Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Look at the great CatholicCompany catalog

I just got in the regular mail my paper copy of the Catholic Company catalog. I looked through every page and love each item, but there is one in particular that is great!

Page 13 "Holy Family in Carpenter Shop"

A statue of Joseph and Mary watching the child Jesus, who is practicing carpentry work under Joseph's guidance. That is a popular topic of holy cards and other art, but I must say this statue is totally lovely and so well done.

(Non Catholics, this is not a devotional piece! It's a pretty statue that also conveys visually part of the story of Jesus' life :-)

This would be great for a family to have, especially with children, to discuss and enjoy. Check it out at their web site (I presume it's there):

Helpful mental illness/brain workings analogy

Here's why I point out the problem with even casual drug use. I thought of this analogy to explain how the brain works.

The brain is able to do a lot of things at once because it uses what you might think of as an inventory room in the back of a store, with shelves of products along lots of rows.

So the brain is constantly taking in all information (such as what you see, hear, read and also what your body is feeling) and shoving it as fast as it can in the right "slot" just as if it were an inventory stocker. Obviously one hopes that the brain identifies new incoming stock and puts it in the right place. For example, you see something, so the brain slots it in the shelf that handles seeing and not the shelf that handles tasting.

The brain then organizes the shelves and the aisles so it doesn't have to run all over to the most frequently used areas. This is the creating of paths.

Now, here's what a lot of people don't realize. Part of the genius of the brain is that at the same time that it puts the right information in the right place, it also experiments with putting it in the wrong place. That is actually an evolutionary survival advantage, not a problem. Most of the time humans never notice that the brain is doing this. So to use our example, once in while the brain takes something you see and rams it for a moment into the shelf that handles, let's say, past memories, or something even more "in error" such as you have the notion that you've had a religious experience (while you are actually looking at coffee grounds).

The reason the brain randomly but constantly "tries out" inappropriate stocking is that this is a source of rapid and creative breakthroughs in human thought processes. A random and wrong connection might actually have some valid application, in which case it will happen a few times to you and become a legitimate thought process and association.

But humans are not meant to glom onto one occurrence of the brain's "experimentation" because like I said, these are random wrong associations that the brain is just trying out once, and discards when it is not repeated with validation.

A lot of mental illness and spiritual foolishness results from people learning how to freeze frame their own brain's doing of this one time experimentation and concluding that they have been "enlightened" and have received "valid" information.

This is the source of a lot of people who have schizophrenic visions and thoughts, for example. They, through no fault of their own, have brains that latch attention onto the experimental slotting and shelving that all brains do, and make those linkages permanent.

Where it is people's own fault is when they practice, as in abuse, activities such as "meditation" and Reiki and other mind "techniques" because they think every stupid random thought that does go through their brain is mystical and "revealing" of an "inner truth."

Drugs make this a problem one hundred fold. Drugs slow down the mental process so that when one's brain randomly tries out a wrong slotting and shelving, you consciously notice it and think it is a valid perception and an appropriate thought process. So the brain cannot discard this one time experiment as it normally would, because you by focusing on it have now transferred it into short and then long term memory. Thus you mark it's place on the aisle and with each repeat of that perception you ratchet that location and association up in its stocking importance.

All brains do this, it is natural and mostly unnoticed, except when you have a really weird thought. But humans must let it go and not focus on it if you do actually notice it because to reinforce it by thinking about it and valuing it is to reinforce the erroneous connection that was never supposed to be made.

For example, one day you might see something blue colored and the brain might try out slotting that as being "the smell of a tree." It's not, and when the brain is at the same time putting it in its proper place as being a "color" the brain drops the goofy idea that maybe it was the smell of a tree. It's only if over time blue is really proven to be the smell of a tree that the brain lets that become part of its proper wiring.

Another time you might notice this is when you are about to fall asleep and you are not yet asleep but you start to have thoughts that go in strange directions. You may be thinking about your work day and then all of a sudden it turns into linking very different parts of your life in some strange way. That is the random slotting together with the dream time entry. There is no harm in it if you realize that is what it is and just forget about it.

But too many people "cultivate" every random thought (and worse, teach others to do so) thinking that they are "onto some message from the universe." All these people are doing is driving themselves and others neurotic. If continued it can be worse than neurotic.

I hope that you have found this analogy helpful.

See, by the way, while you were reading this, your brain would have been doing a few of the random error attempts, but you didn't notice because you were interested and fully absorbed in this topic. That is the way it should be. If there had been any value in a weird random error thought then you'll have it again some day and the brain will recognize its valid utility on its own, without you realizing it. People who are fully absorbed in something interesting or important (like reading my blog, ha) are protected from having these problems because the brain is doing its thing, unnoticed, as it should, just like you don't notice every heartbeat or breath.

"Catholic" "wrong answer" to gunman

Here is the latest of the Colorado ski resort shooting.


During a standard morning meeting Tuesday, Derik Bonestroo, a 24-year-old lift operator, pulled out a gun, fired a shot into the ceiling and threatened his co-workers, mentioning something about religion. When general manager Brian Mahon entered the room, Bonestroo asked him what religion he believed in.

When Mahon said "Catholic," according to witness accounts, Bonestroo then shot him twice, sending his fellow employees fleeing out doors and windows.

Mahon died at the scene and Bonestroo fled in a vehicle. He was chased by officers and eventually got into a fire fight with a Boulder County sheriff's deputy. The deputy shot and killed Bonestroo, and the resort remained closed for the day.

Eldora officials said today that they wanted to reopen the resort to honor Mahon. Keeping busy and packing the slopes would have made him happy, said resort spokesman Rob Linde.

Boulder County sheriff's investigators today are interviewing witnesses and family and friends of Bonestroo, trying to learn more about his life over the past few weeks, said sheriff's spokesman Cmdr. Phil West.

They've searched Bonestroo's small apartment in Nederland, and confiscated several items to aide in their investigation. They also found a dead cat in the apartment, West said. It's unclear how the cat died, but he said there was a lot of blood.

Condolences to Mr Mahon's family, who I know are suffering enormously. Another husband and father gone because of random insanity and people "acting out" "on behalf of God" or whatever they are "thinking." I would not be surprised if he used drugs, including that "harmless" "weed" also, but that's just a guess based on past patterns of observation.

I hope if anyone knows anything about him using drugs "even" "casual" use of marijuana that they tell the authorities and don't keep it secret. People need to realize that even "toking" a "bit to relax" exaggerates any underlying neurosis that is hidden or just starting to develop, especially if it is a problem with "hearing voices" or "being called" "on a great mission." There is a huge amount of delusion stoked by even small amounts of casual weed usage. So whether or not this guy was on anything, let's use this sad problem and learn about at least this one aspect of exacerbating conditions to developing mental illness. I mean, this guy wanted to "convert people to Christianity" and then shot a Catholic. He was messed up on several levels and people need to peel the layers, including drug use, so that this messed up society finally gets it through their heads that you treat mental illness, not stoke it and give it a gun!!!!

Why the faiths are conservative re: new ideas

Why the faiths are conservative regarding new ideas

Regular readers know that I am always watching the news or looking up topics of personal interest to me with one ear and one eye ready to receive an idea of an important topic or “case study” to discuss with you. Yesterday I got an idea of how to pull together and explain something that many find puzzling and that, as a result, has led them away from the orthodoxy of the Abrahamic faiths (Jewish, Catholic, Muslim). It is one of the primary reasons for the freefall that humans are in right now, one that must stop.

Many feel that, for example, the Catholic Church refuses to move with the times regarding ideas of science, also known as “progress,” and “spirituality,” also known as, well, heresy. Using the Catholic Church as an example it is alternately ridiculed, with the poster child for that being its condemnation of Galileo, and outright hated, for its perceived opposition to “medical procedures,” such as cloning, euthanasia, abortion, embryonic research. These same modern people who don’t understand and who criticize or at the very least have their faith diluted would also feel the same way about Islam and Orthodox Judaism and their equivalent conservatism, except of course the critics come from Christian heritage and thus marginalize the faith of the Muslims and Orthodox Jews (and certainly because of political correctness would think twice about taking on either group). So the Catholic Church is not only “fair game” to moderns who genuinely misunderstand and thus mock and hate, but it is also the last bulwark for western society against humans continuing their freefall and grave error.

When one asks the Catholic Church why yes to something and why no to something they cite scripture, doctrine and tradition. It is at that point that moderns shut their ears, roll their eyes and say, “Well, that is all out of date.” If the critics are kind they allow that maybe such rules and restrictions were “once valid” but are no longer. But here is the problem and I’ll give it to you in a series of specific examples so you can best understand. The problem is that humans never make the right decision when they first encounter a new idea or a new discovery and sometimes that error lasts with terrible results for decades and even centuries.

I want to first address myself to the most extreme of the liberals and peace activists who might be reading this. You and your cause for peace are the primary example I can cite. How many of you think that humans have ever made a good decision as the result of a new discovery in weapons? I think you would be the first to agree, due to your positions, that no great humanitarian breakthrough was ever achieved by the invention of the spear, sword, gun, cannon, bomb or missile. Put aside for the moment what conservatives will reply, which is that guns allowed people to hunt game and thus feed more people because one can equally argue in theory that this resulted in quick extinction of wild species and did not aid either agriculture or domestic animal husbandry. One can argue that weapons allowed defense against aggressors. But who had the weapons first? The aggressors are always the first to use weapons; not the defenders.

