A BORN-AGAIN BELIEVER

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WITH APOLOGIES TO (SOME) THEOLOGIANS

To dissect something, you first have to kill it. If it’s not dead before you start dissecting it, it will die shortly into the procedure, the way that people declared “brain dead” will physically (that is, actually) die shortly AFTER the organ harvesting procedure begins.

But I digress.

To humanely dissect something you first have to kill it. Then you affix it so that it won’t be jarred out of position during the dissection procedure. Then you can start the incisions.

I hated biology class when I was in high school. I refused to dissect the frog that I was supposed to dissect as part of the course requirements. Even as an atheist, I didn’t see the frog as a thing, but as a living being that had been “sacrificed” (actual scientific terminology) and preserved in formaldehyde solely so that I could get at least a passing grade in a course I had no desire to be taking in the first place. This didn’t sit well with me, and anything that didn’t sit well, I rejected. My reward for sparing the frog was expulsion from biology class, which contributed to my failing the course, which caused me to fail the year, which led me to dropping out of high school.

But again I digress.

We cannot approach God as a dead thing, affixed and immovable, to be dissected like a biology course sacrifice. This, I would argue, is the way that most theologians approach God. I had to throw “most” in front of “theologians”, because God’s been on my case to be kinder to those who make a career out of studying him. Some theologians actually are believers, though they make up a tiny minority. So, in deference to God’s wishes and respect for the few theologians who do believe, I will be kinder.

In Jesus’ day, theologians went by the names of “Sadducees”, “Pharisees”, “Scribes” and “Lawyers”, and we know what Jesus thought of (most of) them. Even so, Paul was a Pharisee before his conversion. Paul’s background training is important for me to remember and helps me stay on course to be kinder to theologians.

God cannot be dissected, because he is eternally alive. The most we can do is describe what we know are some of his characteristics, such as being all-powerful, perfect, merciful, and just. Those of us who know him as our heavenly Dad can describe his voice (the most beautiful you’ll ever hear!) and his playfulness with his children. To me, his daughter, he is indulgent but also at times very firm. I don’t get away with anything, and in fact get a harsher punishment than someone who does the same thing but is not a believer. This is just, as I should know better. Those of us who are graced with grace and God’s Spirit should always know better and set the good example, the way Jesus always did. I’m learning, but I have a ways to go before I catch up to Jesus.

The majority of theologians are not believers and so come by their knowledge of God mainly from the Bible. I cannot imagine poring over scripture for the sole purpose of winning an argument or finding some ‘angle’ to exploit for academic brownie points. I know people who read the Bible just to memorize it. This is a mystery to me, why someone who doesn’t believe in God would want to memorize the Bible. As an atheist, I couldn’t stand to have a Bible anywhere near me, let alone to read it enough to memorize it. Nowadays, I can’t stand not having a Bible near me. I always travel with at least one, as most hotels and motels in Canada don’t provide a Bible in their rooms anymore.

Scripture is not a dead thing to those who love God. We believers read the Bible with the help of God’s Holy Spirit, who is very much alive and “quickens” our understanding of scripture. There is no other way to read the Bible, if gaining a better understanding God and his Word is your intention. Sure, you can read it as just a collection of facts encapsulated in words, but that’s not how it was intended to be read. It was written to be digested and absorbed. You are to feed on God’s Word, which is filled with spiritual nutrients. You are to take a bite, chew on it, swallow it down, and let it become part of you.

Jesus suggested we do the same with him – chew on his flesh and drink his blood. Some of his followers were disturbed by this dinner invitation, but Jesus didn’t back down. He insisted that those who wouldn’t ingest and absorb him had no part in his mission. He later explained that he meant we should ingest the words he was speaking, “as they are spirit, and they are life”.

Scripture is a dead, fixed thing only to those who don’t love God. For those of us who do, scripture is very much alive and cannot be affixed to anything, as it moves and morphs and changes with each reading. God’s Word is eternal and his Truth is unchanging, but our understanding of it is fluid: as our faith deepens, so, too, does our understanding of God.

I am not sure that this dynamic happens to those who read the Bible not to feed on it but to exploit it for personal or professional gain. I think they receive only a very superficial understanding of it, if their interpretation is to be classified as an “understanding” at all. This is why they are constantly squabbling over minutia that God never intended to be squabbled over. The deeper meaning – the Holy Spirit-conveyed meaning – evades them, and all they’re left with is the spiritual equivalent of a crucified frog with its sad little fastidiously labeled guts hanging out.

