How Shall Christians Understand God’s Definition of Hell?

I share the view along with many liberal theologians that hell is not a physical place – it is a state of mind of any one choosing to avoid the presence of God in this life.

In support of this concept, I believe God establishes the criteria for righteous living given to us in the life, death and teachings of Jesus, and if individuals reject or ignore his guidelines for living forever, they will stay on a wrong course and drive themselves into an “eternal state of hell” – both in this life and the life hereafter.

However, the majority of Christians, including all fundamentalists, believe hell is a physical place. There are a number of scriptures (particularly in Matthew) that support their theological position.

Many in the clergy, maybe one half, believe the scriptures describe hell as a symbolic place of dissent, suffering and pain after death, where sinners, by the grace of God, may, over time, receive expiation for their sins. The Catholic Church expresses this intermediary condition as “purgatory” where lost souls may be redeemed after a period of suffering and misery.

It is hard for me to accept Biblical statements that condemn   any of God’s children to experience pain and suffering – forever. Why would our God of the N.T. give us his son to suffer and die for us and then cut off some of his children – forever?

Is it possible that the word “lost” should be interpreted to mean – temporarily “lost”? If we believe that God loves us all, then our God of love, forgiveness and redemption must surely provide a path of salvation for even life time common criminals and terrorists. With some period of proportional punishment, after death, could it be that all will be given a chance to be reconciled to God through a change of heart? Maybe for some, this process will take a hundred years or more to be converted and saved. It should not be easy, but I believe it should be possible.

This theological rationale is compatible with what Jesus said to one of the convicted criminals on the cross. When the criminal confessed that he wanted to be saved, Jesus,  in Luke 23:43 said: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise”. According to the dictionary, and I quote, “paradise is an intermediate place or state where the righteous departed await resurrection and judgement”. It would appear that the criminal was given a chance to be redeemed and saved prior to entering into heaven.

In Romans 5:10, we are assured that all persons shall be reconciled to God through our Lord Jesus Christ. And so there may be a temporary state where all sinners may be reconciled to God before being accepted into heaven.

Some additional thoughts for our consideration are:

  • Church going or non-church going does not decide who is saved or who is not. Personal resumes’ are not important – only honest, sincere Christian beliefs, attitudes and loving actions count in God’s sight.
  • God presents the path to eternal life, but each individual must choose to obey and follow, and as sinners, continuously ask for forgiveness for our transgressions.
  • Temptation is not a sin – Jesus was tempted. True and honest ignorance is not a sin – however, most of us know when we sin and cannot hide behind “ignorance”.
  • God does not directly punish people for their sins while they are living. People during their lives may receive suffering (punishments) as the result of their conduct as acts of free will.

In conclusion, this writing has been composed after considerable pray, study and thought. It is my hope that our God of love, forgiveness and redemption, presented to us in the New Testament, prevails over any concept of God of wrath and condemnation.

W.F. Peck

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Barriers to Understanding the Truths of Creation


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Why do so many God-fearing people reject new interpretations of scriptures relating to how the universe, the world and mankind were created by God? How does one define – what is true? What is truth? For each person – early in life, truths are based on what they have been taught to believe by parents and other authoritative persons. Later, what one views as truth – on important matters – this may change based on new information (data) and/or personal experiences.

Sometimes individuals resist believing changes in matters they hold very dear. They often allow their emotions rather than their intellect to control what they believe. Their truths are the same truths their families have held for generations and they will be defended at all costs. They may not be open to new information and will avoid addressing unfamiliar and complex ideas because their educational background limits what they are prepared to evaluate and attempt to believe.

The beautiful stories of beginnings given to us in the early chapters of the book of Genesis express broad and general information that people of the Old Testament could understand.  The powerful and central message was that “God created the Heavens and the Earth.” This landmark statement establishes the foundation and source of beginnings through the power and creative nature of our heavenly Father. Somehow, some way, the Holy Spirit gave to Moses and other early biblical writers, the next level of detail, seven sequential events that broadly describes how God created the universe, the earth and then all living creatures. These allegorical writings set the stage for later understandings of God’s creation processes. The detailed knowledge of how the world came into being could not possibly be understood by the first generations of ancient people. At this point in pre-history, science did not even exist as a known discipline. Over three thousand years of evolutionary history would be required by scientists to discover and understand the mechanics of how God put together the complete story of creation. To reach our current level of understanding, God would allow and help create multiple scientific fields of study such as: biology, physics, chemistry, geology and paleontology (to name a few) to evolve and identify the detailed pieces of God’s creation plan.