This is why the Bible states that humans must look forward to the time when metal is not used in swords, but in plows and pruning hooks. This is an example of where if anyone had gone to the Church for guidance as weapons are being developed, the Church would have been the first to question it and cite scripture. Notice how even in the bloody times of the Old Testament, the faithful fought with primitive weapons and no where are technology advances praised, even in the cause of conquering Canaan. Rather, the faithful won by their faith in God, their determination and zeal, and also through clever leadership and tactics. Yet they fell to the stronger Babylon, a military might, in time. So because the powers that be that develop weaponry never came to the Catholic Church for their “blessing,” we lack what would have been a shining example of what I am talking about, which is to see that the Church resists “progress” that it thinks will slip out of the control of human hands.

It is now easier to understand why the Church resisted-but no where near as much as they have been demonized-new understandings of the solar system. In fact it was a Catholic deacon Copernicus who was primary in this understanding and he was never censored. But the Galileo example is used to the point of nausea and so let me address it head on. If you read the Bible from front to end-the whole text-you will see that it is filled with praise and glory regarding the heavenly bodies, the stars, the moon, the sun, the sky itself and planets that moved (though at that time they did not understand that was what they were). However, there is a vast difference between the praise the Bible heaps on the planets and what humans are tempted to do. In the Bible it is understood that the heavens are not only the glory of God’s creation and to only be praised accordingly, but they are also practical gifts. All three of the faiths used a lunar based calendar and the moon is praised in the Bible and the Qur’an for its giving of light and a timetable for humans. Thus the scriptures, written in pastoral and agricultural times, are the first to admire the practicality of the warmth and light of the sun, the light and clock of the moon, and the beauty of the stars in determining the seasons by which humans live.

However, right in the scripture next to the praise of the heavenly bodies is stern warning not to use them for occult purposes, for fortunetelling and witchcraft. This is because it is God’s word, obviously, but why is it God’s word and why would God have such a warning? Again, it is the reason that humans never use such “discoveries” for the correct purposes. The Church was fine with people looking through these new optics called telescopes and as I said, Copernicus himself was of the Church. The problem is that during centuries that was rife with astrology and occult beliefs, the Church is very cautious about new “discoveries” that seem to challenge humanity’s responsibilities and purview and God’s realm. So long as the earth remained the center of the solar system and all the rest was put there due to God’s mercy in creation and his gift of practical goodness of light, heat and time management for humans, God’s word was easier to understand and follow. However, once people started talking about the sun being the “center” of everything, the Church as a body understood to its core what it has known about humans since the beginning: “Oh, oh.” The Church realized that human nature being what it is, new discoveries are never chalked up to even more glory and understanding of God; they are seized upon by power brokers, both occult and secular.

This is why the knee jerk reflexive position of the Church is to deny and stall with certain scientific discoveries. Astronomy is a particularly important example through the centuries because it not only seemed to make confusing what the Bible teaches (not that the Bible is a science text but the idea the sun is put there for the benefit of humans by God) but there is always the occult temptation of astrology: to actually benefit and harm people according to godless “rules.” This is also why the Church is rightfully cautious about new sources of "spirituality." For example, the Freemason organization was at one point in good standing and acceptable to the Church. However, it was easy to see where a fraternal interest in mysteries such as numbers, the universe, architecture and other solid interests took a turn to the arcane and the occult. That is the problem: when humans succumb to the subtle temptation of ego, where they view themselves as mini-wizards because like Saurman in the "Lord of the Rings" they get to close to the objects of their study. They stop being students and admirers of God's creation and start thinking they are the one who "really" understand and "wield" the power. When organizations cross that line that is why and when you see the Church disapprove of the faithfuls' participation... they see it not in terms as a "rival" to their "old fashioned" ways but recognize another of the countless times humans fall into the temptation of their own discoveries into harmful usage for both the faithful and everyone else.

So in this generation we have the great crisis of eroding value of life by humans versus what is life affirming doctrine by the Catholic Church. This battlefield is called “medicine.” The Catholic Church is portrayed as being unkind opponents to “medical advances” to “save lives.” (Though obviously an abortion never saved the life of the aborted baby), but I will confine my comments to embryonic research and so forth. Let’s look at how great human history in the ethical use of new discoveries of “medicine” by looking at three examples. The first example is the discovery of tobacco. Native Americans cultivated tobacco for ritual use, not for habitual smoking in recreation. Humans quickly latched onto tobacco for recreational use and became addicted for generations. That would not be a good example of a bad use of a medical discovery in and of itself except for one little detail. As recently as the 1940s and 1950s humans marketed cigarette smoking to the public as “healthy,” as a health improving and promoting activity. Three hundred years after the discovery of tobacco as a product for smoking humans were increasing their pushing of it as a health remedy, rather than recognizing at all its dangers. Those of you old enough to remember can recall along side me how many years of battle it has taken to get public recognition that no only were cigarettes not adding to one’s health but they were the source of much of the illness in the population at large and cutting lives drastically short. So tobacco is an obvious example of why humans never seem to get the big “discoveries” right.

The second is one that is less well known by young people today, but it involves radioactivity. When radioactivity was discovered, it was actually viewed as, yes, you guessed it, a medical advance, and I don’t mean its use in diagnostic x-rays and so forth. Look back in the history and you will find that humans quickly decided that radiating each other promoted good health. People were given doses of radiation as tonics, not for the targeted use that it now has, with the greater safety controls. Just like tobacco people immediately thought that radiating each other with radioactive particles would somehow give them “better health” and “cure illnesses.”

How could people be so stupid? Well, consider this. During the time of the discovery of radioactivity there were people, mostly British, who flocked to Egypt because they were fascinated with the culture and discoveries and mystique. And what did they do? They decided to dig up the bodies of mummified people, grind it up into dust, and take it as-you guessed it-health tonics. Yes, at the turn of the century wealthy people ground up and ate the remains of mummies. It’s not like someone told them, “Hey, mummies have a lot of vitamin Xyz so it is good for you.” Humans all on their own make the most terrible and scarily occult decisions imaginable. All of it comes back to the temptation, just as in the Garden of Eden, to “become like God” and control life. It is not so long after this that a few decades later someone had a close encounter of the wrong type, probably as bush meat, with monkeys or apes in Africa and HIV/Aids made the jump from the simian blood stream to humans. That is why the Bible has such a long list of unclean animals. Look at the example of the prohibition from eating birds of prey such as falcons and eagles. Look at the worry today about avian flu jumping from birds to humans from wild bird populations, just as HIV/Aids did from simians. Everyone knows that is the reason pork is prohibited, because of the dangers of poorly cooked pork and the disease (remember swine flu?)

Thus the holy scriptures are far from being naive or backwards and if anything HIV/Aids, swine, avian flu and "mad cow disease" demonstrate why God prohibited certain foods and food preparation practices. As another example, one point of pride of the Qur’an is that it reveals the existence of atomic matter, for example, over a thousand years before atoms were “discovered” by humans. Scripture is neither ignorant of science or naive. Today we have astronomers studying “what kind of sun is needed to support planets that could support life.” Yet the Church is mocked and demonized because the Bible teaches that the sun is a gift from God to humans to do what? I can’t hear you? The sun is a gift by God to humans to support human life.

Here is another example of how humans just can’t seem to get it right. How good did humans do when they “discovered” electroshock therapy for use in psychiatry? I mean, does anyone want to watch a rerun of “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest?” I know what I am talking about because my former father in law was, way before I met him, given electroshock therapy. It was brutal, it was scarring and while it supposedly “cured” one ailment to use the expression “the operation succeeded but the patient died” would be quite appropriate. I’m told that nowadays they call it something different and that it “really works” for “certain patients,” and I knew one such patient in the hospital where I interned. But let me tell you, if there is not an early warning poster child of a horrible misuse of a medical “breakthrough” I don’t know what a better one is.

Look at how ridiculous humans are at even trying to identify the great “curative foods.” One year coffee is bad and the next year coffee is good. We can all list the “good foods” and “good vitamins” and the “bad foods” and the “bad additives,” but wait a minute, can we? Can we really do that? Is not vitamin C the greatest thing one year, then discovered to cause heart problems if taken over a certain dose the next year, and then the year after that it is great again with no mention of the heart problems? And do we not see headlines “Vitamin C does not cure cancer” as if anyone with a brain ever thought that it did? But humans, like eating the mummy dust a mere one hundred years ago, want to make themselves gods and goddesses. They think that there are magic answers (found in science, of course) to all medical and spiritual “problems.” And now we find that we don’t even mind pushing around the cells of a human embryo in a laboratory and call that being “advanced” and “kind” and “being a humanitarian.” Yet those who discover ways to accomplish the same without being ethically challenged are marginalized, unfunded, not given publicity, and told “Well, yes, but your cure won’t be in time to save that celebrity with Parkinson's disease.”

That, my friends, as my end of year message for what has been another year of the downfall of humanity, is the reason the Orthodox Jews, the Muslims and the Catholic Church are the bastions of caution about “discoveries” and “breakthroughs” in “medicine” and “spirituality.”

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bible Reading: Sirach 40:17-30

Sirach 40:17-30

Wealth or wages can make life sweet, but better than either is finding a treasure.
A child or a city will preserve one's name, but better than either, attaining wisdom.
Sheepfolds and orchards bring flourishing repute, but better than either, a devoted wife;
wine and music delight the soul, but better than either, conjugal love.
The flute and the harp offer sweet melody, but better than either, a voice that is true.

