What follows is Faith 101, a book written by Walter Arcel
Copyright Walter Arcel 1998
Grace and Sanity Ministries
P.O. Box 191334
San Francisco, CA 94119-1334
The Judge Of all the Earth
The Lion of the Tribe of Judah
The Rose of Sharon
Listen, I don't know any way to talk other than one on one. Being solitary by nature people freak me out. So, I'm going to address you as though you were in front of me. From first to last I talk about God. If you don't want to hear about it go read comic books. You'll need something funny to read when you go to hell and find out how bad it is. My job, as I perceive it, is to prop other people's faith. I got plenty of it and have to give it away; not because it is the "right" thing to do, but because he drives me crazy if I don't.
If somebody offered to pay for all your traffic tickets, the ones you had, the ones you have, the ones you will have, what would you do? Would you take him up on it? I say, if you don't you're really dumb. You might say: who would do such a thing, pay for all my tickets? Well, never mind that. The question I put to you is very simple: would you take him up on it? At the risk of sounding cold, I don't really care what you answer, but you should. It's a matter of life or death. You'll either be at ease when you drive knowing that no matter how inadvertent your violation is no cop can accuse you; or, you'll be looking over your shoulder to see what you've done wrong. Of course, you know that ignorance of the law won't save you. You can say to the judge: I didn't know that that was a 35 m.p.h. zone, and he's going to say: well, that's too bad, the signs are all over the place. And, if you go look, you'll find out he's right, the signs certainly are all over the place. Sure, you can say: but I had just turned into the street..., and the signs are far apart. That's tough. You can say you didn't know, but most not knowing comes from not looking. At any rate, the question remains: would you let somebody pay for all your tickets, including the ones you don't know about and the future ones, so that when the law comes near you can say flat out, it's all paid for?
I don't see how you can pass it up. But maybe you like to pay for your own violations. If you got the coin and can pay it... It's all right, I guess.
Now, coins are good to have. But since prices are different, so must coins be. The price for sin is death. No two ways about it. The only coin we have for payment of sin is forfeiture of life. That's a stiff price, unbending, merciless.
However, if you don't believe in sin, that you're mired in it, continually wallowing in it, this is not for you. You might as well go read something entertaining. This will either lift you or kill you. This is only for sinners, only sinners need apply.
Someone once told me that there is much to be learned through the study of words, their original meanings, their roots. There's truth in that. Words get repeated so much that they lose their original meaning. And we repeat them without knowing what they mean. Consider the word "sin." When "sin" is mentioned, many of us might think of the "seven deadly sins." Namely, pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, idleness. No doubt, these are sins, and can be deadly. Unfortunately, these are not all there's to it. In the Hebrew language the word for "sin" is "Hattath"; in the Greek the word is "Hamartia." These are terms taken from archery and they both mean basically the same thing: missing, missing the mark, falling short. The arrow totally misses the target, or it misses the center of the target, or it falls short and never gets to the target.
The problem is that whether we fall short, or miss the target, or miss the center of the target, the penalty is the same: death. Nobody doesn't miss the mark. And ignorance doesn't save you. You might say: doesn't save you from what? Aren't we all going to die anyway? Well, sure, we are all going to die. The salvation has to do with going or not going to hell after we die.
And please, don't distract yourself with thinking about the bomb, that the danger to your life comes from the impending atomic destruction. The end of the world is of no concern to you. One way or another the end of your life will be the end of the world for you. Unbelievable as it is, your death is guaranteed, bomb or no bomb. Not believing in God, or not believing in sin, will not save you from death. If I could be saved from death by not believing in God, I would not believe in God. Of course, the faith would then be transferred to not believing in God. We do that a lot, you know. We figure that if we never learn about God we will continue to be ignorant of the law and therefore exempt from the law. But your Honor, I had just turned into the street, I didn't see the signs... Come on.
Sometimes, though, you'll get a lenient judge. He'll look you in the eye, see right into your heart and know you're lying, but might think: well, I'll give this turkey another chance, I'll let him go this time. But you know, even a lenient judge will get tired of seeing your face around and you with no payment. If you appear too many times in court, chances are that you'll eventually have to pay. The bad part about the price for sin is that it is so final. There is no coming back out of hell. It's not like you're going to be short of money for a couple of weeks. It's worse.
Now, if you had somebody come in with you who would say to the judge: this person's tickets are all paid for, take it out of my account... You can't deny it's a good idea. But, you might say, what do I have to give, or what do I have to do to get such a deal?
Actually, and fortunately, nothing. You don't have to do anything and you don't have to give anything to get it. If you believe it is available to you, it's yours. If you don't believe it's available to you, you're cut off from the gift.
So, what death are we talking about, if everybody dies anyway? Obviously, we are talking about eternal death, about some other terrifying eternal state. You see, I think that one of the best reasons for believing in God, and I'm talking about the only God that exists, the Lord God of the Bible, the best reason for believing in God should simply be fear. The same fear that buckles up the seat belt, or puts the helmet on, or drives alertly all the time. It's safer. It's safer to believe that what the God of the Bible says is true, than not. One way or another you're going to die. The problem is that, if what the God of the Bible says is true, you might wake up in a place you wish you hadn't. Christ said that in that place, the ugly place, there is "wailing and gnashing of teeth," "thirst is not quenched," and "the worm dieth not." Whatever it is, it sounds terrible.
