Showing posts with label #Evil. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Evil. Show all posts

God can’t abide sin?

by K.W. Leslie, 27 October

“God can’t abide sin. It offends him so much, he simply can’t have it in his presence. He’s just that holy.”

It’s an idea I’ve heard repeated by many a Christian. Evangelists in particular.

It’s particularly popular among people who can’t abide sin. Certain sins offend us so much, we simply can’t have ’em in our presence. We’re just that pure. Well… okay, self-righteous.

You can see why Christians have found this concept so easy to adopt, and have been so quick to spread it around. It’s yet another instance of remaking God in our own image, then preaching our remake instead of the real God.

Don’t get me wrong. ’Cause Christians do, regularly: I talk about grace, and they think I’m talking about compromise. Or justification. Or nullification. Or compromise. Or liberalism. Whatever reason they can think of to ignore grace, skip forgiveness, disguise revenge as justice, and claim they only have these prejudices and offenses because God has ’em. You claim you practice grace? Then grant me some so I can explain.

Obviously God is anti-sin. He told us what he wants and expects of his people. Both through his Law, and through the teachings and example of Christ Jesus. (I was about to write “and he didn’t mince words,” but Jesus kinda did in some of his parables, for various reasons. Regardless, any honest, commonsense Christian—and plenty of pagans—can figure Jesus out.)

Yes, God’s offended by our willful disobedience. And he’s just as offended by the sins of people who don’t know any better: They do have consciences, after all. Ro 2.15 At one point they were taught the difference between right and wrong, and even so, they chose what’s wrong.

But the issue isn’t whether sin bugs God. It’s whether sin bugs God so much, he can no longer practice grace. Whether he can’t abide sin—and therefore he can’t abide sinners.

Evil spirits.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 August

It’s odd: Lots of people believe in spirits. Christians do too, ’cause God’s a spirit, Jn 4.24 and angels are spirits. He 1.14 We also figure the spirits of dead loved ones exist in the afterlife—or heaven, as many people imagine.

Yet many of these very same people refuse to believe in evil spirits.

I used to say this mindset comes from Platonism. Plato of Athens taught if we could only escape this world of matter and decay, and just become pure spirit, all our self-centered impulses, greed, materialism, lusts, and so forth would simply cease to exist. We wouldn’t have ’em anymore; they were embedded in our flesh, but without that flesh we’d be nothing but good. Plato’s not the first to believe this junk; plenty of other cultures teach the same thing. Present-day folks who believe it, don’t necessarily believe it ’cause of Plato’s reasoning—heck, they don’t have any reasoning behind it. They simply believe all spirits are good… because it never occurred to them spirits might be bad.

Yep. Even though mythology, fairy tales, and horror movies are loaded with evil spirits. Monsters, boogeymen, fairies, ghosts, demons, elder gods which wanna destroy everything once they’re awakened. But for whatever reason, people imagine real-life spirits aren’t evil, and are nothing but benevolent. They’re on a higher plane than we are, and in getting there all the evil got purged from them.

To some degree this is because too many people have overdone their emphasis on evil spirits. Christians in particular. Wasn’t so long ago that everyone assumed every psychological disorder in the DSM-5 was the product of evil spirits. Years ago I had a roommate suffering from depression, but he was convinced he was demonized. Fortunately one of my pastors was a psychologist, and could diagnose him properly. But you’re gonna find very few pastors (even though they do a whole lot of counseling!) have had proper psychological training of any sort. In fact some of ’em claim psychology is devilish. And therefore people with psychological disorders are demoniac, and instead of meds they need an exorcism.

You’re gonna find a lot of dark Christians with this mindset. They insist evil spirits are absolutely everywhere. Everywhere. Pick a problem and there’s a demon behind it—a sinister intelligence using that problem to trick us into losing our salvation and going to hell. I’ve visited “deliverance ministries” which insist every temptation, no matter how minor, has a devil behind it. The leaders demonstrate how to cast out these devils, claiming everyone’s infested with at least one or two of ’em, like bedbugs in an old mattress. Christians included!—they claim we can’t be possessed by evil spirits (since we’re indwelt by the Holy Spirit), but the critters can certainly latch onto us like leeches, and tempt us whenever we’re weak.

Okay: If devils could infest absolutely everyone in this way, don’t you think they would? Our entire planet would be hopelessly demonized. But it’s not. It is full of selfish people, who’ll act more evil than Satan itself. But that’s way different than people puppeteered, or at least heavily steered, by evil spirits. Humans are plenty capable of inventing our own evil. Few of us need any devil’s help in being evil.

Let’s not go overboard when it comes to evil spirits. Nor underboard. Two things we need to bear in mind about evil spirits, as indicated in the scriptures:

  • God made us humans able to resist and defeat them. The devil itself flees when resisted. Jm 4.7 So do its allies.
  • They’re greatly outnumbered by God-following humans and spirits, and of course God can defeat them all by himself. So they’re only a threat when we’re ignorant of them, and dismiss what they’re up to.

This being the case, let’s not be ignorant of them!

Sin.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 May
SIN sɪn noun. Immoral behavior—as defined by religious morality.
2. Violation of God’s law or known will.
3. A reprehensible action, or serious shortcoming.
4. A state of human nature in which one is alienated from God.
5. verb. To commit a sin, offense, or fault.
[Sinful 'sɪn.fəl adjective.]

I used to think it was a copout when Christians claimed they weren’t entirely sure what “sin” meant, or is. Sometimes yeah, they’re trying to weasel out of something: They’re sinning their brains in, and don’t care to define their behavior as sin, so they’re hoping to either plead ignorance, or get us to admit there’s some kind of gray area, and grant them some leeway.

But too often, I’ve found nobody ever spelled it out for them when they were new Christians. Nobody ever sat the newbies down and told ’em, “Here’s what sin is.” I grew up Christian, and they absolutely told us kids what sin is—and to not do it!—but churches tend to forget adults didn’t always have that upbringing, and there might be a big ol’ gap in their knowledge.

So the adult Christian converts presumed. And most of the time you can kinda figure it out, ’cause certain preachers love to rail against sin. You can easily deduce you sinned if you broke one of the Ten Commandments. Or if you commit one of the seven deadly sins.

But you might get the wrong idea nothing else is a sin. Pagans make that mistake all the time; it’s why, whenever some bishop lists a few sins, pagan reporters freak out as if this is a great big headline: “The church is adding new sins to the seven deadly sins!” No; these are old sins, and you clearly don’t know what sins are.

Anyway it’s because of this guesswork people keep right on committing the same fruitless behaviors we’ve always done, unaware of how this activity undermines our relationship with God, and any greater religious growth.

The apostles defined sin as when we know what God expects of us—we know the right or proper thing to do—yet we ignore it and selfishly do our own thing.

James 4.17 KJV
Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.
 
1 John 3.4 KJV
Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.

At its core sin is based on selfishness. If we aren’t so insistent on doing our own thing, and care more about doing what God wants, we’ll be far less likely to sin.

