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Saturday, June 8, 2024

All Dogs Go

It was clear to us that our little dog Skipper was not right. He hadn't been eating or drinking much. He would come into a room and look around like he couldn't remember why he was there. He was very old by dog standards - we had had him for 13 years, but we were the fourth owners, inheriting him from my wife's dad when he passed away years ago. We figured he was at least 17 years old, maybe 18, which for a dog is ancient (vets consider dogs "senior" when they are seven years old). We had been chalking it up to age and senility, but a week ago Friday, he was having trouble walking more than 5-6 feet without lying down. Morkies don't really cry when they are in pain, but it was clear to us then that it was high time to take him to the vet.

The story wasn't good. They did a blood panel on him, and it showed that his kidneys were just short of shutting down entirely, and he was probably suffering from cancer as well. He didn't have long to live, even if we took extreme and expensive measures. He was suffering and would continue to suffer. We made the decision that many, many loving pet families have to make... to let him go and put an end to his pain.

We actually made an appointment and took him home for a couple of hours - my son was at work but he got the afternoon off so he could be with us. It was like having a little bit of doggie hospice time; it gave us a chance to love him for a little bit longer and say our goodbyes. We took him back at the scheduled time, me and my wife and our two kids and my wife's brother, who was the one who originally got Skipper for my wife's dad years before. They gave us the option to just say goodbye and go, but none of us were going to leave him there to cross the rainbow bridge alone. Even so, watching our best friend breathe his last breath was one of the most excruciating experiences of my life. We're so thankful that he's no longer suffering, but we miss him terribly, and there will always be an empty morkie-shaped place in all of our hearts.


Decades ago, I heard a mom describing taking her kids to the movie theater to watch an animated movie I still to this day haven't seen, All Dogs Go to Heaven. I was never clear on what exactly in the movie upset her, or why she would even take her kids to see a movie by that title if she was going to be theologically offended, but apparently she stood up at the end and proclaimed to the theater that dogs don't go to Heaven but people do. Not sure whether her kids were impressed by this or mortally embarrassed. But was she right? Do dogs NOT go to Heaven? To humans live on in eternity while their pets live for a decade and then no longer exist? Are the atheists right about death being the final end... but only for Fido?

There are certain things the Bible doesn't say much about. This is for the simple reason that the Bible is a book, and a book is about something, and the Bible is primarily a book about God reaching out in love to the human race. It's not about chemistry, so there's not much in there about that. It's not really about geography or astrophysics. It's not really a music textbook, although there's a lot about music because that's a good way for humans to approach God. And it's not really particularly about animals, especially pets - although because of the time period when it was written, there's a lot about farming. There's even more about shepherding because God repeatedly uses that metaphor to describe how He approaches his people. So it doesn't really tell us whether animals have spirits that live on after death. But there are some interesting passages about animals.

In 2 Samuel 12:1-6 there is a story which turns out to be a metaphor to convince King David that he was guilty of wrongdoing, but there is an interesting implication. "And the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, 'There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.' Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, 'As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.' "

As it turns out, the lamb in the story represented a woman, Bathsheba, and the evil rich man was David himself, who had murdered her husband to steal her for himself. But what I think is interesting is that this story paints a picture of a sheep being treated as a member of a the family, a pet - not just as livestock to give wool and one day become a meal. David didn't seem to think this was unusual - in fact, he was enraged that someone would take someone else's pet sheep and destroy it. Echoing this, the Psalms and then Jesus Himself characterize God's people as His sheep, with God being the shepherd who loves each sheep so much that if one goes astray, He will go find it and bring it back. That goes way past the level of "Oh well, I still have 99 sheep, let that one feed the wolves tonight." It seems obvious that even in those days, a pet sheep wasn't a totally alien concept.

