Encountering Fog on The Way to Heaven
At a recent funeral I heard someone say that the recently deceased, a man who had lived through the Great Depression, World War Two, the conflicts of racial integration, the growth of global terrorism, the steady onslaught of degeneracy, and the rapid decline of civility, was better off now that he was in Heaven.
The statement caused me to recall several eulogies that stated the recently dead had joined a loved one in Heaven or is looking down at friends celebrating his or her home going. As a Christian, I believe but still question essential Christian dogma that seems contradictory and intentionally misleading in an effort to be consoling. Trying to find the truth is similar to walking through heavy fog toward a light; the light is diffused and the source indistinct, but if you keep walking toward the light, carefully and methodically, you can reach your destination.
Blind faith simply blinds us and when we are blinded we are vulnerable to charismatic charlatans who prey upon souls who want to believe, but do not want to seek and find truth for themselves. Each religion has had its share of charismatic leaders from Old World councils that decided what the Holy Bible should contain to religious leaders that initiate holy wars rather than use dialogue and non-violent persuasion to promote their religion. I wonder what the global result on humanity would be if more individuals took the time to delve deeper into religion for personal answers. If we did this, we might find the truth that will set us free from the dubious control of others as well as free us from much of the personal inner turmoil that drives us.
As I left the funeral thinking about the words I had heard I realized, that not being a seminary graduate, I might not wholly grasp what my only sources of information, various versions of The Holy Bible and concordances, actually said. However, I am sure that many of the Bible verses I have learned through church training, and what was said at funerals and revivals, did not jive. So, I resumed a journey that I had started years before with reference materials and various versions of the Holy Bible in hand.
What I concluded, through study, was that several Christian concepts were glossed over, in an apparent effort to make certain dogma more palatable to the masses. There seems to be a prevalence to alter what the Word says that I do not understand and, I fear, undermines Christ’s words to seek the truth that will set you free. I am confident that Christ meant for us to undertake the seeking of truth upon ourselves rather than let another person simply tell us.
Then there are myriad misquotes that undermine the message or change the message such as “Money is the root of all evil.” The actual quote is “The love of money is the root of all evil.” See how three words change the entire meaning and explains the avarice and selfishness that gridlocks government operations and turns men and women into criminals.
Allow me to offer food for thought on a few of the Christian concepts that have proven, so I am told, to be subjects best left for “those who have studied the Word in depth and can clearly understand the apparent discrepancies.” I realize that for some Christians these thought provoking reflections will be heresy. I believe there is too much riding on the truth to let questions go unexplored or allow someone else to light the narrow path to the promised eternal reward.
As for atheists and agnostics, even you must admit that the Ten Commandments, The Golden Rule, and the Book of Proverbs offer simple, yet profound, rules and advice that would transform this planet into a near utopia if only we weak willed humans could live within a few insightful principles.
I again affirm that I am a Christian. I urge you to look to Christ and seek the truth for yourself and when you are ready accept the Christ you have come to know through research and faith. I realize these reflections may sound heretical but I feel strongly that each believer should not simply rely on what he or she is told, but rather what he or she knows. So, please let the truth set you free.
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks the door will be opened.
Luke 11: 9
Reflections on the concept of immediately going to Heaven upon your death .
Let me start with this concept as this is most often stated at funerals. I have always wondered where this concept came from. It seems that a well-known parable provides the main foundation of this concept. We must remember that parables were methods of teaching lessons based on the level of understanding humanity had at that time. Many scriptures refer to death as sleep, a period of total physical and spiritual inactivity, until the second coming of Christ. These passages alone seem to solidify the fact that we do not ascend to Heaven at our death.
I like the analogy explaining that that we do not experience the passing of time while we sleep each night so that when we wake in the morning it is as if time passed in the blink of an eye. So, the instantaneous arrival in Heaven is more of a metaphor than reality.
The images of being raised from the grave on Judgment Day, the sea giving up its dead at the trumpet blast, and standing in line as the names in the Book of Life are read seems to contradict the concept of immediately ascending to Heaven upon death. It seems to me that the need to comfort loved ones and friends left behind summons a need to soften Biblical doctrine and that seems wrong. Read and interpret some challenging passages for yourself.
John 3:13 No man has gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven, the Son of Man
John 5:28,29…when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out…
John 5:21…For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life,
1 Thessalonians. 4 13-18…the dead in Christ will rise first…
1 Corinthians. 15:51..we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, at the last trumpet…52…the dead will be raised imperishable…
Matthew. 24:31…will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
Ecclesiastes .9:5, 6…For the living know they will die, but the dead know nothing…
John 14:3…I will come back and take you with me that you also may be where I am.
John 6:40 …I will raise him up on the last day.
