I Should not be Surprised…

“I should not be surprised that the day should come when men will refuse to believe in God simply on the ground of the apparent injustice of things. They would argue that there might be either an omnipotent being who did not care, or a good being who could not help, but there could not be a being both all good and omnipotent or else he would never have suffered things to be as they are.”
-George MacDonald in Malcolm, published in 1875.

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Posted in Belief, Books, Character of God | Leave a comment

Thoughts from Parenting with Love and Logic

As our two boys grow, Jennae and I occasionally pick up a new parenting book.  This is typically done when Xander is entering a new developmental phase and we find ourselves, once again, challenged in our parenting.

As I’m searching these books for guidance in how to raise our little boys to be healthy and responsible men, I often glean insight into more than just my relationship with my boys.  I often gain insight into the Fatherhood of God.

Most recently I was reading Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster W. Cline and Jim Fay.  Within a page and a half of this book I read two related statements that stood out to me.

The first thought:

“Our love for our children must never be conditional.  This is not easy, but the benefits are enormous.  Genuine love must be shown regardless of the kids’ accomplishments.  That does not mean, however, that we approve of all of their actions.”

If this thought is rooted in truth, then it also reveals the very nature of God; as all truth is rooted in the character of God.

Now take this thought and set it to a backdrop of everyday experiences.  Often times, love is used as a means of control.  Love is withheld as a way to motivate behavior change.  When the behavior changes, the love flows.

The trouble with this is that behaviors can be modified, or even hidden, while the heart remains the same.  A person will conform outwardly in order to win love, but no true change has occurred, the change is only a façade.

If you are observant, you will see this all around you.  Most religion is based on this mode of operation.  Many families, religious or not, operate with this as the foundation for interpersonal relationship and child rearing.

When a person is controlled through the withholding of love, it communicates to them that their faults and shortcomings are barriers to love.  It communicates that they are not good enough to be loved.  The result is to have people living a façade to gain love while believing that their true self who exists behind that façade is an unlovable person.

Enter the second thought, a profound statement:

“Kids can’t get better until we prove to them, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they’re good enough the way they are.”

I have come to believe that this applies to more than just kids.  We, as children of God, have come to believe that we are not good enough.  We are hiding from God in the bushes after having eaten the forbidden fruit.  We believe that we are unlovable because of our failures – and we hide from God because we believe him to be filled with only anger toward us, unable to love us because of our failure.  We make coverings for ourselves to try and hide our shame, working to try and make ourselves acceptable to God.

The only thing that will set us free is to know that we are loved beyond measure as we are.  In Christ, God’s love is declared for us!

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

When we understand that God loves us, that we are truly loved and accepted by him, as we are, while yet in our sin, it is only then that we are freed to finally become what He created us to be.  It is when we can finally rest in His love that we are transformed by it and set free from the power of sin.

Posted in Character of God, Everyday Life | Leave a comment

The Rich Man and Lazarus

The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is typically used to support the idea that once a person passes from this life, it is too late for repentance; their plight is set for eternity.  In this essay, I will examine this passage of scripture and relate what I believe Jesus was conveying to His listeners.

********

Luke 16:19-31

And — a certain man was rich, and was clothed in purple and fine linen, making merry sumptuously every day, and there was a certain poor man, by name Lazarus, who was laid at his porch, full of sores, and desiring to be filled from the crumbs that are falling from the table of the rich man; yea, also the dogs, coming, were licking his sores.

And it came to pass, that the poor man died, and that he was carried away by the messengers to the bosom of Abraham — and the rich man also died, and was buried; and in the hades having lifted up his eyes, being in torments, he doth see Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom, and having cried, he said, “Father Abraham, deal kindly with me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and may cool my tongue, because I am distressed in this flame.”

And Abraham said, “Child, remember that thou did receive — thou — thy good things in thy life, and Lazarus in like manner the evil things, and now he is comforted, and thou art distressed; and besides all these things, between us and you a great chasm is fixed, so that they who are willing to go over from hence unto you are not able, nor do they from thence to us pass through.”

And he said, “I pray thee, then, father, that thou mayest send him to the house of my father, for I have five brothers, so that he may thoroughly testify to them, that they also may not come to this place of torment.”

Abraham saith to him, “They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them;”

And he said, “No, father Abraham, but if any one from the dead may go unto them, they will reform.”

And he said to him, “If Moses and the prophets they do not hear, neither if one may rise out of the dead will they be persuaded.”

********

I learned through my studies over the past years that Jesus was most likely not the originator of the basic story.  As always, understanding the cultural context of a passage of scripture will give more insight into its meaning.

Now I could merely tell you that the theme of a rich man and poor man, and their plights after death, were not original to this story told by Jesus… but I think it’s probably better for you to be able to read it for yourself (sorry if this post gets long as a result).

********
The summary of a story found in ancient Egyptian literature.  This story was found on a scrap of papyrus that dates from the time of Jesus.  It is understood that those whom Jesus interacted with would have known this story.