But do animals have a spirit? Well, anyone who has spent a lot of time around animals knows that they can be intelligent indeed. In fact, there is a story in Numbers 22:22-35 where God actually temporarily gives a donkey who is being abused (for doing the right thing, saving his master's life, though the master didn't know it) the ability to speak! The story is a bit surreal, because the donkey's master Balaam doesn't even seem surprised when the donkey talks to him. "Then the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, 'What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?' And Balaam said to the donkey, 'Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.' And the donkey said to Balaam, 'Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?' And he said, 'No.' " (verses 28-30) This doesn't tell us that animals have a spirit, but it does imply that they are intelligent enough to both make wise and selfless decisions, and to know when they are being treated badly.

There is a passage in Ecclesiastes that does say outright that animals have a spirit. Ecclesiastes 3:19-21 says: "For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?" (boldface mine) In the book of Ecclesiastes Solomon is basically expressing his doubts about just about everything, so I'm not sure if this is him sharing something he knew, or using poetic symmetry to make a point.

But, will Fluffy be there in Heaven when I get there? Heaven won't be the same without my beloved Spot or Puddles or Felix! Well, let me preface this by saying that I believe that life in eternity will be such that our short time on this planet will feel like the opening scroll of Star Wars - the part before the real movie begins. Not to minimize what we do on Earth - we have a charge from God to do good, help the poor and widows and orphans, and spread the Gospel across the world. But from that side, I think this side will feel like preface. I'm not sure we really know whether we will miss pets if it turns out they aren't there.

But I think there will be animals in Heaven. The book of Revelation talks several times about horses in Heaven, including a whole army all riding white horses behind Jesus, who is also on a white horse. In Isaiah chapter 11 there is a passage that talks about animals who are mortal enemies on this earth being OK with each other when Messiah reigns: the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the goat, calves and lions, cows and bears. Even cobras! Now, the book of Revelation tells us that there is Heaven, but ultimately there will be a new Earth as well, and this passage really refers to the new Earth. So, were these animals previously in Heaven? And, to bring things back around, are they animals who lived on our Earth and died, or are they new animals? Scripture doesn't really tell us.

Near-death experience literature is a huge genre. It shouldn't be taken as gospel truth - it's not the Bible, and it's pretty certain that some of it is completely fictional. But if we assume that some of it describes true experiences of people who have literally died, seen Heaven, and come back, you'll find many instances where people describe animals in Heaven. Is that proof? Of course not. But it's an interesting data point.

The Bible is about God's relationship to creation in general, but humans in particular. It doesn't tell me whether I'll get to one day pet Skipper's fuzzy head again. But it doesn't tell me I won't! So is it my opinion that animals that lived on this Earth will one day live again in eternity? In my opinion, I kind of think they will. I think this creation was damaged badly by the sins of the human race, and God's ultimate goal is by His grace to restore that creation to what it was originally intended to be. Sin brought death, which means that death was never God's plan, which implies that my furry friends and yours shouldn't have had to ever end their lives in the first place. If God is resurrecting all of creation, that includes my fuzzy buddy.

Do dogs (and cats, and birds, and horses and wolves and lambs and whatever) go to Heaven? I don't know for sure. But if they can, Skipper is there now, having a great time, probably hanging out with my father-in-law. Maybe Don is FINALLY getting enough time to teach Skipper how to fetch the ball and actually bring it back!


Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Seeing But Not Seeing

This morning I was reading a familiar story from John chapter 9. Jesus gave sight to a man who had been born blind. The reaction of his neighbors is predictable: "This man looks just like our friend the blind man! Wait, is this the blind man? No, it can't be!" The blind man was like, "Yep, I'm him!" Then he told them that Jesus had healed him, which is probably what got him into trouble. Don't ever forget: your witness for Jesus may get you into hot water from time to time. That's no reason not to do it!

Anyway, his "friends" took him to the Pharisees, a group of very influential religious leaders of the day, and the Pharisees questioned him. According to their rules (not God's rules!), Jesus was breaking religious law by essentially practicing medicine on the Sabbath. (Basically, if you've ever heard a Christian berating another Christian for having a job that has them working on a Sunday, that's the same idea.) It was clear to everyone around that someone could not perform this miracle of healing unless God sent him, but this flew in the face of the Pharisees' belief system. Instead of looking at the plain fact that Jesus' actions proved that He was from God and that their belief system was flawed, they chose to try to preserve their belief system by refusing to believe that the event had even taken place. They brought in the man's parents and asked them if this was the blind guy - they were afraid of being excommunicated, so they confirmed the facts of the situation (yes, he's our son, yes, he was blind when he was born) without ever saying whether they believed Jesus was from God. They just threw their poor son under the bus: "He's a grown-up, ask him what happened!"

