rapture

I have written about the end of the world on many occasions but never as a memoir. This tells the short story of me as a mesmerized youth, seeking eschatological fulfillment at the limit between reality and rhapsody. It is the tale of how much my life became shaped and disillusioned by waiting for Jesus at the end of the world. If you want theological views of 666, a history of dozens of failed apocalyptic prophecies, or evidence that the world is not getting worse, you can read some of my older stuff.

MY STORY

I grew up in a wild and frenzied Pentecostal movement. Life within its confines was terrifying. And yet it was so vividly beautiful. My experience was enthralling and gave me immense fulfillment; I sincerely miss many things about it. And yet crippled my psyche to the point where I suffered insomnia due the fear of hell (I was the only one who actually took the idea seriously). I remember people who had the greatest of intentions, some who might have eagerly given their life for yours, or at least would have shared their last crumb of bread. I also remember people who lived in mentally constructed bunkers, walled off by the phantoms of fringe conspiracy theories or stoic religious beliefs. I remember old men who yelled at me, until I cowered in shame. I remember old women who smiled and gently tussled my hair. And most of all, I remember the prophets whose strained voices reminded us that time was short, we were on the cusp of eternity. Jesus was coming, very soon. And we were ready.

I still wonder, was it merely an ephemeral midsummer dream, or did it really happen? Did we really live through the end of the world?

On the last page in the history of the late planet earth, life was very normal. It would seem that with all the eschatological prophecies, fears, and preparations, life would be inundated with extraordinary things; and indeed it was, but still, so much seemed quite normal. The daily patterns of life flowed in unison with the rest of society. As the nonbelievers (this included the “worldly Christians”) conducted their daily routines, so did we; as the nonbelievers lived, ate, slept, dressed, shopped, crafted, sang, laughed, and cried, so did we. Although they also danced, wore worldly fashions, watched television without hiding, and probably laughed a lot more than we did.

And yet, in the normalcy of our behavior there was a transcendental angst, a furious displeasure with the world. It wasn’t the right world, there was something dissimilar, chaotic, and very foreign about it. The disorienting waves of industrial, scientific, philosophical, and technological progress alienated the older Pentecostals, and from them these ideas of social isolation disseminated down to us. In the end, many of the younger Pentecostals adopted this feeling of “not belonging” within contemporaneous society, and we were happy (in theory) to reject the world and all its delicacies. We were willing to dive into the forthcoming eschatological climax and embrace the teleological fulfillment of our lives. The rapture would equalize everything. The last would finally be the first.

We were normal, and we were odd; we were regular children, and apocalyptic warriors of the Most High. Our world was filled with our generations curiosities and experiences, like Pokémon cards and the advent of the internet, but unlike our nonbeliever counterparts, we knew about the spiritual war behind everything in reality. There were demonic movements by the antichrist to prepare the world for the Mark of The Beast and the battle of Armageddon. There were plans being enacted in the halls of the mighty, the New World Order was ready to start the final countdown. Why even the US dollar had the freemason pyramid with its NWO symbology. These powerful forces were getting ready. Satan was lurking behind every stray bar code.

As history was unfolding before our very eyes, we feverishly copied video cassettes from iterant speakers that captivated us with their dire apocalyptic warnings, telling us of secret concentration camps being built all over the world to round up Christians. We heard of NWO trucks and tanks being moved secretly around the nation, and even a secret system of reflective stickers that were being put on the backs of all street signs to create navigational markers for the NWO troopers to the nearest death camps. In the evenings, we eagerly believed it with the very depth of our being. And then in the morning we would casually eat breakfast and play outside.

The upcoming turn of the millennium unknowingly fertilized a great many apocalyptic fears within our movement. One of the greatest “discoveries” in my time, which was shared with my Sunday school brethren, was the realization that 2,000 Anno Domini must be the year of the rapture. I hurriedly told them that Adam had been created in 2000BC, Jesus came in the year 0, splitting history, and the second coming would be at 2,000 AD. This numerological approach fit perfectly with the dozens of ecstatic prophecies we heard in church, which warned us of the imminent Second Coming. Everything made sense, like a puzzle fitting into pieces. It was a beautiful theory, wrong as it were.

And so we waited on the edge of eternity, but there were many false alarms. Moments in which I was convinced that the rapture had occurred, or was in the process of occurring. Each of these marked an instantaneous burst of adrenaline through my body as panic, fear, and desolation tore its way through my naïve brain. One time, during a passionate Pentecostal prayer meeting, the frantic cacophony of voices , all of whom were shouting in glossolalic speech (“tongues”) at the same time, began to do something unexpected. Members of a local family that were considered highly spiritual (and often had their own private Pentecostal prayer meetings) began to shout louder than the rest of the congregation, and their cacophony became a symphony, disorderly shouts became an ordered chant. My pulse stopped and my face paled. This new glossolalic chant stole my breath, I was sure this was a sign of the rapture, and those who chant in this new “speech” were being selected by God for the rapture. I began to weep and repent, asking God to forgive me for my teenage hormones and secret video game habit, I began to try to imitate this new glossolalic chant.  I opened my eyes, slowly regaining my confidence, and quickly glanced at my father, only to find him praying in his own form of tongues, he did not join in the new harmony. I sighed in relief, for I knew my father was a deeply devout spiritual man, and there was no way Jesus would neglect to rapture him. And thus he became my “rapture barometer.” I knew that if he was still remaining, then the rapture could not have happened. And then as abruptly as it began, the prayer dwindled down, and nothing happened. There no rapture.

