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God started speaking to me through a billboard over 4 years ago. I see this sign practically every day. It is an advertisement for a Panasonic TV called Viera. The electronics company that put up the ad is called Advance Electronics. The main image on the sign is a beautiful nature scene with a lake, trees, and flying doves. The captions read ‘ideas for life’ and ‘a whole new visual era.’ When I first saw the sign, I believed God was speaking to me this basic message, “Viera!(different spelling) Advance in your ideas for life!” Shortly after this, I left organized religion and started living in a whole new way. However, I never understood what “a whole new visual era” meant for me until today. I have had this sense that the billboard wouldn’t change until I get the whole message. It has been there for over 4 years. But today, I think I’ve got it.
(Some of you might think I am a little flaky for thinking God is speaking to me through a billboard, but it’s not everyday that your name shows up on a sign. I’m just going to run wit this.)
My previous life in the church was completely focused on the things you can’t see. I was obsessed over reaching some spiritual state of intimacy with God and living for the future. As I have said before, I didn’t know how to live fully in this present world. Now I understand what this “whole new visual era” means for me. I’m learning how to enjoy and engage in the world that I see. I’m leaning how to appreciate nature, stay physically fit and healthy, and enjoy activities that make me a participant of life. I’m finding God in skating with my kids on a cold winter day, listening to beautiful Canadian folk music, eating more vegetables, and recycling more than we throw away. It is a whole new visual era for me and I am happy to finally see it.
Maybe the ad on the billboard will change now.
“One sip from the cup she was drinking, went straight to my head with her think. She had me believe I kept needing to come back for more.”
This is a line from a song I wrote about leaving organized religion. I’ve just posted the song at www.paulvieira.ca . It’s called Come my Way.
I’ve been completely out of the church for a few years now and have detoxed from that dependency on religion to dictate how I should think. My thinking has changed quite a bit. I’d like to blog about some of the mental shifts that have taken place for me. I think one of the biggest changes is that I no longer view the world in terms of secular vs. sacred. The Gnostics injected Christianity with this kind of dualism just years after the early church started on it’s way. The believed flesh was evil and spirit was good. This is why they denied the incarnation of Christ. The Gnostics couldn’t accept the idea that God (spirit) could inhabit a human body (flesh).
This way of measuring the activities of life completely devalues anything that is not perceived to be “spiritual” in some way. If you write a song about a horse, Jesus better be riding that horse or you song is considered “secular.” My evangelical background caused me to completely devalue anything that wasn’t linked to church activity, like praying, reading the Bible, or evangelizing.
In my previous life, I gave little to no thought about things like staying fit because my body didn’t matter as much as my spirit. I didn’t care about the environment because this world was going to perish anyway and the world to come is more important. For years, I didn’t listen to any other kind of music than worship and praise music, because writing songs about every day natural life was inferior to making music that openly spoke of God.
So, how have I changed? I’ve learned to see God in the secular. I’ve grown to appreciate the sacredness of nature and the value of living a healthy lifestyle. I now find meaning in the natural world. My head is no longer in the clouds. We even read the Bible with our little bent. Before, I gravitated only to verses that emphasized the eternity and spirit. Now, I see the Bible as a book about people who saw God in every day life. People who were physically fit and strong, artists, poets, politicians, doctors, neighbors, fathers, daughters, and people from all walks of life. Very few were holy men, living in seclusion, disconnected from the real world.
It feels good to join this world. I see God differently in this light. He has become more “secular” to me.
I just uploaded the second part of my new podcast series. This first lesson is where I introduce the scriptures. Check it out!
I managed to find some time today to put together and upload the first episode in a new category of podcasts called “Jesus in the Old Testament.”
One of the first things that Jesus did after He had risen from the dead, was teach two of his disciples along the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself”. (v.27)
Imagine that you had to teach someone about Jesus, but all you had was the ancient Hebrew Scriptures. This is what Jesus and the early church used. In this study we will uncover the depth of what Jesus said in Matt. 22:45, “Moses wrote of me.”
