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Tag Archives: Spirituality

Out of the Closet: Deceiving Ourselves

I have met many people who deceive others but I have never met someone who wishes to be deceived.  All acknowledge that they want to know the truth and do not want to be tricked into believing a lie.  Furthermore, no one I know is willing to readily admit that they may have believed a lie.  It is shameful in a way and exposes a weakness.  Thus most people believe that what they believe is the truth.

But many unwittingly do believe lies.

Our extended family is a bit of a mess at the moment.  A nephew who has dropped hints of homosexuality for years used his college graduation party this last week to fling his closet door open in the presence of all who love him.  He emerged from his closet and his relatives had mere hours, some only a fraction of minutes, to formulate a response.

One uncle, only hours before the party, threatened to not show up on moral grounds.  He did not believe that homosexuality was right and did not want to appear to be condoning it.  His stance appeared hypocritical and narrow-minded even to me who also believes homosexuality is wrong.  What made it seem so hypocritical was it was merely his opinion.  It was not based on anything besides his perception:  he didn’t think being gay was right but he viewed what he does as right, just because he felt that way.  Unfortunately, there are many other things in his life and in his children’s lives that others could easily point to as being wrong based on some vague understanding of cultural norms.  And there-in, enters the rub.

The rest of the family lined up against him.  Who is he to call the kettle black?    On and on the self-righteous tongue wagging went until all, either politely or pointedly, agreed that the nephew was not doing anything wrong by living a gay life style.  The uncle who refused to accept it was considered to be wrong and needed to be chastised.

I commend my in-laws, nephews and nieces for wanting to be open-minded about something that they are in many ways uncomfortable with though none of them are big enough to admit it-they contend that it does not pulse them one way or another but the fact that they had to think through it exposes this lie.  I suspect they feel rather good about themselves for being willing to accept something they themselves would not do.  They feel good about themselves for they have not judged but accepted my nephew for his differences.  More importantly, they feel SAFE because they have eliminated through their tolerance any possibility of the finger being pointed at them in the future.   They went home congratulating themselves for taking such a loving stance opposed to the narrow minded one that insisted some sort of moral line was being crossed.

As for me, I sought to remain outside of the conversation because it was obvious no one was really trying to figure out the truth and it was therefore pointless to enter the debate.  Each had assumed they already knew what truth is.  Each was convinced of it.  Yet obviously one of the opposing sides has to be deceived because both can’t be right.  The strange thing is, if I have any discernment at all, all of them on both sides are deceived.

We all want to know the truth but what we want more often is for our pleasures to be granted and we get all bristly when someone wants to stand in our way.  People tote tolerance because they realize what goes around, comes around.  If I take the high road here, they might come back at me with the same high road.  So they all agree to allow everyone to do as they please.  Yet we each have this unexplained need to live rightly.  The only way to do that and allow people to live differently is to remove any moral grounds and replace it with something different-what makes one happy.

We welcome truth when it is on our side and dismiss it when it points the finger at us.  When it accuses us, we would prefer to live in a lie than accept truth.  One cannot reason with a stubborn heart bent on pursuing what they want.  They will find a way to justify their course in their conscience because nothing is more sacred to them than achieving what feels pleasing.

The truth however is often uncomfortable.  It will make us unhappy at times.  We love truth when it enlightens us but hate it when it accuses us.  To truly be happy, one must love truth itself, not how it affects us.  Deception happens when we regard what we love to be truth.

The folly of my family is probably obvious to most of you reading this but my folly is probably not.  I have found that there is no thought that I hold dear that should not be minutely examined.  Where have I allowed myself to be deceived?  What principle, right or pleasure do I cling to so tenaciously that the thought of releasing them makes me ill or despondent?  Why?  Look closely at what you love and determine how you guard it and why you guard it… never assume that the father of lies could not deceive you, even you, holy and blessed by God our Father!  Be careful, circumspect in all things, lest you fall.

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2013 in Discernment, Spiritual Growth

 

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Removing God from Psalm 23

In order for Psalm 23 to mean anything to someone they must be thinking Biblically.  When our thinking becomes skewed, Psalm 23 makes no sense.   The following is an attempt to show how the history of Western thought would have translated Psalm 23.