It has taken the International Scientific community over the last several hundred years to recognize and agree that: the Universe is 13 billion or more years in age, the earth is 3 to 4 billion years old and mankind struggled through several million years of evolution to become fully human. To be fully human, God’s upright, bipedal creatures had to slowly acquire brain sizes that finally attained the knowledge to discern the difference between right and wrong, the power to love and care and thus gain a human conscience. Most Christians believe the Holy Spirit was involved in this first awakening  of fully human beings. This broad and general description of God’s evolutionary process is recognized as fact – not just theory – by the overwhelming majority of informed scientists in every country in the world. Wow, what a marvelous beginning!

So today, turning a page to national statistics, we learn (in 2014) that only about 27% of our adult population have a bachelor’s degree or higher in some discipline. This means that about two-thirds (or more) of all students have not had any chance (maybe a little in high school) to be exposed to the details of this evolutionary process. In some rural areas, this percentage is even larger.

If these statistics are true, there is good reason to understand why so many fine Christian people reject or simply avoid scientific reports of God’s creation that seem to negate their traditional understandings and the literal words of the Bible. Many would conclude that accepting modern scientific creation explanations is a vote against the Biblical story. In reality, this is not true – one must learn to understand that God’s Word in the bible and later scientific interpretations are very compatible.

It may be helpful to reflect on the Christian values received from the Bible. While many of God’s important messages are wrapped in ancient historical stories, one must remember that God’s Word in the bible is about: purpose, meaning and God’s struggle to evolve a primitive civilization to believe in one God. The Bible was never meant to be a science book. To attempt to interpret scripture as a scientific explanation of creation is a mistake practiced by many good folks expecting the writers of the bible to literally explain the details of God’s complex creation process. It is only through intelligent and prayerful thinking that God’s people may begin to understand how the broad and beautiful report of beginnings, recorded in the book of Genesis, may be reconciled with the abundance of new and detailed facts which the scientific community has accumulated over the last millennium.

In the middle of intense debates about creation, some well-meaning Christians rationalize that understanding the truths of God’s creative processes are of little importance.  They suggest that the center of our Christian faith is given to us in the New Testament through the life, teachings and sacrifices of Jesus, and thus, the details of Creation do not seriously impact our Christian faith. I disagree with this conclusion.. If the Christian faith is about anything meaningful, it is about seeking to understand truths. The real creation story discovered by the full world scientific community is absolutely true – even if some of the details are not yet fully understood. It is the most exciting, logical and inspiring story anyone could ever imagine.

John Wesley, gave us the Wesleyan Quadrangle containing the proper elements for making serious decisions:  Reason, Tradition, Experience and Scripture. Surely, the more knowledgeable all Christians become regarding the real truths of God’s evolutionary creation, the more attractive the Christian faith should become for all intelligent and educated people. Think about this:  Why would a young college educated Christian want to be associated with a traditional church that hangs on to the literal words of the bible suggesting that the universe and mankind were created in seven, twenty-four hour days? And we wonder why many young adults are leaving or avoiding the churches of their parents.

As for all dedicated Christians who, for whatever reasons, do not have the fortune of advanced education, please study when you can, keep an open mind, and pray that God will help you to believe these scientists that have given us all so many beautiful, complex, and useful scientific inventions to enjoy. Although we trust but do not always understand their creation. God surely blessed us with many wonderful scientific discoveries long after the Bible was written.

Please know that all of this written presentation is meant to inform, wake up traditional thinkers, strengthen their Christian faith and hopefully help our traditional churches, in every denomination, to survive and grow. “O Lord, please help us all to accept these truths!”

Jesus said: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”

W.F. Peck, Jr.

