What Are the Two Trees in the Garden of Eden Really About?

A tree of life. And, a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Man could eat from the first but not the second. And, if man ate from the second tree, then he would die.

The names of these two trees have caused a lot of confusion.

The tree of life does not symbolize living forever. In other words, if you eat the fruit of the tree of life that you doesn’t mean you will achieve some sort of immortality and live forever.

As for the other tree, what’s the problem with having a knowledge of whether or not a thing is good or evil? Why would knowing if something is good or evil lead to my dying? Isn’t a knowledge a good thing? But, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil isn’t about actual knowledge.

So, if what seems to be the common understanding of the symbolism of these two trees is not really what these two trees represent, then just exactly what are the two trees in the middle of the garden of Eden all about?

We could say that the middle of the garden was the heart of the garden. Therefore, these trees represent two ways of living from the heart.

What are the two ways of living from the heart that the trees represent?

Study the Bible long enough and you will find that it equates life with wisdom. Life, eternal life, does not mean living forever and ever and ever. Rather, it means living with true wisdom. The tree of life is the tree of wisdom.

At its root, wisdom is knowledge applied to a specific situation that brings about the best possible outcome for all. This requires discernment. Therefore, we could think of the tree of life as the tree of discernment.

Wisdom and discernment imply that there are gray areas to life. Gray areas require contemplative thought to discern the best solution to the situation or problem at hand.

Also, if you study the Bible long enough you will find that the simple adherence to rules and laws lead to death. Merely following rules and laws requires no thought and no wisdom. This leads to death, not in the sense that you are eternally dead forever and ever, but in the sense that you have arrived at the worst possible outcome for all involved.

Therefore, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents the opposite of wisdom and discernment, which is judgement. In the Bible, judgment means to decide something ahead of time as always good or always bad.

While the tree of life symbolizes living in the gray areas of life, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents living as if everything is black and white. This tree symbolizes a dualistic way of thinking in which everything resides in either the good or the bad all the time without ever thinking about particular situations.

For example, heterosexuality is good and homosexuality is evil. Always.

This is how most Christians think. But, this is to live by judgment and discernment. This is to live by black and white rules instead of the gray of wisdom.

How so?

Is homosexuality always evil? If it is a practice used to worship a god or gods falsely, then yes it is evil. If it is a practice of sexual debauchery, which the mainstream seems to equate it with, then yes it is evil. But, what if it is two people committed to a loving relationship where the highest good is truly sought for both people through self-sacrificial love? Then homosexuality would be good.

Now consider heterosexuality. Is it always good? Well, if it is two people committed to a loving relationship where the highest good is truly sought for both people through self-sacrificial love, then it is good. But, what if the heterosexuality is a man raping a woman? That’s clearly evil.

The same kind of argument could be used for white and black people. Throughout history white people have been judged good and black people have been judged evil. Clearly, this is not true though. Sometimes white people are good and sometimes white people are evil. The same is true of black people.

Or, what about communism and democracy? One system is not always good and the other always evil. It depends.

Or, what about individual people? An individual is not always good or always evil. Each individual does some good things and some evil things.

What is good and evil cannot be determined by an a priori judgment. It requires discernment.

The life of Jesus in the gospels shows us just this distinction. Jesus lived by wisdom or discernment. Jesus lived in the gray areas. Jesus did not live by judgment. He did not live by the knowledge of good and evil. He did not live by the letter of the law as if something was always good or always evil.

Consider Jesus’ handling of the situation of the woman caught in the act of adultery. According to the law, the woman should have been stoned to death. It’s obvious adultery is evil, right? But, not in this particular case for Jesus. In this case, Jesus discerned that this woman was suffering under a patriarchal culture that made the woman the scapegoat. For, why wasn’t the man she was caught in the adulterous act also brought to Jesus?

Consider the time Jesus and the disciples ate the grain from the field on the Sabbath. That was clearly against the law and therefore evil. But, Jesus used discernment and pointed out that they were hungry. It would be better to feed a hungry person than let them starve because of a rule.

Or, how about when Jesus asked those in the synagogue if a man’s withered hand should be healed on the Sabbath? Working on the Sabbath was deemed to be always evil. But, Jesus showed that if you were actually doing something good, like healing someone, then it was okay to work on the Sabbath.

The nature of the questions Jesus was asked in the gospels often set up the distinction between wisdom or discernment and judgment. They often contrast gray versus black-and-white thinking.

Which is the greatest commandment?

One rule has to be better and more important than other. Surely, the questioner expected Jesus to pick on of the ten commandments. But, Jesus quoted two “commandments” that weren’t even part of the ten commandments. And, both of Jesus’ commandments were about love. Love requires wisdom and discernment not judgment. Is it loving to give someone $100? It depends, doesn’t it? Is it better to give someone a hug or a stern word? They both can be love in the right situation. It depends.

Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?

The expected answer was yes or no. Paying taxes to Caesar is either good or evil. Tell us which one Jesus. Jesus answers without answering. He doesn’t give a black and white answer. Instead render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. If think that is clear, black and white, easy to apply, then please tell me in exactly every situation if I should pay taxes or not.

Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?

The very nature of the question is begging for a black and white answer. But, Jesus does not give one. Read Jesus’ answer and you will quickly see that it creates quite a bit of confusion among the disciples and still does today.

I think the following quote from The Wisdom of the Enneagram really sums up the difference between the two trees, between discernment and judgment.

What we “are actually seeking is not judgment but the quality of discernment. Discernment is noticing that things have different qualities. Judgment, however, includes an emotional reaction that actually interferes with discernment. It is one thing to say that a carpet is a different color from the wall. It is another thing to say that one is better, more important, or more righteous than the other. In other words, a witness and judge are not the same thing. Discernment requires us to be a witness.