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The Lord is my Shepherd…

(Early Church and revived in the Reformation)

God created the universe and man.  By making man and woman in His image He gave them meaning.  As creator, He determined what is right and wrong and it is society’s responsibility to live within those bounds.  That is the universal base.  There is a foundation for law, rights and freedom.  God, as understood through the Bible, is the final authority.

But suppose I do not want to be completely under God.  I would like some ‘freedom’ to think for myself.   What will be my new universal principle?

The Lord is my Shepherd, but I help him guide me.

(Medieval times largely influenced by Aquinas who leaned heavily on the secular thought of Aristotle.)

Why restrict ourselves to only what God has to say?  The Bible is lowered and man is raised higher.  The Bible becomes a guideline that can be veered from and the church is raised to become its equal.  Salvation is by grace but begins to increasingly include the works of man because man is viewed as capable of doing it.  Secular thinking starts to trump the Biblical base and distorts truth.  People start believing and acting independent of the final authority.

I am my shepherd.

(Humanism comes to fruition in Renaissance and is maintained through the modern era.)

Man is autonomous and independent of any supernatural force outside of himself.  Absolutes are impossible to define because there is nothing to give them and therefore man is unsure of how to live.  Optimistically, thinkers set out to find the way.   Truth begins with man, not God.  There is no final authority over man so man seeks how to guide himself.

I am left with the difficult question of what the purpose of life is and how I (and others) are to live.    I trust my mind will lead me to the right answers.

Sheep are my shepherd.

(Beginning with Voltaire, the enlightenment awakens the god of reason and ultimately leads to man being seen as part of a closed system, where he is no longer outside of nature but is merely a part of it.)

Reason falters as it repeatedly runs into unacceptable conclusions.  Opinions seem to be legion, but really there are only a few truly novel thoughts…but no one seems to know what to trust so I look for something outside of man, some natural principle that guides the world.  I look to nature and find it both cruel and non-cruel.  I believe I am only a small part of it, just a mass of atoms.  I become nothing more than a cog in the machine.

Everything is my shepherd.

(Rousseau, Kant, Hegel and Kierkegaard struggle to leave room for man amidst determinism and its other varied forms, trying to find meaning by looking at freedom from restraint, history, emotion and what is ‘natural’ (Romanticism).  They are left with only rhetoric and the conclusion that reason leads only to pessimism.)

Now I must let go of reason because it leads me only to a pessimistic outlook.  Reason tells me that without a god I am only part of the machine of the universe, devoid of meaning.  I can say those words but I can not live by them.  History has exhausted its ideas and come up wanting.  If one begins with man, nothing gives meaning. My ‘innards’ tell me that there must be a purpose somewhere in all of this.  But where is it?

So I let go of reason and let the unreasonable give me meaning.  My experiences will hopefully be powerful enough to give me a sense of fulfillment.  (Embrace of Hinduism or Buddhism for some in the Western world may enter here, under the pursuit of experience.)  My personal goals of peace and affluence will guide my decisions.  What is right in one situation may not be right in another.  Each act is based on circumstances and is thus arbitrary to the person and the situation.  What is right will be determined by what I want the goal to be and there is nothing to tell me that my goal is wrong.  What is must be what is right.  My pleasures rule.

Nothing is my shepherd.

(Existential philosophy abandons reason and leaps “upstairs” to find meaning and value without reason.  Nietzsche declares that not only is God dead, but also all (he) supported, mainly meaning.  His conclusions (I believe) likely led him to his insanity-not venereal disease.)

Without a universal base tying everything together with meaning I am only a part of this machine, devoid of purpose or direction.  Nothing leads me anywhere.  I can’t help but become apathetic.  To keep from despairing I create schemes to keep my mind away from the impossible questions.  In place of meaning I take up causes, like ending world poverty, or cleaning up the food system, or keeping the earth from getting too warm, or shaving a 1/2 minute off of my 8 minute mile.  I exist and if you push me to tell you why I won’t know what to say.

