Tuesday, January 29, 2008

My Final Post?

Not to sound cocky, but I think I've stumbled upon the ultimate Christian test. After reading behemoths like Isaiah, I guess I assumed I'd tear through the New Testament. In truth I'm crawling, but it's humbled me in transcendent ways I couldn't begin to describe. Reading the sermon on the mount, I was darn near overcome with tears-- I've never read such a loving encapsulation of how selflessly and purely this world should function. Like all Scripture, it interconnects intuitively: the only way to be one with Christ is to love one's brother and neighbour, to never deny anyone, and how else could His suggestion to "let tomorrow worry about itself" ever bear fruit? The con: it would work perfectly if the whole world embraced it. The pro: it would work perfectly if the whole world embraced it. Let us never assume that this world needs to be the greed-centric cesspool it is. That's what humanity collectively chose for itself. I digress.

"So what's his freaking point?" you're wondering. All the laws and rituals and covenants are about as meaningless as your fingerprint. I finally understand what Solomon was talking about in Ecclesiastes when he dwelled so much on that term: meaningless. The fact is, by living a flawless and perfect life, you become what Christ describes equally as the greatest and the least. Least in that you have nothing: not your possessions, not your will, not your memories, not even your identity. Greatest in that you have everything: Oneness with Him. Ironically, I'm not sure I've ever met someone mature and faithful enough to truly take up the cup. Here it is, 824 pages into my Bible, the first verse I can't accept:

Matthew 22:30
At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.

Like angels in heaven. What do we know about angels in heaven? Well, firstly, they rendered it imperfect. God, in his divine foresight, could have prevented all forms of anguish and pain had He simply chosen to do one thing differently: not create Satan. Of all the things God chose to permit, that's the one that set the little clump of snow rolling down the hill to eventually become a cataclysmic ball of destruction. We'd like to think that God, in His holiness, didn't invent evil. Perhaps He didn't. Then again, I didn't create dynamite, but I were created with a mind bent on destroying things, and subsequently handed a stick of the stuff, who truly sets it off? So let's be fair: whether we want to credit the LORD with evil's creation or not (moot point, in many ways), we must acknowledge one great truth: without it, there would be no means of testing faith. Christ said as much:

Matthew 18:7
"Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!"

Not evil has come. Evil must come.

And so, as we finally coast into my point (it wouldn't be a me post, were it not verbose), what must you surrender to be spared damnation? Absolutely everything. And, please, don't think in terms of the physical world. Instead, think of your most precious memories, the people with whom you've shared everything this world has tricked you into falsely justifying with emotion. Virtually everything you hold dear, from the tangible to the esoteric, your principles, your personality, the silly notion that you might meet loved ones in heaven, surrender it all. Once you do, you become nothing in yourself and everything in Christ.

Matthew 22:23-32
23That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 24"Teacher," they said, "Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and have children for him. 25Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. 26The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27Finally, the woman died. 28Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?"

29Jesus replied, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living."

Bear with me now: the reason we don't feel the loss of those we don't get saved, is because even our very identities die on the cross. The reason our lives are meaningless, as Solomon wrote, is because we answer to this ultimatum: keep yourself and let it suffer eternal anguish, or forget yourself and live in Christ. But how many of us hold dearly to the selves through which our eyes gaze? How many of us want heaven to be a meeting place for the individualities we create on Earth, a place for us to convene with fellow believers and worship and serve God forever? To me, if I am to be replaced with an angelic being, I question this whole notion of self. I question whether heaven and hell are just slants, not opposities. New lenses through which an unknown me might have the privilege of existing forever. We think about damnation as punishment, but it seems to me that what Christ tells us through Matthew that our ultimate fate is more a matter of station, not bliss or oppression.

