It’s the beginning of a new year and there will be many who will embark upon reading plans designed to guide them in reading through the Bible within a year.
Now, while this is indeed a noble and worthwhile endeavor, I think, all too often, we make the mistake of reading the Bible ‘too’ quickly! In an effort to read the assigned portion or section for the day, we often fail to take the time to actually understand what we are reading. When we read too quickly and too methodically, we often miss the message in the effort to be true to our method!
As an example, I read a passage the other day that caused me to re-evaluate previously held beliefs. It was not a passage I had not read before, in fact, it was one that I had read quite often and one the preacher would call; ‘a familiar passage!’ The passage was Philippians 2:9-11, which reads in the KJV:
“Wherefore, God also hath highly exalted him and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Now the thing that arrested me the other day was the realization that most people, myself included, often misquote the passage! The common saying of most is: “That at the name of Jesus, every knee ‘shall’ bow and every tongue ‘shall’ confess! But that IS NOT what the text says! The text doesn’t say ‘shall,’ the text says ‘should.’ There is a substantial difference between shall and should! The word; ‘shall’ is about ‘what is “going” to happen,’ while the word; ‘should’ is about ‘what “ought” to happen.’ Now, while it is indeed true that eventually every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father, that is not the point Paul was making!
In the context of passage, Paul was not talking about what was going to happen, but rather Paul was expressing what ought to happen in response to the exaltation of Jesus as Lord! Therefore, when we say ‘shall’ we are, in a sense, postponing Jesus’ exaltation until the end of time, but Jesus will not just be Lord later, Jesus is Lord, NOW! He was recorded as saying in Matthew 28:18 after his resurrection; “All power (the Greek word for power, denotes ‘authority,’ not “might’ or ‘strength’ as we so often erroneously preach it!) is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” Paul wrote of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:25-26: “For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”
My point is that, since Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and in earth and he is presently reigning, every knee should presently bow and every tongue should presently confess that Jesus is (not will be, but right now, is!) Lord! However, we miss this fundamental truth when we misquote the passage or otherwise read ‘should’ but think ‘shall.’ As we read the Bible, we should slow down enough to read what it actually says and not what we have been conditioned to ‘think’ it says! Only then will we recognize that often, even the ‘little’ words, like the articles and definite articles; (‘a’ versus ‘the’), conjunctions, such as ‘and’ and ‘or’ can change the meaning of a text! It was only after I slowed down that I recognized the difference between ‘shall’ and ‘should!’
Here’s a thought: Please understand, I am not trying to be unsympathetic or insensitive, but I think it is important that we (the people of God) proclaim biblical truth at all times, especially when someone dies!
Here are some things we (the community of believers) need to quit saying when someone dies because these statements are biblically incorrect and potentially misleading:
1. ‘They earned their wings’ – There are several things wrong with this statement. First, since we are not saved by any works we do, but rather by grace, why would we associate death with ‘earning’ something? What makes God’s grace so amazing is that we don’t deserve it and we can’t earn it! Second – When a believer dies, they are not transformed into angels or given wings! Humans will always be humans and angels will always be angels!
Third- ANGELS DON’T HAVE WINGS! In every occasion of angels appearing on earth in the Bible, they appeared as ‘normal’ men! The only angelic ‘winged’ creatures mentioned in the Bible are the seraphim (Isaiah 6:2, 6) and the cherubim. These creatures are not regular angels, but guardians of God’s throne! The idea that all angels have wings comes from English literature, not the Bible!
2. ‘They have earned their crown’ – Same as in ‘earning their wings.’ Whatever God gives us is because of God’s grace, not because we earn it! The crowns we will receive from God will be ‘rewards’ for our faithfulness, not bonus payment for our work! A careful reading of the Bible will help us to understand the fact that death is an enemy, not a friend! (1 Corinthians 15:26) The only crown given because of death will be to those who died (were killed) because of their faith. In Revelation 2:10, the crown of life will be given to those ‘faithful unto death.’ This is not about people being faithful until they died, but rather about people being faithful to the point that their faithfulness cost them their lives!
3. ‘They are watching over us now!’ ‘They are our guardian angels now!’ – For one thing, as stated before, humans are not transformed into angels when they die. In addition, the Bible describes the state of deceased believers as ‘resting from their labors.’ Could or would they honestly be at rest if they were tasked with the job of ‘watching over us?’ God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirt, along with a detachment of angels are already watching over us! The help of our deceased loved ones is not needed!
