OrChapter One - History
How I stopped overthinking and learned to love God
by Christian James
How I stopped overthinking and learned to love God
by Christian James
I suppose the best description for me is that I am a skeptic. The simplest answer tends to be the correct one, or so I thought. I like to over think things, but at the end of the day I take off my pants one leg at a time just like everyone else.
There’s an old saying that the truth is self-evident. When it came to God, the absence of evidence seemed to be the evidence of absence. You’ve heard the argument. This amazing, omnipotent Creator made the heavens and the earth, and then just vanished without so much as a fingerprint.
At first blush, this seems like a pretty cogent argument. Simple explanation, done. Yet, something nags at the back of the mind. If the existence of some “God” figure is so easily dismissed, then why do the majority of human beings believe in one?
The immediate temptation there is to believe that it is because people are so gullible, especially when gathered in large groups. The more I.Q.’s there are in a room seem to detract from the total I.Q. of the room. And, since religion is generally a gathering of people in a room to pray to something that is invisible, the answer seemed (at first) pretty clear.
Fairly secure in my understanding of how the old “bait and switch” scam of religion worked, I embraced the camp of atheism. If churches needed money, they wouldn’t be getting mine. George Carlin sums up the atheist’s argument succinctly with these words:
“…there's an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever until the end of time! “
BUT HE LOVES YOU.
He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He's all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can't handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, you talk about a good bullshit story.”
I stopped going to church. I fraternized with other intelligent atheists. I sharpened my understanding of how God was one big lie; a hoax perpetrated on the weak minded to keep them under control, and empty their pockets as well as their heads.
I have to admit, I derived an odd sense of satisfaction from the whole thing. I felt liberated to be an atheist, and I felt like my fellow atheists could sense it. It was like they all had a twinkle in their eye and a spring in their step. Meanwhile, you look at the religious right, shuffling from cradle to grave and packing into churches to pay God his extortion money. Maybe if you pay enough, He’ll let you in. From the looks on their faces though, the chances didn’t look good.
Atheists were usually successful people. They drove nice cars, and could hold an intelligent conversation. They knew about politics, and history, and music. They got the benefit of all the religious holidays, with none of the sad sack religion thrown on top of it. There was a “cool factor” involved.
Life looked pretty good from where I was sitting, even though I was living in a bubble. I didn’t know I was living in a bubble, because the answers were forthcoming and the solutions worked. Then something popped my bubble, and chaos made me a little less arrogant. It humbled me, and made me realize that I did not know everything. There was more going on than what I realized, and in order to answer the question fully, I had to consider every side or the argument.
This meant work; a lot of work.
So, what popped the bubble? Well, like many atheists before me I made a good number of very bad friends in a short time. Atheism is like a party train, and everybody wanted to ride. This means drugs, and sex, and other “goodies” that you can find in the camp. There is free candy at the party to celebrate nothing. Just grab a handful.
And grab I did. What I didn’t know then is that certain party drugs are laced with heavier drugs like crack or heroin, to jump up your addiction. Hey, parties cost money, and while marijuana sells well, it isn’t going to buy you that new sports car.
What I also did not know is that I have a chemical imbalance that, when exposes to crack cocaine, causes me to, well, die. Do you know how they say that when you are in love, you just know? The same goes for dying. You know you are dying. You can feel it. The pain isn’t what is the most alarming. What is alarming is what you feel. You feel “something” that is inside you being pulled out. Call it life force, or soul, or spirit, whatever suits you. You also know that having that “something” pulled out is a very, very, VERY bad thing.
At least, if you are an atheist.
I saw a darkness. It was like a great, yawning emptiness of nothing. You don’t know what nothing is, until you see it in contrast to something. People think that when the sun goes down, it is dark outside. A better way to look at it is that there is less light. When you look into the maw of the absence of everything, you know it for what it is. It is death, and it is eternal.
Tipping headfirst into that darkness, I knew that I was going to die, and that where I was going was more horrible than anything I could ever imagine, despite all my smug arrogance.
Then, I cried out something very curious. “God, save me!” If I was an atheist, then who exactly was I addressing? I knew that God is fictional, didn’t I?
If there is any worse feeling than dying and knowing you are going to a very bad place it is this: knowing that you have lied to yourself because you were inconceivably selfish. It hurts worse, because you know you could have avoided spiritual death and embraced life if only you had been open minded about the existence of God and done just the tiniest big of research.
You see, where George Carlin got it wrong was this: religion wasn’t to blame for where I was going. God wasn’t to blame. Taxes were not to blame. Even violating the Ten Commandments was not to blame. I was to blame.
