God and Greatness: Those Who Are For Us

I went to church with Trish last night. I’ve commented before how topics on my mind seem to crop up throughout the day in surprising places, most notably at church. There was a Bible passage I’d discussed with Toby at work yesterday morning, and when I sat down in the pew for class Wednesday night, I actually thought to myself, wryly, “I wonder how that passage is going to come up in Terry’s lesson.”

Unfortunately, he robbed me of that opportunity. He opened the class with a question — what Bible passages or Biblical concepts do you think of when going through a tough time, for consolation — and the passage on my mind was too perfect an answer. So I brought it up, and spoilt my little game. Alas.

Anyway, here’s the passage we discussed yesterday:
Now the king of Aram was warring against Israel; and he counseled with his servants saying, “In such and such a place shall be my camp.”

The man of God sent word to the king of Israel saying, “Beware that you do not pass this place, for the Arameans are coming down there.”

The king of Israel sent to the place about which the man of God had told him; thus he warned him, so that he guarded himself there, more than once or twice.

Now the heart of the king of Aram was enraged over this thing; and he called his servants and said to them, “Will you tell me which of us is for the king of Israel?”

One of his servants said, “No, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.”

So he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and take him.” And it was told him, saying, “Behold, he is in Dothan.”

He sent horses and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the city.

Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”

So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see ” And the LORD opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

When they came down to him, Elisha prayed to the LORD and said, “Strike this people with blindness, I pray.” So He struck them with blindness according to the word of Elisha.

Then Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, nor is this the city; follow me and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he brought them to Samaria.

When they had come into Samaria, Elisha said, “O LORD, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” So the LORD opened their eyes and they saw; and behold, they were in the midst of Samaria.

Then the king of Israel when he saw them, said to Elisha, “My father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?”

He answered, “You shall not kill them. Would you kill those you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.”

So he prepared a great feast for them; and when they had eaten and drunk he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the marauding bands of Arameans did not come again into the land of Israel.

I always have a little trouble at this point, deciding whether to make a sermon out of the passage (as long habit in the church of Christ and as son of a minister have taught me to do), or do I just make my point, and get on with it.

I love II Kings, though, and all the stories therein, so I think I’ll make a sermon out of it, and hope that you get my Conversation points in the process.

First, notice what is going on in this passage. Pay attention to the way Elisha uses the power that God has given him. He is spying on an enemy king, to protect his own nation (and I’m very much caught up in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel right now, so this concept is very much on my mind). It’s essentially a political use of magic power.

When the Aramean army shows up at Elisha’s house, his servant freaks out. I realize we all know this story, but look what’s happening here (in the terminology I’ve been using). The armies of men show up, all terrifying in their Constructed might. They have learned how to use weapons to impose their will on the world (their own world, and those of others). They have learned how to unite their wills in great numbers, to overpower smaller numbers of men. They show up in great power, to threaten the Man of God, and his servant is afraid.

And Elisha just tuts, and asks God to open his eyes, so that the servant may see the great host arrayed around him. Elisha is a Man who lives by faith, who casually accepts the inexplicable presence of God’s Real Truth in his life, so he’s not blinded by Constructed reality. He doesn’t hide the power of God from his own mind, he accepts it on its terms. He doesn’t recognize the Constructed strength of his enemy, for he knows that, in Real terms, it’s insignificant.

And so he prays, and for a moment at least, his servant is able to see the world as it really is. He can still see the Aramean army around him with their temporal power, but all across the hillside he can see the fiery host, the army on Elisha’s side.

And then…well, there are two ways to interpret what it was he saw. Perhaps it was the Heavenly host, God’s army of angels lined up to do battle with the enemy. That’s what I was always taught to read, here. And if that’s the case, then it’s an army of Real Truth that can wash away Constructed might as though it were nothing, cobwebs and moonlight, by its sheer DENSITY. I think there’s reason to believe differently, though.

