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

10 July 2018

Convincing people they’re not all that good.

Trying to activate a conscience is a tricky thing.

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

20 June 2018

Lies!

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

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

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.

23 May 2018

Introducing death.

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.

17 May 2018

Sin.

In case you were unclear as to what that is. Hey, you’d be surprised how many people are.

SIN /sɪn/ n. Immoral behavior—from a religious viewpoint.
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. v. To commit a sin, offense, or fault.
[Sinful /'sɪn.fəl/ adj.]

I used to think it was a copout when Christians claimed they weren’t entirely sure what “sin” is, or what the word properly means. Sometimes yeah, they’re trying to weasel out of defining their behavior as sin. But I’ve found quite often nobody ever spelled it out for them when they were new believers. So they presumed. They figured a sin is when you break one of the Ten Commandments, or when you commit one of the seven deadly sins—but nothing else is a sin. As a result they kept right on committing the same fruitless behaviors they’d always done, unaware of how this activity was undermining their relationship with God and any 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. Jm 4.17, 1Jn 3.4 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’re following Jesus’s teaching to love others as we love ourselves Mk 12.31 —it’s expected we do love ourselves. And it’s sometimes necessary to think of ourselves first. If 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 you’re supposed to put on your mask before you help others with their masks, ’cause you’re no help to anyone once you 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.

09 April 2018

Evil’s existence, and God’s existence.

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.

08 January 2018

Evil spirits.

Some of our beliefs about them are downright bizarre.

It’s odd: Lots of people, Christians included, believe in spirits. God’s a spirit, obviously. Jn 4.24 Angels are spirits. He 1.14 Dead loved ones exist as spirits in the afterlife—or heaven, as many people imagine.

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

I used to say this mindset comes from Platonism. Though really, Plato of Athens wasn’t the first guy to assume if we could escape this world of matter and decay, and just become pure spirit, all our self-centered impulses, greed, materialism, lusts, and so forth would cease to exist, and we’d be nothing but good. The ancient Greeks believed this, but the present-day folks who believe the same thing, don’t necessarily believe it for the same reasons. They believe all spirits are good… because it simply never occurred to them spirits might be bad.

Yeah, even though mythology, fairy tales, and horror movies are full of evil spirits. Monsters, boogeymen, ghosts, demons, elder gods which wanna destroy everything once they’re awakened. But for whatever reason, people imagine real-life spirits aren’t evil. That they’re nothing but benevolent. That’s what spiritualists will tell you—and don’t you think that’s precisely what their spirits would want ’em to think?

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 who was suffering from depression, but he was convinced he was demonized. Fortunately one of my pastors was a psychologist, who could diagnose him properly. But you’re gonna find very few pastors (even though they do a whole lot of counseling!) have had psychological training. Of any sort. In fact some of ’em actually believe psychology is devilish—therefore people with psychological disorders are demoniac, and instead of meds they need an exorcism.

Thanks to this mindset, some Christians insist evil spirits are absolutely everywhere. I’ve been to “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 one or two of ’em, like bedbugs in an old mattress. Christians included!—their claim is we can’t be possessed (since we’re indwelt by the Holy Spirit, after all), but the critters can certainly latch onto us like leeches, and tempt us whenever we’re weak.

Okay: If devils could infest absolutely everyone that way, don’t you think they would? The entire planet would be hopelessly filled with the 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 possessed, or at least heavily manipulated, by evil spirits. Humans are plenty capable of inventing our own evil. Few of us need any devil’s help in being evil.

08 November 2017

The legion of evil spirits.

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.

13 October 2017

Satan’s fall.

Satan used to have access to heaven. Now it doesn’t.

Revelation 12

One of the popular myths about the devil is it used to an angel. Not just that it fakes being one. 2Co 11.14 Christians will teach it straight-up was one.

Even more: It was Lucifer, the greatest angel ever. The best and brightest and mightiest angel in the heavens. Head of the heavenly choir. Ruled over earth as God’s number two. The Holy Spirit’s vice-president, more or less.

Anybody else think someone’s been padding its résumé a little?