This line of study is mentioned in chapter 11 of my book, where I describe the process of having a strong foundation in Jesus. The apostolic pattern in training new believers was to teach them Christ out of the Old Testament. Please feel free to subscribe to this podcast as the latest instalment in my Jesus Has Left the Building Podcast. Just click the podcast tab above to lead you to the page that explains how you can subscribe.
I feel that I should bring some closure to the Pandora’s Box that I opened when I posted about the question that I’m having in regards to the nature of hell. I’ll end this topic in my next post. Today, I wanted to clarify my purpose in posting in the first place. I have no axe to grind, only questions to ask. I guess my point was that sometimes we believe something we think is so “biblical” but find out that we approached scripture with preformed ideas and biases. We often make our ideas fit into Bible verses, without considering the literary and historical context of the passage. “Gehenna” was an example of this not only in terms of interpretation, but biases also influenced those who translate the Bible into English.
Another example of this is Matthew 24:46, from which we get the idea that unbelievers will be cast into “everlasting” torment. Our popular Bible translations all communicate the idea of an unending punishment. However, the Greek word here is “aionian,” which is the adjective form of “aion” from which we get the English word “eon”. In most passages where this word pops up, the translators use the word “age”. An age may be a long period of time, but it is still finite. Aion is the word that Jesus uses when he talks about the age to come. So, why are some translators using a different English word when it comes to verses that imply judgment in the afterlife? There are other less widely used translations that translate this more accurately. Perhaps, a better way to describe the fate of those who reject Christ in this life is that they will enter into an age of judgment. However, this period of time seems to be finite. The pain will end. Anyway, a friend of mine recently sent me this link that explains the meaning of this word better than I would.
Stay tuned for my final post on this topic.
Here are more comments on the passages where Jesus talks about hell. To get the full effect, please read the three previous posts.
“You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. So if your eye – even your good eye – causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your hand – even your stronger hand – causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”
The passage above is the next in the series of verses that Jesus refers to “hell,” or rather, more accurately translated – “Gehenna.” Much like the idea that Jesus presented in the verses just before this, in regards to festering anger, Jesus here is applying the same principle to adultery. The law prohibits sleeping with your neighbor’s wife, but Jesus reinforces the concept that the final act of adultery is not the beginning and end of this problem. It starts much earlier as a thought in the mind and lust of the heart. Jesus simply encourages us to catch things early. Deal with this cancer of sexual lust while it’s small. Jesus uses the metaphor of amputation to illustrate the point. Cut off the part that is infected so that it doesn’t spread to the whole body. Jesus is showing us that it is better to suffer the loss of a small part of us now – namely the suffering that goes with resisting temptation in our thought life – rather than suffering a much greater destruction if this cancer spreads. Deal with this early before it takes you down the ultimate path of destruction that is symbolized by the valley of Gehenna. This is very logical. Be brutal at dealing with lust while it has a weaker hold of you. Thoughts become fantasies, fantasies become flirtation and flirtation leads to crossing lines that you swore you would never cross. Gehenna symbolized the end of the road, a place to dispose of worthless things and the final destruction of all that is filthy and evil. A man who sacrifices his marriage and devastates his children for a fleeting moment of sexual deviance has entered “hell” and has taken his wife and kids with him. This passage makes perfect sense understanding that Gehenna was a real place and this is a more natural interpretation of the passage. It seems to me that this is how Jesus’ original audience would have taken Jesus’ teaching.
I have a question for any of you who would like to comment. Doesn’t it worry you that the biases of those who translate the scripture are affecting the way our English Bibles are being published. Here is another example that I have found. Look at how the New Living Translation prints Matthew 7:13: “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell (a) is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way.” You see the word “hell” used here. The actual text uses the greek word that means “destruction.” Gehenna isn’t even used here. Yet the translators perfer to use the word “hell,” which doesn’t only mean destruction to us. It also carries the idea of eternal punishment. The good news is that the translators do include a footnote which is referenced by the the markings (a) above. In the footnote they reveal the more accurate translation. But why don’t they just translate it properly in the first place? Anyway, talk to me. What are your feelings about this and if translations are biased in regards to using the word “hell,” what else is going on that we don’t know about?