“Note that we are not talking about situation ethics or ethical relativism but about the ability to see that as situations and facts change, so does what can be expected as a best outcome for them. Wisdom allows us to see reality exactly as it is, not as we wish it to be. Wisdom does not ignore right and wrong or deny that there are better or worse choices a person might have made. Rather, wisdom looks at the choices that have been made, at the situation in which we find ourselves now, and considers the best possible thing to do. Wisdom always sees what is truly necessary and for the best – although it can only arise in the present moment and spring forth from an absence of preconceived values, opinions, and judgments. Even if we have created some kind of hell for ourselves, wisdom can show us a way out – if we are willing to suspend judgment about what we “should” do, or how we “must” respond.”

I find this to be a succinct and beautiful summary of what Jesus lived and taught. It captures the essence of living by the tree of life and not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Empire Takes Your Breath Away

In my previous post, What Is God’s Breath?, I wrote of the three times God clearly breathes into something in scripture. When God breathes into something he breathes in light, love, and life.

While we read of God breathing into things, we read something very interesting about the queen of Sheba in 1 Kings 10. “And when the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food on his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, their clothing, his cupbearers, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more breath in her.” (1 Kings 10,4-5)

“There was no more breath in her.” The queen of Sheba lost her breath.

What does it mean that the queen of Sheba lost her breath?

Previously, I simply thought it meant that she was really, really impressed with Solomon. But, this time as I read the passage with the understanding that God breathes in light, love, and life, I thought that perhaps the opposite happened to the queen of Sheba in this passage. Perhaps when she had no more breath in her she lost the light, love, and life that she had. Perhaps the queen of Sheba died. Not physically, but spiritually.

What took the queen of Sheba’s breath away?

Solomon’s kingdom.

Or, we could more generally say empire.

Empire took away the queen of Sheba’s breath. Empire stole the light, love, and life that the queen of Sheba had.

We typically think of how great and awesome Solomon’s kingdom was. Gold was so prevalent that everything Solomon drank from was made of it. Silver, arguably the second most precious metal to man, was counted as nothing. We think of Solomon’s kingdom as the height of Israel.

But, scripture tells us that Solomon enslaved thousands of people to build his empire. Scripture also tells us that Solomon traded in Egyptian horses and chariots despite Moses’ laws that the kings of Israel should not do that. In other words, Solomon traded in, and got rich from, the trading of the instruments of war, even though Solomon had a kingdom that was at peace. There was no need for Solomon to get rich from being an arms dealer. This is beginning to sound like any other empire we would know.

There is also something else very interesting about Solomon’s kingdom. “Now the weight of gold that came so Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold.” (1 Kings 10.14)

In my 20 plus years of being a Christian, I have never heard anyone mention the fact that Solomon received 666 talents of gold in one year. I find this very odd given the fixation on the number 666 in Revelation. Especially since most everyone knows that the book of Revelation draws on imagery from  and connections to the Old Testament repeatedly.

Revelation 13.18 says, “This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of man, and his number is 666.”

Shouldn’t we at least pause to think how this might connect with Solomon and his empire?

We know that in Revelation John is contrasting the kingdom of God to the Roman empire, the greatest empire of man that the world has ever known. To live in that empire was to live outside the gates of God’s kingdom where there was only light. There was no night, no darkness. Therefore, to live in empire was to live in darkness. As you read through Revelation, you also get the feeling that to live in the Roman empire, or an empire of man, is to also live in fear and death, which are of course are the opposites of love and life.

So, when we really think about, Solomon’s kingdom while grand and impressive, was really just another empire like any of man’s empires. And, while the queen of Sheba may have been impressed by it, perhaps because she wished she had an empire just like it, ultimately the desire for that empire took her breath away. Solomon’s empire took away her light, love, and life. It spiritually killed her.

Empire does the same to us. It does not matter if it is the Spanish, the Dutch, the English, or the American empire. Beholding any empire of man will take your breath away. It will spiritually kill you. To worship empire will cause you to lose your light, love, and life. God is trying to breathe light, love, and life into you, but empire will take it away. This is a tale told all the way through scripture.

Sadly, American Christians have succumbed to the worship of the American empire to a significant degree. They have lost their breath.

What Is God’s Breath?

There are three times in scripture when we are told that God breathed.

  1. “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” – Genesis 2.7
  2. And when he [Jesus] had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'” – John 20.22
  3. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” – 2 Timothy 3.16

The Bible declares that God breathes. But, we know that God doesn’t literally breathe like we do just like God doesn’t literally have hands or a back as scripture says.

If God doesn’t literally breathe, then what is God’s breath?

In Genesis 2.7, the Hebrew word for breath is neshamah. Strong’s defines this word as a puff, i.e. wind, vital breath, divine inspiration. The Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew defines neshamah as breath, essential to life and a causative agent for an activity of God.

“A causative agent for an activity of God” is a interesting part of the definition of neshamah as this is exactly the role the Spirit plays in God’s creation of the universe in Genesis 1. “In the beginning, God created…And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” In a sense, the Spirit was ready to give birth to the universe. The word for Spirit in Genesis 1.2 is ruah, which has a range of meanings including spirit, breath, or wind.

So, metaphorically we can understand God’s breath as his Spirit. This is why when Jesus breathed on his disciples he told them to receive the Holy Spirit.

God’s Spirit is his essence, his divine nature. So, God’s Spirit is made up of God’s attributes, which Paul says are invisible and known since the foundation of the world in Romans 1.

What are the invisible attributes of God, his Spirit, and therefore his breath?