Here’s the problem: Sin is based on selfishness, but selfishness isn’t necessarily sin.

No seriously. It’s not always wrong to think of ourselves first! In fact we kinda have to: When we follow Jesus’s teaching to love others as we love ourselves, Mk 12.31 it’s expected we already do love ourselves. And it’s sometimes necessary to think of ourselves first. When you’re serving others, but you work yourself to death in the process, you’re not gonna serve others for very long. If you’ve ever been on a plane and remember the safety lecture, y’might recall when the oxygen masks drop we’re supposed to put on our mask before we help others with their masks, ’cause we’re no help to anyone once we pass out from oxygen deprivation. Often we need to think of ourselves first.

The problem is when we think of ourselves only: We don’t or won’t love others too. (Or we don’t love ourselves, and use that as an excuse to be awful to others.)

Sin is the product of corrupted selfishness. Like nearly every animal, selfishness is hard-wired into the human body and instinct. After all, when we don’t look out for ourselves, when we ignore that self-preservation instinct, we get physically hurt! But humans have taken this instinct to a level God didn’t intend when he built it into us. We don’t just preserve our lives and well-being. We preserve our comforts too. Whenever God’s will runs contrary to the things which entertain us, please us, or suit us, we’re all too willing to ignore him. We figure he’ll forgive us. Or we just don’t care what he thinks.

Hence sin. And it hasn’t merely corrupted humanity: It’s warped the whole planet. Nothing works as originally intended. Instead of living forever as we oughta, humans die. Instead of a harmonious, balanced ecosystem, we have famines, plagues, and natural disasters. Instead of working together in love, and naturally sharing a close personal relationship with God, humans fight one another, and try to manipulate and control and dominate one another. Even Christians fight over our ideas about Jesus: We may know about the sin problem, but we’re hardly immune to it. We’re just as infected as the rest of the world.

But God intends to remove sin from humanity. In four steps.

  1. God’s Law, in which he spelled out his will for the Hebrews and humanity.
  2. Jesus’s atonement, in which our sin was defeated and dealt with.
  3. Sanctification, in which we learn how to stop sinning and resist temptation.
  4. Resurrection, in which we receive new, sin-untainted bodies.

Lying so we can win the debate.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 May

Christians lie.

No we’re not supposed to. There’s a whole teaching about this. It’s actually not the “don’t bear false witness” command, Ex 20.16 which has to do with perjury. It’s the one about how Christians need to be rid of lying, and tell the truth to one another. Ep 4.25 But we lie just the same. Usually to get out of trouble. Sometimes to defraud.

And sometimes when we debate with antichrists, and wanna score points, we borrow a rather common tactic we see in politics: We ignore whether our “facts” are all that factual.

Oh, we wish they were factual, ’cause they really help our case. We’ll psyche ourselves into believing they’re factual. We’re willing to dismiss any evidence which says it’s false knowledge. We’re totally willing to perpetuate fraud.

Yeah, it’s fraud. There’s a command against that too. Mk 10.19

But Christians dismiss this particular sin, ’cause we figure it’s so important to win these arguments, score victories for Jesus… and really stick it to those skeptics. Ends justify means. Doesn’t matter that we’re we’re not 100 percent sure about the “facts” we point to, or straight-up that we’re wrong and lying and fraudulent and evil. The goal was to win.

Yeah, this rationale doesn’t fly with God. He’s light, and doesn’t do darkness. 1Jn 1.5 If we adopt darkness, and claim we’re doing it on God’s behalf, we’re really not; it’s done for our victories, not his. We stopped following him. 1Jn 1.6

Whenever we sway non-Christians with non-facts, we’ve not really led them to Jesus. We’ve led them to Christianism. It’s built on lies, remember?—and God’s kingdom is built on truth. We’ve led them into some dark variant of Christianity we’ve invented instead, which we like better—and hopefully God will be merciful to these poor souls and pull them out of our darkness. But there’s no guarantee that’ll happen; ask any cult member.

Satan’s fall.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 March

Revelation 12.

One of the popular myths about the devil is how Satan used to be an angel. Not that it pretends to be one, 2Co 11.14 but straight-up was one—the mightiest angel in the heavens, named Lucifer. Got deposed, but it used to be a big, big deal.

I’ve challenged many a Christian to actually read their bibles and prove any of this theory from scripture. And I gotta give ’em credit; they do try. But they don’t succeed. It says nowhere in the scriptures Satan used to be an angel. Doesn’t even say Satan was a heavenly being; we just presume so because Satan appeared before God in Job, and we’re kinda assuming they were all in heaven, or thereabouts, at the time. (Job never says where they were.)

Satan’s species is never once identified. Given Satan’s reputation as a liar, Jn 8.44 I’m mighty suspicious about any stories about its origin, like the Lucifer story, which try to make Satan look like it was a big deal at one time.

Or still is. During Jesus’s temptations, Satan claimed to be master of the world’s kingdoms, which it then offered to Jesus. Lk 4.6 Various Christians actually take this statement at face value. Doesn’t it look like the devil rules the world?—though really that’s because humanity lets the devil successfully tempt us into wrecking it. But Jesus’s response was “Get thee hence,” Mt 4.10 KJV i.e. “Get out of here with that nonsense.” Jesus didn’t recognize Satan’s authority at all. The kingdoms of this world belong to him, Jn 12.31, 14.30 not the devil.

Y’see, Satan fell. Jesus watched it fall. Lk 10.18

And about 40 years after his temptation, Jesus presented John of Patmos with a vision of when Satan got tossed from heaven. Whatever the devil used to be, whatever power it was granted, is now irrelevant: It fell. It’s not a heavenly being anymore. It was banished. It’s an earthly being, same as us.

Well, worse than us. Every human has the potential to tap into God’s grace and become one of his kids. Jn 1.12 But in another of Jesus’s revelations to John, he also clued us in to the fact Satan’s never gonna repent. Never gonna avail itself of God’s grace. It’s going into the fire. Rv 20.10 Willingly.

So if you imagine the devil’s a big deal, don’t. It’s a defeated foe. Even we have the power to get it to flee from us. Jm 4.7 Stop fearing it, and start resisting it.

Lucifer: The myth the devil used to be a big deal.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 March

Since the bible doesn’t include an origin story for the devil, Christians just made one up.

Isaiah 14.12-15

Where’d the devil come from? Bible doesn’t say.

No it doesn’t. I know; popular Christian culture insists the devil’s origins are totally spelled out in the bible. When I ask ’em to point me to chapter and verse, they gotta track it down—really, they gotta Google the word “Lucifer”—but that’s where they invariably point me. Here, they insist, is where the devil went wrong.

Isaiah 14.12-15 KJV
12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!
how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God:
I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell,
to the sides of the pit.

You gotta quote it in King James Version, because most other translations don’t bother to keep it “Lucifer.” They insist on translating it as other things: “Morning star” (NIV, The Voice), “bright morning star” (GNT), “Day Star” (ISV, ESV, NRSV, NJB, The Message), “star of the morning,” (NASB), “shining star” (NLT), “shining morning star” (HCSB), “shining one” (NET), and so forth.