All is bankrupt.  Without a shepherd outside of myself my mind tells me I am no more than matter.  Nature, experience and pleasure can not infuse me with any type of meaning or tell me what to value.  Without an ultimate universal base society is left to the chaos of hedonism (pleasure rules) or the tyranny of authoritarianism by the élite to maintain peace.  I have lost my freedom.  I have lost my meaning.  I have lost my bearings.   I am empty.

I need my Psalm 23 shepherd back.

(Please note:  this post leans heavily on the work of Francis A. Schaeffer in “How Should We Then Live?”  This is my current understanding of the progression of Western thought.  If you are looking for a resource to reference, I suggest you go back to the inspiration behind this post.)
 
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Posted by on May 14, 2013 in History Clips, Sin, Uncategorized

 

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On the Lighter Side: Run for Your Mule!

stubborn muleForgive me, I can’t help myself.  Perhaps you can chuckle with me, even if it is at something in the Bible.

2 Sam 13:29 always makes me smirk. It reads: “And the servants of Absalom did to Amnon just as Absalom had commanded.”  Perhaps I’m just warped, but the next part makes me smile.

The king’s sons were panicked. They didn’t casually get up to leave, they jumped up and ran out the door.  If they weren’t fearing they were the next one to be killed they were fearing retribution from King David for being a part of the murder of his son Amnon.  They were freaked out and they knew that this tent was not the place to be.

Which brings me to the part I find funny.  If you were going to run for your life, how would you do it?  Would you dash for your mule?    Wouldn’t you rather kick your sandals off and run like mad?   Apparently I have a very stereotypical view of the mule. Panic stricken over the murder of their brother, the king’s sons jumped on their mules and ran away (at 5 mph)…

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2013 in Lighter Side

 

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The Light Bulb that Everyone Saw Before You

I shared something that I thought was marvelous with a friend this week.  It was a concept I saw clearly for the first time but only after intense and prolonged introspection and careful study.  Guess what?  They already knew it.

I wrestle with thoughts fiercely.  Even the most simple understandings I flip over and over in my head, examine, question and verify.  Often this takes much time, extensive reading and deep thought. I am the quintessential theologian, I ask why and how about everything and I tend to keep asking those things long after others are satisfied.

This is why it can be maddening to me to share an insight I’ve had.   After passionately explaining what I see and how I came to that conclusion, I look into the eyes of my hearer and realize that they already knew what to me, is brand new.  I get an enthusiastic nod, and hear, “yes, I totally agree” and then no more comment. If I wait long enough, they will yawn.  And I am left speechless.

Am I a dolt?  Am I just that much slower than the rest in dissecting and analyzing my beliefs?  It has happened enough that I expect this to be a possible response when I share anything with another.

So, of course I had to think about this.  How can others already understand so quickly what I have to spend years studying, though they are not given to that type of study?  After dismissing the idea that they are faking understanding (these are godly, honest people I trust) I’m left with the reality that they probably DO understand what has taken me months and months to come by.

How can that be?  Of course, they may have wrestled with the thoughts before me, but I don’t think that is the case in many of these situations.  So what’s up?

It's a sphere!

It’s a sphere!

Do you believe the world in round?  So do I and I’ve probably spent as much time thinking about it as you, which is pretty close to not at all.  Despite not thinking about it, I get it, we’re not living on a pancake but a hacky sack.  Yet there are those who have spent close to a whole career studying the round nature of the earth and how that relates to everything else in our solar system.  They get it, but on a much deeper level, not in a superior sense, we both get the world is round, but their understanding is richer.

One can know a thing on many levels- the deepness isn’t the essential part, knowing is.

Understanding “God is love” is a wonderful insight.  You may come to that idea easily where another must first deal with the problem of evil, difficult passages, previous paradigms, the concept of feelings and what it means to exist.  If you are as messed up as me you will probably first have to analyze what love is first before you can even begin to entertain the idea of God being loving.  Then you have to separate loving acts from the embodiment of love and on and on it goes.  After years of deliberation, the deep mind comes to the same conclusion as the one steadied on simple faith: “God is love”.  Though the thinker probably had already accepted that in faith, they have examined it so minutely that when they come to the conclusion it seems to be a brand new understanding.