Well, you might say, what if it's not true? I say, if it's not true you have nothing to worry about. Just pretend I'm telling you about a scary movie. I'm not telling you to believe because it is more virtuous. I just happen to think it's safer.
Of course, that's only a minute level of awareness, but it can be an entrance. Another, often taken, position is the haughty one of saying: well, I wouldn't want to worship God out of fear. Oh, you wouldn't, would you? Forget about this, then, and take your chances.
What I know is that the blessings for obedience and the curses for disobedience are so far apart that it's obvious that the blessings are less bad. It's a thing of believe it or not. You either believe it or don't believe it. Either way it won't save from the first death, but it might save you from the second one. And never mind the blessings. What if the curses are true? It'll be a bad deal. I know it's easier to not believe. What's new about that? It's like the seat belt or the helmet, it's easier not to put them on. Believing God's promise of eternal life is a good reason for faith, for some people. But, somehow, that promise did not really move me. What if eternal life is boring? As far as I'm concerned the curses are much more persuasive.
But you know, after careful consideration, I have to say that the blessings are pretty good, good enough to stand on their own.
But never mind all that. I'm still concerned with sin. If I cannot not sin, and the price for sin is death in the ugly place... God is tight. He doesn't give you any other choice. I, myself, at one point would have liked the option where you may choose not to have eternal life, but at the same time you wouldn't go to hell. But no, there is no choice. If you trust him, he'll bless you and forgive you. If you don't trust him, he'll curse you. Even I understand that. I am not so much enamored of eternal life, or I wasn't in the beginning, as I am scared of being raised up in the last day and being thrown into the lake of fire.
Still, the deal is that if sin is unavoidable, so is the curse unavoidable. The difference between sins of omission and sins of commission is not enough to save you. What you don't know can still kill you. But your Honor... Never mind, never mind. The only way is to have somebody that'll fix the ticket. But you have to need it and you have to want it. If you deny the violation you don't get the coverage. If you don't want it, it's probably because you don't think you need it. Good luck. You must have your own way of salvation.
Maybe you think that your behaviour will give you the reward of salvation. That if you keep yourself from "sinning" you'll be all right. Or, maybe doing good deeds that would offset the bad deeds is the way to go. Of course, you run into the problem that if a good deed is done, even remotely so, with the intention of wiping out a bad deed, that good deed would be tainted and would not be good enough to wipe out the bad deed.
Or maybe you think that all this, this physical world in which we live, is an illusion. You know, butterflies dreaming to be people and all that. That's cool. You got nothing to worry about. You'll just go back to the Giant Pile where nothing hurts and it's sort of peaceful. And if you understand that, you will be able to escape the Wheel of Life and the illusions of the personal ego, the self of your personal identity. Or maybe you believe that the key to quit suffering is not dealing with "sin," but it's getting rid of the ego. I know. I'm not mocking. I've explored those possibilities. It's all nonsense. What denial of the ego does is that it takes you to a place that says that what you feel is not right. You can't ever be angry, or sad, or mourn a great loss because that would be to deny the Tao, the principle of life that runs through all things. Your anger, or sadness, or feelings of loss would cut you off from that unity.
What I found is that denial of the ego in order to avoid suffering is another nonsense of the ego. The solution to the problem of avoidance of suffering is not to get rid of the ego but to learn to suffer without complaining. Ultimately, suffering without complaining cannot be done without the support of God and the total reliance on God.
But, I know, it is hard to bend your neck. It is hard to realize that we are the ones on trial, not God. That's one of the many ways how we miss the mark, when we confront God with what he's doing wrong. To miss the mark is to guarantee for ourselves the second death, the horrible end, the way of the curse.
So, how does one manage to not miss the mark? Is there a way to not miss the mark? Well, sorry, there is no such a thing as managing to not miss the mark; or, to have a way to not miss the mark, we all miss the mark one time or another. But, then, what hope is there? Will I always miss the mark? Am I never going to be right? Well, to answer the first of these last three questions: yes, there is hope, if somebody pays for your missing the mark. Second question: no, you won't miss the mark all the time. The problem is that there is no qualification in the penalty. The price is not subject to negotiation. You only have to miss once. But, you say, how about the times I didn't know? I sympathize..., but that's the way God is. He'll give you a way out but if you don't take it he'll kill you. Third question: will you ever be right? Yes, there is at least one time when you can be one hundred percent sure of being right, and that is when you see, when you recognize, when it becomes plain to you, that you miss the mark. Strange as it may seem, the very awareness of missing the mark will eventually lead you to the place where you see that the price is not paid by you, where you see that the price for your missing the mark has already been paid by someone else.
But, you say, how can somebody else pay for all my tickets?
I know, it's not easy to grasp at first. But God can do what he wants, nobody can contradict him or deliver out of his hand. If he wants to forgive those who believe in him and save them, that's his business. I know that he doesn't need me. I wasn't there to lay the foundations of the Earth. This whole universe has gotten along fine without me for a long time, so obviously God doesn't need me to keep it going. If he saves me is because of his great mercy, not because he couldn't get along without me, nor is it because I've done some great deed that makes me worthy of salvation. The peculiar thing is that unless you fear God you cannot be aware of his mercy. Only the mercy of one who can destroy me matters to me. What good is the mercy of one who cannot harm me? It wouldn't make any difference to me. The criminal doesn't look for the mercy of the lawyer, but for the mercy of the judge.
Sin remains the problem because the price is so high. The ticket must be paid. God doesn't let a single sparrow fall to the ground without him knowing, so you can bet he's got your file handy.
