It’s easier to endure a pandemic when we believe that it will come to an end. When we’re in the middle of something, it’s difficult to know how everything will play out. Things could get worse before they get better. But generally we believe that COVID-19 will pass, just as the Black Death, the Spanish flu, and SARS did.

This is true for anything. Imagine that you break your ankle. How would you feel, experiencing that pain and inconvenience? Now imagine how you would feel if you knew you’d never heal. Think of how it would feel to lose your job. It probably would be scary, but you would have the expectation that you would find another job. Now imagine if you didn’t have that prospect — if you believed that you would never work again.

What we believe about tomorrow impacts how we feel and act today.

Things will get better, or they won’t. We can hope, or we can despair. When we believe that things will get better, hardship is much easier to endure, isn’t it? The light at the end of the tunnel pulls us forward. Here’s the best example of this:

Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
Let us look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith,
who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross,
despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself,
lest you become weary and your hearts give up.
— Hebrews 12:1-3 —

Jesus endured the cross — the greatest suffering ever experienced — because of the joy that was set before Him. The Father gave Jesus a vision of the future — a new earth, where God and people are utterly together, where there is no sorrow or pain or death. This shining light got Jesus through the darkest night.

Each one of us lives in the midst of a dark night of one sort or another, to one degree or another. The night might get even darker. But that doesn’t have to be how it ends. We can choose hope. We can choose to pursue the light at the end of the tunnel. We can trust that there will be an end to suffering one of these very days.

There are far, far better things ahead
than any we leave behind.

C. S. Lewis

“All the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years, and he died.”

“All the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years, and he died.“

“All the days of Enosh were nine hundred and five years, and he died.“

“All the days of Kenan were nine hundred and ten years, and he died.“

“All the days of Mahalalel were eight hundred and ninety-five years, and he died.“

“All the days of Jared were nine hundred and sixty-two years, and he died.“

“All the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. Enoch walked with God, and then he was no more because God took him.“

“All the days of Methuselah were nine hundred and sixty-nine years, and he died.“

“All the days of Lamech were seven hundred and seventy-seven years, and he died.“

What’s so special about Enoch?

These verses are from Genesis 5. While it’s easy to get distracted by the whopping lifespans of these guys, I hope you notice something else. One of these things is not like the others — and it’s not just the bold type. It doesn’t say that Enoch died; it says that God took him.

Hebrews 11:5 sheds some light on what happened: “By faith Enoch was taken to heaven so that he would not see death.”

Out of all of these people, only Enoch went to heaven at the end of his life on earth. Enoch’s case was clearly an exception, not the rule.

What’s the point?

The point is this: Many people — and most Christians believe that people go to heaven when they die. This belief is not supported by scripture. Instead, it came into mainstream Christian theology by way of mythology and philosophy.

Particularly, it is the notion of the immortal soul that was popularized by Plato. This philosophy purports that a disembodied soul originates in heaven, comes down to earth to inhabit a body for a time, and eventually escapes from the body and returns to heaven.

It is important to know where our beliefs come from and what the Bible actually says. This isn’t the only passage that tells us about death and heaven. Read the Bible from beginning to end, and you will see a clear, consistent, coherent message.

Wondering why the Bible should be trusted?

Good news

Those eight men who died might go to heaven and receive eternal life at some point in the future. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, and He offers Himself to everyone. What can we look forward to?

“The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we shall be forever with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)

I hope you do find comfort in these words. The Lord knows we need it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these ideas in the comments below. Also, if you don’t already subscribe, I invite you to stay connected and stay tuned for more stuff ‘n’ things where theology, science, and philosophy intersect.

“How do you know that Jesus is God?”

“Because the Bible says so.”

Don’t you just hate that? Surely, you can’t blame someone for coming back with, “And why should I believe the Bible?” Excellent question.

If your beliefs are based on scripture, a built-in premise for each of your beliefs is that the scripture is true. Is that a sound premise in your case? I urge you to examine the evidence for and against the validity of the scripture that your beliefs are based on.

“Because the Bible says so” isn’t good enough unless you’ve provided a basis for its trustworthiness. I encourage you to read The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel and other books by people who have examined the evidence about the Bible. For now, here is a quick list of reasons to trust it:

  1. The Bible is a reliable collection of historical documents written by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses.
  2. It contains falsifiable claims that would have shut down the Christian movement at its start if the claims had been untrue.
  3. Although the documents were written by about 40 authors over a period of about 2,000 years, they are coherent in message.
  4. The Bible reports events that were the fulfillment of specific prophecies, and it contains prophecies that have been fulfilled in post-Bible times.
  5. Much of the Bible is confirmed by the writings of contemporaries and by archaeological findings.
  6. The Bible is by far the best attested writing from antiquity.

