THE CHRISTIAN VIEW OF HUMAN DEATH

In my last essay, I talked about how God is good despite the evil and suffering in the world. I ended my essay with the following sentence: “If humans choose good over evil during their journey here on Earth, they will go to this perfect place called heaven after dying.” To choose “good” here does not mean “good works” but rather “to avail oneself of salvation through Jesus Christ.” “Good works” are merely an outcome of salvation. They cannot earn salvation on their merits alone. This brings me to the topic of death and how the Christian view of human death is different from that of materialists and naturalists.

MATERIALISM AND NATURALISM

Materialism is the idea that the only things that exist are physical things. According to N. M. Roy, while we now know that the world is not made up of “hard, massy, stone-like atoms,” the underlying material of the world is still physical, even if this material turns out to be only energy.¹ According to this view, there is no spiritual realm, and thus there is no God. Similarly, naturalism is the idea that the world can be understood completely through physical laws² and empirical science.³Thus, philosophy and science should make no reference to the supernatural, i.e., anything outside of the natural world, because such things either do not exist or do not impact the physical, material world.²

ATHEISM, AGNOSTICISM, AND THEISM

From the above discussion, it can be seen that materialism is only compatible with an atheistic point of view. Atheism is the belief that God does not exist. On the other hand, naturalism is compatible with both atheism and agnosticism. Agnostics believe that nothing is known or can be known about God. Clearly I am not atheistic or agnostic. I am theistic. Theism, (in contrast to deism which was discussed in a prior essay), is the belief that there is a God and that God intervenes in the world’s affairs.4

DEATH FROM THE MATERIALIST AND NATURALIST VIEW

According to materialists and naturalists, when humans die, they cease to exist. Eventually, their tissues decompose to more basic compounds and elements. Because there is no spirit and no God, there is nothing that can survive this process. Death is therefore final. A person’s consciousness and personality, as well as their body, are ultimately lost.

THE CHRISTIAN VIEW OF HUMAN DEATH

The Christian view of human death is quite different. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 says “For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the Archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever” (NRSV).5

This letter specifically addressed the fate of Christians who died before the Second Coming of Christ. The technical term for the Second Coming is parousia. Thus, when Christ returns to Earth again, the dead who believed in Jesus as their savior (i.e., those who died in Christ) will be resurrected – body, soul, and spirit and taken into the heavens to meet Christ. Then those people who are alive at the time of the parousia will by taken up with those who have already died. Finally the unbelievers will be resurrected. Everyone in the heavens will then return to Earth; and the Judgment Day of Christ will commence.”

THE JUDGMENT DAY

Revelation 21: 12-14 says, “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books.”

Philippians 3: 20-21 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.”

Daniel 12: 2 says, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awaken, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”

IMMORTALITY

2 Corinthians 15: 50-54 says, “What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable… We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.

These versus mean that whether we are still alive at the time of the parousia or have died and our bodies are being resurrected, everyone’s body will change to that like the Risen Christ.

John 20: 19-20 says “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”

In these verses, it can be seen that when the resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples three days after the crucifixion, Jesus had a body that could be seen and touched. There was something different about his body, but Jesus’ body was somewhat like his physical body – complete with wounds.

ON THE LAST THINGS

Revelation 20: 14- 15 says, “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”

The lake of fire is a metaphor for hell – a place of eternal separation from God. This is the basis of the meaning of life from the Christian point of view. The good are ultimately rewarded with good. The bad are rewarded with bad. Otherwise, there would be little if any meaning in life; and one course of action could be thought to be as good as any other.

A REMINDER

This is a good place to remember what I wrote in a previous essay. Although I personally choose to believe in God (because I was raised in the faith and because I hope it is true), the truth of the matter is that we cannot be certain about the existence of God. As I’ve written before, the existence of God cannot be proven. It is a matter of faith and belief, not fact. In fact, it makes equally good sense to believe that there is no God as to believe that there is. Therefore, we cannot disparage someone because they are atheistic, agnostic, deistic, or theistic. As can be seen here, all of those positions make sense. All are reasonable and rational. We all have choice when it comes to what we believe.

CONCLUSION

In this essay, the views of human death from the perspective of materialists and naturalists, as well as that of Christians, were explored. Materialists believe that only physical things exist. This view leads to an atheistic perspective. Naturalists, on the other hand, believe that the world can be understood completely through physical laws and the process of science. This view is compatible with atheism or agnosticism. For materialists and naturalists, when a person dies they cease to exist – period. For Christians, however, when the physical body dies, the soul and spiritual essence of the person goes to sleep. Then the perishable body decays. When Christ comes the second time, people’s immortal bodies are resurrected and rejoined to their souls and spirits. This time however, people are eternal. Those in the book of life live with God forevermore. Those whose names are not found in the book of life are cast to hell – a place away from God for eternity.

Peace†

____________

1. Nath, R. “Manbendra Nath Roy (1987-1954).” Internet encyclopedia of philosophy: A peer-reviewed academic resource. Retrieved on August 31, 2018 from https://www.iep.utm.edu/roy_mn/#SH5b.

2. Jacobs, J. “Naturalism.” Internet encyclopedia of philosophy: A peer-reviewed academic resource. Retrieved on August 31, 2018 from https://www.iep.utm.edu/naturali/#H4.

3. Lewis, D. (March 13, 2012). “What is the difference between naturalism and materialism?” StackExchange.com. Retrieved on August 31, 2018 from https://philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/2406/what-is-the-difference-between-naturalism-and-materialism.

4. “Theism.” Oxford dictionaries.com. Retrieved on August 31, 2018 from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/theism.

5. The Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

A THEODICY

The Question

Someone asked me a great question recently, “If God is omnipotent, why does he allow evil and suffering in the world?” This question calls for a vindication of the goodness of God in the face of evil. Such a vindication is called a theodicy.

A Theodicy

My effort to answer this question was as follows. God can do anything He wants; but He chose to create a world where human beings would have free-will and would live in a physical, material world.  Thus evil and suffering are not caused by God. They are caused by his creations. The first of these is humans. Humans choose to misuse their free-will and do evil instead of good. The evil that humans do creates suffering for others and often for the evildoer as well. This first point goes a long way toward explaining why humans do evil and create suffering. But what about suffering that comes from disease, genetics or other physical causes? Well, this is due to the nature of the physical, material world in which we live. When a child inherits a genetic disease, physical substances called genes from both parents come together in such a way that leads to disease. When people develop heart disease after years of having high cholesterol and/or triglycerides, this is just a natural process that occurs. Likewise, when hurricanes cause devastation, this can be explained by the interaction of ecologic, atmospheric, and other natural forces.

God is Just

“But why does God not change this?” I suppose this is because God wanted to create a world where humanity would be called to achieve perfection, and this meant the world couldn’t already be perfect.¹ “But why would God do that?” Well, if God had chosen to make the world and humans perfect to begin with, what glory would that have brought God? In other words, people and nature would obey God because they had no choice. However, it is by having a free- will and then choosing good over evil that God is glorified. In a perfect world, humans would be a lot like robots – wired to do the right thing automatically. Nature would also just automatically create the perfect living conditions. Thus, there would be no disease, no bad weather, no trials or tribulations. Could God create such a place? Of course, He could. Such a place sounds a lot like heaven. However, God wanted to reserve heaven for people that are not only good but holy like He is. So. there had to be an Earth where people’s fitness for heaven would be tested. If humans choose good over evil during their journey here on Earth, they will go to this perfect place called heaven after dying.

