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Archive for January, 2015

Why Is It Important To Believe God Is Not A Mystery?

Declaring God a mystery can create relational distance between us and our Creator. God desires a close, understanding, friendship with each of us. When a friend declares “don’t even try to understand me” this creates instant barriers and implies you are stupid. To claim God is a mystery does not invite investigation by those who may be seeking God for the first time. We aren’t really doing God a favor by declaring God a mystery because we can’t explain our theology.

Our characterizations of God must be plausible based on what a loving God should be like. God can’t be love yet torture forever those who don’t trust Him. Even humans may not torture their enemies to that extent. As it turns out Hell is not a translation but a substitution for certain Hebrew and Greek words. Hell was an invention over the centuries to scare people into submission and obedience. The Greek word Gehenna, translated as Hell, was a proper noun and the name of a real valley nearby Jerusalem with a history. Hell is no more a translation of Gehenna than Atlanta is for Chicago.

Why did God even bother to communicate to us through the Bible if we can’t possibly understand Him? The Bible doesn’t claim that God’s character or ways are a mystery and incomprehensible to the human mind. The Old Testament only declares our ways aren’t always as moral as God’s ways: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord…. so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).  Jesus didn’t speak in parables because God’s ways were mysterious. God’s direct message is only perplexing sometimes to one’s heart but not the mind.  Sometimes, parents can speak the truth to their children until blue in the face and be looked upon as creatures from outer space. There may be a better way to speak the truth than in a straightforward manner.

Some assume God’s will for our life is hidden since believing God is mysterious. God doesn’t predetermine our future actions. A loving parent doesn’t only approve of their child if they purse a certain type of career. God only directs us morally because God’s ways are always in our best interest. Otherwise, we are free to dream and pursue the desires of our heart. We can choose the wisest path at the time based on past experiences, current circumstances, and future aspirations. God’s will is accomplished by doing all the good we can, in all the places we can, to all the people we can, as long as we can. When we stumble morally, God lifts us up.

The ultimate mystery for many is how evil or suffering and God’s goodness can co-exist. The biblical writers’ silence on this matter may suggest such coexistence was self-explanatory.  Much of suffering – wars, crimes, and injustices – results from evil choices. Suffering is actualized when we abuse freedom to the detriment of ourselves and others. Authenticity, the highest good in relationships, is impossible without freedom. Without freedom we could accuse God of not creating the “best” world. God interference may prevent a superior world from developing as a result of the moral improvement of free creatures. Martin Luther King’s suffering moved the scales from the eyes of many how they tolerated bigotry. God apparently values forgiveness over instant justice, hoping many will change of their own free will.

God surely came in the flesh so that we might better understand Him. Questions dismissed as unanswerable may be answerable. Some may argue it is defiant to think we have a right to question the Creator of the Universe, and we must simply trust God. I suspect God does not mind being questioned. It is reasonable to expect God’s ways to feel rational to the human emotions and make logical sense to the human mind, since we are made in His image. God’s ways surely are more comprehensible than incomprehensible. This viewpoint enables us to relate to our Creator more personally and to explain our God to others.

Why Is It Important To Know God Is An Unconditional Lover?

Jesus became the most upset with the religious elite of His time because they got the main thing wrong. Christians may be doing the same thing today. Rules are emphasized more than having a relationship with God. God is portrayed more as a God of wrath than love. It is assumed God is more offended by what sin does to Him than what it does to us. God desperately want us to know He loves us unconditionally, as do all loving parents, because that is who God is.

The fear of God was on display in the Bible when nations participated in such things as child sacrifice to please their supposed gods. Jesus got His dander up the most when the religious acted as if true religion was self-serving rather than self-sacrificing. God’s wrath or tough love was only to deter people from self-destruction. Fear-based theology has been a misguided attempt to control our behaviors to produce unselfishness. Fear doesn’t lead to life-changing transformations. Has gloomy uncertainty as to God’s favor conquered your battles against self-centeredness or long-standing habitual sins? Having an intimate friendship with God is what really transforms us into the kind of person we want to be.

Humans do not understand relationships better than our Creator. Parents know the fear of punishment is only meant to encourage their child to run from evil and is not what the relationship is based on. The main thing is a friendship gained over time that will help children to know us and act on our guidance which is always in their best interests. Our obedience has absolutely nothing to do with God’s love for us. It only effects how we feel about our relationship with God. God certainly grieves selfish choices because of the pain it will cause His children, but God doesn’t stop loving us any more than our human parents stop loving us.

Understanding God’s unconditional love is the only way to conquer the ultimate problem in our life – selfishness. We want the fear of God in killers to stop evil, but this doesn’t lead to changed hearts. God thankfully does not give up hoping or forgiving, or we may never make important life changes. Sometimes we cannot stop hating ourselves for committing the same sins over and over. God doesn’t give up after the 10th relapse. God doesn’t heap guilt on us; selfishness already does that for non-evil folks. We can start off each day knowing God is in our corner.