Alas, my father was not always present (as every sad story goes) and often took long church related trips, before the age of cell phones. Perhaps it was during one of these trips (the exact circumstances have long dissipated from my memory) that the sun began to turn dark. I overheard a frantic telephone call from one of my mother’s friends, and we were rushed outside to see a dark circle forming in the sky above.. I frantically looked for my father, surely God would not leave him when the rapture came? But he was not there! I was petrified! Perhaps the rapture had taken place, and we were all left behind? I wasn’t sure whether my mother was holy enough to be raptured (though she would have probably spanked me if I had told her that back then, so I kept quiet). The sky was turning red and a dark shadow began to loom over the face of the sun. The sun will be darkened and the moon turned to blood. The caller had told my mother the end was coming, Jesus was returning on the clouds, and so we waited, in fear and trembling, outside our home. Later I realized this was the total solar eclipse they mentioned in school (though I had never seen one before).

Memories like these were once many, but alas, are now vanishing into the deep abyss of time that has engulfed many eras and epochs. One thing I do remember is that I sincerely did not believe I would have time to grow up, get married, and live a normal life. Some of the friends who grew up with me, would deny this, but that would only be retroactive rationalization. We all expected the rapture to be imminent, we were all inundated with dozens of Pentecostal prophecies where trembling older women, purportedly channeling the Holy Spirit said “be ready, I am coming very soon” in a dire ecstatic voice. We heard the sermons that taught rapture readiness, some of us even read the Left Behind books and watched the 70’s rapture films showcasing the silver guillotines killing backsliding Christians who didn’t get raptured. We devoured apocalyptic predictions and distributed illegal VHS copies of lousy talk shows that told us bar codes and computer chips were the coming mark of the beast. We were ready to be raptured, but not all of us were ready to live.

And then over time, some of us realized the world was not ending,. We had to explain why Jesus did not come, after all. Some of us died, never knowing, like many in the early church who waited and yearned for an imminent second coming that did not happen. Or perhaps like the Montanists who had Pentecostal-like prophecies of the impending apocalypse, but died unfulfilled. Some of us may have been even more disappointed, like the Millerites who were so convinced of the rapture on October 22, 1844, that thousands spent the day on their knees only to experience the great disillusionment of their faith, aptly known as the “Great Disappointment” (though many simply created a new theology to explain away the fact that Jesus did not show up as prophesied.) Regardless of which incarnation of apocalyptic prophets we imitated more, some of us joined the long lineage of hundreds of sincere Christian groups who believed Jesus was returning in their era and were disappointed.

And yet others began to evolve “sophisticated” theological views to account for this missing rapture. Some became academically attracted towards complicated doctrines like partial preterism, saying most of the apocalypse texts refer to events in the past. Others formed simpler answers, like “God can come today or in a thousand years, we shouldn’t speculate.” Certainly such careful thinking was not the popular theory during those frenzied prayer meetings as we listened to prophetic utterances declaring the end is “very soon” or as we read prophecies hand-copied and disseminated to local churches.

Eventually many began to think and say “oh, we didn’t really believe THAT, you’re confused, it was just the general idea, that we should be “ready,” just in case.”  For we as a people have traded in our memories of that frenzied time where eternity hung on the cusp of a divine intervention for something more reasonable. We began to backfill memories with a more normalized version of how things were. Like a modern camera stabilization system, which takes a shaky video recording and creates a smoother image by removing the shake, we too “stabilized” our recollection. We traded in old and embarrassing ideas for updated and revised editions. And it was somewhere during this this transitory period of ideas, as the Slavic Pentecostal movement matured, that I became disillusioned with Pentecostalism and could no longer say “we.”

I have many more efflorescent feelings about that time when we danced with eternity, my memory yet scintillates with beautiful nostalgic imagery from that faint twinkle in time. And even if everyone forgets the rapture which never happened, I will always cherish the deep anticipatory longing we once had. I will always remember those fleeting moments when we lived at the end of the world, on the edge of infinity.

the abuse of the word biblical

I am convinced there must be a chart somewhere that contains all the Bible verses that are approved to quote on Facebook and Twitter. Every time I see people quote the text its always Jeremiah 29:11 and never Jeremiah 13:14. There is a huge diversity of texts and categories of texts and voices in the Bible, yet there is a very small proportion of those that are memorized, quoted, and beloved.

And yet, we often like to call things “biblical” and think about questions like “is that the biblical way?”

Turns out “biblical” is one of the most abused words in the English language, and what we imply comes from “the Bible” actually comes from a tiny minority of our favorite verses extracted out of the Bible, not by any means all of it. This post is an ode to those oft ignored categories of passages that don’t fit our concept of “biblical.” It is also reminder that our Bible is not composed of only the 10% that we like to quote and simply extract theology from, rather it’s a complicated book that requires much careful thinking and nuance.

