Sunday, July 26, 2009

Is God bound by the Bible?

For some reason, I typically do all my "deep" thinking while Im at my dish washing job. I've never understood why (possibly for the lack of brain power it takes to complete such a monotonous task) but it really feels like the time that God likes to plants seeds in my mind. Tonight I was thinking about something Ive constantly asked myself over the past few God bound strictly to Christianity? More specifically, is He bound by the collection of writings we call, the Bible?

In past years, Ive always looked to the Bible as the only way to find out anything about God and how to live life. If I had any feelings, or thoughts that weren't backed by several passages and verses (and sermons), I would consider it of the devil! While I still hold to the Bible as the backbone to my beliefs and understandings about God, I'm finding it silly how often we Christians confine him to if He is chained between the binding and the cardboard covers of the Good Book. How can a God who is omnipresent and omnipotent, be a concept that we can slam shut in a single religious text and a set of doctrinal ideas?

On the moral, and intuition side of things, I found I could agree with a lot of things that didn't match up with the typical Christian theology. However on the mental side of things, I couldn't make the leap for the sake of that very theology and the Bible. I took things that (I now feel) God was trying to say to me, and disregarded them merely because they didn't line up with what I had been taught about the Bible. But I no longer think that's what God wants...and at the risk of saying something highly heretical(because I haven't done that in the last 20 blogs haha), I'm coming to believe that personal revelation has the ability to be just as divinely inspired and of God, as the words of the Bible.

As shocking as that may sound to some, I think its somewhat easy to see if we are honest about the Bible and its origins. Without completely saturating it with religiosity, the Bible would seem to be a collection of writings, written by people that claimed to be "inspired" by God to write them. While I do not doubt that the writers were, in fact, inspired by God...I don't think its too much of a stretch to say its not the only things God has inspired people to do. For instance, Ive learned certain things about God and His will for me, before ever hearing it in a sermon or reading it in the Bible. I may have read it somewhere else, or heard it in a sermon at a later point...but I think its limiting to say that Gods main force of inspiration went out to the writers of the Bible and then any inspiration we get hereafter has to strictly feed off of that embodiment. I think its also important to note that the collection of writings we call The Bible, was compiled from among many other "inspired" writings. One such book that was almost put in the Bible, for example, was the book of Enoch(research it if interested).

So all the books we have today in the bible, were chosen at the liberty of a church council(or a series of them)...according to their own biases and personal beliefs. Then, centuries later in the protestant movement, we dropped some of those original canonized books (ex Maccabees) because Martin Luther didn't agree with purgatory and the like. And all this, again, has been done by man...and what they decided to be acceptable doctrine. And then besides all that, there is the whole translation upon translation mumbo-jumbo that I'm not even going to bother getting into right now because I'm lazy(which is actually pretty significant when the meaning of one or two words can and HAS changed the meanings of entire passages).

While I can have faith that God brought together the Bible for a purpose, I don't feel so comfortable saying that it is all that God has to say to us about Himself. Even if what we held today was completely scott-free of any error, that still would not change mans ability to misinterpret scripture. I heavily rely on the Bible to understand God and His ways, and that will probably never change. However I dont think its fair to make it my sole means of life/spiritual perception...nor was it probably even intended to be.

I see the Bible in multiple ways, one fun illustration I came up with, is that its like a "Gods greatest hits" album. Or perhaps more accurately...a tribute/cover album by various artists based off of "Gods greatest hits". While you can learn much about a particular artist and their style based off of a greatest hits or tribute does not paint you a full spectrum of their career. Sometimes there are ways artists play or sing certain songs with such feeling, that none or few others can even properly replicate them. Sometimes an artists greatest hits aren't even that great, just what was chosen as a single at the time of its release. So the only way to truly begin to appreciate the original artist for what they are, is to go beyond the greatest hits, to go beyond the tributes and remixes. In a similar way, to truly understand God, I feel you must look beyond the Bible while at the same time, considering it for all that it is.

I think this idea especially works when you think about the gospels as being 4 tribute albums to Jesus's "hit singles" or most notable sayings(which by the way weren't the only gospels written, but I digress). They each have their own perception, writing style, and "hits" that they have included that others may or may not have. But none of them could have ever said, or perceived those "hits" like Jesus did...especially not 30-60 years after they heard him say them. More over, Jesus never even told His disciples to write down what he said into a book (as far as we know). He also didn't appear to say to put said writings into a mass collection of books that would be hand-picked by a council several years off into the future, to be added to the old scriptures, then mass produced at some point to be used as blinders for every person who wished to follow God. And even beyond that, Jesus never gave a method (let alone an inerrant one) on how to go about creating such a book. Jesus never said any of that to our knowledge, and its curious that if He did, He was not recorded as saying that as it would seem to only give credit to the existence of The Bible.