Charm and beauty delight the eye, but better than either, the flowers of the field.
A friend, a neighbor, are timely guides, but better than either, a prudent wife.
A brother, a helper, for times of stress; but better than either, charity that rescues.

Gold and silver make one's way secure, but better than either, sound judgment.
Wealth and vigor build up confidence, but better than either, fear of God.
Fear of the Lord leaves nothing wanting; he who has it need seek no other treasure.
The fear of God is a paradise of blessings; its canopy, all that is glorious.

My son, live not the life of a beggar, better to die than to beg;
when one has to look to another's table, his life is not really a life.
His neighbor's delicacies bring revulsion of spirit to one who understands inward feelings;
In the mouth of the shameless man begging is sweet, but within him it burns like fire.

Understanding God: Who gets into heaven (5)

Without commentary from me, read this and try to imagine not what you assume, but what it sounded like as the disciples and those in the crowd who followed him heard his words.

Luke 13:22-30
And he passed on through towns and villages, teaching and making his way towards Jerusalem. But someone said to him, "Lord, are only a few to be saved?"

But he said to them, "Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.

"But when the master of the house has entered and shut the door, you will begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, open for us!' And he shall say to you in answer, 'I do not know where you are from.' Then you begin to say, 'We ate and drank in thy presence, and thou didst teach in our streets.' And he shall say to you, 'I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity.'

"There will be the weeping, and the gnashing of teeth, when you shall see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves cast forth outside.

"And they will come from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south, and will feast in the kingdom of God. And behold, there are those last who will be first, and there are those first who will be last."

Gregorian Chant

To me, there is no higher form of music than Gregorian Chant.

Whenever I listen to Gregorian Chant I feel as though if a measuring cup were labeled "music," that Gregorian Chant fills that cup completely.

What I am listening to this evening

Vienna Boys' Choir "Ave Maria" with works from Mozart, Schubert, Haydn, Bruckner, Humperdinck, Von Herbeck and Handel.

It's wonderful; I'm enjoying it very much. After that CD next up will be my first listen of:

Gregorian Chant, Christmas Chants with the Choirs of The Benedictine abbey of Montserrat, The Dominican Schola of France, The Royal Benedictine Abbey of Hautecombe, The Paris Gregorian Choir, The Nuns of the Benedictine Abbey of Maumont, The Monks of the Abbey of Einsiedeln and The Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Wandrille.

I'm working on the daily LA Times crossword puzzle, also working on several arts and crafts projects at the same time (as usual) and drinking Earl Grey tea (cold).

One of my crafts projects is using colorful bottle caps that I have collected and saved until I had enough to do something with them. I'm framing them in Plexiglas as kind of a random mosaic effect.

Case study: Local police, support and issues

Four stories in the news today that are useful case studies. Let me be the first to say it's not easy being the police. I come from a family that used to be huge law enforcement supporters. My father was deputized as a deputy sheriff when he returned from World War II and he carried a service revolver.

One of the biggest challenges for local law enforcement is that they must be prepared in an instant to respond in the entire gamut of possibilities: from being a good and compassionate neighbor who helps someone out, all the way to finding oneself in combat in a terrorist crime situation.

I am concerned, as I've observed the police for over fifty years now, that many of them have difficulty being open to the entire range of responses, from easy going compassion to having to be "Rambo" on the spot. I'm not going to assign blame because there are a number of reasons, some valid, that many have lost their perspective. I'm also going to point out that many are outstanding at maintaining that entire range of perspective, but sadly, I have encountered too few of them. I do read about them and applaud them when they do appear in the news.

But it is something that the police must be sensitive to in order to maintain public safety and support, support from people like me. I hope that I have readers of my blog who are in law enforcement and who will add this to their training or at least a point of discussion back at the station house over a cup of coffee.

Case study one:

A woman who has her bleeding dying dog in her car is pulled over by a policeman and delayed for five minutes because in her haste to get to the vet she passed in a no pass zone, and the dog died. Read the details at the link. Now there are two sides, the people who think the policeman should have let her go right away as soon as he knew the situation, and those who defend the policeman.

Whenever there are two opposing views, by definition the problem is "too late" to solve. Here is what I suggest. Police need to be reminded of the good neighbor part of their function. In Yiddish we call that being a mensch, a good guy who does a good deed. He should have not only let her go, but he should have, if duty allowed, escorted her at least part of the way to ensure that a distraught woman at 2:30 am with her dying dog gets to the vet. For crying out loud, how difficult is that to understand? That would have been the correct decision. But because that decision did not occur to him because, as I said, many police no longer understand that role in the community, I do not think he should be punished. I do think it is a chance for all the police to think about how easy it would have been to be a mensch instead.

My dad, the deputy sheriff, worked as a night watchman at a chemical plant. If he was on night shift he would often drive me to elementary school in our family car. One morning the car broke down. A local cop drove me to school in his cop car (yes, I sat in front, ha... and boy are those seats hard). That is what it used to be like; cops were mensch. Try to rediscover that. For inspiration watch the old movies where a common humor device was a scene with a woman in labor being driven by frantic husband, being pulled over by a cop for speeding, and then the cop races them to the hospital.

Case study two:

This young and promising cop was shot and killed as he tried to be a mensch, a mensch in the wrong situation. He pulled over a teen who was driving at night without a license. Instead of taking him to the station and calling in the parents, he takes the kid to his residence in a local apartment in order to hand him over to his parents. In the apartment the kid gets a gun and shoots the cop stone cold dead.

Police see it all and I guess they take risks that the rest of us think, what? It used to be that if a teenager did wrong, especially in a risky part of town, the cop took him to jail and part of being a "mensch" was that the parents had to come get the kid and everyone was embarrassed into learning a lesson. I wonder why this officer did not take the kid to jail, and thus paid with his life. The case study is to understand that letting someone off the hook in a dangerous situation is sometimes not being a mensch. Cops have posted that they do this routinely, taking the kid home to work it out with the parents. You aren't social workers. You don't know what you are walking into. For everyone's safety, go back to how it used to be, that a wayfaring teenager got an embarrassment and a scare by being taken to the station where his or her parents are then phoned to come in.

Case study three:

Today a gunman, apparently an employee, open fire while ranting about religion at a ski resort, killing the manager and escaping in his car. However, a policeman was on patrol nearby, spotted the car, pursued it and when the perpetrator opened fire, the cop shot back, and killed the suspect in a gun battle. The cop is a SWAT member and had his rifle.

All I want to do is say, "Good job officer!" Two things happened correctly here. One is that even in sleepy burgs bad stuff happens and this cop was on patrol close to the scene. Patrol is SO important. So kudos to the police on patrol and those who schedule them. The second is the importance of gun practice. Doubly fortunate this is a SWAT guy, but cops, remember that you should practice, practice, practice. Who knows how many lives this officer saved with his precision shooting in a shoot out situation? We could have had another California on our hands if this guy had gotten away and fired along the road or once he was in populated areas again. I know some cops drag their feet at going to their gun practice. Do it!!!

Case study four:

A former Utah state trooper is suspected of being the gunman in the random killing of two people on highways in Texas. He died of a self inflicted gun wound. He is also suspected of robbing two people prior to the killings. He had to resign as a trooper due to addiction to pain medication. He became addicted after suffering a traffic injury while on duty which caused deep pain and led to his addiction. He was a faithful Mormon, family man and suicidal. He had moved with his family to Texas after having to resign the force to take a computer salesman job, and could not earn enough due to the economy.

This is one of the most tragic things that I have read in a year that has been chock full of tragedy and horror. Why is there not a private or public program that could have treated him, comprehensively, in a way to keep his dignity, after he had to resign? The United States has a very bad history toward military and law enforcement regarding comprehensively and compassionately treating pain, trauma and addiction, and allowing them to continue to earn a comparable living while obtaining treatment! Now three families all with young children have suffered a crushing loss of their fathers, right before Christmas. One of the victims was a truck driver about to fly home to be with his family.

Local communities have a responsibility to take care of the service people who fall, in more ways than one, in the midst of serving them. Was there no one wealthy enough in Utah to get this guy the help he needed, in return for how he kept them safe for so many years? Someone send him to genuine rehab in his community, and give him a job that was still of the dignity of service that he had to surrender?

We make our law enforcement super heroes and then super dogs, and it seems like everyone has forgotten the middle humanitarian ground of local community support.

I hope that you have found these case studies helpful and that ultimately somehow the powers that be make some policy changes, and those in the community also have a conversion of heart about how the police should behave at their highest standards and also in turn be treated with the highest respect, caring and concern that they would merit. I say this as someone who has not been treated well by local police in my own hometown just several years ago, but that does not stop me from trying to be of good guidance.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Understanding God: Who gets into heaven (4)

Part Four

One of the most important things that you must understand is that Jesus never taught an individual salvation. In other words, the community of the faithful is just as important as the idea of a particular person “going to heaven.” This is one of the greatest misunderstandings among some modern Christians, particularly those in non-denominational churches or with fundamentalist or Evangelical outlooks. So this is another reason that it is problematic to have an attitude of “who” individually is going to go to heaven and be “saved” and who individually is “not.”

An individual view of salvation has never been part of the Old Covenant and Jesus did not endorse such a change in stance, and neither did the Apostles or disciples. The entire Catholic Church is built in continuation of the emphasis on the “body of the faithful” for this reason, not because everyone loves “control” and a “bureaucracy.” So in this post I am going to demonstrate the Biblical basis for the community of the faithful rather than focus on individual salvation. I am not saying that souls will be judged by God as a collective, however, a strictly “individual” view of “salvation” is not what God expects. Further, an individual basis of salvation is a temptation to some sins of omission.