As you read these, ask yourself an honest question, are any of these things “biblical?”

1. Exclusion of handicapped people

As though having your penis cut off is not already the worst form of torture, in addition such a person was not allowed to go to “church.” (And if it’s impolite to talk about such things, tell the author of Deuteronomy, not me.)

  • “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.” (Deut 23:1)
  • No one of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the food of his God. For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long.” (Lev 21:17-18)
  • “For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or one who has a broken foot or a broken hand, or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a blemish in his eyes or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles.” (Lev 21 18-20)
  • No descendant of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the Lord’s offerings by fire; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the food of his God… he shall not come near the curtain or approach the altar, because he has a blemish, that he may not profane my sanctuaries; for I am the Lord; I sanctify them.” (Lev 21-23)

2. A ton of death penalties

Surprisingly, many Christians assume that the Bible is against the death penalty. Others talk about applying “biblical” discipline and punishment to their children and to societal criminals, without really thinking about what that means.

  • “If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother [they] shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders… then all the men of the town shall stone him to death.” (Deut 21:18-21)
  • You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you; everyone who profanes it shall be put to death.” (Exodus 31:14)
  • “They found a man gathering wood on the Sabbath day…so all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.” (Number 15:32-36)
  • “When the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up. And any outsider who comes near shall be put to death.” (Numbers 1:51)
  • “As for anyone who presumes to disobey the priest appointed to minister there to the Lord your God, or the judge, that person shall die.” (Deuteronomy 17:12)
  • “If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife.“ Deuteronomy 22:23-24

3. Tons of rules about sex and detailed regulations about the genitals

Most “Bible believing Christians” squirm at language that speaks of sexuality/genitals, yet in the greatest form of irony known to man, the Bible is actually filled with a vast amount of explicit language that has to do with sex and genitals. While your local pastor would blush at saying “semen” in a sermon, God has no problem with it.

  • Onan knew that the offspring would not be his, he spilled his semen on the ground whenever he went in to his brother’s wife, so that he would not give offspring to his brother.” (Genesis 38:9)
  • If a man lies with a woman and has an emission of semen, both of them shall bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening.” (Leviticus 15:18)
  • If a man has an emission of semen, he shall bathe his whole body in water, and be unclean until the evening.” (Leviticus 15:16) (I’m curious, what’s a man doing having an emission of semen all by himself?)
  • “When a woman has a discharge of blood that is her regular discharge from her body, she shall be in her impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean.” (Leviticus 15:19)
  • Yet she increased her whorings, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the whore in the land of Egypt  and lusted after her paramours there, whose members [genitalia] were like those of donkeys, and whose emission [ejaculation] was like that of stallions.” (Ezekiel 23:19-20)

4. Very vulgar, vindictive, and vicious curses 

Do you think God is loving, kind, merciful, always forgiving? Perhaps you need to read the Old Testament a little bit more. The picture of God described by the ancient Hebrews is very different than you hear in the average Christian church, though understandably the New Testament depiction of Jesus is far more attractive.

  • “I in turn will punish you myself sevenfold for your sins. You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters.” (Lev 26:28-29)
  • “I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh because their enemies will press the siege so hard against them to destroy them.: (Jeremiah 19:9) 
  • I will smash them one against the other, parents and children alike, declares the LORD. I will allow no pity or mercy or compassion to keep me from destroying them.” (Jeremiah 13:14)
  • You shall betroth a wife, but another man will violate her” (Deuteronomy 28:30)
  • This is what the LORD says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight.” (2 Samuel 12:11)
  • The Lord will afflict you with the boils of Egypt, with ulcers, scurvy, and itch, of which you cannot be healed… blindness, and confusion of mind; you shall grope about at noon as blind people grope in darkness.” (Deuteronomy 28:27-29)
  • The Lord will bring a great plague on your people, your children, your wives, and all your possessions, and you yourself will have a severe sickness with a disease of your bowels, until your bowels come out, day after day, because of the disease.” (II Chronicles 21:14-15) 

5. Frequent mention of defecation (pooping)

Whether you prefer to use the medical term “feces,” the giggly children’s term “poop,” or the common vulgar “sh*t” the fact is most Christians feel the this is a topic far too obscene. Yet, the biblical authors had a great deal of liberty to use the word dung in dozens of places, context, and speeches, some of the purported to be God’s direct words. If God can talk about spreading poop over your face, is it still a vulgar phrase?

