Almost Heaven or Paradise

Almost Heaven or Paradise

It is interesting to observe how many times we hear heaven or paradise mentioned in our daily lives. John Denver sang a song titled “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” which began with the words “Almost Heaven.” It was a song about West Virginia. I have been to the town of Paradise, Michigan, and I remember a wide variety of songs that talk about being in paradise, such as Tony Bennett’s “Stranger in Paradise.”

The fact is that all of these references to heaven or paradise are misguided as far as being an accurate description. West Virginia is beautiful, but poverty, black lung disease, and unemployment are issues that make the state less than heaven for many residents. Paradise, Michigan has its share of mosquitoes and cold weather. Songs about paradise or heaven are statements about a temporary condition or hope.

In reality, what we all desire is freedom from all those things that make life on Earth less than heaven or paradise. Tragically, many people follow a religion or teaching that promises not freedom from all the negatives but the fulfillment of the pleasures of Earth. Physical gratification of any kind is not heaven.

The biblical portrayal of heaven is unique. In heaven, time ceases to exist, and all things of the material world come to an end. (See Hebrews 9:25, 1 Corinthians 15:24, and 2 Peter 3:10-12.) If space/time and matter/energy disappear, then all the negatives that exist in the physical world go as well. Revelation 21:4 describes it well: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Heaven will be so much better than “Almost Heaven.” Our present concept of heaven or paradise will be just an ancient memory of the distant past.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

Why Different Names For God?

Why Different Names For God?

Some people are confused by the fact that the Bible uses different names for God. We often use different terms to speak of the same individual. I might refer to my biological father as Dr. Clayton (he held a Ph.D. in philosophy), Mr. Clayton, Alfred Stafford Clayton, Staff, father, or daddy, depending on whom I was talking to or addressing. Those different names emphasize different aspects of the person. Likewise, the different names for God emphasize various aspects of His nature.

Elohim” in Hebrew refers to God’s power and might. It involves the fact that God is the only true and supreme God. That word was used in Genesis 1:1 because the creation process was a radical display of power and might. The Hebrew word “Adonai” was used in reference to God’s authority in human affairs. In Deuteronomy 6, we see the conclusion of the giving of the Ten Commandments. In talking about the value of the commandments, God tells His people that the purpose of those rules was “that it may go well with you” (Verse 3). Verse 6 indicates God’s authority: “And these words ‘Adonai’ commands you today shall be on your heart.” This isn’t about power and might, but about structure and order given by one in authority.

Perhaps the most quoted name for God is “Yahweh.” Since Yahweh” is the proper name of the divine Person, the Jews would not even speak it for fear of violating the commandment against using God’s name in vain. You will find “Yahweh” in passages that involve the promises of God. We see an example of the use of different names for God by a careful study of Genesis 1 and 2. In Genesis 1, the word used for God is “Elohim.” In Genesis 2, the word used is “Yahweh.” Some skeptics have maintained that Genesis 1 and 2 had two different authors, but looking at the names used for God dispels that idea.

The first chapter of Genesis deals with the creation. The power of God is the theme throughout the entire chapter. In Genesis 2, the theme is not creation, but the relationship between man and woman. Verse 24 of chapter 2 spells that out: “Therefore (the stated purpose of the chapter) shall a man leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one.” God’s plan for man and woman was for the support man needed (verse 20). Many of us who have lost our wives can testify to the truth of Genesis 2:18: “It is not good for man to be alone.” Being one is not just sexual; it is emotional, psychological, and spiritual.

The two names for God used in Genesis 1 and 2 do not indicate different authors. They express different themes, and both are important and correct. The Bible uses other different names for God, and that is not a weakness because each name carries a different emphasis. Understanding that is a key to understanding the Bible.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

Is Christianity a Cult?

Is Christianity a Cult

We recently received questions and accusations surrounding the issue of whether Christianity is a cult? This is not a new issue because, in the first century, many claimed that the apostles were promoting a cult. So, is Christianity a cult?