One day Satni and his still young son, Senosiris, were looking over the city from the roof of their house, when the lamentations rising from the gorgeous funeral procession of a rich man attracted their attention. Soon thereafter, they saw the miserable obsequies of a poor man, wrapped only in a mat, lacking any of the trappings of the earlier train. The father sighed and prayed aloud that he should have the fate in the underworld of the elaborately lamented wealthy man rather than of the pauper.

His son immediately contradicted him. Chastised for this apparent insubordination, Senosiris guided his father through a tour of the seven halls of Amentit (the underworld), where he demonstrated how one’s fate after death depends on the balance of good versus evil deeds in done in life rather than the splendor of one’s funeral.

On their tour of the underworld, Satni noticed among those seated near Osiris “one clad in fine linen and in a lofty rank,” and Senosiris explained that this was the poor man, who because his good deeds were more numerous than his bad, was thus honoured by Osiris and, “as there was no total of happiness while he was on earth sufficient to correspond with the length of life inscribed to his account by Thoth, an order was given on the part of Osiris to transfer the funerary outfit of the rich man to this poor man.”

Senosiris continued to explain that the rich man they had seen was taken to Hades, his misdeeds were weighed against his merits, the misdeeds were found more numerous than his merits that he had on earth, and command was given that he should be punished in Amentit. They then saw him with the pivot of a door planted on his right eye.

********
There is far more detail to this story than this little summary. However, my point in posting this story is not to examine the beliefs of the ancient Egyptians and their description of the underworld, it is to frame the story of the “Rich Man and Lazarus” against the cultural backdrop in which it was told.

Further expanding on this cultural backdrop, the Pharisees had adopted the ideas of a resurrection, “Abraham’s bosom” and “hades.” The Pharisees were a bit liberal in their beliefs in the afterlife. The Sadducees actually took after the more traditional view of Judaism; that which is found in the Old Testament (Also known as “Moses and the prophets” or the Torah).  The Sadducees rejected the idea of the oral law and insisted on a literal interpretation of the written law; consequently, they did not believe in an afterlife, since it is not mentioned in the Torah.

Some may scoff at the idea that “heaven and hell” are not really found in the Old Testament (Torah), but a full study of what the Old Testament has to say of the afterlife will reveal a general absence of any kind of details about conscious existence after death (there are a very few exceptions to this which are open to interpretation). All men, righteous or unrighteous, go down to the grave (sheol). (If you want to study this specifically, look at every usage of two words in the OT; Strong’s H8064 and H7585. You can use Vine’s Dictionary or a free program called e-sword to do this.)

The belief of hades as a place of torment for the wicked does not come from Judaism or Christianity. Hades has its roots in Egyptian, Roman, and Greek mythology (for more on this, if you can stand a very long dry read, take a look at The Formation of Hell: Death and Retribution in the Ancient and Early Christian Worlds by Alan E. Bernstein).

It is most likely that the Pharisees found the popular idea of hades convenient as a method for control. I tend to think they capitalized on the cultural idea of judgment after death as believed by the Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks. They adopted the popular trend of culture, adapted it to fit Judaic traditions, and used it to control people.

So this is where Jesus enters with his story of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

I think that the “rich man” in the story is meant to be a caricature of the Pharisees.  This is evident from the context in which we find the story as it is found sandwiched between dialogue with the Pharisees. Additionally, the Pharisees commonly dressed in purple and fine linens, they loved pomp and circumstance (I’ll bet they even planned extravagant funerals for themselves), and verse 14 of the chapter says outright that they loved money.

When Jesus tells his story, he changes a few of the details around from what was in the Egyptian story. Where in the original story there is no mention of any relation between the rich man and poor man, in Jesus’ version of the story, the rich man personally snubbed Lazarus. Further, “the dogs” was a common slang term for “the gentiles” (see Mt 15:21-28, Mark 7:24-30). So the dogs (the gentiles) cared for the wounds of Lazarus, while the rich man (the Pharisees) snubbed him.

Jesus is using the story to “pick on” the Pharisees.  While the rich man is lying in torment, Lazarus is enjoying the good life in “Abraham’s bosom”. The Pharisees didn’t see this one coming.  They had been threatening people with hades for not observing their long list of rules, and here’s Jesus telling them that they are bound for hades because they don’t care for the needy among them.

So the rich man can see Abraham’s bosom and begs Abraham for a drop of water for his tongue, but it cannot be sent because of the great chasm between them (details that have their roots in secular mythology). He then asks that Lazarus be sent to warn his brothers of their impending doom. The answer; “If Moses and the prophets they do not hear, neither if one may rise out of the dead will they be persuaded.”

This answer is great.  Not only does it reveal the obstinacy of the Pharisees in their sin, it is also a foreshadowing of what is to happen when Jesus himself rises from the grave – many still disbelieve.  I’m humored that Jesus had already thrown the Pharisees’ belief in hades back on them, and now he is using their own belief in resurrection of the dead against them too.

