How did we get here, and where are we going? The very seeking for answers to our questions of how, why and what next, and the bringing forth of the spiritual fruits of that journey, provide nourishment and exercise for our spirits.
Nevertheless, the journey is often painful because it requires us to be honest and humble and to keep learning all our life long. We never reach a place where we know it all. There is always more to learn. But to never give up, to keep working through the pain of this journey, is our mission in life.
In the phenomena of near death experiences, those revived sometimes report of having talked with departed loved ones on the spiritual side of life. One frequent lament that they report is made by those in the spiritual realm is that they wasted so much of their time when they were on earth. From their perspective in the spiritual realm they can see how important it is to develop greater spiritual perception and strengths when one is materially alive. What is bound on earth is bound in heaven, Jesus said.
We have that warning from them. So while there is still time, we ought to be diligent about firming up our flabby spirits in preparation for our inevitable evaluation by our Creator. Jesus is our teacher and role model. Though it takes courage to follow where he led, we can do it if we try.
Little children have several unique qualities. To begin with, the young child has very few desires. Food, shelter, companionship and opportunities to explore and learn are basic. As adults, we need to learn to take pleasure in simple things and overcome the desire for excessive acquisition.
Young children are very loving and accepting of everyone they meet and they have no time for grudge holding. We should copy those attributes to love and expect the best from others for loving and expecting the best from others releases good chemicals in ourselves to aid health and often leads others to live righteously. Also, grudge holding leads to physical, social and spiritual illness. Jesus said if we don’t forgive others God will not forgive us. Whatever civil justice cannot recompense we should give to God, with Whom there is perfect justice.
Also, young children are not egotistical. They immerse themselves in each day’s experience, undaunted by the possibility of error. Jesus taught and exampled this level of humility and dedication. Though his interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures was sometimes rejected, he continued reaching out to his contemporaries with hope and love.
Learning the honesty and candor of young children, while adding adult wisdom for consideration and tact, is indispensable if we want to live with God in His kingdom. In the Ten Commandments we are told to not bear false witness against anyone. Jesus said we must worship God in spirit and in truth. (JN 4:24) At the end of Revelation (21:5-8) we are warned that those of false speech are not admitted to heaven. We cannot be dishonest with ourselves or one another and be one in purpose with God.
Playfulness and creativity are also attributes of young children. When we employ them we find it easier to open a window inside ourselves through which stale feelings are released and fresh understandings are born.
Finally, the trust and obedience we see in young children is what we must imitate in our relationship with God. Jesus said many will come to him saying they did great things in his name, but he will send them away and call them evil because they did not do the will of God. Showing love and respect for God by being obedient to God’s rules and submitting to God’s daily guidance is essential for preparing our souls for rebirth in God’s kingdom. We are God’s little children and we are meant to be respectful and obedient to God, as we want our children to be to us. (MT 7:21-27)
Some Say “Grace Alone….”
“Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone,” is the message grace-alone advocates preach. “God does it all, and we contribute nothing but our sinfulness. What a liberating message!” they claim. But is it true? The arguments given to support this teaching are full of misquotes and misinterpretations. Let’s look closely at the premises on which the teaching rests.
Grace-alone is based on three premises: First, that all humans are unchangeably sinful at birth, and that we got that way because two people in a prehistoric time disobeyed God. Second, that we do not have free will and therefore can do nothing to change our sinful nature. And third, that God capriciously predestines certain souls for salvation and other souls for damnation. This is called “election” and being saved by God’s grace alone. Let’s look at these premises.
The first premise, that we are unchangeably sinful at birth, is drawn from an interpretation of original sin. The claim is that because Adam and Eve sinned, all humanity is cursed. “We did not decide whether we would belong to the Adamic party; we were born into it,” one author says. “We sin because it is our nature to sin. …We cannot stop sinning.” That all on earth today could be irreversibly condemned because of one ancient couple’s sin is illogical for two reasons.
To begin with, God tells us in His Law that a father is not to be put to death for the sins of his son, nor the son for his father. Each is accountable for his own sin. (DT 24:16) Therefore, the whole human family could not be condemned because two people a long time ago chose their will over God’s will. That Adam and Eve are symbolic of our own decisions to choose our will over God’s will is, however, logical. Seen in this light we can understand how everyone in the material realm is being held accountable for his or her choices against God’s will.