Peace†

  1. McGrath, A. (2011). Christian theology: An introduction, 5th Ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

TRUMP’S POLICY OF SEPARATING POWERLESS CHILDREN FROM THEIR PARENTS

My Personal Experience With Separation

When I was a young child of perhaps 3 or 4 years of age, my parents took me with them to a hospital where my mother was to have minor outpatient surgery. While we were in the waiting room, I was happy, content, and without a care. When my mother was finally called, she looked at me and asked if I wanted to stay there in the waiting room and continue playing or go with them. I suppose she noticed how happy and content I was playing in the waiting room and thought maybe I would be OK if she and my father went in for her surgery leaving me in the waiting room to play. I couldn’t blame them as I remember I was feeling happy and having a great time. So they left me there while they went to meet with her doctors.

However, as time went by, I began to feel more and more uncomfortable. At first, I could comfort myself by thinking, “They’ll be back anytime now.” And I just kept playing. I couldn’t tell time of course, so I hadn’t thought to look at the clock on the wall. Thus, I had no idea how much time had passed since they left. There came a point where I began to fear that perhaps something was wrong. Perhaps something had happened to my parents. These thoughts were all I could tolerate, and I began to cry. As I cried in the waiting room, I tried to be good and stay in the waiting room until my parents returned. However time just went on and on. It seemed to me no one could hear me crying. Finally after another hour or so, I totally panicked. “What if my parents would never come back for me?” This thought filled me with horror.

I ran into the room next door to see if I could find my parents there. Then I ran to a nursing station and wailed loudly to see if anyone would help me. A nurse started calling on the loud speakers probably reporting that a little boy was lost and crying. I didn’t even know English at the time, so I couldn’t tell anyone what I was feeling. I was all alone. I remember being filled with dread, anxiety, regret that I thought I could sit alone and wait for my parents to return, worried that something had happened to my mother, and filled with sadness and the sheer horror that I could be abandoned! Finally, my parents came back and got me. However, the whole thing was so traumatic that I still remember it today. 

President Trump’s Inhumanity

What I just described above occurred when I was left alone for a few hours. I cannot even begin to understand what it might be like for immigrant kids being separated forcefully from their parents at the U.S. Mexico border. Unlike me, these children know that there is something wrong. They know they have been taken from their parents. Depending on their age, they don’t understand why. And even if they could understand that President Trump thinks he can dissuade illegal immigrants and their families from coming to the the U.S. by traumatically separating them from their parents, this would only serve to confirm their fears, anxiety, and sense of terror! This is unjust and inhuman. This must end.

Irrevocable Harm Is Done By Separating Children From Their Families

Medical and nursing professions know that separating children from their mothers can cause irrevocable harm. There is an entire literature on this subject. Some of this literature is from times when children were not allowed to see a parent who was sick in a hospital and times when children were placed in orphanages that didn’t provide adequate care and stimulation. Children were alright at the beginning although traumatized. However as the days passed, they would become practically depressed and could not be comforted no matter how hard nurses tried to comfort them. It was heartbreaking. Sometimes when children under 2 years of age were involved, the baby could stop eating, become listless, and develop a condition called failure to thrive. These children were at risk of dying. This was was not because they didn’t have a place to sleep, food to eat, or supervision. This was simply due to the psychological, social, and physical consequences of separation from their attachment figures! These kids seemed to prefer to die than to live without the person they were attached to.

Findings like the ones just described led to changes being made in hospitals, orphanages, and other child-care facilities. Yet because our current President believes that immigrants are a scourge on our society, he and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have created a policy where children are being abused psychologically, victimized, and traumatized beyond their immature abilities to adapt. I read a news story in the New York Times today where a mother was deported to Guatemala without her son! This type of child abuse can cause separation anxiety disorder, disinhibited social engagement disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, adjustment disorder, depression, feeding disorders, elimination disorders, and it can increase the child’s chances of developing aggression, autonomic hyperactivity, affect dysregulation, and inability to establish intimate relationships in the future. This is wrong; and as a society we must speak up about this abuse being committed on vulnerable, immigrant children, and their parents! 

A Call to Evangelical Christians To Live Out Their Faith In Love Not Hate

So what does our Christian tradition have to say about this? We just need to read Matthew 18 to see that there is no escaping God’s judgment for doing something so cruel, callous, and totally unnecessary to the most powerless of all – children! Matthew 18 states:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’  He called a child, whom he put among them,  and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.  ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling-blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling-block comes!¹

Deuteronomy 10:19 says, “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”¹

Psalms 146:9 says, “The Lord watches over strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.”¹

Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”¹

Finally, Romans 12:13 says, “Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.”¹

Now, does that sound like President Trump’s policies of xenophobia and outright hatred of immigrants? No, it certainly does not. Evangelical Christians have backed President Trump and his administration’s show of blatant disregard for human rights, disregard for democracy, in-your-face adultery and debauchery, the pursuit of riches to the point of corruption, egocentricity, and narcissism. Evangelical Christians have thus far supported abject inhospitality to refugees and immigrants that come to America seeking nothing but a better life. But will Evangelical Christians disregard their faith totally by literally putting stumbling blocks in the path of powerless children potentially causing a lifetime of psychological disorders? Please call your U.S. Representatives and Senators and ask them to stop this unconscionable behavior on the part of the U.S. executive branch.

Peace†

¹Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Anglicised bible retrieved June 18, 2018 at https://www.biblegateway.com/

CREATION AND THEISTIC EVOLUTION

Creationism

In a prior article, The Notion of God (Part 3), I wrote that “… since Charles Darwin wrote his treatise On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection in the mid 19th century, it has become increasingly untenable to take what the Bible says about God creating the world – literally.” In fact some Christians (known as fundamentalists, evangelicals, or just conservative Christians) have had their understanding of the cosmos thrown into utter chaos by science. Because of the rigidity of their theological thinking, their responses to evolutionary science have been rather unfortunate. Some attack evolution as if it was a product of the devil! I will call these Christians – creationists. Some clever creationists came up with creationism. Creationism is a pseudo or false science that creationists believe supports their point of view.

Making the Word “Liberal” a Term of Abuse

Creationists sometimes blame science for every imaginable problem and then associate these problems with the words “liberal.” In doing this, they make the word “liberal” a term of abuse, especially in political circles. Then they use it to disparage educated people in general. Some creationists go so far as to denounce all science! As I said, this is rather unfortunate.

Materialism

Some Christians (and I am among them) have broadened their belief systems to the point of believing in God and also in evolutionary science. This position is sometimes known as theistic evolution. Some people, however, believe that the only thing that exists is matter or the material world or the material cosmos. These people are called materialists. Some materialists would say that it is inconsistent to believe in a Creator God and at the same time evolutionary science. Therefore these same people may group theistic evolution with creationism. Nonetheless, most of the time the word “creationist” is reserved for people who cannot accept all or a part of evolutionary science. Thus I don’t consider theistic evolution to be a type of creationism.

The Genre of Allegory

This brings us to the meat of this article. That is, God created all that exists. In theistic evolution, we believe that the Bible doesn’t tell us how the cosmos came into being, but rather why the cosmos came into being. Thus the stories in Genesis about God creating the world are creation myths that are meant to be read as allegories. See my article, About the Bible. An allegory is a story or narrative whose meaning is hidden and not the literal meaning of the story. What the Bible is saying is that God created all that exists. However, the Bible is not trying to tell us exactly how God did it.

Theistic Evolution

Exactly how God created the cosmos must be something incredibly complicated. Evolutionary scientists and cosmologists are trying to figure it out. We as Christians, however, do not need to get in their way. They pose no threat to us. We just need to understand who God is in order to come to this realization. Theologian Paul Tillich wrote that God is not a thing in our universe or cosmos. Instead, God is the Ground of Being. By this Tillich meant that if some massive black hole should eat the entire cosmos, God would still exist. This is because God is existence itself and not a thing within the universe.