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The Beginning of Human Life

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As Christians, we look to the biblical stories in the Old Testament seeking to understand God’s messages regarding how mankind first began. A literal reading and interpretation of the “Adam and Eve” story seems to produce more questions than answers regarding how mankind first evolved. Tradition labels their act of disobeying God as a negative experience with God reacting punitively against them and the symbolic serpent. One could easily surmise that their disobedience doomed the development of the human race – but the reverse interpretation makes more sense.

Prior to Adam and Eve’s defiance of God’s directives, they are described as mere happy, naïve and comfortable children, or angels or partly evolved homo sapiens with little understanding of who they really were or who they were destined to become. God chose the events needed to create fully human kind through a beautiful allegorical story that allowed our first symbolic humans (Adam and Eve) to make decisions that opened their eyes (for the first time) and awaken  them to recognize the differences between right and wrong. In Genesis, chapter three, God says: “they became like me (god) with the power to decide what is right and what is wrong!” This is the positive interpretation of this ancient story and it fits well with our modern understanding of how up-right, bipedal hominids over thousands of years, evolved brain sizes and cultural relationships that came to fruition when God breathed his Holy Spirit into his developing creatures and they became fully human! Human life truly began when the first humans realized they were in direct relationship with God as well as with one another. 

Whether we like it or not, God chose to create humans as imperfect beings with the freedom to make good or bad decisions. Mankind could not exist without the power to exercise a “free will”. This was not man’s decision – it was God’s decision. To suggest that “the devil made us this way” – is to conclude that God was not fully in charge of man’s creation. Surely, we do not believe this!

From this creation event forward, the Old Testament presents numerous stories, generally organized chronologically, that picture God’s struggles to teach his wayward people how to grow in their understanding of a “one God  (Yahweh) concept”. We are allowed to witness multiple triumphs and failures in the Old Testament as God’s chosen people slowly move, over more than two thousand years, from paganism to the one and only true God. His people finally are blessed with the presence of God through the life, teachings, death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ.

This inspiring interpretation of human beginnings in the early chapters of the book of Genesis provides a sensible and solid foundation for the building of the Christian faith.

Written by W.F. Peck

Seeking to Understand the Nature of God

 

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Throughout recorded history countless numbers of religious scholars have sought to better understand the nature of our Christian God. Why would a plain, ordinary lay theologian attempt to improve on the multiple volumes on this subject written by hundreds of renowned heros of the Bible?

My reasons include:

  • Being concerned and analytical about our loving God, in my judgment, is superior to being silently afraid or passive about him.
  • Being seriously interested in exploring the nature of God, may be risky, but it draws me closer to him – even if my judgment is wrong.
  • When one truly cares about another, one seeks to be involved more closely with that person, rather than sitting a far off in fear of offending or judging. To ignore God is one of the greatest sins.
  • While it is obvious that much about the nature of God shall always be a mystery, God gave mankind a mind, a keen sense of wonder and a propensity to explore the very depths of all human experience. I believe God approves and may even enjoy man’s feeble attempts to know him more personally. Lord, I hope so!

I am prompted to explore God’s nature and even to attempt to defend him, after reading all the misguided rationale expressed by atheists (who say God does not exist) and agnostics who confess (they do not know if God exists or not). Many of their writings appear to be well thought out and often make some logical sense. My first line of defense would be to counter that the very nature of God cannot be fully explained by logical reasoning or material facts.

Second, two thousand years of human experience by millions (even billions) of religious peoples from dozens of ethnic backgrounds in hundreds of countries, will easily trump the opinions of all intellectual, non-religious people in the world. If we take a vote, there is no contest!

Praise God for doubt leading to blind faith, but should we not attempt to truly understand the nature of God? I think so – fully realizing it is a risky endeavor. We must not assume to be equal to God!

Atheist, in particular, enjoy discounting the existence of God because:

