Good Question...are all the past great non-Christian religious leaders who REJECTED Christ languishing in Hell right now?
Draft: July 26/2004 (Part One)
I got this thoughtful email, which framed an old question in a new way (for me)...
I have been an avid reader of the Tank for some time as I think it's the best place to get intelligent answers to difficult issues for Christianity, which is why I am sending the following question to you. I don't believe you have directly addressed this question in the Tank but since there is so much material in it, it's possible I overlooked it. If so, please take the time to direct me to where in the Tank this question is addressed.
Here it is:
The single most important reason why I have not seriously considered Christianity is its exclusivism, its statement that only Jesus can save and all others who choose a different religion or no religion will be damned for eternity and suffer some degree of punishment, regardless of how well they lived their lives. The reasons you've given are that God, who is perfect, cannot tolerate imperfection and would be unable to commune with sinful beings, and, Heaven itself would be unlivable if sinful beings would be allowed to enter, since their sin would reproduce the evil condition present on earth.
You've said that God will make allowances for those who could not have heard the Gospel but no consideration will be given those who were aware of the Gospel but refused to accept it. This means that Maimonides, Nachmanides, Rashi and all the great Jewish post-Christian Torah sages are languishing at some level of Hell, eternally cut off from communion with God, while the Christian Inquisitors who put some of them to death are in Heaven, if they truly believed in Jesus, as I'm sure some of them did. How could God be so cruel to deny His presence to these men who loved God with all their heart and who devoted, and in some cases, sacrificed, their lives to God, as they understood Him. How could God be so unjust as to punish these victims of persecution with damnation while pardoning their murderers, if they sincerely repent? Yet that is what Christianity teaches.
I cannot believe in a God that would sentence Adolph Hitler and Mahatma Gandhi to the same place because neither were Christian. (Would Heaven be such a terrible place if non-Christians like Gandhi were there?) I would not want to be with a God that would not find the Dalai Lama, Martin Buber, or Albert Einstein fit company yet apparently would have no problem accepting repentant Nazis, Mafiosi and others who devoted their lives to evil, except for a well-timed death bed conversion. Yet that is what Christianity teaches.
Or does it? I'm no expert on Christianity so maybe it doesn't teach what I think it teaches. You are knowledgeable, so please enlighten me if I have gotten it all wrong. If I haven't, can you give me some reasonable basis for this belief? It is a huge stumbling block for me.
I appreciate any time you could spare to help me with this.
The email itself is apparently an exchange between you, a believer, and a person not-considering Christianity because of a perceived, insurmountable ethical aberrance. The 'embedded' objection is interacting with a position put forth by you the email author, so references to 'you say' are directed at YOU the email author, and NOT at the Thinktank per se. So, I am not going to defend YOUR (assumed) position, but rather single out the aspects of the objections/questions which are probably common to most evangelical positions.
Now, strictly speaking, the objection is a bit mis-worded, in its accusation of that Christianity (in the issue raised about 'rejection') is 'exclusive' relative to other religions. As we shall point out below, the Judaism of the Torah scholars mentioned (i.e., Rashi, Ramban, Rambam) was certainly no less 'exclusive' in how it treated outright repudiation of its main messenger of God. For example, if the shoe were on the other foot and someone claimed that he was a 'morally good person' but at the same time he positively (with a full knowledge of the information, alternatives, and issues) rejected Moses, asserting that he was a deceitful, false prophet (perhaps even demon-possessed, like the accusations against Jesus), how 'inclusive' of him do you think Rashi would have been?!!!! Or if someone claimed that she was a 'morally good person' but at the same time she rejected Mohammed as being a deceitful, false profit (perhaps even influenced by Satan—a la the Satanic Verses), how 'inclusive' of her do you think any Islamic cleric would be?!!! This aspect of the objection, then, is NOT an issue unique to Christianity—it is common to all reputedly revealed religions (more on this later), and to single out Christianity as being 'exclusive' in this sense is misguided. Most major religions have some 'gray area' approaches to the “those who have never heard” issue, but I don't know of any which allow full, informed, sustained repudiation (and even vilification) of their founders, main religious figures, main religious texts, etc. This aspect of the question is accordingly a bit off-base, and the (explicitly worded) objection carries little force.
That being said however, there are obviously several good questions/implications tightly inter-twined in this email (esp. the question of 'how much rejection might be allowed?') which are worthy of exploration, so I think it might be best to go over some foundational principles that might/would apply to this situation. Then we might take a look at some of the noted (mostly Jewish) individuals your questioner raises.
[Looking back over this Part One, I see that I have rambled 'muchly', but I also figure SOME bits of it would be of use to SOMEBODY out there...so I left just about everything in...(sheepish grin)...]
So, we'll organize the material (forcibly...smile) in a couple of sections:
General Principles and Issues
Issues and Considerations related to Religious Positions (with focus on Religious Leaders of Jesus' day)
to PART TWO
PART TWO: The Methodological Issue of How to Judge Religious Leaders
PART TWO: Judgment according to Deeds & the issue of Boasting (in the religious literature)
PART TWO: Examination of some of the Religious figures mentioned (esp. Jewish Torah scholars of the Middle Ages)
PART TWO: Review of the Original objection, with summarized responses.
First, General Principles and Issues
Let's start with the obvious and move to the less obvious, and let's do it recognizing two separate axes: relational and epistemic.
The relational aspect has to do with having a relationship with the personal God, and the epistemic has to do with one's posture toward a truth or proposition.
The most obvious aspect of the relational domain is that to have a relationship with the living God, one must not explicitly reject a relationship with the living God!
Essentially, this means that we have to agree on one basic assumption: that outright rejection—informed, willful, sustained, considered, uncoerced (very important list)-- of God's presence, acceptance, pardon, authority, and companionship, and similar rejection of God's offered means/efforts from God to establish that companionship, is a perfectly valid, reasonable, legitimate, and fair condition upon which God might decide to (finally and eventually) excise someone from the Future community of blessing. For God to say "to join Me in the community of the Joyous and Free in the future all you have to do is wear this little silver ring (with My identifying mark on it) I made for you" and then someone respond "I refuse to wear that stupid ring, and I don't want to be in the community of the Joyous if (a) YOU GOD will be there; and (b) if I have to wear this stupid, ugly ring to enter"--assuming this response is fully informed, considered, willful, and sustained, and uncoerced—would be a 'necessary and sufficient' condition for legitimate exclusion from the Future community of the Joyous and Free. Repudiation of God at this level—both value, authority, and 'procedure'--is justifiably grounds for exclusion. All religions (especially the monotheistic ones) hold to this basic reality. After all due consideration is made for "those who have not heard" and those who are not mentally able to hear/respond etc., the 'high-handed' sin of the Hebrew Bible is universally condemned by those who profess God.
Now, to me this seems obvious, but I can see where some subtleties might surface for some folk. Let's look at a couple of 'versions' and/or issues with this:
Assuming the reality of true moral guilt of humanity before God, is it reasonable to believe that one can receive God's forgiveness, while explicitly and consciously rejecting God's offer of forgiveness (however mediated)? That is, if God said "to be forgiven, all you have to do is ASK for forgiveness", and then someone refuses to ASK for forgiveness, is it reasonable to expect God to be required to forgive them? Assuming (as in the case of most major religions), again, both real guilt and adequate comprehension on the part of the refuser, it seems obvious that God would NOT be required to forgive them, nor to enter into a unilateral 'happy' relationship with them. [And it's worth noting that this is NOT a matter of God 'being in a huff about it'--one simply cannot have a heaven-quality inter-relationship with someone who refuses to be reconciled to begin with! For someone to suggest that God should "be big enough to forgive them ANYWAY" misses the point--the issue is NOT a uni-lateral one, but a bi-lateral one. The guilty party must be 'big enough' (so to speak) to admit 'estranging guilt', and to 'accept' forgiveness (a challenge for MANY people in the world today, in other relationships, to be sure!).]
Would it be reasonable to expect God to establish/maintain a personal, positive relationship with a person who denies His/Her/Their existence, when confronted with that existence 'face to face'? In other words, it is one thing to be an atheist on earth, but it would be an entirely different thing to be one while in the visible/tangible/perceptible presence of God! Could God be expected to establish/maintain a 'happy' relationship with someone who eternally 'ignored' God's very presence in their immediate vicinity, and throughout eternity (and, of course, be out-of-synch with everybody else who wanted to talk about God's goodness!)? Probably not.
Three: Arbitrary Means.
The 'ring' issue can get a little subtle, however. If the means of healing any estrangement with God (a presupposition of the big monotheistic religions--"for all have sinned..." is an anthropological substrate undergirding all ancient religions--there is ALWAYS a 'problem' to be overcome, and the problem generally stems from "us"...sigh/smile), seems 'token' or 'arbitrary', one might suspect God of being petty (or worse).
For example, if God personally and visibly ordered humans to complete a high-school-type scavenger hunt (e.g., to get to heaven you have to collect one potholder, one soft drink sign, one 8-track tape cassette, one picture of a pink flamingo, a 2-dollar bill, and three strands of hair from a left-handed Irishman)--in order to get to heaven—we might react in one of several possible ways:
We might assume that this God is senile, silly/foolish, or seriously mis-valued, and therefore not worthy of our respect, worship, and probably not even desirable to BE WITH in heaven for eternity.
Or, we might assume that this was NOT REALLY the real God, but either some human projection/invented 'god' (making those HUMANS look senile, silly/foolish, etc.); or some sub-deity (e.g., lesser spirit) trying to deceive us by tricking us into believing God was 'senile,...'.
Some of us might accept that the task was 'silly-looking', but still believe that God had somehow 'built reality' in such a way that the process of finding the arbitrary items created in us some non-arbitrary goodness, virtue, qualities, etc. which WERE relevant to entrance into, participation in, and enjoyment of a relationship with God in Heaven.
Others of us might also accept that the task was arbitrary, but believe that this arbitrariness was DELIBERATELY OBVIOUS and was posted as a test of our faith. Some weird version of "Prove that you trust Me, by not 'leaning on your own understanding'".
(Unfortunately, there is probably at least one unstable monk-type who would create elaborate and long-winded apologetic pieces, creating bizarre justifications for each of these arbitrary elements...I will start posting these on the Tank as fast as I can develop them—beginning with least problematic one of these: why God would demand an 8-track tape cassette...smile)
Now, we get closer to home when we put this 'arbitrary' message into the mouths of some religious figures...
If someone comes up to us and delivers this "salvation by scavenger hunt" message (sola 'finding', versus sola fide...weak smile), and claims that the true God has given them the message, most of us (I would hope) would have serious doubts about this message, since our basic intuitions about 'a god figure' would clash with the character of god implied in this bizarre demand. In fact, even if the messenger produced miraculous signs, the more sub-divine (e.g., sub-mature?) the demands were, the more likely we are to attribute the message/miracles to some sub-deity (e.g., malignant or mischievous spirit).
As I understand this objection, one aspect of it reflects the common objection reflected in the above perspective:
"I cannot believe/worship a god who would make such an arbitrary demand as "believe proposition X" the sole requirement of (re)establishing a sustainable/life-giving relationship with God...This arbitrariness is prima facie evidence in itself that the system cannot be true--a real god wouldn't be so petty/arbitrary." [This is the epistemic aspect. There is also a 'do process X' version we will consider next.]
Now, notice that this argument 'scales' in both directions, relative to 'plausibility'.
On one hand, if proposition X contains the content "All frogs born in leap years are made of animated cardboard", we would be justified in rejecting such a 'system' as being implausible.
On the other hand, if proposition X contains the content "God exists and it is desirable to be in a warm, interacting relationship with Him/Her/It/Them", then this wouldn't be grounds for rejection since it is almost presupposed by the system--a universe in which a God actually approached us for a life-fulfilling relationship would suggest such a presupposition (under normal circumstances).
So, let's play with a few Proposition X contents, varying between the ridiculous and the obvious poles above, with a view to plausibility-estimated-from-arbitrariness:
Believe that..."frogs created humans" [very dubious truth; low plauz]
Believe that..."frogs taste good" [no major truth-status problem, but as the sole condition for a relationship with God--assuming He is not a frog-god or something, I guess--this is such an insignificant truth as to render the system implausible]
Believe that..."frogs are gods equal to Me, and can offer a satisfying and (eventually) a transcendental inter-personal relationship as well" [low plauz, since the truth status of an inter-personal relationship with a frog seems too far of a stretch for most of us ("with the obvious exception of Kermit"...said the Leland native, attempting to avoid local castigation...)]
Believe that..."frogs are more important than other creatures to Me" [maybe neutral--might be revelatory, I guess, but still seems a bit 'impersonal' and/or 'too small' a proposition for such a big deal as an eternal relationship with an infinite God...]
Believe that..."I was incarnated in a frog, so that humans might learn how to live godly lives by emulating the life of that special frog" [plauz low, since the life of a frog (even a really well-behaved one) doesn't have enough 'overlap' with lives of humans. Our moral challenges, complex emotional attachments, lack of adequate and "automatic from birth" community-supporting 'instinct' mechanisms, interdependency on constructed/perpetuated cultural systems seem oddly alien to hopping and eating flies--not sure how we could guide our lives by watching an 'optimal frog', assuming he/she/it wasn't a frog who talked, and otherwise acted un-froglike (i.e., humanly).]
Believe that..."I accept frogs as substitutionary sacrifices, to take the place of humans who--through misanthropic behavior--earn my punitive/judicial intervention (i.e., death or exile from the human community, both this one and the Next One). Offering a frog as a sacrifice is clear and public evidence (to Me and to the community) that one has taken Me and My demands somewhat seriously, although I will still have to judge their sincerity and intent-to-change, on the basis of visibility into their hearts." [This is not as simple, since most ancient religions had sacrificial animals, and some even offered frogs (generally for fertility benefits, and not as expiation for wrongdoing--but it's close enough, and in some cases these overlap, of course). The trick here, though, is that word 'substitutionary'. Without it, the act becomes a simple ritual, just like wearing a special (arbitrary) costume, chanting a specific (arbitrary) saying, or doing a specific (arbitrary) dance, with the value of the action residing solely in the offerer's intent (and not in the worth of the 'arbitrary sacrificial object'--a jelly bean or Edsel would have the same 'intrinsic' worth relative to the ritual--if allowed by the god). With substitution, however, the value all of a sudden becomes much larger than just the offerer's intent--it now includes the suitability or 'worthiness' of the frog to be an object-of-punishment of roughly equivalent moral 'worth'. In other words, the frog has to be 'close enough' in value to the human in order to function as a non-token substitute.
Now, it should be obvious that we are not going to get to an 'obvious' pole while using frogs as a design-center (smile), so let's jump way out to the other end, and work backward from some of the (probably) reasonable positions (some elements of which we mentioned above).
Believe that..."I, God, exist" [Because this New Future is constructed by This God, of course...There really is almost no reason to believe in some post-mortem existence apart from revealed religion--the natural data of our 'earthly lives' per se gives us VERY little hope/evidence to believe that there is some 'heaven' after death (even the radically infrequent NDE's can be 'reduced' to totally self-constructed experiences, if you start with naturalism, btw)...even the sheer metaphysics of some kind of "heaven not created by a god" is so contra-indicated by a naturalistic, no-religion worldview.]
Believe that..."I, God, control access to this New Future" [This sorta flows from the creation motif--If God created/creates this New Future, and since it is NOT a metaphysically automatic thing that all people 'morph into' this state, then it can ONLY be accessed/entered via some agency of God's. This ALONE creates a dependency relation between God and the would-be New Future citizen. It also creates a non-peer relationship: God is holding all the cards on this one, the post-mortem human is a 'petitioner' or 'applicant' or 'candidate' at best, and starts out as an outsider...That is, there is no automatic, birth-right to membership or participation in this New Future. There are no obvious legal or moral 'absolutes' that obligate God to let occupants of the This Present into the New Future. We live our lives 'down here'--obviously not in some kind of glorious, peace-rich, treachery-free life-experience(!)--and so, apart from some action by God, we would remain---naturally-- outside that New Future indefinitely (either 'locked into this experience plane'--a la reincarnation, annihilated or exiled, if there were some OTHER post-mortem "state").]