I understand that not everyone will find this evidence compelling. But, here’s the thing. Alongside nature, the Bible is the best evidence we have about God. If God is real, He must be the most important and relevant reality in existence; therefore, the truth about God is worth pursuing. I encourage you to dig further. There is much more to be found, and it is a most worthy pursuit.

Which of the six reasons is the most compelling to you? The least compelling? Why? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

When it was announced that President Trump had COVID-19, some people responded with glee. Some even hoped that he would die.

In my last post, I wrote about people on Facebook responding to tragic news stories by clicking on the laugh reaction emoji under the headline. Many people were laughing that a marriage is over, that relationships are strained, that a man is struggling with addiction, that people are sick, and that people are dying. Laughing.

When it comes to the pleasure and ill-wishes regarding President Trump’s illness, some people offer what they consider to be justification for their attitudes:

  • Trump deserves it because he didn’t take COVID-19 seriously and take necessary precautions.
  • Trump deserves it because his policies cause other people to suffer and die.

Let’s give them the complete benefit of the doubt and assume that their “justifications” are valid. Would it then be appropriate for them to take pleasure in Trump’s illness and even hope that he dies?

To answer that question, let me offer a contrast.

“I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies, says the Lord God.”
Ezekiel 18:32

The death of anyone? Even a person who causes his own death because of his recklessness? Even a person who is responsible for the deaths of others? Are you telling me that God didn’t smile — even a little bit — when Hitler died?

“As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why will you die?”
Ezekiel 33:11

Not only does God find no pleasure in death, He pleads with us to choose life instead. This is in particular reference to the second death. The first death is the end of a lifetime on earth. The second death is a future event — after resurrection — that we typically refer to as hell (see Revelation 2:11; 20:6,14; 21:8).

The second death is a natural consequence for those who choose to disconnect from the source of life. The second death is for those who rebel against God — against goodness, light, and life. Do they deserve death? Would their death be justified? When all is revealed, I believe that we will find the answer to be yes. Still, God will have no pleasure.

That is the spirit that we desperately need. We each need a heart that sorrows when others are hurting, a heart that seeks to bless rather than curse, a heart so full of love that there is no room for hate. We need the heart of God.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 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 spitefully use you and persecute you.”
Matthew 5:43-44

I just browsed through the stories in my Facebook News feed. I found something in common with these headlines:

Pastor Who Told Congregation They Didn’t Have to Wear Masks Hospitalized in ICU with COVID-19

Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton Are Feeling “Stretched to Their Limit”

The worst coronavirus outbreaks are happening in these 15 cities

911 call from Falwell house reveals ex-Liberty president was drinking, fell down, lost ‘a lot of blood’ after resigning

Christina and Ant Anstead Split After Less Than 2 Years of Marriage

U.S. Coronavirus Deaths Near 200,000

Can you think of what they have in common? Since this is a blog, and we don’t have an efficient way to play a guessing game, I’ll just tell you. In reaction to each of these stories, people laughed.

Precisely, what they did was click on the laugh reaction emoji under the headline. I can understand shock, sadness, and even anger for some of these stories. But, laughter? A marriage is over, relationships are strained, a man is struggling with addiction and gets hurt, people are sick, and people are dying.

Perhaps even worse than these tragedies in the news is the cruelty in the hearts of people who make light — and even fun — of other people’s suffering. We need healed relationships and healed bodies. Most of all, though, we need healed hearts. We need the Spirit of love. The good news? It’s possible:

I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.
Ezekiel 36:26

Not long ago, #InsteadOfThoughtsAndPrayers was trending on Twitter. I’d like to offer an alternative: #InAdditionToThoughtsAndPrayers. Sure, it would max out my tweet character limit, but it would send a message.

With all the suffering and tragedy in the world, thoughts and prayers are indeed not enough, so I get why many people are frustrated by the sentiment. Thoughts and prayers are not enough, but they’re still good.

#1 • We can think and pray immediately.