I took the easy answers. I swallowed what made me feel superior to others. I partied with people who didn’t care if I was alive or dead, as long as the train kept rolling. I made myself unworthy of life. I deserved this death. That isn’t God’s fault. I chose that path, and that was where it ends. If anything, God honored my freedom to choose.
All that passed through my mind instantaneously, like the last confession of a worthless fly, before I felt something hold onto me. I stopped falling into that pit, because there was a hand on my shoulder. I didn’t see what it was, but I knew. I knew that it was God.
I knew that He was saving me from death. I knew that He, impossible as it was, loved me. The love of God is unlike anything your mind can grasp. It is like being thrown into the sun, where what is heat and fury for a star is love and authority for God. The light that emanates from his superlative being rips down every lie trying to obscure it, and leaves you on your knees saying “I didn’t know. I didn’t know. God, forgive me.”
You see, we are the ones who condemn to Hell. We are the ones who judge. We are the ones who are unjust. God saves. God Forgives. God is just.
Religion is a reflection of the sad state of man, not God. If anything, Religion itself is the proof that we need a Savior.
Crawling like a dying cockroach, I called 911. I was taken to a hospital, where orderlies laughed in contempt at just another burned-out druggie. Not the first, and certainly not the last they would see. I felt like a china cup that had fallen down the stairs, and then been glued back together. I could feel the seams of my own brokenness.
I told my fine friends what had happened to me. They laughed. They parroted back what I told them in sing-song voices. One threatened to knock out my teeth. I was taken back, a bit, by their reaction. I thought they might, as my friends, be open-minded. Forgive my naiveté, but as I should have well known they were no more open-minded than they were my friends.
The train doesn’t have any stations. It just keeps rolling. If you want off, you better jump or we can throw you. We’re not interested.
They threw my own arguments against me. They made me drink my own gall, as it were, and forced me to watch as they did as well. I learned then that the things you say, and do not say, matter a great deal. Life and death are in the power of the tongue.
Things being as they are, life continues its’ inexorable march forward whether you feel up to it or not. I felt like a shelled nut. Certainly, nobody was going to believe my story. All the convenient answers fit. You had a brain aneurism, or a convulsion, or some other big word that makes it sound like I know what I am talking about. You saw things. You had a bad trip. Get over it. You live, you work, you die. Big deal.
The camp of atheism taught me one thing. It is not, as some say, a faith contrary to other faiths. It is a lack of faith. It is apathy, and apathy is death.
People of faith, who believe in God are not weak minded. They simply choose life. They choose to believe, on faith, that there is a purpose and a meaning to their lives and their suffering. And while they may be a rather large bag of mixed nuts, they are not weak-minded. To say that a majority of humanity is weak-minded is a flimsy excuse.
The atheist accuses the believer of weak-mindedness, because they can only see others as they see themselves. They do not look outside the bubble of rationale, because they see it as a waste of time. And they see it as a waste of time, because they believe their logic is undeniable.
You see, in the world of logic, the brain is king. All hail the brain, with nothing outside the brain. The brain is like a wonderfully complex labyrinth, and such complexity demands respect. The problem is that the labyrinth is on a closed circuit, and in order to see beyond it you have to have a bridge.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the mind is a marvelous thing. Yet, even were you able to peel back the layers of existence until you get to the bottom of it, all you’ll find is another layer. As they used to say, if the earth is riding on the back of a great sea turtle, then what is the sea turtle standing on? Ah, but it is turtles all the way down! If you start counting, eventually you’ll run into turtles you’ve already counted before.
Or, perhaps you’ll peel back the layers until you find nothing at all. After all, something comes from nothing, right?
Chapter Two – Housecleaning
So, I find myself in the position of trying to explain the unexplainable. To give witness to those who have not seen; to substantiate without tangible evidence; to testify to those who have already reached a verdict. In much the same manner as a litterbug being sentenced to pick up trash, I must now do the impossible. I must try to convince my prior self of what I now know, absent the profound experience of feeling the touch of God.
Forgive me if I faint.
Well, the first thing we have to do in a logical argument is to remove all the clutter. There is a nice, long list of logical clutter that needs to be gone through. I’m only going to highlight 7 logical fallacies that are predominant in the atheist’s argument
1) Ad Hominem: A person’s character invalidate their current beliefs
Person A makes claim X.
Person B attacks person A’s credibility.
Therefore X is false.
“Hey, did you hear that Robert believes in God?”
“Yeah, well Robert voted for Bush. What does that tell you?”
2) Appeal to Authority: A recognized authority on a subject has the final say on all conclusions regarding a subject.
Person A is (allegedly) an authority on subject X.
Person A makes claim C about subject X.
Therefore, C is true.
“I love reading Jones. He’s a brilliant writer, and he’s an atheist.”
