Sunday, November 27, 2005

Sissy Boys

Why would any self-respecting father let his wife dress his little boy in an outfit like this?

Friday, November 25, 2005

Good eats!

The best part of Thanksgiving is the turkey sandwich the next day. I like mine with plenty of mayo and a thick slice of tomato.

Tonight, though, I think I'll be in the mood for pizza.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Dumb Question

In an effort to cut costs, GM is closing several plants, which will leave many people without jobs in the future. Do you think that the top brass at GM will cut their salaries and benefits as part of the cost cutting effort?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Swimming (Rather Drowning) in a Sea of Poor Prose

I haven't had much time to blog in the past several days. Actually, I haven't had time to blog all semester, but I did it anyway. Now I have no time to squander; I should be grading papers instead of typing here. The problem is that I like this much better than grading essays. Perhaps next semester I should just have a class blog and make my students post all their essays to the blog and let blog comments serve as their grade. Hmmm. The more I think about it, the more I think I should experiment with that idea.

My freshmen are working on their last essay right now, a review of a movie, book, TV show, CD, etc. To prepare for the essay, we are watching movies in class so that we can write a practice review. Two of my classes are watching The Shawshank Redemption, one of my all time favorite movies, and the other two are watching Hotel Rwanda, which I have never seen before and am watching for the first time along with them. I think I may have to watch the second half of the film over the weekend in the privacy of my living room, just in case it turns out to be really sad and I have to cry. I would hate to cry in class.

I remember Lee Camp referring to the Rwandan genocide in his book Mere Discipleship, and now I'm really starting to understand what he was talking about, even though so far the references to Christianity in the movie are very veiled and are almost non-existent unless you are looking for it. Seeing the movie has made me recall stories I had heard on the news, so now the whole concept of what happened over there is starting to come together for me and is making me want to read more about it to find out all the facts.

What else is going on? Nothing really. If I can make it through the next two weeks and get a lot of school work done, I'll be home free until the middle of January when it all starts back up again. Next semester I'll be teaching five sections of research and argumentative writing which will mean that I'll be reading the word count equivalent of one poorly written 300 word novel each week. And I'll have to teach research on top of that--ugh! But the good part is teaching the argumentative part of the course, and that means great in-class discussions. College students have such a unique perspective on things--in a way, they are very opinionated (usually those opinions are those of their parents), but also they are very naive, and it's fun to challenge their beliefs and make them explain why they have those beliefs.

So anyway, if you don't see any new posts here for a few days, you'll know I'm neck-deep in essays. But I'm sure I'll come up for a breath of fresh air to read all of your blogs.

Friday, November 11, 2005

A Sick Way of Making Money

Discussions of hell will continue as I do more research. Feel free to keep commenting on previous posts. For now, I just have to talk about this:

I learned of this interesting information over at No More Mr. Nice Guy whose site I surfed into not too long ago.

When all the talk about the bird flu started, I couldn't help but notice how much the mainstream media were talking about it--it wasn't just an Internet story. When the Bush administration began to mention it every other day, I became a bit perplexed. Why in the world would they constantly talk up this bird flu as if it had already mutated and become extremely contagious from human to human? I know this isn't a very charitable thought to have, but I started getting the feeling that they really want a pandemic. I even mentioned this to my mom several days ago. And then I saw the above referenced info. It is absolutely amazing to me how often we hear of Bush cabinet members and friends owning lots of stock in companies that stand to make money from disasters.

I am NOT saying here that I think the Bush administration is going to start a pandemic. Perhaps, however, they have started a scare so as to drive up the stock prices of companies that produce flu medication so that some people will become even more wealthy.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Sin Will Put You Down in the Dumps

(Sorry this is so long, but I didn't see a good place to break it into two parts.)

Two words that Jesus used, Hades and Gehenna, are commonly translated into "Hell." Let's examine the word Gehenna.