Exodus 19: 2-6
While Israel was encamped here in front of the mountain, Moses went up the mountain to God. Then the Lord called to him and said, “Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob; tell the Israelites: You have seen for yourselves how I treated the Egyptians and how I bore you up on eagle wings and brought you here to myself. Therefore, if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, though all the earth is mine. You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. That is what you must tell the Israelites.”

1) The Lord has Moses address every single Israelite gathered together in total.
2) The Lord calls them “the house of Jacob,” which is a terminology of a single family unit.
3) The Lord says that if they obey they shall all together be his “special possession” even though God has all the earth and its people to his own.
4) The Lord says that all the Israelites will be “a” as in one “kingdom of priests,” indicating that it is a communal and collective priesthood of people, whether or not an individual is of the priestly tribe or not, and whether one performs a priestly function or not.
5) The Lord says that they will be a “holy nation,” again a collective communal covenant, not individual.

Throughout the Old Testament you can read for yourself that even though Laws address individual behavior, the Laws are given to all the people, and God always refers to the faithful collectively. One other important event that I’ve blogged about often is also underscoring the importance of the community over the individual’s “goodness” or “salvation:”

Isaiah 6:1-7
In the year king Ozia died [742 BC], I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple. Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two they veiled their feet, and with two they hovered aloft. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!” they cried one to the other. “All the earth is filled with his glory!” At the sound of that cry the frame of the door shook and the house was filled with smoke.

Then I said, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember which he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with it. “See,” he said, “now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin is purged.”

1) Isaiah was a high priest serving in the temple, so he was far from being having “unclean lips.”
2) Yet in his astonishment at seeing God in his glory Isaiah forestalls God from even speaking to him!
3) Why? Because Isaiah by virtue of living within a community, a people of “unclean lips” he has guilt of association, even though he is a holy priest about to be called to be God’s greatest prophet since Moses.
4) Did God or the angel reply, “Oh, tut, tut, do not worry Isaiah, for you are individually saved and justified and you do not need to be modest in front of us?” No, they did not. Immediately the angel brought an ember from God’s altar to purify the lips of Isaiah.
5) Further, the angel agrees that to be a righteous PRIEST living among unclean lipped people gives him a “wickedness” and “sin” that had to be “purged.”

Nowhere is it more clear that even being righteous but living within an unclean community/society filled with sin taints if for no other reason sins of omission in addressing the sin even the faithful.

Jesus himself makes this abundantly clear when he relates this story of the poor man Lazarus:

Luke 16:19-31
“There was a certain rich man who used to clothe himself in purple and fine linen, and who feasted every day in splendid fashion. And there was a certain poor man, named Lazarus, who lay at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be filled with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. And it came to pass that the poor man died and was borne away by the angels into Abraham’s bosom; but the rich man also died and was buried in hell.
“And lifting his eyes, being in torments, he saw Abraham afar off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he creid out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame.’

“But Abraham said to him, ‘Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime hast received good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now here he is comforted whereas thou art tormented. And besides all that, between us and you a great gulf is fixed, so that they who wish to pass over from this side to you cannot, and they cannot cross from your side to us.’

“And he said, ‘Then, father, I beseech thee to send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they too come into this place of torments.’ And Abraham said to him, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hearken to them.’ But he answered, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hearken to Moses and the Prophets, they will not believe even is someone rises from the dead.’”

1) Notice that the rich man is in hell because he neglected one specific anonymous man, Lazarus, who was a beggar lying dying in front of the rich man’s gate.
2) So the rich man is not in hell because he didn’t believe in God and he probably was even a prominent man among the faith, giving alms to charity of the prescribed times and amounts.
3) The rich man finds himself in hell because rather than being fully in the communal faith of tending to one’s neighbor in the fullest sense of the term, he had a correct and “by the book” faith.
4) Astonished by this he begs Abraham for the chance to warn his five brothers, who are undoubtedly living their prominent and privileged lives as pious and observant men, for he realizes now that being pious and observant and believing but ignoring communal need, especially at one’s front door, results in a trip to hell.
5) Notice that his attitude did not change even in hell because what does he ask? That the poor man Lazarus be the errand boy to either bring him water or to warn his brothers. The rich man does not use his chance to beg for mercy from Abraham, asking for his intervention.
Jesus is making several points when telling the disciples this story and I’ve provided commentary on the various points in previous posts. What you must realize here is that again, the rich man is not in hell because he was a “sinner” who “did not accept God as his personal savior” and even more to the point since his brothers have no clue they risk hell, just like the rich man, they all were undoubtedly believers and observant believers at that. It is not enough to be a believer and it never was enough to be a believer; one must be in the body of the faithful and ready to serve God’s will in all parts of the community in which one lives.

Here are other clues that show you how Jesus maintains the view of the faithful as a “nation of priests” and “the house of Jacob,” as God did during the Old Covenant. You do this by reading two instances where Jesus and the disciples discuss entire cities.

Matthew 11:20-24
Then he began to reproach the towns in which most of his miracles were worked, because they had not repented.
“Woe to thee, Corozain! Woe to thee, Bethsaida! For if in Tyre and Sidon had been worked the miracles that have been worked in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And thou, Capharnaum, shall thou be exalted to heaven? Thou shalt be thrust down to hell! For if the miracles had been worked in Sodom that have been worked in thee, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for thee.”

1) Jesus worked many miracles in these towns and he is wrathful not because they didn’t thank him but because they did not use the miracles as a sign to repent.
2) Jesus expects, just as God did in the Old Testament, entire towns to repent and convert, not individuals.
3) Jesus explains and expounds that towns that are sinful but had no advantage of a visit by him and miracles (though he preached to people from Tyre and Sidon, Mark 3:8, so he knew them well and was not discussing them theoretically) will be treated better in their day of judgment than the towns who had received miracles by Jesus.
4) Jesus goes as far as to explain that heaven is an exaltation (a lifting up in position), not something to be “expected”… it is an honor, not the default route for “adequate” observant behavior. Thus Jesus says sinner towns that had no advantage of a visit by Jesus over sinner towns that received miracles from Jesus and perhaps are nominally observant but did not view the miracles as a sign for total repentance and conversion.
5) Jesus compares this situation to when God destroyed the city of Sodom for its sin. Jesus is saying that if he or one of the prophets or angels had performed in Sodom the same miracles that Jesus performed this day in the towns he lists, that the entire city of Sodom would have repented. Sodom was FAR more sinful than these small observant Jewish burgs so you now can see how dismally these towns failed to understand that the gift of the miracles was a call to total conversion, even if they were not raging centers of sin like Sodom was.

Luke 9:51-56
Now it came to pass, when the days had come for him to be taken up, that he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before him. And they went and entered a Samaritan town to make ready for him, and they did not receive him, because his face was set for Jerusalem. But when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, wilt thou that we bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?’

But he turned and rebuked them, saying, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” And they went to another village.

[Note: they refused Jesus entry to their town because the Samaritans believed that their temple on Mount Garizim was the only legitimate place and they were hostile toward anyone going to the temple of Jerusalem to worship].

1) Notice that entire towns and villages received guests, or they did not. The communities act as a whole, so it’s not like Jesus could have entered anyways because one or two good hosts would welcome him while the rest do not. This shows that community mores can sometimes “trump” the presence of individual good people, another reason why God and Jesus both emphasis the body of the faithful rather than the individual. Unfaithful communities can prevent faithful individuals from performing God’s will, and that is a problem if the faithful are in acceptance of this situation.
2) Consistent with the emphasis on community that I am explaining to you, the disciples James and John offer to call upon God to bring fire upon the entire town.
3) Consistent with the emphasis on community, Jesus replies that he is there to save, not destroy. He is still referring to the entire town; otherwise he would have said, we should not destroy the good with the bad. There is no separation of faithful individuals from the community in which they live and, most importantly, prosper (as the rich man who did not even notice Lazarus to help him). Faithful who prosper in unfaithful communities are in a problematic position when they must account to God.
4) Jesus gives the opportunity to host him to another unnamed village. Again, an entire village gains from the loss of the other town in the opportunity to host Jesus.

This continuity of viewpoint of the importance of the entire community is why in the Epistles the Apostles may address letters to individuals but they are always mindful of speaking to the entire body of the faithful. This is also why even heaven where there is no flaw is nonetheless referenced and actually viewed in Revelation as a city, the New Jerusalem. There is a continual emphasis at every level that salvation is not an individual matter, but one inexorably intertwined in the entire community.

So this is another thing you must keep in mind when thinking about “who goes to heaven?” God during the Old Covenant and Jesus in bringing the New Covenant never emphasized individual salvation: individual behavior, yes, individual judgment, yes…. But salvation and being God’s people is also linked to one’s role in the community of the faithful, and that does not mean only one’s fellow church attendees. God and Jesus Christ both demonstrate continuity throughout scripture of the importance of collective repentance, works and salvation within one’s local geographic, not ideologue, community. I cannot too strongly emphasize that the observant rich man went to hell even though he believed and also performed his perfunctory obligations, but missed in saving the poor man Lazarus, who was his community right outside his gate. Being a believer and perfunctory in one’s observance of God is not a guarantee of salvation as defined as being “exalted” to heaven if one has gotten to where one is by benefiting from or ignoring the prevailing sinfulness and inadequacy of one’s geographic community.

