Archive for the ‘Sin’ category

Can Hell be Reconciled with a Loving God? Part 2

May 17, 2018


In the first piece in this series about hell, inspired by a talk given by Tim Keller in 2010, we explore the idea that hell isn’t a place that God sends us; it is the result of our own choosing. When we choose anything other than God as our highest and best good, our most treasured thing, the thing we identify most with, that choice becomes our ultimate aim.

If we choose anything other than God as our ultimate aim, our most treasured thing, we lose ourselves to it. What we value most consumes us and we lose our identity to it.

Keller uses the parable of Lazarus and the rich man as the backdrop. The rich man, not even realizing he is in hell, demands Abraham to send Lazarus to him to wet his lips to relieve him from his discomfort. The rich man is delusional. He still thinks he has the wealth and station he enjoyed during life, but he has completely lost his identity. Abraham and Lazarus have names in the parable, but the rich man is without any name.

Soren Kierkegaard wrote a book, Sickness Unto Death, in which he defines sin as finding our identity in anything other than God. The word for sin, in the Hebrew, means, literally, missing the mark. To find our identity in anything other than Godis missing the mark.

The first point Keller makes about the idea of hell is this: when we choose anything other than God as our highest and best good, the thing we most identify with, we lose our identity to it, and it becomes our hell. If the thing we cherish most isn’t our identify in God, we lose our intended identify (given by God who created us) to the things we have chosen over God. And this becomes our hell.

Keller says that the idea of hell is crucial in helping us to understand the problem with our own hearts. We have a tendency to want things other than the purpose for which God made us. God made us for Himself, to reflect unique facets of His nature, and to have relationship, forever, with God. If we choose as our greatest treasure something other than this purpose for which God made us, we lose our identity to those things.

In this blog piece, we will explore this idea further.

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Can Hell be Reconciled with a Loving God? Part 1

May 17, 2018

Depositphotos Image ID: 45826369 Copyright: kamchatka

Tim Keller gave a series of talks on the biggest objections to Christianity about eight years ago. In one talk, he addresses how can we reconcile a God who is loving with a God with the idea of hell. I’m going to summarize what Keller says partly in his words and partly in my own words. I will also go off script down some side roads. I will cover the subject in several blog posts.

Before we start, I want to observe that truth and reality are not always how we would like them to be. The nature of truth is that “it is what it is”. We don’t advance in our knowledge and understanding by denying it. If we are going to take the Bible seriously, and particularly the things that Jesus said, we have to contend with the idea of hell. Jesus mentions hell more than any other person in the scripture.

Tim Keller claims that hell is crucial for understanding our own hearts, for living at peace in the world, and for knowing the love of God. The text he uses to set up the subject is Luke 16:19-31. This text is known as the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. I encourage you to read it before continuing on. I am only addressing the first point in this blog post – that hell is crucial for understanding our own hearts (because it is something we choose).

The idea of hell, of course, is a basic Christian principal. Jesus did not shy away from the subject, and neither should we. Hell is a principal that doesn’t sit well with the sentiments of modern people, but that is no reason to dismiss it anymore than we should dismiss the idea of disease just because we don’t like it. We dismiss it only to our detriment.

One interesting quirk about this parable is that two of the characters are named (Abraham and Lazarus), and one character is not named (the rich man). Keller says this parable is the only one in which Jesus named any of the characters. (I didn’t double check him on that.)

In Hebrew culture, even more than in our day, names were intimately connected to the identify of a person. In this parable, Lazarus is identified by name, but the rich man remains anonymous. He has lost his identity. Why is that? And how does that relate to understanding our own hearts?

The fact that Jesus named characters, but he didn’t name all the characters, is a window into understanding the parable and understanding our own hearts.

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Search Me Oh God

April 22, 2018

Depositphotos Image ID: 67632305 Copyright: alazs

Judas Iscariot is a tragic figure in the Gospels. He is known best for betraying Jesus Christ, leading to his crucifixion. John wrote this of Judas many years after the events occurred in the garden of Gethsemane: “he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”

Given John’s characterization of Judas, it’s a bit unnerving, perhaps, to think that Judas spent years in the company of Jesus. Judas knew Jesus intimately and was part of the very inner circle of followers of Jesus. Jesus certainly knew Judas as well. He knew well that Judas would be the one who would betray Him. He “called it” at the Last Supper.

Have you considered the fact that Jesus allowed Judas so close to him all that time, knowing what Judas would do? John’s comment about Judas many years later, describing Judas as a “thief” who helped himself to the funds that Judas oversaw for the group of disciples, suggests that John knew the character of Judas as well.

The betrayal of Jesus, of course, was part of God’s plan. It had it happen. Jesus came to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sins of men, but Jesus added, “But woe to that man who betrays him!”

What sort of man betrays Jesus? Was Judas just an evil person?

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Shadow of Things to Come

January 25, 2018

Photo by Beth Drendel

I’ve been reading through the Bible slowly from Genesis to revelation. This is something I have not done in many years. I have taken some sidetracks and rabbit hole excursions along the way, but I am still plodding forward.