They brought the man back in and questioned him again about Jesus. The man stuck to his guns - "I don't know if your rules are true, but I know I can see!" Then they asked him to tell them again how Jesus had done it, and the guy finally lost his patience. Basically, he said "I told you my story already. Why are you so interested in Jesus anyway?" Then he tossed some waterproof theology their way, and in return they threw him out of the church (the thing his parents were afraid was going to happen to them).

Now, the Pharisees knew Jesus had come from God. In John 3:1-2 one of them actually came to Jesus and told him as much. These guys weren't looking for knowledge or truth... they were looking for a way to force the truth to fit their flawed belief system.

As I was reading this, I was reminded of the controversy several years ago about "gender" - political and even scientific leadership were (and are) arguing that gender is somehow a mental or emotional state, or equivalent to the sexual activities in which one chooses to engage. When I was growing up, it was obvious to everyone that "gender" referred to the plumbing in one's body, not the state of one's mind. There were and are clearly two distinct configurations. Now, there have always been people who have the same configuration of body parts who were attracted to one another - I don't think anyone denies that fact. Many people of faith believe, based on things they read in the Bible, that sexual activity between persons with the same plumbing is contrary to Scripture, and thus sinful. But even people who thinks it is sinful do not deny that the attraction sometimes exists or that the activity happens.

The new thing in the past five years or so is that people with various sexual orientations (and well-meaning people who want them to feel included in society) are choosing to redefine the word "gender" and the noun "sex" to mean a whole host of things related to emotional states and sexual desires, leaving no word in the English language that means "I have a this and you have a that, so our bodies are different." It seems to me that this amounts to the same thing as "You can see and that would mean that Jesus is from God, but he can't be from God because he broke our rule." It seems like this attack on the English language is there to support preconceived ideas about sexuality and make it impossible to argue that certain behaviors are inherently wrong. Those that argue against it are "thrown out of the temple" by being censored or removed from social media, ridiculed by broadcast and published media, and basically shamed for their beliefs.

Now, you might argue that the people who think gender=body configuration at birth are the equivalent of the old-school Pharisees, wanting to keep things the same while a new progressive person challenges their belief system. I would argue that Jesus and His truth predated the Pharisees, who were seeking to add their own rules to God's reality - and the fact that the word "gender" historically referred to the physical state of one's body predates the idea that "gender" is how you feel at any given moment. The Pharisees were the ones trying to twist reality for their own gain; Jesus was just expressing the truth that had always been.

I don't deny anyone's right to engage in any kind of sexual activity that they want to, barring of course things that would bring harm to another. I don't even deny the right of a man to dress like a woman or a woman to dress like a man if they want to. As Americans, we believe people can do and say what they please, within the bounds of the law. But I do think it's not right to force people to change their very language to fit an ideological agenda in which they do not believe.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. We human beings are so prone to trying to justify our actions in any way possible, particularly if we are told that they are sinful - instead of humbly coming to God and saying, "We know Jesus is from You, so we're asking for Your truth in this situation. We're not trying to manipulate facts to suit an agenda. We are seeking to manipulate our agenda to conform to Your truth."


Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Leave and Forsake


This post is something I wrote years ago on the topic of God never "leaving" us or "forsaking" us. When I learned this, it changed the way I think of God's attitude toward me. Enjoy!