Y’ever wonder why these bibles insist on translating it other ways? Not, like KJV-worshipers claim, because they’re trying to conceal the devil. ’Cause if that was the plan, it failed. People quote this passage at me in plenty of other translations, and still claim it’s about Satan.

The reason other bibles render it differently is ’cause it’s not a proper name. It looks like a proper name: Heylél ben Šakhár, “Heylel son of Sakhar.” But neither Heylel nor Sakhar are names. It means “shining one, son of dawn.” It’s poetry—and it refers to the morning star, the planet Venus when it’s visible around sunrise. Heylél was what the ancient Hebrews called it.

In the Septuagint it’s translated eosfóros/“morning-bringer,” another word for fosfóros/“light-bringer,” the morning star. And in the Vulgate it’s translated lucifer/“light-bringer,” which is what Latin-speakers called it.

But like I said, it’s poetry. It’s not directly addressed to the morning star. It’s addressed to the guy Isaiah was calling the morning star in this prophecy, which he prefaced with the following statement:

Isaiah 14.3-4 KWL
3 On the day the LORD gives you rest from your pain, dread, the hard service you worked,
4A take up this saying to the king of Babylon.

This king didn’t exist yet. Isaiah’s instructions were for future generations of Hebrews, who were gonna grow up in Babylon after Nabú-kudúrri-usúr (NIV “Nebuchadnezzar”) dragged their ancestors there. But once the Neo-Babylonian Empire fell to the Persians in 539BC, it’d be whichever king was still in charge. Possibly Nabú-naïd (Latin Nabonidus), but really this prophecy applies to the arrogance of just about all Babylon’s kings. Nebuchadnezzar as well.

So yeah, “lucifer” is meant to describe the king of Babylon. As some translations make it obvious:

Isaiah 14.12 GNT
King of Babylon, bright morning star, you have fallen from heaven! In the past you conquered nations, but now you have been thrown to the ground.

But good luck telling that to some Christians. They grew up believing this verse is about Satan. They’re not giving up this idea without a fight.

Our ancient foe, the devil.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 March

Yes, Satan exists.

But in both popular and Christian culture, Satan has been profoundly misrepresented. It’s intentional. Like Sunzi said in The Art of War, all warfare is based on deception. True of spiritual warfare as well. The devil gets a leg up on us humans by making us believe all sorts of disinformation.

Like the popular rubbish that it used to be the highest angel in heaven, second to God himself. There’s no evidence at all for this in the scriptures; it’s entirely taken from Paradise Lost. Yet people still claim it’s in the bible somewhere, and come up with the darnedest proof texts as “evidence.” Talk about lying on your résumé; in fact if you were hiring Satan at your business and found absolutely nothing in a background check, you’d be far more likely to believe your applicant’s a dirty liar, than people do Satan—who’s a known dirty liar.

But a mighty successful one. Which is why Christians still think it’s an angel of light, instead of how Paul and Timothy actually described it: Only appearing to be one. 2Co 11.14 Like how it rules this world Lk 4.5-6 as the prince of the power of the air, Ep 2.2 and never imagine these are titles it usurps, ’cause Jesus has conquered the world. Like how it appears to be everywhere, almost like God… or that it’s not almighty, but it’s still pretty darned mighty.

And other such things which intimidate Christians against resisting or fighting it. Or make us so wary of it, we never refer to it by name. Various Christians never refer to it as the devil or Satan; they’ll only call it “the enemy.” Lest saying its name or title might get its attention or conjure it up, like Voldemort from the Harry Potter novels.

Or on the opposite extreme, people might consider Satan laughable. Pagans especially. They imagine it a red creature with horns, goat legs, a tail, and a trident. It sits on your shoulder, opposite an angel on your other shoulder, and goads you into doing what’s fun while the shoulder angel convinces you to do what’s right. It tortures people in the underworld, and sometimes ventures to the surface to tempt musicians with awesome heavy metal songs. It’s an imaginary being, like fairies and gnomes and Smurfs and mermaids. It’s a representation of evil, but it’s not a literal being. It’s silly.

We Christians believe there’s an actual devil. Jesus taught us it exists, Lk 8.12 and told his students it actually came to test him once. (How else do you think Matthew and Luke contain that story?—Jesus told it.)

But contrary to the paranoid fantasies of dark Christians, it’s not a mighty being. It’s a defeated foe. Jesus beat it, 1Jn 3.8 and someday will destroy it. Rv 20.10 Meanwhile he gave his followers—us—power over it. Lk 10.19 If we submit to God and resist it, it’ll flee. Jm 4.7

Yeah, that’s correct: Flee. It can’t withstand us. The only reason we think it can, is because we won’t submit to God. We’re more likely submit to Satan. We fold like a desk lamp. We capitulate.

Our situation is like a trained elephant on a leash. Why don’t elephants snap the leash, or take off and drag their handlers wherever they please? Because they were trained all their lives to obey humans. Frighten an elephant badly enough and then you’ll see ’em snap leashes, drag people behind them, even maul their handlers. The devil has humans on a very similar leash, hoping we never, ever notice how thin it is. How easy it is to fight back. Especially with the weapons the Holy Spirit offers us.

Various new Christians wanna know why God doesn’t just put a stop to the devil. He doesn’t have to! He empowered us to. We can.

Whenever Christians get off our apathetic backsides, or quit being scared for no good reason, we easily overthrow Satan. It’s so quickly defeated, people get surprised: “You mean the fight’s over?” No knock-down, drag-out, end-of-the-TV-season battle with the Big Bad where anything can happen (and come on; on most TV shows you know the good guy’s gonna win). Satan flees like a cockroach when the lights turn on.

Humans (and our fears) are way harder to fight off.

The goodness of creation: Matter bad, spirit good?

by K.W. Leslie, 04 February

There’s a really popular, common idea in our culture: Spiritual things are good, and material things are bad.

It comes from Greek philosophy, though the Greeks were hardly the first to believe it. It’s found pretty much everywhere. Plenty of pagans insist every spirit being must be an angel, and good. Therefore we must always, always take their advice, and never wonder whether any of them are evil. ’Cause why would there be any such thing as an evil spirit? They’re spirits. Duh.

Regardless of its origins, Christians have totally bought into this idea. In part because we think we see it in the bible.

Romans 8.5-8 NRSV
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
 
Galatians 5.16-17 NRSV
16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.

Flesh is material, right? Made of atoms. And in these passages flesh isn’t just shorthand for fallen human nature; it’s a reminder that matter is bad, but spirit—especially the Holy Spirit—is good. Hence Christians have overlaid this Greek idea upon Christianity since the very beginning. It’s all over gnostic literature. It’s why there was a giant fight in the early church about whether Jesus really became human, because why on earth would God demean his pure spiritual nature by becoming human? But he did. Pp 2.6-7

And he really did die, and when he was resurrected he was put back into a real human body.
1 John 4.2-3 NRSV
2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world.

