Henry and Charity

Henry: Do you know for sure that you’re going to heaven?

Charity: I don’t think God is ever going to stop loving me, so… yes. I think I’ll be in heaven some day.

Henry: You may ‘think’ you are going to heaven, but I have faith in Jesus, so I have been assured of my salvation. I know I’m going to heaven.

Charity: Isn’t that kind of arrogant? Aren’t you assuming that you have a special place in the eyes of God while the rest of us occupy some less esteemed position? I thought God was not a respecter of persons, Acts: 10:34.

Henry: Yes. But, you should keep the context in mind. Peter goes on to say in the next verse that in every nation he that fears God and works righteousness is accepted by God.

Charity: But, how can God claim not to esteem one person over the other when he clearly makes a distinction between those who fear him and do good works and those who do not. I at least fear God and do good works, so I still don’t perceive a difference between you and me. Still, it seems God respects us but he does not respect others.

Henry: Doing good things will not get you to heaven. As they say, the road to hell is wide but the narrow path leads to heaven. Some will find it, many will not, Matthew 7:13-14. And there is a difference between you and me. Without faith, it is impossible to please God, Hebrews 11:6. And, God esteems all people the same because he loves us all equally. It does not mean, though, that we aren’t divided into groups: the saved and the lost.

Charity: What does the division of humanity ultimately result in?

Henry: The natural result of sin is death, Romans 6: 23. But the gift of God is eternal life. We must receive the gift of life from God if we are to go to heaven and that involves having faith in him.

Charity: I have faith in God. I trust him. He loves me and I think I will be with him because he loves us all equally as you say. If he loves us all equally then we all have received the gift.

Henry: No, no, no. You’re get this all wrong. We are divided into the saved and the lost. Some have received the gift and some have not.

Charity: You mean, God gives the gift to some and not to others?

Henry: Not exactly. It’s given to all, but every person has to decide if they will receive the gift. Those who receive it will be with God. Those who do not receive it will be separated from God.

Charity: But the verse didn’t say we had to receive it. It just said it was a gift.

Henry: But, if I give you a million dollars, you must receive it in order for it to be yours. It is the same with salvation. You must receive the gift of salvation or it is not yours.

Charity: That makes sense, but how do you know if you have received it? Is there some method of confirmation that eternal life is in your possession?

Henry: If you confess Jesus Christ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved, Romans 10. Call on the name of the Lord and you will be saved.

Charity: So, my salvation is all on me? Doesn’t confession and belief fall under the category of good works? I must assent to certain propositions, namely that Jesus existed, that he was the Christ, that Jesus died, that God exists, that he raised Jesus from the grave, that Jesus is alive, and that he offers me eternal life as a gift. Not only that but I must confess all of this verbally or mentally. That’s actually a lot to do, considering that I’m not sure about any of this. You may be convinced all of this is true, but I am not fully convinced. I’m not rejecting this, don’t get me wrong, but I really have to do some historical research on Jesus, and verify this method of salvation. I can’t believe or confess something that I’m not fully convinced of. This ‘gift’ is turning out to be a lot of work.

Henry: But you don’t have to do any research, you just have to believe and confess.

Charity: Well, that would be half-hearted belief. I would hope this was all true, of course. But, do you think God wants people to believe all these things without knowing whether or not they are true?

Henry: You can take my word for it. It is true. Actually, don’t take my word for it. Read the Bible. It will verify all of this.

Charity: You’re adding to this list of works I must do.

Henry: Wait a minute. I didn’t have to do all that historical research. In fact, I didn’t really have to search the Bible. These verses were pointed out to me by my family, my friends, and my pastor. I believed them all and I accepted Christ as my Savior. I showed you the same verses that were shown to me. In hopes that you might be saved as well. Besides, salvation comes not by righteous works by us, but God saves us by his mercy. Salvation is from God, not us. It doesn’t come by works, Ephesians 2:8-9.

Charity: You’re confusing me here. You did tell me I had to assent to a certain number of propositions and at least confess with my mouth a few of those propositions before I can be saved. Those are good works. You can’t tell me to do things and not to do things at the same time. Now that I think about it, I have to believe you too — that you’re not trying to lead me the wrong way. I’m sure you are sincere, but so are so many others who espouse other beliefs. I’m not saying you’re deceiving me, but what if you yourself are deceived? How do you know your family, friends, and pastor weren’t deceived?

Henry: Now look here, God is good. He would not deceive me, nor did he send into my life a bunch of lies. God is truth. He is the way, the truth, and the life, John 14:6. I believe the Bible is true and I believe in Him. He is worth believing in, and I am telling you about him. He is the truth.

Charity: Henry, I didn’t have the luxury of growing up the way you did. I’m just not sure about the things you are so sure about. I wish I was sure. But, you aren’t helping things when you tell me salvation doesn’t come from works and then tell me some things to do and believe. I either must do these things or I must not. This ‘gift’ you talk about is very complicated.

Henry: But, these things aren’t good works. They’re not in the same category as works. They are beliefs.

