Friday, July 22, 2016

Handling Determined Dissenters / Opposers

Our firm conviction is one of those things that can cause irritation when we meet those who adamantly disagree with us (no matter which belief it is we hold dear). Admittedly, more than once the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I allowed my emotions to stir up anger and frustration in me. It is times like these that I need to step back and look at the big picture. What do I mean?

First of all, I need to remind myself that this is not my work, I am merely one of “God’s fellow workers.” Oh sure, we may work hard in planting, watering, cultivating, but it is “God who makes it grow.” (1 Corinthians 3:7-9). The obligation that any Christian has in regards to promulgating the faith is to preach and teach.

But what happens when we meet opposers that want to argue? While we might take some time to see if we can reach their heart with the heartwarming message of God’s Kingdom, after a while it just becomes a fruitless endeavor for both sides. The apostles of Jesus encountered such ones. In Matthew chapter 15 the apostles approached Jesus and asked if he was aware that the religious leaders were “stumbled” over Jesus words. What was his response? Matthew 15:14 reads: “Let them be. Blind guides is what they are. If, then, a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”

I used this in flipping the responsibility onto the backs of those who seek us out for no other reason than to debate. One particularly cocky young man would show up at the Kingdom Hall every Sunday for no other purpose than to engage us in an argument. I asked him, “Do you believe that you have the right understanding and that we are apostates or at very least misleading people?” He confirmed he did believe that. I then ask him why he refused to obey Jesus’ directions in such cases. He looked confused. I turned to Matthew 15:14 and read it. Then I asked, “So if you believe we are blind guides, what did Jesus tell you to do?” He never came back. Yes, there is a difference with spreading the “good news” and targeting specific people to try to undermine their beliefs or to win arguments.

We recognize that we will not convert the whole world. We even recognize that some will strongly assert they are Christians but are making false claims. So while we indiscriminately engage in our worldwide preaching activity, looking for those who appreciate the value of God’s Kingdom, we do not act like our opposers. What the opposers do is not spreading the good news. They are looking to selectively attack certain religions. Even though we may patiently and repeatedly try to reason with them, that isn’t something they are truly interested in. They merely want to win an argument and will continue with their attempts until they, like wolves in sheep’s clothing, snatch an unsuspecting sheep.

When Satan tempted Eve, his sly, twisted words implied that God was holding something back from her; that God himself was a liar. Just like Satan, those opposed to our beliefs try to twist our beliefs to confuse some that may not be spiritually strong. And just like Satan, they will use phrases to get us to think they are on our side; have our best interests at heart; play on our egos that we are good people but just that the Watchtower has deceived us. Over the years, I’ve met at least 3 or 4 of those types. When I showed them directly from scripture how they were wrong, their whole attitude changed to anger and attack mode – just like their father, the devil.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Permanent Elimination or Everlasting Torment?

Permanent death or everlasting torture? What does the weight of scripture demonstrate is God's viewpoint on what is just?

Even with the first human pair, God was very plain what would happen if they disobeyed.
Gen.2:16,17 Yes, death, returning to the dust from which they were taken, was the plainly stated penalty for disobedience.

Just prior to Moses' death, as part of a motivating discourse, he said the following at Deut.30:15-19 Life and Death as “rewards” for obedience and disobedience were contrasted. No mention of eternal torment in a fiery hell.

Ps.37:9-11 The scripture says that evil men will be “done away with.” Not tortured for all eternity.

Ezekiel 18:4 Once again, death is the punishment, not torment.

Romans 6:23 Indicates that death is the wage of sin, not eternal torment.

Both the apostles Peter and Paul mention destruction (2 Thes.1:9; 2 Peter 2:9; 2 Peter 3:7,9), not eternal torment, as punishment from God.