Further, I find it interesting that “Moses and the prophets” don’t really speak of what happens after death. There is no threat of torment after death found within “Moses and the prophets”. So how would this serve as a warning to the rich man’s brothers of the impending doom of “hell”? It wouldn’t.

What is to be found in Moses and the prophets is this:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” -Mt 22:37-40

The rich man, like the Pharisees, was guilty of caring more for himself and his own comforts than for his fellow man. 1 John 4:20 tells us that any man who says he loves God and yet hates his brother is a liar. So the rich man, and the Pharisees, were guilty of breaking to two greatest commandments.

Now, aside from Jesus stickin’ it to the Pharisees, the thing that strikes me most in this passage is that recompense is made to Lazarus for his suffering while punishment is administered to the ones who could have prevented his suffering.

It seems to me that this is story is about justice for the poor and oppressed and a stiff warning to the oppressors.  It’s ironic that this passage has been consistently twisted to serve an agenda of oppression and fear.

*********

Now I would like to make some comments regarding the use of this passage to support the extra-biblical idea of “no-second-chances-after-death”.

If we want to be literal about “hell” in this passage, then should we not also be literal about the criteria for whether or not one goes there?

Lazarus wasn’t sent to Abraham’s bosom based upon any good he did or because he had faith, but because he suffered.

Now, I realize that this observation regarding the criteria of salvation is a sidestep of the question at hand.  However, my point is this:  We could certainly read the traditional theology positions into the passage by assuming some things that aren’t stated, but they are not in the passage to start.  This passage is figurative in many ways and does little to demand the traditional view of hell.

When we read things into the passage in order to make it serve our purposes, we are in danger of missing the point of the passage entirely – and becoming like the Pharisees in the process.

Many use this passage to teach the doctrine of “no-second-chances-after-death”; once you die it’s too late for repentance.  I don’t think this is the point Jesus was making and misses the heart of the message.  I think Jesus was using a well-known story to give the Pharisees a taste of their own medicine while proclaiming a message of justice and recompense for the poor and oppressed.

This passage proclaims a message of justice and recompense for the poor and oppressed and serves as a stern warning to the oppressors.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is typically used to support the idea that once a person passes from this life, it is too late for repentance; their plight is set for eternity.  In this essay, I will examine this passage of scripture and relate what I believe Jesus was conveying to His listeners.

********
Luke 16:19-31

And — a certain man was rich, and was clothed in purple and fine linen, making merry sumptuously every day, and there was a certain poor man, by name Lazarus, who was laid at his porch, full of sores, and desiring to be filled from the crumbs that are falling from the table of the rich man; yea, also the dogs, coming, were licking his sores.

And it came to pass, that the poor man died, and that he was carried away by the messengers to the bosom of Abraham — and the rich man also died, and was buried; and in the hades having lifted up his eyes, being in torments, he doth see Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom, and having cried, he said, “Father Abraham, deal kindly with me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and may cool my tongue, because I am distressed in this flame.”

And Abraham said, “Child, remember that thou did receive — thou — thy good things in thy life, and Lazarus in like manner the evil things, and now he is comforted, and thou art distressed; and besides all these things, between us and you a great chasm is fixed, so that they who are willing to go over from hence unto you are not able, nor do they from thence to us pass through.”

And he said, “I pray thee, then, father, that thou mayest send him to the house of my father, for I have five brothers, so that he may thoroughly testify to them, that they also may not come to this place of torment.”

Abraham saith to him, “They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them;”

And he said, “No, father Abraham, but if any one from the dead may go unto them, they will reform.”

And he said to him, “If Moses and the prophets they do not hear, neither if one may rise out of the dead will they be persuaded.”

********
I had examined and meditated on this scripture, but it was only when I learned that Jesus was most likely not the originator of the basic story that I started to gain some insight into the story.

Now I could merely tell you that the theme of a rich man and poor man, and their plights after death, were not original to this story told by Jesus… but I think it’s probably better for you to be able to read it for yourself as it made all the difference for me.

********

The summary of a story found in ancient Egyptian literature.  This story was found on a scrap of papyrus that dates from the time of Jesus.  It is understood that those whom Jesus interacted with would have known this story.

One day Satni and his still young son, Senosiris, were looking over the city from the roof of their house, when the lamentations rising from the gorgeous funeral procession of a rich man attracted their attention. Soon thereafter, they saw the miserable obsequies of a poor man, wrapped only in a mat, lacking any of the trappings of the earlier train. The father sighed and prayed aloud that he should have the fate in the underworld of the elaborately lamented wealthy man rather than of the pauper.

His son immediately contradicted him. Chastised for this apparent insubordination, Senosiris guided his father through a tour of the seven halls of Amentit (the underworld), where he demonstrated how one’s fate after death depends on the balance of good versus evil deeds in done in life rather than the splendor of one’s funeral.

