22 12 2009

One of the most common ideas about the virgin birth, if not the most common idea, is that Christ was conceived of a human egg and a divine…sperm.  However, the earliest of Christians did not think this.

In the time of Christ, and in the time of the prophets who foretold of the virgin birth, it was solely believed that the man was the carrier of a fully fertile, “seed.”  The woman was thought to provide no genetic component, inasmuch as they knew of genetics.  She was the fertile ground within which the seed was planted.  In fact, the word, “semen,” literally means “seed.”  While we know that traditional reproduction involves the union of two lineages, they had thought that all life was patrilineal, descending strictly through the men.  What is the significance of this?  It means that, as far as all parties were concerned, Jesus was as unique a human as Adam was, being without any parents.  This is somewhat difficult, considering that the messiah was supposed to come from the line of David.  In a sense, he did come from that lineage, both through Mary and Joseph, but he was genetically not descended from either.  That was what people who believed in the virgin birth believed about Jesus’ bloodline.

Let’s look a little into this.  Here we have the problem of original sin, the belief that because we were descended from Adam we were born already condemned and full of evil.  The exact reason for this is not clear, but what was clear to the early church was that, if Jesus was not really descended from Adam, then he must not have had original sin.  He was the world’s third un-fallen person, ever, after Adam and Eve.  What they also believed was that because he was without Adam’s fallen nature, he was sinless, and therefore capable of atoning for our sin, like a bull without blemish.  To further add to this, he was the Son of God, which meant that he could atone for all sin for all time.  He was a new human, fresh out of the package with no spiritual inheritance, other than the one he received from his Father in Heaven.

Now, fast forward to the discovery of the human egg.  Upon the Christian world was thrust the burden of determining whether Christ was conceived without both sperm and egg, or just without sperm.  If he was of Mary’s egg, then he was absolutely born with all of the genetic flaws accumulated throughout history to that point.  If he was from her egg, then he was not the spotless lamb that people took him for.  People would say that sin and physical flaws have nothing to do with each other, but I would say that the two are intrinsically connected.  You cannot have one without the other.  Death is just a lethal accumulation of physical flaws.  Death is the wage that comes from sin.  Therefore physical flaws arise because of sin.  Had the original people remained sinless, then they would have remained perfect, free from injury, illness and death.

When the ancient Israelites were commanded to sacrifice a spotless healthy bull for the atonement of their sins, they were being commanded to select the beast based on physical traits to serve a spiritual purpose.  God did not command them to find a bull that was without sin.  He told them to find one that was healthy, and by inference far from death.  Sin is our divergence from the will of God.  Entropy, sickness, mutations and death are all physical divergence from the perfect state that Adam and Eve knew before the Fall.  Therefore, to be that perfect sacrificial bull, Christ had to be without sin and without physical defect.

The first thing to change this was the crucifixion and all of the torture that went with it.  As he accepted the sin of the world onto his shoulders, he also took the burden of death and destruction.  As he was physically ripped to shreds, he was spiritually ripped to shreds.  As he physically overcame death, he spiritually overcame sin.  The two go hand in hand and are inseparable.

What, then, shall we say?  Was he already suffering the wages of sin and physical injury before the whip crossed his back?  This could hardly be true.  If it were, then we would have no hope.  We would still be as damned as the day Eve took that fruit.  If a perfect sperm fused with an imperfect egg, they would not form a perfect human, but an imperfect one.  The early church put the hope of their eternity into the very fact that Christ had no human ancestors, and Mary was only his surrogate, adoptive mother.  They saw him as an original human, without original sin, come to take away the sins of the world.  I can say this with absolute certainty.  Why should we change from this perspective?  They were not wrong.  God save us if they were.

Postmodern Madness

23 11 2009

I have mentioned before in an earlier post, Three Universes, there are essentially three levels of reality in our world.  God, who is not confined within his own creation, exists outside of the physical universe.  This makes him his own universe.  Within his domain, there exists our physical universe, which can be affected from without.  It is a lesser reality, being less absolute, not existing forever, and depending upon God for its existence.

Within the physical universe is another, lesser reality, called the mind.  That’s where we actually live.  The mind is even less absolute than the physical world, capable of spontaneous change, inconsistency and a certain degree of incongruity.  Yet, when we experience the physical universe, we do so indirectly, through reconstruction within our brains.  If any of the processes between the actual sensation and the final experience goes awry, then we do not experience the physical universe accurately.  Nerve damage or brain damage disrupt the transfer of information, and what we see no longer resembles reality.  We do not really have a complete grasp on the physical world.  What we really hold, completely, is the image in our minds.  What we experience is all that the universe of the mind contains.  Nothing can exist within the mind except that we are aware of it.  Similarly, nothing can exist within the physical world, except that God is aware of it.  Hence, God is omniscient.

