“In the Hebrew Scriptures there is no word for spiritual. And Jesus never used the phrase spiritual life. Because for Jesus and his tradition, all of life is spiritual.  Everything is spiritual.” – Rob Bell

Have you ever had a moment when you discover spiritual truth in an unexpected way?  This happens to me when I watch movies or TV shows, hear music, have conversations with other people, or in the ordinary activities of my day.  God is always with us, and if we are sensitive to that idea, we become disciples (from “discere”meaning “to learn”) of the greatest Teacher ever.

Today, I typed notes as I listened to Card’s lecture on various aspects of fiction writing. The analogy of God-as-author and we-as-characters is inadequate and flawed.  The main problem with the analogy is that God loves us, His very REAL non-fiction characters.  And the Plan of the Ages is so much more than a story.  Nevertheless, for people who are able to look past what doesn’t fit, the analogy is loaded with spiritual truth.  Card is an author who is very concerned with explaining why people do what they do, and as an author, he explores the human condition through his fictional characters and circumstances in various settings from familiar to alien.  I always find some spiritual truth in his books because of this. In his writing class, he explains the brainstorming processes and techniques that he uses to invent his wonderfully imaginative stories, and like his books, I also glean spiritual truths from his lessons.

I’d like to share a few excerpts from the notes I typed today.  Card’s ideas and words (my paraphrase, NOT direct quotes) are in bold.  My observations are in regular type.

Writers tend to retreat from the scene that really ought to be written.  This can happen as a character flashback or narrative digression.  If you find yourself doing this, ask yourself, what is so important about the scene that I want to retreat from it?  This is the very thing you need to write.  This is what is powerful and interesting to the reader.  (And on a funnier note, if you want to make a character throw up, it is probably because you are hiding from writing a real scene.)

When I first began to notice inconsistencies and believability problems with spiritual concepts that I had always assumed were true (because the institutional church said so), my natural inclination was to retreat.  I was afraid explore, because what if I actually found something that clearly contradicted beliefs that were foundational to my understanding of Who God is or what God does?  What would my church friends think of me, if I were to challenge the “truth” of the pastor or highly respected elders?  Does God approve of “dangerous” critical examination of orthodoxy?  Am I allowed to do that?

As it turns out, God wouldn’t have it any other way.

Consequently, I have learned to recognize that when someone introduces an idea and I have the urge to retreat from it, I stop and ask myself why.  What is so important about the idea that I want to retreat from it?  This may be the very idea I need to explore.  This may be an interesting and powerful concept that God, the author and finisher of faith, wants me to understand.

The real question, then, is do I trust God enough to keep me from serious spiritual misdirection?  If the idea turns out to be false or corrupt, do I trust Him to keep me from embracing it in ignorance?  And what if I get it all wrong?  Do I trust God to set the record straight?  Do I believe that His love for me does not depend on me having an accurate understanding of everything?

Someone can be a brilliant writer, but if there is no story, that talent is wasted.

A pastor can be a brilliant speaker and natural leader, but it doesn’t mean he has the final say on what you ought to believe.

Christians can build magnificent churches and put on a high quality Sunday morning show, but if there is no hope in their message, why bother?

God can create billions of unique human beings, but if there is no hope, His creative act was a waste of time.

If you write, “She was sure that…” or “She believed that…” from the point of view of that character, you are actually introducing doubt.  If you are giving directions to someone of how to get to your house, you don’t say, “I’m sure that you turn right on Holden” or “I believe that you turn right on Holden”, and if you did, people would think that you don’t know where you live.

I think that this one speaks for itself.  There are times when we ought to say, “I believe ___” but we don’t.  And there are times when we ought to say just say, “___” but we add, “I believe” to it.  The trick is knowing when to recognize that you are a fallible human being, and knowing that there are some truths about Who God is or what God does that transcend our innate ability to screw things up.

If you have a character that is supposed to play a minor role and the character keeps becoming more important to the story than originally planned, don’t let the character just take over the story, go back to your original story plan and rethink it to include the minor character as a major character.

If you have an acquaintance that has a minor role in your life, and the he or she keeps becoming more important to your spiritual journey than you expected, don’t let the him or her just take over your spiritual journey, go back to who God created you to be and what God created you to do, and consider how God may want to include him or her in your spiritual journey.


 

Have you ever had a moment when you discover spiritual truth in an unexpected way?  This happens to me when I watch movies or TV shows, hear music, have conversations with other people, or in the ordinary activities of my day.  God is always with us, and if we are sensitive to that idea, we become disciples (from “discere”meaning “to learn”) of the greatest Teacher ever. I gleaned a great deal of spiritual truth from my favorite Orson Scott Card book, Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus, a fictional reworking of history.  Here is an excerpt from chapter one:

Columbus withdrew from human company that night and threw himself to his knees – not for the first time, but never before with such anger at the Almighty. “I have done all you set for me to do,” he said, “I have pushed and pleaded, and never once have you given me the slightest encouragement, even in the darkest times. Yet my trust never failed, and at last I got the expedition on the exact terms that were required. We set sail. My plan was good. The season was right. The crew is skilled even if they think themselves better sailors than their commander. All I needed now, all that I needed, after everything I’ve endured till now, was for something to go right.

Was this too bold a thing for him to say to the Lord? Probably. But Columbus had spoken boldly to powerful men before, and so the words spilled easily from his heart to flow from his tongue. God could strike him down for it if he wanted — Columbus had put himself in God’s hands years before, and he was weary.

“Was that too much for you, most gracious Lord? Did you have to take away my third ship? My best sailor? Did you even have to deprive me of the kindness of Lady Beatrice? It is obvious that I have not found favor in your eyes, O Lord, and therefore I urge you to find somebody else. Strike me dead if you want, it could hardly be worse than killing me by inches, which seems to be your plan at this moment. I’ll tell you what. I will stay in your service for one more day. Send me the Pinta or show me what else you want me to do, but I swear by your most holy and terrible name, I will not sail on such a voyage with fewer than three ships, well equipped and fully crewed. I’ve become an old man in your service, and as of tomorrow night, I intend to resign and live on whatever pension you see fit to provide me with.” Then he crossed himself. “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

Having finished this most impious and offensive prayer, Columbus could not sleep until at last, no less angry than before, he flung himself out of bed and knelt again.

