A Journey with Belief and Faith
Long ago, in the deep recesses of a mind ill equipped to make sense out of the negative experiences (Pain) in life, lived an isolated human being. Called cold and unfeeling by some, that human being dreamed of a better life filled with kindness and acceptance. The dream was an illusion but it held this human together when things did not work out as hoped. Many many things did not work out and the lessons began to pile up. Some made sense, most did not. It was not till later in life that this human found a path that let go of who he became and allowed him to accept life as it was, and, who he was, and who everyone was.
The God that this person connected with, he called the Creator. Not able to confirm the Creator’s existence as a fact he never the less felt deep inside the energy of living, everywhere. It was not necessary to pray because the spirit of creation was now part of him and he honored creation in how he treated others and all other life that became part of his world.
There was a lot to let go of and lot to accept but the spirit of the life energy, that was a part of him always, acknowledged his participation in every experience. This ownership allowed peace and compassion to enter his daily existence, both for himself and for others. The riddle of life and death, evil and goodness, was not solved. But there was an answer and for now the answer was enough. Creation was too amazing to ignore and whatever or whoever the Creator was we carry the responsibility for the stewardship of our lives and the lives we are guardians of.
Two motto’s guided his life: “do no harm, help where you can”, “Honor our Creator by Fulfilling the promise that life has to offer all who are brought into this world and honor all who are yet to be born by caring for the present and protecting the future.” Within these Motto’s lies a faith that the Creator knew what he was doing and if we do our part as stewards of life and the life of this planet we will honor the Creator and all will be well.
The bible has within it many stories and parables to learn from. The first half of this effort will not explore those stories but instead will explore the bible from the perspective of an observer. Part two will explore the stories and what impact they can have on our daily lives.
What is Faith anyway? When a child is asked to jump from the edge of the pool for the first time, into the waiting arms of a parent the child does so on faith. Only the relationship decides for the child, for this is the first time. What is belief? The child believes that the parent will not let them get hurt based on prior experience but that is not enough. Something else is present. Trust begets faith and the child chooses on faith built on a trusted relationship.
So trust and faith are intertwined. Having little direct experience I can trust that the bible is the revealed word of God based on input from respected people that I grew up with. I cannot know this, but I can believe others, and, I can read for myself. But I do not read as a scholar, I only read as an interested and curious follower. What will be revealed to me as I progress and then finish. I do not know.
What I do know is that the bible can be read with more than one perspective. At the 30,000 foot level all of the stories (some historical some not) show humans as they are and how they related to their God. Stories that lead us through our infancy, our growing up, and finally to Jesus. But even after Jesus we seem to have focused more on his death and resurrection and less on his living, breathing presence on this earth. The commandments say no, no no to those that would create images of God that they could touch and feel and see. But God said no I am not to be put on a shelf, dusted, displayed in any way, in any form. It took a while for the chosen people to get this particular message. God is not to be captured in any way, and, there is only one, THE only one.
At the ground level we can and do pull out the moral teachings, rules for living, rules for worship, what to believe, how to behave, how to worship. In one respect the stories are amazing tales of a people chosen by God to give glory to God. In another respect their stubbornness, stiff necked lunacy makes one want to reach into the pages and shake some sense into them, way before God’s wrath is visited upon them.
We will be getting to these viewpoints soon enough but first the more obvious contradictory and inconsistent elements. These tell us a little about the writers base of knowledge, culture they lived in, and what they themselves took away from their own history. Don’t forget that the writers were talking about something that happened long ago which included knowledge, culture, their cosmic understanding and the civilization in which they now lived.
The bible as “the word of God” has been acknowledged (by faith) to be the true story of God’s relationship with humans, including Jesus presence among us. Up to Jesus presence among us God tried over and over again to get the chosen people (and finally the gentiles) to acknowledge, believe, and commit to God’s commands and existence as the one True God.
The relationships between humans and God help define what we are, who we are, why we are here and how we should behave. Our development as a species can be celebrated in one way as a profound and amazing path where so many things had to come together for our survival. However what we have today is a paradox. We live and we die and yet the marker for our becoming fully human, the path we have been told to follow, was presented to us and then altered by us to meet what we considered to be our destiny. Domination, power, control, the self above all else. A patriarchy was cemented and we have been following that concept ever since. Before I read the bible it was my belief that Jesus came here to show us how to live, how to surrender what we thought we were and how to “be” in a world of temptations and contradictions. What I heard from others was that Jesus came here to release us from our sins and present to us a path for our eternal salvation throughout eternity.
Sin, such a concept. My issue has always been with this idea of original sin. After the “Fall” all of mankind was forever tainted and we proved ourselves worthy of that label time and time again. But deep down I find such a designation disagreeable, not good for us, not in our best interest. Can I find the path that Honors our creator and yet provides a real alternative? We shall see.
Sin, what is so deeply wrong with us that we cannot seem to live what I want to call “sacred lives”. To live married to creation. To live as one who belongs, who praises, who cherishes all of the elements of life, of creation, of humanity as though we all, everyone of us, were a part of and important to the future evolution of our species and the future of all life on this planet. Is this what it means to be fully human?
Our biology, everything organic within us, has determined how we respond (interpret) what experience in life we participate in. Eckhart Tolle has an interesting and I believe correct perspective on the part of us that deals with (or does not deal with) the parts of life that diminish us, drive us to levels of insanity and generally make us miserable. Our biology tells us that we have a growth path, a developmental sequence that we must all go through. It is called the ego and the pain body. Everyone has them to varying degrees and intensity. At some point in our development cycle we get to transform into a beautiful butterfly. Why then do we have to go through the pain, ignorance and dysfunction of growing up, becoming conscious and present sometimes just before we die. Why is the butterfly stage so difficult to see let alone get there. And of course we have the age old question, If we are going to die anyway does it matter if we are super conscious, super present, super nice people or ugly.
So in one way we grow into a state of being that can be described as fully human where our relationships with all else not us predominates. Another way is the path we did follow, the path of hierarchy, patriarchy, dominance and self serving behavior. Did we miss anything so long ago or were we unable to see what was being offered, the true gift of Jesus.
Eden and the perfection of the Garden, unlimited food, a walk with God, and only one rule, perfection and only one rule, broken. From perfection to death and the toil of surviving. Not to be paid for until Jesus walked this earth. And now, here, we still miss the message even though an example has been given, sins paid for, and the defeat of death, and above all “Love your neighbor as yourself”. One rule, one thought, one behavior. How difficult is this, unless. Genetics, Education, and Love as we learn again what we are (genetically), how we develop as humans (education), and how we are to experience all our relationships (with love). We still die and experience all of what death brings with it. It should be clear that until we discover an extended life our defeat of death will be in our state of mind and our saving grace will be how we treat all of our relationships, with all of creation.
All people worshiped Gods. The God of the old testament wanted everyone to honor and glorify the one true God without resorting to false idols and false worship. God demanded obedience and when he did not get it God’s wrath was visited over and over again. But it is not just God’s wrath that we need to pay attention to. That is just disappointment and frustration. It is the idea of God’s love that bears our emulation. As we honor by our actions this idea we honor our Creator and all of Creation.
The old testament is full of conditional love. Though some would take issue with that (Exodus), that is God saves first and demands correct behavior second, but nothing alters the fact that if the people misbehave, the consequence is often dire. It has been said to me that God’s love fills the bible, but what I have read so far gives me the belief that humans are expected to honor and glorify God by keeping the covenant of God, following the rules, and treating each other as they would be treated. What happens when they fail at this? God’s wrath is visited upon them: banished from the garden, limited years of life, the flood, forty years in the wilderness, destruction of Jerusalem and dispersal of all (that survived) to Babylon.
Is God all knowing, all powerful, and can his word become reality as the one and only creator of our existence? If God knows everything the puzzlement for humans has been why? Why allow suffering, evil, pain. Why invoke death as punishment for disobeying God. Why not provide better training on becoming compassionate humans. Why exterminate when things do not go as planned.
If God has humans prophesy (predict) the future, If God tells us what will happen in the future, then is our “Free Will” real? Is the choice we make a real choice. Meaning, if we choose what God does not want do we experience the consequences of our behavior as if God was not present or do we experience God’s disappointment and probable wrath.
Throughout the bible we experience the power of God and yet the experiences of that power do not stay with us. Is our education faulty, did we not learn or understand what our relationship to God and each other ought to be like? Was it enough (post flood) to lay down a set of laws, commandments, to civilize us? Remember that from the time of Adam and Eve to Noah and the flood about 1670 years elapsed with no teaching by God. Part of our belief about God and his engagement with humans is that God lives outside of time, that God does what God does, and that we cannot (even must not) question God’s actions and behavior. Are we children to God? Must we submit to something as drastic and wrathful as a near extinction event (the flood). Are we trading the fear of our death for the carrot of “eternal life”? For when you get down to it, at the most fundamental level, our real world changes little regardless of what we do or think or believe. What changes is the afterlife or how we are to exist throughout eternity based on what we have done and how we have treated our relationship with our God and Jesus. What is eternity, really?
They say that without “God” humans would be destroyers. Without “God” our pain and suffering would be without purpose, without meaning. We need a higher power to keep us in check, to bring out our compassion, to govern our “sinful” nature. The nature of man has always been in question. Are we sinful by nature, from birth? Is kindness natural? Is moral behavior dominate or recessive? Can we all be trained to look beyond our self centered needs and consider the needs of others?
Can we keep in focus “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” as an objective way of living, as a moral premise of society and civilization? So far society experiments have been less that any would desire, but, religions have not fared well either. The answer my friend is blowing in the wind.
I was introduced to “The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost” at a very early age. “The Father and the Son” I understood as only a nine year old can. “The Holy Ghost, now Holy Spirit” not so much.
Today (age 78), still not so much. My father was mostly American Indian and I believe I absorbed much of the Indian view of God but even with that I was mystified by it all. Buddha, Lao, and the Zen masters did not solve the mystery for me either.
Student to Zen master “ Master what happens after we die?” Master, “I do not know”. Student, “but you are a Zen Master!” Master, ”Yes, but I still live”.
Since retirement (1995) I have pursued this mystification with a certain amount of zeal and zest. This pursuit has been fun, interesting and a little enlightening. The journey is still unfolding and while I live in an undetermined world, without knowing, there are moments of peace where I feel a connection to the spirit of creation, and I believe it will all be ok.
That I can express myself about “Christ” is interesting, but I believe the truth is elsewhere and elsewhere is not here yet. Christ is for me the spirit of God. God is the spirit of Creation. Within Creation is an allurement, for complexity, for unity (Swimme). The outcome is as unknown today as it will be tomorrow. So I hope, I learn, I believe.
Still this journey, undefined as it is, is not taken lightly. Like all journeys planned or unplanned, discoveries will occur along the way and maybe, just maybe, what I am now will not be what I am tomorrow, or the day after, or the day after. Why does it matter! For all of us are faced with the same unending questions of life and death. Neither of which do we have an answer for, except through belief and faith. So while I have spent a lifetime listening to and hearing what others have told me about the Bible, I thought that it was time that I experienced for myself the potential gift always present in my life.
Obviously my relationship to our Creator has been built over my lifetime. It has not been Bible Centric, so this is new territory for me. For now let’s just say that I have and have had a connection with something that I do not pretend to understand, cannot describe adequately, but somehow believe. At some point I discovered that it was not all about me. What it was really about I am not sure but I do have the hope that at some point in time humanity will evolve past our domination phase (It all about me) and enter a new Phase closer to the idea of Unity and Guardianship than domination. This is the Phase where we understand or at least accept our relationship with creation, the very creation that makes our lives possible. We will learn to own our destiny as guardians, or at the very least, we will take care to take care.
What do I believe now? A fair Question. My childhood church attendance was a mix of Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalian, but dominated by Catholicism. I attended Catholic school for 2 years. What was my relationship to God? I did not have one, at least not one I can even today articulate. Nor did I have relationship with Jesus. I sang in the boys choir, I went to confession, I went to mass. But as far as a religious experience is concerned I did not have one. I prayed the “our Father......, and Hail Mary......” But did not really register what it was really all about.
Two experiences stand out and marked my relationship with religion and with the right and wrong of life. As a young boy I was given a twenty two rifle. South of Syracuse NY I went into the woods and shot a squirrel. The squirrel took a while to fall out of the tree and die on the ground. I stood there for a while and then buried the squirrel, went back to the house, put up the gun and never killed again. What did I decide? That I had no business taking the life of one of God’s creatures. I was not hungry, I was not threatened, I had no real reason for what I did. And yes I felt a great deal of guilt. While I knew that I might have to kill again, I also knew that it would be for a reason of survival and not the fun of pulling a trigger. That was the first but the not the last time I entered the life and death of a creation of God.
The second much later event was while my wife and I and our children were attending a Baptist Christmas service in Lexington Kentucky. The pastor was preaching a real Hell and Damnation sermon. I got up and took my children and wife (it was her option to leave) and left the service. I did not enter that church again. At no point in my life did I ever believe that I was evil or a sinner from birth and I did not want my children growing up with that message being drilled into them. At that time “Satan” was not a real enemy that I felt I had to deal with.
I felt then and do to this day that God is about Love and though I have made mistakes and sometimes paid dearly for them, God has given me all the tools and information I need to live without hate, without revenge, without anger and without inflicting intentional pain on others. A simple command “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, and, let go of the issues in your life that foster such emotions and the potential damaging behavior stemming from them. Forgiveness is not always easy, but it is important. Forgiveness of self most of all.
We will delve into what those tools and information are as we flow through the rest of this project. They are important and if there is a part of my relationship with our creator that differs from the Biblical message, they are it. For example.
Mindfulness, that state of being where we are aware, peacefully aware, of the very thing we are doing at this moment. What grabs our attention?, normally the noisiest, most emotional, most vivid memories of our lifetime experiences. The point is to let go of whatever you are mulling about in your head and focus, here, now. A chaotic mind is not peaceful. Such a chaotic state prevents focus and casts aside awareness. While mindful I know what I am doing, thinking and I know that I know. The most interesting aspect of this awareness is that I have the ability to focus, to ignore or even eliminate most noise, and above all to notice where the interruptions (noise) are coming from. By noticing, the mind loops that we get trapped by, do not materialize. Mindfulness gets easier, peace is restored, and the memories and emotions invading this moment recede into the mist.
Each of us is endowed with this ability toward mindfulness and awareness. But it is a skill that requires practice, for this state of being (also state of mind) penetrates every part of our body and mind. Our past can haunt us and our anxiety over something that might happen can disturb our presence in this world. It is our presence in this world, that sends out the energy we feel, to soothe, to anger, to love. What energy we express is a choice, what we need to learn to make a good choice is simple but takes time to develop.
I will try as I read, to relate what I have learned from others and discovered for myself, to similar messages in the bible. One of these, a peaceful and unencumbered mind, travels with me always. Lets talk about such a daily companion for a moment and how we can experience such a relationship with ourselves and creation.
Each human being has two minds. One each of us is aware of and one that each of us is not aware of. We are either conscious of something or our experience leaves our conscious awareness and become part of our unconscious. The good news is that learning a skill (example driving) soon leaves our conscious mind and rests comfortably in our unconscious. We respond while we are driving from the wealth of knowledge and skill that we have stored while driving. Stopping, speed regulation, starting, steering and quite a few other bits of knowledge and driving skills become automatic. So as we drive with awareness (paying attention, traffic conditions, weather, passengers, radio) our stored skill set responds to what we are experiencing as we drive. But as you know we can drift. We can be somewhat conscious, where our mind is off somewhere creating a story that supports, even bolsters, our deep belief in what and who we are. This could be a rehash of history (it is all history). If who we are has been threatened, our identity, we come rapidly to our own defense. Our identity is not to be trifled with and the ego in us goes to great lengths to protect itself. The possible paths we take are many, and sometimes dangerous.
These stories are supported by that same unconscious which can and does send a disturbing set of emotional signals to our conscious mind when something or someone does something to alter our peaceful experience, or, if perhaps a memory surfaces that disturbs us. The argument with a spouse, emotional pain, a child in trouble, late to a meeting, guilt, repressed anger, the list is quite endless. The signals sent can immediately change our state of being (a peaceful and kind driver) to a raving lunatic (horn honking, swearing, name calling, aggressive driving, a deep unexplained sadness, you name it, it has happened).
Some people have an observer companion. One that notices what just happened and what signals your unconscious just sent you. By the mere act of observing (noticing, being conscious of, aware) the signals will not progressively impact your state of mind. You will not turn into a lunatic, you will just acknowledge what happened, let it go, and continue on.
This intercept of the signals and messages sent by our unconscious is part of a larger set of skills. Surrendering your old self to allow your new self to emerge. Letting go of the need to separate ourselves from everything else so that we can dominate and control our world. Learning to not objectify life but to look for and feel the unity behind all life and all creation. Understanding that we are a part, a significant part, of creation itself. We get to use what has been given to us (our body, mind and spirit), and develop greater unity and greater complexity. But this comes with greater responsibility. If we are indeed a partner for the future, then we must become more careful with the present.
Does the bible help nurture these concepts ? Hopefully the answer is yes. Before we begin there are some important concerns and observations that should be made. Questions really about people before and after the existence of the bible.
Humans existed before the bible but for some there is the question of what kind of humans. There is for some an outright rejection of the evolutionary notion that life evolved over billions of years. This rejection idea requires a more literal interpretation of Genesis. Humans began with Adam and Eve, there was the Fall (the knowledge of good and evil), and the path to redemption and forever salvation. This is the purely Biblical view of Human’s relationship with God. From the O.T. to the NT Humanity is in a state of Sin. There is no escape from this state of being, except, through the Son Of God as described in the NT. “Your Faith will heal you”. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect”. This is the view of God that lives outside the life of Humans, as Creator, Healer, Scolder, Punisher, Teacher and Savior. Eternity, which is outside of Human Time, solves the problem of Death. Our entry into Heaven depends not only on following the Commandments but on our commitment and Faith in following the Son of God who died for our Sins.
At this time I will not discuss a different view of our relationship to God. First the Bible and then maybe, later on, a slightly different world view.
Since science has not yet solved the problem of our existence or how this all came to be, everything depends on your interpretation of what Faith is. For me Faith is not meant to replace or be a substitute for knowledge. However, we do not know enough yet to declare an understanding of the absolute truth of Creation or of life itself. So Faith becomes a deep part of our culture. Faith in what we do not know and Faith for our Hope that all of this, our lives and life itself, has meaning beyond our sense that we are “all there is”. This deep belief determines how we behave, how we treat each other and how we treat the creation all around us. Above all we learn that separation is not who we are but it is what we do. Separation shifts the decision points (our choices) from the unifying idea of love to the needs of the self above all else. This is our most significant flaw. But, it is a flaw that can be corrected.
What has been winning for a few thousand years is our EGO, our sense of self. We objectified everything, separated ourselves, and decided that we were in charge. We know that we are flawed but we decided what was moral or evil, we decided life and death, we chose our behavior (all about us), which was not (almost always) “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Yet we have yet to defeat death. Those that follow Jesus have a hope (faith) that Jesus defeated death, and that same resurrection (in God’s time) will be our continuation through eternity.
We call some things evil. Yet the real evil stems not from our choices between what is possibly good or what is possibly evil. The real evil originates not from free will but our complete separation from creation itself. When the entire world and all that is in it is an object (to be used and/or discarded) apart from us, we are able to allow our self centered importance to obscure the value and intrinsic sacredness of everything around us. The idea of a meaningless existence allows for everything and anything with no boundaries. And for humans, boundaries are important, and necessary. Take a good look at human behavior in this world and try to convince yourself that without boundaries humans would do just fine. Not likely.
Is the Bible, and or the Christian World View the only source for these boundaries? Or have we not yet discovered within ourselves how to access a permanent and self aware connection to Creation. One of the Great Gifts of our existence.
In the O.T. we have a dialogue with God through the relationship of the chosen people and God. It is almost as if God cannot get through to the people that they are the created and God is the Creator. God’s first great attempt falls apart immediately (Adam and Eve). After 1670 years God gives up and tries to start all over again (the Flood). Much time passes, the people multiply but are servants and slaves to the Egyptians. God hears their pleas and saves them but then again they wander off the path. Again he punishes them, relents, and after all of the over 20s dies (forty years in the wilderness) he takes them to the promised land. Again things get out of hand and all but a few thousand perish under God’s wrath. Then again God relents and brings the survivors back to rebuild Jerusalem. It is apparent as we leave the Old Testament that God will choose a different path and in the New Testament Jesus will arrive on the scene. We now have a different relationship as foretold by the prophets, a completely different relationship with God. Jesus becomes the conduit.
God’s relationship with the people in the Old Testament mirrors that of a parent to a child. Teaching the good and bad of things, the consequences of unsuitable behavior, the rewards of good behavior, and always following through. “I told you what would happen, I explained the consequences, I did what I said I would do!”. Through generations the people chose, often badly, and for generations the people were disciplined or rewarded for their behavior. Life with God could be simple, or difficult or it could mean the end of everything. Our ancestors got to choose.
Some Points to ponder.
* What are the cultural and moral breakdowns in a society: Loss of God, divorce, depression, war, drugs, alcohol, teen sex, out of wedlock pregnancies, crime, violence, family abuse, corrupt leadership, adultery, unrestricted sex, and in general irresponsible behavior. These are just some of the sins we are a party to.
* Creation, the Fall, Redemption (Eternal Salvation?) - “How Now Shall We Live - Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey”. They state in this book that an absolute moral code Knowing right and wrong and acting with a moral certainty comes from the Christian World View. And equally important, moral certitude cannot be sustained by secular moral philosophies. We can rationalize ourselves into or out of any of our moral decisions. Is this true for our species? Does this cross all cultures and societies? Is evil a part of us, an unrelenting truth of our species? Or is it simply this self centered world view we have where we are the center of the Universe and all this was ours to hold dominion over, falsely believed as domination over. Is separation the foundational problem, can we reunify with creation, and will that alone be the catalyst for significant change in human behavior? We shall see. What is the foundation of ethics and morality? Is there an objective set of moral behaviors that we act out by choosing good over evil? Or is our choice, not between good or evil, but between being a part and partner of creation or separate from it entirely. For separateness creates an entirely different relationship, one dominated by usage and consumption with little or no compassion.
* Do we need laws, rules and moral absolutes for living together? Or is a certain state of being enough. Who decides on the former and how is the latter attained? Did man 3,000 years ago develop a philosophy of existence that permitted all humanity to live fruitful and productive lives? If they did was anyone paying attention?
* Finally did their cultures or their religions answer the riddle of their existence, the meaning of life, death, and quality of life? By Faith or Reason or both?
Before the bible how did man live together without constant war and chaos (of course they did not). Was conquering all they understood? Meaning if two opposing ideas, needs, wants, meet, was it always brute force that won the day? How is today different, if it is at all?
Much of mankind has learned that suppression and oppression defeat the very intent of order, freedom, and the full expression of what it means to be human. Only freedom allows a citizen of a country to achieve their full potential. While it is not a foregone conclusion that this automatically happens, enough real talent rises to the surface to justify that freedom. In biblical times there were Kings, Conquerors, Gods. The rest of the people struggled to survive. Of course competent people did “make it” in these societies but it could all be taken away at a whim. The Old Testament people lived in the world of Kings. Most ruthless, some not.