[Conclusion of Part Four].

Understanding God: Who gets into heaven (3)

Part Three
To this point we’ve been discussing how through God’s mercy God elected to reveal himself to a community of people, the Patriarchs and their descendants the Israelites so that side by side with humans God will become known and understood in the way that God has chosen to reveal himself. Therefore you have come to see that the Bible is a collection of books that document the secular and faith events of this relationship and that there is no equivalent experience of God or document among any other alternative “beliefs.” This, then, brings us to the next question which is “Must one be a Christian to be saved?”

The reason people ask this question is, as I said, many people today attempt to “select” the belief that is the most “accurate” or that guarantees that they will be “saved” or in an advantageous position in their after life world view. But asking the question that way, “Must one be a Christian to be saved?” is misleading because it places emphasis on two assumptions that are contradicted by what Jesus has said.

The motivation for the question itself is accurate and comes from two passages in the Gospel:

John 8:12
Again, therefore, Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows me does not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 14:5-6
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where thou art going, and how can we known the way?” Jesus said to him, “
I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me. If you had known me, you would also have known my Father. And henceforth you do know him, and you have seen him.”

Christians therefore assert that it is necessary to follow Jesus in order to have the light of eternal life and to be given eternal life in heaven with God. There is a problem with unspoken assumptions and phrasing that adds a compulsory tone to what Jesus said that is not reflected in the sum total of what he is saying. I am trying to help you see the nuance between compulsion and following light.

When one is walking up a steep mountain path in the pitch dark of night you know several things. One is that the correct and safe path is there even if you do not see it or anything else. Just because the light is not there does not mean that the path no longer exists. However, the second thing that you know is that without light it is very likely that one will quickly leave the path and fall to one’s death.

This is the best analogy to understand what Jesus means when he says that he is “the light of the world” and that “he who follows me does not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life.” God is still God, let’s say sitting on the mountain top in our analogy, and the path to the top is still there, whether one has the light of a lamp or the light of Jesus along side him or her as they climb. But this quote by Jesus must be understood two ways. One is the context of the times when there was no electricity and that night travel was risky. Light is not just a beautiful analogy when people listened to Jesus. His listeners understood much better than moderns about the greatness of gift that a reliable light would be. Thus, they did not listen to Jesus and feel compulsion that they must “believe” and “obey” him “or else.” They felt overwhelming joy because they could relate to the idea that a dangerous life, one that is lived half in the dark because they had no electricity or lighting but small expensive oil lamps, could be transformed into a safe life that is constantly lightened. This is what Jesus was saying to them, imagine how you don’t have to walk in the dark either in life itself or after to find God, because I will give you a constant light, one that never fails and shines all the time.

People who read that passage with the tone of compulsion rather than the stupendous gift that Jesus is offering totally miss what he was saying and thus the conversation that through the Gospel we are listening in on. People who lived half their lives in the dark, working and recreating only between the sun’s rising and the sun setting understood immediately what Jesus was saying. Jesus was not saying that a righteous life does not exist unless one is following him, and Jesus is not saying that God is not available unless one is following him. Jesus is saying imagine if you never have to worry about being in the dark again. There is absolutely no compulsion or exclusion in that statement by Jesus. Rather than being compulsion or exclusion, Jesus is offering himself as an eternal and safe lamp to the entire world. If one believes Jesus and follows him one knows one is on the constantly lighted path rather than risking the dark. Those who do not know Jesus obviously still can be righteous and God is still available to them (remember, Jesus was only preaching to the Jews, so it’s not like he was saying that only Jews would have this light, or only “new believers” would have this light). That is why Jesus said that he is the light “of the world,” even though he specifically was only preaching to Jews during his ministry. Jesus was saying that anyone in the world can live in the light that his light, his lamp “works” for everyone. Far from being compulsory or exclusionary, Jesus was preaching to the Jews, but explaining that he brings a light that anyone can see and use.

By the way, I mentioned in the previous post that Jesus was challenged regarding the authenticity of his witnessing. I wrapped up the previous post with a scripture citation about what Jesus said regarding his authority. Here is the part that follows his statement of being the light.

John 8:13-20
The Pharisees therefore said to him, “Thou bearest witness to thyself. Thy witness is not true".

[The rule of witness is that at least one other man must attest to the correctness of what one says, and that one cannot be the only attestation of one’s correctness and authority. See previous posts about witnessing and the scriptural references.]

Jesus answered and said to them, “Even if I bear witness to myself, my witness is true, because I know where I came from and where I go. But you do not know where I came from or where I go. You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. And even if I do judge, my judgment is true, because I am not alone, but with me is he who sent me, the Father. And in your Law it is written that the witness of two persons is true. It is I who bear witness to myself, and he who sent me, the Father, bears witness to me.”

They therefore said to him, “Where is thy father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would then know my Father also.” Jesus spoke these words in the treasury, while teaching in the temple. And no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come.

[The treasury was a room off the Court of the Women in the temple].

So let us quickly tangent on this subject of witnessing because it is pertinent to our topic and also to understanding John 14:6-7. God gave humans the law of witnessing so that people who did not possess writing could have a procedure by which the truth can be verbally attested and contracts made and kept. So the Pharisees are saying that unless someone of authority steps forward and confirms all that Jesus says that he cannot be deemed as telling the truth. Jesus takes them on full bore and refutes them in two ways and also lays out vital theology.

The first way that Jesus refutes them they totally do not understand and thus cannot answer. Jesus tells them that even if he was alone in stating the truth that he is still true without supporting witness because Jesus knows the origin of himself and all things, a God given knowledge. Thus Jesus is not just a person of the flesh, like them, who judge according to facts and multiple witnesses. Jesus is stating that because he has God given knowledge of himself and of all else that he IS truth, walking talking truth! Jesus is not just a man of flesh who requires others to confirm his truth because he is truth from God embodied in human flesh. So they totally do not understand that refutation, but Jesus states it so that this understanding of him be heard and preserved.

Then Jesus refutes them by stating that in fact, he does have a witness constantly present with him, “my Father.” The Pharisees thus think that Jesus means his human father, Joseph. They ask him where his Father is, thinking that Jesus will produce another human, like Joseph (who would not have been alive at this time any longer) who is his Father and who the Pharisees can then question and make him witness to Jesus. (Not that they would have believed Joseph either!) But Jesus makes clear that he does not mean a fleshly bodily father. Jesus means that God in the form of the Holy Spirit is constantly present with him, witnessing to him. They clearly did not fully understand at this incident that Jesus was saying that God is his Father and that his Father is in constant witness to him in the form of the Holy Spirit being continually within him. It is at a different time that they have the full understanding of Jesus’ claim to divinity and have the resulting confrontation. But they get that he is claiming some sort of God given authority and that is enough for them to want to “seize him.”

Here is another important point. Remember that Moses when he met with God obviously did not have a “human witness” present. God is his own witness and extends that to his prophets. So Jesus was also alluding to the scriptural plenitude of occurrences of God speaking individually to the prophets. And obviously that prophet is believed by the people without the prophet having to produce someone else who was hanging around and “heard everything too.” Jesus could have invoked this, telling the Pharisees that just like Moses, God is “appearing” to him except for one thing: that would not be true and Jesus only speaks the truth. Jesus MUST confess that God is constantly with him. God is not coming and going in revelation to Jesus as a prophet who gets direction and utterances from God. The Holy Spirit is constantly with Jesus. So Jesus who always speaks the truth gives a tremendous amount of insight into the nature of his being. Jesus speaks the truth because he IS the truth, and Jesus speaks the truth because the Holy Spirit is constantly within him as God’s witness.

So this brings us back to understanding that Jesus is not preaching compulsion of “his faith” or exclusion. Jesus states that he is the light that guarantees that no one ever need walk in the darkness, and that this light is available to the whole world. When challenged by the Pharisees Jesus then states that he is the truth in the human body’s form and that God the Father is in constant witnessing of his truthful teaching and utterances because the Holy Spirit is in constant presence in Jesus’ body. This, by the way, is something that cultists should better understand. Jesus is neither “possessed” nor “channeling” as he makes very clear here. God’s presence in Jesus is as a separate presence, the witnessing of Jesus, not as a controller or filler of a shell. Too many moderns interpret pieces of scripture with occult leanings and looking for occult mechanisms, and thus miss the very plain and clear words that are actually be spoken in explanation. Jesus is not at all mysterious as you can see here. If Jesus were trying to conceal or disguise he would have simply told the Pharisees that God speaks to him just like God spoke to the prophets, but that simply is not the truth because God is doing more than “speaking” to Jesus, God is accompanying Jesus as witness.

You start to see why Jesus has been sometimes called the living Bible. The Old Testament records all of the centuries of God being “side by side” in the guidance, companionship and the ruling of his elect, the Chosen People. Thus the Old Testament records the interactions of God and his people event by event. With Jesus, God is actually walking among his people because God the Father in the form of the Holy Spirit constantly walks with Jesus witnessing to him. It sounds complicated but it is easy to understand if you just really focus on what Jesus actually says and interpret it in the body of all the faith history where God has put forth centuries of specific forms of interaction with humans. This is why witnessing is crucial to understanding faith. Witnessing is not just a means by which two humans achieve pacts and the truth, it is the way that God taught for humans to ascertain and maintain truthfulness. Thus Jesus is able to describe very precisely (even though no one really got it at the time) how God works within him. It also sheds light on the boldness of Jesus calling God his Father, which I know is a stumbling block for many. Humans are limited to thinking biologically, as Jesus says, “You judge according to the flesh.” But one cannot understand Jesus when one only thinks of human concepts of “Father.” One must use the spiritual terminology that God himself taught the elect. This is why it is easier to understand the Father-Son relationship of God and Jesus AND the constant presence of the Holy Spirit within Jesus if one understands witnessing. Jesus thus explains that God the Father, through the Holy Spirit, is within Jesus as continual witness to his truth.

