Human will is a remarkable attribute. Some people can use it to form an ego so large it pushes God out of the universe and reduces him to nonexistence. Other people use their will to follow Christ and the other martyrs to death for sake of their faith. From these extremes it can be seen that there is such a free aspect to our wills that they can be used to honor God or curse God.
If we search for free will elsewhere in the physical realm, other than in humans, we will not find it. It was given to us by God and is, I believe, part of what is written of us when we are told we were created in the image of God. Our autonomous wills are unique to humans in the created universe. Every other physical part of us is shared in some way with the remainder of God’s world.
Our wills burden us with a tremendous and terrifying responsibility. We are accountable for all the choices we make. We cannot make God or Satan responsible for the choices we make. Yet our choices lead us to a final decision after the end of our lives on earth as to whether we will dwell eternally with God or not. What help is there for us in such a situation.
Fortunately for us, while our wills are free they are not beyond divine spiritual influence. When the Holy Spirit redeems our spirits he also gains the power in us to change our wills over time so our choices become more and more aligned with God’s purpose for us. Unfortunately for us, we will always a ways to go. That is why our wills are not going to be perfected as long as we live in this world and why we must look forward, I believe, in hope for resurrected bodies and minds that will perfectly do what God would have them do.
The Bible mentions a wide variety of created spirits. One problem we have in knowing more about spiritual creatures is that the writers of Scripture had to use physical categories to describe spiritual realities. Another, more actual, problem is that we normally have little experience with spiritual creatures and so when we may think we are in the presence of angels of light they may actually be demons.
One defining characteristic of Satan and his minions is that they are liars. This is why it is so important in our thinking about spiritual creatures and events to seek only to know what is true because truth only comes from God.
There is a fundamental division between those created spirits who have chosen to serve God and those who choose to follow Satan. The lower ranks of those who follow Satan we call demons. The New Testament also tells us of powerful beings, apparently produced by Satan, that are described as frogs, dragons, two beasts, a false prophet, and a reigning prostitute.
On God’s side, in addition to angels, there are archangels, elders and seraphim. Angels act as God’s messengers. Archangels also act to bring God’s messages to people. They also have a role in the destiny of nations and wage war against the satanic spirits. The elders lead worship in heaven and may have other roles. The seraphim, with their multitude of eyes, appear to have the job of overseeing God’s physical creation.
On earth, I believe we are in the midst of a vast spiritual warfare. Satan’s intent is not just to cause problems for people but to bring physical and spiritual death to as many humans as he can. Were it not for the purpose of the Father, the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and the obedience to God of the angels we all, without exception, would be doomed to eternal death.
The Garden of Eden appears to be an anomaly. It was unique and set at a particular place on the earth for God to create in two particular people, Adam and Eve, the psychological and sociological characteristics that would eventually come to all humanity.
We focus on the disobedience of Adam and Eve and the curse they brought by eating the forbidden fruit. We tend to forget all the other things that occurred in the garden. Adam named animals and found he was not one of them and so could not be satisfied with their presence. God created Eve and marital relations had their beginning. Adam and Eve were given the ability to act outside their instincts. This is why Eve was able to think about her choices, and shape her replies when Satan tempted her. Adam did the same when Eve tempted him. In one of the great ironies of the story, they came to have knowledge of good and evil so they and their descendants could know that they needed the redemption God would provide.
The book of Revelation, beginning from two points in the present world (the history we live in), tells us what happens to some part of humanity on their way to the new and final creation we find at the end of the book. This segment of people is those whose names are written in the book of life (Revelation 20:12). The destiny of the rest is to be thrown into a lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).
There are many people who object for many different reasons to the idea of everyone having to face a pass/fail situation to remain in existence. Thus we should look at how Revelation gets us to this point. The books starts with a man named John, most likely the apostle, on the island of Patmos in the Mediterranean Sea around AD 95. It is a Sunday and he enters into a condition of spiritual perception described as being in the Spirit. This state allows him to see spiritual realities with the same clarity and intensity as he normally saw physical realities. Thus begins a series of visions that continue to the end of the book.
