The world has lost Randy Pausch. Temporarily. The Carnegie Mellon prof who gained acclaim and then wrote a best-selling book about dying of cancer has passed away in the last few hours. He was 47. His story is particularly touching to me because he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at precisely the time that my wife was initially diagnosed with the same illness. Our initial scans showed a mass on her pancreas and a number of spots that looked liked metastasized tumors on her liver. We spent several weeks contemplating the possibility that Beth would be gone within 3 months to a year, just like Randy’s family. Thankfully for us, when we went to the Mayo clinic a more focused scan revealed that the local doctors had seen false positives. But the confrontation with death left us with a deeper sympathy and deeper sense of purpose for living well and loving much. Randy’s response is bittersweet to say the least. While we admire his refusal to whine or complain, we cannot help but ask why death happens, and what the purpose of human life might be, if there is one at all. For myself, times like this make me embarrassed to have to identify with the Christian community… because the dark side of orthodoxy is that it believes, and sometimes even says out loud, that people like Randy are “lost”… a euphemism for an eternal destiny of hopeless, conscious torment “in the hands of an angry God.” Randy brings a tear to most of our eyes when he chooses to be satisfied with the amount of life he has enjoyed. He is thankful for his parents, thankful for his job, thankful for his family and the many dreams he has been able to achieve. But as a participant in the Christian community I’m embarrassed to say that the ugliness of Calvinist or even Arminian theology casts the darkest of shadows on every life, no matter how well lived, which does not end with the unqualified acceptance of their Molechian concept of deity. I know my Christian brothers who believe in hell would be offended by my comparison of their faith to the “God of drums” — the awful pounding of sacred drums to drown out the screams of children thrown, alive, into the red-hot arms of a flaming deity. And yet that is the unvarnished truth when you really face Christian doctrine head-on without flinching. Am I right? Challenge me if you think not. I am crying right now, in grief for Randy’s wife, his kids, his many friends and colleagues, his students. What a great man he was. But I am also deeply happy, because the Bible is so crystal clear, so brightly unambiguous, that orthodoxy is dead wrong and doomed to full disclosure and embarrassment; and that Randy has not delivered his last lecture. Randy will be back … with songs, with joy, with the same humility and fun-loving spirit that he carried into the grave. If I read Isaiah correctly, the karma of Randy is far closer to the truth than what Isaiah called the “refuge of lies”. I’m well aware of the proof texts that folks use, and I have spent years in sweet fellowship with good Christian brothers and sisters who are persuaded that these lies (which originated in the Garden of Eden) are true. But the hail that is now decimating the Christian church and making this the post-Christian era is forcing Bible-believing Christians to re-examine the Bible and see what it really says. And to admit that if God is indeed love, there is no way he’s got a guy like Randy Pausch on the wrong side of eternity. No way.
I just finished a couple of major deadlines in my secular work and I celebrated by watching a movie in my hotel room. I’ve seen Million Dollar Baby before, but this movie is told so cinematically, so emotionally, that even when I know the plot ahead of time I find myself going through the same gut-wrenching, agonizing struggles that Frankie (a boxing trainer, Clint Eastwood) and Maggie (his boxer, Hillary Swank) have to face.
The tears and sadness I feel when watching that excruciating story morphs for me into a warm and settled expectation at the end (after my cry). Not because that story ends well. (For those who still haven’t seen this 4-Oscar-winning best picture, I won’t share any details of the plot.) Yes, it’s a work of fiction that feels as sad and overwhelming as any of the myriad tragic stories we hear about every day. Yes, on the face of it I could agree with Andrew Sarris of the New York Observer who wrote that ‘no movie in my memory has depressed me more than Million Dollar Baby.’“
The only real hope that comes from the Hollywood portrayal itself, in my opinion, flows from the crystalline quality of all 3 leading characters of the story. (Eastwood, Swank, and Morgan Freeman) All three face deep disappointments and overwhelming personal challenges. All of them, at some level, fail in achieving their dreams, and the film departs from the normal romanticizing tendencies of pop culture to allow the characters to find a way of coping with their own failure, rather than miraculously finding a way out.
This encourages me because, first of all, I am persuaded that the Bible does not romanticize the experiences of this life for anyone, either. “People die all the time” is not just the realistic pronouncement of the sage observer, Freeman. It’s also the simple story of the Bible.
And I also find encouragement because of the finely-tuned sensibilities of so many people, including the folks in Hollywood who Christians love to bash — people who are pursuing the truth of human life and spirituality with grit, objectivity, and fairness. Increasingly, the reality of the failings of heroes, as well as the mitigating qualities of the “bad guys” are served up in realistic ways. Again, I find this much more like the Bible than the romanticized pulp I here coming from, say, “Focus on the Family” or other well-intentioned but, in my view, simplistic advocates of a brand of Christianity.