“Nevertheless thy will not mine be done!” he said furiously. Then he climbed back into bed and promptly fell asleep.

Today, I typed notes as I listened to Card’s lecture on various aspects of fiction writing. The analogy of God-as-author and we-as-characters is inadequate and flawed.  The main problem with the analogy is that God loves us, His very REAL non-fiction characters.  And the Plan of the Ages is so much more than a story.  Nevertheless, for people who are able to look past what doesn’t fit, the analogy is loaded with spiritual truth.  Card is an author who is very concerned with explaining why people do what they do, and as an author, he explores the human condition through his fictional characters and circumstances in various settings from familiar to alien.  I always find some spiritual truth in his books because of this. In his writing class, he explains the brainstorming processes and techniques that he uses to invent his wonderfully imaginative stories, and like his books, I also glean spiritual truths from his lessons.

I’d like to share a few excerpts from the notes I typed today.  Card’s ideas and words (my paraphrase, NOT direct quotes) are in bold.  My observations are in regular type.

If the audience is familiar with your story, they will reject it, because it has been pulled from the cliche shelf.  It is old, worn out material.  We must write stories that feel new.  We must become inventors and creators that think outside the box.  Every and any possibility is available to us, including possibilities that might bring disapproval.  You have a voice that is yours alone (the exception is echoes of your mom’s and dad’s voices that stay with you in your mind).  You don’t decide on or create your own voice.  It just happens as you tell your story, a story told only as you can tell it. You get information from your head to the reader’s head, but they will only stick around long enough to listen if it is interesting.

In spiritual matters, the institutional church has relegated God to a box, and they have so clearly defined exactly what it means and what it looks like to be a believer that there is inadequate room for a proper display of God’s creativity.  God’s imagination is limitless, and when He created human beings, He put His imagination to use.  Look at us.  We each have our own faces, fingerprints, personalities, talents, and dreams.  When God created us, He had unique “characters” in mind.  In an unfolding story, characters differ from one another and interact in certain unique ways according to the intention and direction of the author.  The story gets stuck if every character is the same and nothing new happens.  Some people get stuck in a spiritual rut, because they have allowed themselves to become slaves of the expectations of other characters who don’t approve of the author’s idea of who we were created to be and what we were created to do.  With God as our only author, we are free to take risks and have amazing adventures.  We are safe in His capable hands.  Our personal experiences, habits, gifts, and flaws are part of God’s redemptive Plan of the Ages, a story that is real and perfect.

In the first person limited point of view, the “I” is the narrator who tells the story.  The narrator easily becomes artificial and self-serving.  First person puts up so many barriers.  Plus, your main character must be the kind of person who would tell his own story.  How are you to write from the point of view of a person who has no interest in telling his own story?  There are people like that, whose stories are worth telling.  How do you tell what a hero he is without making him seem like a pompous twit? (Example: The character as narrator says, “I bravely marched forth… blah, blah, blah) First person point of view fiction can be written, but it can’t be easily written, and it is often written unsuccessfully.  The first person narrator can be a liar without the reader even realizing it.  He can tell it all, from past to present to future, but purposely withholds information from reader.  The narrator is harder to ignore, and without the author’s intention, he pulls focus away from other characters that are important to the story.

In telling a story, don’t use the second person limited point of view.  The narrator is bossy.  Save this for cookbooks and instructions.  

In the third person limited point of view, “he” or “she” tells the story.  The third person limited point of view is far more immediate than first person.  The narrator only tells us what has happened up until the present moment in the story, not because he is withholding information, but because future things haven’t happened yet for the characters.  There’s a reason third person limited point of view has been the absolute dominant force of fiction for a thousand years.  The third person narrator isn’t a liar (if you want to write him as a liar, this is very difficult to pull off, and most readers won’t stick with a story like this).  By and large, the narrator in third person is reliable.  The narrator is easy to ignore and readers are free to focus on the characters and the story.

There is some spiritual significance to the idea that our lives are best lived from an other-centered, not self-centered perspective, similar to the idea of a story being best told from a limited third person, rather than first person perspective.  If a person is constantly looking inward and describing the worthiness of his own actions to others, pointing out his own clever approach to life, and drawing attention to his own thoughts and feelings about everything, his life becomes artificial and self-serving.  He puts up barriers between himself and others.  He leaves no room for the other’s stories to become important or influential.  The “readers” of his life have a more difficult time experiencing the Author’s “story”, because his self-appointed position of importance becomes such a distraction.  

However, if the Author is the one drawing attention to a person (as in third person limited perspective) instead of that person drawing attention to himself, the “readers” will see that the person is reliable.  During those seasons of the “character’s” life when the people in his circle of influence need to understand how his story and their stories are woven together as part of God’s Plan of the Ages, the “character” isn’t a source of distraction.  Jesus said that whoever humbled himself, like a child, would be greater in the Reign of God.  If we apply the author analogy to this concept, we could say that a life lived in a third person limited perspective point of view (an authentic, outward focused viewpoint, like a child who does what says and does only what the Author has appointed for him to say or do) will be more influential and more important in the Reign (“plot”?) of the Author.

Dramatic irony is more powerful than suspense; suspense is more powerful than surprise.  They are all valuable.  With dramatic irony, readers know far more than the character about the danger ahead; with suspense, readers know what the character knows and that “something” is going to happen; with surprise, readers know enough about the activity the characters are involved in, but readers don’t know that anything is about to happen. 

The spiritual truth in this is simple, but anyone without eyes to see and ears to hear just won’t get it.  If you, reader, just don’t get it, it’s not because you are stupid or inadequate or any other negative thing; you don’t get it for one of two reasons.  1. I am seeing spiritual “truth” where there is none. 2. God, for whatever reason, has decided that you are not to understand this particular concept at this particular time.  If there is a third possibility, I am not aware of it.  Needless to say, I will not put forth a lot of effort into explaining something in order to give people understanding that only God can give.  So without further ado: Dramatic irony, suspense, and surprise (in that particular order) can be compared to the spiritual “story” awareness appointed by the Author to the barley, wheat, and grape harvest “readers” (also in that particular order).  “Each in his proper order, a first-fruit Christ, afterwards those who are the Christ’s in his presence, then – the end when [...] he may have put all the enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor. 15)

Card throws the eraser at workshop attendant, who catches it.  Why does he catch it?  Because Card threw it (mechanical cause) at him and because Card wanted to make a point (motivational cause) about causes.  Watch the news and see to whom the news assigns mechanical causes and to whom the news assigns motivational causes.  The difference between people (motivational causes) and animals (mechanical causes) are assigned in this way. You will be amazed at how the media subtly labels various people groups as “people” or “animals” in this way.