The physical world is not a piece of God.  Nor is the mind a piece of the physical world.  The physical world is corrupt, but that doesn’t make God corrupt.  Similarly, anything can happen in the mind, but it does not escape the mind and infiltrate the physical world.  In fact, nothing in the physical world explains the mind.  Cognitive processes might be explained in physical terms, but not the mind, itself.  A computer thinks, but it does not have a mind.  The mind is as much its own universe as the one we live in, but in a lower fashion.

Now, I’ve said all of this before, but there’s something more to consider.  Before the industrial revolution, humans were grossly subject to the whims of nature.  We had not developed technologically enough to conquer our world.  In that era, through most of our history, we looked to God for the answers to our problems.  That meant that we looked outside of our minds, through and beyond the physical world to God for truth.  With increasing understanding, we became confident in our own power and began to look no further than the physical world for answers.  This was the advent of modernism.  This was also the birth of naturalism, the belief that all things could be explained through the physical universe alone, with no need of God.  We had conquered the world, and we became our own gods.  Technology was the answer for everything that ailed us.

When we sought understanding from God, we attempted to live our lives and order our world in his likeness.  That is, we strove to be godly.  It is no different than the mind attempting to resemble the physical world.  If the lesser world fails to resemble the greater one, then it becomes detached, and its survival becomes imperiled in the one that gets rejected.  If a man goes insane, he no longer sees the world as it is.  Functionally, he imperils himself in the physical world, because he is not firmly grounded in it.  The same is true for our relationship with God.  If we reject God and the supernatural, then we become imperiled in the supernatural.  That is to say that we risk death, spiritually.  For those who still don’t get it, that means Hell.

Modernism was madness.  We might think that what followed, the rejection of modernism, would be the cure to this problem, but it wasn’t.  Rejection of a lie is not necessarily the embracing of truth.  Postmodernism was a flight in the opposite direction from God.  Today’s movement is to seek truth no further than the mind.  Postmodernists don’t even look to the physical world for answers.  For them, there is no absolute truth, because the world that they draw truth from is a world lacking in absolutes.  The mind is not subject to such things.  You have your own truth, and I have mine.  The idea of God is not even on the table.  They’re two steps removed from the truth of God.  They worship whatever their mind creates.

Pre-modernists prayed for rain.  Modernists attempted to make rain.  Postmodernists criticized the modernists for causing climate change.  Where the modernists attempted to improve life through their own hands, postmodernists attempt to improve life by undoing everything that the modernists did.

Pre-modernists believed in the immortal human soul, absolutes and God.  Modernists believed that nothing would last forever, and there was no God, but at least there were absolutes.  Postmodernists believe in no God, no absolutes and nothing eternal, but they play with fantasies in their own heads.

Pre-modernists used the physical world to understand God beyond it.  They worshiped him physically, and they prayed aloud.  Modernists used their minds to understand the physical world.  Postmodernists are primarily concerned with finding themselves.

Now, this postmodern revolution is a religious one, also.  Modernists sought out the “God particle,” reducing God to physical circumstances.  However, postmodernists are a little peculiar, in that they can be just about anything that they want to be at any time.  One could easily attend church one hour and a Buddhist temple the next.  Some of them do exactly that.  Their belief system is not absolute, because the universe of the mind is not absolute.  In Christianity, we know them as the Emergent Church.  In reality, they have even less of a grasp on God than a materialist, who at least recognizes the value of the world that God created.  Had they at least grasped the physical world, they would have held to some concept of an absolute.  In truth, the Emergent church is less of a  Christian than a Darwinist.  They are even further from God.

Now, consider what I said before about sanity.  When a man’s mind ceases to relate intelligibly to the world around him, he is considered insane.  When we, with our lives, ceased to relate meaningfully to the God beyond this world, we took the first step toward our own insane demise.  Postmodernism was the second step, detaching us even from the physical world.  Society is gradually slipping into a state of insanity.  Perhaps this is irreversible.  Perhaps this is the end.  The real travesty is that the Church, which was meant to be the salt and the light of the world, has developed its own form of postmodernism, the Emergent movement.  The real blasted shame is that our own fellow “Christians” have betrayed us and the world to this madness.  They were supposed to be there with us to help stem the tide of this sickness, but they have stabbed us in the back.  The Emergent Church has chosen the same fate as the world.

Therefore, they are also condemned to a world separated from God, a place where he never goes.

God’s Protagonist

20 11 2009

Now we come to the notion that gave birth to it all.  Someone asked me why God allows bad things to happen to us.  That was my senior year in high school, and I was in the middle of trying my hand at writing fiction for the first time.  My mind was on my story all day, every day, and everything that happened in my life seemed to relate to it, somehow.  What it translated to was, why did I allow bad things to happen to my characters, specifically the good ones?  The answer was easy enough.  Every event was part of the story wherein the protagonists fulfilled their destiny.  Some events were beneficial to the protagonists.  Some events were harmful.  Either way, the outcome was that good would triumph, and the main characters, the heroes, would win in the end, even if they died trying.

