Wednesday, March 18, 2009

(4)Understanding hell/sin. also Jesus love, miracles

Here is an interlude to speak about Jesus some more, before returning to the Qur'an discussion regarding hell, demons and sin. It’s not really a departure from the topic because I’m picking up on a related tangent that I had made in a previous post of this series regarding Jesus. I commented that even if one is not genuinely of the faith, I could not understand how anyone could not be overwhelmed with love for Jesus, the Jesus that he truly was and is. My point was that even if one did not embrace religion at all, or Christianity, I do not understand how simply understanding that Jesus performed thousands of cures of people who were the lowest of the low in that society: the crippled, the lame, the blind, those with bleeding or other medical ailments, those with mental illnesses (considered to be possessed by demons and totally shunned), those possessed by rare but genuine demons, and actually raising some from the dead.

I want to talk some more about this topic because in a way, understanding why I am baffled that people resist loving Jesus (even scorning or mocking him or, at best, caricaturing him as a well meaning “social worker” or “community organizer”). And trust me: I don’t want people loving Jesus because they think he was the prototype hippie, though that, of course, is one step better than nothing, LOL. But that would be a totally inaccurate picture and thus not a worthy basis for genuine love. Anyone who has been studying what I have been writing here sees that Jesus was anything but a laid back fellow shooting the breeze about love with fellow travelers. His very dire admonishments and explanations about hell and sin are unmistakably commanding, authoritative and not squishy. No, rather, I do not understand how people do not understand him as he actually was (and is described in black and white print in every language to clearly understand by those who were with him personally). And so the exercise I alluded to regarding his miracles, which is how can people not love him even if that is the only part that they understand and “believe in” is worth further exploration here.

Start by trying to imagine what one day would have been like as one of Jesus’ followers, what it would have been like to be with him. First of all, you would be with someone that you could ask any question of regarding God and receive the immediate and truthful answer about who God is, his plans, and what God is “really like.” Jesus didn’t have to pause, run a few astrology charts, furrow his brow in “meditation” and try to “divine” the answer to those questions. That is for phonies who do not know. Jesus was the only person to walk as a human on earth, who was with God completely, is of God completely, knows God totally, and serves God totally. The non-human examples are the angels, who also know God totally and dwell with him, but angels are in harmony with God’s will and serve him accordingly, they are not of God’s divine personhood as Jesus was and is. Thus angels would not be able to answer some questions, if God did not will that they have that information, the way Jesus could and did. When Jesus did not know something (such as when God will end humanity at the end of time), he said so, explaining that only God knows that fact. However, everything else Jesus knows and thus any disciple could ask him anything about God at any time. Imagine what that would have been like.

Now, the disciples would have all been God fearing believers as pious Jews in the first place, but as human beings, imagine the reassurances they felt at hearing Jesus describe God and answer their questions so matter of factly and with full authority. Jesus disciples would have furrowed their brows only in trying to understand the more difficult things that Jesus was explaining, not in worry or doubt about the existence of God and heaven them selves. So that alone should help you to understand why those who were with him loved him so much, while those who previously had the “answer man” authority hated him. The priests, the scribes, the Pharisees, those who taught that the poor were poor, the sick were sick, the injured were injured, and the dead were dead due to their own failings and sin, were used to generations of thinking they and only they had “all the answers.” How very much it shocked and frightened them when they discovered that no, not only didn’t they have the answers but that they were “outed” by Jesus as being in error and religious hypocrites. But my point is that for those who genuinely love God, as the simple, average people did, who then were open to listening to Jesus, they had an overflowing of love for him, which is why crowds followed him everywhere.

But the exercise I want to focus on is to imagine how one would feel total love for Jesus based on only one aspect of his ministry, which was the miraculous curing of the sick, the injured, the deranged, and even raising some from the dead. Here is what modern people must understand, which is what everyone around Jesus, and subsequent generations, fully understood. While Jesus was given by God the authority and the power to perform miracles, Jesus made his own decisions regarding the use of that power. In other words, Jesus could have “just done a few miracles to prove who he really was” and left it at that. But while the Gospels report in specifics such a number of miracles, the Gospels also report that Jesus would essentially set up shop in a region or a village and cure everyone who was sick or wounded who was brought to him. Jesus would often cure everyone of every ailment who came to him from an entire village. Imagine what that would have been like, for a disciple, to be with Jesus, to be part of his ministry, and to watch Jesus elect to spend many hours and days from his precious life curing each and every person who came to him in need.