There are a number of places in Scripture where God tells someone, seemingly redundantly, that He will not “leave” them or “forsake” them. For example:
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,
    “The Lord is my helper;
        I will not fear;
    what can man do to me?” -Hebrews 13:5-6
That verse quotes from two passages in the Old Testament. The first quote (the one we are concerned with at the moment) is from Deuteronomy 31:6:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
Here is a breakdown from Strong's Concordance of what those words mean:

LEAVE:
Greek: to send back, relax, loosen; to give up, omit, calm; to leave, not to uphold, to let sink [often translated to mean an act of releasing something]
Hebrew: to sink, relax, sink down, let drop, be disheartened; to sink down; to sink, drop; to sink, relax, abate; to relax, withdraw; to let drop, abandon, relax, refrain, forsake; to let go; to refrain, let alone; to be quiet; to show oneself slack [contexts imply relinquishing control]

FORSAKE:
Greek: abandon, desert; leave in straits, leave helpless; totally abandoned, utterly forsaken; to leave behind among, to leave surviving [most contexts imply abandonment]
Hebrew: to leave, loose, forsake; to leave; to depart from, leave behind, leave, let alone; to leave, abandon, forsake, neglect, apostatise; to let loose, set free, let go, free [to walk away from something]

To “leave” something means to accidentally relax your grip, to forget to take it with you when you go. To “forsake” means to intentionally abandon something, to turn your back on it and walk away on purpose. God has promised to do NEITHER to His people!

Do you think there is a time when God does chose to leave or forsake someone? Do you have a testimony of a time when God showed you He was there right when you needed Him? Sound off below by clicking the "comment" link and join the discussion!

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Police and Fire

Every morning (and by "every morning" I mean "every morning that I don't accidentally oversleep"!) I get up early to listen to the Word, pray, read, and basically prepare myself for the day. This is something I've been doing for two years or so, and I highly recommend it. I pray for my family, for our leaders in government, and I pray for myself that I will follow God's leading. One topic that almost always comes to my heart in those times is our local fire and police departments. These are people who have dedicated their lives to protecting others, and from my point of view, since they are protectors of the people of God, they have a mantle of ministry on them, whether they have put their trust in Jesus or not. That's certainly not to say that they shouldn't serve people who aren't Christians... of course they should and do! But I believe that because that mantle of service includes God's people, first responders are entitled to God's protection, and even God's anointing to do their jobs.

I was thinking about how police officers confront dangerous situations all the time – there will always be crazy people doing crazy things. But I believe that the mere existence of a police force discourages a lot of stuff that would happen if there were no consequences. Every time a police officer has to face down someone who is trying to shoot people, there are a dozen more people who would try to shoot someone if they weren't afraid of being captured and punished by the police. Even in days when all they are doing is sitting on the side of the road waiting to catch someone speeding, by their very existence they are protecting you and me. 

First responders wake up every morning with the potential of having to do or see something that could haunt them for the rest of their lives. They know this, and yet they get out of bed anyway. There's a nonzero chance that today, a police officer or fireman in my town may not come home because of something that happened to them as part of their duties. Still, they get out of bed, suit up, and head out into whatever awaits them. So my prayer for them every morning is that their lives and their minds will be protected by God. I pray that their training and best practices are at the forefront and followed perfectly, because those things are in place because they have been found to de-escalate situations effectively. I pray that they will have wisdom when it is time to make a decision, and that they will make the right choice quickly. I thank God for the mantle of protection He places on them as the protectors of the people of God.

Pray for your local police and firemen. They don't have to do what they do. They could work in an office, or open an auto repair shop, or start a business, or teach school, or any other job, but they have chosen to protect you. That's a God thing. They're in your corner and my corner, and you and I should be in their corner too.


Tuesday, March 26, 2024

A Life of Jesus

Several months ago I ran across an article about a new movie project by Martin Scorcese. Initially I had heard the (false) rumor that he was going to do a gender-flipped movie about Jesus (with women playing the parts of Jesus and His disciples), so I looked it up to find out if that was true. After all, the last time M.S. made a film about Jesus, it was "controversial" to say the least! But it turns out the rumor was partly true - Scorcese apparently is ready to start shooting a movie based on the book A Life of Jesus which was written in the early 1970's by a Japanese author named Shūsaku Endō (no, I don't know how to pronounce it!) I immediately looked it up in my local library's catalog, and discovered that they do not own a copy, but I could get one via interlibrary loan. I made the request, and after a shorter-than-you-might-expect wait, I had the book in my hands!