This then makes John 14:6-7 much easier to understand in turn. Just to repeat what Jesus replies to Thomas:

John 14:6-7
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me. If you had known me, you would also have known my Father. And henceforth you do know him, and you have seen him.”

When Jesus says that one comes to the Father “through” him, Jesus is again explaining that the Father is right there with him, right in front of Thomas and the others, in the form of the continual presence of the Holy Spirit constantly providing witness to Jesus. If Jesus’ human father Joseph were standing behind him, no one would have any problem understanding either John 8:13-20 or John 14:6-7, because it would be like a son saying, “Ask my father; I am just repeating what he taught me” and the listeners could thus ask Joseph. What was slow to dawn on the listeners of Jesus is that God the Father in the form of the Holy Spirit is there as witness to his Son, constantly present in Jesus as witness. God is not there as God! God is there as witness to his Son. Jesus is still living his human life, but he is the walking embodiment of truth because of God’s constant presence in his as witness. That is why Jesus is able to say that he is the light, the way, the truth and the life. It is not compulsion to join his faith or else. Jesus is patiently and repeatedly explaining that God is there with him in witness.

Jesus is not saying that he is the fullness of God standing there. Jesus is saying that if you look at him you have seen God, since God is constantly there with Jesus bearing witness to him.

Now if you read the rest of what Jesus explains in John 14:8-31, which I won’t type here, you can understand what Thomas, Phillip and the others are struggling to comprehend, which is how can God be in Jesus, and Jesus in God? Now that you notice that Jesus is describing the Holy Spirit being with him just as a father provides constant witness to the truthfulness of his son, you can better understand not only what Jesus is saying and how he performed miracles, but also understand the faith itself. It is not a faith of exclusion or compulsion where one must “be a Christian or else.” It is the statement of fact that when one believes Jesus, one has access to the light that never shuts off, and one sees the person who has God within him as constant witness to his truth.

So the key is not that one must sign on the dotted line to the “correct” religion “or else.” The key is that if you believe Jesus, then you have the constant light and you see God in witness. Being Christian as your faith is not the way to think of it or phrase it. Believing Jesus is the way to understand God’s gift. If you BELIEVE JESUS you have accepted God’s gift.

One finally point before wrapping up this segment. Notice that Jesus made his declaration in John 8 in the temple, St. John having duly noted the location in John 8:20. The point is not that Jesus was speaking in the treasury room of the temple, at an attempt at swiping at money-changer tendencies. Why did John carefully document where Jesus made this important assertion about being the light? That is one of the disciplines of witnessing. You write down at least one other person who was present and where the witnessing takes place. John wrote for posterity a role model of witnessing that this conversation actually took place with these words said and specifically at this location. Understanding witnessing is crucial to understanding even the simplest passages in the Bible, especially the Gospels. Further, there is a certain pious drollness in what John wrote. Jesus declared that he is “the light of the world” while standing in the temple and no lightning flew or walls fell down. John dutifully records, probably with a little smile when he thought back on that time (the Gospel being written many years after the event) how far from smiting what the Pharisees thought was blasphemy, God stood in witness with Jesus in the temple itself as he declared himself the light of the world.

[Conclusion to Part Three].

Understanding God: Who gets into heaven? (2)

Part Two

Too many modern people go religion or “spirituality” “shopping.” These people have the mentality that a human being, especially an intelligent and “enlightened” one as themselves (if they are “humble” they call themselves “seekers”) can either 1) determine “which belief” is the “most accurate one” and/or 2) “which belief” will get them to heaven or a better position in whatever worldview they believe in. Here is the problem with this theory. One is not starting out on an “even footing” among all faiths, as if they are all perfectly good looking jeans but you are selecting the size that “fits you.” All of the different “beliefs” are NOT on an “equal footing” because God has had different types of relationships with communities throughout history, and it is communities that codify their belief systems. In other words, God has a consistent relationship with individuals, a personal relationship (after all, everyone has a soul created by God and a guardian angel, whether they believe in God or not, or have never even heard of God). But communities gather and codify collective “beliefs” and of course God is not providing them with their belief; that is what has come out of the past where humans grappled to assemble a world view out of the three components I listed in the first post on this subject. But then everything changed because God made himself known to ONE group of people, his chosen. No longer are the “beliefs” of others gathered from guesses about supernatural powers combined with human based creations myths, centered on speculation about the natural landscape in which communities abide. God made himself known to ONE group of people and further, embarked on a side by side witnessed relationship that is documented with facts for hundreds of years.

So it is an error to believe that one can “shop around” among “beliefs” because the only belief systems that are valid so far as your “accuracy” criterion are those based on the events of God’s relationship with humans as documented in the Bible. Notice I am not saying that one cannot get to heaven otherwise (the second criterion) and so let’s put that aside for the moment and just discuss the “accuracy” objective. No belief system that is not based on the faith history of the factual events documented between God and his chosen can be considered “correct” by any stretch of the imagination. They are all human produced stories and beliefs, worthy or not. The ancient polytheistic faiths emerged from humans having a shared gift of wanting to know God, but limited abilities to do so until God made himself explicitly and specifically known to them in return. Therefore if one is “shopping” for “accuracy” one cannot consider a belief that is not Judaism, Christianity or Islam. The Abrahamic faiths are all rooted in the actual documented dialogue and covenant between God’s chosen and God.

When we use the term “chosen” or “elect” we certainly don’t mean smarter, more holy or more moral than all the rest of people. One doesn’t have to go too far in reading the Bible to understand that. The Israelites were dancing around worshipping a golden calf as Moses was just a few miles away receiving the Ten Commandments from God in person. The term “chosen” means these are the people that God selected, as in “chose,” to reveal himself to and to establish an ongoing relationship that is God given and thus accurate, not based on human invention or speculation. God’s first choice was to covenant with all of humans, and that was through Adam and Eve. Their inability to obey and not in a minor area but in the worse of all areas, wanting to be like God and command good and evil, was humanity’s first chance and first fail. Therefore while they are the faith ancestors and their faithful descendents maintained knowledge of God and piety, the second chance that God gave was to select the people, the tribe, the individuals with whom he would lay down a many-generational relationship that would provide guidance for all humans, starting with the events written in the Torah.

Thus God had relationships with the series of patriarchs and prophets that were the continuity of year after year of his consistent face among them, concern and presence. Remember that writing per se did not exist in those days, so it’s not like the patriarchs and prophets were able to keep diaries of their relationship with God. But two things happened: 1) they, as all primitive people, memorized and kept oral history, passing each carefully to their next generations and 2) God provided Moses with the knowledge of all that had gone before and how to record these events in what would become the foundation of the Torah-the Pentateuch-the “Five Books of Moses.” Here is one modern way to think of Moses. When one uses a computer and a word processor, it is a program that has pre-established formats where one can create documents. When one sits to write it’s not like you have to invent for yourself the idea of an alphabet, numbers, paper, language, sentences, etc. We all have reached a common understanding of how written communications work, and a word processor makes it consistent in terms of results. Moses provided the first “template” of how to document in writing the events in faith history, of the ongoing and very real relationship and interaction between the chosen people and God. Thus among the many things that Moses did, and how great he was in God’s eyes, one of them you need to understand is that Moses himself was guided by God to take their relationship out of the oral history and put it in writing as witness for future generations.

Once this revelation was made, that God not only wants but co-authors, in a manner of speaking, the written documentation of God’s relationship with the chosen, it does not really matter whose actual quill is put to the parchment. Scribes abounded from the earliest times of writing and yes, they took “dictation.” What mattered is that Moses created the “template” by which only events that are of God (involving God’s relationship with the chosen) are included and that they must be “witnessed” events. By witnessed we mean that the events are attested to following the God given directives of how to observe and assert the truth of the matter. Jesus has a very lengthy comment about the difference between human witnessing (asserting the truth of the matter following the witness rules) and God witnessing, which is that God’s intervention is obvious and thus God himself is witnessing to the accuracy of his prophet. Jesus was irked but did not lose his temper when questioned by the scribes and Pharisees about how he could “witness to himself” because Jesus understood that they were speaking from disbelief, yes, but also the caution of having dutifully followed the “template” that Moses had first provided for documenting their relationship with God. I’ll include that passage later, but do not want to lose the train of thought in this location.

So Moses is the author of the first five books of what Christians call the Old Testament of the Bible and what is the Pentateuch of the Torah. By “author” we mean that he developed the “format” that all others will emulate when “adding books to the Bible” (although of course it was not a sequential writing process) and Moses provided the information God gave to him about events that transpired before there was written history, from the moment of creation to their present time of the Exodus. Many different physical hands, of course, copy the books of the Bible generation after generation and indeed it is likely that Moses was far to busy to actually put quill to parchment of every word himself. But the template was established that only the truthful and the witnessed (either by humans or by God) could be recorded, and that it would be written with great diligence of names, places and dates in faith history being recorded. The Old Testament has therefore always been a combination of secular and faith history events. That is why one cannot “faith shop” among different “beliefs” because there is no equivalent to the Old Testament of the Bible, as God did not elect to reveal himself to any other community.