The first vision concerns the seven churches in Asia Minor to which the book is addressed. In it we find that even in Christian churches there are people who may pass and also who may fail. If this surprises us we should remember Jesus told his disciples in the parable of the weeds (Matthew 13) that there were going to be people in the Christian churches until he returned who were sons of the evil one and who would then be thrown into the fire.
The next series of visions, collectively described as the opening of seven seals, are an outline of human history. The test here is how people react to the events of history. Those who have faith in Christ are meant to persevere in their faith while others are seeing only disasters and the wrath of God or, in our time, both the absence of God and any meaning to what happens. The “seal” visions go counter to the optimism in Western culture that has been a staple of secular, and much nominally Christian, thinking since the Enlightenment.
The “trumpet” visions provide us pictures of psychological disasters. The events that occur create fear, anxiety and other types of psychological pain. The last three of the seven trumpets produce such pain they are called three woes. Surprisingly enough the third woe is the return of Christ which means it is time for everyone to find out who has passed and who will be destroyed. Certainly, the highest of possible anxieties will be in those who do not have a true assurance of their faith in Jesus Christ.
This second part of Revelation starts at Revelation 11:19 or Revelation 12:1 depending on how those verses are understood. In any case, it is here that the visions enter the realm of the spiritual. This means that what occurs affects the world in a different way than the events of the first half of the book.
The first vision in this section provides us a vision of a beautiful woman descending from heaven. The immediate symbolism is that of the creation of the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai. The larger meaning is that of God’s good purposes for humanity. We see this in the birth of a male child who is obviously Jesus Christ. The steps between his birth on earth and his enthronement in heaven are omitted. The good promised to those who are faithful to Christ is expanded on throughout the remainder of the book.
Next there comes the bad news for humanity. John sees a war in heaven in which the good angels defeat Satan and his minions and cast them down to earth. We are told in 2 Peter 5:8 that the devil seeks out individuals to destroy but he also has larger projects for human destruction as we are told in various symbols.
The initial symbol is described as a beast coming out of the sea. Again there appear to be two aspects to what is represented by the beast. The concrete aspect of it could be as a symbol of the Roman Empire. However, just as the woman has ramifications all through history so does this first beast. The larger symbolism is that of nations that wage war against the people of God. The impetus that Satan supplies to these nations we may call “nationalism.”
The second beast is pictured as coming out of the earth. It supports the power of the first beast and insures that the beast out of the sea is continued to be worshipped, even though at some point it had been severely injured. We might see this beast as “secularism” because in it we find a worship of the natural world and the promotion of technology as an ultimate good. This beast may also be symbolized by the false prophet who is introduced in chapter 16.
The role of the beasts and the false prophet is to deceive people about the reality of God’s good purpose for humanity. This is done by the creation of false ideologies that people can serve and in doing so be kept from serving God, which is where their true interest lies. They also allow Satan to achieve the destruction of human life that is his main goal. There are many “isms” that Satan has used and is using, far more than can be listed. A new one is pathological altruism which is defined as doing good to feel good regardless if anyone is helped by it. It seems also that almost anything that is joined to Christianity, such as social activism, church unity or older causes such as temperance are probably deceptions created by Satan.
The name Babylon is used four different times in Revelation as the description of a decadent entity. Far be it from me to be able to provide any certainties as to exactly what these entities are. One of the difficulties in interpreting Revelation is that we do not know where we are in all the things that are presented to us in a variety of ways.
There are far more things going on in Revelation than I have even mentioned. However, returning to my original purpose, it is time to take a look at how we get from our present world to the final creation and to do that we need first to see what this world is like.
Our present world is part of a universe that, as best we know, began with an immense amount of energy coming into existence. This energy was contained in a rapidly and constantly expanding four-dimensional entity called the space-time continuum. This energy is the source of all matter. We know, thanks to special relativity, how energy and matter are related. Matter and energy, and the forces that govern them, constitute the material universe.
Physics is always subject to revision but it seems now that gravity, which is produced by deformation of the space-time continuum, does not fit into the Standard Model of physical forces that includes the strong force, the weak force and electromagnetism. This appears to make it reasonable that gravity can be thought of as a part of the immaterial part of the universe constituted by space and time.
