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Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Muslim Fear of Death

My purpose in this brief article is to look at a single aspect of Islam as that body of beliefs by which Muslims are bound. Specifically, it is about the root of the Muslim fear of death inherent in the message of Islam. This is a bash neither on Islam nor on Muslims. It is not a study of Islam. It is on the delivery from the fear of death and the call to life in the Jesus, the Son of God.

The presence of fear in Islam is as evident as in how it fills the Muslim’s life. The fear response to death is not unique to Islam. This response is just as common among nonbelievers. What is unique about the Muslim message is that unlike any other believers and adherents of Judaism, Hinduism including the faith that is in Christ Jesus and other beliefs, Muslims unleash their fear of death on the unbelieving. Yes, to be truthful adherents of various beliefs may fear death, but the fear of Islam is more deeply rooted than a personal, superficial or casual fear as we will see. I want to look at 1) the origin of death, 2) the significance of the death of Jesus, and 3) freedom from death. All are welcome to contribute your comments which are subject to my approval (on my blog) before publication.


the origin of death


Whether or not you believe the Quran or the Bible account in the book of Genesis is immaterial. What it records is the origin of death. Death, like life, has a beginning of its own. You may wish to mock it, but the efforts to dismiss or deride the biblical account has no bearing on the reality of death and fear. Every human being has an appointed time with death. This is a portion of the dialog between the serpent, also called Satan, and Eve in Genesis.


The serpent said to the woman, “You won’t really die, 5 for God knows that in the day you eat it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 2)


This is the record of the exchange between the serpent and Eve as it reveals Satan’s denial of death _ before it even began. Death, in addition to being a physical end, is described in the scriptures as a spiritual separation from God. Neither of these two realities had been experienced by Adam and Eve prior to the above dialog with the serpent. Their reaction towards God after the inception of death and before they had any realization or comprehension of death was that they were afraid when they heard the voice of God calling out to them. Although they were cast out of the garden eventually, it is probable that they still had no conception or realization of the physical and spiritual change which had occurred in their lives and their relationship with God. Something of that change was made stark and painfully clear when their son Cain murdered his younger brother Abel. Any uncertainty Adam and Eve might have had about death up to that point was now made graphically clear for them.

Although Muslims reject the biblical account of creation and death in the garden it does not change, as previously stated, the reality of death which had its beginning. The reason for that beginning of death, which is sin and which is quite a relevant part of this discussion, is really not in the scope of this article.


the significance of the death of Jesus


Jesus is a stumbling block for Muslims. Yes, the claim by Muslims is that they believe in Jesus. However, just what does it mean to claim to belief in Jesus while at the same time denying, as Muslims do, his birth by a virgin, his death and his resurrection? The claims of his death and resurrection were made by Jesus repeatedly and were heard by his disciples as well as his adversaries. The death and resurrection of Jesus are inseparable realities. One does not believe one and reject the other. One does not discuss the death of Jesus without resurrection nor discuss the resurrection without his death.

The primary reason for the Muslim’s denial and rejection of the death and resurrection of Jesus is because of the implications of these events on the identity of Jesus. The implications of his deity in these events are a secondary reason, though of greater importance and significance, in the Muslim denial concerning Jesus.

The Muslim objection is that neither the death nor resurrection of Jesus makes him God. Their mistaken reasoning is that there were prophets before Jesus who raised the dead, too. This is quite true. However, they are as totally and completely correct as they are badly mistaken because the death and resurrection claims of Jesus were by Jesus and it is Jesus who fulfilled those claims. There is no such claim made in the New Testament (NT) that the death or the resurrection anymore than the miracles Jesus performed made him God. Furthermore, the Muslim objection that God is not a man is just as mistaken because, again, there is no such claim made in the NT. The claim in the scriptures is that God took on the form of man.


5 Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men.


