We’ve all done it. We’ve inspired a facepalm with a thinking malfunction. But there are ways to minimize facepalms (and worse). Follow these tips to keep your brain out of autopilot, and you’ll see improvement in every area of life. Because thinking is kinda important.

THINKING TIP 1

Make the effort. Arguably, the number one reason why people skip the thinking step is because they don’t want to take the time to slow down and deliberately think … before speaking, before acting, before solving a problem, before making a decision.

Don’t let your brain be a couch potato. Making the effort now will save you from grief later. If you stop to think, you might decide not to buy that velvet painting of Dennis Rodman because you realize that you wouldn’t have money left over for a Maui vacation.

“Our minds are lazier than our bodies.”
— François de La Rochefoucauld —

THINKING TIP 2

Check your biases. Is your prejudice against clowns the reason why you blame them every time you can’t find your keys? There’s a possibility that you left them in the pocket of your seersucker jacket. Also, just because you love Betty White — I will break this to you gently — it doesn’t mean that she’s right about absolutely everything.

“A great many people think they are thinking
when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”
— William James —

THINKING TIP 3

Remember your paradigms. If you’re a middle-aged neo-Druid male from Bavaria, realize that you see the world through that lens and that other people don’t. Try to think outside of your box. You’ll better understand the issues, others, and yourself.

“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.”
— Anais Nin —

THINKING TIP 4

Realize what you’re doing instead of thinking, and make the switch. Here are a few common substitutes for thinking:

  • Reactions • Snapping turtles are capable of these. You’re not a snapping turtle.
  • Emotions • Emotions are swell, but they should be chaperoned by thoughts, and vice versa.
  • Assumptions • Fill in the blanks with facts, not assumptions. If facts are not available, consider probabilities and possibilities, but be cautious about drawing conclusions. This is especially important when it’s about people.

“Assumptions are unopened windows that foolish birds fly into,
and their broken bodies are evidence gathered too late.”
— Bryan Davis —

THINKING TIP 5

Develop the skill of accurately identifying a statement as a fact, an error, a thesis, a belief, or an opinion. You’ll get way off course if you think that fortune cookies are Chinese or that the Bible teaches eternal suffering in hell. You’ll be frustrated if you demand proof for matters of faith. You’ll be considered obnoxious if you assert that your opinion about the Norwegian curling team’s trousers is correct.

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to
entertain a thought without accepting it.”
— Aristotle —

Each time you practice one of these thinking skills, it’s easier to do it the next time, and it eventually becomes natural. You’ll increasingly see how thinking and thoughtfulness can help keep you out of trouble, increase your influence, maximize your success, and make more people like you. I kid you not, because thinking affects absolutely everything.

“The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.”
— Marcus Aurelius —

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?

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 on three different continents 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?

Feeling inundated with information about COVID-19? Before that, perhaps it was the impeachment or Brexit or The Bachelor finale. How do you know what bits of information are true? Here are a few ways to get closer to the truth about anything:

1

Consult multiple reliable sources. See where the consensus lies. Consensus is not always an indicator of truth, but it usually lines up with other evidence.

2

Follow the evidence. Just like a detective, follow leads. See where the weight of evidence lies.

3

Use common sense. If it doesn’t sound right, there’s probably a reason for that. Don’t just automatically accept or reject information; think it through for yourself.

4

Be comfortable with uncertainty. In the absence of proof, file the information under “possible” or “likely” or “unlikely”.

5

Desire the truth. If you have a bias for what you want to believe rather than for the truth, you’re in trouble. A sincere desire for the truth — whatever it is — is the best way to find the truth.

Especially with information that affects our health and lives, it’s important to sort truth from error. In these days when we’re all being careful with where we go and what we touch, let’s remember also to be careful with information.

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?

I’ve been wronged.

Yeah, I know I’m not alone. You, too, have been wronged. Perhaps like me, you’ve struggled with forgiving people who wronged you. Every time I think I have a handle on what it means to forgive, I have trouble fully translating the philosophical into the practical. I think I finally know why.

It occurred to me when I started thinking about how Jesus forgave the people who wronged Him. It dawned on me that He never did.

When Jesus was on earth, He was both human and divine. However, He set aside His divinity; He operated in the role of human, not God. Jesus spoke for, and completely relied on, God the Father, but He asserted only His human role. Simply by being God, He had the authority to forgive (Matthew 9:6), but what did He actually do in His human role?

What Jesus never did

First, let’s establish what He didn’t do; at least it never was recorded: Jesus never said to anyone, “I forgive you.”

