Saturday, July 30, 2016

Then Fades Away

Scripture has long waxed poetic about man’s short time on earth. I've mentioned this before, but since age 9, I’ve had to deal with serious health issues that have demonstrated to me just how fragile and short our existence can be. Between ages 9 and 16 I had multiple surgeries for some odd muscular disease. During those years, going to Children’s hospital in Los Angeles, I got to know other children, much sicker than I was. Surprisingly, they seemed to deal with it much better than I’ve subsequently seen adults deal with it. One particularly happy boy was in the hospital permanently. I remember when I was 16 going in for a checkup. It was memorable for me because I had just become a licensed driver and it was my first trip to the hospital by myself. I went up to the ward and asked to see the boy. The nurse bowed her head and started crying. He had died. This boy, who was on a specially designed gurney with large, wheelchair-like front wheels so he could be mobile (he had to be flat on his belly), had appointed himself a one-man greeting committee. He would wheel into other children’s rooms who were frightened and apprehensive and he would cheer them up. Now he was gone. I also started crying. But more than that, in a private prayer to God, I told him that if I lived just one day longer than that boy, I’d have nothing to complain about.

Since then (around 5 decades), I’ve lost close friends who died in their late 30s and early 40s. The latter, I had known since my late 20s when he was a teen. They both died with dignity, always unselfishly thinking of others and not focusing on themselves. In a conversation with my oncologist yesterday, I related the above experiences and told him that I am nothing but grateful to Jehovah that I’ve lived more than 6 decades. I’m actually blown away that I’ve lived this long. I told him I do not fear death because I understand what scripture says about it – that in God’s eyes, we are merely “sleeping” in death and to him it is no more effort than to call out to us to wake up (in the resurrection). The imagery I see here is a loving father walking into the bedroom of his dear child and gently rousing him. (Yes, yes, I'm well aware of the commanding voice scriptures speak of.)

It has been around a year since I’ve posted anything about my health. I felt an update would be good. Based on the continuing issues with leukemia, bladder cancer and bone marrow failure, the oncologist felt we are looking about another 12 months before things start going drastically south. My latest bout with pneumonia this past week (which seemed to come out of nowhere) is just one more indication my immune system is being challenged to keep this boat afloat. He wanted me to reiterate my wishes now that we are getting closer. I confirmed that I’d rather have some semblance of a useful life than to be repeatedly assaulted with intrusive treatments that knock me off my feet for weeks at a time. (And mind you, “some semblance of a useful life” is far from what is normal. It seems every day I wake up and have to accept a new, lesser form of normal.) I declined any further surgeries or chemo treatments. He agreed that at this point, attempting to treat the situations would be harder on my body than just letting things take their course. I told him that in my mind, there is a difference between preserving life and extending death. He asked, “Besides what you don’t want, is there anything you do want?” I asked only that I be made as comfortable as possible. He suggested hospice. I told him that it really is way too soon to make that decision.

Earlier this month I mentioned it had been several months since I had posted. I’ve noticed within the last week that I’ve had chronic migraines on a daily basis and it is getting increasingly difficult to commit my thoughts to writing. So I have no idea just how much I’ll be able to post in the upcoming months. It really is not a big worry to me. I started this blog only as a means to keep my mind active. I never expected to actually have others (I didn’t personally know) reading it. I chose the blog instead of a private diary because there were some specific thoughts I wanted to be able to share with friends by merely providing a link. But now, several years later, checking the Stats page, I’ve noticed my blog is being read by people in many parts of the world. Within the first day of being posted, any particular post will have  a couple dozen readers. I’m honored, even if it is only those who disagree with my scriptural viewpoints.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

God's Kingdom Means Salvation

A detractor has charged us with not accentuating “the good news of salvation in Christ,” but rather raising the "Kingdom of God" as more important. What does the Bible say?

Let us examine how many scriptures we find that use either phrase mentioned above.

Those accentuating the “Kingdom of God” or “the Kingdom of the heavens”:
Matthew: 6 times, 32 times as “the Kingdom of the heavens. Chapters 1-14, 15-28
Mark: (Kingdom of God = 14 times)
Luke: (Kingdom of God = 32 times) Chapters 1-12, 13-24
John: (Kingdom of God = 2 times)
Book of Acts: 6 times
Paul’s writings: 4 times

Total: 74

Number of times the phrase “the good news of salvation in Christ” appears in scripture: 0 (zero) times.

Hmm. Maybe the man intended "the good news of salvation in Jesus." How many times does that appear? Answer: Zero. Huh, well we have to give them something. How about "salvation in Jesus" or "salvation in Christ"? Nope, sorry. Still zero. I have to find something. Oh, I know, how about Acts 4:12. In that case "salvation" is mentioned in connection with Jesus. But there has to be more. Well, how about the number of times that “good news” and “Christ” appear in the same verse or even "good news" and "Jesus". 24 timesBUT you will readily see some of them are quite a stretch. I was trying to give the detractors the benefit of the doubt.

So what does God, in his Holy Word the Bible, accentuate more? The answer is clear, it is the Kingdom message. By more than 3 times as many. Even then, that does not mean that Jehovah’s Witnesses try to berate the value of Jesus, his place in God’s purpose, or the value of the ransom. We hold it very dear. In fact, in our minds, the Kingdom and Christ as savior are inseparable. 

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 weekly for several months at the Kingdom Hall every Sunday for no other purpose than to engage us in an argument. Finally, after several months, 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.