4. ‘It was just God’s will.’ ‘God took him/her/them’ – Death is never God’s will! Jesus said: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10). The ONLY reason people die is because of sin! (Not necessarily because of that individual’s sin, but because of the Fall of Adam. Genesis 2:16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:22, 26) Death was not part of God’s original intent! In fact, the blessed hope of the Bible is the Resurrection! In the Resurrection, believers will live again, not in Heaven, in a spiritually disembodied state (the state of dead believers now) but on the new earth in glorified physical bodies! (Revelation 21-22). It is not God’s will for people to get sick and die! It is not God’s will for people to be killed in accidents or murdered! We need to quit saying this!
Didn’t mean for this post to be so long! But if we seek to comfort people in their bereavement, the only real comfort is in the truth of God’s word, not in our erroneous interpretations of God’s word!
How many times have you heard your pastor, some preacher, your favorite evangelist, or heard a song say: “The Bible says: ‘God won’t put no more on you/us than you/we are able to bear!” How did you feel when you heard that? Well, you should have felt like something’s not quite right! Why? Because the Bible DOESN’T SAY THAT, and GOD DOESN’T OPERATE LIKE THAT!
Even before discussing what the Bible actually says, let’s consider the implications of that widely believed, yet false premise. What kind of God would ‘put something on you,’ and then offer to relieve your burdens, only after you pray for relief? That’s a sick and sadistic god! Definitely NOT THE GOD revealed in the Bible! If you actually believed in a god like that, you would have some sort of resentment, even if it was only subconscious! One of the reasons the world rejects our faith is because so many of us who profess faith misrepresent faith by making statements that sound good but make no sound theological sense, such as the statement of this discussion!
Now, here’s what the Bible actually says: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13 KJV.
Now, let’s break the verse down: The Greek word for ‘temptation’ in the verse is a word defined as; ‘a test, an enticement to do evil, adversity, or affliction.’ The phrase: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man,” means whatever you are going through IS NOT a unique situation! You’re not the only one, others have and are going through what you are going through! What you think is unique to you is actually quite common to everybody!
God is faithful and God will not suffer (allow) you to be tempted/tried/afflicted/burdened above/beyond what you are able, but with whatever you’re going through, God will provide a way for you to escape so that you may be able to bear/handle it.
Now notice, Paul did not say the temptation/trial/affliction came from God! James said in James 1:13: “Let no man say when he is tempted (same Greek word Paul used in our verse), ‘I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempted he any man.” Wow! James actually said, we are not to say what we’ve been saying because God doesn’t roll (operate) like that!
The gist of the matter is this: Whatever trials, afflictions, burdens or adversities we face; GOD DIDN’T PUT THEM ON US! And James tells us not to say that! But the GOOD NEWS is that God is faithful, in that God will not allow whatever we’re going through to be more than we are able to bear! Paul said, God will, with the temptation, also make a way to escape. In other words, the answer is in the question, within whatever you’re going through is your relief, and there is a blessing within your burden!
When we say, “God won’t put no more on us than we are able to bear,” we misrepresent the character and nature of God. God is not the source of our burdens, sin is! We live in a sin-cursed and fallen world. But when we encounter the various burdens and afflictions that everyone encounters and goes through, we (believers) can rely upon a faithful God who will not allow whatever we’re going through to be more than we are able to handle! The real message is this: If God allowed you to come it, (or it to come to you), God will help you through it! Whatever your burdens may be, what the enemy has designed for your defeat, God wants to use for your good! Don’t curse the darkness, just light a candle because we serve a God who is able to turn our stumbling-blocks into stepping-stones!
Well, here’s a bit of a dicey if not morbid topic. I bring it up because I find there is a tendency when Christians learn that another Christian has died, to have a celebratory response to death. Why? Because that saint has gone home to be with the Lord, which is a widely expressed statement regarding death of a Christian.
However, in consideration of the overall context of death, I’ve actually begun to question the appropriateness of it’s celebration. In fact, I think it may not be appropriate at all. I hate to rain on this popularly held parade but I believe it’s important to see the whole picture. We must have a holistic perspective of death.
One one hand, there does appear to be scriptural support for celebration. One of the main text that supports this joy is found in 2 Corinthians 5:8, where Paul says “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” There’s also Paul’s statement in Philippians 1:21-23;
For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain. And if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet, what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two. I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.