Believe that..."I am desirable to be around forever" [If we assume that God is the center of this New Future, its Guarantor, and is the very manifest/present character of this Future--that is, its every facet reflects aspects of His goodness--then one had better "like God" before getting 'eternally trapped therein"! Oddly enough, this might even function as a 'selection mechanism': God would reveal His Heart perfectly to the post-mortem soul, and then the human would decide to walk with God or walk away from God...This happens everyday: "men loved darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil" (John 3.19), "is your eye evil because My eye is good?" (Matt 20.14f)...we all know people who, at times, literally hate true virtue (not pretended virtue or elitist virtue, but real goodness), hate beauty, and wish to destroy the pure--those who flee from truth (like we all do!) at times, because they WANT to live in a lie or convenient rationalization.]
Believe that..."I, God, have created this New Future to realize all the highest hopes and deepest needs of humanity, and thus I cannot allow certain things to enter, to happen, or to eventuate therein--and therefore, I have criteria for would-be entrants" [Now this is not intuitively unreasonable, for all commonality-groups work on this principle of shared values/shared perspectives/shared interactions (these are necessary to perpetuate the values and cause the community to thrive), but it's slippery enough to develop a bit. For example, there are types of commonality-groups that we would typically condemn as unworthy of a good-hearted God--for examples, snobbish/elitist/holier-than-thou groups wouldn't fit (an image many outsiders have about Christian claims to 'exclusivity', btw!), and/or groups based on arbitrary criteria and therefore inaccessible to people otherwise 'interested' (e.g., only ethnic Jews, only people over 5 feet tall, only people who can read, only people over 10 years of age, or even "above average good works on a bell curve" would by definition arbitrarily exclude folks, irrespective of their own level of achievement!--I don't think people appreciate this fact well enough, when they argue for people who live 'above average' or 'upper quartile' lives, btw--smile ).
At this point we can temporarily shift from the "Believe That..." (faith/proposition) to "Do that..." (behavior/process). This also exhibits a spectrum:
For example, on one pole we find:
Do..."find the items on the Scavenger Hunt list" [generally implausible due to triviality, and its unworthy view of God"
And on the other end:
Do..."accept my free invitation to enter the Kingdom--all you have to 'do' is WANT to be there with Me and others like Me forever, enough to just walk through the door" [Almost a sine qua non of the deal, but as we have noted, this might function as the ultimate differentiator...You cannot pretend to want God, or profess to want God, and consequently get in, or else heaven becomes hell for you--remember the never-empty return bus trip in The Great Divorce...]
And right in the middle might be a mixture of "believe" and "do":
Believe...that the human messenger I sent to you humans--to deliver the message of this offer--actually IS speaking the truth (about their relationship with, and authorization from, Me), and then Do...whatever instructions I gave in that message, so that you CAN be ready to enter the New Future upon your death"
How unreasonable is this?
At a structural level, not unreasonable at all--we would expect a good-hearted human (of substantial means) to invite others to enjoy his/her wealth, and to send messengers with the news of the invitation to us. And, if the social distance between he/she and ourselves were considerable, we might expect the messenger(s) to offer some evidence of their authenticity and the legitimacy of the offer (maybe not miracles, but it might depend on how wealthy the benefactor were...smile). But at a content level, much would depend--again--on the arbitrariness/out-of-synch-ness of the 'instructions' (as per the above discussion).
At a practical level, of course, this is essentially what all the major world religions teach: that Ultimate Reality has revealed itself in select impersonal ways (e.g., nature or meditation) and through select personal messengers (with religions varying in the degrees of 'mix' of these means), and that to ignore or repudiate them is an act of evil (or equivalent, in that system). For you to tell a Muslim that you worship/believe in Allah, but that Mohammed was a demon-possessed false prophet/teacher, to tell a Medieval Jew that you believe in Yahweh but that Moses was a demon-possessed Egyptian false prophet/teacher, to tell a Buddhist that you believe in the teachings of the Buddha, but that you are convinced he was an exploitative hypocrite and a deceitful, politically-motivated anti-Hindu polemicist, or to tell a Christian that you believe in God the Father but that Jesus was a demon-possessed false prophet/teacher would quickly reveal that Christianity has no monopoly on 'exclusive' claims about its main messenger of God!!!
[It should also go without much controversy--sigh--that any system that holds forth something as truth, also has to judge some other things as un-truths...Truth is, by definition, exclusive of untruth. And time forbids me to point to the self-stultifying nature of claims to the contrary...e.g., "it is absolutely true that there is no such thing as absolute truth" or "all religious statements are true, INCLUDING the religious statement that NO religious statements are true"...etc... I don't want to lapse into logic here, but to affirm that "Both A and ~A are true" is itself an "A", which is EXCLUSIVE OF "Neither A or ~A are true" --its ~A.]
[ And, for good or ill, the communities that hold to some specific truth (especially in moral/value areas) have to have 'membership criteria' that look like creeds. For the central belief of a community to be "our members have value, and should not be attacked, degraded, devalued, or ignored by other members when help is needed", it is entirely reasonable for 'social exclusion forces' to drive away those who do NOT hold to such a community-enabling position like that.]
So, at a practical level, your objector has to do more than just condemn Christianity as being 'exclusive'--he/she must go on to repudiate the very Jewish leaders that are advanced later in the statement. Without a doubt, the pre-Reformed Jewish scholars would not remotely entertain the notion that someone could reject Moses (in a "fully informed, considered, willful, sustained, and uncoerced" manner, remember) and have a place in the World to Come. Consider even the statements about Biblical Jews who did this--for example, the Rebellion of Korah in Numbers 16:
The Talmud (Sanh 109b) gives rabbinic authority (although divided) for the belief that Korah, Inc has 'no place in the world to come' (ditto for the Spies of the False Report, btw).
So does the LAB: "The Book of Biblical Antiquities (LAB 16.3) and some rabbis deny that Korah will participate in the Resurrection." [DJBP, s.v. "Korah"].
Some of this data is summarized by Bauckham:
“through the controversy of Korah they perished.” Korah, who with Dathan and Abiram led a rebellion against the authority of Moses and Aaron (Num 16:1–35; 26:9–10; cf. Ps 106:16–18; Sir 45:18–19), was a notorious figure in Jewish tradition. He became the classic example of the antinomian heretic. This was partly because, in addition to the material already in the biblical text of Num 16, Jewish exegetical tradition, represented by Pseudo-Philo (Bib. Ant. 16:1–2 and Tg. Pseudo-Jonathan (to Num 16:1–2), interpreted Korah’s revolt in connection with the immediately preceding account of the law of the fringes (Num 15:37–41). Korah and his fellow-conspirators complained that this was an intolerable law (Bib. Ant. 16:1). In contravention of it they “made garments with completely blue fringes, which the Lord had not commanded” (Tg. Ps.-J. Num 16:2; cf. Num. Rab. 18:3). Korah accused Moses of adding his own inventions to the Torah (Num. Rab. 18:3, 12). Later rabbinic tradition attributed to Korah the heresy of the Minim that God gave only the Decalogue, and represented Korah as claiming, “The Torah is not from heaven” (Vermes, “Decalogue,” 173; cf. Ginzberg, Legends, 6, 100–101)...It should also be noticed that the Targums (Neof. Num 16:1; 26:9; Ps.-J. Num. 26:9) say that Korah, Dathan and Abiram “made a schism” (literally “divided,” perhaps cf. 4QpNah 4:1). This characterization of them as schismatic is also reflected in 1 Clem 51:1–4, which compares those “who set themselves up as leaders of rebellion and dissension” with Korah and his fellows, who rebelled against Moses (cf. also 1 Clem 4:12). The implication of Num 16:2, that Korah, with Dathan, Abiram, and On, was responsible for inciting others to rebel, is strengthened by Num. Rab. 18:2, which interprets “took men” to mean that Korah “drew their hearts with persuasive words” (cf. Josephus, Ant. 4.15–21). Korah was therefore a natural type for heretical teachers, and 2 Tim 2:19 (along with 1 Clem 51:1–4) suggests that Jude was not the only early Christian writer to apply this type to false teachers within the church. The allusive character of the reference in 2 Tim 2:19 (quoting Num 16:5) suggests a well-established tradition. [Bauckham, R. J. (2002). Vol. 50: Word Biblical Commentary : 2 Peter, Jude. Word Biblical Commentary (Page 83). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.]
And consider the case of Jewish apostates--the ultimate rejection of Moses. In the Tosefta, a list is given of those who have no share in the world to come (Sanh 13.5ff):
"But heretics, apostates, traitors, Epicureans, those who deny the Torah, those who separate from the ways of the community, those who deny the resurrection of the dead, and whoever sinned and caused the public to sin--for example, Jeroboam and Ahad...Gehenna is locked behind them, and they are judged therein for all generations..."
Indeed, even some of the figures in the Jewish-sage list are very explicit about such matters. Rambam's (Maimonides) Eighth Principle says that denial of the divine origin of ANYTHING in the Torah is enough to classify one as a 'heretic" (i.e., with no part in the World to Come).
Again, this is not at all unreasonable or unexpected. The Hebrew bible is filled with God imploring His people to pay attention to “My servants the prophets”, and the parable of the Wicked Tenants in the New Testament makes it clear that rejection of God's authorized (and beloved) messengers was understood by Jesus and by the religious leaders of the day as being culpable:
“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard and put a wall around it and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey. “And when the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. “And the vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. “Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. “But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ “But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and seize his inheritance.’ “And they took him, and threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. “Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?” They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers, who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.” [Matthew 21.33ff; note: the parallels in Lk 20.9ff and Mark 12 describe the son as 'beloved' or 'who I love']
There is an aspect of this 'progression of messengers' that is instructive here—the 'cost' to God's heart in this process. Throughout the process of revelation, God shared His life and heart with special messengers, the prophets. They had a special, close, intimate relationship with the Living God, and were special to His heart (think 'deeply involved Parent'). They were persecuted, rejected, hurt, ostracized, criticized, marginalized, and sometimes killed by His people. What effect do you think this had on God's heart? How would YOU have responded to such treatment of your loved ones, if you had sent them to help a group of apparently ungrateful (and even aggressively spiteful?) people? God was no unfeeling, distant Father during Jesus' agony on the Cross! There is an immense emotional 'cost' to God in all such overtures of love—and the Parable of the Wicked Tenants shows the culmination of this cost in the sending of the King's beloved Son. Is the Son 'arbitrary', in the since used here? Are the servants arbitrary? Do they not represent a 'piece' of God, so unlike a scavenger hunt item?
There are three aspects of this intermediary/means issue that can be seen here:
The closer the means is to God, the less 'arbitrary' it is (e.g., God offering forgiveness as a means is 'close' to God, and therefore NOT arbitrary).
The closer the means is to the problem-to-be-solved (e.g., need for reparations by perps, need for a new community-centered heart, need for a new ability to interact positively with God/truth/others, need for a public demonstration of mercy-within-justice), the less 'arbitrary' it is (e.g., asking for a changed heart, agreeing to become 'like Jesus' in character, accepting God's implanting of a humble heart).
The more dear and/or 'costly' a means is to God, the less 'arbitrary' it is (e.g., God's beloved servants, God's 'reputation' in identifying with 'common folk' and/or 'sinners', God's own Son).
Now, this leads us immediately to the next issue—that of the Incarnation, in Christian theology—since that core belief is that the person of Jesus is the full intersection of these three 'measures of non-arbitrariness'...
Four: The Incarnation.
Now, given that most religions (and ESPECIALLY Judaism) would 'disqualify' someone from the New Future on the basis of rejection of God's authorized and authenticated (and consistent—btw—an issue we will deal with below, when we come to the issue of religious leaders) messengers, it is easy to see that it would be even more fair, expected, and even logical to disqualify someone on the basis of rejection of God incarnate (however that is understood metaphysically). If God appeared in the body of even a frog, and this identification was very, very certain, then to 'reject' said frog would be tantamount to rejecting God Himself/Herself/Itself/Themselves. Granted, it might be harder to prove this God-Frog incarnation, but when we get to biblical theophanies (e.g., God in the burning bush, God in the Shekinah Glory in the tabernacle & Temple, God in the visions of the prophets), we have a shared 'commitment' with the great Torah scholars. They cannot reject these material manifestations of God, without that being a rejection of God Himself.
[In fact, Christianity is not alone here: Jewish rabbinic theology made a very similar claim for the nation of Israel itself! So, Everyman's Talmud (p. 60):
"So close is the relationship between them (God, Israel) that the treatment accorded to Israel on earth is reflected upon God in heaven. 'Whoever rises up against Israel is as though he rose against the Holy One, blessed be He' (Mech. to XV. 7; 39a); 'Whoever helps Israel is as though he helped the Holy One, blessed be He' (ibid. 39b); 'Whoever hates Israel is like one who hates Him' (Sifre Num c84; 22b)."]
I have dealt elsewhere with the legitimacy (in Jewish theological eyes) of God being incarnate within a human (i.e., Jesus), so I won't repeat all that stuff here. But if God truly were incarnate/present in Jesus (as, analogously, in the Temple in the OT/Tanach), then Jesus' words in the gospels--”He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14.9; 12.45)--makes perfect sense. And accordingly, rejection of Jesus by (selected) first-century Jewish leaders (assuming, again, it was 'informed, sustained, etc.”) would be equivalent to rejection of the biblical God Himself. This identification of Jesus with the Father—made most forcefully by Jesus himself--entails that any rejection of the biblical Jesus (NOT some caricature or false-image of Jesus, as discussed below) is indeed a rejection of God's presence and, at the same time, a rejection of the thing most important to God's heart (His unique Son).
And, since the whole point of Jesus' appearance was "to give His life a ransom for all" (Mark 10.45), He is more than just a God-manifestation and close-to-God messenger--He is also 'close to the problem to be solved'. He is a representative, effecting what we could not effect by ourselves. There is nothing arbitrary about this at all.
Five: The problem of Required Transformation: Being versus Doing.
When we discussed the Arbitrary Means issue above, we discussed two options: Believing Something(proposition/s) and/or Doing Something (process, praxis, acts), but when we discussed some of the examples, we noted some possible 'entrance requirements' to the New Future having to do with character ("Being Something"). We might distinguish this being-something from doing-something by noting that Being-something has to do with a future 'state' (i.e., my character at point of entry to the World to Come), while Doing-something has to do (presumably) with a past process (i.e., the good deeds I did to--at least according to uniformed popular opinion-- presumably 'earn merit' or 'demonstrate my faith enough to warrant' an entrance into the New Future). Theoretically of course, 'good works' are supposed to produce 'good hearts', so these distinctions are not harsh either/or's, but the distinction does highlight a problem with the 'earn your way into the NF'--the problem of possible duplicity, disconnect, or discontinuity.
There is no definite and unambiguous relationship between an external act 'of moral provenance' and an internal state (the alleged cause of that external act). Bad people can do good-looking acts for reasons of deception, camouflage, social access, power accumulation, cultural/social forces, influence; or even for reasons of outright malice ("set them up, and then knock them down--what fun"), mockery, control ("the first fix is free"), arrogance, and elitism. Some 'religious' people (IMO) and some altruistic people (IMO) may be doing beneficent works to create social distance, marginalization, feelings of self-superiority, "Public Relations", image management, guilty-conscience-anesthesia, or even pathological dependencies/relationship creation. [Note--most of us common folk also wrestle with these motives ourselves in the good deeds we consider/chose to do, so this is a familiar 'temptation'.] Although the good they do obviously has a positive aspect (e.g., the material help that is transferred), their motives/character behind these very public acts may be surprisingly despicable and putrid (e.g., political gain, arrogance-support(!))--like the Roman benefactors who would parade their pitied-upon-ones in front of others to display their 'superior generosity'). These kinds of motives are despised by good-hearted people everywhere--of all means and station. Such works would not generally be considered as 'heaven-earning' by most folks--they are tainted/twisted by the very motives/character behind it.