Genesis chapter 2, verse 9: "And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every three that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil."
Verse 16: "And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."
Genesis chapter 3, verses 4 and 5: "And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:"
"For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil."
God said not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And if you eat of it you'll die. On the other hand, the serpent, which is Satan, the one so subtle you don't hear him coming, said, you're not going to die, don't worry about it. The reason God doesn't want you to eat of that tree, is because he doesn't like competition, you'll know as much as him and you will be able to make your own decisions, without having him tell you what to do.
The word "death" means "separation." The day that you decide you know what is good and what is evil is the day you become separated from God. But we are so stupid that we're still buying Satan's lie. The notion that we can know what's right and what's wrong is the base for sin. The notion that we can have knowledge of good and evil apart from God is the platform that brings us eye to eye with God. We can confront him and ask him why he's doing what he's doing, at any given moment. It is the base for all blasphemy. When you eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you don't get to eat from the tree of life. When your faith is in your knowledge of what's right and what's wrong God can't do you any good. It's either you or God the one who's right. Of course, if you ever had a sense of how big God is you wouldn't even consider the question. How do you argue with someone who can crush you? Don't tell me about fairness. God is not impressed at all with your ideas on fairness. You do what he says or you don't. What he said is, basically, trust me and I'll help you. It's reckless to pass it up, particularly when the alternative is so dismal. If you don't trust him you'll go to hell.
It's either life eternal or death eternal. You'll either rejoice or lament. Why would one be any more absurd than the other? But there is one thing I cannot get around, and that is that the curses are unaffordable.
The best place to start looking for God is in your fear of him. That is, if you have enough sense to be afraid. If you don't think you should be afraid of God, it's all right. You pays your money, you takes your choice. But let's say that sometime along your life you start seriously thinking about your death, and, what may possibly happen to you after you die. If you never think about death you ought to because it's coming. Genghis Khan is dead, Napoleon is dead... Where are they now? Are they having a good time, or are they trying to find out how to get out from where they are? Whether they believed in God or not didn't exempt them from death..., and whatever happens after death. To think that we can, by refusing to believe, get an exemption for ignorance, it's like saying to the judge: I didn't obey the speed limit because I didn't know what it was because I drive with my eyes closed. It would be a dumb thing to say. Being outside the law does not exempt you from the law.
But maybe you'll be one of those who somewhere along his or her life will acquire enough sense to be afraid of God. Not everybody does, you know. Become afraid, that is. A lot of people die unafraid of God. And die.
Of course, maybe you think you should start with love and not with fear. You might say: why can't I come to God out of love? I suppose that coming to God out of love is probably more desirable, and it would probably be better for your ego. But the reason for starting with fear is that it is relatively simple. It is easy to be afraid than it is to love. You can't lose when you start at the bottom. If you expect to approach God by "loving him," or by "accepting him in your life," you are wasting your time. You may have the best intentions; you may want to love God, and people as well. But you can't give what you don't have. God is the originator, the creator of love. Only he can fill your cup until it spills. Only he can give you enough so that you can give to others, and back to him as well. There is nothing poetic or mysterious about this. It makes sense that if everything belongs to God, love belongs to him as well. Where would you get it, otherwise? If you think that you can manufacture love, or produce it in some way independent of God, you're missing the mark. And you know what happens with that.
The love of God cannot be perceived unless you are aware of the opposite. I know this much: your fear will turn to joy, the quake of fear will give way to the quake of laughter, when you perceive God's mercy. His mercy is manifested in his grace. Grace. Here is where my secret chuckle turns into irrepressible laughter, because the LORD is my shield and my buckler and the horn of my salvation. Because he doesn't extract a payment from me, but suffers me.
Webster's English Dictionary, 1949 edition, says of the word grace: "7. In a theological sense, (a) the free unmerited love and favour of God; (b) divine influence or the influence of the Spirit in renewing the heart and restraining from sin; (c) a state of reconciliation to God." All three of these descriptions are great. Absolutely accurate and revealing of God's great love for us. But it is the first description that captures my attention. Free, unmerited love and favour of God. He gives it for nothing before the receiver is worthy. If worthiness were a prerequisite to get God's love, nobody would get God's love because nobody is worthy. You don't get God's love by earning it. It is blasphemous to think that way. Your own transformation from a piece of coal into a diamond is in God's hands through his grace. Besides unmerited favour, grace is also the influence of the Holy Spirit in renewing the heart and restraining from sin. That is, restraining from missing the mark. God renews your heart, transforms you, in such a way as to give you attachments to him where you hit the mark.
In order to evoke the response he wants from you, namely, that you trust him blindly, his love has to be like that, free of attachments. He begins by making it available for nothing and if you perceive it and take it, he pours more on you.
At this point you might say: wait a minute. On the one hand you tell me that because of God's mercy I get his grace, his free and unmerited love and favour; but on the other hand you tell me to be afraid. Which is it? If I get it for nothing , why should I be afraid?
Well, because. You get it for nothing but you have to claim it to get it. Otherwise, he'll kill you. I told you already. The blessings are less bad. You ought to be afraid of the curses.
