October 2, 2009
As an aside, I think this could become a useful post series (What The Bible Actually Says About…), because I often find myself running into difficulty in arguments based on differing interpretations of the Bible. Two of TWIM's
five seven post series are effectively stalled right now: Rebutting Atheist Universe, and eBates. The former is stalled mostly for lack of motivation, really. I tend to write spontaneously and follow arguments wherever they might interestingly lead, which is why I'll never whine a lick about what those who lack pertinent arguments often demonize as "thread derailment." Freethought has no boundaries, folks.
This spontaneity also means it's hard for me to force myself to respond to David Mills once a week when I'm not particularly feeling it — which I haven't been for a while. eBates and the whole "Power Commenter" ideas we've experimented with haven't gotten off the ground yet, mostly for lagging on my own part I suppose. The first person I invited to an eBate declined, and I just haven't asked anyone else yet. I've expressed interest in having one with Ebonmuse regarding his essay A Ghost In The Machine, but he declined to respond. But let's not digress too much here.
Today, I just wanted to restate that the Bible doesn't say the unrepentant sinner is cast into Sheol for doing bad things. Now, before you say, "Wait a minute cl, the Bible clearly teaches that all sinners go to hell," let me explain. We're all familiar with the common trope: the good people go to heaven, and the bad people go to hell. Not that all religions teach afterlife concepts, but the vast majority do and the formula is the same in every one of them I've come across but one. Then again, this makes perfect sense, as I've always maintained that if the Gospel is real, Christianity is actually a relationship and not a religion. My point is, Sheol is the punishment for unrepentant sinners, and to frame salvation without that key word in mind is to understate the scope of the problem, which encourages misunderstanding of the uniqueness of the solution.
We do wrong to think of the problem of sin as one of quantity. People tend to imagine some sort of "critical mass" regarding sin, meaning that they imagine the number of sins vs. the number of good deeds is the deciding factor. I've even seen people who don't necessarily adhere to this position argue from it, which suggests that its a very powerful presupposition we all need to be aware of. For, awareness of this proposition would immediately reveal the strawman nature of such questions as, "Do you really believe in a God that would send you to Hell for eternity all because you did X (where X = some sin)." As we'll see in a moment here, the problem of sin is an issue of quality, not quantity.
Acknowledgment of the spiritual realm is a prerequisite to an accurate understanding of the Gospel. According to Scripture, the true reality of life is spiritual and unseen. Man is a tripartite being, an entity consisting of body, soul and spirit. Everyone acknowledges that they possess a physical body. Also, we acknowledge that we have intangible faculties such as thought, will, sensation and emotions. These are commonly referred to as functions of man’s mind. Biblically speaking, the words "soul" and "mind" are roughly interchangeable. The aspect of man’s being that arouses the most controversy is the spirit. I realize many doubt; but for the sake of understanding my argument, let's grant for a moment that this spiritual realm is in fact real.
When it comes to articulating the Bible in a way that rings true far more often than not in my experience, Watchman Nee delivers time and time again:
Why must a sinner be born anew? Why must he be born from above? Why must there be a regeneration of the spirit? Because man is a fallen spirit. A fallen spirit needs to be reborn that it may become a new one. Just as Satan is a fallen spirit, so is man; only he has a body. Satan’s fall came before man’s; we therefore can learn about our fallen state from Satan’s plunge. Satan was created as a spirit that he might have direct communion with God. But he fell away and became the head of the powers of darkness. He is now separated from God and every godly virtue… his fall took away his right relationship with God.
Similarly, man in his fall also sank into darkness and separation from God. Man’s spirit still exists but is separated from God, powerless to commune with Him and incapable of ruling. Spiritually speaking, man’s spirit is dead… No religion of this world, no ethics, culture or law can improve this fallen human spirit. Man has degenerated into a fleshly position; nothing from himself can return him to a spiritual state… regeneration of the spirit is absolutely necessary. The Son of God alone can restore us to God, for He shed his blood to cleanse our sins and give us a new life. —Watchman Nee, The Spiritual Man, p.8,9
This is why man is unable to reach God. This is the basis for the one way-to-God theory: we don't choose the method; God does. It is not an issue of favoritism or religious bias. Religion won’t work because no matter how many good deeds we perform, our spirits, if not regenerated from above, remain dead. It's not that we attain God’s favor by being good people. The concept is that we are already fallen, and under our own lordship we can never get back up. When one lies in cardiac arrest in the emergency room, the only hope is that they can be resuscitated from some external force. on the operating table. Once you are dead, you are dead. Unless an external source intervenes, you will die, regardless of your own will, actions, ideas or choices. The question is not “do you go to hell if you believe Y (where Y = some religion)” – the question is, "How can our spirits enter into heaven?" It's as much of an empirical problem as it is spiritual. You simply can't get into a building if you do not possess the means.
Man is not the author of even a single granule of truth, and there are some chasms in life humans simply can't cross on their own.