And of course, good people can 'slip up' and do bad things as well, due to inconsistencies (i.e., more-good-than-bad, but 'bad' still gets 30% of the resources...!), lapses (e.g., early stages of trying to break a deeply-ingrained bad habit), inattention (e.g., just missing the clues or markers), immaturity (e.g., inability to carry out some good deed, or to distinguish between actions), and/or ignorance (e.g., not seeing or sensing the evil in the choice in front of them). In these cases, the 'reasons' for evil acts by these--as long as they are not TOO frequent, sustained, enjoyed, planned for, etc.--are often used to 'soften' our judgments on otherwise-good people. In other words, we cut these folks 'slack', because of their historical track record of good deeds. But it is important to note that the material damage done is very, very real, hurtful, destructive, and often, irreversible. The loss in interpersonal trust relationships can be irrecoverable.
A slightly humorous example ("a true story") will illustrate this dynamic (on a much smaller scale...smile). When I was a high school senior, I was exceedingly impish and would constantly tease the teachers (at least those that put up with me). I was an exemplary Top-Geek, Hall-of-Famer, student (i.e., too cowardly to do anything wrong and/or too clever to get caught--a mix of both in my case), and had never been in a single disciplinary situation during all of Junior/Senior High. But two months before High School graduation, during the last class period of the day, I was pushing the School Librarian too far with my humor/teasing. Ten minutes before the end of the class and school day she had 'had enough'--she ordered me to go to the Principal's office. As I walked down the empty hall alone toward the Office, I decided to just go spend the last 10 minutes in the Men's Room--figuring that no one would know any different. So, I did--and five minutes later the Principal himself walked in (for a bio-break) and found me just standing around...sigh. He took me back to the office--knowing full well what was going on--and gave me a little speech that went something like this:
"You know, Glenn, someday somebody is going to call me for a reference and ask me if you are trustworthy. And, up until this afternoon, I would have easily replied with an "Absolutely/Totally"...but now, because of this one small act of aberrance I will forever have this tiny shadow of doubt in my mind. And there's no reasonable way--now--to ever remove it."
Although this example is semi-comical (now that the memory of the abject fear has subsided somewhat--smile), in the real world of married couples dealing with even single acts of spur-of-the-moment infidelity, this "shadow" can grossly restrict the level of trust that is EVER achieved again between the man/wife--as every therapist and betrayed partner knows. And, as every ex-con knows, the public record of sins-of-the-past can grossly restrict the level of trust (and therefore, of opportunity) that is EVER achieved between himself/herself and the rest of the community--REGARDLESS of how 'reformed', contrite, or 'paid back' the ex-con is. Material damage--regardless of motive--weakens the world, lowers the level-of-achievable-trust, and provides a fertile ground for further mistrust (e.g., the difficulty of NOT thinking of the ex-con FIRST as a suspect for a recent crime...). Ten years of faithfulness or ten years of blameless performance is not enough to completely 'erase the record' in the minds of those who have to depend upon those people--just ask the guilty husband/wife, just ask the ex-con...and this is even when the others WANT to completely 'forget the past' and even when the others TRY TO 'forget the past'...Reality is typically very, very stubborn on this issue, unfortunately.
This is why even a "single-sin-human" just doesn't fit (without transformation) in the New Future--the person has to be altogether 'spotless' in character (i.e., incapable of treachery, betrayal, abandonment), for the community to be able to COMPLETEY 'forget about' mistrust and distance and 'hedging bets' and 'not committing too far' and 'not trusting strangers with candy'...to be completely FREE, there cannot be the slightest possibility of treachery--I have to be FREE to complete ABANDOMENT of 'caution' and 'prudence'! And this requires a metaphysical change for humans...
[BTW, theologically speaking, this limitation is not about God, but about us. When Christian theology says that God cannot allow sin in heaven because He is perfect ("Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil"), this is not the most accurate/relevant representation of the situation. God "puts up with" evil in His presence every day--He was present within the camp/nation of sinful Israel in the OT/Tanach, and is present in the lives/bodies of every New Testament believer (with all our sin and imperfection). Theoretically, He could still do it in the New Future, but it is we who cannot truly 'dwell with evil'. We are not fully 'us' in the presence of trust-destroying evil. We are not 'free' in a historical context of 'what might happen to me and/or my family'. We are not unrestrained people-lovers when fear undergirds/informs all we know and do. We are not spontaneous helpers of others, when we have often been let down when we needed help ourselves. In the New Future, I have to be sure that no one will treat me with any malice, or ridicule, or condescension, or betrayal, or abandonment--or even accidentally 'slip up' once and irrecoverably crush my little heart in some way, even with an apology afterwards--or else I will be forever on my guard somewhat, forever being the Jester to avoid getting 'hit' somewhat, forever limiting my interaction somewhat to avoid the rejection that comes from failing others... Remember what it was like to not trust the kid on the other end of the See-Saw? How what would/could have been an ecstatic, abandoned, squealing, shared experience of dancing laughter was instead a mix of fun and hypervigilance, watching the other kid to see if they were gonna jump off while you were high up in the air? Our lives today are filled with this--and all within a more-good-than-bad world!! We--not God-- need the perfection (in a community sense), because our hearts were built to live in the freedom of complete trust--anything else than this is crime upon our heart.]
[Also, there seems to also be a dynamic in which "an evil we cannot dwell with God". Again, this is not technically a limitation about God, but about us. There seems to be something about evil that makes it want to either 'hide' from God/good (e.g., the First couple in the Garden, running away from the light, trying to deceive) or resist/fight God/good (e.g., Lucifer's desire to usurp the Throne(?), vandalism which tries to spoil/soil goodness, our constant stream of self-divination choices--sigh...). How harmonious would the New Future even be (for us, and/or for others) with God/good there, and with us there with even a tiny subversive element in our character, which was constantly either hiding or attacking God (and hiding/attacking all manifestations of God/good--i.e., our entire environment!)?! Practically speaking, there are just too many reasons for requiring our characters to be perfect (i.e., in perfect conformity to the 'ways & means' of God's character) for the New Future Community.]
Logically (or perhaps, theologically) speaking, the metaphysical requirement for entry would be about the being (i.e., the character must be such-and-such, as a necessary condition of success in/for the New Community; and with perhaps some physically advanced substrate, required to support this new character?). This is logically distinct from some legal requirement for entry (e.g., satisfying some entrance requirements). One could imagine a world in which a more-good-than-bad someone 'earned' (through "enough" past acts of goodness? some mix of good/bad acts/thoughts?) the right/permission to enter Heaven--without those historical acts themselves actually 'magically' transforming the person into some metaphysically/morally 'perfect' creature--and then (after this judicial 'entrance exam') God would miraculously transform the individual into a perfectly righteous/moral person for actual/physical entry into the new state. [We'll discuss this relationship between the legal and the metaphysical in a later point, under "Deeds and Boasting"]
The only way to ensure one doesn't pollute, spoil, or sabotage the community of the New Future (including their own happiness, btw) is to eliminate any tendencies or actualizable capabilities for evil. In short, one must become good enough to COMPLETELY preclude the introduction of personal evil into the New Future. In biblical terms--both Jewish and Christian--this means that humans must become 'hyper-Adamic': Adam was perfect, but capable of sin--the New Future Community requires people better than that...And I suspect none of my readers consider them themselves perfect...
It doesn't take a 'saint' recognize this. Marguerite Shuster (The Fall and Sin, p. 35) states the obvious: "The way back [to the Garden] is barred. Barred utterly and finally. No one with the slightest spiritual insight will suppose herself to be able to regain her innocence..."
Six: The problem of Desiring this Transformation.
There is an interesting subtlety about this required Transformation: the 'supplicant' essentially has to want to be changed into the moral all-good-no-bad character of Jesus! Think about this for a second...
Theologically, the New Future is an integrated manifestation of the integrated character/qualities of God. There is no dissonance, no incongruity, no disparity within it. It is not a whole-glued-together-forcefully, as THIS post-Fall universe is, but is a harmonious, zero-defect integral unit. Every element, force, and relationship within it 'fits' and is a manifestation of the order within the Triune God. As such, every aspect of it is in full conformity to the essence and character of God, and interoperates and resonates perfectly with every other aspect (because all aspects are in conformity to the character of God)..
What this means for human participants is that they must end up 'looking like God in human form'. Adam/Eve were metaphysically (in some aspects, that is) 'in the image and likeness of God', as are even we sub-moral humans today, but being 'in the MORAL image and likeness of God' has escaped all of us except Jesus. This essentially means that we have to be transformed somehow 'into the image and likeness of Jesus' (which is a New Testament promise, of course--yes!) in order to even physically enter, remain, enjoy, and 'fit' in this New Future of Freedom.
Now, for someone like me, who has walked with the Lord for almost 35 years now, the prospect of being radically changed into the image of Christ (leaving behind my 'pet' projects, favorite habits, sub-optimal daydreams (chagrined grin), off-virtues, claims to significance, petty accomplishments, comfort zone 'rationalized' fears) is an ecstatic, desperately-sought-for, fierce hope. There is no higher desire of my heart than to become more like the Great Lover both in this life, and (totally so) in the Next.
And here is the subtlety: Who else would desire (or even 'consent'!) to be transformed into the image of Jesus, when confronted (even in a hypothetical post-mortem judgment 'event') with that metaphysical-and-moral (i.e., non-legal, non-merit) entrance requirement? Who would desire to become totally humble (without a TV camera or friend around to notice and 'publicize' for them? and without even a thought about "how humble you LOOKED")?! Who would desire to become totally obedient to God?! Who would desire to become totally no-better-and-no-worse than others in possessions, status, resources and significance?! Who would desire to become totally centered/focused on the welfare of others, without even a scrap of consideration for "hey, what about ME?!"...! Think about this--how many people arguing that they are 'good enough' would already have the aching desire to become totally humble, totally obedient, totally other-centered?!!
And it gets worse (smile): how many modern folks (religious and non-religious) would be honest enough at that point to admit even the NEED for their transformation? How many would admit that their moral failures (both active and passive, big and little) disqualified them (at least metaphysically) from the New Future? Who wants to admit they are 'not good enough' to be trusted in the New Future as they currently are? Who would be humble enough to ask God for help (i.e., transformation and a new heart), when some of them were not humble enough to seek this before death? How many people go into death bemoaning their failure to live 'above themselves'? Bemoaning their failed struggle with the baser elements in their character? How many end up painfully aware that they have no 'claim upon God', and no right to 'demand' anything of Him? How many are theologically and/or ethically astute/developed enough to know or sense the immense gap between their human 'some-good-some-bad' morality/character and the 'all-and-ultimate-good' of God (or even between where-they-are and incapable-of-doing-damage)?
Consider David in Psalm 51. After his horrible sin of adultery, betrayal and murder against Uriah, in his recorded prayer of confession and repentance, he utters this line (NET bible): "Create for me a pure heart! Transform me and give me integrity!" Here is someone--a fallen human--begging for renewal, transformation, change of character. How pervasive is this sense of need among humans? How reasonable would it have been for David to rely on his long track record of good deeds, with a 'I have saved/helped many more lives than I murdered/hurt'? [Just to be clear, this is not the same case as a 'normal Joe' perpetrator of murder, who doesn't have the leverage of a king to actually save/pardon/rescue lives (cf. Ps 72.7). For such a one to argue "I have been nice to more people than the one or two people I MURDERED' would not be a fair 'weighting'. Their 'nice deeds' to others probably didn't actually save lives, rescue captives, defend villages against slave traders, etc., so the relative comparison with murder is inappropriate, in their case.]
How many people who truly reject Jesus ("fully informed, sustained, etc.") actually would desire (now, or even if/when confronted with Him in a post-mortem judgment context) to become like Him, in His moral stance, His revulsion of all evil, His mercy on those who mistreated Him, His "meekness and lowliness of heart", His obedience to the Father?
Remember, they wouldn't get to pick and choose what 'vices' they gave up and which 'vices' they kept... No vices go in, however small, rationalized, or 'protected'...Remember Jesus' words: "And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed." (Jn 3.19)
How many people from other religions would want to become like the historical/biblical Jesus?...like a caste-repudiating, Untouchables-touching, egalitarian Jesus? or like a Gentile-loving, mercy-over-law Jesus? or like an action/passion/suffering-embracing Jesus? or like a sword-repudiating, Jew-loving, enemy-succoring , sin-bearing-unto-death Jesus? Would their chosen/retained/cherished worldviews be more important to them, than honestly/humbling accepting the necessity of change for the New Future? (Happens everyday in real life now, btw, in a myriad of contexts of life and relationships...)
BTW, this is not confined to non-Christian religions at all, IMO. I suspect that many/some professing Christians easily fall into the "not willing to REALLY become like the biblical Jesus"... many in the Western church, at least, would not accept some of Jesus' obvious teachings on social justice or self-control or anti-materialism... Christian theology has long differentiated between the 'professors' and the 'possessors' of the true Life of God.
Seven: Pride, Revulsion of Evil, and Motives
This notion of being like God goes even a little farther...
God really, really, really detests arrogance, and self-exalting pride, and this is easily documented from all the major religious traditions. The Hebrew bible (shared by Jews and Christians) has scores of passages denouncing arrogance and pride (and its symptoms of elitism, oppression, marginalization, detachment, and boasting), and the Qur'an voices the same basic theme in Luqman 31.18: "Do not turn your nose up at people, nor walk about the place arrogantly, for God does not love arrogant or boastful people." And part of the reason is obvious--consider this entry from a religious encyclopedia:
"PRIDE: An unwarranted feeling of self-sufficiency, usually manifested by an arrogant bearing and a disregard of the worth of others. The word is used both in a religious and in an ethical sense; but the two forms of pride are closely related, since pride toward God is also directed against society, while arrogance toward one's fellows becomes arrogance toward God. At present the word is employed chiefly in the ethical sense. In the Bible, however, where pride is contrasted with humility, it is the religious sense of the word that prevails. God hates "a haughty look" (Prov. vi. 17), and in his sight all manifestations of pride are an "abomination" (Luke xvi. 15). In the New Testament the Old-Testament contrast between pride and humility is made the basis of the distinction between Pharisaical piety and true religion. While humility is that feeling of dependence which necessarily accompanies faith and love toward God, pride is that self-assurance, or self-righteousness, which prevents one from feeling the need of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Considered ethically, pride consists in self-exaltation, with correlative depreciation of others. Aside from moral and religious pride there is social pride, which, when combined with benevolence, becomes condescension. In the religious field the worst form of pride is intellectual pride, which carries with it the danger of hypocrisy (Luke xviii. 11-14). Since the normal religious consciousness includes absolute trust in God, while pride is characterized by trust in one's own powers, it is evident that pride is an obstacle to salvation. The transition from the sinful state to the state of grace is possible only in the experience of absolute dependence upon God, and of utter powerlessness to save oneself. From its very nature, faith excludes pride. However, pride persists in Christian life as a blot and a sign of disease." [THE NEW SCHAFF-HERZOG ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE, SAMUEL MACAULEY JACKSON (ed), s.v. "Pride" by L.Lemme, online at http://www.ccel.org/s/schaff/encyc/encyc09/htm/iv.iv.l.htm ]
So--in our postmortem scenario--we would have to be ready, willing, even eager (and maybe 'desperate') for God to remove/transform our feelings of self-sufficiency and self-righteousness (implicit, btw, in some cases of "I have done enough good deeds to earn Heaven") away completely, replacing it with perfect humility toward God and toward those we perhaps looked down on all our earthly life ("you ready to FINALLY embrace/co-mingle/live with these XYZ folks as "reality show" (smile) equals, as family, as closely-interacting fellow community members, and as intimate friends, worthy of your honor, affection, love, respect, and even praise?") [Prideful people, btw, are likely to blindly pride themselves (!) on their acceptance of 'lesser' others--a la the superior condescension and patronizing attitude oozing from such pride...]