On their tour of the underworld, Satni noticed among those seated near Osiris “one clad in fine linen and in a lofty rank,” and Senosiris explained that this was the poor man, who because his good deeds were more numerous than his bad, was thus honoured by Osiris and, “as there was no total of happiness while he was on earth sufficient to correspond with the length of life inscribed to his account by Thoth, an order was given on the part of Osiris to transfer the funerary outfit of the rich man to this poor man.”

Senosiris continued to explain that the rich man they had seen was taken to Hades, his misdeeds were weighed against his merits, the misdeeds were found more numerous than his merits that he had on earth, and command was given that he should be punished in Amentit. They then saw him with the pivot of a door planted on his right eye.

********

There is far more detail to this story than this little summary. However, my point in posting this story is not to examine the beliefs of the ancient Egyptians and their description of the underworld, it is to frame the story of the “Rich Man and Lazarus” against the cultural backdrop in which it was told.

Further expanding on this cultural backdrop, the Pharisees had adopted the ideas of a resurrection, “Abraham’s bosom” and “hades.” The Pharisees were a bit liberal in their beliefs in the afterlife. The Sadducees actually took after the more traditional view of Judaism; that which is found in the Old Testament (Also known as “Moses and the prophets” or the Torah).  The Sadducees rejected the idea of the oral law and insisted on a literal interpretation of the written law; consequently, they did not believe in an afterlife, since it is not mentioned in the Torah.

Some may scoff at the idea that “heaven and hell” are not really found in the Old Testament (Torah), but a full study of what the Old Testament has to say of the afterlife will reveal a general absence of any kind of details about conscious existence after death (there are a very few exceptions to this which are open to interpretation). All men, righteous or unrighteous, go down to the grave (sheol). (If you want to study this specifically, look at every usage of two words in the OT; Strong’s H8064 and H7585. You can use Vine’s Dictionary or a free program called e-sword to do this.)

The belief of hades as a place of torment for the wicked does not come from Judaism or Christianity. Hades has its roots in Egyptian, Roman, and Greek mythology (for more on this, if you can stand a very long dry read, take a look at The Formation of Hell: Death and Retribution in the Ancient and Early Christian Worlds by Alan E. Bernstein).

It is most likely that the Pharisees found the popular idea of hades convenient as a method for control. I tend to think they capitalized on the cultural idea of judgment after death as believed by the Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks. They adopted the popular trend of culture, adapted it to fit Judaic traditions, and used it to control people.

So this is where Jesus enters with his story of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

I think that the “rich man” in the story is meant to be a caricature of the Pharisees.  This is evident from the context in which we find the story as it is found sandwiched between dialogue with the Pharisees. Additionally, the Pharisees commonly dressed in purple and fine linens, they loved pomp and circumstance (I’ll bet they even planned extravagant funerals for themselves), and verse 14 of the chapter says outright that they loved money.

When Jesus tells his story, he changes a few of the details around from what was in the Egyptian story. Where in the original story there is no mention of any relation between the rich man and poor man, in Jesus’ version of the story, the rich man personally snubbed Lazarus. Further, “the dogs” was a common slang term for “the gentiles” (see Mt 15:21-28, Mark 7:24-30). So the dogs (the gentiles) cared for the wounds of Lazarus, while the rich man (the Pharisees) snubbed him.

Jesus is using the story to “pick on” the Pharisees.  While the rich man is lying in torment, Lazarus is enjoying the good life in “Abraham’s bosom”. The Pharisees didn’t see this one coming.  They had been threatening people with hades for not observing their long list of rules, and here’s Jesus telling them that they are bound for hades because they don’t care for the needy among them.

So the rich man can see Abraham’s bosom and begs Abraham for a drop of water for his tongue, but it cannot be sent because of the great chasm between them (details that have their roots in secular mythology). He then asks that Lazarus be sent to warn his brothers of their impending doom. The answer; “If Moses and the prophets they do not hear, neither if one may rise out of the dead will they be persuaded.”

This answer is great.  Not only does it reveal the obstinacy of the Pharisees in their sin, it is also a foreshadowing of what is to happen when Jesus himself rises from the grave – many still disbelieve.  I’m humored that Jesus had already thrown the Pharisees’ belief in hades back on them, and now he is using their own belief in resurrection of the dead against them too.

Further, I find it interesting that “Moses and the prophets” don’t really speak of what happens after death. There is no threat of torment after death found within “Moses and the prophets”. So how would this serve as a warning to the rich man’s brothers of the impending doom of “hell”? It wouldn’t.

What is to be found in Moses and the prophets is this:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” -Mt 22:37-40

The rich man, like the Pharisees, was guilty of caring more for himself and his own comforts than for his fellow man. 1 John 4:20 tells us that any man who says he loves God and yet hates his brother is a liar. So the rich man, and the Pharisees, were guilty of breaking to two greatest commandments.

