-Who is Our Heavenly Father and What Does that Make Us?-
Mercy: Godís Top Priority
Biopic of God
Biography of Sean Conway
Format Ė biography wrapped in theology and explanations thereof?
So the Lord has it on my heart to study up about hell right this minute. Now, I've read the word a bunch and I have a certain understanding, but I want to go back and make sure what the word says about it, in the original languages if I can muster. So far I'm thinking that God doesn't send us to hell, but that he allows us to go to hell. Although this sounds like a 'splitting-hairs' minor distinction, I believe it makes all the difference in painting an accurate portrait of our Father's character. Let me start from the very beginning, (a very good place to start, so says the Sound of Music!) If youíll allow me, Iíll get there, but it will be a seemingly-tangent filled ride until we do: how like life! The destination is in sight, and the vehicle to get there is defined, as well as the path, but the circumstances through which we will go are various.
Man! I love you, Dad. =)
About Me and About My God
I know that I'm only 28 years old and that usually a person of 28 year is not known for having much wisdom. I don't claim to know it all, but I must also be true to the wisdom that the Lord has provided thus far. The Lord says in his word that wisdom is the principal thing and that above all we ought to get wisdom. Once I latched onto this fact in life, Iíve been seeking it ever since. I donít know why, but ever since an early age Iíve always wanted to be wise above all things. I guess this was just something that the Lord put in me I guess. I used to think I wanted to be smart, but I grew up to learn that what I really wanted to be was wise. Wise is being smart but also including your heart. Smart is just having head knowledge about cold, hard, objective facts. Wise is knowing how, when, and who to love and in what appropriate amounts. Itís not easy, I havenít figured it all out, but I do need to be truthful about what Iíve learned thus far.
I only know what I know and I don't know what I don't know. I don't know why, but the Lord has allowed many trials in my short adult life which he gave me the grace to overcome. I don't take all the credit for this, but I do take what is rightly mine. I give glory firstly to God for giving me the parents I had (who weren't perfect, but did their best) the grandparents I had, the elementary school I went to and all the other things over which I had no control. I trust that as the creator of the universe He knew what he was doing. I didn't always feel that way but I do now and it's been a road to getting there: a lot of forgiveness towards myself, forgiveness of others, and gaining strength (a.k.a. the joy that comes from choosing to be thankful at all times about the Lordís gift of salvation heís given us thru His Son, Jesus Christ) along the way. Because of the Lord's relentless love of me no matter what I did (as long as my heart was seeking to do the right thing), He allowed me to partner my free will with His universe-sized will all the while only holding me accountable for what I knew it at the time; that's His mercy in a nutshell!
In this process I have learned much about God's mercy towards us. It is His mercy that allows us to live. I mean that in a straight-forward, facts-as-facts way. You may want to go back and read that again, in fact I'll type it here; it is ONLY because of God's mercy that we are allowed to live. I'll explain why as we go on, but first let me set the stage by explaining more about Our Dad as I know Him thus far. I believe that what I've learned about Our Heavenly Father's character in the time that I've been in CLOSE relationship with him, that is, seeking His Lordship in every decision in my day-to-day life to the best of my ability, is that he operates in a priority system, just like you and I do. This understanding is built on years of prior and academically rigorous study as well (thanks Le Moyne College, and Christian Brothers Academy for fanning that flame!). What I'm putting forth is a convergence of those years of academic study along with my now 5 years of intimate relationship with the Father God thru Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit as my (in chronological order) Saviour, Lord, and Best Friend. I hope that in so doing, that I may accurately represent my Father in Heaven. If any of my words are not in line with His character, may they fall to the ground dead, in Jesus' name, amen.