So is thinking deeply a waste of time or worse, some form of vanity?

While it certainly can be a type of vanity and lead to fat-headed pride, the humble heart is simply intrigued and wants to understand because they are insatiably curious.  They have a drive to comprehend.  It is the artist in them.  Going deeper into a simple idea often reveals connections, patterns, textures and richness to the ideal that is difficult to express unless one has meditated upon it.   It reveals the story behind the title.  It is not a waste of time.  It is a blessing.

And so, if you are bent like me, I encourage you, thinking deeply can be a blessing, even if most everyone else thinks you’re a bit daft for marveling at the qualities of a sphere.

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2013 in Spiritual Gifts

 

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Silent Tongue

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Dare I speak on such a day?  I cannot.

(Oh foolish tongue!  What can you muster in light of this?!)

“Thank you Jesus.”  ……Pathetic.

(Silence.)

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2013 in Quips from the Short Sage

 

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Lonely Soul: A really bad poem (you should read)

Lonely

So a phrase came into my head and I started writing.  After about ten minutes I became annoyed that all of my sentences had a cadence and ended in rhyme but I couldn’t seem to help myself.  Weird.   Anyways, I kept trying to rework it in my normal style and found myself reverting back to cadence each time.  I am no poet, heavens no, but I have given up on trying to express this thought in other ways.

Here’s my really bad free verse (?) -seriously- this is embarrassing, but if you read it out loud and pretend you are at a beat club, maybe, hopefully, it will speak to you.

It is an odd and sorrowful truth, that the more one is pulled in, and the firmer the grasp and will become, the lonelier the soul becomes.

For a season is entered where the pleasures and vices are habitually shunned and your comrades are found to be few, perhaps there is none.  You expose the wonders your eyes have seen and wait for the tug, the grasp of your hand, but the stare is blank.  The nod is there, but a suspicion persists that you did not get it, though you gave thanks.   How in the church, amidst like-minded souls, do I feel bereft and so out in the cold?

Then a Jonathon comes along… not many, it seems two, more likely one, but there he is!  And your heart soars for his soul, his presence, his tongue.  A kindred fire is a soothing balm, for the company of a crowd is replaced by one.

A lonely road, it is taken by few.  But praises!  Trapped in heaven’s solitude, I am not so lonely, I am filled, and I have you.  Time goes by, and deeper I go.  Peace.   I look and startle how one Jonathan has increased.

……Now you are hearing lots of snapping by really polite people….. In all honestly, I am coming to see the blogging community this way.  Blessings to all of you.

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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What the World Needs Now

There are travesties mankind has wrestled with throughout every age, problems that seem to defy solution.  13249318-asian-kid-playing-in-playground[1]With optimism buoyed by ignorance, pride and zeal, each generation swings at the venomous beasts that previous generations battled before.  With every novel approach the problems laugh, and stay entrenched in the newly forming history of today.  The stubborn problems seem incapable of being remedied though the answer seems so close at hand, so sensible, so obvious if we would just do it.  If men’s hearts would change, there would be no war, there would be no poverty, there would be no injustice.  But alas, no one has yet figured out how to do that.  How does one change the heart of the other guy?

We can start teaching children younger, we can put some in counseling.  We can make treaties and rules, penalize stricter,  use social pressure, prevent the problem and deal with it decisively when it shows up.  We can pray.  We can hope.  Have rallies, conventions and think tanks convene.  We can pay for the meal for the folks behind us at McDonald’s.  Sometimes minor victories are won but the war throughout history is always lost.

imagesCAPMIV1HWe are tempted to say it is only ‘some men’ that cause the worst woes in the world.  The loony’s, those seized with senseless greed, the evil ones, THOSE people….if everyone would just see the world as we do, if they would be as we are, we could at last live in peace without grief over the injustices that swirl around the globe.  If other people would only act as we do….yet even those humbled by the cross must measure this in their lives, how much do I think others would be better if they were like me?