  • Evil and suffering exist in the world and our all powerful, all knowing and all present God seems to ignore or retreat from stepping in and preventing or correcting bad things.
  • A God of love and compassion cannot sit idly by and allow bad things to happen to good people.
  • How could a loving God allow natural events such as: volcanos, earth quakes, tornados, famine, flooding and disease to destroy lives and property of innocent people? Where is God when all of these terrible things are happening? There are no easy answers but here are some thoughts to ponder:
  • God created the universe, the earth and all living creatures. He is continuously involved in our human experiences – but in my view, he does not micro- manage the individual events in our daily lives. He ordained that part of being human would be free will, thus allowing mankind to freely choose between doing good or doing evil. I believe “evil” is a condition – a substance – it is not a person in a red suit and forked tail going around infecting people with sin. In essence, evil is the absence of God.
  • Our all powerful God chooses to limit his power in some relationships with humanity. For example, God will not make 2 plus 2 be anything but 4, God will not step in and make the color blue to be red or any other color, and God will not step in and rescue a small child that wanders, unsupervised, into deadly traffic or an open swimming pool. God honors the physical laws that hold the world together.
  • Some horrendous events or conditions such as the Holocast or devastating earth quakes cannot be logically explained. They remain a mystery. Maybe, just maybe, God allows some tragic events to occur with knowledge that – later a greater loving consequence will be realized. We humans may never understand some tragic events.
  • Is God all knowing? Maybe, but has he always known about countless numbers of scientific inventions such as – computers and cell phones? It seems more reasonable that God gained new knowledge as it was discovered or created. The Bible says: God sometimes changed his mind. If this is true, then it follows that he must have gained new information to persuade him to change his mind. Since humans were made in the image of God, we too grow and gain new knowledge that causes us to change our minds and our understandings of events and circumstances. To think otherwise relegates the world to being a dull and preplanned robot. Perish the thought!
  • Is God everywhere? Probably so – since the presence of the Holy Spirit is available to all who seek it. God seems to find a place next to all humans and to enjoy their happiness as well as their feelings of suffering and pain. For reasons we do not clearly understand, God selects (at least in most cases) not to intervene in our painful human experiences.
  • In the middle of these considerations, God created mankind with a free will to choose between doing good and doing evil. If this is true, God cannot honor this decision and at the same time control the outcome of every human experience. Such control would negate the principle of free will which is basic to our human existence.
  • So, it seems fair and logical to surmise that God is all powerful (within his rules of creation).
  • God is all knowing at any point in history but he gains more knowledge as his created world evolves. This may not be standard Christian thinking but it is what I believe. Forgive me Lord.
  • God is everywhere and while seeing all human events (good or bad) he feels and suffers with us rather than intervening in the natural laws he created. Intervention would reduce the world order to chaos.
  • Most natural disasters can be scientifically explained. Scientists know, without any doubt, that multiple sections of the earths crust (tectonic plates) have moved about over prehistoric time and finally settled to form the continents we have today. From time to time, subterranean movements of these tectonic plates sometimes cause volcanos to erupt, earth quakes and tsunamis to flood the earth. Many civilizations have suffered from these geological events. Did God premeditatedly plan these events? I don’t think so. They are only the result of natural events that God does not select to control. God does not create complex physical laws and then jump in and oppose or change them!

These humble thoughts about the nature of God may be grossly inadequate. How will mankind ever fully understand the mysteries of God? Probably never.

It is comforting to remember that Job, while being humble and respectful to God, debated and argued with God and challenged God’s treatment of him. God finally responds to Job and teaches him right thinking but he also admitted that Job’s hardships and suffering were not the result of his sins. Job’s advisors were wrong.

There are earthly consequences for human sin, but God does not impose punishment on any living creature for their sins. However, mankind is capable of generating its own earthly punishments. The rains fall equally on the just and the unjust. Suffering is a normal event of our human experience. How sad and sterile the world would be without suffering persons to love. This is one of the lessons Job learned.

God ultimately agreed with Job and restored him to a deserving and normal life. I believe God welcomes thoughtful inquiries and prayerful studies into his nature. After all, we were made in the image of him.

 

Written by W.F. Peck

Key Theological Messages from “Making Sense of the Bible” By Adam Hamilton

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Adam Hamilton is not only a great speaker and writer, but he is pastor of the largest Methodist church in the world in Leawood, Kansas, The UMC of the Resurrection. I am attracted to his theology because it makes great sense and answers many troublesome questions Christians face today in a world where understandings of the bible range from super conservative “fundamentalists” on one end to “progressive or liberal thinkers” on the other end. My theology has evolved through the years from lessons learned from a devoted Christian mother who was a traditional fundamentalist –  raised and taught in small Methodist churches in the South. Over time, study, prayer and counsel with theologians, I have developed a more liberal view of the Bible but still hold tightly to the messages of Jesus presented to us in the gospels and in many of Paul’s writings.

