In Debt

In debt.

Our entire lives, we live “in debt”.

As children, we live “indebted” to our parents. Even if they say we owe them nothing, we still FEEL indebted, at least at some point to some degree.

As adults, our very LIVES revolve around debt. Buy a car — debt. Buy a house — debt. Use credit cards — debt. Especially in America, very few of us leave this planet not owing someone something. For most of us (and of course there ARE exceptions) being indebted is one of our most familiar feelings.

So, it’s no wonder we carry this same paradigm over into the spiritual world.

According to popular theology, we are indebted to God.

The idea is that God is the cosmic CPA, and he’s got all our books. The FIRST line in everyone’s ledger reads “Original Sin”, and that one is enough right there to get us on the hook. Even IF we could somehow never break even one of “God’s laws”, we would still be in the “red” from birth. But it doesn’t stop there. We are told that every infraction of God’s law (some use the Ten Commandments or some other similar standard) “offends” God and He adds it to our list of indebtedness. We are told this cosmic spreadsheet MUST be balanced if we ever have any chance of living with God in the hereafter because apparently He cannot coexist with anyone or anything that is not perfect like Him.

So, in addition to all the EARTHLY Statements of Debt that stand against us and for which we are responsible (even after death), we have a SPIRITUAL “note” that must be satisfied after we die. And of course we believe all this. Debt is how we understand life. It all makes perfect sense to us

Except God is not like US.

Yes, you can find a smattering of BIBLICAL support for such a view of God. There ARE mentions of “books” that are opened. Although this is in Revelation, a book full of allegorical and apocalyptic imagery. There are a few other passages that seem to indicate that God holds a list of offenses against us that we can never “repay”. Now, popular theology proclaims that THIS is why Jesus died, to pay our debt to God so that we wouldn’t have to. However, the payment for this debt for Jesus was to die on the cross, and for sure that’s a horrible way to die. But OUR payment for this debt is to be tortured for ETERNITY in Hell. I don’t know about you, but that seems an inordinate and unbalanced payment system to me. Of course, there is NO Biblical support for this “payment” system. The “wages” of sin is proclaimed to be death (which is bad enough), NOT unending torture in Hell. But somehow that got added into the “wages”. I would think that the ETERNITY part would be MUCH more important to mention (and mention REPEATEDLY) than the “death” part.

This is all proclaimed to be God’s “justice” system. Somehow, because sin “offends” God, being tortured for eternity does the OPPOSITE of that (pleases Him?). That is how the scales of justice are “balanced”. But again, where is this system laid out clearly in scripture? I just don’t see it. Maybe somebody can enlighten me with the place where this cosmic “exchange system” is clearly laid out for us. And, no, I don’t mean grab a verse from here and a verse from there, like it was some cosmic Bible puzzle we were meant to figure out. If THIS is REALLY the way the universe works, the PRIMARY SYSTEM on which God sets the course of our VERY SOULS, then it had better be explained SOMEWHERE, quite plainly and hopefully, even more than once. But I have yet to find it.Even Jesus didn’t discuss it.

If we believe that Jesus came to reveal to us the Father (and He said as much several times), than He should have ALSO clearly laid out this debt/payment system for us, and made it clear to people when they were adding to their indebtedness. However, I see just the OPPOSITE in the behavior of Jesus. Jesus just FORGAVE sins CONSTANTLY, for no reason at all — just because. Now, either Jesus is the “good side” of God that forgives people OR Jesus is the full REVELATION of God and GOD forgives people as well.

And, by the way, FORGIVING someone is TOTALLY different than making/allowing/causing someone else to PAY the debt. PAYMENT is NOT FORGIVENESS. I’m sure your mortgage company will explain that to you if you don’t understand that. Jesus didn’t say, “Oh, don’t worry, I’ll PAY for that sin”. He said it was FORGIVEN. ERASED. GONE. OVER. FINISHED.

During His life He did this for INDIVIDUAL people as He met them where they were (in their sinfulness, by the way — so much for God not being able to be in the presence of imperfection). At the cross, He forgave us ALL. Why? Because He CAN! Because He’s GOD. God wasn’t up in heaven going, “Oh good, finally this debt is getting paid off (well, at least for some of them.)”. No, scripture says, God was “in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.” How was the reconciliation accomplished? Through payment? No, through forgiveness. Why? Because God LOVES us. And the cross PROVES (demonstrates) that love.

