a good reason to believe, we found none at all.

Christians might comfortably and complacently believe that one or two of us “chose” to be tortured eternally, but most ex-Christians are thoughtful, caring, intelligent people who want only to do the right thing with our lives. The idea that a god might allow a single one of these precious and beautiful people to be harmed even one second repulses any compassionate mind. How many of those people do Christians need to meet before they start having questions about how loving and merciful their ideas of Hell are?

And, too, this entire “choose to be tortured” idea has the distinct smack of victim-blaming about it. It’s like a murderer telling a judge, “I told her not to scream or I’d shoot her, and she screamed! So really, she chose for me to shoot her to death!” Do you suppose any judge in the land would allow such a murderer to go free after that excuse was given?

If the Christian god designed the ideology and place itself, if he decided upon its entrance requirements and then deliberately refused to provide people solid proof of any of his religion’s claims so that there was no more reason to blindly choose his religion over any other in the world, then he is the same as that murderer who claimed that his victim caused her own death by not complying with his demands. This is not the same situation as someone not listening to seat-belt laws and then getting killed in a car accident; in our scenario, the Christian god actively inflicts this pain on others (or allows it to be inflicted, but again, because he’s omnipotent that doesn’t actually make much of a difference!) because he was dissatisfied with their obedience to his whims, and he created the entire game itself to be exactly as it is now. It was no accident that someone found no evidence to believe, nor that there happened to be a horrific place ready for that person to go to after death to suffer for not having believed.

The Christian god, if one is to take his adherents’ preposterous claims seriously, is an omnipotent being who created this realm and set it up. If he didn’t intend for any people to go there, then he needed to design somewhere else for people to go. If he didn’t want people to go somewhere like Hell, then surely he is powerful and intelligent enough to either create a more reasonable ideology or to give people overwhelming evidence and instructions for avoiding that place.

If he isn’t powerful enough to create a cosmology that allows people to see the truth either before death or posthumously, or to change their minds after death about anything, or to at least allow for rehabilitation and redemption at that point, then maybe Christians need to figure out what cosmic Truth their godling is compelled to obey and go work out what god is embodied therein so they can follow that one instead, because whoever that god is, she or he is the real MVP.

And that is the Problem of Evil in a nutshell.

Either this god is not smart or powerful enough to create a cosmology that avoids eternal torture, or he is cruel and malevolent enough to allow such torment to exist. If he’s capable of stopping fiery torture but chooses not to do so, then he is evil; if he is not capable or doesn’t realize what’s happening at all, then he’s hardly a god in the first place.

Now, obviously there’s no proof for a single bit of Christians’ claims. There’s no evidence that there’s even an afterlife, much less an unpleasant one controlled and administered by demons at the behest of an omnimax god of love and mercy, much less any god, omnimax or not, loving and merciful or not, much less a cosmology that looks remotely like the one Christians believe.

But if one of them tells me with a perfectly straight face that their infinitely loving, powerful, merciful god is not only okay with the idea of anybody burning in this life or the next but designed things to be that way, then I am going to think that either the Christian in question has never really thought this one through (as indeed I hadn’t, back then!), or is an immoral person who is okay with hurting people for non-compliance.

Moving the Problem of Evil to humans’ laps only moves the issue one step over; it does not resolve the actual problem at all because ultimately, their god (according to them) designed all of this nonsense in the first place. All they’ve done is add some victim-blaming to the mix.

And I’m not so sure that it’s that far a jump to think that if it’s okay to hurt someone deliberately and cruelly in the next life, then maybe it’s not so bad to do it in this life if it’s for a good cause. We already know that right-wing Christians regard themselves as mini-Jesuses, fully invested in the right and ability–even the obligation–to dispense divine justice upon other human beings in the name of the greater good. They already think that they should be given the right to control the rest of us because non-Christians are just too damned stupid to run our lives correctly. They already scare the bejesus out of non-believers because of the over-the-top aggression they display when they’re challenged–even to the point of issuing death and rape threats to an underage girl who objected to the way Christians in her school district were muscling into her education.

If Christians can’t have cooperation through happy consent, then they have demonstrated repeatedly that they will take compliance given only out of fear–and will consider either one evidence of divine blessing upon their endeavors. And our culture is starting to reject this mindset–in large part because we’re finally starting to empathize with and understand the people who are getting hurt by these ways of thinking, and we’re starting to understand how interconnected we are to each other.

It’s hard to stomach the idea of hurting someone we know very well and consider part of our group. It’s even harder to be okay with the idea of eternal fiery torture for non-compliance when we start really thinking about how terrible it is to burn.

Any religious system that relies upon force, violence, or threats to gain compliance from anybody is not one worth following.

People are right to reject any religion that tries to gain power and influence through threats, and to reject such such behavior as incompatible with the idea of a loving deity of any kind even on the metaphorical level. People use fear when they don’t have a good case to make otherwise. The bigger the threat, the weaker the case generally is. And Hell–burning to death forever and ever–is about as big a threat as anybody could ever concoct.

But fear requires darkness in which to operate. It can’t stand daylight in the form of questions and open dissent. The more people question the doctrine of Hell, the more Christians will get the permission they need to contemplate the unthinkable questions: What if the two-step they’re doing about Hell doesn’t actually solve any of the problems the doctrine has? What if the violence embodied in Hell taints everything about Christianity?

And even more unthinkable: What would their religion even look like without fear being any part of its doctrines and ideologies, and without threats being considered a perfectly acceptable and viable marketing tactic? If they refused to use fear or threats of any kind to sell their religion, then how would they market it?


Here is the link to the original article

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Redefining Language

Nowhere does Jesus mention that anyone should try to save others from Hell. You’d have thought if it was that important He’d have told us? You’d also have thought He’d have told us how important it was that we pluck the souls from the brink especially in the context of those parts of His teaching where the meaning is traditionally ascribed to being about Hell.

Furthermore, if the hell-fire doctrine is true, and if Evangelical Christians claim that a loving God still lets people go to Hell ‘because He is so loving that He will not override their free will’, then it follows that they have to change the definition of Love so that it bears no resemblance to that found in 1Cor 13.

In fact, much of the traditional ‘Hell’ doctrine relies on somehow making it look as if god is being ‘loving’ as he sends people to Hell. This simply has to involve the twisting of the meaning of the word ‘love’ out of all recognition from its normal use. In fact I would go so far as to say that only Religious people (and maybe politicians) can twist a word so that it means the exact opposite of its true meaning, and that usually in order to make it fit with their own twisted ideas.

Here’s a great post by my friend Rob Grayson, and shared with his kind permission, where he examines the concept of language, how it gets twisted like that, and what to do about it. Enjoy:


Redefining language

Whatever your views on evolution and the origins of the human species, you’ll probably agree with me that one of the main characteristics that sets humans apart from any other species is our capacity for rational thought. And this capacity is closely linked to our ability to communicate using language. (Indeed, without language we would certainly not be able to express our thoughts; whether we could even think in such a sophisticated way without language is debatable.)