Charity: You’re telling me beliefs are effortless? What about the wrong beliefs? Are they effortless too? Do beliefs just come upon me without my say so? Do I have no choice in this? If I have a choice, then it takes my effort and therefore I must exert mental work, and, at least when it comes to me, I must research these things you mention to see if they are true. Doesn’t the Bible say to test the spirits to see if they are true because not all of them are from God, 1 John 4:1? And doesn’t the book of James say that faith without works is dead, James 2:20? Is a dead faith a faith that God honors?

To Be Continued…..

What happens at 450?

How many times did Jesus say to forgive? 70 X 7. That doesn’t mean we count to 449 and start to hold a grudge at 450. We must always forgive each other. Will God do less? Will he look at the brother or sister in hell calling out to him and turn a deaf ear? Will he be guilty of the same unforgiveness he condemns in his creatures who bear his image? No. God will not be outdone in forgiveness by his creatures. He will not be outdone in generosity and compassion by the mother who sees her son in hell and pleads that the Lord listen to his cries. Will he reply that her son had 449 chances to repent on earth and at 450 he is empty of mercy? No. God will always forgive.

Sia’s Chandelier

I want to discuss Sia’s Chandelier. My feelings are mixed and many. Watching the video, I was filled with an unexplained wonder and what I can only describe as slight horror. Young Maddie Zeigler danced quite well, and obviously has great creativity that she put into her performance. But, there was something about it that bothered me. And up until now, I haven’t really talked about it. I couldn’t make sense of her dance in light of the song. Don’t get me wrong, She did well. But, her performance was a child’s understanding of what is a very mature and painful experience put into words. In my head, I kept trying to connect the dance to the song, but they seemed worlds apart. Maddie did her best to reach for something leagues beyond her grasp as a child but failed. As well she should have failed. I would not wish her to reach it. To do so would be to destroy her childishness. Many of our young girls have been driven, unfortunately, to shake off the dust of childhood too early. It is a tragedy. Innocence is worth the keeping, and childishness is the great flower that blooms in the beginning of our lives which we revisit as adults time and again to drink in its bouquet and remember what joy is. The length of children’s bloom is treasured by all including the adult the child eventually grows into. At least, it is treasured by those in their right minds. Children today are leaving childhood too fast and some with contempt, ready to enjoy the fruits of adulthood with all its benefits. I fear that the only fruit being enjoyed is not by the one who has grown but by all those vampires who want to suck the innocence dry from the young blossoms who make the jump to adulthood in their naivety. Childhood should be cherished, not touched. Once touched, it spoils.

Now that the video is out of the way, let’s discuss the song. I connect with this song on a deep level. How many times in my life have I awoke to shame and guilt from the things I did the night before? Too many. It’s a torture self inflicted. No one is to blame but me. Frustration and anger lead the charge in my assignment of guilt, and a vow to “Never do it again” quickly follows. Then a great fear comes upon me that have no choice in the matter. I do what I do. I will always do it, and I will always despise it. I wish for the day I will be free of it. A scream reverberates from the pain deep inside me. I have never heard it, until now. Sia’s scream at the beginning of the chorus is simultaneously beautiful and the most terrible thing that can ever be experienced. It is the scream of all those who bear within them silent secret pain. It is borne by those who have been abused, all who have been damaged, hurt, all those whose most precious things have been taken, thrust into dark pits of evil and spoiled in every way conceivable. I feel it. In a way, I always feel it, as my dark shadow that never leaves me except when it can vanish unseen into the night. Yet, Sia says she wants to fly like a bird through the night and feel her tears as they dry. It’s a way of dealing with the pain, to fly like a dove having no safe place to alight, to cry through the pain just to reach the end where one is finally numb if only for a moment. To hold on for the night, to hold on for dear life. To just get through it, wishing there was no tomorrow that remembers what you did. No tomorrow to house the shame a guilt just waiting for you. Time marches ever closer to tomorrow. Tomorrow begins the anger, the vows, but for now, I am numb, just holding on.

Sia’s scream is the incarnation of all of this, the bringing into space, time, and matter of a cry that is otherwise spiritual. To borrow from Tennyson, “But what am I, an infant crying in the night, an infant crying for the light, and with no language but a cry.” I am repulsed by her cry and drawn to it. It is beautiful and full of anguish. It is the very instance of pain, but formed in such a way so that others may say “Sing it again, it is beautiful.” Kierkegaard described it as poetry. He said, “What is a poet? An unhappy man who hides deep anguish in his heart, but his lips are so formed that when the sigh and cry pass through them, it sounds like lovely music. His fate is like that of those unfortunates who were slowly tortured by a gentle fire in Phalaris’s Bull; their cries could not reach the tyrant’s ears to cause him dismay, to him they sounded like sweet music. And people flock around the poet and say: ‘Sing again soon’ – that is, ‘May new sufferings torment your soul but your lips be fashioned as before, for the cry would only frighten us, but the music, that is blissful.”