The first time that Jesus makes reference to Gehenna is in His famous Sermon on the Mount as recorded in the Gospel writings of Mathew, chapters 5-7. Jesus’ teaching was shocking and radical to his listeners. In contrast to the popular view of righteousness that was propagated by the religious leaders of the day, Jesus talked about going deeper than just maintaining appearances. The religious traditions of that time focused on keeping your image clean, but had no power to change the human heart. For example, I can probably go my whole life without murdering someone, but what about the rage I feel inside. Jesus’ words were radical because he talked about the heart. Religion tends to seek to control what is happening on the surface, but what about what lies beneath? Jesus takes up this theme of guarding the heart because the outward action is only the final stage in a process. The action of murder or adultery starts sometime earlier, perhaps even years before, as a simple seed.
“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.”
“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.”
“When you are on the way to court with your adversary, settle your differences quickly. Otherwise, your accuser may hand you over to the judge, who will hand you over to an officer, and you will be thrown into prison. And if that happens, you surely won’t be free again until you have paid the last penny.”
As you can see, this translation of the passage uses the world “hell.” But you guessed it, the actual word is Gehenna. Was Jesus telling people that by cursing someone they were in danger of eternal suffering? Perhaps, a simpler message was intended here. Jesus is talking about murder. In Jesus` day, according to Roman law, murderers would end up in one place – Gehenna. They would be consumed by the fires that were burning constantly there. Sometimes these criminals would be burned alive. It was the final place of destruction for extreme lawbreakers.
I believe Jesus is warning us to catch murder early, before it gets to that extreme. It starts in the heart, when we harbor resentment or bitterness. Jesus cautions us to watch our anger and to not take it to the next step of uttering words that we`ll only regret. These are the first few steps on a path to destruction. Unlike some States in the U.S., in Canada we don`t have the death penalty, but murderers will get 25 years to life in prison. This is what I understand Jesus to being saying here (and how I would apply it to my context),
“You think not murdering someone is not so hard to do, but I tell you, we do it all the time in our hearts. Be careful you don`t start down a dangerous path that will eventually lead to destruction. I tell you, if you hate someone or if you curse another person, you are already in danger of getting 25 to life!”
Gehenna represents the death penalty or the final end to a long road of human aggression and violence. In fact, neither Jesus nor any of the apostles confirmed Gehenna to mean anything more than this. The first Christian writer to call hell “Gehenna” is Justin Martyr who wrote about A. D. 150. I guess the idea became more popular over time. However, if Jesus meant Gehenna to mean “hell,” then how do you explain these simple facts:
1. The Scripture only records “Gehenna” being spoken to Jews, who know of its location. If Gehenna is hell, a place of punishment after death for sinners, then wouldn`t it have been preached to Gentiles as well as Jews.
2. Only Jesus and James ever name it, twelve times in only 8 occasions in all the New Testament. Neither Paul, John, Peter nor Jude mention Gehenna. Would they not have warned sinners a lot more, if Gehenna was a place of torment after death? How do you explain such silence about it? You would think that it would have been used a hundred or a thousand times. The book of Acts tracks over thirty years of early church history as the Gospel spread throughout the Roman Empire. There are many recorded apostolic messages in Acts, and in all this history and preaching there is no mention of Gehenna. Simply, the early church did not talk about hell.
Let`s say for argument`s sake that Justin Martyr was right and Gehenna does represent hell. What if there was a deeper meaning here? Matthew 5 is not just about Jesus using the modern day equivalent to capital punishment as warning to guard the heart from anger and violent tendencies. What if Gehenna is a picture of eternal damnation and Jesus` audience just wasn`t aware of this reality?
As humans, we can all relate to the idea that crime must be punished. There should be a consequence to actions that hurt other people. Jesus also draws our attention to this idea in the passage above by quoting the law “an eye for an eye.” There is something about this that feels right. The punishment should match the crime. I think we all would agree that it would be unfair for someone guilty of shoplifting to be thrown into prison for the rest of their life. Yet, the current notion of hell ascribes infinite penalty to finite actions.