I’ve not had the opportunity to test this idea, and consequently, I don’t see spiritual truth in Cards idea (yet).  But it is a very interesting concept that I wanted to share.  Be sure to share your feedback if/when you test it.

That’s all for today!  Be sure to check back tomorrow, as I will be posting a new blog about my Greensboro experience each day this week.  (Saturday’s blog will be posted Sunday since Saturday I won’t have internet access on the trip back to Florida.)

The other day, I got a voicemail from Gerry Beauchemin, author of Hope Beyond Hell.  It was good to match a voice to a face, even if we didn’t speak directly (we played phone-tag, but now he’s out of the country, so I’ll have to catch up with him later).  Then yesterday, I got a call from a friend from my former institution (i.e., church), just to say hello, and I still need to call her back.  Cyberspace is awesome for connecting with each other, but there’s something more personal about a phone call, or better yet, face-to-face interaction.

I’ve really missed connecting with other believers since I stopped attending the institution.  But I have also been basking in the glorious freedom to be who God created me to be.  I’ve experienced many opportunities to demonstrate God’s love, even though I don’t have an official ministry-stamp-of-approval.  But I’ve missed out on hearing about a lot of behind-the-scenes spiritual activity.  God is constantly involved, with His sleeves rolled up, elbows deep in our lives; unfortunately we view His activity through a small, foggy lens.  We sometimes overlook the individuals for the masses, and since the masses tend to make a mess of things, we don’t see the unique displays of kindness, love, patience, and hope in the everyday.

I had a dream one time about trying to convince people who were watching fireworks on a tiny black and white T.V., one of those old ones with bunny-ear antennas and snowy interference, to come outside and see the real thing.  I guess this blog is an invitation for people to come out and see the fireworks!

Regardless of whether one attends the institution, there’s one thing we all have in common – unique gifting from God to accomplish various assignments in His Plan of the Ages as the seasons of our lives come and go.

Maybe your divine appointment was to let someone else do something for you – to humbly accept that we depend on each other and that you are no exception.  Perhaps your mission for this particular season was to do nothing – recharge your spiritual batteries, be quiet, and rest with a clear conscience knowing God has everything under control without your help.  Maybe your calling was to put your time and talents to use in a physically exhausting yet spiritually invigorating task.

Assignments can last a very long time – years or even decades.  They can be something very simple, such as leaving a very generous tip or picking up a piece of garbage.  My assignment for today (I’m not sure if it is self-assigned or God-assigned.  Nevertheless…) is to return that phone call and to remind blog readers, whether believers or normal people, to connect with and encourage each other as we come and go.

As I said in several recent blogs, I’ve been inspired by Frank Viola’s blog.  He took some time off, but now he’s back at it again.  One particular aspect of his blog that I appreciate is the sense of community he fosters by offering people the opportunity to participate in various ways – other than just leaving blog comments.  I’d like to emulate his technique by giving you this opportunity to share how someone you know connects with, encourages, or demonstrates love in a practical way to others.  This person does not need to meet any specific criteria or hold any particular position in the institution or an official 501c3 organization.  On the other hand, if the person you have in mind is involved in this kind of thing, that’s okay, too!  Maybe you know this person very well, he or she is a stranger you bumped elbows with on only one occasion, or an individual who you have never met who has made an impression on you by way of cyberspace, the news, radio, or other media.

You have two options for giving kudos to others:

1. Leave a blog comment on this blog.  I can’t guarantee how many people will read it, because I’m still learning how to use my stat tracker and I have yet to learn where to find stats blog comment views.  I know there are people who hover and never comment, because they tell me so in private emails.
2. Send an email to alicespicer2003@yahoo.com.  In the subject heading write “kudos”, and be sure to include photos, links, or anything else that seems important.  I’ll feature your information in a blog either by itself or along with other responses, depending on how many people respond.  This will be viewed anywhere from 34 to 649 times.  (I got those numbers from Google analytics of my single-day stats: the least-viewed blog is the first one in an ongoing series, “Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell” and the more recent, most-viewed blog “Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Saved by Whose Choice?“).  These days the blog usually averages somewhere between 40 and 80 views per day, and this number increases if the link to the blog post for that day is shared.  It’s like a wave that gradually dissipates in cyberspace.  Some waves keep growing, though.  You never know!

Please feel free to forward this invitation to your friends.  I’ll wait one week to allow time for people to respond.

Exposition on the Reign of God: Narrow vs Wide

Posted: 1st January 2012 by admin in Uncategorized
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“Taking the bunny trail” is a euphemism associated with getting off subject, wasting time and energy, or pursuing something that will likely be an exercise in futility.  But in studying scripture and/or being open to the Spirit of God, it is sometimes best to explore.  Since my last blog post, I have been traveling down the rabbit trail in the “Kingdom (or reign) of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven” sayings of Jesus.  It started with the “narrow” gate or door in Luke 13, as well as the “many” versus the “few” referenced in Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell.  As I read the context, I see much in common with what is known as the Sermon on the Mount, a well-known message Jesus gave to a crowd of people including the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and other messages Jesus taught.  I realize that it is beneficial for me to formulate a “big picture” understanding of how the “narrow” way relates to Jesus’s other teachings.