As a member of the human race and a daily user of language, however, you’d probably also agree with me that language, as powerful as it is, is fraught with difficulty. It seems that, no matter how much care we take in communicating what we think, there’s always room for misinterpretation and misunderstanding.

In a recent blog post, my theologian friend Michael Hardin puts it like this:

What if language is not divine? What if language is a purely human phenomenon? What if language is not neutral, but is a bent, broken and distorted means of communication? Is it not the case that we are constantly being misinterpreted or that we find ourselves explaining ourselves to others in simple conversations? Language is not straightforward is it?

The very least one can say is that language is imperfect. Even with the best of intentions and the greatest of efforts at clarity, misunderstanding is rife. In fact, in line with Michael’s linked article, I think we can go further still.

We humans are prone to think in a way that judges and separates people into in groups and out groups – with ourselves, of course, usually in the in group and our enemies and those we do not care for or value in the out group. We define ourselves over against others. And we tend to excuse behaviours in ourselves and the groups with which we identify that we would condemn out of hand in those we consider other than us. This kind of thinking – most of it non-conscious – seems to have been deeply entrenched in us ever since the Garden.

Given how closely language is associated with thinking, it follows that our language is also subject to the same non-conscious tendencies. We use language to structure the world according to our innermost thoughts and perceptions. As we think, so too do we speak.

This is particularly problematic when it comes to talking about God.

First, we’re faced with the problem of the inadequacy of language. How do black-and-white characters on a page (or sound waves transmitted from our mouth to another’s ears) begin to convey God’s divine majesty, love and power? Even the most imaginative and evocative metaphors fall short of the task. But, the inevitable insufficiency of language aside, a still greater problem awaits us.

As I outlined a few paragraphs ago, the language we use has evolved to express the skewed way in which we think. And so, when we use it to describe even a being as wholly good and perfect as God, our descriptions are tainted in ways of which we are rarely aware.

For example, I spoke of the challenges of using human language to convey God’s love and power. Because of the way we’re programmed to think about such things, we often do violence to the character of God by forcing him to fit the contours of words whose meanings are largely pre-determined, often at subconscious levels.

Take the word love – surely one of the highest, most noble words in the English language. From the Apostle Paul to Shakespeare and beyond, love has been the impetus for endless creative expression. It seems quite right and safe to think of God as a God of love.

But we need to realise that our conception of even something as wonderful and laudable as love is structurally tainted. Most of our experience of love – whether given or received – tends to be limited and conditional in nature, so that even when we think about the perfect love of God, deep in the recesses of our hearts lurks the suspicion that that even this love will run out on us, that what is today a source of comfort and delight will transmute into judgement and condemnation if we fail to live up to its requirements.

So, whether we’re aware of it or not, as soon as we think about the love of God, and as soon as we use the word “love”, we risk colouring God in a way that distorts his essential character.

The same can be said of our notion of power. That God is supremely powerful seems obvious beyond question, so we happily speak of God’s power. But we do so without realising that power has a terrible and special place in the human psyche and experience: it’s often what defines the relationship between the privileged and the downtrodden, between the abuser and the abused. We tend to think power is good when it’s exercised in our interest and not so good when it’s used against us. Above all, power is what shapes and orders the world; and it does so by making people conform to its will.

Describing God as powerful, then, while accurate on one level, is also problematic, for such a description carries deep within it the notions of coercion and force. Indeed, these notions are so ingrained in our worldview that we struggle to see why they’re even a problem.

What the problem boils down to is this: in using our words to describe God, there’s a real and present danger that we subtly distort God to fit him into our mental paradigms, without even realising that we’re doing so. In short, we often unwittingly redefine God according to our language.

What’s the answer to this conundrum? Given the limitations and distortions of language, how are we to faithfully speak about God at all?

I’m not sure there’s any simple answer, but I do have three suggestions:

1. Be aware of the problem. It’s often said that awareness is half the battle. If we practise the art of being conscious of the inadequacies and dangers of human language when talking about God, we’re perhaps less likely to carelessly and thoughtlessly abuse or distort his character.

2. Work hard to communicate well. Rather than simply speaking of God’s love or power and assuming that these are clearly understood attributes, even among longstanding believers, use explanations, comparisons, metaphors and stories to clarify what they mean. (The Apostle Paul, whom I’ve already mentioned, dedicated a whole chapter of his letter to the Roman Christians expanding upon what he meant by the word love.)

3. Allow what we know about God to redefine our language. Thankfully, God didn’t leave our understanding of him to chance or to the vagaries of human language. Instead, he took on flesh and showed us in the person of his son exactly what he’s like. Jesus vividly demonstrated for us that God exercises power from below rather than from above; God’s power is the kind of “weak power” that refuses to coerce or force but chooses instead to invite and to woo. And Jesus showed us that, far from being conditional or limited, God’s love is recklessly self-giving. As an unknown author wrote, “I asked Jesus, ‘How much do you love me?’ And Jesus said, ‘This much’. Then He stretched out His arms and died.”

Rather than forcing God into the pre-cast moulds of our limited and distorted human language, let’s offer our language – and the thinking that underlies it – to God and ask him to reshape it according to his paradigm. Rather than struggling to define God according to our human notions of power and love, let’s ask him to fundamentally change our understanding of power and love.

Perhaps this is something of what Paul meant when he urged the Corinthian church to be transformed by the renewing of their minds.

[ Header Image: John Keogh ]


Here is the link to the original post

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What If You’re Wrong?

My regular readers know that I strongly disagree with the idea of a Hell of eternal conscious suffereng, where a supposedly loving god sends people who, for whatever reason, fail to jump through the right hoops in this life.

I personally sometimes have difficulty in articulating exactly what I want to say on this subject, partly because my mind works so fast and with so many ideas that it’s difficult to get it out onto my laptop. Because of this, it comes as a great relief to me whan I find an article where someone else has articulated exactly what I wanted to say, only they have done it so much better and more thoroughly. And in addition to it being quite humbling (hehe) I also find it really encouraging, because it means that others like me have thought about the concepts too, and I am not alone in my thinking.

Here is a very good example of this. In this piece, Chris Kratzer says so much that I have wanted to say, and he says it with clarity and conviction.


Hell-Believing, Wrath-Preaching, Fire-Breathing Christian—What If You’re Wrong?

Chances are, it’s a belief you’ve grown up with all your life—God loves humanity so much that He sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross in order to save us from His eternal punishment of sinners who don’t love Him back in return through believing in His Son and repenting of their sins. As the story goes, through His crucifixion, Jesus took upon Himself the punishment from God that we deserve for sin. God required the death of Jesus in order to forgive sin, and personal faith and repentance are how we benefit from that event. Otherwise, the work of Jesus isn’t applied to our account and we are doomed to spend eternity in a place of unimaginable suffering where our greatest wish is to die, but by God’s design we are prevented from doing so—it’s hell, and it’s forever.

