My Search for Meaning:

September 3, 2012

Pete’s Personal Philosophy Paper

Here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment; including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.   -Solomon (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Ever since I began to think for myself, I’ve been searching for some kind of meaning in life. Coming from a modest but comfortable background, I was never spoiled by material things, but I never really knew what true poverty was either. Life was often mundane, so I found myself escaping through imagination and comics and later through horror and suspense novels. My parents had taken me to church when I was a child, but as soon as I was allowed to, I stopped attending, rejecting what I considered to be a dead religion. I never stopped believing in God, even in one who was good, but I felt that each person must find their own way to Him. In high school, I rebelled against most forms of authority and became involved in drugs. I was heavily influenced by music and poetry, and I continued to search for meaning through these new outlets. Jim Morrison, of the Doors, led me to William Blake and Fredrick Nietzsche and I eventually found Fyodor Dostoevsky. I began to see life as absurd and meaningless; however, I felt that it was our responsibility to give it some kind of meaning; I felt we all had a piece of God in us that called us to find our place in the world. Thus, I began to look for mine.

Around this time a very good friend of mine stopped getting stoned with me. He said that it was all about meeting Jesus. I laughed about it at first, but we continued to be friends and I saw that he really was different; he had acquired some inner peace that I couldn’t relate to. We had many deep talks and debates, and I began to read the Bible again to search for answers. It wasn’t too long before I no longer had the need to self-medicate. I found my own inner peace with Jesus. I discovered that Christianity is dead when it is seen as a religion, but that when you discover the Creator of the universe wants to have a relationship with you, it opens up an entire life of possibility, of adventure, of love, and of meaning. My relationship with Jesus is what determines how I view human nature.

I believe that everyone is conceived in a state of conflict. We are all made in the image of God: We have a desire for purpose; we want to be good; we want to love and to be loved. Yet, we all also possess a sin nature that we are conceived with: We are all selfish; we are all about pleasure, even at the expense of others; we deny responsibility and pass the blame along to someone else. These two aspects of human nature, what the Bible calls the spirit and the flesh, are constantly at war with each other. Which one wins out on a daily basis is determined by individual choice. At any given moment in life, we respond to our environment either through that God-like part of man, or we respond in selfishness and self-preservation.

Our choices are the result of both nature and nurture. I believe we are born with the personality tools and talents to fulfill a genuine need the world has. We have purpose, we even have some kind of destiny, but we also have the free will to deny our purpose. When we seek to fulfill that purpose, when we put the world’s, or others’, needs before our own, we are responding in the spirit. When we choose to only serve our own means, we are responding in the flesh. Even though we are born with this purpose, our environment is usually what teaches us what to do with it. Many people are born into hostile situations in which survival becomes their highest priority; others are born into healthy families that live and teach selflessness and purpose. So, we are born with gifts and talents and leanings toward certain beliefs, but our environment shapes how we decide to use what we are “given.” Environment doesn’t, however, have to determine who we are. We still can choose to be good (or bad). One of my favorite lines is from a children’s movie called The Iron Giant. A large robot falls from the sky, but has lost its memory. It is, at first, benign, and it befriends a boy. However, the robot was designed for warfare, and when it is attacked, instinct kicks in, and the robot begins to destroy everything in its path. The boy is able to get its attention and at a very emotional moment he states plainly: “You don’t have to be a gun. You can choose who you want to be.” The robot begins to fight his natural instinct of war, and ends up sacrificing himself to save the community (1999). In the same way, we have the responsibility to follow the spirit (selfless nature) rather than the flesh (selfish nature) no matter what environment we are shaped by. There are multiple examples of persons who have overcome adversity to become heroes and others born into all the comfort and support one could ever need who live at the expense of others. The choice to “do the right thing” is a daily struggle for all people.

Metaphorically speaking, we are all three people in one. There is our selfish and base nature that seeks only pleasure. There is the godlike selfless part of us that seeks to fulfill our purpose through serving others. And there is the person existing in the here and now caught between the two. Every time we make a choice out of selfishness, we move closer to our base instincts, yet pleasure is only momentary and can never be fully satisfied; therefore, if we seek to fulfill life through pleasure we will never find peace. Every time we make a selfless choice, we move closer to the spirit and fulfillment; true fulfillment is found in giving and having a purpose that meets the needs of others. However, no one can be good all the time, and often the attempt to be a good person can lead some to feel guilty when they make mistakes, or some will justify their bad choices and become judgmental of others; either way, they are in a state of dissatisfaction. It is impossible for a human to exist in a constant state of fulfillment. The closest we can get is a simple satisfaction while we all experience the highs and lows of existence. The key to consistent satisfaction is accepting that we have the potential to sometimes go to the highest level of goodness, yet we are also faced with the truth, that under the right (maybe wrong is a better word) circumstances we are no better than the worst of criminals. We need to always strive to be our best, but always be aware of our weaknesses so we can avoid them. We need to live in the moment, and decide for the here and now what choice we will make. The more we practice making good choices, the easier they become and we find a greater sense of fulfillment. The more we practice making bad choices, the easier they become, and we find ourselves never filled, never satisfied.

