When you undergo deep inner transformation, you begin to awake to the reality of the Good News of Jesus Christ. You begin to sense and see unconditional love of the Father toward humankind, and you begin to flow in his divine power to bring about genuine transformative changes in people, places, and situations. You begin to feel like you’ve finally found the pearl of great price, and you can’t wait to share your findings with those around you.
And here comes the reality check. There might be an array of unexpected reactions coming from those who are supposed to have all the right answers. If that wasn’t your situation, and you had seasoned, mature, secure mentors around who saw you through the process – that is truly wonderful! That’s how its supposed to work. But not all of us were as fortunate.
It’s not at all uncommon to get the kind of advice from spiritual leaders which would actually arrest your transformation, or even roll it back. The worst of it may come when your new insights actually begin to really work for you. Many people are afraid to admit that these types of problems are endemic for a fairly sizable sliver of institutional Christianity for fear of appearing “divisive”. But in my opinion, this is the same as CDC not admitting known facts about serious epidemics for fear of appearing alarmist. This is nothing but “cover my own butt and let everyone else repeat my errors” kind of fearful mentality.
Something just dawned on me, as clear as day. At the root of the way modeled by Jesus Christ is the certainty and security about our relationship with our good heavenly father, carried into eternity. At the root of religious fundamentalism is the ever-present good old fear of death – and at its core, that fear of death is unmitigated even by the cross of Calvary. These two streams flow within the larger nominal framework of Christianity. They may employ the same terminology and the same sacred texts, but the difference is truly night and day.
Here’s what brought it to light for me. During these past few years, I’ve read theological books on a variety of subjects, and from a variety of perspectives. I’ve read much material on the subject of atonement. I’ve read entire books on some of the views, in addition to reading background material on all of the currently and historical popular views. I came away with a renewed understanding of the complexity of the issue. What’s important – awareness of those perspectives, coupled with my own in-depth research and analysis, gave me many tools to help me construct my own understanding of the meaning of the atonement.
I did very similar kind of research with the issues of “hell”, “heaven”, “theodicy” (goodness of God vs. evil that’s in the world), “end times”, and many others. Again – my awareness of those perspectives, coupled with my own in-depth research and analysis, empowered me to construct my own understanding of the meaning of the “hell”, “heaven”, “theodicy”, “end times”, etc. My understanding of these and many other subjects became much more textured, much deeper, much more internally coherent, much more resonant with the Scriptures in their historical and cultural context – and as the result, often very different from the commonly circulated pop-theology teachings.
One thing that I have less and less tolerance for is “preacher talk”. So many times I hear a lot of grandstanding coming from the elevated platform, and then I see time and again that a lot of those things are simply said because it just “preaches well”. Sometime it’s just sickening. And many don’t even realize how destructive that “preacher talk” effect is on one’s heart. You can’t fool the built-in BS detector that humans carry inside their hearts.
After a while, when there’s no sincerity and genuineness that connects the pulpit with real life, people tend to compartmentalize all of the insincere hallelujahs, amens, praise the lords, glory to gods, and all the rest of that religious vocabulary long ago emasculated of its real meaning into a little mental box whose label reads “Church talk. Relevant Sunday mornings only, inside steepled buildings. DO NOT try this at home”.
So many doctrines have been piled on to the simple Gospel that it’s sometimes hard to see the forest behind the trees. Let’s wipe the slate clean and start from scratch. Here’s the big picture, the way I see it.
Adam and Eve were in the garden, perfect, free of any dysfunction in their fleshly bodies, living in a perfect little world free of lack. “Garden” or “park” in Greek is παράδεισος – paradeisos, or paradise. Their benevolent creator Daddy gave them free reign and roam throughout everything. Being fruitful and multiplying was only a part of it. Their job was to rule the earth, starting from the garden on out, and spread that benevolent reign over all of the earth.
Daddy God warned the first couple that they can live a pure simple life or trust, or they can be the judges of good and evil themselves. The latter came with a huge warning. The warning was this: “the day you eat of the tree, in dying shall you die”. That’s in literal Hebrew. (The exact mechanics that involved eating some fruit has little significance for us now, as we look back in time). In other words, something like a virus (i.e., sin) will grab hold of you, which will cause you to run down, get sick, and eventually die. In dying you shall die – that’s both the progressive and the final aspect of death. That’s the law of sin and death for you.
As the result of the fall, the same thing happened in the world at large. Sin (dysfunction) entered into the world, and so lack and scarcity entered into it, and things have been winding down and wearing out ever since (death). The concept of entropy in physics is a prime testament to that.
All of that was not due to God’s cursing his creation. Those were simply the consequences of wrong actions, and they came with God’s warning (Gen. 2:17). Also, post-transgression, God immediately stated the effects of what had just happened (Gen. 3:17).