For those who might find this storyline of human redemption difficult to stomach with its dark portrayals of God, the Gospel, and Jesus. For those who wonder how God could claim to be so loving and yet act so sinister in not only imagining this kind of hell, but creating it and making the brutal murder of Jesus the only way out of it. For those who dare to look ahead towards the psychotic duplicity of what it might feel like enjoying eternity in the bliss of heaven while your loved ones scorch in unbearable suffering. For those this whole damnation-thing strikes their conscience as being a bit unsettling, unnerving, and confusing—we’ve been taught a simple fix. Hell is a necessary and natural manifestation of God’s divine holiness and justice. In heaven, we will encounter these attributes so completely and fully that any doubts we might have about God or people suffering eternally will somehow no longer haunt us, but rather rest peacefully and easily upon our souls. So much, that in the presence of God who allows for, created, and sustains hell, we will be forever desiring to sing His praises as millions of others suffer unimaginably.

In short, the brutal, violent death of Jesus and a hell of eternal pain and suffering have been handed down to us unquestionably as the ultimate reflection of God’s character and His best ideas for how to extend and make real His deep abiding love for humanity.

Maybe for you, these popular teachings regarding God’s narrative of salvation are a comfortable fit and central to your faith understanding. In your mind, if people go to hell, it’s their fault, not God’s. God can do whatever He wants, and if Hell is the setup, so be it. Besides, the Scriptures are clear, people have been warned—believe or burn, that’s the Gospel. If one rejects Jesus and refuses to heed His commands, they’ll get their just reward—an eternity of torture. God is holy, just, and sovereign no matter how vicious and brutal things play out—for His ways are not our ways, who are we to cross-examine the Divine? Therefore, you proudly and boldly declare the reality of a flaming eternity and the glory of God in sending (or allowing) people there who reject Jesus or live disobediently—thanking God, it’s not you, of course.

Or perhaps for you, as much as you dislike thinking about hell and are even inwardly perplexed by its reality in contrast to a loving God, your understanding of the biblical witness and teachings of Jesus seem to leave you no other choice but to conclude that hell is real and real people will be spending eternity in some kind of suffering existence that affords no hope and no way out. It’s not how you would draw it up, and the whole idea is secretly unsettling to you. When it comes to God’s wrath, burning in flames, and the brutal crucifixion of His own Son, you’d just as soon focus on something else and hope it all comes out in the wash. You have your doubts, a lot of questions, and significant uneasiness with it all, but that’s about as far as you’ve taken it.

Wherever you are on the spectrum, chances are, without a hell for unbelieving sinners, the foundations of your faith understanding make little sense and largely comes crashing to the ground. In your mind, if there’s no hell, there’s no purpose for Jesus. If there’s no hell, there’s no purpose for believing. If there’s no hell, there’s no purpose in being a Christian. If there’s no hell, what’s the motivation? If there’s no hell, what’s our message? If there’s no hell, what’s the Gospel? If there’s no hell, what happens to all the effort I’ve put into my righteousness?

So, as difficult, foundation-shaking, and faith-unraveling as this question could potentially be, I’m still going to ask it—what if you’re wrong?

What if hell is nothing like you think?

What if hell (if a place at all) is actually just as Jesus alluded, a literal place (Gehenna) located in Jerusalem associated with the valley of Hinnom that was used as the city dump where a fire was constantly kept to burn up and consume all of the city’s unwanted junk? In fact, the word Gehenna occurs 12 times in the Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament, each time being mistranslated to mean “hell” in several versions of the Bible, even though Jesus used it as a clear reference to a city dump.

What if it’s an embarrassingly huge stretch of theological abuse to determine in one moment that the admonition by Jesus to, “pluck your eye out” is certainly not to be taken literally, but yet in the next moment, His literal use of “Gehenna” in the same sentence should somehow be unequivocally understood to refer figuratively to a real place in the bottom of the earth where people are tortured by the wrath of God in eternal flames? Really?

What if the other three biblical words traditionally interpreted as referring to a “hell of fire and eternal torment” actually are grossly mistranslated and don’t actually mean “hell” at all? In fact, Sheol occurs 65 times in the Hebrew Manuscripts of the Old Testament, and it simply means “the grave” (the place of the dead) or “the pit.” Hades occurs 11 times in the Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament and it is the direct equivalent of the Hebrew word Sheol. Thus, it also simply means “the grave “or “the pit.” Tartarus occurs only once in the Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament in this verse: “For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell (tartarus) and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment.” Notice that God casts the angels (not humanity) who sinned down to tartarus and chained them in darkness, to be reserved for judgement.

What if the single word “hell” we use today and associate as “hell” (a place of fiery, eternal torture) is actually not found in the Bible—nowhere, and in no manuscripts? It’s true.

What if, in fact, much of modern Christianity’s convenient love affair with a hell of flames, wrath, and demons comes much more from the influence of Dante’s “Inferno” than ever could be derived from the true words of Jesus?

What if hell is actually a reality experienced in the presence of God, not apart from Him like commonly taught? In fact, two writers in Scripture describe this very notion: “The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb,” and “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.”

What if hell is not the result of God doing something contrary to His nature (love), but rather doing more of it? In fact, the Greek word for “wrath” in the New Testament is the word “orge.” Unfortunately, the way this word has been translated has been shaped greatly by our pre-existing concepts of God as being angry, temperamental, and hell-bent on punishing. The word “orge” actually means “any intense emotion.” It’s from where we get words like “orgy” and “orgasm.” At its core, “wrath” has to do with a very strong passion—not even associated to anger. In fact, the root of “orge” actually means “to reach out in a straining fashion for something that you long to possess.”

What if the wrath of God is not Him pouring out anger, vengeance, or retaliation, but rather His furious love—grasping, reaching, shaking to possess every person that they might experience His Grace?

What if hell is the experience of religious-hearted people who despise the pure Grace of God and His unconditional love and inclusion of all people into Himself and the Kingdom? In the eternal presence of the white-hot love of God forever flowing out as a river from His throne (Daniel 7:10), their souls are scorched with frustration, rage, and torment as their self-righteousness, conditional love, and religious arrogance, bigotry, and intolerance are exposed—stripped, and rendered powerless and evil. All of it deemed as filthy rags fit for the lake of God’s all consuming fire—the blistering flames of Grace. The presence of all people of every color, gender, orientation, stronghold, sin, and creed sends them into legalistic episodes of uncontainable protest and rage—how can this be, how is this fair, how dare the cross include all of these? Resigned to spend an eternity in the presence of pure Grace, the only way it becomes heaven for them is to do what many will refuse—to repent of their demonizing of God, their worship of the Scriptures, and their own legalistic understandings of it all to the exclusion of truly knowing Jesus and His heart. For the same Grace and love that will be experienced as heaven by many, will be a sure torturous hell for some. Jesus forever flips over the tables yet again, and those whom religion joyously sends to the curb are given a prized seat of bliss, and those whom religion gives elite privilege are found to be pouting and wallowing forever in religious disgust.