It is infinitely better to know God one-on-one than to know of him only by hearsay. We cannot study God like a dead thing or like fixed words on a page, because God is not only alive, but Life itself. He evades being known by those whose reasons for seeking him are not righteous. They’re like little kids pressing their noses against the display counter at the pastry shop, eyeing the wedding cake. Little do they know that the “cake” is only cardboard covered in icing and was made just for show.

The real wedding cake is kept out back, in a room only the baker and his apprentices can enter.

DANCING WITH GOD

The physicality of God, in addition to his spirituality, is a contentious issue among theologians. I’m not – THANK GOD – a theologian, so I’m more interested in approaching this topic from the perspective of Truth (that is, from God’s perspective) than from the perspective of stubborn adherence to creed (that is, from man’s perspective).

God has a body. In fact, he doesn’t just have one body, he has an infinite number of bodies, and all of them are perfect. He can manifest into the bodies whenever he chooses to. They’re different shapes and sizes and colors, but each is totally flawless. It would be impossible for God to be in an imperfect body because his very nature is perfection. Each of God’s perfect bodies aligns perfectly with the situation he is manifesting into. That is, he’ll appear to you as you wish to see him or believe him to be or in the way that he knows you need to see him. That’s why there are so many different descriptions of God in the Bible.

Recall that we’re made in God’s image. If we ideally have two arms, two legs, one head, etc., then so does God in his infinite number of perfect bodies. But God, being God, to whom all things are possible, might also possibly manifest as a perfect form of something else. It would be his perfect prerogative to do so. Recall that God appeared to Adam and Eve, habitually walking with them in the Garden of Eden. Recall that God appeared to Moses and that Moses spoke to him face to face on occasion. Recall that Moses once witnessed God’s body from the back. How anyone can read the Bible and still assert that God doesn’t have a body is beyond me.

Jesus famously stated that God is a spirit, and as such should be worshiped in Spirit and in Truth. For most of us mere mortals, God will be to us a spirit during our time on Earth. He is to me. We born-agains know God as a spirit, because that is the fulfillment of the promise. God is with his children through his Spirit, in the same way he was with the OT prophets on occasion. The difference between born-again followers of Jesus and (most) of the OT prophets is that we have God’s Spirit with us continuously; most of the earlier prophets had to make do with cameo appearances and “sneak peeks”.

But if we make it to Heaven, I have no doubt whatsoever that we’ll be talking to God face to face. I have no doubt that we’ll be hugging him and getting hugged in return. And I have no doubt that we’ll be dancing with him – you won’t know what it means to dance until you’ve danced with God in Heaven! His perfect body will be perfectly matched to your perfect body. He will anticipate your every move and move with you in perfect rhythm and perfect form. There will be no time but the beat of the music, no faltering, no missteps. There will just be perfect fluid movement in perfect motion, with feet barely touching the floor. It will be more like floating than dancing, because it will actually be more like floating. No earthly laws of gravity in Heaven!

“But Charlotte, how can you know this?”, whines every theologian everywhere.

Well, you could say I’ve had a vision, or you could say I’m just dreaming, or maybe you could say it’s a little of both. We know there’s going to be a wedding feast for those who make it to Heaven. Scripture says so. What would a wedding feast be without dancing? And what would dancing at a wedding feast be without a Father-Daughter dance?

These are the dreams and visions that sustain me. Paul says we see God now as through a glass darkly, that is, we can only have a vague idea of him; we’re not made to know him as he really is. Not yet. Not while we’re in an imperfect body with limited senses. But Paul also says that when we get Home, we’ll see God “face to face”. Paul doesn’t say we’ll “perceive” him as he is, but that we’ll SEE him as he is. Only the physically manifested can be seen.

We tend to focus entirely on Jesus, which is understandable, considering that he is our Leader and the one whose example we’re to follow. But Jesus himself focused on God during his time on Earth and promised us that we’d have the same relationship with the Father as he did. He was insistent that we get to know God as our Father – not just as our God, but as our Father. So the more we focus on God, the more we become like Jesus and the clearer God becomes to us. And the clearer God becomes to us, the closer we draw to him and to Home.

