Posts from category "Christian Spirituality"

What We Will Discover When We Die

The following article is excerpted from the forthcoming book by James L. Foster, Holonic Humanity: How God Makes Us Holy, due to be released in 2017.  It is a sequel to his earlier work, Holy Humanity:  We Are All Made of God Stuff, published in 2013.  The latter book, Holy Humanity, is reviewed in the January 2016 issue of Awareness magazine.

 

What We Will Discover When We Die

(if we have not made the discoveries  beforehand)

 

Deepak Chopra has listed seven events which take place at the  moment we cross over to eternal life at the dawning of our new life  beginning at our physical death:

 

1.   The physical stops functioning.  The dying person may not be aware of this but eventually knows that it has occurred.   

2.  The physical world retires.  This can happen by degrees; there can be a sense of floating upward or looking down on familiar places as they recede.

3.  The dying person feels lighter, suddenly freed of limitation.

4.   The mind and sometimes the senses continue to operate.  Gradually, however, what is perceived becomes non-physical.

5.  A presence grows that is felt to be divine.  The presence can be clothed in a light or in the body of angels or gods.  It can communicate to the dying person.

6.  Personality and memory begin to fade, but the sense of "I" remains.

7.  This "I" has an overwhelming sense of moving on to another phase of existence."  (Chopra,  Life After Death: The Burden of Proof, 2006)

 

Others, especially those who have reported on their own near death experiences (NDEs) have characterized their experience somewhat differently, perhaps reflecting their acculturated expectations of the death experience.   These often included the inadequacy of language to describe the experience, feelings of warmth and peace and stillness, a perceptible rise in our personal vibration level, the experience of love as a vibration, the sensation of being out of our bodies, meeting other persons--known and unknown--who had died earlier,  meeting beings of light, a non-verbal and non-judgmental life review, entering a tunnel and moving effortlessly toward a bright light, disappointment at having to return to our former life, and an all-together new appreciation of death--almost a longing for it and a total lack of fear of it.  In our physical life our vibrational level was very slow and dense but we will feel our vibration level rise precipitously as we make the transition to pure Spirit.

 

Our afterlife is created by our own consciousness, but this does not mean that what we have created is not real.  It means that as divine beings we are quite capable of creating our own reality. We quite regularly do so, even in this earthbound life.

 

The following conclusions have come from a combination of insights I have received through (1) the first hand reports of those who have had near death experiences--particularly those recorded by Raymond A Moody, Jr., Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, George Ritchie and Ian Stevenson,  (2) my study of various religious traditions (primarily Christian, Hindu and Buddhist and shamanic mystical teachings--particularly the Christian mystics, including Jesus and Paul; the Tibetan Buddhist Book of the Dead; and the Hindu Bhagavad-Gita), (3) the writings of Plato (428 BCE), particularly in Phaedo and The Republic, (4) my reading of current discoveries from the sciences of quantum physics and cosmology, (5) the many intuitive insights I have received in the process of writing Holy Humanity:  We Are All Made of God Stuff and in this current writing on holonic humanity, and (6) current intuitions born of my contemplation of the meanings of "infinity" and "eternity" and "Spirit."  You, the reader, will probably have already discerned some of  the following affirmations.  If there are a number here that are new to you, don't worry about it.  Nobody is keeping score.

 

 

When we die...

 

 1.  We will discover that death as an end to life is a fiction and that death is, instead, a transition from our current life to an incomparably greater life.  This realization will be immediate and seamless.

 

2.  We will discover that our true essence is Spirit.  We are not the bodies we thought we were.  Our true identity, even throughout our earthly life, was and is, spiritual.

 

3.  We will discover that as our physical sensations recede our subtle spiritual sensations expand, eventually replacing the physical altogether.  Money, sex, power, sickness, sin--all these end. Our spiritual bodies will be ageless and free of sickness and all other limitations.  We will experience again, as if for the first time, pure consciousness.

 

4.  We will discover that there are some things we can take with us through death's portal--things we have learned during our earthly sojourn--our memories (contrary to #6 in Chopra's list above), and knowledge we have acquired, and understandings and experiences upon which we can continue to build in future sojourns.  We also take our consciousness of both our past and present.

 

5.  We will discover that Love can and does survive death.  Those we have loved in our earthly life we will still Love--even more and better than before.

 

6.  We will discover that connections made  during our life on earth continue into eternity.  This is particularly the case with those who we know to be our soul mates.  With them we have a bond that cannot be broken throughout eternity.

 

7. We will discover that we are reunited with loved ones who preceded us in death.  Our "homecoming"  will be the occasion for  celebration by those loved ones, family and friends, who have been awaiting our return.

 

8. We will discover that death is not painful. It is our somatic existence that was painful.  This we will realize immediately as we pass from sometimes excruciating pain to complete freedom from pain.

 

9.  We will discover that we are one with our Source, that we have never in fact been separated from our Source, and that our  only "sin" had been in believing we were separate when, in reality, we were not.  This, too, will be an immediate realization.

 

 

10.  We will discover that we really are One with the Many, that our perceived separation from others in this present life was an illusion.  If we had had this perception earlier, it would have significantly accelerated our holonic journey. 

 

11.  We will discover that to have been human was to be beautiful, even elegant and exotic.  Even in spite of our failures and mistakes, we were an incredible species.   We will come to see this because we will be seeing the essence of ourselves and all others, a startlingly beautiful essence in stark contrast to what we may have perceived in our earthly sojourn.

 

12.  We will also discover that the whole of Creation is stunningly beautiful and that we had not previously succeeded in destroying it.

 

13.  We will discover that our identity is spirit and we no longer identify with body, mind, or ego.   Each of these were limitations we no longer have.

 

14.  We will discover that the Cosmos was our planetary home, yet infinite;  full of life, and utterly the pregnant, nourishing and living dwelling of the gods.

 

15.  We will discover that we are not inherently evil,  that soul (that which is of God in us) is not evil.  Jesus came to show us who we are already (as did other prophets and avatars), not to save us from eternal punishment.

 

16.  We will, therefore, discover that we have no need to be "saved," not by Jesus or anybody else, that in all eternity we were never lost.  As eternal beings we were made to self-correct.  Jesus did not die for "anybody's real or imagined sins," as Christian theologian Roberta Bondi so succinctly put it.  And it was Bishop John Shelby Spong's conviction that "Humanity is not alone [as we once thought],...separated from God and thus in need of rescue." (Spong, Eternal Life..., p. 207)

 

17.  We will discover that Life in the astral realm is not just a time to do nothing, but rather a timeless experience of continuing holonic evolution.  We will be building on the things we learned in our  earthly sojourn.