How do we identify a cult? Most definitions revolve around one figurehead who dictates the actions which the cult members must follow. The cult leader gains something by the actions of those who are members of the cult. Those gains can be monetary, sexual, physical, mental, or emotional, but there are always gains for the cult leader. The methods of control in a cult can be physical or sexual rewards for joining, physical punishment for not following the rules, or psychological control by intimidation or withholding of acceptance by the group.

History is full of religious cults. So is Christianity a cult with Jesus Christ as the cult leader? We are talking about Christianity as presented in the Bible. We do not mean organizations established by humans that call themselves Christian but have practices and teachings which contradict the Bible. There are denominations and sects that we would agree are cults. They have their own book of rules apart from the Bible. They have their own leader who dictates what members do, and they maintain control of their members by techniques that contradict biblical teaching. That is not biblical Christianity. Here are some reasons why biblical Christianity is not a cult:

1) The leader of Christianity died for the members of the group and refused money, fame, or items of physical comfort.

2) The message of Jesus was to serve others, not to be served. That was what He did.

3) The message of Christianity is, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians. 2:12), not, “Do what I say or else.”

4) Members of Christianity are not removed from the world and isolated from outside influence. “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15). That is not a cloistered, isolated existence.

5) One source of information is given to Christians, and that is the Bible. It is a perfect guide for life. It is not a book of rules but a source of information on how to live successfully. (See 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and Matthew 5-7.)

6) The message of Christ was and is confirmed by immediate and long-term physical results. “By their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:16) is the challenge of Christianity. When people follow the teaching of Christ, they find peace, love, compassion, service, and freedom. No cult produces freedom in any sense.

We do not argue for someone to join “our cult.” We encourage all people to choose and live in a way that works and will bless all people. Is Christianity a cult? Absolutely not!

— John N. Clayton © 2019

Human Double Image

Human Double Image

In reading the Bible, you might get the impression that it presents a human double image:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them.” Genesis 1: 27

“…and Adam begat a son in his own likeness after his image; and called his name Seth …” Genesis 5:3.

Both Christians and Atheists are often confused about the meaning of these images. With our modern understanding of genetics, it should be easy for us to understand this human double image in our relationship to one another. Perhaps less easy to see is our relationship to God. On average, the genetic difference between humans is .1 %. Even though this seems very small, it accounts for the differences that make us individuals, including race, hair, facial features, body type, fingerprints, etc. Our DNA can stand up in a court of law to prove our individuality. A genetic disease such as cystic fibrosis is due to a .00004% error in the genome, Seth was in the physical image of Adam, and especially at that early stage of human development Seth must have looked very much like Adam.

When God created Adam in “His own image,” it should be clear that it does not mean Adam’s physical image. In Genesis 2:7, we see a clear reference to the creation of the physical makeup of Adam. The Hebrew word used in verse 7 is “yatsar,” which refers to something an artist or potter might do. The verse says God made Adam’s body from the dust of the Earth. God breathed “into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” In Genesis 1:27, the Hebrew word used is “bara,” which refers to a miraculous act that only God can do. Man is spiritually in God’s image, and woman also has that spiritual component.

In John 1:14, we read that the Word (logos) became flesh and dwelt among us. A change took place in the divine son of God. He became flesh. When we visualize God as a man, we see Him on our level. We can’t understand how God can do the things He does, because He is not limited to a physical body as we are.

We have a human double image. Our physical form is limited and will return to the dust from which it came. Like Seth, we may have genetic similarities to others, but our soul is in God’s image and does not have the physical limitations of our body. Heaven may not be appealing to some who view it as a physical retreat. However, a timeless spiritual existence has joy that our physical bodies cannot even comprehend. We need to take care of our physical bodies to enjoy good health and long years in this life, but more important is to take care of our spiritual self. That part of us is created in the image of God, and that part of our image is eternal.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

The Concept of Repentance

The Concept of RepentanceOne of the most misunderstood aspects of the Christian faith is the concept of repentance. Many atheists, as well as some Christians, view repentance as a negative, oppressive act in which an individual is forced to verbally deny some pleasure that the religious establishment condemns. The fact is that the biblical concept of repentance is a positive, progressive movement toward the future.