The post-NT rabbinics speak in the same way:
"Like the biblical and Hellenistic literatures, rabbinic texts contain stern warnings against arrogance. God cannot live in the same world as the arrogant, whom he will destroy (b. Sotah 5b). The arrogant will be brought low and at the end of time will have not part [sic] in the resurrection of the dead (ibid.; B. Erubin 13b). God himself acts with humility, for he appeared to Moses in a lowly bush and caused his presence to rest on Mount Sinai rather than on a taller mountain (B. Sotah 5b). God's humility is a model for people, who will be rewarded for emulating this trait: "Who shall inherit the world to come? One who is meek and humble, who bends when he comes and bends when he goes out, who always is studying the Torah, but does not take pride in himself on that account" (B. Sanhedrin 88b)." [DJBP: s.v., "pride"]
And then, there's the whole issue of revulsion and repudiation of evil. God hates all forms of destructive evil: treachery, deceit, self-centeredness, pride, apathy, detachment from suffering--but do we? If someone approaches God--in our postmortem scenario--and says "I did more good than bad, so let me into your heaven", will God "ask" them "Well, how do you feel about the bad you did?"? And if He did ask this as part of the 'screening process', how many "I am good enough" folks would say--honestly and with passion, conviction, and integrity--"I deeply and fiercely hated and grieved and regretted (while I was still alive, and not just 'conveniently' now!) every little evil I did", "I tried to fight it, no matter how small", "I anguished over it when I did it"--no matter how big or small it was (evil is evil, compared to perfection). Or will such a person issue excuses or de-valuations of the base characteristic of evil ("just having a good time--no harm done, really", "they had it coming", "boys will be boys", "having a bad day", "they did worse things to me", "I only thought it--I didn't act on those thoughts", "everybody lied on those forms", etc.). Proverbs 28.13 shows that it's not just a matter of being honest in admitting evil, but one has to have a definite rejection/disowning of it: "No one who conceals transgressions will prosper, but one who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy." (cf. also "He plans wickedness upon his bed; He sets himself on a path that is not good; He does not despise evil." [Ps 36.4] and " I hate and despise falsehood, But I love Thy law." [Ps 119.163]).
And, if a person doesn't feel that 'rejection-ish' about it NOW (to try to do something about it, such as 'confess and forsake'), will they really be able to make such a case THEN??? Would they even be sensitive enough to their need to even ARGUE such? "There are those who are pure in their own eyes yet are not cleansed of their filthiness." (Prov 30.12). How many people really detest that part of their actions--and especially--their thoughts. The evil we do is not confined to overt action, but also includes our intentions and plans.
I suspect that the more spiritual a soul REALLY is, the less likely they would use a "I did enough good" argument before God (in our hypothetical postmortem scenario)...Those who truly see the ethical and community realities of this existence will likely be the ones most in tune with/aware of/sensitive to their failures to live as they should, as their world/family needed them to, as their heart urged them to. They will not argue "I am good enough" to God, but rather plea/point out that "Only You are good enough, God, to make it possible for me the not-so-good to be different, and to be whole and contributory in the New Future...I want to be good like YOU, but only YOU can re-create me in that Full Image of God".
Part of the problem down here is that our 'good' actions might not be matched by good motives. All people 'discount' those who do the right things for the wrong motives. In western culture, this is typified in the movies by the ambitious, image-conscious politician who visits an orphanage or a battered women's shelter for 5 minutes--just to get a 'soundbite' for local TV coverage--or by the benefactor who does you a favor so that you 'owe then one back'--a sense of obligation, power, control [cf. "Greeks and Romans did not support personal charity; wealthy contributions to public projects or to poorer clients were meant to secure the giver’s popularity." [BBC, at Mt 6.2-4]] . This is sometimes hypocrisy, sometimes it's just self-serving manipulation, to gain either power, influence, visibility, or esteemed-goaled recognition, and sometimes is a mixture of both.
This too is rightly rejected by common folk and by the major religious traditions, and indeed, many traditions argue that mis-intentions actually remove/void any "merit" associated with a "good deed" (in that system)!
For example, in Islam humility precludes ostentation/hypocrisy [riya'] (Encyclopedia of Islam, Brill, s.v. "Riya'"):
"Al- Ghazali cites al-Muhasibi here, explicitly, in regard to the controversial question, is a pious work voided when thoughts of ostentation become mixed with the initial purity of intention?... Al-Muhasibi and al-Ghazali group under five categories the “objects of ostentation”, which they list in the following order: the body; external appearance and dress; speech; action; and the company kept. Both of them being acute psychologists, they stigmatize fiercely the various manifestations of false piety. Some examples may be cited. Through emaciation and pallor, one may give the impression of being devoted to works of mortification and to spending the nights in vigil. One can lead people to believe that one is following Tradition and the example of holy men devoted to God by appearing with disheveled hair, shorn-off mustache, bowed head when walking, slow and deliberate gestures, with marks of prostrations on the face, wearing coarse clothing such as woolen ones, hitching up one's garments to the calves, shortening the sleeves, wearing dirty and torn clothes and thus trying to pass as a Sufi. Various pieces of hypocritical cant are also noted by them, and they describe for us those who assume the appearance of mystics, full of humility, handing out words of wisdom, delivering sermons and exhorting their neighbours, in order to obtain the guilty favours of a woman or a young man... One should finally note that, if one of the possible senses of riya' is seeking the exaggerated consideration of others, [the Sufis] attached the same importance to an exaggerated opinion of oneself."
What this principle would mean for us is that if someone did a good deed to be seen for praise, self-honor, or recognition (certainly in the eyes of others, but perhaps also--a la the Islamic point above--even if only in their own eyes ), then they couldn't "use" that good deed as meritorious before God. It actually wouldn't even matter when the act was intended 'to be seen', or even how large the audience was (only one's self?): "No one saw me do it, but I can let it sorta 'slip' in the conversation sometime"; "I can make sure I manipulate the good-recipient into 'leaking the story'"; in fact, "I can even structure the disclosure so that it even LOOKS like I was trying to humbly keep it a secret..."; "I'll just re-play the video tape instant-replay in my head over and over, and feel increasingly noble and proud..."; "I'll just save this as ammunition later, when I need to defend myself or need the extra visibility", etc., etc., etc.... Oh, the subtleties of our human hearts...
[I do not want to mislead the reader here (anymore than I probably am already--sigh/smile), we are not to restrict our activities to purely private ones, but rather to make sure our motives in public acts are 'reigned in'. We will ALWAYS be aware of 'how we are looking' (some of which is legitimate, vis-a-vis 'let your light shine before people', 'giving no offense', and setting a good exemplar), but our 'screen image' should not be a major factor in our decision-making or operational process. When I do something nice for someone, I don't do it for the THANKS but for the HELP it gives. If they don't thank me, I sometimes worry that I might have offended them in some way, but other than that, I am not looking for the 'praise implicit in the THANKS'. I do, however, if/when I get a ThankYou, ask my Lord to bless that person for taking the time to say THANKS. Gratitude is a progressively constructive force in community, so it needs to be freely given and freely encouraged.]
Jesus used a great illustration of this merit-abdication principle: "Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full...And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full" (Matt 6.1,5,6). His point is sobering: if you do good deeds to be noticed and appraised by others, then that notice/recognition by man is all you get "for doing good". In other words, their "applause" is your FULL reward ("paid in full"). No "merit" remains on the good deed...[Note: lest we be confused--this 'reward' from the Father is not 'salvation'--salvation's a gift, not a 'reward' in the strictest sense of the word. But the principle is still the same: if you set out to get the praise of people, then that's what you get (at most--if they find out your motives, of course, then you will only earn the opposite--their scorn, censure, and disrepute--and you will then have NOTHING to show for you 'good deed').]
Plummer (cited in ICC, Matthew, at 6.2-4) points out that this might not actually be giving:
"[Those who give alms in order to be glorified by others] receive their pay then and there, and they receive it in full...God owes them nothing. They were not giving, but buying. They wanted the praise of men, they paid for it, and they have got it. The transaction is ended and they can claim nothing more."
And part of this logic might be correlative with the practical effects of such ostentation--if it is discovered by those who are helped. Consider the difference in YOUR OWN responses to "hypothetical beneficence" in YOUR direction, given two sets of motives:
Motive One: Benefactor is moved to compassion (not elitist 'pity') and empathy for your plight, and quietly and discreetly gives you material aid out of his/her own pocket. Your response is likely to be true gratitude, renewed hope in humanity and the culture, a warmth of feeling, a sense of connection, appreciation for the sensitivity shown in the privacy of the act, and perhaps a desire to help others in the same manner when you get back on your feet. An altogether positive and constructive experience for you, the community, those who watch, and even for the donor/benefactor.
Motive Two: Benefactor is running for political office, has arbitrarily selected you as recipient (without listening to your story), and is delaying handing you the gift/material help until the camera, microphone, and 'news audience' is ready and in position to film it. You listen to some political worker make some comment on camera about the candidate's compassion, commitment to "people in your situation", and promise to 'further an agenda of reform and compassion, if elected'. What do you feel when he finally gives you the gift, wearing his/her best 'compassion face' for the TV, and what do you feel afterwards? I don't know about you, but I would probably be a little colder, more calloused, more cynical and disillusioned. I would feel used, and depersonalized. My soul would 'shrink some', and my view of benevolence would be jaundiced for a long time... I might have a meal for my stomach, but I would eat it in bitterness. Am I the better or the worse for this 'good work'? [The Islamic mystic Abu Madyan had a pithy maxim for this: "Action accompanied by pride profits no man; idleness accompanied by humility harms no man".]
And, of course, this focus on intention is not unique to Christianity!
"In this sense, it (niyya, 'intention') is of great importance. Al-Bukhari opens his collection with a tradition, which in this place is apparently meant as a motto. It runs: “Works are only rendered efficacious by their intention”. This tradition occurs frequently in the canonical collections. It constitutes a religious and moral criterion superior to that of the law. The value of an 'ibada, even if performed in complete accordance with the precepts of the law, depends upon the intention of the performer, and if this intention should be sinful, the work would be valueless. “For”, adds the tradition just mentioned, “every man receives only what he has intended”; or “his wages shall be in accordance with his intention” [Ency. of Islam, Brill, s.v. "NIYYA"]
"Intention: The mental determination of an action's purpose or desired result. Rabbinic Judaism ascribes paramount importance to intention, holding that the meaning and significance of an action are determined by the individual's underlying purpose rather than by what he or she physically does or says...the Mishnah's authorities hold that a priest--or any individual engaged in a ritual action--must formulate the intention properly to perform that act of worship. If he intends to do the wrong thing, his act is not valid, even if his physical actions conform to the rules." [DJBP, s.v. 'intention'] and "R. Eliezar said: 'all the charity and kindness done by the heathen is counted to them as sin, because they only do it to magnify themselves." [b. B.Bat. 10b]
Eight: Deathbed Conversion Events
As far as I can tell, there seems to be a widely-held misconception about this type of event. The misconception is about "how probable" such an event can be, when compared to the 'unreasonableness' of its occurrence in a specific situation. Let me explain.
The more evil a person does, the more 'unjust' we consider a deathbed pardon to be (regardless of why the pardon was granted--"conversion", apology, favoritism, graft/bribe, conspiracy, PR, 'connections', etc.). We feel like the person is 'getting off easy', that 'justice is not done', that the system is 'out of balance'--that something is fundamentally evil about letting evil 'go free' (without full-measure reparations etc., that is). The common way I see this put is something like this:
"You Christians have an immoral and unjust view of things. You say that if Hitler had accepted Jesus one minute before his death, then all his horrendous crimes would have been forgiven--he would have been 'off, scot free'."
But the situation is not that at all--it's a little like the question: "If pigs could fly, how far could they airlift a bag of 6 average-sized coconuts, on a caloric intake of only 2 kgs of corn?" Most of us would realize that the problem with this question resided in the "protasis" --the "IF" clause. There is no sense in really trying to figure out/calculate the "apodosis" part--the "THEN" clause/question--since the IF-clause was impossible.
This is very similar (though not identical--we will discuss this in a moment) to our "IF Hitler had accepted Jesus one minute before his death..", and here's why.
The general principle runs something like this: the more evil one does, the less sensitive they become to its evilness, and hence to the sense of a need for redemption.
We speak of 'hardened criminals' who can murder, rape, violate, abuse, etc. without the slightest twinge of conscience. They were typically not "born that way", and their first acts of crime were likely accompanied with some guilt, uncertainty, sensitivity and/or amelioration of the act. But, the more they did, the less they 'felt'... Conscience becomes calloused, crimes become rationalized, vices turn into necessities ("I had to") or virtues ("survival of the fittest, man").
The spiritual realm--intrinsically linked to the ethical one--suffers along the way as well. The more crime someone gets away with, the more powerful (and important) they feel (eventually shouting down the protestations of conscience). The more important they feel, the less important the 'rights' and 'needs' of others becomes in "their universe". They become the 'gods' in their universe: all else exists 'to serve their whims' (as long as they can force/manipulate this, of course), and all values are relativized around THEIR values (i.e., "My wants are the only real ultimate values"). The more powerful and important they feel, the less likely they are to feel 'needy' or 'evil' or 'worthy of judgment' (actually, no one HAS the legitimate right to judge them in their system--they are the ultimate authority/god/judge, remember). The psalmist described this in Psalm 36: "An evil man is rebellious to the core. He does not fear God, for he is too proud to recognize and give up his sin." The Book of Hebrews (3.13) uses this description: "hardened by the deceitfulness of sin".
In other words, the ability of someone to respond to God's offer of forgiveness on a deathbed, is inversely proportional to the 'mass of their evil acts' (and correspondingly, inversely proportional to the 'injustice' we would feel if they DID respond to God then). That is, the same 'degree of imbalance' which generates our ethical unease, is the same 'degree of imbalance' which creates the low probability of their 'deathbed conversion'. And it seems to be a scalable thing: the LESS our ethical comfort would be with it, the LESS the likelihood of their doing it.
That's why this is sorta like the "If pigs could fly, how many coconuts could they transport?" (apart from the important questions of "European pig or African pig" or "where would they grip it?"--Pythonesque smile) question. The IF-clause just isn't plausible enough to take too seriously.
But there are two other points to make about this: (a) the anthropological force/mechanism that creates this; and (b) the option of 'real' deathbed conversions.
(a) The basic anthropological force/mechanism that creates this end-game likelihood/unlikelihood is essentially the diachronic shaping and filling-out of our characters. Just as "the child is father to the man", our chronic actions shape our future actions. Life on earth is about our character developing/unfolding, being shaped (generally self-shaped, as we approach end-of-life and act from a more self-determination base), 'filling out', becoming something 'firm'. We "end up" with more of our character "showing". Chronic responses of compassion to those in need, produce hearts MORE responsive to those in need. Chronic responses of exploitation to those weaker than us (ignoring their cries for help or mercy), produce hearts even MORE calloused to the cries of our victims.
What this means--generally (and--importantly-- not 'inexorably')--is this: without "interventions", criminals become more criminal, religious hypocrites become more hypocritical, cynics become more cynical, and religious leaders who are 'smugly wrong about God' become more 'smugly wrong about God'. C.S. Lewis portrays one of the latter in The Great Divorce as an inhabitant in his allegorical/parabolic 'hell'. This minister/vicar --who 'reinterpreted' the miracles of Jesus, the reality of redemption, the theological import of the Cross, the historicity of the resurrection, the supernatural truths of the faith--continues (in 'hell'!) to hold spiritual discussion groups, preach sermons on 'being nice' but not 'superstitious' etc., and this individual never 'recognizes' the reality of Heaven when he visits it on the daily bus. His anti-supernatural (but 'do-good-istic') worldview eventually became who he was, and even 'extraordinary evidence' could not get through to him.
And yet it is this 'progressive' mechanism/force which might also create the possibility of real deathbed conversions, in certain situations...
(b) Since the progressive principle works on good responses as well as bad responses, if an individual who, after doing an act of wrong, then 'paid attention to the guilt' and recognized its complaints as legitimate, then on the next act of evil, the guilt-voice would speak again and progressively louder (just as the "you are powerful and deserve to be able to do this" voice is 'again and progressively louder'). Over time, if the individual never 'buries' or 'silences' the ethical voice, but allows it to grow ('linearly') two things may happen: (1) the person will become increasingly torn between, and tormented by, the opposing voices/forces in their heads/hearts; and (2) eventually, the tension will have to break--and the person will either 'step across the line' and kill the conscience, or they will 'give up the evil' and try to start a new path toward good (or they will have a breakdown).