At any rate, I really don't know you, you may have all sorts of contemporary notions about God. Maybe you have one of those squeaky, affected voices in your head that says it might be "nice" to "have God in your life." Maybe you think you'll be doing God a favour if you join "his troops." Maybe you think that the transaction between you and God is a transaction between equals. That's just as insane as to think you're exempt from death. It's like supposing an amoeba and an atomic bomb are in equal footing. No, bebe, we are talking about the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, the One beside whom there is no other, the most that I've heard with my ears, as David would say it. There is no equality. We are temporal but he is eternal. Before time was, he was. Before time began he was already there. He was there before the world began and he will be there after this world is destroyed. Where does he reside that you could knock on his door and demand an answer from him?
But, who knows? You might be one of those who eventually becomes afraid of God. If you become afraid of him and are able to perceive his mercy you will have a great blessing bestowed on you. Obviously, to have the mercy of God is a great blessing. But there is another blessing that accrues from mercy, and that is, repentance. Repentance is literally a "change of mind," a complete about face. One minute you're running one way and the next minute you're running the other way. Repentance from you, true repentance deep in your heart the kind that cannot be faked, will bring about the third definition of the word "grace:" a state of reconciliation with God. This reconciliation will cause you to love, admire, worship, and trust God.
You don't believe it? Go to hell, see how you like it. The wailing and gnashing of teeth that goes on in there makes me think of a place that is super hot, a place where people are being bitten and assaulted by the angry demons that they are locked up with. I have trouble going to the supermarket when it's crowded, and I don't like the hot weather... I wouldn't do well in hell.
You might say, well, I don't know. It's so hard to repent! I haven't done anything wrong... I don't do anything too much, don't smoke too much, don't drink too much, don't cheat on my spouse too much. What am I supposed to repent about?
I agree. It's hard to repent. Particularly when you don't have the sense of having done anything wrong. But sin is not just anyone specific act, though it can be at any given moment. Sin is much more serious than that. Sin is more like an attitude, a way with which we face the world. It is an attitude that says: I can do it all myself and I don't need God. From that comes: if I don't need God I don't have to obey him either. I would have to agree with that last conclusion. If you don't need God, why should you obey him? Of course, the problem is that you do need him, if not now, later, and if you don't know that you're in deep trouble.
What I'm trying to tell you, and I don't know if I'm getting through, is that the beginning of your faith in God starts with your fear of God. If you cannot be afraid of God you're just too senseless to have faith.
You have to use your imagination. Become open to the question: what if? What if hell is real? I mean really real, no fooling real. It's always a question of believe it or not. It's not your choice to believe but it is your choice to consider. If nothing happens after death all these words are meaningless. Believing yes or no doesn't change anything.
We are all subject to the Law of God. The Bible shows God himself giving the Law to Moses. The problem we face regarding the Law of God is that it is impossible to avoid transgression, a.k.a. "sin." Check out the entire books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy and see for yourself.
Here is an example. Have you ever gossiped? Leviticus 19, 16 says: "Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people..." And please don't tell me that you only gossip among strangers, because if you try that defense, here's another verse:
Leviticus 19, 34: "But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God."
Or try this one: Leviticus 19, 17 says: "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart..." I'm sure that counts for sisters, too. More seriously, that counts for all humanity. Which brings us to this: if you never hated anybody, even momentarily in a flash of anger sometime in your lifetime, the Law doesn't apply to you because you are obviously not human. If you ever did, or do, hate anybody, you'll get the ugly death.
Naturally, you might ask: where is this great mercy you're talking about? God puts out a Law that's impossible to comply with and then he says that if I don't comply he'll kill me. Where is the mercy?
The mercy is built in the Law. God's Law, as given to Moses, contains all the proper ways to atone for sin. Whether the sins (missing the mark; transgression; falling short of God's glory) are committed knowingly or unknowingly doesn't matter. Both have to be paid and the ways to do it are spelled out.
The atonement for sins was done mostly through the sacrifice of various animals. But if the person offering the sacrifice was very poor, or at least not rich enough to be able to afford an animal, it was possible to make a sacrifice with something as simple as a measure of flour.
Leviticus 5, verses 5, 6, and11: "And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD for his sin which he has sinned, a female from the flock a lamb or kid of the goats, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin."
"And if he not be able to bring a lamb, then he shall bring for his trespass which he hath committed, two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, unto the LORD; one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering."
"But if he not be able to bring two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, then he that sinned shall bring for his offering the tenth part of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering..."
In other instances, and again depending on the ability of the sinner to pay, the sacrificial animal might have been a bullock, an expensive animal in its prime. Whatever the animal was, it had to be the best you had. In every case it had to be an unblemished animal, young and in excellent health, not marred or bruised. The sacrifice had to be real, something substantial that cost you. It was what you'd use to pay for the ticket. The animal was killed as a token instead of you, the flour was burned instead of you. The sacrifice would make you clean, and therefore, free. The very act of going through with the sacrifice gave evidence of repentance and obedience, both of which are integral parts of faith.
There is yet another side to the prism of human nature. Besides our inevitable relationship to God, we have our relationships to other humans. We spend a lot of time trying to get our relationships with other people figured out right. We want to know how to be with the girlfriend or the boyfriend or the wife or the husband or the child or the parent. And we figure that once we get those straightened out, we'll settle the thing, whatever it is, with God. Inevitably, our relationships involve putting our faith in other people. That's absolutely backwards. The dumbest pursuit in life is to try to build your life based on your faith in other people. It's useless. You know yourself how fallible you are. You know yourself that when other people put their faith in you it feels like a burden. Why, then, should you put the burden of your faith (the burden of your expectations, really), on other people's backs? I don't care how you look at it, your ultimate relationship is to God, death is coming no matter what. Get your relationship to God straightened out first and all the relationships with people will fall into their proper alignment. Instead of expecting your fulfillment to come from people, expect your fulfillment to come from God. When your trust is in God he uses people to hand you what you want. There is no conflict. It's not a forsaking of people, it's not a choice where you have to sever your relationships with people if you elect to look at God first. On the contrary, God will help you put all those other relationships in their proper perspective. All relationships with people become horizontal, and there is only one relationship that is vertical. There is only one source that can deliver, and your faith is no burden there. The Lord is the nest for your faith to rest.