Many theologians believe that Jesus taught the same or similar messages over and over again, wherever He went.  For example, in Luke 6 we read:

And it came to pass in those days, he went forth to the mountain to pray, and was passing the night in the prayer of God, and when it became day, he called near his disciples [...] and having come down with them, he stood upon a level spot, and a crowd of his disciples, and a great multitude of the people [...] who came to hear him [...]  And he, having lifted up his eyes to his disciples, said: “Happy the poor – because yours is the reign of God [etc...]“

But in Matthew 5, we read:

And having seen the multitudes, he went up to the mount, and he having sat down, his disciples came to him, and having opened his mouth, he was teaching them, saying: “Happy the poor in spirit – because theirs is the reign of the heavens [etc...]“

So did Jesus give His sermon on the way up the mountain or on the way back down?  Do Matthew and Luke have their times and places confused?  Why does Matthew quote Jesus saying “the poor in spirit” while Luke records Jesus saying simply “the poor”?  What is the difference between the “reign of God” and the “reign of the heavens”?  Perhaps Jesus gave the same message, although not word-for-word, twice, once on the way up and once on the way down.  What is important here is the message itself, and how the hearers received it.  One regular blog reader, Mary Vanderplas, sums up the situation nicely in her comments on the previous blog, “Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Croissants Falling from the Sky“:

I like what you say about Jesus’ frequent use of metaphorical speech and about the need to interpret such speech rightly. I think you’re right, too, in asserting a connection between the preceding parables in Luke 13 and this text in verses 22 and following, though I doubt that the person’s question was prompted by the parables. It is far more likely that Luke arranged the materials thus as part of his “Travel Narrative,” which begins in 9:51. (Matthew has them in separate places – Matthew 13:31-33; 7:13-14, 22-23; 19:30.) At any rate, I think you’re right to see here a connection between Jesus’ teaching in these parables – which call into question conventional ways of thinking about God’s kingdom – and Jesus’ response to this questioner. Specifically, the images in these parables shatter commonly-held views of how God works, much as the final salvation of God will overturn the expectations of those who assume that they are guaranteed a place in the kingdom.

(*Readers can access most of the texts, in context, that I will examine in this blog by clicking this link.)

The audience consists of a large number of people, whether this is two similar sermons or only one.  Some people might argue against this point, which is fine, but I’m not spending too much time defending the idea in this blog.  (For further information, study internal evidence for a single event with two accounts and reference Matthew 5:1, 7:28 and Luke 6:13 & 17-18 for descriptions of the audience.)  Jesus’s audience can be divided into three groups – the twelve disciples chosen from among Jesus’s many other disciples, the disciples who are not included among the twelve, and the “multitudes” of Abraham’s descendants (possibly including a few curious Gentile onlookers).

Jesus describes what kind of people enter into the reign of God – the poor in spirit, the meek, the hungering, the peacemakers, those persecuted for righteousness sake, etc.  This is not a list of qualifications or rules for admittance into the reign of God.  Jesus is simply creating a picture of the attributes one might expect to find among those who possess the life He gives.  By human standards, this is a sad, sorry group of unimportant, unsuccessful people.  By God’s standards, these people have discovered their salvation, they are not preoccupied with important positions in life, and they measure their success in the perfect life of Jesus Christ.  This called-out group of people have a function in the world – to be salt and light to the others.  In Jesus’s time, these two words packed more of a punch than they do now, because back then, there was no electricity, hence, no instantaneous flick-of-the-light-switch and no refrigeration to preserve meat (they used salt).  Check out any long-term survival guide, and you will find salt and lighting supplies on the list of must-haves.  There’s a bit of humor in the salt metaphor for the in-your-face-super-religious types of people, that is, salt is essential to animal life, but in excess, it is harmful.

Jesus describes the difference between what people have been taught by religious leaders regarding the law and the actual law itself.  Elsewhere in scripture, Jesus says “It is written,” but here, he says, “You have heard it said…”  For example, Jesus said:

Ye heard that it was said: “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth;” but I – I say to you, not to resist the evil, but whoever shall slap thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other; and whoever is willing to take thee to law, and thy coat to take – suffer to him also the cloak. And whoever shall impress thee one mile, go with him two, to him who is asking of thee be giving, and him who is willing to borrow from thee thou mayest not turn away.

The law to which Jesus refers, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth,” was established for these and other good reasons: to maintain through fear of punishment the general peace and order in society, to ensure that the punishment was neither too lenient nor harsh- that it fit the crime, to ensure that wealth or race or social status did not result in legal bias, and to prevent the violent chaos of disproportionate personal revenge.  The Scribes and Pharisees perverted this law through sophisticated arguments, taking the civil laws into their personal lives, applying the “Eye for an eye” concept to exact emotional, physical, and financial retaliation outside of the court system.  It was used as a means of justifying not only racial inequality, but the outright abuse or even death of non-Jews (Gentiles).  Heathens were not considered “neighbors”, therefore the law did not apply to them, and punishment for crimes against them were more lenient than punishment for crimes against fellow Jews. (*See note 1 at end of blog.)

I did not randomly choose “Eye for an eye” as an example of Jesus’s teaching, I chose it because it is a smooth segue into the next portion of the blog regarding the political climate during Jesus’s ministry.  Martin Luther King Jr. was asked in an interview to explain passive resistance, and he replied:

It was the Sermon on the Mount, rather than a doctrine of passive resistance, that initially inspired the Negroes of Montgomery to dignified social action.  It was Jesus of Nazareth that stirred the Negroes to protest with the creative weapon of love. [...] The method is passive physically but strongly active spiritually. It is not passive non-resistance to evil, it is active nonviolent resistance to evil.  It does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding.  The attack is directed against forces of evil rather than against persons who happen to be doing evil. [It] is a willingness to accept suffering without retaliation, to accept blows from the opponent without striking back. [...]  The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent, but he also refuses to hate him. [...] the use of violence in our struggle would be both impractical and immoral. To meet hate with retaliatory hate would do nothing but intensify the existence of evil in the universe. Hate begets hate [...] We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love [...]

(*See Note 2 at the end of the blog.)

It is too bad that Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t around to influence the Jewish religious zealots of early first century.  But if they didn’t listen to Jesus, they surely would not have listened to King Jr.  The political situation between certain sects of Jews in Jerusalem and the Roman law enforcement was volatile.  Had these people taken Jesus’s dire warnings seriously, they might have avoided the bloody, violent end Jesus described:

[Jesus said,] “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that is killing the prophets, and stoning those sent unto her, how often did I will to gather together thy children, as a hen her brood under the wings, and ye did not will.  Lo, your house is being left to you desolate [...]”  And when he came nigh, having seen the city, he wept over it, saying – “If thou didst know, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things for thy peace; but now they were hid from thine eyes.  Because days shall come upon thee, and thine enemies shall cast around thee a rampart, and compass thee round, and press thee on every side, and lay thee low, and thy children within thee, and they shall not leave in thee a stone upon a stone, because thou didst not know the time of thy inspection.”