  1. Life – “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life.” – 1 John 5.11-12
  2. Love – “God is love.” – 1 John 4.8 and 16.
  3. Light – “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” – 1 John 1.5

Go back to the scriptures that started this post. Three times we are told that God breathed in scripture. And, each one reveals a different invisible attribute of God. Each one reveals a particular aspect of God’s breath, his Spirit, his essence.

Genesis 2.7 says that God breathed his breath into the man’s nostrils and the man became a living being.

God’s breath is life.

In John 20.19-23, Jesus breathed on the disciples and told them to receive the Holy Spirit. But, notice what Jesus says immediately before he breathed on them. “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20.21)

How did the Father send Jesus?

John 3.17 says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God sent Jesus to save the world, the whole world, the entire universe and everything in it.

How would Jesus save the world?

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” – 1 John 4.9-10

Love was made manifest among us when God sent Jesus into the world. And, God sent Jesus into the world that we live through him. And, the love of God was most fully displayed by Jesus on the cross when he died for us.

So, when Jesus told the disciples that he is sending them as the Father sent him, he told them that he was sending in love. Further, he was sending them in love so that they would forgive. Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” (John 20.22-23) To forgive the sins of another is to give life to them.

God’s breath is love.

There is much debate about just how to translate 2 Timothy 3.16 and what Paul meant by the word theopneustos, or God-breathed. Whether all scripture is God-breathed or when scripture is God-breathed, the key point at the moment is the result of the breath of God on scripture. If scripture is God-breathed, then it is useful or profitable for certain things – teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

Note that teaching, reproof, correction, and training are not life itself. Nor are they love. However, each of them, in their own way, are methods to bring someone who is off course, someone who has erred, back onto the correct path. The correct path, or way, that we are to be on is love. When we deviate from that path, God-breathed scripture is there to put us back on the way of love.

God-breathed scripture illuminates the path or way for us. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

Isaiah 51.4 says, “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.”

Jesus said the entire law could be summed up in two commandments – love God and love your neighbor. Love is the law went out from God, or was sent into the world as John says. And, this law, this love, Jesus, was “the light of men” and “the true light, which gives light to everyone.”

Taking all of this together, we could say that God-breathed scripture is light.

God’s breath is light.

God’s breath is his Spirit, his essence, his nature. God’s essence or nature is revealed by his invisible attributes – life, love, light. An inspired reading of scripture reveals exactly this to us in the three passages that God breathes.

God’s breath if life. – Genesis 2.7

God’s breath is love. – John 20.22

God’s breath is light. – 2 Timothy 3.16

Did God Really Say…?

Many Christians read the Bible literally. Therefore, whenever it says “God said…”, these Christians take what follows as the literal words out of God’s mouth. As I blogged through the Bible looking for Jesus last year, I found that even Christians who are moving away from reading the Bible literally still have a hard time understanding passages that say “God said…”

Most Christians struggle with questioning what God supposedly said in the Bible. However, we should ask the question “Did God really say…?” when we realize that men (and perhaps women), just like you and me, wrote the Bible. I think all of us today could find many instances in our lives when we thought we heard God but in retrospect it was our own self that we heard. Therefore, the men (and perhaps women) that wrote the Bible often heard there own their own voices when they thought they heard God.

Asking the question “Did God really say?” is hard for so many people because of their conception of God. He’s all powerful and all knowing. Therefore, if this perfect book says this is what the all powerful and all knowing God said, then that is what he said. The problem is the term God is too nebulous. It is not concrete enough for us.

So, what is a possible solution to make God more concrete so that we can better discern if what God supposedly said in the Bible is something that he would really say?

Simply substitute the word “love” for “God.” We can do this because love is not simply an action that God takes or an emotion that God feels. God is love. Love is God’s very essence, his very being.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was manifest among us, and that God sent his only Son into the world, so that he might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abide in God, and God abides in him.” – 1 John 4.7-16

God is love. This was revealed to us in Jesus Christ when he died for our sins on the cross. This supreme example of God as love is much easier to get one’s mind around than the amorphous, nebulous term God.

So, let’s look at a few examples from the Bible where we replace “God” with “love” and see if we think it is still something that God really said.

“And Love said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” – Genesis 6.13

Does destroying all flesh on the earth sound like the love that Christ displayed on the cross?

“So Moses said, ‘Thus says Love: “About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on the throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle.”‘” – Exodus 11.4-5

Does killing all the firstborn in a land sound like the love Christ displayed on the cross?

“But Love said to Moses, ‘Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book?'” – Exodus 32.33

Does blotting out sinners, in effect annihilating them from existence, sound like the love that Christ displayed on the cross and in his life?

“And Love said to Moses, ‘The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.'” – Numbers 15.35

Does stoning someone to death sound like the love Christ displayed on the cross?

“And Love said to Joshua, ‘Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain to Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire.” – Joshua 11.6

Does killing all the people in a city or land, which is an act of genocide, sound like the love Christ displayed on the cross?

“Moreover, is it without Love that I have come up against this land to destroy it? Love said to me, ‘Go up against this land and destroy it.” – Isaiah 36.10

Does destroying an entire land really sound like the love Christ displayed on the cross?

In addition to what God supposedly said, we replace “love” for “God” in passages that claim God did or will do certain acts to see if those reported acts are really something God would do.

“Love will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me. Love will make the pestilence stick t you until he has consumed you off the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Love will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew. They shall pursue you until you perish. And the heavens over your head shall be bronze, and the earth under you shall be iron. Love will make the rain of your land powder. From heaven dust shall come down on you until you are destroyed.” – Deuteronomy 28.20-24

Keep reading all of the curses God will supposedly bring on you for disobeying you and ask if yourself if that sounds like the love Christ displayed on the cross.

