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Archive for March, 2016

Are We Better Off Without The Bible?

The Bible can be used to unite and encourage and at other times to divide and discourage. Keep in mind that billions of people have lived and died without any knowledge of the Bible or who Jesus was. The Bible isn’t necessary in life but can be profitable. If an interpretation of the Bible makes no rational or relational sense what a loving God would truly be like, it is probably wrong. Any religion that acquires rather than gives power is false. What about those who blow others up in the name of God? The majority knows in their heart a loving God respects the freedom for one to choose their own beliefs if not violating the rights of others.

We are better off without the Bible if its readers don’t recognize that interpretations are fallible. No one can claim they know for sure the author’s intended meaning. We cannot be sure that the writers recorded inspired thoughts from God as opposed to their own perceptions of God. We cannot know for sure that Genesis 1-11 is historical facts or stories intended by the writers to convey theological truths. Lack of surety is a price to be paid, but the truth is that human reasoning is necessary in the interpretation process. Dogmatism only divides not unites.

We may be better off without the Bible if its readers treat the Book as an idol to worship. When the Bible becomes the focal point we end up idolizing interpretations which may be wrong characterizations of God. We establish our own Creeds to follow as if they are God’s word. This only leads to divisiveness. The Apostle Paul warned against such divisions among followers: “I follow Paul (Baptists); another, I follow Apollos (Methodists); another, I follow Cephas (Catholics); still another I follow Christ” (I Cor. 1:12). Differences about the Bible lead away from how we can love our neighbor like we want to be loved.

We may be better off without the Bible if its readers don’t guard how they discuss the Book. So many denominations and factions among those who worship the same God are evidence that the Bible is dividing than uniting. We must consider one another’s opinion gracefully, as long as they don’t violate the freedom of others, to work out our own convictions with as much consistency as possible. The Bible was not meant to be a book of rules to divide people. Much of the Bible is clear that we can agree to disagree on the more difficult passages.

We may be better off without the Bible if the readers consider any belief sacred other than Jesus’ message. The beliefs the Bible speaks out against are immoral beliefs which lead to self-destruction or destruction of others. Jesus’ only sacred belief, other than obvious immorality, 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. 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. Beliefs, which do not violate the rights of others, are between God and an individual.

It can be helpful for individual religions to have a representative book so that the different worldviews can be discussed in a respectful manner. All religions have some truth, but written records allow contradictions to be weighed to determine what is the more likely truth about a loving God. But, we are better off without the Bible when one does not consider their interpretations possible fallible. We are better off without the Bible when it becomes a rules book and an idol rather than a consideration for wisdom. We are better off without the Bible when our discussions lead to abusive behaviors toward one another as opposed to opportunities for reflection. We are better off without the Bible when any belief is considered sacred other than self-discovery about God to become a better person so to make a difference in the world.

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Why Wasn’t Jesus Simply Ignored?

Most people accept according to recorded history that a man named Jesus lived some two thousand years ago. Our calendar strongly suggests such a man lived – B.C. (before Christ) and A.D. (after death). Jesus’ impact seems undeniable. Jesus was only in the spotlight for about three years of His life but has over a billion followers. What is disputed was if Jesus was who He claimed to be – the one prophesized in the Old Testament to come to represent God.

People claim all the time to be someone they aren’t. It is difficult to capture all the culture factors some two thousand years ago, but today if someone claims to be sent by God we simply assume they have some mental disorder. We certainly don’t beat and mock them and hang them on a Cross. Why was Jesus treated differently? Why did folks get their panties in a wad simply because Jesus claimed to represent God?

I don’t know for sure the answer to that question but I have some hunches. Jesus pissed off mainly the religious people. Jesus wasn’t killed by atheists or those who didn’t go to church. Religious leaders who prayed daily and went to church a lot begged Roman authorities to put this man in his place – the grave. One Roman leader was ready to simply ignore Jesus and label Him a lunatic. That is want we would do today but not the religious folks back then!

The religious leaders of that day had certain rituals and Jesus seem to tell others one doesn’t have to go through hoops to have a relationship with God. Of course the Pharisees supervised those hoops so their control over others was being challenged. I got a hunch that was part of their huffiness. What the Pharisees did ignore though was Jesus’ message and view of God. Take some time this Easter to reflect what was so special about this man named Jesus.

Jesus only told people to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. What parent doesn’t tell their kids to love, respect, or trust them if they have their best interest in mind. If I dared asked that from my children, and I am far from perfect, why can’t a perfect God ask for such love without being egotistical. Jesus’ view of God was obviously not like those in His day. Jesus said God was willing to forgive the worse of sinners. Jesus said it is never too late. That matters to some who think they have done too much for God to really love them. Jesus said you can go directly to God and don’t need others to supervise/mediate/be a go-between in the relationship.