The book was originally written in Japanese, for a Japanese audience. Shūsaku Endō was a rare Japanese Catholic, and he was writing the book for his countrymen. The situation, as I have read about it, is that the Japanese are more of a matriarchal society than the historically patriarchal West, and the Japanese (again according to what I read, I do not have personal experience) don't particularly take well to the miraculous. Reportedly, Endō deliberately focused on the more motherly aspects of Jesus' ministry, and I did find that to be the case. But even we Westerners who are used to the "Father and Son" paradigm can get some nice takeaways from this book.

A Life of Jesus is not a narrative retelling of the Gospels like Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt by Anne Rice (I wrote about that book here). This book is more like sitting around with a novelist (which Endō was) who has done a lot of research about Jesus, listening to him tell you about his research. And the author clearly did his homework. He had traveled to and was familiar with the Holy Land, and he had read tons of scholarship and writings by Theologians about the life of Christ. And I agree with the starting point for his journey: there are "facts" and there is "truth", and the writers of the Bible were basically more interested in the "truth" than in detailed "facts". That's why if you read the four Gospels and pay close attention, you'll find that events sometimes are related in a different order, and different details are given about the same event. For many years I've been of the opinion that it is too much coincidence to believe that every time in the Bible that there is a crowd or an army or a city, the number of people is always a round number (as in, Jesus fed exactly 5,000 people, not 5,025 or 4,904). In today's culture, we are obsessed with finding out exact facts. The writers of the Gospels (and, indeed, the entire Bible) were much more interested in showing us who God is than, say, what Moses ate for breakfast, or what color the apostle Peter's eyes were. I think that is partly cultural, too... I don't know that middle-Eastern people living in the desert 2,000 years ago were that interested in precision. They had a story to tell, and as long as they hit the main points, that was okay.

So from that starting point and with the mind of a novelist, Endō begins to read the lines, and then read between them. And he has some pretty interesting things to say, too. For example – there was a group in the setting where the Gospels take place called the Essenes. We know about them through history, but they are not mentioned directly in the Bible. These are the group that allegedly compiled what we now call the Dead Sea Scrolls. Endō draws some interesting and startling conclusions about them. First, he theorizes that they were a political threat to Rome, and that is why the Gospels skirt around their existence – to lessen the chances that the Gospels would be seen as subversive literature and destroyed (this seems plausible to me). Second, he theorizes that John the Baptist was either their leader or someone in high leadership (okay, I can follow Endō to this conclusion). But then, oddly, he jumps to the conclusion that Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptist, and basically took over John's role when John was executed.

And that's the way a lot of this book went for me. I kept feeling like Endō was making some interesting points, but then going one or two steps too far. I think Jesus had a lot of respect for John, but I don't think Jesus was a disciple of John and I don't think that Jesus was just the best runner-up that people could find to follow once John was gone. I think Jesus superseded John in every way possible, because Jesus is God and John the Baptist is not. 

Another characteristic of this book is that it rarely mentions the miracles of Jesus, choosing to focus on His teachings and on what the author imagines his personality must have been like (remember, this was written by a novelist!) There is of course precedent to this – Thomas Jefferson actually constructed his own copy of the Gospel accounts by physically (with a razor blade) cutting out anything miraculous or spiritual, leaving only Jesus' teachings (at least Endō does not leave out the Resurrection, as Jefferson did!) Endō tells us that the Gospels were based on older documents containing lists of things Jesus said (probably more or less true), and that the miraculous parts were mostly added in later by the Early Church to spice things up (have I mentioned that sometimes he goes a step too far for me?) Except for the Resurrection, he essentially tries to explain away Jesus' miracles and healings. One idea that I found interesting, even though I don't believe it is the truth, is that the signs of demon possession in the Gospels could be explained away as rantings of someone hallucinating with a case of malaria. He doesn't say, but implies, that casting out demons was really just sitting with people until their fever broke. He says outright that the story of Lazarus' resurrection is symbolic and not factual.