The passage just before this, in II Kings, is of the axehead that floats. If you’re not familiar with it, I recommend you go read it. Briefly, a man is out chopping wood, and loses the head of a borrowed axe in the river. It sinks, and the man is distraught, but Elisha comes and convinces the axehead to float up to the surface, and the fellow gets it back.

We are not supposed to believe, there, that Elisha summoned an angel and asked it to fetch the axehead for him. I’ve never been given THAT impression. Rather, I think it was a little Construction on Elisha’s part. By faith, he knows how ephemeral this world is, and by faith he is willing to release himself from it, to shape it as God wants him to. I don’t see Elisha (often) bending the world to suit him. Less so than Elijah, even. He trusts in God, and bends the world to make it more like the kind of world God would want Man to live in. That’s admirable.

I think that’s what we saw with the axehead — Construction. Elisha rearranged the natural laws so that iron would float, for just a moment, in just that place, so that reality itself bent to serve the needs of Man (its master).

And, returning to today’s passage (or, rather, yesterday’s) concerning the fiery host — here’s the thing: he didn’t USE them.

That’s the thing that makes me hesitate to call them an army of angels. Perhaps they are, perhaps the angels are just a great cloud of witnesses, and Elisha wanted to remind his servant that they existed. But it seems more like Construction to me — primarily because they took on precisely the form of an army. A Constructed thing, designed to rival the threat of Men, but magical in nature. When a mighty army of Men came against them, Elisha conjured up a mightier army of fire….

And then didn’t use them. I mean to say, I think this was just an example. Elisha was showing his servant that this world DOES NOT FOLLOW the laws we believe it follows. If a strong man comes against us, we can have something stronger on our side. If an army comes against us, we can have a mightier army on our side. It takes just the faith of a mustard seed to reorder reality….

So the servant’s eyes were opened to the power available to Elisha. The servant was able to see the protectors available. The same might that allowed Elisha to rescue a worker’s axehead also allowed him to defeat an army, but he didn’t use it.

Instead, he prayed. “When they came down to him, Elisha prayed to the LORD and said, ‘Strike this people with blindness, I pray.’ So He struck them with blindness according to the word of Elisha.” And God did as he asked, changing Constructed reality by the power of his almighty hand. This is the density thing, again. The angels could have done the same (well, not the same as God, but they could easily have overwhelmed Constructed reality), but, as I said, Elisha didn’t call on the angels (which is why I doubt they were there — there’s no NEED for them to have been there).

The rest of the story is about respecting human beings as human beings. Elisha’s a funny little guy, but he sure comes off classy in the end of this story (and the king of Israel, not so much). It’s a good resolution, so I left it in the quote, but it’s beyond the scope of my argument, so I’ll leave it at that.

I’ve explored two possible interpretations of the fiery host here, and one is very much within my worldview and the other is probably one you’re more familiar with, but I’m not particularly arguing in support of either. The important point is this: there is something Real, all around us, something available to us that makes us more powerful than reality. More powerful than natural law or even than the world of Men.

There is something unseen, that is more Real than all the reality you deal with every day. Remember that.

God: A Tangent on Paul

This is a link Daniel sent me forever ago, which I only just now got around to reading through.


It’s mostly absurd, with some pretty ugly misunderstandings thrown in to REALLY upset you. In other words, I’m not advocating or agreeing with this guy’s ideas. But it’s an interesting read, and I recommend it to all of you. It’s not too long, and you can always stop early if you just have to….

God: A Place of Learning

I have been asked a serious, challenging question that I cannot easily answer (at least, not right away). It was asked in an email, so I could just skip it (or reply to the asker), but the fact of the matter is that I come here to be challenged and I’m ASKING for criticism of my ideas, so it would really do me no good to keep this one secret.

(And, for that matter, I’m not ENTIRELY certain that the question, as asked, was intended to be as challenging as I’ve taken it, but intended or not, it led me into this line of thought, so that’s what I’m sharing.)