The death of Jesus which is denied by Muslims so vehemently makes for some significant implications. The reason for these implication is that Jesus 1) declared his death in the hearing of friends and adversaries repeatedly, 2) his adversaries revealed their knowledge of these claims by Jesus when they took measures after his death to secure the tomb and prevent his disciples from stealing the body, and 3) the only momentary unbelief of the resurrection of Jesus recorded in the NT was by his own disciples, not his adversaries. There was no denying his death or his resurrection.


This is the question which the significance of Jesus’ death provokes in the mind of the examiner:


Just who is this Jesus?
What does it mean that he can declare he will lay down his life and take it up again?


The implication speaks to a reasonable expectation, namely, that the giver and sustainer of life should have power over death and be able to demonstrate that power. Effectively, God took on human form, said he would died, died and then took up his life again to demonstrate death is in the palm of his hand.


Death has no power over the One who gives and sustains life, and even more significantly than being able to restore life to the dead is that He is able to do it for himself.


freedom from death


This power over death is what Jesus demonstrated for all to see, to examine and to make their determination as to the significance of who Jesus is and the implications of who he is with respect to their own destiny beyond death. This is the crucible which compels one either towards belief and obedience and towards understanding while retaining the ability to reject those things they have examined for themselves. The question, and the fear, of death remains with them.

The fear of Islam is often thought of as that which instills terror in all who are not of the faith of Islam. Indeed, there are Americans, Christians and many others who live with that fear as their reality. It is not my point here to argue that Muslims seek to instill fear in others. Yes, we know that is in fact a reality among some Muslims.

My point is that Muslims, both those who do not as well as those who do instill fear are in the same grip of the fear of death. The quickness to take a life rather than lay down one’s life either for anyone who has walked away from Islam or for anyone who is not a believer of Islam is the evident fear of death deeply rooted in Islam. The ongoing and repeat slaughter of Muslims themselves and nonbelievers can not and will not rid the Muslim of his fear of death. Just as a murderer was no less freed from his fear of death with his first murder he will no more be freed from his fear of death with his next murder.


What Muslims, Jews, Christians, atheists, dogs and tree have in common is that they were all born and they will all die. The difference between those whom in the grip of fear would take a life and those who would lay down their life is whether that individual believes death has the last word. If you believe that then death's got it's grip on you. The grip of the fear of death on Muslims is double because the rejection of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus and their deception to believe the lie that they are at peace.

Do not mistake empty boasts and acts of murder either as courage or as the absence of the fear of death. Osama bin Laden boasted, “Americans hate death, but we love death.” The gross ignorance and arrogance in bin Laden’s words was made quite evident in his eagerness to send others to kill and to be killed while he remained safe. The now bizarre, common acts of terror by suicide bombing to murder as many as possible are yet another display of the grip of fear perpetrated by Islam on Muslims and nonbelievers who are not of like-mind as Muslims.

conclusion

This is the delivery from the fear of death which Jesus accomplished through his death, burial and resurrection.

Since then the children have shared in flesh and blood, he also himself in the same way partook of the same, that through death he might bring to nothing him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and might deliver all of them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Hebrews 2)

Anyone who comes to commit or submit their live to Jesus as Lord and Savior must confront the very real specter of death. It is no less real or gripping because it is virtual than actual death. The euphemism of “spiritual” as preferred by some to minimize its reality and impact is weak and mistaken. Virtual death can be even more daunting than physical because while physical death can overtake one in a flash moment of unawareness, the significance of spiritual death by crucifixion to self is contemplated by the believer.

Jesus delivers all who come to him in faith from the fear of death into a freedom from death and to ABUNDANT LIFE!

Friday, April 11, 2014

How God did not become a man, but took on the form of man



This brief article is in reference to an interview of Bart Ehrman by Terri Gross, host and interviewer of Fresh Air on NPR. I am compelled to respond to Bart Ehrman’s words because there are saints in Christ who would read his words and actually think he’s hit on something real and previously unheard. This is not so. I encourage you to listen to the 38:37 minute/second interview. This is not a point-by-point response to Ehrman’s words. There are nothing less than three fundamental flaws in Ehrman’s discussion of the question concerning the deity of Jesus, “If Jesus never called himself God, How did he become God?”


