To non-religious spiritual pursuers and my kids (Click FOLLOW for future Posts; See ABOUT THIS SITE tab to navigate Site)

Archive for February, 2016

Did Jesus Die For His Beliefs Or Because of God’s Wrath?

I have written on this subject matter ad nauseam, but Jesus’ death is one of the most talked about events in history though it happened two thousand years ago. It is so important how we talk about why Jesus chose to die on the Cross for relevancy and influential reasons. The traditional atonement theory that suggests Jesus died to appease God’s sense of justice just doesn’t make moral or relational sense for many. Legal atonement explanations cause eyes to glaze over and not allow people to make a personal connection. Suggesting Jesus died for God than for us undermines Jesus’ unimaginable love as evidenced by His tremendous sacrifice.

Theologian John Calvin articulates for many a legal interpretation of Jesus’ death: “as Scripture teaches, that he was estranged from God by sin, an heir of wrath, exposed to the curse of eternal death, excluded from all hope of salvation, a complete alien from the blessing of God… then Christ interposed, took the punishment upon himself and bore what by the just judgment of God was impending over sinners; with his own blood expiated the sins which rendered them hateful to God, by this expiation satisfied and duly propitiated God the Father, by this intercession appeased his anger, on this basis founded peace between God and men, and by this tie secured the Divine benevolence toward them (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, Chapter 16, para.2). Did Jesus die mainly to serve God?

Soldiers die for one another because they believe that the fight for freedom is worth it. Jesus, the miracle worker, could have somehow avoided His crucifixion. Jesus could have simply denied being the Messiah to save His skin. God could have overrun the Roman kingdom with God’s kingdom, but God knows authentic relationships only happen if chosen freely. Jesus was willing to die for a message He felt lead to true freedom. Jesus hoped others would follow in His footsteps in relationships to avoid self-destruction and destruction of others. Parents who believe their guidance is vital “walk the talk” to best influence their children in the long-run. Jesus was willing to die for a cause to gain moral authority to influence lasting world change.

The traditional theory of Jesus’ death doesn’t make moral sense. It was the gods in past history who demanded some type of sacrifice to appease their own desires for power and control. God distanced themselves from the other gods. What does it say about God who requires the blood of the innocent! A loving God only requires confessions of wrongdoings for this is truly what leads to less destruction and healing in relationships.

The traditional theory of Jesus’ death doesn’t make legal sense. Death can never make matters totally right. Death doesn’t resurrect the murdered. Death doesn’t wipe out childhood memories caused by a parent’s abuse. My going to jail for a friend’s wrongdoing doesn’t somehow exonerate my friend. Guilt is not somehow removed by someone else’s confession of a sin they didn’t commit. Why would Jesus say: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” if God thought sacrifice than confession lead to healing? (Mt. 9:13)

The Creator referred to a relationship with those created as a parent with their children. A parent’s greatest desire is simply a change in heart when children disobey. God’s holiness doesn’t require more than what a godly parent would. What is holier than divine forgiveness when one is remorseful? If God cannot forgive except by requiring the blood of an innocent man, why could Jesus forgive sins before He died on the Cross? Why did Jesus say God’s forgives sin when we forgive others (Mt. 6:14)? Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son illustrates a loving father forgives when a child recognizes their wrongdoing (Lk. 15). Jesus died in hopes we would embrace His message to avoid self-destruction and destruction of others in the world we live in.

Advertisements

Reading The Bible For Today – Turning The Other Cheek

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

I wrote previously about the above passage in Matthew 5. See here. It was only centuries later that the biblical authors’ writings were assign verses and chapters. This can lead to suggesting a meaning to a writer’s words that was not intended. It is best to read a book and letters in the Bible as a whole. Keep in mind the circumstances of the audience a writer is addressing. Applications for readers living centuries later may be different.

It is a good practice to first attempt to understand a writer’s meaning to the audience they are addressing. When discerning what Jesus’ meant by His words, it is helpful to keep in mind Jesus’ main message. I believe it is fair to suggest Jesus came to convey God’s love for each of us despite our failures, and God’s desire to encourage and support us in living out what we all secretly desire as a legacy – loving others like we want to be loved.