That brings us to our second point.  The fiction writer is the god of his world.  No one has absolute power like an author has over his fiction.  It’s as close to godhood that a person can reach.  Case in point, secular fiction, like the stuff they made you read in English literature class, is typically dreary and leaves a person wondering if life has any purpose.  After a thousand pages of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, you’d need a couple of days to get back to thinking that there really is God, who really does hold us accountable for our selfishness.  Every author, even the atheist, portrays God, and usually very badly.  Do you have any idea how a novel would read if an atheist wrote it to portray a world without God?  It would be several hundred blank pages.  There would be nothing, no one and no universe for anything to happen in.

In as much as the author attempts to make his world true to life, he attempts to portray God for who he really is (though it doesn’t necessarily mean that he does a good job of it).  Therefore, it does matter who’s works you read.  This is not about the language or the content, but the nature of the plot.

Secular fiction:

Earnest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea: A poor old hungry man catches the world’s largest marlin, which the sharks promptly devour.  Now he’s a poor hungry man with a fish skeleton.  The end.

A Farewell to Arms: A medic gets his kneecaps blown off, spends his nights in the hospital fornicating with a nurse and drinking himself into a bad case of jaundice.  She gets pregnant, and drinks until the fetus dies.  She dies during childbirth.  The end.

Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath: A poor family move to California to get jobs.  They get their low paying jobs and continue to live in squalor.  The end.

Tennessee Williams’ Glass Menagerie: A loser drunk gets a blind date for his pathologically shy sister.  The man happens to be engaged already.  Too bad.  The end.

This is typical stuff for people who don’t believe in God, or, at least, people who don’t accept who he really is.  They attempt to portray real life.  Life happens…we’re miserable…the end.  What they think of real life says everything about what they think of God.  Tragedy happens for no reason…blah, blah, the end.  When you read their stories, you have no confidence that good will overcome.  You have no faith in the author to bring you through to a meaningful outcome.  When evil befalls the protagonist, it’s for no real reason whatsoever than because the author wanted something bad to happen to someone.

Christian fiction, on the other hand, has a certain predictability to it, most of the time.  Bad things happen to those characters, too, but the over-all impression that you get, walking away from the book is that it was not all for nothing.  Most of the time, good overcomes evil, and when it doesn’t, we start wondering why it was sold at a Christian bookstore in the first place.

Christian fiction:

Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness: A journalist and some other ordinary people struggle to overcome an evil and powerful corporation.  They win.

C. S. Lewis’ The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe: A bunch of kids and a magical lion fight to free the world from an evil witch who turns the inhabitants to stone.  The lion gets killed, but the witch is defeated, and good prevails.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: what, you didn’t know he was a Christian?  You saw the movie.  An evil monster sought to control the world, and a handful of good guys defeated him.

The difference between the works of unbelievers and those of Christians, is that we trust the Christian writers to bring good out of the plot, no matter how bad it looks.  It is their aim to attempt to test our faith in them, only to reward us for holding onto hope.  When the godless writer makes things seem dim, there’s a good chance that things really are as bleak as they seem.

What, then, shall we say to real life?  Even in our case, the situation is no different.  Either we look at bad events and wonder how God is going to bring us through it, or we look at bad events and get angry.  Either we know that God works for good in all things for those who love him, or we think that he has smitten us out of spite.

Either we are his protagonists, or we’re not.  Not everyone is, you know.  We spend a few years on this planet making up our minds which way we will go, and then we spend the rest of eternity going that way.  To an eternal God, a hundred years is like the blink of an eye.  Only eternity matters.  Either we are his friends in Heaven, or we were never his friends and never with him.  He already knows which is which.  You’re not going to go to Hell with God thinking, “You know, I really thought she was going to come around some day.”

The ultimate protagonist, though, was Jesus.  He was a case of the Author writing himself into his own story so that we could know him.  He suffered his own tragedy so that good could overcome evil.  In the end, he lived, and he went to his reward.  Those who have faith in the Author of our lives know that through our tragedy there comes, ultimately, a happy ending.  Good will overcome evil, no matter what the circumstances may presently show.

I wouldn’t want to be the character of a human author.  What they go through at the behest of their authors is more than I want to bear.  The atheist complains that there is no God, or if there were, that he must be a cruel God, indeed, but then they play god in their own fiction and do far worse.  Humans make terrible gods.  They play with and torment their subjects ruthlessly.  I like the real God better.  He’s easily amused with my dull life.  Boring is good.  It means that nothing is going wrong.  I like that.

There are two things that I want you to keep in mind.  When I say “you,” I mean exactly whomever God happens to make read this thing.  The first is that every novel portrays God incorrectly, because the role of God is always played by the author.  The less godly the author is, the worse he will make God look.  The second thing I want you to keep in mind is that if you love God, then you are his protagonist; life has a purpose for you, and you will overcome.  Even death cannot keep you down if you love God.  Trust God in all things.  Keep his word in your heart like a loved lady keeps the letters of her lover.

We are all on a stage, but none of us are actors.  The script has already been written, and the end is determined, but we have not learned it.  The only question you have to ask yourself is, “Is this the sort of author whom we can trust to bring good out of an evil situation?”

