Thoughts on the essence and existence of God

A lot has gone on the past few weeks and I had a lot of thoughts bouncing around in my head.  I felt like chatting with you instead of writing.  So here is the first ever “vlog” post:

Jesus, redeemer or reformer?

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church http://www.stjohnsashfield.org.au, Ashfield, New South Wales. Illustrates Jesus’ description of himself “I am the Good Shepherd” (from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11).

We live in a world where the dangers of religious fundamentalism of all kinds surround us. Whether it be a “holy warrior” blowing himself up in market place, a madman shooting people in a temple or school, or a “Baptist” church that pickets funerals of fallen heroes and other victims of violence. Religions in and of themselves are harmless, it’s when people cross the line from rationalism into radicalism that makes them dangerous.

Centuries before Jesus lived, according to the book of Isaiah, “I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior” (Isaiah 43:11). “I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25). By this account, one can conclude that our Creator keeps no record of our “sins” and that all is forgiven and that we were “saved” long before Jesus ever lived. That being the case, blood atonement whether animal, man, or God himself was not necessary. Yet the temple cult continued ritual sacrifices because they believed it to be required for atonement. The Christian Church adopted the belief that when Jesus was crucified the blood requirement was satisfied, but as the verse above states it was not even necessary. For example, Hebrews 10:5 of the New Testament in quoting Psalm 40, claims that God replaced animal sacrifices with the death of the Jesus by stating, “sacrifices and offerings You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me.” However, the actual text of Psalm 40:6 does not even say this; it says, “sacrifices and meal offerings You have not desired, my ears You have opened.” This refers to God’s desire that we listen to Him, as we also read in Samuel, “Samuel said, “Does God take as much pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying what God says? Surely obeying is better than sacrifice, and heeding orders than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22)

Fundamentalist Christians insist that the Bible is the inspired and “inerrant” word of God and readily accept the Jewish Scriptures (aka Old Testament) as the foundation for the New Testament. If they were to be logically consistent, it would follow that wherever the “Old” and “New” Testaments contradict each other, the New Testament must be admitted to be obviously the one which is in error. If that were adhered to, Jesus would be relegated to what he really is – a great teacher (Rabboni or Rebbe) who spoke of actions over words and sacrifices. He was martyred for his teachings and his followers’ followers then committed the apostasy of elevating him to being God.

The Jewish Scriptures DO NOT revolve around God becoming man to sacrifice himself to appease himself. That is invented mythology. Jewish Scripture outlines how to act (albeit some of these rules are arcane for our time and a bit extreme – thus the reason the Jews never sealed the canon until it was hijacked by Constantine for the church). Jewish Scripture also shows how when the people disobeyed the rules, they suffered and when they obeyed they prospered. After a while this cycle cost them the temple and the “land of milk and honey.” It could be that in order for the Messianic Age to come, that Jews should listen to what Jeremiah said: “Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are false.” (this is a slight paraphrasing of the opening verses of Jeremiah 10 – which also explicitly exposes the “Christmas tree” to be a pagan practice – over 2 thousand years before it became as common as it is now)

So what was Jesus’ purpose?

I believe Jesus was trying to be a reformer, not a redeemer/savior and his focus was on freeing us from religious doctrines and dogmas that had become overbearing and burdensome. Perhaps what he was teaching was that we could focus on simply “Loving one another”.

“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33)

Here is the real New Covenant. Less outward ritual observances and more heart-driven loving kindness towards each other. The entire yoke of Torah needed to be simplified to the original summation that was contained within it.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

Here the Teacher (Jesus) spliced together Deuteronomy 6:5 with Leviticus 19:18 to give us the summation of the Torah and the 2 rules that if all of us followed, would bring on an age where no nation raises a sword against another nation and we can all finally be at peace. This would be the fulfillment of hope and bring the Kingdom of Heaven here, on earth.

What’s in a name?