We could go on and on with verse after verse of things that are attributed to God that make no sense when we think of them coming from love. If you still think love could do these things, then I have to question your understanding of love and your understanding of God, perhaps even your sanity. Frankly, if you love does these things, then it is quite likely you have been brainwashed, which simply means to make someone adopt radically different beliefs by using systematic and often forcible pressure or a bring controlled by a method of systematic indoctrination. By the way, when being brainwashed, the one thing that system of indoctrination strictly forbids is asking questions such as “Did God really say…?”

To be clear…

God is love.

Love does not kill anyone.

Love does not stone someone to death.

Love does not commit genocide.

Love does not heap curse upon curse upon curse on someone.

God, or Love, does not do many of things mankind claims he does.

What Is God’s Job Function?

Genesis 2.2 says, “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.”

But, Jesus told us that the Father never stopped working. In John 5.17, Jesus said, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

So, God works. Therefore, God has a job.

What is God’s job function?

Why is God working?

What is God trying to accomplish with his work.

To put it simply, God’s job function is to bring life out of death.

Everything that God does is focused on this one thing – bringing life out of death. God never brings death to anyone. Only life.

Just look at what Jesus said in John 5.19-29 immediately after he said that Father is working and so is he.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father  loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” – John 5.19-21

The Father gives life to the dead. And so does Jesus. Therefore, Acts 10.38 says, “He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” Matthew 4.23 says, “And he went through all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” Mark 1.34 says, “And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.” Luke 4.40 says, “Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them.” Everywhere Jesus went in the gospels he brought life to those that were sick because that is what he saw the Father doing.

Back to John 5.

“For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does honor the Son does honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” – John 5.22-24

Here again Jesus stresses that God causes things to move from death to life. This is how God works. Bringing life from death is God’s job function. Jesus says this is the word he is speaking and everyone who hears it will have eternal life. In other words, they will know that God and that his job function is bring life from death.  Later in John 12.49-50, Jesus explicitly stated this when he said, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment – what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father told me.” Jesus only spoke life because life is the only thing God speaks. God is always calling life out of death.

Back to John 5.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” – John 5.25-29

The hour that was coming that Jesus referred to was his crucifixion. At the crucifixion of Jesus, the dead would hear the voice of the Son of God and come to life. All those in the tombs would hear the voice of the Son of God, come out of the tombs and receive the resurrection of life. The Bible, Christian faith, and Christian tradition make clear that if there is anything that reveals God it is the cross, where God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, which is to say bringing life out of death. So, here again we see God’s job function – bringing life out of death.

What else did Jesus say about the hour of his crucifixion?

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12.23-24

So, a seed dies and bears fruit. Life comes out of death. When Jesus died he was like a seed planted in the ground that God brought life out of.

But, what do we know about seeds?

Let’s go all the way back to creation, back to Genesis 1.11-12, which says, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind.”

Seeds can only bear according to their kind. That is, seeds can only produce what is inside of them. Nothing else. An apple seed cannot produce an orange tree.

What was in Jesus?

“For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” – John 5.26

The Father and the Son both have life in them. Life is in their seed. Therefore, they can only produce life. They cannot produce death because then their seed would be producing not according to their own kind but some other kind. The seed must die before it can bear what it is carrying inside of it. So, Jesus, the Son of God, had to die to bring forth life. Again, we are confronted with God’s work and his job function.

In fact, this is the theme of the creation story in Genesis 1. Remember, God was at work when he created.

What did God do?

Genesis 1.2 says, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.”

What does that mean?

The earth was dead.

But, then God called forth light, water, and land on days one, two, and three. Then, God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation.”

Life.

Then God made the waters to swarm with living creatures and the heavens with birds.

More life.

Then God caused the earth to bring forth living creatures.

More life.

Then God created mankind in his own image.

More life.

Life, more life, more life, and more life. All from a dead earth.

Bring life out of death was what God did in the beginning, what God in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, what God is still doing today, and what God will always be doing.

God brings life and never death.

This what a crucified God reveals to us. Jurgen Moltmann said it this way in The Crucified God:

“The death of Christ cannot only come to fruition in an existentialist interpretation, in the ability of the believer to die in peace, important though that may be. The crucified Christ must be thought of as the origin of creation and the embodiment of the eschatology of being. In the cross of his Son, God took upon himself not only death, so that man might be able to die comforted with the certainty that even death could not separate him from God, but still more, in order to make the crucified Christ the ground of his new creation, in which death itself is swallowed up in the victory of life and there will be ‘no sorrow, no crying, and no more tears.'”

“Like the metaphysics of finite being, the theology of the cross sees all creatures subject to transitoriness and nothingness. But because it does not arise in this context, but sees nothingness itself done away with in the being of God, who in the death of Jesus has revealed himself and constituted himself in nothingness, it changes the general impression of the transitoriness of all things into the prospect of the hope and liberation of all things. ‘For the creation was subjected to nothingness, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope’ (Rom. 8.20). Thus the metaphysical longing of all that is transitory for intransitoriness and of all that is finite for infinity undergoes an eschatological transformation and is taken up into the hope of freedom and the sons of God and the freedom of the new creation that does not pass away. Anyone who says ‘resurrection of the dead’ says ‘God’ (Barth). On the other hand, anyone who says ‘God’ and does not hope for the resurrection of the dead and a new creation from the righteousness of God, has not said ‘God’. What other belief in God can be held by those who are ‘dead’ unless it is ‘resurrection faith’?”

Indeed.

To say that life from death is to say God. That is God’s work and job function.

But, if you say God and cling to hell, eternal conscious torment, eternal burning and suffering, then you are not actual saying God. You are saying death. And, Satan is the one with that power (Hebrews 2.14-15).