  • I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung [poop] upon your faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts; and one shall take you away with it.” (Malachi 2:2-3)
  • “Thus says the Lord: ‘Human corpses shall fall like dung upon the open field’” (Jeremiah 9:22)
  • “They will perish forever like their own dung” (Job 20:7)
  • ‘The people sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and to drink their own urine?” (Isaiah 36:12)
  • You shall eat it as a barley-cake, baking it in their sight on human dung.  The Lord said, “Thus shall the people of Israel eat their bread, unclean, among the nations to which I will drive them… Then he said to me, “See, I will let you have cow’s dung instead of human dung, on which you may prepare your bread.” (Ezekiel 4:12-15) 

6. Very brutal forms of violence against outsiders

Most modern Christians are very nice and believe in “turning the other cheek” yet, there are many biblical texts that are more in line with “tear off their cheek/”

  • Then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys.” (Joshua 6:21)
  • “When the letter reached them, they took the king’s sons and killed them, seventy persons; they put their heads in baskets and sent them to him at Jezreel.” (2 Kings 10:7)
  • “David rose and went, along with his men, and killed one hundred of the Philistines; and David brought their foreskins, which were given in full number to the king” (1 Samuel 18:27)
  • “Samaria will be held guilty, for she has rebelled against her God. They will fall by the sword, their little ones will be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women will be ripped open.” (Hosea 13:60)
  • “Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” (1 Sam 15:2-3)
  • “The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; He will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.” Psalm 58:10

7. Really weird/gross rituals and ceremonies

There is a lot in the Bible that doesn’t make sense, the rituals and ceremonies are among the top of all of these things. Speaking so graphically about ripping out the intestines from an animal to burn them with poop is not appealing to anyone. Perhaps this is why it’s so easy to summarize these massive sections of text with “it’s just means Jesus was going to be the sacrifice” instead of actually reading, memorizing, or sharing these types of verses.

  • “But the skin of the bull and all its flesh, as well as its head, its legs, its entrails, and its dung— all the rest of the bull—he shall carry out to a clean place outside the camp, to the ash heap, and shall burn it on a wood fire; at the ash heap it shall be burned.” (Leviticus 4:11-12)
  • The priest Eleazar shall take some of its blood with his finger and sprinkle it seven times towards the front of the tent of meeting. Then the heifer (female cow) shall be burned in his sight; its skin, its flesh, and its blood, with its dung, shall be burned. The priest shall take cedarwood, hyssop, and crimson material, and throw them into the fire in which the heifer is burning. (Numbers 19:4-6)
  • “the firstborn of a cow, or the firstborn of a sheep, or the firstborn of a goat, you shall not redeem; they are holy. You shall dash their blood on the altar, and shall turn their fat into smoke as an offering by fire for a pleasing odor to the Lord” (Numbers 18:17)
  • “the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins, and the appendage of the liver, which you shall remove with the kidneys. 16 Then the priest shall turn these into smoke on the altar as a food offering by fire for a pleasing odor.” (Leviticus 3:15-16)
  • “Then the priest shall put these curses in writing, and wash them off into the water of bitterness. He shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter her and cause bitter pain… if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall discharge, her uterus drop, and the woman shall become an execration among her people. But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be immune and be able to conceive children.” (Numbers 5:23-28)

 8. The unbiblical definition of marriage

Often you will find people arguing for a “biblical definition of marriage” when it comes to modern cultural trends, unfortunately most of these people don’t know the Old Testament definition of marriage.

  • “When you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God hands them over to you and you take them captive, suppose you see among the captives a beautiful woman whom you desire and want to marry, and so you bring her home to your house: she shall shave her head, pare her nails, discard her captive’s garb, and shall remain in your house a full month, mourning for her father and mother; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife.” (Deuteronomy 21:11-13)
  • “When brothers reside together, and one of them dies… the brother shall go in to her, taking her in marriage, and performing the duty of a husband’s brother to her… But if the man has no desire to marry his brother’s widow… then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, pull his sandal off his foot, spit in his face, and declare, “This is what is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.” (Deuteronomy 25:5-10)
  • If his [slave]master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and he shall go out alone.” (Exodus 21:4)
  • “I [God] gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives [plural] into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more.” (2 Samuel 12:8)
  • “If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.”
  • “And Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai… He went in to Hagar.” (Gen 16:2-4)

9. Holy nudism that feels awkward

There are some weird examples of nakedness in the Bible, not many, but enough to make us go “huh??”

  • “The spirit of God came upon him. As he was going, he fell into a prophetic frenzy, until he came to Naioth in Ramah.He too stripped off his clothes, and he too fell into a frenzy before Samuel. He lay naked all that day and all that night.” (1 Samuel 19:23-24)
  •  “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your loins and take your sandals off your feet,” and he had done so, walking naked and barefoot. Then the Lord said, “Just as my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years ” (Isaiah 20:2-4)
  • “For this I will lament and wail;I will go barefoot and naked; I will make lamentation like the jackals,and mourning like the ostriches.” (Micah 1:8)
  • “And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:25)
  • When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!” 2 Samuel 6:20

10. Strange commands that make us cringe

Besides the many “good laws” that we usually don’t obey, because they require far too much sacrifice, there are also a lot of very strange laws and rules that make absolutely no sense. Fortunately, we can say “most are Old Testament” and ignore the fact that most examples are not specifically rescinded in the New Testament.

  • Do not mate two different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two different kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven from two different kinds of thread.” (Leviticus 19:19)
  • “These you shall regard as detestable among the birds. They shall not be eaten; they are an abomination: the eagle, the vulture, the osprey… There are, however, some flying insects that walk on all fours that you may eat: those that have jointed legs for hopping on the ground. Off these you may eat any kind of locust, katydid, cricket or grasshopper.” (Leviticus 11:13,21-22)
  • “If men get into a fight with one another, and the wife of one intervenes to rescue her husband from the grip of his opponent by reaching out and seizing his genitals, you shall cut off her hand; show no pity.” (Deuteronomy 25:11-12)
  • If someone dies very suddenly nearby, defiling the consecrated head, then they shall shave the head on the day of their cleansing; on the seventh day they shall shave it. On the eighth day they shall bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons to the priest.” (Numbers 6:9-10)
  • “When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. 21 But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.” (Exodus 21:20-21)

 

In the end, it’s not enough for something to be “biblical” it must be “Christlike.”