Signs and Wonders to the Muslim Heart

1 07 2009

The way into the Muslim heart is through signs and wonders.

My brother, a chaplain in the United States Air Force recently returned from Iraq with some interesting news.  Firstly, I must say that military clergy are very much restricted in how they share the gospel, so much so that they hardly seem representative of a free country.  Great pains are taken in policy to assure that they do not force their religion on anyone, to the point that they cannot share their beliefs with the people of that nation unless specifically asked to do so.

An Iraqi man and his son came in to the military hospital with burn injuries.  Apparently, the Iraqi hospital was next to useless in terms of receiving real care.  The son was seriously burned over his body because he had fallen into the open cooking fire in their house.  The father had burned his own hands pulling his son out of the fire.  The father was worried that he would lose his job because he hadn’t been able to tell his workplace that he was in the hospital.  He was also worried that he wouldn’t be able to do his job anyway, because of the injuries to his hands.  My brother prayed for him and also had his workplace notified that the reason he wasn’t showing up to work was that he was in the hospital.  The father also asked him to pray for his son, who was in a different section of the hospital.  The son had blood poisoning  (septicemia), and was bloated, lying there hooked up to tubes.  My brother had seen a lot of people at the burn unit he had worked at for a while, and many died even though he prayed for them.  Since the father had asked him to pray for the boy, and there was no one around except a Catholic nurse, he anointed the boy with oil and prayed the Scriptures in Jesus’ name.  During or after the prayer, he felt the power of God surge through his body and out through his hand to the boy.  This told him that something significant was happening.  It was some time later that he encountered the two again.  They were really excited to see him.  The man’s hand was totally healed.  The boy was totally healthy and the only remnant of his injuries was the appearance of new skin.

In another case, a young Muslim man had serious wounds and was continually in a lot of pain.  He asked my brother to pray for him, and he did.  The next day was his day off (he got one day off per week).  When he returned the second day after the prayer, he found that the Muslims had been excitedly asking where he was all during his day off.  He found the man that he had prayed for, who had been in continual pain, and the pain had completely cleared after the prayer and stayed away permanently.   One Muslim man made the sign of the cross after my brother spoke and prayed with him, and the interpreter was flabbergasted and told him later that it was basically a statement of conversion.  By the time his tour was up and he had to return home, the Iraqis were bringing their friends to come and see this “Christian imam,” to whose prayers God listened.

The way into the heart of the Muslim is through signs and wonders.  Consequently, any effective witness in their world must be full of the Spirit and ready to pray for miracles.  The result of their faith, the sort of faith that germinates from a seed to a fully grown mustard plant with the water of the Holy Spirit, is that more miracles are likely to take place among them in testimony of Christ than would otherwise be seen in the western world.  Americans have been infected with a bad case of Hollywood.  Miracles are for entertainment purposes, not for conviction, in the eye of the American unbeliever.  Consequently, miracles are less likely to happen on this continent in the testimony of our Lord.

When Napoleon invaded Egypt, I’ve heard it said that his opponents roused the native population against him using magic tricks of the illusionist sort.  His response was to send in his own magicians to counter the spiritualist claims of his enemies.  This brings us to the dark flip side of the coin.  The way into the Muslim heart, even for Satan, is through signs and wonders.  In the last days, the Antichrist will use sorcery to bring the Muslims into his kingdom.  I feel entirely convinced that, while he himself will be a westerner, he will be proclaimed the Twelfth Imam, returned, by the Shiite clergy of Iran.  I’ve been saying this since before Iran began asserting itself  to become the blemish that it is today.  The false prophet of the Antichrist will be an Iranian leader, for certain.  In those days, it will be much like the battles between Moses and the Pharaoh’s magicians, for God will send two witnesses to wage war against the Antichrist through miracles of the Heavenly kind.  After all, the way into the Muslim, Arabic, and Persian heart is through signs and wonders.

We have before us both a great opportunity and a tremendous nightmare.  Either we will face this challenge with missionaries with the courage to pray for the impossible, or we will bypass this battleground and cede it directly to the enemy.  We could have the advantage of arriving first, before the enemy comes, but this moment will fade.  I’ve tried to avoid getting into End Times prophecy, because I’ve literally been writing about it since I was four years old, and I’m rather burned-out with the whole thing, but I felt this much needed to be said.  Tomorrow’s Napoleon, tomorrow’s Hitler and tomorrow’s Stalin will wage a war of sorcery, unlike anything the world has yet seen.  Will Christians rise to the battle, armed with faith and power?

Or will they watch television all night?

I know it’s frustrating, because it’s something that goes beyond us.  All we can do is pray, and there’s no guarantee that anything will come of it.  Even so, I tend to think that it must be worth the effort.