The most troublesome scriptures, for me, are found in the Old Testament. One must start by asking this question: Is the God of Old Testament the same God as the God of the New Testament? And the answer has to be – of course he is – God does not change, but perhaps people’s understandings of him change.Most of us were taught at an early age that: “The Bible is God’s Word”. Well, in a broad sense, this statement is okay – but it can cause problems if the reader interprets this to mean – every single word in the Bible comes from God. I do not support this position. In the Torah, the Mosaic Law says: “Thou shall not work on the Sabbath subject to the death penalty.” Jesus said: “The Sabbath was made for man – not man was made for the Sabbath”. It makes more sense to say: “The Bible contains God’s Word”. There are just too many passages written by priests, scribes, prophets and historians in the first century AD, that just do not ring true to the messages given to us by Jesus in the New Testament.

Adam Hamilton presents a strong case in explaining that “divine Inspiration” does not mean that God commanded or directed or even wrote any of the words of scripture. The word “inspiration” applied to scripture should be understood the same as “inspiration” received by pastors and Sunday school teachers in our modern world. They all pray for guidance and the power of the Holy Spirit to inspire their thoughts and biblical messages.

Some still think “inspiration” means that God composed the bible word for word. But the word “inspiration”, at least in English, is quite different in meaning from the words “composition or dictation”. “Inspiration”, at least in English, does not mean perfection.
Adam Hamilton said: “Just precisely how does inspiration work? We feel moved, provoked, aroused, stimulated, influenced, urged to do something. Paul may be saying: each biblical author was moved , provoked, roused, stimulated, influenced or urged to write. “

Here are further quotations from Adam Hamilton that have helped me understand “inspiration”: “Many Christians read the word “inspired” or “God breathed” in 2 Timothy 3:16 and immediately give a definition that Paul himself did not give. To them “God breathed” means something very close to “God dictated”. This doctrine is often referred to as verbal, plenary inspiration. Verbal, plenary inspiration is not taught in the Bible” ….. “Plenary” means – complete in every respect and absolute. “ It was a way of building a fence around the Bible and making it impossible to question it or any doctrine built around it” – says Hamilton.

Verbal, plenary inspiration and the doctrine of the inerrancy and infallibility of the bible go hand in hand” – Says Adam Hamilton. “This new foundation for the Christian faith, namely that Christianity is true because the Bible is infallible, inerrant, totally true and trust worthy, feels to me like a house of cards that can easily be brought down.” John Wesley gave us direction to make serious decisions or interpretations of scripture using a combination of; Tradition, Experience, Reason and Scripture.

The people who wrote the various books of the Bible shaped their views according to the times in which they lived and the limitations of their knowledge. To those of us who teach Bible, it involves reading, praying and interpreting scripture with the help of our faith, the experience of the Holy Spirit and the use of human reason. We are then able to view the bible, to hear God speaking through it, but to still understand that we may question certain things presented in scripture that may not represent God’s true character nor his will for our lives today. It seems fair to conclude that the words of the bible reflect in some places, the limitations, biases and interpretations of its human authors.

Hamilton tells us that God speaks to us in many ways other than the Bible:

  • Through the created world
  • The whisper in our hearts
  • Through human prophets, teachers, and preachers
  • Through friends and parents
  • Other written words – outside the Bible
  • Through music – both contemporary and classical
  • Through visions and dreams

Another outstanding quote from Hamilton’s book is:
“So the phrase “the Word of God” as it is used in the Bible is almost always a message from God, disclosed at times through angels, sometimes directly to the heart of the individual, sometimes through dreams and visions, often through preaching and teaching and at times through a whisper. The phrase is used to describe a message conveyed, most often, through human beings, but which is believed to express or reveal God and God’s will.”

“The bible is not an autobiography. You can read God’s actual words in many places, but you can also hear the human author’s reflections upon God and their attempts to put into words the nature, character and will of God” – says Rev. Hamilton.

When Biblical authors wrote, they did not enter into a trance like state in which God dictated the scriptures word for word. Paul wrote what was on his heart and mind. He did not claim to be speaking directly from God. He assumed the responsibility for his own sermons and writings. Luke or John, in their writings, did not claim that God told them what to say.