Pause a moment, go some basic digging through the bible, and you’re gonna find out it says nowhere that Satan used to be an angel. It may have angels, working for it. At one time it came and went before God, just like God’s mightier angels. But 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 which attempt to make it look like it used to be kind of a big deal.

Or still is. During Jesus’s temptations, Satan identified itself as being the master of the world’s kingdoms, then offered them to Jesus. Lk 4.6 Various Christians take this statement at face value, but Jesus’s response was, “Oh, get out of here, Satan.” Mt 4.10 If the devil is indeed the ruler of this world (and I’m pretty sure Jesus meant sin, not Satan) Jn 12.31, 14.30 it’s only because its true rulers dropped their reins and Satan is playing with ’em—like a little kid who tugs on the steering wheel in a parked car.

Y’see, Satan fell. Jesus watched it fall. Lk 10.18 And about 40 years later, he presented John of Patmos with a vision of the time Satan got tossed from heaven. Whatever it 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.

Or worse than us: Every human has the potential to tap into God’s graces 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, and avail itself of God’s grace. It’s going into the fire. Rv 20.10

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.

08 September 2017

How we treat enemies—and how we oughta.

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.

06 July 2017

Blasphemy: Slandering God’s character.

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.

04 July 2017

Exorcisms by Satan’s power? Hardly.

You seriously think Jesus would disown his mom?

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.

09 June 2017

Demons.

The evil spirits who get us to follow and worship ’em.

One fairly common pagan belief is animism, the idea everything has a anima/“soul,” or lifeforce. No, not just things that are actually alive, like plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria. Inanimate objects could have a lifeforce too. Like weather, water, or fire, which certainly act alive. Like the sun, moon, planets, and stars, which pagans actually worshiped as if they were alive.

And lest you think that’s just an ancient pagan practice, look how often people still do it. People talk about the “vibe” of a place—a workplace, nightclub, school, restaurant, home, whatever. Or the luck attached to a charm or item of clothing. Or the “feels” attached to a favorite chair, blanket, toy, car. Or the “spirit” of a good idea, like charity, patriotism, wisdom, and prosperity.

The ancient Greeks believed these lifeforces were intelligent beings. Like little gods. Everything important had one. They weren’t necessarily important enough to be full-on theoí/“gods” (although they were pretty quick to promote the lifeforce of Athens to godhood; you might know her as Athena). But the rest were lesser gods, which the Greeks called daímones or daimónia.

Yeah, I know; Christians have a wholly different definition. To us, a demon is a fallen angel, an evil or unclean spirit. ’Cause the writers of the New Testament obviously saw them that way.

Mark 5.1-3 KWL
1 They came to the far side of the lake, to the Gerasene district, 2 and as Jesus got out of the boat,
a man with an unclean spirit instantly came down from the monuments to meet him.
3 He’d been living among the monuments. Nobody was able to restrain him, not even with chains.
Luke 8.26-27 KWL
26 They arrived in the Gerasene district, which is opposite the Galilee, 27 and as they got out onto the land,
they met some man who had demons, who came from the city.
He hadn’t worn clothes for some time, and he didn’t live in a house but among the monuments.

Note how Mark calls it an unclean spirit, and Luke calls it demons. It’s not a false definition. Demons are unclean spirits. If there’s any spirit attached to a creature or thing, which wants you to respect or worship it lest it get angry and throw a tantrum, it’s certainly not a clean spirit.

But I’m trying to fill you in on the mindset ancient pagans had when they talked about daimónia. They believed some of these spirits were benevolent, some malevolent. Some were helpful, some harmful. They’d actually ask the help of daimónia whenever they were in a jam.

And today’s pagans aren’t all that different. They won’t necessarily call these spirits daimónia, although neo-Pagan religions don’t mind borrowing the old Greek term, or the Latin dæmon, to describe nature spirits. But your typical irreligious pagan is gonna figure they’re just spirits, familiar spirits, friendly spirits, or even angels.

And unlike the ancient Greeks, pagans don’t always realize there are good spirits and bad. They naïvely tend to assume all spirits are good. All angels are good. ’Cause why, they figure, would these spirits be bad?—they’re “higher beings” than we are. They don’t have physical needs and desires; they’re better than that. Go ahead and seek their counsel and take their advice.