I enjoyed Kierkegaard’s imagery until I saw one of Phalaris’ Bulls accurately portrayed. I was disgusted. It is a fate worse than death. Death would be a welcome visitor to the inhabitants of the bull. But, life and suffering is prolonged for the joy of the beautiful sound it makes. Such is poetry. Such is this song; a crying in the night, a crying for the light. O God, let there be light. Let my cry reach unto something real. I don’t want this pain and this fire that I experience to be for nothing. If I were to cease existing upon death; that is, to sleep the sleep of oblivion, I would not be satisfied. I cry not for oblivion. I cry for light. O God, let there be light.

He is not God

How effective was Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection? Sure, love covers a multitude of sins but does it cover all sins? Christians say that the blood of Jesus is enough to wipe away even the worst of sins, but I don’t think even they really believe this. For these same Christians will later backtrack and say the only sin that is not forgiven is the rejection of Jesus as your savior. Apparently, Christ’s blood does not cover those who reject him. The situation is similar to that in the Garden of Eden; only, instead of “of all trees in the garden you may freely eat except for THIS one”, the commandment is “of all the commandments laid upon men, thou mayest freely violate, except for THIS one.” God can take a murderer, a rapist, even a genocidal maniac; but he cannot take those who reject him. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; or my Son’s sacrifice is ineffective.” Nothing is impossible for God, except forgiving rejection.

Is this your god, Christians? Is his grace really that impotent? God’s grace crashes through every barrier, breaks every chain, but must bow down as to an idol when it encounters the stubborn human heart. Is not a God who covers even the sin of rejection greater than one who must bow down to it? And if God is less than the greatest, he is not God.

A Blunder of Cosmic Proportions

“God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Universal salvation is God’s plan, his ultimate goal. The question is, does God’s plan ultimately end in failure. The loss of even one person is a failure for God. But, that is what you affirm — God’s ultimate failure — if you say, as I hear many Christians say, that most people in this world and even throughout history will end up in never ending conscious torture in hell. They will be separated from God forever. Christians site the verse, “straight is the gate and narrow is the way and few there be that find it.” Christians affirm not only God’s ultimate failure, but his utter failure in that he loses almost everybody. It is a colossal failure, a blunder of cosmic proportions.

The Reformed Tradition in Christianity is no better. They get around God’s failure by saying that universal salvation wasn’t his plan in the first place. Contrary to the verse cited above, God does not want all people to come to repentance. God determines who will be saved and who will not. And, most of humanity he damns for hell while a few of them he chooses to be with him. So, in the end, God does not fail. He just means to avoid the cosmic blunder by saying that he meant to do that in the first place.

So, we have two choices. Either God bows down to the idol of free will and utterly fails, or there is no free will and God planned from the beginning to damn most of humanity to hell.  Both views of God are awful. Neither one is appealing.

Broken Bodies Beside the Mountain

A certain man had many children. He loved each and every one and had such a hard time raising them up properly. Many of them were unruly but a few of them were sweet and remained close to their father even when they disobeyed him. The father would constantly take his children out onto the mountain side nearby to play and enjoy the day. The only danger was a steep cliff a few hundred feet away. He knew it was possible that his children could fall off the cliff to their deaths. And, all the children were afraid of the horrible danger the cliff presented. However, the unruly and rowdy nature of most of his children took them close to the danger and some of them fell. Their broken bodies lay on the rocks below. The father still permitted his children to play wherever they wanted and kept a chosen few, the ones who stayed close to him, away from the danger while allowing the others to get as close to the cliffs and they desired.

The chosen ones pleaded with their father to prevent his other children from getting too close to danger, but he replied that his love was restricted by his children’s freedom. His children could not understand such a love and ran away from their father shouting, “We don’t want you to love us, if you do not love all your children!”

“Sola Scriptura” would have failed

The early Church’s first heresy it encountered was Gnosticism; a belief that declared the material world evil and the spiritual world good. The body was seen as an obstacle to the earnest strivings of the soul. Also produced by the Gnostics were the “Gnostic Gospels” which were composed of the gospel of Judas, Thomas, Phillip, and Mary Magdalen.

How would the doctrine of “Sola Scriptura” (The Bible Alone) have dealt with these Gnostic gospels? The New Testament, as authorized scripture, was not around. A few books of the New Testament were in use by the early Church, but they were not compiled authoritatively or binding to all. In fact, there were some real concerns about the book of Hebrews (Eusebius the Church historian mentioned this).

So, some books were fraudulent, some were in question, and some were accepted. If the early Christians had believed in Sola Scriptura, how would they have dealt with this problem? There was no formalized set of books for Christians to draw the line because the line had yet to be drawn. The Church leaders took upon themselves the authority to carefully determine which books were credible and authoritative and which were not. They had to consult the authorship, interpretation and meaning, and the truthfulness of each book’s substance. And, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the books they chose were established into the New Testament Canon.

How foolish therefore, to look back on such an authority and tradition and reject it in the name of Sola Scriptura; a doctrine which could never have produced the very thing it relies upon. “Sola Scriptura” declares “I accept your New Testament, but in the name of the New Testament I reject you.”

If Sola Scriptura would have failed the early church, why do we think it successfully reforms the modern church?