What if Jesus didn’t die to save us from white-bearded, angry, and vengeful God, but to save us from a fear-driven faithless life of believing He is?

What if Jesus didn’t die at the hands of a God who required His blood-soaked death in order to forgive, but rather at the claws of the religious and their diabolical systems of evil whose chief desire is to murder pure Grace and all its self-righteous destroying, all-including implications?

What if, in the hands of a world dripping with oppression, Jesus, through the cross, chose the way of nonviolence, sacrifice, service, forgiveness, inclusion, and unconditional love to model and manifest the Kingdom that was already eternally established by His Grace?

What if Jesus didn’t die to forgive us, but to manifest to the world that God already had, long ago outside of time in the realm of eternity?

What if God isn’t schizophrenic after all—harboring unconditional love for humanity one moment and eternal hate the next?

What if the truth is, you can’t reject Grace—you can’t stop its presence, pursuit, favor, or blessings over your life or that of any other, you can only love it or resist it? Loving, believing, trusting Grace fills your life with heavenly rest. Not loving, believing, and trusting Grace fills your life with a hell of frustration, self-righteousness, bitterness, religiosity, judgementalism and angst—as long as you desire, even for eternity.

What if God isn’t an insecure, limited, and codependent parent, whose capacity to save, love, and forgive are restricted to and governed by the obedience (or disobedience) of His children—thus, making them the Lords of the future, not Him?

What if God never changes—He is love through and through, forever and always, no matter what or who?

What if the presence of alternative biblically-faithful interpretations regarding ones understanding of hell and God’s connection to it back you into an interpretive corner, so much that if you believe in an eternal hell of torment and torture for the unbelieving and a God who would author it, you are doing so solely by your own choice?

For the results are in—history paints the picture. We Christians have been drastically wrong before—wrong about racism, wrong about equality, wrong about violence and war, the list keeps on growing.

Hell-believing, wrath-preaching, fire-breathing Christian—what if you’re wrong, yet again?

If I’m wrong, then God will most certainly go ahead, around, and over me in a divine full-court-press to scare the hell out of the people I’m misleading—literally. For there’s nothing about me or my message that the Holy Spirit is powerless or unwilling to usurp. Any wayward guidance on my part can easily be reversed by the omnipotent leading of the Father. I would boldly stand before the Throne having exaggerated the goodness, love, and Grace of God—if ever that could be a thing.

But, if you’re wrong, you have participated in nothing less than the evil demonization of God and the sheer blaspheming of His Spirit. You’ve allowed your spiritual laziness, vulnerability to religious brainwashing, and twisted comfort with the notion of people going to a torturous hell and a God who would create it, to win over your heart, mind, thinking, attitudes and actions. You have leaned on your own understanding of the Scriptures to the spiritual abuse of others—imprisoning them into a life of fear as they are raped of their capacity to know the joy, freedom, and peace that comes from awakening to God who is love, Jesus who is Grace, and the Gospel that is truly good news for all.

Hell-believing, wrath-preaching, fire-breathing Christian—what if you’re wrong?

Paradise is the love of God, wherein is the enjoyment of all blessedness… I also maintain that those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love. For what is so bitter and vehement as the punishment of love?” -St. Isaac the Syrian

The flames of heaven will be hotter for some than the flames of hell could ever be” -Dallas Willard

Grace is the celebration of life, relentlessly hounding all the non-celebrants in the world.” -Robert Capon

Grace is brave. Be brave

 – Chris Kratzer, shared with his kind permission.


I was also particularly impressed by a comment in the discussion following Chris’s article, which I thought was absolutely beautiful:

I read your post shortly after it came out. It moved me so deeply that I emailed it to my father, a messianic rabbi. And, just today, I happened back across it when going through my archived emails.

You have summed up a journey that my mind and soul have taken over the last decade. I began as a conservative evangelical and now I describe myself as a near universalist (those who are excluded will be excluded by their own decision to reject Grace and refuse to enter the Kingdom; which is in some ways to the important and passing point Dante makes about how the gates of Hell are left unlocked).

Grace is a powerful thing and it is too often a stumbling block for those who can’t accept something so radical. It always amazes me how people use phrases like “cheap grace.” It isn’t cheap, it’s better, it is offered for free (the meaning of Christ’s life and death; the depiction of God’s great love for all of us acted out in life and death). Still we demand vengeance, justice, etc. and can’t accept the idea of people we consider unrighteous or somehow less than us (they didn’t perform the work of saying the sinner’s prayer, right?) sharing in the same eternal reward.

Thank you for bearing your heart of writing this. God bless and keep you.

Well, I think that just about wraps it up for today. I am so glad that there are others out there who articulate things so well, and are also getting the Good News message across. And I am so grateful that these guys agree to let me reblog their excellent material.

Thanks again, Chris

Peace and Grace


Here is the link to the original article

21

More Sound Bites

Here’s another post continuing my series of ever-popular ‘brief thoughts’ – style articles, featuring interesting ideas and thoughts from around the Internet and beyond.


“What you know about God changes nothing. Knowing what God knows about you, however, changes everything”. – Jeff Turner

“I realised last night that when Jesus called His disciples, He simply said ‘Follow Me’. He didn’t set any conditions, name any essential doctrines, set any boundaries, make any rules, say anything was forbidden. He just said ‘Follow Me’. How simple is that? It makes me think that anything other than simply ‘follow Me’ must be largely superfluous”. – Me

“No matter how big or small your goal, no matter how motivated you are or what drives you to achieve your goals…. You can only do it ONE step at a time!! My steps are small at the moment but I’m putting one foot in front of the other, moving in the right direction…. Whilst trying to also be in the here and now…. As that is the only moment that truly exists!” – Helen

“The Gospel is not that you can receive Jesus into your life, but that Jesus has already received you into His Life” – Wm. Paul Young

“I really don’t see why we shouldn’t major on the restoration stuff rather than the destruction stuff. People talk about not diluting the Gospel, and about not watering it down. This harsh stuff is not giving it undiluted, it’s giving it polluted with evil. Nobody will respond to a gospel like that, at least not positively”. – Me

“The point of the Abraham-and-Isaac story isn’t that you should sacrifice your kid but that you can leave behind any notion of a god who demands that you sacrifice your kid. Do you see how huge this is?” – Rob Bell