We must remember that we all were once dead. Some may even still be dead. But, to proclaim God, to proclaim Christian faith, to proclaim resurrection faith is to say that I once was dead but now I am alive.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2.10

Once again, God brings life to dead. This is his work. It is God’s job function. We, all humankind, are his workmanship, his masterpiece.

What Is the Key to Understanding the Bible Correctly?

My wife and I drove to Chicago the other day. We had an interesting conversation about Christianity, the Bible, and faith during the drive. This conversation started with my wife saying she was over the Bible. Even though she had read it since she was a teenager, she was done with it. She was tired of how people were reading it and the meanings the were drawing from it. I completely understood what she was saying because I have even felt that way somewhat recently.

What did she mean?

Basically, people use the Bible to support what they already believe.

The Bible has been used to support capitalism and socialism.

The Bible has been used to support slavery and freedom.

The Bible has been used to support monogamy and bigamy.

The Bible has been used to support complementarianism and egalitarianism.

The Bible has been used to support war and non-violence.

The Bible has been used to support heterosexuality and homosexuality.

The Bible has been used to support Jews and Israel and to hate Jews and Israel.

The Bible has been used to support white supremacy and black liberation.

Pretty much whatever idea or ideology people have had they have found a way for the Bible to support.

What is going on here?

How are people able to do this?

They read the Bible literally.

They read a verse, a passage, or even just part of a verse and claim that these words literally support what they already believe no matter what the context of the verse says. And, even if the context does support their idea or ideology, they only take the text at literal, face value.

This is a significant problem.

I cannot stress how big of a problem this is.

So, what is the key to reading the Bible correctly?

Jesus gave us two commandments that perfectly sum up how we should read the Bible.

Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22.37-39)

In order to understand the Bible correctly, your reading of it must be grounded and rooted in love. If love is not the very foundation of every single thought you have regarding the Bible, then you are going to take away the wrong ideas from it. If a thought, idea, ideology, or viewpoint that you come up with from reading the Bible does not look, feel, and sound like love to every single person, then that thought, idea, ideology, or viewpoint is wrong.

The temptation for everyone who reads the Bible is to use love for the foundation of their reading but only for the people who look or think like them.

It’s not a coincidence that Jesus addressed this to.

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5.43-45)

If your understanding of the Bible, if your reading of any part of the Bible, does not result in love for those who you deem your enemies, then you are reading the Bible incorrectly. Your enemies are anyone you marginalize or ostracize. Your enemies are all the people that you think are going to hell. Your enemies are anyone that you treat as less than you.

Paul picked up on this very idea of Jesus. In Romans 12, Paul summarized the love for enemies and Jesus’ sermon on the mount in his own words. Paul also told us that we are all one. There is no Jew or Greek, rich or poor, male or female in Christ.

In other words, love brings everyone together, particularly those that are deemed to be antagonistic or opposite to each other.

So, if your reading of the Bible cannot and does not result in love bringing everyone together in Christ, then you haven’t yet discovered the key to reading the Bible correctly.

Can the Bible Be Both Literal and Inspired?

I find it odd that those that most vociferously proclaim that the Bible is the inspired word of God also insist that the Bible should be read literally. But, for me, reading the Bible literally and as an inspired book is a complete contradiction.

How so?

Typically, when someone says that the Bible should be read literally they mean that we should read the text by strictly adhering to exact idea conveyed by the words on the page. In other words, there can be no deviation from what the words mean, what the author intended, and what the one meaning of those words and intent is.

I understand that for these same people, the Bible is inspired because it the authors were divinely influenced to write what they did. Some even believe that this divine inspiration gave the authors the exact words to use.

Therefore, these people believe that the Bible can be both literal and inspired.

However, for me, this fails to account the actual idea and meaning of inspiration. Something is inspired when it moves the intellect and emotions. Inspiration influences and suggests, but it does not dictate. Dictation is literal. Inspiration breathes life into something. Life never has a singular meaning. Rather, it is varied and complex.

We speak of art, music, books, poems, etc. as inspired.

Why do we call works of art inspired?

We call works of art inspired because there is a meaning that is deeper than what is directly seen or heard. Inspired works of art are not to be taken literally, as if they are they are to convey one word, one thought, one meaning only. Rather, works of art move and influence the heart and mind to see deeper, opening up meanings and possibilities. Perhaps even thoughts and ideas that the artist did not originally intend.

Inspiration means that there is more than what is obvious. Or, in contrast to many who believe the Bible should be read literally, there is more than the “plain” meaning of the text.

Paul stresses these very ideas about inspiration – that the meaning is more and deeper than what was originally written – throughout his letters. Just read 2 Corinthians 3 and 4. Or, read the the analogies and allegories Paul uses to make Old Testament passages relevant to his audience. Paul interprets the scriptures creatively.

For Paul, there seems to be a range of meanings to the Old Testament, as long as those meanings serve the word that he was occupied with (Acts 17), which was that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer, die, and be resurrected. This was the one thing Paul had a habit of teaching everywhere we went.

The Bible is inspired when the Holy Spirit breathes life into it. This breathing into the words that are written by the Holy Spirit may have happened at the time the words were written. But, more importantly, the breathing into the words by the Holy Spirit happens each time we read the words of the Holy Bible with the Holy Spirit as our teacher. The inspiration of the text happens on a moment by moment basis. The inspiration of the text has happened every day for the last 2,000 years, it is happening now, and it will continue to happen into the future.

When we truly understand God, it is not surprising that the reading of the Bible can be inspired when the Holy Spirit breathes into it.

What is the first thing the Bible says about God?

“In the beginning, God created…”

God is a creator.

God is an artist.