The Mystery of Creation

As Christians, we don’t have to understand how God created the cosmos. The point of the creation stories are simply to understand that God created everything. The Bible says He did it by speaking the cosmos into being. In a previous article, I wrote about the Mystery of God the Trinity. In that article, I  pointed out that the Father is He who wills to speak. The Son is the Father’s Word coming into physical existence. The Holy Spirit is the Love that exists between the Father and the Son. The Father wills the creation into being out of Love. And out of Love, the Son speaks the Father’s Word into being. The cosmos, you, and I are what God is constantly speaking into existence. It can be seen then that theistic evolution doesn’t contradict or antagonize evolution at all. This position merely answers the question of why things exist; and we understand that it does for God’s loving pleasure¹.

Peace†

 

1McIntosh, Mark Allen. Mysteries of faith. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.

BE STILL AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD

BE STILL: A PRAYER FOR QUIET CONFIDENCE

O God of peace,

who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, and

in quietness and confidence shall be our strength:

By the might of your Spirit lift us, we pray,

to your presence,

where we may be still and know that you are God;

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Peace†

From the Book of Common Prayer

LONELINESS

ABOUT ONE OUT OF EVERY TWO PEOPLE FEEL LONELY

It doesn’t matter who we are, where we are, or who we are with, at one point or another as many as 40-percent of us will feel lonely.¹ Many people think that family, friends, or romantic partners will insulate them against this painful feeling. Others think money, a title, or a job position will do the trick. Unfortunately, this is not the case. People can feel lonely even when they are interacting with other people! In fact 60-percent of lonely people are married.²

SO WHY ARE SO MANY PEOPLE LONELY?

Well while it isn’t possible for me to know all the reasons people can feel lonely, I can get you thinking in a productive direction. First, I think people can feel all sorts of painful emotions when they are depressed. Loneliness and emptiness are common feelings when people are depressed. Second, I think people can feel lonely when some of their needs are going unmet. For example, if we are craving the attention of a romantic partner, we are not likely to feel great if we are stuck with a relative or even a friend. These people just can’t meet those kind of needs. Third, sometimes we may actually have people all around us yet still feel lonely. This is often due to the quality of our relationships with them. When we don’t have emotionally intimate, healthy, loving relationships with the people around us, we are not likely to feel connected to them; and this makes us lonely.

PERSONALITY FACTORS

We all need to be able to let our defenses (or hair so to speak) down with other people. That means that we can talk to them about how we really feel, and we can share what is really going on in our lives today. Most of the time, this requires that we know the other person well. It is also necessary for that other person to be able to relax around us and be vulnerable with us.

Many people are terrified of being vulnerable with others. After all, what would they think if they learned we feel lonely, empty, or neglected? Some people have such rigid defenses that they cannot dare to be their real selves with others. Sometimes this is due to how they were raised. For example, how emotionally healthy were their parents? Could they relax? Or were they afraid of being rejected or discriminated against? Did they feel shame? Did they speak English? Were they immigrants? Did the family go through financial difficulties etc…? Finally, I think sometimes we are lonely due to faulty thinking. For example, if it’s a Saturday night and we are home alone, an automatic thought that might come to mind is, “Everyone else is out having fun.” This is erroneous thinking, and it can make us feel as though we are missing out on something important.

SO WHAT CAN WE DO?

Well that depends on what the problem is, of course. If we are depressed, we may need to seek professional help. If we really want a boyfriend or girlfriend, then we need to put ourselves in situations where we can find one. On the other hand, if our character is such that we can’t risk being vulnerable with others or if we tend to make a lot of assumptions in our thinking, we may want to consider finding a psychotherapist. If we know why we are feeling lonely yet cannot do much about it, we may need to accept it and focus our time on something that is personally meaningful like spirituality, painting, gardening, etc…. Also, getting a pet can be of great help.

OUR SPIRITUAL BELIEFS ARE IMPORTANT TOO

Many times, when we feel lonely we worry. However, if we are Christians, we may just need to be reminded about what an awesome God we serve. Think about the following verse from the Amplified Bible at BibleGateway.com:

“Do not fear [anything], for I am with you; Do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, be assured I will help you; I will certainly take hold of you with My righteous right hand [a hand of justice, of power, of victory, and of salvation].” – Isaiah 41:10

As I’ve discussed previously, the Holy Spirit is love itself! Jesus promised that He would not leave us alone after He ascended to the Father; He said He would send the Holy Spirit to live inside of us forever. Thus we need to remember this especially when we feel alone: We are never really alone for GOD IS WITH US!

Peace†

________________________________________________________________________________

¹, ² Winch, G. (August 21, 2014). 10 surprising facts about loneliness: Pangs that attack your body in ways you never expected. Retrieved April 14, 2018 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201410/10-surprising-facts-about-loneliness.

THE MEANING OF EASTER

When I was a teenager, I read the New Testament for the first time. I have to admit, I could not understand how God would send his Son to die a brutal death as payment for the sins of humanity. This made no sense to me at that time. It seemed sadistic and wrong! I kept thinking, “What kind of God would do such a thing?”

It wasn’t until I became an adult that I finally received an adequate explanation. First of all, I needed to understand that God is One. Jesus was God’s Word or message on Earth. While Jesus was a person, He was also a part of a greater spiritual whole – the Godhead. Thus, it wasn’t like God was really killing another god-like being. In fact, God was sacrificing a part of God’s self on behalf of humanity. Thus, it was really more like a self-sacrifice on the part of God Himself.

But why would God make any sacrifice on behalf of sinful humanity? Well, I had to understand that God created humans in the first place. He created the entire universe in fact. But humans were the high point of His creation. By creation, I do not mean to say how God created humans, but rather that He set the process of evolution into motion so that it would lead to the human race and everything else that exists. The Bible tells us that God loves humanity. He wants all humans to have a spiritual life with Him following our earthly death. This would be an everlasting spiritual life. Thus when the Bible said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that whosoever believeth in Him would not perish but have everlasting life;” it explained exactly why God would make such a sacrifice – love.

Today we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus the Christ. In Christianity, the Easter holiday is the greatest feast of the year. This is because the resurrection proved that Jesus was being truthful when He claimed to be the Son of God. And because Jesus was who He said he was, we Christians can rest assured that God accepted His payment for our sins in full. That is, we are forgiven all of our faults and misdeeds by simply asking for forgiveness and believing in the Son of God.

The night before Jesus was crucified, He had dinner with his disciples. As a Jew, Jesus was celebrating the Passover Feast. However during this Passover dinner, Jesus once again informed his disciples that He must be betrayed into the hands of sinners and killed. When He broke the bread, He indicated that it symbolized His body which would be broken for them for the forgiveness of sins. He then took the cup and indicated that the wine symbolized His blood which would be shed for them for the forgiveness of sins. Then He asked that the disciples (and thus the Church) engage in this ritual to remember Him.

Easter marks the day that Christians remember Jesus and God’s self-sacrifice to redeem His beloved human beings from the bondage of their sins. Today I am grateful that I understand the true meaning of the Easter holiday. But most of all, I am grateful to God for His amazing, and truly unconditional love!

Peace†

GOOD FRIDAY

When Jesus was arrested, most disciples abandoned Him and fled. After the crucifixion of Jesus, the remaining disciples, Mary Magdalene, and Mary mother of James went into hiding and waiting.

We can only imagine what was going through their minds. Their dearest friend and leader, Jesus the Christ, was humiliated, tortured, and brutally murdered – a gentle Man whose only crime was to preach love of God and neighbor. And He, himself, predicted that He must suffer and die at the hands of sinners. But why? Why did it have to be this way? He said that we were to eat his body and drink his blood? What did it all mean? Was it a cruel joke that Jesus had played on them? How could He be the Son of God? Was He even sane? Should they have done something to prevent this? But … He said that He would rise up again on the third day?

We can only imagine their horror, shock, confusion, grief, and pain. Their understandings, their hopes, their dreams, their entire world were now but a pile of burned and crumbling charcoal and ash. The two Marys were dashing around like mad women in search of the right herbs and spices with which to anoint the body of their Messiah.