Gehenna was the site outside of Jerusalem used for the incineration of refuse. According to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Gehenna was the Valley of Hinnom, “(originally Ge bene Hinnom; i.e., “the valley of the sons of Hinnom”), a deep, narrow glen to the south of Jerusalem, where the idolatrous Jews offered their children in sacrifice to Molech (2 Chr. 28:3; 33:6; Jer. 7:31; 19:2–6). This valley afterwards became the common receptacle for all the refuse of the city. Here the dead bodies of animals and of criminals, and all kinds of filth, were cast and consumed by fire kept always burning.”

Now let's take a look at the contexts in which Jesus used this word. In Matthew 5 Jesus is speaking about the law of Moses, making the point that his followers should adhere to the spirit of the law and not just the letter. His aim is to bring about repentance—a renewed way of thinking about the Kingdom of God.

In the first use of "Gehenna, "he says, “You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Do not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ 22 But I say, if you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the high council. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell (Matt. 5.21-22).

So what was Jesus saying here? Jesus compares feelings of anger toward someone with murder and actually equates the two. Being angry and holding resentment toward someone is just as wrong as killing that person, according to Jesus. In the very next passage, Jesus says that if we do hold ill feelings toward someone, we need to go and reconcile with that person before we try to offer worship to God. Why is this so important? James tells us that our evil thoughts lead to evil actions, and our evil actions lead to death (1.15). If we come before God not having reconciled with those with whom we are angry, we have sin in our hearts and cannot worship God with purity, or “in spirit.” When we hold anger toward others, we are no better than murderers—we are criminals—according to Jesus.

Jesus’ listeners would have understood his reference to Gehenna as the place where the bodies of executed criminals were disposed of, and they knew that the law of Moses called for the execution of murderers. Jesus was telling his listeners that harboring resentment and anger toward another person is just the same as murder in God’s economy, and that just as persons would expect to be condemned for committing murder, so God’s people should not allow themselves to even harbor a murderous, or even an angry, thought against anyone else. Both offenses, according to Jesus, are sinful enough to render a person worthy of being executed and thrown into the dump for disposal in the fire.

Jesus’ next reference to hell is in the next passage when he is speaking about adultery. He says, “You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust in his eye has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 So if your eye—even if it is your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your hand—even if it is your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matt. 5.27-30 also Mark 9.42-48).

The law of Moses expressly forbade adultery and prescribed the death penalty for those guilty of the crime (Deut. 22.22). In the same way that he equated anger with murder, Jesus equates lustful thoughts with adultery. Jesus is not necessarily advocating physically gouging out one’s eyes or cutting off one’s hands, but he is using hyperbole to illustrate the extreme importance of avoiding lust. Those who get caught up in lust are likely in far more danger of progressing on to adultery than those who are angry are likely to go on to commit murder, so Jesus is expressing the need to avoid lustful thoughts at all costs. Like murderers, those who had been convicted of adultery were executed, and Jesus again uses the reference to Gehenna to illustrate that God’s people should avoid thoughts that lead to sin.

In Matthew 10, Jesus is sending his disciples out on a mission to proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven is near, to heal the sick, raise the dead, and to cast out demons. Throughout chapter 10, Jesus has been giving them instructions on how to live by faith in God for their provisions and their protection. He warns them of persecutions to come, telling them that they will be cursed and called names, but they should not be afraid of those who threaten them with bodily harm. He says, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10.28 & Luke 12.5). In this case again, Gehenna—the fiery refuse dump—is the translation for hell. The implication, again, is that of the disposal of executed criminals, since what is being talked about here is the destruction of a person.

So how is a soul and body set for destruction, and who is able to destroy them? Since Jesus came to save the world and not to condemn it—and Jesus is doing the will of his father, and since Satan is the one bent on destroying humans, it’s safe to say that Satan is the one who is being talked about here. Satan is certainly able to corrupt—or destroy—one’s mind and entice a person to act out in sin, causing him or her to break the law of Moses, and consequently causing that person to be sentenced to execution and disposal in Gehenna, destroying the body.