We will not be dancing with God as a spirit in Heaven, but with God in a very real, very touchable body that is the most perfect among perfected beings. And to you, he’ll look exactly as you imagine him, and to me, he’ll look exactly as I imagine him, because that’s what God does: He fits himself perfectly to each one of us, whether we’re still here on Earth in our flawed human body or in Heaven in our perfected one. Or perhaps he’ll appear as he wants us to see him, because he can do that, too.

As Jesus told us, God is Spirit. That fact is indisputable. But just as indisputable is God’s ability to manifest as a body, as scripture well attests. God will appear to you as you believe him to be, and he’ll appear to me as I believe him to be. When we’re speaking to a baby or a young child, we adjust our tone and facial expressions to soothe and engage. We don’t want to frighten the little ones; we want to make them smile. God does the same with us. His aim is not to overwhelm us, his children, but to connect with us and let his love flow through us.

That is like dancing: the flow of love across and between bodies in motion. We can do that now with God, in Spirit; but in Heaven, oh, in Heaven, that’s when the real dance begins.

TRUTH STRAIGHT UP: HOW TO MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE

I’ve mentioned here and here and here and here that the way things are is the way things have to be, as they’ve been earned. The way things are is God’s perfect justice playing out in real-time. But that’s bitter medicine for most people to swallow, so they spend the majority of whatever precious time they have left here on Earth fighting the way things are instead of changing the way they themselves are. Even alleged Christians do this. (Even some born-agains do it.)

But the only way to change the way things are is to change the way YOU are. There’s no getting around that. You cannot make things better unless YOU first become a better person. That is Kingdom Law 101.

I speak without a filter here because we’re all born-again believers and we can take reminders of God’s Truth straight up with no mixer or chaser. I have no bedside manner and I sugar-coat nothing. We need to hear God’s Truth without hand-holding or hand-patting. We need to hear it the way Jesus taught his most loyal disciples behind closed doors.

We need to hear it the way God speaks directly to his people.

Yes, we want to mitigate suffering. Jesus first and foremost healed those who came to him for healing. But if you mitigate suffering without dealing with its root cause, all you do is push the suffering somewhere else. That’s why Jesus also warned those he healed not to sin again.

The root of all suffering is sin.

The Old Testament prophets were intimately aware of this. They were also intimately aware that the remedy for sin – especially backsliding – is genuine repentance (not lukewarm repentance, not forced repentance, not lip-serving repentance parroted on command – GENUINE repentance). Being aware of that the root of all suffering is sin, the prophets knew it was their duty to inform others, and they did, liberally, at every chance they got, and with no sugar-coating or hand-patting. They poured God’s Truth straight out with no mixer or chaser, like I do.

Most of them were ignored.

And there’s the crux of it – not that people aren’t informed and therefore don’t know the way to make things better; they choose to ignore God’s Truth and latch on instead to the devil’s sweet little lies. Because the devil, you see, will let you keep sinning. The devil will not only let you keep sinning, he’ll encourage and enable you to keep sinning and tell you you have nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to repent of, that your sins are not even sins at all, just your unique expression of your lived experience and a reasonable response to the pressures of life. He’ll assure you that YOU are the victim – always the victim – and so deserve reparations for whatever you’ve suffered. And he’ll also tell you that things can be made better simply with a change of government or a change of government policy or with a redistribution of wealth from the haves to the have-nots. These are just some of the sweet little lies the devil will tell you to keep you in your sins. And with most people, he succeeds.

Turning back to God is always an option until it’s not. The OT prophets were very clear about that, too. God’s generous offer to take you back is time-limited, so you not only have to be sincere in your repentance, you have to do it while there’s still time. God and God alone decides whether or not your repentance is sincere and whether or not you still have time to turn back to him.

There is not one area of your life that you can’t improve simply by choosing to be a better person. What do I mean by being a better person? Keeping the Commandments. Following Jesus’ example in everything you do. Keeping it real with God. Submitting to God, even and especially when you don’t want to. Getting back up when you fall. And helping others to get back up, while reminding them not to sin again. That’s what it means to be a better person.

Well, you say, I do all that already. That may well be, but perhaps there’s still something you’re holding onto that you need to get rid of? Remember Jesus’ advice to the wealthy young ruler who came to him for help? It was his wealth and ‘stuff’ that were holding him back. So Jesus told him to get rid of it. Remember the wealthy young ruler’s response to Jesus’ advice? I’ve been there. I know what it is to be told to do something I don’t want to do. I know what it means to say: “Anything but that!” But eventually I relented and submitted to God, in the process becoming a better person for it – stronger in faith, closer to God, and following closer in Jesus’ footsteps.