Now, aside from Jesus stickin’ it to the Pharisees, the thing that strikes me most in this passage is that recompense is made to Lazarus for his suffering while punishment is administered to the ones who could have prevented his suffering.

It seems to me that this is story is about justice for the poor and oppressed and a stiff warning to the oppressors.  It’s ironic that this passage has been consistently twisted to serve an agenda of oppression and fear.

*********

Now I would like to make some comments regarding the use of this passage to support the extra-biblical idea of “no-second-chances-after-death”.

If we want to be literal about “hell” in this passage, then should we not also be literal about the criteria for whether or not one goes there?

Lazarus wasn’t sent to Abraham’s bosom based upon any good he did or because he had faith, but because he suffered. We could certainly read the traditional theology regarding the criteria for salvation into the passage by assuming some things that aren’t stated, but it is not in the passage to start.  When we read things into the passage in order to make it serve our purposes, we are in danger of missing the point of the passage entirely – and becoming like the Pharisees in the process.

Many use this passage to teach the doctrine of “no-second-chances-after-death”; once you die it’s too late for repentance.  I don’t think this is the point Jesus was making and misses the heart of the message.  I think Jesus was using a well-known story to give the Pharisees a taste of their own medicine while proclaiming a message of justice and recompense for the poor and oppressed.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is typically used to support the idea that once a person passes from this life, it is too late for repentance; their plight is set for eternity.  In this essay, I will examine this passage of scripture and relate what I believe Jesus was conveying to His listeners.
********
Luke 16:19-31

And — a certain man was rich, and was clothed in purple and fine linen, making merry sumptuously every day, and there was a certain poor man, by name Lazarus, who was laid at his porch, full of sores, and desiring to be filled from the crumbs that are falling from the table of the rich man; yea, also the dogs, coming, were licking his sores.

And it came to pass, that the poor man died, and that he was carried away by the messengers to the bosom of Abraham — and the rich man also died, and was buried; and in the hades having lifted up his eyes, being in torments, he doth see Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom, and having cried, he said, “Father Abraham, deal kindly with me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and may cool my tongue, because I am distressed in this flame.”

And Abraham said, “Child, remember that thou did receive — thou — thy good things in thy life, and Lazarus in like manner the evil things, and now he is comforted, and thou art distressed; and besides all these things, between us and you a great chasm is fixed, so that they who are willing to go over from hence unto you are not able, nor do they from thence to us pass through.”

And he said, “I pray thee, then, father, that thou mayest send him to the house of my father, for I have five brothers, so that he may thoroughly testify to them, that they also may not come to this place of torment.”

Abraham saith to him, “They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them;”

And he said, “No, father Abraham, but if any one from the dead may go unto them, they will reform.”

And he said to him, “If Moses and the prophets they do not hear, neither if one may rise out of the dead will they be persuaded.”

********
I had examined and meditated on this scripture, but it was only when I learned that Jesus was most likely not the originator of the basic story that I started to gain some insight into the story.

Now I could merely tell you that the theme of a rich man and poor man, and their plights after death, were not original to this story told by Jesus… but I think it’s probably better for you to be able to read it for yourself as it made all the difference for me.

********

The summary of a story found in ancient Egyptian literature.  This story was found on a scrap of papyrus that dates from the time of Jesus.  It is understood that those whom Jesus interacted with would have known this story.
One day Satni and his still young son, Senosiris, were looking over the city from the roof of their house, when the lamentations rising from the gorgeous funeral procession of a rich man attracted their attention. Soon thereafter, they saw the miserable obsequies of a poor man, wrapped only in a mat, lacking any of the trappings of the earlier train. The father sighed and prayed aloud that he should have the fate in the underworld of the elaborately lamented wealthy man rather than of the pauper.

His son immediately contradicted him. Chastised for this apparent insubordination, Senosiris guided his father through a tour of the seven halls of Amentit (the underworld), where he demonstrated how one’s fate after death depends on the balance of good versus evil deeds in done in life rather than the splendor of one’s funeral.

On their tour of the underworld, Satni noticed among those seated near Osiris “one clad in fine linen and in a lofty rank,” and Senosiris explained that this was the poor man, who because his good deeds were more numerous than his bad, was thus honoured by Osiris and, “as there was no total of happiness while he was on earth sufficient to correspond with the length of life inscribed to his account by Thoth, an order was given on the part of Osiris to transfer the funerary outfit of the rich man to this poor man.”

Senosiris continued to explain that the rich man they had seen was taken to Hades, his misdeeds were weighed against his merits, the misdeeds were found more numerous than his merits that he had on earth, and command was given that he should be punished in Amentit. They then saw him with the pivot of a door planted on his right eye.

********

There is far more detail to this story than this little summary. However, my point in posting this story is not to examine the beliefs of the ancient Egyptians and their description of the underworld, it is to frame the story of the “Rich Man and Lazarus” against the cultural backdrop in which it was told.