It’s amazing that circumstances of life arise from time to time of which the particular passage I am reading comes to bear on those circumstances. This is the case in a poignant way in regard to a conversation I had with a very close friend recently.

We were talking about the Catholic Church and a very bad experience that someone very close to both of us had being raised by strict parents in a strict Catholic school setting. I was also raised Catholic, though my experience differed from his. I didn’t go to parochial school, and I didn’t experience the strictness of the Catholic Church like he did, though I certainly saw evidence of it.

In my friend’s case, the strictness and severity he experienced bordered on abuse. I don’t know the details, but his reactions to things religious suggests he might have some degree of PSTD as a result of his experiences.

I don’t mean to pick on the Catholic Church. I have seen the same “spirit” evident in other denominations as well. Certain Baptists and Pentecostals and people we might label “fundamentalists” or other labels have exhibited a similar spirit as the Catholics in the focus on do’s and don’ts and religious rituals practiced in front of foreboding audiences. The Westboro Baptist Church is a very extreme example of the legalism and dogmatism I am talking about.

In the context of this conversation and these thoughts, I read these words the very next day that were penned by Paul the Apostle about two millennia ago:

Therefore, let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival our new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come,  but the substance is in Christ. Colossians 2:16-17

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The David Cries Out for the Judas in Me

November 1, 2017

Depositshotos Image ID: 52751173 Copyright: zatletic

Judas Iscariot is a tragic figure in the Gospels. He was responsible for betraying our Lord Jesus. John wrote this of Judas many years after the events unfolded in the garden of Gethsemane: “he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”[1]

Because Judas betrayed Jesus and John says he was a thief, I think we tend to write Judas off, but Judas spent years in the company of Jesus. Judas knew Him intimately and was part of the very inner circle of followers of Jesus.

Jesus certainly knew Judas as well. He knew well that Judas would be the one who would betray Him. Jesus “called it” at the Last Supper.[2]

Why did Jesus allow Judas so close to him all that time, knowing what Judas would do?[3] John’s comment about Judas many years later, describing Judas as a “thief” who helped himself to the funds that Judas oversaw for the group of disciples, suggests that John knew the character of Judas as well.  What are the implications of that?

The betrayal of Jesus, of course, was part of God’s plan.[4] It had it happen. Jesus came to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sins of men, but Jesus added, “But woe to that man who betrays him!”[5]

Judas stands as a dire warning for us. What sort of man betrays Jesus?

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A Pride Offering

August 2, 2017

Depositphotos Image ID: 148676739 Copyright: ipopba

I recently had a conversation with someone who is not a believer in Jesus Christ as I am. He charged Christians with being smug, implying that all Christians are the same. They have this confidence which he described as smugness. At that stage in our conversation, I became offended and repulsed.

I was offended because he seemed to be lumping me in with “those smug Christians”. He was making the conversation personal instead of sticking with the merits of the arguments. I was repulsed because pride is the root of all sin, and I was horrified that I might be characterized as prideful.

Of course, I am prideful. That is the condition of the human heart. We naturally trust ourselves above all others, and even above God. We don’t seem to have a lot of it when we are infants and young children, but it creeps in, and it grows as we get older. We learn to keep it under wraps if we value friendship and relationships, because the pride in me conflicts with the pride in you. Sometimes we learn a false humility, but pride lurks there beneath the surface in all of us.

When I first read the Bible in college in a world religion class it was this theme of pride in people, among other things, that jumped off the pages at me. It was like looking in a mirror and acknowledging, as difficult as it was, the pridefulness of people and the pridefulness in me. If God was God, and I believed that there was a God, that we did not create ourselves, then pride in people is an ugly thing.

These things resonated in me because I saw the pride in people, and I saw the pride in myself, and it repulsed me, just as I was repulsed in my recent conversation to think that I might be considered prideful. I have been thinking about those things for several days, and these are the thoughts I have today as I reflect on these things.

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If/When God Sends Us Difficulties

July 10, 2017

Depositphotos Image ID: 86547374 Copyright: Johan-jk

“If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people….”[1]

We like to view God as a Great Benevolent Giver in the sky. We want Him to pour out good gifts to us and make our lives easy for us, and we are disappointed, disillusioned and discouraged when we don’t experience the generosity we imagine and want from God.

God is benevolent for sure, but He is much more than that. He doesn’t just want to give us good things; He wants to give us Himself. In fact, he doesn’t just want to give us Himself, He wants to pour Himself out into and through us to bless others as He desires to bless us.

But, this ultimate desire and purpose of God to bless us takes on a different form than we would like at times. God’s activity in our lives doesn’t always feel like a blessing.

In this verse from 2 Chronicles 7, we learn that God, Himself, may cause difficult things to happen, or simply allow them to happen, in our lives. But why? And what can we do about it?

We need to read the second half of the verse and consider the context in which it was written for a more complete picture.

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