In case you haven't realized it yet, this is absolutely the greatest hurdle I expect to encounter on my Christian journey. So much, in fact, that I feel it can't continue until someone picks me up and places me on the other side of this hurdle. Selfishly, when I first read the above passages, I was somewhat embittered about my self-instilled belief that our lives are better when shared with a soulmate. (Thanks, Disney!) I felt that, while I may experience joy in this world, that it could be tenfold, or more, if shared with a trusted confidante. Ever since I was five, I wanted someone like the heroes in those animated films had. It didn't have to be as glamourous, but it had to be as real. And when I first read Matthew 22:30, I felt robbed of that. But upon reflection, I feel robbed of my very identity. This in spite of the fact that I realized quite some time ago that Christ wasn't asking for me to clean up my lifestyle. No, God wants us to be living sacrifices to Him, not for us to sacrifice earthly things but to be sacrifices ourselves. And yet, in my selfishness, I chose to limit that to things I do or act or think. I often fail, but that's where I had drawn the line in the sand. Didn't realize I was the line.

So, tell me, if you dare, how does it sit with you? Maybe my interpretation of the above passages are completely bonkers, but it seems to me that I couldn't sit here and think of anyone in my life who I could cite as an example. I'm not meaning that to sound condescending; I'm a complete failure at what I've interpreted. Not enticed by hedonism, mind you, but pretty sour on the idea of salvation, at least for the time being. I don't mean to throw in the towel, but I fail to see the joy of serving God and worshipping Him forever if He needs to replace me with a perfect automaton-- though I should have clued in much sooner; all imperfect things in His holy presence are instantly vaporized. That is how it seems to work. Even the way He projects Himself via clouds and fire can destroy those who enter His holiest rooms without consecrating themselves. As to the promised land, all we can do is strive toward becoming nothing, and thus earn a place at His table. So, I think I understand how it works now. What I don't get is the point of it.

It's like I just told a friend: I'd be honoured to attend your birthday party, but, after it's all said and done, if I won't even know you existed or had a birthday, why bother? Can I give up vices and sins (or try to) to be with the LORD? Yes. Can I give up James? I don't know yet. Why should one even care about morality and laws and principles if they're just illusions to distract us from complete submission?

Anyway, I won't contribute another word to this blog until I render a decision there.

EDIT (and I'll make this the only one):
Says my friend: We do have to sacrifice everything to enter heaven, James.
Says I: But we don't get to. The one doing the sacrificing never knows heaven.


Blogger James said...

"Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise— why destroy yourself?" - Ecclesiastes 7:16

Some days it would be nice to shut off the mind. Not saying it's yielded any honey, but it sure is a beehive.

30/1/08 02:04  
Blogger Slave Morality said...

I may have missed something in your thought process here, but was there any additional scripture aside from the not-marrying and becoming like the angels in heaven that led you to believe our memories and experiences are to be wiped away? I'll admit I struggled with the marriage aspect myself as it just doesn't seem like such a divine thing it's shocking to find that it ceases to exist with the end of our natural lives.

I have not however *ever* heard or read anything to the effect that we cease to be everything that we are, that we lose our memories, that people we know here will not exist there, that there will be no carryover of relationships or personality. This just isn't something I've ever heard and I really can't think of anything in scripture that says that.

I gather from this passage that marriage is an institution God created to help us get through our natural lives here, after which it is no longer needed.

I don't gather that being "like the angels in heaven" entails surrendering personality/memories/relationships. The text to me reads like a comparison, the institution of marriage simply doesn't exist with the angels and likewise will not exist for us at the resurrection. Nothing here screams to me that we will cease to know the identity of ourselves or brothers in Christ. I have to admit if I did find scripture and teachings that indicate this I too would have a great amount of difficulty accepting it, indeed everything would be deeply meaningless.

There's an immense difference between what makes us *us* and sin, we're not defined by it. We may be born surrounded by it, subsequently we fall victim to it, but we're not composed of it. We were unique creations and indeed it does seem non-sensical that God would create us and then destroy us, but again I don't see that here.

I'm curious to know if/what other scripture may have led you to think this or what how the passages in the post could be interpreted as such. No offence but hopefully you're wrong. :) I too would have a hard time coming to grips with that conclusion.