(Another clue that Jesus is talking about Satan here is his use of the word “fear,” the Greek phobeo (# 5399) which in 90 uses is rendered in the sense of being afraid or terrified and is used only once in the sense of reverential fear.)

So in this passage, Jesus is telling his disciples to have faith in God and not to be afraid of people. He seems to be telling them not to let Satan use their fear of bodily harm to tempt them into acting out against the officials who would harm them, and by the disciples’ defiance, make them into criminals, both in the real sense of attacking and harming their attackers, and in the spiritual sense of succumbing to anger and fear. Peter fell prey to this very temptation on the night that Jesus was arrested.

In Matthew 18 (and Mark 9), the disciples ask Jesus which of them will be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven; obviously some jealousy and arrogance is manifesting itself in the group. Jesus tells them that whoever wants to be great in the kingdom must become humble now, and he brings a small child into the group to illustrate the concept of humility and innocence. He then uses the child to begin a discussion of the problem of tempting innocent people into sin, telling them that it will be terrible for anyone who leads others into sin. Jesus here is referring again to the law of Moses, in this case the law which condemns to death any false prophet who tempts people to worship false gods (Deut. 13). Jesus is again stressing that not only the letter of the law should be followed, but the spirit of the law should be followed as well. In this case, Jesus wants his disciples to first put aside arrogance (worship of self) and put on humility, and second to realize that any turning aside from God in order to pursue sin is the same as worshiping false gods, or idolatry. Jesus repeats what he said earlier about cutting off parts of the body that cause one to sin (it’s better to be maimed than to be thrown into hell)—again using hyperbole—to reinforce the idea that the sin of arrogance is just as despicable as the sin of causing idol worship (which was punished by execution, followed by the throwing of the criminal’s body into Gehenna for disposal).

In Matthew 23, Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees, condemning their hypocrisy. He speaks about their arrogance in their religious practices and says that they are “like whitewashed tombs” (v. 27), meaning that while they put on a good front, they are actually corrupt in their hearts. (One source I read said that the outside of tombs were whitewashed so that people would know to avoid them--if that's the case, then there's another jab at the Pharisees!) He further condemns them for placing excessive burdens on those they convert, saying that they make their converts “twice the sons of hell [Gehenna]” that they themselves are. Jesus in this case is using a metaphor that would have really gotten underneath the Pharisees’ skin, equating them with Gehenna, a garbage dump so full of filth and corruption that the Pharisees would never go near it for fear of becoming ceremonially unclean. Jesus goes even further to imply that they are the worst of sinners who, if they had lived during the time of the prophets, would have participated in the murders of those innocent men of God, essentially blaspheming God, another capital offense (Lev. 24.15-16). Jesus wonders how these Pharisees will escape the “judgment of hell” (v. 33)—saying essentially that they need to be brought to justice for their crimes and executed, as the law of Moses called for, and their bodies disposed of in Gehenna.

In all of these cases, Jesus is making the point to his listeners that whenever their hearts and minds aren’t pure, they aren’t right with God and are guilty of capital crimes even if they did not physically commit one of the crimes listed in the law of Moses. According to Jesus, violating the spirit of the law of Moses is just as bad as violating the letter of the law. By continually mentioning Gehenna, Jesus is pointing out that those who violate even the spirit of the law are dishonoring God and deserve to be executed.

Monday, November 07, 2005


If you haven't read my previous post, please read it before you read this one. It offers a definition and background of the term Hades, and you'll need that in order to understand this discussion.