It was not too long ago that scientists did not know the universe was expanding, that time was variable and that gravity was a deformation of space. This did not prevent materialists from claiming that everything was matter and energy and nothing immaterial existed. They were obviously wrong about the universe but this did not prevent them from proclaiming the nonexistence of any spiritual realm. However, now it is reasonable to question any of their supposedly certain knowledge about the nonexistence of immaterial things.
Like the universe we humans have our material and immaterial components. Our immaterial part is often called our soul. Like space and time it is not governed by the laws of energy and matter. In its normal condition it, like the universe, is not eternal. However, unlike the universe, it has the possibility of becoming eternal through what is called a second birth. This new birth is a work of the Holy Spirit. In other words, here is a case of the spiritual realm entering the physical realm. And here we can see that immaterial things can influence our physical existence just as the space-time continuum shapes the material events of the universe.
The work of the Holy Spirit in those who will become eternal is the final creation coming into the present creation. It is what Jesus called the kingdom of God. However, this is only the beginning of the road to eternity. The next step which takes place in the present world is what could be called “solidification.” This is the process often called “sanctification” where people destined for eternity began to acquire the “being” required to live longer than nations, longer than the earth, longer than the universe. The step after this is physical death. There is no escaping it. Jesus had to go through it to lead others to everlasting life.
After physical death there is a state of spiritual existence. This seems to take several forms. It is sometimes thought of as a marginal existence in a place called “Hades” (the grave) or it can be, as in Revelation, participation in the eternal praise of God the Father and God the Son. The final stage of our existence is where people either receive a resurrection body in which they will live forever or they are sent to a second death where they cease to exist.
At this point we should ask ourselves why everybody does not urgently seek to become an inhabitant of the final creation. There are several reasons why this is so. Major causes are egotism, atheism, hedonism, intellectualism, and so forth, here are those isms again and they are all deceptions of Satan who seeks the destruction of individuals however he can.
There are reasons other than Satan’s deceits for people making the wrong choice. There are people who dislike the God of the Old Testament and/or the Jesus of the New Testament. We should pause here briefly and consider the mental state of people who think they are qualified to judge the being and purposes of God. Next, we can go on to those who love the things of the world too much. We are told in 1 John 2:16 that the cravings of sinful people, the ambitions for more, and the pride of accomplishments and possessions are not from God but from the world and as such cannot last. They and these things will have no place in the final creation.
Some traditional Christians think people make the wrong choice because of their rebellion against God. This may be flattery because what people seem to object to is the sacrifice of self that is required and the acknowledgment of fundamental defects in themselves. Some of those who go on to the second death are those who do not see any need to be any better than they are.
We do not know why Revelation shows so many people unable to acquire the eternal life that is to be found in Christ. Jesus, though, told his disciples in Matthew 7:13–14 that Christians needed to enter the final creation through a narrow gate and that there would be only a few who found the road to eternal life. He also said there was a wide gate that leads to annihilation. This is the road to the second death. The book of Revelation is a long and dramatic exposition of these words of Jesus. We may not comprehend many of the details but the message is clear. Our choice of the direction of our lives must be always, and in perseverance through all things, along the narrow road.
The final creation we should seek is a new heaven and a new earth. John saw a great and wondrous woman come down to the present world to symbolize God’s purposes for it. In a later vision, chapter 21, John sees a bride descending on the new earth. She is also spectacular. The woman symbolizes the permanent union of Christ with those who inhabit the holy city described as the New Jerusalem.
The symbolism surrounding the bride and the rest of the final creation is complex. It may be best understood as a negation of the present world. In it there will be no death, mourning, pain or any of all the other ailments of the present world. There will be no evil people. They are specifically excluded. The description of the new heaven and earth seems to preclude it being a remaking or repurposing of the present world. This is no return to Eden but an entirely new existence in a completely new reality. In it all is good and everything in it will last forever. It will allow the people there to be what God saw them to be when he envisioned their existence before the creation of the present world.
In my previous post I wrote about a reformed Christianity maintaining the integrity of biological science. In this one I think I will go to the other end of the spectrum and write about rediscovering our spirituality. First though, I will begin with a caution.
Back in the seventh century there was a monk, ascetic, and author named John who wrote a book titled The Ladder. After his death he was designated a saint so in those days before surnames he came to be known as St. John of the Ladder. The ladder of the book is a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, something like Jacob’s ladder. There are 30 steps on the ladder representing 30 steps to spiritual perfection whereby a person could ascend to God. This sounds good so far, but the ladder is standing over the pit of Hell and it is possible for people to fall off the ladder into spiritual damnation.
