Category Archives: Theories on the Word

Two-fer Tuesday: Extra Mustard by Deacon Blue

So, I let Miz Pink pick the topic this Tuesday, and it’s my fault that I’m posting our Two-fer Tuesday stuff almost at the end of the day, mere minutes from midnight, meaning it’s almost Wednesday. Partly my day has been busy; partly I wanted to see what Miz Pink would say about her passages from Matthew before I spouted off on another mustard seed parable, the one with which probably more people are familiar:

“Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew chapter 17, verses 19-20

Or this one from the Gospel of Luke:

“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ The Lord replied. ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.'” Luke chapter 17, verses 5-6

I’ve always believed mostly, and made my points about these passages, based on the idea that what Jesus was saying that we don’t really need much faith to do big things, but that even so, most of us are so rooted in the real world and our daily troubles and doubts that we cannot even muster up a mustard seed’s size worth of faith.

I still do believe that is part of what he meant, but I also now believe, after taking much of the day to digest Miz Pink’s post after she sent it to me, that there are other layers as well. Two of them, at least.

First, something I read here, which says that the mustard seed is “probably the most tightly packed seed of all. There is no place for air inside it. Later we shall see that air is the dominion of the devil. As a result it can withstand high pressures and high temperatures. Your faith may not be an all encompassing faith, that fills the totality of your personality, being and activity. Initially it is restricted to only a certain section of your being or personality or activity.”

Now, I’m not sure if Jesus really knew horticulture all that well. I know he is the only begotten son of God, and had access to all sorts of knowledge, but I’m not so sure he was pulling on such complex knowledge of the seed and expecting anyone to get that reference. But still, it’s an interesting point, so I thought I’d share it, and I think it is reasonable to think that Jesus might have hid something just this complex, deep and mostly incomprehensible to his audience in there for future generations to discover.

The second extra layer of this mustard seed parable is this: I don’t think it’s all about the size, but about where you go with your faith. Thinking of the fact that Miz Pink points out the mustard plant’s weed-like nature, and the fact that weeds grow like, ummm, weeds—I think that perhaps one of the bigger things Jesus might have been getting at in this parable is the potential for growth.

That is, the mustard seed starts small, but can grow much more abundantly and ambitiously than you might think such a small thing would be capable of doing. So, having faith the size of a mustard seed is to have a faith that might be small now, but has the potential and likelihood to grow much more. To grow to the point that you could make a mountain move with but a word from your mouth. But most of us don’t have the fortitude to generate that kind of growth. Most of us are seeds that produce, at most, a small flower or a blade of grass.

In any case, I have yet to produce the mustard-sized faith that Jesus talks about. Instead, I’m stuck with ketchup and relish, but as with all things, I will forge ahead with what I have and not be all “woe is me” about what I don’t have. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll find that mustard seed in me one day.

Old school part 3 – Look at them muscles!

Got so many things I’m juggling now topic- and series-wise in this blog I done forgot all about my “Old School” series on the Old Testament. Just a quickie today, and our star this time is Samson. His tale is told in the Book of Judges (chapters 13-16), but you can get a good summary about him at Wikipedia here if you’re not already boned up on the story.

OK, so do I buy this story? Absolutely.

I don’t have any quibbles with this story and I don’t feel any need to qualify it or couch it in “reality” or find a “plausible” explanation of anything in there. Samson was who he was and he did what it was said that he did.

And some of you shout: “But Deacon, c’mon! Magic hair? You mean to tell me you believe that Samson had his strength because of his long hair and lost it because his second wife Delilah cut it off? Jeez you’re a simpleton.”

I don’t have a problem with the Samson tale because he didn’t have magic hair. The hair doesn’t really matter when you get down to it. Not in and of itself, anyway. The issue here was obedience and faith. Samson’s hair had nothing to do with his strength except insofar as God had instructed that he not cut it. Much like in the Garden of Eden, God gave a really simple rule, and like Adam and Eve, Samson messed around and broke faith with God. And that’s why his strength went away.

Samson got cocky, he got involved with a woman who was drop-dead sexy (and married her for pretty much that reason alone it seems), and he ended up thinking with his dick and his pride in the end instead of keeping faith with God. So he told Delilah the secret of his strength and she cut off his hair. You could argue that since he didn’t cut his own hair off God should have let him keep those turbo-boosted muscles, but the point is that Samson didn’t take God’s rule seriously. He gave in to Delilah’s pestering and put himself at risk, and I guess he just figured it wouldn’t matter and God would just protect him.

But that’s the story of the Hebrews and God throughout the Old Testament. He saves them, they get complacent and disobedient, He lets them get enslaved or conquered again, they get to a point where they beg for help, He saves them…and the cycle repeats. Samson was a real person but he also served as a metaphor for the Hebrew people as a whole.

It isn’t until Samson is bound to those pillars at the end of the story, when he reaches out to God in faith and humility and sorrow, that his strength is returned. And it ain’t because his hair had grown back by that time, even though that Wikipedia entry I noted above sort of suggests that.

It’s because he had faith, and God answered that faith because it came from Samson’s heart.

God can be a hard father at times, but He does love us and does listen. But first, we have to listen to Him. 

Click here for Part 1 of the Old School series
Click here for Part 2 of the Old School series

Old school part 2 – Got an umbrella?

Today, we’re going to tackle the Great Flood. You know, Noah. The ark. Two of every beast. His sons and their wives? 40 days and nights of rain?