It is my personal belief that there is only one way to find true peace between the flesh and the spirit, and that is through the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Believing in the power of his self-sacrifice for humanity enables us to live under grace, so when we do choose to be selfish and serve the flesh, we can be easily forgiven, and quickly move back into living for our purpose in life. Believing in the power of Christ’s self-raising from the dead gives one the advantage of receiving the Holy Spirit of God which empowers the human spirit to deny flesh and make the right choices. A nonbeliever can live righteously and practice good choices and find some times of fulfillment on earth, but as stated earlier, none of us can be fully good. Only God can be good. Without Jesus, we can’t reach our full potential in this life, and we won’t make it to everlasting peace in the next life.

I can’t pinpoint one psychological theory that supports my view of human nature on its own, but there are a variety of characteristics from a few that can easily be integrated together to form a solid base for me to work from. Of the theories I’ve studied, Adlerian Theory was the first one that really appealed to me as something truthful. I fully agree that the conscious is far more important than what is going on in the unconscious. I believe that exploring the unconscious can be a useful tool, even a doorway, into understanding what a person’s issues may be, but it is in a present state of consciousness that we live and deal with our issues, and that should be where we find practical solutions to cope and find healing.  I also agree that what we do with what we are born with is central to getting better. We do not have to be defined by our past. Additionally, I believe that all behavior is goal oriented, but we may not be fully aware of what our goals are, or the best way to achieve those goals. I think Adler’s theory of our need for significance and social connection is probably his most important contribution. I believe the two are dependent on each other. When we master a skill that is needed in society we feel valued and important. That leads to self-confidence, and others respect us for our abilities and for who we are, so we develop a social network we belong to which gives us a sense of meaning.

The search for meaning has been such a large part of my personal journey, there is no way I can ignore Existential Therapy. Much of my favorite literature was written by existentialists, but most of the literature focuses on the absurdity of life and states that life is essentially meaningless. It was very refreshing to find that Victor Frankl used the same ideas in his work to help people find meaning. I love his statement: “Man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked…by life” (1963). This puts the responsibility on us to find our meaning, to find our purpose. We can look into the past to see what brought us to this point, and we can consider where we want to be in the future, but ultimately it is the right here and right now that we are exist in, and we need to be the ones who put meaning into this very moment: Carpe Diem.

Showing someone they need to find meaning in life is relatively simple. Most people already consciously year for meaning. Finding out how one individually fits into the great scheme of things can be a bit more complicated. Because so many of us live in a state of selfishness, there are many of us walking around damaged and unable to take risks. How can people find their place or purpose in life and additionally find the confidence to take the risks needed to achieve mastery and social connection? The answer may be found in combining Rogerian and Reality Therapy. The need for genuineness and empathy is essential for any real relationship; since all people have a need to become socially connected, we must find someone who is an example of a genuine, caring and understanding person. He must be a safe and trustworthy person. This is the most difficult in life, isn’t it? I have personally found these relationships in the church through Jesus. It is important to realize, that no human is perfect and able to be fully trusted, but we must learn to both accept grace and forgiveness and offer grace and forgiveness in our relationships with others. It is only through a relationship with Jesus (the only man who was and is perfect) and following his teachings that I have been able to do so.

It isn’t until an individual learns to trust, that he will be able to truly find meaning. This is when the techniques of Reality Therapy come into play. Each individual needs to focus on current behaviors and learn to see the consequences of those behaviors. This most often occurs through open and honest relationships with those we can trust. The next step is for the individual to understand that his behavior is chosen, and therefore, he can choose to behave in a way that will more effectively reach his goals of finding meaning. It must be emphasized that we can control our thoughts, and our thoughts lead to our actions and feelings. I believe the most important part of Reality Therapy, however, is making a plan. Once we see a need for change, we can be at our most vulnerable, and that is the time we need someone to help us step up to make the changes. However, it must be a plan that the individual takes ownership of. If others are over involved, the individual is not really taking responsibility for his life. Once he finds small successes in a few areas he will begin to develop a new pattern of thinking, and begin to make good choices on his own that build purpose and contribution to the world.

Although I often fail at my attempts to make good choices, I try to live my life by the values I have been taught by Christ through his Word and through the leading of the Holy Spirit. Once I gave my life to Jesus, I set forth on a path of self-discovery through the renewal of my thinking. As I began to deny my desires to put myself before others, and I sought to love my neighbor as I love myself (Matthew 22:39), I was able to see how the gifts and talents I possessed could fill needs in our world. Once I stepped out and took risks to help others, I began to develop stronger relationships and now have many concentric circles of friends and family that I can trust in and rely on when the randomness and seeming meaninglessness of life can drag me down. I am always striving to do my best, but it has been a long arduous journey and many of my choices have not always been positive. When I do fall into selfishness, I rely on God’s mercy, and I get up and continue on my way. Life is a refining process. The Bible states that “we move from glory to glory, and little by little the veil is removed from our faces” (2 Corinthians 3:18). In other words, when we make the choice to live righteously, by God’s grace we are able to become better people and gain more understanding of our purpose in life through our ever-increasing knowledge of our Father and Creator.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”   -Jesus Christ (The Gospel of John 3:16-21)