You may wonder why I am telling you this as I have very little expectation that you will be trying to follow the steps in The Ladder. My point is that The Ladder is similar in its approach to spirituality to the many, many self-help Christian books published every year. These books present sanctification as a do-it-yourself project and fool most people who read them into thinking they can do something they cannot, so they are likely to fall off of the ladder. The ones who can do what the books recommend are as likely to end up sanctimonious as sanctified.
Our sanctification is a project taken on by Christ and the Holy Spirit when we become part of the family of God. Our role is to cooperate in the process and resist being our naturally difficult and reluctant selves. God had plans for us from before Creation, and these plans will be carried out no matter how much it takes to shape us into what we are meant to be. Our part is to pray for the grace to be able to participate and rejoice in the process. This being so, we do not have to look at ourselves or do works to develop into spiritual people. Spirituality is more than looking to ourselves. It is being able to see and know the things of God.
We, at this stage in our existence, are primarily physical beings. This is good and what God intended yet it also raises barriers to our spirituality. These blockages are categorized in the New Testament as the world, the flesh, and the devil. The world is all the physical reality that surrounds us. At one end of its nature it is so beautiful and kind it can lead us to believe in the reality of God. Other aspects of it threaten our very existence. Whichever face nature is showing us, it is significant, immediate, and forceful. It is hard to get our mind off of it, but that is what we are going to have to do if we are to rediscover our spirituality.
Our flesh is also urgent and in its necessities not to be denied. However, we are often confused about what we need and what we desire. In our desires we can use our flesh and nature in ways that are not for our good, either physically or spiritually. I think some of the things we can do are so far from God’s purposes for us they can be called soul-killers. These, of course, block any access to the spiritual things of God. This leads us to the third category.
The devil stands for all the spiritual beings in rebellion against God. Their leader, Satan, was described by Jesus as the father of lies, and it is by lies these beings work against our physical and spiritual wellbeing. These deceptions range from the denial of the existence of evil spirits to imitations of the glory of God. To list all of the lies being told in our culture would take a gigabyte at least. Not only are we surrounded by lies, it has become so that the only people who get in trouble for what they say are those who tell the truth. Rediscovering our spirituality will give us the understanding to recognize all these falsehoods; however getting to that point will require discarding some things in which we have been deceived.
It is wrong to present myself as an authority on spirituality, so what I am going to do is remind you of three sayings of Jesus and then discuss how they apply to contemporary American Christianity. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” “No one comes to the Father except through me.” “The gate is narrow.”
American Christianity appears to offer many routes to God. Churches, the Bible, Bible study, good works, other religions (if practiced sincerely), openness to the Holy Spirit, sacraments, and other seemingly good things are said to be ways to God. Most of these are ways to bypass Jesus. It is not surprising that this is so. If you read the New Testament carefully, you will see that Jesus was not an easy person to relate to. Those who came to him with questions rarely, or never, got the answers they expected or wanted. He spoke of loyalty to him coming before relationships in our families. He also told us we should lay down our lives and take up the cross of obedience daily.
We are much more likely to be told Jesus is our friend and that we are his brothers and sisters. This is partially true, but he is also prophet, priest, and king and we ignore this fuller truth at our hazard. It used to be said that “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” Perhaps the saying for our time is that “The path to spiritual deadness is marked by partial truths.”
Many Christians have become, to a greater or less extent, universalists. This is the belief that all or most people will be given a pass to eternal life because “God is Love.” There are lots of objections to universalist beliefs. My major personal one is that it allows persons holding that belief to yammer on and on about the “Problem of Pain”—while their unbelief prevents them from knowing the answer. A more objective reason for rejecting universalist beliefs is that they make everything that happens on earth meaningless. This not only includes all that Jesus did on earth but the worth of the choice people make when they chose to repent of their sins and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
We will rediscover our spirituality when we learn to be focused on all it means to be truly Christian. That means we become obedient disciples of the God-man who came to earth. Quite a while ago, Charles Spurgeon wrote, “To a great extent, in spiritual things, we get what we expect from the Lord. Faith alone can bring us to see Jesus.” So let us raise our expectations of spirituality and increase our faith so we will become people able to worship the Father in spirit and truth, and thus become spiritually alive.