Further expanding on this cultural backdrop, the Pharisees had adopted the ideas of a resurrection, “Abraham’s bosom” and “hades.” The Pharisees were a bit liberal in their beliefs in the afterlife. The Sadducees actually took after the more traditional view of Judaism; that which is found in the Old Testament (Also known as “Moses and the prophets” or the Torah).  The Sadducees rejected the idea of the oral law and insisted on a literal interpretation of the written law; consequently, they did not believe in an afterlife, since it is not mentioned in the Torah.

Some may scoff at the idea that “heaven and hell” are not really found in the Old Testament (Torah), but a full study of what the Old Testament has to say of the afterlife will reveal a general absence of any kind of details about conscious existence after death (there are a very few exceptions to this which are open to interpretation). All men, righteous or unrighteous, go down to the grave (sheol). (If you want to study this specifically, look at every usage of two words in the OT; Strong’s H8064 and H7585. You can use Vine’s Dictionary or a free program called e-sword to do this.)

The belief of hades as a place of torment for the wicked does not come from Judaism or Christianity. Hades has its roots in Egyptian, Roman, and Greek mythology (for more on this, if you can stand a very long dry read, take a look at The Formation of Hell: Death and Retribution in the Ancient and Early Christian Worlds by Alan E. Bernstein).

It is most likely that the Pharisees found the popular idea of hades convenient as a method for control. I tend to think they capitalized on the cultural idea of judgment after death as believed by the Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks. They adopted the popular trend of culture, adapted it to fit Judaic traditions, and used it to control people.

So this is where Jesus enters with his story of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

I think that the “rich man” in the story is meant to be a caricature of the Pharisees.  This is evident from the context in which we find the story as it is found sandwiched between dialogue with the Pharisees. Additionally, the Pharisees commonly dressed in purple and fine linens, they loved pomp and circumstance (I’ll bet they even planned extravagant funerals for themselves), and verse 14 of the chapter says outright that they loved money.

When Jesus tells his story, he changes a few of the details around from what was in the Egyptian story. Where in the original story there is no mention of any relation between the rich man and poor man, in Jesus’ version of the story, the rich man personally snubbed Lazarus. Further, “the dogs” was a common slang term for “the gentiles” (see Mt 15:21-28, Mark 7:24-30). So the dogs (the gentiles) cared for the wounds of Lazarus, while the rich man (the Pharisees) snubbed him.

Jesus is using the story to “pick on” the Pharisees.  While the rich man is lying in torment, Lazarus is enjoying the good life in “Abraham’s bosom”. The Pharisees didn’t see this one coming.  They had been threatening people with hades for not observing their long list of rules, and here’s Jesus telling them that they are bound for hades because they don’t care for the needy among them.

So the rich man can see Abraham’s bosom and begs Abraham for a drop of water for his tongue, but it cannot be sent because of the great chasm between them (details that have their roots in secular mythology). He then asks that Lazarus be sent to warn his brothers of their impending doom. The answer; “If Moses and the prophets they do not hear, neither if one may rise out of the dead will they be persuaded.”

This answer is great.  Not only does it reveal the obstinacy of the Pharisees in their sin, it is also a foreshadowing of what is to happen when Jesus himself rises from the grave – many still disbelieve.  I’m humored that Jesus had already thrown the Pharisees’ belief in hades back on them, and now he is using their own belief in resurrection of the dead against them too.

Further, I find it interesting that “Moses and the prophets” don’t really speak of what happens after death. There is no threat of torment after death found within “Moses and the prophets”. So how would this serve as a warning to the rich man’s brothers of the impending doom of “hell”? It wouldn’t.

What is to be found in Moses and the prophets is this:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” -Mt 22:37-40

The rich man, like the Pharisees, was guilty of caring more for himself and his own comforts than for his fellow man. 1 John 4:20 tells us that any man who says he loves God and yet hates his brother is a liar. So the rich man, and the Pharisees, were guilty of breaking to two greatest commandments.

Now, aside from Jesus stickin’ it to the Pharisees, the thing that strikes me most in this passage is that recompense is made to Lazarus for his suffering while punishment is administered to the ones who could have prevented his suffering.

It seems to me that this is story is about justice for the poor and oppressed and a stiff warning to the oppressors.  It’s ironic that this passage has been consistently twisted to serve an agenda of oppression and fear.

*********
Now I would like to make some comments regarding the use of this passage to support the extra-biblical idea of “no-second-chances-after-death”.

If we want to be literal about “hell” in this passage, then should we not also be literal about the criteria for whether or not one goes there?

Lazarus wasn’t sent to Abraham’s bosom based upon any good he did or because he had faith, but because he suffered. We could certainly read the traditional theology regarding the criteria for salvation into the passage by assuming some things that aren’t stated, but it is not in the passage to start.  When we read things into the passage in order to make it serve our purposes, we are in danger of missing the point of the passage entirely – and becoming like the Pharisees in the process.