The question is, “where should someone go to find the deeper meaning in life, that I’m calling everyone to HAVE.”

My assumption here is that the question was motivated by my beginnings of a tirade against the church, and that’s where I get in trouble. I have an answer, to how people could (and would more easily) find and learn Christianity without the existence of the church as we know it, but that is entirely theoretical, and no one will let me get away with it (understandably).

One of my Bible professors at college described the difference between the Temple and the Tabernacle, at such time as both existed simultaneously. There was a Temple, where people went to perform the acts of worship and (during the worst of times) idolize the priests. The Temple was a majestic place, where majestic events happened.

The Tabenacles were sort of Temple subsitutes spread across world, everywhere outside of Israel where Hebrews sought to obey the old Law. Tabernacles were a LOT like our Bible School. And by that, I don’t mean directed at Children, I just mean the Sunday morning classes without the appended worship service. It’s where Hebrews would go to learn the Law and the Prophets, to study the strictures of the Pharisees and even to learn the language. It’s also where the Bible scholars (as it were) would gather together to discuss religious issues and develop Ideas about God and his intentions for Man.

(I’m not really going anywhere good with all this. It’s just a history lesson based on a half-remembered description that I may or may not be getting right….)

Anyway. I value the present-day church for its Tabernacling. Most of my criticisms are for its Templing. The worship service (that is SO divisive), the (fairly pathetic) elevation of a priesthood, the internal focus that so many preachers preach against during the same rite that drives people to do it in the first place….

I also really dislike the Pharisaical codes (the ones Jesus railed against, and the ones we make today, like our condemning Christian children dancing, as a particular example), and those were a product of the Tabernacle. But, for the most part, I recognize the need for a meeting place and a place of learning, as we are all strangers in a strange land.

(No, God said it first. That guy just appropriated it for his book title.)

I guess that’s the roundabout answer to my question. I believe in Bible School. Personally, honestly, I’m more…well, like the Sith, I guess. Y’know, let the parents teach their kids, and if they don’t…everyone study under one master, and everyone take one apprentice. But then that leads to killing the master once you’ve learned more than he knows, and that’s just bad. Poor, poor Dr Baird….

No. That’s just me, because I’m morbidly shy (I call it “anti-social” because that makes me feel cool). I do recognize the value of Bible School. I’ve always intended it for my children. When I stopped attending church all the time, I made a determined decision to do so, but at that time I agreed with Trish that, as soon as we had children, I’d reverse that decision. Not because it would change anything, but because the children will need to learn all the things I had the luxury of growing up learning….

And I certainly don’t want them to hear my ideas only. That would be wildly unfair….

We’ll probably stay for the service, too, when that time comes. I can see its value, but I see it as a crutch. Yes, people need that sometimes, but we teach them to rely on it, we teach them to make the worship service their life of service to God (even though, yes, we preach against that once a month, there is a reason we have to do that — its built into the system). But my children will be young, then, and still in need of such things, so I’ll let them lean on the church, let them learn what they need to know.

As for me…I have a church that I regularly attend (more regularly than most people, even). I encourage and support them, and they return the favor. I strive together with them to grow in my understanding of God, and his desires for Man. And we just kinda got a Benevolence/Outreach Minister, in that Daniel has decided he needs to start doing good deeds. So there’s that. It’s mostly you guys. I’ve seen smaller churches. And EVERY big church I ever attended…I eventually found a group about this size, and spent all my time with them. This is almost no different from that, although I miss out on the arguments over piano music at a wedding held in the church building, and whether or not it was satanism to invite a hypnotist to perform at Soul Fest. But, y’know, I can mostly do without those.

I dunno. This isn’t an answer at all, but I didn’t promise one. It’s mostly ramblings, but a glimpse into my thoughts on the issue. Should be lots of good material in their for comments, supporting or challenging or (most likely) asking for clarification. Hit me with ’em. I’d like to figure out what I’m saying here as much as you would.