 

“But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:5

Peace†

THE MYSTERY OF GOD

Meaning of Mystery

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, the word mystery has two basic meanings.¹ One is “a religious truth that one can know only by revelation and cannot fully understand.” The other meaning is “something not understood or beyond understanding.” One mystery that has perplexed humanity since time immemorial is why life exists, that is, why are we humans here on Earth?

Our Mysterious Universe

Additionally, have you ever wondered about our universe? For example, how did the Earth come into being? How old is it? Will it ever end? And what else exists in the universe apart from our solar system (i.e., our sun and planets revolving around the sun)? According to Space.com,² there could be about 100 million to 100 billion stars in the “average” galaxy. And depending on which study we consult, there could be 2 to 10 trillion galaxies in the “observable” universe. Moreover, the universe appears to have been expanding since The Big Bang – that is, for the last 13.8 billion years! Obviously this is unfathomable. Thus, the size of our universe is another great mystery!

Is God Obsolete?

Yet, there is another mystery in which, sadly, many people have lost interest. That is the Mystery of God. I speculate that this was a consequence of the Enlightenment.³ After all, theology used to consume a great deal of learned men’s thought and interest prior to the 1700s. The Enlightenment brought about the development of the scientific method. The scientific method, in turn, ushered in the modern period with its promise to separate fact from myth and dogma. Prior to this, the Roman Catholic Church was in control of education and religious orthodoxy along with the monarchs of that time. The impetus for the Enlightenment was the need to check the powers of the institutionalized Church and the powers of monarchs. Many of the Church’s doctrines were seriously challenged during this period as well as the divine right of kings. While the influence of the Church and monarchs were successfully challenged and the liberty and equality of individuals championed, this period also seems to have brought about thinking that God was no longer needed, antiquated, or obsolete.

Nonetheless, as I wrote in an earlier article, we are not in a time where God has been disproven! In fact, this is close to impossible. Neither is the existence of God close to being proven true for that matter. Thus it seems to me presumptuous to the point of arrogance for people to look down upon people of faith. As I’ve written before, we must all learn to hold our beliefs humbly. I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough. Now, having laid the groundwork for appreciating mysteries, I would like to turn our attention to The Mystery of God. This is especially suitable at this time because we are in the Church’s season of Lent and awaiting the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Mystery of God

In his book Mysteries of Faith4 Mark McIntosh writes about the theological journey. The first stage in this journey is daring to see things differently. That is, we have to see our lives as occurring within the larger context of God’s life. This involves purposefully opening ourselves to hearing God’s speech in the universe. Among other things, it means opening ourselves up to the stories in the Bible. After all, as people of faith, we believe that God spoke the entire universe into being. Further McIntosh writes, “God [spoke] the Word into our time and space as the historical human being Jesus.” Again, God is the Speaker; and in the Gospel of John, Jesus is God’s Word who entered history as a human being to make God present to us and to atone for the sins of all humanity. McIntosh writes, “…[it is] the Holy Spirit, who has from eternity been the Love who draws the Speaker into speech, and fills the Word with yearning to speak the Speaker’s Meaning, to do the will of the Father.” Here we receive a glimpse into the Mystery of the Triune God.

CONCLUSION

In this essay, I explained that a mystery is something that is difficult to understand and may never be completely understood. I brought up the mystery of life, itself, and the mystery of the size of the universe as examples. Then I pointed to another mystery – the Mystery of God. Unfortunately, as a result of the success of the Enlightenment in checking the abuses of the Church and monarchs, many people today think as if God had been proven not to exist. Nothing of the sort occurred. The idea of God as an explanation for the existence of the universe and everything in it IS just as rational today as it was in the Middle Ages. Then I described the Mystery of God as God in three Persons. God the Father spoke Jesus Christ into our historical world. The Holy Spirit in which God speaks is the Spirit of Love that exists between the Father and the Son. The Son is the Word (or the Meaning) of the Father’s speech. All three Persons of God live in a relationship in blissful Communion. This is the Life of Love to which God invites each and every one of us to participate. But first, we must dare to see things differently.

Peace†

__________________________________________________________________________

¹”Mystery.” Merriam-Webster.com. Accessed March 11, 2018. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mystery.

²Howell, Elizabeth. “How Many Stars Are In The Universe?” Space.com. Accessed March 11, 2018. https://www.space.com/26078-how-many-stars-are-there.html.

³History.com Staff. “Enlightenment.” History.com. 2009. Accessed March 11, 2018. https://www.history.com/topics/enlightenment.

4McIntosh, Mark Allen. Mysteries of faith. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.

THE GREAT LITANY

THE GREAT LITANY

O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the faithful,
Have mercy upon us.

O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God,
Have mercy upon us.

Remember not, Lord Christ, our offenses, nor the offenses
of our forefathers; neither reward us according to our sins.
Spare us, good Lord, spare thy people, whom thou hast
redeemed with thy most precious blood, and by thy mercy
preserve us, for ever.
Spare us, good Lord.

From all evil and wickedness; from sin; from the crafts
and assaults of the devil; and from everlasting damnation,
Good Lord, deliver us.  Amen.

From The Online Book of Common Prayer

Peace†

ABOUT THE BIBLE (PART 2)

The Liberal Christian™ is an ecumenical blog authored by Dr. Tom Rodriguez. To participate, click on the blue link titled “COMMENTS” immediately below the appropriate posting and fill in a screen name and your email address.

ABOUT THE BIBLE (PART 2)

For this writing, in addition to essays in the “New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha,” I used the textbook “Introducing the New Testament: A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey” by Mark A. Powell copyright 2009, and published by Baker Academic. At the end of the Old Testament, the Jewish nation was a vassal state of the Persian Empire. The Temple was rebuilt, and Judah was under the control of high priests with little interference from the Persians. However, the Persian Empire was eventually conquered by Alexander the Great of Macedon. Alexander died suddenly and did not leave an heir, so his generals divided up his Empire. First Judah was governed by the Ptolemies of Egypt from 320 to 198 BCE and then by the Seleucids of Syria from 198 to 167 BCE. Under the Seleucids, Hellenism was forced on Judah; and Judaism was outlawed. This led to a Jewish revolt by the Maccabees in 167 BCE. Much of this history is found in the books of the Apocrypha. Despite this, many Protestants today are not aware of this history. I believe this is largely due to the fact that the Apocrypha are not recognized by Protestants as inspired scripture and thus not included in their Bibles. Not withstanding, the Roman Catholic,  and the Russian and Eastern Orthodox churches consider these works to be deuterocanonical (i.e., secondarily canonical). The Anglican Communion’s churches and the Episcopal Church in the USA also utilize the Apocrypha. In 63 BCE, Judah came under the control of the Roman Empire. About 60 years later, Jesus was born (i.e., 6 to 4 BCE). Jesus’s ministry lasted almost 30 years until He was crucified by the Romans between 30 and 33 CE. This is the basic history that spans from the end of the Old Testament through the end of the New Testament.

Likewise, some important history also occurred after the New Testament ends. The apostle Paul converted from Judaism to Christianity sometime between 32 and 36 CE. He travelled through much of the Roman Empire between 46 and 65 CE setting up churches until he was imprisoned. It was during this time that he wrote his letters (or epistles) to nine churches and four individuals. These were the earliest Christian writings but are not the first writings presented in the New Testament. The first writings are the Gospels. I suppose this arrangement is due to the need to present a comprehensive biography of Jesus’s birth, life, death, and resurrection first; and this is exactly what the Gospels do. The apostles Peter and Paul were martyred sometime around 62 to 65 CE in Rome. Jewish Zealots practically forced the Jews into a revolt against Roman rule in 66 CE. In 70 CE, the Romans squashed the rebellion; and in the process, the second Temple was destroyed. However, a group of rebels were holdup at the fortress of Masada at the top of a mountain. The Jewish-Roman War continued until 73 CE when Masada was finally infiltrated. Most of the rebels committed mass suicide instead of surrendering to the Romans. Over the next several decades (i.e., 80 to 100 CE), the Gospels and the remaining New Testament writings were composed. The Gospel of Mark was the first gospel to be written.