We don’t even have to get out of bed to think and pray. The very second we learn of a tragedy, we can turn our mind toward those who are suffering and we can call on God to do His thing. Caveat: If the tragedy is a fire breaking out in your neighbor’s house, think and pray after you call 911 and while you hightail it over there to help as you can. I’m not suggesting that you should be a psycho.

#2 • Thinking and praying are the best way to start.

As a thinking advocate, I argue that we always must start there. The better the quality of our thoughts, the better the quality of our words and actions that follow. If we merely react out of emotion or guilt or good intentions, we probably won’t maximize our helpfulness.

As someone who constantly benefits from prayer, I highly recommend it in all situations. Tragedies are bigger than we are, and I find it incredibly comforting to have God as a companion to get through them. If God and prayer aren’t your thing, that’s okay; but please be respectful of those who find strength and hope in them.

A new trend

What do you think of #InAdditionToThoughtsAndPrayers? Shall we get this thing trending?

When I read the first pages of the Bible, I notice that the word “good” comes up frequently. The first use of the word “good” in the Bible is in Genesis 1:4, when “God saw that the light was good.” The word is used seven times in Genesis 1, culminating in this: “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.”

The first use of the word “evil” in the Bible is in Genesis 2:9: “The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, along with the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” It is used a second time in Genesis 2:15-17: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and to keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.’”

Here we see the introduction of the twin dichotomies of good and evil and life and death, which is a theme repeated throughout the Bible. Notice that the classical philosophical dichotomy of heaven and hell is not present here, nor is it present anywhere in the Bible as a dichotomy related to eternal destiny.

Eve and Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil once they believed that God could not be trusted. The human knowledge of evil began when the first humans chose not to trust God. (Similarly, the universe’s knowledge of evil began when Lucifer chose not to trust God. See Isaiah 14:12-14.)

The knowledge of good and evil has been growing since its inception. Someday, when the knowledge of good and evil is fully mature, the question of whether God can be trusted will be settled for all time. Can God be trusted? Just how good is good? Just how evil is evil? These are the questions that will be answered when the knowledge of good and evil is fully mature.

At that time, eternal destinies can be realized. The life-and-death dichotomy that was established in the garden of Eden will come to fruition. Those who choose to trust God will receive eternal life, and those who choose not to trust God will receive eternal death.

  • God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
  • The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
  • He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death. (Revelation 2:11)

I mentioned that the classical philosophical dichotomy of heaven-and-hell as eternal destiny is not found in the Bible. Notice, too, that the classical philosophical idea of eternal suffering cannot be concluded upon consideration of all of the Bible passages regarding the final destruction of those who do not trust God. Ashes do not suffer (see Ezekiel 28:18, Malachi 4:1-3, 2 Peter 2:6, and Revelation 20:9,15). Good news!

Suffering is a result of evil. Once the knowledge of good and evil is fully mature, it stands to reason that no one will choose evil again. That will be the end of evil, which will mean the end of suffering. More good news!

There was a time when there was only good. Then evil entered the picture. But evil is a companion of good for a limited time only. One of these days, if we choose to trust God, our knowledge of evil will be only a memory. We will spend eternity steeped in a fully-mature knowledge of good. That is the best news.

Let’s say that you have a brother named Clive, and people claim that he’s perfect. I mean, he has never done anything wrong. You would know better, right? You know for a fact that he cheated on his sixth grade history exam as well as his first girlfriend, and he is a jerk on Twitter.

Clive’s friends start talking about him being faultless, and they implore people to hang on his every word and trust him completely. You would speak up, right? You would caution people and let them know that Clive is not the infallible saint they think he is. He’s a good guy, sure — but let’s not get all culty, okay?

This was similar to the situation that James was in. People claimed that his brother Jesus was sinless. James did not believe all of the claims about Jesus — he was not on board with this “Messiah” thing — but he couldn’t dispute this claim. James knew that Jesus was, in fact, without sin. That’s why James (an unbeliever in general) never spoke up and said, “You’re wrong. At least twice, he lied to Mom about why he came home late. He beat up the neighbor, and — although he denies it — I know that he stole my butterfly collection. It took me six years to build that collection, and he never admitted it!”