The anthropological model I am using here suggests, however, that this psychological "I cannot live two contrary lives anymore--I HAVE to choose one or the other NOW to avoid going crazy" crossroads have to either happen (a) WAY EARLIER than in a Hitler-deathbunker scenario (since people just aren't strong enough to live in such schizoid conditions for many/long iterations of evil-and-guilt) or (b) AS LATE AS their individual strength might allow. In other words, in statistically rare situations, we might see a deathbed conversion of a long-term criminal/atheist/secularist, but this would have had to have been the result of a lifetime/longtime of mind-numbing guilt, doubt, frequent 'compromises' [i.e., not 100% in ruthless-mode all the time], exceptions to the rules, etc. In fact, most of the real deathbed conversions of people (at least those reported on the Web) are about 'regular' people (not lifetime criminals, atheists, or 'secular' clergy--too many of those stories are urban legends), whose acts of evil are in the less-than-spectacular, non-violent category.
What this means is that there is still 'hope' for anyone (from an outsider viewpoint--there may not be any actually, in the person's heart). We should not 'give up' on those who may seem too 'criminal, cynical, hypocritical, or secularly-religious'. God's grace worked in our lives--at various 'stages of observable evil'--and He is free to accept anyone. This is good news, not bad...
[I shouldn't have to add that this deathbed 'conversion' is a matter of heart-depth, and NOT simple acquiescence to some propositions, performance of some ritual, or mouthing some slogans or Christian formulas! Motive, integrity, and evil 'recognition and repudiation' is EVERYTHING here. How many such reported conversions are truly an act of biblical, transforming belief is known only to God, but pretenders, the presumptuous, and would-be God-manipulators will have to deal with a God who will 'judge the secrets of men' (Rom 2.16). This is a heart-to-Heart encounter, not a "Get out of Jail Free" card one smugly plays, "outwitting" justice and tricking God into being forced to let them into Heaven!]
Somebody was describing the 'deathbed conversion' of the Thief on the Cross (there were two there--one 'converted' and one did not), and pointed out that "one converted, so we might not despair; and one did not, so we might not be presumptuous".
Now, unfortunately, just as the evil 'feedback' (e.g., "got away with it--you are powerful, and thus significant") can be accompanied by good 'feedback' (e.g., when conscience complains that an evil act is wrong, or when you feel remorse, uncertainty, or dissonance after/during the act), so to can good 'feedback' (e.g., "their suffering is relieved a little by my gift") be accompanied by evil 'feedback' (e.g. "I hope someone got a video of me doing that good deed", "I must really be virtuous to do such deeds", "I can afford to be slack in other areas, since I am doing so much extra good in this area", etc.).
Second, let's surface some issues more closely related to Religious Positions (with focus on Religious Leaders of Jesus' day)
Nine: Jesus' Critique of the Religious Leadership of His day: Hypocrisy and Ostentation.
We noted above that major religious (and our general 'common ethical') traditions/perspectives soundly repudiate hypocrisy and ostentation, and Jesus was a reformer in a "religious culture". His sermons were directed at the common heart, and most of His rebukes were NOT for the 'wicked violent' but for the 'wicked non-violent' (e.g., hypocritical and elitist religious leaders, oppressive cultural leaders). His most intense attacks were on the Pharisees--the religious leaders of the day. Strictly speaking, they were NOT the religious 'elite'--that was reserved for the Sadducees--but the Pharisees seemed to consider themselves superior to the masses (e.g., “No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he? But this multitude which does not know the Law is accursed.” (Jn 7.48)):
"Trained rabbis often looked down on the amme-haretz “the people of the land,” common people who did not even try to follow rabbinic interpretations of the law. Many texts indicate the animosity between Pharisaic rabbis and amme-haretz (e.g., Akiba contended that before becoming a rabbi he was an ‘am ha’aretz and wanted to beat up rabbis). " [BBC, in.loc.]
"The Pharisees explained Jesus’ popularity among the populace by suggesting that the people were too ignorant to recognize Jesus as a deceiver. The crowd (this mob), according to the Pharisees, did not know the Law. They did not study it, so they could not obey it. And since they did not obey it, they were under God’s curse (Deut. 28:15)." [BKC]
One of the sections of Matthew (chap 23) has Jesus' pronunciations of "Woes" upon the Pharisees and Scribes (precursors of the Rabbinic culture, post-70 AD):
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. “Everything they do is done for men to see : They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor  at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’  “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled,  and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.  “Woe to you, blind guides!  You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?  Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.  You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets.  Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers! “You snakes! You brood of vipers!  How will you escape being condemned to hell? 
Let's make some observations about these criticisms:
 This type of behavior is universally condemned by honest folk. This disgraces the name of God, alienates truth-seekers, and sullies the overall public view of the religion. This is not just being 'neutral'--it is positively driving people away from God! This is very, very serious, and everybody considers this culpable.
 This type of behavior is also condemned by honest folk. When people do good deeds just for show, we know their motives are wrong, and it leaves a bad taste in our mouth--both for their 'beliefs', their credibility, and their character.
 We despise people who are always interested in being in the limelight, always jostling for positions of prominence.
[4,5] Ditto here--to demand and reward (or worse yet, 'manipulate to get') public recognition of 'special status' is so opposite that perspective of humility and other-focused service enjoined by Jesus (i.e., biblical love for neighbor).
 This is a particularly horrifying (and disturbing) accusation, if it literally means these religious teachers could stop someone from coming to God! This is, of course, the basis for the well-known principle of "higher accountability for higher influence" (cf. Jas 3.1). The power to influence someone toward God is essentially the same power to influence someone away from God (without either being actual coercion). However, the parallel in Luke 11.52 uses a less vivid term ("hinder"), indicating that the God-seeker still succeeds, but is delayed in beginning to experience the influences/interventions of the Living God in their lives. Notice however that this problem has nothing to do with hypocrisy--these teachers might teach a false view of God and access to Him with all sincerity and all zeal (as all cults/sects do). This is about being wrong, and misleading people away from the truth--not about knowing better and teaching what you think to be a lie (and driving people away from the truth in that case, through hypocrisy).
[6,7,11,14,16,18] The accusation of hypocrisy we have already seen, and it is condemned by all. And one major reason for this condemnation is how it causes God to be slandered by 'outsiders'. Cf. Paul in Romans 2:17ff:
"But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relation to God and know his will and determine what is best because you are instructed in the law, and if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth, you, then, that teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You that forbid adultery, do you commit adultery? You that abhor idols, do you rob temples? You that boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (NRSV, alluding to Ezek 36:20ff)
 Like , this is a destructive-leverage power, of a viral sort. They take "normal folk" and alter them into destructive influences. ("Son of X" sometimes refers to 'source of origination', but often refers rather to 'characterized by', e.g., "sons of thunder" or "sons of wisdom" or "children of wrath". )
[9,10] This criticism focuses on the presumption of setting oneself up as a 'guide' (cf. Paul in Romans 2.19: "...confident that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness..."), when their logic is so flawed--as revealed in the bogus judgments about sanctification bases.
 This is a major, major issue: prioritizing religious minutia above--and to the point of neglect of--true community ethics. Luke's gospel notes this deficiency in several ways:
"Luke objects that the Pharisees and other leaders do not care for the poor who depend on them and have a claim on their generosity (14:1–24; 17:14; 18:9–14). Luke also complains that the Pharisees’ use of purity regulations to maintain social order leads to unjust relationships in which the poor are deprived of justice because they are judged to be unclean and outside of the social order (14:15–24). In response Luke defines true uncleanness as a moral, not ritual, deficiency and thus opens Christianity’s group boundaries to the outcasts, Gentiles, and sinners." [ABD, s.v. "Pharisee"]
 This is pretty much a standard objection against all 'legalistic' religious systems--an apparent lack of perspective, and a presence of self-righteousness. Finding fault with others in minute matters, while ignoring gross personal violations of the avowed ethical system, is not only objectionable, but ludicrous as well.
 Here is a clear declaration of a major problem of these religious leaders: they looked like lovers of God's truth, but were actually filled with greed ("robbery", NASB) and self-indulgence. They were not what they presented themselves to be (in their words), but were no better than common, self-centered, materialistic, personal-motivated folks. Instead of being givers, they were takers. Instead of meeting the needs of others, they were meeting the needs of themselves. (Remember, Paul--the Pharisee--had a personal problem with coveting, too... cf. Romans 8). How well does this reflect upon the God they professed to serve?
 Here is a criticism similar to that of : they are deliberately 'sanitized' on the outside, but their hearts are full of duplicity/hypocrisy and full of wickedness (lit: 'lawlessness'--a-nomia). They profess and teach the Law (plus oral extensions, of course...), but in their hearts they are not subject to it. They look like Torah lovers, but their internal, unseen life is "a-Torah".
 "The final woe also emphasized the religious leaders’ hypocrisy. They spent time building tombs and decorating the graves of the righteous. They were quick to say that if they had lived in the time of the prophets, they would never have been involved in shedding the blood of these righteous men. Jesus knew they were already in the process of planning His death. By that act they would demonstrate they were just like the former generations who murdered the prophets. By rejecting the Prophet, they would be following in the footsteps of their forefathers and “filling up” their ancestors’ sin." [BKC, in loc; cf.Mt 23.33-36; Luke 13.34-35] These people not only spurned the Law internally, but resisted any prophetic voice from God trying to correct them/call them back to the Law (and/or trying to reach the people around them).
 This remark identifies these teachers with OT/Tanach serpentine images (Ps 58.4; Jer 44.25; Amos 4.4-5) and the related denunciations by John the Baptist (Matt 3.7 and Luke 3.7). This image is not original with Jesus--He was echoing it as another prophetic voice in continuity with God's earlier, and repeated, attempts to reform/correct the religious leadership of Israel.
 "The transition from the preceding verse is clear: if the teachers of the law and Pharisees are filling up the measure of the sin of their forefathers, how can they possibly escape the condemnation of hell" [EBCNT]
Now, before I try to distill some principles from these observations/passages, let me note three things quickly:
1. The Torah scholars that we will look at in the Middle Ages (and the Rabbi's in between) are NOT Pharisees--the Pharisaic movement was generally criticized by all the other Jewish groups within Judaism of that era (i.e., Qumran/Dead Sea Sect, Messianic Believers/Christians, the post-70AD rabbinate, and even Josephus). [Some of the early rabbi's will say that they descended from the Pharisaical House of Hillel, though.]
2. These criticisms would not have necessarily applied to ALL Pharisees of the day (e.g., Nicodemus)
3. These criticisms of Pharisees, however, are relevant to judging ANY/ALL religious leaders--Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Whatever. All human religious leaders need to be evaluated against these types of issues. They typically don't manifest violence-evil characteristics, but sometimes CAN manifest hypocrite-evil or duplicity-evil. Just because a leader 'looks good' (i.e., "whitewashed on the outside"...) cannot be used to infer 'is good inside' either automatically or with certainty. We often do not have enough historical data (or the data may be mixed) on historical religious leaders of all persuasions.
For example, such criticisms are found in Buddhist literature, criticizing some Buddhist ascetics: "What is the use of your matted hair, O witless man? What is the use of your antelope garment? Within you are full [of passions]; without you embellish [yourself with the trappings of ascetics]" [Dhammapada 394, cited in ICC, Matthew, at 23.3.]
And seems to be applied to the disciples of Jesus by Luke: "We may be tempted to think that Luke (in 18.10) has in mind legal experts and Pharisees, and not without good reason. After all, they have repeatedly been shown to be persons who distinguishing themselves from others, exalt themselves. But lines cannot be drawn so easily, with disciples always in danger of Pharisaic behavior (see 12.1-2) and, in fact, having already demonstrated comparable self-possession (see 9:46-50). [Footnote here: "In fact, one of the significant aims of Luke's own rhetoric seems to be to address just such tendencies among Christians of his own discourse situation."] Luke's frame, then, is not designed so much around identifying as the culprit a particular Jewish group as to identify a habitus, a set of dispositions and commitments that generate practices, perceptions, and attitudes that are set in opposition to the way of the kingdom of God." [NICNT, "Luke", Joel Green, at 18.9]
Let's me document the first/second points briefly, highlighting the (a) seriousness of the moral failures of these first-century figures (but of a wider group of rulers than just the Pharisees); and (b) the commonality of these criticisms of them:
"Severe criticism, however, is also found in some of the documents from Qumrân and in the rabbinic literature...The Qumrân community rejected pharisaism because it frequently nullified the law while trying to protect it from transgression. If the Damascus Document (CD) is an Essene product (so Meyer, TDNT, IX, 29f; Jeremias, 3rd ed), then those described in CD 1:18–2:1 who “presented false expositions” may well be the Pharisees and pharisaic scribes of Jerusalem. Similarly, 1QH 4:10 speaks of those who seek to exchange the teaching of God for “smooth words.” Meyer suggested with some plausibility that the “babbler,” the “windbag,” and the “false prophet” of CD 4:19 (7:1); 8:12ff (9:21ff); 29:15ff might imply a pharisaic leader such as Shimeon ben Shatach or Hillel. Hillel established a legal formula (prozbul) that, in effect, annulled the law of remission in Dt. 15:2. Such an exegesis, aimed more at circumventing the text than expounding it, “represents precisely what the anti-Pharisaic criticism of the Zadokites calls a ‘deceitful exposition of the Torah’ ” (Meyer, p. 31)... The NT criticism of the Pharisees is in some ways similar to that from Qumrân. Jesus accused the Pharisees of being “blind guides” (Mt. 23:16). He also rebuked them for nullifying the word of God by means of their tradition, closing His remarks with, “and many such things you do” (Mk. 7:6–13). Apparently He could have given examples other than the Corban issue, in which pharisaic Halakah contradicted the intended meaning of Scripture. Another similarity is in the criticism on the subject of divorce. CD 4:20f rebukes those who take two wives in their lifetimes and Jesus (Mk. 10:2–9) condemns divorce “for any cause.” Both passages cite Gen. 1:27 to prove that God’s original intent was that marriage should be with one partner only. In addition, Jesus frequently referred to the Pharisees as “hypocrites,” implying not that Jesus saw their teaching as always wrong but that they failed to follow it themselves... The criticism of the Pharisees in the rabbinic literature is neither as sharply focused nor as plentiful as that found in the Dead Sea Scrolls or in the NT. Since, however, the rabbis who rebuilt Judaism after the fall of Jerusalem seem to have avoided associating themselves with the name “Pharisee,” embarrassment on the part of these direct heirs of the spiritual legacy of pharisaism calls for an explanation... A rather obscure reference is Mish Sotah iii.4, which states, “a foolish saint, a wicked man with cunning, a woman who is perushah, and the wounds of the Pharisees, these wear out the world.” While it is not clear what the [mako parusm] are, they are certainly uncommendable in the eyes of Rabbi Joshua. Another example is TB Sotah 22b, in which Alexander Janneus exhorts his wife, “Fear not the Pharisees and the non-Pharisees but the hypocrites who ape the Pharisees; because their deeds are the deeds of Zimri but they expect a reward like Phineas” (tr A. Cohen, Soncino ed). Seven kinds of Pharisee, most of them insincere, appear in TP Berakoth ix.5. Two who are sincere are the parush who loves like Job and the parush who loves like Abraham. The others are interested in fulfilling their obligation to the law only if they have the time or if in doing so their sin and guilt may be counterbalanced. The makkô-perûšîm are more clearly described in TP Sotah iii.4, where they designate the practices of those who use casuistry to take advantage of someone. Two examples are given. In one, a group of children uses pharisaic legal advice in attempting to wrest financial control of the estate from their widowed mother. This parallels Jesus’ accusation in Mk. 12:40 that the Pharisees “devour widows’ houses.”... It is certainly possible, judging from these examples, that the later rabbis felt that some of the earlier Pharisees had engaged in hypocrisy and casuistry. Another possible reason for the avoidance of direct association with pharisaism may have been the proximity of zealotism to pharisaism. Thus, after the fall of Jerusalem, “Pharisee” may have connoted either a hypocrite or a hothead committed to a hopeless revolutionary idealism that had ruined the nation by the ill-fated revolt against Rome. Pharisaism had often presented a contrived biblical exegesis that avoided, or even worse contradicted, the intended meaning of the law and the prophets. Righteousness became equated with a mechanistic repetition of certain religious functions such as fasting, the keeping of set times of prayer, and tithing. Such a state of affairs did not totally permeate pharisaism. but it was prevalent enough to give rise to the kind of criticism found in CD, the NT, and the rabbinic literature. [ISBE, s.v. "Pharisee"]
"The Psalms of Solomon condemn high government officials and religious leaders who “give the impression” of piety while their hearts are far from God. They are the kind of people who commit sins at night as if no one could see them (Pss. Sol. 4:5–6), and by fraud they “deceive” innocent people (Pss. Sol. 4:22). Sirach 1:29 calls “hypocrites” those who praise God with their lips while their hearts are not fixed on God. Josephus reports many stories of intrigue and double-cross, describing how politicians in Palestine scripted events, directed other actors and themselves played roles, pretending friendship while plotting destruction (Josephus J.W. 1.471, 516, 520; cf. J.W. 1.318; 2.587; Ant. 2.160). And the same use is found often in Philo."