Yep, anyone who says Jesus isn’t really human, or that his resurrection put him in some weird kind of “spiritual body” 1Co 15.44 which is only the illusion of matter but actually pure spirit: They’re not just heretic, but antichrist. Jesus has a body, and I don’t just mean the metaphor of the “body of Christ.” He has a physical body. He didn’t temporarily become human; that change is permanent. He’s one of us now.

’Cause neither matter nor spirit are inherently good. Nor bad. They can be either. It all depends on whether they are as God originally made ’em. ’Cause when he originally made the cosmos, when he first created matter, he declared it, and everything he made of it, good.

Genesis 1.31 NRSV
God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

(If you wanna argue Genesis 1.31 only refers to sixth-day stuff, fine. On all the other days, God declared those creations good… so it’s all good.)

When humanity was created, God declared us good. We humans are part matter and part spirit; we’re not purely one or the other. (In fact if you split us into one and the other, you wind up with a corpse and a ghost: A dead human. It’s not an upgrade!) But when humanity went wrong, it wasn’t part of us which went wrong; ’twasn’t the material parts which got all corrupt and depraved while the spiritual parts remained intact and pure. The immaterial, spiritual parts of Adam and Eve were corrupted before they ate the wrong fruit and got materially corrupted. Their spirits did evil. ’Cause spirit can definitely be evil.

When the unclean spirit leaves a person…

by K.W. Leslie, 24 June

Matthew 12.38-45 • Luke 11.24-26.

Previously I wrote about how some Sadducees and Pharisees in Dalmanuthá approached Jesus demanding a sign, and Jesus’s response was to say they’d get the Jonah sign, and nothing more.

But Matthew has a second version of this story, where Pharisee scribes approached him for a sign, and Jesus likewise said they’d get no more than the Jonah sign—then tacked on an odd little story about an evil spirit leaving a person, and coming back later. Luke tacks this lesson to when people accused Jesus of throwing out evil spirits with Satan’s power, and it seems to fit rather well there. It’s a little more odd when this lesson is placed together with the people who requested a sign.

People who are fascinated with evil spirits and demons—and paranoid about the possibility of being possessed by these creatures—have spent the past 20 centuries trying to glean information from this bit about how devils work.

I’ve decided to include Jesus’s Matthew statement so you can see its context. But yeah, I’ll explain what Christians have historically taught about this bit, and what Jesus actually means by it.

Matthew 12.38-42 KWL
38 Some of the scribes and Pharisees replied to Jesus, saying,
“Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”
39 In reply Jesus told them, “An evil, adulterous generation pursues signs—
and a sign won’t be given them other than the prophet Jonah’s sign.
40 For just as Jonah was in the whale’s belly three days and three nights,
likewise the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.
41 The men of Nineveh will rise on Judgment Day with this generation and condemn it:
They repented at Jonah’s message, and look, more than Jonah is here.
42 The queen of the south will rise on Judgment Day with this generation and condemn it:
She came from the end of the earth to hear Solomon’s wisdom, and look, more than Solomon is here.
Matthew 12.43-45 KWL
43 “When the unclean spirit leaves a person, it goes past waterless lands seeking rest, finding none.
44 Then it says, ‘I’ll go back to my house which I left.’
It comes to find the person vacant—swept out and set right—
45 then goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself.
Entering, they live there,
and the last situation of this person is worse than the first. Likewise is this evil generation.”
Luke 11.24-26 KWL
24 “When the unclean spirit comes out of the person, it goes past waterless lands seeking rest.
Finding none, it says, ‘I’ll go back to my house which I left.’
25 On coming, it finds the person swept out and set right—
26 then goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself.
Entering, they live there,
and it happens the last situation of this person is worse than the first.”

Now y’notice Matthew doesn’t separate the “When the unclean spirit leaves a person” bit from the rest of Jesus’s statement about the Jonah sign. It’s not a separate story. It’s fully part of it. Either Jesus taught ’em together, or the author of Matthew was entirely certain they belong together. So we can talk about the Jonah-sign stuff separate from the unclean-spirit stuff, ’cause Mark does. Mk 8.10-13 But we ought not talk about the unclean-spirit stuff separate from the Jonah-sign stuff.

Quit praying to Satan!

by K.W. Leslie, 23 April

There’s an traditional African folk song called “What a Mighty God We Serve.” If you grew up Christian, maybe you heard it in Sunday school. Sometimes adults sing it too. Goes like so.

What a mighty God we serve
What a mighty God we serve
Angels bow before him
Heaven and earth adore him
What a mighty God we serve

Years later I found out it had some more lyrics—words my children’s and youth pastors never bothered to have us sing. Maybe you can guess why.

I command you Satan in the name of the Lord
To take up your weapons and flee
For the Lord has given me authority
To walk all over thee

There are variations. There’s “put down your weapons” in the second line (which makes way more sense); there’s “stomp all over thee” in the fourth, along with stomping movements.

Anyway. Lots of churches tend to give these lines a miss, so lots of Christians aren’t aware of ’em. I particularly remember one summer youth camp: The pastor got all the kids to sing along with the first part, but when she broke into the second part, the kids sat there confused—why’s she singing to the devil? Anyway, because they didn’t sing along, she concluded, “I guess you don’t know that part,” and went right back to the “What a mighty God we serve” bit they did know.

As to why churches don’t teach it: Well you are singing to the devil. And shouldn’t. Don’t do that.

Likewise there are a number of Christians who pray to the devil. You may have seen it happen. Someone gets up to pray, and in the middle of all their other praises and petitions to God, they put him on pause, and get Satan in on this conference call.

“And Satan, we rebuke you. We bind you. We cast you out. You have no authority here. You have no business in this place. You get out of here, Satan. You’re under our feet.”

And so on. You get the idea.

Again: Don’t do that.

I know. Your pastors do it. Your prayer leaders do it. Christians you greatly respect do it. Loads of people do it. And they shouldn’t do it either.

Evil comes from within.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 February

Mark 7.14-16 • Matthew 15.10-11.

So Jesus is lunching with some Pharisee, who has a snit about how he and his students don’t ritually wash when they enter a home, and Jesus turns round and complains how some Pharisee rituals violate the Law.

Now you do recognize it’s a common weaselly debate tactic to change the subject by attacking your opponent, but you should realize Jesus is no weasel: This wasn’t changing the subject, but getting to the very heart of why the Pharisee complained about hand-washing. He wasn’t insisting on it ’cause it offended his sensibilities, his religion, his devotion. He was doing it because it didn’t look good, which is hypocrisy of course. Too much of Pharisee custom was about appearing to follow the Law, but really following custom; the Law not so much.

And as for ritual cleanliness, Jesus wanted to make it obvious the ritual didn’t make anybody or anything clean. The ritual—like all rituals, including Christian rituals—only represents what it purports to do. Ritual cleanliness represents spiritual cleanliness. It’s not the same thing. As proven by any hypocrite—who might be so physically clean you could lick chocolate pudding off his hands, but so nasty inside you never would.