“Do you know he said that anyone who believes in God has a mental illness?”
“It’s the truth!”
3) Guilt by Association: The actions or behaviors of adherents of a belief invalidate the belief itself
Person A, who has characteristic Y, makes claim X.
Therefore all believers of X are Y.
“You know, Hitler believed in God….”
“I saw some Neo-Nazis at the Tea Parties. Therefore, the Tea Parties are racist.”
4) Burden of Proof, or Appeal to Ignorance: A lack of evidence on one side is evidence for the other.
Person A demands proof of X from person B.
Person B cannot provide proof of X.
Therefore X is false.
“If you’re ‘God’ is omnipresent, trot him out here and show me. Then I’ll believe.”
“I can’t. He’s not some tame lion I keep in my pocket.”
“Well, well. Isn’t that convenient?”
5) Straw Man: Attacking a similar or offshoot belief invalidates the original belief.
Person A has position X.
Person B presents position Y.
Person B attacks position Y on the grounds that it resembles X.
Therefore X is false.
“Christmas is a time to give some thought to the poor and destitute by making a contribution.”
“I pay my taxes, and they pay for the prisons and workhouses. Let the poor go there.”
6) Middle Ground: As two ends of the extreme are wrong, what is in between is right.
Position A is at war with position B.
C is neutral between A and B.
Therefore C is correct.
“I don’t want to be hot or cold, I want to be lukewarm. It is comfortable there.”
7) Relativism: What affects one person couldn’t possible affect all people.
Person A presents claim X.
Person B asserts that X is not universal.
Therefore X does not affect B.
“This article says that people who diet and exercise can feel much healthier.”
“Harrumph! I don’t do either and I feel fine.”
There are more logical fallacies, but I believe that these are the Seven Deadly Sins of both Atheism and Belief. For, indeed, both sides of the argument use them religiously. They are no substitute for a desire for the truth, because they are the purveyors of easy answers to difficult questions. The path of least resistance will not lead you to the truth. It is as narrow as a razor’s edge.
If it is indeed the truth you are looking for, and are willing to do some soul searching and question what you are told, then by all means continue reading. If not, close this book, go your way, and God bless you. I would ask that you question what I tell you, and come to your own conclusion. I have no vested interest in anyone coming to my point of view. A man can only be what he is, and those who want to be like him will follow. More than this comes from insecurity.
Atheists are accused of not opening their eyes to the truth, while believers are accused of keeping their own eyes closed to maintain their beliefs. History supports the believer, while modern science (supposedly) supports the non-believer. We live in the most atheistic age mankind has ever witnessed, which in a way is somewhat remarkable.
What went wrong? Or, from the other side of the argument, what went right?
The atheist would answer that we have evolved. We have shed our skin of ignorance. The sky god no longer causes the rain. Cold fronts mixing with warm fronts condense the water vapor in the air and cause the rain. The sky isn’t blue because the gods used a blue paintbrush for their walls. The sun, going through the water vapor in the air, is compressed as the earth rotates. And, as we all know, Doppler shift causes a compressed wavelength of light to show blue. Thus, as sun sinks down, you are moving away from the sun more rapidly because the earth is spinning. The wavelength is stretched and the sky appears red.
And yet, while our knowledge has grown, our ignorance has grown in proportion with it. We assign new ignorant reasons for cause and effect where we do not understand. Only now, the flavor of the century is atheistic, or pantheistic. The Big Bang is evident by the remaining radiation in the universe; therefore the Big Bang is causal. But, what created the Big Bang; the Big Crunch? What created the Big Crunch; another universe. Turtles all the way down, my friend. This is where assumption jumps in, from both sides of the fence. The agnostic just shrugs and says there is no data either way.
Knowledge has increased, but perspective has diminished.
There is an old idea that says there are no answers, only solutions. In the attempt the bridge the gap between point A and B, we tend to use whatever seems to work as opposed to what is right. Once you eliminate the junk that you call “evidence”, and realize that you are ill-equipped to answer the question in the first place, you can actually begin. If you hold on to the arrogant notion that you are capable of answering the question based on the sum, sit down. You’re done. Do not pass Go, do not collect 200 dollars.
Chapter Three – Answering the Unsolvable
Einstein said, “Science without Religion is lame. Religion without Science is blind.” Einstein, brilliant though he may be, is not an authority on God, but it disproves the revisionist theory that all brilliant minds in our history were atheists. Most of them believed.
If the believers and the atheists held a trial to prove or disprove the existence of God, there would be compelling argument on either side. There would be expert witnesses on both sides. I think, in the end, the only rendered verdict would be for the side with the bigger stick, given our history.