For me, then, real hope comes, not from a sweet but ultimately romantic humanistic sentimentality which says that “getting our shot” (as Freeman put it) is all we can hope for. Nor does it come from the faith (?) of a Churchianity that’s been, amazingly, quite deceived: that everyone already has all the shot God in his “sovereignty” has allowed for them…. forever. If either of those options were true, then all the many people who have died trying, or died without trying, or died meaninglessly because of the stupidity or negligence or evil of another, would have died for nothing. They would be just where Freeman thinks Eastwood might have gone… “somewhere between nowhere and goodbye.” Or, if the Christian mainstream is right, they’d be well beyond good-bye, into horrible, unceasing, conscious “good riddance”.
Hope comes from the promise of a resurrection. Not a tentative, deductive, inferential hope that comes from reading ancient poetry or believing myths. The Bible is quite concrete and direct in its promises of a universal resurrection… and more than that, a thoroughgoing exploration of all the lessons of life for every person. A day of reckoning that is transformational, hopeful, and reconstructive. An Act Two that builds on Act One, and doesn’t kill off any of the characters. And those characters who exit in Act Three (after the Millennium) will do so of their own volition, their own informed and fully conscious choice.
Movies like Million Dollar Baby, Saving Private Ryan, and Schindler’s List leave me, after I’ve had my cry (and I really am a soft touch in those kinds of tragedies) with a profound satisfaction that the goals of God that are so clearly stated, and will indeed be achieved … and that the methods of God we see about us will yet prove to be so brilliantly wise and incessantly loving as to take our breath away.
When the world comes to its Act 3, there won’t be a nowhere, and there won’t be any more goodbyes. And I think that’s why God is happy.
But I really need your brotherly help this time…
This week, I’m going to debate a [person who does not accept Jesus as the Son but does believe other sacred texts which I do not believe are true]. I have seen [friends like him] pick the violent verses of the Old Testament (and Moses), and ‘lustful’ parts from it, mainly from the chapter Songs.
I can readily answer any question raised from the NT, even some from the OT. But..I have a huge problem with the things I mentioned above.
How can one understand the ‘violence and lust’ mentioned in the Old testament? I don’t want to look like a fool in front of him, and my desire is to try my best to bring him to Christianity.
God did tell the Jews to remove specific groups of people from the Land he gave to them. He made it clear that it was His land, and they were to not have anything to do with the people who were already there — the Amorites, Phillistines, Amalekites, etc. He made it clear that they were judicially executing them for His own reasons, but we can think of a few reasons why God would give these orders:
2. These people were “polluting” the land itself with their idolatry, their sexual sins, their diseases and their own vicious ways.
3. If the Jews left the people there, in the nature of things they would have ended up (and indeed did to a large degree) copying their religion and their sexual sins, and pick up their diseases of body and soul.
4. God wanted to teach lessons that would create a vivid picture of his determination to have purity and His righteous standards in force in human society in the future.
5. God wanted to create a record of battles, conflicts, and both victories and defeats that would serve as spiritual lessons or “types” to the true spiritual people of God who he planned would come along later.
6. God wanted to forge the Jews into a tight nation, very tribal and very genetically separate, who would be able to survive for the 2000 years that God knew they would be scattered among mystic Babylon, before it was time to regather them again onto their own land. The promises of their resurrection as a people are now being fulfilled. Though even many “Christians” hate the Jews and can’t forgive them for their mistakes as a nation, God does not see it that way. He loves them and has already begun to restore them.
7. God also loved even the enemies of the Jews, and knew that since all people are born dying — as good as dead — they really are learning lessons too … and will be resurrected and restored in Christ’s kingdom. There are specific promises of land for the Arabs, the children of Lot (Moabites) … even the Egyptians and Assyrians in the future. All will be restored, including the enemies of Israel and their kindred tribes, Sodom and Gomorrah. (see Ezekiel 16)
By contrast, the other religions you are dealing with do not provide an everlasting hope of peace and brotherhood among those who it considers enemies. Those sacred writings seem suspect to many who have looked for authentication, because the “original” manuscripts are lost, and the “messages” came through one man whose story is questionable when put to a variety of reasonable tests.
The Bible is verifiable in every detail, and has been supported by the fossil record of the order of creation, and thousands of archeological findings.
As far as the lust part, the Bible is very clear about the limits and guidelines for human love. To the extent that the Song of Songs is a picture of human marriage, it is a vivid description of the kind of love that rightfully and purely exists between a man and his wife…. and in the song their love is not consummated yet because the marriage has not occurred.