So Jesus took a little break from dinner and went to bring this up with the public:

Mark 7.14-16 KWL
14 Calling the crowd again, Jesus told them, “Everyone listen to me, and put this together.
15 There’s nothing outside a person going in, which can make them ‘common.’
But what comes out of a person is what defiles the person.
[16 If anyone has hearing ears, hear me.”]
Matthew 15.10-11 KWL
10 Calling the crowd, Jesus told them, “Listen and put this together.
11 It’s not what goes into the mouth which makes a person ‘common.’
But what comes out of the mouth—this makes a person ‘common.’ ”

Mark 7.16 isn’t in the oldest copies of Mark; it first showed up in bibles in the 300s, and Jesus did say those words a number of other times. Mk 4.9, 4.23, Lk 8.8, 14.35

I remind you this idea that we’re corrupted from the outside-in: Wasn’t just a popular Pharisee belief. Humans have always taught it. Christians frequently still teach it. Every time we warn our kids about corrupting outside influences—“Be careful, little eyes, what you see”—it’s based on the idea evil comes from without. Not within.

It’s based on Pelagianism, the idea humans are basically good. Pelagians figure God created us and called us good, Ge 1.31 and it’s only pessimistic Christians like St. Augustine, corrupted by Plato’s ideas about how matter is bad, who overlaid his ideas into Christendom and invented total depravity—humans are too selfish and messed up to turn to God without his help. Humans may do evil, but that’s way different from claiming we inherently are evil, been that way since birth; they can’t accept that idea at all.

Well of course they can’t. ’Cause the human self-preservation instinct won’t allow us to believe anything negative about ourselves. No matter what evidence we’ve been shown to the contrary. No matter what Jesus, his apostles, and the scriptures teach us. We choose to believe what makes us feel good about ourselves—and reject history, commonsense, and all the sins we ourselves commit. That’s just how total our depravity is: It inherently makes us not wanna believe in it. It’s no wonder people don’t cry out to Jesus for help: Humanity is in serious denial about how badly we need a savior.

And even when Christians claim we believe in human depravity, some of us think the instant Jesus saved us, and the Holy Spirit entered us, we were cured of our depravity. We used to be self-centered and corrupt, but once we became Christian we’re good. We don’t need to unlearn bad behaviors and grow the Spirit’s fruit; we already have his fruit and are doing just fine. We don’t have to put on God’s new nature Cl 3.10, Ep 4.24 —it’s already on! And so we’re in the very same boat as Pelagians… but hey, at least we’re orthodox.

Yep, that’s also a product of our total depravity. There’s good reason theologians describe it as total: It’s everywhere.

Praying or singing yourself into an “altered state.”

by K.W. Leslie, 06 November

The fear that we’re so excited to worship God, Satan might grab a toehold.

Last month I had a correspondent, whom I called Fenella, object to the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”) on the grounds it’s vain repetition.

Fenella’s concern is one I’ve heard dozens of times: When Christians pray something over and over and over, they figure we’re doing it to psyche ourselves into a state of euphoria. Other Christians have the very same complaint about the way certain churches do their music, or pick particularly repetitive songs: All that repetition isn’t done to praise God; it’s to whip ourselves into an altered state of consciousness. The “trance state,” as some of ’em describe it.

Once we’re in this trance, they worry we’re susceptible to hypnotic suggestion. Naughty pastors might try to insert heretic ideas in our minds. Although more of these concerned Christians are more worried about demonic activity. Nevermind the fact these Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit: The critics are entirely sure devils can nonetheless climb into us while we’re praying and worshiping the Almighty. Because we’re praying so wrong.

I recently skimmed an article by a particularly fearful Christian; we’ll call him Otmar. Yeah, I skimmed the piece: I was trying to suss out Otmar’s main points, but these practices enrage him so much, he couldn’t stick to his descriptions and kept interrupting to vent his spleen. Dude’s got issues. (But now I’m digressing.)

Y’notice Evangelical churches tend to start our services with three fast songs, then three slow songs. Or more, or fewer, but it’s typically fast, then slow. “Three fast, three slow” was a joke we regularly made in my Christian college. But Otmar got hold of some charismatic church’s guidelines to their worship pastors about why they go fast, then slow, and the sort of mood they’re trying to set for the worshipers. Or “atmosphere,” as the church called it; same thing.

Most of the churches I visit totally do the same thing. And for the very same reasons. I’ll own up to it.

  • When you walk into the service, the church usually has some music playing to set the mood. Typically songs the people already know. Something what gets people thinking, “We’re gonna do worship songs soon.”
  • Then a “gathering song”—one which invites people to start singing and worshiping and praising God. One of my previous worship pastors really liked to use “Come, Now Is the Time to Worship.” Something fast and exciting. Frequently a song about praise, and why we oughta praise God—and that it’s fun!
  • Then another fast song or two. Or three.
  • Then we slow it down. Partly ’cause we can’t have everybody all amped up during the sitting-down portions of the service. Partly so people shout and jump less, and get more introspective and meditative, and hopefully pay more attention to anything the Holy Spirit might tell them.
  • Then another slow song or two. Or stretch out the one song for a while, depending on how much the worship pastor really loves that song the Spirit’s leading.

My own church tends to do four songs total. And since I get to pick the preservice music, I tend to go with gospel. They listen to enough white music on K-LOVE already.

Back to Otmar. He insisted on reading something insidious into everything this church wrote. They used the word “invocation” for the gathering song. That’s an old-timey Christianese word, found in all sorts of churches, frequently to describe the opening prayer. Otmar couldn’t help but wonder what other things it might invoke. Like devils. Told you dude’s got issues.

And as I’ve stated many times elsewhere, the issue actually has nothing to do with whether these prayer and worship practices open Christians to evil forces. ’Cause they don’t. The issue’s entirely about style. It’s about individual Christians’ individual preferences about how they prefer we pray and sing. It’s equivalent to not liking the carpet in the auditorium. Except the guy who hates the carpet is claiming mauve is the devil’s color, and having it in the auditorium is dooming us to hell.

I admit there are songs I dislike so much, I can easily accuse them of being farted into existence by Satan itself. But I’m kidding. Fools like Fenella and Otmar aren’t kidding at all.

Convincing people they’re not all that good.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 July

Ray Comfort likes this particular evangelism trick apologetics argument. He didn’t invent it though; I’ve heard it from lots of people. Whenever he’s talking Christianity with someone, he’ll ask them, “Do you consider yourself a good person?”

In my experience, a number of people will actually answer no. Sometimes because they actually don’t consider themselves good people; their karmic balance leans way too far on the bad side of the scale. Sometimes because they’re just being contrary; they don’t know what’s coming next, but they anticipate you want ’em to say yes, so they’re preemptively throwing a monkey wrench into things. And sometimes they do know what‘s coming next, and definitely wanna sabotage it. But in order to keep this article moving, let’s say they answered yes.