Well, before get too excited about these passages, there’s some other factors to consider as it doesn’t really provide a complete picture. Regarding this statement specifically, note what he is comparing – living in the pains of this world vs being with Christ. He is not so much rejoicing in death, but indicating that to be with Christ is better.
Also, we must account for the fact that death does something grievous to our body. As I wrote about here, we are whole people and death impacts us in ways that should not be celebrated. For the sake of brevity of this post, I won’t go into details of why I believe the scriptural support for dichotomy view of humanity, meaning that we are made up of material (body) and immaterial (heart, mind, conscious). Death literally rips us in two. It sends our bodies to the ground and our soul to be with Lord.
Well, what’s wrong with that? Aside from the fact, that it has dismantled God’s creation, it is incomplete. That person who died may be with the Lord, but in a state that is not yet finished. Consider what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:1-5
For we know that if our earthly house, the tent we live in , is dismantled, we have a building from God, a house not built by human hands, that is eternal in the heavens. For in this earthly house we groan, because we desire to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed, after we put on our heavenly house, we will not be found naked. For we groan while we are in this tent, since we are weighed down, because we do not want to be unclothed, but clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
It might appear that he is referring to a comparison between our earthly existence now and what happens after death. And certainly, the context of the passage relates to the comfort to be received regarding an eternity with Christ. Again, it is a contrast to present earthly circumstances. But I think we have to turn to Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 15 to understand that the clothing and heavenly dwelling he refers to in this passage is our resurrected bodies. In the meantime, the temporary state of the body is naked and longs to be clothed.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul lays out the case for the resurrection. It is a common practice to look to this chapter as support for Jesus’ resurrection and indeed it does. But notice, it doesn’t stop there. Paul indicates that Jesus is the first fruits among the brethren (vs 20). The point is not just Jesus’ resurrection, but the bodily resurrection of believers at Christ’s return. In vv 35-53, Paul makes a case for the bodily resurrection and it’s significance. The rejoining of a new body with the soul completes us.
The comparison between what happened as a result of the first Adam and the last Adam (Christ) is fairly important in the valuation of death (vv 21-23). Notice in vv 24-28 that he says when Christ comes and hands the kingdom over to the Father, the final enemy that will be destroyed is death. It is pretty significant that Paul refers to death as an enemy. But death gets swallowed up after we get new imperishable bodies (vv 50-54). Until then, death has a sting! And he goes on to say, “the sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law” (vs 56). Cross referencing this with Romans 5:12-21, death is representative of sin that entered the world through one man.
Death is bad. Sin is bad. It reminds us that something terrible went wrong in Genesis 3. Jesus will conquer death and we’ll be made whole. But until then, it makes a detrimental mark. And it seems to me that if you rejoice over death, you are also rejoicing over the fall and what death represents. That is definitely not a good thing. Here’s a good article on the subject as well.
So putting this altogether, what should the Christian response to death be? On one hand, the saint who dies does go to be with the Lord, though in an incomplete state. On the other hand, I think the evidence supports that rejoicing over death itself is not be appropriate. We should not call death a blessing or a gift or applaud it. We should however, take comfort in the fact that when one of God’s people dies, there is a presence before the Lord.
So what does that mean in practical terms? Commemorate the person’s life. Give glorious tributes. Rejoice that they lived. But do not celebrate their death. Death is an enemy that reminds us of the persistent reality of the fall. Death should be mourned. But it should also provide us with opportunity to reflect on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15, that one day we will be transformed, made whole and spend eternity with the Savior.
Let me preface this analysis by making a full disclosure: I am in no way, shape, form, or fashion, nor do I claim to be, certified or trained in the field of psychiatry, psychology, or sociology (I did take a few psychology classes and Sociology 101 in college). Hence, that is why this is a ‘quasi-psychoanalysis.’ My field of training is theology and biblical studies, but the LORD God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary (Isaiah 50:4 ESV). This is merely my personal insights and views of the origin of the racial issues and tensions in the United States of America.
On the outside, looking into the field of psychiatry and psychology, I noticed that one of the very first things those who are trained in those areas do to assess the extent of their patient’s abnormality is to analyze significant events in the patient’s childhood years. Therefore, in seeking to find the root of America’s racial problems, we need go back to America’s childhood.