The idea of DEBT is a HUMAN idea that God has been trying to reverse FOREVER. It has been PROJECTED onto the character of God by MAN. We OWE people, we figure we must owe GOD, too. When we are hurt, we figure they “deserve” (are OWED) hurt in return. If someone borrows from us, we EXPECT to get paid. All scales MUST be balanced.

But throughout scripture God has been trying to get us to FORGIVE all debts, both personal and financial. “FORGIVE” is forever on God’s lips. Remember the “Year of Jubilee” when all DEBTS were to be cancelled? Yeah, that was God, trying to get us to FORGIVE rather than hold ONTO debt. Do we presume that God doesn’t do what He tells US to do?

Jesus came to CORRECT our erroneous view of God as debt collector. He is not a cosmic CPA writing down ledgers of sin debt for us day by day. He is our loving Father who died to PROVE how much He loves us. Died at “our” own hands. And when He came back to life in the resurrected Jesus said, “Peace be with you.”. He’s not holding ANYTHING against us. LOVE does not “keep a record of wrongs”. If we believe that GOD keeps a record of wrongs, than gives us mental approval to do the same thing towards others. We TALK so much about God “forgiving” sins, but again, FORGIVING is not having someone ELSE pay. If you owe me money and somebody else pays it, I didn’t forgive you ANYTHING. I didn’t forgive ANYBODY anything. I got “paid”. I balanced a book. I satisfied an imbalance that I believed was more important than you. That’s not LOVE. That’s not about YOU. It’s about ME. It satisfies ME. It makes ME MORE important than YOU. Does that sound like the God revealed by Jesus? When we attached this “financial” way of thinking to God, we make Him much less than what He truly is, and we make it MUCH easier to be unforgiving of each other. Justice (as we understand it – balancing the scales — getting “paid” = retribution) is NOT forgiveness. It’s the OPPOSITE of forgiveness. God doesn’t need to be “paid off” in order to love you or accept you or want to be with you. He went to the cross in the person of Jesus to PROVE that to you. Your sin “debt”, unlike your mortgage, is all in your OWN head. Let it go. God has from the foundations of the cosmos. The books are not balanced because there never WAS any books. In God’s eyes, you are debt free!

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“Another Gospel”?

As I have found my theological positions changing over the past eighteen months or so, I have been accused at times of preaching “another gospel”. Of course this is in reference to two verses in the NT:

Galatians 1:8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! (NIV)

2 Corinthians 11:4 For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. (NIV)

That last part was NOT a compliment, but a rebuke. They SHOULDN’T have been putting up with it.

Now of course these verses beg the question what IS the original gospel (good news) that they taught, and what is the “other gospel” that was coming in and deceiving some of the churches?

The more I’ve studied this issue the more I’ve come to believe that we have LOST the original gospel and the one the church has been preaching for about the past 1500 years IS the “other gospel” and really needs to be abandoned.

When Christianity became the “state religion” around 500AD things began to go downhill doctrinaly. As the church sought more control over the government, doctrines designed to control men out of fear arose and coercion into faith became the norm. After all, the more followers, the more cash, the more influence and the more power the church exerted over empires. History is FULL of the accounts of how the church and the government were wedded together most dreadfully, and the result was the preaching of this “other gospel”. Protestantism attempted to reverse this, but it didn’t do enough and eventually became just about the same as Catholicism, as it still was primarily concerned with power as the two views battled it out across the states of Europe. This is the “Christianity” that we have inherited from our forefathers. It’s all we know. It’s what we have been taught the Bible teaches. But it’s NOT the original gospel. If you want to know the original gospel, you have to go to the EASTERN churches, who did not have the same problems with empirical corruption that the West did. They STILL preach pretty much the exact same doctrines they did 1500 years ago. So, it would be WISE for us to see what they have to say and consider seriously going BACK to the original gospel.

This post was inspired by a Facebook post that I was tagged in that included a video. The video had the following message attached:

“Please oh please listen to this beautiful gospel presentation and respond to Christ. Please don’t be angry. It’s only because I care about you all so much and I hope and pray to see you all in heaven one day but I’m going to tag some people in the comments. Maybe you used to believe this with your head but you never truly repented and surrendered to Christ. Yet. Maybe you thought you knew the way to heaven and what the gospel is but after hearing this you will realize you were so wrong. Get right with God today. As you all know NONE of us is guaranteed tomorrow. Love you all.”