Incredibly, over time, can you imagine how the disciples were no longer totally stunned as Jesus would, in an “average work day,” restore sight to the blind, straighten limbs as if they were never crippled, restore sanity to the raving, cast out a demon who would acknowledge the identity and authority of Jesus? I mean, think what it would have been like to be Peter, glancing over once in a while and thinking, “Ah, well, there is Jesus, restoring sight to another blind person!” As if it was just another day at the office. But see, it wasn’t like that, because while the disciples would of course become used to the miracles and no longer be astonished, they didn’t just sit around. Jesus mandated that they go forth and perform miracles themselves, through his authority. The Gospels give details of some of their specific efforts to perform miracles, where they were successful and where they were not. So again, imagine the love that these disciples felt for Jesus as they witnessed him 1) have the full authority and love of God to perform these miracles 2) elect to spend precious days from what was clearly going to be a very short ministry on earth before he is crucified doing such miraculous healings and cures and 3) give them, ordinary men, the power to do the same in his name through the authority of God.

I do not understand how a single person in modern times cannot be swept away with love and admiration for Jesus just based on what I have explained to you, and what is clearly stated in the Bible, regarding the miraculous cures of his ministry alone, say nothing of the rest.

See, that is the problem with the human weakness of pride and sin, which work hand in hand. Pride and sin block understand and love.

Jesus performed his cures right in the open, even in the local synagogues and Temple itself. Anyone and everyone could see it, and the ordinary people saw and loved him, not only in gratitude if they or a family member was cured, but in awe that this was how he was spending his authority, rather than acting the big authority as did the Pharisees and others. Yes, Jesus preached and taught, but he taught with the kindness of his deeds too, at a time when even talking to someone poor, sick or injured was viewed as “agreeing with whatever sinfulness filled that wretch so that he or she had these bad things happen to them.” See, the religious people thought that beggars, the poor, the sickly, the diseased, the injured and even who have early deaths had “deserved” what they got because they or their family were “sinners.” Thus they would view anyone who even talked to such people as consorting with sinners and thus condoning it. How far they had fallen from what God taught about alms and charity! These people were more concerned with what money was left in the Temple than what went to the poor, who they viewed as poor because they or their families were sinners. You need to fully understand that to understand the shock wave that Jesus wading in among the poor, the sick, the injured, and the diseased in order to cure them caused among both the people, who loved him, and the powers that be, who feared and despised him. All of this could have been different if the Pharisees and others rejected their pride. This is why the Bible warns of how pride leads to just about all sin.

Imagine if the Pharisees and other religious authorities, instead of worrying about their erroneous status, were humbly open to correction and thought to themselves, “Wait a minute. He is performing these miracles and refuting what we always believed. Could we be wrong? Let us at least learn more.” In fact, several of them did, coming to Jesus in private to learn more, and they came to believe in him in secret. But it had to remain secret because the vast majority of the religious authorities did not want to see how they had warped and strayed from God’s true doctrine, and how Jesus had come with severe exposure of their error and hypocrisy. We have seen in previous blogging how rather than marvel at his cures they resorted to even arguing that Jesus was “breaking the law” by performing cures, such as restoring a man’s sight, on the Sabbath!

This is why I want people to regain their own ability to read the Gospels and understand Jesus and love him as he actually was, rather than marginalize him or caricaturize him. It is only then that one can feel the love for Jesus that not only he deserves but YOU deserve to feel because that is, after all, why he came here at God’s behest and ministered out in the open. Each child should be raised to understand who Jesus was and what he did, and explaining the miracles of curing the sick is something that every young child can well understand. That is how each generation comes to know and fall in love with Jesus again, as God intended. Loving Jesus is a gift that God gave humanity, and it is so sad to see that increasingly in times when people supposedly seek love they reject even the facts which when understood would cause many to receive the gift of love, of knowing that someone loved people so much as Jesus did that he elected to perform these cures.

Look into your hearts and think about, “Why would someone know these facts about Jesus and his miracles and not love him?” What would be the barriers? Here we are speaking just of the miracles, not of the entirety of dogma, so the answer that “Well, I don’t believe in all of the doctrine” would not be a sufficient answer to why one would not be filled with love for Jesus just by contemplating what he chose to do regarding the thousands of miraculous cures. So if one believes the facts of what happened with the miracles, and one understands the context (that this was dangerous and socially outrageous to do in the eyes of the religious authorities, and Jesus took that risk everyday anyway), why would one not feel a rush of understanding and love?

