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Chapter 6 - The Light and the Dark

A frequent presentation of Christianity summarizes it as the chance to escape the infinitely eternal conscious torment of hell by putting faith in Jesus so that one can go to heaven. It can also be associated with various denominational requirements such as baptism, church membership, or communion. This might be called the “parental” presentation because it emphasizes that a failure to obey results in punishment.

John wrote describing God as “light”;

This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. - 1 John 1:5

This might be seen as more than just a poetic description of appearance. By its nature light radiates outward. This parallels love. The biblical definition of love is essentially selflessness;

Love has long patience, is kind; love is not emulous of others ; love is not insolent and rash, is not puffed up, does not behave in an unseemly manner, does not seek what is its own, is not quickly provoked, does not impute evil, does not rejoice at iniquity but rejoices with the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. - 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (Darby)

Those in rebellion against God are takers and not so much givers and their consumptive hunger might be seen as “darkness”. Paul is recorded in Acts as reciting the instruction he received from Jesus;

But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. - Acts 26:16-18

If one starts with a context of light being from God who is giving and darkness being a result of those in rebellion to God and seeking after self and taking or consuming, it can be of more help to understand the nature of the universe than the sin and punishment model (which while approximating truth suffers from its simplicity). Since God knew that his creation would rebel, it is natural to ask why were we created. Here it may be useful to consider that Jesus used a harvest analogy to describe the kingdom to his disciples. It may be useful to also apply this picture to all of human existence.

Angels were created all at once and a third rebelled against God. Humans were created to reproduce sequentially. We are born in ignorance and selfishness. It is sad that some make little improvement on during their lives. As each individual human matures, he learns more about the world and the people around him. He also makes choices. This process shapes his character such that he is either drawn to truth and light or towards the darkness of consumptive selfishness. Jesus said that all who were of the truth would hear his voice.

One might see in humanity a crop sown by God looking for a harvest of those drawn to truth. The original plan was for God to use the nation of Israel to be a nation of priests who would tell the rest of the world about God. Sadly, Israel failed to live up to their agreement with God. They spent centuries in rebellion and idolatry. They then spent a few hundred years in what might be called indolent materialism such that when the promised Messiah (Jesus) came to offer the kingdom to the nation of Israel, most were not interested.

Plan “B” (the time in which we live now) God offers salvation (eternal life) to any who trust in Jesus. From what we read in the bible, plan “A” will be resurrected in the future under extreme conditions wherein a faithful remnant of Israel will welcome their Messiah and the long awaited kingdom will be established.

Since the bible tells us that eternal life is a gift from God, it seems unlikely that this “gift” would be given to those who reject or are disinterested in God. This opens the question of what happens to those who are not “harvested” unto eternal life. Often in the bible the lost are referred to as perishing.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. - John 3:16

The lake of fire which is the ultimate destination of death, hades, and the lost seems to be more an incinerator than a place of perpetual torment as it is called “the second death”. There is a final judgment called the Great White Throne judgment where the lost are judged according to their works. However we are not given any information about punishment or rewards as a result of this judgment, only that afterwards the lost are destroyed.

There are a few verses in the Old Testament that describe the exitance of the dead (prior to judgment) in Hades (called Sheol in the Old Testament). From this we may conclude that the soul can perceive and has memory. From the description of the rich man and Lazarus in the New Testament we also get a picture of torment. The word translated torment is basanos in the Greek and meant a touchstone used to verify the purity of coins. The word was also used to describe the torture Greek slaves were subjected to to verify the truth of their testimony in legal proceedings.

One possible reason for this torment might relate to the idea of truth found in the word basanos. Those who were disinterested in truth or even hostile to it may experience truth painfully until they come to the point where they acknowledge it. Some support for this idea might be found in the statement that in the future all people will acknowledge Jesus.

For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. - Romans 14:11

It may be that at the last judgment even the recalcitrant will acknowledge Jesus. The fate of those at the end of the future kingdom may also bear on the ultimate fate of the lost.

The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. - Matthew 13:38-42

It is interesting to note that the word “world” is aion in the Greek and means “age”. A variation of this word “aionios” is usually translated “eternal” which would be more accurately translated “age lasting”

The simplistic idea of being good gets you to heaven and being bad gets you to hell has caused a lot of trouble. A more precise understanding of what the bible actually says is not only helpful in making a presentation of Christianity to others (even one’s own children) not only plausible but reasonable.

I think my parents would have benefited from a more accurate understanding of what the bible actually teaches about our life on earth and afterward. The sin/punishment model is rather limited. The selfishness/selflessness model I think is more accurate and opens the door to what might be called useful in Christianity to advance this transition.


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