But the Song of Songs is much deeper than that. It is also a spiritual account of the love that exists between the King of Kings and his chosen wife, a “black but comely” woman who he sought and claimed as his bride, in spite of her lack of royal bloodlines. It is a picture of Christ and the Church, and it describes the stages of her transformation by God’s grace.
It also discusses her “little sister who has no breasts” – a picture of what Psalms 45:14 refers to as “the virgins her companions who follow her” — the less developed, less fruitful category of Christians who grow up with those Christians who are most faithful and desirable to the Heavenly bridegroom. (no denominational connections here — it’s an individual character-evaluation only God can make). Compare this to Jesus’ story of two groups of virgins — pure and loyal followers — who are distinguished by fruitage in their lives — some wise, some foolish; some with oil of light in their cups, some caught in the nighttime without it. Matt. 25:1-13 Or compare it to the salvation promised to both those who build their lives with “gold, silver and precious stones” and those whose life is merely “wood, hay and stubble” — 1 Cor. 3. Both groups are saved by God’s grace, but one group gains a reward, and the other experiences trouble which humbles and purifies them in the end.
In the Song a question is raised about the Shunamite’s little sister, and the answer is given: (paraphrasing) “She will be examined to see if she is a door or a wall” — a sexually active (spiritually speaking) person or a virgin (spiritually speaking) — that is, faithful in mind and heart or having sold out to the world system and its various idolatries, as many scriptures in both the old and new testaments describe. If she is a door (no longer a virgin), she is boxed in with cedar planks — a coffin — emblematic of eternal death. If she is a wall, and has not lost her spiritual virginity, she is used to build a palace of silver . Silver is the metal used to describe the class of people mentioned in Revelation 7 and other places as a secondary group of saved Christians. Primary group, in the throne and joint heirs with Christ; secondary group, serving in front of the throne. Gold is used to describe the purest, most faithful group of saved Christians. (see Psalm 45:13ff)
See Song of Solomon 8:9
I might suggest asking the person who gives credit to different “sacred texts” where his God promises life for all men (Isaiah 25:8); or restoration for even the enemies of his people (Isaiah 19:23-25)
God has promised through all his holy prophets to restore everything, including the earth, life, and fellowship with God for all people: Acts 3:19-21
This of course harmonizes with the character of God as taught to us by Jesus: he loves his enemies, and his anger toward them is but for a moment, but his mercy endures forever. Psalm 100:5
The question is, does the anger of other traditions’ God only last for a moment? Does his mercy toward all last forever?
Once again, the way I see it, God is happy because he has a plan in place that will restore everyone, including his enemies, and give them a full opportunity to learn from their mistakes.
Grace be to you…
Bible Questions, eschatology, happy God, Jesus, Justin Timberlake, kingdom of Christ, Madonna, Messiah, millennium, prophecy, salvation, save the world, save the world project, save your world, Theodicy
Hi, Brian and Kimberly,
My apologies for taking so long to answer you.
Jesus told us that God’s motivation is love, and that his goal is to bring life to whoever believes in Jesus. John 3:16
Of course, the mainstream traditional teaching is that most people self-select themselves out of that opportunity, by choosing to reject Jesus. My Calvinist brothers acknowledge that humans are not really free and capable of responding, but their perspective isn’t very comforting, either: they teach that God has chosen who will escape the wrath of God. Apparently in this view God has chosen to send the majority of the human race to eternal misery. Some Calvinists will tell you that God knew these folks would not do the right thing anyway … others will say that the sovereign God can’t fail, is always righteous, so of course this idea that millions, billions are fore-ordained to hell cannot be an unloving or bad idea. After all, “who are we to reply against God?”, they will say; “who are we to complain as lumps of clay against the potter’s will?” (language Paul used in Romans 9, but not to justify eternal damnation, it seems to me).
However Jesus was well aware that God’s sending of a righteous man into the sinful world would not just magically make everyone all sweetness and light… those who benefitted from the status quo would fight him… and so he states in John 3:17 that again, the goal is not to judge the sin-gripped world through Jesus, but to save that very world through Jesus’ efforts on their behalf.
Jesus stated that he came to give his flesh for the life of the world. Again, life for the entire world is what is clearly and unambiguously stated. It doesn’t say, “I came to give my flesh for every individual who receives me before he dies.” There’s a world dying, and Jesus sets his sights pretty darn high — “I’m going to save the world.”
Pause for a moment to consider the ways in which that phrase, “save the world”, is used so often today.
Here’s the first 5 things that come up in a Google search:
- The Save the World Project says, “Today we all face a great challenge…” Indeed. This one focuses on fossil fuels, something Jesus never even mentioned.