Deadness and hardness of heart toward life in general would be one reason. Part of the problem with the overwhelming artificiality of modern life is that people have lost some of their fundamental sense of genuine feeling. There are many who are so deadened in their heart that they cannot easily experience love, even of Jesus. That is one of the grave crises of modern times, where if you cannot love Jesus, how can you love and not abuse a child? Or abuse one’s self out of self loathing and despair, as so many do? In a way I think contemplating these miracles of Jesus and trying to role play feeling the love that those around him would have felt can break through some of the ice and deadness of heart that people feel toward everyone today, including themselves. This is one reason I offer this meditation on the love of the disciples and the people for Jesus as expressed through understanding his election to perform many miraculous cures.

Another reason that one might still resist feeling love for Jesus even if one understands what he chose to do regarding the miracles is pride. Again, it is a modern crisis that many people, when faced with something very good that someone else has done, are jealous, envious or dismissive. I mean, it’s laughable but I can hear people thinking, “Well, shoot, I could have done those miraculous cures too if I had been the Son of God!” With one sweep of pride they totally dismiss the greatest kindness and love that ever lived, simply by saying, “Well, it could have been me.” Well, duh, no, it could not have been you, but that is what the temptation of pride tells people everyday.

The third reason and the one most pertinent to our previous discussions is that one will not allow one’s self to love something better and good because then one might have to give up sin and bad behavior. That is the heart of the point about teaching you about identifying, resisting and becoming “dead to sin,” as St Paul put it, using this very exercise. What does it tell you if you are having this thought process: “Well, Jesus sure is wonderful and worthy of love. I get that. But if I allow myself to love him for his miracles, then I have to start thinking about if everything else he said and did is true. And then I might have to give up some of my sinful ways and bad behaviors.”

Sin blocks love, and the desire to keep sinning (even the mentality of “leaving one’s options open to make a ‘personal choice’ to sin) blocks truth and understanding. You know what it is like? It is like buying a beautiful sleek performance car, and really enjoying looking at it, but you refuse to open the door because then you have to get in and drive it. How logical is that, to have a great car but never drive it, while others would swoon to have that car? That is the “logic” which is the illogic of sin. The temptation to keep on sinning or, at the very least, to live a hedonistic and selfish life, prevents many people from accepting any part of or all of the love that God offers “no strings attached” just by understanding what Jesus did and who he was. Loving Jesus and accepting his authority does not cause some mechanical arm to fall from the sky and force you to church and prevent you from doing the sinful things you may or may not enjoy doing. Loving Jesus is a genuinely free gift. The worst sinner in the world can touch that gift of loving Jesus, assuming he or she genuinely comprehends the facts of what Jesus did, in this case, the generosity of his many miraculous cures. Of course there comes the time when there is the corundum, the problem, of loving and believing Jesus, and then comparing how one is living one’s life with what Jesus said and what God expects.

This is why people cannot preach the Gospel based on “love, love, love” all by itself. While I offer you this exercise as a way to 1) discover for the first time your love of Jesus, 2) reconnect and refresh again the ardor of love you once felt for Jesus, 3) break through the deadness of heart of modern times and 4) reduce your exposure to pride and prideful thinking, this exercise cannot by and of itself 5) bring those committed to sin to repent and convert. Why? Because only the other half of reality, the recognition of the awful and dreadful unbearable torment of hell as consequence for sin can break through the barrier of a person who has committed his or her life to sin.

When Jesus cured people he would often say, “Go your way and sin no more.” Why would he say that if he understood what people of the times did not, which is that physical and mental infirmities were not caused by sin? Because Jesus knows that everyone is a dreadful sinner, and when he gave someone a miraculous cure, he was giving them a second chance at a better life. So even if a blind man was blinded through, of course, illness or accident, and not sin, Jesus would cure that man of blindness and tell him to sin no more. Jesus did not mean that the blindness was caused by sin. Jesus meant “This cure is your personal wakeup call that all people sin, and I know you do, and God most certainly knows, and so you should use the opportunity of this cure to stop sinning.”