"The sense of a disastrous inconsistency is strong. The words imply some kind of fatal rift, whether between outer appearance (“lips”) and inner reality (“hearts,” Mk 7:6; Mt 15:7, both quoting Is 29:13; cf. Sir 1:29) or between ability in one sphere and inability in another (Lk 12:56), or between compassion in one area of life and unfeeling stubbornness in another (Lk 13:15–16), or between hypersensitivity to the failings of others and blindness to one’s own shortcomings (Mt 7:5; Lk 6:42; cf. Rom 2:1–5)... Matthew frequently criticizes the discrepancy between hearts and lips (Mt 15:7), between hearing and doing (Mt 7:24–27), between telling and doing (Mt 23:3; cf. 21:28–32). And Matthew heaps scorn on people who perform acts traditionally associated with the worship of God, doing them not as acts of worship but strutting about and performing them as attention-getters among humans (Mt 23:5; 6:2, 5, 16; cf. Pss. Sol. 4:6, 22).
"The English word fraud or impostor seems to capture the sense of hypokritis in Matthew 23 and in most other uses in Jewish-Greek literature and the NT. It is regularly used of teachers and leaders who are inauthentic, whether consciously or unconsciously." [NT:DictJG, s.v. "Hypocrite"]
"The criticisms directed in the Gospels against the Pharisees go beyond their failure to respond to the message of the kingdom. Pharisaic claims of meticulous observance are depicted as leading both to pride (Mt 23:5–7; Lk 11:43; cf. [Josephus] Ant. 17.2.4 c41) and to contempt for the less observant—an unwarranted contempt, since the latter in turn are portrayed as more sensitive to their failings, more open to Jesus’ proclamation of God’s sovereignty and love (Lk 7:37–50; 15:1–32; 18:9–14; 19:1–10). Again, the attention to the minutiae of tithing and ritual purity required by Pharisaic scruples would inevitably appear to an opponent with a different focus as evidence of distorted perspectives; hence the attack on those who tithe mint, dill and cummin while neglecting the essentials of the Law; the charge that cleansing cups is combined by Pharisees with inner corruption (Mt 23:23, 25–26; cf. the charge of corruption in Ant. 17.2.4 c41–45). Jesus’ penchant for the striking picture and his attacks on expressions of Pharisaic piety are both to be recognized in the caricature of people who strain out gnats and swallow camels (Mt 23:24), or who turn the appointed hour of prayer into a recitation of their merits (Lk 18:9–12). [NT:DictJG, s.v. "Pharisee"]
"The Pharisaic way of life lent itself to imitation by people who had no worthier motive than the gaining of a popular reputation for piety. The rabbinical traditions illustrate this fact: seven types of Pharisee are enumerated, and only one of these, the Pharisee who is one for the love of God, receives unqualified commendation. The New Testament picture of the Pharisees is generally an unfavorable one, but more so in the Gospels than in Acts. In Acts they are depicted as not unfriendly to the observant Jewish Christians of Jerusalem; the two groups had this in common (by contrast with the Sadducees): they believed in the resurrection of the dead." [HSOB, at Matt 23]
"Pharisees were not all of one kind, and the later rabbis, who generally considered themselves spiritual heirs of the Pharisees, report criticisms of several sorts of Pharisees whose hearts were not right (e.g., “the bruised Pharisee,” who kept bumping into things because his eyes were closed to avoid seeing a woman). These reports emphasize that motives are critical; the best motive is fear of the Lord, or (in the more refined version) love of God. Rabbinic literature regularly condemns hypocrisy and demands proper motives. Jesus’ opponents would have agreed with most of his ethics, and perhaps protested that they were not really violating them.[BBC, at Mt 23:13]
"Pharisees as such were not hypocrites, and Jesus did not say that they were; he was not the one to bear false witness against his neighbor. Hypocrite in New Testament usage means “play-actor”; it denotes the sort of person who plays a part which is simply assumed for the occasion and does not express his real self. The “hypocrites” in this repeated denunciation, then, are those who play at being scribes and Pharisees, who “preach but do not practice” (Mt 23:3 RSV), who assume the actions and words characteristic of scribes and Pharisees without being motivated by true love of God. The genuine Pharisee might disapprove of much that Jesus said and did, but if he was a genuine Pharisee, he was no play-actor. So we might render the recurring refrain of Matthew 23 as “Alas for you, hypocritical scribes and Pharisees!”—alas for you, because you are incurring a fearful judgment on yourselves." [HSOB, at Matt 23]
"The general trend today is to see early rabbinic literature as the product of a small elite that gradually came to exert influence over larger circles of Jews toward the end of the second century A.D. That elite claimed notable Pharisees among its founders, but it also took over the role of temple-related teaching. It probably originated not simply among the Pharisees but in a coalition of priests, scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and others who survived the destruction of the temple. Rabbinic literature should no longer be used, therefore, as transparent evidence for the Pharisees." [HI:DictNTB, s.v. "Pharisees"]
Okay, now let me try to distill a main point or two here...
There seemed to be three main issues Jesus had with these religious leaders: (1) hypocrisy, (2) elitism/arrogance, and (3) 'making up their own religion' (i.e., "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men." (Mt 15/Isaiah 29) and "thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that" (Mrk 7.13)).
But how bad are these--really? It's not like these are at the same level of atrocity as murder, slavetrading, child-abuse, rape, theft, or slander, right? Many would agree that perps of violent-evil are worthy of exclusion from the New Future (many people indeed experience 'natural' moral outrage over such acts), but in this world we don't really prosecute and jail hypocrites, holier-than-thou's, and religious wackos--we just disapprove, discount, and disdain such sub-humans. They sour us at every repulsive encounter, but we normally wouldn't take these people seriously enough to legally punish or 'jail' them for such behavior. We don't have crimes like "Second-degree Hypocrisy", "Arrogance with Intent to Marginalize", or "Theological Speculation, with Absence of Malice". So why is Jesus (and the OT/Tanach prophets) on their case?
Surprisingly, these may be the worst of all evils--given their long-term downstream effects. Consider this: IF (and Only IF) the whole story [about God, the New Future, God's provision for entry, and God's instructions for seekers about this opportunity] is true, THEN these forms of evil (when done by religious leaders, that is--not politicians, etc) may take the greatest toll on how many people seek God and this Future.
Think about this for a minute. Let's take three types of 'evil': outright violent crimes, obsession with wealth/materialism, and hypocrisy/elitism. What are the effects on a person, relative to 'seeking God, His truth, and His heart'? Let's further divide this into perpetrators, victims, and observers. Let's chart the possibilities (+ sign means a possible contributor to seeking God).
Violent, Destructive, Disruptive Crimes
Obsession with Wealth/Power
Hypocrisy, Elite Arrogance, Religious Power
Desensitizing of Conscience;
Sometimes Guilt [+]
If caught (bitterness);
If caught (sometimes awakening) [+]
If not caught ('there is no God, but me')
De-humanization of others
De-valuation of others
Divinization of Self
Sometimes emptiness-2-awakening [+]
De-humanization of others
De-valuation of others
Divinization of Self
Desensitizing to Truth/Conscience
Feelings of betrayal/unfairness by God
Calling out for help to God [+]
"There is no God"
[Victims are those who should have been valued but weren't]
Feelings of betrayal/unfairness by God
Calling out for companionship to God [+]
Repulsion for their teachings/God
Trivialization of the belief system
Feigned acceptance of the God/system
Rarely, a desire to find a true worldview? [+]
Reject God over Problem of Evil
Seek God, belief in post-mortem justice [+]
Development of compassion? [+]
Sometimes awareness of emptiness of it [+]
Accept values of Power models (bad)
Bitterness toward God ('favoritism')
Repulsion for their teachings/God
Trivialization of the belief system
Possibly/Rarely, a desire to find a true worldview? [+]
If you compare these columns, you can see that the "Hypocrisy" column is the one with the least number of (and 'flaky-est') effects which might lead a pre-seeker to seek God, or which might drive a seeker to seek God more thoroughly. This column 'kills' seekers, driving them into cynicism, bitter skepticism, despair, close-mindedness about ALL religion... and--in some cases--into a worse 'holier than thou' position! Observers might infer their own ethical superiority and begin to approximate the same types of evil effects as the perps--a vicious circle/cycle! (Ugh!)
Notice that this is not really a problem if a theistic, semi-Biblical worldview is NOT true. In an atheistic world, the religious hypocrites are annoying and embarrassing (for the human race), but not really destructive, dangerous, or fatal. [There might would be an issue with how evolutionary, naturalistic materialism would "see fit" to evolve and perpetuate such religious hypocrites--under the natural selection motif of superior genes, more attractive to mating partners, survival of the fittest (smile)--but that's a comedic sketch for another time...(sly smile).]
Remember, this applies to ALL religious teachers/leaders: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, whatever..
But, if the biblical (and, for that matter, most of the theistic systems) worldview is correct--of truth, consequences, community mutual-dependency, interpersonal influence, a good-hearted God, and a wonderful/healed New Future created by this human-loving God--then it would be predicted by the system that this major deterrent would be soundly, publicly, consistently, and loudly criticized.
Ten: Jesus' Critique of the Religious Leadership of His day: Pride and Elitism.
We noted above that major religious (and our general 'common ethical') traditions/perspectives soundly repudiate 'destructive pride' and arrogance, and this was part of Jesus' critique of the religious leadership of the day as well. Consider Luke 18.9ff:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Everybody dislikes 'holier than thou' leaders, whether they are religious leaders or ideological leaders. And the Pharisees are so portrayed in the literature of the day. The NT witness is well known, and Josephus paints a similar picture:
He describes them as a group which "thought very highly of its precision with respect to ancestral custom, and pretended [to observance] of such laws as the Deity approves" [Ant. 17.41, trans Steve Mason, [JNT, p.141]]
"But this episode in his own career makes his overall portrayal of the Pharisees' activities in Jewish history consistent: they use their great reputation for religious scrupulosity, and consequent influence with the masses, to effect their own political goals. They typically resort to bribery, intrigue, and even violence to accomplish their ends. So their actions belie their popular reputation for piety." [JNT, p. 142]
"These are a certain sect of the Jews that appear more religious than others, and seem to interpret the laws more accurately. " [War, 110]
The prayer of the Pharisee in Jesus' story is "as a whole is not a caricature but is fairly true to life; cf. 1QH 7.34; p. Ber. 4, 7d, 31; Ber. 28b. Jesus is attacking the Pharisaic religion as it was, not an exaggeration of it; the Pharisee's prayer is disqualified because of its pride and contempt [for] the other men." [HI:NIGTC, Luke, at Luke 18.12; the last rabbinic text is "On his leaving what does he say? ‘I give thanks to Thee, O Lord my God, that Thou hast set my portion with those who sit in the Beth ha-Midrash and Thou hast not set my portion with those who sit in [street] corners, for I rise early and they rise early, but I rise early for words of Torah and they rise early for frivolous talk; I labour and they labour, but I labour and receive a reward and they labour and do not receive a reward; I run and they run, but I run to the life of the future world and they run to the pit of destruction." [b. Ber 28b]]
And other literature of the period bears occasional witness to these issues as well:
"Hezekiah further stated in the name of R. Jeremiah who said it in the name of R. Simeon b. Yohai, I am able to exempt the whole world from judgment from the day that I was born until now, and were Eliezer, my son, to be with me [we could exempt it] from the day of the creation of the world to the present time, and were Jotham the son of Uzziah with us, [we could exempt it] from the creation of the world to its final end. Hezekiah further stated in the name of R. Jeremiah who said it in the name of R. Simeon b. Yohai, I have seen the sons of heaven and they are but few. If there be a thousand, I and my son are among them; if a hundred, I and my son are among them; and if only two, they are I and my son." (b. Sukkah 45b).
"[The angel to Ezra] But you have often compared yourself to the unrighteous. Never do so! But even in this respect you will be praiseworthy before the Most High, because you have humbled yourself, as is becoming for you, and have not considered yourself to be among the righteous. You will receive the greatest glory..." [4 Ezra 8.47b=50, in [HCNT] at Luke 18]
In [OTP], the translator of Psalms of Solomon (1st century AD) describes chapter 4 as "an indictment of hypocritical political and religious leaders", "most probably refers to... the Sanhedrin". The translation of the chapter heading is given as addressed to "those trying to be popular", "those who attempt to win public approval and applause at the sacrifice of principle". The first few verses of the passage address this leadership:
"Why are you sitting in the council of the devout, you profaner? And your heart is far from the Lord, provoking the God of Israel by lawbreaking; Excessive in words, excessive in appearance above everyone, he who is harsh in words in condemning sinners at judgment."
And, we have already noted that the later rabbi's at least knew and taught this in principle (e.g., "The Holy One exalts him who humbles himself and humbles him who exalts himself." [b. 'Erub 13b]).
Again, our passage is not against all Pharisees, but about that spirit:
"The people warned in this parable are the self-righteous. The perfect participle (...) alludes to those in a misdirected state of self-confidence (Luke 11:22; 2 Cor 1:9...). They are convinced that they, on their own merits, are acceptable to God. A Pharisee is described here, but the introduction broadens the application to all who have this attitude (...). It should be stressed that Jesus did not address all Pharisees--only those who trusted their own merit (e.g., the Pharisee Nicodemus is viewed positively in the NT). Similar warnings in ancient Jewish material (m. Abot 2.4-5; 1QS 11.1-2 [an exhortation to correct the proud in spirit]) condemn this well-chronicled type of pride (Josephus, Jewish War 1.5.2 p110; Phil 3:4-6; 1QH 7.34; b. Ber 28b; b. Sanh. 101a [Akiva notes that everyone sins, citing Eccles. 7:20]; b. Suk 45b...). T. Ber 6.18 [= Neusner] evidences this attitude in the male Jew thanking God that he is not a Gentile, boor, or woman....This pride is reflected in the pharisaic attitude toward people whom they despised. This condescending, superior attitude makes it difficult to serve others. Pride and contempt for others may be a natural pair, but Jesus condemns both attitudes...On this basis [the Pharisee's pro-offered works] he asserts his superiority over other people. He has gone beyond the call of duty, so God should be impressed with his record of service. Jesus considers such an approach offensive." [Luke, Bock, in loc.]
But the question always is: how well do we really do this? (or, more in line with our transformation-requirements discussion earlier, "how much do we really thirst and strive for humility in our person?")... There is a sad maxim about this: "many people want to be pious but few are prepared to be humble" (La Rochefoucauld, cited in [ICC:Matthew, at 23.12]).
Eleven: Rejection of Caricature
In the piece on "What About Those who have Never Heard?", I argued that rejection of a 'false image of Jesus' or of a Jesus-caricature was NOT to be equated with "Rejecting Jesus". If someone described Mother Teresa to me as a power-wielding, harsh religious person who abused children and exploited the elderly, I would be justified in rejecting that false image of Mother Teresa, but that would in no way imply that I would reject the true Mother Teresa, once I learned the truth about the real her. The false Mother Teresa and the true Mother Teresa were connected in name only--nothing more. So, I personally have to wonder about the countless folks who have been taught, trained, conditioned, 'traditionized' to "reject Jesus" because He was allegedly anti-Semitic (!), demon-possessed (a la some New Testament reports), a betrayer of true Israel, etc.--without those folks ever having evaluated those statements themselves...