In the Gospels, we can divide wrongdoers into two categories: people who did something wrong in their lives (i.e., everyone except Jesus) and people who wronged Jesus personally (e.g., those who falsely accused Him, betrayed Him, or crucified Him).

What did Jesus say to the general wrongdoers who came to Him with a repentant heart?

  • “Your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2)
  • “Your sins have been forgiven.” (Luke 7:48)

What did Jesus say to those who wronged Him personally? In order to understand this better, let’s zoom out a bit and look at a bigger picture. Have you noticed how Jesus talked to the Father? He generally didn’t make requests; He used the sentence structure of a command:

  • “Glorify Your Son.” (John 17:1)
  • “Keep them in Your name … that they may be one.” (John 17:11)
  • “Let this cup pass from Me.” Quickly followed by: “Yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39)

Jesus taught us to talk to God in the same way:

  • “Your kingdom come. Your will be done.” (Matthew 6:10)
  • “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11)
  • “Forgive us our debts.” (Matthew 6:12)
  • “Do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:13)

Jesus didn’t make requests of the Father; He simply identified His Father’s desires and agreed with them. The one time Jesus reversed Himself was when He knew that what He had just “commanded” was not the Father’s will; there was no agreement.

Jesus knew His limitations

What does all of this have to do with forgiveness? We already looked at how Jesus handled the forgiveness of general wrongdoers — not by forgiving them, but by telling them that they were forgiven. What about those who wronged Him personally?

“Father, forgive them.” (Luke 23:34)

Jesus didn’t say to them, “I forgive you.” He “commanded” the Father, “Forgive them.”

We can tell from Jesus’s prayers that He was well in tune with the Father’s heart. He knew that the Father wanted to glorify Him at the right time, that He wanted to unify the disciples, and that He did not want to let the cup of suffering pass from Jesus — for our sake. He also knew that the Father wants to forgive every last one of the people who wronged Jesus or anyone, ever. Jesus’s prayers were not requests; they were agreements.

What God needs in order to forgive

To forgive, God must have agreement from the wrongdoer (not the wronged), as He respects each person’s choice. Repentance releases forgiveness.

As Jesus hung on the cross, He knew that not every person He prayed for would receive forgiveness because some would never repent; some would never give their agreement to God’s desire to forgive them. But Jesus — as the wronged party — gave His agreement.

That agreement — “Father, forgive them” — had no power to forgive (that’s between God and the wrongdoer), but it revealed that Jesus’s heart was aligned with His Father’s. It showed that He loved those who hated Him.

Yes, Jesus taught that we should forgive others, but it was always in the context of being forgiven ourselves: If you forgive, you’ll be forgiven. If you don’t, you won’t (see Matthew 6:15; Matthew 18:22,35; Mark 11:25-26). The complete thought is that our attitude toward those who hurt us directly impacts our own forgiveness.

Jesus said, “He who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47). Jesus’s agreement with the Father to forgive His wrongdoers revealed His love for them. The same goes for us. Jesus taught us to forgive others, and He showed us how when He said, “Father, forgive them.”

Why forgiveness is a struggle

Now I think I understand why forgiving those who wronged me has been such a struggle. I’ve been trying to do something that only God can do. Forgiveness isn’t something I do; it’s something I agree to. It’s a shared desire — between God and me, about those who have hurt me.

I’m not saying that it’s a cinch to make that agreement. I still have to ask for, and rely on, the love and grace of God to flow through me, and that’s not easy in the midst of pain. But at least it makes sense to my heart. I want to be like Jesus. I want to share God’s desires. I want to love people the way He loves me. Drawing from that well, I find a way to say, Father, forgive them.


⇒ What is your experience with forgiveness? I invite you to add your thoughts below.

If you trust the Bible as a historical and holy book, what is the reason(s)? Is it any of these?

  • Because you always have.
  • Because you like what’s in it.
  • Because you have examined the evidence and found that the weight of evidence points to its trustworthiness.

If you don’t trust the Bible as a historical and holy book, what is the reason(s)? Is it any of these?

  • Because you never have.
  • Because you don’t like what’s in it.
  • Because you have examined the evidence and found that the weight of evidence points away from its trustworthiness.

If your reason is not included here, I am interested in hearing it if you’re willing to share it in a comment below. My purpose is not to persuade anyone of a particular viewpoint but to encourage people to think through their beliefs and clarify and articulate their reasons. I also appreciate understanding where people are coming from. I hope you’ll take this opportunity to think through your viewpoint on the Bible’s trustworthiness and, if you’re willing, share your reasons in a comment.