Peter L Richardson
10/16/2007

References:

Brothers, Warner. (1999). The Iron Giant. Burbank: Time Warner Company.
Christ, Jesus. (~30). The Gospels of Matthew and John. Judea: The Holy Bible.
Frankl, Victor. (1959). Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston: Washington Square Press.
Paul, The Apostle. (~55). The Second Epistle of Corinthians. Some Roman Jail: The Holy Bible.
Solomon, King. (~930 BC). Ecclesiastes. Israel. The Holy Bible.

Bearing the Mark

February 1, 2011

“The most attractive Christian examples I’ve ever met are not nice people running through fields of daisies and throwing candy to children. These are real people held together by their belief in God. They do wonderful things and they do horrible things and they’re sorry when they do them.”  -John Schneider

“Markedness” in linguistic terms is the concept that certain words are more “marked” than others. Words and the objects, actions and concepts they represent fall into categories called “lexical fields.” These lexical fields hold words that are similar in meaning, such as the field of colors which holds red, blue, green, yellow, etc. These colors are all “marked” in that we know they are all a “color.” The more narrow and specific a concept matches its word, the more marked that word is said to be. For instance, within the color “red” exists an entirely new lexical field which contains pink, burgundy, violet-red, magenta, etc. These different fields build a hierarchy of “hyponyms;” specific terms which are subordinate to their more general, less marked terms. “Red” is a hyponym of “color” and “magenta” is a hyponym of “red,” wherein “magenta” is the most marked of all these terms, because the word is the most specific to the concept it represents. The more general a word meaning is, the less marked it is, the more universal it tends to be across cultures.

Every culture has the concept of colors, but some only have a concept of two different colors, black and white. So while the term “color” is the least marked of the lexical categories we have been talking about, it is the most universally used. “Red” happens to be the third most universal concept of colors, so red is more marked than black or white, but less marked than, say, blue or green, and magenta would be even more marked than all of these terms. This happens because different cultures and people groups have different needs for their languages. It is the same idea that Eskimos have so many words for snow, while we only have a few and some cultures closer to the equator may have none. The Eskimos have a need for more specific descriptions of the various types of snow.

This concept of “markedness” can be used further than the realm of linguistics. People mark themselves consistently throughout their lives as they express themselves in various ways. We are all human beings, but can be separated into categories of male and female. We also separate ourselves into different races and cultures; depending on where we were born, the depth of color of our skin, the language we use and many other ways. Within the different cultures we categorize ourselves by social status, the type of careers we choose and the kind of lifestyles we live. People are marked by what they look like, how they choose to dress, how they speak, where they work and every action they make. The truth is we are constantly observing and being observed and making judgments about one another all the time; this is human nature. So while my blue jeans, love for rock-n-roll, weakness for fast food and impatience may mark me as an American, my tendency to judge people is a less marked human universal.

The idea of markedness in our personal lives is an interesting concept. I have found myself move in and out of so many social groups, that I used to wonder if I had some kind of identity crisis. I have had people comment on my ability to blend from one group to another without much notice, but as I grow older and settle into a more stable personality, I can look back and see how certain stops on my path stuck with me and have marked me along the way. For instance, back in high school, I discovered the joy and wonder and the destruction of drugs. I had developed a love for the Doors and took on a hippie persona. I was a pretty nice guy underneath my exterior and a few people had figured this out, but I remember developing a friendship with a girl who was of a higher social class; she dressed well and was very stylish. I felt we were getting closer and I approached her about it. She replied that she really liked me and thought I was “hot,” but she just couldn’t go out with a “grit” because of her reputation. So, even though this person had a genuine attraction to me, she refused to respond to it, because she had marked me in a different social class then hers. Of course, my pride being hurt, I spent a few years after that marking females who were well dressed and stylish as “stuck-up.”

There are times we get marked by a group we belong to, but the general stereotypes don’t always apply to us. Not long after high school I became a Christian. I have had some ups and downs in my life, but through all the challenges and doubts I have always returned back to my faith. One thing I have learned to do over the years is to not be as openly zealous about my faith as when I first submitted to God. Not because I am ashamed of it, although perhaps being ashamed of the actions of some who call themselves Christians might be a part of it; however, I have learned that when I express to people I am a Christian early in a relationship, they already have judgments and expectations against me that aren’t always the case. One thing I can’t stand is for someone to act differently around me for fear of offending me or for fear of retribution. For my part, I have my convictions on how I live life, but I don’t wish to place them on anyone if they have not made a free and open choice. I would rather people in my life to be real with me from the beginning. I don’t hide my faith, but when I am more subtle about it, I have found people can discover who I am without judgment and we can be open and honest with each other in all the good and ugly parts we possess. On a positive marking of my faith, I believe that the principles I try to live by do make me a more moral person, and people see that and question it, and that is usually how they learn that my faith is important to me, and often it becomes important to them. So I try to mark myself as a Christian by my lifestyle (which, I confess could use a lot of improvement) rather than by my words or my T-shirt, and I find that people respond to this better and are not afraid to be themselves around me.