 

18.  We will discover that we are enveloped in pure Light, that we have become one with the Light, and  Light Givers  ourselves.

 

19.  We will discover that our doubts and confusion have vanished, that what had been struggles on the earthly plane no longer exist.

 

20.  We will discover that the ability to choose did not end with our earthly passing, but is instead vastly expanded.

 

21. We will discover that the Big Bang, the beginning of our cosmos, the cosmos of which we were and still are caretakers, is but one of an infinity of Big Bangs distributing Life, Love, and Light through an infinity of universes.

 

22.  We will discover that creating is an endless process in which we are key participants as co-creators with our Source, that we as eternal Beings have indeed participated in the creation of an infinity of universes, including our own cosmos.

 

23.  We will discover that we are both within the interstellar void we helped create and that, at the other end of the size spectrum, the void is within us, in as much as infinity includes the infinitely small as well as the infinitely vast.  Infinity goes in every direction.

 

24.  We will discover that God is not just "out there" somewhere in the vast reaches of space, but is also "in here," in me, in you, in us.

 

25. We will discover that the whole of Creation, even our consciousness of it, and we ourselves, are made of Light, that God is Light, and that God is all there is--that God is Being itself, not a being.  (See my book, Holy Humanity, chapter 8, "The Omega Point", pp. 171-181)

 

26.  We will discover that the whole of the universe is imaged by Spirit, including all gods, all demons and angels and heavenly hosts, and that we, ourselves, are Spirit.

 

27.  We will discover (with the Persian poet, Rumi) that "death is our wedding with eternity" and is therefore an occasion for rejoicing.

 

28.  We will discover that death replaces time with timelessness, that eternity is not just a long, long time, but is the absence of time altogether.

 

29.  We will discover that such identity as we do have in the astral realm is non-local, meaning that we have not just expanded boundaries, but that there are no boundaries, that as spirit we may be in more than one place simultaneously.  Neither time nor space will have relevance in eternity and infinity.  The eternal "now" means that past, present, and future are all now.

 

30. We will discover that death fulfills our most audacious dreams.  If, for example, we have dreamed of travel, we will find that we can travel instantly, anywhere we choose, both within this universe, and beyond.

 

31.  We will discover that only our physical bodies were made of stardust--not our Spirit.  Our spiritual essence has always been.  We, along with all other divine beings, are uncreated, that there was never a time in which we were not.

 

32.  We will discover that our memories, both short and long term, are not contained in our physical brain.  We still have them, and that without our former physical brain.  They are, along with our memories of other lives, stored in an immense data field such as that postulated by Rupert Sheldrake as a "Mind Field" or the Zero Point Field thought by Albert Einstein to be the only reality.

 

33.  We will discover that Love is an emanation of Light and that as divine Lovers we spiritually embody  the Light, Power, and the Love of God.

 

34.  We will discover that there is no death in any final sense.  What we call death is just a transition to an old, but ever new beautiful and fuller life, in which we will continue to evolve into the fullness of God.

 

35.  We will re-discover that we are a part of God, that we have never been separated from God in the past and will never be separated from God in eternity.

 

36.  We will discover that many of the things we valued in this life--comfort, money, sex, privilege, material things--are gone but that the really important things--unconditional love, life, compassion, memories, knowledge, the capability to continue learning, loving relationships, and meaningful goals--these things remain

 

37.  We will discover that there is no Hell, at least no more than we had created for ourselves on earth.  In this latter sense we may have undergone a multitude of heavens and hells in many incarnations.

 

38. We will discover that the primary difference between the heavenly plane and the earthly plane is a matter of consciousness.  It is our consciousness in each that determines our perceived reality in each respective plane.

 

39.  We will discover that our physical body on the material plane was like clothing for the soul.  It gave us a planetary identity which is not needed in the heavenly realm.

 

40.  We will discover that the subtle energies we experienced on earth are no longer subtle, but are rather an acknowledged and trusted aspect of eternal life.  We will have immediate access to the entire spectrum of subtle energies.  These will replace whatever physical senses we lose at death.

 

41.  We will discover that our evolution continues, driven by our choices.  We can go wherever our desires take us and do whatever we wish to do.

 

42.  We will discover that as free spirits we can roam both the astral and the earthly planes.  We can roam  the cosmos, visit the places we were unable to visit in our earthly incarnation,  even return to our earthly home if we so desire, though this latter may be a bitter-sweet experience, as our presence will likely go unnoticed.   But as spirit beings we can be everywhere at once, should we so choose.

 

43.  We will discover that there is no retrogression in the spiritual realm--only holonic growth as we accumulate the skills and develop the will to be the bearers of unconditional agápé  Love. (See pp.16-23 above for the definition of holonic.)

 

44.  We will discover that if we eventually choose to re-incarnate, we will return to the earthly plane more highly evolved than when we last left it and it will likely be to a life of service to those who continue to struggle.  It may also be in the company of soul mates with whom we have traveled for eons.

 

45.  We will discover that death is not a movement to another place or time, but a change in our perspective, a change with which we resonate.  We resonate only with that with which we vibrate as in the quantum vibrations which connect us with all things physical and spiritual.

 

46.  We will discover that those persons who have shared deeply in our earthly lives will continue to share our lives throughout eternity.

 

47. We will discover that the mysteries we wrestled with on earth have passed into even greater mysteries on the astral plane, thus insuring that even as wholly spiritual beings we will never cease to be stimulated to dig deeper and to discern more.

 

48.  We will discover that on the astral plane we can only progress to greater understanding and enlightenment.  We cannot regress.  Our evolution continues on all planes.

 

49.  We will discover that we have finally transcended the limitations of our earthbound humanity--all of them.

 

50.  We will discover pure Truth, and further that Beauty is one of Truth's most eloquent expressions.

 

51.  We will discover that quantum physicist David Bohm correctly theorized that from a loftier perspective than that provided by earth we will see that everything and everybody are connected by a universal matrix (which he called the implicate order)--that there is no separation whatsoever, that we are all part of an undivided whole.

 

52.  We will discover that our consciousness is the key to our co-creative capabilities which, though potentially available to us during our life on earth, are fully available to us in our life hereafter.  We will discover that our consciousness does, both here and there, not simply observe the universe, but actively participates in its creation--fully so in our elysian identity  and partially so even during our earthly sojourn(s).  This is the implication of the Apostle Paul's assertion that "For now we see the dim image as in a mirror, but then we will see face to face.  Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known."  (I Corinthians 13:12)

 

53.  We will discover that earth is but a mirror of heaven, its beauty the obscure reflection of the heavenly realm.  The applicable rule of thumb is "As above, so below."

