Monday, December 29, 2008

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.”