September 30, 2008

Loving Well

A few years back, my wife and I traveled to Alaska for a wedding, and to this day, I am still perplexed by what happened that day. It continues to amaze me. The ceremony itself caused me to be challenged by God. Let me explain.

As it is with many weddings these days, this was a very non-traditional one. The bride and groom wrote their own vows. They were sweet and tender, and even a little humorous if you knew them. But in what was a new experience for me, the Maid of Honor spoke up and said something prior to the rings being shared.

In what may be seen as very indicative of the spiritual climate of the day, she began her comments with something about “the god above and the goddess below", then she wished them (and I cannot give you an exact quote here)- the peace of Buddha, the _?_ of Krishna, the passion of Pele (Hawaiian goddess of fire) in their love life, and the _?_ of Thor (Norwegian god of thunder and war). Everybody but Jesus and the Cat in the Hat seemed to be included. Now, that is not to be disrespectful with my words. I choose them just to give you a full picture of her words and their shock value to my ears.

Again, that was the maid of honor speaking. I know a little something about the bride and groom, and I have no idea what they thought about this "prayer of blessing" or anyone else’s thoughts at the wedding, for that matter.

This entire experience challenges me in my prayer life. How can I reconcile her words with those of Jesus? "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

Yet, here is a very nice, well-meaning woman truly believing in any and all gods of the earth- aside from the One True God who created it all. I thought who else at this ceremony is fully embracing this concept of many gods and goddesses? Or even just the idea of “earth and nature worship”- which is so common these days among people who are really just looking for God?

All people are searching for meaning and order to their world. And Jesus loves all of them and died for all of them. But let’s be clear- no one will enter into heaven at their death by believing in and worshiping everyone and anyone but Him. Jesus said it himself. Either He is telling the truth about who He is and why he came to earth in human form or He isn’t. Pretty simple. And pretty unpopular and very politically incorrect in his day and in ours. But they are His words, not mine.

The Bible is pretty clear on these matters of multiple gods and earth worship. The apostle Paul writes:

“They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (II Timothy 4:4) and this one:

"We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live." (I Corinthians 8:4-6)

And these verses from the book of Romans talk about the worship of the creation and of animals, certainly not a new thing:

"For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. " (Romans 1:21-23)

So what are we to do? Love well, live kindly and respectfully, and speak wisely.

Most people know of Jesus- head knowledge, school book, even church trained stuff. But how many really know and are intimate with Him in the way the Bible speaks of having a life-giving relationship with him? Heart knowledge? Knowledge of their sinfulness and of their need for Him? Many of us have family members and dear friends who do not know Jesus at the level He challenges us to. At the very depth of relationship that will one day lead us to eternal life with Him with or without Him.


We can all do our part, however, by loving well, living kindly, and speaking well. This is the best way to share the heart, the love, and the message of Jesus.

5 comments:

RandySavage said...

Hey.

I share your appreciation for WDI concept art and check out your blog expressly for that purpose. I usually skip your religious postings. I read this one however and have a question. If the only way to go to heaven is to know Jesus, does that mean that Amazon tribes, for example, that have not been contacted by Christianity and worship nature spirits go to hell when they die?

Obviously no decent, humane person can believe in a god that would do such a thing, so how do you reconcile yourself with a literal interpretation of the bible?

Mark Taft said...

Hi Randy! Thanks for the question. I wrestle with that too at times. I'm putting together an answer. It is kind of lengthy, but I'll post it soon. Take care. Mark

Mark Taft said...

Hi Randy,

Your question is a great one- and like I said, one I wrestle with at times.

Since I am a Jesus follower, I take all my questions to God through what He has to say in the Bible. Let me make a few-maybe several- opening observations, then I will try to put it all together.

In the book of Romans, written by the Apostle Paul, he addresses the heart of your question when he writes in chapter 2, starting with line 14: “Indeed, when Gentiles (non-Jews), who do not have the law (the Ten Commandments), do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.”

Paul also says in the first chapter of Romans that “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

In additional writings, Paul tells us we will all have to give an account before God for our actions (Romans 12). The writer of another book, the book of Hebrews (some believe Paul wrote this also) tells us nothing is hidden from God’s sight.

Before I get to my full explanation, let me also add that when Jesus was asked by the religious leaders of the day what were the greatest of the Ten Commandments, he said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second one is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (He says this toward the end of the book of Matthew.) Jesus also says “If you love me, you’ll obey what I command.”

OK, here’s where these all come together. For the Amazon tribe who has never heard of Jesus, God will judge them based on their choices and actions according to their own moral code that is written on their hearts. This would include how each person treats each other and their heart attitude toward their world. So, the only difference between them and us is which way the information has reached us- but we all have to answer to God for how we choose to live our lives, which reflects (or should) what we believe.