Obviously the person who tagged me is concerned with the destination of my soul and wants me to “return” to what they believe is the gospel. Please watch the video and then continue on to my comments concerning this gospel as compared to the gospel I now embrace as taught by the Eastern fathers..

While I appreciate the heartfelt, loving (for the most part) and sincere presentation given here, I simply no longer believe this is “The Gospel”.

Firstly, it paints a picture of a god who condones violence. Not just condones, but DEMANDS it against His own son in order to forgive people. This is not much different than the blood sacrifices that other pagan gods supposedly demanded of their followers. But the one true God declares, “I don’t desire sacrifices”.

Additionally this “gospel” says that god can’t stand to be around us unless we do the right things to get our “Jesus suit” of “righteousness” so that he doesn’t see our filthiness that we can NEVER really be rid of (at least not in this life).

But God does not love us because of anything we do or believe. He loves us because He is love.

God doesn’t accept us because Jesus died, but because He has ALWAYS accepted all men from the very beginning. Yes, even in The Garden of Eden God came and FOUND Adam after he “sinned” and stayed with him, and did all He could to make man comfortable around Him. He has continued to do that throughout history, trying to make man feel OK with God and with himself. The cross only PROVED that no matter what man does (including killing God HIMSELF), he is always and ALREADY forgiven. The first thing that God said when Jesus was born was “peace on the earth”, and the FIRST thing that the resurrected Jesus said was “Peace be with you.”. God is NOT at enmity (against) us. That is a lie that we have believed. A lie bolstered by religion.

God does not hold a record of wrongs against us, because that’s not love. Love forgives EVERY time. We don’t like to hear that because it demands of US that WE should forgive EVERY time, and we don’t WANT to forgive, we want our idea of JUSTICE, which is PAYBACK, even if that payback is done by God against our “enemies”. We want a violent God who will put the beatdown (Hell) on those who hurt us. But Jesus said to LOVE and do GOOD to those who hurt you, and that’s what God CONTINUES to do. It is that UNCONDITIONAL love and acceptance that is the “good news” (Gospel), not a legal exchange or payback of some sin-debt that God holds over our heads.

When we finally “get” the degree of love God has for us, no matter how despicable we might think we are or are told we are by religion, it changes our WHOLE LIFE. It changes how we see ourselves, God, and humanity. It makes LOVE the primary motivation of our life, and that brings us into harmony with God, ourselves and humanity in a way that fear-based economies of exchange simply can’t. We finally realize we have NOTHING to fear from God EVER, and that THIS is how God feels about EVERYONE else, too. This realization changes how WE feel about them, too. Not overnight, no, but as the love of God works into us and through us, transforming how we think, changing our minds.

THIS! THIS is the “Gospel”! This is the Good News! This is freedom from religion. From fear. From rule-following or fear-inspired checklists of specific beliefs necessary in order to “please God”. This is freedom to be yourself and be the person that you always knew you wanted to be, the “Christ-self” that is hidden inside each of us. We become part of the Kingdom of God, that has always already been here around and inside us, but that we now become AWARE of. And with that we become part of a movement that is driving forward the ideals of peacemaking, equality, reconciliation and compassion for all mankind and all life, the ideals that Jesus taught while He was here.

So, don’t fall for religion’s lies that have corrupted the original gospel message. Embrace the good news of God’s unconditional love for you and for EVERYONE.

I may be accused of twisting or ignoring scripture in presenting this view of God, but I’m really not. Scripture has been twisted and misrepresented for many hundreds of years in order to perpetuate the violent, wrathful, hateful view of God. I urge everyone to watch the video below that gives a visual explanation of these two very different views of God and the gospel, the “penal view” (Western) and the “healing view” (Eastern).

If you would like to discuss further, comment, PM or find me on Facebook. God bless.

Because I said so!!