When Jesus spoke to the Jewish multitudes, His audience was God’s covenant people, people who God had promised to cleanse of sin.  Their blindness and stubborn rebellion came as no surprise to God.  Yes, Jesus wept, because He knew what was about to happen to them, how they would suffer the consequences of their decision to take up arms against the Roman soldiers.  But Jesus also knew that God’s glorious Plan of the Ages would result in not only the salvation of Israel, but the salvation of the whole world.  Paul explained this concept in Romans 11:

For I do not wish you [the church in Rome, mostly Gentile Christians] to be ignorant, brethren, of this secret – that ye may not be wise in your own conceits – that hardness in part to Israel hath happened till the fulness of the nations may come in; and so all Israel shall be saved, according as it hath been written, “There shall come forth out of Sion he who is delivering, and he shall turn away impiety from Jacob, and this to them [is] the covenant from Me, when I may take away their sins.”  As regards, indeed, the good tidings, [the Jews who persecute Christians are] enemies on your account; and as regards the choice – beloved on account of the fathers; for unrepented of [are] the gifts and the calling of God; for as ye also once did not believe in God, and now did find kindness by the unbelief of these: so also these now did not believe, that in your kindness they also may find kindness; for God did shut up together the whole to unbelief, that to the whole He might do kindness.

If we closely examine Jesus’s words, we can see the beginning of the revelation brought to light by the apostle Paul regarding the future of those Jewish zealots who died between 66 and 70 AD.  For example, Jesus said, “If thou didst know, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things for thy peace [...]” Notice how He clarifies that at this time they did not know the things for their peace.  It may be a stretch for the evangelical mind to see the implications – that Jesus longed for them to know now instead of later.  I realize that this portion of the text, alone, does not fully support the point I am making, but if we keep reading, it will become more obvious.  Jesus said, “Lo, your house is being left to you desolate, and verily I say to you – ye may not see me, till it may come, when ye may say, “Blessed [is] he who is coming in the name of the Lord.”  There will come a day when these people, who persecuted the “few” and rejected the “narrow” gate in favor of the “wide” path leading to destruction, will see their Messiah.  Jesus even prophecies the words they will speak, words which indicate a change of heart.

Some readers may be questioning whether those who died in 70 AD can be rightly identified as the “many” to whom Jesus referred in the Sermon on the Mount, so let’s take a look.  There are three points we should examine.  First, the admonition to enter the narrow gate is immediately followed by a warning against false prophets.  Second, there is an urgency to enter the reign of God while there is still time, before the door is closed, because the reign of God was “about presently to be made manifest”.  Third, the two groups (“few” and “many”) are clearly described: those who enter in before the door is closed and those who are shut out.

The warning against the false prophets is a theme repeated throughout the gospels and scripture in general.  Jesus said that the few would know who the false prophets were based on their “fruits” or results of their actions, and He uses similar language to describe hypocrites and Jewish opponents – it may be that the “many” include all these people groups, who exhibit the same “fruits”.  For example, Jesus says,

Take heed your kindness not to do before men, to be seen by them, and if not — reward ye have not from your Father who [is] in the heavens; whenever, therefore, thou mayest do kindness, thou mayest not sound a trumpet before thee as the hypocrites do, in the synagogues, and in the streets, that they may have glory from men; verily I say to you – they have their reward!  But thou, doing kindness, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth, that thy kindness may be in secret, and thy Father who is seeing in secret Himself shall reward thee manifestly. And when thou mayest pray, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites, because they love in the synagogues, and in the corners of the broad places – standing – to pray, that they may be seen of men; verily I say to you, that they have their reward.

It is obvious, based on the way Jesus describes them, that the “many” are more concerned with appearing righteous than they are with actually being righteous.  Matthew records Jesus’s scathing, open rebuke of the “many”, highlighting their bad fruits for His audience:

On the seat of Moses sat down the scribes and the Pharisees

Jesus identifies the many directly – they are those religious leaders who do the following:

they say, and do not; for they bind together burdens heavy and grievous to be borne, and lay upon the shoulders of men, but with their finger they will not move them. And all their works they do to be seen by men, and they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the fringes of their garments, they love also the chief couches in the supper, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and the salutations in the market-places, and to be called by men, Rabbi, Rabbi. Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye shut up the reign of the heavens before men, for ye do not go in, nor those going in do ye suffer to enter.

When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the many were more concerned about the political ramifications than they were with whether Jesus actually was Who He claimed to be.  Instead of using their powerful and influential positions to champion Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, they worried about what they might stand to lose because of this miracle.  They held a meeting, as follows:

[...] the chief priests, therefore, and the Pharisees, gathered together a sanhedrim, and said, “What may we do? because this man doth many signs? If we may let him alone thus, all will believe in him; and the Romans will come, and will take away both our place and nation.” And a certain one of them, Caiaphas, being chief priest of that year, said to them, “Ye have not known anything, nor reason that it is good for us that one man may die for the people, and not the whole nation perish. [...] From that day, therefore, they took counsel together that they may kill him.

What seemingly better way to “shut up the reign of the heavens before men” than to do away with the One Who is ushering in the reign?

Jesus continues to describe the many to His audience:

Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye eat up the houses of the widows, and for a pretence make long prayers, because of this ye shall receive more abundant judgment. Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye go round the sea and the dry land to make one proselyte, and whenever it may happen – ye make him a son of gehenna twofold more than yourselves.

Remember in the Sermon on the Mount, how Jesus said:

I say to you, that every one who is angry at his brother without cause, shall be in danger of the judgment, and whoever may say to his brother, Empty fellow! shall be in danger of the sanhedrim, and whoever may say, Rebel! shall be in danger of the gehenna of the fire.

Jesus knew that the judgment of Israel was quickly approaching.  God would very soon remove His hand of protection from them, creating a vacuous space for their enemies to destroy them.  Not only would those who follow the false prophets be subject to judgment by religious leaders (sanhedrim), but they would also be subject to the gehenna of fire (Jerusalem, 70 AD), a spiritual garbage dump.  In this way, the Scribes and Pharisees make the proselyte “a son of gehenna twofold more than” themselves.