The Bible uses the symbol of a snake in several places to designate liars. It is the lie we believed – that we could choose against God’s will and not suffer the consequences for it — that drew us to choose against God initially and caused us to separate ourselves from God. As long as we blame “Adam” for our errors, we have no control over our fate. Only when we acknowledge that he is symbolic of our own rebellion can we take control over our future, reverse our self-before-God choices and rebuild trust with God by learning how to perceive and choose God’s daily guidance.
Even more logically, however, if it was true that all are born sinners because Adam chose against God’s will, then it would also be true that all are born sinless if Jesus’ death on the cross – his obedience to God’s will to the point of death — atoned for everyone’s sins. If we could blame Adam’s single action for our propensity to sin, we would be able to also claim sinlessness because of Jesus’ single action. This is easy to disprove because we can see that even Christians go right on sinning. Obviously, this is because we each are responsible for having rebelled against God and we can neither blame someone else for our choices nor can we claim redemption because of someone else’s actions. We are all here because of our own original sin which, out of feelings of guilt and hopelessness, we have suppressed in our memories and which we go on committing each time we choose our will over God’s will.
The second premise, that we are without free will and are therefore powerless to change our sinful nature, is the opposite of the whole weight of the Bible’s teachings. Throughout the Bible all of the prophets, as well as Jesus, told us to repent — that is, to confess that we have erred and to change our lifestyles. Of what could we or should we repent if we do not have free will? What point is there to teaching repentance if we cannot do something to correct past errors? Jesus said tax collectors and harlots would get to heaven before the Pharisees, because they repented – they confessed their errors and changed their lifestyles. (MT 21:31-32) We have free will and we are expected to use it to choose God’s will over our own. Jesus gave us the story about the Prodigal Son to show that God is delighted to take us back when we return to Him in humility and by changing our lifestyle.
There were daily sacrifices and holy day sacrifices to acknowledge, thank and honor God. There were additional sacrifices from individuals to thank God for safety, health and other blessings, as well as to show contrition for breaking God’s laws. The priests made animal sacrifices to God on behalf of individuals and the community.
Burned sacrifice was like paying money. Since all societies in the ancient Middle East grew up around agriculture and livestock management, grain and other produce were their money. As such, the food sacrifices were symbols – the currency of an agricultural people. Besides thanksgiving sacrifices, in many ancient societies animal sacrifice was a symbol of contrition and repentance for rule breaking. It was like paying a fine for breaking the rules. Pouring out the animal’s blood was symbolic of rededicating one’s life (blood) to rule keeping. (LV 4, 5, 6, 7; NU 15:22-29)
However, paying the fine by pouring out the blood led to lip service contrition. Citizens would pay the fine and go right back to sinning. Isaiah and other prophets said that the sacrifice God wants is a contrite spirit and the giving of justice and of good counsel to the poor and weak. Amos (5:21-24) told us that God hates sacrifices and wants justice and uprightness. Isaiah (1:10-16, 29:13-14) said God hates sacrifices because the people don’t do right. Micah (6:6-8) reported, “Does God want sacrifice? No! Do what is right, love loyally, walk humbly with God.” The author of Proverbs (21:3) told us to do what is upright and just, and that that is more pleasing to God than sacrifice. Hosea (6:6) said God desires mercy, not sacrifice, and that knowledge of God is more important than burnt offerings. The psalmist (40:6-8, 51:16-17) told us that God does not require sacrifices, but requires us to learn and do God’s will, to offer sacrifices of thanks, not bulls, and of a contrite spirit. Jeremiah (7:22-23) said that God never gave a law to make animal sacrifices; He commanded us to listen to His voice. Jesus drew from all these teachings when he said God wants mercy, not sacrifice. (MT 12:7) He interpreted the intent of the sacrifices for sins laws to mean that we should bring forth the fruits of contrition. In exercising mercy we must set limits to our desires and treat others as we want them to treat us. In this way we demonstrate our intent to follow God’s rules and show respect for God.