Fast forward several years. Jesus had died and risen from the dead. The movement of Christ was gaining momentum. The Jewish leaders came to James for help in shutting it down. According to Hegesippus:

They came, therefore, in a body to James, and said: “We entreat thee, restrain the people: for they have gone astray in their opinions about Jesus, as if he were the Christ. … Persuade the people not to entertain erroneous opinions concerning Jesus. … Take thy stand, then, upon the summit of the temple, that from that elevated spot thou mayest be clearly seen, and thy words may be plainly audible to all the people. For, in order to attend the passover, all the tribes have congregated hither, and some of the Gentiles also.” To the scribes’ and Pharisees’ dismay, James boldly testified that “Christ himself sitteth in heaven, at the right hand of the Great Power, and shall come on the clouds of heaven”. The scribes and pharisees then said to themselves, “We have not done well in procuring this testimony to Jesus. But let us go up and throw him down, that they may be afraid, and not believe him.” Accordingly, the scribes and Pharisees … threw down the just man… [and] began to stone him: for he was not killed by the fall. And so he suffered martyrdom; and they buried him on the spot, and the pillar erected to his memory still remains, close by the temple. This man was a true witness to both Jews and Greeks that Jesus is the Christ.*

In his younger days, James did not buy into the claim that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Something changed between that time and this moment of amazing confidence. Likely, it was the moment when James saw Jesus alive after He was dead. Understandably, that tipped the scale for many people.

In his unbelieving days, James was in a position to know whether or not Jesus was sinless. If that claim had been false, James likely would have blown the whistle. After the resurrection, James was in a position to know whether or not Jesus died and rose again. He was there. He knew the truth. If it had been false, he would have stayed an unbeliever. If it had been false, he would not have stood up and confidently declared that Jesus was the Christ. He probably would have stood up and said, “Y’all have this all wrong!”

James wasn’t a blind believer in Jesus. He wasn’t an in-the-bag follower, just because He was his brother or a nice guy. James believed only when he was presented with compelling evidence. He knew for a fact that Jesus was dead and then alive, just as He said would happen.

I don’t share James’s experience, but his experience translates into compelling evidence for me. Jesus rising from the dead and being the Christ is the explanation of the evidence that makes the most sense to me. If Jesus had been a less-than-perfect liar or lunatic, James would have known that, and he probably would have nipped that cult right in the bud. Instead, he used his last breath to pray for those who were killing him for his now-unshakable faith in his brother.

*From Book 5 of Fragments from the Acts of the Church; Concerning the Martyrdom of James, the Brother of the Lord

The image above is a depiction of souls burning in the flames of Purgatory as displayed on the facade of the Church of Ánimas (Capilla de Ánimas) in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Source/License

“The practice of praying for the dead is, I think, the fundamental origin of the doctrine of purgatory. … We often want to pray for those we love who die. It’s actually fairly hard in certain Protestant services I’ve been at … where you don’t pray for the dead. My heart wants to pray for the dead that I love. That means that I’m one of those Protestants who thinks that there might be something to the doctrine of purgatory.”

This was said by Phillip S. Cary, an American philosopher who serves as a professor at Eastern University. I heard it in a course he teaches: The History of Christian Theology.

Purgatory is said to be a place or state of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who are atoning for their sins before going to heaven.

Let me provide the context for the first sentence in the quote by Dr. Cary: “The practice of praying for the dead is, I think, the fundamental origin of the doctrine of purgatory.” Earlier in the lecture, Dr. Cary mentioned that Augustine of Hippo, in his autobigraphical narrative, asked readers to pray for his mother, who was dead. Dr. Cary believes that the doctrine of purgatory developed from this request. The reasoning goes like this: It doesn’t make sense to pray for someone in hell, because it won’t do any good. It doesn’t make sense to pray for someone in heaven, because they don’t need it. Therefore, there must be a third place where the soul of a dead person can be, where prayers could be beneficial.

The reasons for believing

Dr. Cary teaches that the doctrine of purgatory is not from the Bible but that it was developed during the Middle Ages, likely based on a personal request made by Augustine — a theologian of the fourth and fifth centuries. The doctrine of purgatory relies on the soul being eternal (or, at least, existing after death). Dr. Cary’s course contains a lecture about the state of the soul after death, and he makes it clear that the idea of an eternal soul is from Plato, not the Bible. He contends that the Bible teaches that, after death, the soul sleeps until resurrection. (I, too, find this in my own study of the Bible.) It is relevant here to note that Augustine was greatly influenced by Plato.

Despite all of this, Dr. Cary “thinks that there might be something to the doctrine of purgatory”. Why? His own words: “My heart wants to pray for the dead that I love.”

What was the reason that the medieval mainstream church created the doctrine of purgatory? According to Dr. Cary, it seems that they wanted to provide an explanation for Augustine’s request for prayers for his dead mother.