Jesus continues to rebuke the religious leaders in the presence of His audience, the masses of Jewish listeners:

Wo to you, blind guides, who are saying, “Whoever may swear by the sanctuary, it is nothing, but whoever may swear by the gold of the sanctuary – is debtor!” Fools and blind! for which [is] greater, the gold, or the sanctuary that is sanctifying the gold? And, whoever may swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever may swear by the gift that is upon it – is debtor! Fools and blind! for which [is] greater, the gift, or the altar that is sanctifying the gift? He therefore who did swear by the altar, doth swear by it, and by all things on it; and he who did swear by the sanctuary, doth swear by it, and by Him who is dwelling in it; and he who did swear by the heaven, doth swear by the throne of God, and by Him who is sitting upon it. Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye give tithe of the mint, and the dill, and the cumin, and did neglect the weightier things of the Law – the judgment, and the kindness, and the faith; these it behoved [you] to do, and those not to neglect.

Let me demonstrate how the concepts Jesus taught, if they had been practically applied, could have saved the many from destruction.  Caligula (the cruel and likely insane Roman Caesar) decided that a statue of himself should be set up in the Holy of Holies in the Temple.  Petronius, the man Caligula put in charge of doing the deed, was impressed by the fact that the Jewish religious leaders would rather die, and in fact, let the whole nation die, before they would allow Caligula’s statue to be set up in the temple.  Although their angry tenacity seems to be commendable, we must remember that Jesus is “God with us”, and that the Spirit of God claimed the vessels (bodies, hearts, minds) of believers as the new “temple” of God.  The religious system and all its trappings were no longer the dwelling place of God among men.  They had become mere buildings, used by people who imagined for themselves elaborate lists of rules and regulations.  The Jewish religious leaders were unable to recognize that the reign of God was not in the Holy of Holies of their Temple building, the reign of God should have been within them!  How could Caligula possibly set up a statue there?  Caligula’s demands should have been disappointing to them, but it should never have been considered an act worth resisting to the point of the bloodshed and enslavement of millions of lives.  Clearly, they did, as Jesus said, neglect “judgment, and the kindness, and the faith” to let God be the One to judge Caligula’s stupidity.  Consequently, God did just that, because it was not yet the appointed time for the “abomination of desolation” to take place.  (I’ll explain this further shortly.)  Petronius decided to disobey orders.  Caligula found out about it and wrote an order for Petronius to be put to death.  But while the written order was en route, Caligula died at sea because of bad weather.  The letter arrived after the news of Caligula’s death, so Petronius was never executed.  Nevertheless, a rift between the Jews and Romans was created, and it would continue to grow…

Jesus said of the Scribes and Pharisees:

Blind guides! who are straining out the gnat, and the camel are swallowing. Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye make clean the outside of the cup and the plate, and within they are full of rapine and incontinence. Blind Pharisee! cleanse first the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside of them also may become clean. Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye are like to whitewashed sepulchres, which outwardly indeed do appear beautiful, and within are full of bones of dead men, and of all uncleanness; so also ye outwardly indeed do appear to men righteous, and within ye are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and adorn the tombs of the righteous, and say, “If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.” So that ye testify to yourselves, that ye are sons of them who did murder the prophets; and ye – ye fill up the measure of your fathers. Serpents! brood of vipers! how may ye escape from the judgment of the gehenna? Because of this, lo, I send to you prophets, and wise men, and scribes, and of them ye will kill and crucify, and of them ye will scourge in your synagogues, and will pursue from city to city; that on you may come all the righteous blood being poured out on the earth from the blood of Abel the righteous, unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the sanctuary and the altar: verily I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation.

 

Jewish zealots violently raided Jerusalem, revolting against Roman rule, and for a while, they succeeded.  They raided the homes of local Jews and stole their food.  The Roman soldiers then destroyed the food supply, and people were dying of starvation.  The Jewish sects were vicious to one another in the fight for survival within the city, and the Roman army reorganized and gathered around the city, just as Jesus said.  The Romans gave the people an opportunity to surrender, but they would not – they were more concerned about the appearance of righteousness (having a temple and an orderly system of religious ceremonies) than righteousness itself (love your enemies… do good to those who hate you, etc).  By the time the Roman soldiers were able to enter the city, they were so enraged that they did not wait for orders; they immediately destroyed the temple and slaughtered many Jews.  All of this took place about within the Biblical generation (40 years) of when Christ made His prophetic pronouncement.  The bad/evil fruits of the false prophets, indeed, led to the destruction of the many who followed them along the wide path.

Jesus’s warning against entering the wide gate, accompanied by His description of the many as “false prophets, who come unto you in sheep’s clothing, and inwardly are ravening wolves”, say “Lord, Lord” but do not do the will of the Father, hear but don’t do Jesus’s words, are not known by the “master of the house”, believe that their association with the master (eating and drinking with the master, the master taught in their “broad places”) will be enough to secure their entrance into life, and are “workers of unrighteousness”.  By now, we should be getting a clearer picture of the many.

In contrast, Jesus’s admonition to enter the narrow gate is accompanied by His list of the attributes of the few, that is, they have a righteousness that “abound[s] above that of the scribes and Pharisees”, “seek first” the reign of God over physical needs, do the will of the Father, are known by the “master of the house”, and the progressive triplet – they come to Jesus, hear Him, and do His words.  We also have a clearer picture of the “few”.

Notice that both the few and the many do works.  The few hear the will of the Father from Jesus Christ and put what they hear into practice.  The many suppose or pretend they are doing the will of the Father, but their works are unrighteous.  The reason for this is not because the few are better or smarter or put forth a greater effort.  If this were the case, then we would have to assume that righteousness is a human effort, achievable apart from Christ.  The possibility of a fallible, spiritually dead human being possessing the inclination or ability to do the will of the Father comes only through Jesus Christ, because it is only through Jesus Christ that the Father reveals His will and establishes His reign in and among individuals.  His kingdom is not about average people trying to attain spiritual perfection.  His reign is a “life” relationship between Himself and His people, and it is also a “life” relationship between His people and others.  It is what Jesus calls “My Father’s will” – a new way to relate to one another and to God because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Robert Guelich, in his book, A Foundation for Understanding The Sermon on The Mount, writes:

Inherent to “my Father’s will” was the christological basis of Jesus Messiah, the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise for the day of salvation, that brought about a different orientation to the Mosaic Law.  Therefore, any “prophecy” that attempted to apply rigorously the Mosaic Law failed at precisely the same point where the Pharisees broke with Jesus’ ministry, namely, at the implications of his coming for the old order, the Law in Judaism.  Put another way, those seeking to live and to influence others to live under the “Sinai Torah,” the Law of Moses legalistically understood, had not accepted Jesus Messiah and the accompanying “Zion Torah” whose basis was the presence in history of the new age with its message of salvation and reconciliation between God and his own.  They had ultimately failed to hear the “gospel of the Kingdom,” which offered a new basis and power for conduct, “righteousness” as seen in [Matthew 5-7].