“HYDRA was founded on the belief that humanity could not be trusted with its own freedom” – Dr. Arnim Zola, Captain America: The Winter Soldier…*

“The concept of God as an angry, unforgiving parent – and his church as a domineering grown-up issuing threats to wilful kids – is bad news, not Gospel. Such concepts inculcate only fear: fear of God, and then fear of our own freedom. They lead not to liberty of the children of God, to the freedom with which Christ has set us free, but to a servile mentality that kills courage and breeds resentment.” – Robert Farrar Capon, The Mystery of Christ… & Why We Don’t Get It

“God always backs the underdog” – Emma Higgs

“I’m kind of done with you telling me what I can’t do.” – Carol Danvers, Captain Marvel

“The only record of your sins is in your own mind. There is no other copy”. – David Neal

“I [do] get frustrated, though, when people would prefer to spout the bad news rather than the good. If the gospel begins with ‘god hates you’, then it’s not a gospel anyone would listen to any further than that”. – Me


*[Is it just me, or does that perhaps sound like some parts of the modern Evangelical church?]

00

Restoring The Shack

I have been most fortunate in that someone has pointed me in the direction of a fantastic series about The Shack, on YouTube, featuring the author of The Shack, Wm. Paul Young.

It’s called ‘Restoring The Shack’.

At the time of writing, I have watched three episodes and I have found it to be uplifting, healing, moving, peace-bringing and loads of other great fruits, all at the same time. For those who would diss Paul Young and his theology, I would say that you can easily tell by its fruit what a good thing The Shack is, and the fruit of this stuff is beautiful. You can say all you like about how Paul’s theology doesn’t match with [your understanding of] the Bible, but Jesus said that you can tell a good tree by its fruit. And you can’t argue with that, so don’t even try.

I have embedded the YouTube videos in the series below. There are eighteen episodes in total, and each one is about 20-30 minutes long.

I think this is the path to healing for many of my readers. Tread the path with me; you won’t be disappointed.

11

What Are Fundamentalist Christians So Afraid Of?

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Dark Night

Well, I’ll tell you what they’re afraid of. At least in terms of the beliefs of Fundamentalist Evangelical Christians, one of which I used to be.

They are most afraid of believers and even unbelievers coming into a proper relationship with Jesus Christ, instead of into the relationship with the Bible in which they themselves find their own security.

And this is extremely ironic, because it is the avowed intention of Fundie Christians to introduce the whole world to Jesus, in line with the ‘Great Commission’ in Matthew 28:19-20. Sadly, though, what usually happens is that there’s a ‘bait-and-switch’ where they advertise Jesus (albeit not very well) and then once their unfortunate victims ‘buy into’ Jesus, they find out – once they have their feet under the table – that the package they have just opened does not contain Jesus after all, but instead that same dusty old Bible along with a list of rules, expectations, prohibitions and whatnot.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.” – Mt 23:15

And, of course, that package also contains the ‘dire warning’ that this group has all the correct answers, and, if the new adherent listens to anyone else, reads the wrong books, or breaks any number of unwritten, tacitly assumed Rules, then oh guess what, it’s the same old, same old, fear-based threat of the fiery pit for you. In short, they are afraid of anyone else demonstrating that there is Life outside their little bubble, because that would introduce fatal flaws into their closely held belief structure. They are the only ones who are right, after all. Which is about as much cultic behaviour as it gets. No wonder they are afraid of the real Jesus. No cult wants anyone else to be in charge except their leadership.

And so, most of the foul treatment of others, that Fundie Christians are so well-known for, flows from this exclusive and toxic belief structure, and the need to protect it.

Because, lets make no bones about it, they have a set interpretation of the Bible, and therefore they have a formula – that everything pertaining to life is in their Rulebook – and once you have a formula, you don’t need God. They would deny this, of course, but when you really dig deep, almost the entire reliance is placed on the Bible and not on Jesus. There is more irony there: the Bible does not itself claim such an elevated position. But when it boils down to it, the Bible is seen as being more reliable than our own Relationship with Jesus.

To be fair, not all Fundie Christians are like that. But their underlying belief structures, about the depravity of humanity, ‘original sin’, hellfire and damnation, judgment, and policing others’ morals, are pretty similar across all the groups who would identify as Fundamentalist; it’s just they express it differently, either more or less overtly but still present. Like I said, I know whereof I speak, because I too used to think like that.

Anyhow, here’s Keith Giles, one of the presenters of the Heretic Happy Hour podcast, with some ideas on why Fundies try to keep Jesus bound up in their Rulebook and don’t want to let Him out. This passage is reproduced with Keith’s kind permission:


…’What if the Word of God is more than a book?’ and ‘What if I can hear the voice of God directly, without any help from my pastor, or the Bible?’

            These are challenging questions, I know. But, I believe the Scriptures themselves reveal the answers to these questions, and that what we find might surprise you.

            Honestly, I am becoming convinced that the Bible is intended to teach us that the Word of God became flesh, lived among us, revealed the Father to us and now lives within every single follower of Christ at this very moment.

            Not only do the Scriptures point us to Jesus, but they place Him alone at the center of everything. Jesus, and only Jesus, defines for us who God is, what God is like, and what our lives should look like as a result of that revelation.

            This, I believe with all of my heart, is what Christians today need most to understand about their faith.

            The ironic thing is that some of us have made the Bible an idol. We worship it. We attribute characteristics to it that should only be said of Christ.

            It’s as if the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us and we have very quickly put Him back into a book again. Why? Because if the Word of God is in a book, we can manipulate, and control, and distance ourselves from Him.

            Or, to put it another way: If the Word of God is alive within each and every one of us, then that means we don’t need Christian pastors and teachers to explain God to us.

            Quite frankly, Christians today are terrified of trusting the average person with the Spirit of the Living God. We don’t really believe that the Holy Spirit within every believer can actually lead us into all truth. We doubt that His sheep can really hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. We are nervous about unleashing the Divine among the common Christian community without guard rails.

            What are we so afraid of? Is it any different from when the Children of Israel drew back from the Pillar of Fire or the Cloud that spoke to them directly in the wilderness? Isn’t it exactly the same as when God’s people demanded a King like all the other nations and rejected God as their direct ruler? We are always seeking to put mediators and mouthpieces between ourselves and God. But God is always the One who seeks to draw near to us, to place His Spirit within us, to make His home with us and to speak directly to us as a Father speaks to His own child.

            My hope with this book [link below – Ed] is to provide a fresh revelation of Christ to you and to point out how we sometimes allow good things—even the Bible—to stand between us and Him. In short, I want a Christianity that looks a lot more like Jesus.

            Either our Christian faith is Christ-centered, or it is not worthy of being called “Christianity” and we should not be called “Christians.”