 

54.  We will discover that, collectively, as divine beings, we are the only intelligence and consciousness that the cosmos has.  Indeed, God has  no hands but our hands, no feet but our feet, no mind but our mind, and no heart but our heart.  God is all there is, and that all includes us as Her primary manifestation to the cosmos.  We humans, on both sides of the Eternal Now, have been and will continue to be the guardians of all Creation, including both incarnate and spiritual humanity, because we possess the only incarnate spiritual consciousness the cosmos has.  We are God's only self-conscious presence on this earthly ground and our presence makes it holy ground.   This  fact alone provides sufficient rationale for belief in reincarnation.  The Earth and all its creatures needs our representation as conscious agents of the Divine in order that it may fulfill the Divine mandate to bring about the  Kingdom of God throughout the Cosmos--"For God so loves the cosmos, that She incarnates Herself in her children to take up the task of filling the cosmos with Her Life and Light and Love." (a 21st century paraphrase of John 3:16 by the author).

 

Given the above, perhaps the only question we need to answer now, in this earthly incarnation, is...

 

How then should we live now?

 

Chances are that, in this life, we will not have completed our work, but that it will continue into eternity.  Whatever we accomplish in this life towards the goal of our evolutionary development will not be lost at death but will provide the foundation for our continuing development in eternity.  Our work will never be finished.  Even if we eventually reach the mountaintop, there will be others behind us who will need a hand up,  so our work will continue.  Our work will not be complete until all who follow us have joined us at the top of the mountain, so whether in this life or in the next, our work continues.

 

The next question we need to ask is:

 

What does  it mean to be the incarnate presence of the Divine now?

Inspiration

The following article is excerpted from the forthcoming book by James L. Foster, Holonic Humanity: How God Makes Us Holy, due to be released in 2017.  It is a sequel to his earlier work, Holy Humanity:  We Are All Made of God Stuff, published in 2013.  The latter book, Holy Humanity, is reviewed in the January 2016 issue of Awareness magazine.

Inspiration

One of Webster's many definitions of "inspiration" is "a divine influence upon human beings."  A common  verbal derivative of the term is "inspire" which means to infuse with life.  A lesser known cousin is a transitive verb "inspirit" which means "to put spirit into; give life to...," "to infuse" with life. It is this latter sense that is important to consider in the context of subtle energies.

One further term which begs definition is "life." In spite of the  branch of science we call "biology," sometimes called "the science of life," it has been difficult for scientists to pin down just exactly what life is--nor do we know where whatever it is originates.  One of humankind's modern quests has been to discover whether or not there is life elsewhere in the universe.  But how will we know what it is if we find it?  Just what are we looking for?  If life is something that is inspirited, as in Webster's definition above, how does one know whether or not any given living object embodies or is infused with spirit, thus giving it life?  To resort to an old conundrum, which came first--the chicken or the egg?  Did the chicken come from the  egg or the egg come from the chicken?  I think the answer is both and neither.  Life comes from the Spirit--whatever kind of life it is--plant, animal or human.  Our lives did not begin with the seemingly miraculous confluence of two cells, each dividing to make four cells, then eight,  then sixteen, ad infinitum, until we became fully formed human beings with trillions of cells.  Those first two cells, gifted to us by our parents, had beginnings elsewhere--or did they?  I would propose the wholly unscientific solution that our physical beings are the earthly home of Spirit which as such had no beginnings.  That is what it means to be eternal.  To be human is to be eternal, with neither beginning nor end.

Gregg Braden, quoting an article by molecular biologist Daniel E. Koshland, Jr. in the March 22, 2002 issue of Science offers seven determinates of whether or not something is living.  Living things, says Koshland...

1.  Must have a program to make copies of themselves.

2.  Adapt and evolve to reflect changes in their environment.

3.  Tend to be complex, highly organized, and have compartmentalized structures.

4.  Have a metabolism that allows them to convert energy from one form to another.

5.  Can regenerate parts of themselves, or their entire forms.

6. Can respond to their environment through feedback mechanisms.

7.  Can maintain multiple metabolic reactions at the same time.

 Though Koshland's criteria for life may indeed suffice for some living things,--perhaps weeds, mosquitoes and such--it is far too mechanistic and simplistic.  As such I find it a totally unsatisfying description of human life. In the first place, his and similar attempts to equate our human identity with our bodies fails to account for our physical existence, much less our psychic and spiritual endowments. Nor does he make any allowance  for the incredible complexity and depth of whatever it means to be living, functional beings.  Without the inclusion of Spirit human life is totally devoid of Life!  Apart from Spirit, we would not exist.

To be human is to be infused with Spirit.  Spirit is our essence.  We are the embodiment of Spirit.  Spirit is our eternal nature.  We were solely Spirit prior to our human birth.  We shall be solely Spirit after our physical death.  In our earthly sojourn we accept the yoke of physicality in order to accommodate our physical environment.  But our bodies are not our essence.  We are, first and foremost, spiritual beings, no less so than the angels of heaven.  Indeed, if the biblical author of the Letter to the Hebrews is right, we are the superiors of the angels. They are here to serve us, as the divine children of God that we are.  He writes...

"Are not all angels spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?"  (Hebrews 1:7-14).

In John's Gospel, "eternal life" supplants the phrase "Kingdom of God" which is the characteristic phrasing of the synoptic gospels.  Eternal Life is, in John's understanding, life under the rule of God, a life that is free from the constraints of time, decay and evil.  It is wholly a spiritual realm, preexistent and co-existent with this earthly life as well as a continuing life after our death in this earthly sojourn. Our essence does not change  just because we change addresses.  The life we live now is eternal life infused with the Spirit of God.  Apart from the life-giving infusion of the Spirit we would not exist.

So what is the situation with all the other creatures, both plant and animal, that appear to have characteristics we identify as life?  My conclusion is that they, too, are infused with Spirit.  They have their own life-callings, their own inspired roles to play in God's Kingdom.  As such they are due our respect and consideration as fellow inhabitants of God's Kingdom.  Whether they be weeds or trees, birds or fish or reptiles or insects,  they, too, are subject to God's rule and recipients of their own gifts of God's  spirit infusions.  And if, indeed, we have been charged with the responsibility for their care and welfare, we should take the responsibility seriously  as fellow participants in God's Kingdom.