To be very honest with you, I can`t think of anything a person could do in this world that would equal the penalty of an eternity of utter terror, pain and extreme suffering. In the passage above, I find it very interesting that Jesus goes on to connect what He was saying about Gehenna to the image of a man being thrown into prison. Even in Jesus’ example, the man has a finite penalty that will only last as long as it takes to pay back every last penny. If hell does exist in the way that many imagine, it seems reasonable that a person`s time in this kind of place would be finite. The penalty should match the crime.
Let`s continue to look at the other “Gehenna” verses. Stay tuned!
When you see the word “hell,” what do you picture? I picture a fiery place in the afterlife, where evil people are tormented for eternity. I`ve heard descriptions of hell as a dark and lonely plane of reality. It is a place completely void of the presence of God. You feel utterly abandon and hopeless, without any chance of escape. You live the rest of eternity in remorse and extreme regret, wishing you could have another chance at redemption, but it`s over for you. It is a place of suffering that is a billion times worse than any of the human suffering we experience here on earth. I`ve heard it described to be a place where its captives are tortured by demons and they wish to die and end their misery, but they can`t die. This may be the most terrible existence that human beings could ever imagine.
Our most popular translations of the Bible use the English word “hell” in several places of scripture. The most convincing words are spoken by Jesus Himself. However, when Jesus said “hell,” was he talking about the place that I just described? Is this what Jesus’ audience understood Him to be saying? Remember, the primary meaning of these verses should be interpreted in their context. It can`t mean something different than what it was intended to mean or than what the original audience would have understood it to mean. Actually, the people of Jesus’ day would have had a better understanding of Jesus’ words because they were part of the culture of the day. Jesus referenced things that they would have known about, things that we don`t know about because we are far removed from the historical context. The word “Gehenna” was one of those instances.
Our translators use “hell” to translate “Gehenna,” but the minute we see the word “hell,” we download all our preconceived ideas into Jesus’ words. We deposit our view of that “terrible underworld” into the meaning of these verses. However, as I`m about to show you, this is not what the original audience would have understood Jesus to be speaking of. Actually, this notion of “hell” didn`t exist in the Hebrew mind in Jesus’ day. This more modern view of eternal judgment came along later and had its source in Greek mythology. So, what is Gehenna?
First of all, Gehenna is the Greek name for the “Valley of Hinnon,” a valley to the south-west of Jerusalem. At the time that Jesus used this word, Gehenna was used as a garbage dump for the city of Jerusalem. It was the place where refuse was disposed of. We read “hell” and think eternal judgment. They hear Jesus say “Gehenna” and they know it as a real place in time and space. Even if Jesus used this word symbolically, the people would have understood it to mean that Gehenna represents the destruction of useless and evil things. But how far do you take this symbolism? In what ways does Gehenna represent the destruction of all that is accursed and filthy? To answer this question, we need to dig a little deeper into the history of this valley.
Several hundred years before Jesus came to Jerusalem something very terrible happened in that Valley of Hinnon. I believe Jesus’ words in the gospel writings referenced this period of history. The people of Judah were introduced to the pagan god Molech, who they began to worship with human sacrifice. They did the unthinkable and actually threw their own children into the fire to worship the false god. (2 Kings 23:10; 2 Chron. 28:3) Actually, this is one of the main reasons that God judged Jerusalem in 586 BC. This connects “Gehenna” to the exile. This is what the prophet Jeremiah said to the people of Jerusalem:
“The people of Judah have sinned before my very eyes,” says the LORD. “They have set up their abominable idols right in the Temple that bears my name, defiling it. They have built pagan shrines at Topheth, the garbage dump in the valley of Ben-Hinnom, and there they burn their sons and daughters in the fire. I have never commanded such a horrible deed; it never even crossed my mind to command such a thing! So beware, for the time is coming,” says the LORD, “when that garbage dump will no longer be called Topheth or the valley of Ben-Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter. They will bury the bodies in Topheth until there is no more room for them. The bodies of my people will be food for the vultures and wild animals, and no one will be left to scare them away. I will put an end to the happy singing and laughter in the streets of Jerusalem. The joyful voices of bridegrooms and brides will no longer be heard in the towns of Judah. The land will lie in complete desolation.