But now what of the “proof” scriptures advanced by those believing in hellfire?
Rev.21:7-8 This is one of two major scriptures that those advancing the idea of hellfire quote. Notice the last few words, “this means the second death.” At Rev.20:14,15 we read what else ends up in the lake of fire (aka “the second death”): “death and the Grave were hurled into the lake of fire.” Since both death and the grave are not objects that can be tormented, a reasoning person would need to ask himself, “What could the second death possibly be?” Revelation 21:4 answers that question: “He [God] will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” So far from the lake of fire picturing eternal torment, it pictures eternal elimination.

Another term found in scripture is Gehenna. Rather than reinvent the wheel, here is an article that covers that subject.

There are probably a few other scriptures those advancing the idea of hellfire will quote, but the  above seem to be the major players in their line of (wrong) reasoning. Why am I so bold in outrightly calling it wrong? Because it defames the Creator as a person whose justice can only be satisfied by eternally torturing people, when God’s own Word the Bible makes it quite plain he is not that sort of person at all. (See also this article.)

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Reply to commenter on Matthew 8

I actually appreciate when I am challenged by those not having the same viewpoint as I do. It helps me to strengthen my beliefs while attempting to make a defense with “a mild spirit and deep respect.” So just within the last 24 hours I received a comment on my recent commentary on Matthew 8:29. Due to my health struggles, I haven’t posted an article in several months, so I was surprised that the commenter was still reading my blog. The commenter mentioned so many things, that the only way to address it is with yet another blog article.

I will put the commenter’s words in blue to differentiate them from my reply. You can read the entirety of his comment at the end of the aforementioned article on Matthew 8.

There’s some rather simplistic reasoning going on here, some of it based on conjecture on your part (spoken as though fact), and you probably shouldn’t presume to know God’s thoughts, i.e. “God knew”.

“Rather simplistic reasoning:” Simple and clear, yes. Simplistic, no. There is no reason to convolute the Bible. While there are things that do require a great deal of deep, contemplative research, that is not the case with the passage under consideration. Clear, accurate and concise is what I aim for. I consider brevity is a sign of intelligence.

Conjecture: Since you didn’t qualify/specify which reasoning was at fault, it is a bit difficult to address your charge of it being personal conjecture. However, I’ll take a stab at it: The crux of my article was that demons cannot be tortured in the sense that we humans understand it. Since they are spirit creatures, they cannot be restrained with shackles and chains; they cannot be burned; they cannot be drowned. My background on this, which I failed to mention, was that someone who was a relatively new student of the Bible asked me how demons could be tortured. The passage confused him because he knew demons are not bound to the limitations we humans are. For those that believe in a “hell fire,” even they note that the demons are torturing the humans sent there. According to their beliefs, the demons are immune to the fires of hell, instead, they are guardians of it. If you have a belief different than this, make the effort to define and explain your own. Do you want to teach me? I’m listening. Teach by use of scripture and reasoning that makes sense. Allow me to question you. In that regard, that is one thing I have always appreciated about Jehovah’s Witnesses. When I started studying with them, I was adamant that they were wrong. But they never resorted to personal attacks. Instead, they would always say, “But Bart, what does the Bible say?” When I still wouldn’t agree, they would ask me to read my own Bible and attempt to find scriptural grounds for my claims. Since becoming one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, no other religion has treated me with the same dignity. Instead of being willing to calmly discuss the Bible, they choose the low road to insult me.

Knowing God’s thoughts: To add some framework for those who don't know: Paul wrote "for who has known the mind of the Lord?" In addition, the prophet Isaiah wrote that God's thoughts are higher than man's thoughts. Taking those two scriptures at face value, one might wrongly conclude that knowing how God thinks is impossible. Indeed, a few people I've met have actually been taught that and believed it. But is that really so? One key point I have always believed is that if God is truly unknowable, then why did he go to such an extent not only to give the nation of Israel his law covenant, not only to preserve his word the Bible through thousands of years, not only to send his only begotten son for our sake, but finally to help us clearly know what he wants through the teachings of Jesus. So knowing how God thinks becomes clearer as we diligently read the Bible, follow what it teaches, and challenge ourselves to speak to others. But the commenter’s specific criticism was that I couldn’t possibly know that God would teach us by way of illustrations that we could comprehend within our limited framework. Yet the Bible itself is full of examples of just that. The dreams and visions that various faithful ones in ancient times had were put in terms they could relate to. Daniel’s explanation of the vision the king had of the tall idol made of various metals. Daniel’s vision of a very tall tree that was chopped down. The illustrative lessons that Jeremiah received from God regarding God’s judgment against a rebellious nation. There are literally dozens more examples. Then there is the whole matter that the Bible wasn’t written for angels; wasn’t written for animals such as the dogs, cats, elephants, etc. It was written for the benefit of mankind. To me, that makes it a foregone conclusion that concepts written in scripture would be for our understanding. But maybe I misunderstood the point the commenter was making.

