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.

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“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

“No work of art is more important than the Christian’s own life.”   -Francis Schaeffer

James Hampton’s "Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly"

James Hampton’s "Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly"

I didn’t even find the work attractive. Upon closer inspection it wasn’t hard to believe that this work was made mostly out of discarded junk, secondhand furniture, and endless amounts of tinfoil. Had it been any of the “junk art” works I’ve seen before, I may have passed it by without a thought. However, knowing the history behind James Hampton’s Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly, one is struck with a sense of awe at this man’s lifework.  

Hampton's "Throne" found in his garage.

"Where there is no vision, the people perish" — Proverbs 29:18 (King James Version) posted on the wall of Hampton's garage.

The legacy that St. James left is truly amazing. Had he lived long enough to retire and go into ministry full time, this man surely could have started a new religious movement. What is most intriguing about St. James is that it is difficult to decide whether he really had some kind of prophetic insight for the end times, or if he was just insane. Traditionally, most of the world’s new “prophets” spend little time developing their so-called-brand-new vision from “God” before they run out to start their new religion. Standing on their new platform in the spotlight, they proclaim their new message and so-called-better-way, but St. James was an extremely humble and patient man as is revealed in his Throne and his life. Being a janitor one becomes accustomed to humility, and being African American in the early part of the 20th century, one’s level of expression is suppressed to say the least. This man collected old secondhand furniture and decorated it with gold and silver tinfoil and purple tissue paper, and he meticulously formed it all into a throne for the King of Kings to rule from upon his second coming. This throne and the objects surrounding it, all with specific meaning, were created with an incredible amount of artistic detail. How many hours did he spend searching secondhand shops? How often did his eyes comb the streets and trash piles looking for the perfect item he needed to complete a piece of the work? How many sleepless nights did he spend pushing and molding his tinfoil into the right shape to match the details given to him from dead Biblical patriarchs? As he put so much of his heart and soul into his work, how in the world did he not talk about it to anyone he knew before his death? It’s easy to pass this guy off as crazy, but if you are a Bible-believing Christian, there are a few things you are forced to deal with.

In truth, St. James shares a lot of the characteristics of the Old Testament prophets; look at all the crazy stuff God called them to do! With that perspective, St. James is not unordinary. But then, look at the object itself; will Christ in all his glory of the second coming really rule from a throne made of junked furniture and tinfoil? Who knows? If you really believe in Him, consider how he went around and shocked most religious people the first time he came down here. Doesn’t he specialize in making beauty from ashes? You could reason that Christ’s greatest work of art is to turn the trash of our used up and broken souls into something beautiful and worthy of his glory. Consider also the Jewish Temple Solomon built in Jerusalem. Even in all its splendor, it was still considered only a crude earthly shadow of God’s dwelling in heaven. The details were revealed to Moses by God, and each object had religious symbolism. Who is to say that Christ hasn’t remodeled and given His new plan to St. James, each object bearing a new distinct religious symbol? We can criticize his visions of the dead. Biblical prophets usually received their revelation through visions of heaven and through communication with the Spirit of God, but it is not unheard of for angels to bring humans messages from God. Is not possible that God would send his greatest human servants, who have passed from this world, to speak with his servants who are still in the flesh? Christ, before his crucifixion and resurrection, was visited by the spirits of Moses and Elijah. Communication with the dead is strictly forbidden in the Bible, but maybe we’re just not supposed to initiate the experience. Another issue we could raise is if God called St. James to receive this great revelation, why did he die before he could reveal it to anyone else? In the Book of Hebrews there exists what is considered the “Faith Hall of Fame.” One of the characteristics that make some of the faithful so great was their obedience to God despite the fact that they never saw their visions come to completion while they were still in the flesh on this earth. Perhaps James Hampton never intended to go public.

The Bible teaches us to test all prophecy and spiritual visions by the scriptures. I confess my arguments of St. James being a legitimate prophet are weak; however, I cannot contradict his work with my knowledge of the scriptures. If only we could read his Book of the Seven Dispensation; however, it is written almost entirely in a code that no one can break! Is this some kind of heavenly language that can only be interpreted through a revelation from God? Or is it really bad code that St. James himself just couldn’t keep straight? One wonders if he could actually go back and read over his own book. The Bible states that the followers of Jesus will be known by their fruit—their character. Of what we know of James Hampton’s outward life, there is nothing to suggest he was anything but a Christian of good character. He believed strongly that the Church of Jesus Christ shouldn’t be split into different factions and denominations, but should exist as one body. I consider myself a creative Christian, and I have had to argue with strict religious people that even though not all of my art and poetry is not a direct expression of scripture, it is all an act of human worship to my God as I pour out my heart and soul onto paper. Only God knows if he called Hampton as his prophet, but there is no doubt he had a strong love for his God that was expressed through his good character and outward humility. I believe that Hampton’s Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly was a very personal, unique and intense way for him to worship his Savior. His ability to use simple raw materials to produce such an interesting and grand work of art is a feat in itself, but the true greatness of his art is the passion and devotion to God that existed in James Hampton’s heart.