Submitting to God
God said all on earth will be blessed because Abraham obeyed God’s voice. Abraham listened, then he moved to Shecham. He listened, then he chose circumcision. He listened, then he knew Sodom would be destroyed. God told Isaac that Abraham was blessed because he obeyed God’s voice and God’s laws. (GN 26:4-5) In Genesis 18:17-19 we are told that Abraham taught his children and his household to “keep the way of the Lord.” This would include listening and submitting to God the way Abraham did.
Isaac listened to God and didn’t go to Egypt at a time of famine. His son Jacob listened to God and faced the brother he thought would kill him. His son Joseph listened to God and interpreted the dreams of a Pharaoh. That this teaching continued to be kept can be seen in Moses, who listened and followed God’s directions in confronting a Pharaoh. (GN 32, 33, 41; EX 3, 4)
Moses told us to hear God’s voice and obey Him. (DT 26:16-19; EX 33:7-11) He consistently listened to God, then he led the Hebrews out of Egypt and through the desert. He listened to God, then he put the Law in writing. (EX 19, 20) Moses taught and was an example of submission to God.
The Judges Deborah and Gideon listened to God, and rescued their country. (Judges 4 and 7)
The prophets Isaiah (30:1, 66:3-4), Jeremiah (3:25, 7:22-26, 9:11-16, 17:5), Daniel (9:8-11) and Zephaniah (1:4-6) all taught listening prayer and submission to God.
Jesus listened during prayer. Then he chose the twelve disciples. (LK 6:12-14) He listened at Gethsemane, then chose God’s will over his own. (MT 26:39-42) He said that he said only what God told him to say and did only what God told him to do. And he told us to follow, to imitate, him. In the Lord’s Prayer he told us to say, “God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s will can only be done here if we daily perceive God’s specific guidance to us. Jesus also said only those who do God’s will enter heaven. (MT 7:21-27) Seeking and obeying God’s will is the next level of obedience after law keeping that Jesus taught. (JN 4:34, 5:30, 6:38, 7:16-18)
Abraham, Moses and Jesus, and all who listened to God, were all Law-oriented spiritual seekers who taught us to respect and live by the disciplines of God’s rules. They all also taught submission to God’s daily will, and Jesus taught the steps we must take to perceive and choose God’s will over our own: humility, honesty, repentance, living the letter and intentions of the Law, loving God completely with all of ourselves and forgiving and loving our neighbors as ourselves. (JN 4:23-24; MT 18:1-4, 4:17, 6:1-6, 16-18, 5:17-48; MK 10:13-16 1:14-15, 12:29-31; LK 18:15-17, 13:1-5, 24:46-47)
In nature, force is bound by laws. It naturally balances with what is passive and supportive. But humans have free will. We can learn the laws of nature and then force them against their balance. Ultimately this is to our detriment. But in our love of force we can’t see that until the repercussions of our poor choices accelerate out of our ability to control them.
When a society’s leaders – religious, governmental, business, education, etc. – stop listening to God they become arrogant and force their power-heavy interpretations on their communities. This creates an imbalance in the communities. In order to protect the natural life sustaining balance on earth and create sustainable economic and political systems we have to develop the spiritual sensitivity with which to perceive and respect God’s daily guidance. This of necessity means developing sensitivity to God’s whole masculine/feminine nature – what is powerful as well as what is supportive.
Jesus taught us to respect and seek that which is servile in ourselves, and to avoid arrogance. When we develop love and respect for both the powerful and active as well as the meek and servile in ourselves and in our relationships — and when we signal God and our own souls that we’re ready to be obedient to our Creator by living by God’s rules — then we are able to open spiritual eyes and ears and achieve the next level of obedience — our submission to God’s daily guidance.
Developing respect for what is servile in human nature and in environmental nature is a stepping stone to developing the humility we need to move our egos aside and perceive God’s various styles of communication. The attitude of arrogance blocks us from seeing how to balance our personal relationships so that we may perceive God’s guidance in how to create sustainable economic and environmental systems. The result is that we are destroying the foundations of our life supporting environmental systems because the culture we have built respects power and pushing the limits much more than it respects what is supportive in ourselves, in one another and in the material environment. Our psychology and culture are out of balance, and as a result we wrench the environment out of balance as well.