So Gehenna means more to the people of Jerusalem than just the place for garbage and human waste. Historically, it is the place that received all those who died in the attack on Jerusalem in 586 BC. This place has a memory to it. It symbolizes God`s judgment on the city of Jerusalem, for rejecting their God and turning to other gods. It`s ironic that this very place, where fathers threw their own children into fire – which God calls an abomination and something that would have never entered His own heart – is now being used to support the idea that God Himself would throw His children into the hell fire! Jesus is referencing “Gehenna” because, now 600 years later, the same thing is about to happen to Jerusalem. The people have come full circle. They have turned from God again. Gehenna symbolizes what happened in 586 BC and Jesus prophecies that Jerusalem will be destroyed again. This comes to pass in AD 70.
Also, in Jesus’ day, Gehenna was used as a form of capital punishment. Murderers and other criminals were thrown into Gehenna and they would often be burned alive, left there without ever receiving a proper burial and grave.
So here we have it. When Jesus used the word “Gehenna,” it referred to:
1) an actual place outside of Jerusalem where garbage and refuse was destroyed
2) a place that symbolized the historical event of the destruction of Jerusalem as an act of God`s judgment
3) the ultimate destination and punishment of criminals in Jesus’ day (the death penalty)
With this understanding, you can now read all the passages that Jesus speaks the word “Gehenna” and it makes complete sense. Every verse comes to life. However, we miss it all because our Bibles say “hell.” And we all know what “hell” is.
My next few posts will examine each “Gehenna” verse and will seek to uncover what Jesus is really saying.
I know it`s been a while since I`ve posted. I`ve been asking some disturbing questions of myself in the pursuit of truth. I haven`t been able to post any of my thoughts because they are scattered and definite conclusions to my questions are evading me. However, I thought I would post one of the questions that I`m contemplating.
First, before I ask the question, I need to give some background to my line of thinking. Christians are often extremely dogmatic and narrow in their interpretation of scripture. I respect people who`ve really studied a matter and stand strong on their convictions. However, in many cases, Christians are only mimicking what their favourite preacher as taught them. I`ve learned that many of the things that we take as “gospel truth” can be confirmed or challenged if we only take the time to search the matter out for ourselves. I have found that even when I start studying for myself, there is a part of me that has already formed my own conclusions and I`m looking to match scripture to what I already believe. Experience has taught me that we can actually find support from the Bible to justify our own premeditated tenants of truth. But let`s be honest! We are playing with words. Words can be manipulated, especially when we take words out of their context. In the case of scripture, we must not only consider the literary context but also the cultural and historical context. One of the basic principles of hermeneutics (guidelines for interpreting scripture) is to avoid the temptation of making a Bible verse mean something for us today that it never meant to the original audience. One of the questions that we must ask is, “What was the writer/speaker meaning to say? And what would the audience at that time understand it to mean?” This is always the primary meaning of a passage of scripture. What was the author saying to the people that he was directly communicating to?
So, why am I going on about this? Well, I`m struggling with something. It`s something that I`ve believed that doesn`t seem right to me anymore. It`s a tenant of theology that is mainstream in the Evangelical church, but it contradicts what I know about God`s character. I`m referring to a place in the afterlife that we call “hell.” Everyone is familiar with this word and every religion seems to have some kind of notion of hell. My background taught me that it is a place that some people go when they die; it is the final destination for people who don`t put their faith in Jesus before they pass from this life to the next. It is described to be a place of eternal suffering. People who end up in hell will experience extreme pain and torture for ever and ever. Now, to be very transparent, I still believe that hell exists, but I find myself questioning the nature of this place. I`m having a very difficult time understanding the purpose in God creating billions of human beings, from which the vast majority will end up suffering for eternity. The ending of this story doesn`t sit well with me.
I don`t enjoy theological debate. To me, this is not about doctrinal fencing. At the end of the day, I only want to know God better. The way I see it is that everything that happens on this planet is used by God to bring redemption. God even takes suffering and turns it around for a redemptive purpose. The scriptures speak of God`s judgment, but He always reveals His restorative plan in the midst of His judgments. The most common view of hell is not consistent with this pattern of God`s character. Where is the redemption in Hell? Why is it too late for people? What would be the purpose of torturing people for eternity without any hope of relief? God is supposed to be a Father. I don`t know any good father who would ever contemplate for a moment, allowing their children to suffer in this way. Things don`t add up here.