“Herod had all the children, under 2 years of age, killed because the wise men foiled his efforts to find the baby Jesus and kill him”. The people lived in fear, fear of the whims of their leaders - the Kings and the priestly elite, fear of the Gods, fear of the elements and wild animals, and fear of their enemies. People needed protection, wanted protection. But in the Kingly Societies the people (sooner or later) needed protection from their own leadership, their own Kings. Much of the bible speaks of enemies and of course this means separation from others. This separation allows all of the destruction, killing and wars that permeates the old testament. Today is no different. This one aspect of thought brings with it much suffering and despair. Governments participate immensely in this game of friends and enemies. What is the old saying? If I kill one I am a murderer If I kill hundreds in a war I am a hero. If I kill thousands I am a conquerer, a dictator, and/or a madman. A great question? Who gets to declare the enemy?
When the “government” attempts to rule thru stealth, (for example redistribute wealth, manipulate the people, collect power) rather than letting those that want to, work in freedom and embrace their local communities. When wealth is taken from those that are willing to work and shared (by force or stealth) with those that do not care to work, the system fails. For soon I will no longer give my energy and talent for those who should know better, to steal and redistribute at their whim (Who is John Galt?). Capitalism has flaws but Social Engineering (Socialism in all its forms) is a death spiral for the country and the world.
Whether I take from the people by sword or whether I take from the people by stealth, the result is the same. Extreme dependency, extreme poverty, extreme unrest. We will be returning to this issue later.
While the creation of Man (“in our image”) is interpreted as a sacred event, it is clear that life (in the Old Testament) is often such a disappointment that death is the judgement of God on those he has created. We will take on the discussion of Evil and Sin later. But not recognizing The Evil Shadow of mankind does not help, building Utopias does not help, does not change a thing. But does Christianity really solve the problem? We shall see.
The bible is not easy reading. It is a map and yet filled with the history, the saga, of a chosen people. The bible (O.T.) is repetitive, difficult and filled with complex rules and laws. It also has mixed messages, what is ok today is not ok tomorrow. And the preservation of life, even the lives of the chosen people, is not a priority. And what is most interesting is that the root cause of mankind’s self centered view of their world as objects to be used or discarded at their whim is demonstrated in the bible over and over again. It is our separation from creation and our creator and the choices we make that stem from this separation. This includes “all” of our bad choices, the behavior of our “free will”. We live in an age that is a couple of thousand years distant from the way of life of the chosen people. It may be time to rethink what we believe we know and look to integrating science and a Cosmic God into our own world view.
This does not take anything away from Creation, .....The Fall,..... Redemption. Christianity demands that we confront our own sinful nature as exposed in the Fall. Even if some of us do not get the original sin idea there is no doubt about the evil that some of us commit for no real reason, really. But to acknowledge it, and accept Jesus Christ as our path to Redemption is one way to deal with it. Through this submission we can experience salvation and Eternal Grace with God. But, have we been given additional tools to master? Do we recognize what these are and how to apply them? Is the goal obedience or becoming fully human or both? Does the New Testament support the existence and mastery of these tools? The Old Testament does not.
“The Bible is the revealed word of God”. Written by many, both before Jesus and after Jesus walked this earth. God was around long before the Bible existed. The urge to describe and explain God is strong, The staying power of Obedience to the Word, Faith under all conditions, is not as strong. The Bible was brought into existence both as a reminder of our true relationship with God and a history/Saga of the chosen people. It is also lengthy, redundant, and filled with miracles, mysteries and even inconsistencies. It is sometimes confusing. And of course most societies do not use stoning as a punishment, we no longer war with swords but with bullets and explosives, our knowledge and technology is not reflected in the Bible. The battle of Chance (A mistaken view of evolution) vs Intelligent Design still rages on even though it is not necessary or even correct to have such an argument. To me it may be time to bring all people under the Umbrella of our Creator, under a core set of values, under a Clarity of Faith and Curiosity where Discovery merges with Faith and Knowledge. Can Humanity advance successfully in all areas of our Humanity without such a transformation?
The Bible allows believers a path to moral, religious and social behavior and above all to experience God and for some others eternal salvation. But, is the bible a narrative by humans about their experiences in the presence of God or is the bible “the word of God” expressed through human authors? Does it matter? For if you believe in God and his plan for humanity the bible shows you how to live and how to treat each other. If you do not believe, in God, then the bible has good advice for living. Either way Faith is the determining element while culture and belief determines how literal the bible is interpreted.
It is understood by most that prior to the bible the people had a rich oral tradition that passed on to others their stories, myths, legends and songs about the experiences in their lives and how they understood them. Each segment of the bible had different authors whose culture and lives spanned decades, even centuries. The writers drew not only on their own lives but on scrolls and documents from the past. So as an historical document the bible cannot be deemed 100 percent accurate, as a sacred document it still, even after all these centuries, guides people in their religious lives. As for the influence of culture I remind myself that there is no way I can feel the poverty, wars, illness, hunger, slavery, fear or any other aspects of their lives that molded what they felt and how they lived. The fact that the bible is still here to guide us in this day and age is no less a miracle than the miracles told within it.
Frankly I view the bible as confusing. God does what God does. When God decides on the path of humans, in groups or individually, anything goes, for God’s behavior is not really to be questioned. In the Old Testament God acts as a cosmic creator, a savior, a parent, a lover and a war lord. Death means nothing to this God. Why a entity that is capable of imagining into existence an entire Universe with all of its complexity, chaos, destruction and creativity, needs or wants glorification by humans is an interesting conundrum that has no real answer. The answer from some is that God’s Love for his creations defines forever our relationship to the Lord of the Universe. Love is the only word in the English language that describes the fulfilling state of a human being, toward God, toward itself, toward all of Creation. For only with a loving relationship can we master our always present sense of self importance, that self of insatiable demands, denial of death, and always the Center of Everything.
I can speculate that if I lived in a dimension of time and space where I could create anything I wanted to, I might be (humanly) lonely. I might need my creations to acknowledge my existence. And, I might get frustrated, even angry and wrathful, if they chose to deny me as their God, Lord, and path to salvation. This feeling and wrathful behavior expressed without mercy is clearly described and painfully demonstrated throughout the Old Testament. And yet in the end this God relents and brings the remnants of the people he has chosen to guide and nurture, punish and reward, back into the safe shelter of his protective and loving embrace.
I cannot over state the term “remnants”. I do not know the exact number that died but a casual guess would be hundreds of thousands. Less than 5,000 were returned and from there we start over again. But then again could anyone have predicted the flood, or the destruction of Jerusalem after the people took the Land of Milk and Honey? Probably not, so what is next “the end times?” We will enter that arena later on.
The old testament is an amazing journey, filled with the tragic and yet hopeful lives of a people chosen by God to remain, by covenant, his and his alone. Because of their very nature (warlike, primitive, pagan) they seem unable to live within the boundaries set by their Lord God. It is painful to be a witness, even if only by stories, of the chosen people’s continuous rejection of their one true God. I am not there yet but I believe this rebellious and hard headed behavior changes when God chooses a different path for their salvation as it is described in the New Testament.
Sometimes what happens is expected, sometimes what happens is cruel and barbaric. Why God demands burnt offerings from the children of Adam is something that to me is disturbing. Of course these sacrifices of an unblemished animal, the ritual of blood, the burning of the animal on the Alter forces mankind to focus on its own weakness and the power of their God. How do you focus the minds and hearts of a pagan people? The way of the people, sacrifices to their Gods, was established at the time of Cain and Abel and carried forward to any of the Gods the people of the future chose to worship. Some call it the blood covenant but was it necessary? Why else would God look with disfavor on Cain’s offering to him, specially after assigning Cain an agricultural role. Does the “sweet smell” of a burnt offering signal surrender or obedience to God? Did God’s rejection of an offering from the hands of man stimulate jealousy and hate, to prove the sinful nature of man? This beginning marks man and marks God and the question is, why choose this path. It was the fundamental beginning after all.
We will be touching on some of the more hard to interpret elements in the bible and whether the authors of the bible infuse God with the traits of man or is man infused with the traits of God. Hopefully I will understand more as time and passages unwind in the reading.
At a certain level I can say that I am in God and God is in me. This means that God is not a God out there, but a God integral to all life and all of creation. But is this a God I can pray to as if on a throne? Or am I trying to pray to and honor a presence. If this were true then I would necessarily feel deeply of the presence of God in all things. God would not be separate, I would not be separate, nor would I have need of any other connection to the material, living and spiritual realms. Spiritual in this case means that I have a reverence for what has been created, what created it, and that I am a part of it all.
I have no wish to define God. If I believe that an entity began this Universal journey over thirteen billion years ago then I must believe that the journey is not over and all will continue into a more complex and evolving Universe. For God is not within TIME as we know it. This concept allows God to participate in our lives and all of creation as an Architect, a Contractor, as a Remodeler or Change Manager, if you can imagine such a role. Hopefully this brings a different perspective on the idea of an ever evolving Universe, a Creative and Destructive Universe, that tolerates humans in need of a little work and a bit of ongoing guidance. The reason I have no wish to define God is simple, I have no language to describe such an all powerful and creative Lord of the Universe. If I try to describe God then I am describing from my experience and not as an equal. If that sounds silly, it is not. We have tried for thousands of years to bring God into human focus and as we matured so did our vision of who and what God is. But our understanding is still lacking and though our language creates better metaphors we are delusional if we believe we truly understand. It would be easier to describe an elephant to an ant.
It is in our dying that humans find difficulty. Humans have no wish to die, despite what the extremist say or do. God solves that problem for those that believe. No matter what happens here on earth there is a place for us in another realm. If, we accept the conditions offered, if, we obey the covenant, if, we are faithful in our hearts to the lessons and promise in the sacred documents.
Christians are under siege and our societies are rapidly changing into something some of us do not want. If our future is very uncertain, it is with hope and faith we continue on. Since no one I have ever known or heard of has died and returned, (Jesus the exception), we remain ignorant of any possible destiny after death. Eternity may exist but none of us have experienced it. Belief and faith is all we have. And yet some die alone and without the promise of eternity. So telling anyone how it all ends is way beyond my pay grade. And like so many others I approach the end of my life with an unknown, and a bit of hope.
Yet who is this God we are to experience. Is He or She the warrior God of the Old Testament who kills to make a point or is He/She a more loving God of the New Testament (still not without disappointment and a bit of anger). Is this the God that intervenes in the lives of humans, guiding, punishing and protecting. Does the God of the Old or New exhort humans to behave responsibly as well as honor the Lord. Does he demand obedience. Does he continually test for the flaw in the humans he has created and punish accordingly when they fail to measure up? Yes, he does.
For centuries humans gave God the attributes of the humans. Only as a pillar of clouds or a pillar of fire are we to understand that to see God’s face is to die and although man was made in God’s image the reality of God’s countenance is not to be known. Except for a few, and yet even then he is never described. “Made in God’s Image”, Possibly physical, but more likely at the level of Energy and yes of Spirit and Soul. Thus forever an internal struggle for the humans between Good and Evil and the possibility of becoming fully human.
The authors of the bible are many and the stories they tell reflect not only their vision of God but also their culture and the maturity of the people, century by century, as they move through time as warriors, conquerors, husbands, wives and children. While God Focuses on those that are to become the children of Israel, the chosen people, there are many that live in other lands. And although man disappoints God to the point of extermination, the generations of Noah that follow the flood are given greater latitude and greater protection and still manage to fall off the wagon time and time again.
There seems to be a thread of “a Maturing God” throughout the bible. For no one can deny that the Old Testament shows God to be much different than the God of the New Testament. This is not an indictment but an early observation. Whether it can be said to be true or not. We shall see.
There are many who would take issue with such a thought “God does not change, God is forever”. But even A God such as ours could imagine a different way of dealing with his children, his creations.
Many who have predicted the demise of the Bible have been disappointed. While the many faces of God are sometimes disturbing to say the least, there is nothing that can deny God’s existence. And for those Atheists out there, there is nothing to prove God’s existence. We can identify in our own time events and happenings that appear as a miracle and yet other aspects of life seem to us to be beyond awful. So application of logic from a species that does not have the faintest idea of the what and why of it all is egotistical at the very minimum. So we keep searching, while faith and hope cover our ignorance and keep us from despair. We surmise how we came into existence, we know not why, nor do we have the faintest idea what our outcome might be. We do know that species have existed and been extinguished. That the end for us could come at any time. There are those who feel the sacred ground of our presence on this earth, there are those who are too busy surviving to worry much about it, and there are those who choose to conquer and dominate and not worry till maybe their own time of death. And for a few, a very few, they walk the path of life with a sense of love and the secure belief that the Universe is unfolding as it should. We are not to worry.
Does the bible solve the riddle of our existence? Is Faith the answer to the fragile nature of our lives? Faith and Hope, for what we cannot see and what we cannot or do not know. Death is our final moment, do we believe in eternity or do we believe to disbelieve, that death ends us as individuals but our offspring live on, generation after generation far into the future. Lets postpone this conundrum for now for it cannot logically be resolved.
This effort has nothing to do with a belief or disbelief in God. But as laymen we read the bible as it is, without direct knowledge of the era it was originally written in. Without direct knowledge of what was allowed in and what was purposefully left out. No matter what the scholars say we are directed to read the bible and follow the revealed word of God, as it is. But what do we understand when we make this effort? How many levels of interpretation are there. Is it different for each of us? Do we understand more over time? At some point I will be discussing how the path the bible asks us to follow is a natural out growth of our continued maturing, the development/aging process. Briefly what does that mean?
It has everything to do with the concept of surrender. As adults we own who we are, but we are not God, we can only look deep within and find our true selves. This is a process of letting go, of surrender. Lets face it, most of us try to establish ourselves to give meaning (as we see it) to our lives. These can be shown to be idols or symbols of worship. Or, they can be shown to be a natural result of the development process where we discover ourselves, create our identities, cement what we believe we are and then often crash and burn. As we pass thru this period in our lives (the famous mid life crisis, plus) some learn to let go of the trappings of our lives and find within a true self. God as creator comes alive as does our connection with all of creation. We become responsible and though that is difficult to describe the combined effect is that our role turns from Fragile Masters of the Universe to that of a Responsible Guardian, protecting not only ourselves but all life and all creation. What was important before is no longer important, what was of value before is no longer of the same value. The people we surround ourselves remain but even they see us in a different light. We become new leaders by example and our true self makes itself visible. From there we continue to expand until we die. Our death comes with question marks but those can only be answered by each of us.
While I cannot speak to the culture, language (Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek) and world view of the people thousands of years ago, I can imagine in a small way the world as it existed in their minds. Its fear, technology, family connections and even slavery. The total confusion resulting from a complete lack of understanding of the elements, of the fragile nature of their existence, of the why of it all. While we are still confused in our age, we are confused at a much higher level.
Since most of the discussion centers on faith, belief and an understanding of the writers world view, celestial view, and the context of their living culture, most might say nothing can be resolved. This is a sacred document, it cannot be denied, but it can be understood differently by different people. How much belongs to us, how much belongs to God, and how much has God given us to discover within ourselves what it means to become a fully developed human?
As a people we need to believe in something, someone, greater than ourselves. There is an infinite number of things we do not yet understand. And yet we are divided as believers, and non-believers. For some, belief in a creator is not enough. For others, Jesus would have to appear in their midst for them to accept “the Son of God”. This work will not argue for or against faith (the core of all belief in Jesus and in God). For whatever the reason no culture has ever been without God, by what ever name they chose. Humans need God and since a one sided relationship is not a relationship at all, we believe God needs us. So I will ask the most important question that can come out of a work of this sort. Why, after 2,000 plus years, are we not uniformly applying the teachings of our sacred documents and leaders with a light and happy heart. It is not like the way of living being taught is too tough or complicated. It is actually quite simple. Thus, why are we still questioning what path we should take in life. Why are we still separating ourselves from each other and from our creator. For this separation is truly the source of our failure. Our job is to become part of the whole, to connect with creation as a part of and a partner, to let go of our anxiety over death and fully participate as fully developed human beings. It’s a good and humble job to have. And I believe it is the way, of freedom of worship, freedom of thought, and freedom of expression.
For all those who desire to suppress the creativity of the human spirit, the intellect of the human mind, and the freedom to explore and discover, I say this: you are wrong to do this. There can be no evil performed in the name of God, ever.
You should ask, and rightly so, what gives me the right and even the presumption to begin such a journey, to document it, to interpret for myself “the Revealed Word of God”. I have not asked myself that question. For it is not the right question to ask. I cannot even ask what I or those that might read this will get out of the effort. I can say that for a project in my later years, it is a worth while one. I am sure it will be filled with insights, adventure and maybe even a shift in my spiritual awakening. Only time and effort will decide on the outcome. Since I now at this moment have a set of beliefs, some knowledge, and body of experience, it will be interesting how all of that mingles with the written “Word of God”.
By the way no one owns the bible. So many translations and iterations, so many sources, scrolls, stories and documents. What is fair to say is that some as referenced below have continued publishing the bible for our use, which is greatly appreciated.
“The “NIV & KJV SIDE-BY-SIDE BIBLE”.
“Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version NIV. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.
Used by permission, all rights reserved worldwide.”
“The Holy Bible, New Century Version
Copyright 1987,1988,1991 by Woods Publishing, All Rights Reserved “
Note, if I could I would skip the Old Testament. It is filled with violence, an angry jealous God and a God that demands absolute obedience from his subjects and who is willing to inflict all manner of iniquities on those who miss the message and on those who interfere with the path of the chosen people, Israel. Exterminating all life except for a sample from each species is only part of the story.
Before we begin I would caution the readers. This is a journey without a destination. The road map is given to me as it has been given to all of us. But I will deviate, maybe quite often, from the path as written. Above all it must be remembered that each segment is written from the mind and heart of the author. I cannot venture there, I have not lived in his or her culture, time, knowledge and world view. I do understand that no one back then saw the world and Cosmos as we see it today. Are we any smarter, probably not. Is our education broader, does it encompass the whole of Earth and the Universe, to a degree yes. So yes our world view includes knowledge that the authors of the bible did not and could not have had. Our technology, vastly superior. Our Societies, not so much. Our Knowledge, huge. Our questions and beliefs, well We are still confused but at a much higher level.
What endures throughout is a view of mankind that is not flattering. We were difficult, male dominate, afraid, violent, and needed constant reminders that our pagan society was not a path that was in our best interest. We lost our way over and over again. I can imagine a frustrated Creator trying to herd a thousand cats and finally throwing up his (or her) hands in disgust. We were and are worse than children, for we think we are the center of the Universe, that this was all built just for us. But even though the argument has been made that it was, we are failing at our job. And even though we have advanced in some respects far beyond our ancestors, our sense of responsibility toward our place on this Earth is clearly lacking.
Though these words have been written by the biblical writers and translated for centuries (millennium I, Millennium II and now Millennium III) there will be times when questions are asked. Maybe the questions will be answered, maybe not. In any case I will maintain the utmost respect for the sacredness of the Holy Word, its call to faith in Jesus and the Christ and the Kingdom of the Lord.
The Old Testament
Genesis - 1
Six days of creation and a day of rest. “In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth but the Earth was without form and void, and darkness filled the deep. The spirit of God moved upon the waters and God said, Let there be light. .... God divided the light from the darkness and called the light Day and the darkness night. The evening and the morning were the first day”.
Is this a story of the creation of the Universe, a story of the creation of our solar system and the planet earth? There was a void. There were no stars. It cannot be called darkness because there was no light. Heaven was created but not described, while earth was without form. The idea of the “waters” could be the entire contents of the early Universe for it was not long in Universal time that the early suns and then Galaxies of suns appeared in the “waters”. You cannot have light without Photons so as the stars formed (light) and Galaxies formed (more light) there appeared the concept of light and dark (absence of light). “Water” cannot be taken literally here. But what in the writers mind did “waters” mean. Did the writer envision real water filling the void or was it a reference to something filling the emptiness and water was as good as any other description. The concept of day and night cannot be literal here as the earth and the stars and the sun and moon were not yet in existence.
“And God said let there be a Firmament in the midst of the waters and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And God called the firmament (space/something) between the waters, Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day”.
Here the idea of firmness or solid objects were created in the space between the waters and he called the firmament heaven. This seemed to include the waters under the firmament as well as the firmament itself. For on the third day the waters under the firmament were gathered unto one place so that dry land would appear (exist). This was real water. The dry land was Earth. Earth, Water, Sky was Heaven.
“And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering of the waters he called seas. And God said let the Earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind whose seed was in itself after his kind. And the earth brought forth grass and the herb yielding seed after his kind and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind ,whose seed is in itself upon the earth, and it was so. And the evening and morning were the third day”.
Seeds existed before plants for they were in itself upon the earth. On the third day God collected the water (in this case literal water) to make dry land and self propagating plants, grasses, and fruit trees. While this does not account for the vast display of plant life currently on this earth as well as the plant life from times past it does create the concept of seeds (dna, replication). However, this concept does not address the issue of photosynthesis. Neither grass nor trees nor green plants of any kind exist without photons (light from the sun). Given that people of that time did not understand photosynthesis, it would be easy to get the order of creation mixed up.
So by the third day we have void, light and dark, earth, seeds and plants (again Heaven). The term Heaven has not yet changed to mean something else.
“And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years. And let them be lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth. And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day”.
It looks like the stars and the sun and the moon were created and placed after the Earth was created and the waters were separated. In our solar system the sun was created before the planets, the planets revolve around the sun, the sun revolves around the galactic center. But, the sun, moon and stars were still in the firmament of Heaven. I can imagine that those who lived 2,000 to 4,000 years ago had a cosmology far different than the one I have today. Even so it is confusing that the earth brought forth grasses, seeds and fruit trees without the sun. The idea of the firmament could have been a dome as the entire sky where the stars, moon and sun were placed. The timing of the sun, moon and star placement is an inconsistency.
From our scientists we have learned how gravity (mass of matter) nurtured the creation of galaxies, stars and solar systems. We have also learned how the periodic table (92 different basic elements) were created as stars were formed and died over deep spans of time. We would not exist if they had not been created. At a ultra big picture level Genesis works, at the smaller atomic/quantum level, it does not. This observation does not negate Genesis for although we believe we understand 2 plus 2 equals 4 we still do not understand the creation of 2. Again a puzzlement yet to be answered.
“And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and the fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. (Heaven includes the sky). And, God created whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind, and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them , saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas and let fowl multiply (in) the earth. And the evening and morning were the fifth day”.
The seas brought forth the first moving life and the birds filled the sky as amphibious life fill the oceans. So it would appear that life began in the seas although the birds filled the sky on the same day. “Let fowl multiply in the earth”. I cannot guess what the author was thinking by the use of the phrase “let fowl multiply in the earth”.
“On the sixth day God created all the living land creatures, each after their own kind. Cattle after its kind and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and beast of the earth after his kind, and God saw that it was good. And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth”.
So God created man in our image, after our likeness, but then “So God created man in his own image, the image of God created he him, male and female created he them”. “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth on the earth”.