Jesus used a couple of other references to Hades, one of which is recorded both in Matthew 11.23 and in Luke 10.15. In this reference, Jesus says that the people of Capernaum will be brought down to Hades because they did not repent of their sins and turn to God. He contrasts Capernaum with cities such as Sodom, Gomorrah, Tyre, and Sidon, which were all known for their wickedness, and he says that if he had performed his miracles in those cities, their citizens would have turned to God (In the book of Jonah, we see the evil city of Ninevah repent as a result of a few days of Jonah's preaching). As it was, Jesus had made Capernaum his base of operations and frequently taught in the synagogue and performed miracles there, so the people of Capernaum were probably very familiar with Jesus' message. As I mentioned in my previous post, one of Jesus' teachings was "from those to whom much is given, much is required" (Luke 12.48). The citizens of Capernaum were witness to some of the first manifestations of God’s kingdom, yet many had apparently rejected the lifestyle he advocated in favor of a sinful life. They had seen and heard much from Jesus, so they were to be held more accountable than those who had not heard much of Jesus’ message. It is quite possible that Jesus used the term Hades—with its levels of reward and punishment—as a metaphor for Capernaum’s situation, very similar to his illustration of the same concept that he would later teach in his parable of the rich man and the beggar. (That makes me wonder if Jesus was in Capernaum when he told that story.) He may also simply be using Hades as the synonym of Sheol, saying that the city of Capernaum will die because of its sinful condition.

In another reference to Hades, in Matthew 16.18, Jesus tells Peter, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” In this use of Hades, Jesus is likely speaking of the grave (Sheol). Death will not have any power against those who are a part of his church, and we see in the Revelation that death will ultimately die itself. To use the Greek concept of Hades in this context would have made little sense, as Jesus was speaking to those who had already made a choice to follow him.

Our popular concept of Hell needs to be separated from Jesus' use of the terms that are translated as Hell, Hades and Gehenna. We have been conditioned through popular use to think of a flaming torture pit when we hear the word "hell"; however, in the uses above, and in the story of the rich man and the beggar, even when he uses the Greek concept of Hades, Jesus has not necessarily said that sinners will one day be thrown into a fiery torture pit to writhe and suffer for ages upon end. His use here may simply be a metaphor for the concept that those who begin living the kingdom life now will receive a great reward in the kingdom, while those who reject that life will wish that they hadn't. (Notice that I have not said what I think will or will not happen to the "sinners." God, as we know, extends a tremendous amount of grace, but we also know from reading the Old Testament that his judgment can be swift and severe. The point of this discussion is not to speculate on the nature of the future judgment of sinners; rather, this is a focus on the meaning of certain words as Jesus used them in his day. You can draw your own conclusions as to the end judgment.)

My next discussion of hell will focus on Jesus' use of the term Gehenna. If you think I'm nuts now, just wait till you read what's to come!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Pull Up a Chair for This One

The story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16.19-31) is one of the most debated passages in the bible. Some people believe that the story is a literal representation of what happens to people when they die—that the morally just and innocent go to Abraham’s bosom, which is interpreted as Heaven, and that the evil people go to Hades, or Hell, and suffer in agony forever. Other people believe that the story is another of Jesus’ parables meant to illustrate the need to repent and turn to God. If you have wondered what to believe about this story, wonder no longer because I am about to give you the definitive answer. Well, not really; I’m just going to tell you what I think.

In this story, a rich man dies and goes to Hades, and a poor beggar Lazarus, who lay at the rich man’s door begging for scraps, also dies and goes to “Abraham’s bosom.” According to several Bible dictionaries, Abraham’s bosom was a euphemism for peace and happiness, and the term takes its origins from the way that people reclined at the table when eating together. The person sitting to the right of Abraham, for instance, would be able to practically lay his head against Abraham’s chest. The fact that Lazarus in the story was at Abraham’s bosom signified that he sat in a place of honor. Certainly, all good Jews of Jesus’ day claimed to be children of Abraham, and all would have relished the chance to be at Abraham’s bosom.