Who doesn’t want to make the world a better place? Jesus came to tell the world about a better place, but while he was doing that, he also by default made the world better simply by choosing to be the best person he could be. He didn’t waste his time rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic; he manned the life boats.

The world is the way it is because of the people in it. Most people don’t want to hear that, but we born-agains need to hear it and act on it. The devil will frame God’s perfect justice as being “unfair” and even unjust, goading us to fight against the way things are, which is ultimately fighting against God. Don’t fall for the devil’s lies. Jesus says we can help the poor anytime we want to, and so we can. But if we really want to change the world for the better, we need to start with ourselves.

Jesus never stopped demanding more from himself or from his followers during his ministry years. No-one got a free ride or was told they’d done enough and could just coast from that point onward. Wherever you are today in your Homeward journey, you can always become a better person. You can always one-up yourself. That is how you make the world a better place while also showing and telling the world about a better place.

And there’s no better time to start doing that than right now.

LET THE LIGHT BE

God is having me read through the Bible again, but I’m stuck on page 1. What kind of light did God create on the first day before he created the sun on the fourth day? For thousands of years, people have been asking this question, and there is still no definitive answer.

But do we need one?

I’ve been reading the Bible more or less daily for over 20 years, and it has never occurred to me to question the source of the light that God created on the first day. God is omnipotent; he can do what we consider to be the impossible. He can do things we cannot even conceive, because we don’t have the capacity to conceive them, the way we don’t have the capacity to hear certain sounds outside our hearing range or see certain colors outside our visual range. We’ve been given limited senses as human beings, and why that is I neither know nor care. It’s enough for me to know that God knows why he gave us limited senses. I trust him implicitly, even though I don’t always understand what he does or why he’s doing it.

The book of Revelation tells us that God’s glory provides the light in Heaven, so there is no need for the sun or the moon. What is God’s glory? It’s usually depicted as a light emanating from whatever body God’s Spirit is lighting on. So it emanates from God when he’s on his throne; it emanates from God’s anointed and blessed; it emanates from whatever is the focus of God’s presence. God, I maintain, manifests in time and space as his Holy Spirit, though occasionally he also manifests in a body, as witnessed by Moses. So is God’s Holy Spirit and his glory one and the same? As I said, God can do anything, so we should never be surprised by anything God is said to have done, even though we may not understand it with our limited senses and intellect.

Which brings us back to the light that God divided from the darkness and called “Day”. Was that his glory manifesting in time and space, the way his spirit moved over the face of the waters? Or was the light simply a thing called “light” that exists separate from God, the way that rocks and water exist separate from him? Or perhaps the light was the proverbial “big bang”?

Just before I was born-again, I died on a beach. In my death, I was surrounded by darkness. There was no light. I did not see a light, like most people claim to see during near-death experiences. I was not drawn to a light. I was steeped in darkness. Was the darkness I saw in my death the same darkness that God separated from the light he created on the first day? Maybe. Maybe the light he created was simply the essence of light, the way that the darkness that pre-existed the light was simply the essence of darkness. Note that God did not call the darkness “bad”, but he did call the light “good”. Was the darkness I was plunged into at my death simply the absence of good, or rather the absence of God, my being an atheist at the time?

I’m just thinking out loud here. I have no problems confessing my human limitations. Theologians have pored over scripture for centuries, trying to find a definitive answer to what kind of light God created on the first day, and while they’ve devised some interesting theories, none of them are scripture-based. They are all speculation bouncing off scripture rather than speculation based on scripture.

Here’s what I think (bounce bounce). I think that we won’t find everything we need to know about God and his creation in scripture. Jesus told his followers that he had many things to reveal to them, but that they couldn’t understand them at that time; they’d have to wait for God’s Spirit to reveal God’s Truth to them when they were ready to receive it.

Which means that much of God’s revelation is not found in scripture. It comes instead through God’s Holy Spirit, which God gives in measure to his children. Some receive more, some receive less. But these revelations from God’s Spirit to his children do not appear in scripture. If these revelations don’t appear in scripture, then we can’t point to scripture as the one and only source for learning God’s Truth.