These are self-described Christian scholars and theologians. Their reason for believing (or wanting to believe) is not “because it is what the Bible teaches” or “because it is consistent with Bible teaching”. This particular belief is not in the Bible, nor is it consistent with Bible teaching about death or salvation. That does not seem to be a concern of these scholars and theologians.

The source of authority

I understand that not everyone shares my view of sola scriptura, that the Bible is the sole source of authority for Christian faith and practice. I believe that because I believe this:

The Bible is a reliable collection of historical documents written by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses. It contains falsifiable claims that would have shut down the Christian movement at its start if the claims had been untrue. Although the documents were written by about 40 authors over a period of about 2,000 years, they are coherent in message. The Bible reports events that were the fulfillment of specific prophecies, and it contains prophecies that have been fulfilled in post-biblical times. Much of the Bible is confirmed by the writings of contemporaries and by archaeological findings. The Bible is by far the best attested writing from antiquity.

In other words, I trust the Bible as sole authority because I believe there is strong evidence that supports it as the word of God.

The basis for belief

Many doctrines of the mainstream church come, not from the Bible, but from pagan philosophy or non-biblical, non-apostolic tradition. Do you know which ones? This post isn’t really about the specific doctrine of purgatory. It’s about ideas and where they come from. It’s about our reasons for believing. The doctrine of purgatory is just one example.

It is important that we know where ideas come from, especially the ideas we embrace or reject. It matters why we believe what we believe. We would be wise to base our beliefs — not on desires or hopes or an attempted explanation of one person’s notion — but on evidence. Only then can we build a thoughtful faith that is less likely to be shaken — and more likely to be true.

You might remember a couple of years ago when then Attorney General Jeff Sessions invoked the Bible to defend the Trump administration’s enforcement of immigration law.

What exactly did Sessions say in a speech to law enforcement officers on June 14, 2018? I checked four sources and came up with two different versions. (That should remind us to check multiple sources and realize that errors are made.)

Version 1:

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.” (USA Today and The Independent)

Version 2:

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.” (New York Times and Washington Post)

Romans 13:1 says this:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are appointed by God.”

WHAT ROMANS 13:1 MEANS (MAYBE)

What did Paul mean? We can make some reasoned guesses. Some say that Paul was being sarcastic or appeasing authorities he knew would intercept his mail. The Greek word he used to describe authorities in Romans 13:1 is a word he used at other times to mean “morally superior” or “excellent”, so it could be argued that he meant that people should submit only to morally superior authorities. We get some insight by considering what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:1: “Follow me as I follow Christ.” In other words, we should follow those who follow Christ.

WHAT ROMANS 13:1 DOES NOT MEAN (DEFINITELY)

We are unlikely to determine Paul’s exact meaning simply by looking at one or two texts. What we can do, however, is know for sure what Paul did not mean, and that is incredibly important.

Let’s leave Paul for a moment. Remember Daniel in the lions’ den? Daniel said something similar to what Paul wrote:

“The Most High God rules in the kingdom of men, and … He appoints over it whomever He wills” (Daniel 5:21).

Does that mean that Daniel always obeyed earthly rulers? Nope. In the very next chapter, Daniel learned of a new law in the kingdom and immediately broke that law in front of open windows for all the world to see. Cue the lions. After God rescued him, Daniel claimed, “I have committed no crime.” He had zero regard for an earthly law that was in violation of God’s law.

Back to Paul. He wrote Romans 13:1, and he lived a life of civil disobedience. He was arrested, imprisoned, and ultimately executed by order of Nero.

Perhaps we can’t know for sure what Paul and Daniel meant by their similar statements, but we can know for sure that they did not mean that people should obey civil authorities no matter what. Check out Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a more recent example of Godly civil disobedience.

This being said, it is important to note that Daniel, Paul, and Bonhoeffer didn’t confront all civil authority with impertinence. They broke human laws only when those laws were in conflict with God’s laws.

WHAT WE SHOULD DO ABOUT IT

How important it is for us to discern whether laws and authorities are right and good! The best way to make that determination is to be clear what is right and good, and there’s no better source for that than the Bible — properly understood and applied. We must not pluck passages out of context. Above all, we must seek to know and reflect the heart of God. Again, Bible study is the best way to undertake that endeavor.