Peter L Richardson
Spring 1999

James Hampton’s
“Throne Of The Third Heaven Of The Nations Millennium General Assembly”

 
 

James Hampton’s Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly

James Hampton's "Throne" is on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Throne was constructed by James Hampton (1909 – 1964), a janitor for the General Services Administration, over a 14 year period from 1950 until the time of his death, after which it was discovered in a garage he rented near his apartment in Washington D.C.  Made of scavenged materials, minutely detailed and finished with glittering foil, The Throne is composed of some 180 pieces, occupies an area of some two hundred square feet and stands three yards in height at its center.

 

 

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)

III.     JESUS VERSUS HERCULES

Genesis 6:4 also states, “In those days  as well as later…the Nephilim were on the earth; they were the heroes of old, people of renown.” This states that the children of supernatural and natural parents continued to exist after the flood, and the Israelites continued to do battle with these giants, men of exceedingly great strength, bulk and height, throughout the Old Testament. In the book of Joshua, the first book that follows the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, Yahweh again places judgment over a people corrupted by an excess of wickedness. The land of Canaan, the Promised Land for the Israelites, was reported to be inhabited by giants, and Yahweh commands the army of Israel to totally destroy the people, their possessions, and ultimately their wicked culture. However, these giants continued to exist among the Philistines, a people along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, bordering the southwest of the land of Israel. Many scholars believe that “the Philistines…come from over the western sea” (Sacks 85, 14.5n). Homer’s knowledge of the Mediterranean Sea and its borders was rather extensive for his time, and the worship of the pantheon of gods that he writes about was considerably popular among the peoples along the coasts of the Great Sea. The Philistines were more than likely descendants of Japheth and they traveled across the Mediterranean to settle on the coast of Israel. They would certainly have brought their own legends with them. In the popular story of David and Goliath, Yahweh uses a boy to defeat the Philistine giant and he demonstrates his authority to use his power through the humble and faithful to strike down the proud and “heroic” (I Samuel 17).

Most of the heroes of the ancient Greeks were the offspring of a god or goddess who were exulted for valiant deeds and demonstrating their strength in battle. However, their motivation to fight was usually for fame rather than any desire to help anyone, and their personal honor was always more important than justice. They weren’t necessarily giants, but they were definitely more beautiful, had a greater physical build, superior skills and abilities, and were more courageous than the rest of their mortal counterparts. They knew they were better, and they were not shy about it. They were boastful and self-exultant, but they would not have been able to succeed in many of their “heroic” deeds if their supernatural parents had not intervened in the troubles they caused time after time. Most of them showed about as much good character and dignity as their god-parents did. They were almost the opposite of what the Hebrew Scriptures consider to valuable in a man. Robert Sacks comments on Genesis 6:14: “Rather than simply denying [the heroes] existence, the Biblical author tries to show us what he was really like. His days were not the glorious days the poets sing of but the days of corruption which led to the flood” (52).

While the pantheon of Greek gods sired many children with mortals, according to Christian teaching, Jesus Christ is Yahweh’s “only begotten Son” (John 3:16, New American Standard Bible). It is worthwhile to make a comparison of these godly offspring, but since there are so many children of the gods to choose from it is sufficient to narrow it down to their greatest hero, Hercules. Hamilton, who has compiled the stories of Hercules into a comprehensive but compact summary (224-243), explains, “The greatest hero of Greece was Hercules…Hercules embodied what the rest of Greece [besides Athens] most valued. His qualities were those the Greeks in general honored and admired” (224-225). The New Testament Gospels were written to introduce us to Christ, and the New Testament letters all teach us to follow him in deed and action. Christians are exhorted to live their lives like Jesus. Just as he was morally perfect, Christians are taught to seek to have a moral and loving character strengthened by the power and authority over evil that Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection is believed to bring. In fact, the word “Christian” means “little Christ.” The comparison of Hercules and Jesus begins with conception.

