Apologetics — “a branch of theology devoted to the defense of the divine origin and authority of Christianity” — Merriam Webster Dictionary
If you have read any of my stuff, you will have realized I’m not really impressed by either theology or religion. The first seems too much like someone’s studied opinion, and the second, too much like someone’s overactive imagination. Meat and potatoes is what I look for. Experiences that pan out in the real world, tried and true experiences that remain effective and constant over time, over a lifetime, and over generations.
Now, in High School I was around a “B-” student. That doesn’t make me a wise genius, but it doesn’t make me stupid either. I had lots of good friends, but they were really VanHattums’s friends first and friends of their friends who accepted Steve’s “endorsement.” I had no idea how to make new friends — or how to keep them. Yet, they always seemed to be there.
Falling into deep depression and self-loathing in my last HS years, I was not very good company, and became more neglectful of friendships, and so became more and more isolated. Not good. My only salvation was my first true love… you know… where the bells rang, the birds sang, and the rest of my thoughts fell away with a bang. Well, I quickly ruined that relationship, also. I caused her great harm. My loss. I caused myself great harm. I deserved it? No, not exactly “deserved” because I was simply acting in ignorance. But I certainly earned the consequences! My actions were harmful, hurtful. Why was I behaving so harshly?
I was a brutish jerk. Especially because that “lightning strike” had occurred before becoming a born again Christian, I had no reference point. Heck! I had no real concept of adulthood until a decade later! Besides, I had had no “center of gravity,” no underpinnings, no knowhow for building, not even a foundation to build on. I just sort of went with the flow — like a dead fish.
Now, however, in a new adult romantic relationship, I was not relying on just myself but on our relationship with Jesus. That is where we began. That is how we continue. Our relationship was similar to an arranged marriage, not a lightning strike. This time was a pairing in which we would both have much to learn and be anxious to do so. In Jesus we would have space and time to grow into a healthy marriage. It would be a partnership as well as a friendship. I had been incapable of this kind of deeper commitment and broader dynamic in HS. Beyond that it was arranged by her Father and mine, my Father and hers.
I remember on the way to the ceremony in a little country church on Grand Island, turning down Alt toward Fix, a white dove bolted up from the field next to us and flew alongside us. It seemed to me to be a confirmation that I was proceeding in God’s will. We were about to start building on the solid foundation.
It was a beautiful little ten cent ceremony. A reception that came after everybody waited in the church parking lot while the chairs were cleared. Sandwiches and cake from the women of the church — certainly very modest compared to fancy modern weddings, but it was very cozy and was with the presence of the Lord. No twenty thousand dollar wedding could have been better.
After four decades, our relationship has survived all the challenges that marriage and family present, and we are better now than when we started out. Maybe at my age it is delirium and senility or memory loss and failure of instant recall, but we seem to laugh together more. It has become pretty much a bedtime ritual for our “George and Gracie routine.” However, just maybe it is the uplifting and sustaining Holy Spirit working with us. Maybe it is our God-given ability to continually forgive as we have been continually forgiven. Maybe Jesus has truly given us a new nature compatible with relationships. That is what I claim. I’m just meandering a little to give folks an alternative view, an opportunity for cynicism. Your life and relationships may have been all berries and honey. I have no idea. I am just claiming how Jesus has rescued me from myself in this area of life, presenting everybody with the same opportunity Jesus has afforded me. It is a choice.
So, maybe it is actually because we study the Bible together as well as by ourselves. Maybe it is listening to daily devotionals together, watching Brooklyn Tabernacle worship services together. Maybe it is because she is my Editor-in-Chief for my essays now. Maybe it is God moving in our lives. Maybe it is all of these dynamics. Maybe it is just a matter of letting God take the steering wheel. I am not qualified to drive my life as I have proven over and over. Besides, I have never been good at foresight and planning.. But I can pay attention.
Funny thing we discovered: We had to get married all over again some years later by the Town Justice. Turns out I had lost the original paperwork, and so the Feds would not have recognized Patty’s claims to my SSI. The kids joked and asked if they were illegitimate due to my error. We answered “Probably.” Well, they asked, and yes, they all were “bastards, married out of wedlock.”
