The most accurate description of the state of the religion called Christianity, which spans a great range of sects, is that the modern institutions, or at least most of them, that identify themselves as Christian could more accurately be referred to as Constantinians, since it was Constantine that presided over the formation of the institution known as the Roman Catholic Church.
During the canonization process of the books of the Catholic Bible, many texts viewed as sacred by a large portion of the early Christian Church were rejected and criminalized. The official creed was formulated to define the “accepted doctrine” of the official Church and allow enforcement by means of Roman soldiers, enlisted to confiscate and burn any writing deemed heretical. Heretics were persecute, imprisoned, and killed in an effort to establish a single religion and bring peace to the empire.
All of this occurred under the direction of Constantine, who at the time, was the high priest of the temple of Apollo. He himself refused to be baptized until he lay on his deathbed. The point is, the modern institution is not a pure descendant of the movement known as “The Way” that existed in the first couple of centuries following the ministry of Yeshua. I’m not saying Christians should abandon their belief in Christ – after all, I am a believer – but I am saying that we should be very careful about assuming that all that glitters in the institutional church is gold.
As many of you know, I had a near death experience when I was 18 that involved a direct encounter with Him. While my belief preexisted this encounter, the results of this experience erased any doubts in my heart of His existence, and firmly established the authenticity of His nature as a loving Creator. He is all of that and more.
But the biggest take away from that experience was the overwhelming impression that we are all loved with a love so deep, so profound, that it is practically indescribable using human language. I came back realizing that our very existence is a manifestation of that love, and that we, as humans, have way overcomplicated the whole sin thing. I firmly believe that God’s definition of sin is very different from the common human understanding of that word. (See The Robot Parable for my best shot at elucidating my understanding of the concept I encountered in His being.)
One of my friends recently posted a meme that derided as illogical belief in a God that would create humans with sin, blame them for His act, come to Earth to die to atone for that sin, and then cast in eternal punishment those that reject Him. In this view, God is viewed as an egotist that craves validation from his creation and cruelly punishes those that don’t comply. Indeed, much of the dogma of both the Jewish and Christian (and Muslim) religions support this view. But that is certainly not the nature of the Creator I encountered. I am convinced our understanding of Him is very skewed, which makes perfect sense. We are finite (very finite) creations that struggle to even understand the created universe in which we live. The concept of infinity is only loosely understood by us in the most abstract sense. We simply cannot fully comprehend something so far outside our limited experience.
That is why everything ever written, spoken, or thought by living humans concerning the nature and will of the Creator is, at best, speculation. Even in encountering Him directly, while free of the constraints of my finite, physical body, I could not comprehend Him in anything even approaching totality. To do so would require that I be Him, for He is the only one that can. So our religion suffers from the innate limits of Human frailty. So why allow sin? Did God create us simply so He could bully us? Is He cruel? What gives?
In the Christian Bible, Yeshua is quoted as saying “God is Love”, and that, to me is the essence of the Truth. He is no egotist. He doesn’t need our worship. He loves us and desires the best for us. But He wants a relationship with beings given free will which, unfortunately, means that He must allow us to choose not to seek a relationship. That choosing is, in my best understanding (which is limited, I admit), the key to understanding sin.
The Creator did not create us with cruel intent, but rather with the intent of empowering us to choose, free of obvious, verifiable, provable consequence. If you want an intelligent being to reveal its own true nature, you have to allow it to believe that the only consequence for any and all actions is the result within the immediate context. Good behavior under the threat of punishment reveals nothing about the nature of the acting entity. John Wooden is quoted as saying, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” I truly believe that this sentiment strikes to the heart of the sin question. I firmly believe the Creator wants to know us as we really are and part of that knowledge must encompass what we are capable of doing in the deepest, darkest recesses of our hearts. He is not interested in us putting on a show. He wants to find out how fluently each of us learns to speak the language of love.
That is why He created a universe where chaos is balanced with beauty. Where life and death, joy and suffering are possible. Only in that setting can we show ourselves for what we are. Each individual must choose, in every moment of life, to either be an agent of love, joy, peace, truth, understanding and grace (all of the things demonstrated and embodied in the life of Yeshua) or to walk a darker path of fear, anger, hatred, apathy, greed, and turmoil. We can seek to serve others in love, crush others in a bid to control and exploit, ignore others in a pursuit of selfish indulgence, or justify ourselves by acting out a mime of “righteousness” by following rules and laws.
Those that choose to walk in search of Love (which is God), become more and more in tune with His being. Those that choose other paths move ever farther from Him.
But wait, some will object, that’s not fair. If we are to be judged, shouldn’t it be made incontrovertibly clear what the standard is? Isn’t it cruel to punish poor, frail humans without making the stakes clear? Why doesn’t the Creator, if He exists, simply reveal Himself? Why not step onto the stage of our world and solve all our ills? Isn’t that cruel?
To be honest, none of us can answer that question from where we stand in this universe. When I passed out of this universe into His presence, I realized that many of the answers cannot and will not be revealed until we have moved on, but in His presence, I was overwhelmed with the sense that anything and everything about His nature is founded in Love, Grace, and innate Justice. I came back understanding that there is, deep within us all, an instinct, the still small voice, that, if we choose to seek it out, will give us all the evidence we need.
Yeshua said, “Seek and you will find. Knock and it will be opened to you.” He wasn’t kidding. We have to make a choice to seek. We have to be willing to embrace Love even when it means foregoing opportunities for self indulgence or enrichment. Even when it means fogiving those that hate, who act cruelly, who seem unlovable. We have to come to a place where we see every human as His child – precious, unique, loved, valued – and seek to love even in spite of the inevitable flaws. In fact, we have to choose to love without judgement. The very definition of heaven requires beings that behave in this fashion. The essence of Hell (if it is a place at all) is typified by those that choose judgement, manipulation, anger, addiction, fear, lies, etc. You can’t mix the two things and have paradise.
But does that imply that there really will be a heaven and hell in the end? Some think so. Some do not. Rob Bell, in his book, “Love Wins” argues that God seeks to gather all his creation to Himself (heaven) and will find the means to do so. With eternity to work with, this is always a possibility. I personally do not know the answer… yet. We all will eventually. What I do know is that seeking to embrace love and acceptance is never a wrong thing.
Even if I turn out to be totally full of bologna and am self deceived; even if my whole NDE was simply an epic hallucination brought on by hypoxia; even if in the final analysis there is no God; I can still confidently state that choosing to live as if there is and choosing to embrace Him as the very essence of Love and seek to conform myself to that essence, I will have won a great victory in this life. Because the bottom line is that the path of Love, joy, truth, and grace is a path that generates peace and well being without fail. We are wired to desire these things. Even scientific analysis concurs in this. So, while I firmly believe He exists, I even more firmly believe that seeking Him is the greatest endeavor a human being can undertake.
Shalom to you all.