God: Reframing

I want to take a moment to introduce a specific concept to you, in case you’re not already familiar. Therapists and counselors sometimes use a technique called “reframing” to help a patient deal with a traumatic or otherwise negative experience.

One of the books I’m working on, which would use largely the material I’m putting forth in these most recent conversations, I would like to subtitle “Reframing the Fall of Man.” That’s my real goal.

A reframe is essentially a deliberate shift in perspective. The goal is to take a real, actual thing that is hurting the patient, and then change the patient’s perspective in such a way as to make that real thing USEFUL to him. It’s not a denial of the existence of the problem, but it’s a conscience decision to grow from the it, rather than to just be victimized by it.

Therapists, I’m sure, use lots of tricky techniques to trigger the reframe. Me, I just babble on and on until you agree to shift perspective just to get me to shut up. It’s worked so far….

But, essentially, that’s my goal here. I’m not trying to say there’s no such thing as sin, or that this life isn’t painful and unfair.

Life hurts. Horrible, horrible things happen every day.

Sin happens, and it’s really terrible. When we sin, we make ourselves into worse people, and we hurt everyone who knows and loves us.

These are real situations that are a persistent aspect of our lives, and we have, as a people, learned how to be constantly victimized by these things, feeling guilt or disgust at the God who could allow them to continue, and helplessness within ourselves. Or, those others among us, we may have chosen the denial route, pretending sin and injustice don’t get to us, and just living as the heathens do….

What we need is a shift in perspective. We need to face these things in our lives, understand why they’re there, and make ourselves better, not worse, as a result of them.

We need to reframe the Fall of Man, we need to reframe our relationship with God, we need to reframe our attitudes toward other people (saints and sinners both). We need to change the way we view everything so that we can stop feeling like the poor, wandering stranger just-a-passin’-through and start feeling like the Sons of God, adopted heirs of the King, and start living in this world as though we’re prepared for the next.

That’s my goal here. That’s what I’m after. Wish me luck.

God: Shouting Violently to Get Your Attention

What then, should we go on sinning so that Grace may increase?

BY NO MEANS! This life is our only opportunity to learn how to be good. It was given to us as a gift. Yes, we will fail, we will be forgiven for that, but if we spend all of our time JUST indulging in selfish squalor, then we are learning precisely the wrong lesson and wasting the precious gift of Life that God gave us.

If we do that, we deserve to have to make our final judgment blind….

After all, “ALL THINGS are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. ALL THINGS are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.”

God: The Tree of Knowledge and the Free Will Myth

The question of the day is this: Why would a loving God introduce Sin into our world?

Why would a loving God plant a Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden?

And, at its root, “Why would a loving God fashion Hell?”

Our mythology is full of the answer to that in kings putting down rebellion. Actually, our mythology is built entirely on the Earthly understanding of kings (and remember, when the people of Israel asked God for a king, he didn’t really want them to have one).

Okay, okay, I’m going to stop you all right now. This one’s labeled “God,” not “Government,” and I’m not going to get into that right now! Basically, though, Kings are a Constructed thing, and I argue that, within this world, they’re our most viable means of authority. But, no, they’re not God’s chosen path. THAT’s all I’m saying here.

Anyway! We read about Satan and his followers being cast into the Lake of Fire as their eternal punishment for rebelling against God. We read about eternal damnation, and wonder, Why is Mankind to be punished for having free will?

In fact, why would God give Man free will at all? After all, as a direct result of Free Will, billions of people are going to burn in Hell. The answer I’ve heard most often, is that God doesn’t want to be worshiped by an army of mindless drones, he wants people to choose to follow him. Trish said, “like the difference between Hitler and the Pope,” and that’s PRECISELY what I’ve heard every time I’ve brought up this question — it’s our accepted answer.

But…that’s more of that Earthly-kings thinking. Could God be so arrogant that he would create a structure for humanity that sends billions of Infinite souls to eternal damnation just so his chorus of cheerleaders might seem more fulfilling? That doesn’t sound like Love. That doesn’t sound anything like Love.

