Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Second Coming, only not really related.

This post is going to be more along the lines of wondering out loud, so it might be scattered. Or, depending on one's perspective, more scattered than usual.

It was sparked by a post in another blog, in terms of what Christians should do here and now for social justice, environmentalism and so on. One thing that has always intrigued me about a fanatical approach to the Second Coming. This approach would be summed up in people instigating wars to fulfill a prophecy that has to happen before Jesus comes back, or people very gleeful over the thought of Jesus tossing millions into hell without anyone feeling a sense of compassion. One could say this is an exaggeration, but in a later book in the Left Behind series where Jesus is dividing up the sheep and the goats, such a thing does happen. It involves the human who was helping the anti-Christ, and Jesus orders to angels to drag this man to the lake of fire. The man starts screaming for mercy, and all the 'sheep' that are watching don't have a problem with it. I did, because I started to picture the scene, and then tried to reconcile it with the Jesus from the Gospels. This man knew he was wrong at this point, that he had been on the losing side and was about to be tortured for an eternity.

But I digress. And on a side note, I haven't really read the Left Behind series. I started the first book out of curiosity, but the lack of writing ability alone deterred me. I peeked into the book that detailed Jesus actually here, which was the scene above. It was repulsive, especially if this book is read by children.

And I'm still digressing, and shall circle around my point now. One thing that's always bothered me about an approach where efforts don't matter period is that it tends to excuse a lot. One is no longer held accountable for one's actions, because it doesn't matter. So long as that person feels appropriately bad and asks for forgiveness the right way -- such as the Sinner's Prayer -- one is assured a place in heaven. You can treat the poor with disdain, you can abuse the earth, but if you hold the right beliefs, you're set.

I highly doubt it works that way. Efforts do matter, and it goes along the lines of 'faith with works.' There are people who say that we can trash the environment beyond belief, because when Jesus returns, everything will be new and sinless. The problem is, if someone feels justified in treating the Earth like a giant trash dump, why then would God welcome someone into heaven after that person dies? Regardless of one's view on Earth, it was still created by God (Christian viewpoint, atheists would disagree). It was given for a specific purpose, and with specific commands. Even if the Earth is flawed and fallen now, shouldn't some measure of dominion and respect still be given? If I give a child a simplistic doll that is dented and a little dirty, and the child then proceeds to abuse that doll beyond belief, why would I then proceed to give the child a doll in pristine condition? What has the child done to prove that s/he can handle the pristine doll when the child treated the simple doll with disdain?

Shouldn't the same policy work in terms of heaven? If God has given us life and people and this planet, and we turn around and say, "Nothing I do here matters so long as I have the right beliefs," then do we really get into some sort of paradise? I can't help but feeling those that await the Second Coming with a warlike fervor might be in for a rude awakening. If they're already mistreating what God has given, why is God going to give them something better? This isn't going along a sense of entitlement, in that someone behaved better and thus has 'earned' heaven. But nor can someone go around saying that they'll get into heaven and yet behave in a horrible fashion. It almost seems that those who speak out against environmentalism are behaving in an entitlement fashion, because they won't suffer the consequences. They're 'in.'

I realize that no one is going to behave perfectly 100% here. But there is a difference between closing one's eyes and starting the countdown to heave, and actively trying to live out God's will here and see some of the goodness here -- and screwing up at certain points along the way. Even though Paul states about salvation through grace, it's also very clear that people will be judged based on works. And works are evidence of God's grace working through someone's life.

25 comments:

SocietyVs said...

"Shouldn't the same policy work in terms of heaven? If God has given us life and people and this planet, and we turn around and say, "Nothing I do here matters so long as I have the right beliefs," then do we really get into some sort of paradise?" (Heather)

I think this falls along the lines of being a responsible person with your beliefs (or values). I think it all comes into play while we are and does so in our everyday interactions. I mean, what good is a faith that does nothing good for anyone but the person themself? It's a slight waste of good virtue (if you ask me).

But that's the crux of the road and balancing the whole belief system we hold - Love God, Love my neighbor, Love myself - if a person never moves their faith from internal to external (to others in the spirit of care) then that belief system is really un-tested and like swiss cheese (there is some substance but it's filled with holes).