1) He continues to blithely misuse the term become from his days as a young evangelical Christian up to the present day as an agnostic, historian professor of religion.


Messiah is a man


First, Ehrman’s view that the Messiah was to be a man echoes the ancient, classic example of various and numerous misunderstandings by Israel. As such he, like devout Jews, believes Christians got it all wrong by putting their trust in the man Jesus as Messiah. However, Israel’s own history abounds with misunderstanding and rebellion against God. No, they may not be any better or worse than Christians or anyone else, but there’s little to be gained by such comparisons and, more importantly, their misunderstandings cannot be overlooked on the basis of their privileged status as the chosen people of God.


One instance of Israel’s misunderstanding involves Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac. As much time and as long as Israel had to ponder, analyze, discuss and philosophize this sacrifice which occurred four centuries before the release of Israel from Egyptian slavery  they were still at a loss to gain much understanding about it. Some took that sacrifice as merely a lesson from God to impress on the future nation of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, that He was not like the pagan gods to whom their devotees offered human sacrifice. Another view was that Isaac was literally and actually sacrificed.


Second, none of this prepared Israel for the reality of wide-scale human sacrifice, because that was precisely how God chose to free the people of Israel after four centuries of slavery in Egypt. This human sacrifice, the death of Egypt’s firstborn, in Jewish history is a psychological burden which weighs heavily on some Jews to this day. God, unlike Pharoah who commanded the Egyptian midwives to secretly kill the Jewish newborn male infants, pronounced the sacrifice of Egypt’s firstborn. It was not a secret, mindless slaughter of all Egyptians. It was a very precise and select sacrifice which God took for himself with the death of the firstborn among men, women, children and livestock. Furthermore, Pharoah and the entire nation of Egypt had been through nine plagues at the time they were warned about the coming tenth plague which was to take Egypt’s firstborn. Pharoah stood firm in his stubborn defiance.


The sacrifice of Isaac and the sacrifice of Egypt’s firstborn would seem to leave little reason for the longstanding rejection of Jews to the concept and reality of human sacrifice, not by humans, but by God himself. It is a rejection which may have a pious, devout ring to it, but it just does not complement the reality of human sacrifice in Israel’s history as related in the OT.


No wonder then that for Israel their understanding of Messiah was that he was at the very least a mere man. Maybe Messiah would be at the very most, the king of Israel. However, never, ever remotely or possibly could nor would Messiah be a human sacrifice in accordance with the will of God. Even less possible for Israel and Ehrman is that the sacrifice of Jesus could or would be God himself in the flesh.


Bart Ehrman shares this ignorance with Israel. My point is that Israel was repulsed by and saw as inconceivable the idea of human sacrifice. Their God, they believed, was not the kind of God who would do such a thing. Yet, that is what God turned out to do just as He repeatedly baffled Israel with his ways. Similarly repulsive was the notion that God should dwell among men, but this repulsion forgets that God dwelt in wooden box, the ark of the covenant, in the midst of Israel. Certainly, Jews do not believe God limited himself when he made that dwelling arrangement for himself. Would it be anymore difficult for God who dwelt in a wooden box made by human hands than to dwell in one not made by human hands?


Suddenly, it does not seem so inconceivable that that same God should dwell in human form anymore than to dwell in a wooden box. Suddenly, it does not seem inconceivable that He should demonstrate his power over death, not merely by raising a few dead people, but by


taking up his own body up from the grave of death through the very public spectacle of the resurrection.



2) Ehrman goes on just as blithely to reference the trinity, which he does not believe, (and a term for which I have no need or use) as much as ranking from first to third those same deity entities of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


Jesus, a man, became God


Ehrman claims to be a just-the-facts historian Ehrman, but completely ignores the deity references Jesus made of himself. Yes, he is familiar with these, but he dismisses these claims which appear in John’s gospel because, as he states, these do not appear in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s accounts. What?!?!! Then, not only does he dismiss the references in John, but he claims they are historically inaccurate.