When reading Jesus’ words we might ask why Jesus offered such advice to support His mission. We can begin to think how we might apply Jesus’ words in our own life. Of course you have to decide if the message Jesus came to convey is worth believing and following. Jesus’ words seem always in our best interest if we desire to look back on our life with the fewest regrets.

  • Jesus wasn’t necessarily condemning “eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” He was simply referring to the Law. Eye for eye can be a good thing. It protected the weak from the powerful who were seeking more than justice (i.e. revenge).
  • Was Jesus saying we should always allow an evil person to continue to abuse us by turning the other cheek? That doesn’t seem likely. If Jesus’ words were intended to be applicable to every situation then why did Jesus attempt to defend Himself rather than simply turned the other cheek when slapped by an official (Jn. 18:23)?
  • Was Jesus advocating we should always be willing to give all the clothes off our back? It seem more likely Jesus was not suggesting passivity but actually provoking possible ways to avoid continued violence. Restraint can sometimes lead to less violence as responding violently breeds more violence. It is possible Jesus was actually empowering the weak at that time who felt powerless against the unrestrained strong. The response suggested by Jesus can embolden to prove someone’s ridiculous cruelty.
  • Did Jesus advise that we should always loan money to anyone who seeks to borrow from you? Doesn’t this contradict other advice in the Bible that says: “Warn divisive people once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them” (Titus 3:10).

Applications are different depending upon one’s circumstances. Wasn’t Jesus simply asking us to consider not always responding in natural ways? There are times that supernatural responses are the best way to change the world for the better. At other times we may seek justice to protect future victims. Don’t live in fear if you are pleasing your Creator. Read the Bible for possible ways to make a difference in this world as Jesus’ life did. Jesus wanted us to know that our Creator loves us and seeks to encourage us in making for a better world.

What May Be The Main Reason Religion Is Not Having A Greater Impact?

Jesus obviously had very strong beliefs for He was willing to die than deny accusations. Jesus could have avoided His crucifixion by the authorities if He had only denied being the so-called Messiah. But, one would be hard pressed to determine any consistency in Jesus’ interactions with others that insisted on any litmus test of beliefs. Even Jesus twelve disciples, who were His most loyal followers, were not rejected for teetering back and forth in their beliefs about Jesus.

Jesus had every right to be upset with lots of folks. He performed miracles and people still didn’t believe. Under dire circumstances Jesus showed tremendous patience except for religious leaders who claimed to represent God. Their emphasis on adherence to certain beliefs to gain God’s approval was making religion self-serving rather than self-sacrificing. Jesus reprimanded the Pharisees for demanding God required certain beliefs to be in good standing. A focus on beliefs than actions is misleading us what changes God desires the most for a better world.

One might speculate that one reason the Pharisees stressed the importance of certain beliefs was to keep them overseers and in power. I do not know the motives of all religious leaders today, but establishing certain beliefs gives churches an identity that pays the bills. Part of the challenge is that people demand leaders establish certain traditions or customs for their own comfort levels. People often vote for certain presidential candidates because a candidate implies there are easy beliefs to complicated world problems. We often get what we deserve.

One would be hard pressed to see one single belief that Jesus insisted upon that religions focus on today. Jesus didn’t push baptism with all those He interacted with. Jesus didn’t insist people call him God or believe He was son of God, though He never denied being the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. Jesus didn’t say all divorces are wrong or take a stance on same sex marriages. Jesus focused on changing the world by loving a neighbor like you want to be loved. This often requires going the extra mile since we and those we interact with don’t always act lovable. Anyone can love the lovable.

Jesus’ main concern was behaviors that hurt us individually or violate the rights of others. Religious leaders in biblical times and now, who focus on certain sacred beliefs, distract people from focusing on why Jesus came. Jesus’ only sacred belief was that our Creator loves and forgives us in hopes to inspire us to act the same toward others. Jesus taught God seeks to empower us toward a life of doing good and shunning evil. Jesus came to dispel any preconceived notions about God other than God desires a relationship so no matter our situation we don’t lose hope in being the kind of people we ought. Any other beliefs are between God and those who value God’s message.

 

 

 

 

What Do Sinners Have To Offer Others About God?