Faith shows in whether you trust God to get you out of whatever jam you're in. One of those jams is the inevitability of sin. What you have to trust in this case is that he has provided a way out, a legitimate way to pay. Not a way that will make you not a sinner, but a way that will make you a sinner who's paid up. Get it out of your head. There is no way to not sin. If sin is to fall short of the glory of God, it follows that if you're not as good as God you're a sinner.
You have to realize that this is a chain with many links. The force of non-belief is very strong. It is easier to sit in the seat of the scornful than it is to believe that God will deliver. There is nothing new about that. We are basically dopey and without understanding.
God assumes that we will sin. That's why the Law, the Torah, contains all the ways to atone for sin . There are sacrifices for sins you know about and for sins you don't know about. The provision is there because sinning is what we do naturally. Sin is an attitude, a belief that we can do without God. God is like a target. If you miss it, you miss it. If you miss the mark totally, that is, never avail yourself of the total pardon provided by God, you'll go to hell.
When you really look at what sin is, you'll see how subtle it is. Sin is not just debauchery, stealing, and killing. Sin is in the mind. The Law is way past carnal, it is spiritual. The moment God says: thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart, or, thou shall not covet, you can see that God addresses that which is totally hidden, the invisible realm of the mind and heart and spirit. The very first sin was that of Satan. He eventually tricked the first humans, Adam and Eve, into perdition. But the very first transgression was that of Satan, and it was not one of the traditional sins. The devil wasn't smoking too much, or eating too much, or getting drunk after work too much, when he got kicked out from Heaven. He wasn't angry with anybody, he wasn't fornicating... He wasn't doing any of those things, but he had a wicked thought. That's all he did, he had a wicked thought. He thought he was better than God and he was going to get into Heaven and elbow God out of the way.
Isaiah 14, 13, and 14: "For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:"
"I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High."
All he did was to think about it, and he never got past the thinking. The imbecile never got to put a couple of two-by-fours together, he never got together the materials to build his throne, before he got kicked out. Then, of course, he got into a rage, envy consumed his heart, and he set about to destroy the Creation of God by introducing sin into the world through Adam, thereby, staining, defiling, profaning, ruining the Creation. Knowing that God by his very purity cannot be in the presence of any defilement, Satan figured that God would have no choice but to lose his Creation. God would be forced to destroy it, to destroy the thing he had made and loved. What Satan never counted on was the extreme action God would take. It never crossed Satan's mind, not in his wildest imagination could he have figured out what God was going to do. God the eternal descended from glory to shed his own blood, to shed his life, in order to buy back that which was lost.
But Satan continues to work his deceit. Knowing that he is heading for the lake of fire, he is going around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. By blinding people to God, and by telling them that God is inside them and that they only have to develop or become aware of the God that they are, he makes people think they are equal to God. This is deadly. There is no recourse to the sin of believing oneself to be equal with God. You can't repent to an equal.
But aside from that overt way of making you believe that you are equal to God, the devil has other ways to oppose and mislead. He opposes with the Law, and misleads with human righteousness. With the Law he opposes by telling you are not clean enough to come to God. With human righteousness he misleads by making you believe that you don't need a God to tell you what to do because you already know that you are supposed to do good things. You have no vices, you help the poor, you care for the environment, you want to promote civilization. There is nothing God can tell you that you don't already know.
If you don't repent is because you don't know you're a sinner. If you don't know you're a sinner you don't get the coverage that pays for the ticket.
However, there is a tricky place to go through, a sort of catch 22. In order to repent you must know who you are. But unless you are sure of God's mercy you won't be able to explore your depths, the depths you have to explore in order to find out who you are. You will be stopped in your exploration when you run into those areas that you think must be cleansed before you come to God, even if it is to repent. It is essential that you see, clearly see, that God has provided a way where there was no way.
Repentance is a strange, transforming affair. There is a cleansing of the soul that only tears can accomplish. The way you cried in anguish, the way you cried when you felt your biggest loss, approaches the grief of repentance. But it only approaches.
Repentance is more like a remorse, a sense of having done something wrong, something unjust, to someone who loves you. It's not so much a feeling of loss, but a sense of having been too insensitive and uncaring to realize you have been hurting the one who cares for you the most. Repentance is something that swells up inside you, a feeling of deep sorrow that makes you want to take God in your arms and kiss him all over his face and tell him you're sorry for being so dumb.
So, what about faith? How does one get it? Does it appear in a pop, like a pumpkin into a carriage? Or does get built straw by straw like a nest?
There really are shades of both. But faith is not just a belief that God exists. Faith is a trust, a reliance on, a leaning on, a resting on God. Faith in God is to make him the first and last recourse. There is a stage when faith appears, maybe not so much in a pop as a pumpkin into a carriage, but more like a pumpkin growing in a field. The big leaves of the plant cover the pumpkin and you don't see it growing, it grows without you noticing it. And there is another stage when faith is built up straw by straw like a nest. Every time you ask God to help you with something it's like bringing a straw to the nest.