As we all know from the Bible, God was quite wroth with mankind for being so nastily sinful and for completely disregarding His will, and so He flooded the whole Earth and killed everyone and everything that wasn’t on the ark, and…

(Chuckle. Snort. Heh he.)

*Ahem* And those folks repopulated the Earth to the level of species diversity we have today, and billions and billions of people, and this was some 6,000 or 7,000 years ago. And so…

Ummmm….

And so this…

Hah ha. BWAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Heeeee. Whoo!

I don’t think so.

Look, I’m not saying God didn’t bring a flood. I’m not saying there wasn’t a Noah or an ark. What I’m saying is that while I don’t think the tale is metaphorical, given that Jesus actually preached Noah as a real person and wasn’t a person prone to lying, I don’t think it’s precisely as cut-and-dried as most fundamentalist folk would have you believe.

Look, there is just no way the ark that Noah built would have big enough for two of everything. Also, what about all the trees and bushes and stuff? I think 40 days of flooding would have done a number on the foliage, don’t you? And this very small sample of humanity and husbandry was able to spread across the world in several thousand years? Look, God can work big miracles. But this shit just doesn’t jibe with history and the archeological evidence of primitive people at all.

So, what did happen? I see two most-likely scenarios.

First, God did indeed flood the whole world, but it happened millions of years ago. That’s a nice simple answer. As I mentioned in the post for Old School, Part 1, the family trees laid out in the Bible likely skipped over untold numbers of generations to focus on the key predecessors to Jesus.

Second option is that God flooded the “known world” of Noah and the folks around him. That is, God flooded a very, very large region of land, most likely in the Middle East, and everything pretty much played out as described in the story. I still think this would have happened far more than 6,000 or 7,000 years ago, but way less than a million.

Frankly, I like the second option better. The thing about God is that while He can do very large, dramatic miracles, He doesn’t generally do that. God’s much more into subtlety and long-range planning. He prefers to put people and events into motion to create a chain, sort of like a huge bunch of dominoes that knock each other over across an unimaginably large landscape to form innumerable possibilities and eventually knock out certain results that God wants.

One of those results—the most important result of God’s planning in fact—was Jesus. God picked the Hebrews as His “Chosen People” for a number of reasons, but one of them was to define a specific group from which Jesus would be born. And it took a long time to get events to play out for the people and time and circumstances to be right for Jesus’ entry into the world.

What I believe is that Noah and his neighbors were one of the earliest precursors to the Hebrews. Way before Abraham and the first covenant and all that. God intended those people to keep on breeding and growing and eventually producing what would be his officially Chosen People when the time was ripe. But they were a foul bunch and not fit to bring forth Jesus at any point. People were just that bad. Seeing that there was only one really righteous man, Noah (and presumably his family was at least nominally righteous), God wiped out the rest of the folks in the region to start with a clean slate.

This makes the ark a plausible vehicle and the two-by-two crap no longer looks like crap. Yes, some repopulation was necessary because new entries of animals from other areas would take a while, but there was no need to repopulate an entire world—only the world of the pre-Hebrew folks that God had to mostly destroy to make the path to Jesus’ birth possible.

Click here for Part 1 of the Old School series

Hell? Yes!

So, yesterday I started on the topic of Hell and whether or not people actually choose to be there and, for that matter, why the freakin’ hell we should even have Hell. Well, if you were around for that post, you might have noticed I spent a lot of time talking and didn’t get nearly far enough.

This time, I’ll try to get in some biblical passages to back my ass up a little instead of just providing links to past posts of my own that bear relevance on this topic, so this will probably be an even longer journey than yesterday. An important part of today’s post is found in WNG’s comment to me a couple days past, and in particular one thing she said:

I overheard a discussion this weekend about whether or not hell is actually empty. The two gentlemen discussing the matter weren’t close enough for me to eavesdrop completely but the gist that I got was that God’s love and forgiveness are all encompassing and offered forever, so basically you’d have to CHOOSE to go to hell. I thought hmmm…

Now, I’m sure most people would, upon really thinking about this shit, also say to themselves, if people choose to be in Hell rather than simply being sentenced there, who the hell would go to Hell? The truth of the matter is that it is sort of a combination of being sent to Hell and choosing to be there, in my humble and non-divine opinion.

First, a person chooses to not accept Jesus as their savior, and this choice basically put you on the elevator car going down. By not choosing God’s way, you put your soul into Satan’s hands. I know, that seems a bit harsh—eternal punishment because maybe you didn’t hear about Jesus or no one really told you about him in a way that was truly meaningful. Also, the whole eternal damnation thing itself seems a bit out of line with pretty much any offenses one could possibly commit in a single lifetime on this planet, even if your name was Adolf Hitler or something. Eternity is a damn long time.

And here we need some clarification. Hell isn’t eternal in and of itself. It actually gets thrown away into something the Book of Revelation refers to as the Lake of Fire (Revelation chapter 20, especially verse 10 and verses 14 & 15).

And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. … Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Yesterday’s post provided a link to my post titled End of the Line? and you can look there to see my more complete argument on that front. But the short version is that I suspect that anyone in Hell (at the very least those who weren’t around there when Jesus descended into Hell for a few days and they heard preaching from his own mouth) still has a chance to repent before they stand before Jesus on Judgment Day.