In the end, it would be man who was on trial, not God, with a verdict of “not guilty” seeming unlikely.
The same kind of trial takes place in the minds of men who are looking for answers. They seek until they reach a point they cannot go past. And, typically, they stop there. They reach the grand chasm that stands between God and man, and say “Well, this is where the road ends”. The road doesn’t end there. Their means end there. Therefore, their belief is at the polar end of their faculties.
What is ironic is that the same compelling argument one could make against God’s existence could be made against our own. I mean, can you truly prove that you exist without bias? Can you circumvent your own ego, and declare yourself a figment? The Buddhists can.
The argument could be made that there is a creative element, but it is not a divine being, otherwise known as a “god”. The argument for God is the argument of intent, meaning, design, and purpose. The argument against God is for random chance, causality, self actualization, and fatalism. The first says that God created man, whereas the second insists that man created God. Or, put another way, God is God vice Man is God.
Here, the believer has a slight edge over the nonbeliever. The nonbeliever says that there is nothing outside the box. If there is, your concept of the box has to be expanded to contain the unknown variables, but it is still a box. The believer says there is no box.
The believer makes a leap of faith across the chasm, where the non-believer submits hypothesis and seeks to prove or disprove. Both methods require vision, but the believer’s method requires something more. It requires risk. A leap is not a leap unless there is a chance you will fall.
The believer’s methods are viewed as disloyal to the established system. After all, if science is the authority on everything, and your method is unscientific, it must be invalid. Don the tinfoil hat, and make up whatever you please. Let chaos reign.
Many great human inventions required a touch of faith. For most of our history, it was a well established fact that man could not fly no matter how often he flapped his arm. Yet, visionaries continued to pursue the idea. They made a leap of faith…..and often crashed and burned. The first flying machines, though they held some sound ideas, failed miserably. Leonardo DaVinci’s helicopter had about as much chance flying as a brick wall. Yet, they kept trying.
The problem with many atheists isn’t disbelief. It is anger and distrust. They look upon the despicable state of the world and reject God. Or, they say “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”. Atheism, more often than not, is the product of lost hope combined with worship of self.
The problem with many believers isn’t false belief. It is that they stop seeking. They coast on their newfound moral or social authority, or they let others tend their faith for them. The method is not sound, and as life moves forward they are left behind. The leaps of faith they made as children do not work in young adulthood. The leaps of faith they made in young adulthood do not work in middle age, and the leaps of middle age do not work in the twilight of life. The answer must grow as the person grows, where we want to remain the same. Peter Pan has to grow up, at some point.
A man was fishing in the ocean, when a great leviathan swallowed him up. To his amazement, there were others in the leviathan, having adapted to the environment and survived. Children had even been born inside the leviathan, having never known any other life. The fisherman asked a child, “Does it ever bother you, being trapped within this leviathan?” The child responded, “What leviathan?”
Content, without context, has no meaning. Man, without a Creator, is equally meaningless. A painting without a painter is just a mélange of random colors; a symphony without a composer, dissonance; a son without a father, a bastard.
Atheists insist they believe what they believe because they don’t want to be fooled, and yet fool themselves so convincingly that they have almost no hope of escaping their own logical labyrinth short of divine intervention. A believer, who helped in my walk, once said to me, “Jay, I worry that you are too smart for your own good.” While I now understand what she meant, at the time I thought “You’re just sad that you can’t disprove what I am saying, because you aren’t as smart as I am.” My God, how right she was.
There are two parts of the human spirit that pave the way of the narrow path: the mind and the heart. Believe me, they do not always agree. In this showdown, it is most often the heart that is responsible for belief in God, because God is Love. The mind can process the events of love, but not love itself. Love is too big to be contained by the inferior human mind anymore than God could fit into a box.
The heart can make a leap of faith, because it knows desire while the mind knows want. The heart can reflect, while the mind absorbs. The heart applies, while the mind calculates. This is why God is easier for the simple to grasp, while those burdened by their own ponderous intellects have to push the boulder of hubris uphill. Thus, the intellectual looks upon the simple masses and assumes that it is ignorance fueling their faith in God, when it is in fact their hearts.
The unsolvable problem has an answer, and it is not religion. It is faith. Faith is the only bridge between that which is seen and that which is not. Vision is not for the blind, or the obstinate. Faith is not for the timid, or the prideful.
Once you make a leap of faith, then you have to go about testing that faith. Otherwise, faith and imagination have no separation. Gold dug out of the earth is not gold. It is a mixture of elements, containing some gold. Once the gold is put into the crucible, and the dross is separated, only then is it a pure product.