The beauty of Jesus is that his mark is so broad it can be found on any person no matter their age, sex, race, social status, or culture. The Apostle Paul states, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). However, there are many who claim to bear the mark of Christ who do little more than put on a t-shirt or listen to Contemporary Christian Music. To these people the Church is equivalent to a social club. In the Old Testament, the Lord consistently rebuked the Jews for being more concerned with outward appearances then with really changing their hearts. God made a covenant with Abraham, the father of the Jews, through circumcision to show that he and his descendants would serve the Lord (Genesis 17), but God would often tell his “chosen people” to “circumcise your hearts” (Deuteronomy 30:6, 10:17, Jeremiah 4:4, etc). He tells them their outward appearance or cultural background (the Jewish Law given by God) cannot save them, each person must serve God with the whole heart. There are many in the world who are wasting away because many of us who claim to be in the Church place exterior or general marks of Christianity on ourselves, but when the “hyponyms” of the faith are observed, there is little to show the ever increasing specific marks of faith. Jesus tells us that we will be known by our fruit (Matthew 7:20). In other words, the world should recognize that we are followers of Jesus by our actions. As Christians, we all bear the mark of the Holy Spirit in our spirits. Paul later teaches us “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). If there is no evidence of the mark of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life, it must be questioned (by both the individual and the observer) whether he truly has the mark of Christ. Of course, no one can be perfect, but if you truly serve God and follow Jesus, there should be a consistent growth in the quality of your character. Christianity has nothing to do with what you look like, what your social status is, or what your taste in music is. Jesus simply tells us that the world will know us by our love for each other (John 13:34-35). What is the mark that you bear to the world?

Peter L Richardson
December 2003 / revised January 2010

“Religion can be the enemy of God. It’s often what happens when God, like Elvis, has left the building. A list of instructions where there once was conviction; dogma where once people just did it; a congregation led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spirit. Discipline replacing discipleship.”  -Bono

Americans like big things, and we like them to come easy and convenient. 7-Eleven’s Super Big Gulp just keeps getting bigger and bigger! Pretty soon, they’ll come in keg-size. At the same time, we want all of our news wrapped up in 3 minute sound-bites; just enough to keep us informed, but not enough to force us to think. We want our sitcoms and dramas polished up in a half hour to an hour, just enough to tug the heart, but not enough to move us to change. And if it’s not on the internet, why read anything at all? If I can’t hold it in the palm of my hand; it simply isn’t worth my time. Why work for anything when it’s all handed to me? This culture of apathy and entitlement is the result of a corrupt form of the American Dream, and just as Americans have grown increasingly fat and lazy in caring for our minds and bodies, we have allowed this corruption to seep into our spiritual lives as well. While a few superstars with large followings existed in American Christianity the last half of the 20th Century, the new millennium brought on the advent of the mega-church. Churches with 1,000+ members have popped up all over the country while their leaders boast of the number of souls that are saved and contribute tithes to the ministry, but just as the super-mega-Big Gulp is full of empty calories and has no nutritional value, most of these churches produce little in the way of true converts because they are focused on numbers and membership rather than on crafting real discipleship for their members. In fact, many modern American churches preach little of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in effort to “tickle men’s ears” and become “more seeker friendly.” What does this say of the God we worship if we have to sugarcoat who he is just to get people interested?  Jesus himself said that we would be outcasts in the world, and we would have a cross to bear. How many hypocrites exist in the church because they haven’t really met Jesus yet? How many sincere people have fallen from their “faith” because they were promised a party, and when hard times hit, they had no guidance in how to use their faith to walk through? Jesus doesn’t promise us freedom from trials in this world; in fact, he openly tells us that in this world we will have trouble, but he adds, “cheer up! I have defeated the world” (John 16:33, CEV).

Make no mistake: If you align yourself with Christ; your faith will be challenged. From the beginning of this age God Almighty has had an enemy, a rebel angel, whose only real way of hurting Him is to hurt the ones He loves, mankind. Since Satan can’t fight God and win, he has set out to spread his seeds of lies, corruption and rebellion among us. Satan knew that God’s righteous justice would force him to condemn us in our sinful state. Just as he separated himself from God, his desire is to tempt every human being to rebel against God and so be separated with him in Hell. The Apostle Paul tells us, “We are not fighting humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world” (Ephesians 6:12, CEV). We humans, however, do have a choice on whose side we will fight. Stepping out of the battle is not an option. If you choose not to fight, you will get run down and flattened by Satan. The worst part is, you probably won’t even recognize it, he is such a fine manipulator and perverter of the truth, that he can make many people think they are on the side of good when they are actually being selfish. Yet, little by little, the selfish nature increases, and eventually these people end up empty and unfulfilled. The Apostle James states, “We are tempted by our own desires that drag us off and trap us. Our desires make us sin, and when sin is finished with us, it leaves us dead” (James 1-14-15, CEV). It seems like a losing battle, and if we stand alone, it is. Think of a tug of war. I once volunteered at a camp that had competitions between the different groups of kids. One was the tug of war. Each group would line up on the rope and struggle to pull it to their side. What if all the teen counselors competed against the campers? They might last a little while, but it won’t be long before they would be dragged away to their enemy’s side. It is like this with Satan’s temptations and our effort to pull away in our own strength. He knows our weaknesses and he plays against them.