Symbolism and Idolatry

13 06 2009

The doors parted, and in walked this shaky-legged man, gripping his staff for support.  Everything in him wanted to turn and run.  By all rights, he should have, except that to flee the wrath of this king would land him at the whipping post of another, far greater,  king.  This staff that he was leaning on was more than just a stick.  It was a symbol of power, given to him by the king whom he came to represent.  Physically, he knew that it was just a stick, but it was an ever present reminder of the moment when his shepherd’s crook had been turned into a snake and then back again.  Whenever he doubted himself, all he had to do was look at this staff, shaped like a rather long serpent, to remember that he was not just acting upon a foolish fancy.  He was, in fact, fulfilling the command of I Am.  The staff had become a symbol of God and his power.  It was the central object in each of his miracles, a way of identifying those miracles with the same God that had altered the shape of this stick.  If the stick parted the water, then God parted the water.  If the stick made water come from a rock, then God made water come from a rock.  God performed the miracle, and the stick’s involvement was the symbol that identified that miracle as having come from God.  Ultimately, though, it was still just a stick.  That would eventually change.

 The great Pharaoh looked up and saw the prophet of God standing before him.  This man had become a symbol of God, himself.  If this mortal turned water into blood, then it was an act of God.  If this man made fire rain from Heaven, then it was God that made fire rain from Heaven.  Had it been a miracle by any other hand, it would have been a miracle by some other god.  Ultimately, though, this was just a man.  Men could be stopped.  Defeat the symbol, and you defeat its reference, right?  No, but Pharaoh could not defeat either one, anyway.

 After succeeding in taking his captive people out of Egypt, the miracles of I Am continued through Moses, or, as Moses would see it, the miracles continued through the staff.  A change was taking place in the mind of the prophet, though.  As time progressed, the stick was less and less a reminder of Yahweh and the burning bush and more a reminder of all of the miracles that it had been party to.  Moses’ own history with that piece of wood had grown to eclipse its symbolic reference, God himself.  His trust in the stick was no longer symbolic of his trust in God.  He actually had come to trust the thing independently of God.  However, God does not empower idols.  The stick had to go.  One day, God told him to speak to the rock to make it bring forth water.  Moses then struggled between his faith in God versus his faith in a piece of wood.  Formerly, there could have been no such dilemma, because his faith in the stick was synonymous with his faith in God.  Unfortunately, the stick won the battle of the wills.

 Our lives are filled with symbols.  Some of them are traces of ink on a paper.  Some of them are actions.  Some are objects.  The cross is a symbol of Christ.  A statue of Mary is a symbol of Mary, who is, herself, a symbol and testament to Christ.  However, when we bow to statues or pray to people, we cross that fine line between symbolism and idolatry.  A prophet is a symbol of God.  Every magical thing he does and every edict that he pronounces is attributed to the God he serves.  Sever that psychological connection, and the prophet becomes a god.  It’s like the people of Lystra, bowing before Paul and Barnabas, calling them Zeus and Hermes.  The identity of the prophets was temporarily shattered, making them objects of idolatry.  Instead of representing God, they were competing with him.  God empowers no idol.  If they had not rectified the situation, they surely would never produce another miracle, at best.  It’s the Devil’s first rule on how to destroy a prophet.

 This is an interesting matter, because it means that an important part of what determines who will be the prophet is based on someone other than the prophet.  A good man does not make an acceptable prophet.  A charismatic man cannot be a good prophet.  Any man of any character shape or style cannot be a prophet.  The choosing of a prophet is determined by what that person represents in the eyes of those who see him perform miracles.  They are the listening ears that hear the prophet and know that they are hearing the words of God.  The difference between a good Christian and a good Christian prophet is how other people relate to him.  Granted, any two people could be exactly alike, and one would become a prophet while the other does not, because God does not automatically choose any specific course of action just because certain factors happen to be true.  He is not just an impersonal force, like gravity, which always behaves a certain way under certain conditions.  However, while we can not say exactly what he will do, there are certain things that we can know with certainty that he will not do.  He will not promote idolatry.  He will not mislead.  He does not instigate sin.  God does not make supermen.  He makes servants.  The prophet is to the world what the staff was to Moses, initially.  The prophet is God’s way of letting people know who really did it and who really said it.

 Moses put a brass serpent on a pole, so that people bitten by a viper could look at it and yet live.  The brass serpent was a symbol of God’s mercy and a symbol of the Christ who would one day hang on a cross.  As such a symbol, it served God’s purpose.  Eventually, though, it came to be seen as an entity in and of itself.  It became an idol and had to be destroyed.  The fine line between symbolism and idolatry was crossed.

 Symbols change their meanings with time, often.  Words, which are written symbols, have their own unique drift.  The word “gay” used to mean “happy.”  In those days I would have been content to call myself gay.  When that meaning changed, not in my own ears but in the ears of my audience, I could no longer comfortably use that term to describe myself.