Let’s suppose that the early first century Jewish zealots experienced the same, life-changing spiritual birth as the disciples or the apostle Paul.  How might things have gone differently?  Perhaps they would have recognized the events foretold by Jesus as recorded in the gospels and by John in Revelation unfolding before their very eyes.

Jesus said, “Do ye not see all these [temple buildings]? verily I say to you, There may not be left here a stone upon a stone, that shall not be thrown down.”

The disciples asked, “Tell us, when shall these be? and what [is] the sign of thy presence, and of the full end of the age?”

Jesus answered,

Take heed that no one may lead you astray, for many shall come in my name, saying, I am the Christ, and they shall lead many astray,[...] Whenever, therefore, ye may see the abomination of the desolation, that was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever is reading let him observe) then those in Judea – let them flee to the mounts [...] for there shall be then great tribulation.

(The “abomination of desolation” in Daniel is a prophecy about a ruler causing sacrifices to cease for about three and a half years and the profaning of the temple – if it is to be interpreted literally.)

John, likely comparing the Roman Empire to a beast, writes, that a “beast with seven heads” that “was given to it a mouth speaking great things, and evil-speakings, and there was given to it authority to make war forty-two months, and it did open its mouth for evil-speaking toward God, to speak evil of His name [...]”

According to historical records, Nero Caesar (whose Hebrew numeric name-value is 666 and who was called a “beast” in his time), one of the most ruthless rulers ever, claimed to be the sun-god Apollo and demanded the honor of divinity.  He was the first ruler to institute the persecution of Christians, which lasted from 64 AD until he died in 68 – about three and a half years later.  The zealots rebelled and encouraged the general Jewish population to rebel against Roman rule, to rid Jerusalem of the Roman Empire by force. Eventually the temple was profaned, as described by Jesus in the book of Luke:

And when ye may see Jerusalem surrounded by encampments, then know that come nigh did her desolation; then those in Judea, let them flee to the mountains; and those in her midst, let them depart out; and those in the countries, let them not come in to her; because these are days of vengeance, to fulfil all things that have been written. And wo to those with child, and to those giving suck, in those days; for there shall be great distress on the land, and wrath on this people; and they shall fall by the mouth of the sword, and shall be led captive to all the nations, and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by nations, till the times of nations be fulfilled.

What if the zealots and warring Jewish factions had done the works they heard from Jesus Christ?

Love your enemies, bless those cursing you, do good to those hating you, and pray for those accusing you falsely, and persecuting you, that ye may be sons of your Father in the heavens, because His sun He doth cause to rise on evil and good, and He doth send rain on righteous and unrighteous. For, if ye may love those loving you, what reward have ye? do not also the tax-gatherers the same? and if ye may salute your brethren only, what do ye abundant? do not also the tax-gatherers so? ye shall therefore be perfect, as your Father who [is] in the heavens is perfect.

What if they had heeded the clear warning to “flee to the mountains” and “depart out” and “not come in to [Jerusalem]” when they saw that it was surrounded by armies?  Normally, when an area is under attack, the safest place to take refuge is within the city walls, but this is not true of Jerusalem in 70 AD.  Jesus knew it, and He warned His listeners to enter His reign while there was still time, before the door would be shut to them.  Few people understood this.  Many did not.  This sheds new light on the meaning of what Jesus said to His disciples when they asked Him why He always taught in parables (here translated similes):

To you it hath been given to know the secrets of the reign of the heavens, and to these it hath not been given, for whoever hath, it shall be given to him, and he shall have overabundance, and whoever hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken from him. Because of this, in similes do I speak to them, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor understand, and fulfilled on them is the prophecy of Isaiah, that saith, With hearing ye shall hear, and ye shall not understand, and seeing ye shall see, and ye shall not perceive, for made gross was the heart of this people, and with the ears they heard heavily, and their eyes they did close, lest they might see with the eyes, and with the ears might hear, and with the heart understand, and turn back, and I might heal them. And happy are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear, for verily I say to you, that many prophets and righteous men did desire to see that which ye look on, and they did not see, and to hear that which ye hear, and they did not hear.

Before I close, I must admit that I do not yet have a complete understanding of some portions of the scriptural texts to which I refer.  Undoubtedly, blog readers will comment or email me concerning apocalyptic language and parables and the like, which is fine, but I’d like to preemptively offer that many prophetic passages in scripture are fulfilled in a progressive, layered manner.  The more I learn and understand, the less tightly I hold to my former futuristic view of many scriptures.  I do not condemn those who hold to the rapture-seven-years-antichrist-one-world-government type of teachings, and although I have increasing doubts regarding such things, I do recognize my own ignorance.  For all I know, they could be right.  Regardless, I feel very confident that the things I have written in this blog are also accurate.

I also want to add that just because there was a first century fulfillment of the few and many and narrow gate and wide path, this does not mean that these scriptures are no longer applicable. Just to give one example, the many – do works “in the name” of Jesus Christ, yet those who rejected Christ and suffered destruction in Jerusalem probably did not claim the name of Christ for their actions.  This is definitely food for thought.

Matthew and Luke retell Jesus’s stories and teachings from different angles.  When I say different, I don’t mean that one is right and other is wrong.  They compliment each other, and lend support to the idea that the warnings Jesus gave to His immediate audience should also be taken seriously by modern-day hearers of His words, especially those who claim to be disciples of the Good Shepherd.  The larger context of His words should not be dismissed just because the immediate context of His words have already played out in history.