- The How to Save the World blog focuses on unequal distribution of wealth, species extinction trends, and other ominous facts that make thinking people worry.
- Justin Timberlake and Madonna apparently have an orgasmic focus in their 4 minutes to save the world.
- Foreign Policy magazine presents 21 solutions from various brilliant people on how to save the world. First is from Garry Kasparov the chess master: a Global Magna Carta.
- And at the Save Your World store, you can learn about body care, hair care, and other accessory items at the Rainforest-Mall:
“By purchasing our products, you are contributing to the Save Your World® project, a partnership with Conservation International and the Government of Guyana Forestry Commission. The project secures rainforest habitat that would have been leased by mining or logging companies. Every purchase you make helps protect one whole acre of dwindling habitat…”
That’s just the top 5 ways various well-intentioned folks think we can save our world. Do you suppose that Jesus was equally misguided when he tossed out the notion that somehow if he died on a cross it would do something to save the world?
Or do you think that the historic results of Christianity so far were what he had in mind when he said “my flesh I give for the life of the world”? According to ReligiousTolerance.org, the percentages of the world that are Christian have barely budged in a hundred years — still roughly 33% of the world population. And that’s counting “Christians” in the broadest, most shallow ways possible.
ReligiousTolerance also quotes Samuel Huntington:
The percentage of Christians in the world peaked at about 30 % in the 1980s, leveled off, is now declining, and will probably approximate to about 25% of the world’s population by 2025. As a result of their extremely high rates of population growth, the proportion of Muslims in the world will continue to increase dramatically, amounting to 20 percent of the world’s population about the turn of the century, surpassing the number of Christians some years later, and probably accounting for about 30 percent of the world’s population by 2025.
Islam is growing faster (2.9% annually, faster than world population growth), while Christianity is slowly slipping as a percentage of world population.
If we try to evaluate Christianity according to the number of adults who have chosen to claim themselves practicing followers of Jesus, a survey published in Crosswalk.com in 2001 stated that 11% of the world “know Jesus”. Quoting ReligiousTolerance.org:
Missiologist Ralph Winter estimated in early 2001 that there are 680 million “born again” Christians in the world, and that they are growing at about 7% a year. This represents about 11% of the world’s population and 33% of the total number of Christians.
So getting back to my main point: Christianity as we know it should not be viewed as a fulfillment of Jesus’ claims that he came to save the world.
Jesus said, “If I be lifted up [on the cross], I will draw all men unto me.” Here he doesn’t talk in general terms about the world, he makes a pretty bold claim about individuals. That’s especially significant, since elsewhere he said, “no one comes to the Father except through me” and “no man CAN come to me unless the Father who has sent me draws him…”
And Jesus not only claims that he is the only way to life, he claims that the opportunity comes from God, and ALL men will indeed be drawn to him.
It should be obvious, it seems to me, that either we should dismiss Jesus entirely as a raging, self-deceived lunatic, or else we should try to find a rational explanation for these amazingly grandiose statements.
Paul, writing about it later, said that Jesus brought life and immortality (two distinct things) to light through the gospel. (That’s from 2 Timothy 1:10)
I would submit that life for the human race (on earth beginning in Messiah’s worldwide reign) was brought to light through the gospel. The whole world will be saved when the redemptive plan of Jesus is fully accomplished. The earth will be restored, the garden paradise will expand to fill the world, the nations will be healed — whoever wants to — and only after they have made their choice will Satan be allowed to attempt to instigate one last rebellion. (see Revelation 20) Though Christians lost sight of this world-wide redemption, orthodox Jews have held fast to it in one form or another and it’s still a prominent part of their hope for the future.
The Gospel also brought to light the promise of immortality or death-proof-ness, the power to live without external sustenance, forever. This distinct quality was not even enjoyed by angels, but only God and the resurrected Jesus. And yet it in the Christian “high calling”, this opportunity is opened up for the victorious followers of Jesus, who will live in heaven as spiritual beings. This is the “special” salvation for the “church of Christ.” In the “first resurrection” they will become part of the “bride, the lamb’s wife”. They will be given the kingdom. They will judge men and angels. They will shepherd the nations with a staff of iron with Jesus in his throne.
In summary, Jesus came to save the world. And he’ll really do it. First he saves a small group who will be so close as to be called his “bride” … but then they together turn their attention to the world and continue the hard work of saving it, through a process of resurrection by judgment, and teaching the world what it means to live in harmony and follow the principles of God’s universe. When they’re done, every man, woman and child who has ever lived will have fully learned what God expects of them, and how wonderful things can be if everyone follows those loving and just principles. Then a final test, and those who choose death will receive it. The vast majority, no doubt, will choose and forever enjoy life and love on a restored earth. “And they all lived happily ever after…”