30/1/08 10:07  
Blogger James said...

Last night in chat it was gradually dawning on me, and I probably did poor justice to my realization.

What I can answer is why heaven was first created imperfectly, but it was rendered corrupt. Luke 10:18 says he fell from heaven. This is not God's people or angels down in a common area (earth), but the ultimate inner sanctuary.

It brings me little comfort to think this could all happen again, and I must confess that I was taught by a forgotten source that angels have no will of their own. Clearly, it was not Satan's station to be without a sense of volition, and he exercised it over a great army. Having said that, if we're to believe that heaven can never again fall prey to rebellious ideas, it really supports my untrustworthy concept of angels: not so much yes men as God's chess pieces that He moves at will.

"Be silent before the Sovereign LORD, for the day of the LORD is near. The LORD has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited." (Zephaniah 1:6-8)

If you consider that God embodies holiness and that holiness is superlative in nature (I don't believe it's possible for partial holiness to exist-- it's an ultimate state, much like salvation is a yes/no, not a degree). Therefore, I think it fair to assume that the consecration described above requires complete cleansing, and for that to take effect that we need to surrender our identities, which, to be fair, we formed. None of us was born with inherent knowledge of relationships we would form, even though I once believed it was possible for souls to carry such things forward.

In the earlier parts of my journey, I believed in the cleansing of habits and conduct and words, but as I've come to learn, those are by-products, not sacrifices. Challenging, yes; meaningful, no. Here's the heart of the matter: "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship." (Romans 12:1)

The problem for me is that I cling so dearly to the concept and limits of human pleasure that I hesitate when faced with a notion like offering my very identity over to Christ. I want to be cleansed, but intellectually I struggle with the idea of renewal to the extent that it erases the path by which I came to it. Sadly, I'm starting to understand that God couldn't leave our memories intact and bestow us with a sense of peace in knowing those who were dear to us that have been tossed into the fire. Conceivably, person A could understand the concept of having a mother and a father, and only know one in heaven, which would impose the mental crucible of having to question what gives. Therefore, in resurrection, we have only one Father. Consequently, that is the only relationship that we know as it precedes our entry into His kingdom.

I think the greatest/least concept that Christ often spoke of pertained to those who had achieved a willingness to submit to these facets of rebirth. That whether we were willing or knowing parties to this process, it would be imposed upon us, but he/she who completely forfeits everything we associate with this planet would be reduced to nothing down here, and subsequently would sit high among the eternally living. Belief is the passport, but submission and service-- or mercy, as he said He preferred to sacrifice-- are the VIP badges. I'm not particularly keen on the idea of hierarchal paradise, but the burden of understanding is acquiescence. I'm not saying we won't reform relationships in heaven, but I don't think a spec of earth (figurative, remembered, anything) will ever infiltrate that realm. Or so I'm instructed to believe. Earth, too, will be rebuilt. Again, I might ask why, as I don't understand the notion of gathering people in heaven and having them live in Zion (unless those are metaphors for the same thing).

Having said all that, it dawned on me this morning that I have no basis on which to assume that earth's pleasures or memories or intellectual foundations even compare to those of heaven. As it is human nature to see things throug our own perspective, I have grown attached to certain things that might not be materialistic but that I consider necessary to carry forward with me. What I don't have is a means of comparing earthly experience with heavenly experience, nor do I have any evidence that I'd even want to remember this place or its people once I get to heaven. Those are assumptions we incline toward, that we take for granted even though they're completely unfounded, just ingrained. Funnily enough, Christ has a wedding parable in Matthew that speaks, I think, about the difference between believing and following. All are invited; many show up; few are chosen. I'd just hate to think that when all is said and done I kept the one thing from God that He *truly* wanted: me.

30/1/08 13:37  
Blogger Slave Morality said...