If scripture is not the one and only source for learning God’s Truth, then we should not be surprised that scripture does not contain a definitive answer to what kind of light God created on the first day.

To me, the light God created is just simply light. I accept it at face value and don’t need to know more than that. The source of that light is, of course, God. Whether that means the light is the light of his glory, as it is in Heaven (according to the book of Revelation), or simply the light of “Day” as a created entity separated from darkness is irrelevant. What I think doesn’t matter. Truth matters, and for that I lean entirely on God’s understanding, not mine.

All I know, as my personal lived experience as a born-again believer, was that I died on a beach in Australia and was plunged into darkness. There was no light in my death. The light only appeared when I came back to life as a believer.

It has not gone out since then.

TRUE CONFESSIONS OF A CAVE WOMAN

I was bullied for a few years in my early teens. I was never physically roughed up, but I was the non-stop target of verbal abuse from my peers. This lasted until I got cute, after which the bullying stopped, and the same people who’d bullied me then started to ask me out.

Needless to say, none of them got lucky.

I don’t regret having been bullied. It taught me some ground truths about the fickleness of people. It also toughened me up. It was good training for being a born-again believer.

Jesus tells us to be offended in nothing. No matter what people say to us or about us, we’re to take nothing to heart. We’re to be offended in nothing. God will deal with those people in his time and in his way. We don’t have to say anything or do anything; God will deal with it. Our job is to be like a duck and let the offences roll off us like water.

It’s sometimes easier said than done, not to be offended. When the devil works through people, he knows exactly what to get them to say. He knows exactly what will push your buttons and yank your chains. He knows exactly what will set you off. So your job is not to play into his hands. Your job is simply to remember what Jesus told us: Be offended in nothing.

It’s a shame that bullying now has such a negative connotation. There are times when bullying is warranted, and it does teach some important life lessons, including how to ignore stupidity and be patient with people. Is it pleasant to be bullied? Absolutely not. I spent countless nights in tears as a young teen, sitting alone in my room plotting my revenge. But I was still a child, and an atheist one at that. I responded to emotional pain by wanting to inflict emotional pain. A tit for a tat.  

I’m no longer a child or an atheist. I take my cue from Jesus on how to respond to provocations. I don’t cave to my emotions, at least not as a default response. It’s not my plan to cave, though sometimes my emotions do momentarily get the better of me.

When that happens, I don’t beat myself up afterwards. God gave us emotions for a reason, and the main one is to let off steam. That’s not to say you should use steam-letting as an excuse to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation. No. When Jesus tells us to be offended in nothing, he expects us to follow that guidance to the best of our ability.

I strive to, but occasionally I miss the mark. I let an f-bomb fly. I return a tat with a tit. I engage in the provocation rather than let it go. I mumble something unpublishable under my breath. I forget to love my enemy and curse him instead, before hastily retracting it. In other words, I initially react as someone in the world rather than someone in the Kingdom.

What does God have to say when this happens? Well, he’s not shocked. And he’s got some pretty good industrial-strength ear plugs, so anything untoward that might spill out of my mouth doesn’t necessarily have to reach his ears. Thanks to Jesus’ guidance and the constant presence of God’s Holy Spirit, caving to my emotions is rare enough not to be a thing with me, but it still happens. Jesus also lost it on occasion, so I guess I’m in good company in that regard.

How about you? Are you a cave woman or cave man on occasion? When that happens, do you beat yourself up afterwards? Do you learn from it? Do you pinpoint what triggered you and try your best not to be triggered next time?

The moral of this story is that every now and then we’re going to lose it. That’s pretty much a given, as long as we’re still in a human body buffeted by emotions. We’re going to cave to those emotions and let slip some words and sentiments we may even have forgotten we knew. This, too, is a temptation. But like all temptations, we need to see it for what it is, label it as such, and move on. No point in belabouring our failures, if we do fail. God doesn’t want us wallowing. He wants us learning, both from our victories and our failures.

Bullying has its purposes. It toughened me up and showed me the nature of people. I don’t think I could walk away from offenses as easily as I do now if I hadn’t been bullied as a teen. I thank God for Jesus’ scriptural guidance in this regard, and I also thank God for those hardcore lessons in human nature all those years ago. God can take anything – including bullying – and ultimately turn it around to our benefit.