I don’t think Free Will was something God gave to Man. I don’t think the Tree of Knowledge is a Created thing. I think it’s one of those Rules. The same kind of Rules that said blood had to be paid to redeem the Infinite soul for its Temporal actions….

It’s like this: in order to BE Infinite, a Creature must have a Soul. A Soul is (or causes) self-awareness. Sentience. There’s none of one without the other.

A sentient being must be aware of its environment, and awareness of an environment (coupled with a basic sense of cause and effect) will lead any sentient Creature to experiment with his condition. There will be a desire to improve one’s environment, is what I’m saying.

ANY self-aware Creature will eventually feel compelled to improve its environment. It’s part of what self-awareness IS. ANY Infinite Soul will be self-aware. Therefore, in the process of God creating an Infinite being, it inherently gained the capacity for rebellion. Self-determinism, it’s been called. The desire to make one’s own world.

It’s part of our mythology that humans were given Free Will (we make it sound like a gift) by God, and the angels look down on us, confused by the notion. It’s part of our mythology that the angels don’t have Free Will. I don’t buy it. I don’t buy that Free Will is a Created thing — rather, it’s an aspect of Infinity.

After all, it’s also part of our mythology that Satan is a fallen angel, no? How can a will-less Creature Fall? No, I think the gift God gave to Man was recognizing the nature of Infinite beings to seek their own way, and creating for Man a safe playground where we can work these things out. And yes, I’m including the millions of babies who die of starvation in my definition of playground. I’m including the saintly Christians who have to live with the knowledge of the brutal rape and murder of a loved one. I’m including Holocaust and genocide and Big Business and American Idol. I’m including ALL of the mistakes we make, when I say that Life is a harmless playground.

The question is, How could a loving God condemn Created Man to Hell? But it raises a much more difficult question: How could a Creator God design an Infinite being with any chance at NOT seeking after its own destiny and abandoning Heaven in the process? God found a way — Life. The gift God gave us was not Free Will — it never was — the gift was Grace, and an existence in which Grace is possible. He made us Temporal beings precisely so that we could make all the stupid, terrible mistakes that humanity makes…in an environment where, no matter HOW horrible, they are only temporary. In an environment where we can learn from them, before becoming who we TRULY are, and who we will be forever.

God gave us the opportunity to learn from failure. That is something Infinite beings don’t have. By all accounts, God has a starry host. He has a multitude of angels that, living in his presence, never chose to seek after their own dominion. But he also saw Lucifer fall, saw a host of Created beings that turned away from him, once for all, and he wanted to create an opportunity for Man to avoid that. Life is not a chance to earn condemnation — that’s what we’re taught, that if you die as a baby you’ll go straight to Heaven, but the longer you live, the more opportunities you’ll get to Sin, and by sinning earn Hell — life is not just provided as a test, and if you mess up you fail.

Life is provided as an OPPORTUNITY to fail, over and over again, and to HURT in the process (I’m not saying sin should be painless, or that we should be without guilt). Failure is failure, it’s just not condemnation. Life is an opportunity for us to try out racism, try out bigotry, try out murder and selfishness and idle gossip and see how NONE of them is worth committing our souls to. Wealth isn’t as powerful as faith in God. Magic isn’t as powerful as faith in God. Technology and medicine cannot do what a simple prayer can. Life is our chance to learn these things, so when it comes time to make our big decision, we don’t have to make it blind.

God: The Workers’ Wages

Now on to this one, and back to my real topic of conversation — the meaning of life and the path to Salvation. Well…okay, when I put it like that, the last article works really well too….

How about this: the difference between the Path to Salvation as we learned it from Church, and the one Jesus recommends. I was spinning the last story — this one directly argues my case.