Suppose Jesus was right about God? What do you need to hear from your Creator? Jesus probably said at one time or another God could deliver. Jesus knew God was like a perfect parent – always hoping, praying, willing to be by your side to help you be the kind of person you desire to be deep down. I bet you want to better love your neighbor as yourself, or you wouldn’t have read this far. We need help loving the unlovable because we act that way sometimes too. Some need to know God loves them no matter their past, current, and future failures. Some need to feel closer to God in times of suffering to somehow get through such times.

What do you want or need from God? Talk to God, ask others who seem to know God. If God is real , God won’t ignore you!

“WHY GOD” Can’t You Control All This Madness?

We all ask “why” questions – Why did they act that way toward me? Some may question why so much evil exist if God truly loves. The problem of evil is one main reason people indicate why they don’t believe in God. There may not be a satisfactory answer for many, but how we answer this question for ourselves can determine whether we believe in God or in the midst of suffering wonder if God truly exist. It doesn’t matter if you accept my explanation but rather any explanation that allows understanding in difficult times.

Thomas Oord in his book The Uncontrolling Love of God offers the best explanation for me at this time to this age old question. Freedom is the only path to authentic relationships which brings the most joy in relationships. There is no greater feeling than knowing your partner, child, or friend love you because they want to and not because they have to. The Creator is certainly powerful beyond imagination but not even an almighty God can force true love. God like parents had a choice – to not create or create knowing loved ones may experience suffering or true intimacy. Even humans know “controlling love” is an oxymoron and not love at all.

Humans, unlike God, are tempted to control to avoid pain for themselves or others. It is impossible for God to create without freedom or to create and control. God’s nature instead is love which never controls. Since God’s love is uncontrolling, God can’t stop evil resulting in so much suffering. What God’s love can do is prevent evil through the free decisions of other to change or intervene in the lives of others. God can influence in all the appropriate ways, but divine love limits divine power. It is impossible for God to create without the possibility of suffering.

This explanation for many may make God seem less powerful. Another perspective is that a parent’s love may actually be greater when they don’t control their child. God’s love is greater than the greatest imaginable. If I don’t stop my children from hurting themselves or others, it may be the only hope they have to eventually freely choose good and experience the joy that comes from that. I hesitate to compare because God, unlike humans, is incapable of controlling. God can no more control thus prevent suffering than God cannot love.

The uncontrolling love of God is a better explanation than God “allows.” When we say God allows, the impression is that God stands by when God could stop evil. Who admires people who stand by in the name of freedom while people’s rights are being violated? How can we justify God doing nothing if God could control evil in the first place? God cannot stop evil, thus act controlling, except  by intervening in the lives of others without violating their freedom.  God can no more control others than God can choose to not love others perfectly.

What Is The Main Difference Between Holy Wars Today And Old Testament Wars?

In light of recent terrorists’ attacks in Brussels and Paris in the name of God, we must determine if there is a difference between the God of the Bible and the God of the terrorists. We all know in our heart that killing others simply because of their personal, religious beliefs is immoral. If there was no Bible or Koran, the radicals would have no supposed justification for their evil behavior. Since interpretations of past writings are always possibly fallible, human reasoning is important in determining Truth. Can one though claim God is loving when reading about God’s warrior mentality during OT times? Are holy wars today the same as wars God was involved in?

Religious wars today are initiated for the sole purpose to convert others to their beliefs and traditions to prove allegiance to their God. The God of the Israelites never approved of wars with the intent to make everyone believe in Yahweh, the God of the Jewish nation. It is difficult to prove God requires belief in God against one’s will. Freedom of choice has been part of God’s DNA from the beginning of creation. If God possesses the power the OT writers claims, war wasn’t necessary to require conversion as God could simply destroy individuals who refused to believe. History during these times strongly suggests that nations did not have a treaty mentality. The God of the Bible desired to live in peace with neighbors.

Several passages use language of total destruction of the nations in the land of Canaan: and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally” (Deut. 7:2). But, in the same breathe God speaks of driving out the nations (7:1) and advising against intermarriage with the enemies (7:3). Why advise against intermarriage with dead people? Other passages specify the destruction of men, woman and children, but then survivors of these lands are mentioned later. It seems reasonable to understand extermination passages within the context of initially trying to drive out the enemy. It is common in warfare rhetoric to speak in global terms – we must utterly and completely destroy the enemy. It isn’t always possible in war but sometimes women and children are able to survive.

God didn’t suddenly become the aggressor. God promised to allow Abraham to return to a land previously occupied (Gen. 13:14-15), after the Israelites were judged morally the hands of the Egyptians (Gen. 15:13-16). Holy warriors today don’t seek justice for themselves or their conquests. The only morality involved in holy wars today is imposing one’s personal beliefs on others. God often kept the Jews separate for moral protection, as the Canaanites evil practices included burning their children as sacrifices to their gods. Many people today are vulnerable to be radicalized if allowed among people who believe in forced conversion in the name of God.