Before I can talk about Godís priority system, I need first to explain who He is as a person. Why would I care about someoneís priority system until I first understand who He is? SoÖ God is the transcendent one, having been before time was and being without a creator (El is the singular form of this name in Hebrew Ė suggesting the Shema that Hear, O Israel our God is one Ė one Godhead, Elohim is the plural form in Hebrew, suggesting a multi-faceted God, even from the first chapter of Genesis). Most religions of the world believe this much about Him. They may even believe that he has many faces or personalities; this is where Judaism and Christianity have a distinction to mark. Judaism has believed that God is one, yet that His Spirit can rest upon specific people at specific times; this leads into more of a Ďteamí concept of God.
In the Old Testament, His spirit (which has seven components as outlined in the book of Isaiah: the spirits of the Fear of the Lord Ė which the word says is the beginning of wisdom) has come to rest upon different people. Solomon was known for his wisdom; this wisdom came from Yahwehís spirit, called the Holy Spirit. Samson had the power of strength when the Spirit came upon Him. Jesus was able to heal all who were afflicted and had faith in Him as the Son of God, even some who didnít yet have faith Ė these were all by the power of the Spirit of the Lord. Even while Godís Spirit came to rest on certain people in history and acted through them at specific points in time, God as Father God remained active as the all-watching, all-loving ruler of the universe. Howís that possible? I donít know, but I know that itís true. I take it by faith because I know that itís real from the Scriptures and from my personal experiences.
One experience thatís led me to know of the spirit of the Lord coming to rest on me (and without me even knowing it, I might add!) is that growing up, my father got very sick. This began while I was pretty young, about the age of 10 and I began to take responsibility for things around the house (I didnít understand for awhile why my earthly father got sick and then all of what happened because of it, and I was angry at how I couldnít have a Ďnormalí homelife like other kids at the time, but I kept that anger to myself- I eventually got over it Ė more on that later!). One specific chore that was given to me was taking care of the grass and hedges of our house around age 12. I didnít know a thing about any of these things to start, but by doing them I figured it out, and by figuring out certain things it led me to figure out other parts about it too. I used to take all the credit for this, thinking that I was really smart and that I was ďself-taughtĒ. I now see that it was because the Lord put within me a certain amount of intelligence and I was diligent to put it to use in the best way that I knew how, that he blessed me with knowledge and sometimes even gave me ideas that I could not have come up with on my own. These special ideas that came to me, way too advanced to have come from me, these are where the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me. In fact, I believe that Godís mercy is so big, and I know from His word that Ďhis gifts are without repentanceí that even those who refuse to give God glory are still using the gifts that God gave them. An eloquent atheist is using the gifts of speech, grammar, writing, and ordered thought in order to talk badly about the one who gave the gifts to him, yet God loves him so much that he gives him an entire human lifetime to come to the fact that God gave his only son for this manís sin and that he could be born again unto eternal life at any time! Man, thatís mercy!
For some reason the gift He has given the most of to me is wisdom. Iím not boasting in me, merely explaining that thatís the gift He chose to give me, and I glorify Him in it by attempting to be a good steward of it and adding to it as much as I possibly can in His will, His way and His timing. There are a lot of other things that I have not traditionally been good at. For a long time, I was highly overweight. I used to compensate emotional support for food and it turned out badly for my body. Again, by the Lordís grace (empowerment by His holy Spirit) I made a decision in college to honor this fleshly dwelling that the Lord has given me and I lost a bunch of weight. Again, through the Lordís grace and wisdom, I have kept it off to this day. Glory to His name! In Godís provision, He has also protected me Ė of that Iím sure: another story.