 

– Keith Giles. Jesus Unbound: Liberating the Word of God from the Bible (Kindle Locations 171-193). Quoir. Kindle Edition.


Superb. I suppose that anyone who has managed to read this far is not one of the people that Keith talks about. But if you are, and you have, then please have a good think about it.

This way lies Life!


P.S. Yes, I do believe that the bloke in the header picture is, actually, a real vampire. Yes indeed.


[Author’s Note – This piece is part of my ‘Dark Night’ series because it contains insights I have managed to crystallise only because I am currently going through a Dark Night of the Soul. For more information on this idea, please see my series on the Stages of Spiritual Growth, here.]

10

Tearing the Curtain

Occasionally, I find a real gem online, usually from one of my thoughtful online friends on Facebook or on a forum or somewhere.

These two short essays are good examples. Here, Wendy Francisco comments on the curtain in the Temple being torn in two (Mt 27:50-51), followed by another related piece on the word ‘saved’.

I feel this combination might just set someone free today:


There was a thick curtain in the Jewish temple that separated the holy of holies from the common people, and when Jesus died, this curtain was ripped in two from top to bottom.

When that happened there were no notes falling from heaven to interpret this. So interpretations abound.

I only know this… the curtain represented a perceived barrier between God and people, and God ripped it in two.

We’ve been trying to sew that curtain back up ever since.

It’s no wonder we do this … that curtain is religion’s golden egg. If you can fool people into believing that God is too disdainful to hang out with us, bingo, you have a profitable religion…where people in fancy costumes go into tented places to appease a god.

Is Jesus the new and better system? Is he now the “curtain” we pass through to gain acceptance by God? No dude …the point of tearing the curtain was that God couldn’t stand being made to stay in that stuffy room by himself. Scripture says repeatedly that God doesn’t desire sacrifice. When Adam fell, God did not sew up himself a tent and sit in it. He ran after Adam.

Jesus sacrificed Himself to tell us this… because we murder pretty much anyone who brings too high a dose of enlightenment.

The point isn’t a better system, it is no system. When relationships become systems, they are toxic. God didn’t put that curtain up, we did. Jesus came to show us that our bloody atonement religions are a hoax. He died telling us that because such religions kill us. He was our lamb, our Messenger, who came with compassion in spite of knowing it would cost everything. He found the pearl of great price – us – and he gave his all for it.

If you don’t get this, you don’t benefit from it… you wind up staying behind a curtain, a cog in a machine, with a false god, and a cultish religion. That is what Jesus was saving the planet from.

That curtain tore. It takes an army of frantic religious doctrinal sewing machines to keep that curtain sewed up, and that dead system going, but we manage to keep untold millions behind our imaginary veil.

There is a verse in scripture — 23 All did sin, and are come short of the glory of God — 24 being declared righteous freely by His grace through the redemption that [is] in Christ Jesus… [Rom 3:23-24 – Ed]

It’s one fluid sentence, but we erected our money-making curtain right in the middle of it ….chopping it into two verses, and sending the first half to the top of the flagpole.

GOOD NEWS… the veil was made by humans, not by God. He doesn’t need or want one. Being born again means having a religious do-over.


We try to make Christianity into a western religion but it is very eastern. Scripture says the kingdom is inside us, that we are already citizens of heaven.

The word that is translated “saved” gives the exact meaning some pause. Jesus taught about life going on after death, but it is this same life. We are already there. We are not trying to do what is necessary to please a disgusted god so we can get TO heaven. We’re trying to see and walk in it now. We’re bringing it here, by how we see. We are already there, but don’t see it.

The evil of religion is stating that we have all sinned fallen short of the grace of God — and failing to close the thought, which states that the SAME “all” is made alive in Christ. The point of the verse is not death but life. That verse is theft…. it is stealing the captives of religion. It is one fluid sentence, like life is one fluid life. Different forms, same life.

I am not making this up. This is scripture which we have been trained not to see. That place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth? That is this life too, when religion is standing in the door and keeping you from realizing who and where you are.

Jesus was talking to a deeply religious and sincerely seeking person [Jn 3:3 – Ed] when he described being born again — not to a lost person as we define it. Jesus was talking within a culture so religious even we can scarcely imagine it. He was talking about leaving religion and seeing God with completely different eyes. When he tells the rich man he will find the life of the ages by leaving his life and following him, he isn’t talking about earning heaven later, he’s talking about finding it now. It is here, all around us.

I don’t weep and gnash my teeth any more like I did in evangelicalism because I was redeemed, saved, pulled out of the ditch, redefined. Lemmings don’t like someone who is going against the flow, but I get that. I was one. I get how tricky it is.

“Blessed are those who mourn.” This is the problem with evangelicalism. We were taught that hell could exist for most of humanity and it would be okay not to mourn eternally in heaven because most of humanity really didn’t matter.


I’m not going to comment; with a bit of thought these two pieces speak for themselves.

Be blessed! 🙂

10

It Would Have Been So Easy…

Here’s a great piece by Richard Murray:


It would have been so easy.

So very easy.

If Jesus wanted to make it crystal clear for all Christian generations to come that His Father directly pulverizes men, women, and children in His holy wrath, ALL He had to do ……. was to prove it by demonstrating it during His incarnation.

After all, James 1:18, Colossians 1:15, and Hebrews 1:3, in tandem, say that Jesus came to explain the Father by personifying the full and complete representation of the Father’s nature, and that Jesus was the very image of the invisible God.

So, to confirm that His Heavenly Father WAS capable of:

—killing
—oppressing
—afflicting
—smiting
—plaguing
—disastering

…all Jesus had to do was:

—stone (or endorse the stoning of) one person caught in adultery
—afflict one evil sinner with a plague
—strike one hypocritical Pharisee dead
—oppress one double minded person with an evil spirit in order to punish them
—smite one person with a crippling accident causing them paraplegia so that they would thereafter learn humility and how to give God all the glory for their misfortune
—send one lightning storm, tornado, mudslide, or tsunami to wipe out particularly hard hearted villages or cites.

Had Jesus done ANY of these things, even just one time, then anybody who dared claim otherwise would be forever proven wrong.

But He didn’t.

Jesus’ life was described in this way:

— by the Apostle Peter, “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” Acts 10:38.

—by the Apostle John, “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5.

—by the Apostle James, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” James 1:13-17.

Since Jesus NEVER once did (or endorsed) any of these destructive things listed above, we can only conclude that He refused to misrepresent the divine nature as anything other as curative, protective, rehabilitative, and restorative.

We should likewise steadfastly refuse to malign God’s pristine nature. It’s the key to everything— “the renewing of our mind, to the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2.

Richard Murray, used with his kind permission.

20

Shifting Perspective

Here is an excellent piece, Shifting Perspective, by my friend Rob Grayson. It’s the transcript of a sermon he preached a few weeks ago in his church. In this insightful work, Rob expounds on one of the most important concepts of our time: the primacy of Jesus over everything else. And I share this piece here with Rob’s gracious permission.