Authority. Our entire world systems are based on it. Traditionally, the ultimate authority is that of God, which He then “delegates” to “lesser” powers: Jesus, the Spirit, the Bible, Christian leaders, government leaders, parents, etc. We teach that all authority is “granted” by God. Scripture in several places clearly posits this particular view of the world. Basically, we obey because of those in authority over us. To put it rather simplistically, we obey those in authority BECAUSE they are in authority, and will punish us in some manner if we don’t. The phrase, “Because I said so!” is not too far from the way we have defined reality in regards to authority. However, I have come to believe this way of relating to the world is not of God.

Jesus is said to be the EXACT representation of God, and he ESCHEWED any claim on authority, and became the ultimate SERVANT, both in life, and ultimately, in His death. Yes, He was GIVEN authority by the Father and of course, we GIVE Him Lordship in our lives. But it was not His desire to “rule” over us. In fact, He resisted that earthly idea at every turn. I believe He was showing us the TRUE heart of the Father.

God does not wish to relate to us as an authority-OVER us with a “rulebook” of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors and doctrinal beliefs. Yes, He wants what’s best for us (He is FOR us) and sinful behaviors result in things that are NOT good for us or for mankind. So His desire is for us to abstain from sin by learning to love for our OWN sakes, not for HIS, for His “pleasure” or out of a need for us to “obey” HIM. Rather than authority, He chooses to relate to us as a servant-UNDER us, lifting us up from whatever moral plane we may currently be at to ever higher ideals of love for each other. It is His mercy, forgiveness and love that COMPELS us to put our trust in Him, which in practice equates to making Him Lord (authority) in our lives. But it’s something we GIVE based on our love of His “servanthood” towards us, not something we SUBMIT to because God has the largest stick (Hell) to punish us with someday.

When we become aware of this principal, we realize all the authority structures of MAN no longer really applies to us. Does that mean we can now sin all the time? No. We have NO desire to sin, because love reigns in our hearts. Sure, we still mess up. We are human, and know not what we do. But God does not count this against us. Our HEART is still ruled by love, not by our desire to “get away with things” like a child sneaking around behind their parent’s back. It’s a more “grown up” way of relating to God that doesn’t require Him to be a disciplinary figure anymore, but a friend and confidant that knows us inside and out and still accepts and loves us, warts, failures, struggles and all.

But let’s get back to authority. I believe all authority structures (governmental and religious) are made by MAN who then CLAIMS the authority of God as their reason for having the “right” to rule in our lives. The same with the Bible (scripture). Man proclaims it’s authority and says it’s from God.

But let’s look at what Jesus said was our authority. He told us that we would have no need of MAN to teach us. He said that we should do the bear minimum to keep the government off our backs (‘render to Caesar…’ — basically, not to tick them off on purpose). He told us the purpose of scripture was to point to HIM, not to be a rulebook reigning over us, like the Jews were using it. Paul reiterated this idea. And then He told us the Spirit (His “proxy” on earth) would be our teacher and lead us into all truth. When we become aware of the Spirit working in our lives, we surrender to His desire to serve us (teaching us is a service) and MAKE Him our authority. But the Spirit never DEMANDS to be heard or obeyed. The Spirit is the ONLY thing that Jesus intimated would be an authority in our lives. Not men, not scripture, not even HIMSELF really (and therefore, as revealed, not God, either.).

I know it seems like a backwards way of looking at the world, but I think this is a FUNDAMENTAL piece of theology that the church has LOST or never fully understood that changes our ENTIRE view of LIFE and relating to God and others. We no longer acknowledge any man’s authority over us (though we still may choose to obey in the interests of peace-keeping), or exercise authority over others, but only claim servanthood to mankind, just as Jesus showed us by example. Therefore, we have no place to tell people how to behave (while still striving to prevent harm and promote love) or even really what to believe (unless they ask to know). We are living epistles that when asked should be able give a reason for the hope within us (that hope is the attractive quality that the world just doesn’t have). We are the SERVANTS of the world, just as God is OUR servant, dying at our hands so that we could understand His true character and disposition towards us.

This Facebook post by Jacob Wright describes how this “upside down” authority structure is described in the apocryphal book of Revelation. This is the way that Jesus wins back the world — through servanthood, not authority.

A Letter From a Backsliding, Prodigal Heretic, To My Christian Friends Still on the Inside


Borrowing this letter from my fellow blogger. It expresses very well my own feelings…

To My Dear Christian Friends on the Inside*,

I know that you love me.