If one of the disciples had asked Jesus (and they never would have because this is a modern mentality, not the mentality of the traditional religious Jew) “Why is it wrong to sin, is it because it is not nice and it hurts people?” Jesus would of course reply, “Sin offends God and the unrepentant sinner goes to eternal torment in hell.” If people are to have an accurate understanding of the divine cosmos and of God, they must understand that unrepentant and continuous sin results in the sinner going to hell. The fact that sin hurts other people is a symptom of sin, not the core “reason not to do sin.” Jesus covered that thinking in the Eleventh Commandment that he gave in the New Covenant, which is to love one’s neighbor as one’s self (and then he explained through the Good Samaritan that neighbor can mean a stranger in need, not one’s literal neighbor). So Jesus gave at God’s behest to people the Commandment that recognizes that sin hurts other people and is wrong, and that not only should one not hurt other people through sin, but one should proactively love and promote love of others, in the good behavior, golden rule, fullness of charity of heart sense. But, see, it’s not like Jesus said, “And if you break the eleventh commandment, and hurt someone due to sin, that is why sin is bad.” No… Jesus is simply articulating that all paths of sin lead to the potential of damnation in hell because sin is living against God’s will, and God’s will includes that people should not harm one another and should instead have charitable and “neighborly” love.

This is why hard core sinners need to understand both the free gift of loving Jesus as he really was, but also that Jesus spent a lot of his time explaining the actual structure of life and the cosmos under God, which includes the certainty of hell.

When I say hard core sinners, unfortunately I do not just mean the mass murderers and the incorrigible criminals. That is the point in my first commentary in this series which is that much behavior that is accepted, engaged in, widespread and promoted today is sinful and that many “ordinary” people incur hundreds of sins a week, unrecognizing and unrepentant. The more this modern society goes on the more I only see hard core sinners, as each child grows up enmeshed in the structures of what has become a sinful economy, a sinful lifestyle, a sinful mentality and a sinful fantasy life. Now I am not speaking as a prudish church lady, far from it. You have to think back to the five types of sins that the Bible identifies that I listed for you in the first post of this series. It is the spitefulness, the foolish thoughts, the manipulation of others, unrighteous thoughts and deeds, and lack of justice that fuels the tremendous volume of sins that occur every day and every hour in this society. I will give you an example so that our understanding is more in harmony.

I have spent my life thus far going “Oh, oh” whenever I see a shift that is toward the sinful and away from the good. I can still remember the moment I had that “Oh, oh” regarding a type of commercial advertisements, back in the 1980’s. There was a sudden flurry of advertisements for various food products that are “so good” and “so tasty” that the consumer hides them from the rest of his or her family. The consumer was usually a woman, the wife, girlfriend, or mother. It would show the consumer savoring the product and then upon hearing the arrival of a family member, hide the food and deny having it. I had, and still today as I recall it, a dreadful “Oh, oh” in the pit of my stomach, as that represented a terrible sinful shift in mentality. It is not ironic, edgy or “cute.” It became the commercialization of competition for food among family members and loved ones, something that no human had ever even thought of even in jest previously. Think about that. If you ran that commercial in Biblical times they would have been horrified and stoned you right on the spot. It is unthinkable to make food a competitive, especially in a hedonistic sense, resource in a family, and it certainly made every woman who appeared in those commercials ugly, no matter how thin or beautified she was. In Victorian times, in the times of Charles Dickens, no one hid food from each other in the house. Sometimes hard decisions had to be made. The one egg might go to the head of the household for breakfast instead of the hungry child because the head of the household had to go out and earn some wage in back breaking labor. But never in all of human history, in any culture or any generation would anyone have laughed or found a food hiding family commercial witty. It would have been viewed as horrific. Like I said, in Jerusalem you would have been stoned on the spot for such a display. In Rome too, unless you were in with the depraved Emperors where anything goes, I guess. But I am joking about that because seriously, it is against the very soul of humanity and of God for food hiding and competition to take place in a family and among loved ones.

And so what have we seen? A breakdown of the natural priorities and attitudes toward each other, in this case manifested by food in those commercials, and that watershed landmark commercial example is just one of the many drops in the bucket of the slide into a mindset of sinfulness that has rotted out much of basic humanity. Just in the past months in the United States there have been several cases of horrific child abuse where children are tied up or chained in their homes and deprived of food by their so called caregivers, often unto death. Do an Internet search and you will find horrific examples, including one where a little girl was singled out not to receive any water at all by her mother, and was abused if she was found even licking the moisture off of a window. Now sure, some of you will say, through your guilty consciences, “Well, those are crazy people, and there have always been abusers.” But look at it in the pattern of the breakdown of attitudes toward food in general, including diabetes and obesity, and how parents don’t even know how to give babies and young children milk, but give them soda pop and endless fruit juice, and you start to see the bigger picture. Extreme abuse occurs as eruptions out of what has become a distorted “norm.”