But we Christians know angels and spirits aren’t higher beings. They’re on the same level as we. Some of ’em serve God like humans do; Rv 22.9 and some of ’em defy God like humans do. They’re not better than that; a number of ’em crave power just like any human. Sometimes that takes the form of power over humans. A human to manipulate for its own gain or amusement. Or enter, and work like a meat puppet.

09 March 2017

Christianism’s usual idols.

What keeps it from being true Christianity is the fact it’s riddled with idolatry.

Christianism is a socially-acceptable outward form of Christianity. Whether there’s any actual Christianity underneath it, isn’t for me to say. Sometimes there’s a real live relationship with Jesus, an actual indwelling of the Holy Spirit, resulting in some of his fruit, mixed in there somewhere. But the reason I still call it Christianism is ’cause there are glaring errors in the religion. Way too much fake fruit. Way too many compromises with the gospel.

Compromises, I should add, made for the sake of accommodating other gods. Christianism creates a façade of Christianity, but underneath it there are a lot of other religious practices which don’t follow Jesus much. They support other ideas. They seek other powers. They promote other movements. And if Jesus teaches otherwise, they mute him, reinterpret him, or ignore him, in favor of those less-than-Christian goals.

In a word, it’s idolatry. And since it’s everywhere, and plenty of other “good Christians” believe and practice the very same thing, Christianists assume it’s part of Christianity, and never ask themselves what the Spirit really wants ’em to do. Even when he’s given them serious doubts about popular Christian culture: They suppress those doubts and embrace the culture. They feel very pleased with themselves for turning off their brains, figuring that’s what God expects us to do when we “love the Lord your God with all your mind.” Mk 12.30 Makes ’em righteous Christians.

This resistance kinda exacerbates the problem. Because the Spirit is shouting so loud, in order to quench him Christianists try to keep themselves too busy to listen. They focus on public displays of piety. They pray and meditate less often, and when they pray in public, it’s always at God or towards God, never with God. (Lots of ’em aren’t sure he talks back anyway.) They claim the Spirit illuminates what the scriptures mean when they read their bibles, but in reality they look for meaning in their study bible notes, or in their favorite preachers and books.

If you don’t listen to God, of course there’s gonna be way less fruit. Less repentance, change of heart, internal struggle against sin, or pursuit of holiness. Less worship.

And more idolatry.

08 March 2017

Idols: Prioritize nothing ahead of God.

What happens when worship goes anywhere but towards the Almighty.

Idol /'aɪ.dl/ n. Image or representation of a [false] god, used to worship it.
2. Person or thing that’s greatly loved, revered, or worshiped.
[Idolatry /aɪ'dɑl.ə.tri/ n., idolater /aɪ'dɑl.ə.dər/ n.]

It’s often said humans were created to worship. It’s something humans do instinctively; so much so, most people on the planet believe in a god of some form. Thus if we’re not worshiping YHWH/“Jehovah”/“the LORD,” the one true God, we’re just gonna latch ourselves to some other god, or something else, and worship that.

Might be a spouse, parent, child, friend, or some other loved one. Might be a pop star. Or a position in business or government. Or power. Wealth. The pursuit of the perfect high, whether from drugs or sex or adrenaline. The pursuit of a comfortable existence. Some possession or hobby or philosophy you intend to devote all your time and life to. You name it, you can make an idol of it.

Anything we prioritize above God, or pursue instead of God, is an idol.

Now yeah, this is a relatively recent definition of “idol.” It’s not the definition we see in the bible. The authors of the scriptures definitely meant the statues of pagan gods. The LORD banned them, you recall. (Arguably he banned people from making them of himself too, which is why throughout Christian history, different movements keep trying to get rid of Jesus statues and paintings.)