Because, before we get to it, let me say: Jesus is talking to the Pharisees here. He’s not talking about the reality of Salvation, he’s talking about Salvation as the Pharisees see it. Salvation is toil, it’s painful soul-searing sacrifice to gain an eternal reward (or, more likely, to avoid an eternal punishment). THAT’s not the Salvation Jesus offers, at any point, but that’s what he’s using in the metaphor of this parable. You have to understand, though, that here he is coming to them on their terms, not on his own.

That said, let’s get to it:

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

” ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

“But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
There’s the passage. More of “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” More striking than that, though, is the consistency of the single payment: one denarius. And that’s what the landowner claimed was “whatever is right.”

The laborers who worked all day came to the master complaining that the payment wasn’t just. I can tell you this (as I’ve told you already) we don’t want justice. It’s a silly thing to ask for. NONE of us have done, or will do, in our one day NEARLY enough work to justify the payment that he’s offering.

Furthermore…there’s only one payment. There’s one reward. It’s one reward, or it’s nothing. That’s the nature of Infinity. You can’t HAVE more or less of Infinity. God couldn’t give some of us MORE Infinite Perfect Happiness than he gave others….

That’s not the nature of Salvation. That’s not the nature of eternity. Anyone who gets paid, gets paid in full. And it’s by Grace that each and every one of us gets paid.

I love that the master keeps returning to the market to find more people to work for him. There’s a constant call, and that’s encouraging. I like that, when he finds people not working, he seems incredulous, but immediately invites them to work for him. Most of all, I like the absolutely clear message:

Everyone is invited. Everyone receives their reward out of the master’s generosity, not fair compensation. And Salvation is once-for-all…at the end of the day.

If I wanted to, I could write up a totally tangential sermon on that fact. Those who stayed until the end of the day got paid, no matter WHEN they started. But someone who worked from sunup to late afternoon and gave up and went away wouldna been there when the time came. I don’t buy into it, though, and I think that’s why Jesus made no mention. The metaphor of laboring through the day for payment at night isn’t Jesus’ idea of Salvation — it’s the Pharisees’. Jesus’ point was the master’s incredulity — it is his to reward as he chooses, and he freely does. That’s the bit we need to hang onto.

And hope, so much hope, because the end of the day isn’t on us yet, and if we’re not working toward Infinity, we’ve got time to get to it yet.

God: Deconstruction as the Path to Salvation

“Yeah, yeah,” you’re saying, “motives are all well and good, but WE want to know what you think about those Bible passages!”

Fine. Jerks.

There are two important bits here. The first goes like this:
And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?”

And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”


The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?”

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.

And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?”

And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Then Peter said to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?”

And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.

“But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.”
That’s not the Workers’ Wages, that’s the Rich Young Ruler. This is an easy story to make a lesson out of, for anyone. It’s rich with drama and inversion and just cake for anyone to spin to whatever point they want. I’ll do the same. Don’t think I’m claiming that THIS is what the passage REALLY means, but it’s as viable an interpretation as any other….

The young man who comes to Jesus asks him about Salvation and Jesus (as is his wont) answers first according to the Law (after all, it hasn’t been made obsolete yet). He tells the young man not to commit any Temporal sins.

And the young man answers that he HASN’T, and yet still he doesn’t feel he is prepared for Heaven.

That’s one of my major points. Obedience — plain ol’ good behavior — can’t make a Temporal being Infinite. It just won’t happen. We have to spend our time, in this life, preparing our souls for Infinity, and until we begin…we can FEEL that we’re not ready. This rich young man did. He asked Jesus what he needed to be, aside from behaving, to become Infinite.

And Jesus said, to the Rich Young Man, “give up your wealth.” I don’t think it was a financial thing — I think it was a Constructionist thing. A Rich Man (someone who the Bible describes as nothing other than “a Rich Man”) is a man who has built himself a world run by successful financial ventures. He’s a man who has learned how to use money to his advantage, and how to depend upon money to get what he wants. He has separated himself from Real Truth using layer after layer of symbolic wealth.