God never violates the rights of others when it comes to personal beliefs. God’s anger wasn’t about not believing in God but participating in evil practices at the expenses of others. Good people don’t always stand by when the rights of others are being violated. There is no such thing as a Christian nation as God doesn’t demand others believe or trust in God. Jesus didn’t kill or blow others up to spread the gospel. Jesus sacrificed His own life in hopes one may choose to trust in a God who always has individual and national best interests in mind.

Is There Any Justification For God’s Warrior Behavior?

I will admit I frequently try to protect God’s reputation without throwing out the Bible. The Bible seems full of wisdom, but one can understand why some may not want to have a relationship with God according to some of God’s actions in Old Testament times. I think terrorist activities today give us some perspective. Maybe nations that surrounded Israel had a lot in common with terrorists today.  

God is often accused of genocidal behaviors in the Old Testament. Terrorists today do not conceal their desire or intention to make extinct any people that do not change their beliefs. There is biblical evidence that God was an advocate of freedom and never commanded the nation of Israel to destroy others for not converting to belief in and practices of their God. Many biblical texts suggest God was very willing to live in peace with surrounding nations if only they were willing. When war was necessary there is no evidence God approve of beheadings or burning people after captured.  

The Bible is clear God didn’t choose Israel to oppose other nations. God choose Israel and sought to preserve them as a nation so to bless all nations. God desired Israel to be an example for other nations how to best survive and thrive. Can you imagine nations who actually lived by the Ten Commandments! God can only preserve Israel without harm to others if others are willing to live in peace rather than always planning to attack.  

What was the big deal about God and idols? God often insisted the Israelites remain separate from others nations that worshipped human-made idols. Other nations developed sacrificial ways to please their gods that often included killing their own sons and daughters. We get mad if God doesn’t interfere with our suffering but don’t respect a God who interferes with our freedom. God knew Israel would be influenced by evil practices and the only way to protect Israel from themselves at times was to insist on not mixing with other nations. Maybe there must always be a first time for God to intervene in this way to set the example for future nations. 

There are plausible explanations without throwing the Bible under the bus about certain actions of God. War may sometimes be necessary for self-protection. Terrorists threaten their own with beheadings, rape, and other atrocities. Is it always wrong for a nation to wage war against evil leadership of other nations for the sake of those under the dictatorship? We have seen the dangers of radicalization of those vulnerable in our own lands. There may be wisdom in being separate from those who believe their religion has the right to violate the rights of others based on personal beliefs.

 

 

What If God Isn’t A Misogynistic, Blood Thirsty, Homophobic Kind Of God?

I always hope that if one’s views of God changes, they may be more open to God or at least spiritual matters. Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion says: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” I get why some may accuse God of some of these behaviors after reading the Bible. I think God is “God-enough” to handle the criticism.

Is God an unforgiving control-freak? There is no evidence in the Bible that God sends people to Hell eventually if they don’t believe in God. God has respected freedom of beliefs from the very beginning; otherwise, God who is powerful enough to create would annihilate immediately those who oppose God by choosing evil. God forgives those who forgive others (Mt. 6:14). Those who seek forgiveness but are unwilling to forgive others clearly don’t recognize the pain they have caused others, or they would quickly forgive others to relieve them of such horrific pain.

Is God really a misogynist who hates or doesn’t trust women? I doubt God would suggest women be under the authority of men rather than mutually submissive, especially when men are prone to dominate women anyway. God did not create a male-controlled relationship between Adam and Eve in the beginning. Nations thereafter chose to be patriarchal. God simply doesn’t impose their will on others. Jesus was a male, but if people already didn’t listen to Jesus do you think they would listen to a female Jesus? Jesus encouraged equality between the sexes against culture norms. Religious extremists would read be dead than advise husbands to love their wives as their own bodies as the Apostle Paul did.

Is God really a bloodthirsty, ethnic cleanser? No one nation or religion was ever wiped out in the Bible. God was always willing to live in peace, but war is unavoidable when others impose their beliefs by violating the rights of others. Do nations simply stand by while others prepare to attack or torture their own people? But, the Bible quotes God saying: “Now go, attack the Amalekites…put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys” (I Sam. 15:3). Rhetoric is often used (i.e. evil must be dealt with come hell or high water) to embolden the victor or inspire fear in the enemy. It is plausible the OT writers used hyperbole language for effect. The Israelites didn’t hunt down those fleeing, but families may stand by their man despite immorality. It is not always possible to avoid destruction of life.

Is God really homophobic? Biblical passages against homosexuality were in the context of infidelity or violence such as rape. Who doesn’t know that any sexual behaviors that are mindless, selfish, uncommitted engagements, as opposed to consensual monogamous relationships, are wrong? I personally don’t believe the Bible address monogamous homosexual relationships. Each can seek God’s voice in their personal, sex life. Church folks condemn gay relationships but they get divorced half the time. One best examine their own life before condemning gay couples who are committed.