It's really quite the thing (this faith) and it's battle between works and grace. I side with the book of James on this one - 'what good is faith without works' - cause that makes sense. I would say if someone believes something and does nothing to confirm that belief (action) - they are either fooling themselves or lying outright. James goes so far to compare 'true religion' as 'acting upon it'. I think I lean towards this to - and this is not a matter of the cross & salvation - it's a matter of believing what comes out of our mouths.

As for the Left Behind series, great point about the idea of mercy. I would have a very tough time watching someone be dragged to their torture and smiling. That's such a cruel idea to teach another to 'smile' at.

Heather said...

Society,

**I would say if someone believes something and does nothing to confirm that belief (action) - they are either fooling themselves or lying outright.** Yes. After all, what good is faith if it isn't acted upon? And not just towards other people, but letting the faith act upon ourselves, and help us be 'born again' each day?

** I would have a very tough time watching someone be dragged to their torture and smiling.** And the worst part of all is the only thing that kept the 'saved' from getting dragged away screaming was a set of beliefs (which would lead to another question of someone is rewarded, or earns, salvation through the right belief, because it then leads to the person doing something to merit salvation).

HeIsSailing said...

Hi Heather

I just re-read the Gospel of Matthew last night. Jesus was certainly hard-core. There is nothing about the right beliefs getting you to paradise. It has everything to do with selling everything you own, giving it all to the poor, and living as a travelling preacher to proclaim the near coming of the Kingdom of HEaven. It bears no resemblence to today's Christianity.

But what can be drawn from it is a sense of urgency about the second coming (that is now 2000 years late). I remember when I was a kid and Hal Lindsay was predicting Jesus would return any day. My young friends were literally kept out of school because their parents kept them in home, and locked away they would pray for the return of Jesus. This ferver usually lasted about a week at a time before they relented and returned to normal life again.

Face it, if Jesus has not come back yet, he ain't never coming back.

I have always *tried* to be environmentally responsible, whether I believed Jesus was coming back or not. I live in the desert, and my biggest concern is water conservation. That is just the right thing to do no matter what you believe. I don't know this for sure, but I sure hope Christians are not intentionally uncaring about our environment because they believe the end is near anyway.

Heather said...

HIS,

**It bears no resemblence to today's Christianity.** In many ways, I agree. This is even more prominent if reading the New Testament through a 'Second Coming' lens. I do believe that Paul expected it within his lifetime, and his letters can support that. The Gospel of Mark, and to some extent the other Synoptics, also support that.

What almost amuses me about the SEcond Coming fervor is look how often it didnt' occur in the past -- and how often people said it would. Why expect any different today?

**but I sure hope Christians are not intentionally uncaring about our environment because they believe the end is near anyway. ** I think there are some -- I've seen several boards that basically give the impression that since God gave the Earth, we don't have to be careful with it because God will choose when it can no longer support us. Essentially, our actions can't ultimately damage anything. Right.

Mystical Seeker said...

I realize that no one is going to behave perfectly 100% here. But there is a difference between closing one's eyes and starting the countdown to heave, and actively trying to live out God's will here and see some of the goodness here -- and screwing up at certain points along the way. Even though Paul states about salvation through grace, it's also very clear that people will be judged based on works. And works are evidence of God's grace working through someone's life.

That was very well stated. I never understood the idea that one has to have the "right" beliefs to earn a ticket to heaven. This is insulting to God, and it is arrogantly intolerant of the sincere efforts of other people of different faiths to live their lives as best as they can.

I was particularly amused by the comment to your previous posting that claimed that we all deserve hell. This is the party line for fundamentalists, it is what their books and their preachers proclaim. This is the moral corner they paint themselves in--they only way they could possibly justify this idea that "right belief" is the ticket to heaven is by taking this ridiculous and really horrible view of God and justice that claims that even the slightest sin or failing deserves eternal punishment in the lake of fire.

I think all this focus on the afterlife really misses the point anyway. I prefer to focus on my relationship on God in the here and now, and how I can express that relationship through my actions to try to make the world a better place. The fundie idea of waiting on God to impose "his" final solution via a violent act of mass carnage is utterly repugnant to my world view. As flawed as we are as a species, I would never wish Armageddon on the world.

Heather said...

** the idea that one has to have the "right" beliefs to earn a ticket to heaven. This is insulting to God,** I've never understood it, either. And I agree with the insult, because why should the right beliefs spare someone who treated all the 'others' like dirt?

