Saturday, November 21, 2009

To preach, or not to preach?

So as many of you know by now, I'm beginning to believe that I am called to be a pastor, or something ministry related at least. There are a number of reasons that have been more or less "snow balling" within me, however I believe the conclusion was finally triggered a few days ago. And so Im going to attempt to walk through the process that brought me here, in hopes to clarify to myself (and to others) what I'm thinking on this...

The last several weeks/months have left me very frustrated with life, what with my car dying, my job giving me less and less hours, and my graphic design leads giving me less than stellar results. I had been feeling for a few months now that maybe I was supposed to do something that didnt strictly pertain to my graphic design degree, but I wasnt sure just what. That and I tried to avoid thinking about it, since I didnt want to be one of those American morons that spent years going to college for something, only to realize afterwards that they wanted to pursue something else entirely. But the doors of opportunity appear all but open in this crappy economy. So finally I prayed in desperation, asking God to tell me what I was supposed to do even if I didnt want to hear it, and the idea of a pastor and ministry immediately came to mind. Being as its something ive only passingly entertained in my mind before, I naturally asked God if He had gone completely mad or if I was just hearing things.

After mulling it over for awhile though it began to make more sense. Over the past several months I've heard time and time again, from both Christians and non-Christians, that I should be a pastor...though I'd always respond how I didn't feel cut out for that line of spiritual duty (and Im still wondering if I am). After all, who am I really? Just some artist/musician guy who writes religious blogs and works at a supermarket. I have a number of issues that cause me not to be the model Christian more often than not(ex. impatience, laziness, selfishness) , and I struggled with giving speeches in both high school and college. So I certainly wouldn't seem to be the most likely candidate for a preacher-type.

Though I guess when you think about it, Jesus chose some pretty unlikely people to first spread His word; A couple of them were fishermen, Matthew was a tax collector and the apostle Paul murdered Christians before Jesus appeared to Him. Prior to Jesus calling them, none of them probably had a clue as to the great roles they would play in God's story. And perhaps in a similar way, God has used other people to call me to something I never would have considered in years past.

Another thing thats helped spur me in this direction, is my over all frustration with "church" and Christianity in general. As ive stated before, its really been a struggle finding my place within a system that I no longer believe in. I love God, I love the scriptures, I love all my Christian brothers and sisters and I support many things that churches are doing throughout the world. However, going to church in the attempt to salvage what truth I can and plant seeds of knowledge, has been an endeavor that has left me more frustrated than uplifted. All you are given in church today, are traditional interpretations and ideas(with small variances here and there) in a manner that leaves little room for personal interpretation. And if you are so bold as to question the clergy's interpretation, you are often looked down upon and told how you cannot possibly be right. Which makes my biggest problem with Christianity not the fact that I disagree with it on a couple key beliefs, but that it has fooled itself into thinking its beliefs are beyond reconsideration.

As long as Christianity lives in that delusion, it will continue to discourage its participators from thinking and discerning for themselves. As long as people arent discerning for themselves, they will continue to commit the most tragic crime of religion: elevating man-made beliefs above God's conviction within us. And the more I realize this, the harder it is to simply sit by while good-intending leaders of faith, direct people down a path that can cripple their spiritual growth (as it did mine). Thats why, God willingly, I want to bring believers together in a setting where people arent guilt-tripped into believing a certain set of doctrines, but are free to have their own interpretations. A place where I can give a message according to what I feel God is showing me, but also let everyone voice their opinion. A place where I can tell people about Gods truly unconditional love and salvation for humanity, that I never learned about in "church". A place where I and others are truly unbound by fundamentalism, to search the scriptures ourselves and see what is true. Perhaps some meetings we wont even talk about the God, but simply go out into the community and reflect God in deed. And the only setting I can think of that this would be realistic would be in like in a home or some other non-formal location.

Im not sure whether God is really calling me to ministry or not, or just how exactly I am supposed to go about that. And my views on any of the above ideals could change or become more specific, especially in my ordination process (which is part of the reason I want to go through with it, to give me time to sort out my vision). But if He is calling me to minister, I hope I can help give people the tools to search out God themselves through the scriptures, and underpin it with the fact that God's spirit is the ultimate teacher...not a creed, not a church, not a theologian, and certainly not me.