Many fine Christians hold strongly to a doctrine of Biblical inerrancy. Adam Hamilton had the courage to state: “If by Biblical inerrancy we mean that “those truths that God wants humanity to know, are preserved without error in the Bible, I’m ready to sign on. But if by Biblical inerrancy we mean that the bible contains no errors, no logical inconsistencies, no facts that are not historically accurate, I’d have to say, no, the Bible is not inerrant.”

Some would argue: if there is an error anywhere in the Bible, how can we trust anything it says? The answer is simple – we are constantly trusting the words of people whom we have found to be trustworthy, even though none of them are inerrant or infallible.

He further said, “No pastor is infallible or inerrant. God knows this and chooses to use fallible people to do his work. God doesn’t make them infallible when they step into the pulpit, yet God works through them nonetheless. The divine inspiration of scripture was not God dictating the scriptures but God working in the hearts and minds of the biblical authors”.

It is important to remember that as we work to interpret scripture, we must not discount what is inconvenient or challenging simply because it is difficult. When we find something that is inconsistent with the way God reveals himself through Jesus Christ, we may legitimately ask questions. It is Jesus and his teachings that serve as the final Word by which other words are to be judged.
Adam Hamilton speaks eloquently about the story of beginnings. Genesis 1 is a majestic, beautiful and poetic. It is not a lesson in cosmology, it is a creed. It is not a science lecture – it is poetry. It makes a claim not about scientific knowledge but about truth and theology. As a creed, a hymn of praise to God, and a theological lesson about the ultimate nature of existence – yes – but as a scientific text – no. … It tells us what late Bronze and Iron Age people of the ancient Near East believed about the order of creation. When we treat this text as a scientific account, we miss the point, and we end up with bad science.

“I appreciate Darwin’s Theory of Evolution”, says Hamilton. “Evolution does not diminish God’s glory, as some Christians seem to believe. To me it magnifies God’s glory. Science teaches one kind of truth, and it is really important and wonderful. The Bible teaches another kind of truth – about the meaning of existence, the nature of God and what it means to be human.”

“Sometime, maybe as early as, 35,000 to 45,000 years ago, there was an upright, bi-pedal hominid that began to think in ways other hominids did not. The biblical language for what was taking place is that God breathed into these hominids the “breath of life”: and they became “living beings” – fully human and made in the image of God. The story of Adam and Eve, their temptations and mistakes, is the story of all of us. It is the story of the earliest modern humans and how God gave them a soul and of their initial choice of “free will” that lead them to act against the will of God.

And then we have the story of Noah and his ark. Did God destroy every animal and every human being on the earth –except Noah and his family on the ark about 4300 years ago? Hamilton says – “I don’t think so”. The story seems to be anchored in historical events that happened at the end of the last Ice Age when floods and volcanic eruptions were common. But is the story of Noah’s ark true? Well, literally – no – but in a theological sense – yes, it is absolutely true! Like the Creation story, this story teaches profound truths.

So in summary, from what we have learned, we can state without any doubt that:

  • The vast majority of scriptures reflect the timeless will of God for human beings.
  • There are other passages that reflect God’s will in a particular time but not for all time, including much of the ritual law of the Old Testament.
  • There are scriptural passages that reflect the culture and historical circumstances in which they were written but never reflected God’s timeless will, like those related to slavery.
  • The bible is not a theological textbook, a book of praise or an owner’s manual. It is a compilation of various types of literature, including short stories, poetry, wisdom sayings, prophetic warnings, gospels and letters written over the course of 1,400 years.
  • The words of Jesus are the words by which all other words should be interpreted and understood.
  • You are not dishonoring God by asking questions of scripture that seem inconsistent with modern scientific knowledge or geography or history.
  • You are not being unfaithful to God if you ask questions of a verse that seems inconsistent with the picture of God seen in life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus.
  • The Holy Spirit prompts and inspires you, but it does not dictate what you think, say or do.
  • You are not judging God by wrestling with the Bible, you are asking questions of the human authors of scripture.