I am going to tell you something that is obvious to most already. Some people in the world don’t have much to do with God. They don’t spend a lot of time thinking about God. Well, I do and they still treat others better than me. Lots of non-God folks don’t have as many anxieties or bad habits as church-goers. What the Hell do God-folks have to offer them?

Unfortunately, many of us are taught we have an obligation to push God on others or they are doomed. The traditional understanding of Hell as a fiery pit awaiting non-God folks simply isn’t biblical. See here. Such an understanding can be very freeing to people who feel there is no way to rationalize a loving God who tortures people forever for beliefs formed over a few short years here on earth. Jesus while on earth didn’t force Himself on others though He believed in the message He shared and was willing to die by not denying such beliefs.

I don’t think Jesus was being dismissive when he said He came for those who wanted help (Mk. 2:17). The parable of the wandering sheep doesn’t suggest Jesus cares only about one who needs His help and not the other ninety-nine (Mt. 18:10-14). Jesus was never recorded as saying He came to condemn all regardless of their beliefs. He condemned the Pharisees for misrepresenting God’s message; otherwise Jesus simply wanted to help those who wanted help. Jesus desired to forgive those who sought it, to encourage those who felt hopeless, to empower those who looked to be a better person than they were.

Most of us don’t justify breaking laws, and we don’t rationalize taking advantage of others. I am though a better husband, father, friend, and person because of God’s influence. I want to always act in ways that encourage change not discourage regardless of the circumstances. Just as a parent’s love can inspire being true to your values despite how other treat you, God can empower us to go the extra mile when needed. It is not always natural to forgive despite one’s confessing their wrongdoing, but changes in the world often only happen when we are willing to forgive. A relationship with God, like many great friendships, can motivate, inspire, and encourage us to never give up trying to make a difference in the world.

So you don’t need help being more the kind of person you deep down desire to be. Great! You can hang around my children. Seriously though, if you want help with current regrets or having less regrets later in life, you seek hope of life after death, you need help with dealing with a challenging world, you want to not grow wary of not responding always alike how people treat you, then I invite you to get to know my God. God doesn’t force or ask people to force God on others. If you feel a nudge from God, seek out others who seem to have a healthy relationship with God. Hopefully, you won’t feel judged and are invited to have an open conversation to discuss any spiritual matters you wish.

Does God Have Any Sacred Beliefs Other Than…?

Does God demand we believe in Jesus and any asserted claim about Jesus according to the Bible to be loved and accepted? I don’t wish to undermine one’s cherished beliefs of the Christian faith, but we mustn’t impose any beliefs on others without considering how God would respond to doubts. I am not convinced a loving God lets any sacred belief interfere with the possibility of a relationship other than immoral beliefs that lead to the violation of others’ rights.

Churches and religions fuss over sacraments such as baptism or marriage, thus losing site of the main goal, but what about beliefs as to whether Jesus was both man and God or any other belief. Does God have non-negotiable beliefs? Focuses on such beliefs drown out the message Jesus came to proclaim. One can understand the intellectual complexities in insisting Jesus was both fully deity and fully human. Can one logically be both deity and not deity any more than being both married and a bachelor? Those of us who didn’t witness Jesus’ life on earth or speak to eyewitnesses may need to consider separately claims about Jesus and the message of Jesus.

Suggesting a loving God insists one can only come to God through Jesus is to ignore the realities of our world. John Hick in Who Or What is God rightly acknowledges: “…in the vast majority of cases, probably 98 or 99 per cent, the religion to which anyone adheres (or against which they rebel) depends upon where they are born. When someone is born into a Christian family they are very likely to become a Christian, whether practicing or nominal; when into a Muslim family, very likely to become a Muslim; if into a Buddhist family, to become a Buddhist – and so on round the world” (p. 73). Would a loving God judge people who have never heard about God of the Bible or who have a distorted view of God causing misbelief?

Jesus’ interactions with people did not suggest God has a litmus test regarding certain beliefs. Jesus didn’t insist the woman caught in adultery believe He was God but simply to go and leave your life of sin (Jn. 8:1-11). Jesus only felt the need to inspire the woman to consider doing what she knew was right in her heart. Zacchaeus, a tax collector, cheated people out of their money but decided to payback four times what he stole. Jesus responded: “Today salvation has come to this house” (Lk. 19:9). There was no formal confession. Jesus simply commended Zacchaeus for recognizing a life which avoids personal destruction and makes for a better world.