He also basically says that any fulfillment of prophecy that you see in the Gospels (such as Zechariah 9:9 which is fulfilled in Matthew 21) were added later by the Early Church. They knew the prophecies, he argues, and made up stuff to match them. I think there are two things that are more likely than that. One of the things is that the prophecies were of something that was going to happen in the future, and it happened, because that's what a prophecy is. The other possibility in my mind is that Jesus knew the prophecies, and when the time was right, He did what God had lined out for Him to do and deliberately fulfilled the prophecies out of obedience to His Father. I believe the truth has a little of each of those things in it. What I don't think is that the Early Church deliberately manipulated the accounts of Jesus' life in order to make them more exciting. I tend to think Jesus' life was already plenty enough exciting!

But Endō doesn't seem to think so. He paints a pretty plaintive picture for us of a moody, saddened Jesus who walked around thinking about how nobody really understood Him. He goes so far as to say that when Jesus sent out His disciples to minister, it was because Jesus Himself was going into hiding because the crowds were mean to him. I tend to think Jesus was much more concerned with the actual needs of the people than with what people thought of Him.

The author also asserts that Jesus never actually said He was the Messiah. I think the Bible text directly contradicts that idea, and I don't think that the Early Church added that in. He also rejects the idea (from the Gospel accounts) that there was an actual period of darkness and Jesus' death, at which time the earth shook and the temple curtain was torn from top to bottom. I'm not sure why you would believe that Jesus rose from the dead but also reject outright that lesser miracles might have happened when He descended into death, but the author does.

I wish I felt like I had the liberty to assume that entire hunks of the Bible were added later, like fan fiction, but the problem is that I'm convinced that the Bible says what it says for a reason. I don't think there are things in there that are factually untrue. The details are sometimes different, as they will be when two people tell the same story and don't collaborate beforehand, but I tend to think that except for minor details (like that five thousand and first person Jesus probably fed) the things recounted in the Gospels actually happened that way. Ironically, Endō once or twice adds in details from the extra-Biblical Catholic tradition, such as the "falls" of Jesus on the way to the Cross. There's your fan fiction.

He paints a strange picture of Jesus' perception of God. Despite the Gospel reports of Jesus repeatedly using the term "Father" in prayer, Endō tells us this: "He believed that God by his nature was not in the image of a stern father, but was more like a mother who shares the suffering of her children and weeps with them..." Now, understanding that Endō was writing for a specific audience, and that he did not say that God is not a father but that God is not a stern father, I still think this misses the mark a little bit. I think that Jesus experienced and empathized with human suffering, but that was because Jesus actually became a human being. God the Father loves us, and maybe even weeps with use when we are in pain, but He does not suffer, and I don't think Jesus thought He did. The Gospel writers did not presume to put unspoken thoughts in Jesus' head, but 2k years later, Shūsaku Endō somehow thought he could. I'll say it again, though - Endō was a novelist, so his natural mindset tended to work in character development and coherent plot in places where they are absent from the Gospel narratives.

I do think his characterization of Judas Iscariot is interesting. Endō essentially saw all of the disciples as looking for a political victory over Rome, and that's probably not far from the truth on one level; I think they sensed something spiritual happening too, but from their perspective, Messiah was to be their savior from Rome. Judas, on the other hand, is characterized as maybe the smartest in the bunch, seeing potential for political victory but also realizing way ahead of the others that Jesus wasn't going to be a military leader, and that the story of his objection to the woman pouring perfume on Jesus' feet amounts to him implicitly admitting this. The Gospel accounts paint Judas with a broad, vengeful brush, but I almost agree with Endō that they are harsh on Judas a bit unjustly. After all, all of the disciples cut and ran away when the chips were down. I imagine that if nobody had given Jesus up, Jesus would have found a way to surrender himself anyway. Judas did nothing to Jesus that God hadn't planned for ahead of time.