So, far from conjecture, it is a logical conclusion that the reference to torment would be one we could relate to. And again, my only point was to address my friend’s quandary regarding how demons could be tormented. But coming back to knowing God’s thinking: Some try to take Paul’s and Isaiah’s words as an excuse to make no attempt to obey God because he is some mysterious being that is illogical. Such a conclusion is an insult to God. Since he created our brains, surely he is smarter than we are. But this brings up another observation I’ve made recently: I’ve noted some youths seem to feel that adults are stupid. One time, I was so frustrated by the arrogance of a teen, I asked: “Tell me, do you think that the older you get, the stupider you will get? Or do you think you will gain more experience, knowledge and insight as you grow older?” He knew exactly what I was driving at. But the same seems to be true with the way some humans treat God. They act as if he’s just some old fogey that’s too illogical to understand. The complete opposite is true. While at times the way God handles things may baffle us, once a matter is done, in retrospect we see the wisdom of his ways. One great example of this was when God lead the nation leaving Egypt to the sea. According to man’s shortsighted perspective, God was leading them to sure destruction, pinning them in-between the sea and the advancing army of Pharaoh. Even though at the time even the wisest man may have questioned God’s action, God knew full well what was going on and how things would work out. Again, by reading the Bible, we can indeed know God.

You are importing your own speculation into Rev. 20:1-3 that simply cannot be gleaned from the passage itself.

Revelation 20:1-3 reads: “And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven with the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 2 He seized the dragon, the original serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for 1,000 years. 3 And he hurled him into the abyss and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not mislead the nations anymore until the 1,000 years were ended. After this he must be released for a little while.” I’m not sure why the commenter can’t easily, readily see the scripture says that Satan (and by association all the demons) are imprisoned. Since nothing I or my religion has to say on the matter is of value to the commenter, perhaps he’ll accept the outside comments of Matthew Henry.

As I read further, I see that your aim is to ‘lead’ the reader to the desired conclusion, and to reinforce the argument against the existence of Hell.

Interesting that you reached that conclusion. Again, my point was to prove that physical torture of demons is not what the scripture in Matthew 8 was talking about. But you are right. I readily and proudly acknowledge that I believe the teaching of hellfire is a blasphemous insult to a loving God. He doesn’t need to permanently torture evil ones to feel justice. He just does away with them. Death is the result of sin, not permanent torture.

Bart I agree with you that God cannot tempt or be tempted by evil (James 1:13), but your insinuation that Jeremiah 19:5 is an example of very evil He wouldn’t perpetrate against humans (i.e. torture humans in ‘hellfire’) is an overt attempt to bias the reader’s reasoning towards the desired conclusion (that God wouldn’t torment humans in a ‘firey hell’).

Jeremiah 19:5 reads: “They built the high places of Baal in order to burn their sons in the fire as whole burnt offerings to Baal, something that I had not commanded or spoken of and that had never even come into my heart.” So we have to ask ourselves: What was it that never came into God’s heart? Was it that they shouldn’t sacrifice to idols or was it that they shouldn’t have made human sacrifices to anyone, idols or not? The nation of Israel by that time was well established they had the Mosaic Law. They knew that idolatry was wrong. They also knew that murder was wrong. So the point God was making was that it was repulsive to him to burn humans as a sacrifice. If burning humans is evil, doesn’t logic dictate that God would never invent a system to burn humans forever? If you had a disobedient child, one that was deserving of death, would you torture that child first, keeping them alive as long as possible to see them suffer? Even in today’s world such a parent would be arrested for cruelty. Even in today’s world, the controversy over “waterboarding” has made the news. Yet some have no problem accusing God of being that cruel.