What Ehrman claims to have determined from his research is that Christians found themselves in a bit of a sticky situation when they claimed, according to Ehrman, that Jesus became God when he ascended into heaven. Actually, this may be professor Ehrman’s own sticky situation and one to which he has never, whether as zealous evangelical or agnostic historian, been able to offer a cohesive, comprehensible response. Long story short: Christians determined, according to Ehrman, Jesus must have been God even before he was born of his virgin mother, Mary. According to Ehrman Christians went from one sticky situation to another because then they had to explain a plurality of deities such as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This need for an explanation by Christians Ehrman mistakenly calls “exaltation christology.” According to Ehrman the first Christian writings twenty years after Jesus death were based on pre-literary traditions. What this means is that Paul and other NT writers were borrowing from those prior sources and it was in these pre-literary sources which gave rise to “exaltation christology” which began the belief that Jesus became God when Jesus was raised from the dead. It is Ehrman’s own sticky subject. Ehrman's dismissal of the apostles' first century writings on the basis that these are merely a reflection of earlier "exaltation christology" is mistaken. If Ehrman's few references to that christology are any indication, -and they are- there is nothing in it which is at odds with the whole of NT and OT writings.


“The best theologians have always classified that [the trinity] as a mystery which means that you can’t understand it with your rational mind. If you think you do understand it then you misunderstand it. (laughs).” Bart Ehrman


Theology appears to be the latest place of refuge for Ehrman. He has gone from evangelical to historian and now this last resort as theologian. He can cast himself among the best of theologians, write off the whole matter of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (the trinity) as a mystery and expound on it at length while believing it can never be understood, just like Ehrman, an agnostic who claims God can not be known. It does not occur to Ehrman that what he, the professor, historian and theologian can not understand for himself he can not explain to those whom he purports to enlighten on the true, historic and accurate matters of God. What Ehrman does not understand is what Israel did not understand.


The nature of God is just one other instance of Israel’s serious misunderstanding of God. Despite numerous references in the Tanakh (OT) by God of himself in the plural form these were simply dismissed and disregarded by Israel. This misunderstanding was rooted in their numeric quantification of God as one. Jews, Muslims and Christians alike share in this misunderstanding. Jews and Muslims quantify God as one. Christians quantify God as one . . ., but three.


What has been overlooked between Yahweh’s words to Israel in Deuteronomy 6 & 18 is the unity of his message about which he was admonishing Israel in her future years. Briefly, that unity meant that there was total harmony, unity and agreement in everything God said, everything Moses said God said, everything the prophets said God said, everything Jesus said was from the Father, everything the apostles said was from the Spirit and everything the saints in Christ read is every bit the word of God before it was heard, since it was spoken and since it was printed. When Moses, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit declared, “The Lord is one” it was not a numeric value to be quantified as one, two or three, but to be understood as the oneness and harmony which characterizes God and which we can only strive to imitate in our lives. It is in this respect that those plural entities dismissed by Israel and equally misunderstood by Christians are seen and understood as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, not numerically, but in the complete unity in their entire revelation to man. Ehrman's is seriously mistaken on his understanding of what he, in true agnostic form, or anyone can understand not the least of which is that Jesus became God. The believe and claims of the saints in Christ Jesus is that he came into this world as God.

empty tomb


Ehrman argues there is no indication that the disciples of Jesus in the first century came to believe in the tomb as proof of the resurrection. He is unwittingly, despite his unbelief, quite right.


Even twenty years after the resurrection of Jesus the apostle Paul wrote that Jesus had appeared to more than 500 people some of whom, he said, were still living at the time of his writing in I Corinthians 15. Of course, for Ehrman the resurrection, although he never states it as clearly in the interview, never happened because what was left of Jesus after his death on the cross was food for scavenger birds.