I would suggest further that creatures in our folklore may be more real than fictitious.  Given the quite serious and contemporary explorations of quantum physics into parallel universes--i.e. parallel realities beyond those we can apprehend by our limited human senses--we may find that creatures such as elves, gnomes and other nature spirits actually exist.  Science has already demonstrated that there are many realities beyond the reach of our physical senses.  That some persons may have sensitivities that I do not have seems to me not just possible, but even likely.  That our Creator may have created more realities than just the reality my senses are tuned to, does not strike me as particularly strange.  The fact that I may never develop the  capability to personally perceive my mythological neighbors proves nothing.  That there are others who have developed such capabilities is reason enough to warrant an openness to whatever spiritual beings may exist.  After all, we humans are also, in essence, spiritual beings.  As noted above, apart from Spirit  we would not exist.  Perhaps nature spirits have as much trouble believing that we exist.

Following Jesus

Following Jesus

By James L. Foster  

Given the title of this publication it seems to me appropriate for us to consider how we are doing in following the one whom many of us claim as our leader.  In the records of his ministry and teaching given us by the writers of our gospels, Jesus has laid down some pretty clear markers of what it means to be en Christo, “in Christ.”  I think it is safe to say that none of us have followed him perfectly.  Indeed, if we look back over the last two millennia of the Christian Church, it would appear that on a number of issues we have not followed him at all. 

It is no secret that the Christian Church through the centuries has been wrong on many occasions and in many ways:  We were wrong morally by perverting the grace of God, as in the crusades (by which we set out under the banner of Christ to either convert the Muslims or to kill them), as in the inquisition  (in which we tortured or killed those who dared to disagree with the church), and as in indulgences  (by which, for a price, we offered to wipe the slate clean of the believer’s sins), as in papal infallibility (including our present Pope’s suppression of Nag Hammadi scrolls for 40 years), and as in character assassinations, Mary Magdalene, for example.  We have also been wrong intellectually, believing, for example, that the earth is the center of the universe, and that the world is flat, having four corners (Revelation 7:1).  We were wrong in our understanding of biology, believing and building our theology on the assumption that only the male contributed anything of substance to the character and identity of the new born child (the mother only contributed a safe haven for the fetus to develop). Therefore the birth accounts of the child Jesus, composed almost a century later, only needed to replace the human father, presumably Joseph, in order to eliminate inherited sin.  In later years, we have been wrong again in supporting slavery, shunning, and segregation; wrong in our participation in wars and genocide (for example Rwanda, Burundi, and Bosnia), and wrong in our support of consumerism, and neglect of the poor – to name a few.  Injustice has been our credo, and it still is.  We have a sorry legacy when it comes to following the teachings and example of Jesus.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), the gospel writer has Jesus tell the story of a man journeying from Jerusalem to Jericho who fell among thieves who left him battered, bleeding and perhaps unconscious on the side of the road.  The Torah, the Law of God by which the Jews pledged themselves to live, demanded that human need must take priority over every other concern.  Yet, in this story, says Jesus, a Levite, a recognized leader in temple worship, who was surely aware of the Law’s command to show compassion to those in need, passes by on the other side of the road, ignoring the wounded man.  Next comes a priest, a holy man of Israel, ordained after becoming proficient in the study of the Torah.  He, too, sees the victim. Perhaps justifying his behavior in typical ordained practice by countering the text calling for compassion with another text prohibiting one from touching the flesh of a dead man, he refuses to stop long enough even to investigate and passes by on the other side of the road. *

Then, says Jesus, a half-breed, a Samaritan, journeys along that way.  He is not schooled in the Law and so may have been ignorant of the Torah’s demands.  But he sees a human being in need, and he responds without hesitating.  Going up to the wounded man, he pours oil in his wounds and binds them up.  He then gives the victim wine and water to drink and takes him on his own donkey to an inn, where he arranges to pay for his continued care and lodging until the healing process is complete.

Then Jesus says to the lawyer who prompted the story, “Go and do likewise.

This parable was a challenge to the defining prejudice in 1st century Judaism and it invited people to step beyond their prejudices, whatever they were, into a new definition of humanity, a humanity that emerges beyond the boundaries of our prejudices.

In this story and others, like the Prodigal Son and the Rich man and Lazarus, Jesus is shown to be a God-presence that calls those of us who would be his followers to become more fully human by opening up the dark places in our souls where our prejudices hide, the place to which we have assigned the Samaritans of our day.  For some of us the Samaritans may be persons of a different skin color.   For others they may be people who worship God in ways different from our way.  For still others the Samaritans may be those whose sexual orientation is not like our own.  To be followers of Jesus we are forced to heed his call to surrender all our killing stereotypes and to walk beyond all our fears into a new prejudice-free humanity, a humanity free of those barriers that divide us one from another.

The call of Jesus through his example and teaching to those who would be his followers is to put aside all gender and sexual distinctions.  The Apostle Paul apparently understood this when he said that for those who have clothed themselves with Christ, “There is no longer Jew or Greek…slave or free, male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)  These become only categories into which humanity is divided.  They are not divisions that indicate sin, as past rhetoric had suggested.

The portrait of Jesus drawn by the biblical writers shows him violating the sexual boundaries of his day, not just once but many times.  John’s gospel, for example, says that Jesus engaged the woman at the well (John 4:1-42) in a lengthy theological discussion, even though Jewish males did not converse with women in a public place.  No wonder his disciples were astonished when they returned to find the two of them in conversation, and though none of them said, “Why are you talking with her?”  you can be sure all of them were thinking it.

Jesus also had women disciples, among whom Mary Magdalene was prominent.  She was obviously a key person in the Jesus movement, despite the early church male leaders’ attempts at character assassination by turning her into a prostitute without a shred of evidence to support their accusations.  Apart from one unexplained comment in Luke 8:2 where Jesus is reported to have cast out demons in Mary Magdalene, she is described in very positive terms in every other reference.  She also went on to write one of the early gospels about Jesus, though it was never acknowledged by the Church Fathers.  But they do not reflect either the example or the teaching of Jesus.