It is also rather questionable (and suspicious) in my mind why you would go back six centuries even before Christ came, to pluck a solitary verse completely out of its context in order to support your argument that God would never do such an ‘evil’ thing to a human.

Okay, so I didn’t go into a long explanation about why I chose that scripture. But your point about going back six centuries doesn’t make sense to me. Are you saying that because the passage is old, that is reason enough to ignore it? When Paul wrote “all scripture is inspired and beneficial,” he was, at that time in history referring to the Hebrew & Aramaic scriptures (what some call the “Old Testament”). In contrast, “the letters” that early disciples read from the apostles were, while viewed as God’s direction, not called “scripture.” So yes, I reached back to an appropriate passage that would demonstrate how God feels about torturing others.

Let me ask you, was God perpetrating ‘evil’ when He rained ‘fire’ down on Sodom & Gomorrah, or directly commanded the Israelites by the sword brutally slay every last man woman & child of peoples (Canaanites, Amalekites, etc., even entire tribes & nations of peoples? What about killing all of Egypt’s first-born? What about the Flood? There’s so much more still.

All the examples you provide were swift and sudden destruction of evil, not a continuance of torture as proposed by hellfire. Yes, the punishment those received was more than just going into non-existence. As for the deposing of the nations residing in Israel’s promised inheritance, perhaps you’ve forgotten Deut.20:10-15. You might also remember the Gibeonites were a stellar example of the humble way the others could have acted to save their lives. For a more in-depth look at war as it related to Israel, read this.

Of course God is sovereign, and can elect to do what He wills to do in His Creation and with His created creatures…but I also know that He is supremely moral and spotlessly righteous & just. Thus these are all instances of His sovereign will at work, but I must trust never in a way that violated His pristine moral goodness. And that’s why the existence of a ‘hell’ (while unpalatable to my sensibilities) isn’t unacceptable to my own mind. Righteousness & unrighteousness, justice & injustice, good & evil, freedom & incarceration, life & death…logically then, just is there is a Heaven lit by His glory, in all likelihood is a Hell far removed from His Light. 

You choose to believe in hell. I get that. I understand your nearly poetic contrasts. However, that “just as there is a heaven…. In all likelihood is a hell…” is not what the Bible says. The correct contrast is “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I welcome your researched, well-reasoned, and scripturally annotated response.

After thought: I realized while proofreading this, I bounced back and forth from directing my response to the commenter and then to the general audience reading this blog article. I readily admit that is not a good thing to do. While I realize the following is an excuse, it is one I have to deal with: I am indeed dealing with a cancer that is slowly killing me and, I’ve noticed, is taking its toll on my brain. Things I used to be able to respond to quickly, now takes me several days to mull over. My speech is becoming slurred; I forget simple things frequently; and I’m sadly coming more and more housebound. Still, I feel compelled to stand up for my beliefs the best I can. After spending several hours on this article (over a period of a day) with multiple edits, I just became too tired to continue, so I posted it in its current state. This is also the reason I haven’t posted anything here since Feb.2016.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Matthew 8 vs 29 Demons Tormented

Matthew 8:29 "[the demons] screamed, saying: “What have we to do with you, Son of God?  Did you come here to torment us before the appointed time?”

It is helpful to understand what the demons meant by "did you come here to torment us before the appointed time?" As you probably remember, Revelation 20:1-3 says of Jesus: “I saw an angel coming down out of heaven with the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. He seized the dragon, the original serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for 1,000 years. And he hurled him into the abyss and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not mislead the nations anymore until the 1,000 years were ended. After this he must be released for a little while."