If Lazarus was at Abraham’s bosom, where was Abraham? Many people today would say that Abraham was (and is) in Heaven, but the ancient Hebrews had no concept of an after-life existence in Heaven with God. Genesis 25.8 tells us that when Abraham died, he was “gathered to his people.” In fact, many of Abraham’s descendents were gathered to their people when they died. To be gathered to one’s people meant to join one’s ancestors in death, in Sheol (the Hebrew word which corresponds to the Greek Hades). Both words denote the location of the dead, commonly known as the grave. To the Hebrews, people in the grave were thought of as sleeping (in the OT, kings who had died were referred to as sleeping with their fathers) and as of having no experiences or thoughts (Ps 6.5, 88.12, Ecc 9.10). Abraham, then was “sleeping” in Hades (Sheol), in his grave. It is interesting to note that if Abraham were really in Heaven, having been gathered to his people—who presumably were also in Heaven if he was gathered to them—then Heaven contains idolaters, because Abraham’s “people” were idol worshippers (Joshua 24.2).

In the Hellenized culture of Jesus’ day, the term Hades would also have taken on the connotations associated with the Greek notion of the afterlife. The ancient Greeks believed that all people, when they died and were given a proper burial, entered into Hades, the underworld, where they continued an existence in a level of Hades appropriate to their actions on Earth. Tartarus, the lowest part of Hades reserved for the most vile offenders, is referenced in 2 Peter 2.4 where Peter says that God threw the angels who sinned. Most readers (or hearers) of this epistle would have understood the reference, having grown up in a Hellenized culture. In his use of the term, Peter warns against listening to false teachers, who bring such destruction into the church that they themselves are destined to destruction in a way similar to the angels who sinned.

Jesus uses the Greek concept of life after death in an underworld (which is a concept with which his listeners would have been familiar, having been brought up in a Hellenized society) in order to illustrate the urgent need for his listeners to repent and turn to God before the day of judgment. In the Greek Hades, those who had lived good, moral lives enjoyed an afterlife in the Elysian Fields—this is presumably where Lazarus would have been—while those who had lived morally corrupt lives went to Tartarus, a place of terrible punishment, torment, and anguish. This, apparently is where the rich man was. According to Jesus’ story, the rich man wants Lazarus to come and bring him some water to quench his anguish in the flames, but Abraham tells the rich man that a great gulf, or chasm, which no one can cross, separates them from each other. In the Greek Hades, Tartarus is located in a deep, deep, chasm, so deep it was said that an anvil would take nine days to fall there from the main level of Hades. Lazarus and the rich man are very far apart in proximity in Hades, representing the idea that those who live according to the standards of God’s kingdom are very far apart spiritually from those who do not.

In the second part of the story, the rich man wants Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn the rich man’s brothers about the torment so that they won’t have to suffer as well. However, Abraham replies that they have already had ample warning about their need to repent from reading the law and the prophets. If they haven’t repented by now, not even hearing it from a man risen from the dead will convince them. Jesus’ point here is that the time for his listeners to repent is now. He is illustrating the idea that to those whom much is given, much is required, a concept which he had already taught (Luke 12.48). His listeners have been given the law and all the writings of the prophets, and now they have God’s son himself urging them to repent; therefore, if they refuse to repent, they are left without any excuse on the day of judgment. Jesus had been urging his listeners to begin living a kingdom life by doing good to others; he promised that those who do will receive a great reward in heaven. He had also taught them that those who were poor and hungry and suffering now (like Lazarus) would also be rewarded in heaven. Jesus had pronounced woe to those who lived morally impure lives by seeking the praise of men, not turning away from their sins, and not helping the poor. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus’ use of the Greek Hades with its reward and punishment system furthers his point that those who would turn to God and live a kingdom life are spiritually far removed and much better off than those who would not.

Jesus’ parable of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus is just that, a parable. Jesus used what was familiar to his listeners to illustrate a new concept. In his day, the rich and prestigious were favored in society; they were the ones who held the reigns of power or could bend the ears of those in power, while the poor were overlooked and left to fend for themselves. Jesus was turning the system upside down, telling them during his ministry that the last would be first and the humble would be exalted. This story was a further illustration of that concept. The self-righteous exalted will be the ones clamoring to get inside the kingdom, while the humble poor will be enjoying peace and prosperity.