To give you better understanding of the continuity of this dialogue, here is a much summarized timetable for sections of the Old Testament. The events described in the beginning of faith history, from creation to Adam to Eve and their offspring all, obviously occurred before writing was developed, and thus occurred more than three thousand years before the Christian Era, thus at least five thousand years ago. The period of the Patriarchs (what is described in Genesis 12-50) is also before written history and occurred two thousand years to around thirteen hundred years before the Christian era. Thus during the time of Moses and the Exodus, around thirteen to twelve hundred years before the Christian era, Moses received from God understanding of what had transpired during the previous two thousand or so years of God’s relationship with his elect and first had this history transcribed. When Moses died Aaron and his descendants added the last moments of Moses to the writings and then from that point carried on in the template of documenting the faith history as it occurred. Thus the next book after the first five books of Moses is called Josue (Joshua), named after a successor of Moses and picks up where the books leave off in recording the conquest, division and occupation of Chanaan by the Israelites under his leadership. Most likely the book is a combination of actual writing by Joshua and the later putting of quill to scroll of events based on oral memory.

Now, it’s not like people kept the Bible in one place and “added” the books to it in sequence after the Pentateuch. Here is where the word processing template analogy is handy. What the Israelites now had was a faith template. They knew that it was not only allowable to record faith history but an imperative given to them by God. Thus the priests and prophets had what one could call a spiritual template based on the Torah, the first five books, whereby they copied and emulated the recording of both secular and faith events. Thus the next book after Joshua, The Book of Judges, is a compilation of the events regarding twelve military leaders of Israel in the time between the death of Joshua and the establishment of the monarchy in Israel. Thus scribes “followed the template” and recorded the secular and divine events of this period, again, probably a combination of some being written “on the scene” and the rest committed to oral memory until it could be compiled and synthesized into the book. Judges covers a period of about two hundred years. The next books of the Bible then record the establishment of the consecrated monarchy in Israel, another period of several hundred years. This is how each book was written to correspond to actual secular and faith events during a period of time, and then following the “template” of Moses, at some point put into writing in a scroll or parchment. The most recent pre Christian era book of the Old Testament was written only one or two hundred years before Christ.

Therefore, it is important to understand that what Christians call the Old Testament is a compilation of books written to document actual secular and faith events, where God is consistently present throughout in an active participatory manner, for over thirteen hundred thousand years of actual writing, of scribing. There is no other “belief system” or “faith” that documents the active participation by God in a perfectly consistent fashion (it’s the same God with the same expectations year after year and generation after generation) paired with the actual secular historical events. The Bible is not an “option;” it is the documented secular and faith history of the people who are the elect of God, whether one chooses to “believe” or not.

Now, to understand the Qur’an, think of my analogy of the template, and also of how God had to “catch Moses up” with all that had happened that was true in the thousands of years of faith history before the Exodus. God had to “catch up” the people who would become the Muslims that they too were of the heritage of the elect that their physical and spiritual forefathers trace back to Adam and Eve and through Abraham to Ishmael and where they are today. The Prophet (PBUH) was like Moses in that regard of getting the divine revelation that was catching them up to realizing they have the same heritage. God gives them their own “template” and that is the Qur’an. Instead of being a template for future writings, since there is no addition to the Qur’an nor will there be, this template is to rediscover their sacred sites, such as those established by Abraham, and the template of worshipful behavior. That is why the shared faith history of Jews/Christians and Muslims is highly summarized in the Qur’an. The Qur’an in that regard is a “catch up” of what had gone before and is shared, but provided so that the spiritual template of the Qur’an for those who believe to have context and understanding of God. Thus the Qur’an touches on spiritual history from Adam and Eve to Jesus Christ, establishing for Muslims the lineage of the prophets.

Why did God do it this way? Because this is the only way that God can reveal himself to humans but also preserve their free will and freedom of choice. If God wanted to love preprogrammed obedient robots he would have invented those in the first place instead of allowing humans to arise from the clay. It’s not love if it has to be forced, and God forces no one to love him. It is, however, a really good idea to love God. Why? Because one cannot truly love fellow human beings, either as intimates or friends, or the community of “neighbors” if one does not love God because God is the source of all authentic love. However, this is why you need to have faith that throughout history those who did not know about God but who loved life, their family and their neighbors, and who had genuine charity would somehow be taken care of by God when it is their time to pass. God is wherever there is genuine love and people do not have to “wait” to love one another in his name. That is why one must have faith that those who “fell asleep” who were righteous but who did not know God or know of him are treated with the perfection of discernment of doing what is right for them in eternity that only God possesses.

Everything changes, however, as humans demand to control good and evil, and to use their “free choice” to make their “own decisions” about what is “right and wrong.” No longer are humans like the early childlike humans, who struggle to survive and who have to do the best that they can in their lives, and then fall into sleep in God when they die, if they have been good and righteous. This is why God made two “interventions,” to use a modern term often used to describe the beginning of rehab. One is the intervention of his elect, his chosen people, where God makes himself known and is “living” side by side with them so that they can know God, fear God (fear in the sense I’ve explained in the gifts of the Holy Spirit) and provide the gift of witness, the scripture, that is the truth and expectations of God and his people, humans. The second intervention is Jesus Christ, the Savior. This is so that the doorway to God and the pathway (one that each person must choose to walk, because with the knowledge of good and evil no one is just going to roll their way into heaven like the “kind Neanderthal”) to God can be opened to all, and not just to his elect.

Conclusion of Part Two.

Matthew 21:23-27

And when he had come into the temple, the chief priests and elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority dost thou do these things? And who gave thee this authority?” Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you answer me this, I in turn will tell you by what authority I do these things. Whence was the baptism of John? From heaven, or from men?”

But they began arguing among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the people, for all regard John as a prophet.” And they answered Jesus and said, “We do not know.” Then he in turn said to them, “Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Understanding God: Who gets into heaven?

Understanding God: Who goes to heaven?

The question of who goes to heaven (who is saved) and who is not (and thus is denied the presence of God, which is the most fundamental definition of hell) cannot be understood or answered without understanding God’s attribute of mercy. Remember that God not only loves, he IS love, and that his mercy flows from his unlimited love. In this section I will utilize logic and reasoning and in parallel cite from scripture.

The first way that God demonstrates his mercy is that every human culture, as a community and individually, seeks to know him. That is something that is unique to human beings, compared to the animals, which have intelligence, depth of feeling, and even sophisticated social structures, but do not seek God. That is because animals are still in the Eden state of mind where their environment, supplied by the Creator, provides all that is needed for them to survive and create the life of their offspring in turn. But humans are different. No matter where you go in the world, and no matter what the culture, or what stage of human progress, humans are wired to seek God. Humans are even making advances in identifying what parts of the brain are stimulated by the search for God. Looking for God and seeking to know him is not an evolutionary survival advantage, otherwise all animals of a certain level of intelligence would seek God too. Rather, seeking God at the most fundamental level (and thus I mean to know him before being concerned about his laws and implications for human behavior) is not particularly helpful to finding food, water, shelter, finding a mate and passing along the strongest and best adapted genes to the next generation. Good living by following God’s rules does that through the sheer common sense and morality of good and healthy behavior, but there is something very deep that is shared by all humans before the benefit of following God’s rules can be considered. That is a biological and spiritual imperative to get to know God.

Some modern detractors claim that early humans seek God because they feared the harsh world they lived in. That does not make sense, however, because the desire to understand God cuts across both prosperous and poor cultures, those who live in lands of plenty and relatively easy living, and those who live in the most harsh conditions. What is the first thing that any explorer finds when he or she locates a new people? They find a belief structure and a search for God, regardless of the ease or harshness of that culture and of the environment within which they must live. If anything strength of belief in God increases with the prosperity of a culture.

Therefore any student of human history, whether systematic or anecdotal, has to concede that there is a consistent search for God and a development of a belief system in virtually every culture in every part of the world at any and at all times in history regardless of the ease or difficulties of that culture. By comparing this observation to the fact that humans alone possess this trait and animals do not one can also deduce using logic that it is not a Darwin natural selection or evolutionary survival advantage at its most primitive (pre development of social mores and laws). Thus one has to by logic acknowledge that it is a gift from God to all humans, that they shall seek him.

So how did humans go about finding God? Anthropologists and other scholars can explain the details of the search for God among early humans, as best as can be surmised from the clues that remain before writing was invented and humans could leave records of their thoughts. Humans sought God by 1) scrutinizing the powers and abilities of the weather, animals and plants around them 2) developing a concept of an afterlife (they would bury bodies with items that they might use as if they were alive) and 3) developing and passing to future generations an oral history of their own creation stories. These three developments that are unique to each culture combined in various proportions and strengths to result in concepts such as polytheistic beliefs, where humans deduce that there must be an order of supernatural beings that are organized (including having the same faults and weaknesses) just as humans do. Polytheistic cultures combine the qualities of weather, animals or plants that they are most attuned to in their environment with theories about how beings who could wield these powers would look like, what they might be called, how they spend their time, and how they created humans or at the very least how they intervene, for good or ill, in human affairs. Eventually each culture thinks of ways to try to appeal to the benevolent aspects of their polytheistic pantheon, and how to placate, appease and avoid the malevolent. Remember they modeled their theories about divinities and supernatural powers based on combining what they observe of their own human nature and then “super sizing” it with the powers that they most fear or admire from the natural world.