Recently I watched an episode of “Bang Goes the Theory,” a British popular science program. One segment featured Richard Dawkins, a famous militant evolutionist and atheist, explaining the evolution of the eye to one of the presenters. He described the beginnings and evolution of vision using light-sensitive spots on ancient worms as the beginning. The presenter lapped up the story he gave her like a happy puppy. The problem is that she was being conned by a slick fraud.
The fraudulence of evolution is not my idea. Malcolm Muggeridge, a renowned British journalist and broadcaster, after a speech in 1980, answered a question concerning evolution as follows. “I myself am convinced that the theory of evolution, especially the extent to which it has been applied, will be one of the great jokes in the history books in the future. Posterity will marvel that so very flimsy and dubious an hypothesis could be accepted with the incredible credulity that it has.”
Dawkins spoke as if genetic biology does not exist. Thus he avoided current questions regarding the development of sight such as How are photo-reactive chemicals biologically produced? What places the chemicals at a given spot just under the worm’s skin? How is the nerve function made, then connected to the light-reactive spot, and thus able to sense the change in the chemical molecules? How is the change in light level sent to a muscle function that acts to move the worm in a way that is beneficial to it so it can be naturally selected to continue its existence. Dawkins’ mythology is that the worms decided that it would be good to be able to sense where light was and so they decided to evolve a way to do it.
A French philosopher, Etienne Gilson, wrote in 1975 that evolution was “bad science and worse philosophy.” If intelligent people like Muggeridge and Gilson saw more than 30 years ago that evolution was defective, why has it claimed a larger and larger role in popular culture? While it is true that evolution appears to push God out of biology, there are probably not enough atheists to account for its wide acceptance, so other reasons must be sought.
There seem to be two aspects, that are diametrically opposed features of evolution, that have given it its strength. One feature is that it eliminates human responsibility. If we are products of primeval slime arriving at what we are by way of primates, how can we be held accountable for doing anything other than eating, drinking, sleeping, copulating, along with some war, child care, and recreational pleasures thrown in. There is no reason for any larger loyalty than to our own selves. Certainly there is no need for responsibility to a community, a nation, or to the rest of the people in the world. As for passing along our genes or our culture, all that can be forgotten.
I think the other appeal of evolution is that it makes what Satan told Eve in the Garden of Eden appear true. Satan said, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5, NIV). By eliminating God from human culture, evolution allows people to decide for themselves what is good and what is evil. However, Satan is a liar, and Eve quickly became one when she told herself she had disobeyed God because the fruit was good for food, pleasing to the eye, and provided wisdom (Genesis 3:6, NIV). There was other good fruit in the Garden but what she wanted from eating that particular fruit was to decide for herself what was right and wrong. Evolution supports the tendency we inherited from Eve of thinking we can make our own rules for our lives. However, thinking that we can invent right rules is as wrong now as it was when Eve first thought it.
The appeal of evolution has in our culture allowed evolutionists to claim all of biology as their own. However, evolution and genetic science are basically incompatible. The theory of evolution came into existence about 100 years before the DNA code was deciphered, and it would have taken something like divine inspiration for evolutionists to have correctly understood how life works. Evolution’s story in fact has been altered several times since Darwin, and there are now even different sects under the evolutionary umbrella. It is thus not surprising that evolutionists are joining themselves to molecular biology and hoping nobody is going to notice that a paradigm shift has taken place.
I think Christians need to use this paradigm shift very carefully. There is an obvious temptation to answer the question, “Who wrote the DNA code?” by stating it was God. However, creationist explanations do not work for secular scientists nor, remembering the attractiveness of evolution to our culture, are they likely to inspire immediate acceptance among the media or the general population. What we can do as Christians, though, is to keep the lies and mythology of evolution out of molecular biology so we can ensure genetic science is done with integrity.
Part of the reformation of American Christianity must include our arriving at a common and true understanding of what science tells us about the physical world. Then when nonbelievers come to us, we can show them what physical reality is like and how it makes sense to those who believe in God to accept that it is all created by God.