Again, my intent is not to slam the Bible or even those who believe it to be inerrant. I am also not really saying that the Koran, the book of Mormon (or insert religious text here) should have equal spiritual weight. I cant help but to think of the Bible as being more influential and divine, than any other book(regardless of whether its a result of my personal upbringing, my biases, my culture or personal revelation). All I am really saying, is that as time goes by, I realize that its unfair to contain my idea of God and and His will for my life...strictly to the Bible and the mainstream doctrines we've created around it. God is so much bigger than that, and I think he can use any book(be it religious or not) or any thought or really, any medium to convey truth to an individual as He sees fit.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The purpose of evil and suffering

I feel like I cover the same ground over and over again, and this topic is pretty on course with what I always seem to blog about(though hopefully you've noticed I've tried to be a tad bit more versatile in subject lately). But I will attempt today, to present things in a slightly fresh manner:

One of the age old questions brought up by atheists and agnostics alike is actually of moral nature. They contend,
How can there be an all-loving God when there is so much evil in the world? How could God allow all the sickness, death and deception that plagues humanity?
They use this to say, that God can not exist because of the evil that is so strong and evident in this life. And while I, nor anyone, possess all the answers...I think the short answer to this is simply "because God has a purpose for it".

Though In my old views I believed God had a purpose for evil (as I do still), it really didnt make sense in the grand scheme of things. Because while most sufferings and atrocities in life are blamed on mankind's rebellion against God(which I would say is not entirely accurate), it all stems back to the fall of Adam that, as I said in the last blog, God allowed. God could have just as easily stopped Adam and eve from partaking of the tree that would damn mankind for all eternity, but he didnt. Better question yet, why even create the object of temptation(the tree) to begin with? Fast forward to the end of the world, and whats the result(according to my old orthodox view)? Most of humanity and creation burning away in suffering as a result of evil being unleashed upon the world! No wonder atheists and the like have a hard time believing a good, loving, all powerful God exists...they're taught that the evil of this life ultimately prevails more than God! What comfort and faith can one really have in a God that is over shadowed by the very evil He knowingly allowed(and I would say, pretty much created)?

So we come back to the question of why God allows evil and its sufferings? My only reasoning, again, is that God has a purpose. And since God is perfect, I will add that this purpose must end with an ultimately positive result for all, whom the evil was unleashed upon (such of which, an eternal punishment would most certainly not fit in...there is nothing positive about unending, unpurposed pain).
A passage that helps illustrate this positive use of suffering, is in Lamentations 3:31-32,

For men are not cast off by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
So great is his unfailing love.

If the "grief" described here is the sufferings of sin and death in this life, how then will God show compassion if most are doomed to torment for all time as a result of those very things? Not only does that make no sense, but it completely contradicts the prior sentence which says for men are not cast off by the Lord forever! No evil that will ever exist, is outside the power and purpose of God almighty...not even "Hell". 1 Samuel 2:6 is a great example,

The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol [translated as "Hell" often] and brings up

This verse could be interpreted like this(according to my theology): God may allow death, but he will make those people alive again. God may allow people to go to "Hell", but will bring them up from it as well. I think this fits quite nicely with my belief, that all humanity is eventually saved unto God. Because if the result of evil is ultimately and completely overcome by God for his glory and to mans benefit(as I believe), than Gods allowance of evil and the devil is of no moral compromise to me. Its like when a child does something wrong, like touching a hot stove for the first time, even after their father told them not to. The parent may have watched it happen, but only does so, because they know that it will only temporarily harm the child and that the child will learn what not to do because of it. Such I believe is a similar reason(though much more complex and varied), for why God allows evil and its griefs in this life. We can run from sunset to sunset searching for thrills that will only bring us down and cause us destruction, but God allows it knowing that we must (and will) come to understand our need for the perfect thrill, the perfect high that is found only within His presence. From the very moment he called us into existence, he knew all that we would do and all the destruction that would result from it...yet allowed it because the end result would be a loving and lasting relationship with all of His creations.