I’ve seen arguments that Hell is where you suffer with images of your impending doom and the Lake of Fire is where every lost soul is utterly destroyed. But I don’t get the impression that the soul is something that can be utterly destroyed. Also, isn’t that pretty mean of a loving God to torture you with images of your destruction, then destroy you, having given you no hope of redemption? That kind of two-step punishment is cruelty entirely out of step with a God who would let His son be a sacrifice for our sakes instead of lifting Jesus off that cross that he never deserved to be on. If God wanted to destroy you, wouldn’t he just get straight to the ultimate penalty? So, I so see Hell as being a place where you are separated from God’s grace but only as a means to give you that final “Don’t you get it yet?” before you go to the place where you will never get out of, namely the Lake of Fire, in the hopes maybe you’ll have a saving epiphany.

Still, you might argue: Who would choose to stay in Hell and be discarded for eternity and an endless separation from God? True, I should think a short stay in Hell would be more than enough to make it clear that it’s not someplace you want to be (unless Satan is making it look good to fool people into thinking his way is still a good choice, which certainly is a possibility). But even if it’s a really horrific place to be, does that really mean that before you go before Jesus to be judged, you’re automatically going to accept him as your savior because you endured suffering and are facing the prospect of more of the same?

No.

Because it’s about accepting Jesus. It’s not about being afraid of punishment and saying “Please save me.” It’s about saying, “I’ve sinned against God and I am sorry and I want to be a child of God…please lift me up and guide me on that path.” If one doesn’t accept that they have wronged God and rejected God—and they don’t seek to be reunited with Him through Jesus—there will be no forgiveness. And that isn’t because God is cruel but because you won’t do your part. The parable of the prodigal son in the Gospel of Luke chapter 15, verses 11-32, is something worth mentioning here as an example of that, because the younger brother comes back not to demand anything or to justify his actions, but in humility. Yes, he doesn’t return until he hits rock-bottom, but that’s the way some people have to roll, just like many alcoholics don’t seek help until they truly crash and burn. The point is, the prodigal son doesn’t come back with excuses and doesn’t assume he’ll be welcomed back as a son (figuring he’ll only be worthy to act as a servant), and that is exactly why the father does take him back.

God can reach out to you, but He expects you to reach out too. And I think that is fair. I also believe that a lot of souls in Hell are not going to be willing to accept accountability. They will act out of fear and self-preservation and justifying their actions and making excuses (see, for example, the Gospel of Matthew chapter 7, verses 21-23):

Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.

And the decision to defend their wrong decisions instead of atoning for them is a choice that will keep them in damnation. Too many people think their deeds will get them into Heaven instead of realizing that it’s their faith that will do that. And plenty of people in Hell will believe that they can still talk their way into Heaven by explaining why their works were good and why those works should be enough.

And the fact is, even if my musings in the Party that Never Ends? post that I linked to in my post yesterday are accurate, and Satan has put a nice facade on Hell to convince you to stay and party, I don’t think it’s like God is going to just let a lie like that go without a challenge. I think souls will be told, “Satan is lying to you and there is something better for you if you just admit that you’ve done wrong and listen to Jesus and accept his sacrifice for you.” But I also think that even if that is so, there are people who will cast their lot with Satan because they will gamble that things aren’t as bad as God says they will be and that maybe Satan really has a chance of winning. Because they want the petty things they have always clung to and won’t reach out to be lifted to something better.

There is also an interesting concept put forward in The Sandman: Master of Dreams mature comic series that ran from 1989 to 1996, and that is that everyone in Hell is there by their own choice and not by God’s design. The gist is that many people expect punishment and end up in Hell because that is what they secretly desire. Either because of their belief in a punishing God or their own internal sense of worthlessness, they simply cannot have a satisfying afterlife if they don’t suffer torment for their perceived sinfulness. I don’t think this is the way of things generally speaking, but it is an interesting concept and it might be that some people go to Hell for that reason as well.

Despite all I’ve said over the past couple days, it’s probably still going to appear cruel. After all, why should people who didn’t hear about Jesus have to go to Hell for that, for any period of time, instead of being judged on their personal merits?

I don’t know. That is, I don’t know why…and I don’t even know if that’s how it really happens. I just don’t know. My father-in-law, who is a reverend, has a theory that some people are born again and just don’t know it. In fact, he believes there are people who are born again and aren’t even Christian or even Jewish for that matter. And that may be the case. Perhaps there are people who have other faiths but know deep inside there is something wrong with them (sin and separation from God) but they don’t know exactly what. They simply realize deep down that they aren’t getting the answers from their own faith, and maybe people like this are considered to have accepted Jesus because they seek him without knowing who he is exactly or how and where to find him.

There’s also the possibility that Hell might not be a homogeneous place. Maybe those with seeking hearts but who haven’t received the gospel end up somewhere more contemplative than punishing, even though they might remain separated from God until the final judgment. Pure conjecture on that though, even more so than most of what I’ve presented so far. 

In the end, my point isn’t to try to convince you of a certain vision of Hell, only to show how it is possible that people might choose Hell, explicitly or implicitly.

And whether I’m right that it’s really our choice or whether I’m wrong and God is capricious (which just seems so unlikely to me), all I know is that it’s a hell of a choice.

And I pray that none of you reading this make that kind of decision.

…finally, if I may overuse the “hell” puns a bit more…it’s taken me a hell of a long time to get to the end of this topic. Apologies for any dry, achy eyes out there.

Oh. Hell?

Hell is pretty much the 400-pound gorilla in the middle of the room known as Christianity. It’s impossible to ignore and sometimes even more difficult to explain. On the one hand, we have a supposedly loving God the Father and a forgiving son of God—and yet, there is this place of eternal torment that both are willing to send folks if they don’t accept Jesus’ sacrifice and God’s dominion.