A downside to this is that life throws us many curveballs to test our faith. Nobody wants to be perpetually at the plate, constantly at bat. Atheism would call the game on account of rain, while belief requires one to slide for home through the mud. Christianity calls this carrying your cross, while atheism calls it a sucker’s game.
Answering the unsolvable question means bridging the unbridgeable gap. To say “it cannot be done” is a guarantee that it cannot. Brave looking foolish, take a risk, make a leap, or content yourself to sit on the sidelines of least resistance. The curveball of the universe leans increasingly towards entropy and death. Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. Falling into the hole is easy, but is it profitable?
Why not take a swing at faith? In that game, the misses count as often as the hits.
Chapter Four – Everyone falls the first time
So, we gather our courage, and we make a leap of faith. “God, are you out there? Is this thing on? Hello?”
Nothing. Just a bunch of random thoughts passing through the mind.
Depending on our patience, in proportion to our sincerity, we wait. Then, underneath all the noise, there is a still, small voice. It usually says something you might find in a greeting card.
Then it is gone.
Well that could be anything!
Breadcrumbs, and we are Hansel and Gretel lost in the forest. Anything could have left that breadcrumb. Maybe we follow. Guess what? If you are new to seeking God, you’re going to be following breadcrumbs for a while. That is why it is called faith.
This is stupid! You are stupid! This is just your own mind misleading you! Do you know how stupid you look!
Guess what? The trail leads uphill.
I’ve got to go to work. I have that meeting. The kids have soccer practice. Dinner needs to be made. The dishes need to be washed. It’s already midnight, and I’m exhausted. Everything depends on me.
Guess what? There are many forks in the trail.
“Ok, fine! You want an answer, here I am! I AM GOD.”
“No, I am!”
“Hey, I was here first.”
“I was teaching in ancient Mesopotamia centuries before you were born!”
“You see my twelve arms here?”
“You see my manifesto here?”
“Guys, guys! We need to all work together on this! We all have things in common.”
Guess what? The so-called “gods” are a rowdy bunch, and they all want a piece of the action. But, that still, small voice in the background seems to rise above the din. What is that? It’s not just the quiet, it’s the calm. It tugs at us, somehow. The more you follow it, the more compelling it is.
“Hey, where are you going?”
“Come back here!”
“There’s nothing up that way, it’s a dead end!”
“You’ll be sorry!”
“My religion has free parking!”
This is as far as the internal compass leads, and it can be dangerous territory. You see, you are not just contending with your own thoughts. If there is something more than just you, then understand that there are enough false paths to make the mind unreliable. You are going to go down false roads, and reach false conclusions.
This admission requires a degree of humility, to recognize that a being of such limited sense is like a boat on a raging ocean of thought, and only one sail with which to contend. Worse, if you understand and believe in the nature of good and evil, then you know there is an ill wind blowing you in the wrong direction.
Following your own compass is like putting together a puzzle while missing the most essential pieces. You are going to get an incomplete picture, and in the end you are going to make a guess at it based on the available date: yourself. If you follow logic, superstition, or popular belief then God is only going to be a distorted image of yourself; the superman. If you dissect this image, you will find yourself hating God. God will be some big bearded dotard on a throne with a magnifying glass, tormenting his ants. Or, God will be some giant mother goddess, full of love and compassion and wonderfulness who is impotent and capricious when it comes to human suffering.
Talk about hating your parents.
God is beyond what you are capable of comprehending. The Love of God, and the Plan of God is so mind blowing, that your human experiences are like a caterpillar’s footprints alongside the march of an army at war. That is why the first step in accepting God is a bent knee; a giving up of self will for God’s will. In essence, a declaration to no longer be a god unto yourself, allowing God to be what He is and has always been within you underneath your self will.
Whether you realize or admit it, you, like all of us, are an incredibly self-centered being. Perhaps you think of yourself as giving and selfless, or “good” when measured by human standards. Maybe you donate to charities, or feed homeless people. Perhaps you have always spoken kindly to others, or done good works. The thought of those things “not being good enough” for God stirs up instant resentment. Who is God to demand that you do or be more than what you are? If He made you that way, then it is His fault if you don’t measure up, right?
Would it surprise you if I said that the answer is Yes?
Well, Yes, with a But. Let’s think of this clearly a moment. If God chose to give man free will, then he chose to give man the ability to not choose Him. Not choosing Him has produced every evil and suffering that man has ever inflicted upon man. If you look at it this way, God is to blame for our existence and our suffering.
Another way to look at it is God is responsible for our being. Because of Him, we are alive, and able to experience the joy of living. I guess how you look at it depends on your ability to believe you are qualified to criticize God and Creation. Forgive me if I think we are not qualified to utter a single word, but are instead behooved to give gratitude for our existence.