At some point, it dawns on us, and if it doesn’t it should, that the world is indeed, just as we are.  It does not need to become more like me, it already is.

Morality is not a matter of extent.  Greed is still greed whether it is big or small.  A lie is a lie irregardless of its magnitude.  Stealing a small thing is no different from pilfering Wall Street.   Selfishness is selfishness.  Hate is hate.  Envy is envy.  Pride is pride.  Lust is lust.

Do I think I will be judged by how much or how many others I hurt, or by the evil found in me? imagesCA4QFCVM Oh, my soul!  You are not exempt!  My sins are wonderfully covered but I will still give an account, most assuredly everything done in the dark will be brought into the light, forgiven or not.  Do not think because Christ has taken upon your penalty that there will be no revealing.  I am not condemned, mercy of mercies, but I will be revealed.  There is no progressing in the Christian walk until one fully understands self and recoils.  Without it there is no hope for humility, and without humility, I may not stand before God.

If one wants to grow in their faith, they must first take time to understand themselves.  When you understand yourself aright, you will no longer be mystified by the horrors you see around you but rather by the good you do see.  If we try to progress without this step, we will be tempted with every work to think that the good somehow springs from ourselves, and inwardly praise our high constitution and ridicule the foul state of others.  My friends, take the time to know thyself.

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2013 in Sin, Spiritual Growth

 

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Kill God

“If You Meet (god) Buddha On The Road, Kill Him.”
– a frequently used paraphrase of a Buddhist koan (a poem used to provoke thought)

 attributed to Zen Master Linji.

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It’s not from the Bible but it has some teeth.

St. Augustine said, “If you comprehend it, it is not God.”

Thomas Aquinas said, “The highest human knowledge of God is to know that one doesn’t know God.”

Something I keep relearning is that although I look intently and seem to understand more with each passing prayer, reading and struggle, in the end I don’t really know anything much about this God whom I serve.  As years pass I find errors or incomplete pictures in things I embraced, which shows how frighteningly shallow my knowledge of the divine is. I know His attributes.  I know His work.  I know the story.  I understand the church culture.  I understand the current thought.  I understand what I believe.  But I do not understand God.  I do not understand His ways.

I need to keep killing the god I create.

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2013 in Quips from the Short Sage

 

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I’m Giving Up Sin….but just for Lent

I’m Giving Up Sin….but just for Lent

22452900E[1]“I’ve decided to give up a sin that has been bothering me for Lent.”

That was what I overheard this last week but not in those exact words.  The actual words sounded much more admirable, couched in lightheartedness with lots of spiritual talk inserted between the lines.  “I’m giving up something that has been bothering me,” is closer to what I actually heard.

This encounter launched me into questioning why many Christians participate in Lent.  Ideally, it should be a time of deeper contemplation about God and more focused prayer.  Most say that this is what they plan on doing, but for many, life and old habits make it hard for them to execute and they merely pull off the external.   As a result, I think many focus on the giving up of a thing as some sort of offering of their devotion, hoping that the mere act of doing so will draw them closer to God.

I’m not practicing Lent this time around as I just finished a fast  from three things that have been a part of my life every day (mostly) for the last three years.  As a result, Lent this year seemed anti-climactic to me, so I’m skipping it.

Despite passing on the tradition this year, I found myself unsettled by the typical practice of Lent, sparked by that person’s comments.  The thought that Christians are offering up sin as a spiritual sacrifice, bothered me.

The top 100 things people give up for Lent based on Twitter feeds can be summarized in these five:

1.  Food-specifically sweets, chocolate and soda

2.  Drink-Alcohol in its many varied forms

3.  Screens-Twitter, Facebook and TV

4.  Swearing

5.  Smoking

It seems a bit sacrilegious to me that we offer up for Lent what is essentially all of our failed New Year’s Eve resolutions.  Still, sin hasn’t yet entered the picture.

More distressing, I noticed a tendency among some to commit to fast from things they were inwardly convicted of. 