Yeah, I know, it seems pretty weird doesn’t it, when I put it like that? But I do believe that Hell exists and I do believe that there are people who end up there. Now, this post, for those of you who aren’t regular readers or didn’t read comments a couple days ago on one of my other posts, is something inspired by one of my readers, WNG. I had been intending to do a detailed and specific post about the nature and necessity of Hell anyway, but her comment got me off my ass finally, and here’s what she had said in my post Opinions are Like Assholes just for context:

I wanted to ask you a question – sorry it’s comepletely unrelated to this post…I overheard a discussion this weekend about whether or not hell is actually empty. The two gentlemen discussing the matter weren’t close enough for me to eavesdrop completely but the gist that I got was that God’s love and forgiveness are all encompassing and offered forever, so bascially you’d have to CHOOSE to go to hell. I thought hmmm… they were quoting scripture at each other rapid fire and I didn’t have a pen so I’m coming to you with???? What do you think? And where should I be looking in the Bible for answers? I think this is a really interesting question (especially since I’m been having some trouble forgiving lately). If you’re not interested no harm, no foul and sorry for taking over your blog!

Now, WNG hits on some of the major sticking points about Hell, which is why I wanted to repost her comment above. It might also be useful if you read the following posts by me about Hell (the last two of the three are really a two-part discussion and are even more speculative than the first of the three): End of the Line?, The Party that Never Ends?, and It’s a Trap! I really recommend that you at least read End of the Line because it impacts directly on some of what I will discuss about the permanence of Hell (or lack thereof).

Something that is pretty clear from all three posts above, though, is that there aren’t a lot of clear answers about precisely what Hell is or how it all works. But there are reasonable assumptions one can make based on human nature and God’s nature.

First, let’s get God’s love out of the way. God does love us. This doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have rules, though. And consequences for that matter. If you look back at the Garden of Eden (which I talked about here and a little bit here, too), what God wanted was children (us humans) who would choose to love him. The goal was to create a spiritual family, something God didn’t have in the angels, who were created to serve. Now, that free will to choose God or not, to love Him or not—well, it’s pretty meaningless if there is only one choice. If God is the only choice and obedience is the only option, free will is entirely a sham.

So, God had to provide a way to rebel; a way to reject him. When Lucifer rebelled and was ultimately cast down to Earth as Satan, that provided a being who could be a counterpoint to God. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil provided the initial means to disobey (other rules would follow as both means to show our obedience and as reminders to us of how the vast majority of us cannot motivate ourselves to obey anything God tells us to do). Sadly, Adam and Eve made the choice for all of us by being the first to disobey and to choose Satan’s way over God’s. Instead of being an ongoing option for humanity, Adam and Even polluted the whole situation from the get-go and made all of us, essentially, Satan’s pawns instead of God’s children.

This is why in the Old Testament the Hebrews refer to God as Lord and why in the New Testament, the shift is to call Him Father, with Jesus as our Lord and our heavenly sibling.

God loved us enough to put a plan in place whereby we could be washed clean of our sins, and that was the placing of people and events that would ultimately lead to the birth of Jesus and then his sacrificial death for us as a symbolic lamb in the same vein as the actual lambs that Jews had sacrificed to God before (Satan thought he had God beat in the Garden of Eden, but God wasn’t about to let us go without fighting for us). Essentially, we gain entrance to Heaven not by our deeds, because too often, our deeds are in conflict with God’s law, but rather through the good credit that Jesus possesses. The juxtaposition of prison/damnation/punishment with good credit/bad credit is odd, I know. It a mixed metaphor, really. But the fact is that Jesus co-signs for our eternal reward. His credit is that good. But God the Father isn’t going to let you cash in on His son’s credit unless you actually acknowledge that (a) there is a God in Heaven who is in charge and (b) you accept his son as Lord and Savior with a recognition of Jesus’ divine nature and an appreciation for the horrible sacrifices Jesus made for us out of love for us (suffering persecution; enduring crucifixion; taking on the spiritual pain of all sins committed in the past, present and future; being cut off from contact with God for a time; and going to Hell for three days to preach to the lost souls there even though Jesus had done nothing worthy of setting a single foot in Hell).

Whoa, I see this post is already getting long, and I’m beginning to think I’ll have to finish this tomorrow, as there is so much set-up before I can even get to the issue of how people choose Hell. So let me finish up a bit on love I guess, and then we’ll get to the rest of it tomorrow.

God is indeed love. It brings Him no pleasure whatsoever to see anyone go to Hell. But He isn’t going to give people a pass just because. Giving us free will means that there must be consequences as well. The fact is, I don’t think God keeps anyone in Hell. The damned have kept themselves there—or in many cases will keep themselves there when the chance comes to leave Hell. Because God is just, I believe that no one is going to stay in Hell without having been fully informed of what the deal is and how they can get out.

I know many preachers will say that there is no excuse for not hearing about and learning about Jesus in this day and age but I think that’s a cop-out for people who don’t want to really evangelize and want to feel better about not doing their part. If a person is raised a certain way, they typically aren’t going to be in a position to think of Jesus as anything other than a fanciful notion or a direct competition to the faith in which they were raised and continue to be devout. For God to hold that against a person and not give them a chance to truly know about Jesus and accept him seems indeed to be cruel and petty, and that’s not the kind of God I can envision if God really loves us.

Also, I know there are those in the predestination camp who argue that God has already picked out everyone who is going to Heaven and everyone who is going to Hell and I think that is bullshit because it flies in the face of us actually having free will to choose God’s way or not.