I know that because you love me you’re worried about me right now.

I know that you feel that I’ve been led astray down the rebellious path of the prodigal, that I’ve somehow been deceived into darkness and you are gravely concerned for the eternal destination of my soul.

I know you believe that I am currently quite lost and you’re praying tirelessly for me to find my way back before it’s too late.

I know this because when I believed what you believe, I feared the same things about people like me.

I remember looking at those who stand where I now stand and feeling what I believed was a holy compassion for them. I remember well, wanting with great urgency to save them from the destruction they were choosing.

I realize now how arrogant it was for me to assume that because they’d reached different conclusions than I had, that their faith journey was any less valid, and less life-giving, any less true, that God was any less present.

That’s why I’m writing you today: to thank you for worrying about me, for praying for me, and for loving me.

And because I love you, I want to share with you what it’s really like here on the outside, because back then I couldn’t have known and I wish I had. It would have changed my prayers and my words and my very heart toward those who were in this same place.

Here on the outside, yes the answers are less clear than they were inside, but there is great wonder in the search. It is the unpredictable journey of an expectant child exploring a new patch of untouched forest. The path now wildly meanders into places I was told never to go when I was comfortably inside; to new understandings of the Bible, to ancient spiritual practices and different faith traditions, into Science and Philosophy and Art. And the most glorious discovery is finding out that everywhere we plant our feet, God is there waiting. This great big God is indeed far too big to be relegated only to the inside.

Here on the outside Certainty isn’t as treasured as Authenticity. The questions are not character flaws, the doubts not deficiencies, the vacillations not moral failings. They are all the symptoms of a humble heart which realizes the search itself is a sacred thing; that when Jesus tells us to “ask and seek and knock”, he is inviting us beyond the confines of whatever container we might previously have fashioned for God. Once we began to step outside of that constrictive space, we found ourselves moving into the wide expanse of a life fully saturated with Divinity—and we could breathe there.

One of the biggest misconceptions about the outside is that it is a dark place; that there is a coldness and heaviness and sadness here. I used to believe that when I was on the inside, but in truth it was more wishful thinking. I needed to believe that because it helped reinforce my story that I was one of the few enlightened and they among the masses lost in shadow. It made it far easier to assume a posture of moral superiority that way and to subjugate my own nagging soul questions. All I can tell you is that there is brilliant light here. There is laughter and discovery and warmth and community and goodness and grace—and God.

When I was on the inside I remember how important labels were for those who were different. They helped quickly and easily delineate the saved from the sinners, the lost from the found, the righteous from the wicked. These words formed the very clear wall between insiders and outsiders; the wall I fortified and defended.

When people stepped beyond whatever I saw as the inside, I labeled them:

Heretics.
Backsliders.
Prodigals.
False Prophets.
Lost sheep.
Deceived.
Rebels.
Sinners.

So trust me when I tell you I understand why you use these words for me now. I know they give you some comfort and offer some sense of control, so I don’t take offense at them and I don’t have malice toward you for using them.

I can only tell you that these words do not define me.
They do not stick to me.
They are not labels deserving of me or my journey, or any of those out here with me who are seeking and searching with as much care and integrity and diligence and faith as you are there.

I realize it is likely that these words will matter very little to you. I suspect they will not change your mind about my eternal destination or my moral condition or the legitimacy of my current conclusions. I know that you may not be willing or able to see that we are actually on the same beautiful road, just in different places.

I am still a Christian and still the Church and still beloved by God, and I rest in those truths as I continue to navigate the journey even when other things seem less clear. I am confident that unorthodox is not ungodly. 

I know you will probably continue to worry about me and pray for me, and in your way love me—and I am grateful.

And I will love you, by remembering what it was like to be on the inside; to see your heart even in the times your words or your silence damage me.

I will that pray you find compassion and mercy for those who do not believe exactly as you believe, and that you come to trust that God is large enough to speak to both of us simultaneously; whether on the inside or the outside.

Most of all I pray that we will both see this God fully from where we currently stand; wild, untamable, uncontainable, and remember that in this shared orientation toward Love—we are the same.