The only beliefs the Bible speaks out against are immoral beliefs which lead to the violation of the rights of others. Jesus didn’t speak out on divorce to condemn all but to defend one should enter marriage as if for a lifetime and kicking partners to the curb to enjoy your current desires is simply wrong. Who doesn’t tell their children the same? God authorized wars in Old Testament times when nations refused to live with others in peace and were involved in despicable practices such as child sacrifice. The only sacred belief Jesus spoke of was going the extra mile in loving others as you want to be loved, for such behaviors may be the only way to deter others from destruction. Seek revenge and destroy yourself and others from every changing their ways.

Religion leaders in biblical time and now, who focus on certain sacred beliefs, lead people from focusing on why Jesus came. Jesus’ only sacred belief was that our Creator loves and forgives us in hopes we may be the same toward others. Jesus taught God seeks to empower us toward a life of doing good and shunning evil in a troubled world. What does your heart say about Jesus’ message to love others as you wish to be loved? Jesus came to dispel any preconceived notions about God other than God desires a relationship so to help you be the person you deep down want to be. Many struggle with certain beliefs but are not ready to throw out Jesus’ message. Who is God and what is God’s message to you? Any other beliefs are between you and God.

 

Should We Be Wary Of Forcing Certain Traditions Or Customs?

I read Galatians as a whole, since the author wrote it as a letter to be read, to see what might be its main warning. See here. Paul expressed concern to the Galatians that they were distorting the gospel that Jesus taught (1:6). They begin to insist all peoples follow their customs (2:17) and stressed special occasions as most important (4:10). The Jews in Galatia perhaps were tempted by a sense of entitlement that comes from receiving the Law from the Creator. The importance of the Law kept religious leaders such as the Pharisees in control.

Parents and religious leaders might be wary of traditions pushed on others. Parents may insist on certain careers, schools, or other decisions for their older children because it mostly comforts the parent. Such actions drown out more important things – a parent’s love and encouragement to be a loving person. We might push our understanding of true spirituality as a way to build up our own standing with God. Traditions push or highly encouraged by religious leaders give a church an identity for others to join, which is needed to fund salaries and keep the doors open.

Religions may try to control where and how people pray during the day. We may insinuate that people must attend a church if they are truly spiritual. The Bible never speaks of going to a church building but being “the” church to encourage others. To insist being baptized a certain ways implies there is only one way to be identified as a follower of Jesus. We emphasize the important of certain holidays which can lead to the lack of importance of every day. We insist on our interpretations of the Bible though most understand interpretations are possibly fallible.

Do traditions obscure what is more important? We can be seduced into thinking that attending church is all that matters and not how I treat others the rest of the days and hours not spent in church. Traditions forced can lead to thinking that God only loves me if I honor certain customs. God like any loving parent doesn’t love their children because of certain behaviors chosen. Parents even love their children when they act immoral though consequences are inevitable. Loving parents simply encourage children to discover how to make for a better world.

All traditions certainly aren’t the same. Any religion that is based on control than service toward others is not truly religious. God never insisted on belief or be destroyed; otherwise, why doesn’t a God powerful enough to create destroy immediately those who oppose by choosing evil. One hint terrorists are misguided is they don’t just blow themselves up to spread their gospel. Jesus didn’t come to conquer but sacrificed His own life to influence others. Human or spiritual parents hope their children freely reciprocate their love. The God of the Bible surely is not like the supposed God of terrorists who thinks that controlling or destroying decisions results in true love. True life transformations are freely chosen.

Galatians warns of focusing on traditions instead of the true gospel of God. Jesus came to encourage us what the Law or traditions can’t encourage – loving your neighbor as yourself (5:14). God loves, forgives, never loses hope in us so that we might act the same toward others. Be wary of those who suggest they are favored by God and insist on adhering to certain traditions. The Jewish focus on the Law led to be being concerned with being legal and less concerned about being self-centered. All can speak to actions that violate the right of others; otherwise, God can personally guide individuals how to have a better life and benefit others.