Exodus 20.3-6 = Deuteronomy 5.7-10 KWL
3=7 “For you, there mustn’t be any other gods in my presence.
4=8 Don’t manufacture any idol for yourself;
any form from the skies above, from the land below, from the water below the land.”
5=9 Don’t bow down to them. Don’t serve them.
For I’m your LORD God: I’m El-Qanná/‘Possessive God.’
I have children suffer consequences for their parents’ evil
—and the grandchildren, and great-grandchildren—when they hate me.
6=10 But I show love to a thousand generations
when they love me and observe my commands.”

The problem with limiting the definition of “idol” to paintings and statues, are kinda obvious:

Not every god has a statue. Ancient middle easterners made loads of statues of their gods. Most cultures do. But some cultures don’t: They recognize their gods as too holy to be depicted by inadequate human art. Pharaoh Akhenaten, fr’instance, ordered the Egyptians to only depict his god Aten as a circle. So not every organized religion is gonna have a god-statue. And if all we do is get rid of statues, yet do nothing about the problematic underlying beliefs, we’ve really done nothing.

Certainly not every disorganized religion has a god-statue. Wealth-worshipers don’t set up a shrine to Mammon in their homes; nor even their summer homes. But they’re as devout a worshiper as any adherent of any other religion. It’s just when they’re Christian, they don’t always realize all the compromises they’ve made to the gospel in favor of their stuff. Or they may totally recognize their devotion, but would never call it “worship.” (Even if it is; too crass.)

Um… we have statues. Every so often some Christian will read Deuteronomy 5.8 and say, “Wait, I have images of Jesus round the house.” There’s the crucifix on the wall. Ikons in the office. In the rec room there’s a kitschy figurine of Jesus playing soccer with neighborhood kids. Christian art is everywhere; doesn’t it violate God’s command?

11 January 2017

Generational curses and fearful Christians.

Christians are curse-proof. But some of us are convinced family curses still affect us.

In the middle of the Ten Commandments, as he warned the Hebrews away from idolatry, the LORD mentioned a little something about how children suffer consequences for their parents.

Exodus 20.5-6 KWL
5 “Don’t bow down to them. Don’t serve them.
For I’m YHWH your God: I’m El-Qanná/‘Possessive God.’
I have children suffer consequences for their parents’ evil
—and the grandchildren, and great-grandchildren—when they hate me.
6 But I show love to a thousand generations
when they love me and observe my commands.”

Elsewhere in Exodus, when the LORD revealed his glory to Moses, he repeated this idea of forgiving a thousand generations, yet afflicting three or four generations.

Exodus 34.6-7 KWL
6 The LORD passed over Moses’s face and said, “YHWH. YHWH. God.
Compassionate. Gracious. Slow to anger. Great in love and truth.
7 Lovingly guarding thousands, putting up with evil, rebellion, and sin.
Not cleansing, cleansing those counted as evil—
from parents to children to grandchildren,
to the third generation, to the fourth generation.”

And in Deuteronomy Moses also forbade certain people from joining the qehal YHWH/“the LORD’s assembly.” That’d include

  • a mamzér/“mongrel,” the child of a Hebrew and a gentile, “till the 10th generation.” Dt 23.2
  • Ammonites and Moabites; 10th generation. Dt 23.3
  • Edomites; third generation. Dt 23.7

And of course there’s total depravity, the idea that humanity is innately messed up because Adam and Eve’s original sin was passed down to the rest of us, spoiling us from the moment of our birth.

In general, these ideas are the basis of the popular Christian idea there are generational curses, a problem that’s passed down from parent to child in a family for centuries. Like alcoholism, or the tendency to have heart attacks in one’s forties. Like bad genes. Only this time it’s a particular form of sin problem.

Fr’instance say your grandfather was involved in conjuring up the spirits of the dead. And whattaya know; mine was. According to generational-curse theory, that’s gonna affect me. Even though I’m Christian; even though I was Christian before Grandpa got involved in necromancy; even though Grandpa later repented and became Christian. Simply by virtue of his being my grandfather, evil spirits have been called upon to plague my grandmother’s life, my parents’ lives, my aunts’ and uncles’ lives, my siblings and their kids, my cousins and their kids. And of course me.

Gee, thanks Grandpa.

07 December 2016

The first prophecy of a savior.

The first time a savior was foretold in the Old Testament.