This writing does not do full justice to this marvelous book: “Making Sense of the Bible” by Adam Hamilton. It has been a blessing in my life and I’m sure it would be the same for any open minded Christian.
W. F. (Bill) Peck

To Become Fully Human- Prehistoric Man Must Choose to Disobey God

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Interpreting Scripture

The true meaning of the eating of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil presented to us in Genesis, chapter three, has troubled God’s people since the beginning of modern history. Prior to this act of disobedience, only partially human, upright bipedal hominids existed. The bible symbolically identifies these first pre-humans as Adam and Eve. Hominids, God’s very early human creatures, were innocent of sin because they were not yet fully human with a conscience and an understanding of the difference between right and wrong.

There were metaphorically two important trees at the center of the mythical Garden of Eden – the Tree of  Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life (immortality). Although in the third chapter of Genesis, God instructs Adam and Eve not to partake fruit from the tree of good and evil, they disobeyed God for the first time and ate the forbidden fruit. While God clearly objected to this act of disobedience, this  symbolic act is the key to mankind reaching full maturity. Scriptures tell us – their eyes were opened and they realized who they were – and they were ashamed of their nakedness. God then said: “Man is now like God” – with intellect, a conscience and the ability to discern the difference between right and wrong. 

Based on a traditional interpretation of scripture, God objected to Adam and Eve’s act of disobedience and  “slapped their wrists” with several metaphorical penalties. They were ordered to leave the Garden of Eden – (it was time for mankind to move out into the real world) and also work and sweat at their labor (normal conditions for all responsible humans). Worries about birth pains seem superfluous since near humans had for thousands of years experienced birth pains.

If one reflects carefully on the Genesis story, it is obvious that any act of disobedience must be initiated by man for surely God would not initiate such an act. Throughout the history of mankind, imperfection, disobedience and rebellion against God have been the “Human Condition”. A positive interpretation of this historic event, outlined in detail in the third chapter of Genesis, represents mankind’s first act of adult thinking and choosing for the first time to exercise a free will.

To be made in the full image of God means (in part): Man became aware of his intellect, powers of reasoning and a sensitive conscience.

The early scriptures do not tell us if it was God’s plan to allow his pre-human creatures to become fully human. The scriptural wording seems to suggest that God temporarily resisted this evolutionary process. A more positive interpretation of Genesis three expresses a beautiful story of how humanity came into being. Man’s initial act of disobedience inaugurated and emancipated the human race.

Genesis three also reports that God chose to block mankind from partaking of fruit from the Tree of Life – that is to immediately allow man to gain eternal life – immortality. God, in his infinite wisdom, knew that the goal of attaining immortality must be a slow and life long struggle for humanity – not something man should gain instantaneously. The entire Old Testament presents mankind with a continuing struggle to gain eternal life which culminates with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

The Christian theology of the western culture was to a large extent developed and presented to us through the writings of Bishop Augustine of Hippo. This great theologian gave us the terminology  of: “Original Sin” and the “Genesis Fall of Mankind”. Neither of these ideas is mentioned in the Bible. Most modern biblical scholars discount the Augustine theory that every generation has biologically inherited the initial sin of Adam and Eve – their act of disobedience. They also object to Augustine’s conclusion that all unbaptized babies are doomed to hell!

It is true that fully human beings possessing a free will, can choose to act in accordance with God’s will or can select to perform ungodly acts. The existence of evil in the world is part of the “Human Condition”, but each person has the choice , every day, to choose to do good or evil. To agree with Augustine’s theory of “original Sin” tends to absolve mankind of the responsibility to exercise its God given right of free will.

Interpreting Scientific Information

This positive interpretation of the meaning of the events presented in Genesis, chapter three, matches well with our current scientific knowledge regarding the slow and gradual evolution of God’s primordial creatures. For at least the last four hundred years, anthropologists, archeologists, geologists and paleontologists, all over the world, have unearthed, dated and classified bones, skulls and fossils of pre-human (hominids). Several million years ago, hominid brain sizes were only 400cc according to scientific measurements of ancient skulls. Over long periods of time brain sizes developed and grew to 1000cc and finally at the dawn of humanity, Homo sapiens brains were 1450cc – about the same size as modern humans.