Firstly, though, let’s look at the well-known Scripture that was Rob’s text for the day, Luke 9:28-36

…[Jesus] took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)

While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.

Here’s Rob:


Introduction

As many of you know, my wife and I recently became grandparents for the first time. I know I’ve talked about this a lot lately, but it’s what you do when you become grandparents! It’s been fun reminiscing about what it was like to become parents ourselves, and watching our son and daughter-in-law make many of the same discoveries we did. One of the most striking things about having kids is how dramatically your perspective on life shifts when you become a parent. Typically, it’s not something you just take in your stride: when you have a baby, your whole world – by which I mean not only the practical arrangement of your life, but the whole way you see the world – changes. Becoming a parent is a change of circumstance that causes a dramatic shift in perspective.

Becoming a parent is an example of what’s sometimes called a paradigm shift. In this context, a paradigm means a set of assumptions that determine how we see the world. We all have a paradigm – we might also call it a worldview – and it’s usually something we’re not consciously aware of until we have an experience that challenges our previously unquestioned assumptions.

One characteristic of a paradigm shift is that it’s not simply a case of acquiring new information or knowledge. You can read about having a baby; you can even attend ante-natal classes to learn about what to expect when the baby arrives; but until you actually have a baby, you’ll never experience the huge change in perspective and worldview that results from becoming a parent.

To reiterate, then, a paradigm shift is not simply about acquiring new information: it’s a change of perspective, a shift to a whole new level of awareness or consciousness.

As you might have guessed, the reason I’ve been talking about paradigm shifts is that I believe this is what today’s Gospel reading is fundamentally about. Peter, James and John needed to have their perspective changed; and, of course, through the words of scripture, we are also invited to allow our perspective to be changed.

Recapping the story

Let’s briefly recap what we heard in the Gospel reading.

Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a mountain to pray. As Jesus is praying, his appearance changes (the King James Version says he’s “transfigured”), he becomes as bright as lightning, and Moses and Elijah appear alongside him and talk with him about his “departure”, which, the text tells us, he is “about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem”. Peter, James and John, in spite of being sleepy, witness this strange scene, and Peter wants to build three shrines for Jesus and his illustrious companions. Then a cloud descends on them, they’re frightened, and a voice from the cloud says, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him”. The cloud disappears, and with it Moses and Elijah: Jesus is once again alone on the mountain with his disciples.

A strange episode indeed. One of the challenges of preaching on a text like this is that there are so many angles to explore, so many different directions we could go in. For the sake of time, we’re just going to focus on the paradigm shift that Peter needed to undergo, and how what he experienced on the mountain encouraged just such a shift.

Peter’s experience

So, let’s think about Peter. We’re told that, as Moses and Elijah are beginning to leave Jesus, Peter pipes up and suggests building shelters for the three of them. Rather amusingly, the text tells us, “He didn’t know what he was saying”: as we see elsewhere in the Gospels, Peter’s approach often seems to be, “If in doubt, say the first thing that comes into your head!”

In any event, Peter is clearly overwhelmed enough by the whole experience that he wants to prolong it and commemorate it. But, besides the visual spectacle of seeing Jesus shine like lightning, what is it that impresses him so much?

Remember that Peter, like the other disciples, is on a journey of trying to figure out just who Jesus is. He’s decided Jesus is important enough to leave his home and his business and become one of his followers, but beyond that, who is Jesus? A teacher? A healer? A prophet? Something more?

At this point, we need to recognise the importance of Moses and Elijah. To a first-century Jew, these were two of the most pivotal figures in the history not only of the Jewish faith, but of Israel as a people. They were monumental, towering figures – heroes of the faith and of history – representing the twin pillars of Judaism: the Law and the Prophets. Moses, of course, was the great lawgiver, the one to whom God had given the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. And Elijah was perhaps the greatest, certainly the most iconic, of Israel’s prophets. And here they are, chatting with Jesus. I wonder, is part of the reason Peter is so impressed by this appearance the fact that, in his eyes, it seems to confirm that Jesus, this itinerant rabbi on whom he’s taken a gamble, is turning out to be on an equal footing with Israel’s great heroes?

Notice again what happens after Peter tries to arrange to install Jesus, Moses and Elijah in permanent accommodation on the mountain. A cloud comes down; a voice – presumably God’s – says, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him!”; and the cloud departs, leaving Jesus alone with the disciples. Here’s Peter, wanting to celebrate and commemorate Jesus’ elevation to the same rank as Moses and Elijah – in other words, to the same level of importance as the Law and the Prophets – and it’s as though God says, “No! This is the one you need to listen to!”

Peter’s paradigm shift

Peter needed to have his perspective changed to see that Jesus was not just another Prophet, or another interpreter of the Law. He was not to be put on an equal footing with Moses and Elijah. Peter needed to be awakened to the truth that Jesus perfectly reveals God in a way that the Law and the Prophets never could. At best, the Law and the Prophets could only ever cast a pale shadow of what God was like; Jesus, on the other hand, was the perfect embodiment of God’s nature in human form.

This realisation of the supremacy of Jesus as the one true revealer of God’s nature would have huge implications for Peter, as it should for all of us. No longer would Peter be able to appeal to the Law as the ultimate arbiter of God’s will: for example, where the Law said a woman caught in adultery should be stoned to death, Jesus would say the one who was without sin should cast the first stone, demonstrating God’s heart of compassion and mercy and his absolute opposition to violence, even where the Law seemed to require it.

Notice, as well, that Peter’s impulse is to keep Jesus on the mountain rather than allow him to continue on to the final part of his mission – a mission that will take him first to Jerusalem, and then to the cross. This reminds me of the incident we read about in Mark 8 – shortly before Mark’s account of the Transfiguration – where Jesus begins to speak openly to the disciples about his coming suffering and death, Peter tells him off, and Peter is in turn sharply rebuked by Jesus with the famous words, “Get behind me, satan!” Is Peter harbouring hopes that Jesus will turn out to be the conquering Messiah who leads Israel to victory against the occupying Romans? Is that why he’s so reluctant to let Jesus self-sabotage (as Peter sees it), and why he’s so bemused by all this talk of suffering and death?

This is another vital aspect of the paradigm shift Peter needed to undergo. He needed to understand that in God’s kingdom, the way up is down; the way to gain your life is to lose it; the way to salvation for Israel was not to seek out a heroic messiah who would rise up against the Romans, but to embrace the way of peace – the way of the cross.

Ready, steady, shift

Of course, Peter didn’t “get the message” straight away. Like many of us, he was a slow learner. And these weren’t the only paradigm shifts he would need to undergo: there would be more to come. For example, I think denying Jesus in his most desperate hour, and then later receiving Jesus’ forgiveness on the lakeshore in Galilee, would have been an experience that triggered a massive and profound shift in Peter’s perspective on both Jesus and himself.