PAGAN. “Yeah, I’m a pretty good person.”
APOLOGIST. [stifling that grin you get when they take the bait] “So if you stand before God on Judgment Day, he’ll be okay with you and let you in?”
PAGAN. “Probably.”
APOLOGIST. “You don’t have anything he still needs to forgive you for?”
PAGAN. “Like what?”
APOLOGIST. “Like sins. Have you ever sinned?”
PAGAN. “Well I haven’t murdered anyone.”
APOLOGIST. “That’s the only sin you can think of?”
PAGAN. “Well okay, there’s lying, cheating, stealing, stuff like that.”
APOLOGIST. “Right. God lists commandments about that in the bible, like the Ten Commandments. The bible says when you break one, it’s like you broke all of them. Jm 2.10-11 So have you ever lied?”
PAGAN. “Yeah.”
APOLOGIST. “Ever cheated on your taxes?”
PAGAN. “No.”
APOLOGIST. “So you paid your taxes when you bought something out-of-state over the internet?”
PAGAN. “Okay maybe I cheated on my taxes.”
APOLOGIST. “Ever stolen anything, like downloading a movie off the internet, or a paperclip from work?”
PAGAN. “Probably.”
APOLOGIST. “Ever lusted for somebody? The bible says that’s the same as adultery. Mt 5.27 That’s a sin.”
PAGAN. “Seriously? The bible’s strict.”
APOLOGIST. “Yes it is. It says if you hate someone that’s the same as murder. Mt 5.21-22 So, ever fantasized about murdering anyone?”
PAGAN. “Yeah, but that’s not really murder.”
APOLOGIST. “The bible says it’s just as bad, and still a sin. Like you said, the bible’s really strict. Ever taken the Lord’s name in vain?—that actually doesn’t mean cursing, but you swore to God you’d do something, and didn’t?”
PAGAN. “Yeah, I did.”
APOLOGIST. “Ever been envious of your neighbor’s house or car or wife? That‘s coveting; that’s a sin too.”
PAGAN.That’s a sin?”
APOLOGIST. “That’s a sin. God considers all these things sins, all of them violations of commands where he told people to never do them. So, do you have anything God still needs to forgive you for?”
PAGAN. “Guess so.”
APOLOGIST. “Well he wants to forgive you. But you have to ask for forgiveness.”

And from there, a brief explanation about how God made it so everyone can be forgiven and saved, a bit of the sinner’s prayer, and you’ve won another soul for God’s kingdom. And all the angels in heaven rejoiced. Lk 15.10

Lies!

by K.W. Leslie, 20 June

And the difference between lies and falsehoods—and why certain people don’t care there’s a difference.

LIE laɪ noun. Intentional untruth: A false statement involving deception, or an impression designed to be misunderstood.
2. verb. To make an intentionally false statement, present a false impression, or deceive.
[Liar laɪ(.ə)r noun.]

By “lie,” most folks ordinarily mean an intentional untruth.

“I floss every day,” you tell your dentist, and you totally don’t. “I think I was going 45,” you tell the traffic cop, and you know you pushed it to 60 to beat the stoplight. “I exercise,” you tell your friends, but haven’t been to the gym since the first week of January. The truth is embarrassing, or may get you into trouble, or you’re sure it won’t get you out of trouble. But when you try to get people to believe otherwise, that’d be lying.

But there’s another definition of “lie” floating around. It’s grown in popularity, ’cause people use it to provoke one another. In short, a lie isn’t just an intentional untruth. It’s any untruth.

Fr’instance somebody asks how much you weigh. You don’t like the answer, but you wanna be honest, so you tell them: “I weigh 200 pounds.” They have you step on a scale, and it comes up 205. “Aha!” they exclaim, “you lied.” But you honestly thought you weighed 200 (and you probably do, once you’re not wearing five pounds of clothing). So no, you hadn’t lied: You weren’t trying to deceive. There’s a difference.

But some folks don’t care there’s a difference. They just wanna catch you doing the wrong thing, so they’re willing to fudge the definition of “lie” just a little. That’s why partisans love defining “lie” as any untruth.

A couple years ago I read some preacher’s Facebook rant about some popular book by a prosperity gospel pastor. He called her a liar nine times. Called her teachings “lies” six more times. Now, is she a liar?—using the ordinary definition of “liar.” Is she intentionally making statements she knows to be false? Is she trying to deceive? Is she trying to say one thing, but make you think she believes another? Is she deliberately, willfully trying to lead Christians astray?

Um… I’m gonna give her the benefit of the doubt and say no. She’s no liar. Oh, she’s wrong of course; the prosperity gospel is Mammonism and she’s definitely distorting the scriptures and misleading people. But she believes her rubbish. She’s leading herself astray, same as everyone else. She’s not lying in the proper sense of the word. Neither are heretics and nontheists, wrong though they are.

So why’d the Facebook preacher call her a liar? Well, in this guy’s case, it’s overzealousness. A lack of patience. Easily-stirred anger. Quick to argue. He’s kind of a fruitless guy, and the reason he has a lot of internet followers is because fruitless Christians eat up this behavior with a spoon.

And he’ll justify it by claiming the prosperity gospel teachings are lies. Though not necessarily the book-author’s lies. More like Satan’s lies. And to his mind, anyone who spreads lies, no matter if they think they aren’t lies, is a liar. Ergo she’s a liar.

No that’s not what “liar” means, but he doesn’t really care. “Liar” stirs people up, and that’s what he’s really going for. Which is a little bit deceptive—dare I say lying?—of him.

Introducing death.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 May

Humans die. Here’s why.

The first time we read about death in the bible, it’s in the Adam and Eve story. God tasks the first adám/“human” with taking care of a garden. Which is described as edén/“delightful,” but we tend to treat that adjective as a proper name, Eden, same as we do the word for human, Adam.

Unlike fast-food jobs, Adam was given free rein to eat anything he found growing there. Well, almost anything. One particular tree, you remember, was off limits.

Genesis 2.15-17 KWL
15 The LORD God took the human
and set him in a delightful garden to work it and watch over it.
16 The LORD God commanded the human, saying, “Eat, eat, from every tree of the garden.
17 From the knowing-good-and-evil tree: Don’t eat from it.
For on the day you eat from it, you’ll die, die.”

Ancient Hebrew repeated itself for emphasis. “Eat, eat” meant God was serious about Adam eating whatever he wished; “Die, die” meant God was serious about the knowing-good-and-evil tree being toxic.

No doubt you also know the rest of the story: God’s warnings notwithstanding, the first humans did eat from that tree. That’s the risk inherent in free will: Sometimes people exercise it to do profoundly stupid things. Satan used its free will to go wrong; Adam and Eve did too. And since actions have consequences, they were gonna die, die.

Genesis 3.17-19 KWL
17 God told the human, “When you heard your woman’s voice,
you ate from the tree I commanded you about, and said not to eat from it.
The ground—what you produce from it—is cursed.
All the days of your life, you’ll eat of in in pain: 18 Thorns and thistles will grow from it.
You’ll eat the grass of the fields, 19 and eat bread by the sweat of your nose
till you go back to the ground that you were taken out of:
You’re dust, and you’ll go back to being dust.”