But there is actually empirical evidence that God has helped you all along. There is no way you could have survived without God's help. Look in that field that is the span of your life, up to the moment you read or hear this. Look and see: would you take on the job of baby-sitting someone like you 24 hours a day? Every day, every day, no let up. You tell me. Would you care for someone like you 24 hours a day? It's obvious you had help. How many times have you been in trouble and he had to figure a way out for you? You have trouble breathing when you get the flu. And if your stomach begins to rumble real bad you have to abandon a speech. Where is your power? Where is the control you have over your life?
I don't care how good you are at logistics, or at organizing. It's beyond you capabilities to take care of someone like you 24 hours a day for however many years you've been alive.
Look back and see. Dig out of your closet the shoe box with the photos of ten, twenty years ago. Look at yourself at different ages, look into the eyes of that person at that moment in time. The first thing that becomes apparent is that the further back in time you go you see that you had no idea of all the troubles you were going to run into later. It almost gives the feeling that you want to shout at yourself at different ages and say: look out! Because they have no idea of what's coming. You know what's going to happen next, but those younger you don't know. To you it's history, but those in the photographs don't know what's going to happen next. Looking back on that field that is your life, perhaps you can see the hand of God behind all your help, and suddenly, just like in the pumpkin field, there is a goodly pumpkin growing right under those big leaves.
How you got here, reasonably sane after all, is a mystery, outside the intervention of God. .
But maybe you don't see it that way. Maybe you don't see the pumpkin in the field, maybe you only see the desolation in the rest of the field. Maybe you only see how miserable your life has been, and all the suffering that you've gone through. That's tough. If God really did exist I would not have received this kind of suffering. Well, then, if God does not exist, the God of the Bible, if this God does not exist, there are several options open. If life is that bad for you I would think that committing suicide should be something to be considered seriously. Most people who kill themselves do so because of that desolation, the desolation they see in that large field that is their lives. Go ahead and join them. Find out for yourself if nothing happens. If nothing happens you're safe. Now, if God is waiting for you on the other side, wherever and whatever that other side is, if God is waiting for you, look out. Because when someone commits suicide what the person is actually doing, is spitting in God's face and telling him: the life you gave me is no good. It's a bad thing to say. At that point, nothing can be done anymore. Questioning God has no recourse. There is no court above him to appeal to.
But I'm not saying that one should just put on a happy face and go around all day grinning like an idiot, ignoring or denying, that personal suffering exists. There is something very important about that desolation of the field. We mustn't just reject the desolation. We must perceive it in order to choose what we are going to look at. Without the contrast of desolation, the pumpkin is not readily apparent.
The main difference resulting from what you choose to look at, is your quality of life. It has to do with being spiritually rich or spiritually poor. You can have a lot of material riches and be spiritually poor, or, of course you could be materially poor and also spiritually poor. Regardless of any other permutation, whether you are rich or poor materially is not terribly important. But being rich or poor spiritually is extremely important. Your access to God through prayer makes all the difference in the world. In the midst of trouble you have him to go to.
If you see the pumpkin you will see the help of God throughout. He tended to you, gave you the strength to grow. Perhaps one of the questions should be, does God help the heathen? Does God help those who are in rebellion against him? Of course he does. Everybody, all of us, in our natural state are in rebellion against God. Did he help us when we were in rebellion? Did he feed us and nurture us when we despised him? He sure did. But sometimes he gets his hands bitten so much that he pulls back a mite. Sometimes we reject him so much that we actively get out from under his wing. It's no wonder he calls us "backsliding heifers." A backsliding heifer is not one that is just sliding because there is something slippery. Backsliding is like sitting on your haunches and digging in your heels, and pulling back when there is any slack. Backsliding is actively willful, a constant effort to get away. But no matter what, when we look toward him he takes us back.
However, it may be that you only see, or mostly see, the desolation. Nevertheless, even that may be a step in the right direction. If you only see the desolation it's one more reason to marvel at how you made it until now, through the lack of money, and the lack of love, and the lack of recognition, and the lack of this..., and the lack of that... I'm sorry, I guess I have no more patience for common tales of woe. Start asking for what you want and quit complaining about what you don't have.
You have to learn to see that your very existence was not created nor can it be maintained by the power of your hand. When you know this, there is a shift in attitude. Instead of running from him you run toward him. One of the differences that exist between those who believe in God and those who don't is that those who believe in God know who to thank, and those who don't believe in God, don't have anybody to thank.
Now, return for a moment to the "gathering of straws" aspect of faith. Every prayer, every petition, every time of communion with God, is as if you were bringing a straw to the nest. The Holy Spirit eventually takes up residence in that nest and proceeds with the subtle process of purification. Communion with God is getting together with God. Prayer and meditation are two aspects of getting together with God. If you are saved you ought to, at least, ask God that he would save your immediate relatives, perhaps more that just immediate relatives, or perhaps to include friends on that list. Whatever it is, asking God to save other people is a good thing, and thinking about God's goodness is also a good thing. Study your Bible, pray for your relatives, and meditate on him. Praying and meditating should be done daily, first thing in the morning, before breakfast. Get up, wash your face and go do your sacraments. Then, eat. But the first thing in the day should be your contact with God. I can guarantee you he likes that. This is the gathering of the straws, which, really, never ceases.