Matthew presents Jesus’s words in such a way that should make the religious leaders of today’s institutional church shudder.  Perhaps they were actually included among Jesus’s intended audience.  After all, Jesus knew His words would be recorded and read in future generations, didn’t He?  Jesus knew that people would seek to validate and legitimize their actions by doing them “in His name”.  Jesus knew that His name would be abused by those who want positions of honor and power as wolves among sheep.  Not everyone comes to Jesus in this age.  Not everyone who comes to Him hears Him.  And not everyone who hears Him enters into the life He gives, a perfect, righteous life that results in the hearer actually being willing and able to do the will of God.  The “leaven of the Scribes and Pharisees” is still working its way through the dough of humanity.  However, the kingdom of God or reign of God is “like leaven, which a woman, having taken, did hide in three measures of meal, till that all was leavened.”  The three measures (who I suspect are the believers who are overcomers, the believers who are not overcomers, and the unbelievers) will all be leavened, that is, subjected to His will, which is the only will that results in life – abundant life.

*Note 1: It is interesting that the concept of eternal torment in Hell as “just” punishment makes the practices of the Scribes and Pharisees look absolutely righteous.  In fact, if a Pharisee were to beat a Gentile to death for telling a lie, then he would be more merciful than the god-of-eternal-torment, because at least he brings the punishment to an end.  What does this say about the eternal torment doctrine?  If this were true, then don’t you think that God takes “eye for an eye” to a new and utterly brutal level?

*Note 2: It is interesting that if Martin Luther King Jr. were to have taught his followers to behave like the god-of-eternal-torment, then American history would be much bloodier than it already is.  Is Martin Luther King Jr. better at following the will of God than God Himself?  Why is Martin Luther King Jr. praised for responding to hate with love?  Because it is the right thing to do – what Jesus taught.  If Jesus said, “My message is not my own; it comes from God who sent me,” then doesn’t this mean that God has a loving way to deal with hate?  What does this tell you about the doctrine of eternal torment?

I’ve often wondered why God allows the spiritual police of this world to have such influence on those around them.

Why is God willing to allow brand new believers to be suckered into the church scene, given a list of rules and expectations to follow, and assigned a low place in the hierarchy from which he or she may climb after gaining the trust and approval of people in positions of authority?

Why are the opinions and teachings of religious leaders considered orthodoxy, while those of regular people are considered heretical?

Why is this the norm instead of the exception?

The other day, as I was reading Luke 15, the answer to these questions occurred to me.

Once upon a time, an unlikely crowd gathered around Jesus as He was mingling with people at the mall.  The crowd included Franklin Graham, Rick Warren, Mark Driscoll, James Dobson, Pope Benedict XVI, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, and other influential religious leaders.  There were also religious outcasts: Casey Anthony, Howard Stern, Michael Vic, Hugh Hefner, Marilyn Manson, Muammar al-Gaddafi, Tiger Woods, and others.  Some of the religious leaders, who made a point to shun religious outcasts, grumbled disapprovingly when they saw that Jesus was hanging around with “those people” in the food court.

Jesus’ response was to tell three lost and found stories, which have been a source of hope among those who hear it for centuries.  In the third and probably most popular of the stories, about the prodigal son who returns to his father, Jesus introduced a third character, the older brother of the prodigal son, the one who didn’t squander his inheritance, the one who took his responsibilities seriously, the one who didn’t screw up.  This disapproving, complaining older brother represents the religious leaders and how they view those who do not live according to their standards.

Once Jesus had the attention of the religious leaders, He told another couple of stories.  The first story is about a manager who is about to lose his job, so he starts cutting people’s debt in half, so that when he was out on the street, there might be people who would be willing to help him.  Surprisingly, in this story, the boss praises the manager for his decision.  This is a complete reversal of how people might expect the boss to respond, unless, of course, the boss thinks of “money” differently than the average person.  Apparently, the more money the manager gave away, the happier the boss was.  The boss did not want the manager to hoard the money for himself.  The less people owed, the better, including the manager.

What does this mean?  The way to be faithful, is to give away what the boss has entrusted to us.  Learn to see value in other people.

Can you imagine how church leaders today might respond if Jesus were to interrupt the finance committee and tell them that the more money they give away, the better?  In the story, the manager was about to lose his job.  He was desperate.  I believe that many religious institutions are in this situation today.  Their doors are about to close, because they can’t afford the mortgage or upkeep on the building, the overhead for study materials, musical equipment, etc.  Those who are employed by the institution know that if the little box collapses, they are without a paycheck.  According to the story Jesus told, the best way to handle this situation is not to hold the money in a tight fist but to give it away.  Lose the building.  It’s just stuff.  People matter – not stuff.  Salvation is free!  The Boss (God) has a plan that turns what we understand to be true upside down.  Things are not as they seem.  The outcasts are very important, and the religious leaders are being handed their hats.

Jesus didn’t stop with this story; He told another, darker story, a warning against the religious leaders about the consequences of their decisions.  This story has been widely misinterpreted as “proof” of eternal torment in hell.  It’s hard to believe how thoroughly mainstream Christianity has twisted the teaching of Christ.  To hear/see the REAL story, watch these videos: The Rich Man and Lazarus Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four.

God allows the spiritual police of this world to have such influence on those around them, because He wants people to understand Who He is and what He does, and sometimes the best way to learn these things is to first learn Who He is NOT and what does NOT do.  The religious elite are doing a fine job of teaching the NOT-god.

God is willing to allow brand new believers to be suckered into the church scene, given a list of rules and expectations to follow, and assigned a low place in the hierarchy from which he or she may climb after gaining the trust and approval of people in positions of authority, because He wants people to know what spiritual “debt” feels like.  It is imposed by people, not God.  The price was paid, once and for all.  God wants to teach people that His approval does not come from a high place in the religious hierarchy, following rules, or attending church.  The perfect life of Jesus Christ is our approval, because we are in Him.

God allows the orthodox to contrast the so-called heretical, because He has appointed for certain people to see past the “wisdom” of theologians and approved leaders.  He gives common sense to people who have no titles and no respect in church circles – people with vices and weaknesses.  God picks the least likely candidates to “get it” and leaves the “know-it-alls” in the dark – “The foolish things of the world did God choose, that the wise He may put to shame; and the weak things of the world did God choose that He may put to shame the strong.”  In the end, God will demonstrate how little the wisdom of orthodox Churchianity has contributed to His Plan of the Ages.  It’s main purpose is to provide contrast, to provide us with useless answers to tough questions, to demonstrate the self-righteousness at work in the human race, to show what it means to be a slave to religion, so that we may more plainly see Him and the freedom of His perfect love.