“God gave all living creatures all of the plant based food, grasses, fruit, seeds of the trees, “wherein there is life I have given green herb for meat, and it was so”. And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished and all the host of them. On the seventh day God rested”.
An entire Universe was created, billions of stars. Vast, infinitely vast space. And in this little corner, humans and all life. It is easy to understand why we don’t know why we are here. It is easy to understand why we continue to get lost in our own sense of self, our fear.
On the sixth day God created all the land creatures, including man (male and female) and all the sources of food for every life on earth. The use of the word (our image, our likeness) indicates that God had company. Many words and debates have explored the meaning behind “image and likeness”. We will explore this later on. As of this moment we are being told a story of the creation of the earth and of all life. If we take this story literally, as a historical accounting, there are inconsistencies, important ones. If we do not take Genesis literally but as a representative story of the creation of the Cosmos and man as a pagan people might view it, the inconsistencies are still there but can be understood within the context of their world view, and a lack of knowledge about how it all came together.
Since God gave Dominion to man over all the creatures and life on earth. I would believe that God meant for man to not only rule over or subdue but to care for or act as guardian over the earth. Not to use the earth willfully but to nurture. In so many cases we have ignored this distinction and been a destructive force to the land, to the creatures, to the people. If an instruction this simple can be corrupted, It does not bode well for all the instructions we will receive in the rest of the bible.
In Genesis - 2 we will cover Adam and Eve, but note in Genesis - 1 on the sixth day man was created (male and female) and was told to be fruitful and multiply. How this works with Genesis - 2 we will see.
How Moses knew of the whales which were created in the Seas is probably a mute point but it is instructive that water life and birds were created first. However, whales were around at the time of the writing, while prehistoric water creatures were not. Nothing prehistoric has ever been mentioned. One interesting thought that occurred to me while trying to understand Genesis - 1 was the reference to the others (companions of God?). Was there the concept of a family of Gods or with God? Whoever they were did they have the same power as God? Later on the sons of God mingled with the women of earth and took them as wives. This could mean that they appeared to humans as human although this is not stated directly. They were around as God was creating the Universe, what were they doing during this time? And, only the sons of God were identified, not the mother, not sisters, not any other family member and yet male and female unions were identified and approved of.
And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; God rested from all the work of Creation.
But, here is where the inconsistency of the plants is exposed again. “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew, for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth and there was not a man to till the ground”.
According to this passage we are still on day six. And God had not yet made it rain for the land was dry. But God had visualized the seeds and plants and before he made man (Adam) he caused it to rain (or at least soak the ground from below) all over the face of the ground. “The mist from the earth watered the whole face of the ground”. This phrase implies water rose up rather than rain down. God visualized his creation before it existed in fact, “And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and herb of the field before it grew”.
Either way God had the concept of seeds and the seeds needed watering to grow and thrive. Also this is the first mention of Ground when all prior references used earth. For now “God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul”. We have to imagine what soul means here. It is not just a living being and we all talk about our Soul, specially when we talk about our death and an afterlife. More food for later exploration.
It is implied that all life was created as adults, capable of procreation, taking care of themselves and raising offspring. It is also interesting that after God made woman “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife and they shall become one flesh”. God introduced the concept of a father and mother though life itself had no concept of mother and father. Did God have the concept of mother and father from his own experience, or did he create the concept. As far as Adam knew the idea of a father and mother was a new concept. However, as God announced earlier, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; both male and female created he them”. So while we know nothing of God’s origins we do know that Male and Female were a part of God. Did God have the image of males and females in his mind, did God have parents? For as his sons mingled with the women of earth they must have appeared to them as human males? We cannot know if God was both Male and Female or if there was actually a female counterpart to a male God. This is intriguing and deserves further thought.
Adam. And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. In the garden there grows every tree good for food, the tree of life, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It was interesting that Eve was not created at the same time as Adam but from a rib of Adam. Think about it, women at that moment in time became less than the males. They never held power, were taken in battle, given away as children, given away as wives, enslaved, and generally had to submit to male dominance. Which by the way was violent, brutish, demanding and extremely warlike. But then, the time was a time of surviving, under primitive conditions where taking what was not yours was almost a way of life.
Eden is not described but the garden eastward in Eden was. Why God chose to add the tree of life and the tree of knowledge as an external source for these two very important elements of man’s life is an interesting question. Since man was created with his own DNA which is all the knowledge a life form needs to multiply, why the external source. Also man was not created to be sinful or evil. Where did the concept of knowledge both good and evil come from and why was man given the power of choice (do not eat from the tree of knowledge) but was not told to not eat from the tree of life. In Adam and Eve’s defense they were told what not to do but did not yet have the knowledge to weigh the consequences of disobeying God. So we did not actually have to have the serpent talk eve into her transgression, it could have happened by accident.
The penalty was severe, no second chance. A painful childbirth, enmity between the man and the woman, and sorrow between his seed and her seed (?), and forever the battle of the sexes, (thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee), and that has never set well with the woman. Think about it. From the beginning, forever, a curse upon mankind for a choice. God introduced man for himself, witnessed a flaw, and forever punished his creation. Certainly God did not own the mistake, but it does imply that this was on purpose. Maybe to release humans to grow, develop, mature and evolve on their own. How is that working out for us?
Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden. But not in punishment but because God was afraid they would also eat from the tree of life and become immortal. So a flaming sword and a Cherubim guarded the entrance into Eden. This is a forever flaming sword, it should be easy to find the Garden, not so though.
And Adam called his wife’s name Eve because she was the mother of all living. Eve, the mother of all living. A powerful concept and statement. Eve is the real beginning but how did Adam understand this beginning? (This presents a level of confusion after Cain kills his brother Abel for in theory Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel are the only humans on earth at this time). When Cain leaves to the Land of Nod, he finds a wife. Where she came from is a mystery. This is specially interesting as other humans (male and female) were in existence. Were the women also made from the rib of man?
The river that runs eastward out of Eden to water the garden divides into four heads: Pison, Gihon, Hiddekel (that which goeth towards the east of Assyria (Tigris?), Euphrates. These are the long sought after rivers of the bible to find Eden and the garden. The land of Havilah, Ethiopia, Assyria. These lands are named but the land of the Euphrates is not.
On the sixth day The people, the land, the plants and animals were completed. But how is it that the land areas (countries/empires) such as Assyria and Ethopia were identified geographically. It is implied that humans other than Adam and Eve existed. If that is true then the Story of Adam and Eve is not to be taken literally but indicates how and where life began. And maybe why man believes that the knowledge of good and evil is not a good thing but instead something of a curse.
Genesis - 4 Cain and Abel
Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. When they both brought their respective offerings to the Lord, the Lord was not impressed with Cain’s. This depressed Cain, so much so that he killed his brother and so the Lord sent him on his way. Cain went eastward out of Eden to the land of Nod. Was God’s dismissal of Cain’s offering calculated? It would seem that such a rebuff of an honest offering was not necessary and if it had been accepted the future of mankind could have been altered forever. This passage is confusing, “And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? And why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shall thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire and thou shalt rule over him”.
Interesting stuff here. “Sin lieth at the door” God teaching or announcing to Cain that what he felt and acted on was his basic “sinful” nature? There is no need to feel bad for if you deliver your best you will be accepted, if you do not, sin (envy, jealously, anger, revenge,....) sits at your doorstep and you will need to conquer it. And yet God chose to deny Cain’s offering and we know not why. It is not clear here that the blood offering was the only level of obedience that God demanded. If it was, then someone failed to communicate. Was this what was wrong? “And unto thee shalt be his desire and thou shalt rule over him”. Cain did not feel remorse, he just did not like God’s punishment. But, this passage starts the cascade of Abel dying and Cain being cast out to spread his seed and never see God’s face again. In the same breath God protects Cain with a mark recognizable by all! And there were people in the East of Eden for Cain found a wife. From his children we have a nomadic cattle herder living in tents, a musician of the harp and organ, and a metal smith in Brass and Iron. These were real inventions and technologies. In Archeological sites stone tools were first, not so here. What we now have is geologist, ore and metal working and the art of music. What we also have is a lot of people outside of Eden and all humans were instilled with the concepts of parents, children, survival skills, and, Good and Evil? This indicates that all humans were created as adults. How as an adult do you grow into adult consciousness? Lots of magic here.
Did God introduce evil to man by failing to teach, on purpose. Did God believe that humans needed an adversary to grow and develop? For as we shall see God initiated the slaughter of vast numbers of human beings. It is not Life that God appreciates, but the acknowledgment of God’s mastery of the elements, of life itself.
Punishment and yet not an eye for an eye. Vengeance, no. But a whole line of humans outside. Apparently there were lots of people outside of Eden. So with the death of Abel and the ejection of Cain it would appear mathematically impossible to propagate the earth with humans, except possibly for the longevity of the players in the saga. Somehow God introduced Good and Evil into the consciousness of mankind. Why was this even necessary? The power of choice would have been enough. Speaking of choice, God now, at this time, springs on his creations the idea of a burnt offering. We will have to come to terms with the idea that God “needs” the sweet smell of a burnt offering. This is a big deal throughout the rest of the bible. And the “thou shalt not kill” commandment is violated time and time again.
And Adam knew Eve again. A son was born, Seth, and Adam lived for 800 years more. Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, and Jared, Methuselah, Lamech and Noah all lived over 700, 800, even 900 years. These are the generations of Adam.
Adam to Seth, to Enosh, to Kenan, to Mahalalel, to Jared, to Enoch, to Methuselah, to Lamech, to Noah and at 600 years, the flood. Just for fun a total of 1670 years. So for 1670 plus years humans multiplied and tried to find their way. But it seems that the sons of God could not leave well enough alone. The women were too desirable.
“But it came to pass that the sons of God found the daughters of men that they were fair and they took them wives of all which they chose”. Here God says “My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh, yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.” With this God ended the long life spans of humans, although 120 years is not a bad thing.
Here God is definitely not alone and man is different from God in that he is flesh. This implies but does not prove that God is not flesh. Later on we will see man living 7, 8, even 900+ years. Here God gives man 120 years. A little line right after this “There were giants in the earth in those days.....” is never clarified. This an amazing statement which leaves us hanging without further explanation but opens up a big area for speculation. It can be suggested that the Giants were the off spring of the sons of God. From a human perspective that appears to be a real error in judgement.
But God became disappointed with what he had created, seeing evil continuously. And he repented having made them. God was mad and vowed to cleanse the Earth of all Life. Life was corrupt, flesh was corrupt and violence was the norm of the day. Letting his sons get involved with human women seems careless, even dangerous for how their contact affected humanity and humanity’s growth can only be speculated on. The only evidence we have is the collapse of order and moral values. A lot of time has gone by. God did not seem to be as directly involved as later when he chose a favored people to watch over and teach. What happened to God’s Son’s children is a good question. Apparently they were part of the problem and would die with everyone else. We can never know this part of the saga of humanity and the sons of God.
Rather than end it all God gave one person a break (note, not the offspring of his sons), just Noah and his immediate family. The Ark was designed and built, the animals came aboard and the flood consumed the earth. Every living substance on land was destroyed except for the life in the seas and the life on board the Ark. Although every aspect of sea life would have been impacted. The salt level, the nesting beds, the ocean currents that focused the nutrients that fed the plankton, the temperature, and the chaos of darkness, pounding rain, wind and waves. And just to put things into perspective, none of the coral reefs would have survived which were home to hundreds of species of fish, eels, lobsters, etc.). Nothing hints at God restoring the Oceans with life and the Ark saved none of the life in the seas so although they must have survived, even at such great odds against them, it is a mystery that they did so.
Others have pointed out the issues associated with the flood and the Ark. A floating wooden boat has a size limit. The pounding such a boat would receive during forty days and forty nights would be disastrous. Mildew, parasites, fungus would find a haven in such high humidly. Food would spoil, Carnivores would be getting pretty testy and the flies, fleas and ticks would be having a field day. Maybe God did put them all to sleep! And for each species to be summoned to the Ark Noah could not have understood their needs. But how each species made it to the Ark from other places on the earth is a difficult question to answer. And how the species on the Ark got redistributed to the areas they would thrive in is not clear. There is a lot of mystery and magic here that cannot be answered logically. And just as an aside, why save all the species on land and go to all of the trouble to save Noah and his family, why not just wipe everything out and create all life again, just as it was done on day six. Why try to keep living samples from each species? What was God’s reasoning behind this shift in perspective. And let’s face it the flood (if Global) was a lot of water, over 4 or five miles deep from the land. Believe it or not this is such a heavy load (trillions of tons of water) on the land that the land would sink, if not entirely, at least in large geographical areas.
When the rains stopped and the flood receded, Noah was able to go out onto the land. As he did so he made a burnt offering on the alter to the Lord of every clean beast and every clean fowl. Now, at this time, there are no other humans on the face of the earth. Why the idea of a “burnt offering” was initiated here or continued here is questionable behavior. First there were not that many beasts and fowl available, and, there could have been a new ritual or tradition to honor God. Life to God was not that sacred, that life (man) honored God was the most important element in God’s intervention in his creation. So while God was pleased and made a covenant with Noah and himself, this is a sad moment as all lives (All Life), except a few, were exterminated.. “While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease”.
“While the earth remaineth”..... a telling caveat. The life of the earth is not forever. What marks the end?
God told Noah that “never again would there be a flood to destroy the life on earth. But, he who takes the life of man shall forfeit his own life and neither shall man eat flesh with the breath of life in it”. To seal the covenant, when the clouds came, the rainbow would appear to remind God of the promise to all living creatures that never again would a flood come to destroy all life on earth. Here again man should cook his food, not eat raw meat, and never kill another without forfeiting his own. As we shall see in Exodus God himself gives permission to have man kill his fellow man. For the children of Israel, this does not seem to be a problem area.
Noah, Abraham, all of their children and children’s children. Noah lived 950 years, Abraham 175 years, Sarah his wife 127 years. Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, his son Israel, and his brother Esau.
It is hard to understand why God felt the need to test his most faithful subjects. In Genesis 22 God tells Abraham to take his son Isaac to the land of Moriah and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains to be identified later. Sacrifice is a significant part of the culture. Abraham complies without contesting the command. In spite of the language “God did tempt Abraham” it seems that again God feels the need for proof of loyalty and as far as Abraham knows this is not just a test but a real command. Here obedience was required and rejecting the command was not possible for him. What did he feel as he was building the fire stack, tying up his son and placing him on the wood, taking his knife and raising it to slay his son? Though an angel of the lord intervened at the last moment, and the Lord was generous in his blessing and promises for Abraham’s future and the future of his seed, none the less it raises the question: Why does the supreme being demand such painful and barbaric obedience and loyalty?
Israel’s son Joseph found ill favor with his brothers. They were envious of Israel’s love for his son. So they conspired to kill him but instead sold him to the Ishmeelites who took him into Egypt. There he was sold again to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, an Egyptian captain of the guard.
God was with Joseph all through his presence in Egypt. Joseph became the right arm of the Pharaoh during the seven years of abundance and the seven years of famine. It is interesting that the Famine was over all the land. By saving a fifth of all the harvest through all of the seven years of abundance not only was Egypt saved from starvation but so were the people beyond Egypt. “And the famine was over all the face of the earth”. Jacob lived 147 years, his last 17 in Egypt. Joseph lived 110 years and was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.
Genesis - (What did I take away from this beginning)
The First Book of Moses brings order out of chaos. It was Creation, from nothing. While the timing of the creation of Earth, the gathering of the Waters, the dry land, the Sun Moon and Stars, the planting of the seeds, the creation of man and the growth of the grasses, herbs and trees bearing food, is not in the right order, this description of creation can be understood conceptually if not literally.
Life began in the sea. How the birds managed in the beginning is hard to fathom. The idea of seeds brings with it the instructions for the growth of the life form (in our language dna). Which came first the imbedded instructions in seeds or life’s understanding that self replication did not create the diversity needed for handling earth’s environmental stresses. To help us survive we are inhabited by not only our own cells but by billions of bacteria. Life is a miracle of adaptability, complexity and cooperation. The question arises, how much did God (or the authors of the bible) understand about the journey Adam and Eve were to begin when they were expelled from the Garden.
God clearly understood procreation, and the concept of mother and father. Adam and Eve in the beginning had none of this understanding. Not even after eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What level of knowledge was given to Adam and Eve? Where babies came from, an understanding of life, illness, matters of health and nutrition, disease, habits of living, eating, shelter, the list goes on? Why God associated knowledge with good and evil, even why the idea of evil existed as a concept is a question I will ponder with others.
God made man in “Our Image”. God had company. Why God’s sons were allowed to mingle with the women of earth (take as wives) says that God at the time might have been losing control over everything. A puzzling sentence stands out for me “and there were giants in the earth in those days” “they bare children to them , the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown”.
Note, no mention of sisters or a mother/wife. And there is implied female characteristics. Women however were servants, wives, sisters but never agents of power. Where did God get his concept of male and female?
Lots of stuff implied here and never discussed again. Could Greek Mythology have originated from here? Another mystery.
In fact God did lose control of his children of earth and got quite mad in the process. It must have taken a lot to wipe out every life form on land. All of his son’s offspring, every life form that was anchored to the land. And what happened to all of his sons. Did this violent upheaval disturb them, was rebellion a part of their makeup. Is this a source of God’s concept of evil. And if you wonder why I am focused on this idea, it is because of the concept of “original sin”, “salvation” and the belief (handed down for centuries) that we cannot be trusted to honor our promises across generations, that we are basically evil along with any other concept of fallen behavior you can summon forth.
We are born with capabilities, freely integrated, by God, into our brains and bodies. Within certain limits we are given the opportunity to choose. These choices are of course based on our stage of development, our experiences and what we understood about them, and our knowledge that we accumulated up to that point in time. So free choice has some boundaries. And yet our training during our growing up years is lacking in this, one of the most important aspects of our lives. Sometimes we choose poorly, sometimes we choose wisely and sometimes the choice is not really a choice at all for all the options are ugly or the outcome cannot be immediately understood to be a good decision or a bad decision. Free will is very difficult to understand, because it is not free. Rather Free Will is filled with pot holes, it is often murky, and hidden away in our unconscious are old lessons not always fair or just, and often a mistaken view of our experiences. Choosing is a skill and a gift, but one that needs training and a mentor. Where that comes from and from who is kinda important. That is itself a choice.
So in a general sense Moses’s description of creation was adequate to fill in the blanks of a complete lack of understanding about how we were created, how the Universe was created, and why we are in the mess that we seem to have created for ourselves. However, we learn, we pass on knowledge to the next generation and maybe, just maybe, sometime in the future we will collectively realize our real potential, our humanity.
I believe in a creator, and yet I also believe that it is in our nature to explore, discover and continue to expand our knowledge and understanding of how life and the Universe works. So far, and I am only talking about Genesis, there is not any finality about the beginning, and to want to continue exploring the mystery is not a bad thing. For those who would dismiss this idea and give the bible the literal final word or for those who would dismiss the bible’s beginning as just not measuring up to what we now believe we know, I have a suggestion. Be charitable, tolerate different belief systems, and give everyone the right to believe what is in their capacity to believe. I am quite certain the last word has not been spoken or written.
The second book of Moses - Exodus
In the first book there was order from chaos. Life begins and humans are fruitful and multiply. Their status after being ejected from the Garden has question marks but after Noah began his life anew a specific group of people were chosen by God, to be nurtured, taught, protected and led. Everyone came from Shem, Ham, and Japheth. All the Nations after the flood came from these three. But here the numbers are difficult to fathom. Could the Earth have been populated by just these three even with long lives and the compounding effect of yearly births? You do the math.
But, the chosen people became trapped in Egypt under the servitude of an Egyptian King. There was none who was in God’s favor that could free them until a child was born that would grow up and lead them out of Egypt to the promised land. Moses is writing about his people, the rest of the world seems to be somewhat adrift. And we continue to see a disturbing side of God, the one who created all of this in the first place.
After Joseph died the plight of the children of Israel grew steadily in servitude to the King of Egypt. The Pharaoh was nervous and believed these people would take up arms against Egypt. So he ordered the male children slain. From the house of Levi a child was born, a male child. Hidden for a while but soon could be discovered. This male child was placed in an ark of bulrushes and cast adrift into the river. The Pharaoh’s daughter found the 3 month old baby, protected it and named him Moses.
Moses grew up, became a Shepard to the flock of Jethro, his father in law, for he had aided Jethro’s daughters and was given Zipporah as his wife. He had a son Gershom. Not sure where this son will appear later in the story.
When Moses drove his flock to the far side of the desert to the mountain of God and an angel appeared to him as a flaming bush, when Moses looked to see why the bush was not consumed, the Lord spoke to him. God had heard the plight of his people and recruited Moses to free them from the enslavement of the Pharaoh. This becomes an interesting dialog, for God is talking to Moses and Moses is talking to God. Why did God choose Moses, why was Moses able to challenge GOD, even address him without quaking in his sandals. In any case Moses understood his role, to go before the Pharaoh, ask him to let his people go, and to act as instructed if the Pharaoh did not, (he did enlist his brother Aaron for support).
This is interesting. The Pharaoh (who believed himself a god) was not stupid and yet God said he would harden his heart in spite of all the terrible things that would happen to him and his people. God did this to let everyone know how powerful he was: water turned to blood, a plague of frogs, flies, lice, a disease of the skin, death dealing hail and a plague of locust and the killing of all the first born throughout the land of Egypt.
The Pharaoh relented and 600,000 men and all the children (and I assume wives, servants, and foreigners) gathered themselves up, led by God during the day as a pillar of a cloud and by night as a pillar of fire, to the wilderness, to the Red Sea both night and day.
The Pharaoh was stubborn and followed with his entire army. Apparently God’s prior messages were not enough. But, God did take a hand in the Pharaoh’s stubborn behavior for as Moses parted the waters of the Red sea and his people walked on dry land to the other side, the Pharaoh followed, and died as the waters closed back upon them. Would the Pharaoh have risked everything if God had not had a great influence on his mind? I don’t think so. God made another point and all the Egyptians died.
The important question here is: Are humans important to God or is Human worship of God by the chosen people the important factor here? It will not be long before this question is asked and answered again as the Israelites approach the land of Canaan.
The Ten Commandments and the Laws
God lays down the way of living and the way of honoring God. The three feasts: the Feast of Unleavened Bread (seven days in the month of Abib, the day the Israelites left Egypt), The Feast of Weeks (first of the harvest), and the Feast of Shelters (the fall harvest). In each of these offerings the males must come to worship the Lord God. No animal and blood, no yeast and the best of the first fruits of your land.
God promises the people of Israel the land he has prepared for them, an angel to guide the way into the land of Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, Canaanities, Hivites, and Jebusites and victory over them all. God will destroy them slowly so that the Israelites can take over the land in safety.
God creates very strict rules for worship, the altar, the clothing, the offerings and the keeping of the Sabbath. If the rules of the Sabbath are violated, that person must be put to death. God’s agreement with the Israelites was written on two stone tablets and given to Moses.
But Moses spent some time with God on the Mountain and the people became anxious. They convinced Aaron to find a God that would lead them and so they built the Golden Calf, a big mistake.