 Again we can see that if the Bible is the only work one studies, it is next to impossible to understand the Bible and Biblical events thoroughly. Unlike, the Old Testament, there were many copies of the New Testament ‘s books. In this situation it became necessary to find the most reliable text. This is what one type of Biblical scholarship, text criticism, accomplishes. Text criticism is only one type of historical criticism. Other types are source criticism, form criticism, and redaction criticism. In source criticism, scholars attempt to identify hypothetical sources that the Biblical authors utilized in their writing. Form criticism attempts to determine what genre of literature a writing best represents. For example as we discussed in Part 1 of this essay, is Genesis a history or is it myth? It is also important to understand that a writing can also be set in a historical period and yet be a work of fiction! Redaction criticism attempts to determine how a book’s author edits different source documents in order to put forth his particular point of view. In addition to historical methods of critiquing a written work, there are various types of literary criticism. These methods analyze the Bible much like any other work of literature. There is also ideological criticism which seeks to determine how writings are interpreted by people with different ideologies. Two common types of ideological critical methods are feminist and queer criticism. Finally, there are deconstruction methods based on postmodern philosophies that seek to discover what is privileged in a written work and why. Deconstruction methods argue that just because one point of view is privileged over another doesn’t mean that the second point of view is less valid.

CONCLUSION

In this essay, I reviewed the history leading up to and following the life of Jesus. My aim was to describe the circumstances in which the New Testament was written and how the New Testament is studied. Jesus lived in a Roman-Hellenistic period. Greek was the predominant language and the language in which the New Testament books were composed. Commoners could be taxed into poverty; and if a man couldn’t pay his debts, he and his family could be sold into slavery. We learned that Paul’s letters were the earliest of the New Testament writings. They were written a few decades after the crucifixion of Jesus. Thirty to forty years after Paul wrote his Epistles, the remaining works of the New Testament were written. The Gospel of Mark was the earliest of the Gospel writings. The Gospels represent a type of ancient biography. By all accounts, Jesus was a real person who existed in history. Although the religion that He gave rise to is Christianity, Jesus himself, was a Jew. He represented one out of several sects of Judaism that were common at the time. Jesus was from the town of Nazareth in the region of Galilee. He roamed throughout Galilee, Samaria, and Judah teaching, healing, exorcizing evil spirits, and proclaiming the Kingdom of God.

Peace†

ABOUT THE BIBLE

The Liberal Christian™ is an ecumenical blog authored by Dr. Tom Rodriguez. To participate, click on the blue link titled “COMMENTS” immediately below the appropriate posting and fill in a screen name and your email address.

ABOUT THE BIBLE

For the contents herein, I relied on several essays found in the “The New Oxford Annotated Bible, New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha: An Ecumenical Study Bible, fourth edition” copyrighted in 2010 by Oxford University Press. I think these essays summarize the current state of our Biblical knowledge quite well. To understand and properly read the Bible, I think it is important to first understand how the Bible came into existence and the history which it purports to tell. Having read the Bible myself before studying theology in Education for Ministry, I am convinced that we cannot fully understand the Bible unless we study it in a more structured manner. I wish this were not the case, but it is. This is not to say that I think people should not attempt to read the scriptures themselves because I think all people are naturally faced with this challenge when figuring out what they will or will not believe. However if the Bible is the only material we study, it turns out that we miss out on all the past scholarship that has been done regarding its historicity (i.e., accuracy/reliability) and historiography (i.e., process of writing). To arrive at my current understanding, I read textbooks by experts in Old Testament Studies (AKA Hebrew Bible Studies), New Testament Studies, Church History, and theology.

The books that comprise the Bible were written over a little more than 1000-year period of time. With regard to the Pentateuch (i.e., first five books) of the Old Testament, scholars have been able to trace earlier sources of these stories and laws which must have been orally transmitted initially, then written, collected, combined, and edited into the books we have today. These earlier sources are known as J, E, P, and D. These initials stand for Jahwist, Elohist, Priestly, and Deuteronomistic sources. However they, themselves, did not survive and are only hypothesized to have existed since they are the best explanation for contradictions and duplications found in the Pentateuch. The books of the Pentateuch were canonized sometime between 586 and 333 BCE (after the Jews who had been taken into exile in Babylon returned to Judah and rejoined the population that had not been exiled). To piece together the history of the Near East to the time of ancient Israel, Christ, and beyond, professional historians make use of materials from archeological explorations and materials that were written – some in ancient languages. Examples of such materials are Egyptian hieroglyphs, cuneiform texts, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadi (Gnostic) Texts, the first century history by Josephus, Rabbinic manuscripts, the Mesoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible, the Q Source, the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, the Septuagint, the Vulgate and others. They then try to confirm the Biblical record with extra-biblical materials some of which were just listed.

It turns out that the major stories in the Pentateuch are not corroborated by historical evidence. Thus the stories of the Patriarchs, the Exodus, and Moses are best explained as myths or legends for the founding of ancient Israel. By myth, I do not mean a lie or falsehood as the word myth has more than one meaning. In today’s usage, if we say someone has told a myth, we often mean that they have lied. However a myth has traditionally meant a story that relays some important truths that could not be relayed in any other way at the time of writing. For example, creation myths are stories found in many ancient cultures that attempt to explain how the cosmos or any particular group of people originated. Moreover the founding myths of Israel are bound to contain elements of truth. However history did not unfold quite the way the myths say it did. To properly interpret such myths we have to first recognize that they represent a different genre of literature. They are not to be taken literally. Their meaning might be metaphorical, allegorical, or figurative. In all of these types of writing, the point is that the meaning is hidden in some way and not literal.

Nonetheless, the Bible does contain two histories – if we can call them that. I say this because these books are not historical in the modern sense of the word and because they also contain some writings that are not in a historical genre (such as Esther which is really a work of fiction set in a historical period). Anyway, what is known as the Deuteronomistic history is Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. Then we see a rewriting of the history of Israel in the books Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Ruth, and Esther.

“… Israel as we know it emerged in the land of Canaan and was made up of diverse groups. One of these was the Exodus group, whose allegiance to the God who brought them out of Egypt, Yahweh, would become the central religious tenet of the confederation. They were joined by others, some who were apparently their kin who had never gone down to Egypt, and some who may have been Canaanites disaffected from the(ir) centers of power.” These people existed within several tribes; and they joined together to form a confederation (something like a primative state) for the purpose of assisting one another militarily and worshipping Yahweh. The tribes were however independent (i.e., had no central authority). They were joined only by the above two agreements.

Around the same time that the Israelite tribes emerged in Canaan, another group emerged there as well. This group was known as the “Sea Peoples.” The Israelites called them the “Philistines.” They formed five cities in an area adjacent to the Israelites: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron. These two groups of people would eventually come into conflict with one another for dominance of the same land. Other surrounding ethnic groups included the Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, Arameans, and Phoenicians. Around the late 11th century in 1025 BCE, Israel became a nation structured as a Kingdom. This Monarchy only lasted about 100 years. Upon the death of King Solomon, it was divided in two, a Northern Kingdom of Israel and a Southern Kingdom of Judah. The Northern Kingdom of Israel lasted an additional two hundred years from 928 to 722 BCE when it’s capital Samaria was captured by the Neo-Assyrians. The Kingdom of Judah lasted an additional 350 years from 928 to 586 when Jerusalem was captured by Babylonia whose capital was Babylon. At this time, the first temple was destroyed. After Persia’s King Cyrus II captured Babylonia, the Jews who were in exile in Babylon were allowed to return to Judah. It was during this post-exilic period that the Pentateuch was canonized and the second temple was built. Then the Prophets were written and canonized in the late Persian or early Hellenistic period (circa 333 BCE). Finally, the part of the Old Testament known as the Writings were written. However they were not canonized until after the second temple was destroyed around 70 CE.