Creation, art, happens through inspiration.

But, God’s creation, his art, can never be captured by a single, literal meaning of words on a page.

What is God’s ultimate artwork, his true masterpiece?

It’s not the Bible.

Ephesians 2.10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” The Greek word for workmanship is poeima, from which we get our word poem. Go back to the creation story in Genesis 1. In that chapter, the only portion of text translated as poem is the portion where God creates man, which I find fascinating.

We are God’s poem. We are God’s masterpiece. We, not the Bible, are truly what is inspired by God. When the Holy Spirit breathes into us, then we read the Bible in new and creative ways that make the text have meaning for our time and our culture.

Paul says that we are living letters. We are living witnesses to the Christ. For us today, Christians are to be living Bibles for the world around them.

So, can the Bible be both literal and inspired?

For me, the answer is no.

Literalism kills inspiration.

Does God Cast You Out of His Presence?

“For because of the anger of the Lord it came to the point in Jerusalem and Judah that he cast them out from his presence.” – 2 Kings 24.20

This verse really jumped out at me when I read it the other day. Judah had repeatedly disobeyed God. And, Zedekiah, the current king, had done what was evil in God’s sight. So, the author of 2 Kings wrote that God’s anger was such that the situation had reached the point where God was forced to cast Judah out of his presence and out of the land of Israel.

And, this is exactly how most of us view God in our own minds and lives. We sin. And, then we sin again. And, we believe God reaches a point with us that, because God cannot tolerate the presence of sin nor can he look upon sinners, God is forced to cast us out of his presence.

But, did God really cast Israel out of his presence?

And, does God you or sinners out of his presence?

In reality, Judah had been conquered by the Babylonian empire. And, they needed a way to explain what had happened to them. As was common in the culture at the time, they explained their being conquered by God casting them out of his presence for their disobedience, wickedness, and evil acts.

In reality, we drive ourselves away from God just as we do from any person in any relationship when we fail to treat the other with love. Yet, we try to explain our broken relationship with God as God casting us out of his presence because we have been bad. We explain our not being in God’s presence as God casting us out.

I will grant you that Jesus concludes one his parables by saying, “And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness.” (Matthew 25.30) Similarly, in Matthew 8.12, after seeing the faith of the centurion, Jesus says, “the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness,” which is to say cast out of God’s presence. But, these two somewhat vague and/or obscure references by Jesus are the only time we see anything like what was written in 2 Kings 24.20.

Instead, over and over and over in the gospels we see Jesus casting out demons, not people.

Let me repeat that.

Throughout the gospels, Jesus, and therefore God, casts out demons, not people.

“That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick.” – Matthew 8.16

“And the demons begged him, saying, ‘If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.'” – Matthew 8.31

“And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, ‘Never was anything like this seen in Israel.'” – Matthew 9.33

“And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.” – Matthew 10.2

“And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.” – Mark 1.34

“And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.” – Mark 1.39

“Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled.” – Luke 11.14

“But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” – Luke 11.20

“And he said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox, “Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.”‘” – Luke 13.32

“Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world [Satan] be cast out.” – John 12.32

Jesus, and therefore God, casts out demons, not people.

I cannot find one instance where Jesus cast a person out of his presence. People, like the rich young ruler, may have walked away from Jesus. But, Jesus did not cast him out.

In fact, instead of Jesus, and therefore God, casting people out of his presence, people cast Jesus, and therefore God, out of their presence. This is revealed in the crucifixion and the fact that Jesus was crucified outside the city.

Jesus did not cast the woman at the well in John 4, traditionally presumed to be a sinner because she had five husbands, out of his presence. Instead, Jesus revealed himself as living water and the Christ to her. And, this woman became the first witness of the Christ in John’s gospel.

Jesus did not cast the woman caught in adultery in John 8 out of his presence. Instead, Jesus refused to condemn her while redeeming her.

Jesus did not cast Mary Magdalene, traditionally presumed to be a prostitute, out of his presence. Instead, “Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.” (Mark 16.9) Whether or not Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, she was a sinner like the rest of us. Yet, Jesus did not cast her out. Instead he cast seven (the number of spiritual perfection) demons out of her.

Jesus did not cast the Gentile woman, a Syrophoenician by birth, and therefore a sinner, out of his presence. Instead, Jesus cast the demon out of her daughter.

Jesus did not cast out sinners. He ate with them and drank with them. Jesus was ridiculed by the religious elite, who routinely cast sinners out of their presence, because he did this. This is why Jesus was said to be a friend of sinners.

In John 6.37, Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” Do not think that the Father has only given some people to Jesus. The Father is the creator of all human life. All people are his children. This is exactly what Paul said in Acts 17.26-28. And, eventually all will come, or return, to Jesus as pictured in the parable of the prodigal son and Paul’s confession that every knee will bow and gladly confess Jesus as Lord.

Further, Jesus said, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons.” (Mark 16.17) If we profess to be believers, followers of Jesus, then we are to cast out demons, not people.

Let me repeat that. If we are believers in and followers of Jesus, then we are to cast out demons, evil spirits or attitudes, not people.

This does not mean that others will not drive themselves out of relationship with us, just as we all at one time have driven ourselves out of relationship with God. But, we should always be working, in some way, perhaps even just prayer, to cast the demons out of people to redeem them and restore them to right relationship with God and us.

True Worship: The Cultivation of Life

“But if you say to me, ‘We trust in the Lord our God,’ is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem?'” (2 Kings 18.22) These were the words of the Rabshakeh, part of the court of Syria, to Eliakim, Shebnah, and Joah. The Rabshakeh was challenging Judah on their trust in God because Hezekiah was calling Judah to worship God at the altar in the temple in Jerusalem.

