Are You Free?

Are you free?

Jesus said:

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.  John 8:32

Free from what? Free from the necessity of mortal incarnation  with all of the attendant pains and opportunities to just plain mess up, acquire karma, and suffer.

Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out:  Revelation 3:12

Jesus said:

Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.  John 3:3

Jesus said that those on the road to liberation would have many houses, brethren, sisters, fathers mothers, wives, children, and lands:

And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.  Matthew 19:29

The Apostle Paul summed it up.

The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. 1 Corinthians 15:26

Heaven & Hell

Heaven and hell, are they real? Can a modern person pursuing a spiritual path believe in some concept of hell?

In the KJV translation of the New Testament I see 9 references to “hell” in Matthew, 3 in Mark, 3 in Luke, and none in John. In Acts it shows up twice. In James once. In 2 Peter once. Finally 4 times in Revelation. If I counted correctly that is 23 times.

When I was a child in a fairly fundamentalist church there was no problem with believing in hell. However I can hardly remember hearing the word “hell” in Unity, except perhaps once in a blue moon in reference to delusional beliefs.

These two polar opposites both claim to believe in Jesus. The fundamentalists are very literal in trying to understand those words and in Unity we find Jesus becoming a “wayshower” and he is quoted often, his name is invoked often, but I don’t think any of those words supposedly uttered by Jesus mentioning “hell” are given any credence in Unity, or similar spiritual movements.

Again if I am counting correctly the count goes down to 14 in the NIV translation. Looks like most in Matthew are preserved. But the situation is a little more complicated when you look at the various Greek words the writers of the New Testament used that were translated as “hell.” I believe there are just three (transliterated from Greek):

GEENA (Gehenna, a valley outside Jerusalem considered cursed)
HADES (the Greek term for hell)
TARTAROO (Tartaros, the deepest abyss of Hades in Greek mythology)

Different authors have a preference for one of these original Greek words but I think the bottom line is that which original Greek word was used, it meant a place where souls would be punished for their sins.

Now fundamentalists generally emphasize the idea that such punishment was intended to be eternal punishment, a punishment that would last I guess for the rest of time. Looking at the Greek word from which “eternal” usually comes in translation that doesn’t seem entirely justified.

There are two Greek words that are most often translated in phrases like “end of the world,” and “eternal.” They are:

AIONIOS (eternal)
AION (“world” as in “end of the world)

Clearly they are related. The modern word “eon” comes from AION. In fact these are generally gross mistranslations. What is really meant is an “age.” For example from the Gospels:

And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? -Matthew 24:3 (KJV)

A more correct translation would probably be “…and of the end of the age.” The Concordant Literal New Testament translates the above as “the conclusion of the eon?

What do I take from this? Very simply I don’t see the New Testament ever talking about time-lasting eternal punishment. Nor does it explicitly talk of an “end of the world” as is believed in most of Christianity. The disciples are asking Jesus how to recognize when he will return at the end of the age, presumably some long period of time  in human reckoning.

In Acts we are told that Christ will come again much in the same manner as he left then:

And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.
Acts 1:10-11 (KJV)

 The event described above was visible to the followers of Jesus, but they were not very many at that time. Perhaps a couple hundred or so. For most of the world at the time this event was unseen. So if the above prediction is correct when the Christ returns it won’t be the massive event predicted in the “Left Behind” series. Instead the Christ may return again in human guise and only be recognized by a relative few.

Getting back to the subject of “hell,” I am in my sixth decade now. If you are much younger you may not be familiar with “The Twilight Zone” television show back in the late 1950s and 1960s. It was a show including a fair amount of science fiction that tried to come up with stories with a surprise twist at the end.

I remember one episode where it starts out with a gangster getting killed in a gunfight. He wakes up and is greeted by a man who is his guide to the world he finds himself in after death. It seems unbelievably pleasant. He can pretty much have anything he wants. He particularly likes to gamble so he goes to a beautiful casino and he can’t lose. Not even once. There are beautiful women everywhere and absolutely every one of them will go to bed with him at the slightest suggestion. He never gets turned down. The finest food and booze are at his disposal just for the asking.

No matter what he does he can’t lose. But it starts getting a little boring. Part of the “spice of life” was the potential to lose. But not here. Eventually he is talking with his guide and he asks him a question that has been bothering him ever since he got here. He says, “So I wasn’t such a nice guy in life, so how did a guy like me end up in heaven?” The guide replies, “Who told you this was heaven?

Now the idea is clear. Boredom can be hell too. But that is not the point I am trying to make. We all assume we are living on “Earth” and we only go to hell after we die? My question to you is this: “Who told you that this isn’t hell?,” the place where people go for punishment (and more importantly correction)?

A “hell” that only serves for punishment is really a kind of a waste, isn’t it? In real life we don’t (or shouldn’t) punish our children because we enjoy doing it. We punish them (at least good parents do) in order to hopefully change their behavior. Right? In the original Greek to “sin” really means “to miss the mark.” A loving parent punishes with the aim of improving a child’s aim.

Maybe we do go to hell after we die – again, and again, and again. This is the concept of reincarnation, the idea that you live many lives. Jesus is described in the Gospels as accomplishing the resurrection of life, meaning a resurrection into a life where death no longer rules. Maybe we all are also resurrected, but instead we find ourselves in the resurrection of death, the resurrection to a life on earth (hell) that always has death waiting as a destination at its end, that is, until we learn the secret of the resurrection of life that are in the “words of life” taught by Jesus. The Apostle Paul said that “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” ( 1 Corinthians 15:26 KJV)

Maybe when Jesus was talking about hell he wasn’t kidding. He really meant it and he knew what he was talking about (and what he was talking about had little to do with the dogmatic Christianity that evolved in the centuries after he left for a while so that humanity could take a couple millennia to digest what he taught that first time).