God was not concerned about giving us a license to keep sinning. We sin without applying for a license. Sin has its own consequences. You can’t yell at your partner and expect to have any kind of relationship. God’s anger doesn’t bring about desired reconciliation. We are inspired to serve well a boss who truly values us and we deeply respect. When we understand what God is really like and how much He loves us, we will be more empowered to act in the best interests of others and our own. The only law God is concerned about is the law of love.

There are so many reasons we must understand God’s unconditional love for us:

  • God’s unconditional love provides comfort to those whose failures afflict their consciences. We know we cannot meet God’s standards much less our own, no matter how hard we try. We do not have to give up though.
  • God’s unconditional love allows us to continually seek forgiveness and acknowledge our wrongs before God without worrying that we destroying God’s love for us. Sin has its own consequences. Our failures do not change our statue with God. We can remain empowered than discouraged. God is keeping record – every act of kindness no matter how small.
  • God’s unconditional love gives us hope that it is never too late to start. God’s accounting system is different than ours (Matthew 20). Do we really want an exact accounting?
  • God’s unconditional love enables us to overcome temptations, which only seem at the time more pleasurable than intimacy with God. Temptation can be overcome because we have a loving God we can always go back to, not some tyrant who delights in punishing us.

When we understand God loves us unconditionally, we can avoid taking too much pride in ourselves. Pride only leads to comparing ourselves to others causing individual and relational discord. When we start to focus on our goodness, we may lose focus on all our shortcomings. God encourages perfection, not just reaching certain “good” standards. It isn’t that our good works are filthy, but God desires we be the very best we can and not just being better than others.  It is only when we understand our shortcomings that we reach out to God for help, which leads to true happiness and being the kind of people we want to be.

We may want to give up but we can know each day God starts off anew. God’s love and grace provides comfort to those whose failures afflict their consciences. God does not heap on more hate for constantly falling short. God gives us confidence to continue to pursue selflessness despite our regrets. A priority on God’s unconditional love does not do away with holiness but makes it possible. True intimacy with God inspires us toward life transformations.

Have The End-Times Already Happened According To The Bible?

I care about this issue, though all the different beliefs are understandable, because all this talk about Jesus coming and predictions failing makes God-folks seem slightly looney. Too, certain end-time views can lead to passive living and not taking care of the world for the next generation. God surely prefers focusing on making a difference than escaping. I believe Jesus has already come according to the Bible, thus the world is not ending, as evidenced by:

  • The biblical writers and readers expected the “end times” spoken of to happen within their generation. There is no reason to believe otherwise except because of our own assumptions. Peter writes to his readers in the first century that “the end of all things is at hand” (1 Pe. 4:7). Jesus says: “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass way until all these things have happened” (Mt. 24:34). Jesus in the same context recommends readers flee because predictions made are to take place in their generation (v. 16). When asked about the sign of His coming and the end of the age, Jesus said to His readers: “watch out that no one deceives you….you will hear of wars and rumors of war (Mt. 24:4-6).
  • Jesus’ and Paul’s generation did not assume Jesus’ coming again was visible. Comings in the clouds, a common metaphor in the Bible, were not always physical. The Old Testament often refers to God coming in the clouds to serve justice. This is obviously metaphorical as God never made a physical appearance. Paul assured his audience they have not missed the “day of the Lord” (2 Thess. 2:1-12). Why was Paul’s audience fearful they could miss the coming of Jesus if such a coming is supposedly a rapture-removing, visible, world-ending coming? Only a non-visible, spiritual coming of Jesus could possibly be missed. The disciples did not think of Jesus’ coming as being visible as they ask: “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age” (Mt. 24:3).
  • Heaven is referred to over 80 times in Matthew in references to the “kingdom of heaven.” Jesus says the Kingdom of God is coming in His readers’ lifetime (Mt. 16: 28). Thus, we are presently living in the kingdom of heaven and this major event or any other major event is not something in our future. Besides, many speak of Jesus being with them now but how so if Jesus hasn’t come yet.
  • History suggests Jesus’ prediction of coming in the “last days” has taken place. In the first century the great tribulation was fulfilled. The temple and Jerusalem was destroyed and millions of lives were lost. Biblical Judaism ceased to exist. This was the end of the age that Jesus spoke of. The destructive of Jerusalem was the end of the crucial redemptive-historical epoch. God no longer dwells in temples but people’s hearts. Sacrifice simply conveyed the destructiveness of selfishness, thus forgiveness is never without a cost. Jesus, as the ultimate and final sacrifice, was God’s desire to show His love and to persuade us to run from evil and love others as we wish to be loved.

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