Most people, who would eventually become Americans, voluntarily migrated from other areas of the world. They came to the land, that would eventually be called; America, seeking religious freedom and opportunity to better their lives and the lives of their descendants. However, Black people did not voluntarily come to America! While the Pilgrims came over on the Mayflower, seeking freedom, the Black African people were brought over in chains, in the cargo-holds of slave-ships, for the expressed purpose to serve those who were seeking freedom! This was the beginning of the American psychosis! By the way, as a matter of definition, psychosis is defined as a serious mental illness (such as schizophrenia) characterized by defective or lost contact with reality often with hallucinations or delusions. So with that definition in mind, if we are honest, we must admit that it must have been a case of delusion, a ‘divorcement from reality’ for those who voluntarily came to these shores; seeking freedom, to involuntarily bring others to these shores as slaves! That sounds a little crazy to me! That sounds like a case of psychosis!
But not only was America delusional in practice in the beginning, she was delusional in principle also. In early July 1776, a document was formally approved that would become the bedrock of American independence and freedom. It was called: The Declaration of Independence. The most famous, and most often quoted part of that declaration is the second sentence, which states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Now, here is the hypocrisy and the psychosis of that formalized statement: The primary author; Thomas Jefferson, was one of the forty-one (41) of the fifty-six (56) signers who, at the very moment they signed the document, owned slaves! You draft and sign a formalized document declaring that it is self-evident, it’s obvious, that all men are created equal and that they have a God-given right of life, liberty (freedom), and the pursuit of happiness, yet you yourselves deny freedom, the pursuit of happiness, and the self-evident revelation of all men being created equal to Black people! That’s delusional! That’s a case of psychosis!
Now I don’t know what was going on in the mind of these men, but in order for them to be oblivious to the obvious hypocrisy they engaged in, several assumptions had to have been in play. First of all, since the statement specifically said; ‘all men are created equal,’ in their minds they must have assumed that Black men were not human! Or they wrote it with the unstated understanding that it was to only apply to ‘White’ men. Whatever the reason, it is obvious that America had its inception in racial psychosis! Whichever case was the truth, it may be an indication that it was never the original intent of the majority of the founding fathers for Black men to ever be free in America! Racial discrimination and inequity was ingrained into the DNA of America! The racial tension we are experiencing in America today is nothing new; America was born with this racial psychosis!
But in all fairness, I just said that 41 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were slave-owners, consequently, that means; 15 of the 56 were not! Among those 15 were abolitionists; people who were actively working to abolish slavery. Among those 15 were people who indeed wanted freedom for ‘every’ man in America! I brought this out because I don’t want you to see this critique as being an indictment against ‘all’ White Americans past and present. No! There were some White settlers and colonists who truly believed and sought to live-out, and fight for the true meaning of the Declaration of Independence to be true for all men, including Black men! There have always been some White Americans who were not and are not infected with the American psychosis!
It wasn’t long after the formation of America that many realized their indefensible position of Black non-humanity. When the first constitution was being formed, for the purpose of taxation, the number of seats a state would have in the Congress, and the number of electoral votes, there was a debate over how slaves would be counted. Although the Southern states legally deemed the slaves as property, if they were counted as ‘people’ the Southern states would have an over-whelming majority, clout, and power in Congress, but at the same time, they would have to bear a greater tax burden than the states that had no slaves! Thus a compromise was made that involved counting only 3/5th of the slave population as people for the purpose of taxation and representation. When you deny people their humanity, all sorts of complications and psychotic behaviors come into play!
The great divide in America, which eventually led to the Civil War was the slavery issue! In the Southern states, cotton was king! Much like the ancient Egyptian Pharaohs who forced the Hebrews slaves to build their cities, the economy of the South was built on the bedrock of free slave labor! In the mid-19th century, while the United States was experiencing an era of tremendous growth, a fundamental economic difference existed between the country’s northern and southern regions. In the North, manufacturing and industry was well established, and agriculture was mostly limited to small-scale farms, while the South’s economy was based on a system of large-scale farming that depended on the labor of black slaves to grow certain crops, especially cotton and tobacco. Growing abolitionist sentiment in the North after the 1830s and northern opposition to slavery’s extension into the new western territories led many southerners to fear that the existence of slavery in America—and thus the backbone of their economy—was in danger.