Let me repeat that. If you went back in time to Biblical Jerusalem you would see that yes, there are crazy people who abuse children, but there were different checks and balances than there are today. For one there were lots of strong men who would swiftly avenge an abused child or woman in their family. For two the types of abuse sprung out of what is the societal norm. For example, a father might beat his son for being lazy and not working in the field because the norm was that everyone, even young children, had to labor so that all could survive. Such a beating would be considered child abuse today. However, you would never find an instance of a parent manipulating for insane or power control reasons the food that a family member ate. Again, a woman who did that would be stoned on the spot. Crazy stuff tends to follow the societal pattern of normal behavior, and then erupts as a shocking and hideous distortion.

I know this is a lengthy digression and worthy of much more in separate treatment, but I needed to give you an example of how invisible and acceptable sinful thoughts and behaviors have become and are indeed even admired and marketed. There is absolutely no reason to market a food product in such a way except pride in one’s own cleverness and participating in the destruction of moral balance, fiber and perspective. So when I rant about the high levels of sin, it will help you to use the example I gave you as a yardstick of what I mean, rather than imagine that I’m making a point about the “usual” topics such as sex or abortion. I’m not in this case at all. I am speaking of the terrible crushing weight of sin on the world today that is generated by millions of occurrences of the types of sins that are not the classic Ten Commandment breakers (though obviously the neglect of God as expressed in the first two Commandments fuel the breakdown through sin of everything else).

Every individual is walking around with an incredible weight of unrecognized participatory sin. If you could see it through my eyes, and I sure hope this particular blogging helps, it is terrifying to the maximum. Long ago I had to give up mourning that many people I know have put themselves on the path to hell and, worse, urge others to join them, even forcing them to join them through their power as money lenders, as bosses, as power brokers, as advertisers, as politicians, as celebrities, and as merchandisers. As I gave in this one out of many examples, one is not only forced to sin (by thought and temptation) whenever one views a sinful program, movie or commercial, one is indoctrinated to admire the sinful posture that is used to promote the entertainment or advertisement. The worst examples are, of course, looking at youth in lustful ways.

The Blessed Virgin Mary was sent by God to Fatima to warn about these very things. There are two things one must really understand about what was said and done in Fatima. The first is that Mary gave the children a few second glimpse of the reality of the horror of hell. This is because God saw (being all knowing of course), that modern society was beginning to disbelieve in the reality of the horror of hell. It does not take a genius, especially as we go through the Biblical and Qur’an explanations of hell, to comprehend the message that God is making when he sends Mary (armed with a solar miracle, of course, to prove her given authority), the gentle virgin, to show hell to small gentle children. He didn’t send Michael with a sword to scream at humans, since that is not his way. He sent the mother of Jesus who shows the horror through the concern of a mother to little children, children who are not yet older cynics who try to rationalize away even a miracle.

Second, Mary warned that a great many people will go to hell due to lust. Again, one must understand that lust is not used as code word for extra sex. Lust is the craving and coveting of the things of the flesh, idolizing them and putting them over God, if one even takes notice or heed of God at all. People focus too much on trying to be “prophets” (and “profits”) to try to interpret details of Lucy’s visions of Mary and what was revealed rather than heeding the two crucial points that were made: the reality of hell and that many-think millions-are going to hell due to the societal crisis of lustful sinfulness. Why Mary and why Fatima? Think about it. Have we not been examining how much Gabriel has articulated in the Qur’an the inevitability and the horrors of hell for sinners, the unjust and unbelievers? God does not talk in “code” with secret phonetic meanings and so forth; he talks in terms of family names on those rare occasions. Fatima is a pointer to God and Jesus, of course, but also a nod to the Qur’an of Gabriel, since Fatima was the name of the Prophet’s daughter. Mary reveals a glimpse of hell to the children, and there are over eighty mentions of the reality of hell in the Qur’an. Figure it out. You don’t need secret numbers, codes, astrology, phonetics or “Freudian slips” or “meaningful coincidences.” You only need to read the Bible or the Qur’an, believe and repent.