As for those with a different sexual orientation, Jesus never says a word in any gospel about homosexuality.  Indeed, the word homosexuality does not appear in Scripture at all, nor does sexual perversion.  Jesus did mention adultery and fornication, both heterosexual sins.  And in the story in Genesis of Sodom and Gomorrah, though the inhabitants of Sodom were apparently homosexuals, their sin was in their attempted rape of Lot’s guests.  James is quoted in Acts 15:20 as advising the Gentiles to abstain from fornication, and Paul in Galatians 5:19-21 lists fornication as one of several works of the flesh, but makes no mention of homosexuality.  I know a few homosexuals and all of them with but one exception are people of integrity, struggling with the burden of rejection, placed upon them for the most part by Christians

The science is in and it is conclusive.  Sexual orientation, both heterosexuality and homosexuality, are natural, genetically imposed orientations with which we are born.  Just because homosexuality is not natural for those of us that have a heterosexual orientation, that does not mean that it is not natural for those born with a homosexual orientation.  The only thing that really divides us is the fear we have of an experience we do not understand, and for that we misquote Scripture to justify not following the teaching of Jesus.  Homosexuals are clearly the pre-eminent Samaritans of our day, and the call of Jesus is to reach across the divide with compassion and acceptance.

Another teaching of Jesus about which I suggest we should be very concerned is that reported by Matthew in the opening verses of chapter 7 of his gospel.  “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged, for with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

You, dear Christian friends, are my brothers and sisters.  But we also have other brothers and sisters who are not a part of our faith traditions and who are different from us in one way or another.  As we have opportunity, we need to embrace them, too, without judgment and without fear.  May there be for us no more Samaritans but only human beings who share the wonder of what it means to be a child of God.   

 

* Much of the interpretation of this parable is roughly quoted from the book  New Christianity for a New World  by John Shelby Spong, pp. 134-ff.

 

On Loving with the Love of Jesus: Love Is a Commission

On Loving with the Love of Jesus

Love Is a Commission

By James L. Foster

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”—Jesus

How has Jesus loved us?  The answer to this question is one we can contemplate but never exhaust, because it is a Love measured by eternity, a Love unnumbered by days.  It is a Love given in total freedom, unlike most human loves which are often driven by self-interest.  Self, alone, it seems, rather fears most that Love by which it may be redeemed, by which we may be forgiven.  However, the Love of God through Jesus Christ ignores our willfulness and becomes for us a royal rod disciplining our selfishness.  The Love of Jesus makes real to us the Love of the Creator God, sealing us forever in his all-sufficient atoning grace.

But Jesus Love extends even beyond its expressions of saving grace, though to be freed from the legitimate consequences of our sin is no small thing.  It enables new life on a higher plane.  It is Christ in us, alive, unbounded, uncontrived, transforming both others and us by his presence in us.  It is a Love that calls forth our unspoken dreams and forms within us a hope of it own designing. It is such a Love as opens to us eternal vistas and enables us to touch the Invisible.  It is a Love that God alone ordains.

To be conquered by the Love of Jesus is to become aware of new possibilities for our own participation in the Life of God.  “Hereby perceive we the Love of God, because he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (I John 3:16).

Jesus enlarges on his command to love “as I have loved you” as follows: “Greater Love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12).  But, we may ask, what kind of love is it that responds to another simply out of a sense of duty?  If we are simply obeying the Divine law, what virtue is there in it?  Should not Love proceed from heart-desire rather than from legalistic obedience?

The word in question here is “commandment,” translated from the Greek word entole’ by most modern biblical translations.  Entole’, however, may be just as legitimately translated as “injunction,” “charge,” “commission,” and “precept.”  If, in fact, Jesus had intended to dictate a law demanding strict adherence, he had available two other terms which would not have been given to such ambiguity—“epitage,” a command or mandate given by a person in authority, and the still more concrete dia’tagma, an authoritative edict as in Hebrews 11:23, “By faith Moses was hidden by his parents…and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

In as much as Jesus chose entole’, and given the nature of agape’ Love as a chosen, gifted, way of life, it is reasonable to assume that “charge” or “commission” better conveys his intended meaning. “  This is my charge to you, that you love one another..." or “I commission you to love one another.”  The latter term also carries with it a sense of enablement in keeping with the nature of agape’.

What does it mean to be commissioned to love as Jesus has loved us?  It means that we are committed to living out the Love of God just as surely as was Jesus.  It means that we take up his ministry of Love and that, like Him, we give our lives in Love.  To receive Jesus’ commission is to take up his work where he left off, to continue it in the same way, with the same empowerment and, remarkably, with the same identity.  It was not just happenstance that his followers early on were called “Christians”—little Christs—in Antioch of Syria.

Contrary to the understanding of many fundamentalist and evangelical Christians, we are not so much called to relationship with Jesus as to identity with him.  Whereas he was “the light of the world” (John 9:5), we are now “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).  Whereas initially “all the fullness of the Father” dwelt in Christ Jesus (Colossians 1:19), by virtue of the love of Christ we can now be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19).  It is into Christ we come by believing (John 3:16).  And it is the suffering and the joy of Christ, himself, in which we participate (I Peter 4:13).  Finally, it is his divine nature of which we partake (I Peter 1:4).  In short, what Jesus is commissioning us to is a real and mystical participation in himself, the continuation of his living, loving presence here and now in our physical beings.

This is not a call to give up our uniqueness.  We are each unique forms of Jesus.  This does not make us less, but rather enlarges our vision of who and how great Jesus is.  To the extent that we individually and corporately “faith” into him, to that extent we are him and his expression of himself is enlarged.

Jesus says that “whatsoever you shall ask in my name, that will I do….” (John 14:13).  For the first century Hebrew to whom this was originally addressed, a person’s name was held to be virtually identical with his or her identity.  Thus, the only way a person might legitimately ask anything “in Jesus name” is by sharing in that identity.  When we ask, it is Jesus asking, because we, in our union with him, have taken on his identity.  Likewise, when he suffers, we suffer; when he loves, we love; when he rejoices, we rejoice—and vice versa.  We are in him, little Christs, and are thereby committed to that same ministry of agape’ Love to which he was committed in his life as Jesus of Nazareth.

The Apostle Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians, stated that “we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the demonstrated presence of the Lord, are metamorphosed (Greek, metamorphu, transfigured) into the same image from one demonstration of his presence to another, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (3:18).  God is about the business of restoring his image in us.  He is doing it through his first born, Jesus Christ, through whose Love we are called—relentlessly called—to be Love.  This is our commission.  It is by Love that we were born to be Love, transformed, transfigured, metamorphosed into that expression of God himself we were meant from the beginning to be.

Love is a Gift of God

Love is a Gift of God

“For God so loved the cosmos that he gave his only begotten son, in order that whoever believes into him should not perish but have everlasting life.” 1

Love is our gift to the world because Love is God’s gift to us.