The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord.
The ant riding the back of the elephant is perfectly capable of stamping its foot and demanding the elephant go another direction, only to descend into bitterness and resentment for not being able to affect the change it wanted. If the ant knew that he elephant was carrying it to a better destination, it might have the faith to suffer the shaky ride.
Though you may fall the first few times in a leap of faith, you will never fall so completely as to end the journey. You will fall just enough that you can climb out of the hole, if it is truly in your heart to bridge the gap between man and God. God doesn’t allow this because he wants it to be difficult for us to reach Him, or because He wants us to prove ourselves to Him. He wants us to prove it to ourselves, to have faith in ourselves as well as Him.
Chapter Five – All roads lead to Rome, but there is only one gate to Heaven
Christianity is where we get controversial. Christians make the claim that only through Jesus can men find salvation. Coming from the perspective of non-belief, this seems like the most arrogant puffery imaginable. For a group of people, no matter how large, to say that they and only they have got it right is despicable, closed-minded, and intolerant.
What about the millions of people all around the earth, worshipping God in their own unique way with a sincere heart? Are these amongst the walking damned, simply because they do not embrace our God?
If you look at it from the viewpoint of “my club” versus “your club”, then yes. The arrogance is so thick, only the knives could cut through it. And, let’s be honest, this is what the argument usually boils down to: God loves me more and will let me in Heaven because I believe XYZ, and He doesn’t love you and you are going to Hell because you believe PDQ.
That, my friends, is the essence of religion. Religion divides, and religion, like everything under the sun, is evil when it becomes a means unto itself. Religion is the minefield of spiritual demilitarized zones, the “whites only” sign on the holy drinking fountain, the exorbitant membership fee of the eternal country club. It is humanity worshipping humanism, exclusivity, and tribalism, and Jesus hated it. Compare how he spoke to the harlots, the publicans, and the drunks with how he spoke to the Priests, Scribes, and Pharisees – the religious right of their day. He said the harlots and publicans would see heaven before they ever would. Why? Because when the publicans and harlots saw the truth, they received it.
Christians are fond of saying “Unless you accept Jesus, you won’t receive salvation.” While this is true, they misunderstand what it means. You see, if saying aloud “I accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior”, or writing it down in a book were the means of salvation, then our salvation is works based. If you didn’t say, or write, you’re done for? This is nonsense.
Jesus himself said, “On judgment day many will say to me, 'Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.' And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
But, didn’t they say the words, and write them down in their bibles? Didn’t they produce the fruits of salvation? They did the things, they paid their membership fees? Why were they sent away?
The Shepherd knows his sheep. He never knew them.
He didn’t say “You never knew me”. The emphasis is on His judgment, not man’s. The question is not whether or not you know Jesus, but whether or not Jesus knows you.
“If you love me, keep my commandments.”
What are his commandments? Well, there are a few. Let’s start from the top and go down the list.
The first and greatest commandment is this; love God your Creator more than anything or anyone else, and then love others and yourself equally.
Do not worship anything other than God your Father.
Do not make or worship idols.
Do not take the name of God in vain, or claim his seat of authority.
One day of the week should be dedicated solely to God’s worship and praise.
Honor and respect your earthly mother and father.
Do not murder.
Do not commit adultery.
Do not steal.
Do not fabricate stories against your neighbor.
Do not jealously covet your neighbor’s blessings.
Treat others as you would have them treat you.
Forgive others, and do not judge.
Be born again, in the flesh and in the spirit.
Dwell in me, and allow me to dwell in you.
Be an example for others, and do not hide the glory of God within you
Put away disputes quickly.
If there is something in your life causing you to sin, cut it off entirely from you.
Do not swear by anything, but simply let your word be true.
Do not return vengeance for wrongdoing.
Give what you are asked, and more.
Love your enemies, and pray for them. If you don’t, what reward will you have?
Do good works in order to please God, and not to please men.
Pray and do good works in secret, so that God can reward you openly.
Let your prayers be like the Lord ’s Prayer.
When you fast, do not boast of it, but do it in secret.
Invest in your heavenly reward, and not your earthly reward. The latter shall perish.
Don’t spend too much thought on your daily provision. God provides.
Keep your thoughts on the present day, and don’t worry about the future.
Put God first, and God will provide for all your needs.
Do not judge others, for judgment is God’s and God’s alone
Do not give that which is holy to the unholy, because they will desecrate it.
Ask God plainly for the things you want and need.
Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and comfort the distressed.
Enter in through the straight and narrow path, and not the path of least resistance.
Be aware that there are false teachers. Look to God to discern the truth.
Exercise power and authority over unclean spirits through My name.
Love little children, and don’t forbid them to come to me. Heaven is full of these kinds.