God was ready to destroy them all but Moses intervened. However, what he saw when he approached the camp made him very angry. Over three thousand died that night. In a very short time the people had forgotten who lead them out of Egypt and were ready to worship Idols all over again.
From there things settled down, the Holy Tent was raised and all of the people made everything the Lord Commanded to worship at the Holy Tent. The rules, hierarchy, and procedures for Worship of the Lord God.
One cannot read these Old Testament stories and not be affected by the contradictions in the rules and messages laid down by God. Early on, killing deserves a just and equal punishment. And yet under God’s authority 1400 got swallowed up (buried alive), 256 died in flames and 3,000 were killed to make a point. From this point of view it is not life that God respects and honors but obedience and worship. His people are also hard to control and reverting to their former pagan ways is natural to them, so I understand why God has to be harsh, often cruel, and needs to make an example to get their attention again. However, if today, I was asked to make a burnt offering of my children, I would die first.
Do any people, not just the nomadic people of the bible, need rules and guidelines for living a just life. Do they need constant reminders on community living, health care and worship. Does it matter for their emotional, physical and spiritual life if they wander off the reservation? How much is too much and how much is too little? Are we so poorly evolved that a simple thought “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” gets lost in the selfishness of living?
According to the first two stories of the bible, the chosen people kept losing their way and reverted back to their old ways over and over again. We are now 2,000 plus AD, What is different about us today than the people of the bible so long ago? Is there really a significant difference? Has education (knowledge) or technology altered our basic nature for the better?
Leviticus does not answer these questions but it does give us an insight into how much focus and energy God had to expend to get his people to live right, eat right, be healthy, and honor their Lord the right way.
God clearly explained the rules. He clearly explained what the people needed to do to protect their health. And he was very explicit about how and when they would honor their God. To do differently would bring God’s anger, powerful real anger, into their lives. Reward and punishment at an extreme level. Death.
I still do not understand the fascination with animal sacrifices nor God’s pleasure at the smell of burnt flesh. This is not just symbolic, there is something deeper here that I do not yet understand. If we today performed these rituals, for example to forgive a sin, a lot of animals would die at the altar in front of the meeting tent.
Part of me would pass through Leviticus with little comment, but the other part wants to understand why God chose this path to have his people honor him. Obviously his people knew little about how to protect themselves (washing, bacteria, skin diseases, food safety and basic cleanliness when exposed to unhealthy conditions). Burn the meat by the third day, wash with water, isolate the infected.
Over and over again God explained the ritual of the animal sacrifice and the burnt offering. Was this the only way these people could be controlled and managed? To understand sin? To offer a thank you for a promise fullfilled? To praise the power and support of God?
We will leave Leviticus with these questions unanswered but with the hope that understanding follows at a later time.
We won’t process the numbers here, but over 603,000 people wandering the desert for 40 years (food and water) is a miracle. Even though they were organized into tribes it would be beyond difficult to take care of and manage so many people wandering around in a desert for forty years. There was a monotony of food, I am sure waste was a problem, of course water, very little fun (how many times can you tell the stories of the Exodus at the evening campfires). Speaking of campfires, deserts are not known for their abundance of wood to burn.
Of course they rebelled and complained. Could they have figured out God’s plan for them? No. For even in reading we have to have an understanding that defies logic.
Nine Days march and they would be out of the desert, but there was no one to lead them out. Totally dependent on God providing them with all their needs. Food, clothing, water, wood. They did not know that the scouts that went out to assess the land and forces ahead of them would return and lie about what the discovered out of fear. Joshua and Caleb, the only scouts that told the truth, would live to see the promised land. Everyone else 20 or over at the time would die. A whole culture, society, a people wandered in ignorance, with no understanding of why this was happening to them. Yet God’s punishment made sure only the next generation would see and prosper in the promised land. Is, was, there a lesson here? Of course. Is it a lesson everyone can grasp and understand? Not really.
First I have no idea how difficult it would be to keep an entire people, a basically nomadic, warlike, pagan people in line for so long a time. The only thing they really understood was fear and power. They did what they were told, and behaved as they were instructed until the thorns of retribution eased up and they felt a small sense of freedom from the power and anger of the Lord. Then they did something stupid, angered their Lord, and felt his wrath again and again.
Even Moses, God’s most faithful servant, who in the heat of the moment failed to give God credit for the water from the rock, was told that he would die before they reached the promised land. A new people rose up out of the desert. Were they really any different than their parents? It is very doubtful. They failed again and again to faithfully follow God, and kept paying a high price for that failure.
But not to the point of extinction. These people needed God and God needed these people (this is open to debate for God is said to need nothing and does not require change, God is self contained (Aseity-) Needs nothing, Immutable- does not need change, Impassable- does not respond to anything outside of himself Unless he chooses). A point of great importance (so far) is that if you are not of the people, your value (your life) is not really worth anything. You can be killed if God deems it so, as he so often has.
While they spent their lives wandering, a hierarchy was developed and put into place. The high priests, the caretakers of the Tabernacle (Levites, Moses was a Levite), the ritual offerings, the feasts, the organization of the tribes, the rules of cleanliness, how to recognize disease and what to do about it, how to handle food (what was clean, what was not). They were being taught. A strict way of living, a strict way of worship and rules for living (guides for behavior, handling conflicts, judges, punishment). It was time to take the promised land.
Deuteronomy - the fifth book of Moses
The fifth book of Moses revisits the entire exit from Egypt. It was not until all the generations of men of war died out for they had rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God, that the people were allowed to go forward into the lands they were promised.
One by one they were allowed to take possession of the promised land. In each battle the possessors of the land were destroyed, wiped out and everything they had burned. It cannot be dismissed that thousands of warriors, women and children were put to the sword so that the Israelites could possess the land promised to them.
God made it very clear that these people were the chosen people, chosen by God, to belong to Him. To be honored, to be recognized as a mighty and powerful God.
With God on their side they crossed the Jordan River and conquered all of the Kings of the land that God gave them. The walls of Jericho fell and all of the land was divided up among the tribes.
Throughout my life, in all the teachings by religious leaders, nowhere, was it ever discussed, that tens of thousands (men, women and children) were slaughtered to make way for the Israelites. So that they could occupy the land and prosper. Is it any wonder that God appears as a Dark God in the old testament. If you were not of the chosen people, your existence was unimportant, you were expendable.
Most would say that all of these people were judged by God, for their sins, for their idolatry. It is not for us to question God’s motives. This may be true, but, the course of human kind was determined by these actions. If we can understand, it might help to alter our current behavior and allow us to set a new course. A course so richly envisioned by spiritual leaders throughout the centuries.
God did not believe that the Israelites would honor the covenant over time. He told Moses to teach all of the people the song God had Moses write down. The song was to be a witness against the people for they would surely turn away from the teachings, become completely evil, and turn to other Gods. At the same meeting Joshua was anointed the leader of the people after Moses died, and given the mission to lead his people across the Jordan and into the promised land. Moses climbed Mount Nebo, viewed the land given to the people, and died. It is interesting that God foretold that the people would fail, and the punishment they would experience for their failure to honor the covenant.
Joshua fulfilled his mission to conquer all of the Kingdoms west of the Jordan. All of the land was divided, everyone was settled in, and all of the people honored the Lord during the rule of Joshua and during the lifetimes of the older leaders that followed him after he died. For a time peace was with the Israelites.
Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles
These are the stories of the people of Israel. Who ruled, who lived and who died. Basically when the people honored the way of life the Lord laid down for them, everything turned out in their favor. When they did not, punishment was their lot in life. You would think that after all they had gone through following the Lord’s path would have been easy. Not so.
In a sense God records all of his people and keeps track of them. These stories reflect who lived, who died, who ruled. What they did that was good and what they did that was not so good.
A lot of time goes by and finally Jerusalem falls. All the young men are killed, the town burned and the captives taken to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar lay waste to Jerusalem and for seventy years the survivors remained slaves. It was not until Babylon was defeated by Persia that Cyrus King of Persia freed the people to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild it.
God’s punishment is often harsh and long lived. What did I learn from the Old Testament? Or, did the Old Testament change my spiritual feelings about Creation and our Creator?
The End of the Old and the beginning of the New
What is the meaning of life? Can death be conquered? Should I live with honor or live in selfish fulfillment? Am I a sinner from birth? Should I live for the moment? The roles of men and women in the bible are of an ancient culture, men dominate, women submit, daughters can be given away, men have many wives and slaves, women have no power. Their children can be sold.
God demands sacrifice, absolute commitment in obeying God’s Commandments and the precise manner of honoring and glorifying God’s power over everything.
The book of Job shows many things. That God can be manipulated by Satan to give Satan complete power over Job’s life. All to prove that it has only been Job’s good fortune that has motivated his faith in God. Of course we all know the story. Trial after trial Job maintains his faith. Even after he loses everything and is in intense physical pain. It all turns out in the end and Job wins the gold at the end of the rainbow. He had three beautiful daughters, seven sons and all the sheep, camels, oxen and donkeys one would want. After one hundred and forty years Job dies and we assume dies with a glad heart.
What do I take away from the books of the bible up through and including the book of Job? Quite a few things.
First, early mankind was prone to believe in many Gods. They were nomadic, primitive and pagan people. Taking, by sword, was better than building and creating. They were fierce warriors and without mercy. When they conquered they slaughtered everyone, men, women and children. What they could not carry off they burned.
God created Heaven and earth and all that was on it. Plants, grasses, trees aquatic life, land life, birds and people. But, after phase I was completed, God became disappointed and decided to wipe out the first try at life and do it all over again. After Phase II began God selected a special group of people to train and nurture. After many punishments and rewards this group (the people of Israel) settled in the promised land and prospered.
There are some who look at the rest of humanity (at that time) and feel God judged them and punished them through the people of Israel. They clearly did not live by the Ten Commandments, they worshiped false Gods, and lived a hedonistic, pagan life. The people of Israel did not have to question nor did they want to question the God who led them to victory and the occupation of the land and cities of the promised land.
Is the Fall in the Garden a demonstration of Free Will where the orders from God are freely disobeyed or has God manipulated the situation to force the first of the humans to understand a little more of themselves and to be forced out of the Garden to fend for and develop their own path to being a true human. First, man is not God but neither is man an animal. Man has his own sexuality (for reproduction and for pleasure). Sin does not enter at this point in the story.
Adam and Eve present us with a dilemma, for in our current world the original sin (the fall) was Eve being persuaded to eat the fruit of the tree and then Adam going along with her. God speaks harshly as they have covered themselves and told him they were naked. “Who told you you were naked?” From innocence to knowledge, but remember sin is not referenced here. So they get tossed out and must now learn and fend for themselves. Meanwhile child birth is extremely painful, the woman must submit to her husband (patriarchal beginning) and the man must toil relentlessly his whole life to provide food and shelter and protect their lives from all manner of threats (human, disasters, weather). And now they have to make choices and decisions as they face the complexity of their new world with all of its chaos, pain, inequalities, good things and some very bad things.
Is there another way to view this? Yes. It was not a fall but a transition to the world of adulthood. The world of real events, real terrors, tough decisions and the hard work of survival. From innocence to knowledge to dealing with reality in all its forms. Would I, having been disappointed at my child for doing something I told the child not to do, toss him or her out into the wilderness? Of course not, but Adam and Eve were not children, not babies, they were innocent but with their new knowledge able to fend for themselves. They became, almost overnight, the first early adults who had to deal with good and evil, a reality that was basically harsh and unforgiving.
The real issue here is human awareness of their own mortality. “From dust you were created and to dust you will return”. Scary. How do I protect myself from death. Do I take what I need from others, Do I covet what my neighbor has (wife, property, stuff)? Do I protect myself at all cost? Do I do what I want, what feels good no matter what the possible outcome? Are Sin and Death married. Yes. Are we driven by our fear? In some ways, yes. Can it be overcome? Only through education that teaches the human condition and how to grow, or transition, through our fundamental biology. Are the ten Commandments sufficient to guide our actions and sooth our anxiety? I do not believe so. The old testament is clearly reward and punishment. How soon before the Laws are understood to be a way of life and reward and punishment no longer the driving force behind our behavior? Does Jesus solve the problem?
Only if we look at Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection through a different lens. But, not here, later.
Why the relationship between man and woman was established as a divisive one and why God decided that woman must submit to the husband is very interesting. An entire civilization and a patriarchal society originated from this concept, to our detriment. Hundreds of years of slavery, female submission, male wars, religious wars, and all of the negatives associated with dominance and control of one human group over another. Question: How far would humanity have advanced socially if this decision by God had been different? If men and women shared life, each free to contribute under the umbrella of equal opportunity, equal freedom, each according to their own skills and knowledge. Yes, this means, equal education opportunities.
Yes miracles abounded even in the old Testament. Creation the greatest miracle of all. It cannot be misinterpreted that The Pharaoh was manipulated by God to continue to refuse to let his people go. I would have caved in early on, but then my heart might not have been hardened by God. Imagine maintaining any measure of control over a people of over a million wandering the desert for forty years. Having to supply them with food, clothing, shelter as they grew older and died. Only the new generation would get to see the promised land.
In the O.T. God is an other God, a separate entity, the ultimate judge, the ultimate creator and the final guide and protector of humanity. The notion that “God is in me and I am in God”, is a difficult notion to describe and sell. Is my relationship to God a separate one or an integral one. Do I feel connected to creation? For if I do then my responsibility as God’s creation is clear, I must become fully human and act accordingly. This is not difficult if our vision of ourselves is as a participating partner, evolving and growing into unknown possibilities and unknown potential. Our existence is real and we are at the beginning of our emerging potential.
Nothing is ever said about eternity. Moses died on the Mountain, Noah, Adam, Joseph, Jacob, Sarah, all of them died. Only their children to carry on as a people, to conquer the tribes of the land of milk and honey and to lapse into their old ways, to be punished and saved again so that Jerusalem could be rebuilt. Everyone died, except, Enoch and Eli’jah, who both were taken up into heaven “so that they would not experience death”. The point is made by Jesus that no one came from Heaven nor ascended up to heaven except he. Enoch and Eli’jah went up but never came down. This is the only implied reference to Eternity. Is it important? I do not know at this point in time.
Who can know the ways of God. God is given the traits of a human, needing to be glorified, recognized for his power and deeds, jealous and angry, even vengeful and yet it took miracles to save the people, provide for them and save them from slavery, almost certain death and to protect them from themselves. We slide by the death and slaughter and focus on the salvation of the people. God’s deeds are amazing, more than amazing, miraculous, and yet the authors, as they tell the saga of the Israelites, infuse God with human failings while saying at the same time God knows and sees everything and his behavior is not to be questioned.
The list of rules, processes, and commandments are long and complex. It is no wonder that a primitive people often failed to measure up. God even said that they would fail to follow him and would need to be reminded who the all powerful God was. God was trying to nurture a select portion of humanity into becoming fully human. The rest, outside of this group would have to learn it on their own.
And so we face in our own time barbaric behavior, genocide, amoral behavior, dismissal of God in schools and public places, and a letting go of our humanity through wars, dictatorships, human trafficking, drugs and other abuses of our humanity. Have we learned any lessons? Some have. Many, no.
Do I get a spiritual uplift from this segment of the bible? Are my questions answered, the big ones? Do I believe that humanity has learned anything from 4,000 plus years of exposure to God? Have we set aside the Patriarchal dominance of one segment of humanity over another? Have I been a witness to real change for the better throughout the world? Can I really say that the path I have witnessed is a path of hope for all of us?
There is no doubt that good exists in the world, but there also no doubt that evil has a loud and disturbing voice. We cannot submit to evil but neither can we eradicate it. All people must realize that standing your ground for good is as necessary, day after day after day, as eradicating evil. This goes for Christians, Muslims, and all believers and non believers. Evil grows when Good people sit and hide, evil terrifies when no one stands and fights, evil succeeds when our voices are silent. Are we all evil or is there evil among us? Has the idea of original sin been a benefit or a curse? Do we continue to arm ourselves against Satin as the source of our bad behavior or do we invoke our own personal responsibility? Can we acknowledge that we have been given all the tools necessary to grow into fully human beings, to know right from wrong, to take our responsibility seriously, as a gift that we have the option to exercise.
There are a couple of interesting elements of the Old Testament. For one the authors present a view of a people protected and nurtured by God. They do not in any depth write about all of the other people, cultures, nations or empires. From the point of view of the authors this is not important, but from the point of view of the reader a lot is and has been going on for a long time. Does God show an interest beyond the chosen people? No, not really. Only when the Israelites are affected. Does this mean that such involvement beyond the land of Israel is too much or does it mean it is easier for others if the lessons are confined.
Another important element is also missing. There is Fear (of God), reward and punishment, commandments, Holy Rituals, women and daughters given to men, strict rules of worship, strict rules of fidelity, but only two references to love. And I do not mean the passion of youth but love (of God, of wives, of children, neighbors). Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18, (Love your Lord, ...Love your neighbor as yourself...). But in the majority of all other cases, fear of the Lord dominates as does the requirement to acknowledge his great power. This is probably the stage of the development of humanity at the time. Times were tough and survival was part of everyone’s life. When you are afraid and do not understand, many Gods are better protection than one. In a sense God was fighting for recognition of his very existence.
Modern Day - Transition - Transformation
Science shows us a view of the creation of the Universe over a 13 plus billion year period. And, it is still evolving, changing, destroying and creating, and it is also aging. Where this takes us is still open to discovery. But is this not part of our makeup, to search, to discover, to find understanding? The appearance of life spanned billions of years as did the molding of the Earth into a habitat for life. One can easily imagine that the Universe is still evolving, changing and in a continuous act of creation. It cannot be denied that this Earth is not a snug and safe little home for life, for humans. It is filled with danger and potential extermination. Does this view reject the biblical story? Not really, but it does ask us to integrate into our belief systems modern cosmology. It asks us to understand that God is a Universal God not just an Earth God. And that the process of creation is unfinished.
You can see that the portrayal of God in the Old Testament is not a simple one.
Psalms, Proverbs, through Malachi
The Psalms ask for protection, from enemies, from the wicked, from foes known and unknown, from evil. They praise the Lord and ask that the righteous be heard. They ask for saving grace and to have the Lord hear them as they Glorify the Lord’s might and deeds.
Each of the Psalms in one way or another ask, even plead, to defeat all foes, defend against all enemies, recognize righteousness, express loudly praise of the Lord, His majesty and glory, and fear, fear of the Lord, to vanquish the wicked, the ungodly, and the evildoers who are deceitful and prey upon the poor. Expressed in many ways, to follow the path of the Lord, honor the commandments, refrain from doing evil, and above all remain in the shelter of the Lord, praising and glorifying his name.
Since I was a young child I prayed at night Psalm 23 without knowing it was one of the most spoken Psalms of them all. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, He leadeth me besides still waters, he restoreth my soul, He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his namesake, Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me, Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies, Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over, Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”.
This Psalm has everything. We place ourselves under the care and protection of the Lord, we get to rest in green pastures and find peace as our troubled souls are restored. We are lead along the Path of the Lord in honorable and righteous behavior and find solace as we face death and the evils of this world, for the protection of the Lord is with us always. We will live in goodness and mercy all the days of our lives and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
We will not fear death for we will live with the Lord forever. If our willful “it’s all about me” mind set and behavior that is connected to our understanding and fear of death, then this Psalm (taken to heart) helps us find our life path of mercy and compassion in all that we do.
All the Psalms praise God, they praise all of Creation and vow commitment to the Laws and Decrees of the Lord. They also ask for protection in many different ways and against many different foes. Many of them ask why they have been forsaken and promise forever to honor and glorify the Lord, if only. If only God’s protection would shelter them again.
Yet from the beginning God’s children have fallen backward again and again. God knew they would break the covenant time and time again. And punishment was delivered time and time again. In theory we have memories (oral and written traditions) that would remind us to honor our commitment, our covenant, to God. Our failure to do so probably defines us as a species and explains the messes we continue to get ourselves into.
We have been given the tools necessary for our freedom, necessary for us to choose paths of compassion, necessary to honor creation and the creator. Why we still believe it is all about us and not about creation itself is beyond me. Maybe in the New Testament I will find these concerns answered.
An odd note. Psalm 2 “The Kings...against the Lord ....and against his anointed one...You are my Son, today I have become your Father (optional term: or have begotten you), Serve the Lord with fear....Kiss the Son lest he be angry”. First anointed, installed as a King, then declared as a Son and announced himself as a Father “. David? Seems so. Anointed, Son, Lord, King and become your Father, this is strong stuff, will this become a question as Jesus enters the picture? Probably.
Psalm 82 “God presides in the great assembly; he gives judgement among the “gods”. Psalm 80 “God of the Angel Armies”. Psalm 81 “You shall have no foreign god among you; you shall not bow down to an alien god”. From everyone’s point of view there were multiple gods and even God had to warn against elevating these gods to the level of worship. So there were minor gods, appointed judges (small gods) who were not doing their job and alien gods but for the people of Israel only one God. It is interesting that God has to continually fight for dominance or recognition, the people’s attention span was a bit short.
I liked this chapter in the bible. It is all about our pride, status, collecting of stuff, self importance, you get the idea. It is also about the unfairness in life: some get rich, some don’t, good people have bad things happen, bad people have good things happen, evil is an equal opportunity giver and bad people can live pleasant lives. But in the end.
We are blowing in the wind, it is all meaningless and so we all die, the good and the bad, the dog and the human. And we die with little understanding for the true meaning of life eludes us and everything we have built is passed on to others who may or may not take care of it, or, it is returned to the earth as we are.
The message: enjoy what you have, your labors, your creativity, your loves, your life as it is and as you make it to be. God is the only answer we have at this moment in time, but we can continue to learn, to discover, to labor and create and be happy or content with where we are now. As we cannot yet solve the riddle of existence we cannot yet unravel the puzzle of death. We can only choose how we live and hope for understanding, wisdom and compassion in how we live our lives.
The message is, all is meaningless and we are blowing in the wind, if, we rely solely on our young and often foolish understanding of why we are here and what the meaning of it all is. God may not exist the same way in everyone’s mind but this Universe has a Creator written all over it. And until we know differently ask yourself this question: What do you know and can humanity grow into adulthood without this Creator?
Isaiah begins with God’s lament that his children have abandoned him, turned to their former evil ways and allowed their cities and fields to be destroyed. Judah and Jerusalem will be destroyed. The Lord enters into judgement as he tells them how low they have fallen. Over and over again Isaiah tells them that their destruction is assured and the people will be dispersed. Only later. Much later will the anger of the Lord diminish. Then and only then will the Lord reclaim the remnant scattered throughout the land (from Assyria, Lower Egypt, Upper Egypt, Cush, lam, Babylonia, from Hamath and the islands of the sea).
Clearly the people, chosen by God to be nurtured, cared for and trained, lost their way, turned away from their Lord, and sank deeply into depravity. The Lord’s anger was powerful and unrelenting but in the end. After everything is laid waste, after Assyria and Babylon, Cush and Tyre and all of the nations were laid waste, the Lord relented and brought the people out of slavery and under his wing, again.