Please don`t email me or leave comments trying to convince me that this is a true idea of hell. I know all the answers. I know all about focussing on the will of man. “People choose this fate, not God. God doesn`t want anyone to go to hell.” These answers are not doing it for me anymore. Why is man`s will more powerful that God`s? I thought He was God! I thought He could do anything, even in the face of man`s will. If He is not willing that any should perish, then I tend to think that He will do something about that. I tend to think that God accomplishes what He wills!
Here is the thing: when you actually begin to study the scriptures to see what the writers were writing and when you try to understand what the original audience would have understood these things to mean, this version of hell that we all cling to, starts to crack. For example, many preachers who have taught on hell claim that it is Jesus who speaks most about it in the Bible. However, according to my studies, Jesus never used the word “hell.” It is an English word that we understand today to be a place of eternal torment for the wicked in the after world. Jesus obviously didn`t use that word because the New Testament was written in ancient Greek. The actual word that Jesus used was Gehenna. However, when Jesus said the word “Gehenna,” his hearers didn`t imagine a place in the afterlife at all. Gehenna was an actual place that existed in their world. It was the Greek name for a valley that was just south of Jerusalem. We read “hell,” but they actually heard the word “Gehenna.” Why do our translators use the English word “hell” to translate the name of an actual place?
It seems really fishy! I`m very disturbed by this. Things are not what they seem.
More to come later…
A few weeks ago I received some emails from different people warning me about an up and coming film called The Golden Compass. The fantasy film stars Nicole Kidman and it is scheduled to be released on December 7. The film is based on the first book of Philip Pullman`s His Dark Materials trilogy of children`s books.
Concerned Christians are beginning to make this the next target of fear and censorship on literature. We bought the trilogy for our oldest son for his birthday, before we heard any of these negative reviews. Opponents of Pullman are saying that he is an atheist who has written this series to bash Christianity and promote atheism among children. My wife always reads a book before letting our son read it. We are concerned about adult themes including violence and sexuality. However, we don`t keep our son from being exposed to other world views. I certainly teach my children what I believe about the world and God, but I understand that they must discover the truth for themselves. Sometimes that journey means being exposed to other ideas, even ideas that challenge our own. This is part of life and we try to teach our kids how to navigate through all this information being thrown at them.
I`m not opposed to letting our son read a book by an atheist. My son knows what he believes and we`ve taught him to appreciate literature and enjoy it`s entertainment value. His faith is strong and not easily shaken. It`s good for him to encounter the writings of others who see life from a different perspective. Having said this, we will still read the book first, before giving it to him.
This brings me to another topic that I wanted to talk about. I did some research on Philip Pullman to find out what he actually thinks about God and religion. This is a direct quote from him:
“The religious impulse, which includes the sense of awe and mystery we feel when we look at the universe, the urge to find a meaning and a purpose in our lives, our sense of moral kinship with other human beings, is part of being human, and I value it. I`d be a damn fool not to.
But organized religion is quite another thing. The trouble is that all too often in human history, churches and priesthoods have set themselves up to rule people`s lives in the name of some invisible god (and they`re all invisible, because they don’t exist) and done terrible damage. In the name of their god, they have burned, hanged, tortured, maimed, robbed, violated, and enslaved millions of their fellow-creatures, and done so with the happy conviction that they were doing the will of God, and they would go to Heaven for it.
That is the religion I hate, and I`m happy to be known as its enemy.”
I can`t say that I disagree with Pullman. I hate this kind of religion too. I sympathize with atheists. Religious people in general, and historically, have failed to show the world an image of God that is faith-worthy. Maybe what many atheists and agnostics are saying is that they don`t believe in the version of God that has been presented to them. Let`s be honest, God`s reputation in our society has been stained by those who act in His name.
In my most recent issue of Rolling Stones magazine, several public figures are interviewed to predict where they think the world is going over the next few decades. The topic of religion came up often and it wasn`t seen in a positive light.