Last thing on this side track: I truly have lost most memories of our courtship and its details. In fact, I have lost all the specific details of all the events in my past. For example, I kind of remember visiting her often at her Nursing School, but as for our conversations, I remain blank. Is that normal? I don’t know. No sense dwelling on it. It’s like that with all my memories. I go into another room and forget why I went there. It is an entertaining adventure for now. Never know how long it will remain humorous, but until then… Back to the story… Well… Here’s Patty’s contribution, and then back to my jabbering…
“Just a little note from me (Patty):
“I did not come from a home with parents who had a happy and working together marriage. However, they did care and loved all their childrenSo to this day I am utterly amazed at the Lord‘s love and mercy He has shown and given David and me. It is only because of Jesus we got through the difficult and challenging times. Why? Because though we had our “stubborn times,” i.e. “I’m right/you’re wrong,” every time, and I do mean literally every time I’ve turned to Jesus, He has held out grace and mercy to me that enabled me to humble myself to see and not be blindsided by emotions that would be reactive and not helpful. Yes, we both have our flaws. But the best “Yes we have” is that Jesus so faithfully over the years has taught us and brought us along so that our love and care for each other has grown deeper and sweeter. And, oh, I do so enjoy that David makes me laugh.”
Finally, to my purposes here, the Bible calls harmfulness “sin.” Like many religious words, the meaning has been lost over time. Here’s the original languages of Hebrew and Greek — “In ancient Greek thought, sin was looked upon as, in essence, a failure on the part of a person to achieve his true self-expression and to preserve his due relation to the rest of the universe; it was attributed mainly to ignorance.” I was drowning in ignorance and had no clue. So, I write in hopes of saving folks, younger folks especially, time and unnecessary painful consequences and freedom. Freedom from the burden of the guilt of sin — the memories of hurting others and the confusion of the harm done to oneself. Now I am sure everyone’s experiences are far different from mine, but actually how far? Maybe different, but the applications, the principle is the same.
Here’s a longer definition of “sin” that is really important:
***The Hebrew word for “sin” is חטאה (hhatah, Strong’s #2403) and literally means “miss the mark.” From my understanding of the Bible, there are two types of sin, accidental and deliberate. I explain it this way. The Hebrew people were a nomadic people and their language and lifestyle is wrapped around this culture. One of the aspects of a nomad is his constant journey from one watering hole to another and one pasture to another. If you are walking on a journey (literal or figurative) and find yourself “lost from the path,” which is the Hebrew word רשע (rasha, Strong’s #7563), you correct yourself and get back on the path. This was a “mistake” (accidentally missing the mark), but not deliberate. Once you are back on the right path, all is good. However, if you decide to leave the path and make your own, you are again “lost from the path”, but this time, being a deliberate act, it is a purposeful mistake (missing the mark on purpose). In the Bible God gives his “directions” (usually translated as “commands”) for the journey that his people are to be on. As long as they remain on that journey, they are tsadiq (Strong’s #6662, usually translated as “righteous,” but literally means “on the correct path”), even if they accidentally leave the path, but return (this is the Hebrew verb shuv, Strong’s #7725, usually translated as “repentance,” but literally means “to return”) back to the correct path.***
That’s a really good explanation — a lot more thorough than I have been able to describe. Nevertheless, let me illustrate something from my living a meat and potatoes existence. All the harm I was causing myself, and all the harm I was causing others — whether through ignorance, self-absorption, or whatever — all the harmfulness in my life ended when I turned around, turned to God, and called on Jesus to forgive me and come into my life. When I realized I was responsible for all the consequences I was suffering, my whereabouts in life began to come into focus. The errors causing my waywardness were actually my sinfulness, my harmfulness, my ignorant and clumsy traversing, stumbling all the way through life. I could fix the blame on no one else — although I had often tried.
Throughout my life, my friends on various occasions tried to help me. Looking back it seemed they knew more about me than I knew about myself, and they were nudging me toward a better destiny they seemed to know, but I certainly did not. One friend turned me on to “pot” and after about half a “bag” I “got off,” laughing hysterically, breaking me out of my depression. Unfortunately, after some time, getting “high” only put me into a coma-like sleep. So, a step up to hallucinogenic drugs had to be introduced to keep getting those “cheap thrills.” So, I was still pretty much lost on a road to nowhere. Lots of experiences along that meandering way, but I remained relatively detached from life and living. Lots of new people encountered, but no new personal, long term relationships developing. The experiences have faded and I remember no one’s name.
It wasn’t until I began to call on God, who I had first heard about in Sunday School, as in the Hebrew definition cited above, I came alive and was set on the right path by the power and love of God, and even though I still have the tendency to choose a wrong path time and time again, Jesus sort of calls out “Hey! What do you think you are doing there David?” Then He points to the right path and lifts a streetlight over it.
When I asked Jesus to forgive me and come into my life, the weight that was lifted off my shoulders was absolutely amazing. All the ropes that were binding me were broken off. The joy I felt being cleansed and freed from all the darkness that had accumulated in my life is pretty much indescribable. The path He set me on was meat and potatoes, sustainable, continual, and fulfilling.