Fresh Air host and Interviewer Terri Gross presses Ehrman on his view that Pilate would not have consented to the body of Jesus being taken from the cross after his death, but would have instead let it, as was the Roman custom, rot and be prey for the scavenger birds. His reason: "Pilate was not a nice fellow." Again, Ehrman is oblivious to some particulars which are chronicled in the gospels, namely, that Pilate’s wife approached him and urged him to have nothing to do with that man Jesus because of some troublesome dreams she had about Jesus. Second, whether or not it was because of his wife, Pilate attempts to release Jesus. Pilate himself pressed the multitude as to what evil Jesus had done. Suddenly, it does not seem totally implausible that Pilate might have made an exception to allow the body of Jesus to be taken down from the cross, - especially when someone requested the body. Such a request by anyone of a one who had been crucified and brought such shame and reproach on himself and family was a common thing. Furthermore, by entombing the body of Jesus Pilate could possibly use it as a future reminder to anyone claiming that Jesus was raised from the dead. In this respect, it may have been a shrewd Pilate who saw an advantage in preserving the corpse of Jesus for future use. The fact that the gospels relate that Pilate did in fact give consent to a request for the body of Jesus hardly makes Pilate a nice fellow. He may have acted out of character, but this is what is related by the gospel writers.


All this is merely Ehrman the historian dabbling seemingly for his own amusement, because after painting for us the imagery of the corpse of Jesus being eaten by birds he asserts that he believes Jesus was not given a decent burial, but that he was just thrown into a common grave even though Ehrman acknowledges the body of Jesus was requested of Pilate by and delivered to Joseph of Arimathea who placed his body in his own tomb soon to be emptied of Jesus’ body.


visions


Indeed, the disciples of Jesus came to believe in the resurrection because they SAW him. Here again, Ehrman dismisses the testimony of the scriptures and prefers to concoct his own explain of “visions” as something akin to euphoric delirium or human nostalgia. The gospels testify unabashedly of the unbelief of the disciples EVEN WHEN THEY SAW Jesus.


Literally, they could not believe their eyes. Jesus drew them back into reality. He invited Thomas to stick his finger in the holes in his body and to touch and feel so they can verify for himself that the Jesus he was seeing was not a spirit because a spirit does not have flesh and bones as did Jesus. He reassured the disciples he was not a vision of their delirium or their imagination as Ehrman argues. This is the evidence of testimony which asserts the disciples saw Jesus. It substantiates what they saw with touch and feel plus a measure of unbelief to remind the inquisitive seeker this was not an ordinary matter. It demands to be assessed by historians, believer and nonbeliever alike and not without some very human behavioral reaction.


My response to Bart Ehrman’s claims


Jesus took on the form of man


What Ehrman, at least in this interview, never touches on and does not seem to realize is that the scriptures never state that God became a man, that Jesus became God, or that God made Jesus God. This goes back to #1 at the beginning of this article. This is what the scriptures do state:


Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name; 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)


There are three significant points made by Paul in this passage:


1) Jesus existed in the form of God.
2) Jesus emptied himself of that form of God to take on the form of a servant . . . in the likeness of man.
3) Jesus humbled himself in that human form even unto death on the cross.


The declarations in this passage do not say anything about God becoming a man, a man becoming God, or a man being made God.  Rather, it declares that He took on the form of a man. Note also, that the exaltation of Jesus so grossly misunderstood by Bart Ehrman did indeed occur. It was AFTER his death on the cross and it was also then that he was give the name above every name.


Jesus is not one of the Gods. He is one with God. He is one with the Father. He is one with the Holy Spirit. The Father and Holy Spirit are one with Jesus. This means Jesus as much and no less God than the Father and Holy Spirit. The fact is the practice of simplification such as the origin and use of the term trinity do nothing to enable believers to understand God. Any time a believer resorts to trying to understand God through a numeric value of one, two or three he/she will fail to understand the unity of the message of the will of God which spans from Genesis to Revelation.


This, according to Luke the author of Acts, is what Peter declared concerning Jesus:


Let all the house of Israel therefore know certainly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. (Acts 2:36)

“Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me.  (John 14:1)

peace to all.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Do you eat Halal?