We have no idea whether Genesis was the first written book of the bible. Some Christians speculate Job was (and they’d be totally wrong; Job was written in a later version of biblical Hebrew, and took place in Edom). Others figure Moses wrote his psalm before he wrote the bible. In any event the first hint we have in the scriptures that humanity might need a savior, is found in Genesis 3—the story of humanity’s fall.

As the story goes: Eve and Adam, the first humans, lived in paradise. God told ’em not to eat off a particular tree. A serpent tempted Eve to eat off it anyway, and Adam followed suit. The consequence: They couldn’t live in paradise any longer, ’cause the Tree of Life was there. They were driven out; Adam was cursed to fight nature in order to gain his sustenance, Eve was cursed with painful childbirth and male domination, and the serpent was cursed like so:

Genesis 3.14-15 KWL
14 The LORD God told the serpent, “Because you did this,
you’re cursed more than any animal, more than any living thing in the wild.
You’ll walk on your belly. You’ll eat dirt every day of your life.
15 I declare war between you and the woman, between your seed and hers.
He’ll crush your head. You’ll crush his heel.”

I’ve heard young-earth creationists claim snakes used to have legs when they were first created, but because of this curse they became the legless creatures they now are. I like to mess with ’em by pointing out this sounds like a special case of evolution—and if God did this with serpents, why not other creatures? (Really bugs ’em.)

Okay, most of us Christians leap forward to Revelation and notice this serpent was actually Satan:

Revelation 12.7-9 KWL
7 War came to the heavens: Michael and its angels battling the dragon;
the dragon and its angels battling back 8 and failing.
No place was found for them anymore in the heavens.
9 The great dragon was thrown out, the primeval serpent which is called devil and Satan.
The deceiver of all civilization was thrown to earth,
and its angels were thrown out with it.

Revelation sets this event right after the birth of Jesus. Rv 12.1-6 But Christian mythology tends to put Satan’s fall at the beginning of history, at some point between creation itself and the fall of humanity. According to the myths, after Satan was bounced, it decided to ruin humanity in revenge, snuck into paradise, became (or pretended to be, or possessed) a serpent, and led Eve and Adam astray.

But I should point out: The first versions of this myth date from our third century. They’re based on a first-century apocalypse, which got mixed up with the 15th-century-BC creation story. Which, I remind you, is at a whole different point in the timeline. Satan got booted after the birth of Jesus, remember? Lk 10.18 Did I not make that obvious?

So what did happen here? Well, yeah the serpent is Satan. But this wasn’t Satan getting revenge for a fall which hadn’t happened yet. This was Satan testing Eve. ’Cause that was its job, whether assigned (which I doubt) or self-appointed: Testing creation to see whether it’d hold up. Testing Eve to see whether she’d violate God’s will. Pushing the test too far, and slandering God in the process, which is why God was rightly pissed at it. The humans shoulda passed this test. Instead they unraveled creation.

And after Eve and Adam violated God’s will… well, God had to resort to plan B. ’Cause plan A, where they’d be his people and he’d be their God, Ex 6.7, Lv 26.12, Jr 30.22, 2Co 6.16 was shot to hell. Now God had to fix his broken creation so he could return to plan A. Which he’d do through the woman’s seed, who’d crush the serpent’s head. And we Christians figure Christ Jesus is the woman’s seed. Ga 4.4

08 August 2016

Quit praying to Satan!

As if the devil even can, or cares to, answer our prayers.

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—ones 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; “put down your weapons” in the second line; “stomp all over thee” in the fourth.

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.

Well, they shouldn’t do it either.

12 April 2016

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

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

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 they insist on translating it other ways? Not, like the 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 found in the bible. 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 (or as the bible calls him, 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 with the myth that this verse is about Satan, and they’re not giving it up without a fight.

07 April 2016

“You take that back!”

How curses freak Christians out.

Curse /kərs/ n. Solemn utterance, meant to invoke supernatural evil, punishment, or harm.
2. v. Invoke supernatural evil, punishment, or harm.
3. n. Cause of evil or suffering.
[Curser /'kərs.ər/ n.]