 The pastor of a church can be a symbol of God.  He can also be a usurper.  The difference is subtle, and the line of distinction is often crossed.  If he is not seen as just a person, and if his authority seems innate, then he creeps ever so imperceptibly toward idolatry.  However, if he is not seen as a representative of God and his authority, then he cannot be a pastor at all.  On the one hand, he stands as an authority and a representative of God, but on the other hand, he is just a man, like any other.  When I say he is just like any other, I mean exactly that.  Moses could have been carrying any stick the day that he met the burning bush.  The power of that stick had nothing to do with the qualities of the stick, but it had everything to do with God.  Moses was just a dirty aimless shepherd, carrying an ordinary shepherd’s crook.  Without God, he and his stick would have continued to be exactly as they were.  God could have used any man and any stick.

 Jesus was crucified on a cross, and so the cross has come to symbolize Christ.  But the cross is not a talisman.  It has no power of its own.  A cross is only meaningful in so much as it represents Christ.  You can spell out the word, “Jesus,” or you can carve a cross, but both the word and the sculpture are effectively the same thing, a symbol meaning “Jesus.”

 Christians, these days, are becoming increasingly fearful of symbols.  Non-phonetic symbols hold a certain intrigue to people not thoroughly familiar with them.  However, a phonetic symbol can also become an idol.  Even the name of God can become a dissociated symbol, treated like a talisman, worshipped as an independent thing.  If you say “Jesus,” and you’re thinking of the name, itself, rather than the person it refers to, then you’ve made the name an idol.  It’s no wonder God chose to call himself, “I Am.”  It’s akin to not giving himself a name.

 The prophet is a symbol of God.  The Bible is a symbol of God.  The word, “God,” is a symbol of God.  A painting of God is a symbol of God.  A cross is a symbol of God.  Even a thought about God is a symbol of him.  Remove the symbols from society, and you remove God from society.  On the other hand, if the meaning of those symbols changes, if they stand independent from God, if we worship them, then they become idols.  It’s like looking at your reflection and forgetting that it’s just a reflection.  If you start talking to that thing, then you’re nuts.  The reflection is just another way of looking at yourself, in the same way that a symbol is just another way of looking at God.


He Stands Behind Me

13 05 2009

My first memory of feeling that emptiness inside, a longing with no apparent solution, was at the age of four.  It was a gnawing angst that was neither hunger nor thirst, but had something in common with both.  I needed something, but I couldn’t put a name to it.  I asked my mother what it was, and she said it was God, tugging at me, making me aware of my need for him.  I sometimes wonder what life would have been like for me if the answer had not been so readily available.  How does a person satisfy a need for which there is no physical solution?  When people live on a diet that is deficient in a necessary nutrient, the body responds by urging them to eat more food.  Sometimes it urges them even to eat that which is not food, just to satisfy the need.  Many extra calories might be consumed, but the deficiency must be filled.  The same seems to be true for that emptiness within the soul that hungers for God.  People fill that need by saturating themselves with any cure they can get their hands on, seeking pleasure and happiness in excess, that in all of that there might be a little bit of something to fill the gaping void within themselves.  The world is full of vices, and the world is grasping at straws.

I was four years old when I first asked Jesus to save me from my sins, and it was that year in my life that I was baptized.  However, it wasn’t until my early adolescence that I first felt the power of the Holy Spirit come upon me.  Yes, it was a real experience, like a warm cloud or an embrace.  It was a dark night after a campfire service at a religious scouting event.  The speaker asked if anyone wanted to be prayed for to be baptized by the Holy Spirit.  Most of the kids wanted to go play capture the flag out in the woods, and they did.  A few of us came forward, and a few of the ones that came forward apparently were hit by a blast of the supernatural.  I didn’t speak in tongues, prophesy, or do anything particularly astounding, but I do remember the way I was so wrapped up in it that I completely lost all sense of my own body.  It was a moment of worshipping God with everything that I had.  It was an ecstasy like nothing I have ever felt from anything else.  I would like to experience it again, if only for the drug-like effect that it had, but more than that, I want to experience it again because of the passion and the deep desire for God and his righteousness.  The people who were praying for me eventually seemed to think that I could not hold myself up any longer, for they set me down on the ground.  They were probably right.  I was stiff as a board.  This was not the last such experience that I was destined to have, and it was not even the strongest, but it was the first.  It left me wanting more.

I did not come away from it with nothing, though.  There followed me a certain residual effect, like the sunlight in the sky once the sun is no longer visible.  For a time, I was distinctly aware of a presence with me, like when you know that someone is in the room with you, even though you can’t see or hear them.  I had the irresistible urge to look over my shoulder every now and then, just to make certain there wasn’t actually someone standing behind me.  To be precise, it was someone a bit taller than me, standing behind me and a little to the right.  The sensation followed me wherever I went.  A few times, I caught myself talking to someone who had actually been in the room but had left when I wasn’t looking, because I still sensed that there was someone in the room with me, and I thought it was the same person.  It was like having an invisible friend.  I knew that God was always with me.  A few years later, I discovered that quite a few other people have had that exact same experience.  Shortly after accepting Christ, they had that keen awareness that someone was always behind them and off to one side.  I find this remarkable.  I wish the world could know this feeling.