Bear with me while I tell you of a dream through which God’s gift of Love was made more real to me than it had ever been before.  I was in a huge auditorium-like courtroom.  I was on trial.  The charge: unfaithfulness to God.  Everyone I had ever met was present and filled the auditorium. The charge was presented, I pled guilty, and sentence was passed—death and hell.  Though it was a dream, I felt deeply the trauma of that moment, knowing as I did that the sentence was right and just.  But then I flashed back in the dream to a point just before the sentencing.  In this flashback, Jesus entered the courtroom from a back entrance.  The court proceedings stopped. The courtroom fell silent as Jesus walked slowly down the long aisle and over to where I was seated.  He said nothing but motioned for me to stand.  When I did so, he took my seat.  The court proceedings resumed and Jesus took my sentence.

I was appalled and overwhelmed and incredulous and grateful.  I awoke crying, having learned experientially something of the cost of God’s Love.  Never since have I been able to contemplate casually the cross of Jesus.  Never since have I been tempted to denigrate the Love of God, for I know the dream portrayed the reality.  What I experienced there was a vision of what has really transpired—and that billions of times over.

Dorothy Day asks, “What is God but love?  What is religion without love?  We read of the saints dying for love and wonder what it means….  Our Lord did that, but most people no longer believe in Him.”2  Aren’t we a crazy people?  We say we are dying for love, we sing odes to it, we saturate our language with it, and bombard ourselves with televised and printed images of it, but when we are presented with the real thing, we neither recognize nor accept it.

Love is a free gift.  Agape love is a free gift of God.  Perhaps it is the very fact that it is free that makes it difficult to accept. In our Western society at least, we have our minds set against anything labeled “free.”  Such a label often means that (1), the gift offered isn’t worth much and (2), there’s a catch to it.

What about the gift of agape?  What is it worth?  The value of a gift may be measured either by its cost to the one who gives it or by its worth to the one receiving it. In the case of God’s gift of agape, I think it can fairly be said that it cost him a great deal. God laid the life of his “only begotten son” on the line in giving his Love.  If our freedom to accept or reject his Love means anything at all, then his gift was at the risk that nobody might accept it, that all of us might choose to go our own way.  There was the risk that all the pain and trauma of the cross might have been for naught.  But that risk, that insecurity, that possibility of indescribable heartbreak was, for God, part of the cost of loving.

Jesus’ death on the cross was God’s gift of his own life for us.  It was a gift so reckless and given with such abandonment of self as to exceed the limits of human credibility.  But it happened. History attests to it and both our faith and life experiences affirm it.  From the standpoint of the one giving it, it was a gift of unsurpassed worth, costing Life itself.

Love?  Would there have been resurrection?  For all his riches, God had nothing greater to give.  Having given his Love, was there anything left that could have been as effective in wooing us to him?  If Love had not worked, nothing else would have. Perhaps all, all, would have been lost—which leads us to the second question.

Is there a catch to God’s gift of Love?  Is it a gift with strings attached?  After all, what is it that Love wants to effect?  What is the goal of Divine Love?  Love has been defined, as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”3  Love may also be defined as the pull towards unity of that which should never have been separated, as the urge towards the healing of relationships that are broken, thus a move to wholeness.  Yes, if spiritual growth, unity, restoration and wholeness constitute a “catch,” then there is definitely a catch to agape Love.  God is out to kill us with Love.  He is out to kill that man or woman who is living the illusion of separateness, transforming us into that image of himself in which he first created us.  He is out to kill the illusion and confront us with our essential unity with each other, with our shared identity, and with our birthright of oneness with himself.

The pull towards unity, towards oneness, is the pull on the created towards the Creator.  The Hebrew prophet spoke for God, “You shall seek me and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).  In loving us, it is God’s purpose to bring us back to himself, to reestablish the union which once was and, in so doing, to restore us to our true selves.  Yes, there is a “catch” indeed. In responding to God’s gift of his Love we are freed from the bondage of our illusion of separateness and we come into the glorious freedom of the sons and daughters of God. In responding to his gift, we reestablish our “luminous and noble” place in God’s family.

There is imagery in Francis Thompson’s poem, “The Hound of Heaven,” where God is portrayed as the relentless pursuer, we the pursued. God pursues us until, at last, there is no escape.  But we try to flee, even though we should know that the quest for independence is futile.  “This is eternal life,” Jesus prayed, “that they should know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) God so loves that he gives—even to the point of pursuing us to do it.

Love is a gift of God.  It is the free and sacrificial gift of Jesus Christ.  It is a gift of union, of wholeness and of life—and that eternal.  It is also a gift which, when openly received, transforms us and infuses us with the same capacity and compulsion to be channels of agape for others.  It is only natural that when we come into union with the giver of Divine Love, into a real oneness, we will participate in the giving.  In receiving Love, we become Love. Love becomes our nature.  And in so becoming Love we learn first hand a little of what it cost God.  We, too, experience the pain and trauma of being misunderstood and rejected.  But worse still, we see those we love still trapped in their illusion, still trying to go it alone when all the freedom of life in God, life in its unimaginable fullness, is theirs for the asking.  We learn what God has always known—that we must love and accept all persons just as they are and love them for who, in God, they can become.

>When we give the Love that God has given us, we allow ourselves to be drawn closer to those we are given to love. “…this aspect of love says, ‘I love you as you can be, beyond who and what you are now, in your boundless possibilities.  I dream of you, for you, and with you toward a limitless future of love’.  In Gabriel Marcel’s phrase…’I hope in you for us.’”3

The gift of God’s Love is given to others through us. We, too, are Divine Lovers.  The gift we have been given is ours to give.  “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required.” (Luke 12:48)

Notes:

1 Author’s translation of John 3:16.  The use of “into” to translate the Greek eis is consistent with the usual translation of that preposition.  It also adds significantly to the meaning of the text.

2 Robert Ellsberg, ed., By Little and By Little: The Selected Writings of Dorothy Day (New York: Alfred A. Knopft, 1983), p. 226.

3 W. Harold Grant, Magdala Thompson, and Thomas E. Clarke, From Image to Likeness: A Jungian Path in the Gospel Journey (New York; Ramsey, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1983), p. 192

 

Loving with the Love of Jesus

Loving with the Love of Jesus

LOVE IS A DECISION TO EXPRESS THE LOVE OF GOD, TO ALLOW OUR BARRIERS TO FALL

By James L. Foster

It is popularly thought that love is something you “fall” into, that when it comes to loving another, it just happens.  We fall in love with one person.  We don’t fall in love with others.  (Or, if we do fall in love with more than one person, our relationships are thereby made very complicated.)  We typically assume there is some mystery associated with falling in love and we often attribute it to God.  How we account for the equally prevalent experience of falling out of love is another matter that somehow does not fit the “providential” mindset quite so easily.