At this point in pre-history, evidence abounds that these nearly human upright, bi-pedal creatures were:

  • Creating stone weapons and tools
  • Cooking over fires
  • Caring for their families
  • Organizing into groups (tribes)
  • Presenting creative art and pictures on walls
  • Burying their dead with preparations for an after life

At some point in time, most experts believe between 6000BC and 10,000BC, God breathed his Holy Spirit into these evolved hominids and they became fully human. In Hebrew theology this marvelous act of God is identified as the “Neshama”. Man is fully whole – with a free will, a conscience and the capacity to discern the difference between right and wrong for the first time.

Understanding these scientific facts and believing in God’s messages expressed in metaphorical language through the stories of Adam and Eve, offers a giant leap in mans ability to blend scientific information with our holy scriptures.

There is no question that God created human – kind over eons of time using all of his laws of nature and bringing the culmination  of his final acts to us through the beautiful stories in the early chapters of the book of Genesis. It is the most logical and inspiring explanation of God’s evolutionary processes that any educated student of the Bible could ever imagine!

This wonderful reconciliation of our current scientific knowledge, with God’s messages hidden in the book of Genesis, will greatly enhance our chances of attracting and keeping younger, educated Christians loyal to our traditional churches. More open and totally honest dialogues are needed by church leaders if this reconciliation  is to be meaningful and supportive of God’s work through his churches.

Oh Lord, we pray, someday our church leaders will have the intellect, knowledge and courage to abandon misleading, traditional interpretations of Old Testament scriptures and thus strengthen the effectiveness of their Christian callings.

 By W.F.Peck

The History of Christian Suffering

JesusOnCross 

First century Christians suffered greatly for their beliefs in Jesus Christ. About 313AD Emperor  Constantine gave relief to the Roman Christian community by legalizing Christianity at the Edict of Milan. Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Theodosius in 380AD. However, the developing Catholic Church still held the average citizen in bondage and many suffered for minor violations of church rules and dogma. Misdeeds by the Roman church grew to a point that in 1517 Martin Luther, a Catholic priest, pinned his ninety five thesis’s to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Battle lines were drawn and many on both sides suffered punishments for their beliefs. After the invention of the Gutenberg printing press in 1455, complete bibles were available for the first time and the common folk sought to read the scriptures only to be persecuted by the churches.

The Christian church grew on both sides and expanded across the new found continents and missionaries and  itinerant ministers traveled into foreign lands and suffered rejection and sometimes death as they attempted to convert the unchurched to Christianity.

While substantial progress has been made in spreading the Word, many wars have been fought between competing nations and competing religions and many have suffered and given their lives for their religious beliefs. 

But now we live in a modern society and religious persecution is prohibited by our Constitution or the laws of other nations. Suffering for one’s Christian beliefs in a modern society takes on a different form from that of our Christian ancestors. As successful, happy and comfortable living Christians, how do we or how should we suffer for the cause of Christ? God’s special servants, our missionaries, continue to labor under difficult conditions and many are  still suffering servants. But they are the precious few, and we are the vast majority. In our own secure communities as Christians, how shall we suffer? Maybe “suffering” is too harsh a descriptor? Each of us is faced everyday with choices to “step out for our Christian faith” or duck quietly into selfish activities that consume and fill our comfortable existence. But what does it mean to “step out for our Christian faith?” Does it have to mean an earth shaking event? Maybe, but most likely it takes on a quiet and gentile form. Could it be, for most of us, that suffering for the kingdom is simply committing to:

  • Praying earnestly everyday.
  • Calling a friend or neighbor and supporting their needs.
  • Visiting a sick person at home or in the hospital.
  • Attending church and Sunday school on a regular basis.
  • Financially supporting our churches and other worthy causes.
  • Helping a disadvantaged person in some loving way.
  • Teaching Sunday school or singing in the choir.
  • Serve on important Sunday school and church committees.
  • Taking seriously the selection of our elected officials.
  • Being a good parent or grandparent.
  • Taking care of some lonely animal.
  • Support worthy civic groups that provide for the needs of the sick, poor and underprivileged.
  • Just be positive and kind to everyone you meet.

Well, shall we label these as examples of  “ modern suffering” or would they be more appropriately called “stepping out for our Christian faith”? These and many other examples of Christian service are continuously available to you and me. The key question is what path of life shall I choose to follow?