Humans were meant to live forever. Now we don’t.

Sin is why. Apparently Adam could’ve got hold of the tree of life, eaten of it, and lived forever despite this curse. Which is why God had to boot the humans out of the garden and post angelic guards around it. Ge 3.22-24 God doesn’t want sin to live forever; he wants to put an end to it. That’s why we’re gonna die. Why, frankly, we gotta die: Our sins die with us.

That is, till Jesus died for us, and our sins died with him—and now we can go back to living forever.

Evil’s existence, and God’s existence.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 April

The belief God and evil can’t coexist in the same universe is based on some bad logic.

Every so often I bump into a nontheist who complains God can’t be real, can’t exist… because there’s such a thing as evil in the universe.

Here’s how they’re figuring: If God’s real, God’s almighty, and God’s good like we Christians claim, he should’ve done something to get rid of evil, right? After all they would, if they were God. They’d have wiped out evil long ago, like with a great purging flood or something.

They can’t fathom a God who’d be gracious enough to grant his wayward kids any leeway, any second chances to repent and return to the fold. He’d shut that s--- down on sight. So since God isn’t their kind of God, he must not exist.

This is hardly a new idea. It’s been around since Epicurus of Athens first pitched it in the 300s BC. Or at least we think Epicurus pitched it. That’s what Christian author Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius claimed in his anti-Epicurean book De ira Dei/“On God’s Wrath.” The way Lactantius described Epicurus’s argument, breaks down into four views about how God and evil work, sorta like yea:

  1. God wants to eliminate evil, but he can’t. (’Cause he’s not really almighty.)
  2. God doesn’t wanna. (’Cause he’s not really good.)
  3. God’s neither willing nor able. (’Cause he’s not really God.)
  4. God’s both willing and able. So… why does evil still exist then?

This, folks, is what Christian philosophers call “the problem of evil.” We’ve been knocking it around ever since Lactantius.

Nontheists have obviously taken the third view: God’s neither willing nor able. But their explanation is a little different from Epicurius’s: It’s because he’s not really there. Evil exists because there’s no God to stop it.

For the most part Christians have taken the fourth view, then pitch various explanations for why evil nonetheless exists. Most of them have to do with free will: In order for free will to truly exist, evil has to be a possible freewill option—so that’s the risk God chose to take in granting his creatures free will. Of course that’s not the only explanation we’ve come up with, but it’s the most common.

The legion of evil spirits.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 November

Jesus meets a man filled with thousands of demons.

Mark 5.1-10 • Matthew 8.28-29 • Luke 8.26-31

Let’s begin with ancient northern Israel’s geography. First there’s Kinneret, the lake.


The Galilean sea.

On its northeast was the province of the Galilee, named for the word galýl/“circle,” referring to its circle of towns. Jesus lived there. On its west was the Dekápolis/“10 cities,” a region of Syrian Greek city-provinces created by the Romans after they conquered Syria in 65BC. Jesus visited this territory often, and it’s where today’s story takes place.

In Old Testament days the Dekápolis belonged to the Hebrews. Today part of it is called the Golan Heights. In Jesus’s day, even though it was full of Greek-speaking Syrians, it was still considered part of Israel, and still part of the territory Antipas Herod supervised. But it was full of gentile, Greek-enculturated pagans. They weren’t even Hebrew like the Palestinians are.

By Greek-enculturated I mean they lived like Greeks. Alexander of Macedon had pushed his own culture everywhere he went, and in fourth-century BC Syria it seriously took hold. Greek language, Greek dress, Greek food, Greek religion. The Syrians worshiped a mixture of Syrian, Canaanite, and Greek gods. I’ve been to their ruins; these people weren’t Jews by any stretch of the imagination. They were so Greek, whenever Jews thought of gentiles, they thought of these guys… and thought of Greeks.

The ruins include lots of monuments to Greek deities. The major deities were called theoí/“gods,” and the lesser deities were called daimónia/“demons.” Or as the KJV calls them, devils. To the Christian mind, all these deities are devils. 1Co 10.19-20 And they were everywhere. Anything and everything was dedicated to a god or demon. Every monument was set up to honor something or someone. If a noble human, there was a caveat that the monument also honored whatever guardian demon protected that person, so when you remembered the person, you were meant to also worship their demon. The hillside was full of these monuments. You could see them from the beach.

And that’s where our story begins: Jesus and his students, after crossing the lake, landed on the beach, in full view of a cluster of monuments. And in full view of some wild man who was living among the monuments, who eagerly—and in utter terror—rushed down to meet him.

Was he of two minds about meeting Jesus? More like of 2,001 minds. Dude was full of devils.

How we treat enemies—and how we oughta.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 September

The “Matthew 18” principle—for when people sin against us.

Luke 6.27-36 KWL
27 “But I tell you listeners: Love your enemies. Do good to your haters.
28 Bless your cursers. Pray for your mistreaters.
29 To one who hits you on the jaw, submit all the more.
To one who takes your robe and tunic from you, don’t stop them.
30 Give to everyone who asks you. Don’t demand payback from those who take what’s yours.
31 Just as you want people doing for you, do likewise for them.
32 If you love your lovers, how’s this an act of grace from you?—sinners love their lovers.
33 When you benefact your benefactors, how’s this grace from you?—sinners do so themselves.
34 When you lend from one from whom you hope to receive back, how’s this grace from you?
Sinners lend to sinners so they can receive an equal payback.
35 In contrast: Love your enemies. Do good. Lend, never expecting payback.
Your reward will be great, and you’ll be the Most High’s children:
He’s kind to the ungrateful and evil.
36 Be compassionate like your Father is compassionate.”

These are not words your typical Christian follows. Much less any typical human: We believe in payback. Reciprocity. Karma. And that’s on our good days: More often we’re okay with a wholly overboard response. A life for an eye, a life for a tooth, a life for an insult. Kill their whole family for good measure, just to terrorize people into respecting us. Shock and awe.

We get this way towards fellow Christians too. First thing we do is justify not treating them as sisters and brothers in Christ: “Somebody who does that can’t be a real Christian. True Christians don’t act that way. They’re Christians in name only; they’re pagans who only think they’re saved.” Then we justify not forgiving them: “They’re just gonna do the evil again. They won’t learn their lesson. They have to suffer consequences. I have to make them suffer consequences.” Emphasis on the “suffer” part.

The average American usually picks one of six responses to enemies:

  1. Get them arrested, if possible.
  2. Sue them, if possible.
  3. Ruin their career, ruin their business, get them fired.
  4. Ruin their relationships: Turn their friends against them.
  5. Harass them and exact petty revenge.
  6. Shun them and stay away.

And of course there’s the criminal stuff… assuming they don’t find criminal ways to do the previous six things.

Obviously none of this behavior is Christian. By “Christian,” I mean Jesus actually came up with a procedure for his followers to go through when we get offended, insulted, or wronged. That’s what he expects us to follow. Always applies to fellow Christians.