Some Christians are mighty sensitive about curses. (Also mighty sensitive about “cursing,” by which we mean profanity, but I already discussed that.) Sometimes they call ’em “word curses,” which means precisely the same thing: You used your words to curse something. (How else are you gonna curse something? Waving one’s hands? Magic wands? Yeesh.)

For certain dark Christians, any negative statement—or anything they can interpret as a negative statement—counts as a curse. Fr’instance, I could say, “Hmm, cloudy day; looks like rain.” And to their minds, I just cursed the sky. Seriously. “You take that back! Don’t you call down rain on us!” As if my casual observation has the power to call down rain—and y’know, if it could, I’d make a fortune.

See, according to these folks, our words, even our idle words, spoken into the atmosphere, have the power to create or destroy. ’Cause we humans are made in God’s image. Ge 1.27 And since he has the power to call things into existence, supposedly we have the power to call things into existence. Good things or bad. Because I’m a semi-divine being, my uneducated weather forecast can actually make weather.

Which is rubbish, but you’d be surprised how many Christians believe this rubbish.

Don’t get me wrong. The spoken word isn’t a powerless thing. Words can build up; words can tear down. I can make someone’s day by giving ’em a compliment; I can ruin their life by criticizing ’em at the wrong time. That’s what Solomon meant when he wrote death and life are in the tongue. Pr 18.21 For this reason, Christians need to watch what we say. We never know the direction we’re influencing people.

But the idea my words have magical power that might trigger a reaction in nature around us, and create all sorts of unintended horrors: Not biblical. Ridiculous. And illogical, too: You’ll notice all those Christians who fear accidentally destroying stuff through their “word curses,” never worry about accidentally blessing stuff. “Gee, it looks like the weather today will be really nice!” never seems to force the clouds to dissipate. Nope. Blessings gotta be intentional, but curses can be accidental.

26 February 2016

Jesus’s easy victory over the devil.

I know; people try to make it sound like a much grander battle royale.

Mark 1.12-13 • Matthew 4.1-11 • Luke 4.1-13

Mark 1.12-13 KWL
12 Right afterward, the Spirit threw Jesus into the wilderness.
13 Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days, getting tested by Satan.
He was with the beasts. Angels were serving him.

That’s the extra-short version of Jesus’s “temptations,” as they tend to be called: Peirádzo/“test” is often meant in a tempting sense, ’cause part of the test is how badly we want what’s offered. But is it in Jesus’s divine nature to go about getting these things the wrong way? Nah. He’s never gonna put himself above his Father’s will. So let’s not treat these tests like they really made Jesus doubt his commitment to the Father. Any devout Christian can easily resist such temptations.

The Mark version doesn’t have a lot of details: Just Jesus and the devil, out in the middle of nowhere. Didn’t have to be way out in the middle of nowhere; in fact it’d be a stronger test of will if Jesus was just within sight of civilization. (As was the case in the Judean desert. Lots of hermits, nomads, even a few communes.)

If all we had was the Mark version, we’d imagine all sorts of horrors and enticements. (Especially since Mark brought up Jesus “was with the beasts”—something End Times fanatics would have all sorts of fun speculating about.)

Y’know, since it was only Jesus and the devil out there in the wilderness, it leads us to a rather obvious deduction: The authors of Matthew and Luke could only have got the particulars from Jesus himself. He shared the stories of his testing, probably with his students. Probably to teach ’em the sort of stuff the devil tries to use on us. And teach ’em how to resist.

In the Matthew and Luke versions, they’re not in the same order.

MatthewLuke
  1. Rocks to bread. Mt 4.2-4
  2. Dive from temple. Mt 4.5-7
  3. Bow to Satan. Mt 4.8-10
  1. Rocks to bread. Lk 4.2-4
  2. Bow to Satan. Lk 4.5-8
  3. Dive from temple. Lk 4.9-12

Why? There’s some speculation about the meaning of Luke’s order, but I don’t buy ’em. Luke is more likely the original story’s order. Matthew, in comparison, is focused on the kingdom, so the tests escalate from Jesus’s personal needs, to Jesus impressing Jerusalem, to Jesus conquering the world. Makes sense.