As far as your last question, Randy, I think it really is about the nature of God. In my mind, it’s similar to being a parent or a teacher or someone else you can think of who has to set boundaries to avoid chaos and encourage people in treating each other well. (And I know I am continuing to learn how to treat people well- especially under stress.)

Here’s the snapshot- God creates a beautiful world, including man and woman, who He gives free reign to do what they want. And God loves having a deep relationship with them. They choose to disobey Him (eating of the fruit He told them not to). So, by their choice not God’s, sin enters the world bringing pain, death both physical and eternal, poverty, war, evil, sickness, etc. It also brings a separation from God. Even the man and woman recognize something is different and try to hide from Him. God is holy and pure and will not tolerate relationship with impurity, but He is grieved by the distance and has a plan to fix it all.

In response to man’s failure, by God’s choice, He sends Jesus to pay the price for sin because of love for us. You’ve probably heard the famous Bible verse- and it’s a good one for a reason- “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life.” The next line is equally powerful- “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (All this in from the book of John, chapter 3.)

As a teacher, the kids in my wife’s class earn the grades they get. They make the choice to study and work hard etc. or not. Her scoring of their tests only reflects the students work. The resulting grade is the consequence of their choice to work hard or not. It’s an analogy that eventually breaks down, but makes a point that applies here.

Through Jesus, God provided the gift of an earthly and eternal reunion of relationship with Him, but like any gift, it is our choice to accept or reject what He has given. We don’t get to decide what the gift is. And if God through Jesus says “I am THE way and no one gets to the Father but by me”, that’s the way it is. Jesus is either really who he says he is or he is a liar or a crazy man. My bet is He is who he says. (And I could tell you stories of how powerfully He has changed me and loved me and brought healing to me, but that is a different story.)

Anyway, Randy, (see I told you it would take awhile…) whether by us hearing of Jesus and His payment of sacrifice on the cross or if we are the Amazonian tribesman choosing to live by the moral code written on his heart, there is a way for all of us to receive eternal life- or not. But it is our responsibility to choose. God does give us free will to choose Jesus or not for those of us who have heard the message. I think this shows God is a good and loving God. A God that cares enough to sacrifice for us and to reach down from heaven to us- very different from religions where people try to work their way to God. With Christianity, God chose to reach us instead.

Putting it all together, no one is excluded from having to give an account to a loving and kind God for how they have lived their lives. And everyone, including you and me, gets to make a choice. I think it is a pretty fair system, only being held accountable for what we know and how we live. 

I hope I have explained it well. If not, feel free to ask more questions. Thanks, Randy, for having this conversation with me!

Mark

RandySavage said...

Wow. That WAS long. But it seems that you are able to reconcile the matter with yourself, which is nice for you.

Under your reasoning, would a man who is raised Catholic, then as a young adult converts to Islam and lives out a wholly decent life by anyone's moral code. Even though goodness is "written on his heart", he has not accepted Jesus as his saviour when he dies. Would he go to hell?

I was raised in the Episcopal church, but admire the tenets of enlightenment (post-) and classical (pre-Christian) philosophy, logic, science, etc... For example, I can get into passionate debates with anti-evolutionists. So like many others, I have become tempted to dismiss religion as an age-old way of controlling people and dealing with death.

It something I will grapple with for a while. Your post was helpful. Thanks.

RandySavage

Mark Taft said...

Hi,

Thanks for waiting for a reply. This shouldn’t be long. Let me answer your question this way: Thankfully, I am not God! The decision is 100% His- not mine or any of His followers- as to who goes to Heaven or Hell for eternity once they die. I do know the Bible says it is His desire that no one would perish- but it does say some will.

As hard as I have tried, I have yet to discover any systematic theology of the Bible that make a strong and convincing case that everyone gets to go to heaven. I wish I did. Do I ever!

In my heart and mind, all the existing debates of our day, creation vs. evolution, pro choice/pro-life, etc, all fall way second to the question that Jesus posed to His disciples: “Who do you say that I am?”- in light of Him saying no one gets to the Father but through Him. So, if we have heard of Jesus, this is the question we each must answer if in fact the Bible is true and if Jesus is the Son of God as He claimed to be.

Yes, human nature at its worst does tend to use religious and spiritual language as well as the language of science, philosophy and logic, to accomplish things selfish or evil. I agree with you, that is a shame. However, if truth is really truth, it will survive onslaught of attack and misuse regardless.

Hope this further helps you in your pursuit of truth!

Mark