** and justice that claims that even the slightest sin or failing deserves eternal punishment in the lake of fire.** My problem with this view is that it almost leads to a cycle of abuse. I have seen countless journals and blogs with a Christian beating him/herself up for not meeting those standards (even though the person could never meet the standards), and then thanking God for sparing that person from 'what s/he deserves If a parent set up a child like that, social services would be called.

**As flawed as we are as a species, I would never wish Armageddon on the world. ** Agreed. Humans have great potential. After all, if Jesus's purpose was to 'redeem,' then there must be something *to* redeem. Some spark of goodness.

HeIsSailing said...

Heather wonders and wanders:
"After all, if Jesus's purpose was to 'redeem,' then there must be something *to* redeem. Some spark of goodness. "

I am working my way through some of the Apocryphal NT. This belief in the spark of divine in each of us is all through the Acts of John. Jesus is portrayed in that book as an almost Buddha-like character. Not that I believe it over any other book, but it is certainly amazing that, even in the 2nd, 3rd century, there was already such a wild variety of opinion about who this Jesus character was!

So your view that Jesus came to redeem the goodness in us is certainly supported. It just depends on what you consider canonical ;-)

Heather said...

HIS,

** It just depends on what you consider canonical ;-)** Oh, that one is easy. Canon is simply whatever I like best at the time. ;)

**it is certainly amazing that, even in the 2nd, 3rd century, there was already such a wild variety of opinion about who this Jesus character was! ** Yes. It's amazing how ... political the whole process was, in deciding what was in the Bible, and what wasn't. There were a lot of sects back then -- just look at Paul's letters, which are the earliest sources.

Alan Harstone said...

Whoa down a minute here guys. Jesus didn't come to redeem the goodness in us. The Bible is clear that our goodness is like filthy rags before Him. He came to redeem US (the whole us)in order to deliver us from being captives to sin.

As for the idea that conservative and/or evangelical Christians promote wars to bring on the end-times, or turn a blind eye to pollution because the earth is fallen anyway, I don't many Christians that hold those views, do you? I think that's a bit of a caricature, and a negative one at that.

Most evangelicals I know are responsible, compassionate people, just like God. They don't sit around gleefully celebrating the judgment of sinners. They're actually out there actively trying to rescue them from their sin.

And let's not forget, LEFT BEHIND is a filmmaker's interpretation of a fictional prophecy book. Neither the angels or God take any pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:32; 33:11)

Heather said...

Hi, Alan.

**The Bible is clear that our goodness is like filthy rags before Him.** It also says that we're fearfully and wonderfully made. The other problem with that Isaiah verse is that it's in the past tense. While they all became like a man unclean and the righteous deeds like a filthy rag (which would lead to the question of they were geniune righteous deeds, or a 'look at me, I'm so righteous' deed), it goes on to say they were also God's handiwork. And in order to make us good, there would have to be something to work with -- our original potential, the man made in God's image and likeness.

**As for the idea that conservative and/or evangelical Christians promote wars to bring on the end-times, or turn a blind eye to pollution because the earth is fallen anyway, I don't many Christians that hold those views, do you?** I would get this impression if I look at the Religious Right (which I view as fundamentalists. Conservative Christians I see as different -- as in, the 'conserve' part of the name), and the comments on climate change.

**And let's not forget, LEFT BEHIND is a filmmaker's interpretation of a fictional prophecy book.** An interpretation that's a bestseller.

Alan Harstone said...

Well, I don't have the privilege of living in your country where opinions are so strongly held, and opponents draw hard and fast sides.

I'm a Canajun...and in Canada we treat our opponents with respect and grace even if we don't agree with them.

As for the Isaiah reference, Paul repeats it in Romans 3. I agree that we are made in the image of God and that God is transforming us back into His perfect image through Christ. I was simply disagreeing that He was doing so because we have "goodly merit".

Blessings!

Heather said...

Hi, Alan.

**and in Canada we treat our opponents with respect and grace even if we don't agree with them. ** I wish our public discourses were more like this. One can learn a lot from an opposing view because it helps one to see why s/he holds a certain view.