Many use this passage to teach the doctrine of “no-second-chances-after-death”; once you die it’s too late for repentance.  I don’t think this is the point Jesus was making and misses the heart of the message.  I think Jesus was using a well-known story to give the Pharisees a taste of their own medicine while proclaiming a message of justice and recompense for the poor and oppressed.

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After a long period of silence…

I believe I may start posting again.

This whole controversy over Rob Bell’s new book is getting me all excited.

For those who are confused what universalism is or isn’t; this article offers a brief guide.

If anyone reading this is interested in christian universalism… there’s some good stuff here.

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Tradition & Imagination

“There are those who in their very first seeking of it are nearer to the kingdom of heaven than many who have for years believed themselves in it.  In the former there is more of the mind of Jesus, and when he calls them, they recognize him at once and go after him.  The others examine him from head to foot, and finding him not sufficiently like the Jesus of their conception, turn their backs, and go to church to kneel before a vague form mingled of tradition and imagination.”

-George MacDonald in The Curate’s Awakening

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God’s Omnipotence vs. Man’s Will

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been thinking a good bit about our God’s omnipotence and how it interplays not only with our faith, but also our every day decisions. These are very difficult concepts to wrap one’s mind around let alone explain. I’ll attempt to put my thoughts to words here.

When considering the omnipotence of God verses the will of man, my personal bias is towards theistic determinism. Theistic determinism infers that every choice that is made is directly caused by God. Taking “Occum’s razor” to this view reveals the belief that God is ultimately the direct cause of, and therefore responsible for, every choice and action of man. This is where I begin to struggle with this view.

The point where I will end my struggle with this view and just lay it aside as preposterous, is when it ends in fatalism. Fatalism is the belief that I have no power over my choices, not only is my fate set in stone, but my every step on the way to that fate as well. To me, this makes all of creation, all of history, out to be nothing more than a puppet show where God is both the puppet master and the audience… this does not sit well in my spirit, and I think that’s because of the Spirit within me…

If, however, I have full autonomy and God has no control over my choices, is He not a weak God? One of the biggest objections to “free will” that I hear is, “if man in fact has free will, then God’s will is subjected to man’s will.” The objection is to the idea that God’s “has no control over” man’s will. Mankind is running a-muck and God can’t do anything about it. If I may quote the objections of a friend here, “(this) view holds to a god who desires all to be saved but is impotent to do anything about it, outside of disciplining them until confession is reached. This god has no more control of man than I do over my child’s temper tantrum in Wal-Mart.”

This is view of God doesn’t sit well in my spirit either.

So then, scripture being the best place to go when pure philosophical reasoning gets you down, I pick up my bible and read the well known Psalm.

Psalm 139:4, 13-16
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

I have always loved Psalm 139 (I know, I know, everyone does). Verses 4 and 16 specifically stands out to me when considering God’s omnipotence. I see from verse 4, that at the very least, God knows what I’m going to do or say before I even do. But verse 16… what of verse 16? Ordained. My days are ordained and written in His book.

So, if God knows my every thought before I think it, my every action before I do it, and all my days are ordained for me and written in His book… it sure seems like we’re getting closer and closer to determinism and fatalism… doesn’t it? And we haven’t even started to talk about the New Testament passages that tell us that we are predestined, preordained, or elected.

Lately, I’ve started to look at this from a slightly different angle than I ever have before.

“Let me ‘splain… no there is too much, let me sum up.” – Inigo Montoya

As an engineer, I design circuits. To design a circuit properly, I need to understand the characteristics of the pieces that make up the circuit. I need to understand how those pieces react to certain stimuli. I then take those pieces and arrange them in a such a way that, together, they react in the way I want them to. If the circuit is properly designed, it will react to every stimuli exactly how I desire. It is not that I directly cause it to react the way it does, but, because of my design process, I in effect have complete control over how it reacts. My control over the circuit is relegated to the design process only.

Now, I’m not omniscient. This doesn’t always work. Sometimes I have to “redesign” the circuit many times over to get it exactly where I want it. The reason I have to do this though, the reason it doesn’t always work the first time, is because there is something about one of the pieces of the circuit that I didn’t know or understand. It’s because of my limited knowledge that I designed the circuit improperly and it didn’t respond in the way I wanted it to.

It’s fairly plain to see where I’m going with this. God is the omniscient creator of man. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” He knows me in and out, He knows how I will respond to every situation I find myself in. It is not that He directly causes me to make a decision, but because He created me and knows me fully, He knows exactly what choice I will make in every situation that He places me in.

In this view, God is both sovereign over my every action, and I am acting with full autonomy in my every action. These two ideas are not in conflict with one another. It is both true that I have “free will” and that God is perfectly sovereign over all that I do. And, it is also true that I am fully culpable for my every action.