Love is at the center of what God does. But just like with any good parent, we as children often don’t recognize the love that lies behind the rules, the correction and even the punishment. And our failure to accept the love and to continue to cling to our own conceptions and our own desires is what ultimately dooms many of us to Hell.

More on that tomorrow in my post Hell? Yes!.

Old school part 1 – You’re aging well

So, today I begin that long-promised series on Old Testament “oddities”—that is, those things in the Old Testament that in many cases make people go Hmmmmm even more so than the miracles in the New Testament do. I had originally figured I might tackle things chronologically but I think instead I’ll bounce around as the mood hits me to tackle one story or topic or another. We’ll be spending most of our time in Genesis and Exodus of course, but given the more “mythological” feel of those two books, I doubt that will surprise you much. I’ll probably do one of these “Old School” posts a week or so; certainly no more than two in a week.

So, what’s on the plate today? Creaky knees, sagging breasts, bent backs and lots of complaining about how things use to be in the old days. Yup. Aging. More specifically, those incredibly long lifespans in the early biblical days.

Adam supposedly lived 930 years, while seven generations later, Methuselah clocked in at 969 and then a couple generations later Noah hit 950. Enoch, supposedly the seventh generation, died young at 365. By and large, after Noah, lifespans took a big dip but still were several centuries long. When we get to one of the next big names of the Bible after Noah, and that would be Moses of course, he lived 120 years, long by today’s standards and certainly by the standards of his day too I’m sure, but certainly a figure that most of us can swallow more easily.

So, I’m going to call bullshit on those 900+ year lifespans aren’t I?

Nope.

I believe them. Yup, I’m taking this one on faith mostly, but there are some logical reasons as well (granted, the “fact-based” arguments rely on some faith-based assumptions, but it’s logical nonetheless). When God started off with Adam and Eve, things like illness were not part of the equation. I’m not even sure if death was part of the plan and if it was, I’m sure it was intended to be a much different process than the messy ones we go through on this planet. Hell, childbirth wasn’t supposed to be as messy as we know it.

God told Adam that to eat of the fruit of that Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil meant death. And He spoke truly. When Eve and then Adam bit into that fruit, they brought death into their existence. Not instant death, though. That’s one of the reasons Satan went after Eve first. He knew that the fruit wasn’t going to kill Eve right away or even short-term. And he knew that when she realized that, she was going to tell Adam. And Satan knew that was going to make Adam doubt God, which would otherwise have been pretty tough to do considering how tight Adam and God were. And that was the first step to disobedience and sin. And Adam bit. Literally and figuratively.

What happened was that first off, Adam and Eve killed off a major part of themselves spiritually. God intended us to be spiritual beings, even though we were clothed in bodies. That spiritual death was a major blow to humanity because it meant a fundamental separation from God. We also opened the door to illness and pain and all kinds of suffering, which pleased Satan to no end, since he hated us from the moment God told him He was going to create us.

The reason, I believe, for the initially long lifespans, even with illness and death coming into play, was that despite death entering into Adam’s existence, he was still close enough to his original spiritual self to have a hardy body and a long lifespan. It is the subsequent generations that brought a progressive weakening of that reserve and a steady descent into being almost wholly beings of the flesh, with only the barest smattering of our spiritual selves left. Note also that, the men of the Old Testament who were the more direct descendants of Adam also had their first children at advanced ages, often after they had lived a century or more. The biology of humanity was a very different thing then, clearly, and probably closer to God’s original intentions. After the Great Flood (which may end up being part 2 of this series), lifespans took a major nosedive, but let’s also remember how sinful and degraded that generation was. So even though Noah was righteous, the human gene pool was pretty polluted by sin and what there was to work with wasn’t all that great.

Now, you might say, “Oh, Deke, you must also be one of those folks who thinks the Earth is 7,000 years old and shit.” Nope. I don’t believe that at all. I think Adam was created quite a bit more than 7,000 years ago. I won’t get into all of that too much in this installment, but those folks who lived so long, even in the generations immediately following the flood, were long before the recorded civilizations like the Babylonians or Egyptians or anyone else of the region. From what I understand, Jewish genealogies are sometimes “abbreviated” for the sake of convenience, with the lesser or insignificant generations excluded. And even if that hasn’t been the case in recent millennia, I think it was for the genealogies in the Bible. Quite a few more generations existed that the Bible tells us of in my humble opinion. I suspect Adam goes way back to Homo Erectus or Cro Magnon times or somewhere in that epochal neighborhood. We’ve had a long time for Adam’s blood and Eve’s to help build humanity, and also a long time for the deadly nature of that fruit to worm its way fully into our biology.

The fruit has fallen far from the tree, as it were.

Truth of the matter

Soon, I’m going to begin periodic posts about the Old Testament that are designed to dispense with some of the likely nonsense and put many of the stories from that part of the Bible into a more realistic context. I won’t post every day on this subject, but it will likely be a very long series overall, given how much ground I have to cover.

Before I get to that, let me be clear about something: While I believe that the Bible is the Word of God, I don’t subscribe to the notion that every single word is literal, particularly in the Old Testament. I don’t have my head in the sand. Much of the Old Testament is thousands upon thousands of years old and derives from documents and/or oral traditions that don’t survive today. Unlike the New Testament, the consistency and accuracy of which is supported by thousands of existing ancient copies of the documents in multiple languages—and which also benefits from having been written in a time when historian was actually a legitimate and respected job—the Old Testament has clearly had to go through a lot of changes over the years.