Of course, the problem with communing with God is that we don't feel clean enough to come into his presence. Whether it is for prayer or meditation, there is a remoteness, because the perception of sin does not leave us. Even psychology, our contemporary religion, tries to tinker with the issue of sin. Of course, they don't call sins "sins" because the sting is too sharp, and instead of "confessing" and "repenting" the code words are "dealing with." But the issues are basically the same, pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, idleness... No matter how many times we hear "I'm O.K., you're O.K.," the perception of uncleanness stays with us.
Well, it's true. We are unclean. And there is nobody who can cleanse us except God.
The Law must be understood clearly. First, the price for sin is death; second, we are all sinners; third, the Law itself spells out precisely what must be done to get out of that death sentence.
Chapter 16 of Leviticus contains much detail of how to make the proper payment for sin. The grace of God is manifested in the provision of a way out of hell. Imbedded in the Law it is. This is the day of atonement, the Yom Kippur.
Leviticus 16, 3: "Thus shall Aaron come into the holy place: with a young bullock for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering."
Leviticus 16, 5: "And he shall take of the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats for a sin offering and one ram for a burnt offering."
6: "And Aaron shall offer his bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and for his house."
7: "And he shall take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation."
8: "And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other for the scapegoat."
9: "And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the LORD'S lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering."
10: "But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat in the wilderness."
11: "And Aaron shall bring the bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and shall make an atonement for himself, and for his house, and shall kill the bullock of the sin offering which is for himself."
Notice that even the priest had to make his payment for sin. Once the priest was clean it was then the time to make an atonement for the people.
Verse 12: "And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the LORD, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the veil:"
13: "And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not:"
14: "And he shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy seat eastward; and before the mercy seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times."
15: "Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the veil, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat."
16: "And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness."
Skip to verse 20: "And when he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat:"
21: "And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness."
22: "And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness."
So, one of the goats was killed (because the price for sin is death and killing the goat voided killing the sinner), and the other goat was let go in the wilderness never to return. The sins that were put on the head of that goat would never come back to confront the sinner, me.
Skip to 29: "And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country or a stranger that sojourneth among you:"
30: "For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the LORD."
31: "It shall be a sabbath of rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls, for a statute forever."
The entire Book of Leviticus is beautiful and must needs to be read thoroughly. The only reason for skipping a bit was to highlight how simple his plan for salvation is. Chapter 16 hones in precisely on the proper procedure for atonement. Chapter 16 is beautiful all by itself, in the clearly defined assurance God gives us as to the certainty of salvation and availability of salvation. And in verses 29 through 31 it's clear that he commands us to be saved. It's a direct order from him to be saved. Not everybody obeys, of course, but no one can say that he didn't command us.
For those who say that the Law belongs to the Israelites only, I would direct their attention to verse 29 where it says that the stranger (that's me) can and is, in fact, commanded to partake of the salvation provided to the Israelites.
The word "affliction" also has caused some misconception. There are some who think that the word "affliction" refers to a fast. I don't think so. It may refer to a fast, perhaps, but in another context. I think that the reason some people want to make "affliction" a fast, is that it gives them a sense of doing something for their salvation. It's pride. The Yom Kippur requires blood. In regards to atonement for sin, only a blood sacrifice will suffice, and that is obvious throughout the Bible.
We also have Leviticus 17, 11 one of the most important verses in the whole Bible. It states: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul."
Leviticus 17, 11 rings out the mercy of God toward us.
Sure, you might say: what's that got to do with me? I don't go around killing goats, or rams, or bullocks... Who can pay? I live in an apartment, I'll get kicked out!
I know, it's hard to imagine the reality of all these things. But the Law is the Law and God gets pretty demanding about it. But what you should notice is that God expects us to sin, he knows how rebellious and stiffnecked we are. He doesn't say: if you sin you'll go to hell. What he says is that you must pay when you do sin. He spells out what the price for sin is and what we have to do about it, but he also takes it for granted that we will sin.
However, the question remains: who can pay?
Well, I tell you, all these questions would be irrelevant if it were not for the fact that death is certain. But God is in control here while we are alive, and he is also in control of whatever is going to happen after death. If nothing happens, all this is nothing. But if something is going to happen you better get the right information.
The great work of atonement, the payment for all sins, was accomplished when God killed Jesus Christ. I know it sounds ugly, like blasphemy. But it isn't blasphemy. God is responsible for the shedding of Jesus's blood, God is responsible, not the authorities of that day, both civil and religious, for the death of Jesus. This was not an act of men, this was God's deliberate sacrifice, it was the only way he had to set us free, to save his creation, yet a way that would comply with the Law he himself gave to Moses. The killing of Jesus was a deliberate act of sacrifice. Jesus fulfilled all the requirements, specified by God to Moses, concerning offerings for sin, peace offerings, atonement for sin. Jesus is the bullock, he is the lamb, he is the two goats, the one that is killed and also the scapegoat, he is the turtledoves, he is the pigeons, he is the tenth of an epha of fine flour, he is the unblemished lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.
He was, is, the unblemished lamb of the flock, the bullock in his prime, the prize, the best. He paid the price for the whole field. On him were laid all the sins of humanity, backwards and forwards in time. That's not to say that every human being will be saved, but that his blood is sufficient to pay for all the sins of humanity. One drop of his blood would have been sufficient.