Never underestimate the importance of baptism by the Holy Spirit.  To have communion with God is to have the indwelling of the spirit.  We are living temples, and God abides in us.  Where he lives, no uncleanness can coexist.  Obedience and sacrifice, though they are made to the true God are nothing if not ordained by God.  Faith in God without communion with him is like knowledge without understanding.  If we do not have the Spirit, then we are not living and breathing the life of Christ.  This is life, not a movie.

This is the real thing, not some academic pursuit.  We are not here to play some religious game.


Things Unseen

22 02 2009

It was evening, and I was home alone.  I was a thirteen-year-old, washing the dishes, and the television was on, softly playing some news exposé about the elderly, or something.  The setting was stupidly simple.  All I did was whistle a song from a television commercial, the Cool Mint Listerine ad, where they have this animated bottle swinging from a vine.  Then, during the last few notes of the song, I heard someone join me in whistling the song.

Yeah, I was home alone.  There was no one in the room with me.  I looked up at the family room, where I heard it, but I saw nothing.  It definitely didn’t come from the television.  I rubbed my forehead, and mumbled, “That’s not right.  Now I’m hearing whistling.  This isn’t happening.”  I started back on my working, hoping to forget about it, but then I heard it whistle again.  That time, I knew I heard it.  It was as clear as if some invisible person were in the house with me.  It had that acoustical property, not like something from outside.  Someone whistled like they were testing me to see if I really heard it.  It was like a questioning, ascending tone.  I stood there with a plate and a dishtowel in my hands, thoroughly dumbfounded.  This time, I walked toward the sound.  I pointed at a chair and said, aloud, “I know I heard it come from right about here.”

Then I heard it again, two notes, one higher and one lower, like a “yoo-hoo.”  It came from my right, directly right.  It was definitely in the room with me, on the opposite side of me from the television.  To my right was nothing but a dark hallway.  It didn’t sound like it came from down the hallway, though.  It sounded like it had been right beside me.  I looked down at my dog, and she just looked up at me like nothing in the world was wrong.  Two thoughts sprang to my mind, quickly, that either I was hearing something supernatural, or that someone was in the house with me, playing a trick on me.  The second possibility scared me worse.

Then I heard it again, on the other side.  There was nothing between the sound and me but empty space.  In that direction was only the television, and a wall.  What’s more is that I could have placed the sound at arm’s length, and about half a foot above me.  Whatever it was, it was either tall, or hovering, and it was completely invisible.  It sounded just like a human whistling.  Once again, it sounded like it was testing to see if I really could hear it.  What’s funny about human nature is that we can be terrified by things that we don’t understand, even if no threat appears imminent.  What’s even funnier is how I dealt with it: I went back to doing the dishes.  One might say that I defended myself against the unknown by clinging to the familiar.  I figured there was nothing to be done about it, and I just wanted the whole thing to go away.

And that’s all there was to it.  It left me alone.

Not long after that, maybe a month or so later, I saw my parents standing at the door to my sister’s room, looking a little worried.  Through the door, I saw her crying.  My mom said something about the stress of school getting to her.  She had been doing homework at the time.  Later, I asked my parents what had happened, and my dad said that she had been spooked by noises.  With a certain pride, he later explained how the house creeks a little as it cools down in the evening, making harmless noises.  This would be what’s called a poltergeist, also known as a “noise ghost.”  It’s not a ghost at all, but a product of physics.

A few days later, I asked my sister about it.  Her story didn’t match my parents’.  She was minding her own business, when she heard a voice that distinctly sounded like it was in the room with her.  It said her name.  It was the voice of a male human.  She thought it sounded like he was trying to get her attention.  He stopped when she panicked and started to cry.  This was definitely not the creaking of a heterogeneously cooled house.  This was something like an invisible person.  In retrospect, she didn’t think that this thing was really threatening her.  In fact, considering that it left her alone after she started crying, it probably meant no harm.

The next two years, I could not so much as pee or take a shower without feeling that someone was watching me.  I had become acutely aware that there was something humanoid in my home and completely imperceptible.  Whatever it was could see me, but I could not see it.  I knew of only four things that it could be: a demon, an angel, a human spirit, or God.  I eliminated God from the list right away.  Whatever the thing was, it seemed to be experimenting, which doesn’t fit with an omniscient God.

Was it a demon, or other evil spirit?  I’ve been around one of those before.  I was at the residence of a lesbian, who was toying with membership in a vampire cult, perhaps to replace her fading gang affiliation.  She gets the award for being most likely to ruin her own life in the dumbest way possible.  She was a pathological liar, too.  Her place was oppressive.  The air felt stifling and dense, and I felt about fifty pounds heavier.  I had the distinct impression that something in that place did not want me there, but it was helpless to make me leave.  A demon can only take what you give it, and she was giving it rights to her life.  Looking back on that, I feel pretty strong.  I feel like I had the authority to make it leave.  Had I done so, she probably would have invited it back, and we’d be worse off.  This thing that I heard in my own home didn’t feel anything like that.  There was no oppressive feeling.  It just seemed like an invisible person.