The Old Testament refers to God repenting. Genesis 6:6-7 says, “It repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” Exodus 32:14, Judges 2:18, 1 Samuel 15:11, and many other passages speak of God repenting. There is a Hebrew word “nacham,” which expresses God’s repentance. God is immutable in His being but changes his relationship and attitude.

The concept of repentance in humans uses the Hebrew word “shoob,” describing a positive, progressive change. Second Kings 23:25 says of Josiah that “there was no king before him which repented to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might.” Many versions translate this concept to “turn” from destructive behavior to a positive one.

Repentance is a major theme of the New Testament. Examples are Acts 17:30, Mark 1:4 and 6:12, Luke 5:32 and 24:47. The word is also used in reference to congregations, as in Revelation 2:5,16 and 3:3. The Greek word used to describe this process is “metanoia,” with “meta” meaning change and “noia” referring to the mind. Vine’s Dictionary of Bible Words defines repentance as “a radical transformation of thought, attitude, outlook, and direction.”

Biblical examples give us a clearer picture of the concept of repentance. The city of Nineveh in Jonah 3:5-10 changed from a corrupt, immoral, violent, destructive place to one of peace and care. Zacchaeus in Luke 19:8-9 changed from a corrupt tax collector to an honest and generous supporter of the poor. The Prodigal Son in Luke 15:19-21 changed from a drunken customer of the pleasure industry to a responsible citizen, and the Jews in Acts 2:38-41 changed from hypocritical, selfish legalists to benevolent Christians.

Repentance is not religious enslavement of humans, but a positive change. Jesus said in Matthew 3:8, “Bring forth fruits which prove your repentance.” Ephesians 4:22-24 speaks of “being mentally and spiritually remade … with a new nature made by God’s design.” Colossians 3:9-11 speaks of “putting off the old man with his deeds and putting on the new man which is being remolded in knowledge.” Repentance is not a one-time thing. It is a positive change that we all need to make. Who would not like to see repentance in the politicians and rulers of the world, especially if that change involved the love and peace of Matthew 5 – 7?
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Godly Love

Godly Love
The Bible describes godly love:
“God is love; and he that dwells in love dwells in God and God in him. It is through this that love has attained its perfection in us in our being fearless on the day of judgment, for we realize that our life in this world is actually His life lived in us. There is no fear in love, for love, when perfect drives out fear because fear involves punishment. If a man fears, there is something imperfect in his love.” 1 John 4:16-18

I believe that the most misunderstood word in the English language is “love.” For most of our 21st-century population, love refers to sexual activity, and more and more, the music industry fosters that idea. Young people today speak of “making love” because the sexual concept is all that they have ever heard. The Bible is unique in its presentation of what love is about. You can’t make sense of “love your enemy” (Matthew 5:43-44) or “God so loved the world” (John 3:16) if the sexual notion of love is all you understand. The whole idea of loving God cannot be comprehended by a culture that has a sexual fixation on the word love.

The Greek language is far more useful in focusing on the complexities of love. There is a sexual connection to “love” in the Greek word “eros,” but that word is never used in the Bible. When discussing a wish or want, the Greek word “thelo” is used in Mark 12:38. When talking about the love of brethren, the Greek word “phileo” is used as in 1 Peter 3:8. The word “phileo” is used to describe something material or emotional. For example, “philarguros” refers to the love of money (1 Timothy 6:10), while “philedonos” refers to the love of pleasure (2 Timothy 3:4) and “philautos” refers to the love of self (2 Timothy 3:2).