In all the years that I cut the hedges as a youth I never cut myself once. A few years back when a friend asked me to clip her hedges and I was unsure if I should or not, I went ahead and did it. Almost immediately I cut myself so severely that I passed out from losing blood so fast. I had to lie on the couch the rest of the day to recover. I know now that God had a hedge of protection around me while I was clipping the hedges of my childhood home, and that I shouldíve not cut the hedges at my friendís house that day because I was sorely in need of a vacation. Because I didnít obey the signals my body was putting out, namely, ďSean, you need rest!Ē I put myself in a risky situation and ended up causing myself some temporary harm. God has these safeguards built into the system. If he didnít then our bodies wouldnít be able to heal themselves, right? Thatís mercy in action (In no way am I suggesting that if someone is born without the ability to heal or that over time they heal less well that they are not in Godís protection Ė God makes other provisions for these and ultimately our bodies of flesh are meant to pass away, I believe, because of the sinfulness of man Ė we must die to ourselves, flesh and all at the end of our lives, in order to inherit the Kingdom of God. For now, we can die to our old heartsets, mindsets, and behaviors, and at the end of our lives, should Jesusí second coming not occur before then, we must leave even our physical body behind to graduate into the glory that Jesus went ahead to prepare for us Ė GLORY!! )! And thatís how God made it!
Okay, so back to some more about Godís name: His name in the Hebrew language, Yahweh, or Jehovah, speaks of this. He is the "I am" who already was (this is a translation of His JHWH into English, and His name has no vowels in the original language of Hebrew, so His name can be rendered Yahweh or Jehovah depending on what vowels one puts in). OK, so we've established that God is the one who has always been, but then what?
He decided to create beings in His image and likeness and to put them in a habitat in which they could become fully themselves. That's what this physical world is for. Our life is full of tests, but I don't believe our life was created just to be a test. Our life, as Joyce Meyer so aptly puts it, is meant to be enjoyed! The trick is finding out who exactly we're meant to be. That's where our groping process comes in, but more on that later. God has, however, created us with free will. I believe this is the chief way in which you and I are created in His image and likeness. You and I both know that we can choose what we want to do with our lives, we have the ability to communicate using words, symbols, and body gestures, which all gives us collectively the ability to love and be loved.
While there are certain elements of who we are that seem fixed - this is our God-given set of gifts and talents, and our personalities as well Ė there are many other areas of our lives which are flexible. My life has been filled with me coming to terms with what parts of me are compromisable and what parts are not. When I canít compromise on something itís either because I am being too rule-oriented about it and I donít yet know how to exercise the right level of mercy over that thing, or itís because I need to avoid that thing so as to maintain health in my life.
Sometimes this may even mean stepping away from something for a certain length of time (from here on in referred to as a Ďseasoní) and then reintroducing it later; I did the Atkins diet and did that with carbohydrates, for example. I took seasons off where I did not go on any dates with girls. I gave up Facebook for a season. I gave up all soda for a season. I stopped doing sexual activities: waiting until marriage. I got rid of all of my non-worship music for awhile. I got rid of every possession that I deemed wasnít absolutely essential for me. All of these were steps I needed to take at certain points in time so that I could become reacquainted with them in a healthy way and only as the Holy Spirit led.