But there is a subtlety here too...
It is one thing to not know about the real Jesus, and to (legitimately) reject some caricature perpetrated upon you, but it is another thing altogether to learn of/encounter the true Jesus and THEN to DELIBERATELY self-create a caricature and then to reject THAT caricature, pretending that it was a truthful representation of Jesus. [This is something like a 'straw man' approach: creating an argument that nobody really advances, and then handily defeating that argument, with the subsequent belief that you have overthrown the position itself.] The former type of rejection is not really faulted much by anybody, since it is an act of ignorance-with-integrity (sometimes, actually, with a moral goodness to it--some caricatures of Jesus SHOULD be ethically rejected!); but the second type of rejection is universally considered 'slander', and as being morally culpable. So, for someone to encounter and/or truly know about the real God, and then to twist this knowledge into a caricature which is subsequently 'rejected' in a moral high-ground kind of position(!), would be grounds for judgment in ANY religious system. It is an act of willful malice--not of ignorance, not of 'sincerity', not of 'cultural conditioning', not of a 'true but rival' perspective. Let us be clear on this.
I suspect that they are many believers and non-believers who, for one reason or another, sometimes 'turn the truth of God into a lie', creating a false God (e.g., evil-hearted, cold-hearted, uninvolved, morally inferior, petty) and then reject the real God in their lives, with self-righteous pretension. A "Theology of Convenience" is too 'useful' to us--and we all are constantly tempted to construct these.
And it can get much more complicated that just this...
Sub-Cultural pressures. Think about cultural pressures in Judaism and Islam, relative to accepting Jesus. I knew a Jewish believer whose family literally had a funeral for him, once he became a Christian! Think about the non-theological influence this would exert on any Jew even investigating the claims of Yeshua, much less deciding to follow Jesus--!
The Gospel of John describes pressures similar to this:
Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God. (Jn 12.42)
Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. (Jn 19.38)
His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” (John 9.20ff)
Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.” Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.” But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the Jews. (Jn 7.12; notice that this is even a dampening of discussion about Jesus)
And the cultural 'conservatism' mechanisms within those cultures today are at least as powerful and certainly no more 'open' to the issue today (except at scholarly levels, IMO). [Mind you, the same forces are at work in Christian-flavored subcultures too (e.g., small Bible Belt communities, high-brow liberal churches) that sometimes 'acid-ically' discourage questioning and critical thinking about their 'official positions'--I get TONS of true-Christian, Lord-loving, Bible-loyal Tank visitors who have been marginalized by such subcultures. And some of these subcultures have created semi-caricatures of Jesus also. So this is NOT solely a non-Christian pathology by any means.]
Guilty-until-proven-innocent. In addition to the "it is unacceptable to investigate the claims of the New Testament" cultural assumption, there is the presumed 'wrongness' of the Jesus movement (including various version of Messianic Judaism). It is wrong until given a hearing, but no hearing is allowed. Once someone has been so indoctrinated this way, how much of their 'rejection' (even of a caricature, btw) is 'theirs' and how much is just the assimilated culture (like language, or manners, or idiom, or social conventions)? Presupposing, under these cultural circumstances, that Jesus cannot be the Messiah (even though none of the data about the subject has been consulted/examined critically, and even though no one but anti-Jewish polemicists may have been 'consulted' about the matter!) is not very far from believing things like "efficiency is a very high virtue", "moderation is an excellent trait", "children should be encouraged to think independently and question tradition", "maximum individual freedom is the optimal human condition", or "globalization is a good thing". All of these can be profitably debated, with no simple, universal conclusions--but only rarely are they discussed in depth. In Western culture, they are almost presupposed to be valid--and to question these in public sometimes makes the society 'react' with 'funny looks'--the pressures to conform to the culturally-defining presupposition substrates. I have talked about this elsewhere on the Tank, but ARE the people who hold these assumptions 'from birth' (or at least from 'socialization') ACTIVELY rejecting the contrary positions (e.g., "efficiency is not nearly as important as warmth, hospitality, or generosity"; "peace and security of the group is much more important that individual personal freedom")? I suspect not...
Incarnation-once-removed. This is a pretty ugly issue, and I often wonder how God is gonna factor this into the judgment question. We saw in the Incarnation point above that to truly see and then truly reject Jesus was tantamount to seeing-and-rejecting God the Father. This makes sense because of the complete conformity between the character/heart/life of the Father and Jesus. The problem comes in the next-remove: Jesus addresses His disciples in Matt 10.40--"Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me" and in Luke 10.16: "He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me."
The apostles/disciples were sent out from the Lord, supposedly bearing His message, His character, and His authority (selective, derivative, circumscribed). When they preached God's beautiful offer of free-reconciliation and loved as He did in the process of helping others, then this principle made perfect sense: the people would have 'seen Jesus' in the words and works of the love-filled followers of Jesus. Their acceptance of the apostles (according to these passages) would have been considered (by God the Father, according to Jesus) as acceptance of Jesus AND OF the Father (some kind of 'transitive' property...smile). Likewise, a rejection of these Jesus-bearers would have constituted the same result as rejection of Jesus and rejection of the Father. [BTW, this is easy to understand, since what is being rejected in these cases is the character-in-common between the three terms (apostle, Jesus, Father). If some rejected the inside-character of one of the three 'terms', then it would be a reasonable assumption to believe (or know, in the case of God obviously) that they would reject the same thing in the other two 'terms'--since the basis for rejection (i.e., the inside character/heart) was identical/shared in the three. So, this is not rocket science--if I don't trust you simply because you are left-handed, then it's a safe bet I won't like any/most left-handers.]
But the ugly part comes up quickly--what if the allegedly-Christian messenger is a real jerk--very, very un-Jesus-like, and even hypocritical, arrogant, and ..."Pharisaical"? What happens when someone's only encounter with Jesus-related subject matter is sabotaged by an abusive, bigoted, unlike-Jesus "Christian"?? Can the message of God's love really be delivered by an anti-lover? WHEN a preacher's motives are transparently pecuniary/fleshly, or his life so obviously filled with prejudice, anger, indulgence, and sanctimony, or his preaching is flagrantly of beliefs loosely-held, distant from his life, or socially-convenient, THEN is this not the case of "I cannot hear what you are saying over the noise of how you are living"? I wonder how many cases of would-be evangelism (with even the correct motives) were 'converted into' cases of "those who never heard"? [Of course, if a person is already in open interaction with God before hearing this message/messenger, then the truth/needful elements can be 'automatically' filtered out, by various psychological, providential, and spiritual 'priming mechanisms', so there's no guarantee (and not always even an 'escape clause' for rejectors) that the message will be obliterated.]
Consider: Long before he starts evaluating Christianity (along with all the other religions), Gandhi had a formative negative experience (from his autobiography):
"These many things combined to inculcate in me a toleration for all faiths. Only Christianity was at the time [note: Gandhi is only thirteen years old, when this attitude develops] an exception. I developed a sort of dislike for it. And for a reason. In those days Christian missionaries used to stand in a corner near the high school and hold forth, pouring abuse on Hindus and their gods. I could not endure this. I must have stood there to hear them once only, but that was enough to dissuade me from repeating the experiment. About the same time, I heard of a well known Hindu having been converted to Christianity. It was the talk of the town that, when he was baptized, he had to eat beef and drink liquor, that he also had to change his clothes, and that thenceforth he began to go about in European costume including a hat. These things got on my nerves. Surely, thought I, a religion that compelled one to eat beef, drink liquor, and change one's own clothes did not deserve the name. I also heard that the new convert had already begun abusing the religion of his ancestors, their customs and their country. All these things created in me a dislike for Christianity." (An Autobiography, BeaconPress, p.33f)
In my mind, this complicates the matter considerably (which is why I am SO GLAD a good-hearted, wise, and knows-the-heart God is in 'charge of' the final judgment!) But I am fairly sure these factors are in play relative to some of the Jewish sages of post-Late-Antiquity, relative to "those who have never heard".
But again, there is the issue of willfully opting for a caricature, and in some cases, of willfully acquiescing to social pressures (when one might know better--like we ALL do). It's just not very clear-cut down here...>
Consider this 'Rejection Culpability Matrix" (smile):
Really Hear/see True Jesus
Willful / True Rejection
Willful / True Rejection
Really Hear/see True Jesus
of True Rejection)
Notice that this points out that some Caricature-rejection positions are culpable and some are not.
Caveat: I personally do not believe in cultural determinism, so the above factors may be off-set in individual cases by the temporary-freedom-creating Loci of Freedom (see discussion there).
Rejection of Gospel versus Rejection of Jesus. Although most of the 'rejection' terminology in the NT revolves around the rejection of the person of Jesus, what about the rejection of the gospel, and/or of basic Christian theology? What if somebody 'likes Jesus' (more or less) but cannot believe "all that stuff about Him being a spotless sacrificial Lamb of God, as the means to repair our relationship with the Father and the means to ensure our entry into the New Future"--how would this map into this discussion?
Well, the first point is obvious: "liking a Jesus" who is NOT the 'real Jesus' (e.g., the sinless, unique, sin-bearing-for-us Son of God) is the opposite problem to rejecting a caricature--it's accepting a caricature (and, "ergo, Margo", NOT really accepting Jesus--"close, but no cigar").
Secondly, the gospel message is something 'propositional' to be intellectually believed as a first-step to volitionally/personally trusting/accepting the Person of Jesus. [This may be preceded by a 'trusting the gospel messenger' step, in which the person presenting the gospel is 'sized up' relative to the character of Jesus--our "your bad life is so loud I cannot hear what you say" issue. No doubt some gospel messages go 'unheard' because of un-Jesus-like behavior, attitudes, demeanor, and spirit on the part of the messenger--as noted above.] Strictly speaking, our faith/trust is in Christ-as-Savior and not in the message itself. The gospel tells us about this Jesus, and about what He did for us--on behalf of the Father's love for the world--and it tells us to trust in Him. So, the steps might be summarized like this: (1) we hear the gospel from a messenger; (2) we make some gut-feel decision about the credibility of the messenger; (3) we believe the facts of the gospel (e.g., our sin is destructive, God sent His Son Jesus, Jesus bore the cost of the damages of our sins on the Cross, He arose from death as the Victorious and Trustworthy Mediator for us to God; we must place our trust in Him to repair--on the basis of His work--our relationship with the Father); (4) we decide to obey the gospel (i.e., its instruction/command to place our trust/confidence in Jesus--and to forsake our trust/confidence in any false Mediators (e.g., our 'good works', our 'community membership', our heritage, our character, etc); (5) we 'welcome' (i.e., "receive", "accept") Jesus (John 1.12) into our lives, entering into a one-on-one personal relationship with Him.
Could someone short-circuit this process and stop at step (3)? Could someone really believe the story about Jesus' sacrificial love for them and then decide NOT to enter into a relationship with Him? I suppose one could, but only in a limited, emotional sense, since we do this in life already. We all know people (or cases from our own lives) where they have difficulty 'relating' to someone who loves them (and who doesn't even threaten them). They don't open up, they are uncomfortable in their presence, they avoid contact--but they may still love them, interact with them effectively, and honor them just the same (but maybe just from a distance--smile). In other words, I think a person can have a relationship with Jesus that is at least as personally-circumscribed (in terms of the tenor of the interactions--NOT in terms of the reality of the relationship!) as their relationships are with other people who love them. Jesus will grow and thaw and warm this interactive aspect over time (love melts and softens our hearts a little--eventually), but this wouldn't by itself preclude there actually being a 'legal' or 'contracted' relationship in place. (Bob may not get along with his mother when they have dinner every Tuesday night, but she's still his mother and he will weep and grieve at her passing...)
So, whereas one might accept the gospel and have a 'slow start' (emotionally and interaction-wise) with Jesus, I don't think one could accept the content of the gospel and at the same time positively reject the person of Christ--in terms of His benefits and commitment to that person. (One might have trouble relating to Jesus--a common issue for some believers, due to 'baggage' issues from human/family relationships--but there would not be any disavowal or repudiation of Jesus by any means.)
Now, somewhat related to this, I have seen people who seemed to get all the way through (3), but STOP THERE and never do step (4). In other words, they believe (at some level) the facts of the gospel, but they never obey the instruction to 'trust Jesus'. They never draw the implication that "if Christ bore my penalty, then I don't have to bear my penalty--God has completely forgiven me!". They never get the peace of knowing one is forgiven. They (often) never reach the realization that their sin is destructive enough to REQUIRE the Cross. The 'penny never drops'... They look a little like the cultural-belief people: "yes, I believe that lying is wrong, but so what--that won't change the way I live my life". So, just because they don't aggressively or positively reject/repudiate the gospel facts, doesn't mean that they truly believe them.
Could a post-Jesus Jew love the messiah-to-come, yet reject the historical Jesus? This is a bit trickier, since we have to deal with the caricature issue again. Most (if not ALL) of the Orthodox Jews of the Middle Ages (and certainly the main ones under discussion here: Rashi, RambaN, RambaM) had a solid belief in a promised/coming Davidic messiah [we will look at their beliefs on this in Part TWO of this article]. If they were rejecting a caricature (and not a willfully self-manufactured caricature, as I have already pointed out), then might not these individuals be close/equivalent to being 'Old Testament Jews' (huge assumptions about how much exposure they had, how much freedom they had, etc, of course).? There were no doubt such folks immediately before Jesus (who rejected the pre-Jesus 'brigand' messianic figures, while longing for the messiah), and probably contemporaries of Jesus in the Diaspora who didn't hear about Jesus (or heard falsely about Him) in the first few years/decades of the early Church, so how long could this situation still be possible for certain Jews? To my way of thinking, this is entirely case-by-case: I could envision Jews out in the "middle of nowhere" for centuries (cut off from substantive and accurate information flows about Jesus), who would still seem to theoretically fit in this category. I can further envision Jews whose only "knowledge" of Jesus is that He is the one apparently 'ordering' His followers ("Christians") to persecute, marginalize, and defame them! Granted, many of these folk would NOT be 'Torah scholars' or Sages, but this issue of 'how much is REALLY known' is obviously a spectrum upon which ALL people are going to be positioned somewhere (which some graduations being "those who have never REALLY heard").
[There is a related version of this that doesn't deal with messianic issues. Abraham was saved by believing in the Abrahamic promise (Galatians 3.8)--could a historically-later Jew be saved the same way? without an explicit rejection of the True Jesus?]
Secret Disciples? We have already noted that Joseph of Arimathea was called a "secret disciple" of Jesus, even while being a member of the Jewish leadership (Jn 19.38). He was called a disciple before he went public (at the burial), so it was at least biblically possible once for someone to be a non-Christian 'outside' but a true-Christian 'inside'--and it still count. [BTW, commentators sometimes suggest that he only really became a disciple when he did this public burial thing--as an act of public acceptance of Jesus--but the circumstances of the event were not quite that 'Christian'--a good Jew of the time might easily have wanted to bury a 'good man', without accepting any messianic claims of said individual. However, the amount of spices produced by Joseph/Nicodemus suggests a royalty-tone to the burial, so it is definitely possible that this act WAS a 'public confession of Christ' by both Nicodemus and Joseph. [Many Pharisees and priests would become followers of Jesus over the following decade anyway.]]