Evangelicals like to call it “the Matthew 18 principle,” as if it’s the only thing Jesus teaches in that chapter. He also taught a lot about forgiveness, so maybe that should be what we mean by a “Matthew 18 principle.” But I’m getting ahead of myself.

People correctly point out Jesus’s procedure applies to fellow Christians. So, they argue, we needn’t follow it when we’re dealing with pagans. When a non-Christian offends us, we can feel free to leave a burning bag of dog doo on their front porch: Jesus’s procedure doesn’t count.

Here’s the flaw in that reasoning: In the United States, four out of five of us consider ourselves Christian. Even if they’re really kinda pagan. Statistically we are dealing with a fellow Christian. Yeah, we might’ve tried the tack of rationalizing they’re not really, ’cause they don’t act Christian enough for us. (And we might not be acting Christian enough for them either.) But our duty is to answer evil with good. Love your enemies.

Any excuse for not doing so, is simply an attempt to get away with evil.

Blasphemy: Slandering God’s character.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 July

It’s not the same thing as sacrilege. It’s worse.

Blaspheme /blæs'fim/ v. Say something about God (or holy things) which isn’t true. Slander.
2. Speak irreverently about God or holy things. Sacrilege.
[Blasphemer /blæs'fim.ər/ n., blasphemous /'blæs.fə.məs/ adj., blasphemy /'blæs.fə.mi/ n.]

That second definition tends to be how popular culture defines blasphemy: Means the same thing as sacrilege, when one treats the sacred profanely. When you make fun, or make light, of holy things. When we tell jokes about God, or treat our bibles like any other book, and set ’em on the floor or doodle in them for fun. When people take God’s name in vain. When I treat him like my dad instead of OUR FATHER WHICH ART IN HEAVEN. (Heck, when I don’t capitalize all the Almighty’s pronouns.)

That’s what people consider blasphemy. That’s why they go utterly ape when Christians won’t take off our hats in church, or wear jeans. Business attire only!—and only Jesus gets to wear a toga.

By this definition, I commit blasphemy a lot. More than one Christian has got their knickers in a knot over my titling this blog Christ Almighty! To them, Christ Jesus is holy, and anything which makes our king sound too familiar is lèse-majesté.

Y’might not know that term. It comes in handy. It’s French for “less majestic”—it’s when people don’t treat the king with the dignity he merits. (Or, more accurately, imagines he merits; I’m an American and the only king I respect is Jesus. The rest, whether they know it or not, are usurpers of his title.) Lèse-majesté is the invention of petty, insecure despots, who wanted everyone to suck up to them under pain of death. Esther slammed into it when she had to petition the shah of Persia for her people, but if she showed up unannounced the shah could interpret it as an insult. Es 4.11 Good thing he thought she was hot.

The reason Christians keep propping up lèse-majesté as their definition of blasphemy, is because there’s a bit of despotism in them. It’s not that God’s insulted or offended when his kids boldly approach the throne of grace. He 4.16 He has a thick skin—and a sense of humor. It’s these Christians who don’t. They take offense because deep down they wanna be treated with rarified respect, and if that’s how we’ve gotta be with God, it makes it all the easier for them to suggest maybe we oughta treat them, “the Lord’s anointed,” with similar respect.

Hence they attempt to enforce divisions and ranks and barriers in God’s kingdom—all the stuff Jesus abolished by making every single one of us into God’s children, priests, and kings.

Well, enough about what blasphemy’s not. Let’s get to what it is.

Exorcisms by Satan’s power? Hardly.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 July

Mark 3.22-27, Matthew 9.32-34, 12.22-30, Luke 11.14-23.

In between Jesus’s family fearing he was overworked, Mark inserts this story about the Jerusalem scribes (or Pharisees, in Matthew) accusing him of performing his exorcisms through the power of the devil.

Matthew and Luke tell the story in the context of an exorcism Jesus had just performed. Matthew even tells it twice. Likely this accusation took place more than once.

Mk 3.22 KWL
Scribes who came down from Jerusalem said Jesus had Baal Zevúl,
and that he threw out demons by the head demon.
 
Mt 9.32-34 KWL
32 As they left, look: People brought Jesus a mute person, a demoniac.
33 Once Jesus threw out the demon, the mute man spoke.
The crowd was amazed, saying, “This never appeared in Israel before.”
34 The Pharisees were saying, “Jesus throws out demons by the head demon.”
 
Mt 12.22-24 KWL
22 Then they brought Jesus a blind and deaf demoniac.
Jesus cured him, so the deaf man was speaking and seeing.
23 The whole crowd was overwhelmed and said, “Isn’t this man the Son of David?”
24 The Pharisees who heard it said, “This man doesn’t throw out demons—
unless it’s by Baal Zevúl the head demon.”
 
Lk 11.14-16 KWL
14 Jesus was throwing out a demon, and it was mute.
It happened when the demon came out, the mute man spoke. The crowd was amazed.
15 But some of them said, “He threw out the demon by Baal Zevúl the head demon.”
16 Others, to test Jesus, sought from him a sign from heaven.

Baalism is what we tend to call all the pagan religions which cropped up in ancient Palestine. They’re not all the same god, but the Hebrew-speakers generically called all these gods bahál/“master.” The Baal they referred to as Baal Zevúl was the god of Ekron, Philistia; the god Akhazyáh ben Ahab had inquired of when he wanted to know if he’d recover from his injuries. 2Ki 1.2 Elijah had intercepted Akhazyáh’s messengers and told them he’d die; Akhazyáh sent soldiers to arrest Elijah, who had the LORD set them on fire; maybe you heard the story. 2Ki 1

Zevúl means “[heavenly] dwelling.” But just for fun, the Hebrews started swapping zevúl for zevúv/“gnat” or “fly,” and it stuck. In the Septuagint, Baal Zevúl is translated Vaal, myían theón/“Baal, fly god.” But by Jesus’s day, they were back to calling it Baal Zevúl… ’cause in Aramaic, zevúl means “feces.” Hence the New Testament calls the god Veëlzevúl/“Beelzebul” (KJV “Beelzebub”). And y’might notice the Pharisees were using the term as a euphemism for Satan.

Christian mythology imagines Baal Zevúl, or Beelzebul, or Beelzebub, as a whole other devil than Satan. Sometimes Satan’s vice-devil. Sometimes a devil who rebelled against Satan and went its own way. Sometimes the devil who supervises idolatry; sometimes the devil who tempts humans with gluttony; sometimes the devil who specializes in demonizing people. Meh; a devil’s a devil.

The Galilean Pharisees didn’t know what to make of Jesus. They hated that he violated their customs. But they couldn’t deny that he actually performed miracles and exorcisms. Perhaps they sent for Jerusalem scribes in order to help ’em sort this out, and provide an expert opinion. Remember, the custom in Pharisaism isn’t to give your own rulings like Jesus does, but defer to the experts. Whereas Protestants tend to be a bit independent, and figure we have enough horse sense to judge someone a heretic right away, simply because we don’t care for their teachings. Or their politics. Or their person.

Jesus would object and say look for the fruit. Heck, that’s what he did in response.