Does holiness equate to having no knowledge of sin or evil? How then would God know of the existence of Satan? How would he know of our shortcomings on Earth? How would he crave a personal relationship with us? What would *he* feel when we fail to come to him and are cast into the fire?

I don't see how holiness or our life after this equates to having no memory of anything Earthly, surely God himself knows Earth exists, knows terrible things take place here, and knows that not all are saved. Why would we be any different when we join him? The Bible describes God as aware of all these things, and capable of anger and jealousy. Do any of these necessarily conflict with holiness? If so we've probably got our definition wrong.

I really don't understand the subtleties of heaven and the resurrection, I know it's described as a place where there's no pain and if that's the case then yes I also see the problem. How can we have memory of those who are no longer with us there and not experience pain? I don't have an answer to that, but I'm not seeing how we can make a jump from that difficult question to concluding that God will subsequently wipe all memory and knowledge of Earthly things from our minds.

Would we even be the same person?

This conclusion has obviously affected you greatly so I hope to encourage you to make absolutely sure the scripture is actually telling you what you're concluding. It is indeed a very depressing thought and one I'd have a lot of trouble coming to grips with myself, but again it's just something I've never heard before. Also curious if you've spoken to anyone in the church about this?

30/1/08 16:14  
Blogger Slave Morality said...

Trying to do some quick Googling to see what others are saying/have said about this:

This one discusses the memory aspect quite a bit:


Another good one:


For the record I didn't find anything concluding that we would have our memory wiped clean. They may be out there but they're not among the initial results. (then again that may be because we're weak minded creatures clinging to comfort :))

30/1/08 16:29  
Blogger James said...

I will study this all further. I can't really argue with your logic, and I won't assume a truth in all my arguments. But there are some black and white points that don't sit well with me, and knowing the truth is not the same as embracing it. I realize it's normal to encounter these hurdles during one's Christian journey, but man I'm in some kind of funk right now.

31/1/08 00:06  
Blogger Slave Morality said...

Yeah I hear that. I've got a few points that don't sit so well myself. Nothing to do but keep plugging along I guess, hopefully things will come into focus soon. On rare occasions when that doesn't happen perhaps we'll have to just accept it, move on and focus on something more positive.

The exact passage on marriage you mentioned above hit me really hard not so long ago. Overtime is somehow subsided and started to make sense though, I don't even know when or how.

Hang in there, and we'll be hoping/praying you start to feel better about things soon.

31/1/08 12:11  
Blogger James said...

This whole week I've been running in mental circles, and maybe it would have been prudent to research before ranting. Of course, you've been a tremendous help and have saved me a few additional hurdles, so maybe I need to be less introverted about my journey.

This morning as I was falling in and out of sleep, I had myself quite convinced that, as you say, we keep our memories. I do prefer that idea, but then I misconstrued the whole notion of heaven for myself, as it was subject to disloyal servants in the past. At this point, I don't feel confident that I could stay there if I ever make it, because my mind has destructive tendencies that our small group has me convinced are of me and not of demonic sources. So, now I feel selfish in clinging to my identity, and scared that if I do, it will sabotage me at some point. Like I said, mental circles. I hope it's something in the water.

31/1/08 16:30  
Blogger Slave Morality said...

You may well have hit the nail on the head, something in the water. If we're born into a world of sin I can't help but wonder what influence that has on us, or what we'd be like if living in different circumstances. It's hard to imagine where the line is drawn between sinful tendencies and what actually makes us "us". Who knows. :)

31/1/08 16:58  
Blogger James said...

If the "truth will set you free" then I take for granted that I haven't found it yet. I'm basing that on the premise that these must be the same: a) freedom; and b) liking the truth I discover. Perhaps it's not for us to dwell on the points we don't understand but to search for the missing components whose absence preclude us from embracing the parts we understand. Which is what you said, but I'm stubborn enough to stare at an answer for eons and only register it when I reason it in my own terms. Thanks again for all your help and encouragement. :)

31/1/08 17:07  

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