Your life has meaning.
The things you do, matter.
Your life has meaning.
The things you do, matter.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“Yeah, yeah,” you’re saying, “motives are all well and good, but WE want to know what you think about those Bible passages!”
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.”
Then he said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER; YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY; YOU SHALL NOT STEAL; YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS; HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; and YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”
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.
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.
Okay, I’ve been told that I haven’t made some points clear enough, and I’m going to stay within that theme….
This one you have to do for yourself. When you first read it, it probably won’t seem significant or reasonable. It is, though. It’s a REALLY tough one. Spend some time, figure out what I’m really asking about…and then consider it for a while.
Okay. Here it is. Imagine (I mean it, do it) imagine if what everyone else saw as red, you for some reason saw as blue. And vice versa. Totally cosistent, maybe a physical defect in your eyes or something, and not recognizable by doctors.
How would you know? How would you ever know?
Think about it. Keep going. Write a comment once you’ve got a good one.
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.
Okay, I’ve talked about sin in an abstract way, and repeated myself four times and am still getting the same questions, which means I haven’t been clear.
Also, a lot of my answers were, “This will have to wait until later,” so I’m going ahead with the later, now. I’m going to post two separate posts today, both with pretty much the same theme, but divided based on their scriptural foundations (also because they’re long).
The first is a passage that I’ve been meaning to put here every day for the past week and a half, because of how it applies to things I’ve already said. And, I mean, at least once a day I’d think, “AAARGH! How could I NOT have done that yet?!” style of thing.
In Matthew 5 (yeah, Sermon on the Mount territory), Jesus starts talking about sin, and commandments, and the Law. Jesus starts addressing some of the issues I’ve been talking about — the Godaccountant myth, the role of sin in our lives. He says, right out, that sin is not sin because of a wicked action, but because of the effect it has on who you are as a person — because when you think like a sinful person, you are constructing for yourself a sinful world, rather than a righteous one.
Let’s get right to it:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear [that is, in my opinion, until the distinction between the two disappear when constructed reality comes to an end], not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the law until everything is accomplished.”
By “the Law” I don’t think he’s talking about the laws of the Pharisees, because he goes on to say:
“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of Heaven.”
So he’s calling for a rightneousness above and beyond obedience. Toby and I were talking about this yesterday. Actually…Nicki and I were talking about it, too. By being obedient to a ruleset you can behave (like the Pharisees and teachers of the Law) without ever committing your heart to the underlying truths that MAKE those sins sinful, and those righteous acts righteous. This is what Jesus means when he says your righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law — you must be righteous because you’d LEARNED to be a good person, not just because you’ve avoided doing bad things. Need some examples? Jesus provides.
“You have heard that is was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Well what kind of a chance does THAT leave us?
None, under the Godaccountant myth. But it makes perfect sense when you consider it from the point of view I was describing yesterday (in my comments to Nicki on a days old post). Here you have, in two instances, ultimate temporal sinful acts (murder and adultery), and Jesus is saying that the ACTIONS of the sins don’t matter because, long before you’ve committed them, you’ve already committed the real sin in your heart.
What I claimed yesterday was that, by his death, Jesus cleansed us (all humanity, even) from all the eternal consequences of our temporal acts.
(Temporal means “something bounded by time.” It’s a counterpart to infinite. It’s NOT just a typo on temporary, and doesn’t exactly mean the same thing. A life is temporal. The Roman empire was temporal. These things are not necessarily short-lived, except against the backdrop of eternity. Just…to clarify.)
Back to my point. We are already FOGIVEN for murdering anyone we murder. We are already forgiven, by the blood of Christ, for committing adultery. Those actions cannot commit us to Hell — we’ve been redeemed for once and all.
BUT, when we die, we will have to be the kind of person who can say, “Yes, God, I believe in the sanctity of all souls enough to peacefully coexist with ALL of the Saints, for all eternity.” If we have lived our lives, if we have built for ourselves a world in which our own selfishness causes us to take another person’s life, we are not preparing ourselves to be able to make that decision.
We’ll have to say, “Yes, God, I understand the purity of perfect love and the devotion to one love for one person above all others, so I am ready to be submitted and faithful to you for all eternity.” Monogamy is Unnatural. Commitment to one love above all others, for all time, is not a thing of this world. It’s PRACTICE, and practice we desperately need, because when we leave this world with its laws, we enter a new world with Laws that we cannot break, and one of those is utter, self-sacrificing devotion to God’s love. If we have lived our life indulging in our own desires, chasing after every love that can satisfy us, we will NOT be ready to accept God’s one love when the time comes.