CONCLUSION

In this essay, I attempted to trace how the Old Testament was written, and I reviewed the major historical events which the Old Testament purports to tell. The process of writing the Pentateuch’s five books was one affected by the way the texts were transmitted and then edited over many centuries. We saw that the material in the Pentateuch did not stand up to modern historical study and is best interpreted as the founding myth of ancient Israel. The books that are historical, if we can use that term, are Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. This history was rewritten later in the books of Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Ruth. Ester is included in this second history, but it is really a work of historical fiction. Having studied the Bible with enthusiasm prior to beginning Education for Ministry, I attested that it is impossible to understand the Bible without studying the enormous amount of Biblical scholarship that has been accomplished to date. In part two of this essay, I will discuss how the New Testament was written and attempt a review of its respective Biblical scholarship.

Peace†

THE NOTION OF GOD (PART 3)

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CREATIONISM AND EVOLUTION

In The Notion of God I discussed the idea that God’s existence cannot be proved or disproved. This is why we say that God is a matter of faith not fact. I also discussed how God is independent of the universe that He created. I thus said that God is transcendent. Nonetheless I also discussed that God is immanent because he is present to us in the universe in some important way. In Part 2 of this series, I said that we can learn about God from the Bible, tradition, reason, and experience. I also pointed out two ways of thinking about God’s action in the world today. These were deism and theism. Theism is the traditional way of thinking about God.  I also discussed that God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent and provided biblical references in support of these ideas. In Part 3 of this series, I will discuss the notion of God in our modern times. Specifically I will discuss creationism and evolution.

Today we are in a state of transition when it comes to traditional religious beliefs. Since Charles Darwin wrote his treatise “On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection” in the mid 19th century, it has become increasingly untenable to take what the Bible says about God creating the world literally. I think most people have adjusted to this development with exception of those that think that they must hold on to what the Bible says about creation or else? Now I’m not sure what the “or else” really means, but I believe it must be something like, “Or we cannot believe anything the Bible says!” Oftentimes, these people were raised in religious traditions that taught them to take the Bible literally. I think fundamentalists and many evangelicals fit this category.

However, as a liberal Christian, I no longer agree with this thinking. I say “no longer” because I too was raised in a rather fundamentalist manner as a Baptist. Even after I had converted to Roman Catholicism as an adult, I still didn’t know how else to think about the Bible. Luckily, I found the Episcopal Church of the USA, and I registered in a 4 year theology program called Education for Ministry. I learned that the entire Pentateuch (or Torah as it is known in Judaism) is mostly a myth. It is a myth about how ancient Israel became a nation (I will discuss this in a future essay). The real history begins after Deuteronomy. In fact, there are two histories in the Bible. But suffice it to say that the Bible was never intended to tell us the exact process through which God created the universe. I think Genesis was only meant to tell us that God did create the universe. And it is up to us, through science, to figure out how He did it.

CONCLUSION

In this essay, I reviewed what I have written about the notion of God to date. I also introduced the idea that the Genesis stories, Exodus story, and Patriarchs in the Pentateuch are parts of a creation myth that were written to explain how the ancient nation of Israel came to be established and to believe in one God. I also suggested that if we want to know the process about how God created the universe, we need to consult evolutionary science, not creationism. Creationism is basically how fundamentalists and many evangelicals think about creation. These groups insist that it happened exactly as the Bible says it did! In my next series of essays, I will discuss how the Bible came to exist. Until then, since I’m writing this on Christmas Eve, I want to take this opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year; and if you are not a Christian, Happy Holidays!

Peace†

THE NOTION OF GOD (PART 2)

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THINKING ABOUT GOD

So what can we know about God, and where do we go to find this? As one might expect, we can learn something about God’s character from the Bible. This is not the only place however, as we can also learn about God’s character through Church tradition, reason, and experience.¹

Of course, the scriptures are our primary source. Consider the following quotation: “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’ says the Lord God, who is and was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8)² Because alpha and omega are the beginning and the end letters of the Greek alphabet, we can interpret this as God saying that He is the beginning and the end of all things. To me this means that God existed before anything else did and will continue to exist should the universe ever end. We then can conclude that God created the universe and everything in it; and thus one aspect of God is his role as the Creator of all things. It is important to note that Christians believe God created the universe out of nothing as nothing else existed except God in the beginning.

Then there are two major ways of thinking about how God acts in the world today. The first is known as the deist perspective while the second is known as the theist perspective. According to deism, God created all things including the physical laws of nature, which in turn, control how everything works. For example when God created planets and other celestial objects, he created the relationship between these objects so that celestial bodies create a physical pull on other bodies around them. This force is called gravity. Deism seeks to explain all events with respect to the laws of nature. For instance, God doesn’t need to make the Earth revolve around the Sun. The Earth simply does so on its own accord due to the gravitational attraction of the larger body, the Sun, on the Earth. According to deism, God is not active in the world today. He simply created it and set it into motion.

Another way of thinking about how God acts in the world today is theism. This perspective proposes a greater role for God in world affairs than deism. According to theism, God created all things including the physical laws of nature. However God still acts on the physical universe and everything in it. This implies that supernatural miracles can happen. This is more in line with the traditional way of thinking about God and His intervention in the world. Thomas Aquinas, whose First Cause argument was referred to in Part One of this essay, provided a way to think about God’s intervention in the world today. Having already indicated that God was the first or primary cause, Aquinas postulated that God works indirectly in the world through what he called secondary causes.³ For example God acts by influencing a person’s motivation to work for the eradication of homelessness in her community. In this instance God would not provide a home to a homeless person directly, but He would influence other people to do so. Indeed we can think of ourselves as vessels of the Holy Spirit, and God acting through us.

Other characteristics of God all begin with the term “omni.” According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, omni is a combining form that means “all.” This helps us to describe God because God is thought of as the ultimate being or power. Thus we say God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Omnipotent, of course, means that God is all-powerful and can do all things. Omniscient means that God is all knowing. Omnipresent means that God is present everywhere.

But where in the scriptures do we find support for these three ideas about God? First, Psalm 68:34 states, “Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel; and whose power is in the skies.” Then Ephesians 1:17-19 state, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ … may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation … so that … you may know what is the hope to which He is called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance …, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe….” Further, Romans 11:33 states “Oh the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” Finally, Psalm 139:1-2, state “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.” Verse 7 states, “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?”

CONCLUSION

In this essay, I began to discuss how to think about God especially his character. We said that before the universe existed, God existed. Thus, God is independent of the physical universe which He created. Thus God’s first characteristic is that of Creator. I then reviewed two ways of conceiving whether God is active in the world today – deism and theism. Then I discussed other characteristics of God. These were omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. However, I did not mean to imply that I believe that God created the universe in its present state all at once. I don’t believe that. I believe that the process by which God creates is evolution; and I will discuss this in my next essay.

Peace†
________________________________________________________________________

¹McGrath, Alister E. (2011). Christian Theology: An introduction. – 5th ed. Chichester, West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
²Scriptural quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches in the U.S.A, and are used with permission. All rights reserved.
³McGrath, Alister E. (2011). Christian Theology: An introduction. – 5th ed. Chichester, West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

SOME BENEFITS OF BELIEF IN GOD

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SOME BENEFITS OF BELIEF IN GOD

In my last essay “The Notion of God,” I pointed to the difference between a fact and a belief. A fact is distinguished by virtue that it is verifiable by other people. A belief, on the other hand, lacks this virtue and cannot be independently verified by a skeptic. I said that all religious beliefs necessarily fall in the latter category because existence of God can neither be proved nor disproved. Thus, I argued that people should hold their beliefs humbly. By this, I meant that we cannot act as though our belief is the one and only correct belief. We must also respect other people’s right to hold different beliefs. In today’s essay, I address some of the benefits of believing in God. Yes, believing in God has benefits.