The implication of statement by the Rabshakeh is that Judah (and all the nations at that time) believed there was one, and only one, way to worship their God, or gods. In Judah, you had to the temple in Jerusalem. There was only one site you could worship God. You could only present certain offerings or sacrifices for thanksgiving, peace, purification, cleansing, or atonement at the temple in Jerusalem. The book of Leviticus is all about the rules and regulations of worshiping God in one specific way.

In other religions, there may be rules about how to pray – certain positions, certain directions, certain times, certain words that need to be repeated. Others require specific activities or specific foods to be eaten on specific days. So, for every religion, including Christianity, there is only one way to worship to God.

Is that true?

Is there only one way to worship God?

Are these religious practices and rites even truly worship?

For most Christians, worship is simply singing songs to God, particularly slower songs. If you asked, I’m sure most Christians would disagree with that, but their words betray. Worship leaders lead people in song. Only the singing part of a service is referred to as worship. Or, “The worship was really good today” is said in response to the singing used good songs or had an electric quality to it. But, in truth, singing songs has nothing to do with worship.

True worship is the cultivation of life.

In John 4, the woman at the well said to Jesus, “Sir I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” The woman, who was a Samaritan, believed that there was one mountain in Samaria where God could be worshiped. However, she also knew that those who lived in Judah said you could only worship God in Jerusalem. Worship as tied to specific places with specific practices.

But, Jesus responded, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know, we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Jesus told the woman worship wasn’t about a specific place. This also meant that worship wasn’t about a specific practice or rite because that’s what the specific places were for. Worship could be done anywhere. But, it had to be in spirit and truth because God is spirit.

Jesus wasn’t saying that if we sing in the Spirit we are worshiping God in the spirit.

God is spirit.

In John 6.63, Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

Romans 8.10-11 says, “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness, If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

God is spirit means that God is life. The Spirit gives life.

This is why Jesus said, “For I have not spoken on my authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment – what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John 12.49-50) Everything Jesus said and did was about bringing forth the life of God.

Have you ever noticed how little the gospels focus on Jesus practicing the Jewish religion? How little time is spent telling us about the religious practices of Jesus?

But, the gospels continually tell us about Jesus bringing life to people – all people. Jesus brought life everywhere he went. Jesus worshiped everywhere in every situation to everyone because he did the one commandment his Father gave him and he knew that one commandment is eternal life.

To worship God in spirit is to worship God in life. We think of worship as singing or specific religious practices, but the Greek word for worship (proskyneo) means falling down, giving reverence, prostrating oneself before. Jesus isn’t talking about our physical position. However, he is talking about the attitude of our hearts. To worship is to lay down our own lives, to lose our own lives, so that we can give life to another.

True worship is creating the conditions for life in others.

Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4.11-12, “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” Paul is saying he has lost his own life, laid it down. He carries about the death of Jesus in him in order that others may have life. Paul’s whole life, once he had turned away from breathing murder, was about cultivating life in others.

True worship is the cultivation of life.

Jesus is the image of God. He was the true Adam, the fulfillment of man. But, how was the first man, the first Adam, supposed to worship God?

There were no instructions about a temple, sacrifices, or any other religious practices. But, God did give mankind a command. In Genesis 1.26, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God is not saying that man should rule, plunder, rape, and pillage the earth for his own benefit. No, man should have dominion over the earth in God’s likeness and image.

But, what have we come to know about God’s image and likeness in the creation?

He creates and brings life – to everything. The entire chapter is about creating life, expanding life, cultivating life. This is the command that God gave mankind, who was created in the image of God. So, it is no surprise that it lines up with the command the Father gave Jesus, who is the image of God.

Or, consider Genesis 2. Verse 8 says, “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.” Verse 15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Again, there are no commands about temples and religious practices – things we consider worship. But, the job God gave man was to work and to keep a garden – to cultivate life. The words work and keep are the same Hebrew words that are used about priests and their activities in the temple. To work and keep the garden – to cultivate life – was to worship God.

Perhaps this is why Paul said, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3.5-6) The imagery is of gardening. The Lord assigns who plants and waters, who works and who keeps the garden. The Lord assigns the tasks of cultivation. God brings the growth. God brings the life.

Are these tasks of working and keeping only “religious” in nature? Are they things having only to do with temples and churches, preaching and leading “worship?”

Colossians 3.23 says, “”Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” How do we work for the Lord? We cultivate life. So, whatever we do, do it to cultivate life. Everything we do is worship if we are doing it to bring life in others.

Therefore, Jesus said that apart from him we can do nothing. In other words, apart from Jesus we cannot bring life to anything. But, with Jesus we have the Spirit flowing in us and through us. And, the Spirit gives life.

How do we know what we are doing is worshipful? How we do know what we are doing is cultivating life?

We just need to ask ourselves one thing. Is what I am doing producing the producing the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? If the answer is yes, then we are cultivating life and worshiping God.

Worship is not religious practices.

Worship is not singing songs in church.

Worship is a kind word to someone.

Worship is gentle hand of help to someone in need.

Worship is art that inspires love in the hearts of mankind.

Worship is work that meets the needs of other.

Worship is bringing peace to a stressful situation.

As Jesus said, “‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'” (Matthew 25.34-40)

Why Was the Cross Necessary?

Everything is separated and identified by the cross. Everything that aligns with the cross can be identified as Christian. Everything that does not align with the cross, that does not conform to the cross, cannot be called Christian.

What do we mean by “the cross”?

And, why was the cross necessary?

The cross is simply a symbol for Christ crucified. Or, in other words, the crucified God. It’s not so much the cross that is important, as there were numerous people crucified by the Roman empire. However, just one, and only one, of the people crucified by the Roman empire – Christ Jesus – gives the cross its meaning, its importance, its symbolic value to the Christian faith and life.