Perhaps if we understand that hell is real, but not an eternal punishment, but rather as a road to correction and redemption then we can see the message of Jesus with a better balance. Maybe people on the path of enlightened spiritual progression can come to understand that all the words of Jesus have potential meaning, not just the ones that speak of love, the words that we see as being “warm and fuzzy,” so to speak.

Jesus said:

Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. -Matthew 3:3 (KJV)

Maybe we have to be born again, and again until we learn how to turn hell into heaven? Someone once said that God has no hands on earth but our own. Don’t wait for God to magically do the job. Realize you have to get your own hands dirty and do some of the work yourself. That is, unless you really like coming back to hell again and again.

Heaven is within our reach. But we have to build it with our own hands. Maybe that is the real meaning of hell, and the promise of heaven.

Was Jesus a Pacifist?

Was Jesus a pacifist as some claim?


One definition of a pacifist might be:

A person who is opposed to war or violence of any kind.

People who claim that Jesus advocated absolute pacifism will often quote Matthew:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:38-42

Since I am not a traditional or fundamentalist Christian I do not feel constrained to believe that the Bible is the literal, and inerrant word of God. Just thought I would get that out of the way so no one is confused about where I might be coming from.

If we take the quote above from Matthew literally, “do not resist an evil person,” then the case seems to pretty solid that Jesus was a pacifist who opposed the use of violence in any shape or form. If he did mean that, and if he can be shown to have used physical violence, then the case could also be made that Jesus was a hypocrite. You may remember that Jesus criticized the Pharisees for being hypocrites.

In fact in one his more famous actions Jesus attacked the money changers in the Temple with a corded whip and overturned their tables as depicted in John 2:13-15:

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. John 2:13-15

Jesus goes into the Temple and is greatly angered by what he sees going on. But he does not attack them immediately. He goes out somewhere and gets some cords and makes a whip. That probably took him a little while to do. Then he goes back and creates this famous scene. That shows that although he experienced anger he kept it under control. He didn’t attack them without coming up with a plan and then applying carefully calculated violence to dramatize his outrage at them for polluting a holy place.

Just as surely as the quote from Matthew 5:38 seems to establish Jesus as a pacifist, the quote from John 2 shows he was quite willing to use calculated and controlled violence if necessary. So was Jesus a hypocrite then, saying one thing and doing another? I don’t think so.

I don’t think so for several reasons. I think more than likely Jesus walked a “middle way” that didn’t claim either extreme as an absolute. I think he would agree with the author of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 in the Old Testament who wrote:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

 I said earlier that I don’t believe the Bible was inerrant. I am pretty sure that people added to it, and modified some things to suit their understanding.

Consider Matthew 5:38-39 quoted earlier.Jesus says:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.

See the “do not resist an evil person” in a gray color above? Do you suppose that was commentary added by a later copyist? I can’t prove that to you but the context invites that conclusion. Why?

Read Matthew 5:38-39 aloud to yourself leaving out the “do not resist an evil person.” Does it sound as good? Does the narrative still flow as if it didn’t need it? Here is what could have happened. You have an early, early copy without the “do not resist an evil person” in the main text. But someone writes in the margin, as an explanation of the Master’s words, “Do not resist an evil person.” Just so that the reader understands the context as this person who wrote the commentary believes he understands it.

The following sentence really doesn’t need it: “ If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”  It doesn’t need it because it is not a simple command to be non-violent. A lot more is going on here. In that day and age a master who was right handed might strike a slave with a back handed slap to the right cheek. He would not do the same to a person of his own rank. He would strike him on the left cheek with an open hand (if not a fist).

What Jesus appears to be saying here is, “If someone slaps you like you are worthless or a slave, then turn the other cheek and invite then to slap you as an equal.” Jesus is instructing the person to appeal to the empathy and humanity of the person who strikes you, not giving an absolute black and white command to be non-violent.

Indeed this seems to be the context for the rest of the quote. If a person sues you then give them even more than they ask. If a Roman soldier forces you to carry his pack (a Roman law that Jesus is referring to here) a mile take it another mile. Maybe this will appeal to the soldier as seeing you as another human being, not just a beast of burden.

There is a little more evidence in the Gospel of John where Jesus is questioned by the High Priest:

Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.
“I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret.  Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”
When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded.
“If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” John 18:19-23

In the above case Jesus does not seem to be following his own advice of turning the other cheek, but instead questions why he is being hit. That seems a lot more rational approach than following an uncompromising commandment without understanding as many pacifists appear to advocate.

Skipping to modern times we have a law in Texas that concerns something called “fighting words.” If, for example, you are in a bar and say some really rude things to someone, and he strikes you, then you cannot legitimately claim simple and innocent self defense. You were a party to the fight by the very words you used. Your words incited violence. If in self defense you do serious bodily injury to that person a claim to self defense will not save you.

So did Jesus ever use “fighting words” with the Pharisees, a form of verbal violence? I think he did. Consider this quote from John 8:42-44:

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. 43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:42-44

I think telling these Pharisees that the devil was their father was pretty much fighting words, just as if in modern parlance I would make rude references to someone’s mother. No doubt about it, he intended to drive them mad! He used verbal violence to accomplish that.

So no, I don’t think Jesus was a pacifist at all. I think he saw the great value of pacifism and appealing to the humanity of others in appropriate circumstances, but I don’t think he laid pacifism out as an unwavering rule of good human conduct. His own life as recorded in the scriptures does not bear out that he was a pacifist.