This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Two Trees

Genesis 2:9 talks about 2 trees located in the Garden of Eden, and the two trees are of course the "Tree of Life" and the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil." Although I personally believe these were literal trees, it must also be remembered that the Bible is a book that is multi-dimensional, mostly because of its divine authorship, and therefore those trees were placed there by God at the creation of the Garden by God Himself. So, we are going to be talking later on about a spiritual implication of these two trees, but first we need some background information.

I personally believe the Garden of Eden was a very big place - it was not your grandmaw's tomato plot by any means, you can be assured. Genesis 2:13-14 talks about Eden being surrounded by four rivers, the Pishon, Gihon, Hiddekel, and Euphrates. The early Church Fathers had theories as to what the Pishon was, or more specifically, where it was. For instance, Mor Ephrem of Syria identified it as the Danube, while Ambrose and John of Damascus identified it with the Ganges in India (Thomas G. Oden, gen. ed. and Andrew Louth, volume editor, The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament Vol 1: Genesis 1-11. {Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2001} pp. 56-59). Anyway you look at it, it covered a distance, but being more Patristic writers opted for the Ganges, so will be our position here. The second river, the Gihon, is pretty much universally accepted by the majority of Patristic writers as the Nile, meaning the Garden extended into Ethiopia. The other two rivers, naturally would be the Tigris (or Hiddekel) and the Euphrates. All four rivers supplied the Garden with water, and all four would have been the major rivers. Taking that description into account then, we could safely say the Garden of Eden covered the entire world of the Biblical narrative, which again says the account in the Bible specifically deals with the historic record of man's fall and redemption.

Now, if we accept that (which I do personally), what that means then is the center of the Garden would have been where the Holy Land - Israel - is today. Going back to Genesis 2:9, we see that both trees were in the "midst of the garden," meaning of course its central point. I have studied this, and what that points to is the central geographical location for all salvation history, the City of Jerusalem, or Zion. Being both trees were here, what that tells us then is that God consecrated this holy land from the beginning - wow! Now, although both trees were in the Garden, in the area of Jerusalem today, it doesn't necessarily mean they were exactly next to each other. In other words, they were in the midst of the Garden, but at separate locations. It is at this point now where our teaching really begins to get interesting.

The first idea here is what the consequences were from eating both trees - one produced life, the other caused death and judgement. That being said, let us look at something that will be very revolutionary to your thinking, but when you get the full picture of what I am about to share with you, it will make your own Christian walk more meaningful to you. Looking at a map of Jerusalem, we notice it is built on a city of hills, and two hills it is built on are pivotal to the two Covenants. One is Mount Zion, or the Temple Mount, where a lot of things in reference to the Hebraic Old Testament Covenant took place. The Temple was, of course, the center of Jewish spiritual life for many generations, and it was the symbol of Hebraic Law. Just northwest of the Temple Mount is another mountain, shaped eerily like a skull, hence its name Golgotha, or "Place of the Skull." This is where Jesus of course was crucified, and through that crucifixion and His shed blood, we received life. That being said, I want us to look at a Scripture verse in Romans 3:20, which tells us that "by the law is the knowledge of sin." 2 Corinthians 3:6 also tells us that "the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." These two Scriptures tell us something - we are condemned by our knowledge of the law!! The anonymous author of the Letter of Diognetus writes also regarding the reference in Genesis 2:9 to the Tree of Knowledge: "It was because the first men did not use this knowledge with clean hearts that they were stripped of it by the deceit of the serpent." (ibid, p. 55) That meaning of course that the law could be used as a weapon against others, and thus condemns its abuser - this was the danger of partaking of the tree that the Lord warned Adam and Eve about actually. As we have noted that this Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil has to do with accountability and condemnation of the Law, I am going to really present something here to you now; are you ready for this?? The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, I believe, was on Mount Zion, where the future Temple would be! Think about that a minute will you - when Jesus came, and His perfect sacrifice was made, the Temple lost its importance in our covenant relationship, didn't it. It didn't nullify the Law though, but completed it. Hence, the Law was completed. Satan's lie to us though has, and always will be, that we as humans can either reach salvation through doing good works, or that we can even reach perfection or even ultimately godhood by following a set of rules. Whole religions are built upon that ancient lie - one of them is Hinduism, in which this concept has a name, Karma - and that same lie, that Satan enticed Eve in the Garden with those many millenia ago, still deceives people, even those claiming to be "Christian." We are told by some in supposed Christian circles, for instance, that we are not to judge others but that our good works are a "witness" to others. Although it doesn't hurt, the true witness to others is the Holy Spirit moving upon them with conviction and desire to be set free of the sin that binds them. That is the true core of the Gospel, and if anyone teaches otherwise - doesn't matter if they do sell 5 million copies of some book about "purpose" or any other man-made concept - they are a false teacher and bring damnation upon themselves because they feed their followers that same corrupt fruit. In other words, striving to be "perfect," "holy," or "God-like" only causes bondage and stumbling, but the true life and liberty in the spirit is much more simple, and Jesus did that for us over 2000 years ago, which now leads us to talk about the Tree of Life now.