WHITE OR BLACK

I have had a hundred unpleasant conversations in the last few months. (I suppose it’s my fault because I dive into controversial topics). One thing that stuck out was the absurd amount of polarization that is prevalent in discussions of faith and reason. Polarization is the tendency of people to fall into one of two very opposite ends on the spectrum on some topic. (In physics when a substance contains two opposite poles, think + and – on a battery, it is considered polarized). It seems most people cannot comprehend a middleground, but instead must take a radical extreme position that is in alignment with or opposite to other people.

Let me give you some examples (these are all summaries and direct quotes of conversations that I have had, as they say “in real life.”)

  • Polarizer: “God hates divorce, I can’t believe people would even talk about divorce”
  • Nonpolarizer: “You know St. Paul mentioned one type of divorce in 1 Corinthians 7:15”
  • Polarizer: “The Christian divorce rate is very high, how can all that divorce be okay with you!?”

 

  • Polarizer: “Halloween is the devils own birthday, don’t eat the candy or you will be cursed”
  • Nonpolarizer: “Actually the tradition of Halloween comes from a Catholic holiday, All Hallows (Saint’s) Eve”
  • Polarizer: “Why are you supporting such a horrible satanic holiday? Here is a picture of satan, why do you support him? ”

 

  • Polarizer: “I can’t believe some so called Christians believe people came from monkeys, that’s why they act like monkeys.”
  • Nonpolarizer: “Primates, not monkeys. There is nothing more embarrassing about coming from that than coming from dirt. There are plenty of ways Christian scholars think about this, let me explain.”
  • Polarizer: “Why do you reject the Bible and you support Hitler’s evolutionary agenda to kill the Jews?”

 

  • Polarizer: “All women need to wear skirts and headcoverings!”
  • Nonpolarizer: “Perhaps a careful contextual reading of the text doesn’t actually mandate that”
  • Polarizer: “Let’s just throw out the whole bible, and promote the homosexual agenda to change men and women into one sex!”

 

  • Polarizer: “Evolution is stupid and completely against the Bible”
  • Nonpolarizer: “It is possible that Genesis is not a historical account but something different, many Christians believe this”
  • Polarizer: “ Why don’t you think God did it in 6 days? It’s because you are a sinner and don’t have faith that God is powerful!”

 

  • Polarizer: “The Bible is the Word of God, and it says you need to do this now!”
  • Nonpolarizer: “That is actually only one hermeneutic approach, here are two others that are often cited”
  • Polarizer: “I don’t need your scholars and professors, Jesus was against the Pharisees too. Scholars are sinful men who hate God”

 

  • Polarizer: “Women and men must cut hair exactly as specified in the Bible”
  • Nonpolarizer: “Sometimes the Bible has a very specific context, Paul argues against men having long hair, yet this long hair is part of the sacred Nazarene vow”
  • Polarizer: “Have you accepted the Lord Jesus into your life?”

 

  • Polarizer: “Wow, I cannot believe there are people don’t think Noahs ark really happened”
  • Nonpolarizer: “There are many significant reasons, based on the text and logic, and promoted by many biblical scholars”
  • Polarizer: “You just don’t know anything about the Bible. Don’t be be deceived by the father of lies who is smarter and craftier than you are.”

 

  • Polarizer: “Just believe in miracles, you don’t need logic, Christianity is illogical and against numbers and facts”
  • Nonpolarizer: “Perhaps we do need logic, there are logically consistent miracles, and illogical miracles that simply can’t happen.”
  • Polarizer: “You sound like Lucifer. Who are you to limit God? careful or God will punish you for saying that.”

 

  • Polarizer: “Homosexuality is a huge abomination, it is the most wicked sin.”
  • Nonpolarizer: “It is a huge issue that requires careful and gentle approach, there are some things that don’t make sense, for example all of chapter 11 of Leviticus also lists eating certain foods as an abomination, but we don’t hold up signs with this verse in front of the grocery store.”
  • Polarizer: “Why do you fight for homosexuals? You might as well support bestiality and pedophilia, unless you already do”

 

Why is everyone so polarized?

So why do people do this? Why do we get so polarized? I’ve identified four common themes that I have personally witnessed, perhaps there are more you can think of, feel free to comment and share.

1. You are extrapolating what their action/belief means in your personal ideological system, it may not mean the same in theirs

Imagine that I am a great fan of bacon; I eat it all the time and with everything possible, I love bacon! (this is actually true, but my wife is ensuring that I eat healthy, so for now bacon and I have a long distance relationship.) As I am having lunch, a Jewish friend sits next to me, sees my bacon, and in his head begins to extrapolate what I am doing. In his religion, bacon is a sin (which is great, because that leaves more for me, praise the Torah!) In his religion people eat bacon to reject God. His gears turn, eating bacon means hating God, Yuriy is eating bacon, ah! This means Yuriy is hating God. Yet in my head, all I am thinking is “bacon is really good, hope my wife can’t see this.”