Zeus disguised himself as the husband of Hercules’s mother, had his pleasure with her and left. He probably would have preferred that no one find out he was the father. Hercules really had no specific purpose from his father-god; although his mother thought she was making love to her husband, he was an illegitimate child of a rape victim. Other than the villages and provinces he saved from supernatural monsters, the world wouldn’t have changed much without him. In contrast, there are hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament that are contributed to a Messiah, or Christ, who will one day come and bring reconciliation and salvation for mankind. The New Testament authors make a pretty clear case that Jesus fulfills those prophecies and that the Messiah was meant to be the Son of God. It is clear that Yahweh had Jesus in mind from the beginning, and there is evidence of God as the Trinity in many books of the Old Testament. When Yahweh created natural beings with free will, he knew their potential to rebel, and he was already prepared to one day come in the form of a human to take the sacrifice of death that mankind’s rebellion required. When the time came, Yahweh announced in advance to Mary, the mother of Jesus, what he planned to do (Luke 1), and he revealed to her betrothed (her fiancée) that Mary was, in fact, still a virgin (Matthew 1). This means that there was not any form of intercourse between Yahweh and Mary. Yahweh, being the creator, had mastery over the natural world and was more than able to create a conceived egg inside Mary’s womb to make her pregnant. Yahweh was a gentleman with his plan in every way, and Jesus remained untainted from Mary’s sin-nature.

Because he was the child of a god, Hercules possessed superhuman strength and he was an unconquerable foe to his enemies. According to legend, he had a good heart with good intentions. He often used his power for good as he fought off and defeated evil monsters plaguing many provinces of Greece. However, he had almost no self-control, and he often killed innocent people in his fits of rage, or just by plain accident. He possessed all of the common characteristics of a god-child already mentioned, but he didn’t seem to have any more of a relationship with his father than any other mortal on earth had with Zeus. He stumbled through life from one battle to the next, seeking atonement for his incredible blunders. Jesus had no obvious superhuman strength, but like his Father, he did have power over the natural world, and was able to manipulate nature to perform miracles. Because he was directly descended from Yahweh he was able to remain morally perfect in a mortal body. He demonstrated in his life the love, good character and self-control his Father desires for all man. He waited patiently for the right time for his ministry to start, and it wasn’t until he received baptism at the age of thirty that the Holy Spirit descended upon him and gave him authority to cast out demons, heal sickness, raise the dead, and know men’s thoughts. He was in constant prayer and communication with Yahweh, his Father, and he often declared, “I only do what I see the Father doing.” Chapters 14-16 in the Gospel of John reveal the incredible intimacy between Jesus and his Father, God. He died at the age of 33, but he spent the last three years of his life moving throughout Judea and Galilee displaying his power, releasing it to his followers, and proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was finally among them. He sought after those who would repent and join him to seek after more who would repent and escape the wrath and judgment that Yahweh is bringing upon the wickedness of the world. His goal was to be crucified and become a righteously pure sacrifice for the sins of the world. Jesus, who was without sin, took atonement for a wicked world upon himself. Three days later, he rose from his grave and defeated death, part of the curse placed on man for Adam’s first disobedience to God and submitting himself under Satan’s authority.

Yahweh gave authority of his natural creation to man, Satan stole it from man, and Jesus was Yahweh’s instrument to get it back and gather a people who would learn to serve him and become worthy to regain authority over the earth. The apostle Paul said: “For he has forgiven us all our sins; he has cancelled the bond which was outstanding against us with its legal demands; he has set it aside nailing it to the cross. There he disarmed the cosmic powers and authorities and made a public spectacle of them, leading them as captives in his triumphal procession” (Colossians 2:13-15). Likewise, before his ascension up to heaven, Jesus himself declared: “Full authority in heaven and earth has been committed to me. Go therefore to all nations and make them my disciples, baptize them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all that I have commanded you. I will be with you always, to the end of time” (Matthew 28:18-20). The Book of the Acts of the Apostles begins the story of those who have committed their lives to Christ. They waited patiently for the time of their ministry to begin. When the Holy Spirit descended upon them, they went to the world and displayed the power and authority of Jesus they received to proclaim the Kingdom of God. They seek after those who would repent, join Christ, and escape the wrath and judgment of Yahweh on the wickedness of the world.

In Revelation, the last book of the Bible, the author writes that a day will come when Jesus will return to the earth with an army of angels and all those who have served Yahweh throughout the ages to war against Satan and his army of demons and the kings of the earth who have rejected Yahweh’s authority. Satan’s army will be defeated and they will be cast into hell, a place of chaos and separation from Yahweh and all his goodness (Revelation Chapters 19-20). The restoration of authority over a new earth will be accomplished through God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit and be given back to man who will be free from sin and death, and trained to humbly serve God in power. After Hercules’s death, he was taken up to Mt. Olympus where he was given the honor of being transformed into a god and becoming immortal; he was spared the bleak existence of Hades, where according to Greek myth, all other mortals dwell in the afterlife. We have no legends that sing of his deeds after he became immortal (Hamilton 243).

 Next week, the conclusion: “Part IV, Christianity versus Paganism”

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.