Hidden in plain sight from the reader of the English translations of the Bible are several linguistic nuances that range from how the shaping of the letters are to the number of letters in a parshat to the different names used for the Almighty. You don’t even have to go very far – in the book of Genesis the following names are used – Elohim, YHVH, YHVH Elohim, El Shaddai, and Yah. Some attribute this to multiple authors whose works were compiled and redacted numerous times before the canon was sealed and others believe that the various names are in relation to the different attributes of God. The 2 most commonly used names in Jewish Scripture (aka Old Testament) are Elohim and YHVH. These names have different meanings and I will focus on these 2 names for now.

Elohim
Elohim is typically rendered in English as “God”. So Genesis 1:1 when properly rendered would read: In the beginning Elohim created the heaven and the earth.
Elohim is the name that is used to describe the unknowable and almighty Creator. Elohim is not an anthropomorphic (or human like) being. Elohim a spirit which utters and wills things into existence and the interaction with man is always through a mediator – typically an angel. When used as elohim (not capitalized) it refers to gods in the plural. Keep in mind up until the second temple Jews believed that other nations had other gods and that they were to be obedient and follow their own deity. It wasn’t until the second temple when Ezra and the returning Jews changed their belief to a monotheistic one and that there was only one Almighty God and that all others were false deities and didn’t exist.

YHVH
This is the Ineffable Name and is known as the Tetragrammaton. It has typically been rendered as Yahweh and Jehovah, both of which are incorrect. The name is unspeakable and as such the English rendering you are used to seeing is “The Lord”. At times both Elohim and YHVH are used together and that combination is rendered as “The Lord God”. The first instance of this combination occurs during what many believe to be the second creation account which is found in Genesis 2:4: This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When YHVH Elohim (or the Lord God) made the earth and the heavens When the name YHVH (or the combination) is used we see a more intimate God. One who walks with man and can even be questioned, rebuked, and even wrestled with by man. While the Christian rendering for YHVH is “The Lord”, this is not a common practice within Jewish Scholarship. When reading from the Torah or when praying, YHVH is spoken as “Adonai”.  In discussions and study the name “HaShem” is also used, which another way of saying “the Name”.

Now lets tackle another position. What if Elohim, Adonai, and YHVH aren’t really supposed to be nouns. What if they are really verbs. Consider the fact that YHVH is a variation of the speakable “h-v-h” which is a verb meaning “to be”. Now consider that in Exodus 3:14 that we read: Elohim said to Moses “Eyeh Asher Eyeh..” What does Eyeh Asher Eyeh mean? Here we have seen 2 common mistranslations: one is “I am that I am” and the other is “I am who I am”.  Neither are technically right because it is more properly rendered: “I shall be what I shall be” or “I will be what I will be” and another rendering “I will become what I will become” may be as close to a proper English translation as we can get. This may seem subtle on the surface, but when you really think about it, it completely changes the concept of what the Almighty is. If our Creator is not a noun, then we shift from a Creator to a Creative process. A process that continues and does not remain stagnant. One that evolves so that it does not become obsolete.

In the Jewish (and some Christian) mystical schools of thought a person is thought to be a vessel. Each with the ability to receive as much or as little of the Divine Presence as they are willing to accept. This is the “breath of life” that was breathed into us from the very beginning. Now think about that too. The receiving of the breath started the process of breathing which started the process of life. So when one goes through life, each breath they take is the opportunity to receive more life and with it more of that which made life possible. Just as breathing is an action and receiving is an action, perhaps the old man in the skies is really the winds and the rain, the compassion and the love or to those who prefer to do without, just another breath.

The Path to Thanksgiving

For a very long time Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday. Even though it is somewhat secular in practice and today seems to be more overshadowed by the need to go shopping before the meal is even digested, it is clearly a lasting testimony to how the early settlers were believers in a Heavenly Father who not only watched over them, but guided and provided for them. While not all of the actions of early American history may exemplify the divine law of “Love thy neighbor”, it is very clear that they truly believed that the Hand of Providence was with them and that they were subjects to the Creator and Sovereign of the Universe.

Jewish tradition has always used one particular Psalm as “THE” Psalm of Thanksgiving. The Psalm is Psalm 100 and I have included it below:

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the lands!

Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the LORD is God! It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him, bless his name!