So what’s the point? If it’s this hard to follow God, then why bother? Because he has promised and provided a way out, and that way is Jesus. We are born into sin, and that sin requires that God punish us in his righteous justice; however, Jesus took our punishment on the cross, and after dying for us, resurrected himself and gave us access to eternal life. Jesus says, “A thief comes only to rob, kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it in its fullest” (John 10:10, CEV). However, Jesus did not promise to just pull us from our troubles. What he has done, is promise to walk alongside us in them. Think of the tug of war again. We are like a young child camper, Satan is like a rebellious bratty teenager; we are getting the tarp beat out of us, until Jesus, a world class body builder, shows up and grabs the rope with us. It is a paradox in that he doesn’t take us out of the fight, but he handles the fight for us. Without him, we are lost. With him, we can do anything he allows us and calls us to do. But he expects us to fight, first defensively, and when we have learned skill in battle with the enemy, he sends us on the offensive. Why doesn’t Jesus just take us out of our troubles? Because, we would never learn to grow otherwise; we would spend the rest of eternity ignorant and trapped in our sinful mindset. We would be virtually useless for advancing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth and bringing others into a saving knowledge of Christ. Think about a child whose mother always gets him out of trouble; he never pays the consequences of his negative actions. What kind of adult will this young man become? A lazy drain on society at best, a criminal at worst, unless he comes to his senses when the bruises of life begin to beat him down. This is the mentality of American society, and the essence of our apathy and entitlement. We have had too many generations that have fed off the prosperity of the hard working Americans of the past, but not having experienced the opportunity to work for their own achievement, they become dependant on hand outs. The Apostle Paul teaches us, “We also gave you the rule that if you don’t work, you don’t eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10, CEV), but Jesus also encourages us, “This yoke is easy to bear, and this burden is light” (Matthew 11:30, CEV). The work that Lord requires of us is simple. He expects us to begin a relationship with him, and to walk with him on a journey that will challenge us and develop our characters into strong and faithful servants and soldiers in the heavenly realms, so we can eventually go out into our call of adventure he has planned for us since the beginning of time. But we must make the choice to take that journey. We cannot save ourselves, our salvation is in faith in Christ alone, and our strength for the journey only comes from believing and trusting him. We must trust him in order to be able to follow him into battle. A Christianity that is only two hours a week just won’t cut it, but there are some practical things we can do to put our faith into action.  

The first thing you need to do is to pray. You cannot have a relationship with someone unless there is active communication between the two of you. God always hears us and answers us in his time; however, hearing him often takes time and practice. How do we learn to do what he wants? How do we learn to recognize his character and voice when he speaks to us in the quiet of our souls? Read the Bible. The Bible is called God’s Word; it is his message to humans to teach us how to live in peace and joy because he loves us. However, understanding some parts of the Bible can be very difficult for new believers. What do we do when we don’t understand it, or when we are having a hard time following it? Find a mentor. This is where true discipleship comes in. Every Christian needs someone stronger in the faith, or at least equal to them, someone to lean on when struggles hit them as they surely will. You need someone who can answer your questions, you need someone to hold you accountable when you are struggling with sin, you need someone to help you with practical things like moving, you need friends to hang out with that will build you up and encourage you instead of dragging you down. How can you find these people? You need to find a healthy church to fellowship in. Unfortunately, there are many churches that have watered down the gospel at best, and corrupted it into something false at worst, but you must find fellowship. There are no Lone Ranger Christians. You will eventually get shot down. You must trust that God is good and he will bring you to a good fellowship at some point on your journey. You job is simply to keep walking it out with him. Christianity is a religion based on relationship, first to God, then to our brothers and sisters in the faith, and finally to the lost: those to whom we are called to be witnesses of the love and peace that our God offers to those willing to submit and take up their crosses in the training grounds of life.  

 Peter L Richardson

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever…I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you…Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.”  The Gospel of John 6:51-56

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  The Gospel of John 1:1

A while back my son woke up earlier than usual and he caught me reading my Bible in the early hours of the morning.

“Dad, I know the Bible is important, but why do you read it everyday?” he asked. “I mean, seriously, you should have a pretty good idea of what’s in it by now!”

I was glad he asked, but he took me off guard and I found myself giving him a knee jerk answer that was more religious doctrine than truth, “Well, son,” I began, “the Bible itself teaches us to. In the Old Testament, God says that ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ The Bible is God’s Word, so we literally need it to survive spiritually, just like our physical bodies need food on a regular basis to survive.”