Isaiah 43-10-13: “You are my witnesses, declares the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen. So that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no God was formed, nor will their be one after me. I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior. I have revealed, and saved and proclaimed - I, and not some foreign God among you. You are my witnesses, declares the Lord, that I am God. Yes and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it”.
Here again God must enlist his people into believing in him and his commands for living a fair and just life. One might ask “why has the point not been driven home by now?” The path of the chosen people has been riddled with failure after failure, to honor their one true God, to live a just and righteous life, to care for each other. In reading this I cannot but feel the sadness and anger of the Lord as he watches his people fall apart time and time again. How did we go from Creator of the Universe to an angry parent of a wayward child. Was there a flaw in the creation of Humanity or did the education of humanity miss a few things, such as our development cycle and what happens to us as we are born, grow into adulthood, and then for some, let go of everything our identity and ego tells us we are, and begin the transformation into a fully adult human being in the great idea of life.
What can be said. Jerusalem, Zion is desolate. All the people are dead or scattered and the city moans in its agony. All that the Lord promised to do he has done. His anger without mercy as men, women and children died by the sword, shriveled up from famine, withered away into dust. Some scattered and survived but the bloodbath destroyed every vestige of glory the city and its people ever held. Will this be forever? Will our sins never be forgiven? Will you Lord not restore us to our former selves?
Ezekiel, thirteen years after the death of Zion, while among the exiles by the Kebar river, is given a vision of God. I cannot do justice to the description of the Glory of God but if there was ever a vision of an alien being, this was it. God spoke to Ezekiel as the “son of man”, a representative of the people of Israel. He was given a mission, to act out the destruction of Jerusalem. So symbolically Ezekiel did as he was instructed. Ezekiel was a witness, to the death of Jerusalem, the death of its people and the wrath of the Lord. The people failed the Lord and themselves and paid the highest price possible. Famine, plague, the sword and the scattering of the tribes of Israel or those few who survived. But, after a time, God would bring back the people, annihilate their oppressors, rebuild the house of worship and restore the people to the land. Thus through Ezekiel the power and wrath of the Lord rises from the pages, his disappointment, his pain, his anger at the betrayal by his people as they abandoned and dishonored the Lord, and finally forgiveness. They paid the price of his judgement, a judgement without mercy, relentless destruction. Would they ever forget again that there was one God, one Lord above all?
Nebuchadnazzar came to Jerusalem and besieged it. Daniel, Hananiah, Shadrach and Azariah from Judah were captured and taken to Babylonia.
The King ordered these four to be trained on the matters of the Babylonian culture, language and administrative needs for three years after which they would enter the service of the King. Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus when this King released the Israelite survivors to rebuild Jerusalem.
A few things happened over the years. The ability to repeat and interpret a dream of Nebuchadnazzar saved the life of these four and brought them into the service of the King in high positions of authority. Nebuchadnazzar was so awed by Daniel’s wisdom and understanding, given to him by his God that he acknowledged Daniel’s God, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of Kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery”.
However he was not that impressed. Foolishly he built an image of Gold, set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon, and then proclaimed that everyone when they heard the sound of the horns, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, everyone must fall down and worship the image of gold. Anyone who did not would be thrown into the blazing furnace.
Daniel’s three friends refused. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were ratted out by some astrologers. When they were given a chance to recant and bow down to the gold image, they refused. They were bound and tossed into the furnace, heated to seven times normal. The furnace was so hot the soldiers who threw them into the furnace died.
Nebuchadnezzar looked into the furnace, saw four people (an angel of the Lord) walking around, unhurt. He called them out, filled the air with his praise for their God and their willingness to die rather than deny their God and worship another. The three were promoted into the province of Babylon.
It seems that the Kings of old were as stubborn and hard hearted as the chosen people. Nebuchadnazzar was given another dream, a dream that only Daniel was able to interpret. The net of the dream was that the King would be driven out into the wilderness, eat grass, be drenched with the dew of heaven. He would live like an animal until he woke up and realized that the Most High is sovereign.
We all know the part of the story that has Daniel thrown into the den of Lions. The decree that everyone must not pray to man or god except to King Darius for thirty days was issued. Daniel violated that decree and was found praying to His God. The King had no choice but to throw Daniel into the den of lions. The mouth of the den was sealed but after a sleepless night the next morning the King unsealed the den and called to Daniel. Daniel spoke to him, unharmed. After pulling Daniel from the den the King was relieved, but angry that he had been forced into such an act. He ordered the men who accused Daniel to be thrown into the den along with their wives and children.
The moral of the story? Daniel’s strong and unswerving faith in the Lord saved him twice from certain death. Then Daniel was told of the coming death of his people and when it was over he would receive his allotted inheritance.
Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk,
Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi
Each of these stories tells of the coming destruction in great detail. They tell of the failures of the people of Israel, their haughty pride, idol worship, depravity and the turning away from the Lord. And they describe what will happen to the towns and cities and the people. Only a few will survive the Lord God’s wrath and righteous anger.
In the end God will gather the remnants, bring them home and restore their fortunes, with a warning “you will do no wrong, speak no lies, nor allow deceit from your mouths, nor will any again reject the Lord” “....or else I will strike the land with a curse”.
The message: God will fulfill his promise, his punishment will be without mercy but his compassion unlimited. However, “each of you will see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not”.
Summary: The Old Testament is filled with prophecies, descriptions of the history of man and the chosen people, miracles, the end of man and all life on land. Extinction, except for Noah and his family. The rescuing of the people from Egypt and the rebuilding of the twelve nations of Israel. God is a relentless teacher, parent, punisher and rewarder. He expects much, demands much, rewards much and disciplines his people when they lose their way. God is violent, angry, loving and compassionate. But life is not his goal, life of the people is to honor, glorify and worship the Lord. All is centered around this need.
The people are raw, ignorant and of a pagan culture where multiple Gods are better than one God. They are easily distracted from the law and commandments of the Lord. Disciple is harsh, sometimes savage, sometimes deadly for the Lord needs to be recognized by his chosen people as the one true God who led them out of servitude and slavery to the land of milk and honey, with a detour of forty years in the wilderness with its accompanying miracles of food, water and clothing.
Although I bring to your attention some of the inconsistencies of the old testament, its violence and death I am also aware of the described nature of these people. When Adam and Eve entered the picture of Creation I imagine them as pure but innocent life forms. The transition to a crude, violent and pagan people could only happen if they were left alone to develop on their own, without guidance. God only reenters their lives after 1,670 years, the time of the flood. But Noah and his family were not primitive and unruly (hard headed). All of humanity came from them and they would have taught their children to honor and glorify the Lord. How things got turned around is left out, the only thing left was the people’s back tracking and God’ response.
It is not clear if, in this present day, God is not losing his patience again.
The New Testament
Matthew. We begin with the “Book of the generations of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham”. We end with Joseph from Jacob and Mary of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. It is interesting that the male lineage is identified in detail, and yet this male lineage genetically had little to do with the DNA of Jesus. Mary’s lineage is not identified. What we have then is Mary’s DNA (maybe) and the Holy Ghost. Now only two things could have happened. God either used Mary as a vehicle (surrogate mother) for the creation of Jesus and did not include human Ovum and Sperm from human sources. Or, God used Mary’s DNA (Ovum) and the Sperm from the Holy Ghost. Either way we do not know the exact DNA structure of the baby Jesus. We do know that Mary passed along her mitochondria dna and that the male Y chromosome was present.
Is this important? Maybe or not really. If Jesus is fully human both male and female DNA are needed. If Jesus is God in human form his DNA can be whatever God deemed would work. The other possibility is that his DNA is human but he has been infused with the soul and spirit of God (The Holy Ghost). It is an interesting mystery of the genetic makeup of Jesus and could be a source for further speculation on the real genealogy of Jesus, the one and only Son of God.
There have been many a discourse on whether Jesus was fully human, or God, or a marriage of both. Why this matters centers on the days of Jesus and the end of the Life of Jesus. Jesus did know or believe that his authority came from the Father. Did he know that he was to truly die or did he believe that he was here to experience the life and death of a human but would be saved in the end. He did believe in his own resurrection (Matthew 16:21), and his purpose (Matthew 1:21) “he shall save his people from their sins”. Matthew documented the miracles of healing by Jesus throughout the Land, his teachings, and what must be done to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and what will happen if your words and deeds do not reflect the righteousness and faith that Jesus teaches.
In Matthew’s Gospel King Herod lived at the time of the birth of Jesus. Committed to killing the baby Jesus Herod was foiled in his plan to have the Magi report his location so in a fit of rage he ordered the killing of all the young boys 2 years and younger in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16). After Herod died an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to return to the land of Israel.
Why not intervene and prevent the slaughter of all of the children. It is not as if God lacked the power.
Throughout the Old Testament God is described (paraphrased) as all knowing, all seeing and does what God does. God is not to be questioned in his motives or the outcome of his actions. He can intervene or not as he wishes. In the case of Herod killing all the boys of Bethlehem and the surrounding vicinity, he chose not to intervene. He also had Joseph take the child and Mary and escape into the night, again warning but not intervening (meaning to stop whatever was going to happen). To fulfill prophesy? (Matthew 2:18 Jeremiah). A lot of innocents died, a lot of anguish and pain as mothers lost their children. It is not difficult to experience empathy for the mothers and fathers of the slain children.
And yet the messages of Jesus, though spoken in parables, tell us to have faith, tell us to surrender our world self image, to become again children, elemental, simple, trusting in God.
It is possible that the people did not need warnings and threats but as we have seen in the past Israel had forsaken God over and over again. Even his disciples had to be reminded over and over again that Jesus was the Son of God. Healing after healing, miracle after miracle, walking on water, death and resurrection, and still they needed reminders.
Matthew leads us through the life of Jesus. Baptized by John the Baptist to fulfill all righteousness, fasting for forty days and forty nights only to be tested three times by the devil, the imprisonment of John and the gathering of his disciples as Jesus begins to preach. (Matthew 5: 3-12)
The sermon on the mount, the Beatitudes:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Jesus taught that he had come “not to abolish the laws but to fulfill them”. Who so ever “breaks one of the least of these commandments......will be called least in the kingdom of heaven”. “Whoever practices and teaches these commands will be great in the kingdom of heaven”.
Jesus teaches on a broad spectrum of human frailties: Murder, Adultery, divorce, oaths, an eye for an eye, love for your enemies, giving to the needy, prayer, fasting, hoarding wealth, worry.
Pray simply: “Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, give us today our daily bread, forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one”.
Give to the needy: without fanfare, without drawing attention
Hoarding: storing up wealth on earth is for self satisfaction. It can be destroyed, stolen, and damaged or lost. “ Store up your treasures in heaven for where your treasure is so is your heart”.
An eye for an eye: do not resist the evil energy of another, deflect it, turn the other cheek, give to one who asks you, do not turn away from someone who wants to borrow from you, let go of revenge, hate and anger.
Not to worry: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life”. Worrying about your status, your clothes, your success is a response to your ego, let go of such matters and understand that you are more important to God than all earthy matters, things, status or stuff.
Judging others: clean up your own act before you judge others. As you judge so to will you be judged. As you see clearly you will be able to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Ask, Knock: Do not be afraid to ask, to knock for entrance, to seek help. Be direct and do for others what you would like them to do for you. Knock and the door will open, seek and you will find, ask and it will be given.
Put into practice: Hear the words of Jesus and put them into practice. Receiving the words without putting them into practice is an empty gesture serving no one.
Deny yourself: “whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”. This is similar to the eastern thought of losing the self, the false self, and gaining the true self. Let go of who you have identified yourself to be (husband, provider, wife, powerful, expert, rich, poor, brilliant, and everything else) and become who you truly are, a child of God, alive in the moment, not identified with, or ruled by, any of the 10,000 things of this earth (Lao Tzu 500BC).
Matthew 6: The Prayer, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.” A slight change from my childhood prayer but close enough. Although even as a child I asked why we would ask God to “not lead us into temptation” but of course deliver us from evil. Picky I know.
Matthew 6: 19-28, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth....But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is , there your heart will be also.” “No one can serve two masters.....You cannot serve both God and Money”
“Therefore I tell you do not worry about your life, ....Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of it own”. Eckhart Tolle: “the past is yesterday and tomorrow has yet to come, stay in the moment, be in the now”
Matthew 27: 5, “So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself”.
At the end of Matthew’s narrative, Jesus resurrected, tells his disciples “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the names of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”.
Jesus is in all respects the right arm of God and he gives his disciples the power to heal, to perform miracles and teach everything Jesus commanded. When the very end of age is, is not to be known.
Some things perplex. In Matthew 4:1-11, “When the heavens opened and the spirit settled on Jesus after John the Baptist baptized him the spirit led him into the desert to be tempted by the devil”. After Jesus was tempted by Satan and Satan gave up, the angels tended him. In Mark 1: 12 “at once the Spirit sent him out into the desert and he was in the desert forty days being tempted by Satan, he was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. By now Jesus knows he is the son of God. So the real questions is: Does Jesus live and die as a human or as a God in a human body?
All of the above written over 1700 years ago and taught even now by present day spiritual leaders and many that have passed away this century. Lao Tzu (the Tao pronounced Dao), Confucius, Tielhard De Chardin (died 1955), Richard Rohr, Thomas Merton, Eckhart Tolle and hundreds of others. Other ways of life and living and dying: Buddhism , Zen, Aikido, .............
One way to look at the O.T. and NT is to see God transition from a strict disciplinarian to one who shows his children how to live and then releases them to find their way. But not without the final carrot, eternal life in the presence of God, if, you follow the commandments and for some the path, the life and resurrection of Jesus.
As an aside Matthew 27: 5 “So Judas threw the money (the thirty pieces of silver he got for betraying Jesus) into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself “. ACTS 18:20 “With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong , his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is The Field of Blood”.
“For”, said Peter, it is written in the book of Psalms, “May his place be deserted, let there be no one to dwell in it” and “may another take his place of leadership”.
This is an odd contradiction to the notion that Judas hanged himself. But actually feels more like the punishment of God than just the guilt of suicide.
Mark has some interesting segments. Jesus teaches in parables and gets frustrated with his apostles when they don’t get it. “Are you so dull....” Jesus rebukes them time and time again, but makes the effort to teach the meaning of each parable when they are off by themselves.
Mark 8: 34 - “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. .... What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words.......the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Mark 9:1 And he said to them, “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.
If you choose to follow Christ then you must give up your pursuit of worldly things, all of the things that men strive for: status, comfort, power, money, things. For then as you lose your former self you will find your new self. It is interesting that as Jesus teaches the crowd he reveals his crucifixion, his resurrection and his return in the glory of his Father accompanied by holy angels. In Mark 9 he also declares that some in the crowd will still be alive when the kingdom of God comes. Later in 9 he tells them to keep quiet as to what they had seen on the mountain until the Son of Man has risen from the dead. Did anyone, including the apostles, have any idea what he was talking about? I would guess not.
If the apostles had such a hard time continuing to believe, Mark 16:14 “ Later Jesus appeared to the eleven as they were eating, he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen”. Mark 16: 16 “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned”.
I bring this up for two reasons. One, if we have a choice then option A (belief) gives us heaven and eternity with God, and option B is without God but not condemned to hell. The way it has been expressed to me by those who understand the bible better than I, at this point in time, Hell is really separation from God, the Flames are not real, and there is no path back to heaven. The second reason centers on human’s view on what God is all about. So far God is disappointed (man’s Sinful nature), unmerciful for those who ignore or deny God’s existence, and yet patient toward apostles who even when faced with absolute proof of miracles still doubt and refuse to believe. It is no wonder that there are still doubters after 2,000 plus years without such examples. And, too many things are still going wrong, the Son of Man would do well to revisit mankind.
After his resurrection Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene and then, in a different form, to two others who were walking in the country. Neither did the rest believe Mary or the two. When Jesus did appear to the Eleven he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. Jesus said to them, “Go into all of the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned “. At that Jesus was taken into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.
Here again if you do not believe you will have some serious bad stuff happen, if you do believe there will be great rewards. Even on his final day on earth Jesus knows not all will be saved. So, we are faced with finality. Either we develop faith and belief and commit to the path of Jesus, who is the only path to the Father, and be saved (for Eternity) or we miss the mark and suffer the consequences.
How has humanity responded to this ultimatum through the ages? Some have jumped into the pool with both feet and all of their being. Others, not so much. And then some have realized that there is a path that allows each human being to become fully human and accept responsibility for their being a part of creation. This particular path is not recognized by true believers for although it teaches people to release the old and live in the present and to understand their relationship to creation it does not accept the label of Sin. This of course is a serious stumbling block to dialogue and finding common ground.
It is clear, primarily in Acts, that Peter and John spoke boldly, and with the spirit of God upon them, about Jesus, the resurrection and the forgiveness of sins. In Act 2:22-47, Acts 3: thru Act 5: Peter talks to the people of Israel. Acts 2:22 “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited to by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. ......and you with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead freeing him from agony of death, because it was impossible for Death to keep its hold on him. Even David spoke about Jesus in this way although he hoped that he “David” would not be abandoned to the Grave. “I saw the lord always before me .....my body will also live in hope because you will not abandon me to the grave nor will your Holy One see decay...”
As Peter continues we find that David died and was buried. David’s prayer (or desire if you wish) was to avoid death which he did not.
Acts 4 and 5 are interesting from the viewpoint of free market Capitalism. In Acts 4:32 “all the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. (34) There were no needy persons among them . From time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, bought the money from the sales and put it at the apostle’s feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.”
Now that this was a good thing cannot be denied but, as we move into Acts 5: 1-10 something not so good happens. Of course what follows is an opinion but it is one strongly held.
“Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but bought the rest and put it at the apostle’s feet”.
What happened next boggles the mind. Peter calls Ananias to account for holding out some of the money for himself and tells him he has lied to God. Peter does this without asking (i.e. how did he know) Ananias directly but declaring to Ananias the lie. Ananias terrified then falls down and dies. Great fear rises among those that knew of this betrayal. Later Ananias’s wife comes in and is immediately accused by Peter. She lies to Peter when asked if that was all they received from the sale. Peter tells her she will follow her husband and immediately she falls at Peter’s. feet. (11) “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.” Our Pastor clarified the importance of the lie, (to God) but I cannot read into the passage a direct lie to God but certainly Ananais’s wife lied to Peter. Back then your word was everything and bearing false witness was treated seriously (stoning).
I did not pick up on the lie to God when I originally wrote this segment. It was enlightening when (through his Sunday sermon) he talked about the ninth commandment “do not bear false witness” and the breadth of that commandment.
So, we enforce giving, by killing, those who share but not all of what they have to share. Although I have to acknowledge that it was the lie that was the issue, not the holding back of the proceeds from the sale. From my point of view today, death was a harsh punishment. But, back at that time, your word was all you had and people depended on it. It was truly a life and death choice.
On a practical note “free market capitalism” when everything is taken from Barry (rich) to give to Suzie (poor) sooner or later there is nothing left to give. This is the abiding promise of Socialism. Take from the rich to redistribute to the poor. The fault with this segment, Acts 4 and 5, is that God again shows his unforgiving and brutal side. Do as I will or lose salvation, die or have some other disaster beset you. These two segments clearly identify the underpinnings of the political side of the bible and of God. While no one wants people to be marginalized or be set aside and starve to death, enforcement of giving by threat of death does not teach the right lesson. And, it leaves a climate of immense fear which I would hope is not the objective. However, so far, fear and punishment are the primary tools of the bible.
Acts 10 and 11: Here God re-educates his people, both gentiles and the chosen. Circumcision was a part of their belief system as was the rules of unclean animals and baptism itself. “While Peter was speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.” “Then Peter said, Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have,” so he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
God’s message to all: No man who believes shall be considered unclean. “The voice spoke from heaven a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean”.
So Paul’s ministry in Rome ended. Even after accusations, beatings, imprisonment he was able to make his case and won his freedom. “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ”
Paul’s letter to the faithful in Rome preaches the Gospel “that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong.....that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith”.
Paul of course begins with “God’s wrath against mankind” heavily emphasizing the sinful and degrading side of mankind. He speaks to the law and to those who ignore or behave contrary to the law. Follow the law and have faith and you will be rewarded, violate the law and the wrath of God will be severely felt.
Adam was the first transgressor and brought sin and death to humanity. Jesus cleansed us of sin through his death and resurrection and brought eternal salvation for the faithful throughout eternity.
Paul believes that humans must turn aside from the sins of the flesh and devote themselves to the righteousness of the spirit and devotion to God.
Roman’s 6-12. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.....”But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
The blood sacrifice, the death of Christ, and his resurrection, have been from the beginning, the ideology of the faithful who accept the bible in it’s most literal interpretation. But what if Paul’s message of depravity, wickedness and sin, the message of blood sacrifice and death is a misguided message. What did Jesus’s life mean? Was he here to show us our failure or was he here to show us how to become fully human: spiritually, physically, mentally.
What was Jesus? Was it the miracles? Was it his focus on the marginalized, the poor, the sick and damaged? Was it that he continuously fought with the cultural norms of the time, the politics, the religions and the institutions? Did he seek to change the minds and hearts of his disciples who continuously failed to understand, to believe and maintain their faith that he was the Son of God?
The concern, no the issue, I have with Paul’s letter to the Romans is that it tells us where we have gone wrong, what we have done to sin, how we are led astray. It tells us what we are to believe, what our faith should be. It tells us to follow the one over arching commandment “Love (and treat) your neighbor as yourself”. What it does not do, and cannot, is show us genetically how to defeat death but can only ask us, by faith, to believe that following this path of faith will provide eternal life. Honor the original Covenant and you will have eternal life. Fail to do so and you will die and not experience eternal life.
The carrot could not get any bigger nor the stick any heavier. But despite my saying this I would never wish to take away the feeling of comfort and safety that belief in this path to salvation provides its believers.
Here Paul preaches to all of Corinth. First he addresses their separateness. “... so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be united perfectly in mind and thought”.
Significantly, Paul tries to remind them that their worldly wisdom is foolishness in God’s eyes, their craftiness is foolish, the thoughts of the wise are futile. Their foundation is Jesus Christ “for you are of Christ and Christ is of God”.
Then there is a lengthy teaching on the mystery of sex, immorality, marriage, eating, idols, and the lessons of the chosen people as they wandered through the wilderness.
Cor 10:7-10, “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were, ... We should not commit sexual immorality as some of them did - and in one day 23 thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did - and were killed by snakes, and do not grumble, as some of them did - and were killed by the destroying angel”. “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us.”
But the best of all was Cor 13: Love. If I fulfill everything and have not love then I gain nothing. 4 “Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails”.
The above does not need explanation, but a reminder could be a good thing as Paul is reminding the Corinthians.
Corinthians 2, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Thessalonians 2, Timothy. Timothy 2, Titus
James - Writing to the Twelve Tribes
Peter - Writing to the exiles scattered to the Four Winds
John 1, 2, 3 - Telling of what they had seen and heard - The Word of Life
Jude - an open letter “to those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ”
These letters reaffirm “The eternal house in Heaven” for all those who live and act out the faith through Jesus Christ. Follow the Ten Commandments, and believe through faith that through his death and resurrection we are absolved from our sins. God’s ultimate blood sacrifice for his people. This was the covenant from God and what was expected from the people to complete the relationship.