For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100)

Sometimes it is difficult to be thankful for anything when our current state of affairs may not always seem to be playing in our favor. Maybe you have felt rejected or forgotten. This is most often a choice, arguably a subconscious one, and you have the power to change whatever it is you are feeling. Once a person learns to control their emotions instead of letting their emotions control them, they obtain the balance in life that leads to happiness. Once a tight rein has bridled the passions, a clear course can be drawn to a life that is more fulfilling. Of the many gifts we have been given, our ability to choose (or free will ) is perhaps the greatest of them all. It is that gift that enables us to forge our own path and chart our own course. The path of life is a narrow one and there will always be forks in the road that may throw you off course. Sometimes the path less traveled leads to where you want to go and sometimes the destination is merely an entrance to yet another path. Whether you choose to walk alone, or pick up the lamp at your feet to light your path, is up to you.

God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well. – Voltaire

(Only on The Quest will you see the Bible and those against it woven together for a common message)

Today marks the 2nd Anniversary of this blog and I want to thank all of you for being on this Quest with me. I hope that all of you enjoy a very Happy Thanksgiving with your families.

Deciphering the Divine

I had a recent exchange with a number of folks and it seems that there was a misconception that I was anti-God, anti-Bible, and a hater of religion. If you have been following my blog for any length of time you know I am not an atheist or someone who completely rejects God or Jesus. What I am is a person who doesn’t easily suspend reason. When someone uses Reason and Common Sense, God can be a pretty silly idea. I completely agree that it involves faith, however faith in something does not in any way make it true. As a veteran who has seen his share of bloodshed, poverty, and scooped up children from the Straits of Florida whose parents were eaten by sharks in front of them, my view of the “order of things” is a bit different then the common latte sipping iPhone addict. If you knew me, you would know that I have many sacred texts from Hebrew copies of the Torah to Greek copies of the New Testament. The presupposition that I have never said “God please enter my heart” or “Please guide me to you” is an indication that you do not know me.

The human mind is capable of entering a state where it can shut off the outside world and create its own reality. A reality where you are the author of the events, and the narrator of the story. You play the starring and support roles as well as play the role of director and producer. We enter this state, whether or not we recall it, on a daily basis. It’s called dreaming. In almost every instance when God is revealed to man (especially the Christian Scriptures) it is by way of a dream. Could it really be God? Sure, but it can also be one’s own imagination. Believing in God and knowing God to be real, can be very easy for some and almost impossible for others. I have seen enough in my lifetime to know that an anthropic creator deity is very unlikely though. Notice, I did not say it was impossible as only a fool (or a sith) deals in absolutes and to me that is a narrow and simplistic way of thinking.

The concept of God, if that is even a relevant term, has been debated since before the time of Jesus and even before the time of Abraham. Before Yahweh was Zeus and before Zeus was Osiris, Horus, Ra, Hermes and the list goes on. Man has always been looking for the answers to the biggest of questions – WHY? This is the great enigma and the unanswerable question for all. Even if one were to turn wholeheartedly to God and view the Bible as infallible, the “Why” question still goes unanswered. The Book of Job is a masterpiece in theodicy and philosophy which has often been used to put a box around the question, but the question still remains unanswered.

As a father I go with what I know to be the real God and that is pure and unconditional love. The one that holds no grudges, keeps no records of wrongs, does not boast, and does not judge. Love is greater than just some chemical reaction or a silly emotion. Any good father knows this. So, when I think in terms of God, I do not think of a Controlling Creator or a Divine Judge. I think of Divine Thread that weaves us all together. Some people are stitched tighter together than others and have a closer connection with the Divine. As far as Jesus goes, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

A Skeptical Twist

English: Moses Pleading with Israel, as in Deu...

English: Moses Pleading with Israel, as in Deuteronomy 6:1-15, illustration from a Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A young Jewish boy was riding home from Hebrew School when his mother asked him, “So how was class?”
“It was stupid mom.”, he said.
“Come on sweetheart”, said the mom, “it couldn’t be that bad. Tell me what you learned today.”
“Well, we learned about Moses“, he said, “and how he motivated the Israelites to rise against Pharaoh and leave Egypt. Then Pharaoh chased them and they were trapped at the Red Sea. Then Moses told the Israelites to build a bridge over the sea. They planted explosives on the bridge as they crossed it and when Pharaoh’s army got on the bridge they blew it up.”
“Wait a minute honey, I don’t think that’s how the story goes.” said the mother.
“I know mom, but if I told you what the Torah really says, you’d never believe me.”