Bible purists may lambast me for that, but wait. Yes, there are portions of the Old Testament Bible that are prophetic and those I readily accept as being God’s word spoken directly through that prophet. And there are historical books like Kings and Chronicles that, while not always 100% accurate on numbers and other things, are likely to be accurate about the larger points. Genesis, however, is one book in particular where I think that while God may have passed the stories on through Moses or someone else, the bulk of it is symbolic. And there are others as well, though Genesis will probably be mostly what I tackle.

Did a Great Flood occur? Probably, but I don’t necessarily think it covered the whole world? Did Adam and Eve alone spawn the entire human race? Not so sure about that either. And so on.

So, what I will do is try to give some of my musings and theories on what might really have happened in some of the more mythological-seeming Old Testament stories and how they might really be brought into a more realistic context.

None of this dilutes the truth of the Bible. That some of the older things may have been symbolic is hardly surprising, as people of the time would have been hard-pressed to understand things the way they were presented, much less be hit with information the likes of which we have access to—and comprehension of—these days even with an elementary school education.

There is truth…and then there is TRUTH. The Old Testament is mostly about explaining where we come from and why we failed God and how we chose over and over to reject him. It sets up the need for the Messiah and is meant to be a lesson for us. That, my friends, is truth.

The TRUTH in big bold letters is the New Testament, because it’s the current and future covenant with God and a key to finding the path to salvation.

I hope the clear up some of the truth, so that the TRUTH will come easier to you if it isn’t already part of your life.

It’s a trap!

OK, time to put yesterday’s post, The Party That Never Ends?, into some perspective. In writing that possible scenario of what Hell might be like, I was inspired by the classic “Be Careful What You Wish For” philosophy. Or, perhaps, the “If It Sounds Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is” adage. Also, inspired by any number of TV episodes, short stories and the like where the protagonist desperately wants something to be one way but finds the reality isn’t so great after all. Let’s take a few plots from the original “Twilight Zone” TV series as examples:

  • Aliens visit Earth and offer to begin taking people to their planet. Everyone is happy about this, all the more so because the aliens are carrying around a book titled “To Serve Man.” Great, they want to help us! The first batch of humans goes on their merry way and one of them, after a friendly alien urges him to eat more during the voyage, realizes that the book “To Serve Man” isn’t a philosophical treatise or mission statement. Instead, it’s a cookbook on how best to prepare humans to eat them.
  • A very farsighted, introverted guy wishes people would just disappear so that he could be alone to enjoy his books. He finds one day that everyone is indeed gone and goes to the library, whereupon he stumbles on a step, his eyeglasses shatter, and he realizes he won’t be able to read a single word of any books now.
  • A man makes a deal with Satan for eternal life and indestructibility, thinking, “Hey, if I can’t die, he can’t claim my soul…ever.” Satan makes his life so miserable, making the indestructibility such a strain and a curse on the man, that he simply gives up and asks Satan to kill him, thus forfeiting his soul.

See a trend?

What looks really good on the surface may not be so good over the long run, or even the short run sometimes. Now, yesterday’s post may seem to put Hell is a potentially positive light. Big Man of Raving Black Lunatic suggested as much in the comments, saying that it makes Satan look like a nice guy. Big Man is right to a large degree (and thanks for pointing out the fact I didn’t make the bad implications clear enough), because I was making a subtle point and trying not to write an even longer post than I already had, and my overriding point may have gotten missed. So, let me clarify, because you definitely don’t want to go to Hell.

Let’s assume my musings yesterday are on the money and Satan has made Hell into party central for many (maybe even most) folks. If so, he ain’t doing it for your benefit. His sole mission is to oppose God, and taking souls away from God is only the first step. Satan hates humans because God set them up to be His children and to be set above the angels, including the demon formerly known as the covering cherub Lucifer. Because God loves us and wants us to choose Him, it hurts Him when we don’t. I imagine it hurts Him a lot more to know what Satan has in store for us when we choose to reject Heaven. If there’s a party in Hell right now, it’s going to end at some point, and rudely.

Satan is a liar of the worst kind. And if what he’s offering looks good, it’s only to mask something much worse down the the line.

And even if there’s a party and Satan doesn’t stop it and suddenly reveal all the demonic torturers he’s had hiding in the shadows, believe you me that he will find a way to make sure you get so sick of that endless party that you will wish you never had to party again. I mean, you might like to sit at your XBox 360 till all hours of the night, and if someone told you you could do nothing but play it and they’d make sure all your other shit got taken care of and send food into you, that might sound great. Up until the point you’ve played all your games several times, get up to head out, and realize the door is locked and it’s going to stay that way forever.

Satan wants you in Hell, and he wants to keep you there. As I theorized in an earlier post, End of the Line?, Hell might not be the end of every damned person’s story. I won’t go into the details of why I think that there’s still a chance even then…so just read the old post…but there is a point of no return eventually, and it’s called the Lake of Fire. So think about it. If Satan wants to keep you from getting to Heaven, and if there is still a chance even in Hell to redeem yourself by the time Judgment Day rolls around, what’s the best way to keep you from choosing Jesus even in Hell?

Give you what you think you want. Wouldn’t that be the nastiest trick ever?