At least Jeff Sessions got us talking, studying, and (I hope) thinking. Some have the task of governing. The rest of us have the task of discerning whether that governance is to be respected or rejected. May we choose well.

Is history’s most compelling event the opening night of Private Lives?

I love words and old stuff, so I listen to a BBC radio program from the last century called My Word! Panelists are quizzed on words, literature, and the like. In one episode, the panelists were asked, If you could be present at any historical event, which one would you choose?

Dilys wished she could have witnessed the moment when Stanley found Livingstone. We know about the famous “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” Dilys was dying to know whether Livingstone replied with something such as, “Did you have a good journey?”

Dennis would be present at the opening night of Noël Coward’s Private Lives. The play has garnered popularity over the years and is still produced, and Dennis wondered whether he would recognize its greatness at its premiere.

Frank wanted to have been there when the cities of the plain were destroyed so that he could see exactly what they did in Sodom and Gomorrah that warranted fire and brimstone. That made the audience giggle.

Antonia agreed with Frank that the Bible is full of irresistible episodes, and she would have chosen to be there when the Red Sea parted and the children of Israel escaped from the pursuing Egyptian army. She would choose that event because she loves to travel and likes the idea of crossing an international border without the bother of passports, customs, and immigration checks.

Perhaps the panelists weren’t going for significance and gravity but rather for humor and levity and even quirkiness. Maybe they didn’t want to get too heavy or religious. I can understand that. If that’s what we’re going for, I’ll pick that moment in 2737 BC, when Camellia sinensis leaves blew into the water that Chinese emperor Shen Nung’s servant was boiling for him. Let there be tea!

History’s most compelling event (IMO)

If we’re being completely serious, I’ll choose the resurrection of Jesus. How amazing would that be to witness?! Granted, not everyone believes that this event happened. But, here’s something that is definitive about this event: If it happened, it is of utmost significance to us all. The veracity of the entire Bible — all that it claims — hinges on the veracity of Jesus’s resurrection. That includes the hope of eternal life and the end of suffering.

Let’s say that someone claims that a squadron of alien spaceships has just entered earth’s atmosphere. If that’s true, it is of utmost significance to us all. What is the first thing we should do? Look for evidence to determine whether it is true. Are there unusual lights in the sky? Is NASA taking it seriously? If we find evidence to support the claim, we should Google “alien invasion handbook”. If not, we should go back to our cup of tea.

This is how we should handle a claim that, if it is true, is of utmost significance to us all. There is evidence to support the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. We would be wise to follow the evidence and see where it leads. For me, it adds up to proof. I do not say this lightly, and I have been able to say it only recently.

Do you know any of the evidence? You might know more than you realize. For example, you know that millions of people believe that Jesus rose from the dead; there must be reasons why they do. You know that a movement that has circled the globe and lasted nearly 2,000 years is based on a claim that people knew for a fact was either the truth or a lie. If it had been a lie, the movement would have been squashed before it got going. The first Christians were operating on fact, not faith.

The claim of Jesus’s resurrection deserves investigation because there is evidence for it and because, if it is true, it is of utmost significance to us all. If Jesus rose from the dead, we too can be resurrected to eternal life. Our future just might depend on history.

If you could be present at any historical event, which one would you choose? It’s fun to think about, and it provides perspective. You know what’s even better? Realizing that the future holds far more. I missed out on being there for the greatest events of history, but I plan on being there for the greatest events of the future. See you there?

Their jaws dropped. They stared at me with eyes wide open. Just like the time I told them that there will be sex in heaven.

It was not unusual for us to have brain-bending and mind-blowing moments our meetups with The Thinkery. This time, though, an audible, synchronous gasp filled the air outside the coffee house, where a few of us gathered after we closed down the place and resisted bringing the conversation to an end. What caused the gasp? I asserted that jealousy is love.

Earlier in the discussion, someone mentioned that he was burdened by jealousy. Indeed, jealousy is widely regarded as a negative trait, one that implies a flaw ranging anywhere from insecurity to psychotic possessiveness. (Often, it’s used to express envy, another negative trait.) Yet, the Bible names jealousy as an attribute of a perfect God.

IS GOD INSECURE OR PSYCHOTICALLY POSSESSIVE?

Shortly after I blurted out that jealousy is love, we had to wrap up the conversation. We planned to pick up where we left off the next week. I went home and gleefully researched the etymology of jealous. ‘Cause I’m a word nerd.