It was a purely one-sided affair, an unilateral action on the part of God prompted by his love for us. God killed Jesus instead of killing us. He treated Jesus the way he should treat us. If he hadn't killed Jesus he would have had to kill us.
Naturally, the fair question now perhaps should be: if God didn't want us to sin, why did he make us like we are? Why go through all the trouble of making us less than perfect and then having to kill Jesus to make us right again?
Well, it's not like he couldn't have made us different. Of course he could have done. Had it been up to me to make everything I would have been much more efficient. I would have made only one or two kinds of trees, one kind of dog, one kind of cat. I would not have made flies or mosquitoes, and I would have made only one kind of human, all about the same, nice looking, good wearing (they'd all die in good health) and they would smile all the time like idiots..., which is about what they would be.
Fortunately, God is smarter than me. The praise of robots is meaningless. He had to give us free will and intelligence for us to be of any value to him. But it's a double edged sword. That same package of intelligence and free will that makes each one of us unique, is what give us the delusion of independence. We either think we know better than God or we outright rebel against him. We become no better that the squirrels in the park or the cows in the field, unaware of our divine origin, worried only about eating.
The very gift of intelligence and free will that we should use to praise God with, is what leads us astray. We become foolish with our own power. And yet, God loves us. He loves us because he knows we suffer. Intelligence increases knowledge that increases sorrow, and free will makes us feel lost.
Certainly, you could say: why should I thank God for a gift that causes me pain?
I understand. You can complain if you want to. But be advised that when you complain you are choosing sides. Sure you can look at the empty half of the cup and complain about what God doesn't give you. But you are choosing sides, you are choosing Satan for patron. Satan wants you to complain, he's always ready to lend an ear and be sympathetic with whatever grumbling you have about God. All the devil wants you to do is to miss the mark. He wants you to believe that you have no sin, that everything is all right. You'll never get to repent that way. He could even make you very religious and saddle you with spiritual pride based on your own righteousness. He'll make you stand on that little foot stool of your righteousness so you can look down at the sinners. That's dumb. Your ultimate relationship is not between you and the sinners, it's between you and God. It won't do you any good to be better than somebody else. God measures you with the Law, not with another sinner.
The devil is full of deception and he makes us miss the mark when we believe him. And we believe him quite a bit, we believe that he's going to help us or that he is going to hurt us. When we pay that much attention to him it's like adoring another god; and let me tell you, there's nothing that angers God more than your adoring another god.
It's easy to miss the mark. We miss it when we get hooked on the outside world and we struggle with it, by cursing it or craving it. The outside, physical world has many hooks, it's very easy to get attached to it. It's what we see, it's the reality we know for sure. To sin is easier than not to. That's why Christ is indispensable, because sinning is what we do naturally and without him we would be goners.
It's not easy to believe. It's really weird to think about God, to think that there is an invisible being out there that is conscious and listens and knows what's going on. In order to seriously think about God you have to become a little nuts. And who wants to go nuts? We fear insanity more than we fear death. We don't know what death is like. There is nothing to compare it with. Insanity we see, we see the results in the streets. Bag ladies, incoherent winos, people walking around aimlessly. We all fear that helplessness. That's why faith is so valuable to God, because it isn't easy to come by.
Now, the solution is that if you don't have any faith you have to ask God for some. I understand the problem this presents. If you don't have any faith to ask, how are you going to ask God for faith? I know, it's tricky. But there is no substitute for blind trust. At some point in your life you have to jump that hurdle, and ask God to help you out. So what if you feel a little stupid in asking when you don't know if there is anybody listening? That's what free will is for, so that you can make up your mind to ask from the only source that can deliver.
From caterpillar to butterfly, from a piece of coal into a diamond. Total transformation. The end completely different from the beginning. That's the transformation available to you. And transformation is very sneaky, you don't notice it while it's happening. One day you begin to notice that you no longer do certain things, that you don't think the same ways, that you behave differently. Sometimes it can be detrimental, in the ways of the world, to surrender to God. Things you used to get away with you can no longer do. Nice tools of manipulation that took a long time to learn have to be thrown away. A real pity, sometimes.
Still, transformation happens from the inside out, not from the outside in. It is not an imposed code of behaviour, but a way of thinking that dictates the behaviour. You can't fake it if you don't have it and you can't ignore it if you do have it.
So, I go back to my first question: if somebody offered to pay for all your tickets, would you take him up on it?
If you understand the Law and know that you don't have the coin to pay for your violations, you'll get a sense of God's mercy for giving us Christ, and you will take him up on it. Christ is not someone you "accept." Christ is someone you hang on to with teeth and nails, like a drowning man hangs on to a rope that is thrown to him. You don't "accept" a life saving rope, you hang on to it with all you got. That's what you have to do with Christ. You have to stake your claim under the shadow of the proper sacrifice. He, Jesus Christ, is the proper sacrifice. We are not clean. We are made clean by the blood of the lamb. The time spent entreating God to forgive our sins could be better spent thanking God for having already done it.
Christ does not make sense without knowledge of the Law. But be careful. Don't worship the Son at the expense of the Father. John chapter12, verses 44 and 45 say: "Jesus cried and said, he that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me."
"And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me."
God had to give us a way that would meet the standard of purity required to come into his presence. That's where his love is manifest, in his grace, his unmerited love and favour. Our ability to talk to God about the things we need help with is not contingent on our worthiness Christ is the sacrifice that sets us free. Thanks be to the LORD.
To return to our home page where you can access information and other written material to download, click here