“People are finally catching on that religion is childish and dangerous. One out of five college-age people are now atheists or agnostic. Europe is over religion; they`re religious in name only. So the older, wiser continent, they`ve moved beyond that. This is the issue of the day, and people are beginning to understand that religion is the problem.”
“It`s possible people will come to their senses and realize that organizing humanity around competing religious certainties is suicidal. And Islam may undergo the same transformations that we in the Christian West have. After all, we were burning heretics for five centuries, so there have been changes made in our religiosity.”
Sam Harris, Author of The End of Faith
“Obviously, there is a source of all things, however big or small it is. But if you give it consciousness, it just gets smaller. If you give it concern for us, it gets smaller. The world and the universe are far more wonderful if there`s not a puppet master.”
I love Dave Mathews` music; however, his philosophy leaves me wanting. I do understand why people don`t want to believe in a personal God. I really do. In my once narrow mind, I used to think all atheists were trying to reject accountability for their morality. If there is no God to answer to, then I can do what I want. This is a cynical way to look at people. This may be true for some, but my experience has taught me that many atheists that I know are very kind and concerned for their fellow man. Einstein believed in God because of the wonder of the universe that he dedicate his life to understand. However, he didn`t believe that God was personal, that he really cared about us. The idea is that God set this whole thing in motion and then left. I can understand why people believe this. I think all of us, if we were honest, have wondered why God stays so silent in the face of such evil in our world. People do claim to experience God, but it`s not obvious to all or plain to see. It`s like He hides Himself in creation or the human experience.
I feel for atheists and we all may be one tragedy away from becoming one.
If Dave Matthews is right, and the creator doesn`t really feel or care for us, then to me, our existence is really meaningless. If a large meteor hit this planet and ended all life, no one in the universe or beyond would even care. Our existence as humanity would have lasted only a milli-second in the life of our universe and no body out there would have even known about us. We wouldn`t be missed, and our existence wouldn`t matter to anyone. This idea takes me to a dark place. It`s a feeling that is worse than being disappointed by God. It`s an emptiness that says, “There is no purpose in your existence. Your creator doesn`t give a shit about you. You have no destiny. You really don`t matter. There is nothing for you. You are nothing.”
On the surface, atheism is a sensible way to interpret the disappointment with religion or a lack of recognizing the workings of God in creation. However, if you follow this line of reasoning to it`s end. For me, it takes me right into a black hole. It`s very dark. I don`t always understand what God is doing or even who He is, but my heart tells me to believe. Perhaps, the human heart was programmed by God Himself to cause us to reach out to Him. I`ve decided to let me heart lead me on this one.
For most of my life as a Christian I`ve been miserable. After 20 years of being a Christian, I realized that I was not happy. I was very devout. I know the Scriptures fairly well. I was probably the ‘best Christian’ I knew. However, I was an ass in my daily life (just ask my wife and kids). I felt angry, unfulfilled and unsatisfied with my spirituality. I never seemed to attain this vision that was in my head as to the way I thought my Christianity was supposed to look. It often felt as though the pursuit of God was like chasing a mirage. Not long ago I realized that this picture of my spirituality was my own imagination playing tricks on me. God wasn`t asking me to be the ‘super-apostle’ that I thought I should be. God freed me to just be. I didn`t have to prove anything. He loves me the way I am, and I can just relax a little more. 20 years of seeking God, but it hardly ever impacted my daily existence. It was always something untouchable, just out of reach. It was like I was trying to live in the life to come or in some other plane of reality, but had no idea how to live on this planet. I didn`t enjoy life in the here and now. I constantly wallowed in the past and obsessed about the future. My search for meaning led me to a dark place. Well, things are changing for me now. God is teaching me to enjoy the moment and embrace where I am and who I am. I’m leaving the future up to Him. For me, dreaming can be a dangerous thing. The picture in my head is always better than what I`m doing today, and so I get discouraged about life. But I`m learning that obsessing over my life is just a lack of trust in God. This thought from Ecclesiastes 6:9 sums up what’s happening with me:
Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don`t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless, like chasing the wind.
I`m letting go and embracing this life that I have. I`m eager to discover the beauty in this world and to learn more about a variety of subjects. My blog will change to reflect this. I hope to blog often, so please don`t give up on me yet.