Is God really a filicide who approved killing their child? Jesus’ death was not necessary to appease God; Jesus was willing to die for His beliefs in hopes to convince others of His message. Soldiers die for one another because they believe that the fight for freedom is worth it. 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 rather than personal and worldly destruction. What does it say about God if requiring the blood of the innocent! A loving God only requires confessions of wrongdoings for this leads to healing. 

Is God really a sadomasochist by enjoying inflicting physical and mental suffering on people? It is hard to believe a loving God would actual tortures people forever for beliefs they had while a short time on earth. God doesn’t! No such place as Hell exists according to the Bible. Jesus used the Greek word Gehenna, wrongly translated as Hell, to warn against self-centeredness. Parents warn children similarly of paths of destruction. Gehenna, a real valley never Jerusalem with a history, was used by Jesus to illustrate spiritual death is as bad as physical death (Gehenna).

Do you have any beliefs about God that keep you from wanting a relationship with God? There may be plausible, biblical, interpretations that don’t suggest God is an unforgiving control-freak; a misogynist; a bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a homophobic; or a filicidal, sadomasochistic kind of God. I just don’t think it is possible that a loving God would be guilty of any of these behaviors. If we are created in God’s image, we would not understand such behaviors are immoral in our own relationships. If you are aware of any beliefs that prevent you from being more open-minded about God in your life, I encourage you to identify them and seek to find answers. God may not be your problem.

 

 

Do We Always Forgive The Guilty Though They Deny Wrongdoing?

We may do more harm than good when insisting others forgive no matter the circumstances because God said so! Victims can feel more victimized, and feel God must not understand their pain, when told to forgive despite their abuser denying any wrongdoing. The guilty don’t need our actions to minimize the pain they have caused. I will survey a few situations mentioned in the Bible and attempt to draw some conclusions.

Jesus wasn’t suggesting passivity in every situation when He said to turn the other cheek (Mt. 5:39). Jesus defended Himself rather than simply turned the other cheek when slapped by an official (Jn. 18:23). There are times when supernatural responses are the best way to change the world for the better. Restraint can sometimes lead to less violence as violence breeds more violence. At other times we may seek justice to protect future victims. The Bible doesn’t suggest a spouse continue to allow their partner to beat them or that soldiers can’t protect themselves.

Suggesting we must forgive no matter the circumstances or the heart of the guilty can lead to more pain for the innocent who God desires to defend. Sometimes, the Bible suggests forgiveness is conditional on have a repentant heart: “If a brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them” (Lk. 17:3). God is said to forgive us if we forgive others (Mt. 6:14). This surely illustrate that the sincerity of the guilty is in doubt when they are unwilling to forgive others. They clearly don’t recognize the pain they have caused others or they would forgive others to relieve them of such horrific pain.

Read Jesus’ words in Matthew 11 to those who were denying the obvious – Jesus’ miracles. Jesus didn’t think this audience needed to hear about God’s forgiveness. They had no regrets. Warnings often keep one from heading down a path of destruction. When Jesus reprimanded the Pharisees for distorting who God really was, He didn’t speak of forgiveness though surely if any of the religious leaders wanted to change their tune Jesus would have accepted with open arms.

One may refer to what Jesus said on the Cross: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34). Jesus’ words are not found in earlier manuscripts but it would not be surprising at all if He said these words on the Cross. These were extraordinary circumstances. Jesus knew He was fixing to enter the presence of God. Jesus appears to be forgiving spiritual blindness. Some behaviors are less willful and more due to spiritual ignorance. Jesus wasn’t always quick to forgive willful, rebellious behavior. Each circumstance can be unique.

Many may be familiar with the unforgivable or unpardonable sin (Mt. 12: 31-32). Most scholars agree those who committed the unpardonable sin at the time of the above writing were those who refused to accept the witness of the Holy Spirit to who Jesus was, even accusing Him of being demon possessed. They weren’t seeking Jesus’ forgiveness. The Bible also is clear that those who deny and accuse Jesus but then seek forgiveness, Jesus welcomes them with open arms.

We must use our brain and heart when it comes to forgiveness. Our head may tell us to seek revenge which can thwart possibilities of the guilty truly regretting their behaviors thus leading to more victims. Our head may tell us to never forgive regardless leading to bitterness destroying us. Each person is capable of seeking God and making their own choices. Some may forgive though the guilty deny any wrongdoing. We can’t always know if the guilty truly regret their actions. We may forgive but avoid certain relationships for emotional protection. God wants us to use common sense in difficult relationship situations. There are times to overcome evil with good or there may never be change. There are times that love means seeking justice for victims.

 

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