The Tree of Life, I believe, grew on Golgotha, and it is no accident either. Sometimes in order for life to happen, something must die - a seed dies when it sprouts a new plant, and a salmon dies giving spawn to its future generations. Likewise, Jesus died that we might have life, and as such, He is what the Tree of Life foreshadowed. On a place of death - the skull is the universal symbol of death, as many of you know - life was granted. God then, in his perfect wisdom, placed those two trees at strategic points in the Garden to foreshadow a spiritual lesson to us today. And, basically that lesson is this - Jesus is life, and the rigid law is condemnation and death (people have been known to commit suicide too when they are in bondage to legalism, because it is a hard row to hoe). Therefore, if we are truly born again in Christ, we should rejoice, for in Him we have partaken of the Tree of Life! In the Orthodox Church (as well as Byzantine-rite Catholic parishes) at Easter a troparion (proclamational hymn) is sung that goes something like this:

Christ is Risen from the dead
By death He trampled death
and to those in the tombs He bestoweth life!

Sung to the loud joyous ringing of bells - bells are a symbol of our praise to God, by the way, and we will be doing a teaching about that soon as well - this hymn says it all - through Christ, death has been conquered.
That is the crux - literally! - of our faith also; through the Blood of Christ, which is the most perfect fruit of the Tree of Life, we are saved from the condemnation and death of our sin. Without Christ though, religion is futile, as it only produces a code of legalism that will drive men to death or insanity trying to measure up to, hence it is the fruit of the knowledge of our sin and what is good and evil. Does that mean we dismiss the law and live any old way we want to? Absolutely not, and here is why - 2 Corinthians 5:17: "if anyone be in Christ he is a new creation; old things have passed away and all things have become new." In other words, we are truly transformed. This is a message sorely lacking in today's Church, as a sort of antinomianism has enslaved many and it has resulted in a carnality which binds many people to the world - people seem to think they can use unholy things like rock music, tattoos, and other garbage of the world in "service' to God. In reality though, they have not surrendered the worst parts of their old nature over to Christ, and their old man struggles against them. And, as a result, these things only please their flesh and don't glorify God. Sadly too, now these things have become a new legalism in many churches, and people are judged how "spiritual" they are by how many "jesus tattoos" they mutilate themselves with or by how "head-banging" they get when their favorite "Christian rock" band plays. This is not glorifying God - when one is born again in Christ, they truly do become a new creature, and they become that which God intended them to be. It may take some time to grow into it, but remember also, life is also about growth. The growth process of the Christian life is best described as a pilgrimage, and our pilgrimage begins not at Zion, but at Calvary. And, as long as we keep our spirit focused on Christ and our lives pointed in the direction He has for us, we will grow. And, the nourishment comes from that which the Tree of Life foreshadowed, and that is the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ.

That being said, I conclude with a challenge to you today based on all you have just read - if your Christianity has become a mere legalistic bondage, then your spirit has been eating from the Tree of Knowledge in a spiritual sense. The fruit may have seemed luscious and juicy to you at first, and probably tasted sweet, but too much of it has given you spiritual irregularity and you need to stop eating of that fruit before it kills you. Instead, you need to descend Zion and approach Calvary instead - the fruit of the tree of life may not always be as sweet, but it is nourishing and will refresh you. Partake of it today, and believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ to renew your spirit, because Jesus is truly the Life, and a perfect Life for us. Have a good week, and will see you next week.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mythical Creatures - Is there Spiritual Truth Behind the Myth?