But do not be mislead. Paul’s message also includes our relationships among ourselves as we tend to achieve status among ourselves by boasting of our accomplishments, our wisdom, our superiority. We may plant the seed and water it to nurture its growth but God makes it grow. “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight”, “So no more boasting about men, All things are (already) yours”. But, there is still death.
Does Paul answer this? He addresses it in Corinthians 15: 12 thru 45
“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised , our preaching is useless and so is your faith ..... And if Christ has not been raised your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. .... If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (21) For since death came through a man , the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ the firstfruits, then when he comes those who belong to him. Then the end will come when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. .... The last enemy to be destroyed is death. ....
(29) “Now if there is no resurrection , what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? .... If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” ....
(35) “But someone may ask, “how are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” .... What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. .... God gives it a body as he has determined .... And to each kind of seed he gives its own body. ....
(42) So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory, it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power, it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”
More than one has expressed this same theme. If the resurrection did not occur, if Jesus did not defeat death, if eternal salvation does not exist, then our faith is futile for we are left on our own and tomorrow we die. Can our species survive and grow spiritually with only a Creator with only one God? Can we honor the ten commandments, honor Creation itself and honor each other and all life without the resurrection and without the carrot of eternal salvation? Must we be mired in our own sin with no escape?
These are tough questions, for the 20th century has been filled with war and genocide and every other abuse mankind has heaped on itself. It is or it is not worth the effort to walk through this minefield of human depravity and see if an answer can be summoned from the past or the present, if at all.
“The revelation of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. God made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw–that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ”.
The end of days. The four horsemen of the apocalypse. The list of life and those chosen for eternal salvation. And the end for everyone else as the angel of death consumes a third of all the people on earth. The end for a third of the ocean and the ocean’s creatures, a third of the sun, moon and stars blotted out, a third of the grass and trees destroyed. The seven churches notified of their fate, the battle of the angels in heaven, and the fate of all who persevered in their faith throughout the maelstrom.
The End and Yet the Real Beginning.
It is clear that approaching the bible from a technical perspective leaves one somewhat in a quandary. From our knowledge of some areas of science the bible either contradicts what we know or leaves one hanging out on a limb as we try to understand the stories of myth and history while bringing them into the 21st century.
Those that wrote the bible wanted the people to focus on the idea of One God and One God only. These are the gifts that God gave us. Now go and multiple over the earth and have dominion over everything. The twelve commandments are what is expected from us as we follow the path laid down. You have everything else you need.
If we lift ourselves out of the detail and redundancy then what we are left with is One God, a small set of instructions on how to live and behave, and a path to follow that will provide meaning to our existence and a way to defeat death and all that comes with our experience of death. God’s existence permits us to let go of our “It’s all about me and for me” self involvement and enter into a relationship with our creator. This relationship is not a slave relationship like the people had amongst themselves but a creative extension to the creativity God exhibited when he created us. When we choose this view it does come with not only authority but responsibility. The responsibility to honor the sanctity and dignity of each other and of all life.
Do we study the Cosmos, its beginning, its transformation, its ending because we believe we will finally understand? We research through the sciences what we are made of and how we work, how we are assembled. Some of us are the machinery of civilization, keeping it running. Some of us dive deep into the mystery of it all discovering the laws of the universe, the story of Genes and how we can make ourselves better, healthier, happier and more long lived. But long life without understanding is an empty goal. Defeating death achieves nothing without meaning and purpose. Of course I am jumping the gun, we are not there yet, but, the discovery and technology will be soon upon us. I can only hope that adulthood comes with such amazing breakthroughs.
The Christian idea of faith tells us that while we are waiting for such discoveries we can believe in an alternate narrative. That narrative is our relationship to God, through Jesus Christ, and living the life that Jesus tried to teach us. While eternal life is a concept fully entrenched in the Christian faith system, it does not do justice to the message of Jesus “You can do more than I”.
No one that I know has taken that statement to heart. Soon we will change life itself. Yes it is already beginning, but future advances will be truly profound. Finding our full potential will honor our creation, if, we can really feel deep within our being, our place in creation itself.
When I attend church and listen to both the pastor and the members it all boils down to belief, faith and the willingness to live the life of Jesus. While the stories in the bible stretch our understanding of what is possible or even feasible, at least from a scientific perspective, when interpreted from a faith perspective we get an understanding of our relationship to God and what is expected of us as children of God.
However what disturbs me most is that humanity still struggles with their essential humanity. Every religious group wants to be right, is right. Every religious group, in small and big ways, claims that the others are wrong. Leadership, when they want or need support from the people invokes their own religious thoughts, beliefs, and behavior. And the people buy these expressions of faith as if they are the guiding principles of their behavior. When in all respects the carrot being sought is simply power and control.
If this seems too cynical we have many, many, examples of misguided and/or corrupt leadership and a lot, in the millions upon millions, of dead people to march down the streets of the world.
A Shift in Perspective
The narratives (stories) attempt to weave the mystery of life into something we can hold on to and calm our fears as evil, sickness, war and death present themselves on a daily basis. The bible’s answer to our dilemma is belief and trust in the one True God. To surrender what we believe is our control and mastery to Jesus, to God.
I have had many discussions with true believers on what is under our authority and what is not. While it is a matter of opinion to what degree our co-creative status is or should be, the key here is an understanding of what powers we have that are either untapped or under developed. The question always comes down to these observations: “You are not God”, You cannot disarm death, you cannot create life, You are not perfect (you are in all respects a sinner, miss the mark, a failure in living the life of Jesus). So surrender your inflated opinion of yourself, it is not all about you, and give yourself over to God’s love and protection.
But in one sense it is about us. What we can be, what we can know, what we can do. The problem is these are not what the rank and file focus on. We essentially give up on these lofty goals, admit defeat, and focus entirely on our status as sinners. War, disease, disasters, bad luck, bad decisions all contribute to this state of mind. How can I consider myself blessed and not a sinner if I make bone headed, dumb, and even emotionally driven wrong or hurtful decisions. How do I reconcile all of the bad stuff happening in this world? This argument has always won the battle, at least in the minds of believers. But in winning the battle we have lost the bigger picture (the war so to speak). How can I teach my children (and anyone else who wants to learn) how to be fully human ? How? And what does that mean?
Fully Human. The capacity to face life, as it is, and with each response to what we are experiencing, that response reflects not only everything that moment contains but a deeper understanding of our participation in that experience. We are clear headed. And even if the moment cries out for us to feel fear or anger these emotions do not consume us. For it is what is in front of us that matters, not our history nor our future. To be able to face each moment as it is and not as we wanted it to be, or did not want it to be, allows us to fully embrace all that we are: our reflexes, our judgement, our understanding, our compassion, our humor, and our instant command of all the choices at our command.
If this seems too much, too grandiose, too ego driven. If this seems beyond most mere mortals, it is not. For those who would Glorify God with their belief, faith, and actions, learning these skills and putting them into practice every moment of your life embraces the miracle of your creation and reflects fully on your creator.
For who made you? And what for? I do not have those answers. But what I do have is an understanding of what talents we have long ignored. It is those talents, those skills that once learned, will, bring harmony to each individual that puts them into practice, and to every other person and life experience that individual comes in contact with. Does this make you a saint? Of course not. But it does send the nicest energy to everyone and everything around you. The changes in you will be noticed and embraced.
Can mastering these skills be an ego trip. Yes. But that just means the individual has missed the point of the effort. For it is to let go of who you are or were in the world of status, power and control and find your connection to every aspect of creation. Your participation and co-creator energies are sorely needed for we humans need to grow up and take care of our stuff, and each other.
The Stories and the Meta Narrative
Genesis: God created the Universe. He created the Sun, the Earth, the stars and all life. God created man in his own image and everything was ok for a while. While Adam slept God created woman from a rib of Adam and they were companions to each other in the Garden of Eden. They walked with God. But, they were told not to eat of the tree of knowledge. They ate from the tree of knowledge. God was not happy. Before they could eat from the tree of life God banished them from the garden and they had to make their way (survive) in the land outside of Eden. Death became a reality and sin was branded into their very nature. Cain and Abel were born. Much later Cain and Abel offered the fruits of their toil to the Lord. Abel’s was looked upon with favor, Cain’s was not. Cain was angry and probably depressed over how he was treated. Cain killed Abel (his brother!). Cain was banished to wander the earth but marked by God to preserve his life. Cain found a wife and had a son, Enoch. Cain named the city he was building after his son, Enoch. Adam lived 900 years and his offspring lived and propagated till the time of Noah. Noah lived 600 years and had three sons Shem, Ham and Japheth, until the flood. However the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old , men of renown. Time had elapsed, 1670 years from Adam to the time of Noah’s 600th birthday.
God was very aware the things were getting our of hand, violence, wickedness and a whole lot of bad behavior. He was more than mad, more than disgusted with mankind, he was really, really angry.
God said, enough! Noah was told to build an Ark to save his family and to house all life on land two by two, male and female. He did as he was told and when the Ark was finished the water rose and the rains came and their was a flood upon the earth, deep enough to cover the highest mountain by twenty feet. For forty days and forty nights the water came. All life on land died.
Meta Narrative: God breathed existence into existence, life into being and mankind in his own image. Man had it all and God created it all. But man fell and then fell again. What role God’s sons played in the downfall of man can only be speculated on. After 1670 years God said I am starting over, but not completely. He saved species after species including man, but everything else on land died. Man and all the life on land started over.
But, they were saved from extinction. Born into existence, in the image of their creator and failed to measure up, sinned and marked with this sinful nature forever, until Jesus. The entire bible spoke to the coming savior as Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, led the people but were not the ones to carry away the sin of man and free the people from the ancient curse.
But prior to Jesus man failed again and again. Where does the blame lie? Can we suggest that the training was inadequate, that the education of the people was incomplete? Not really. We are not allowed to even think that God could make a mistake. So mankind has taken the ownership of their Fall, their sinful nature from birth, beat themselves into the ground with the idea of Sin and looked elsewhere for salvation and eternal blessing.
The Exodus brings the people and God back together as he hears their cries of pain. God uses their plight and the time of their slavery and servitude to demonstrate his power and Glory and to make sure that his people see him as the one, and only, God of the people, God of existence, God of all.
The Exodus was a close call. Extinction was at the precipice as the people created the golden calf to worship, becoming very unsure and restless and fearful while waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain after talking with God. Punishment was severe both from Moses and from God. Forty years walking around in the wilderness to make sure an entire generation died off naturally was an important part of that punishment.
Finally they were led to the river Jordan and the land across the river.
The bible raises many questions and much can be learned by looking at the Bible through different lens. If we all agree that faith is and has always been the one unbroken measure of humans relationship to God, then opening a dialogue to explore some of the more perplexing areas can be a good thing.
In the Beginning and beyond to the End of the OT and the Beginning of the New
First and foremost. God created everything. Let that sink in for a moment. God created everything. An all powerful entity that exists out of time and space as we understand it brought into being....everything, including life itself. The first thing that comes to mind is: What is humanity’s role in this Creation Story? Is the Bible the direct word of God or is the Bible a saga of Man’s beginning and ongoing relationship to God. Must we treat the Bible literally or was it written by many authors to record their view of their relationship to God at the time of the writing which would require us to allow for the conditions under which they lived, their knowledge and world view(science, technology, cosmic), and culture (social, religious, political) of the writers.
Second. The Bible has two major themes. The Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament establishes our beginning relationship to God. And, leads us century by century, from our infancy to an adult relationship to God. The New Testament establishes what choices humans have and the consequences of those choices. “It is finished” At that moment Jesus gave up his life and balanced the scales freeing us from our sin. The blood covenant was ended, the sacrificial religious rituals ended, and we were given a choice to follow the path of Jesus or to not follow, without the threat of extermination. But with a caveat, Eternal Salvation, is it conditional or is it not?
The Dialogue -
* are we co-creators of our future
* are we forever mired in our sinful nature
* Can we follow a moral code based on our unity with creation and the creator
* what needs to change, what skills need to be learned
* Can a spiritual transformation change our sense of self and our relationships
* What is needed and then what is possible
* If a new approach is called for, how do we begin?
Being in the mind of God. Philippines 2: 2,5,6
“Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind”.
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus”.
“Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God”.
Being in the mind of God. Does this mean that we are Godlike or we have the spark of God within us?
If we go to God and repent we will be accepted, for God’s forgiveness is conditional but eternal. Why do we do this? To live on in eternity, with God. Why would we not do this? A great question, for it looks like the choice is simple. Salvation or death. If we lie about our repentance God will know our hearts. If we lie to ourselves, same result. Belief in Jesus is not a partial thing, it is a commitment. For all those sitting on the fence or resting comfortably on the other side, a decision is still called for. Commit to a belief or choose not to. Whatever path is chosen becoming a fully responsible human being is still a worthy and significant goal. For our species to survive we must learn to connect with each other and with creation. Separation is our enemy, power and domination our foolishness. Not only must we connect we must continue to learn from the bible and from science. While science has not provided the answers yet either, to assume religious victory and not pursue solutions is premature.
IS THIS THE END OF IT?: Faith or no Faith, Religion or no Religion, God?
No. Not until the hard questions have been answered. Why are we here? What is consciousness, Who is this “self”, where does awareness originate, How much of my world is an illusion made up by me (self?) To fill in the missing realities of my experience. Is our existence meaningless without salvation and an eternal relationship with God?
Why must these mysteries be resolved? Only some care. Many religious people I meet and talk to don’t care. Their world is resolved, salvation and eternal glory in the presence of God. But others do care and want to understand why they are here, what their sense of self is (a construct, an illusion?), what consciousness is, What made all of this?, does evolution solve our existence? And if so or if not what concept does?
Scientists of all disciplines do not pretend to have all or any of these questions answered. But a certain kind of individual refuses to give up searching, always moving from the unknown to the known while at the same time knowing that what is true (scientifically) today can be revised or even turned on its head by what becomes true tomorrow.
EXPLORING THE UNKNOWN
What is the unknown? Silly question you might say. And, you might be right, except for one thing. If we collect everything we do know and put it in a enormous pile and compare that pile with the pile we assembled over 2000 years ago, and then project into the future the pile we will assemble over 2000 years from now we will find a very interesting comparison.
What we did not know in the beginning became something we did know later on. What we knew in the beginning became something we did not know as our wealth of knowledge changed what was true then into what is true today. The problem can be phrased this way, “It is not what you don’t know that creates the problem, it is what you do know that just ain’t so”.
There is a revolution going on that shows itself in small but significant ways. These are paradigm shifts, a different thought or belief, something new from all that we have known or believed to be true. Sometimes the new insight takes your breath away, sometimes it is faced with fierce denial or strong refusal. But no matter the moment of resistance these paradigm shifts worm their way into the hearts and minds of so many, even all sometimes, and the old drifts away, and the new takes its place.
The emphatic rules and doctrines of the church are being held up to the light of the new knowledge pouring into our communities. From a leadership point of view though, only little trickles make it through. Thus only little changes are even possible. Very few are willing to move off the old paradigms and adopt the new. And yet some theologians and small groups desiring change write about and discuss our relationships with God and with each other in new ways, without, discarding our rich human history. The pressure is enormous to keep following the historical path. Very few want to be singled out and in some cases cast out for seeing things differently.
What are some paradigm shifts that can be singled out for discussion as a replacement thought or belief?
All of the Universe experienced the fall and the wrath of God. Original Sin marked humanity forever. Jesus died to allow forgiveness. If we repent and follow Jesus we have a path to eternal salvation, with all sins forgiven.
God is an other, judge, giver of life and a vastness of love that has to be felt not measured. God, as a wrathful God, is also taker of life should judgement arrive at your door. God sits on a throne and is an entity apart.
Some of our doctrine, our beliefs, our premises on what is true set a powerful foundation for all that comes after. When we buy off on these basic positions as statements of truth, all that comes after, book after book, lecture after lecture, sermon after sermon, discussion after discussion, we find that all teaching, learning and practices, begin with and end with the base premise, the paradigm that resists change.
All change meets resistance. Where it is most difficult to find acceptance for a new paradigm is when the existing one (or ones) fulfills a strong need for hope and the removal of high anxiety or fear. So pouncing on the sacred cows of our culture, our political system, our religions, better have a pretty good replacement that solves or at least makes better the unknowns and riddles of our existence. The very unknowns and riddles that strike fear and create worry at the mystery of it all.
Paul clearly states that if Jesus did not rise from the dead our beliefs are a waste of time, futile. A powerful view. A view that demands our full attention.
Lets unpack that view and try to understand it without rejecting anything about it.
From the very beginning humans fought against the very God that created them, cared for them, and loved them. For more than 2,000 years the people continually promised fidelity to their God and then failed to honor the covenants, over and over again. We all know the story. Genesis, Adam and Eve, the fall (the serpent talks to Eve) , banishment, death, and toil from the soil. Over time things got really out of control and then the flood (we start over). Then slavery, Moses, the Exodus, Forty years of wandering, and being taken care of by God. The new land, conquer and settle, the peoples failure, death and slavery again (Babylon), and finally allowed to rebuild Jerusalem.
Then a new path is envisioned. Mary and Joseph, the baby Jesus, Jesus grows up and goes off into the desert for forty days and nights, comes back home and begins preaching. Within three years he is labeled, arrested and executed on the cross. In three days he is resurrected, spends a short time with his apostles and returns to sit on the right hand of God. Later (60years plus), The stories about God and the peoples relationship with God are written, the bible is assembled and the church moves ever forward.
The messages to his people? Your sins are paid for. No one meets the father except through me, eternal salvation is yours if you will repent and follow me.
There are several key paradigms imbedded into this story.
God created everything, is all powerful, and expects glorification and reverence, and the honoring of the covenants, from his people.
In the beginning God was kind, loving and caring. Later he was disappointed, angry and wrathful. For a long time he ministered to the needs of the people but spent a great deal of time and energy being a disciplinarian.
God changes strategies, presents himself as human, forgives all sin through the death of Jesus and provides hope and salvation through Jesus resurrection. He defeats death.
What do we worry about, concern ourselves most with, and understand the least?
Our death, our purpose, why are we here and what do we do about it besides just living for ourselves. “For if all I do is only for myself, what is the point? It is all for naught, for I live and die without meaning.”
Now that is a big hurdle to overcome, if we were inclined to address it?
Can we indeed live with a larger picture? One that permits us to view our lives as meaningful and a part of the mystery of creation. Is it a foregone conclusion that we will always be reduced to living only for ourselves and thus ignoring how we fit in with and participate in the larger picture of life and creation? Is it necessary to carry the burden of “original sin” in order to control our behavior? Or “should we” change our view and carry the idea of “original blessing” from birth to death. Would that make a real difference?
It is clear that humans are a complex mixture of altruism, self centered behavior, love and hatred, and every other human emotion. It is also clear that what we call the good within us (sharing and caring about all things and all life not us) has been ingrained by parents and other folks as we grew up.
Which brings the issue of sinful behavior or downright evil into the picture. Are their levels of sin and thus levels of evil? And why is there sin at all?
Let’s face it we are programmable. Our dna betrays us, our choices cause us no end of grief and we understand very little about how we experience and respond to stuff in our lives. Learning to understand our moment of choice, without our history or fear of the future interfering with that choice, is a key element in our growth. Original Sin as the basic premise of our human nature, our view of ourselves, guides our sense of responsibility and accountability. What we are aware of at the moment of choice significantly impacts what that choice is and what action(s) we take. This I contend is an issue with our education. Can we learn to interpret our life experiences differently? Can we choose our responses as the circumstances demand and not as we want it or not want it to be? Our creator has given us a powerful set of tools. Is it not wise to learn to use all of them, to understand them, to teach ourselves? Such a shift from original sin to original blessing deserves greater dialogue. And while such a powerful paradigm shift will probably be immediately rejected, what may hold is the concept of “learning all of the tools” that our creator has given us.
I am continually reminded of Jesus’s message to his apostles “You can do more than I”. Understanding that message is part of the answer. John 12-14.
Quote from F. Buechner
THERE MUST BE A God because (a) since the beginning of history the most variegated majority of people have intermittently believed there was; (b) it is hard to consider the vast and complex structure of the universe in general and of the human mind in particular without considering the possibility that they issued from some ultimate source, itself vast, complex, and somehow mindful; (c) built into the very being of even the most primitive man there seems to be a profound psychophysical need or hunger for something like truth, goodness, love, and—under one alias or another—for God himself; and (d) every age and culture has produced mystics who have experienced a Reality beyond reality and have come back using different words and images but obviously and without collusion describing with awed adoration the same Indescribability.
Statements of this sort and others like them have been advanced for several thousand years as proofs of the existence of God. A twelve-year-old child can see that no one of them is watertight. And even all of them taken together won't convince anybody unless his predisposition to be convinced outweighs his predisposition not to be.
It is as impossible to prove or disprove that God exists beyond the various and conflicting ideas people have dreamed up about him as it is to prove or disprove that Goodness exists beyond the various and conflicting ideas people have dreamed up about what is good.
It is as impossible for man to demonstrate the existence of God as it would be for even Sherlock Holmes to demonstrate the existence of Arthur Conan Doyle.
All-wise. All-powerful. All-loving. All-knowing. We bore to death both God and ourselves with our chatter. God cannot be expressed but only experienced.
In the last analysis, you cannot pontificate but only point. A Christian is one who points at Christ and says, "I can't prove a thing, but there's something about his eyes and his voice. There's something about the way he carries his head, his hands, the way he carries his cross—the way he carries me."
- Originally published in Wishful Thinking
****************** ORIGINAL SIN ***************************
Often I have been in discussions with Baptists and Catholics where it was assumed I did not believe in God. I always responded with, nothing could be further from the truth.
From then on or for as long as I can keep their interest, we begin the serious dialogue of what is a relationship with God, why not surrender to Jesus (who died for our sins) and accept the resurrection (the defeat of death). Also we often get into a conversation about the human condition, our sinful nature or Original Sin.
In the Baptist Church that I attend with my wife there are three non-negotiable conditions for membership. 1) Acknowledge I am a sinner. 2) Acknowledge that Jesus died for our Sins. 3) Accept the resurrection and accept that the path to the Father and Eternal salvation is only through Jesus.
I am not a member but my wife is. I am not a member because I have not accepted the concept of “Original Sin”. I also do not participate in the Eucharist (the Blood and Body of Christ), within this church for the same reason.
Now there are several obvious concerns when the subject of Sin arises. Evil, what is it? Is Sin evil or Evil Sin? Have I sinned in my lifetime, ever? If I have then what is my reluctance to define myself as a sinner?
Why is it that I refuse to acknowledge that I am a sinner (from birth)? Aren’t I just splitting hairs. Since I admit that I have done harmful things in the past, made poor decisions, made mistakes, been careless and sometimes hurtful, isn’t that the same as committing a sin?
Yes, because it takes energy and commitment to not sin, to not hurt another. Often to avoid hurting another we have to give up something, a desire, a want, an image, a thing, a thought, a position. When we are separate from the world, from people, from life itself we tend to satisfy only our own needs and agendas, even at the expense of others. So, is it a sin to harm another, is it a sin to harm another life, is it a sin to harm our environment? I would think so, but an argument can be made that we have dominion over all creatures and all life. This position says that sin has boundaries. Does it?