Peace and Love,

A Backsliding, Prodigal, Heretic, Chasing God Here on the Outside

 

 

 

*The Inside, may be Christian orthodoxy or rigid tradition or any place where one has determined they have all the answers to the deepest questions of this life; where or when they view those outside of that place as morally inferior or as less intelligent, sincere, or faithful.

Source: A Letter From a Backsliding, Prodigal Heretic, To My Christian Friends Still on the Inside

Cancer sucks!

OK, first of all NO, I don’t have cancer, nor does anyone I know right now. In fact, I’ve been blessed to not have to see a family member or friend get eaten up by this terrible disease. I know at some point I may need to walk that road, and I pray that God will give me the grace to do so if that time comes.

No, I say this because of the deaths this past week of both David Bowie and Alan Rickman to cancer. To ME this is a blow because I KNEW these people, loved their work and cancer took them away too soon from the world. I know for others the pain of loss is much closer and much more pronounced that some pop star or celebrity. But allow me to “work with what I’ve got” for a few minutes.

Many people have written lovely pieces remembering and celebrating these men, and rightfully so. Others have written about the pain that cancer inflicts on the world. While others begin to ask the inevitable questions that come with these losses. Why? And especially why if there is a God who LOVES us, does He “allow” cancer to continue destroying and taking lives?

What I offer below is not “the answer” to those questions. I don’t claim to have that. These are things mankind will struggle with until “the end” (whatever that may entail). But let me just offer some food for thought.

How does God accomplish most of the “good” that is done in the world? Is the miraculous supernatural power of God frequently on display for all to see? Or does most things get done by ordinary people, inspired, directed, fueled and led by God, sometimes without their direct knowledge of it, to do good: to help, to heal, to research and learn?

Over the past 50 years, we have made HUGE strides against cancer. A diagnosis used to almost universally be a death sentence but NOW, for most cancers, the odds of surviving are in your favor. Certainly the research and medicine behind this fete was at least partially driven by people’s commitment to God and the compassion He placed in their hearts for people and the knowledge He gave them the ability to learn and expand upon. After all, we are His hands and feet.

So let us not grow weary of the fight. Let us push on towards the goal of eliminating cancer from this planet. Support research. Support science, medicine and education. Encourage young people towards this goal. They can and will tap into the love and strength that God supplies to reach for it.

In the meantime, God co-suffers with us. He mourns with us that we will no longer enjoy the continued musical genius, acting prowess and unique voices of these lovely men (at least in THIS life). He sorrows with you over the passing of your relative or friend from your life. He understands loss. He experienced it firsthand. And He is FOR us – our biggest cheerleader in this fight against all things that harm and kill people. So let’s press on and in His name Mess. Cancer. UP!

Please donate here: American Cancer Society. Every little bit helps.

Does God destroy souls?

Most of you who read this (all three of you – LOL) probably already know I’ve laid aside my former belief in an actual “Hell”, as in a place where God will stick people who don’t believe in Him (or believe the ‘right things’ about His son, Jesus) and torture them forever. Not surprisingly, I get a bit of push back from people who have not been taught any other way to believe and wish to keep this idea for various reasons. One of the reasons I get is that “The Bible teaches about Hell”. And one of the verses that is used is found in Matthew 10:28. I’ll quote it here from the NASB (version chosen pretty much at random):

“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (NASB)

Sounds pretty clear, right? Don’t fear man because he can JUST kill you, but GOD can destroy both your body and your very SOUL in Hell, so you better be scared of HIM.

Well, right off the bat, this disagrees with some of the established traditional beliefs.

People’s “bodies” are not thrown into hell. Hell is AFTER death and the judgement, but BEFORE people (well, the ‘saved’ ones) get their new, glorified bodies. So, technically, according to tradition, there is no BODY to throw into Hell, ONLY a soul.

Secondly, the standard belief is that the soul doesn’t DIE (get destroyed), but is tortured endlessly. The idea that people are destroyed in Hell is called Annihilationism, and is generally regarded as a fringe heresy. (NOTE: It’s not. Many early church fathers believed in it, and it has plenty of scriptural backing, too. But that’s another post.)

So, already, just examining the “clear English” meaning, there’s problems with this passage when compared to traditional beliefs about Hell.