A man like that has to overcome money in order to have any shot at Infinity, because there are very few things more temporary than wealth. It’s precisely the kind of faith-based, Man-made system of power we so like to turn to, to keep from having to rely on God as our Providence. Mankind built money, designed the concept and invested in it enough belief that it has come to have a great deal of symbolic power within our reality. Money can provide food, it can provide shelter and security and even physical healing. It’s one of our Constructed substitutes for God, and the more we use and believe in Money, the harder it is to recognize and value and really believe in the Real Truth that we’re so deliberately obscuring.

That’s where this bit comes in:
“But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.”

That’s the inversion that occurs between Temporal and Infinite. Because all of Man’s own Temporal power comes from Construction of this imaginary, insignificant reality we dwell in. Money, popularity, technology, magic — all are ways to power in this life, and the more a Man invests in them, the greater he will become within the Temporal world. But everything he invests in reality pulls him that much farther away from Real Truth. Those who keep their lives basic, who seek after Real Truth even within the Temporal world, and rely on God for their needs — they’re going to be weak within this world (although well provided for). They’re going to be the last, in Temporal measures, because they’re investing themselves in recognizing the Infinite.

That’s the thing: we can’t USE the Infinite. It gives us no strength, no power, no advantage, but it DOES give us significance and meaning and…well, Infinity. Every Temporal sacrifice we make for the sake of Salvation (as Jesus said) will pay for itself in Infinity.

It’s a good passage. I’ll get to the Workers’ Wages next.

God: Structure of My Conversations

It’s interesting how, in this life, things come together. Spend an hour or a day pondering some deeply serious issue, and you’ll be amazed how many movies you watch, songs you hear, conversations you have, all seem to have very specific bearing on that topic. Significantly more so with sermons, too. Every time I write an article here, and then attend church, I hear the teacher speak on exactly what I’m writing about.

I call it interesting, not amazing or surprising, because it makes sense within my worldview. But, then, my worldview interests me.

Nicki wrote me last night about the Parable of the Laborers in Matthew 20, because their lesson at church had been on that topic. It’s the story of the landowner who goes out at dawn and hires some workers for a set amount, and then hires more throughout the day and, at the end of the day, pays them all the same wages (and those who worked longest think that’s unfair). It’s a story about unjust Salvation, and it made Nicki think about some of the things I’ve been writing. She asked what I thought about that passage.

The fact of the matter is, that passage has been very much on my mind in every article I’ve written about Salvation. Not just that one, but a hundred others like it. You saw how I used the passage about the Faithfully Suicidal Mountain as defense for my ideas of Greatness and I’ve brought Elijah into my discussion of Christian salvation….

I want to tell you something about what I’m doing here, about my motivation. And it really has something to do with a comment Nicki made on one of my other posts last night. It’s about the structure of my worldview, about the PURPOSE of all of this, all these conversations, all these heresies….

These articles aren’t about my answers to other people’s questions about faith. They’re not answers to my OWN questions about difficult issues. They’re answers to one single, driving focus: what’s the POINT?

What’s the big picture?

I was told in Bible School that the Bible is the perfect, infallible Word of God — every word in it (in the English translation I had, even) the perfectly inspired wording provided by God — and that there couldn’t possibly be any contradiction, any lie anywhere among those many, many words.

I was told God was perfect and unchanging. That he was merciful and forgiving and loving and that he sent all sinners to Hell. That he made the world (in six days) for his beloved children to live in, and that the world belonged to Satan and Christians should not be of the world. That God breathed life into us, and that we should scorn this life and spend all of our time praying for the next….

I never once decided it was all meaningless. I have not yet, ever, really doubted God. I’m not bragging, and I’m not saying I never will, but I’ve never had a reason to. Human fallibility made a lot more sense to me than divine fallibility, so I put it all down to my teachers, and decided to figure out what had them confused.