**As for the Isaiah reference, Paul repeats it in Romans 3.** I don't read those as people's works are filthy before God, or that they're horrible sinners and depraved. I see the point of the passage as saying that everyone is equal. A Jew isn't above a Gentile simply due to the Tanakh. I especially take this view given that sin means 'to miss the mark.' Jesus painted, and demonstrated, God to the utmost and up until that point, people were 'missing' it.

**I was simply disagreeing that He was doing so because we have "goodly merit". ** It sounds like you're disagreeing on the lines of redemption isn't given based on merit. I was going along the lines of there's still something good in people that God brings to the forefront. If there was only sin, then when it was removed, there'd be nothing left. But God goes after the goodness in people and waters it, and such. He's removing the tarnish from His image.

SocietyVs said...

Forgive Alan and I - we both are Canadians (LOL).

zilch said...

As an atheist who shares this material world with the religious, I am alarmed when I come across the kind of belief that puts no value on our world, except as a means to pass God's test and get to Heaven. Luckily, such fundamentalism is a minority position: most of the Christians I know are just as environmentally active as my atheist friends. Unfortunately, though, the "trash the earth" guys wield a lot of power in our culture.

I can see the attraction of believing that one needn't actually do anything to get to Heaven, but just believe correctly: it saves one from a great deal of work and responsibility. But without works and taking responsibility, whether one believes in God or not, society is not possible. And society is something everyone, believers or not, should be concerned about preserving.

We are at a crossroads in our history- the destruction of life on earth is accelerating, and the window of opportunity to do something about it is getting smaller. Some people have taken this as a sign to throw up their hands and wait for the end, or even try to instigate it. Others, atheists and Christians, and Muslims and Jews and Pagans, have rolled up their sleeves and are doing their best to make the world a better place for our kids.

Heather, it's clear which side you are on. More power to you and to all people of good will.

Brendan said...

It's really hard to say what Paul intended with what he wrote. We read Paul's epistles through the lens of the Gospel stories, but it could be that none of those stories had been developed yet when Paul was writing. If so, a "second coming" of Jesus in Paul's writings could be purely metaphorical, and certainly something that could and does happen in any given person's lifetime.

My interpretation of Paul is that he was metaphorically representing through Judaism (because that was the language he had available to him) the modern notion we know from psychology of reaching unitive stages of moral awareness. The "Spirit" he talks about (see Romans 7 and 8) is one where we go beyond doing good and abstaining from evil out of a sense of duty or obligation to "Law," and replace the dos and don'ts of law with the genuine desire to serve the well-being of others, in whom we see our community and commonality (the "Christ").

Had there been an historical Jesus, he would have been a contemporary of Paul. That Paul says almost nothing about any details we know from the stories about Jesus, and indeed says nothing at all about any teachings of Jesus, the only conclusion that seems reasonable to me is that Paul pre-dates the contrivance of the Gospel stories as we know them and was writing metaphorical philosophy based on his interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures.

Heather said...

Thanks, Zilch. Just awaiting heaven with the right beliefs can be very attractive, because it almost produces apathy for everything in this world, and preserving something for future generations. This life we have should matter much more than just holding to the right beliefs. It should be fierce and joyful, and make one pursue justice and just overall goodness for everyone.

Brendan,

**It's really hard to say what Paul intended with what he wrote. ** I very much agree. I think many today forget that Paul wasn't writing about creeds, but trying to bolster struggling churches, and speaking about issues confronting them. This isn't to say his letters don't have value -- but the viewpoint should factor in.

**The "Spirit" he talks about (see Romans 7 and 8) is one where we go beyond doing good and abstaining from evil out of a sense of duty or obligation to "Law," ** This connects to what I've always wondered -- what exactly was Paul referring to when he mentioned the Law? Just the Ten Commandments? Or something else? Or something along the lines of you mentioned, in that one does and does not do something in order to earn merit according to the Law. Whereas Spirit is a genuine desire promote good for the sake of good itself.

zilch said...

**This life we have should matter much more than just holding to the right beliefs. It should be fierce and joyful, and make one pursue justice and just overall goodness for everyone.**

That's as good a definition for a fulfilled life as I've ever run across, heather.

SocietyVs said...

"This life we have should matter much more than just holding to the right beliefs." (Heather)

You see me and Dan Marvin's convo in the last post on here - man is that ever interesting and fits this quote quite nicely - 'having the right beliefs'. This is where Dan truky thinks we are all failing I think?