Do not put doctrine above love for your brothers in Christ.
In all things, have faith in God.
Judge a tree by its fruits, a good neighbor by his actions and not his nationality.
Love others as I loved you.
When you eat and drink, remember that I gave my body and my blood for you.
Humbly serve one another. As I washed your feet, wash each others. He who would lead must serve.
Be merciful in your actions.
Tell all nations the good news, and baptize them.
Keep the commandments that I have given you.
Watch, and wait faithfully for my return.
This list is, in no ways, all inclusive of the things Jesus taught. I have paraphrased the highlights for the sake of clarity and brevity, as best I can. If you want the complete list, read the book.
Now I know what you’re thinking. That is a whopping big list to have to follow, and the game sure has a lot of rules. It isn’t a rulebook, where if you violate one you get put in the eternal penalty box. It is a list of the manifestation of Christ’s character in our lives. They are reminders, and things to aspire to, not “do it or else”. Because, you see, we have broken every single one of those rules. All of us. If it were a whole new set of commandments, then we do not live in Grace, but by the Law.
Well, I’ve never killed someone, and I’ve never cheated on my spouse.
Hate is murder, and lust is adultery, according to Jesus. You can’t judge as man judges. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We are filthy rags compared to him.
So, if not in faithful unswerving daily action, where are these laws obeyed? They are obeyed in the same place from which God knows you and will judge you: your heart. It is from your heart that Jesus either knows you or does not. If his laws live in your heart, then Jesus lives in your heart. Perhaps you do not know his name, or that it is him that you love. That is why Christians have been given the Great Commission of telling others the good news of Christ Jesus. For, if that love lives somewhere in the heart, then that person will recognize Jesus for who He really is. So too will He know them when they stand before Him in judgment.
Grace means “I know you will fail the rules, but did the rules live and breathe in your heart?” We love our children, but do we not fail them? Do we not lose our tempers? Do we not turn our backs when they need us, because we are tired or preoccupied with self? We love them, but is that love shown by our fruits?
A child knows whether or not his parents love him. So too of does Jesus know if you love Him.
And, if you love Him, you love his commandments.
This is a controversial notion, because it places salvation outside the realm of religion and in God’s hands. It means there may be adherents of other faiths that shall see salvation, not knowing the name of our Lord. Is it possible? Only God can judge. Our job is to tell them the good news, and bear true witness of the same. Our job is not conversion. That is God’s job. Our job is witness.
So, by that statement, am I reinforcing the New Age Philosophy of “many paths to God?” Absolutely not! There is only one gateway to glory, and Jesus is that gateway. What I am saying is “wrong religion” or “ignorance” is not a barrier to Christ knowing, and choosing members of his body as he sees fit. Pray for all, spread the good news to all and let God judge. God wants us to know that it is Jesus that is within us, if we by nature are keeping his commandments.
We all worship idols. Religion is one of those idols. We judge God’s acceptance by what brand names we buy, with mainstream Christian religion saying that their brand is the only right one. Let God be true, and every man a liar. It is not the brand, but the man, and the man said that what He is, lives in his commandments. You cannot gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles.
For, what ministry absent a missionary would there be amongst the blind and deaf, if there were no one among them of the body of Christ, though they knew not that they were of Him? Then, damnation would often be the product of failed ministry, or the absence of words and works. Once again, this makes salvation works based, and ties the hands of God by the actions and choices of men.
I am not advocating a casual attitude towards the Great Commission. I am saying that salvation is not dependant on our cleverness, ambition, or reach. If God wants to save, He shall save. Our obedience to the Great Commission should come from our overflowing love for Jesus, not our fear for the damnation of non-believers. God has not given us a spirit of fear. So how then, in fear, can we convert others to Christ? If you want to reach the far away, pray, and let the Lord do His work. Salvation is not a product of religion, or works. It is a product of the heart knowing Jesus for what he is. A rose by any name is a rose, even if you call it skunkflower. It is better to call a rose a rose, for that is its name. However, “skunkflower” does not prevent a rose from being a rose.
I have heard apologeticists say that God “can’t” know evil, and “can’t” lie. They misunderstand, I believe, what God is. You see, while up is not salty and yellow is not square, if God almighty said that it was, then it would be so, and those statements would be so true and undeniable that it would be folly to think otherwise. That is the difference between man and God. What God says, is, and what man says is bound by the truth of laws he cannot control. To say that God cannot lie really means that there is nothing that can exist as contrary to how God spoke it into being.
What they really mean is “God would never say such and such because it is against His nature.” Well, that requires a fairly large leap of faith to say what God would or would not say and what is in His nature. I think it is safer to say that up is not salty and yellow is not square because God continues to operate in a way that reinforces such things to be nonsense.