As I blogged my way through the Bible last year, the cross – that is the crucified Christ, the crucified God – took central focus. By the end of the year, the crucified Christ became the focus of every passage of scripture for me.

Jesus taught that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and enter his glory. He taught that it was necessary for the Christ to die and rise from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. The gospel of Mark says that it was the one thing that Jesus taught plainly to the disciples as he made his way to Jerusalem. Jesus only taught this plainly after the disciples had identified him as the Christ. And, each time he taught it plainly was the result of the disciples’ misunderstanding of what it meant for Jesus to be the Christ.

In addition to this being the one thing Jesus taught plainly, the necessity of the suffering of the Christ – the necessity of the crucified Christ – was the word that occupied Paul, according to Acts 17. This word of the crucified Christ was the one thing Paul made a habit of preaching and proving through the scriptures everywhere he went.

So, after two months of not blogging as I researched how to repair my health from a near massive heart attack , I found myself half way around the world with the opportunity to speak at the Sunday service in the church of two of my closest friends (two people who I consider my family). Of course, I chose to speak about the necessity of Christ suffering, dying, and rising from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. I repeated this over and over and over during the message.

As I spoke, I sensed that some of the leaders in the church were not following me. Later, one of my friends told me that my message was not really understood. It wasn’t because of any language barrier. Rather, the misunderstanding was because the necessity of Christ’s suffering, dying, and rising from the dead was not what people were used to hearing. Further, as my friend and I discussed the message at lunch, the real misunderstanding came from what this word meant for us today. I did not really address this in my message so the misunderstanding was my fault.

But, upon my return home, I began reading The Crucified God by Jurgen Moltmann. I’m just into the second chapter, but I have been flooded with words and thoughts that convey the meaning of the cross, the crucified Christ, Jesus’ plainly taught message for us today. The following is an extended passage from the second chapter of The Crucified God.

“For ultimately, in a civilization which is constructed on the principle of achievement and enjoyment, and therefore makes pain and death a private matter, excluded from its public life, so that in the final issue the world must no longer be experienced as offering resistance, there is nothing so unpopular as for the crucified God to be made a present reality through faith…Before there can be correspondence and agreements between faith and the surrounding world, there must first be the painful demonstration of truth in the midst of untruth. In this pain we experience reality outside of ourselves, which we have not made or thought out for ourselves. The pain arouses a love which can no longer be indifferent, but seeks out its opposite, what is ugly and unworthy of love, in order to love it…

“The cross in the church symbolizes the contradiction which comes into the church from the God who was crucified ‘outside’…The symbol of the cross in the church points to the God who was crucified not between two candles on an altar, but between two thieves in the place of the skull, where the outcasts belong, outside the gates of the city. It does not invite thought but change of mind. It is a symbol which therefore leads out of the church and out of religious longing into the fellowship of the oppressed and abandoned…Where this contradiction in the cross, and its revolution in religious values, is forgotten, the cross ceases to be a symbol and becomes an idol, and no longer invites a revolution in thought, but the end of thought in self-affirmation…

“To make the cross a present reality in our civilization means to put into practice the experience one has received of being liberated from fear for oneself; no longer to adapt oneself to this society, its idols and taboos, its imaginary images and fetishes; and in the name of him who was once the victim of religion, society and the state to enter into solidarity with the victims of religion, society and the state at the present day, in the same way as he who was crucified became their brother and their liberator.”

So…

Why should we preach the message of the cross, the necessity of Christ suffering, dying, and rising from the dead?

What is its relevance for us today?

This message reveals and arouses a love within us that leads us to seek out those that are not like us, those that are opposite to us, those are deemed unworthy and unlovable, so that they can be loved.

This message takes us to where God is…outside the gates, outside the city, outside religion, outside the society, outside the state, outside the wealthy, outside the privileged…and puts us in the place of those abandoned and forsaken by religion, society, and the state.

This is the message that reveals God’s love for the abandoned, the oppressed, the sick, the poor, the tired, the downtrodden and creates that love of God within us when we suffer with Christ, participating in the fellowship of his sufferings as Paul says.

This message takes us out of religion, out of church, our of established patterns, structures, and traditions and puts us in the place of the strange, the unfamiliar, and the uncomfortable.

And, this message takes us to the one and only true God.

This message leads to a change in our minds of who God is.

The cross of Jesus Christ revealed God as the one who suffers with you and not the God who causes you to suffer.

The cross of Jesus Christ revealed God as the one who dies for you and not the God who causes you to die.

The cross of Jesus Christ revealed God as the one who comforts the forsaken and abandoned and not the God who forsakes and abandons you.

This changed mind about God leads us to pick up our own cross, to follow Christ outside…the gates, the city, society, the state, religion, the church…to meet “the victims of religion, society and the state at the present day.”

Just who are those victims of the present day?

The poor. People of color. Homosexuals. The homeless. The dirty. The diseased. The mentally ill. The imprisoned. And many more.

Once we have experienced the change, the restoration, that only the cross, the crucified Christ, who necessarily had to suffer, die and rise from the dead, we always carry the death of Jesus in our bodies so that we can bring life to others. We suffer with Christ by abandoning our identification with the world, with society, with religion, with the state. We suffer the rejection of what it means to be normal, approved and like by the powers, to be with those that are deemed not normal, disapproved and not liked by the powers that be.

Just as Jesus did for us.

This is how God was reconciling the world through Christ.

And, this is how God now makes his appeal to the world to be reconciled to him through us, Christ’s ambassadors.

There truly is no other message that needs to preached and heard.

There is no other message that is Christian.