We can kill for food, self defense, amusement. We can lay waste vast stretches of land (including the species that call that patch of land their home), to mine resources, to store waste, to convert existing plant life to edible plant life. We can harm and kill others in war but it is a crime in peace. We punish through laws and keep the peace through those same laws. In order to maintain a safe world we constrain our people through morality, ethics and laws. Religions guide and restrain us through moral teachings and God’s Laws. Breaking the codes of conduct, doing intentional harm, violating God’s Laws defines Sin. Breaking Man’s laws defines criminal behavior.
According to some religious teachings Sin is imbedded in each human. You are born into Sin and remain so until you die. Adam and Eve’s original sin brought evil to a place where there was none. However it should be noted that Satan was in the garden, one might ask why? From that point on the world became a twisted place, filled with violence and poor choices, idols and false gods. Sins of the flesh and sins of the soul. We needed to be saved and forgiven.
But is it wise to convince an entire species that they are flawed from the beginning, that their only hope is salvation through God (Jesus), that evil is imbedded in their very essence, their body and mind and spirit? To me the answer is no. In societies you pay for your crimes (Sins) and are released back into that same society. That payment is part of the consequences of bad behavior. Christian teaching allows you to save yourself by confessing and then committing to the Father through the Son, Jesus Christ. Repentance. Jesus died for our Sins thus saving us from our inherent flawed existence. Forgiveness. We will still be sinners but we are forgiven, forever. I don’t like arguing against faith. That is not what I am doing here, or at least not what I am attempting to do. Faith is pure hope. There is nothing that can or should be said to limit its mental, emotional or physical benefits. The issue is not with those that have deep faith in their God, their relationship to God, or their abiding hope for the salvation of mankind.
The concerns I do have are with biology, with education and with our understanding of how we interpret our experiences of life. We are the only species that can choose not to do harm, to not destroy, to not kill. And yet that is exactly what we do. We can choose to NOT put ourselves above another life and yet we do. We can choose to respect and integrate our wants and needs with other life and yet we are very careless with the execution of our priorities. It is not necessary to give our lives, or any parts of it, to another for their survival, yet we can choose to do just that. It is not mandatory to share and yet we do. The common thread here is that we can choose all manner of behaviors to help our fellow man or the other life we share this space on Earth with. Or, we can choose something else, ourselves over everything. Choosing decides the path we follow, the experience of the moment, and the outcome.
The question can be posed then, “If the Christian belief is the best answer for a safe, tolerant and kind humanity, how does the rest of humanity fit in?” All of the other religions, including the Buddhists, have moral, ethical and spiritual concepts. Even Atheists have a code of their own. And yet here we are living in a world packed full of crime and sin that bewilders any of us to survive it let alone fix it. A great question for me is simply “Is it still important to strive for heaven on Earth, or have we given up?” I often reflect on what it will take to change humanity (Myself first of all). What paradigm shift would work, to alter that path we are on. What has to happen to shift our focus away from the separateness we feel and live by a connectedness and inclusiveness that allows real caring and compassionate behavior, toward everything and everybody.
Side Bar: What is possible and What may not be.
In the last century we have had two world wars. The Korean war. Vietnam war. Multiple Genocides all over the world. Millions have died and millions have been injured both physically and mentally. The carry over into this century is dictatorships (death, genocide, persecution), religious terrorism with the accompanying death and destruction, and the threat of pollution (air, water, land) with its long range illness, genetic damage, and death. Individuals are running amok, killing for no purpose. We are a lost world, a lost people, a lost civilization. There is even the threat of nuclear war. Atrocities are everywhere and what we call evil is visible and rampant.
Looked at from this broader perspective our societies are a mess, misdirected and out of touch with our basic humanity. We do not educate (high school or college) our young people on the developmental phases they will meet on their journey. As a human being what are you going to face, how do you deal with it, what skills and awareness will you need to come out the other side with peace, compassion, wholeness and a certain connectedness.
The bible, eastern teaching, basic psychology tells you that at some point in time what you believe you are after a lifetime of living is no longer appropriate. At some point in time things are out of sync . This is often a very difficult and/or a dangerous time in your life. With the right mentor or teacher you will be asked to die to yourself so that your new self can emerge. This means you give up your identity (that you have spent your whole life creating), you let go of everything that defines you, and transform into something new. That something new is transforming. It is filled with the present, learns from the past and does not fear the future. You are nicer, more responsive to the moment of experience, less driven but more focused. You no longer glorify the past (it was all rainbows and unicorns) nor do you fear the future (lost hope) you are grounded in the present for this is all you really have. Yesterday was nice or better (no it wasn’t) but today is hopeless (no it isn’t). My glass is not half full, nor is it half empty (these are my opinion and judgment on this specific experience). My glass is half filled with water which I am about to enjoy as I quench my thirst.
So, with these observations, some very negative I admit, what are we going to do about it. I don’t believe getting rid of our religions has any merit. And yet the premise that we are all flawed and need to be controlled from birth has not worked and I believe it will never work. Humans are a complex mess of cells and bacteria that need careful nurturing, proper nutrition, education and guidance, and an understanding of where they fit into the big picture. This requires that those that do understand guide and teach those that are in need of a deeper understanding of how all life on this planet is connected, how the body, mind and spirit communicates internally and externally. And, how what we do to provide for ourselves impacts every life on this planet. This includes economic models, governing models, manufacturing, agriculture, distribution and waste processing. It is a complex integrated system and needs serious attention and revision to reflect every part and process dependency on every other part.
This kind of explains why I have such an aversion to declaring myself a sinner. I have a grasp of what is wrong with us and it does not help to label every human being with the identity of a sinner. We need a deeper understanding of what is possible, what is needed and the building of the education modules that will teach it all. No religions need be set aside, the human values we all subscribe to need not be set aside. We have been given a gift that for some reason has not made it to the top of our list of things to worry about or even concern ourselves with. It is the gift of awareness, of self discovery, and of connectedness to everything that is not us. Our creator gave us a set of tools, it is our responsibility to explore them, implement them, honor them.
Control can be an ugly word, filled with self serving, pride, even domination. It also presumes that whatever you are experiencing needs controlling. Yourself (anger, despair, fear), your surroundings, your relationships, others in the picture. Ever hear “get control of yourself!, you are out of control, get things under control or I will find someone who can!”. What really is happening is chaos, confusion, leadership vacuum, or even a lack of presence, not being (in the present). Is manage a better word, not really. What always works is for everyone to be present, a part of, connected to, everyone and everything. This is a form of surrender to the moment. Not yesterday or tomorrow but now.
This is one of the keys. How to teach and become tethered to the Now. How to recognize and feel this moment of reality and to be trained with the skills and knowledge to respond to what is happening Now. Letting go of the many distractions that may influence your response is part of the skill set. It is a frame of mind, a state of being, a way, a path, knowledge and a skill set, consciousness.
Letting go: This idea shows up all over literature. In self help books, books on enlightenment, psychology literature, and of course the bible. Control, for some a bad word, for others a mantra of behavior. Control your emotions, your behavior, your life.
To control I must of course have a need or desire to manage this very moment and everything around this moment. Whether it is my emotions or my behavior, or, the emotions and/or the behavior of those within this moment, I want to protect myself, achieve a specific outcome, or help in some way. But is control an illusion? Fear is a survival mechanism, so is anger. They mobilize our internal resources to deal with what we are facing. Everyone knows this. Fear may tell us to run even if running is not such a good idea. Anger may tell us to fight even if fighting is not such a good idea. So we talk about controlling our emotions when in fact our emotions can and do control us, at the moment of decision. At the moment of decision, that is point of it all. We can lose the battle if we hesitate at that moment of decision through fear or overwhelming anger. Seconds count. We are either in the moment or we are not. Our life, or the life of others may hang in the balance, in that interval between fear and anger and control.
Is there an alternative to control? Another way of being? Or, are we forever trapped in this state of control or no control? The bible asks us to surrender and follow Jesus. To give up our lives and follow him. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. The only way to the father is through me......Believe me when I say I am in the Father and the Father is in me....I tell you that whoever believes in me will do the same things that I do....”
Hidden here in these words, in plain site, John tells us that God has provided us with tools and abilities far beyond our normal lives. All we have to do is believe.
So the real difficulty is quite simple, to believe or not to believe “that we have been gifted”. To develop and shape these gifts, to live better lives. To find peace and compassion is not the pride of control but a state of being where we respond to the moment as it is. The fear and anger that many times gets in the way is allowed but no longer than is necessary to witness and let go. We are joyful creatures. To find pleasure in the moment, to be in the moment is all we can ask, God will handle the rest of it.
The New Testament - Matthew
Matthew’s story begins with the birth of Jesus. It was a dangerous beginning as Herod tried to find Jesus and kill him. Joseph was warned by the angels to flee to Egypt until those who would kill him were gone. When Herod died Joseph was free to return and ended up in Nazareth.
John the Baptist began teaching around this time to prepare the way for the Teacher. Jesus came to the Jordan River where John was Baptizing the people and asked John to baptize him. John resisted at first but quickly gave in and baptized Jesus. When Jesus rose up out of the water he saw God’s Spirit coming down on him like a Dove and a voice from Heaven said “This is my Son whom I love, and I am very pleased with him”. Then the spirit led Jesus into the desert for forty days and nights without food or water. Hungry and thirsty he was tempted by the devil. After 4 trials Jesus dismissed Satan and the angels came and ministered to him.
John was jailed and Jesus went to Galilee to begin to teach. On the way he chose Simon and Andrew and James and John to follow him. Amazingly they stopped what they were doing and followed Jesus.
What did Jesus teach? About behaving so that people can see the light that you shine, how not to anger, sexual sin, divorce, keep your word, turn the other cheek, love all people not just your friends, give in secret, pray quietly without fanfare, Don’t worry about tomorrow today is enough trouble on its own, don’t judge others God will do the judging - look to yourself before you look upon others, do unto others as you would have them do unto you,
Jesus heals many people. Some with a second message. Matthew focuses on Jesus healing so many and that Jesus reminds them that it is their faith that has healed them. And the stories, the teaching stories. What do I get from them and are they calling for a change, a change in me. Obviously we don’t want an action by action instruction on how to behave. Personally I don’t want to be instructed at all on how to behave. Except, for what I like to call the Meta-Instruction. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, Love your neighbor as yourself, give your word - keep your word, do not kill, Do not covet other people’s stuff, surrender your self to find your self, follow the path of Jesus”.
Of course this is simple, but it is not easy. It is not hard to understand, but it is not easy. Though the stories Jesus told are often obscure they can be understood by even a lay person like myself. But some are difficult. And some are even more difficult to follow.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its salty taste it cannot be made salty again. ......You are the light that gives light to the world.
A PAUSE - a friend sent me an email that I would like to reply to. I am answering it here because the topic is relevant.
Alan Watts - “The meaning and purpose of dancing is the dance”
If I am trying to answer the question “What is the meaning of it all, what is the meaning of life, why are we here, who cares what we do or how we do it?
Alan Watts - If the universe is meaningless, the statement that it is meaningless is also meaningless.
When we are calm enough and not so preoccupied with creating ourselves (according to our culture) and getting stuff or becoming important, then these fundamental questions enter our minds and cause us to wonder, to question and sometimes to seek the answers. To life, to death, and all they imply.
I wish I could say , right here, right now, that I have the answer. Christians have an answer - Jesus died for our sins, conquered death and provides a path to eternal salvation - follow Jesus and all that implies. But I do not. There are things I understand that can benefit the quality of life here, now. There are things I cannot understand but stand in awe of by their very existence. Is there meaning in suffering, in pain, in anguish? Is their meaning in Love, friendship, in creating, in work, in the dance?
Can I choose to be a part of life, the forest, the village, the community, even the stars and galaxies. Or do I not choose to be anything but separate from it all. The implications for both paths are far reaching, immense, profound.
We live with options and imagination as part of the macro world - stars, storms, volcanos, the sun and the moon, civilizations and black holes. But, we live in neighborhoods, homes and businesses, families and friends, and biological necessity. The meaning and quality of life is often limited by those boundaries but not necessarily.
The human developmental path is structured from inception and yet filled with options, imagination and the possibility of change. Our brain completes its biological growth at about 25 years. Our cells are damaged and die and are replaced throughout our lives. It is not wrong to say that we are replaced several times before we die. And of course that is the holy grail for humanity - we don’t want to die we want what God has, immortality. We die and that is why we ask, over and over again, what it all means, what do I mean, why am I here?
“The meaning and purpose of dancing is the dance” The meaning and purpose of living is the Life. What kind of life you ask? Your Life, the one you choose. To act out your “Pain Body” (Eckhart Tolle) through separation or choose acceptance in what you are feeling and let go. To choose focus and joy in what you are now doing or feel the drudgery and pain of toil you don’t want to do. To live in the past with its sometimes painful memories or to live in the future with hope or fear, or, to live in the present, the experience and circumstance of the now. I like the fun of learning how amazingly cells work, of how the cosmos was created, how and why humans think and behave. Even at my age learning is a joy, even as I diminish the joy is there. Doing and thinking is what we do, (not what we are), the Universe may becoming aware of itself through human consciousness. Maybe we just have to see the dance.
There is a Christian viewpoint (Elizabeth Johnson) that integrates Cosmology, or how we all got here and what we are responsible for, with the presence-death-and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I copy it here because it is relevant to further dialogue on a couple of points of view . One of which is Can we achieve a standard of morality, a sense of purpose, and a responsible stewardship guided by the gifts given to us or must we adhere to a centuries long belief that we are flawed. Are we an opportunity or a parasite. Can a shift in perspective, a paradigm shift, change the course of human behavior (for the good of all that is) or are we stuck forever, mired in our sinful nature. Is it not time that we answered that question for all future generations?
For God so loved the cosmos
When Christ became human, he also became part of the vast body of the cosmos.
By Elizabeth Johnson
This article appeared in the April 2010 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 75, No. 4, pages 18-21).
Created: Thursday, March 31 2016 3:39 PM
Source URL: https://www.uscatholic.org/culture/environment/2010/07/god-so-loved-world-jesus-and-environment
In our day concerns about ecology are rising. Climate change, pollution, and extinction of plant and animal species make us question harmful human treatment of the natural world.
One religious response has been to focus on the doctrine of creation. Since the whole world was created by God, who saw it was “very good” (Gen. 1:31), nature—sky, sea, land, and the creatures that dwell there—has great value in God’s eyes. Human beings, created in the divine image and likeness, are part of this community of life. We are put in the garden to till and care for it (Gen. 2:15), not destroy it.
For Christians, Jesus Christ is the center of faith, the ground of the church’s belief and practice lived out in his Spirit. If love for him can be connected with love for nature, a strong impulse for ecological care will result, in addition to the doctrine of creation. Does Jesus have anything to do with the cosmos? Exploring his incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection with this question in mind yields some inspiring and challenging answers.
Made of stardust
At the core of Christian faith is the truth that in Jesus Christ God became a human being to redeem the world. The gospel for Christmas day proclaims this beautifully: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The Word is God’s own self-communication, uttered from all eternity. Flesh means what is material, perishable, vulnerable, finite, the very opposite of what is divine.
Here is a most radical statement: God became material. Christmas celebrates a radical gift: The all-holy God personally joined our world of sin and suffering to save. This is known as the doctrine of incarnation, from the Latin in carne, “into flesh.”
Scientific discoveries have made clear that human flesh is part of the evolutionary network of life on this planet, which in turn is a part of the solar system, which in turn came into being as a part of a long cosmic history. This awareness of our natural history provides new insight into the cosmic meaning of the “flesh” that the Word became.
The prevailing theory in science today holds that everything that exists comes from a single blazing instant. Dated at 13.7 billion years ago, the universe began when a single speck exploded in what is rather inelegantly called the Big Bang, an outpouring of matter and energy that is still going on.
As this material expanded, its lumpy unevenness allowed swirling galaxies to form as the force of gravity pulled particles together and their dense friction ignited the stars.
Roughly 5 billion years ago some of these aging stars died. They exploded into great supernovas, which cooked basic hydrogen into more complex elements. Out of these clouds of dust and gas, some material reformed and re-ignited to become our sun, a second-generation star. Some coalesced into chunks too small to catch fire, forming the planets of our solar system—including Earth.
Three and a half billion years ago on this planet another momentous change took place when molecules coalesced to form living cells. Over eons these burst into creatures that would “be fruitful and multiply”: the advent of life.
Out of the Big Bang, the stars; out of the stardust, the Earth; out of the matter of the Earth, life. Out of the life and death of single-celled creatures, an advancing tide: trilobites, fish, amphibians, insects, flowers, birds, reptiles, and mammals, among whom emerged human beings—mammals with brains so complex that we experience self-conscious intelligence and freedom.
According to this scientific story, everything is connected with everything else. British scientist and theologian Arthur Peacocke explains, “Every atom of iron in our blood would not be there had it not been produced in some galactic explosion billions of years ago and eventually condensed to form the iron in the crust of the Earth from which we have emerged.”
Quite literally, human beings are made of stardust.
Furthermore, we share with all other living creatures on our planet a common genetic ancestry. Bacteria, worms, pine trees, blueberries, horses, the great gray whales—we are all genetic kin in the great community of life.
While human thought and love are distinct, they are not something injected into the universe from without. Rather, they are the flowering in us of deeply cosmic energies. In the human species nature becomes conscious of itself and open to fulfillment in grace and glory.
According to the Jewish philosopher Abraham Heschel, this makes human beings the “cantors of the universe,” able to sing praise and thanks in the name of all the rest.
Understanding the human species as an intrinsic part of planetary and cosmic matter has far-reaching implications for the meaning of incarnation. In this perspective, the human flesh that the Word became is part of the vast body of the cosmos.
Theologians have started to use the phrase “deep incarnation,” coined by Danish theologian Niels Gregersen, to express this radical divine reach into the very tissue of biological existence and the wider system of nature.
Like all human beings, Jesus carried within himself what Jesuit Father David Toolan has called “the signature of the supernovas and the geology and life history of the Earth.” The genetic structure of his cells made him part of the whole community of life that descended from common ancestors in the ancient seas. The flesh that the Word became thus reaches beyond Jesus and other human beings to encompass the whole biological world of living creatures and the cosmic dust of which we are composed.
This “deep” way of reflecting on the incarnation provides an important insight. By becoming flesh the Word of God confers blessing on the whole of earthly reality in its material dimension, and beyond that, on the cosmos in which the Earth exists. Rather than being a barrier that distances us from the divine, this material world becomes a sacrament that can reveal divine presence. In place of spiritual contempt for the world, we ally ourselves with the living God by loving the whole natural world, part of the flesh that the Word became.
For someone later revered as a spiritual savior, Jesus’ ministry showed a profound connection with bodiliness and the earth. Preached within a farming culture, his parables are salted with references to seeds and harvests, vineyards and weeds, rain and sunsets, sheep and nesting birds. He did not hesitate to speak movingly of God’s clothing the wild flowers with beauty. He even told of his dear Father’s concern for a dead sparrow fallen to the ground (Matt. 10:29).
Jesus’ actions, too, were remarkably physical. His healings placed people’s bodily suffering at the center of attention; he used his own spittle and warm touch to convey health. And how he fed people! Large numbers on hillsides and smaller groups in homes, where he was copious host and table companion, all knew his concern to satisfy their bodily hunger.
Central to both preaching and deeds was Jesus’ conviction that the kingdom of God is near. This rich Jewish symbol points to the moment when God finally reigns over the powers of darkness, so that the divine will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus’ ministry discloses concretely what this means: nothing less than salvation, the end of sin and suffering and death, the flourishing of all creatures.
This includes their physical dimension, for as the gospel stories show, bodies matter to God—all bodies, not only those beautiful and full of life but also those damaged, violated, starving, dying; and not only those of humankind but also those of the rest of creation.
Ecological theologian Sallie McFague summarizes what Christ’s ministry reveals in a pithy axiom: “Liberating, healing, and inclusive love is the meaning of it all.” Love, as Jesus enfleshed and enacted it, is the meaning encoded at the heart of the universe itself. The loving God's original and ultimate intent is fullness of life—not just for a slice of the world—but for all, including poor human beings and all living creatures.
For disciples who follow his “Way,” Jesus’ ministry grounds compassion for all the bodies in creation—not only those that succeed in their time but also those that are disparaged, judged unimportant or unacceptable, broken, or pushed into extinction. With this conviction, people can risk the struggle for life in a world where death due to entrenched poverty, violent injustice, and ecological insensitivity and greediness are a daily possibility for millions.
This perspective brings social justice and ecological care into a tight embrace.
Christ as the “first tomato”
The end of Jesus’ life in death and resurrection provides yet another chapter in the astonishing narrative of God’s immersion in matter. No exception to perhaps the only ironclad rule in all of nature, Jesus died, his life bleeding out in a spasm of violence.
Contemporary theology emphasizes that Christ’s suffering on Good Friday reveals God’s compassion with all who suffer throughout history. Crosses keep on being set up in the world, connecting the human race with the red thread of agony. In Christ God sympathizes and desires passionately that we take all the crucified peoples down from the cross.
This merciful solidarity is not limited to human beings alone. Nature, too, suffers: “The whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now” (Rom. 8:22). Christ’s suffering leads us to trust that the endless millennia of suffering and dying entailed in the process of evolution are accompanied by divine love. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without being embraced by the compassion of God.
Christian faith proclaims that the cross is not the final word. It blossoms into the tree of life: “He is risen, Alleluia.”
This Easter Good News has always involved bodiliness. Faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ affirms that it is not his soul alone which is saved from death but his whole body-person-self. Starting with a humiliated body laid in a tomb, the resurrection story tells of the creative power of divine love triumphing over the crucifying power of evil and the burying power of death.
What this means in the concrete is not seriously imaginable: “We see now in a mirror only dimly” (1 Cor. 13:12). Yet the empty tomb stands as a historical marker that the love of God, stronger than death, embraces biological existence itself and rescues it from annihilation.
The exuberant joy that breaks out at Easter comes from the realization that this destiny is not meant for Jesus alone but for the whole human race. The outcome of his death signals that a blessed future awaits all who go through the shattering of death, which is everyone.
In a terrific metaphor St. Paul captures this succinctly: Christ is “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). If you have ever grown tomatoes, you know the joy of picking the first juicy one. But there are more ripening on the vine and their day of harvest will come. Christ, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep, is like that first tomato!
Risen from the dead, Christ makes clear that salvation does not mean the escape of the human spirit from matter. Rather, our future will bring the transformation of our whole relational body-person-self-dust and breath together—into the glory of God.
Ecological awareness of our earthly and cosmic history impels us to extend this hope beyond its human scope to include a future for the whole natural world.
Since Jesus of Nazareth was composed of star stuff and earth stuff, and since his body existed in a network of relationships extending to the whole physical universe, his resurrection signals the beginning of the redemption, not just of other human beings, but of the whole creation itself—the whole natural world, all of matter in its endless permutations.