This is the same camp that believes that evil is something “outside” of God, as if God, being so good, cannot know what evil is. Yet, that same camp says that God “uses” evil situations to bring about good ends. How can He, if He doesn’t understand evil? It is the dotty old man version of God, and it doesn’t stand up in the face of suffering and death.
There is a concerted effort among Christians to avoid saying that God knows both good and evil, because then God is a cosmic jester and we are his joke. Suffering and Salvation become meaningless when they are dealt from the same hand. So, according to our logic, God cannot be the author of evil; evil is just the absence of God.
Genesis 3:22: And the LORD God said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever."
This is one of the crossroads of Christianity. Suffering and Salvation are both a product of God’s love, and without suffering there is no salvation. More correctly, without Jesus suffering and paying the price, no one could be saved. To limit God to only the good thing is to say that evil is somehow outside of his control or understanding. Such a claim of an omnipotent and omnipresent God is ridiculous.
So, is God then the source of Evil? God does not intend evil for us, but he has allowed the possibility of evil. God allows his absence as well as his presence. Think of it this way. God created gravity, and he is teaching us to ride a bicycle. If we shout “I can do this on my own!”, God is perfectly capable of taking away his hand. Our bicycle wobbles, and we crash to the ground because gravity is a constant.
So why does God take away his hand, and why did he create gravity? This, we call evil.
With his hand always present, or the absence of gravity, the child would never learn to ride straight. Also, without choice, there is no child to speak of. The bicycle, child, and hand would be one and the same.
Ah, but suffering is so terrible. Bertrand Russell said, "No one can sit at the bedside of a dying child and still believe in God,” when this statement is proved wrong almost daily. What Russell meant was nobody who was Bertrand Russell could sit at the bedside of a dying child and still believe in God, because Bertrand Russell considers his emotions to be above God’s sovereignty. He considered himself worthy of judging God as wrong to allow that suffering. There are many Bertrand Russells.
This is the Achilles Heel of faith; that men do not understand either the weight of glory in heaven for earthly suffering, or that they believe that there is nothing worse than earthly suffering.
Compared to eternal separation from God, earthly suffering is a trifle. It is like comparing a bee sting to having your head lopped off. To criticize the bee sting, and refuse God because of temporal suffering is to reject His plan, His sovereignty, and His Will. I know of a woman who rejected God because her cat suffered and died. There’s always another cat, there isn’t another heaven.
I am not going to make light of suffering, any more than I could of the scourge upon Jesus’ back, the spear in his side, or the three days he spent in the torments of Hell. I have gotten a very light dose of suffering in my life, and it was more than I could stand (I thought) at the time. To watch a loved one suffer and die is gut wrenching. You feel like your bones are going to jump out of your skin to hear them moan in anguish. You feel as though you could crumple up a water heater like a soda can, if only you could take that suffering away. And there, you make the mistake of thinking that God does not care.
And this is a light example, when compared to the horrors of war and genocide.
Have you ever watched a movie for the first time, and wept at the moment where the hero or heroine is at their lowest point? Why did you weep? You knew it would all turn out in the end (unless it was a Chinese movie). Did you weep because at that scene, you knew how that person would have felt and empathized, even knowing that the outcome would be good?
Further, when you watch the movie a second or third time, are you still moved? Or, do you just say “Meh, it all turns out ok, so why should I care?”
Why would you watch it again, if you felt that way?
You think that God does not care, in the moment that you are suffering most. You don’t understand that God is with you in that moment, suffering with you. Feeling rejected with you. Bleeding with you. Dying with you.
But God knows how it turns out in the end. He’s read the book. He’s seen the movie. He knows the Hero wins.
Where we would swerve, God steer straight. The only way out is through, and God has his eyes on the prize. What prize could possibly be worth murder, rape, torture, anguish, death, war, sickness, warped nature, lust, greed, wrath, and hopelessness? The prize of heaven won, through the decision that Christ Jesus made for us while we were those very things I just listed.
Do you know him? Does He know you? Maybe the chance of knowing him is better than the guarantee that you won’t. Maybe he isn’t the man you think he is, but so much more than you could ever imagine. Maybe pain and death are not the final end, but just the biting gravel on the road to something so wonderful it would blow your mind. Is a leap of faith so risky? Is the prize it offers so undesirable? Is hopelessness so much more satisfying than hope?
Forget the neon Jesus. Forget organized religion. Learn who the man is for yourself, without any middle men. Don’t take my word for it, look up his number. It’s a listed number, with four phone books Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In a world so taxing, the call to God is toll free.
Jesus is the way, the truth, and the light.