Even though the primitive cultures of humankind were inventing, for lack of a better word, their own divinities, this does not mean that God was totally unknown. Because God is love you can observe that primitive humans started caring for the weak among each other, and examination of burial sites indicate that even the maimed, elderly and diseased had to have been tended to by others in order to survive at all. Additionally, marriage as a pairing of one man and one woman with a strong parental bond to their children arose in all cultures. A bias toward life and the strengthening of the family bond is synchronous with knowing God. God is not telling people to be faithful pairs and to raise families and be good community members, but when primitive people in all parts of the world gravitate in that same direction they are in conformation with God’s will and his bias toward love and the fruitfulness of life. Thus cultures were able to have false mythologies and their own invented creation stories with pantheons of not very worthy supernatural beings and yet still be in conformity to God’s will because they among themselves sought what is the best and most loving.

One starts to have problems when militarized civilizations arose where aristocratic leaders begin to have caste systems, slavery and human sacrifice. It is at that point in human development when God made himself known to humans overtly rather than through their synchronous community and family based love and morality. God in his wisdom chose one people to make him self known, to jointly create with them an ongoing, documented verifiable secular and faith history. In other words, God did not just appear, identify himself, dictate to them the correct creation story and code of conduct and then disappear. God made a commitment to have an earthy presence side by side with these Chosen People, so that centuries of affirmation of his consistent presence and expectations are documented (“witnessed to”) by generations of humans. The record of that is called The Bible.

As I have explained before this is why the Bible is demonstrably different from all human mythologies and creation stories because it is a human history that God shares, side by side, with consistency, and dates, names and places carefully recorded for hundreds and indeed thousands of years. When Jewish scholars calculate the time back to the Garden of Eden and Christian Evangelicals have the same numeric “literal belief” they should not be mocked or dismissed. Jewish scholars have calculated with great accuracy the years, days and seasons of the entire God revealed and co-participating faith history. In other words, the Garden of Eden is the beginning of God making him self known to humans, to Adam and Eve. This is why the Qur’an calls Adam not only first man but first prophet. Obviously humans were already in existence because as every young Catholic child asks the nuns during Catechism, who did the sons of Adam and Eve marry, if they were the only ones alive?

Genesis 4: 1-2, 17-18
And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord. And she again bare his brother Abel: and Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.

And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch. And unto Enoch was born Irad: and Irad begat Mehujael: and Mehujail begat Methusael: and Methusal begat Lamech.

There are women to marry and enough people for Cain to found a city that he names after his son Enoch. The Garden of Eden was the beginning of faith history, starting with the first who God breathed life into, Adam and Eve. Thus one can have total faith in the datelines that the Jewish scholars have calculated for the beginning of the world through Adam and Eve because that is the beginning of human faith history, when God made himself explicitly known to humans, making them discard their mythologies and assumptions about supernatural powers and divinities.

Wherever God appears in even the smallest part of his form on earth, then wondrous things happen. The Garden of Eden existed and was indeed as described, where the trees that were forbidden to Adam and Eve grew, and where all their needs were met, and where they had the company of God, even to being able to hear his footsteps when he walked in the garden:

Exodus 3: 8 And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.

So the first mercy that God provided humans was that he made himself-as he really is and not how they imagined- known to them. The second mercy that God provided was the Garden of Eden, where in his presence they could live without care. The third mercy that God provided was to forgive the sin of Adam and Eve, even though through that sin of obeying the temptation of Satan they were expelled. God remained committed to being known to them and guiding humanity on the correct path back to him and to salvation. Notice that even when Cain killed his brother Abel, over spiritual jealousy that Abel had the most pleasing sacrifice to God, God demonstrated mercy by forbidding that Cain be harmed. This was, then, the fourth mercy of God which was to role model to humans that even with the most egregious of offenses against him, and against each other, there is always a path that humans can take to forgiveness: God never takes that away.

Abel was the father of ritual worship of God and had he not been slain all priests and other religious would have been able to trace their spiritual ancestry to him. Therefore we read in the Bible that while Cain was spared and his offspring not harmed, the third child of Adam and Eve became Abel’s replacement:

Genesis 4:25-26
And Adam knew his wife again, and she bare a son, and called his name Seth: For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew. And to Seth to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the Lord.

The grandson of Adam and Eve, Enos, therefore marks the beginning of the children of God being entitled to “call upon the name of the Lord.” This is the beginning of the heritage of being adopted children of God who have a right to call upon the Lord by name, and the beginning of their obligation to worship and to serve God, as Abel and his lineage would have done.

You have to begin to see, therefore, that heaven is not only a “reward,” but it is about knowing God and being able to call upon his name. Thus, to go back now to using reasoning and logic, modern humans cannot answer the question of, for example, what happens to good Neanderthals who lived before Adam and Eve when they die? Do they “go to heaven?” It is crucial that you understand how important Genesis 4:26 is because it is there that the path to salvation is established as humans were given the right to “call upon the name of the Lord.” It is from that point forward that a conscious existence of eternal life with God in “heaven” is first understood and pursued, although that is not the focus of generations of humans because obeying God in life was their continual challenge.

The first thing that anyone must realize is that you have to trust God. Whatever is the final dispensation of the early humans who were “good” but did not know him, that is entirely in God’s hands. It is like this, to use a simple analogy. Suppose that you live in an apartment unit, and every apartment of course receives its own water, electricity and heating. You do not need, as an average renter, to go door to door to “check” that the same utilities that you have actually go to each of the other apartments. You take it for granted and trust that is the case unless told otherwise. Likewise you have to trust that God does not do anything “bad” to those who came before and who did not know him, but lived good lives. However, suppose you are no longer the average apartment renter, but you are now appointed the apartment manager. Now you care that every apartment has the same service and it is your responsibility to fix things when they break. This is what it is like when Enos, son of Seth, started the people who began to “call upon the name of the Lord.” Now people 1) knew God as he really exists, 2) know his name, 3) have the privilege to call upon his name, 4) know what they need to do to worship and to serve him and 5) understand that they have an earthly home and hope of a heavenly home. With that knowledge now comes responsibility, just as if one is no longer the “renter” but the “apartment manager.”

Whatever happens to people who never knew God, but were otherwise “good” has always been entirely in God’s hands and that is the first step in mature faith, which is to understand that and to trust that God always “does” what is “right.” However, once humans took, ate from the fruit that was forbidden of the knowledge of good and evil, they are no longer “just renters along for the ride to wherever.” They now have a big chore to achieve heaven; they can no longer fall into God’s hands at the end of their unaware lives as do those who died without ever knowing God. This is why, looking forward to the Christian Apostles and disciples, that they had such an urgency to proclaim the word of God as given to them by Jesus Christ. They ruminated about it once in a while about what God ‘does’ with those souls who never know him, but they, recognizing that they are apartment managers, as are all others who strive to believe, felt that urgency to not dwell on what they cannot control but to save as many souls as possible.

The Apostles demonstrated trust in God, knowing that they cannot possibly reach everyone in the world themselves in one generation, and so they did not obsess about what ‘happens’ to those they do not reach, but they felt that continual flame of urgency that the time of blissful unawareness of God is long gone. Jesus role modeled both for them. Jesus role modeled to not try to do God’s job for him, thinking that every person in the world must be converted or something ‘bad’ will happen and they won’t be ‘saved’ because Jesus himself only preached to the Jews. Jesus was selective in who he could minister to in the several years that he had. However, during those several years, Jesus demonstrated tireless evangelizing to individuals and crowds of thousands, to show that it is indeed an urgent matter to not take salvation for granted.

So heaven does not change and God does not change; heaven and God are the same as they were before the universe, before earth, before animals, before humans, and before humans came to know him. However, humans “grow up” and they change. As humans claimed power for themselves, building cities and treating others with either dignity and graciousness or with cruelty and exploitation, they could no longer continue living in the prehistory mindset of making up “creation myths” and imagining what the afterlife is like because they themselves were becoming masters of other humans. God steps in at this point and lets them know that since they have chosen not the Garden of Eden but rather to have knowledge of good and evil, then they now “own the process” to use a modern business term. Heaven is the same place it always has been but now there is no such thing as just falling asleep into it as the primitives presumably did (as I said, no one knows how God dispenses those who came before he was known). When the Apostles worried that no one rich can be saved, they asked Jesus, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied that what is impossible for man is not impossible for God. Humans do not know the entire picture or even a fraction of how God brings life to him, or not, in eternity. They have to trust in his goodness, not because it’s a fact they have no other choice but to trust God, but because in the Bible and in the Qur’an you see the shared side by side involvement of God in gifting humans with the KNOWN path to salvation. Humans do not need to worry about all the ways God may or may not have to bring those who die to him; they need to worry about themselves and their neighbors.

This is why the recent Pew and other surveys where many Americans think, “Oh, well, all religions are good and all lead to God” are both right and they are dangerous and wrong. Americans are correct to be humble that God, as Jesus explained, can do what seems impossible, which is save many of the unworthy. However, assuming that one can slip slide in a blur of “spirituality” or “open mindedness” into heaven is an error because those days are in the past, the times when humans had not yet chosen the knowledge and thus become the “apartment managers” and not just the rent paying simple tenant. One can trust in God’s mercy toward “many faiths” or “other faiths,” but you better get your own house in order.

[Conclusion of Part One of this topic].