As I write this week, I do so in a sort of drained state – my batteries are in real need of a recharge on all levels. I haven’t been this wiped out personally in a long time, and am looking forward to a possible break soon. But, you don’t want to hear my lamentations on my overall general state, so let’s get started for this week’s thoughts. Being I work for the county government here in Clearwater, FL, I managed to get a day off yesterday in observance of MLK Day. However, it was not a day of rest, as I was finally able to start organizing my “man cave” closet, of which there were piles and piles of receipts, periodicals, etc., that needed some organization. Due to a rather busy work schedule – I haven’t missed a day of work in over a year actually – a lot of duties have been neglected, including my personal filing. And, it was a chore – I worked on that almost 5 hours straight yesterday, and still only managed to get 1/3 of what I wanted done. So, my plan is to do a little bit throughout the coming weeks at a time, pending the reception of more filing boxes, etc., until I have everything ship-shape. Then, in the process I plan on also getting rid of some junk I don’t need as well, which should prove interesting. It will also make my material for my family tree and life story projects a little more user-friendly too, as it will be all in one box instead of scattered here, there, and yonder. My back is still a little sore today from the monumental task of yesterday, but I’ll live – no pain, no gain. As to other issues, I was watching this History Channel program on Saturday I believe about the Beowulf legend, and based on a mass grave that was recently excavated at Sutton Hoo on the English coast, there is a strong possibility that Beowulf could have actually been a historical figure. That leads me to something I have had in the back of my head for a while and really need to get down on paper, and that is the fact that within every myth, there is some truth that inspired the myth. If this be the case, it would radically re-define the way we read certain things. Of course, the Bible would be excluded from this reasoning because it does have divine authorship – if any book on earth has complete truth, it is the Bible. That statement will probably garner a positive response from my Christian friends but possibly also some derision from some non-Christians – to the latter, I say too bad; fact is fact. Although there are people, many well meaning and sincere Christians who do take the Word of God seriously (as they should), sometimes they don’t fathom that the Bible is a record of salvation history, and therefore unrelated details are often not found. However, true science, history, and everything else concur with what the Bible does say, because again the Bible has divine authorship and is the inspired Word of God. However, fortunately God has left us the liberty, as well as blessing us with the intelligence, to at least theorize about the “gaps” that are so often perceived in the Biblical record, and there is nothing wrong with that at all. I have several of my own theories about things that would be too extensive to get into now – for instance, I believe personally Adam had other children besides Seth, Abel, and Cain, and I believe that may even account for the ancestry of far-flung peoples outside the Biblical landscape, such as the Orientals, sub-Saharan Africans, and Native Americans, and that possibly (this is NOT something I am dogmatic about, but just a theory I am still testing myself) some of these people may not have been affected by the Deluge of Noah’s time – but I maybe should start a blog or something (that was my bishop’s wife, Deaconness Susan Stanley’s, idea, and it is brilliant – thanks Sis. Susan!) to expound more on some things like this. Also, it must be understood too that although some of us believe certain things like this, they are not contingent upon one’s salvation and are just peripheral issues that do not affect the focus of the Bible’s central message – God’s plan of salvation for mankind. That all being said, when I mentioned the Sutton Hoo site, it is of interest that what the archeologists found there were these mangled bodies – no conventional weaponry or technique available in the 7th century was responsible for this either, I might add! – that had evidence of blood drainage, etc. For those of you familiar with the Beowulf epic, you know that the monster, Grendel, killed in this manner. Now, to see where the truth is in the legend, I am about to say something that will rock some worlds, but again, this is JUST a theory of mine and is not Church dogma or anything like that, but it will be something radical – it is possible that something real could have been the inspiration for Grendel, and in talking with some people who were born again after deliverance from occultism, I have been told that when demons possess people, sometimes they manifest as grotesque creatures that have superhuman strength and can kill a human being with little effort. If this is a possibility, what that means is there may be some substance to things like werewolves (told you this would get bizarre, didn’t I!). One can also find beliefs like this among many other cultures – the ancient Olmecs of Mexico, for instance, believed certain people had the ability to “morph” into wer-jaguars, and their artwork reflects this vividly. Among some Plains Indians in the US, there is also the “skin walker” phenomenon, in which the “gifted’ can morph into a wolf, bear, or whatever. I don’t think personally these things are mere myth and the product of the imagination either – it must be understood that many of these societies are relatively free of the skeptical/analytical thought we in the West are used to, and thus they are open significantly more to the realities of the spirit world and such. And, without the light of Christ, these cultures are open season for Satan and his demonic hoardes to mess with these people, deceiving them into practicing bizarre rituals, and if people are open to that stuff, the demonic spirits have a free rein over the people in that society and are given a carte blanche to do things many of us in “civilized” society have said were impossible. Only by the blood of Christ, shed on the cross for the redemption of humanity, has the power to break that bondage over these people, and thus the urgency to reach them with the true Gospel. And, often, when a culture like this really embraces Christianity, they likewise are more open to what the Holy Spirit wants to do, and it is in these places where true revival breaks forth, and not only are souls saved but people have been known to be miraculously raised from the dead, healed of dehabilitating disorders, etc. This is something that the Western world has long forgotten, as we have replaced faith in many cases with reason, and thus if it seems illogical to us we dismiss it. However, remember this – God does use the foolish things to confound the wise too. The “Fools for Christ” in the Eastern Christian traditions knew that well, and what was viewed by “normal” society as insanity was in reality a gift of the Holy Spirit imparted upon these “Fools.” Often, our own wisdom sells us short, and in some cases we labor under the delusion of knowing more than God does, although we often don’t want to admit we are even entertaining such a thought. However, God is still God, and he does what he wants; therefore, when reports of revivals in Africa and elsewhere come in about raising the dead, healing diseases, and other miraculous things, let us not be quick to dismiss such things. Could be, those “ignorant” Third World saints may actually be taking God’s word more seriously than we do because they are not encumbered with all the garbage our society here puts upon us. Therefore, if we want to see a move of God in our midst, maybe the key to that is laying down our over-rationalizes skepticism at the Throne of grace, and let God show us some things He is capable of. That is truly something to think about. All of Christianity knows the power of the miraculous – some, such as the Pentecostal churches and us Catholics to a degree, take it a little more seriously than others, but it is still part of our heritage regardless. Perhaps now it is time to let God be God, and perhaps we “wise ones” can be educated by that which is simple and foolish. Again, some more food for thought. This all being said, I leave you for the week, and look forward to talking more with you in the next post. God bless.