It’s not a matter of committing a sin — it’s a matter of BEING a sinful person. A man could lust after a woman once, and delight in it so much, learn so little from the consequences, that he condemned himself to Hell at that moment. A man could spend his whole life chasing every woman he can get his hands on, acting in lewd and terrible ways, and if he realizes in the end that it’s all for nothing, if he really LEARNS that this lifestyle has nothing to offer him, but that there’s another one available (and if he’s learned enough of God’s providence elsewhere in his life to be able to faithfully accept it), then he has lived a good life, in that he prepared himself to accept Heaven.
It’s about Learning, not about doing good. It’s about preparing ourselves to be the kind of people who live in Heaven. That requires trials. That requires suffering. That requires abject misery at times, to truly understand why I can’t GET what I want — I have to take what God gives me, and just trust that that will be good enough.
I promised 6, didn’t I? Okay, you are all familiar with the sins passage in the Sermon on the Mount, and I HIGHLY encourage you to read it through, twice, before you put this post away for the day. I’ll summarize and commentate, though.
Of divorce, Jesus says that there is virtually no condition under which it is acceptable, because the very act of divorce is denying the viability of an eternal, self-sacrificing, dependent love (which is the primary relationship we are supposed to have with God). If you choose to divorce, you are practicing making the wrong decision in Infinity. Got it?
I’ve known people who refused to associate with willingly divorced people because of this passage. How so? Yes, Jesus calls it a sin, but he does this a paragraph after saying the same of being ANGRY WITH YOUR BROTHER! Come on! Jesus’ point is that we are all sinful, every day, and if we can’t learn to get BETTER through the experience, yes, we’re barring ourselves from Heaven, but committing temporal sins is not a punishable offense. That price has been paid. EVERYBODY’s going to fail, again and again and again — the system was set up for that!
On oaths, he says don’t swear to this extent or that extent, but let yes be yes and no, no. Again, because if you have to swear to the truth of something, you’re implying (and believing, and constructing in your reality) that the standard is untruth. If you begin by assuming most things most people say are lies (yourself included), then you are crippling your ability to interact with others, and giving yourself license to lie to others, which cripples the potential of the relationship. By lying, you deliberately keep a relationship from achieving the potential it could — a sin. By swearing an oath, you convince yourself that most of the things said are lies, which has the same effect. In other words, Jesus is establishing clearly that the sin is NOT what you do within this imaginary world, it’s the impact that your thoughts and actions have on who you are as a person.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
This is a very important one, because it’s answering the complaints that are bubbling in all your minds. “But that’s not FAIR!” I know, evil should be punished, and good should be rewarded. The fact of the matter is, we do not want Justice, we could not SURVIVE Justice and, thank God, we don’t ever have to face Justice (at least, not for our temporal actions). All of you that are thinking there HAS to be some punishment for our earthly deeds, are thinking eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. That’s sinful. That’s constructing for yourself a world in which human failure (an in-built trait in our corporal forms) goes unforgiven. You’re constructing a world in which God can’t forgive you for YOUR striking him — for YOUR demanding he go with you where he doesn’t want to go, for YOU taking what is rightfully his out of base selfishness — you are constructing a world where God cannot forgive you for being human.
GOD didn’t make a world like that — he went out of his way to make a world where we CAN be forgiven. Where all of our rebellions against him and demands of him result in him giving us MORE, and acting with more love toward us. If we create a world WITHOUT that potential for ourselves (and legalists do it ALL THE TIME), we are deliberately stripping ourselves of our single greatest potential — Grace. And that is a sin. So we should live as though we BELIEVE in a generous and forgiving universe, in spite of the human failure we have to face every day.
And the last of Jesus’ commandments here, which ends with the most perfect summary.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. [Build for yourself a world in which Love always makes sense. If you hate where it makes sense to hate, you are constructing a world that includes hate. If you love even when it makes sense to hate, you’re constructing a world entirely full of love, which is a much better one to live in, Carebears aside. Continuing:]
“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collector’s doing that? [In other words, loving those who love you is only constructing a Naturalistic world — that is a temporally logical thing to do, it’s not a Good act, even though it’s not a bad one.] And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
And how many Sunday School teachers stumble over that last line? It’s not a poser. It’s not an impossible command. Because Jesus is calling us to make an Infinite decision. Physical bodies can’t even make that choice, so Jesus isn’t saying, “While you’re alive, do what God does.” He’s telling us to BE like God — again, something we can’t even do while we’re temporal. So we have a lifetime to perpare ourselves for that. We have a lifetime to learn from our mistakes (failing and failing and failing in our quest to BECOME perfect). The perfection will never happen in this world — it’s not supposed to. It’s not natural. When perfection comes, all else will have faded away. All that will be left, are the things we have learned about Faith, Hope, and Love. If you’ve learned enough of these three, you get to go home. Simple as that.