As Big Man points out, the Bible does refer to Hell as place of torment and punishment at times, and the guy in Hell wishing for a drink of water from the guy over in Heaven is one example. But I still think a lot of talk about Hell in the Bible is symbolic because it is so vague on particulars. I believe it is meant to convey that Hell is a bad place to go, but doesn’t necessarily tell you all the reasons why. But maybe it was fire and brimstone and pitchforks back in Jesus’ time…after all let’s remember that prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, there were a lot of people in Hell because there hadn’t been a savior and most people didn’t meet God’s criteria for salvation. All that time Jesus was dead and before he rose back up, he wasn’t resting, folks. Most likely, he was in Hell spreading the Word of God and letting the damned know that it was time to choose a side on their own: Him and salvation, or Satan. Jesus didn’t die and go to Heaven. He didn’t finally get to Heaven until he rose from the dead and tied up some loose ends on Earth.

As my End of the Line? post suggests, I suspect many would still have rejected God’s way out of spite, even with Jesus there teaching them there was a better way and a better place to go if they would accept him as lord and savior.

It’s entirely possible Satan has changed up Hell a bit since then. In the Old Testament times and during Jesus’ lifetime, Satan wouldn’t have any reason to make Hell look good. As far as he could tell, he had it made. He wasn’t expecting Jesus. He didn’t realize what God had up His sleeve.

Now that Satan does know, it seems entirely possible (though certainly not definite) that he might make Hell seem a lot more attractive now. At least for as long as it takes to get the souls in his grasp so twisted up that they never look toward God at all, or to keep them distracted until everything foul gets tossed into the Lake of Fire and thus the ultimate damnation…the truly eternal separation from God.

That party doesn’t look so fun now, does it?

The party that never ends?

“Why go for Jesus? All the fun people will be in Hell.”

That’s not a verbatim punchline as far as I know, but it’s the jist of a lot of stand-up jokes about the relative value of living for God in this life vs. living for oneself. And it’s funny, I’ll grant you. Any decent comedian can get at least a chuckle from me with a joke like that. Really, I do have a frickin’ sense of humor, folks, despite being a born-again Christian. Lewis Black, George Carlin and everyone in the Original Kings of Comedy tour rank really big in my comedy pantheon.

And you know what, I might even agree with the joke. A lot of the “fun” people probably are in Hell, and they might very well be having the time of their afterlives right now.

It’s a popular notion that Hell is all about torment and gruesome punishments but let’s face it, the Bible makes analogies about Hell; it uses imagery. Nowhere does anyone, to the best of my knowledge, really give a detailed description of what Hell is and what goes on there. Dante had some fun playing around with the concept in The Divine Comedy, and the Sandman series of mature comics (a literary classic in its own right) also had some interesting opinions on what Hell is and why people really end up there, particularly in the “Season of Mists” story arc.

I don’t necessarily believe Hell is about tormenting folks directly. I think Hell is about making the wrong choice for eternity and putting your heart and soul into bodily pleasures rather than earnestly desiring something better. I think it’s entirely possible Satan has made Hell a very fun place for a lot of lost souls. Party central. I imagine he didn’t make many (if any) rules for people to follow. Which probably also means people probably abuse each other in the name of pleasure, too, but that’s a whole other story. You can probably get as much food, drink, drugs and sex as you could possibly want. And you’re already dead, so nothing to worry about, right? Pleasure without judgment or consequences. Every man and woman can reach for all the pleasures they couldn’t get in life and more. Fun stuff.

Until you finally exhaust the limits of carnal pleasures and realize how empty the choice really was. When you finally notice that you had a soul with so much spiritual potential and decided to ignore that. That’s the point at which you come to the knowledge that you utterly spurned Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit, and went for the base and limited pleasures. How much pleasure is endless partying going to be after a few dozen millenia? I doubt that Satan is setting out any meaningful pursuits. I’ll bet he’s setting out a very attractive buffet of nothing but carnal pleasures.

But you know what? God ain’t giving us harp lessons in Heaven, people. I don’t know what he’s giving us, but I know it’s going to be fantastic, and it is only a soul that seeks him and that admits its failings and sins and desires for something so much better that will be admitted to Heaven and equipped to do those fantastic things. In the comment section of one my recent posts, I mused a bit on what the afterlife might hold. Just to give you a sense of the huge things that could possibly be in store, I’ll share it again with you here (it’s a bit longish…if you want to skip the preamble and set-up, you can skip to the last paragraph of my ramblings):

Let’s imagine that you are a being who has created a universe. You have created servants to be part of your comings and goings through the cosmos (those would be the angels) but what you want is to populate the universe with beings who are not simply spiritual creatures who SERVE you but beings in your own image (spiritually) who can LOVE you. Freely. And thus bring you from being a singular being to the head of a family.

So, you decide to start small because, after all, you’re dealing in eternity here, and if you do anything fast, you’re going to have a lot of time to kill. You create beings (or modify beings) on one insignificant rock in the universe and give them that spiritual spark that mirrors your own spiritual blaze. You give them free will so that they can choose to be part of your family or reject you and be part of Satan’s. Your first two beings out of the starting gate, not completely unexpectedly, take the seemingly more attractive path of disobedience, and mar their spiritual natures in such a way that they essentially become dead to you.

But you still have love for them, and so you work within the tainted and fouled pool they have created to bring forth, thousand, tens of thousands or millions of years later, a being who embodies your spiritual nature but is, unlike you, in physical form and can bridge the gap between you and your lost children, thus creating a way for the family to begin forming up again.

Of course, this is still a huge work in progress, because the system you have set up is about faith and spiritual existence and sinless behavior. It’s your rules, still, and people are a long ways from internalizing those rules and, more important still, doing it because they WANT to and want to love you and not because you force them to. So humanity, even after the arrival of Jesus, continues to be a haphazard mix of the faithful and faithless and fence-sitters. But you know that as things progress, you will get a certain critical mass of those who choose your path.