2 Corinthians. 12:4 different levels of Heaven mentioned here and elsewhere
Reflections on the concept that immortality is given to all souls.
Speaking of death and subsequent immortality, the way I read the scriptures I understand The Word to say that we are not born immortal; immortality is a gift from God given to us when we are saved and become one of His children as promised in John 3:16. We are not born immortal, the only immortal beings are God, his angels and Satan and his angels. A point in Genesis that seems to be rushed over is that there were two trees in the Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve were told not to eat from. Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge rather than the Tree of Eternal Life. Stop and imagine for a moment about how different human existence would have been had Eve eaten from the other tree.
Here and in the next reflection is the controversy over whether humans are born immortal or are given that gift as a reward. The Holy Bible clearly states that if you are not found in the Book of Life, you are cast in to the lake of fire to be consumed and that is your second death resulting in the end of you. Read and interpret some challenging passages for yourself.
Genesis 3:3 …”You must not eat…or you will surely die.
Genesis 3:22…” He must not be allowed….and eat, and live forever.
Genesis 3:24 …to guard the way to the tree of life.
There were two trees in Eden Adam and Ever were told not to eat from; after eating from the tree of knowledge the tree of life, which was put under guard so they would not become “immortal”.
2 Peter 2:6…made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;
Romans 6:22 ,23…and the result is eternal life…the gift of God is eternal life…
1Timothy 6:15 ,16…who alone in immortal…
Psalm 115:17… It is not the dead who praise the Lord, those who go down to silence
Psalm 146:4… When their spirit departs they return to the ground…
Ecclesiastes 9:5 …but the dead know nothing…10…for in the grave…there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
Mark 12:25 …When the dead rise,….they will be like the angels in heaven
John 11: 11-14 & 25-26 “Lazarus is dead…He who believes in me will live event though he dies…
John 20:17 …Do not hold onto me, for I have not yet returned to the Father…)
John 5: 28,29 …for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out-those who have done good will rise to live and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.
John 8:51 …I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.
John 3:13 …NO ONE HAS EVER GONE TO HEAVEN EXCEPT THE ONE WHO CAME FROM HEAVEN-THE SON OF MAN .
John 3:16 …For God so loved the world….shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 10:28 …I give them eternal life…
John 6:40 …For my Father’s will…shall have eternal life…I will raise him up on the last day.
Luke 16:31 …I tell you the truth today you will be with me in paradise. (Jesus did not go to heaven upon his death…see John 3:13)
2 Timothy 1:10 …who has destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
Luke 18:29,30 …eternal life.
Acts 2:29 &34…David died and was buried…tomb here to this day…/For David did not ascend to Heaven,…
Revelation 2:7 …to him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life…
Revelation 20:4, 5…The rest of the dead did not come to life…
Revelation 20:9&10…fire came down from heaven and devoured them…
Revelation 20:7…I will give the right to eat from the tree of life….
Revelation 20. 11-15…which is the book of life…this is the second death…
Reflections on the nature of Hell.
Let us take a look at what we think about Hell for a moment. My intense curiosity that led me to my layman’s study of the scripture seems to describe Hell as a place prepared for Satan and his immortal angels. Hell will not be a place of eternal punishing for those human mortals not found in the Book of Life; these people will be cast into the lake of fire to be consumed/destroyed since eternal life is a gift from God, not a birthright. I can understand how the addition of eternal punishing evolved as church leaders knew humans are weak in flesh and will, and the mere promise of eternal life in Heaven -sometime down the road- is not enough to keep humans on the straight and narrow path. A horrifying consequence had to be added to try to keep humans focused. Entropy of society would blind us with its speed if there were no Hell for those teetering on the edge of evilness such as Hitler and others we contend with today.
The promise of eternal life dimmed long before our society became addicted to instant gratification, yet while that promise should be enough, sadly it is not. Therefore, an eternal Hell was described to literally put the fear of God into mankind. I believe the scriptures describe a different Hell and who will be spending eternity there. Read and interpret some challenging passages for yourself.
Luke 8:31 …order the demons to the Abyss…
2 Peter 2:4 …God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment;
2 Peter 2:6 …if he condemned the cities of S & G by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;
Revelation 20:10 …And the devil, …was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur…They will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
Revelation 20:13,14 … and death and Hades gave up the dead: …Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. (Rev 21:8)
Matthew 27: 52,53 …the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life, they came out of the tombs
Matthew 3:12 …burning the chaff with the unquenchable fire.