2. You are mistakenly creating false dichotomies (either/or), without realizing many things can coexist

In many cases we are prone to think that there are many positions that cannot coexist together. The theory of evolution and Christianity is one such example. There are millions of people that somehow think evolution = atheism. Most of these people are not aware of the fact that the biggest name in evolutionary biology, a Ukrainian scientists (my racist pride made me write that) Theodosius Dobzhansky, was also a Christian. In fact, the irony is that many Christians say textbooks that teach evolution are all atheistic, yet most of these textbooks make effort to highlight the famous words of a Christian biologist: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” (Dobzhansky)

3. You are mistakenly seeing only two polar opposites, while there can be abroad range of views in the middle

This is the “black or white” fallacy, and that is, that many people cannot see the world without seeing it in polar opposites. Consider the issue of homosexual marriage and American politics, most people involved in this debate see the issue as a sequel to Hitler vs the free world. (And of course, both sides are dang certain Hitler is with the other guys). Very few people seem to be able to detach themselves from this discussion and identify other potential options. Some of these could be “I simply don’t care, both sides are entitled to believe what they want.” Or “I personally don’t want to be involved in homosexual activity, but the government should not force this issue on people either way.” Or “The state should leave this issue alone and let different religions/churches/denominations decide who they want to marry.” Or “because biblical scholarship casts doubt on the sin of homosexual marriage, I’m a conscientious abstainer from giving my opinion.” There could be many views, the world is a rainbow of colors, not just black and white. (How could I go without a rainbow pun in a “gay” post?)

4. You are unable to empathize with other people, only sift through them, and assign labels.

A great difficulty for many people is the ability to emphasize, especially with those who have strongly differing opinions and beliefs. This requires a few things that are very hard to come by, including a heart, a conscience, decency, and courtesy. What’s so much easier than listening to someone with the intention of kindly understanding them, is pretending you are a one man electronic label printer. All you have to do, is just create fancy labels to stick onto everyone you don’t like. “Calvinist here, atheist there, fundamentalist here, liberal there” and so forth. By creating these labels and using them towards others, we are dehumanizing and depersonalizing them. It becomes far easier to reject their ideas and often them as people, because hide the very real and raw humanity that is behind each label, ideology, and belief. It’s far harder to polarize yourself against a kind-hearted person that genuinely disagrees with you, it’s far easier to become polarized against a scary sounding “ist.” (Insert your favorite: Buddhist, Marxist, Calvinist, Open Theist, Communist, Atheist, Seventh Day Adventist, etc)

biblical psychokinesis
When I was young I tried my best at psychokinesis (greek combination of two words: ‘mind’ & ‘movement’). I would sit on my bed, have as much faith as I can muster, and believe the door into moving. I would close my eyes and repeat “I believe the door can move, I believe the door can move” hundreds of times, and peek to find it closed. I would turn to the door and say “In Jesus name, move!” and wholeheartedly expect it to do so. I would even create immense emotional excitement within myself by repeating, “it’s moved, its already done, I know it!”I can honestly testify that in each of those moments, for a time, I genuinely believed that the door had moved, or had convinced myself of that before opening my eyes. In fact, some of the times I even told myself, “there is no reason to test it by looking at it for proof, it’s already done” and I would open my eyes on another part of the room, to prove I wasn’t doubting my faith. For five to ten minutes I would go about genuinely convinced that the door had moved a bit, without even looking at it. Yet in the end, the door didn’t move.It was with deep regret that I realized I would be a failure at Benny Hinn’s School of the Supernatural (as well as Hogwarts). Most people reading this would think that I was being utterly childish and ignorant, and I would certainly agree. Yet the reasons I believed it was because I approached the Bible with my “childlike faith” and simply listened to certain faith-healing preachers. I approached the Bible without using ‘modern scholarship’ and the ‘proper exegetical and hermeneutical’ approach. Instead I simply read it as plainly as I could, believing each word just as it appeared, and to most others around me. To reiterate, I read the Bible as plainly and simply and honestly as I knew how, and that led to me to psychokinesis.

Pesky Passages about Psychokinesis

Below are a couple of these “pesky” things that Jesus is recorded saying that made me believe in psychokinesis. Now before we begin, lets review the most common way to interpret the Bible amongst fundamentalists and evangelicals. (And that is the very point of this post, to review that particular method of Biblical interpretation). Here is a “rule of thumb” given by the well-known Bible teacher, who has written popular books on hermeneutics (interpreting the Bible), Dr. Norman Giesler:

“You’ve got all kinds of interpreta­tions of the Bible. Why? They’re not taking the literal meaning of the Bible. They’re taking allegorical meanings, or mystical meanings, or parabolic meanings and all kinds of crazy meanings. They’re looking “behind” the words instead of “in” the words. They’re looking beneath the words instead of in the words. They’re looking around the words instead of at the words. Look at the words! Get a text in context. Find out what it says and take the literal meaning, because if the literal sense makes good sense, seek no other sense lest it result in nonsense. (1)