According to the website “Research Summary for the Benefits of Things,” belief in God has several benefits for individuals and societies. However, I will only focus on some of the benefits for an individual’s health. It turns out that people who believe in God experience less stress, worry less, tolerate uncertainty better, and respond to psychiatric treatment better than people who do not believe. Pretty cool, huh?

A group of researchers at the University of Toronto measured brain activity while research participants underwent a stroop task. Compared to non-believers, people who believed in God showed less activation of their anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Because the ACC helps to signal when increased attention and control are needed in response to anxiety or uncertainty, the researchers found that belief in God helped the believers to experience less stress and anxiety in response to their own errors. Further, they postulated that belief in God had a calming affect.

A paper by David Rosmarin of Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital reported on two separate studies involving religious belief. The first study found that people who trusted in God to take care of them had lower levels of worry and less intolerance of uncertainty than people who did not trust in God. In the second study, participants were shown a video that was meant to increase trust in God. The researchers found that the video did increase trust in God. Further, increases in trust in God were associated with decreased feelings of stress, worry, and decreased intolerance of uncertainty.

In another study at Rush University Medical Center, researchers assessed religious beliefs in people experiencing unipolar and bipolar depression. The researchers found that people who believed in a God who cared about them were more likely to respond to treatment with antidepressant medication. More specifically, people who scored in the upper third of the Religious Well-Being Scale were 75 percent more likely to respond to treatment. Finally, degree of hopefulness in people did not predict who would respond better to treatment with antidepressants.

CONCLUSION

This is just a small sample of numerous studies that show positive effects for a belief in God. In my previous essay, I pointed to the fact that the existence of God can neither be proved nor disproved. I then clarified that it makes as much sense to believe in God as it does not to believe in God. I also mentioned that belief in God came with benefits. Here I only pointed out those benefits for the health of individuals. Among the benefits for belief in God were experiencing less stress, worrying less, tolerating uncertainty better, and even responding to psychiatric treatment better than people who did not believe. It is important to restate that this doesn’t prove the existence of God. Existence of God can neither be proved nor disproved. Thus again, this should remind us of the necessity of holding our beliefs humbly.

Peace†

THE NOTION OF GOD

The Liberal Christian™ is an ecumenical blog authored by Dr. Tom Rodriguez. To participate, click on the blue link titled “COMMENTS” immediatley below the appropriate posting and fill in a screen name and your email address.

 

THE NOTION OF “GOD”

It seems that as long as there have been humans on this earth, there have been religious beliefs of one kind or another. While there are only five major world religions – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism – there are as many as 4200 different religious belief systems in the world! For any rational human being, there quickly arises the following question: “What is the true religion?” Clearly, there is no way to know except to refer to the official writings or “scriptures” of each particular religious system. And even then, there is no agreement in these writings on what constitutes the true religion. So we are back to square one!

 

When I honestly consider why I believe in the Christian God, I always come back to the fact that Christianity was our family’s religious tradition. In other words, it was the only faith I ever knew. If we accept then that there is no way to know what the true religion is, I believe that we need to hold our beliefs humbly. Unfortunately, humans have great difficulty holding their beliefs humbly. This is because we naturally need to validate our beliefs in order to think and make sense of the world. Thus people like for others to think as they do. When we come across people who do not share our beliefs, it makes us feel out of place, isolated, and even confused as to whether our thinking is correct or the other person’s thinking is correct. I believe this basic need of humans to ascertain their beliefs has led to countless atrocities throughout history. When I think about this, I think of the Thirty Years War in the 17th century between Protestants and Catholics and how it enveloped Europe for a third of a century. There have been countless wars fought in the name of God or religious belief, and wars are still being fought today for this very reason.

 

The idea or notion of God is a belief, just like religion itself is a belief. This is to say, God is not a fact or something that people can perceive with their senses and agree on. However, this is not to say that God is imaginary or unreal. Why would I say this? Well, first of all, I say this because belief in the existence of God is just as rational as disbelief in God. That is, we cannot prove that God exists nor does not exist. No matter how sophisticated our knowledge becomes, it requires a great deal of faith, in my opinion, to believe that our earthly human life came into being merely through an infinite series of random events. I’m not saying this is impossible. I’m just saying that it is difficult for me to place a great deal of trust or faith in random chance as an explanation.

 

Although attacked by a philosopher named Immanuel Kant, I find the First Cause Argument to be more plausible. The First Cause Argument was put forth in the middle ages by Thomas Aquinas. This argument basically stated that all things have a cause. However it is impossible to believe in an infinite regression of causes. Thus there must a first-cause which caused all other things to come into existence. This first-cause is God. This leads us to believe in a transcendent God. That is, a God that transcends the physical universe as we know it. Thus, before there was a universe there was God. God exists independently of the universe. However we also think of God as being present or immanent in the world. This means that God is somehow present in our physical universe.

 

My aquarium can serve as an analogy for what I’m describing here. In this analogy, I will play the role of God. Clearly I exist independently of my aquarium. In fact, I bought the aquarium and the aquatic life in it at a pet store. I put it together. I filled it with water. I placed the fish, snails, and plants in the aquarium. I put the light on a timer that resembles a day and night cycle. I feed the fish in the aquarium. I care for the aquarium. I can see all the creatures in the aquarium and at least in this way am present in the aquarium world that I created. Thus I transcend the aquarium while I am also immanent in the aquarium world.

 

CONCLUSION

Thus we cannot be certain whether God exists or does not exist, and we cannot know which of all the world’s belief systems are true and which are not true. Thus we have to recognize that religious beliefs, including the notion of God, are just that – beliefs. They are not facts. I believe it is absolutely necessary to hold our beliefs humbly. By this, I mean that we cannot go around killing other people because they don’t think like we do. We also can’t run around thinking that we know the true religion or true God. Yet it makes just as much sense to say we believe in God as to say that we don’t believe. For me, I believe in the Christian God because that was our family’s tradition. I also acknowledge that I freely choose to believe in God. Further, I think there are benefits to believing in God. These I will discuss in my next essay; but suffice it to say that the way I think of God is that he was the First-Cause. He exists independently of our physical universe, yet He is present in it at the same time. We thus say God is transcendent, yet God is immanent.

 

Peace†

SPIRITUAL BUT NOT TOO RELIGIOUS

The Liberal Christian Is an ecumenical blog authored by Dr. Tom Rodriguez. To participate, click on the blue link titled “COMMENTS” immediately below the appropriate posting and fill in a screen name and your email address.

SPIRITUAL BUT NOT TOO RELIGIOUS VIDEO

Today I have posted a good homily from the Reverend Dr. Roger Ray. This short video addresses some of the issues that we have seen in the news lately – racism and sexual harassment. I’ve put a link to this video because it shows a cleric who thinks deeply and sensitively on these issues. But the main reason for placing it here is because I think it beautifully illustrates the centrality of love in liberal or progressive Christianity.

Peace†

20 minutes from Community Christian Church Springfield MO

 

LIBERAL AND PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIANITY

The Liberal Christian™ is an ecumenical blog authored by Dr. Tom Rodriguez. To participate, click on the blue link titled “COMMENTS” immediatley below the appropriate posting and fill in a screen name and your email address.

SO WHAT IS LIBERAL OR PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIANITY?