But let’s go a bit deeper and examine the actual GREEK words in this verse. I have in my library a version of the Bible that tells you the standard and alternate meanings of the Greek words used in NT writings, so that you can decide for yourself, with the Spirit’s leading, what is the ‘correct’ interpretation. I will quote here:

“Stop being (or: Do not continue being [other MSS: You should not be]) made to fear from the one normally killing the body, and yet continuing unable (with no power) to be killing the soul. But rather, be habitually fearing (or, continue being wary of, with a healthy respect for) the person being constantly able and continuing with power to loose-away and destroy (or cause to be lost) both soul (the interior life; [note: may refer to the person’s reputation in regard to character and other personal qualities]) as well as body within the Valley of Hinnom (Greek: Gehenna; Jerusalem’s garbage dump: the place where criminals and folks with disgraced lives, and thus considered unfit for proper burial, were cast away, the disgraced end of an outcast or criminal).” (The New Testament – Jonathan Mitchell – www.jonathanmitchellnewtestament.com)

I know it’s a lot to take in, so let’s break it down.

Firstly, the word translated “Hell” in English Bibles, like almost EVERY time that this word is claimed to be said by Jesus, is Gehenna, The Valley of Hinnom, Jerusalem’s garbage dump where terrible atrocities were committed in Israel’s past. He’s talking about a REAL place, not some destination after you die. We only get that idea because we think of souls as only being what’s left after we die.

Secondly, the word translated “soul” would be better translated “identity” in this passage. A few verses later (vs. 39), this is exactly the meaning that Jesus applies to the word when He talks about gaining and loosing your “soul”. Those who hold on to their identity will ultimately loose it. Those that let go of their identity to take on the identity of Christ will discover who they really are. This isn’t about disembodied spirits in the afterlife, it’s about your earthly life, your personage, the essential “you”.

Thirdly, there is no mention of God in this verse. All the verse says is a “person” has the power to destroy the soul. The assumption that this is God is made based on a preconception that only God sends people to Hell. But the verse isn’t talking about HELL, it’s talking about Gehenna.

So, who was sent to Gehenna? Well, only criminals and social outcasts (beggars, prostitutes, etc.) bodies were dropped in the city dump instead of being buried in a grave or tomb when they died. And such a thing was anathema to Jews. It was like the ultimate disgrace, a mark against their very identity (their very “soul”).

In 70AD, during the destruction of Jerusalem, all the Jews who rebelled against Rome were slaughtered, tossed  into Gehenna and set ablaze. THAT’S who the disciples needed to have proper respect (fear) for. Jesus was telling them not to purposefully challenge Rome, so that they would not end up dead and disgraced in Gehenna (and therefore not out sharing about Him).

However, the next verses say, even if that was to happen, God would still have them in His care, would still accept them, which was a FANTASTIC promise for them. Popular theology of that time said that if you didn’t have a grave to be buried in you couldn’t be raised from the dead. Jesus was telling them that NOTHING could keep Him from them, not even death, not even death resulting in being “destroyed” and disgraced in Gehenna.

So God will NOT be destroying your soul. Jesus said only “Satan” destroys. Jesus brings life. Men might seek to both destroy and disgrace us for our message, but God will ALWAYS accept us, and raise us to life in the next age. That’s the promise of this passage.

Four of a Kind

Today my youngest girl turns 13. As I am about all my kids, I am so proud of her. She is having a great year at school, both academically and socially. She’s kind, loving, smart, a hard worker and loves life. Isn’t that what any parent wants for all their kids. So, Happy Birthday, my “little girl”.

This also starts a unique time in my life. For the next 9 months, until September 16th, I will be the father of FOUR teenagers. Yes, Tricia is 13. Kyle is 14 (15 in July), Alex is 17 and Misty is 19 (both until September). I’ve known this day was coming for awhile now, and it has finally arrived.

You might think I may have some words of wisdom concerning this event, but really, no. I feel I am still just learning how to parent teenagers. I often tell my two oldest that their kind of getting the raw end of the deal, as we are just learning with them how this works best. I think it’s good to be honest with your kids. They need to know your not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, and that you can make as many mistakes as they will. Mistakes are how you learn. If you come away a better parent (or student) because of them, then they were worth making.

So, I have seven more years to learn how to get this teen-parenting thing “right”. Prayers and well-wishes are coveted. I’m sure my kids would agree. 🙂