That is the God I serve and love

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Finite sins against an infinite God

In Christianity, you will often hear something like this,

our finite sins deserve infinite punishment, because they are against an infinite God

Though I have already talked a lot about God's Justice in a previous blog, this particular belief continues to boggle my mind. As humans, we can neither physically see, touch, or prove God and/or His truths...yet He supposedly thinks we deserve unending punishments for temporary mess ups? Why would a perfect God be even less understanding than a human?

Were we not born into sin by no fault of our own? If it is anyones fault, it is Adams...but even he was tempted by the Devil that GOD (yes, God) created. So from the very start, our "free" will has been at the mercy of forces and situations completely beyond our control. And all of these things have been allowed by God for some purpose(s), so how would it be sensable for God to hold us, imperfect beings by nature, forever accountable for the situations he placed us in? It makes no sense at all.

And it is curious indeed, that no scripture (that Ive ever come across) teaches such a bleak truth. No where is sin against God described as needing infinite punishment, solely just because God is infinite. The Bible simply describes the penality for sin as "death" (Ro. 6:23). And whether it is a physical or spiritual death described here(I would say both), it doesnt seem to imply the merit of infinite punishment we supposedly deserve.

On a final note, it is often said that Jesus paid the price for our sins, that he took our punishment for us. This goes along with the prophecy in Isaiah 53:5, which says,
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;

Yet we also say that we all deserve an infinite period of suffering because of our sin. Using the same logic however, we would have to assume that Christ suffered infinitely in order to pay the infinite debt we incurred. But, as any Christian can tell you, Jesus rose again just 3 days after death...he did not experience infinite suffering for one persons sins against God, let alone the whole world's sin!

So there is apparently a big hole in our theology

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Identifying with Gandhi

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” -Mahatma Gandhi

This quote, at one time, greatly offended me. It seemed like a bash against Christians and made me think,
Even though Gandhi did alot of nice things, he sure is going to Hell!

But as time goes by, Ive come to greatly identify with the statement. And ive begun to understand why many people can find the person of Christ so compelling...while finding the religion that bears His name and His followers quite distasteful.

I suppose in one way Ive never quite felt like I "fit in" with the Christian community even from my early days of being a believer. Yet even long before I came into the belief of universalism, I've felt less and less like I can relate to other Christians. We (apparently) serve the same God, believe Jesus is the way of Salvation, hold to the Bible as truth...yet when I go to church or talk to other Christians I feel more frustrated and suffocated, than I do encouraged. I feel like were on two different wave lengths when in theory, were supposed to be on the same one.

As to any one reason why I feel like this, I suppose there isnt just one in particular. If I were to rattle off every reason why I'm not crazy about Christians in general, I'd be here all night writing this thing. But I will say its not really a "all Christians are hypocrites!" mentality that Im dealing with. There are many wonderful Christians I know trying to serve the Lord and really do love Him and other people. I dont doubt the good intentions of many Christians I know (whether I agree with their methods or not).

I think what it really comes down to though, is the fact that Jesus, and the beauty of Gods love, stretches so far beyond the concrete walls of church, our religious rituals and our padded Christian subculture. I've come to a point where none of that is very appealing or edifying to me...because God and His love are not confined to that system. That system of rules and organization has been too often equated with having a passion for God. For example, if you dont go to church regularly, or involve yourself with church activities, or listen to Christian music, or hold the same beliefs as other're love of God comes into question. Ive become disillusioned with the system of Christianity we have made for ourselves, and that has caused some people to be concerned about me. Nevermind the fact that now I feel freer and more able to love and seek God, I dont believe and do the same things other Christians do! So that seems to put me on some sort of mental prayer list.

Its so backwards to me...Christians seem to be more concerned with people subscribing to their brand of faith than they are with people seeking God. They wouldnt say that, but that is what Ive seen, especially now that my beliefs dont identify with the typical religious crowd.

But when I remind myself that Jesus himself never identified with the typical religious crowd, I realize that Im probably on the right track. All throughout the gospels it seems that Jesus is pitted AGAINST the religious people and their laws. Jesus would acknowledge scripture and their laws, but he would always show how a love for God and for others far out rooted the rules and rituals of religion. Jesus was a dangerous adversary to the rich religious crowd and to their power...which ultimately got him plotted against and killed. And that is probably why Gandhi liked Christ and not so much the Christians. He saw in the character of Christ a loving person that was beyond religion and was willing to love and show people truth regardless of their sins or social status. Yet when Gandhi saw the Christians, he saw people overly concerned with everything BUT loving people more often than not.

With all that said, I think its time for me to put more time and energy in seeking and loving God, and helping me express his undying love for others.... rather than pleasing other Christians by subscribing to their doctrines and practices.