I wouldn't read this book as a devotional handbook. In my opinion, its flaws are too extensive for that. If you are not secure in your understanding of the Scriptures, this book could really introduce some unnecessary confusion and uncertainty. Endō asserts that nothing but a true resurrection of Jesus from the dead could have turned the weak-willed disciples of Jesus into the strong leaders who spread His message all over the world and, tradition tells us, most of whom eventually faced martyr's deaths themselves. But if you are willing to accept the most unlikely miracle of them all, a man coming back to life after being killed, why would you discard other lesser miracles such as healing the sick or casting out demons? And why, with the ultimate miracle in their toolbelt, would any early writer presume to fabricate other lesser miracles? I think this book holds some interesting stuff for someone who isn't easily swayed in their convictions, but in the long run, there are probably better books if you're looking for truths from the Word. For example, start with the Word itself - get comfortable with what it says! Then if you read something like this book, you won't be toppled over by "steps too far" like the ones I see in this book!

Happy Easter!


Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Forgive and Forget

A friend of mine posts funny memes on Facebook almost every day. I don't know how he finds them all, but he rarely posts one that doesn't actually make me smile. Some time ago he posted one that contained some "rules for life" that are tongue-in-cheek and pretty funny to me. The first one, however, I thought contained a grain of truth. It said, using a word I won't use here because I don't want to offend anyone, that you should always forgive "your enemy", but then you should also remember the guy's name. The reason that I thought it contained some truth is that I don't believe in "forgive and forget" – at least not all of the time.

Don't get me wrong, I 100% believe in the "forgive" part! Jesus made it very clear that we should forgive people who wrong us, over and over if necessary. I'd say there are two reasons for that: first and foremost, the person who wronged us can see God's forgiveness modeled in us. Second, when we hold unforgiveness in our hearts, it is damaging to us, too. I've heard it said, and I think this is a fantastic analogy, that harboring unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping that the other guy will die! Unforgiveness is toxic; forgiveness is mandatory.

But I would submit that forgiving and forgetting can be like eating healthy and hoping the other guy loses weight! Your forgiveness does not change that person, outside of giving them an opportunity to make a change themselves when they see God's work in you causing you to forgive. But if they don't change, there is every chance they will wrong and hurt you again.

But isn't that what forgiveness is... letting go of past hurts and being open to the person? Trusting them again like you did before? Well, let me frame it this way. Let's say you know someone who has a hot temper and a loaded pistol. Let's say that person aimed their gun at you and shot you. You were badly wounded, went to the hospital, got patched up, and forgave that person for what he did to you. All good so far? You did the right thing!

Months later you run into that person. He has his firearm. He pulls it out and aims it at you. It is loaded. Do you stand there and get shot again? Is that what forgiveness means? This person did not change. The first shooting was not an accident, and the impending second shooting will not be an accident either. What is the purpose of you going to the hospital again? To show the person how holy you are? Well, maybe. Maybe God says to you in your heart, be still. I'm taking care of you, and you need to stand up and be brave, and I'll get the glory in this situation. But to my way of thinking, if that doesn't happen and you just stand there and get shot again, you're kind of stupid. You're probably more useful to God alive than potentially dead, and this guy may have been spending the past few months at the shooting range, making sure he won't have to waste a third bullet on you!

My friend disagrees, and I'm sure he's not the only one. He believes that if you are wronged and you forgive, you should be totally open to being hurt again the same way. Maybe sometimes that is the case. And since I'm not God and I've been wrong before, I'll just say right here and now that my opinion is my opinion only where this is concerned. But Jesus didn't always let people get away with harming Him. Jesus literally came into the world with the express intention of allowing Himself to be brutally murdered one day, but years before that time, an angry crowd (in his own home town of Nazareth!) was trying to throw him off a cliff. It would have been the perfect time to die at the hands of enemies, if that's your intention. Did Jesus let them kill Him? Nope... the Bible says he just walked on through the crowd and left. (You can read it yourself in Luke 4:28-30.)