Can Reading The Bible Be Simple And Worthwhile?

I use to think reading the Bible needed to be more of an academic task. It doesn’t have to be though. I will admit the Bible is hard to read. After all it was written to an audience other than you that lived thousands of years ago in a different land and culture. Too, the Apostle Paul was writing to people who lived during Jesus’ lifetime and knew Paul who knew the brother of Jesus and other eyewitnesses (Gal. 2:9). That is a different perspective than us readers who are looking backwards and wondering if a man named Jesus was who He claimed to be and if it matters.

We can read the Bible without getting all technical. Some enjoy reading the Bible with commentaries and other help sources at their disposal, though keep in mind interpretations are fallible. One way to avoid misrepresenting a writer’s intended meaning is by reading a letter in the New Testament as a whole. Verses in the Bible were only added after the 14th century, which can lead to taking sentences here and there to make a point not intended. We would hate if someone did that with our words in communicating what we said.

I read Paul’s letter to the Galatians in its entirety several times to see if there were any lessons for me. Paul claims Jesus, who was brought back alive after being dead, to be his authority (1:1). Jesus is the only religious leader to proclaim He would come back from the dead, but Paul’s readers living in the 1st century could more easily confirm such a claim. If one doesn’t believe the resurrection is a provable historical reality beyond reasonable doubt, one might also consider if Jesus’ message rings true. Jesus certainly was one who led by example and sacrifice. It is also significant that Paul and other followers risked their lives not for a future promise but a past event they could verify. Paul says Jesus “gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age… (1:4). What sins exactly did Jesus seek to impress upon us that need rescuing? 

The Galatians were deserting from the message of Jesus that Paul had taught them (1:6). Paul then seeks to prove his calling by God so they might reconsider (1:10-2:10). A major theme throughout the letter is the Jews acting as if God favored them, and the Gospel was to force others to follow Jewish customs because God chose them over others (2:14). It is not favoritism when God chooses one nation to bless all nations (3:8). God doesn’t play favorites! Were the Jews tempted to emphasize the Law given to them by God because of a sense of entitlement that comes from such a privilege? Jewish religious leaders like the Pharisees seemed more concerned about their power because of the Law than if lives were changed.

By giving the Law undue importance, the Galatians were distorting the true Gospel. Besides, if the Law is the main thing there was no reason for Jesus to come down to earth. The problem is the Law can only condemn as we all are lawbreakers at one time or another (2:16). A focus only on the Law leads to us being only concerned with being legal and less concerned about being self-centered. Does the Law then not matter and we are free to do whatever the hell we want (2:17). Those who think like that don’t understand laws are to guide and protect from lawbreakers; laws are not made to change hearts.

Paul tries to convince his readers of the freedom we have in Christ (2:4). God doesn’t see us as Jews or Gentiles, or males or females or slaves or owners which was a good thing during Paul’s life (3:28). Paul keeps questioning the Jews about their main focus on laws (4:10). Customs and traditions don’t really lead to life transformations (5:1). God never intended others be required to abide by certain rules not in violation of the rights of others. Instead, with Jesus’ spirit we can focus on avoiding indulging in harmful ways that seem so natural (5:13). Jesus came to encourage us what the law can’t legislate – love your neighbor as yourself (5:14). Jesus desired to inspire us toward “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (5:23-24).

Paul clearly implies what Jesus came to rescue us from (1:4). Of course Jesus would encourage us to obey the law but there is more to life than being a law-abiding citizen. Jesus didn’t ask followers to sacrifice but then live in richness and not make the ultimate sacrifice Himself. Jesus didn’t force His beliefs on others, or be killed, as if true love can be forced. Be wary of those who suggest they are favored by God and insist on adhering to certain traditions. Jesus taught God doesn’t give up on us. Let’s don’t give up on others. God forgives us for our failures. Let’s forgive other when they fail. God never loses hope for us. Let’s not lose hope in others. Don’t you want to love others always as you want to be loved? Jesus came so you know God desires a relationship so you can feel loved, forgiven, encouraged, and empowered.

 

Tag Cloud