So the demons were referring to the future time that they know and recognized as their imprisonment in the "abyss." Granted, these are spirit creatures we are talking about, so no physical holding tank could restrain them. But God knew we as physical beings would not understand spiritual things unless they were put in a frame of reference we humans could relate to. So whatever this "abyss" is, it is some sort of restraint that prevents the demons from exerting their influence.

But how do the words “torture” and “torment” play into this? Regarding the original Greek word used here, consider this article:

Here is a reasoning point that may help: Just as a holding cell, or even possibly solitary confinement might be a "torture" all of and in itself, so likewise restraining the demons inside the abyss is all by itself a torture. (Even a child being punished by being sent to his room or to sit in a corner knows how torturous being grounded can be.) Those who have been in prisons can relate to the mental (psychological and emotional) anguish just being in prison can have. Even if no actual physical torture is being applied, just the act of restraint, the inability to express free will, the inability to enjoy life can be torture.

So things we humans associate with physical torture would not affect a spirit creature. But more importantly is the principle at Jeremiah 19:5 and James 1:13. That is to say, God would never use this sort of torture on anyone.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Who Are "Most To Be Pitied"?

In writing to the Corinthians, Paul essentially argued that if we are self-deceived in our faith, then we are most to be pitied above all men. (1 Corinthians 15:14-19) This is not some deep esoteric spiritual gem of wisdom. It is simple logic.

But there is another side of this that goes beyond what Paul’s intent was in writing the above. Paul’s intent was to put to shame fellow believers that got a “bit too big for their britches” in making some absurd claim that there would not be a future resurrection of the dead (see verse 12). Paul was actually providing strong argument in favor of believing in the resurrection.

However, let’s just for a moment ponder the possibility that we are self-deceived. In today’s world, that would mean that we all may as well just follow a hedonistic life. In fact, that is the same conclusion that Paul made in verse 32. If there truly is no meaning in life, why in the world are atheists and godless science so absorbed in discrediting the Bible. No matter what they do, they’ve accomplished nothing because in the end, it all means nothing. Whatever “name” they may make for themselves will be short-lived and, at the very most, be relegated to the antiquities of some history book that students of the future will fall asleep reading. In other words, just as King Solomon concluded, ‘It is ALL futility (or vanity)’ (or, vain pursuits).

So where am I going with this? After more than 6 decades of life and over 40 years of being associated with Jehovah’s Witnesses, EVEN IF there is the remotest possibility that I was completely credulous in my beliefs, I don’t see that anyone else has anything more worthy, more compassionately comforting, more dignifying, more satisfying, more purpose-filled than what I have. Everyone else believes it all amounts to nothing. I have learned it all does indeed amount to something worth living for.

Now, the difference between being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and belonging to some nominal Christian church can be summed up in something one of my students said about 20 years ago. He was reluctant to make a commitment. Finally, after several months, he at least qualified to come and observe what we do in the ministry. He didn’t want to accompany me, he wanted to partner with someone else. After an hour of our public ministry (calling on people at their homes), the group returned to the car. As my student got in, he exclaimed “There is no religion like Jehovah’s Witnesses! People in other religions have no clue what they really believe and they can’t logically explain it!” This was actually a monumental realization for him because up to that time he was not sure that belonging to any religion really mattered. Now he saw with his own personal experience exactly what so many others finally realize -- we have intelligence and logic on our side. Other religions have little more than emotionalism, "clever" and/or shallow reasoning (that may sound good but is false), and rituals.

There is something else that we have that others do not -- a truly international brotherhood that cares and an educational system that helps us become solid in our faith that God’s Word, the Bible, truly holds out the best way of life. If others who do not share our conviction want to believe that their life amounts to nothing, I truly feel sorry for them. So, unlike Paul, even if we are wrong in our belief, I don’t think that we are “most to be pitied,” I think the non-believers win that distinction.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Full Circle In God's Purpose For Mankind

If you bring up my index to this blog, and then use the “find” feature (Ctrl-F) and enter “hope,” you’ll find I’ve written a few articles about it. Probably the two most relevant ones are: Death History and Future Hope and Understanding Heaven and Human Destiny.This time, I want to provide a bird’s eye view of the full-circle of events that will fulfill God’s initial purpose for the earth.