You shall not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. (Exodus 34:14)

The Hebrew word that is translated into English as jealous is qanna’, which means “not bearing any rival”. That’s not surprising, but it doesn’t tell us anything about the motivation. There’s still room for insecurity and psychosis.

THE GREEKS DON’T JUST MAKE GOOD YOGURT

Now let’s look at the English word jealous. It is derived from the Greek word zēlos. Does that look or sound familiar to you? The English word zealous also is derived from zēlos. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Zealous means “having great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective”. Add that to “not bearing any rival”, and we’re forming a clearer picture of what it means to be jealous.

Most of the words that became distinctive terms for jealousy
were originally used in a good sense of zeal and emulation.”

The Greek word zēlos denotes a positive quality. The two English words that derived from it — jealous and zealous — originally denoted a positive quality. Zealous has retained it, but jealous went off the rails somewhere on the way to the 21st century. (The same thing happened to customer service and dinnertime.)

What did jealous mean when it was written in the Bible? The Greek word zēlos, which is used in the New Testament, literally means “heat” and figuratively means “zeal, ardor in embracing, pursuing, and defending something”. Here are a couple of texts in which zēlos is used, although it has been translated into different words in English, depending on the version.

I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband — Christ. But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent. (2 Corinthians 11:2-3)

This was written by the apostle Paul in a letter to Christians in Corinth. This helps us understand that jealousy is God’s desire for undivided devotion. He knows that, if we turn our hearts elsewhere, He’s lost us. He doesn’t want to lose us, because He loves us. Paul reminds readers that Eve’s devotion to God was undermined by the deception of the devil. That’s how we all got into this mess, dang it.

THE WAGES OF SYNTAX

Notice the syntax in Paul’s writing. God isn’t jealous of us; He’s jealous for us. I can be envious of someone — wanting for myself something that belongs to him. I can be jealous for someone — wanting him not to belong to anyone else because that would mean that I’ve lost him. That’s how God feels about us. Because He loves us.

If we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26-27)

Pardon my Shakespearean English, but I like the word choice in the King James Version. Here, zēlos is translated as indignation, which is anger provoked by injustice. This adds to our understanding of jealousy. God is so zealous for the relationship, He will wipe out any enemies of the relationship.

Who are the adversaries? The passage from Paul above tells us who’s who in the big picture. There are three parties: the husband, the bride, and the deceiver:

  • The husband is God.
  • The bride is originally Eve and ultimately all people who love God.
  • The deceiver is the devil and anyone who conspires with him to turn people’s hearts away from God.

The good news? The adversary who is devoured is not the bride. (This is not a horror movie.) The adversary is the one who strives to turn people’s hearts away from God. He’s an enemy of God. He’s an enemy of God’s friends. The Bible describes him this way: “Your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” In the end, he is the one who is devoured by our jealous God.

ONE BRIDE FOR SEVEN BROTHERS? GOOD LUCK WITH THAT

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24)

A person can love multiple friends, no problem. A person can love multiple children, no problem. But when a bride tries to love multiple husbands, a plethora of problems ensues. Everyone gets hurt. It’s not the same kind of love we have for friends and children and siblings and third cousins. Romantic love is singular by nature. The Bible tells us so, and it uses that kind of love as a metaphor for the love between God and people.

No, I’m not one of those people who call Jesus their boyfriend; that’s an odd notion. But I agree with the Greek philosophers who believed that romantic love contributes to an understanding of spiritual truth. This kind of love is the context in which jealousy belongs. It’s the kind of love that jealousy serves and protects.

JEALOUSY IS A GIFT

That’s why I say that jealousy is love. It’s not a burden; it’s a gift. I’m deeply grateful that God loves me and cherishes our relationship so much that He will take out anyone who interferes. That’s not to say that He won’t let me walk away if I choose. Everyone has that choice, always.

But, if we walk away, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and the whole of the Bible tell us why such a choice is made: We’ve been lied to by someone who seeks to destroy our relationship with God, and we’ve fallen for the lie — that God can’t be trusted, that He doesn’t really love us.

One day the the liar and the lie will be devoured. No more deception. No more damage. Just mutual love and loyalty.

I’ll understand if you think I’m wacky or just wrong. I know that my views hang on faith and a particular interpretation of the Bible. You may see things differently, and that’s okay. But, if you ever thought that God must be insecure or psycho because He’s jealous, I hope I can help you see something you never saw before. Maybe faith isn’t your thing, but can I interest you in etymology?