Having Jesus in my life allowed me a second chance in, for example, a new girlfriend who would eventually become my wife and the mother of my children. Did I never ever screw things up again? Really? How about this classic: We were arguing over something stupid, and I was getting madder and madder. I forget why, but I called her an asshole. She responded with something like, “I must be. Look who I married!” Anyway…
You see, God created Humanity and loves us; He saw everything as “very good” (Genesis chapter One). Because He created us, God is our Father, and He knows us thoroughly, in and out. He is a good, good Father, and as such, He only wants what is best for us. He wants to show us how to live successfully and happily in His Creation which He made for us, that is, how to live productively and cordially without harming ourselves or others. He has given us in Jesus the perfect Law that gives freedom. “Look both ways when you cross the street.” “Don’t eat that; it will make you sick.” “Be kind to yourselves and your neighbors.” “Keep in touch.” “This is the way; walk in it.” Basically, this is the message throughout the Bible. This is what the myriad examples of the people in the Bible demonstrate. Meat and potatoes. Warts and all. God loves us.
The Bible, meat and potatoes, warts and all, not at all separate from the real world but an intrinsic weave constant in a fabric still being woven and with a place for every block in His Quilt. (“Quilt Blocks are fabric units, or components, sewn together to create a quilt. They can be pieced, appliqued or just squares or rectangles of fabric. There are many Quilt Blocks that can be used in their own or are part of other Quilt Block patterns…” — https://thequiltshow.com
Here’s some of the warts that make life ugly. Everybody has done harm: to the Creation itself, to one another, to ourselves. We all are ignorant in one way or another of how to live or of how great the love God has waiting to shower on us. We cannot perceive what separates us from God’s purposes. It is a mystery of sorts, but “sin” in its true meaning is what the Bible says separates us from the loving relationship with God — something like when Mom and Dad have become drastically disappointed with our behavior.
I suppose we fear some sort of punishment from God, not realizing the nature of God is demonstrated through Jesus of Nazareth: “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love — not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” In another way, we may not choose to come into His light, because we have gotten used to the dark. Maybe we think the light will ruin our eyesight. We don’t want to be exposed so thoroughly. But that is not the nature of God. His purposes for us are far different than this conceptual error.
We often assess ourselves with a kind of checklist. We aren’t so bad; we do good things, have good thoughts. Unfortunately that misses the mark. Thinking like that will never allow us to attain all the good God has in store for us. Chicken or the egg kind of thinking. What we have heard, what we have seen, even what we think of ourselves all work against us seeking reconciliation with God. “Why do You allow evil?” and such. “Why does God clothe Himself in such deep mystery?” “Why does He hide Himself from us, especially in times of need?” “Just look at how those Christians act.”
In the Book of John, chapter 8, Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “… if you remain faithful to my teachings…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus will set you free.
Another hangup, if you like to think of it that way instead of chains: I, for one, never appreciated my parents advice. Well, parents aren’t perfect, as in, for example, choosing their children’s career path. Okay. So once in a while Mom and Dad get it wrong. But they have always had the best intentions, wanting only the best for us. Again, God only wants the best for us, too. However, unlike earthly parents, He actually is perfect, and He actually does know what is best for us, both individually and as all of Humanity. Yet, He will never impose His will on us as individuals. With the entire World, it is a different story. Time marches on. There will be an end to the story of the Human race. But that’s an entirely different discussion…
Free will, with all its intrinsic dangers, God will not breach that gift. He doesn’t enjoy our suffering when we drive into a ditch. Maybe He realizes we have to learn the hard way sometimes. Yet, He instilled in us that freedom to choose, because we cannot love without it — not ourselves, not one another, and not God — and God is love — whether we can comprehend it or not. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:1–9, excerpt)
Well, I could go on with all the favors Jesus has done for me, even prepared before I ask, and He asks nothing except our faithfulness in return. I could continue pleading with all of you to turn away from your own thinking and the roads you have chosen to travel, but a person must persuade themselves. We hold on so dearly to our free will. Stubbornly hold on. We cannot admit that we cannot see that far down the road. Admitting our mistakes is not always easy. Right? We think the maps we have drawn for ourselves are so very accurate! The Earth is still flat isn’t it? Or can we truly see beyond the horizon?
“Oh! That’s a good idea!” Oops. Turns out, not so much. By the by, “I’ve already tried God, and it doesn’t work.” doesn’t work. It’s a poor cop out. Whether a person has tried to learn a Trade or earn a PhD, they must put in the time and the effort and persevere in reaching their goal. To become a good team member in sports, one must pursue it with dedication. Seeking a personal relationship with God is not unlike that.
Don’t know about you, but these have generally been my experiences: I hope you will be able to relate to at least some of the things I have been writing here, and so to conclude, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 16:25)
Jesus and the Samaritan Woman
“…13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. 14 But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water so that I will not get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”