A similar situation seems to occur in the OT/Tannach, in the days of Elijah and the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The story is in I Kings 18:
"After a long time, in the third year, the word of the LORD came to Elijah: "Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land." 2 So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab. Now the famine was severe in Samaria, 3 and Ahab had summoned Obadiah, who was in charge of his palace. (Obadiah was a devout believer in the LORD. 4 While Jezebel was killing off the LORD's prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water.) 5 Ahab had said to Obadiah, "Go through the land to all the springs and valleys. Maybe we can find some grass to keep the horses and mules alive so we will not have to kill any of our animals." 6 So they divided the land they were to cover, Ahab going in one direction and Obadiah in another. As Obadiah was walking along, Elijah met him. Obadiah recognized him, bowed down to the ground, and said, "Is it really you, my lord Elijah?" "Yes," he replied. "Go tell your master, `Elijah is here.' " "What have I done wrong," asked Obadiah, "that you are handing your servant over to Ahab to be put to death? 10 As surely as the LORD your God lives, there is not a nation or kingdom where my master has not sent someone to look for you. And whenever a nation or kingdom claimed you were not there, he made them swear they could not find you. 11 But now you tell me to go to my master and say, `Elijah is here.' 12 I don't know where the Spirit of the LORD may carry you when I leave you. If I go and tell Ahab and he doesn't find you, he will kill me. Yet I your servant have worshiped the LORD since my youth. 13 Haven't you heard, my lord, what I did while Jezebel was killing the prophets of the LORD? I hid a hundred of the LORD's prophets in two caves, fifty in each, and supplied them with food and water. 14 And now you tell me to go to my master and say, `Elijah is here.' He will kill me!" Elijah said, "As the LORD Almighty lives, whom I serve, I will surely present myself to Ahab today."" [NIV]
Obadiah (not the author of the biblical book, btw) is as close as you can get to a 'secret disciple' in the OT/Tanach. Commentators point out the 'secrecy' of his commitment/acts:
"Obadiah was also a devout believer in the Lord (but not the writer of the Bible book of that name). Whether Jezebel knew of Obadiah’s commitment to the Lord is not clear, but undoubtedly he and the queen were not close friends. Jezebel’s aim was to replace the worship of Yahweh with Baal-Melqart worship. Her plan included killing off the Lord‘s prophets (1 Kings 18:4). Obadiah, aware of her strategy, had hidden 100 prophets of the Lord in caves and was supplying them with food and water—a difficult task in days of extreme famine and drought. Obviously there were many in Israel (cf. 19:18) and probably also in Judah at that time who believed in the Lord, though Israel as a whole had apostatized...Obadiah recognized Elijah when they met somewhere outside Samaria; Elijah was a ”wanted“ man in Israel. Out of respect for the prophet, Obadiah bowed down to the ground. He could hardly believe he had found Elijah. Elijah, wanting to talk with Ahab (vv. 1-2), asked Obadiah to announce him to his master. Obadiah, however, was afraid that Elijah would disappear again. Obadiah explained to the prophet how Ahab had searched for him at home and abroad (v. 10) to no avail. Obadiah affirmed that fact by the familiar words, As surely as the Lord your God lives (cf. 17:1, 12). If he reported to his king that Elijah had been found, and then could not produce him (the Spirit of the Lord may carry you away; cf. 2 Kings 2:16), Ahab would regard Obadiah’s words as a mocking trick and would probably execute him...To convince Elijah that his concern was sincere, Obadiah related proof that he was a devout believer in the Lord (cf. v. 3) since his youth. Obadiah seemed to think Elijah would have heard about his hiding and feeding the prophets of the Lord. Perhaps this was known among many of the faithful in Israel, especially the prophets, though of course not by Jezebel or her sympathizers." [BKC, in loc]
In addition to these biblical examples, we might point out that persecuted Christians in oppressive regimes/cultures (Although many of these links/sites are REMOVED/RETIRED by now, cf. https://www.Christianpersecution.info/) are sometimes 'secret' Christians [cf. http://www.megarevma.net/SecretChristians.htm , http://www.enat.org/~aribob/kirishitan.html, http://www2.gol.com/users/coynerhm/underground_Christians_keep_faith.htm, http://www.ccj.org.uk/Downloads/MGilbert.doc, http://www.gospelcom.net/chi/GLIMPSEF/Glimpses/glmps120.shtml, http://www.oca.org/pages/orth_chri/Feasts-and-Saints/November/Nov-02.html, http://www.crossnet.se/sjoberg/E9612_2.htm, http://www.afa.net/journal/april/2002/sudan.asp]. And, from these types of reports, in strongly anti-Christian sub-cultures, the length of time one might spend in 'secret belief' before going public (if ever) would naturally be lengthened. This would obviously apply to traditional Jewish sub-cultures, but would be less relevant to religious leadership (such as Torah Sages), of course.
Mix of Faith and Doubt. One of the realities of pre-mortem belief is that it's always a mixture of confidence/doubt. There are always little doubts, unresolved questions, sporadic bothersome open items, and so 'faith' always has this mixed character to it (especially early on). One can always come up with theoretical objections and hypothetical alternative explanations, even though the practical effect of decades of experiencing God is hugely dominant to one's truth-assessment. But such a mix--especially in a newbie or in a mixed environment--raises the question of what is the 'minimum ratio' of faith-to-doubt required? If an agnostic finds 35% of the data strongly supportive of Christianity, 15% of the data strongly against it, and the remaining 50% 'neutral', is the 35% acceptance/faith 'enough' to count as theological belief, or does it have to be "51% or more"? [Think about a 'thought experiment' here: If you polled 100 Christians, and asked them to rank their confidence--for the first two years of their Christian experience-- in the factual truth of the details about Jesus/Gospel/God on a scale of 1 to 10, what would be the average number you would get? Some would say '10', some would say '1', but where would the average be? This is a way to visualize the 'mix' I am speaking about, even though the notion is imprecise and a conceptual one.] Now, when we apply this to a Jewish or Muslim scholar--assuming they have 'substantive and accurate' information about Jesus, of course--how many pro-Christian arguments do they have to find (in their hearts, not in their public teaching necessarily) 'very strong', 'somewhat convincing', or 'insufficiently addressed in the literature to date' (smile) to counter-balance their 'official positions'? In other words, it still comes down to a matter of the inner heart, what the conscience will testify to at the Judgment (about their REAL attitude toward the REAL Jesus), and what God knows about their circumstances.
Do you have to know it is true before you can willfully reject it? This is something I think about a lot in this area. For someone to willfully and/or deliberately reject the truth, do they have to know it is really true? (As opposed to rejecting it out of ignorance of what the data really indicates.) If so, then this is universally condemned also. We humans have zero respect for people who are 'close minded', 'stubborn', 'obscurantist', and who "live in denial" or "in their own fantasy world". If you are really convinced something is true, and then chose to deny it, you are typically considered by the human community to be a hypocrite at best, and a dishonest person at worst. And, if you then construct all sorts of arguments, justifications, apologetic, and rationalization in favor of your known-by-you-to-be-false position (!), teaching and publishing it as being true--and then we humans find out that you really know better(!)--you earn the disgust, censure, devaluation and repudiation that one deserves for such dishonesty and intellectual fraud. This applies to all subject matter--not just religious positions--and therefore we should be impartial in applying this to our question.
What this means is that IF WE FIND OUT that some Torah scholar, eastern monk, Christian 'liberal', atheist, or imam REALLY secretly knew/believed that Jesus was whom He and his closest associates AFFIRMED Him to be, and then this person GOES AHEAD and rejects Him/it ANYWAY, we humans have an ethical obligation to discount the integrity and trustworthiness of that individual substantially--whether or NOT we agree with them, or the bible, or neither. Again, this applies in any field of knowledge--where propositional truth is being affirmed or denied by the participants in the discussion--and so we should not be surprised AT ALL that a ethically-committed God would hold them doubly accountable for this, and for perhaps misleading others--when they KNEW better.
Since this applies to any truth-area, the same principle applies to Christian leaders, theologians, exegetes, preachers, and us 'common folk'. If I --as an fairly conservative evangelical--KNOW that some passage means X and I go ahead a defend a contrary position as being 'true', I am guilty of the same type of duplicity as everybody else. Romans 1: "who changed the truth of God into a lie".
But I think it's worse than this: people can reject a position--BEFORE/INSTEAD OF evaluating its truth claims--because of the implications of that position for their behavior and/or social standing. And, unfortunately, I fear this is very, very common (IMO). This is not as clear cut as the point immediately above, however, because one's understanding of the implications may be flawed (as per ignorance, being misled by others, cultural assumptions, etc---things perhaps unrelated to the truth claims under question). But in cases in which its clear and overt ("I do not want to end up believing X, because my peer-group/authority context will ostracize me, so I will avoid evaluating it by rejecting it now"), we end up with something once again disparaged by the general populace as being 'convenient', 'self-serving', 'calculating', 'lemming-like', and in some cases 'cowardly'. Again, this is not restricted to religious issues, non-Christian religions (!!!), or trivial matters. [This is very similar to the point above about "being put out of synagogue" (first-century commonfolk Jews), or "men loved darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil" (all of us, Jew and Gentile).]
These above grey-area issues highlight (for me) one stubborn conclusion: it is difficult in the extreme to (humanly) assess whether someone as "really heard", whether they have rejected or not...This is especially applicable to the masses of ordinary folks, but some of these might apply to the religious leaders we will TRY TO look at in Part TWO.
Third, Criteria for Judging Teachers/Leaders,
Twelve: The Dangers of what I am about to do...
Jesus and the NT writers are fairly 'descriptive' about the importance of NOT judging people. "Judge not lest ye be judged", "who are you to judge another man's servant?", "by what standard you judge, YOU shall be judged", "Judge nothing before the time", etc... and I have tried to follow this instruction explicitly and consistently, over the last decade or so (in my learning not to slander others). So, I am hyper-hesitant to even approach this issue here.
However, most of the 'do not judge' passages apply in non-leadership contexts. For example, I am not supposed to 'judge' my fellow believer (under normal circumstances)--I have no mandate to do so. If anything, I am supposed to 'defer to them' and honor them 'above myself' anyway. Even if I consider them 'weaker', I am expressly forbidden to do anything except help, love, respect, and honor them (Rom 14-15). But there are at least TWO situations in which judging IS required, and which IS mandated of believers.
The first is a mandate ONLY of the leadership: when established leaders are selecting people to join the leadership ranks (to serve the community), they are supposed to 'screen' and 'test' the candidates. This, of course, is only reasonable, and is in no way a uniqueness of the Church. All community group leaders have this responsibility, even if the candidates are only 'screened' before presenting to the congregation for approval/voting. The ability to make such a judgment are supposed to be acquired in the process of exercising leadership. In other words, those who have served the community in love for twenty years--having made mistakes, enemies, and messes--SHOULD know what things to 'look for' in a potential future leader! So, this wouldn't apply to me, Joe-believer, in judging them.
The second, however, IS oriented at me the common-believer: I am told to avoid false teachers and do not accept them as role models. I am to 'beware the leaven', I am to "watch what I hear/pay attention to", I am to "test those who say they are apostles and are not". I can listen to them (critically), study their writings (critically), and learn from them (critically)--"test all things, hold fast to what is good"--but I am not supposed to 'follow them', defer to their judgment, or emulate their behavior. [This is, of course, another important aspect of secondary group life.] Of course, I am supposed to think critically about EVERYTHING I hear/learn from ANYONE (with a skepticism which is good-hearted, full of 'benefit of the doubt', cordial, and hopeful), but in the cases of those so validated over time, I can aspire to 'walk as they walk' and 'follow their example, as they do Christ's'.
In our case HERE, however, we are asking a somewhat broader question. Whereas in the NT 'avoid their teachings' passages, we are enjoined to strictly 'operational' issues--who do we accept as legitimate interpreter of the tradition and of our group experience--but in the case of this article we are raising the question of 'heart status before God', because of the original question.
The objection seems to imply/assert that the leaders mentioned did "enough" good works (a positive mix of 'good and bad' deeds?) to 'require' God (morally) to let them into His heaven. And this is (the objection seems to argue) ESPECIALLY the case, IF the evil Christians--with a much worse/negative mix of 'good and bad'--are required (morally) to be let into heaven by God. [So, there are actually two questions hiding in here--one absolute one and one relative one.]
But before we get into the question of the relationship of "good works" to one's "purity before God" (or other variations--which we will discuss below) in PART TWO, we should note some problems with the logic of the objection:
First of all, we have seen under General Principles (above) that no mix of good-and-bad is going to automatically/spontaneously generate or create the metaphysically-new Pure Person. We noted that there was a radical metaphysical discontinuity between the person-at-death (with mixed character) and the person-in-Heaven (in complete conformity to the character of God, with 100% remade 'parts'--smile). There is little (if any) evidence to support some belief that the person's own character 'remakes itself' (on its own power and following its own 'blueprint') into a perfectly-pure version of itself (i.e., the remaking process drops off the slag...). This entails that God must step in and do this, and thus any 'doing of this' must be based upon God's intervention into the situation.
Secondly, we noticed that this action on God's part is actually voluntary--not automatic--and accordingly has to have a 'justification' (reason). There is no OBVIOUS reason why a Creator would be morally obligated to do such a powerful and comprehensive transformation on a petitioner, no matter HOW good they were, humanly speaking. One might argue that the Moral Creator/Governor would be obligated to apply the same ethical 'system' to these postmortem humans, as He/She/It/They required of them as pre-mortem humans (i.e., perfectly commensurate recompense/retribution, reaping what you sow, reciprocity in kind, etc), but even in such a case we cannot get from human-acts-of-goodness all the way to this massive re-creation/transformation. At best we get something like this:
A medical doctor, who without-pay healed patients of pathologies and extended their lives by N years, might be 'perfectly commensurately recompensed' by God healing all his pathologies (and perhaps some physiological enhancement?) and extending his lifespan (his same human life though--to match the results of their pre-mortem good works) by N years. This wouldn't necessitate (morally, that is) transformation into an eternal, glorious, perfected, no limitations, fully-formed, semi-divine life, though--that would be 'incommensurate'.
A philanthropist, who donated a billion dollars to feed the poor (and perhaps extending life for many, many people by a total of N years), might be 'perfectly commensurately recompensed' by either a lump-sum payment (!), or by a huge quantity of food, or by extending her life by N years. This good deed would not automatically require (in commensurate terms) eternal life, eternal joy, perfection of character, removal of personal limitations--that would be 'incommensurate'.
A political leader, who somehow convinced a foreign, occupying force to leave his country and leave them to operate under self-rule (with a mixed bag of benefits of self-esteem, less taxation?, sense of liberation and/or success?)--what would a commensurate response to this be? [Nobody in that case got eternal life, metaphysical re-creation, complete environment re-make into perfection, removal of ALL treachery and doubt in relationships, etc...]
A science whiz, who discovered antimatter, or invented the transistor, or proved Fermat's Last Theorem--how would the results in history of this match up against the New Future?
Or even a religious leader, who helped people 'suffer less through giving up desire', even though these people still sinned, still aged, still died, and still decayed. These leaders didn't create anything metaphysically "new, perfect, or eternal", so could 'commensurate recompense' include that for them? Not in a purely quid pro quo, perfectly balanced, commutative justice/moral system.
These are undoubtedly wonderfully good and precious deeds, but the point should be obvious: in a 'bare bones' ethical universe, you cannot 'earn' a recompense significantly greater (in scope and essence) than what you did as a human. You just cannot get from a finite series of 'finite' goods to an infinite series of "supra-finite" (?) goods (e.g., resurrection of a body without flaws, immortality, ability to do perfectly Godlike ethical deeds, etc). There is simply NO LEVERAGE in the 'pay me back with good for the good I did' model. Unless there is either (a) something extra built-into the system itself--presumably by God-- that creates leverage [i.e., I can create ripples in history which can somehow create a massively greater 'weight' to my life-time of good deeds (but...could it ever really get to eternal or perfect, or even to leaving our deficiencies behind?--another question altogether, but I am not convinced we could get there...)]; or (b) God has made a voluntary promise/commitment to a principle of leverage (e.g. "I agree that If you do X, I will repay you--without you EARNING IT, strictly speaking, or being able to BRAG ABOUT IT--with "some multiple of X") or to a principle of gratuity (e.g. "I agree that If you do X, I will repay you--without you EARNING IT, strictly speaking, or being able to BRAG ABOUT IT--with "something much greater than, but not calculable from X"), then we are stuck in a bare-bones system, and NOBODY gets to resurrection, to re-creation without flaws/weaknesses, to the peace, comfort, and complete safety of the New Future.
So, when we get around to evaluating 'good deeds', we are going to recognize that their 'goodness' has to be of a kind that the Deity will plug into either a 'leverage' or 'gratuity' model...
[Gotta stop here...back to this as soon as I can...]
July 26, 2004