In considering the scriptures, this view of sovereignty and man’s will sits well with my soul. I know that there are probably problems within this view as well… but I shall rest here until the Holy Spirit reveals to me, through scripture or otherwise, a better way of understanding these difficult concepts.

Psalm 139:23-24
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.

I’d love to hear any thoughts that anyone may have regarding this way of looking at things…

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Jesus Loves Me

Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world

When it comes to bedtime, Jennae and I have fallen into a little bit of a routine with our oldest son, Xander.  He’s about 21 months old now and is a bundle of fun.

After we bath him and get him in his PJ’s, he usually gets a little snack (like watermelon… he loves watermelon).

Then it’s off to his toddler bed.  He runs to his bed and lays his head down on his bumble bee pillow and grabs his “lovey”; a little stuffed giraffe that has been loved much and laundered little.  Laying amongst his 5 other stuffed animals and sucking his thumb, he utters, “munyic” (which translates as music for all of you who don’t speak “toddler”).

Now, on some evenings, Jennae might be finishing something up before joining the bed-time routine.  On the evenings where this is the case, I find myself in a bit of a pinch.

I am not very proficient in the memorization of lyrics, regardless of the musical genre.  I remember a line here or there… the ones that really strike me as meaningful stick with me.  The rest are gone.  So, my toddler is asking me to sing, which I enjoy doing for him… but my repertoire is severely limited.  “Jesus Loves Me” and one verse of “Amazing Grace” is about all I can muster.  So I sing what I’ve got… and the end of each song, Xander always says “maur” (which translates more).

Sooner or later, Jennae comes in and rescues me; singing all 8 verses of “Blessed Assurance” or some other great old hymn.  I love this time we have together, the three of us.  🙂  Soon, Rhys will be a part of this routine too… I love that our boys love music.

So tonight, after putting Xander to bed, I was thinking about the words to “Jesus Loves Me”.

Jesus loves me this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong

They are weak but He is strong

Yes, Jesus loves me

The Bible tells me so

This got me thinking a bit more and another kids bible song lyric came to mind

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world

Black and yellow, red and white
They’re all precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world

Lately, I’ve been conversing with a good friend who has run into a bit of a difficult time reconciling these words with the suffering he sees in the world.  The “problem of pain” (as it is commonly called) has struck deep into his heart.  The words of these children’s songs are not easily reconciled with the fact that children are born into countries where war is a way of life; or poverty, sickness and suffering are all that is known.  So many children never experience anything but pain and then die a horrible death.

What does Christianity have to say for this?

“Well Jesus loves them, but it’s the will of men that has brought pain and suffering.  God desires for us to be able to freely choose him.  So, Jesus can’t override the acts of men.  To do so would defeat our free will and render our worship pointless.”

Or

“Well, some of those children are the chosen and He will save them out of their pain and suffering, perhaps even through it.  The rest are sinners from birth and deserve all they get; by justice, we all deserve hell.”

For my friend… neither of these answers is good enough.  They aren’t good enough for me either.

Why would God, having foreknowledge, create such that there would be those who would reject Him; those who would then end up suffering pointlessly?  Why would he choose some and not others?

A typical response may be, “He did this because it is by their suffering that our joy is more meaningful; it is for contrast.”  To me this says that God does not love them after all.  Foreknowing their rejection of Him and the suffering that would result, He is only using them.  They are pawns to be sacrificed for His (and our) pleasure.  This is not love.  This is repulsive to me.  If this is true, the songs I sang as a child are lies.  He does not love all the children, He loves some and uses the rest to achieve His goals.

I refuse to believe this of God.

I believe God to be bigger than any of these answers.  I believe that God will win the hearts of every man, woman, and child.  He is still on plan A; He is not on plan B.  He did not create, knowing that mankind would walk away from relationship with Him, only to save a few out of the whole.  I believe He created knowing full well that He is powerful enough, patient enough, and loving enough to win every heart that He created.

He does want, and will have, every man, woman and child freely choose to be in relationship with Him; as sons and daughters of our perfect heavenly Father.

So what of this pain you ask?  In this current age, He chooses to not intervene in the will of men; however, in the ages to come, He will have His way and all men will come to the place where they recognize Him in His fullness.

I believe that He is a God of justice in the fullest sense of the word.  I believe that all men are children of God.  I believe that He will make recompense for all the unjust suffering of His children.  I believe that there will be a day of reckoning for the prodigals who caused the unjust suffering of their siblings.  But even for them, the prodigals, I believe their punishment will be for the purpose of redemption, and just as the father embraces the son in the parable, I believe God will always be waiting with open arms for the return of those He disciplines.

You may ask, but what of His wrath for those who deserve “hell” for disobeying His commands?  To this I answer that I believe that He loves his enemies, and does good to those who hate Him.  This is why He sent Jesus.

I believe that He will accomplish all He set out to do since before the first moment of creation.

I know that Jesus loves all the little children.
Do you?

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