Did Jesus forgive them? Of course He did! In fact, he even came back to Nazareth later and tried to minister to the people again - it's recorded in Mark 6:1-6. The people basically didn't believe in Him this time either (he healed a few sick, so clearly someone believed), but at least they didn't try to throw him off a cliff this time.

So, two lessons from this. (1) Jesus defended His own life – not with force, essentially with pacifism, but He didn't let them harm Him. (2) This gave Him an opportunity to minister again to the same people later, and some who wouldn't have had a chance to be healed, got healed. (3) Clearly Jesus wasn't afraid to put Himself in harm's way again, going back to a place where he had already been rejected and almost executed!

In my opinion, sometimes there are situations where you forgive, but then you don't get in the same situation again. Domestic violence is often a good example. A woman who is being abused and stays with her attacker often just fuels his behavior, and the abuse gets worse and worse. That woman can forgive him every single night and continue to get injured, until one day she forgives him for the last time in Heaven. Or, she can get out of the dangerous situation, preserve her own health and life, and maybe even try to get him some help. Maybe losing her is what he needs to wake up to the fact that he is ruining his own life by being out of control. I've seen marriages that survive terrible situations, and certainly God is powerful enough to heal a broken marriage. And maybe, just maybe, the solution for a woman in that situation is to stay. But I'd say the default should be to get out and not get killed.

What about someone who is wronged in business? Let's say you go into business with someone. You work through the hard years of getting it off the ground, and eventually you start turning a profit. Everything is looking good for five or six years... and then your business partner drains the accounts and leaves the country, and you have to close up shop. You're ruined. You have to fire people who depended on you. Maybe you even lose your own house. You know you have to forgive that person; it's excruciatingly hard, but you do it.

A few years down the line, your former business partner, who has returned to the country after spending all of the money he stole from the business, comes to you with an idea for a new business. We built one before, he tells you – we can build one again! You know you can't trust this person. Does your forgiveness compel you to go into business with that person again? I would say not.

God may well tell you to "let him have your cloak as well" if they take advantage of you. Or, He may counsel you not to "be unequally yoked with unbelievers". But neither of those actions means that you have or have not forgiven that person. The forgiveness happens in your heart; once you have forgiven, you are then free to make the Godly choice of what action to take next.


Friday, March 15, 2024

ALL His Benefits

One last time, for the people who came in late! This is the list of benefits God has for His children, as listed in Psalm 103:

  1. forgiveness for iniquity - read the post about it
  2. healing for diseases - read the post about it
  3. redemption from "the pit" - read the post about it
  4. being crowned with "steadfast love and mercy" - read the post about it
  5. being satisfied with "good" - specifically good health - read the post about it

Can I attempt a paraphrase of the list of benefits, based on what I've blogged about them? Here we go:

  • God knows we struggle with our sin natures, and He pardons us when our motives are wrong.
  • God provides healing for us when our bodies aren't working right.
  • God knows that we were imprisoned and headed for ultimate destruction, and paid the price for our release.
  • God's love is so deep, devoted, and unchanging that it completely surrounds us.
  • God supplies us with things that are good for us, bring joy to our lives, and help us be strong as we make our way through life.

Picture in your mind a man or woman who is imprisoned and in chains. They are 100% guilty of what they have been accused of. They have been beaten and wounded during their crime and later as punishment for it, and they look decades older than they are because of what they have experienced. Now imagine that they are brought before a judge, That judge is God. God picks up his gavel, bangs it on the desk, and says, "I hereby pardon this person." Then God comes down to the person, touches them with His hands, and their wounds immediately disappear. He turns to the bailiff, and says, "Release them - I have paid back everything owed." The bailiff takes off their handcuffs, and instead God wraps the former prisoner in a luxurious robe of His love which they need never take off. Next He gives them a refreshing drink of the best water that has ever existed. When the person drinks the water, they visibly become more alert, their breathing is more calm, and they look back at God with eyes filled with peace.

That's you. That's the benefits God has provided. Don't let them pass you by!