Falling in Love vs. Divine Love

Psychologist Scott Peck, exploring the phenomenon of falling in love from a psychological perspective, categorically states that “falling in love” is not real love at all, and he gives the following reasons:

 

  • Falling in love is not an act of will, it is not a conscious choice…

  • Falling in love is not an extension of one’s limits or boundaries…

  • Real love is a permanently self-enlarging experience.   

Falling in love is not…

Falling in love has little to do with purposively nurturing one’s spiritual development.  If we have any purpose in mind when we fall in love it is to terminate our own loneliness and perhaps insure this result through marriage.Peck concludes then with a speculation about what falling in love is: 

Peck concludes then with a speculation about what falling in love is:

Deepak Chopra cites what he calls a “key” concept:  “When you fall in love, you fall for a mirror of your own most present needs.  The intense desirability of another person isn’t innate in that person.  Desire is born in the one who desires. ”Chopra’s observation brings us to the next logical question—the reverse of Peck’s question, if love is not “falling in love,” then what is it?  With agape in particular (though I think also with eros and phileo), it is an act of will, a conscious, deliberate choice to love.  We love because we choose to love, not because we stumble into it.

The Implications of Choice

The fact that we can choose to love means that it is possible to choose to love another person or persons regardless of whether or not we find them attractive or desirable.  It is possible to love someone who ignores or rejects us or makes unreasonable demands on us.  It is even possible to love someone who is our avowed enemy.  It may not be likely that we would “fall in love” with our enemy, but as spiritually enabled children of God we have the freedom to choose to genuinely love those who do us harm.  If this is not a possibility, it makes a mockery of Jesus’ admonition to love our enemies:  “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spite-fully use you and persecute you.”  (Matthew 5:44)  It is not without reason that this is often seen as one of the most difficult commandments, but it may also be one of the most essential, being at the very of heart of Jesus’ teaching.

>We are free to choose Love.  As God’s sons and daughters we do not have to conform to the world’s way of response to those we identify as our enemies.  We do not have to “get even,” or return insult for insult or hate for hate.  We can choose to live our lives on a higher, nobler plane, on the plane of agape, Divine Love.  By the grace of God and the power of his Spirit, we are enabled to choose.

But suppose our master, Jesus, had chosen the usual human response to his tormentors.  It is said that he had at his command legions of angels.  Could they have not wiped out the despised Roman legions, the recalcitrant Pharisees, and all those responsible for nailing him to the cross?  But Jesus chose the way of agape instead.  By accepting the cross, Jesus empowers us to do likewise, to actually love those who are nailing us to our own contemporary crosses.  Jesus did not die in order that we might be freed from death or suffering, but that we might be free to love as he loved.  The call of God is not to painless invulnerability, but to loving presence like that of our master, a presence not immune to pain, injury, rejection or death.

We have a choice.  We need not be bound and manipulated by those who would inflict pain or even death on us.  We do not have to cringe in fear before the “authorities.”  We have the capability to love them with Divine Love, no matter what.  We can “turn the other cheek,” not because we do not doubly feel the pain of being struck twice instead of once, but because, our Love for our enemy prohibits our striking back and we can accept the blows to our bodies without in any real sense of being diminished.

Agape, An Expression of God’s Grace

The grace of God becomes tangible to us in God’s Love.  “By grace are you continually saved,” writes the Apostle Paul.  “It is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).  We are “called by his grace” (Galatians 1:15) and we have received grace “exceedingly abundantly with faith and Love” (I Timothy 1:14).  Further we are empowered with charismata, gifts of grace (I Corinthians 12:4), and are ourselves “stewards of the manifold grace of God”. (I Peter 4:10)   And nowhere does our stewardship of the grace of God come more to the fore than in our choice to allow agape’ to become tangible through us.  When we choose to love another, we choose to express God’s grace by his grace.  It is his grace that enables the choice to Love and it is his grace made manifest in Love.  Grace can be defined as “unmerited favor” and as “Divine assistance given to man.”  We receive it but we do not earn it.  We extend it through Love to others though they, too, do not earn it. In loving others with Divine Love we become channels of that grace which we ourselves have received.  We become Divine Lovers.

Barriers to God’s Grace

When we choose to express God’s grace, to open ourselves to be its channel, we make no small choice.  Apart from God’s grace, it is our natural inclination to erect barriers between other persons and ourselves.  By erecting such barriers we hope to avoid the pain of their rejection.  We also build barriers around those people and things in our lives we value most highly.  We are possessive of our children and spouse.  We lock our houses to keep out unwanted intruders and put our most treasured items in bank vaults where no one, not even we ourselves, can enjoy them.  We invest in insurance and seek written guarantees that we will continue to possess that which we have accumulated.

We erect psychological barriers as well.  We wear blinders that allow us to see only that which does not threaten our comfort or sense of security, blinders that keep us from seeing and feeling the suffering of those around us.  That way we can sit comfortably in our warm, locked houses, surrounded by our possessions, reasonably safe from whoever may be standing without, hungry, shivering in the cold and desperate.  That is, we can sit this way until God, in his infinite grace, breaks through our barriers, shatters our complacency, and exposes us to the unmitigated suffering of others created in his image, huddled on our own doorsteps—unmitigated because we will not open our doors.

Our barriers, which we have often spent years constructing, become a heap of rubble at our feet when we become Divine Lovers. Instead of being security conscious we become God’s fools, rashly allowing ourselves to be immersed by the moral, material, social and physical needs of the lepers who surround us.  For them, we risk our own poverty and deprivation. For them, we risk becoming social outcasts.  Why?  Because the Love of God within us compels us.  Having lost our blinders, all reality stands exposed before us, the sordid as well as the beautiful, the suffering masses as well as the prosperous and healthy, and moved by the compassion of God, we embrace it all.

It does not usually happen all at once.  As God removes our blinders he also prepares us for what is coming.  He does not do this by reinforcing the barriers.  He prepares us by giving us his strength, his sensitivity and his wisdom. His gifts of grace—faith, healing, knowledge, and discernment—are given to enable us to meet specific needs.  As God opens our eyes, he also opens our hearts, and that which is needed most by the people we meet—Divine Love—comes pouring out.  We can’t help it.  It’s there and it happens, when by God’s grace, we choose the way of Love.