What a quotable quote! No wonder Giesler is so popular. So that is what I did with the to-be-mentioned saying of Jesus. I sincerely looked “at the words” instead of looking “behind, beneath, or around” the words. I took the “literal meaning” instead of trying to seek the “allegorical, mystical, or parabolic” meaning. And quite frankly, the literal meaning made the most good sense, and trying to explain away the “literal meaning” was more confusing “nonsence” than simply accepting the plain, clear, and simple reading. Now, onto the passages:

“Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.” (Mark 11:23)

“And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” (Mat 17:20)

“And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen.” (Mat 21:21)

“And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:6)

If we follow the plain, clear, and simple literal reading, that is advocated by many of my Christian brethren, including Dr. Normal Giesler, what kinds of things can we “learn” from the above passages?

1. Real physical objects are discussed in this text

Mountain, sea, mulberry tree are all real physical things, there is no indication in the text itself that these are references to spiritual, allegorical, mystical, or parabolic things/ideas. We would have to take each word and arbitrarily reinterpret the meaning of each word in order to imply these physical objects mean anything other than physical objects. Or else have access to accurate historic knowledge about what objects were interpreted as referring to ideas in that particular culture and time.

2. These objects can be physically moved by the power of our personal faith

There is no indication in these passages (or the whole chapters) that something else like God’s will can prevent the moving of a mountain. It is very clearly and plainly stated that with faith “nothing will be impossible for you” which explicitly makes the focus on the person who has the faith, not on other peoples feelings, or even God’s desires. It may seem obvious, to those who have a long history of interpreting these texts, that this should only apply to things that are Gods will, however, it is not in the itself, this is a logical addition make by Christian thinkers. Taking these passages literally, at face value, without adding words, shows only one determining factor, our personal faith/doubt.

3. One must speak directly at the physical object and “it will happen.”

There is no mention of praying towards God and asking him to move it, but rather the clear, plain, simple reading of the text dictates we ought to say it TO the object (“you will say to this mountain”). There is no indication that this involves the invocation of God’s name, no petition to God, no direct mention of God at all. We would have to replace the written text that is clearly a command to an object with a prayer towards God, in order to claim this refers to prayer. It simply does not say “pray” but “say.”

4. The faith is not a faith in God, but faith that a certain event will happen.

This is specifically taught against in the plain, clear, simple, and literal meaning of the text. It is said “whoever … believes that what he says is going to happen.. it will be granted.” This very specifically states that the specific thing a person has to believe in is not necessarily God, but rather in “what he says is going to happen in order to make it happen. We would have to replace the Biblical text “what he says is going to happen” with the word “God” in order to make any other literal reading possible.

5. Objects will obey us, the text makes no mention of God

If we have the required amount of faith in the things that we declare. One of the sayings very clearly, plainly, and unavoidably tells us about the mulberry tree’s response to our faith, saying, “and it would obey you.” This specifically does not say “and it would obey God” instead the text, as it is written, says “it would obey you.” In order to make the clear meaning different, we would have to take the word “you” and replace it with “God,” or else add a phrase saying it would obey you “at God’s command.” This is not added in the Biblical text.

Yikes! It’s no wonder that the word of faith movement grew so powerfully in the 70’s and was one of the leading Christian movements in the last few decades.

The Interpretations Often Given

Below is a sampling of the views given by different Christians when reading this passage. Interestingly, they are all over the place.

Andrew Womack:Jesus said we should speak to the mountain, or the problem. Most people speak to God about their problem, but few follow Jesus’ instructions and speak directly to the “mountain.” God has put certain things under our authority, and we must exercise it. When a problem stands in our way, we must speak to the problem and command it to get out of our way in the name of Jesus.” (2)

Mark Driscoll: “However, Jesus’ specific claim that faith could move mountains was without parallel. The restructuring of the natural world was meant to reveal the presence of God’s future kingdom, a thought that was emphasized by the Old Testament as well as other Jewish texts. Therefore, Jesus’ statement in verse 23 was meant to indicate that the day of salvation had already dawned. Jesus’ statements cannot be taken to mean that God will grant every prayer for every person at every time. Prayer, therefore, has less to do with obtaining things and more to do with an ongoing life with God.” (3)

Haydocks Catholic Commentary:  “Ecclesiastical history informs us, that St. Gregory of Neo-Cæsarea, surnamed Thaumaturgus, whose feast is kept Nov. 17., [literally] performed this miracle, removing by his prayers a mountain that obstructed the building of a church.” (4)

Linda Josef & Sid Roth: “When most of us read this passage, we gloss over the literal meaning about moving mountains because we cannot imagine how beliefs and words can move big, solid things like mountains…. Through our eyes we may see a mountain made of rock or a tumor made of cancer cells. But through our understanding, we can see a vibrating heap of electrons and weird, subatomic particles that will respond to the energy we produce by what we believe and what we say.  The visible world was created by the Word of God. The most powerful way to change the visible is by speaking the Word of God. All sounds have energy that can affect matter, but to change reality, we need the supernatural, creative Words of God.” (5)