I only gave up things (to later re-introduce them, still waiting on some, like sexual relations for example!) as the Spirit of the Lord prompted me, and I did so to the best of my ability. Iím sure that sometimes I got very rules-oriented about these things and perhaps even attempted to push those rules onto other people. For that I must publicly say that I am sorry and seek forgiveness of those who I offended (who I may have forgotten or not had the happenstance of asking personal forgiveness of), because I misrepresented my Father in heaven during those times. God does establish rules and He wants us to follow them, but He only wants us to follow them for our own good and for our overall health. Trust me, itís better to just follow your Heavenly Fatherís instructions and learn that way then to have to sin and sin and sin and reap the consequences, but God will meet us where we are and allow us to learn in whatever way we need to. Please take it from someone who has broken every commandment I could have up until this point in his life: sinning may feel good for a season, but it leaves a bitter taste in oneís mouth. Godís instructions to us are not to keep us from enjoying life, but to help us to enjoy it appropriately Ė in His timing, in good measure, and in good and decent order so that everyone can enjoy life simultaneously and so that my enjoyment wonít infringe on your enjoyment. This is true joy: joy that does not cause someone else sorrow. Just as God meets us where we are, we are to meet each other where the other is, all the while still honoring ourselves. The great commandment is to love God with everything weíve got and to love others just as much as we love ourselves, while deferring whenever possible to the other. Thereís a list of priorities for sure, and it takes awhile to get it straight, but once we do, we can really receive our Fatherís love and give it out all day long! Notice the great commandment does not say to love others more than yourself. We are to love ourselves. We are to see ourselves for the creation that God has made us to be. This takes some doing. Oftentimes we see the mistakes that we have made and also the outright willful sins that we have committed and we can have a tendency to look at ourselves through a lense of shame and condemnation. Although sinful acts deserve to be shamed, the person who has done them ought be rid of shame when he or she repents. Shame ought to be replaced with a emotion-free memory of the wrong behavior and its consequences so that we will remember to never do that again. Condemnation is once again labeling someone as unworthy in oneís mind. This mindset is NEVER helpful. A behavior can be condemned, but not a person. A person always has free will until the day that they day and we must believe that there is always hope for others as long as they have breath in their lungs. Just because a person may not have discovered Godís love for them yet and it may have been a long time coming doesnít mean that it wonít happen. An amazing blessing may come their way that makes them realize that God is a real being with a real personality colored by love or a great tragedy (god forbid) may occur which forces them to seek the assistance of a personally available higher power. God will meet us where we are, but we must remember that we are living in His world and not the other way around. It is OK for us to question our Father and ask him intelligibly why something happened, but not with an attitude that we somehow know better. The reason I am able to write this right now is because I have asked my Father questions in sincerity, and through study, life circumstances, and hearing back from God directly sometimes (the gift of prophecy) I have gotten the answers I believe I have gotten. I will be happy to change my mind on things later if I have better understanding, but as of yet I am hard-pressed to find any better understanding and Iíve only been able to read what Iíve been able to read in my life thus far, and I stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before me, seeing and reporting on what theyíve seen ahead of me. I am very grateful for the theologians of the past who have gone before me (both academic and folk alike) because they have given me a head start on getting to know my father in heaven as well. I am also thankful for libraries, TV, media, and conversations with others because through these means, God has communicated with me. This is why I am a huge advocate (and when finances permit, a patron) of the arts. The arts allow people to express whatís going on inside of them. When done well, the arts act as a mirror into the deepest parts of what it is to be human. The arts, of course, are in an interplay with history, society, culture, economics at the same time. Itís all inter-related, really and no one thing is really in charge of everything else in regards to the Ďologiesí as I call them: God is sovereign over all and thatís all I know about that! Anyway, back to some more theology, or the study of who God really has revealed Himself to be to us humans.
Since we've established that God always was and always is, and that He created the world (He spoke it into being and gave us a similar power by giving us Ďthe gift of gabí - see Genesis in the collection of books known collectively as 'the Holy Bible' or 'the Bible' - any translation will do to start.) He's also in charge of the universe. Being in charge of the universe, He has a lot to do, you know! =) Since He is outside of time, this allows Him to be omnipresent (everywhere at once) and omniscient (knowing all there is to know). I believe that the reason why God created time is because we have brains that can only fit inside our earthly skulls. Godís brain size is not limited in such a way because He is bigger than the entire universe we know, inhabits it all at once, and can be personally present to each of simultaneously: thatís omnipresence for ya, ha!
Since we are created in time, we have only a limited number of hours in the day with which to work. These are limited by the number of daylight hours, which depend on the seasons, the weather to varying degrees, and to the understanding about our self and surroundings which we have at any given time. God knows this about us, because He created us this way. He wants us to get to know Him better and to enjoy the process of getting to know Him better, so he speaks thru a variety of means to different people with different personalities and needs at different points in their lives Ė isnít that amazing? This again, I believe points to Godís mercy.