According to an article on History.com: “In 1854, the U.S. Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which essentially opened all new territories to slavery by asserting the rule of popular sovereignty over congressional edict. Pro- and anti-slavery forces struggled violently in “Bleeding Kansas,” while opposition to the act in the North led to the formation of the Republican Party, a new political entity based on the principle of opposing slavery’s extension into the western territories. After the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Dred Scott case (1857) confirmed the legality of slavery in the territories, the abolitionist John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry in 1859 convinced more and more southerners that their northern neighbors were bent on the destruction of the “peculiar institution” that sustained them. Abraham Lincoln’s election in November 1860 was the final straw, and within three months seven southern states–South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas–had seceded from the United States.” The obvious irony in that article that jumps out at me is the fact that the Republican Party was actually birthed as part of the anti-slavery movement in America, while the Democratic Party is the descendant of the old Dixie-crats of the South! Another example of the American psychosis!
I don’t mean to bore you with a long-drawn-out history of America’s racial issues, but I highlighted these early events to shed light on the fact that America was formed, birthed and achieved world dominance in the backdrop of and on the backs of Black slaves! There are many today who are promoting the slogan: “Make America Great Again!” The truth of the matter is: America HAS NEVER BEEN GREAT for the Black, Brown, Red, and Yellow people living in America! America’s so-called greatness was achieved at their expense! Every gain Black people have achieved in America has been through blood, sweat, tears and struggle! The truth the country’s fore-fathers talked about that were endowed by the Creator, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have never been ‘given’ to Black people! Whatever degree of those attributes Black America might possess have been purchased with blood, sweat, tears and lives!
When I saw the image of George Floyd, laying on the ground, with his hands, hand-cuffed behind his back, with three White police officers placing the full weight of their bodies on his back and neck, and one other officer standing guard to make sure there was no interference, to me, it was a picture that epitomizes the 400-year-struggle of Black America! The weight of racial bigotry, prejudice, and discrimination has been consistently weighing heavily on the backs of Black America! While there are White Americans, who proclaim to be innocent by not actively adding to the weight, they are complicit in that they have turned their backs to the obvious injustices and pretend they don’t see or that these issues don’t even exist! Just like the police officer, with his back turned to the crime, they symbolically stand guard to maintain the status quo!
How can the issue be resolved? The answer is simple, yet complex at the same time! Just do the right thing! Just resolve to live-out the true meaning of the original creed that was written in psychotic-hypocrisy: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men, not just White men, but Black, Brown, Red, and Yellow men as well, are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I don’t pretend to have all of the answers as to how this can be practically done! But I do know that it will not be done in any form or fashion until there is an acknowledgement of the possibility that many of the original authors of that creed were suffering from a form of psychosis! How could the author of such words write and believe them while, at the same time, owning slaves, which was the very antithesis of the statement? Answers: (1) selective delusion (psychosis), (2) denial of Black man’s humanity (psychosis)! As long as there are a substantial number of White Americans who refuse to acknowledge this psychosis, the problem will persist! As long as there are a substantial number of White Americans who insist on blaming the victim to justify police brutality and injustice; the problem will persist!
I was about to end this article with that point, but I thought about another sign of psychosis that often rears its ugly head in American society. There are some White Americans who say that if Black Americans are so dissatisfied with their life in America, then why don’t they go back to Africa? How delusional can you be? Black Americans did not voluntarily come to America; they were involuntarily ripped from their native lands and brought here, in the holds of cargo ships, packed like sardines, chained as slaves! They worked as slaves, under inhumane conditions to build the economy and structure of America, not to benefit themselves, but to benefit their slave-masters! As time progressed, they work harder for less pay! They sacrificed the most and benefited the least! They were the last hired and the first fired! Whatever America is, she would not be half of what she is were it not for the free labor of slaves and subsequent unpaid and underpaid contributions of Black Americans! And then, some White people have the audacity, the gall, the nerve, the stupidity, the historically uninformed lack of reality to tell Black people to go back to Africa? Black Americans have a stake and interest in this country that has been paid for with the very lives of Black people! How dare those who have benefit the most have the audacity to even suggest that those who have paid and sacrificed the most for their benefit, leave! Not only the suggestion, but even the thought if it, suggest a severe case of psychosis! America needs help! American needs to heal! America needs to spend some time on the psychological couch to free her of her historical and current racial psychosis!