Heather said...

**That's as good a definition for a fulfilled life as I've ever run across, heather. ** Thanks, Zilch.

Society,

**You see me and Dan Marvin's convo in the last post on here - man is that ever interesting and fits this quote quite nicely - 'having the right beliefs'. This is where Dan truky thinks we are all failing I think? ** And ultimately, what he's trying to produce is futile. No one really knows one'd destination in the afterlife. We could all turn around tomorrow and tell Dan that we believe just as he does, but that doesn't mean we're saved. We could be lying, we could think we mean but not really mean it, we could not believe hard enough and so on. All you can really know is where you stand -- you can't ever know the 'status' on some else's eternal salvation.

Which is why I think we'll all be surprised in the hereafter.

SocietyVs said...

"Which is why I think we'll all be surprised in the hereafter." (Heather)

Agreed.

Dan Marvin said...

"and asks for forgiveness the right way -- such as the Sinner's Prayer -- one is assured a place in heaven."

You are 100% wrong.

Sinners prayer? where is that in the Bible. The Bible is clear you must Repent and Trust in the Savior Jesus Christ. Your works are evidence of your salvation, I agree with you on that one point.

All you can really know is where you stand -- you can't ever know the 'status' on some else's eternal salvation.

Wrong again. The Bible is clear that you can tell by their fruit Good tree=Good fruit, Bad tree= Bad fruit. God is the ultimate Judge but we will Judge the world with Jesus.

1 Corinthians 6:2 Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?

Where are you getting your theology? Your theology is so far off and wrong. Please read the Bible. It is about a true relationship with our Lord not religion, as I say in my blog.

For Him,
Dan

SocietyVs said...

"All you can really know is where you stand -- you can't ever know the 'status' on some else's eternal salvation....Wrong again. The Bible is clear that you can tell by their fruit Good tree=Good fruit, Bad tree= Bad fruit" (Dan)

But Dan, that Corinthians scripture is about taking one another to court over small matters they should be able to hash out amongst themselves (vs.6)...which Paul reprimands them for since this looks 'shameful'. This is not in regards to eternal salvation - but being able to work with our brothers and sisters in light of their faults - and in some senses - helping to amend the wrongs.

"Where are you getting your theology? Your theology is so far off and wrong. Please read the Bible. It is about a true relationship with our Lord not religion, as I say in my blog." (Dan)

From the bible - same place you draw water from. But you can no better judge a person's salvation (ie: eternally) as I or Heather can - which is to say that's impossible (unless we assume the same seat as God?). Paul could be referring to salvation on two levels - one of them being 'well-being' as of here and now. Thus the reason for the reprimand about taking each other to court - and the reminder in vs. 11 we are all in the same Christ.

Heather said...

Dan,

The Sinner's Prayer comment in my post was sarcasm. It is a popular evangelical tool in certain quarters, where if one says the four things (look it up in Wikipedia for elaboration on the four requirements), one is assured a place in heaven. There are versions of it all over the place -- it's popular among some Christian singers, and used at megachurches.

**The Bible is clear that you can tell by their fruit Good tree=Good fruit, Bad tree= Bad fruit.** But by your belief system, you still wouldn't know the status. An atheist or a Muslim can produce good fruit, and yet would say they are condemned due to the wrong belief system. So you don't know someone's status at all.

Heather said...

In addition, Dan --

**Please read the Bible.** I have, which is where I'm getting much of my comments. You earlier commented on something I said in regards to hell. The reason why I said it's not clear-cut is for the following reason: Verses used to support the concept from hell are found in majority in the New Testament. The Old Testament, for the most part, doesn't focus on the afterlife. And that's two-thirds of the Bible. There's the fact that Sheol/Hades meant 'underground' or the 'grave,' not a place of eternal torment (and that the writers believed it was literally beneath their feet). Gehennna referred to a trash dump outside of Jersualem.

All of the above I got that from reading the Bible and tracing the origins of particular words that were used.

Simply because I disagree with your theology does not mean that I haven't read the Bible. That's a dangerous assumption to make.

Anonymous said...

"Be Holy for I AM Holy" (1Pet. 1:16) May we all keep aspiring for this and never let it be OKAY that we are all sinners. May God Be Glorified.

Selah,
Angie