So, Tit for Tat invited me over to comment at one of his recent posts (here) and some of the commentary has me putting on my dual hats…one marked “faith” and the other one marked “skepticism.”
I can think on both sides of my brain…I can think on both sides of my spirit, too.
There is a lot of talk about “Why do we need Jesus to save us if the story of Adam and Eve is likely allegorical and thus there is no original sin?”
I’m not going to go there precisely. I’ve already made some comments over there and probably will have the chance to make more. But I did want to put into perspective some related issues, and follow Jesus’ lead by doing it parable style.
“Son, I have a great inheritance for you…a trust that shall be yours…but I need you to do certain things, and act certain ways to take charge of it when you are of age. If you cannot do these things, I cannot let you inherit it.”
“Because I need to know that you are ready for it, and equipped to learn those things you will need to know to use and manage it wisely.”
“All right Father.”
But the son did not do what was required of him, and it was clear to his father, who wa patient, that he would not.
“Son, because I love you, and because I know you have faults and the world is full of distractions, I offer you a way to make right on what you have done, and correct your course, so that you can still show yourself ready to inherit what I offer.”
“Thank you Father.”
But despite his opportunities to do so, the son did not correct his ways, and eventually found himself imprisoned for some of his wayward actions. After he had been in the prison for some time, with every opportunity to examine those things and that had led him to this point, his Father asked, “Do you understand now, and are you ready to change? I love you, and wish to see you do well. But you must choose your path, for you have no more chances.”
That’s it. No big exciting finish. Because the fact is, the end of the story is unknown and isn’t the same for everyone. Some people don’t even have to get to that last step to get the message.
God gives us a path to follow. Christianity is not the only faith, and as much as I fully believe it is the best path, and that it is the culmination of a plan that God put in place to show us the way, the fact is that many faiths touch upon the same basic themes. Many of us talk about those things as if they are natural parts of our morality and as if they are things that exist outside of spiritual teachings. Perhaps. Perhaps not. But isn’t it interesting that we’ve traditionally gotten those lessons, through the ages, in the form of spiritual or religious doctrine.
And yet we still turn away from the path we’ve been shown, and we still refuse to reach out to God and explore our spirituality. We still refuse to acknowledge our very fundamental failings and we show no remorse for having stepped off the right path. We have no shame. No repentance. No desire to change and grow spiritually. Instead, we focus on ourselves, and how great we are, and how flawed everyone else is.
And yet God gives us another chance. He sends his son, who lives the right way and teaches us the core things we need to know. And we kill him because in the end, many of us don’t want to change and don’t want to hear what he has to say.
Now, this is a point at which, as I’ve noted before, people say, “But if the Garden of Eden is allegorical, we don’t need Jesus.”
But we do. That’s just it. We didn’t change on our own. We aren’t willing to. So we have an example, and someone who is able to be a true intermediary between humans and God, and judge fairly. We have someone who paid the price for us. The price isn’t paying for original sin, but for all sins. The sins we continue to commit, the ones we’ve committed before, the ones we are going to commit in the future. Jesus wasn’t a sacrifice for some single original sin but to repair the rift between God and man that has almost always existed. Even if you can’t see his death as making sense in washing away sin, at least see it as yet another example God sets forth for us:
I sent my son, to teach you in peace and love, and show you by example, and heal you, and do miracles, and still you killed him rather than listen.
Jesus is the example of just how far gone we are. And the symbol that even then, after we kill him, he and God are still there for us. That they haven’t given up on us.
And so people ask, “If God goes through all that trouble, then why have Hell? He should be willing and able to give us chances until we get it right.”
At a certain point, we simply have to choose. We have to show that we are ready to change and grow, just as in my clumsy parable above. Anyone who’s read this blog for a while knows my views on Hell and what its purpose is, and that I think there can be redemption even from that place…up to a point. But eventually, there is a final choice. The question “Have you learned anything yet?”
And many are not going to repent. Or be critical of themselves. Or take the steps necessary to move on and grow.
I find it highly unlikely that our purpose is simply to go to Heaven and be a bunch of lazy bums. I think God has many more destinations and plans for us. He is preparing us to take on responsibilities and powers. If we have the spirit of God inside us when we become born again, then that means power. Power to use constructively and creatively, I believe.
But power requires responsibility to be used well.
Redemption isn’t about kissing God’s ass and behaving because he tells us to or because he’ll punish us if we don’t. Redemption is about seeing what’s wrong with us and wanting to fix it. Asking for the help of God in making us better than we are, and better than we ever thought we could be.
Because we don’t seek improvement, not really. Just look at how we approach life. We look for cures to problems that we wouldn’t have if we lived right in the first place. Why create ways to burn off fat or vacuum it out when we could have stopped heaping on our bodies to begin with, long before? Why do self-help gurus so often tell us to look for the things in our past that shaped our decisions, but so rarely ask us to explore what the fuck is wrong with us that we let those past events dictate future behavior. Humans don’t like accountability. And yet it’s exactly what God is looking for.
That work begins on Earth, ideally with going to God through Jesus. But the process doesn’t stop there. Too many Christians think it does, and too many non-Christians think the Bible tells us that once we’re born again, we can do anything and be forgiven.
Redemption isn’t carte blanche but rather a sincere step in doing the right thing.
The question is, will you take that step early on, or will you wait until you’ve gone through hell and back (perhaps literally) to clue in?
That’s a choice every person makes for themselves. But there is nothing wrong in God expecting us to make that choice for ourselves, and ultimately giving us the kind of inheritance that we have earned.