I basically use the terms liberal and progressive Christianity interchangeably. There are some differences, but I think these ideas are very similar. Thus I will use the term liberal. I also chose to use the term liberal because I find it desirable to take back the term from the misuse and abuse to which it has succumbed (see my post on Liberalism for more information). Generally liberal or progressive Christianity is different from conservative Christianity in the following ways (these are not the only differences but perhaps the most important):

  • No fear of science. Thus, no antiscience sentiment. We do not find a need to go against the theory of evolution or other established science.
  • We do not take the Bible literally. We believe the Bible is to be read depending on the type of writing that is represented such as a founding myth, poetry, letter, wisdom writing, etc…. Sometimes this requires an allegorical reading; and sometimes it requires a literal reading.
  • We do not believe that Christianity is the only pathway to God. We believe in respecting other people’s beliefs.
  • We give special credence to Jesus’s commandments to 1) love God above all else and 2) love our neighbors as ourselves. Thus we do not discriminate against races, classes, genders, sexual orientations, religious beliefs, age, etc….
  • We believe that God calls us to be good stewards of the Earth and to use its resources with the idea that there needs to be resources available to the generations that come after us. We believe in cutting pollution and taking action to curb climate change and its potential threats to humanity.

So in a nutshell these 5 principles are what I believe differentiate liberal or progressive Christianity from conservative Christianity.

Peace†

Progressive Christianity website

A SHOOTING IN TEXAS

The Liberal Christian™ is an ecumenical blog authored by Dr. Tom Rodriguez. To participate, click on the blue link titled “COMMENTS” immediatley below the appropriate posting and fill in a screen name and your email address.

A SHOOTING IN TEXAS

On Sunday, November 5, 2017, twenty-six people were shot to death in a Baptist church in Texas. According to an article in the Huffington Post, the shooting had nothing to do with religious beliefs or race. However in the brief time between when the BREAKING news was first tweeted and local officials began providing more details, conservative, right-wing propagandists began incorrectly suggesting that the attack was the work of “liberals, Muslims, Antifa” and others.

Mike Cernovich, right-wing media personality began speculating that the shooting was “‘an Antifa (anti-fascist) terror attack on a mostly white church.’”Subsequently a pro-Trump figure, Jack Posobiec, shared what appears to be a fake news post which read “‘Go after the heart of the far-right: conservative churches.’”Then a twitter user, “Mustachio” shared what he claimed was video of the shooter, which was in fact, faked. Mustachio also provided the hoax-name “Samir -al-Hajeed” and claimed the shooter was a “Muslim convert.” This tweet was then cited by at least one right-wing news site called Freedom Daily.

When authorities identified the shooter as Devin Patrick Kelley, others started going to his Facebook site and saw that the shooter had liked something called “Together We Rise” and other sites. Conspiracy theorists then implied the shooter was a supporter of Bernie Sanders. Then the shooter’s LinkedIn site was visited. They saw that the shooter had chosen some pre-selected causes from a drop-down menu – “Social Action,” “Environment,” “Civil Rights” and others. The propaganda artists thought this was adequate reason to suggest that the shooter was a “liberal.” Third, the fake news website, YourNewsWire (Snopes), tweeted out an article claiming the shooter had connections to Antifa. This article also claimed that the shooter “‘vowed to start a civil war by targeting white conservative churches.’” There were lots of intermediary steps; but the end result was that by the following day, hundreds of thousands of users across various social platforms had shared the fake news. And if this wasn’t bad enough, right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh weighed in that the shooting and an attack on Senator Rand Paul were evidence that “Terrorists come straight from the Democratic party.”

CONCLUSION

No wonder we have to take back the word liberal (see my post before this one) from those in our country who would like nothing better than to tarnish it! No wonder some U.S. citizens are horrifically misinformed. In our day and age, disinformation is rampant. There are multiple right-wing media sources, like the ones listed above, here to mislead people and stoke fear! And we must not forget two prominent right-wing propaganda sources – Breitbart and Fox News! We also can’t forget that President Trump, himself, is little more than a pathological liar. Where will all this end? God help us all!

Peace†

Huffington Post article link here.

LIBERALISM

The Liberal Christian™ is an ecumenical blog authored by Dr. Tom Rodriguez. To participate, click on the blue link titled “COMMENTS” immediatley below the appropriate posting and fill in a screen name and your email address.

LIBERALISM

Now, you may be wondering why anyone would want to start a blog and call it “The Liberal Christian Blog.” Believe me, I asked myself the same thing. Afterall, doesn’t the word “liberal” carry so many negative connotations in the U.S. today? The answer is yes, of course. However, I don’t believe this is entirely fair. So how did the word liberal become a term of abuse in our country?

HISTORY

The movement within history, known as the Enlightenment, was a time when philosophy, and thus reason, became a major pathway toward increased intellectual understanding. This was followed by the Scientific Revolution with its many inroads into how Medieval Europeans understood their world. This then led to the Modern period. Prior to the Scientific Revolution though, the Roman Catholic Church, in collaboration with various nobles, exercised absolute control over all learning and religious belief. If people dared to contradict Church doctrine, a group of religious courts, known as Inquisitions, could find them guilty of heresy. People could lose their very lives as a result – sometimes by burning alive! Because of these and other abuses by the Church and the Nobility, people began to a revolt against the Church and power of Kings. The French Revolution was a direct result of these abuses as intellectuals desired more democratic types of government. Unfortunately to bring down the powers of their day, the French Revolutionists committed many atrocities against the Church. This intellectual movement toward liberty and equality became known as Liberalism. It resulted in the French republic. Subsequently with regard to Church doctrine, liberal intellectuals began to apply the scientific method to studying the Bible. This, of course, resulted in the toppling of the hegemony of the Church and separation of Church and State in many countries. Unfortunately, in the U.S. there grew a backlash movement against academics and Liberalism by many Christians especially those known as Evangelicals and Fundamentalists. Alas it seems that we have not yet been able to move beyond this Conservative backlash with the Republican party aligning itself with Conservative Evangelists and Fundamentalists. This led to the presidential election of Ronald Reagan, and most recently, Donald Trump. It also led to an antiscience movement that threatens the Earth’s ecology!

CONCLUSION

Despite the bad mouthing of liberals and their problems in the U.S., we need to take back the use of the word “liberal” and its historical definition. I believe that there needs to be something to counterbalance the Church. This something is science. I believe that theocracy has been tried and led to subjugation and oppression of people. I believe in the separation of church and state. I stand for liberty and the equality of all people – Black, White, Hispanic, Indian, Oriental, rich, poor, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, straight, young and old!!! I believe in reasoning and science; but most importantly, I also believe in the Triune God- the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thus I am a liberal Christian, and I am proud to call myself both, liberal and Christian.

Peace†

http://www.thechristianleft.org/

The Liberal Christian Blog at Houston Mind-Body Counseling

The Liberal Christian™ is an ecumenical blog authored by Dr. Tom Rodriguez. Our purpose statement is below. To participate, click on the blue link titled “COMMENTS” immediatley below the appropriate posting and fill in a screen name and your email address.

PURPOSE

This Blog aims to create a supportive online community for individuals willing to engage in serious discussions about Christianity in an effort to obtain support and validation and sharpen their understanding of their spirituality.

OPEN PARTICIPATION

Dr. Rodriguez serves as moderator, and anyone who is willing to provide a screen name and email address is welcome to join the discussion and suggest a topic. Although short essays may be posted, discussions are meant to be informal.

A SAMPLING OF POTENTIAL TOPICS

  • The nature of reality and how one ascertains it
  • The nature of truth
  • The roles of reason, tradition, scripture, and experience
  • Scientific methods and Christianity
  • Christian doctrines
  • Church history
  • The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender lived experience
  • Abortion and the death penalty
  • Interfaith ministry
  • Antiscience movements and the politics of hate
  • Mental illness and faith…

Peace†

 

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