So many religions complicate and convolute the simple Bible-stated truth regarding sin, redemption and the future hope of mankind. Here is what the Bible teaches without all the unscriptural additions and folklore.

To understand the future hope, we first need to understand what the original hope was. Genesis chapters one and two state that Adam and Eve would care for animals, reproduce, Cultivate ground, and expand the original garden. There was perfect health and peace, plenty of food and water, and plenty to keep the human couple feeling happy and fulfilled.

In order to test their loyalty and true love for their creator, they were given one very simple restriction -- Don't eat from one particular tree. There were probably dozens if not hundreds of lush and delicious plants and fruit from trees to enjoy so this restriction was very reasonable. The stated consequences for disobedience was also plain and simple -- Adam and Eve would cease to exist. They would go back to the dirt they were made of.

Note that there is no mention of going off to another form of life. Becoming a different type of life (such as a spirit being) would not have been a punishment, it would have been circumventing the plainly stated punishment and, really, have been a blessing instead of curse. But quite clearly they were to cease existing -- no conscious existence at all. Death was the end-judgement, death was the punishment.

But then many might be alarmed and rightly ask, "What about us? We weren't there in the garden of Eden. It's not our fault that Adam & Eve blew it." And they would be right. We must also remember that it was not God’s fault . However, God is not so unrighteous that he would leave Adam's offspring in the lurch. Hence the provision of the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ. What mankind lost was everlasting life as sons in God's family. That is exactly what Jesus will restore.

Since it was God's original purpose for the earth to be a beautiful gem of a global paradise filled with humans that perfectly cooperated with God’s design and would live forever, that is what is being restored. Basically, after a huge interruption to God’s original purpose (through Adam and Eve’s disobedience), mankind will finally be on track again.

But what of all the thousands of people who died faithful to God throughout history. Jesus said there was to be a resurrection, that those in the grave would be brought back to life on earth.

Think about it: If God had intended to have us become angels, why didn't he just make us angels in the first place-- just like he did to the angels already existing before mankind came to be? Some say that he placed us here as an intermediate step, but that wouldn't be fair that the angels who were created as angels didn't have to go through a trial period. God is not unfair like that.

So we were never intended to be in heaven, have never been in heaven before and, for the most part, will never go there. (There are a few that Jesus is taking to form what Revelation calls "the bride" of the Christ. These will rule with Jesus.)

Essentially, this is the full-circle of paradise lost to paradise regained. The only change from the original purpose is that as a reward to Jesus for his faithfulness, he is being allowed to invite some humans to join him as rulers over the earth.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sowing Seed, Luke 8:4-8

I just finished Luke chapter 8. In vss. 4-8 Jesus tells the illustration (“parable”) of the man who sows seed. Jesus says that some seed fell on the roadside, on the rocky soil, amongst thorny grows, and finally on “good soil.”

That made me wonder: Why was the sower so careless with where he threw his seed? ‘Why didn’t he just scatter it where the soil was “good” and rich with nutrients. His yield would probably have been better.’ If you’ve ever seen how the ancients sowed seed, you might better understand Jesus’ illustration. Naturally, as the sower approached the edge of his property, as he scattered the seed, some was bound to go beyond the boundaries of his plantation.

But Jesus wasn’t giving an agricultural lesson. His listeners readily understood the common challenges of sowing a field. He was talking about the preaching of the Good News. His illustration demonstrates God’s indiscriminate love for mankind. The preaching (casting the seed out) is done without regard to people’s race, status or intellect. God gives his hope for mankind freely to all. Their outward characteristics are not what makes any individual roadkill, rocky or thorny. It is who they are inside. Since we, as God’s fellow workers cannot read hearts, we also indiscriminately spread the good news and let each one’s response dictate what type of soil they are. And that is why, by necessity, some of our seed-like activity will need to fall even in places where it may turn out unproductive. We may attempt to plant, but it is only God who can make a heart grow with appreciative response.