Pulpit CommentaryThe Lord signifies that a very slight real faith, which he compares to the mustard seed, that smallest of grains, would be of power sufficient to accomplish what seemed to them impossible. In other words, he says, “If you have any real faith at all, you will be able to win the victory over yourselves necessary for a perpetual loving judgment of others.” (6)

Gills Commentaryfor such a tree to be plucked up by the root at a word speaking, is very wonderful and miraculous, and beyond the power of nature; and much more for it to remove into the sea, and plant itself there, where trees grow not; and to believe this should be done, and such a word of command obeyed, one should think required very great faith; and yet, if it was but as a grain of mustard seed, which is very small, it might be done. The design is to show, what great things are done by faith, and what an increase of it they should have.” (6)

Rick Renner: “Jesus specifically said that you must literally speak to the sycamine tree. The word “say” used in Luke 17:6 is the Greek word lego, which means to speak, but the tense that is used depicts a strong, stern, serious, deeply felt kind of speaking. In other words, this isn’t a person who mutters thoughtless nonsense; this is a person who has made an inward resolution and now speaks authoritatively and with great conviction. Your voice represents your authority; therefore, when you raise your voice, you release your authority. That is why you must speak to these attitudes and not just think about them” (7)

Chuck Smith “Let me suggest to you that a mustard seed is quite small. And when it is planted in the ground and covered with dirt and there germinates. As that mustard plant begins to grow from the little seed, it begins to move, in a sense, especially to its size the mountains of dirt above it that it might break forth and grow up into a mustard bush. So faith as a grain of mustard seed. There is that life principle there that can move mountains.” (8)

David GuzikYou may have unforgiveness and bitterness that is deeply rooted within you; it may be like one of those trees that sends down deep, strong roots. But through faith, Jesus can rip those roots clean out; it can be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea. The faith that we must have is a faith that has more to do with what kind of faith it is than with how much faith there is. A small amount of faith-as much as a mustard seed (a very small seed)-can accomplish great things, if that small amount of faith is placed in a great and mighty God.” (9)

Gloria CopelandEvery word you say is important. To have faith for healing operating in your life, you must have confidence not only in God’s Word, but in your words. Mark 11:23 says,“For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.” Faith comes by hearing and goes by saying. Faith is released by your words. When you take the Word into your heart and it comes out through your voice, it becomes God’s Word applied to the problem. If you will keep your words in agreement with God’s Word, they will change your natural circumstances.” (10)

Vincent CheungThis biblical understanding of faith returns the fulfillment of Mark 11:23 to the sovereign hand of God. In the process, it destroys the false teaching in question without compromising the principle taught by Jesus “ that if we have faith, we will have whatever we say. The difference is that whether we have faith, or whether we have this kind of faith, is entirely up to God. He might deliver it to us by means of his word, but hearing his word does not guarantee this kind or level of faith… so whether we will have this kind of faith is up to God, and at any time, it is possible that he will grant this kind of faith.” (11)

Tom Rietveld: “Think about this. -Even in Jesus’ time, about 6 or 8 burly men could dig out a mulberry tree, carry it to the sea, wade out in the water, and stick it in a hole. Not much faith there-just a lot of grunt work. -I’m convinced that the key to understanding this word picture is in the process of uprooting. I believe the statement about uprooting the mulberry tree, or removing it’s roots has to do with what’s in our heart, or our core. It signifies hidden things we have to deal with before God will increase our faith. Folks this is what Jesus is saying to our church, “Before you can rest in the assurance that God is in control of all circumstances, you need to do some uprooting.” (12)

Derek Prince:Miraculous faith that is a gift of the Holy Spirit: This kind of faith resembles “a word of wisdom” or “a word of knowledge.” A “mustard seed” of this kind of faith is all that is needed. A word spoken with this kind of faith is as effective as if God Himself spoke it.” (13)

Matthew Henry “It may be applied to that miracle of faith, which all true Christians are endued with, which doeth wonders in things spiritual. It justifies us (Romans 5:1), and so removes the mountains of guilt, and casts them into the depths of the sea, never to rise up in judgment against us, Micah 7:19. It purifies the heart (Acts 15:9), and so removes mountains of corruption, and makes them plains before the grace of God.” (13)

So what?

What have we learned? What is the point? That we should try to believe in something to happen and “it will obey you”? That is certainly not my point. My aim is to invite us to think and reason about how we interpret the Bible compared to how we say we should interpret it, and to realize the two often diverge. I want us to understand that none of the interpretations given in this case are the “plain, clear, obvious, or simple” way to interpret it, instead most are complicated and thoughtful interpretations that required crafty thinking, deductive reasoning, and logical leaps. The only ones among those interpretation that seem to fit the “literal, simple and plain” interpretations are those coming from Rick Renner and Haydock’s Catholic Commentary. The others diverge into a other theological trajectories with growing hermeneutical complexity. Which one do I believe in? Honestly, I am not even sure, though I think that even while it makes the most sense literally, the main idea is not literal but rather “allegorical, mystical, or parabolic.” Either way, that ever elusive “simple, plain Bible reading” is not really as simple or plain as we assume. Let us remember then, that this cosmos is infinitely complex, and thus everything in it also requires complexity and nuance.