An early Christian hymn that praised the crucified Christ as “the first-born from the dead” also rightly declared that he is “the first-born of all creation,” including things visible and invisible (Col. 1:15-20). “In Christ's resurrection the earth itself arose,” declared St. Ambrose, the fourth-century bishop of Milan.
The Catholic liturgy of the Easter Vigil beautifully symbolizes this with cosmic and earthly symbols of light and dark, new fire, flowers and greens, water and oil, bread and wine. The Exsultet, sung only on this night, shouts, “Exult, all creation, around God’s throne,” for Jesus Christ is risen!
The hymn continues with a call to our planet:
Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor,
radiant in the brightness of your King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes forever!
In truth, the risen Christ embodies the ultimate hope of all creation.
Once when the famous U.S. naturalist John Muir came across a dead bear in Yosemite, he wrote a biting criticism in his journal against religious folk who make no room in heaven for such noble creatures: “Not content with taking all of Earth, they also claim the celestial country as the only ones who possess the kinds of souls for which that imponderable empire was planned.” To the contrary, Muir believed, God’s “charity is broad enough for bears.”
In the light of the risen Christ, hope of salvation for sinful, mortal human beings expands to become a cosmic hope, a shared hope. Love for the Earth and all its creatures flows as a response.
All hands on deck
Faith in Jesus Christ can provide rich resources for an ecological ethic that is critically needed at this time of Earth’s distress. In union with the love that creates and embraces all reality and is glimpsed concretely in Jesus Christ’s incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection, we need to shape our lives in the knowledge that nature is grounded in the sacred. Salvation encompasses not just human life but all life and the whole cosmos itself.
For billions of years the universe has had the character of an adventure, discovering and bringing forth new things never seen before. And the process is not finished yet. Human action that aborts nature’s possibilities by wreaking harm to ecosystems and other creatures is nothing less than a profoundly sinful violation against life. It shortchanges nature’s promise, killing off what might yet be. In so doing, it frustrates God’s own creative vision for the future of this universe.
In the light of Christian faith, Pope John Paul II wrote, we must so shape our moral lives that “respect for life and the dignity of the human person extends also to the rest of creation.”
French Jesuit philosopher and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin captured our moment of crisis in a well-known parable. The human race is on a ship moving through an unchartered sea. For millennia, human beings lived in the hold of the ship, unaware of the larger evolutionary processes moving the boat. Now the passengers have come above board. On the deck they see a tiller, navigational instruments, charts. They have crossed a threshold.
To an important degree, human beings are now able to speculate on the direction of the evolutionary process and even to drive the ship toward a conscious goal. Will they act responsibly and steer in a goodly ecological direction? Or will they crash the ship onto the rocks?
Belief in Jesus Christ has a great deal to contribute to a flourishing outcome, if it, too, comes up onto the deck. He is a gift given because “God so loved the world” (John 3:16). The original Greek of the word that is usually translated “world” is kosmos.
Yes, God so loved the whole blooming, buzzing, evolving, groaning cosmos that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection connects it forever with redeeming promise.
Is it Frustration or do I understand in a different way
No matter what I read, no matter what I take away from teachers and pastors, no matter what I feel deep down a few fundamental (yet still unsolved) concepts that are broadly accepted disturb me. Let’s declare for the moment the most obvious and accepted facts and beliefs that we all have been exposed to and many if not most of us have accepted.
God is real, powerful, omnipotent, omnipresent, all knowing
Humans are a fallen species (sinful from birth)
We die, We are not happy about that
We often miss the mark (Sin)
For most of our lives we are centered on the “self”
Our biological processes can fail, be injured, weaken
All religions expect us to honor Creation and a Creator
Not all religions believe that Jesus is the Messiah
Christians believe that Jesus conquered sin and defeated death
Heaven is real but access is conditional
God is not to be questioned
Follow the ten Commandments, in word and deed
Commitment to Jesus is the path to God and the path of salvation
We have free will, are therefore responsible for our behavior
We need to be taught (what to honor, how to behave and treat others, about the struggle of life)
We grow and develop slowly following a biological cycle common for all life
We are fortunate if we are taught what to expect and how to respond to the life cycle
The gift of the spirit of God is salvation and eternal life if we accept that Jesus is the channel, the gateway, to God. When we have been blessed to believe this, while we are alive on this earth, we will live righteously and with love toward our brothers and sisters and all life on this planet. But, do you need to submit to live a righteous life, can you be a good person, follow the Ten Commandments, be mostly in a non-egoic state (not consumed by the needs of the self over all others)? Yes you can, although for most (if not all) Christians belief in Jesus as the path to salvation is non-negotiable.
To be born again is similar to the transformation from self centered egoic living to a non-self response to the experiences of life. Meaning dealing with what is happening now without being colored by our ego’s need to make the moment all about us and not what it is really about, at this moment. This is called presence or extreme focus on the moment, whatever it is. This was one of the great gifts of Jesus: to be born again while the old self disappears as you take the first steps on your new journey. Other religions teach this non-self concept without the attachment of an extreme enemy, Satan. The cause of all of the bad things in the world.
Conceivably once a transformation has taken place, and the new journey undertaken, the bond between creation, the Creator, and the human become stronger and stronger. The good news is this connection remains for the rest of your life, the bad news is that it is non-transferable except through training and a mentor. Each human must reach the point of desire to enter consciousness by themselves. But that is not quite enough for the experience needs support and nurturing. If you are lucky someone or something (a book) helps you through the early stages until the letting go process is complete.
However, we are biologically in a prison so to speak. We must go through the development phases of our growth, without exception. It is only when our brain has ended its own quest for an identity created from its interpretation of all of our life experiences and accepted the okness of a no-self,no-body level of consciousness, that the transformation can begin and evolve.
What is this identity that from a Biblical perspective or from a Buddhist viewpoint needs transforming. It is the part of us that from 2 years old and on has said “this is who I am”. When faced with any life experience we face it with all of what we think we are, accumulated over our lifetime. Sometimes we are lucid and aware of what the moment is, we are clear headed with no distractions. If it is dangerous we spring into action, if running away is a better idea we run away, if gentleness is called for we are gentle, if an argument is developing we wait and respond with what is needed not what our ego demands from us. And yes demand is the correct word for it is always prepared to protect, to defend at all cost, our image of ourselves.
The entire Universe is expanding, bringing from nothing, something. This something is what we can see, hear, taste, touch, smell. For our lifetimes we have interacted with these somethings and created for ourselves an identity. This identity serves only one master (our attachment to the world of somethings) and that master is buried within. And over time that master seeks to preserve itself, against all odds, against all information to the contrary. For nothing is permanent, no matter how long the life span. Reconciling this well known fact with our need to preserve ourselves is difficult to say the least, almost impossible for some. We cannot logically escape, we can only move from an identification with objects to an understanding of our relationship to the evolving Universe. Are we following the pattern, the flow of all energy, or will we continue to resist. Will we understand that consciousness is the next great evolutionary milestone of the Universe, let go of our Ego (the buried master of our purpose and meaning), and let our consciousness become aware of the interconnectedness of it all and our true role in its evolving presence.
Before we pursue this at length lets take excerpts from the bible, from Jesus teachings to see how it all comes together, from a Biblical point of view..
The new Testament: Matthew, Jesus, Eckhart Tolle, Lao Tzu
Matthew 5.3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”: Tolle: No baggage, no Identification with things or mental concepts with a sense of self. Joy of Being when attachment to things is released, when identification with things of this world ceases”
Matthews 5.5 “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth”: Those not attached to defending their identity, or things. Gentle and difficult to anger. Able to see the moment as it is and respond as needed, peacefully.
Matthew 6.19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” All things are impermanent, all things of this earth cannot last. To attach yourself to them reenforces your ego’s identity and its failure to grasp the impermanence of everything and everyone.
Matthew - essentially let go of the 10,000 things (Lao), release your attachment and identification with the stuff of this world, your status in this world, and accept the impermanence of everything in this or of this world. Not an easy task. Salvation, following Jesus, replaces the idea of impermanence with the eternal. We die but not forever. For those who follow the path and believe, resurrection is not only possible but assured.
I, like the billions that have gone before me, do not wish to die. I am sure that when my time comes I will struggle against death. I may send back a message when I cross over although those who have died have not yet sent me the message I ask for, or maybe I just did not recognize it. What I do know is limited, what I do not know is infinite.
Break, lets talk a little bit, While I am not finished I have absorbed something of value and would like to share it.
Part of me resists the idea that I can only relate to God one way, along one path. This restriction from some branches of Christianity demands that I accept the concept of “sinner”. This is powerful concept and follows under the umbrella of "Original Sin” where we are sinners from birth. Of course anyone can list the behavior of humans, from the least obnoxious to the most horrific and wonder about my sense of reality. It is there for everyone to see and believe in. Evil is present from the least evil to the greatest evil. So why quibble about what is so obvious and prevalent?
In Galatians Paul acknowledges his former behavior. Very bad in some cases. The point is, we must all not shy away from openly talking about our sinful acts, for we are all sinners. But if this is the case how do we stop the cycle, if it is stoppable at all. If we found all of the people who follow Jesus, would those now be without sin? Or, Is it enough to be forgiven for Jesus died to save us. His resurrection defeated death and pointed the way for eternal salvation. But even Jesus said, “do not worship me, follow me”.
What does that mean? “I am the light and the way” What is he trying to show us? For even after 2,000 years, and written about abundantly, and taught extensively, we have not changed? Why? Are we forever flawed or is whatever is wrong still correctable? You may not agree with what I am about to explore, but the new dialogue has to begin as we integrate our new knowledge with centuries old religious teachings.
Our DNA is the map for every cell in our bodies. Each cell in its appointed time is born neutral but as the gestation period advances each cell assumes an identity and travels to the correct spacial coordinates in the body and begins to assume its designated role for the whole human structure. As soon as an organ achieves the right initial mass it participates in the group functioning of the entire assembly. And when the time for birthing comes the baby is introduced to the outside world in a manner that can only be described as traumatic. This is an amazing self organizing process that allows a human being (and all life) to become aware, to be spatially defined and to function in the world they were born in. Genes turn on and off as required to allow the cells to build the right proteins at the right time in the right sequence.
I cannot over state this self organizing principal. There is an intelligence here that guides each cell to function as required, repair itself, die if necessary which is called Apoptosis, and be replaced as surrounding cells replace the fallen one. It is interesting that cellular suicide began in the early gestation period which allowed the body parts to shape themselves and get rid of the unnecessary cells. All is not suicide however. Mitosis, the creation of a new cell to replace the fallen one, balances out the system. So it is a delicate balancing act between Apoptosis and Mitosis to keep the whole greater than the sum of its parts. This survival strategy is acted out billions of time a day. I have not mentioned premature damage and death of a cell, called Necrosis, this is a destructive and painful injury due to unplanned events. A great many things happen to repair injured tissue which I will not go into here. Note that the Apoptosis and Mitosis dance is painless and strategic and guided by the unknown intelligence, Necrosis is not painless, not strategic but still guided by a damage assessment and repair intelligence. This entire process is amazing, awesome, and some combination of how did all of this originate anyway?
How did sin enter into all of this?
I do not know, but we can explore some of the processes our bodies and minds go through to speculate about the answer. It is obvious that we are careless, make decisions that not in our best interest, cause intentional and unintentional harm to others, wreck havoc on our home planet, exterminate other species, poison ourselves and the environment, and are generally clueless about our role on this planet and what we are here for. Under these circumstances is it not wise to dialogue about alternatives? Of course it is and much of that dialogue is going on. Good people are struggling, researching and defending all species, including ourselves, from the onslaught of unconscious, and destructive human beings. Three words, unconscious, self, aware. They are a part of us but they do not need to be all of us.
We are all unconscious to a degree. It is part of our brain structure and processes. I have AFIB and have tried to regulate my heartbeat into a normal rhythm. Normally this is taken care of without my conscious awareness. While I can calm myself down and enter a more restful state I cannot yet regulate my heartbeat directly. So what I do is try to maintain a calm awareness of my overall state of mind and not mind whatever happens. It is good news that all of our internal functions and processes continue on without conscious effort on our part. If we had conscious control over everything imagine the chaos as we were overwhelmed by the billions of thing that had to be regulated. So I stick to the high road approach. State of being, state of mind, aware, and act accordingly.
What we become conscious of becomes our reality, if we let it.
But as a baby just starting out consciousness begins with I. I want, I need, I don’t like, I am afraid, I am angry. I love to watch a baby grow and experience their world. They view themselves as the center of the universe and although dependent on these humans outside of them they fight against this dependency until they learn otherwise. Solely concerned with themselves they have to be taught to share, to care, to love.
We are biologically bound to our development as a human being. Something so basic as the integration of our sound interpretation mechanism with the plasticity of our language center allows us to learn to communicate. The associations build up, the coordination expands and this amazing bundle of flesh becomes a walking, talking boy or girl. From zero to 2 years of age it is all me, take care of me, feed me, pay attention to me, and yes love me. From then on the big I, me or my sense of self, grows and grows. With each passing experience the I becomes more dominate while still including all those close that nurture and protect this developing I.
The self has to establish itself. The I has to grow. The child’s identity has to develop and expand. This is the biological catch 22, for at some time in the future the I that references everything to itself for survival must now give way to an inclusiveness that is no longer an isolated I separate from everything else but a participant that is part of creation itself. This big picture transformation brings a different level of awareness into the life and behavior of each individual. Being conscious is now more than “I see you”, it is now I am here, present, and I see you”. Consciousness brings you into relationships not as a separate being outside of relationships. The ego within you is necessary, as long as it does not run the show. The ability to be present and to have your presence felt means that your ego is not dominating the moment (meaning the past or future is not dominate). We all want to survive, we all want not to be harmed in any way. The idea that we do not mind what happens means that we can be a part of the moment without fear, anger, hate or regret clouding our decisions with the past or the future. How does this help with sin? I am glad you asked.
Our fundamental sin is our I separate from all else and all other I’s. We reference everything we experience and everyone we experience it with against this I. Am I safe, what do I want, will I be hurt, does this hurt my image of who I “THINK I AM”? We must create this I to function and protect ourselves in the world we exist and live in. This separation stays with us until something happens to awaken our desire to no longer live this life of separation. It becomes a choice to awaken, become conscious, to not allow our ego to govern our behavior. This process is a process of transformation. From the decisions we make guided by our
ego, which is itself governed by the past and anxiety over the future, to the decisions we make guided by our level of presence in the moment. Not what we didn’t get, or got what we didn’t want but how does this moment need us to respond, as it is. Our level of presence in the moment decides the outcome.
From a Christian perspective we sin because it is a part of us from birth. From the first fall God marked us with a fixed life span, and death. Original sin, no escape except through Jesus whose death and resurrection brought us forgiveness and salvation. The biblical story however does not say we will stop sinning but only that we are forever forgiven.
Part of the Christian answer is that we have free will. Meaning we have the power of choice and I agree that at some point in time we will exercise the choice to become conscious and aware but we are and have been guided by our genetically organized developmental path. At certain stages of our life we can understand more than we could a year or more ago. Free will is still guided by our stage of development which means our decisions are shaped by where we are in that process and how much we understand about who and what we are. Regretfully our free will has boundaries which is defined by the phrase “When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man I put away childish things”.
Another view is that with awareness, taught through all educational leadership (secular and religious), the pattern of separation lessens, the decisions become more in tune with the present moment, and our state of mind is no longer governed by our ego (which is only worried about itself).
This does not mean we can defeat our original design. We will still go through our development and growth cycle, but we will become much more aware throughout the process, understand our connection to all of creation, and as we grow make better and better decisions. Thus the pain we experience and let loose on our world will lessen more and more with each generation. Not an immediate fix but a longer term transforming process.
What am I saying here? I have just stated that our biology determines our level of consciousness for in our growth we have to develop an ego, the self above all others. This self protects itself in everything we do, all of our relationships, and in all of our thoughts. We literally grow up to be self centered, self protective, separate. As we navigate this state of being we make errors, Relationship errors (hurt others), behavioral errors (do damage or harm), act emotionally when triggers from our experiences stab into the heart of our self image. We respond not as the moment demands but as our ego interprets the moment. This is usually negative, sometimes aggressive, but mainly either supportive of our self image or an attack on our self image. It is this state of being where we sin the most. Pure evil is an extreme symptom of this way of being in the world.
So even though I am saying that we have to go through our genetic development process, I am also saying that we can transform into another state of mind, state of being in the world. Jesus says “I am the light and the way, with faith you can do more than I, let go of your worldly attachments, follow me”. Almost all of our theological and spiritual leaders (centuries earlier) also advised : let go of your attachments, you are not your things, your status, your relationships. Describe yourself, that is not who you are. “Enjoy and accept the moment, do not mind what happens, respond as the moment desires not as your ego demands.” What does this gain you?
Nothing material, but peace of mind and freedom to live fearlessly. You will still face unconscious people but they will not direct you in any way. A natural way to move through the world of things, status, and relationships. As time goes by you will truly not mind what happens, and, you will accept what this moment requires of you.
Note that this does not require you to take control, make up your own rules, invent a new theology, seek out a new religion, make up your own value system. You are teaching yourself to follow the path.
Sunday, in a Baptist church, our pastor gave a sermon on Galatians, but specifically on Galatians 2: 17-20. Everyone got it, old and young alike. This is the first time I have heard this from a pastor or a priest and it resonated with everyone. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God”. It is not your works that define who you are. Let go of your identification with your roles, status or the 10,000 things of the world. Your identity through Jesus Christ can never be taken, destroyed or decay. Unlike your attachment to this world and your place in it, high or low or some place in between.
By the way, I am fully aware that I have tried to explain this state of being thing many times and many ways. But like all shifts in our state of mind we never arrive, there is no there there. It takes practice, for this moment is only a moment and the next moment is yet to be. Is this too difficult to understand? For Christians salvation is a forever thing. Once saved, meaning surrendered to Christ, forever saved. When you sit before God on the final judgement day, no matter how long that is, you are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, not by works but by faith.
Yet this Earth is where we live and where we die, and though salvation solves the emptiness of death for eternity it does not solve the human dilemma, our biological imperative. We must go through the development cycle that is dictated by our dna, our genes. How do we navigate what has been given us, how do we continue to explore with an understanding that what we know now will change and may not be true tomorrow.
Faith and the ten commandments define a state of mind, compassionate behavior, and a way of life. The transformational state of being, meaning the shift from an exclusive I to an inclusive I defines a state of mind, compassionate behavior, a way of living. Are they opposed to each other? Does the existence of one negate the value of the other? Do you think God would mind if both served a useful service to humanity?
No, No, and No. It is not a conflict, they are not contradictory, and humans need more help in understanding our biology, our healthy attributes and our much less desirable drives and behavior. We each have been given a gift, some more than others. Up until now we have viewed humans as flawed, taught through christian theology as sin. The gift of awareness, pure consciousness, has only guided the life of a few. And thus sin dominated our world view, our everyday view, our concept of who we were and what we were capable of.
Nothing can replace our development cycle. This is where we err the most while we grow physically, mentally and spiritually. Full consciousness, full awareness, can be taught but the shift in consciousness is not an arrival, not a destination, but a process that needs our attention, a path we take, a journey without end.
How does this level of awareness and consciousness translate into day to day life? Does it help or does it make things more difficult? You get to choose, day by day, moment by moment. The simplicity of it all, including faith, makes one wonder why all of humanity is not on the same path. And just so we are all talking about the same state of being the path can be described in this way: I am what I am, now. Tomorrow I will be what I am, tomorrow, and each moment, each event, each living experience will require something of me. What will that be? The answer is within me, and at the moment it is required, I choose, every day, every hour, every moment. And within all of this I am connected in every way to the world I live in. There is no regret, no anxiety, no anger, just presence, showing up with the best response I am capable of. I cannot promise enlightenment. Nor can I explain the comfort and feeling of salvation. I can say that a shift in consciousness brings with it a powerful change in the type of energy we each carry around, and, the type of energy we express to all those we interact with. It also affects our responses: less or no fear or anxiety, less or no unnecessary anger, less or no regret, more patience, compassion and love, more paying attention and listening. What ever the task, whatever the experience of the moment we can accept it, enjoy it and/ or be enthusiastic about it (Eckhart Tolle). What does the moment require of us? Everything we are capable of, with an attitude of presence and kindness and paying attention.
The Developmental Cycle and the case for a paradigm shift
All life has developmental challenges. We are not the same. Genes within our dna turn on and turn off or do not turn on at all. The quality of our physical and mental growth is determined by those very genes. Our family, neighborhood, and culture have a strong impact on how we use what we are given. The process is incredibly complex, amazingly self organizing and hopefully whatever does go wrong we can adapt to deal with it. Not always, but with help every life’s potential can be realized.
One of our flaws is the comparison game we play early on. Johnny is smarter than Fred. Suzie is pretty but sally is prettier, Jack is the fastest guy in 10th grade, Janet can multiple numbers in her head, Phillip runs his own business at the age of 12, Robert’s brother got his PHD while Robert learned welding and became an iron worker. We can accept the accomplishments of others and enjoy the best they and we have to offer or we can envy others and feel the unfairness of it all. What is in us that chooses the latter rather than acceptance and is it a real choice. Does it come down to survival and the will to live or with humans is it something much more simple.
Developmentally we create an image of ourselves from the beginning. That image grows with each life experience. Our family, friends, foes and literally everyone else participates in the enhancement or degradation of that image. As we develop biologically so we develop psychologically. We grow into our ego, a complex mixture of our presumed wins, losses, starts and stops, failures, successes, and opinions on all of the above. We and others judge every aspect of our lives. To us, our ego, opinions matter and are in effect our reality. But do they, are they? Regretfully yes. Because, and here is the tricky part, our ego becomes a separate entity in our conscious and unconscious mind. Literally it spends most of its time protecting, justifying and defending its very existence. Lots and lots of behavior stems from our buried ego and its protective mechanisms.
Comparisons and envy are by themselves normal. Unless something inside of us considers the comparison a threat. Then, for a developmentally challenged individual the options for solving this problem mushroom. This can include a wide range of behavior from sabotage, to destructive behavior, to personal attacks. The story of Cain and Able mirror this. Cain and Able submit their offerings to God. God looks with favor on Able’s but criticizes Cain’s. Cain is envious at Able’s better position with God so he does what any surviving ego might do, he gets rid of the threat by killing his brother. This is evil and sin by one standard it is a developmental flaw by another. Every entity involved had choices. Able could have taken care of Cain in front of God, Cain could have asked God what he could have done differently, God could have taught Cain about offerings instead of rebuking him. There were quite a few options, not exercised.
Is all sin a developmental issue? In one sense yes, absolutely. We are bound by our level of consciousness, awareness and understanding of our relationship to all of creation. We are also limited in one respect do to where we sit on the ladder of growth. How we understand our relationship to everything around us is based on what rung of the development ladder we are resting on. Some things my grand children know and understand I did not grasp until later in life. So this is not an age related thing, it is an experience and age related thing. Five people can have the same experience (on the surface) and all five can have a different level of understanding, a different interpretation of reality. This because it is what is on the inside that creates the story around an experience, not the outside.