Now, why choose one planet? Why choose a certain group (the Hebrews) to start fixing the mess humans made? Why choose one savior? Because again, you’re dealing in eternity, and there’s no rush. In fact, to do things in a rushed fashion is simply to create the end YOU want without getting any satisfaction (or us getting any growth) from the process.

So, let’s fast-forward to the end times, whenever they come. The situation on earth reaches the tipping point you’ve been working toward, when you finally bring everyone who’s willing into the family fold and finally settle the nonsense with Satan and the people who even after spending time disconnected from you after death and aware that they are spiritually dead, still don’t want to be connected to you. Now you have a new heaven and a new earth…you have sons and daughters who have shucked off their mortal coils and want to be with you as family and not created servants like the angels are. There is still a universe out there. Untold numbers of planets and a spiritual family that finally gets what you’re about (or mostly does). If you started things rolling on earth but planted the seeds for life in millions of other worlds as well, now you have young races coming up to whom you and your children can go, and build up THEIR spiritual natures in a similar manner. Perhaps, with your family having your spark but not your omni-everything power, your new sons and daughters maybe even create worlds of their own or small universes or whatever else. In other words, there is plenty of work and plenty to do, even with eternity staring you and your children in the spiritual face.

So, there may not be any fires to sear your eternal flesh or pitchforks to prod you in the ass if you go to Hell. But what’s going to happen when it all ends and Hell is cast into the Lake of Fire and you’ve still decided that you don’t want to give up on that big party Satan’s been throwing? Now you’ve earned yourself eternal separation from God and everyone else in Heaven. I suspect that once the baser pleasures have been exhausted, eternity is going to start looking pretty awful.

That’s just a theory. But it’s often conjectured that we create and choose our own Hell. And a lot of people are going to assume Heaven is all about bowing and scraping before God’s throne instead of realizing that God is a pretty big thinker. He has grander plans for us. Things we cannot imagine. But we have to want what He’s offering and reject what seems like so much more fun: sex, drugs and rock-and-roll for eternity.

End of the line?

I should probably attack things in a more linear fashion, but I have to assume that if God is behind me on this blog thing, I should follow my gut feelings rather than my brain. So, while I plan soon to talk about why Hell (and Satan) are even necessaryand why everyone should stone-dragon.jpgat least give serious consideration to Jesus even if they ultimately reject himI’m going to start with a thorny topic that is weighing on me right now: Is Hell really the end of the life in the afterlife? Let’s be clear here: This post is “learned speculation.” Some logical guesses based on Scripture that, frankly, may not be true. I’m writing this in prayer, but I’m only human, and some of the assumptions of this post could be wrong.

But working on my current theories, it seems highly unlikely that Hell is the endpoint for all those who don’t have Christ backing up their lousy record with His exceptional credit.

First, let’s consider the fact that the Bible says that Hell and death and the fallen angels will ultimately be cast into something called the Lake of Fire. Why bother dumping lost souls into Hell if you’re going to throw them somewhere else later? The universe is pretty efficient, so I cannot imagine God giving souls a pit-stop for no good reason. More on that in a moment.

Also, if you read the Book of Revelation, you’ll see a picture of the future that has a pretty grim 7-year run. Let’s consider the fact that during these “end times” (that big bad period when the antichrist shows up, hell on earth breaks lose, and all that), people will see some pretty amazing metaphysical shit going down, and the Bible is clear that as things get worse and worse, large groups of people turn to God and redeem their souls. So, if folks who rejected Jesus can still turn to Him once the final battle is raging and they see God’s forces at work and they suffer all sorts of wrath (in other words, the clearest-ever proof that God exists), why would people who for whatever reason didn’t (or couldn’t) accept Christ in life not be granted similar benefits? I mean, that would seem to be way fucked-up unfair, don’t you think? Just like the people left on earth, they turned away, they have suffered, and now they see some pretty strong evidence that they were wrong about the way of things.

Here’s what I thinkand again, it’s not biblical canon but my educated opinion, so don’t base your life (and afterlife) on this. I’d rather you found Jesus before you croak. Anyway, what I think is that those in Hell do still have a chance to accept Jesus as Lord and savior before that hunk of damned real estate goes into the Lake of Fire.

Now, that may seem like I’m giving a “get out of jail free card” to folks in Hell. Far from it. For one thing, people are people in this life or in Hell. If they turned a deaf ear and blind eye on every chance to learn about Jesus, why would they feel all that warm and fuzzy toward God and His son in the end? Many might be repentant and feel remorse for ignoring Jesus’ sacrifices and God’s love, but many I suspect will simply blame God. They will insist His universe was pooch-screwed from the get-go and He’s an asshole, and they’ll say “Take your fucking heaven and every last one its damn harps and get out of my sight.” Also, there will be a fair contingent of folks who will try to appeal to Jesus out of fear, but not out of remorse. No one is going to get out of Hell for hating the place or fearing eternity there, but rather for realizing that the reason they are there is because they rejected Heaven themselves. Redemption does not come to those who cannot accept responsibility. Accountability is the first step to accepting and receiving salvation.

Hell is a place of separation from God’s touch. It’s a harsh place but a place for reflection and, I believe, final redemption. But if I were you, I wouldn’t take my word for it. And I wouldn’t wait too long to explore whether Jesus makes sense.

Eternity is a hell of a long time to end up regretting your decisions.

(Image from freeimages.com)