“But why everyday?”  He replied, “Don’t you learn enough from church every week?”

“It’s like this,” I said, “church is more like a weekend feast or party. We can go more than a day without food, but we are weaker without it. It is the same thing with what God teaches in his Word. If we only fill up once a week, we lose strength throughout the week. We need a daily reminder of the right way to live, and the more you read, the better you’ll be able to understand Sunday sermons, or witness to friends who are seeking or challenging your faith, and even to judge false teachings. When Jesus told us to pray for ‘daily bread,’ I think he meant more than just food.”

“Oh,” he pondered for a moment, “Well, speaking of food, I’m pretty hungry, can I get some pancakes?”

And that was the end of that conversation. I’m not saying I told him anything wrong, but I stopped short of the genuine reason why I read my Bible everyday, and why it’s the first thing I do after I get out of bed. 

Many people see the Bible only as a book of rules to live by, full of stories about people who are just examples of what we should or shouldn’t live like. They consider the Bible to be a blueprint of how you are supposed to live your life: If you just follow these rules then you should get good results and end up generally happy. I agree to an extent, but if you stop there, it really doesn’t matter what religion you follow. If your goal with Christianity is simply to live a good life and follow the rules the best you can, then you really don’t know what the Bible teaches, and your faith is stagnant, dead and useless.

Consider this. Think about a historical figure you admire and respect for whatever reason. He could be a fierce warrior, she could be a gallant queen, or maybe a simple person of good character who was in the right place at the right time and changed the course of history. Many of these people have written their thoughts down and published them; many witnesses of their time have written their testimony of when they met so and so. The more we admire a person, the more we seek to read about them and want to get to know them. The Bible, at its simplest level, is a document about a Triune God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is His proof of existence. It is His thoughts about philosophy, psychology, government, love, and life in general. It tells the story of how he interacted with the world in the 6,000 or so years of history it covers. In it, this God claims to be Creator, and he tells us how he expects us to act and teaches us things about faith and forgiveness. How is this book proof he exists? How do you know Julius Caesar existed? Or Plato? Or Homer? The further we go back the less reliable the witness, right? But let’s take this analogy a bit further. Let’s say one day an ancient library is uncovered, and someone finds letters from your favorite historical figure. Amazingly, these letters are addressed to you! How could this person know about you before you were born? This is what the Bible is in addition to a Rule Book, or a collection of stories and poems; it is a letter from the God of the Universe to you. It is a letter He has written to all of his children. He wants you to know who you are and what your heritage is. He wants you to discover what the meaning of life is and what your individual purpose in all of it is. You may ask, aren’t these letters still just rules to live by? What makes them so personal?

Consider this. Think about a woman who loses her husband in war. What do you think her greatest treasure will be? It will be his love letters to her, the things he left behind that reminds her of the bond and connection they once shared, and even still share. Jesus gives us the metaphor that he is the groom and the church is his bride. It is a classic love story of the knight in shining armor riding on a white horse to save the damsel in distress from the evil dragon, except in this case the dragon thought he killed the knight. But our Savior is not just a great man who died for his beliefs or a cause that was greater than him. No, our Savior’s death was the cause he came to fulfill, because he was the only one worthy to take it on, and the only one who could defeat the very death he allowed himself to endure. Our Savior has risen from the grave and is alive and well and longing for the day he can be reconnected with the bride he loves so deeply. When you open your heart to it, the Bible is a collection of love letters God has written to humanity, to his children. When you study the words of God, it is like studying the desires and thoughts and words of your lover. A man in love will do anything to please his woman; he knows what kind of flowers she likes, he knows the way she takes her coffee, he knows her pet peeves and seeks to avoid them. It just the same with God. He already knows us with an intimacy to the core; he longs for us to know him. The more we read his Word, the more we learn of him. Just like a woman falls deeper in love with a man who proves to know her, and seeks to please her, when we actually follow God’s word and trust him and seek to live righteously, it brings us to a deeper intimacy with him. But this is still not the deepest level the Bible offers us. Letters are good, but without experiencing the man behind the letters, you can’t really get to know him. You can’t have true intimacy with a book. There is more God’s Word has to offer.

Consider this. The Bible is more like instant messaging than letters from a distance. The Bible is the Living Word of God. Hebrews 4:12 says “For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” This means that we can interact with scripture: we can question it, seek deeper understanding, and ask for greater wisdom. How is this possible? You cannot talk to a book. But this very book teaches us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  The Gospels teach that Jesus Christ is the very Word of God that spoke creation into existence, that raised Lazarus from the dead, and raised himself up, and yes, that inspired the prophets, priests, poets and apostles that physically wrote down the books of the Bible. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).