I know that I know that I know that Our Heavenly Fatherís heart towards us is always love (God is love, as it says in John's 1st letter to we who believe)
What about hell? God will not rescue those that donít want to be rescued and in order to honor peopleís free will, he has drawn a boundary that even He will not cross. He will not trample over our boundaries to exercise His will over ours against our will. He will attempt to woo us into loving Him, and He will allow us to reap what we sow in certain instances in order to get our attention, but our Fatherís Ďtough loveí ought not be confused with abuse. Abuse occurs when a stronger party uses his or her strength to exert his will upon a weaker party at the weaker partyís expense. Tough love occurs when one party refuses to intervene when a person needs to reap a consequence in order to learn to take responsibility for oneís actions. Tough love and true love is what causes our heavenly Father to allow some to go to hell. He is merely allowing them to reap what they have sown for their entire lives on earth: sin and death. This may sound mean, but before we judge it as mean let us first broker that against the fact that God sent His only son down into the world in the form of man so that He could pay the price for sins that we could never afford. Let us also broker that with the fact that God gives us an entire lifetime to come to accept this truth. Let us also broker it with the fact that from the moment we do, we are empowered with His Holy Spirit to exercise our free wills to do our Fatherís business. Hell is a reality. The only possible reality for a people that refuse to choose the all-encompassing love that is God. When we consistently choose not-God, God will honor our free will into eternity even to give us what we have chosen in that as well! Although hell is mentioned in the New Testament, there are three different words that Christ uses to describe hell: as metaphors.
Sheol Ė the grave, Hades Ė the Greek word for the underworld, and the abyssÖ no, thatís not right.
So, what has our Father done for us so that we donít have to go to hell? He has sent His Son, Jesus Christ, as the model to follow for all mankind. He paid the price for our sins by living a life of complete righteousness and obedience unto Father God even to the point of dying on the cross at Calvary and giving up His lifeblood and His Spirit so that we could walk in newness of life. Before Jesus Christ did this, mankind was hopeless. Ever since humanity 1.0 (see Genesis) mankind has been all wicked, all-the-time! I mean, look at infantsÖ we come out selfish, self-centered, and self-absorbed. I know itís a hard truth to swallow, but weíve gotta look at the facts. Anyway, because of Godís great mercy towards us, knowing that humanity was going to choose sin before He even made us, Our Father provided a way out of eternal damnation: Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ proclaims Himself as ďthe way, the truth, and the lifeĒ in the Gospel of John.
I canít explain exactly how this happens, but I can say that I know from personal experience that when one places his or her faith in Jesus Christ as the one Saviour for all mankind for all time, God gives that person a new heart. No longer is that personís heart all-wicked all-the-time. Strand by strand, a person is regenerated into a new creation of God. Now, spiritually, that person is as righteous as Jesus Christ himself from the moment that he or she confesses faith in Jesus, but the act of regeneration is walked out day-by-day moment-by-moment and lesson by lesson, much like anything else that we learn. Our old man must be killed off everyday and our minds must be renewed in the washing of the word. We have to purposefully recommit each day to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and Ďshow upí to do His bidding each and every day in order to walk in the newness of life that He has given us; itís the least we can do, really! Jesus saved us from a pit that we couldíve never crawled out of on our own merits! It says in Isaiah that our human righteousness, or good deeds, are as filthy rags. We cannot earn salvation. It is a gift of God, that no man can boast. However, even though salvation is technically a free gift given from Christ unto to us to be received by faith in Him, it is our job to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (a.k.a. honest-to-God due diligence) every day from the moment that we receive that salvation by way of obedience to Christ. This comes by reading the word of God and knowing who God is (the Father, the Son Ė Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit), what He expects of us, and how we can love Him, ourselves, and others in the ways that He intended for us when he made us. Everything that we design has a purpose and usually has an instruction manual of some kind Ė humans are no different in this regard! God made us and in His book of instructions, he shows us the Ďproper care and useí of human beings!