Granted, the things we pick to give up for Lent are usually not blatant sins like pride, vanity, envy or the like.  We usually zero in on those ‘gray’ areas that have been bothering our consciences.  Things that are otherwise benign activities that we have managed to corrupt with our motives or practice.  We pick stuff we want to wean ourselves away from because we can’t in good conscience continue in it, thus it is not done in faith.  In essence, it is sin to us.

Not everyone I know picks something they are convicted about.  Many just pick something that would be hard because they love it and yet, are not enslaved to it.  Only the individual can honestly assess that.

Is it wrong to pick a sin as the object of what we abstain from in the name of fasting?  I’ll let you pray about that and come to your own conclusions concerning yourself.  There is nothing in the Scriptures that would point one way or another that I know of, so this is left to your conscience.

Yet, I need to remind myself, that the point of Lent (or fasting in general) is not self-improvement.

Observe Lent with prayer and fasting but choose what you fast from wisely.  If you use the season to jump-start your obedience, nothing lost; you’ll probably benefit more than someone who picked something meaningless to abstain from.  Just be careful how you posture yourself during the fast.  It is not a sacrifice, nor some holy denial,  it is something you needed to do anyways.

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2013 in Fasting

 

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Moving into Oblivion

Our family is preparing to move from a place we love for one that we like not so much.  There is nothing about this move that excites me, even on my most optimistic days.

One of the most difficult things to leave are our friends.  Despite many promises of “we’ll keep in touch” or “so and so is not that far away”….I know better.  Once we leave, within two weeks most will rarely think about us again.   The people I laugh with today will largely forget me within a matter of weeks.

Alexander Pushkin said it well, ‘oblivion is the natural lot of anyone not present.  It’s horrible, but true.’

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On my dresser is an urn holding my baby boy.  He is the third child I had that died in utero.  Our family named him “Irish”, which I probably would have never named him had he lived to see the sun, but still, Irish caused me great agony.  He was my heart’s desire, one of our last attempts at another child and he was placed in my hands lifeless.  The despair over his death lasted close to a year for me.  Yet, even he, has slipped into oblivion.

Oblivion: the condition or state of being forgotten.

From the first song in The Phantom of the Opera, “Think of Me,”

Think of me, think of me fondly, when we’ve said goodbye.
Remember me once in a while, please promise me you’ll try.

Am I comfortable with being forgotten?  There is a natural tendency to want to claw our way into being remembered.  To insist on doing something that will leave a mark on humanity.  To leave a wake of our essence behind us.   To do or be something so exceptional as to defy this natural law of “out of sight, out of mind”.  We hope that our measly lives amount to something worth being remembered, for if we live and die and the memory of our existence disappears, the point to our life seems to vanish too.

Total absence never made my heart grow fonder, it made my heart forget.

To not be forgotten, you have to either live with the person, be in constant communication with that person or be that person.

And so, I face my reality.  The world will most assuredly forget me.  Even my children will come to a point where they think of me infrequently.  My spouse, well, he’s stuck with me til’ one of us dies, but after that, I know that whoever is left standing will slowly begin the process of forgetting the other.  I might as well not fight it, I won’t be remembered by people.

Could God forget me too?  Might He?

If man and God should forget you how terrible!  But if man forget you and yet God does not, what have you lost?  And if man should remember you but God does not, what have you gained?  For even the man who might remember you will himself, someday be forgotten.

I wonder sometimes if God will forget those cast into hell.  I suppose He might for they are permanently removed from His presence.  I can’t think of a Scripture that speaks to Him forgetting them at the moment, I don’t believe there is one (forgetting meaning not deletion of memory, but indifference).  Even if God dismisses those, I feel confident He will remember me solely on my standing in Christ.  In Christ, the presence of God is always with me through the Spirit, communication with Him has freely opened and mystery of mysteries, I am somehow IN Him.  No, He won’t forget me.

I’m okay with moving into oblivion.  Truthfully, it is sometimes painful because people are important to me, but I don’t see it as fatal because when all is said and done, it is a minor oblivion. The real oblivion that I fear is an impossibility, so long as I am found in Christ.

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2013 in Spiritual Growth

 

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