The question is, are we willing to have our own assumptions challenged and our own perspective changed? So often, particularly when it comes to our beliefs about God and how he relates to us and the world, we can easily think we’ve got it all worked out and we know all the right answers. That can be especially true for those of who’ve been followers of Jesus for a very long time. But when we set up camp on our beliefs and convictions by insisting that they’re absolutely, unarguably correct and must never be allowed to change, aren’t we, just like Peter, trying to build a structure to box Jesus in and keep him safely contained where he can’t do too much damage to our preconceptions?

Like Peter, we need to allow our vision and our understanding of what God is like to be shaped first and foremost by Jesus and not by anything else, even if it is in the Bible. And, just as importantly, we need to be ready and willing to have our perspectives challenged and our paradigms shifted. That can be uncomfortable and disorientating, but it’s vital if we’re serious about growing and maturing as followers of Jesus rather than just being people who keep Jesus in a shrine and only pay him any attention on Sundays and other special days.

May God give us the courage to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice and be willing to set aside our certainties for the sake of the kingdom.

Amen.


I also think that Peter was one of the Disciples who was most entrenched in his beliefs. Jesus didn’t call him a ‘rock’ for nothing; you get the idea that he was big, strong and immovable, not just in his physical stature but also in his convictions too. The episode in Acts 10, where it needs a vision from God to show Peter that actually the Gospel is not just for the Jews, but for all the world, is a case in point. Where Peter had assumed that only ‘God’s chosen people’ were to hear the Gospel, it took that vision and then the evidence of the presence of the gift of the Holy Spirit in the lives of a group of non-Jewish believers, to convince him.

But there is hope in this too. It shows me that even the most firmly entrenched and, lets face it, unhealthy and unhelpful of erroneous belief systems is capable of being changed by the patient intervention of the Holy Spirit. The thing that Peter had was the willingness to learn; to be taught. Jesus said in John 16:12 that ‘I have so much more to tell you, but you can’t cope with it right now’. He knows when best to reveal things to us. And it also means that even those whom we find most annoying – in my case, legalistic Pharisees – can also have their viewpoints – their paradigms – changed by the Spirit, when He’s good and ready. I think that is most encouraging. And it’s especially liberating for us to know that it is not our job to change them, even though the reciprocal of that view is not always shared by said Pharisees; they often want to change others! Surely the best thing we can do for these people is to allow our own paradigms to shift so that we can gently share our Grace experiences with them, so that they know that there are others they can turn to when they themselves have their Grace revelation that releases them from legalism.

I want to have that paradigm shift, don’t you?


Here’s the link to Rob’s original blog post

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Oases of Light

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Dark Night

In this Dark Night of the Soul, I am having a lot of interesting insights.

Although at the moment I don’t always feel the burning Presence of God all the time like I usually can, He still gently reminds me – every so often – that He’s still there and still holding my hand.

I think of these reminders as oases of light in the dark valley. Or like pools of lamplight on a dark street, like in the header picture, which I think depicts the concept beautifully.

There are two recent examples in particular which stand out for me.

A couple of mornings ago, I woke up having just been in a dream in which I had been singing the chorus of the Don Francisco song, ‘The Power‘, with my hands lifted high in praise and gratitude. Singing the words, “Praise You, Jesus, for Your Holy Spirit!

In the dream, I knew that the song was just as real to me as it has always been, Dark Night notwithstanding. The dream, and the song within it, served to remind me of my deep knowledge that the Spirit of God lives within me, and that She is the guarantee of my inheritance in the Kingdom, both in the here and now, and in the hereafter too (2Cor 1:22, Eph 1:14). And I could indeed feel the ‘flood of joy’ that Don describes in his song. Ok, it was ‘just a dream’, but it was a dream that I needed and a dream that bore fruit. I have absolutely no doubt that it was from the Lord.

And then today a box of old worship tapes arrived, from a very kind lady who had contacted me through my website ‘Vintage Worship Tapes, with a view to donating some tapes to the ‘ministry’. In the box was a copy of the tape ‘Thank You Lord’, by David J Hadden, whose work I have featured on my blog before. The title track, unsurprisingly called ‘Thank You, Lord‘, I have known for about thirty years, but only today have I heard David’s own version of it. I’ve even previously shared the words for the song, but been unable to publish the audio track until now – because, of course, I didn’t have it! – but today I have made an mp3 track of the song and I share it with you below, along with the lyrics. But the thing is that the song has lifted me up again, on the back of the Don Francisco song and now this David Hadden song, and once again the joy is there and it’s real.

I don’t know if this is the end of the Dark Night or not; certainly it doesn’t feel as decisive as the last time I ’emerged’, five years ago, in February 2014. Here’s what I wrote on that day:

“What a morning. First time voluntarily in a church for fifteen years, and getting thoroughly zapped by God: weeping, laughing, complete acceptance, forgiveness. Wow, wow, wow! Going again tonight hehe

It’s not like that this time! But then I appreciate that each time is going to be different. That said, I don’t feel like everything is sorted yet anyway, so we’ll wait and see. But for those of my readers going through a Dark Night of your own, and for those who simply wanted to get my perspective from within the valley, I thought I would post this today so that you have the information. I think it’s quite fascinating and in some ways this writing of these experiences here on my blog is enabling me to observe what is happening with a more analytical eye. And I trust that many of you are finding it useful. You see, there are oases of light in the dark valley, and God will lead you to them.

Anyhow, here’s David’s song, ‘Thank You, Lord‘, shared here with his gracious permission:

When I consider all you mean to me
My heart responds in worship
The songs you’ve given me, O Lord to sing
They’re songs of worship
They’re songs of praise
They’re songs of gratitude

Thank you Lord
Thank you Lord
Thank you from the bottom of my heart
Thank you Lord
Thank you Lord
Thank you from the bottom of my heart

You mean so much to me my God and King
My heart is full of worship
I long to bless you and to build a throne
Through my songs of worship
Through my songs of praise
Through my songs of gratitude

Thank you Lord……….

Great is the Lord and worthy of your praise
His name endures for ever
People of Zion come and sing your songs
Sing your songs of worship
Sing your songs of praise
Sing your songs of gratitude

Thank you Lord……….

(Words and music copyright David J. Hadden, 1985, used here with his kind permission)*.

 

Even as I Iisten to this song right now, it’s moving me to tears of gratitude, and to grateful worship, and to raising my hands in thanksgiving. I am just so grateful to Father for what He’s doing with me at this time.

And I am so especially grateful for these oases of light.

Thank You Lord, indeed 😀

Peace and Grace to you


*David is the lead vocalist on the track, and he’s also playing the keyboards and piano.

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