Matthew 13:40-42 …As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age…They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 10:28 …Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Matthew 25:41 …Then he will say to those on his left…into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
2 Peter 2:6 (see above)
Jude 7… Sodom and Gomorrah …serve as an example of those….eternal fire
Romans 6:22 ,23…wages of sin is death (not eternal punishment), but the gift of God is eternal life…
1 Timothy. 6:14-16…the King of kings, Lord of lords who alone is immortal…
Revelation 20 11-15…which is the book of life…the lake of fire is the second Death…he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Romans 6:22-23…the benefit you reap is eternal life…the wages of sin is death…
Reflections on freewill and Predestiny
I close with one of my personal pet peeves that has bothered me since I was a child when I simply listened to the message taking it at face value while afraid that if I asked hard questions I would be told I was too unlearned to understand the answers. In my personal journey of life, I had to confront the concept of predestiny to make sense of death, loss, and seemingly unfathomable acts affecting my life.
The first example of free will is that God provided Adam and Eve two trees to avoid eating from in the Garden of Eden. I believe that tells us Adam and Eve had a choice to eat or not to eat, as well as a choice between trees. I believe God gave us His rules to follow, told us the consequences of not following those rules, and then let us make our own decisions. God wants us to come to Him but He allows us to make the choice without coercion. The God I believe in is not a dictator. He has provided us with His Way, we only have to choose to accept His Invitation.
I do believe that God can intervene and that He can manipulate our path when and where it fulfils a specific purpose. I call some experiences Divine Intervention where others call it beating the odds or being a statistic. I also believe God has chosen certain people throughout time to fulfill a purpose, with their acceptance, but the majority of humanity has the “freewill” to accept Him or reject Him. The scripture is full of examples proving we have free will and our destiny, is primarily, what we make it. I invite you to read and interpret some challenging passages for yourself.
Genesis 2:9&16-17…”You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not ear from the tree of knowledge Genesis 3: 22-24…
Romans 6:22 ,23…the gift of God is eternal life..
Romans 10:9…that if you confess…believe…you will be saved.
Romans 10:13…everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Romans 9:17-18…that I might display my power in you…God has mercy on whom he wants…
2 Peter 2:4…the angels that sinned…
2 Peter 3:9…not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance
Matthew 26:39…Yet not as I will, but as you will.
Jude 6…the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home…
2 Corinthians 4:4…the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers…
Isaiah. 14:13-16…I will ascend Heaven, I will raise my throne…
John 12 46-50…There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words;
Ephesians 1:3-5,11 (Apostles chosen ones)
Ephesians 2:8-10…it is a gift of God..so that no one can boast,…we (apostles) are God’s workmen…prepared in advance for us to do.
1 Peter 1:2, 11&12.
2 Thessalonians 2:13
John 8:24 I told you that you would die, …
John 6:47 …he who believes has everlasting life (John 3:16 )
Acts 10: 34-35 …I now realize how true it is that God…
Acts 10:43 All the prophets testify about him
Acts 16: 30-31…He then brought them out and asked…
2 Peter 3:9 …not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
John 1:12 ,13 …Yet to all who received him, to those who believed…the right to become children of God…
Luke 13: 24 … Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many , I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.
1 Thessalonians. 5:9 …For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 3:19,20 …and the whole world be held accountable to God.
Romans 8:28-30 … who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called (speaking of the apostles and prophets).
Romans 9:11-16 …(predestined preachers, apostles, agents of God’s plan, etc.)
Titus 3:4-7 … he saved us, …but because of his mercy. …we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
2 Timothy 2:20-21 …If a man cleanses himself…made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.
Romans 10:9-13 …This if you confess…and believe…you will be saved.
Romans 11:32 …For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
Matthew 7:7-14 …Ask and it will be given…For everyone who asks receives, …the door will be opened…But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Matthew 7:21 …Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
1 Timothy 2:3-4 …who wants all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.
Matthew 7:14 ..But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
John 6:40…For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes…and I will raise him up on the last day.
In conclusion, I hope this food for thought will strengthen your faith and belief. That your faith and belief will be based in personal knowledge and not blind faith based upon someone who is supposed to be knowledge and all to willing to tell you exactly how to believe. Natural disasters, famines, wars, the poor, diseases, and pestilence has been in the world since time began; we simply hear more about all of it from the glut of global news sources that bring us information at the speed of light. Those street corner prophets who shout, “The End Is Near,” are right-for someone, somewhere. And, your end may come from a simple traffic accident, household accident, heart attack, or a drug-crazed, armed, thug; the point is, the end could come at any moment. The question is, are you sure what you believe is the truth that will guarantee you an audience with God? My personal journey has strengthened my faith, I hope the hard questions do not scare you away, but rather take you deeper, beyond memorizing Bible verses to knowing that God is much more complex than many charismatic charlatans and cult leaders want you to know.
As Bob Dylan wrote in his song “Trust Yourself,” “Don’t put your faith in ungodly man, or be a slave to what someone else believes, and you won’t be disappointed when vain people let you down…trust yourself.” Do you really trust your eternal future to someone else? I say, trust but verify.