When you read the Bible, you are actually interacting with a Person. It is a two-way conversation. The words you read are coming straight from the Lord; they are his thoughts, desires and hopes he longs to share with you. And your response is instantly known by him. If you scoff at him, he will draw back, not in fear, but out of respect for your individuality and free choice to do so. You will not be privy to deeper revelation. If you seek to follow his advice, he will strengthen your spirit and resolve; if you seek more revelation he will quietly speak to you. When you sit with the Word of God open, and read the words on the page, you are literally sitting with God. It is a relationship as much as the one you have with your wife, your kids, and your best friend. You can speak to God just the same. Consider when you spend time with others; does everything you say have to be a request? Don’t you tell your wife things about yourself that no one else knows, simply to share your heart with her? Don’t you ever sit quietly with your kids, or better yet, play with them, and there need not be words, just the sharing of experience? Don’t you ever just joke around with your best friend, just for the fun of it? God longs for you to share yourself with him and for you to let him inside of you. Sometimes reading the Word will result in more wisdom and maybe even inspire a teaching or word for someone else. Sometimes we will get comfort in tragedy; a word of encouragement can literally feel like a hug from God. Sometimes he will give us direction for a certain circumstance or situation. Sometimes, and more often than not, it’s just a simple conversation that can be full of joy and laughter; it is about spending time with each other and getting to know one another. As Creator, He knows all humans beings inside and out, but he does not force us to know him; he gives us free will. The depth of intimacy between you and God Almighty depends on your desire to know him. He calls us to seek for him. He created us to long for truth, and only he can provide that truth, because he is the Truth. The revelation of the great mystery of the ages is simple: God loves you and wants you to love him back. Now the response to that should radically change your life, but the Truth itself is simple to grasp. That is why many men and women who consider themselves wise by the world’s standards never find him, they can’t accept a Truth so plain, and likewise, why many more simple men and women have discovered the profound mystery of life, and sleep in peace at night.

This why Christianity has been called: “a relationship, not a religion.” Instead of just following a group of rules and doctrines that have been passed down over the centuries, a true Christian has a genuine interactive relationship with his God. The Bible is a key part of that relationship. It is through the Bible that we learn the language and character of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27).This takes time, but just as with any other relationship, the more time you spend with a person, the more intimately you know his/her mannerisms, patterns of speech, type of character, etc. Having knowledge of the Bible will guard you from being deceived by other voices disguising themselves as God (or some form of wisdom), including your own.

This begs the question, “What about those people who don’t have access to a Bible?” Obviously, they will lack wisdom and intimate knowledge of their Creator, but they can still have a relationship with God. The Word frequently says that creation declares the glory of God, and the Apostle Paul makes the argument in Romans that the combination of nature’s splendor and the moral law of right and wrong that is written in everyman’s heart (in other words, his conscience), reveals the existence of God, and they should seek to know him through him that revelation. It is a mystery we cannot understand in our current fallen state (at least the understanding has not been revealed to me), but God says “If you seek for me, you will find me” (Deuteronomy 4:29 & Jeremiah 29:13), and Jesus later says “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no man comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). Throughout the ages, men have longed to know truth; what they are really seeking is Jesus. I believe Truth-Seekers who are not yet Christians are closer to God than many in the church who claim to know him. The Bible says, ergo God says, “If you seek for me you will find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” For the seeker who is honest and genuine, God will make the path to the Truth, to Jesus, clear in some way.

Additionally the question must be asked, “What about the thousands of people who claim the mark of Christ but don’t really seek to know him?” Their Bibles and Christian paraphernalia are on display for all to see, but a close inspection reveals a thick layer of dust. Those who just consider the Bible to be a book of rules and guidelines and nothing more can fall on either side of the narrow path. Either the rule of law becomes so strong for them they loose all compassion for others, or they, in their lack of knowledge of God’s character for want of relationship, pick and choose what rules and doctrines aught and aught not to be followed. They refuse to admit sin and repent of it; therefore, they try to manipulate the Word to fit their human perception, rather than let the Word renew their mind and bring them closer to the divine. As the Apostle Paul says, “These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom…but they lack any value…” (Colossians 2:22-23). These men and women who come to church week after week and honor God with their lips but not their hearts are in for a shock at the end of this age. Unless they change course, they are destined to hear from our Lord, “Get away from me, I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23). To put it in human terms, it is like the parent who makes no effort to know his child and suddenly is shocked when she ends up pregnant or in jail; it is the husband and wife who sleep side by side night after night, but never locked together in love, and one is shocked when the other suddenly leaves or is caught cheating. With no communion, there can be no intimacy. With no intimacy, there can be no real relationship. With no relationship, there is no salvation. 

So the simple answer I wish I gave my son is this: “I read the Bible everyday because I want to start my day spending time with my Creator and Savior; I love being taught by my Heavenly Father, and I long for personal intimacy with the Lover of my Soul. It is not a task; it is a joy and an honor. I am pleased to be with him, and it is time well spent.”

Peter L Richardson
8/11/10
*This one’s dedicated to Angie, a fellow lover of God’s Word.

For skeptics and doubters that the Bible has any validity at all, both historical and spiritual, check out the 8/15/10 teaching, “How can the Bible be trusted,” from Pastor Dan Betters of Stone’s Throw Church:

http://ax.itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/stones-throw-church-audio/id379274171

http://www.stonesthrowchurch.com

A Spiritual and Literary Comparison of Biblical and Classical Literature.