So to preach, or not to preach? I dont know, but either way I'll still make annoying Facebook statuses ;)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

If Hell isnt eternal, how can Heaven be?

Once again, I got into the subject of universal salvation, this time over on the Faith Freaks forum. One of the objections was a popular one that, up until recently, I didn't feel very good at answering; hence I didn't really write a blog strictly pertaining to it until now (whether I am any good at explaining it now, you can be the judge). The objection was,

"If Hell isn't eternal, how can Heaven be eternal?"

This line of thinking comes from verses like Matthew 25:46, which reads,
"And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

And at face value, this verse seems to denote that the coming punishment (Hell) is literally eternal in duration, as well as the coming life (Heaven). But I believe the truth of the matter lies within a Greek word I have talked about long ago on here, which is the word aionios. It is the word in Matthew 25:46 (as well in many verses) that is often translated as "eternal". However, it is not always translated so. In fact, some scholars would argue that it should never be translated as forever or eternal, except perhaps in the case of God. This is because aionios is an adjective, which derives its character from the subject to which it refers. In other words, its time duration is defined by the subject it's attached to.


To clarify further, aionios is kind of like our English word "tall". If I use "tall" in a sentence like,
"There was a tall man at the park, and he even had a tall dog! What a coincidence?" and I say that I think the man was around 6'7", you're probably not going to think that the dog was also 6'7"! That's because the word "tall" in itself has no set height, its only a general term for describing height. What its actual height may be is completely relative to the subject in question. So the dog could have been less than half of the mans height, but still be considered tall for a dog. Such is the same with aionios, except in regards to time. (note: as I'm sure you know, several other English words function this way as well. Such as "big", "great", "long" and "thin")

This dismantles the common objection that aionios must be rendered as eternal, even if used multiple times in the same sentence. There are several Biblical examples in which this is obvious, one such is Romans 16:25-26,
"Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long [aionios]
but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the [aionios] God"

The first aionios obviously does not mean eternal and it appears most Bible translations recognize that (because it makes no sense to say a mystery was kept secret for eternity, but then say it "has now been disclosed". That butchers the meaning of eternity, which is "without end"). However, the second use of aionios is rendered eternal because we understand God to be literally eternal or without end. Gods eternal property is not changed simply because the same word earlier in the sentence does not mean eternal. And I would argue that in the same way, the eternal property of "eternal life" in verses like Mat. 25:46, is not changed by the fact that "eternal punishment" is not literally without end.

Now you may object, and ask as to why I think aionios in the case of life literally means eternal, where as punishment I believe it is only temporary? And I suppose there are several reasons why I think this, many of which I talk about on my blogs here. However, without writing another blogs worth of information, I would simply like to point to how scripture defines the coming punishment. As you may recall, the original punishment decreed by God for sin was "death" (Gen. 2:17). In the new testament, Paul echos this by saying the wages of sin is "death" (Ro. 6:23). And the lake of fire in scripture is called the "second death"(Rev. 21:8). So "death", whatever that entails, is the punishment for sin, the aionion punishment talked about in places such as Matt 25:46. Yet this punishment of "death" (both first, second, third, whatever) cannot possibly be eternal, because we are told in 1 cortinthians 15:26 that "the last enemy to be destroyed is death"

So if a time comes when death is destroyed (both in the physical sense and the spiritual separation sense) what is logically left to partake in? Life! Not just a physical life, but also a spiritual life. This conclusion fits nicely within context because in the following verse it talks of God subjecting all things to Himself, and ends with verse 28 which states that God will be "all in all". And in order for God to be all in all that is subjected to him, the period of punishment and separation must come to an end at some point in the future.

I'm certainly no Greek scholar, as I've said before. and I'm sure there are much wiser people that will disagree. But hopefully this sheds some light of understanding for you, on texts that seem to speak of "eternal" punishment.