Was it a human spirit?  If it was, then it could have been the boy next door, who was killed in cold blood by his own friend.  That was years earlier.  I was just a little kid, putting together a circular seventy-something-piece Bugs Bunny puzzle with a friend, when a police officer stepped directly over our puzzle to knock on the front door.  After a few words with my mom, the officer left.  I can still remember them hauling away a pre-adolescent boy in handcuffs.  His face was stone cold emotionless.  He had shot the neighbor kid with the family’s own gun.  The Bible says that we are not to contact the dead, as they have no influence on the world of the living.  So I’m forced to rule-out the murdered boy, or any other human spirit as an explanation.

Was it an angel?  It’s the only option left, but it leaves some room for explanation.  Whatever it was, it seemed surprised that a person could hear it.  Generally, I’ve always had the impression that the understanding of angels was static.  One does not think of angels as being surprised by anything.  We don’t think of angels as having angelic technology.  We don’t think of them as actively learning things, and we never think of them as stumbling onto anything or making a mistake.  Let’s imagine the Apostle Paul, lying in his prison chamber, and an angel appears.  The angel takes a quick look around and apologizes, saying that he got the wrong cell.  So the possibility that an angel blew its cover accidentally seems somewhat absurd.

Then, my next question was how a spiritual being, or anything not physical, could move physical air to make physical sound waves.  I could say that I heard the sound in its own element, like a spiritual form of sound, but it fails to explain the acoustical properties of the sound.  The sound waves had to bounce off of the walls, but the house is not a spiritual thing, so spiritual sound waves don’t really make any sense, either.  I could call it a hallucination, but someone else encountered it, too.  I inquired of someone that I thought wiser than myself, asking what we knew about the laws of spirits, and whether angels were subject to their own physical laws, as we are subject to ours.  She replied that it was likely, and she called it “metaphysics.”

Now, I know that there are two meanings for the word.  The first is a well-developed pantheistic belief that, really, has nothing to do with metaphysics in general.  When I refer to metaphysics, what I mean is anything that lies outside of our physical realm.  This includes angels, demons, God, human spirits, and anything else I might have missed.  This experience sparked my interest in that other world.  I wanted to know the mechanism of what had happened.  What I actually learned was almost nothing.

The first thing I must say is this: we are living in their test tube, and they can easily observe us.  However, we cannot easily observe them.  This is important, because these are not just impersonal forces.  These are intelligent beings with their own objectives.  Imagine attempting to negotiate with someone that you know nothing about, who has been observing you for years.  In all likelihood, any deal reached will be entirely to the benefit of the other guy.  What I mean is that if we fail to see the depth of our own ignorance and deal with it appropriately, then we run the risk of falling for a hideous deception.  When encountering a spirit, we cannot presume to know its intentions, or anything else about it.  We must walk carefully.  We must do nothing with the spiritual realm without the help of the Holy Spirit.

The second thing I might say is that it would appear that spirits do still learn things.  The implications of this are enormous.  It explains why angels can change their minds and rebel against God.  They’re still learning, thinking and making decisions.  The significance of this lies in the possibility that spiritual stability today might not be the same tomorrow.  The forces that we do not see may learn things that can affect our world in ways that we did not expect.  Specifically, today we have a human ruler; tomorrow we may have the Beast.  Quite possibly, the day may come when the technology of angels and devils permanently disrupts our way of life.

Other than that, I still don’t really know what happened to me those many years ago, when I was minding my own business, washing dishes.  Maybe in the next life I’ll find out.

The better part of a decade later, I had my own experience in that role.  I was sitting on the roof of the student union building at college (it’s just one of those crazy things that college students might do).  It was the dark of night, and the outside area was lit by floodlights mounted under the eaves of the building.  Along came someone I knew, named Becky.  I called out her name and she stopped in her tracks and looked around.  She stood in the relatively narrow space between one building and the next, a relatively unobstructed area.  I was out of reach of the lights, which made me effectively invisible to her.  The funny thing about human hearing is that we’re really good at identifying the direction of a sound, so long as it’s not above us.  We don’t have a third ear for finding vertical direction.  Hence, when I called out her name, she looked in my direction, but not up.  To her, I seemed to be in the empty space between her and the wall.  I called her name a second time, and she replied, “Where are you?  Am I blind?!”  The hint of panic in her voice brought me back in time to my own similar experience.  I knew what it was like to be in that position.  Shortly, I climbed down a tree and introduced myself.

The earlier situation was actually quite comparable.  If we live in a three-dimensional world, and we interact with a four-dimensional one, then we look for events arising from the other world along the dimensions that we are familiar with.  She looked along the horizon for the source of a voice that was above her.  I looked through three dimensions for the source of a voice that originated from a different level on a fourth dimension.  Walking through walls and disappearing are not only possible but elementary for a being that has freedom of movement along an extra dimension.  I cannot fathom what that must be like.  I guess it’s just another one of those things I’ll have to wait to learn about on the other side of the grave.