“In those days as well as later, when the sons of the gods had intercourse with the daughters of mortals and children were born to them, the Nephilim were on the earth; they were the heroes of old, people of renown.”  Genesis 6:4 (Revised English Bible)

IV.     CHRISTIANITY VERSUS PAGANISM

The poets of Greek mythology seemed more concerned with finding a way to explain the origins of phenomena they did not understand rather than seeking to develop religious dogma, but in their commentary on the mysterious world they lived in, they also made a clear statement about their gods: this is who they are, and this is the best way to deal with them. By the time of Jesus, the worship of the Greek gods was adopted by the Romans, and it dominated their entire empire. Only philosophers and intellectuals regarded the myths simply as fantastic stories with little meaning and only worthy as analogies for teaching lessons and for preserving heritage. The Bible is more than a book of rules, more than stories meant to exult the history of a people group, even more than a guide of how to live a moral life. Even with all the different authors of the books of the Bible spread out over hundreds of years, there is a common theme throughout each book to display Yahweh’s glory and his authority over his creation and his love for all mankind. In The Book of Exodus, the author explicitly tells the account of Yahweh’s power over the Egyptian gods. Later, when the Babylonians break the walls of Jerusalem and take the Jews into exile, the various authors of that generation explicitly attribute the fall of Jerusalem to the judgment of Yahweh for their breaking of the covenant they made with him in the beginning of their history. But just as Yahweh spoke of the coming judgment through his prophets, he also spoke of the day these exiles would return to their homeland and be redeemed through a coming Messiah who would cause all the nations of the world to worship Yahweh, the one true God. I doubt the author of Genesis Chapter Six was specifically thinking of heroes the Greek peoples celebrated while he wrote the account of the Nephilim; however, the subtle similarities of these legends are too close to be ignored, and the contrast of the value systems of these cultures that have had so much influence over the Western world is intriguing. No wonder Western thought and culture is full of so much contradiction and complexity.

The Judeo-Christian tradition taught in the Bible exults itself over Greco-Roman mythology in another way worthy of note. In the prophetic book, Isaiah, in the Old Testament, Yahweh proclaims: “I shall put a sign in them and those survivors I shall send to the nations, to Tarshish, Put, and Lud, to Meshech, Rosh, Tubal, and Javan, distant shores which have never yet heard of me or seen my glory among the nations” (66:19). This is exactly what the Christians in The Book of Acts began. After this new religion sprang up out of Judaism and Jerusalem, it spread throughout the region of Judea, then north though Galilee, and into the city of Antioch which housed the first Gentile church. From there, the Apostle Paul and his companions moved it throughout the provinces of Greece where it spread like wildfire. However, Paul’s original plans were to take the gospel throughout the provinces of Asia. Acts 16:7-9 reads, “they tried to enter Bithynia [heading towards Asia] but, …the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them, …a vision came to Paul; a Macedonian [a man of a province of Greece] stood there appealing to him, ‘Cross over…and help us.’” It seems one of Jesus’ first orders of business as the reestablished Godhead of the earth, after dealing with his chosen people, the Jews, was to convert the Greeks. Christianity eventually spread throughout the entire Roman Empire and was a major factor in putting an end to the worship of Zeus and his relatives. However, Yahweh had already pronounced his judgment on the sons of God in Psalm 82:

1God takes his place in the court of heaven
  to pronounce judgment among the gods:
2‘How much longer will you judge unjustly
  and favor the wicked?
3Uphold the cause of the weak and the fatherless,
  and see right done to the afflicted and destitute.
4Rescue the weak and the needy,
  and save them from the clutches of the wicked.’
5But these gods know nothing and understand nothing,
  they walk in darkness;
  meanwhile the earth’s foundations are all giving way.
6‘This is my sentence: Though you are gods,
  all sons of the Most High,
7yet you shall die as mortals die,
  and fall as any prince does.’

8God, arise and judge the earth,
  for all the nations are yours.

Peter L Richardson
Fall ’97

Avalos, Hector Ignacio. “Satan.” The Oxford Companion to the Bible. Ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. 678-679.

Esses, D.H.L., Michael. Jesus in Genesis. Plainfield: Logos International, 1974.

Graves, Robert and Raphael Patai. Hebrew Myths, The Book of Genesis. Garden City : Doubleday & Co., 1964.

Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. Boston : Little, Brown and Co., 1942.

Keck, Leander E. and Gene M. Tucker. “Literary Forms of the Bible.” The Oxford Study Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. 12-31.

Ovid. The Metamorphoses. Trans. Horace Gregory. New York: Mentor, 1960.

Sacks, Robert D. A Commentary on the Book of Genesis. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990.

“The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible.” New American Standard Bible. Ed. Spiros Zodhiates. Chattanooga: AMG Press, 1990.

“The Oxford Study Bible.” Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha. Ed. M. Jack Suggs, Katherine Doob Sakenfeld and James R. Mueller. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Thompson, Steve. “The Astounding Authority of a Believer.” The Morning Star Journal 7.1, 1997.