My goal, for most of my life, has been to understand all of it, as a whole tapestry, not as little pieces. When we are told that God is love and we are told that love keeps no record of wrongs (in places far apart), and we’re told elsewhere that everyone sins and we’re told elsewhere that sinful people have no place in Heaven (but elsewhere that sometimes people sin while walking in the light)…how do you fit it all together?

I’ll say this: Most people who ask, “How could a loving God allow all the pain and suffering and injustice that go on in this world?” ask it rhetorically — and use the question itself as their justification for abandoning God.

I used that question as my justification for reviewing our understanding of what God is, what he intends for Man, what he has offered us and what he has asked of us. I have spent most of my life trying to make a meaningful message out of the whole of the Bible, and there are puzzling questions you haven’t even CONSIDERED yet, which were the kinds of things that got me started.

I haven’t found all my answers yet. I’ll probably never find enough answers for all of you, but I’ve already found a message that makes infinitely more sense to me than the one I learned in Bible School. THAT message sounds far, far too much like the one Jesus told us wouldn’t work.

I want to find the truth, and I have found no reason to be discouraged.

In every passage of the Bible, I have found no reason to be discouraged.

That is not to say I’m always right, that everything I read supports my ideas. I’ve thrown away LOTS of ideas (ideas that I LOVED at the time), but the more I read of the Bible, the more I understand of God, the more I find to be delighted about, to be joyous about, for this life and the next. I have found no reason to be discouraged.

It’s a beautiful experience. I recommend it highly.

God: A Metaphor

I’ll give you a simple metaphor, that may help convey what I’m trying to say about sin.

I’ve spoken several times about our Infinite Decision. When we die, we will become Infinite Beings (not the frail temporal things we are now). We’ll still be US, we’ll still have the same soul, the same memories, the same disposition that we had in life, but we’ll have perspective and power like we have never known.

And we’ll have to use that perspective and power to decide, based on what we know, whether or not we want to go to Heaven, and submit to God for all time.

That decision is like a Final Exam. Yeah, Comprehensive. Naturally. And it accounts for 100% of your grade for the semester.

Our lifetime is the time given us to study for the final. Our entire lifetime is provided for us to learn what we need to know to pass that ultimate test.

Committing temporal sins (and by this I mean breaking commandments, lying, stealing, even murder) are the metaphorical equivalent of goofing off during that study time. Got it? Committing temporal sins is not, in any way, failing the test. You’re not even TAKING the test. There was a time when the rules were different — when your performance throughout the semester was factored into your grade too. That was a LOT of Fs, though. (Thus Jesus’ sacrifice, which changed the grading so only the Final counted against you.)

Your lifetime is the only chance you’ve got to study for the test. Some people will spend that whole time studying — and still fail the test, because they’ve studied the wrong things, or studied in the wrong way, or just don’t understand the teacher well enough to answer what he wants. Some people will goof off all semester, then cram the night before, and pass with aces. Most people will spend their whole semester wavering back and forth — sometimes attending class, sometimes skipping, sometimes doing their homework, occasionally studying — and then it’ll just depend how well they’ve learned which topics.

Let’s say the commandments are a study guide. Or even a practice test. It doesn’t matter HOW WELL YOU DO on a practice test, that grade doesn’t go in the book. Got it? Temporal acts don’t count toward your final grade, good or bad. What matters is, in the time you were given, did you learn the material?

Do you know how to be Infinitely Perfect? It’s not out of our reach. In fact, we’re born with it, and every layer we add to the world around us hides our own perfection from us. We have all the materials we need to strip away the layers, and see the truth in ourselves. We can’t see it anywhere else (not in this form, not really — we see as through a shadowy mirror), but we can find it in ourselves. We can be confident in our place in Heaven, but we have to learn to look for it, to think the way the teacher thinks. We have to stop having panic attacks about what our grade is going to be, and start really, really, deep-down LEARNING what life is all about. What God is all about. What Man is meant to be.

It matters. It’s the only grade that ever really will.