Logic, reason, and science have long been the biggest foes of religion. I have been accused by many of “thinking” too much about things and being overly critical of Biblical accuracy and relevance. “You have to learn to just believe” and “The Lord works in mysterious ways” are the defenses and pleas of my well-intended Christian friends. My all-time favorite is when I posed the question of Theodicy and got the tired old “Sin is the reason bad things happen.” Oh I get it, so because “Eve” took a bite out of a piece of fruit millions of children are starving or neglected and abused. Here is the paradoxical question – If God is in control, then why isn’t anyone blaming God? If God really had control, why did “Eve” listen to the “talking snake” in the first place?

What about intelligent design and the perfection and balance of nature? Is nature really perfect when children are born with cleft lips or dysfunctional organs? Is nature perfect when a tidal wave washes away people who had no idea it was coming? Where is God when people sit huddled in their houses when a hurricane or tornado threatens to destroy them? If he is huddled there with them, why wasn’t he with the family that perished when the roof collapsed on them? Is their really evidence for intelligent design when a woman’s body viciously tries to destroy sperm before it gets to the egg and then continues to try to destroy the embryo until the placenta eventually forms an impenetrable barrier?

All my life I have believed that there is a God. It has been a view that has flip-flopped between Christianity, Judaism, and Deism, but there was always some kind of a belief in a higher power. I have studied scripture tirelessly, not for the purposes of debunking or making cheap shots, but because I had a hard time believing the concept of the Abrahamic God to be true. I truly wanted that “spiritual” connection to happen and I long believed that to be possible when someone sincerely digs into the Scriptures. I studied the cosmological, ontological, mystical, and evangelical concepts of God for the purpose of solidifying my faith. Studying Scripture to me meant more than just the feel good writings of John and the dogmatic and veiled writings of Paul. The Bible, much like the world, contains a lot of violence and pain and suffering and to me reading the many books that are less than happy in their message was an essential aspect of understanding the whole.

I’ve said before that I view the Bible as a collection of writings of men who were just as confused as I am. The Psalms are a perfect example. There are 150 individual poems, songs, and laments that range from praising to doubting and anger to joy. The Psalter (who I believe to be more than one person and not just King David) could not maintain a solid position on whether God was always good and loving or forgetful and forsaking. So after much effort and examination, the results are a weaker faith than when I started. I think what continues to draw me to the Bible at this point has become more of a philosophical exercise than a spiritual one.

What about God though? Well, that is the million dollar question. With all the pain and suffering throughout the world and the glaring an inconceivable injustices against the innocent – mainly children, one could easily reject that God exists. After so much time and study I have, admittedly, grown very skeptical and almost adopted an agnostic viewpoint. I will not be so bold as to say there is no God, but I do completely reject the concept of an all-powerful magical old man in the skies. Perhaps what “God” really may be is an incorporeal cosmic force that interpenetrates every part of nature and timelessly extends beyond it. This is a pantheistic view that I have begun to consider as an alternative to the corporeal, personal and anthropomorphic conception of the Divine. Perhaps the time has come for the Quest to shift into a broader exploration of ethics and metaphysics.

I posted this long before I had any followers on the Quest. I figured it was worth dusting off. Enjoy!

The Quest for Light

The opening phrase in the Torah or Genesis 1.1 in Hebrew is “B’raisheet bara”.  The most popular translation is the rendering of “In the beginning”.  This would of course give one the belief that the creation account is chronological and meant to be literal.  While many believe this to be the case one only needs to read the next few sentences to clearly see that it is not chronological at all.  “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. ” (Genesis 1:2)  In reading this sentence literally one can find that water had existed prior to the first creation command of “Let there be light”. 

So when did God create water?  Well, the Bible does not say anything about God creating water.  The Bible only says that God separated the water – “

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