Halal certification


Are you familiar with the Halal certification on meats and other products in your grocery store? Perhaps you have been eating and are eating Halal certified food products. H.E.B., where my family shops for our groceries, is a major grocery retailer in central Texas carries Halal. What this certification designates is those meats and products which are approved and which are allowed for Muslims to eat. The Jewish designation for foods which are allowed for Jews to eat and which have been prepared in accordance with their laws is kosher. One specific aspect of Halal certification is the requirement that livestock being slaughtered be facing towards Mecca, the birthplace of Mohammed, the prophet of Islam.


What is your stake


Idols and places as objects of devotion, adoration and worship or of meats sacrificed to an idol or a particular place may mean nothing to nonbelievers. Their interests may be from a cultural or economic perspective. The interests at stake may be voiced as humane concerns about the slaughter of animals; perhaps a carryover from other, older, existing ongoing protests which may be as much against eating meat altogether. These interests may be voiced as patriotic concerning the presence of foreign influences in America. Quite likely, there are gains and losses as concerns the growing presence of Halal standards in the meat industry, both culturally and economically, depending on a person’s perspective and priorities. It would seem no matter whatever one’s stance might be there is a stake in the matter.


Christians in the first century who had severed their ties with their past beliefs and their sacrifice to and worship of idols. Now, in the faith that is in Jesus, they were often faced with the reality of idols and marketplace vendors from whom they bought meat which had been sacrificed to idols. The apostle Paul addressed their concerns in First Corinthians 8. I am copying the entire chapter here.


things sacrificed to idols


1 Now concerning things sacrificed to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2 But if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he doesn’t yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, the same is known by him. 4 Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that no idol is anything in the world, and that there is no other God but one.5 For though there are things that are called “gods”, whether in the heavens or on earth; as there are many “gods” and many “lords”; 6 yet to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we live through him. 7 However, that knowledge isn’t in all men. But some, with consciousness of the idol until now, eat as of a thing sacrificed to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 But food will not commend us to God. For neither, if we don’t eat, are we the worse; nor, if we eat, are we the better. 9 But be careful that by no means does this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if a man sees you who have knowledge sitting in an idol’s temple, won’t his conscience, if he is weak, be emboldened to eat things sacrificed to idols? 11 And through your knowledge, he who is weak perishes, the brother for whose sake Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against the brothers, and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore if food causes my brother to stumble, I will eat no meat forever more, that I don’t cause my brother to stumble.


Is there anything about Halal for the saints in Christ to examine and consider. After all, as it is alleged and which is not within the scope of this brief article, Halal just involves a humane way of slaughtering animals. However, here is  the matter for every individual to consider for himself as a matter of a conscience informed by his/her knowledge of the scriptures.


what is involved in the Halal certified slaughter of animals


The practice of slaughter in accordance with Halal to have the animal facing Mecca involves 1) an idol as a place of reverence according to Muslims, and 2) it is an invocation to Allah at the moment the animal is slaughtered. Yes, Muslims may deny Mecca is an idol, but what should anyone who has desecrated such a holy place, but death? It is a matter of actions, that is the taking of human life, speaks louder than words, that is, denying Mecca is an idol.


What and how Muslims seek to worship is their own business. I have, as a Christian or an American,  no need to bash or desecrate neither their beliefs nor their practices either for cultural, religious or economical reasons.


What are you compelled to do


What I am compelled to do is within my conscience as informed in accordance with my knowledge of I Corinthians and related New Testament passages. I will not purchase meat, whether beef or poultry, which bears the Halal certification. I have no need to boycott or call for a boycott nor would I support such a worldly response by Christians towards those retailers who sell Halal products anymore than the apostle Paul instructed the saints in Corinth to do so with those vendors who earned their livelihood from those meat sales. Unlike the first century idols to whom those animals sold in the marketplace were sacrificed which did not espouse a teaching against Jesus as Lord and Savior and the Son of God, this is the message of Islam today.

Peace to all.