Divine Love—agape’—is a decision.  It is not something we fall into or fall out of.  It is a decision to express the grace of God that we ourselves have abundantly received and of which we, as Divine Lovers, have become stewards.  It is the decision to let our barriers fall, to stand naked in the chilling wind, becoming fellow sufferers with our Master and with humankind, and warming our needy brothers and sisters from the inside out.

The Inspiration of Scripture

The Inspiration of Scripture

By James L. Foster

If you are convinced that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, or further, that God dictated it word-for-word, and if you believe that the Bible’s attestation of its inspiration is a valid criteria for judging the validity of its claim or, in addition, that the Bible’s transmission and translation has been faultless through all of the centuries since it was originally penned, and if you are so convinced of these claims that you are closed to hearing evidence to the contrary, then perhaps this article is not for you and you should move on to other articles.  However, if your primary concern is to discover truth wherever it may lead you, or however uncomfortable it may make you feel, then read on.  But know also that the author of this article is coming from a place of deep commitment both to the person of Jesus Christ and to the study of the biblical record, a serious study that has spanned the past 55 years.

Is the Bible the inspired Word of God?  Perhaps before answering this question one should consider the various elements of this statement.  Those who make this claim are at least implicitly assigning to the word “God” a personal quality that at best is questionable.  Even though the biblical writers themselves attributed various personality characteristics to “God”, it is apparent that they, like the rest of us, struggled to describe that which is utterly indescribable.  The biblical writers of necessity had to resort to anthropomorphic language to describe God because that is the only language they knew.  The assertion of the unembodied voice coming from a burning bush, whether it was real or in a vision, proclaimed God to be “I am I am.” (Exodus 3:14) which may come closest to a description of the Creator of any to be found.  My understanding of this seemingly bizarre identification, is that God is whatever is, is Being itself, as opposed to a being.  Any lesser description than this tends to be merely a magnification of what it means to be human.  We have created God in our image as a person like us, only bigger. With this kind of anthropomorphism it is only logical to speak of God as one who speaks, who has desires like us, who is, on occasion offended and displays human emotions like jealousy and anger and love.  How else can we speak of God?  Even our pronouns attribute to God personhood Language fails us when we try to speak of the ineffable.

So how does God as Being itself communicate?  And how can we know that it is Being that is communicating?  There are no easy answers, but one can be sure it is not by long conversations carried out between two individuals face to face as one man to another.  The biblical writer characterizes God’s communication that way because there are no other options.  However, there is communication between Being and humankind, perhaps in the form of ecstatic visions, both aural and visual.  But when this happens, they must still be reduced somehow to words if they are to be shared with other human beings.  But the words necessarily must fall far short of the reality.

So how is it that we can speak of inspiration at all?  If Being does not in itself physically speak, then where do inspired words come from?  They can only come from the inner depths of the man or woman who has somehow touched the ineffable reality we call God.  The words first arise out of Silence and, however inadequate a representation of Being they may be, they are then committed to some form of human communication.

Some of these words, in all probability, have come to be included in one or another of the sacred writings of the world.  Some have surfaced in the writings of saints, and, occasionally they may even be heard in a Sunday morning sermon.  But none do more than approximate the truth they seek to communicate, because the medium can never be the equal of the reality that is its source. God cannot be contained by words.

It also seems rather presumptuous to me that any collection of words can be labeled “the” word of God, as though there are no others.  Let alone the fact that all our words fall lamentably short when it comes to communicating the ineffable, it is none the less the case that many persons throughout history have apparently had experiences with Being that they were compelled to try to communicate.  These persons come from every age and every religion.  They include both ancient and modern seekers whose writings are such as are recognized by others to have some special merit, some ring of truth.  As such, their writings are often carefully preserved in order that the truths they enunciate may serve as a guide for future generations.

Problems arise, however, when these writings are rewritten or translated into other languages by persons not necessarily so inspired as the saints who originally penned them.  The processes of transmission and translation have been shown to be rife with errors, either intentional or accidental.  This is certainly true of the biblical writings we have today and, I suspect, is likewise true of most, if not all, other sacred texts.  There are also demonstrable errors of fact that even the original authors included in their writings.  To enumerate all the errors to be found in the Bible would require a book length treatise.  Whence come the errors?  Did the original authors misunderstand the messages they thought they were hearing?  Or, alternatively, did Being itself get it wrong on occasion?  Not likely!

Then there is the oft quoted biblical passage, 2 Timothy 3:16, in which the Apostle Paul categorically states, “All scripture is inspired by God…”  This is commonly applied to both the Old and New Testaments, in spite of the fact that the New Testament and some of the Old Testament had not yet been written or included in a canon, official or otherwise.  There were no gospels, for example, and no Acts of the Apostles.  There may have been a collection of Jesus’ sayings, and some of the Apostle Paul’s letters and the Letter of James, but none of these had been formed into a canon of scripture at the time Paul wrote to Timothy.  So what were these scriptures that he claimed were inspired?  To include Paul’s letters would seem to be a self-serving claim.  It is as though I should say of this treatise that it is to be treated as divinely inspired scripture.  I could say it, but my saying it would not make it so.  (Self-attestation is always suspect. as a witness to truth because of the obvious conflict of interest it presents.  Whether or not a particular writing is deigned to be inspired is for others to decide, not the author.)  What was available as scripture when Paul wrote Timothy is the Psalms, the Torah and some of the historical and prophetic books of the Old Testament, though at the time of Paul’s writing even these were not combined into a widely accepted canon.

As to the formation of the canon in the second and third centuries CE, the process was so fraught with power politics, that it hardly inspires confidence that they got it right.  It was not a meditative and spiritual or even a reasoned process leading to a well-considered conclusion.  It was a contentious and sometimes violent process through which those who had the most political power got to have the final say.  Through threats of excommunication and imprisonment and death, unscrupulous religious leaders with highly questionable motives decided what writings were to be included in the official canon of Scripture.  All other writings were to be destroyed. Is this how divine inspiration works?

Add to all of the above the widely divergent interpretations of what has come down to us as Scripture, and one is forced to conclude that whatever divine truth there may be in the Christian Scriptures may be something like the proverbial needle in a haystack That truth may only be discerned through a process of inspired reading not unlike the original authors may have experienced in the process of writing.  Prayerful reading of a text may not be a guarantee of divine discernment, given our tendency to be subjective, but openness to truth wherever it may be must certainly be one prerequisite to finding it.  With that openness we may even find it in unexpected places and from seemingly unlikely sources.  This prescription for seeking the divine communication, even if subjective, is still better than uncritical acceptance of self-serving claims of inspiration.