The most unique and spiritually important word for love in the New Testament is the noun “agape” and the verb form “agapao.” This is godly love—a love that values and esteems, an unselfish, serving love that has no sexual implications. This word is used 114 times in the New Testament and is described in passages like 1 John 4:7 to 5:3 and 1 John 3:16-18. The most touching example of the use of this word is in John 21:15 – 17, where Jesus keeps asking whether Peter loves Him by using the word “agapao” and Peter keeps answering with the word “phileo.”

A non-Christian cannot have or comprehend the agape type of love that Jesus expects from His followers. The teachings of Jesus are hard for many of us because we don’t have a concept of what it means to “agape” someone. Look at the passages in Matthew 5:43-44, John 15:12, Ephesians 5:25, Hebrews 1:9, and 1 John 4:12 and realize how we struggle with those teachings. God’s Spirit helps the obedient Christian, and we can learn to love spiritual things (John 3:19-21). We can build the new life described in Romans 6:4-14 and 1 John 4:15-19. John 3:16 makes perfect sense when we understand what godly love is all about.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Decline of Faith in God

Praying to God in spite of Decline of Faith in GodOne of the frustrations we face is the decline of faith in God. Along with that is the fact that many congregations and preachers don’t recognize the problem. We were encouraged to see Phil Sanders point out the problem in the November (2019) issue of The Search Light, the newsletter of SearchTV.org.

Here are some of the comments Sanders presented, and to which we say “Amen.” He pointed out the obvious fact that there are atheists who don’t believe in God. But he also noted that there are practical atheists who may or may not intellectually believe in God, but who leave no doubt by the way they live that God does not matter. He reminds us that research has shown that the “nones” are the fast-growing religious group in America today. They are the people who claim to have no religious affiliation and are, therefore, practical atheists.

Sanders also pointed out some disturbing data, including the fact that 26% of the American population has no religious affiliation, up from 17% in 2009. Those who describe themselves as Christians are 65%, down from 77% a decade ago. That trend carries across the board among churches. Congregations of the Church of Christ have lost 192,224 adherents in the past 12 years, an average of 16,000 per year. In 2018 there were 11,965 congregations of the Church of Christ in the U.S., and in 2006 there were 12,963. That is an average loss of 83 congregations per year, or one every 4.4 days. Since 1980 the decline has been 6.3%.

DOES GOD EXIST? has worked to fight this decline of faith in God since this ministry started in 1968. We help people build their faith in God, and we do it 24/7. We encourage you to go to our main website doesgodexist.org and see what we have available to help individuals and congregations. You can read all of Phil Sanders’ article at THIS LINK.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Nature is the Unknown God

Temple of Zeus - Today Nature is the Unknown God Atheists and skeptics attack belief in God. They say that if God were real, He would show Himself in the method of their choice. They also charge that believers in God are merely worshiping a “god-of-the-gaps.” basis – meaning that when they don’t understand something, they simply say, “God did it!” We have repeatedly pointed out that we do not use gap arguments. We look at what the choices are and what the evidence supports using scientific methods and applying mathematics to test the alternatives. That is not inventing a god to explain what we don’t understand, unlike the Egyptian sun god (Ra) or the Greek god of the sky (Zeus). The picture shows the ruins of the temple of Zeus in Athens, the city where Paul saw an altar to the “unknown god.” Today Nature is the unknown god.

Most atheists and skeptics in their writings will assert that Nature established the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. You see statements like, “it is nature’s way of doing things” to explain why things are the way they are. Nature is invisible, omnipotent, and omniscient. Why is it that atheists will say that believers in the God of the Bible are unintelligent, and those who believe in Nature are the thinkers? No one can tell us where Nature came from. Nature is the unknown god and the atheist’s “god-of-the-gaps.”

It is easy to attribute everything we know and don’t know to the great god “Nature.” Our world today is making the same mistake as Stoic and Epicurean philosophers in biblical times. Today’s philosophers do what their ancestors did when they attribute all unknown phenomena like dark matter and superstrings to Nature. They explain even what they do understand by using that same Nature god.

Paul, in Athens speaking to the educated philosophers of his day, said: “For as I passed by and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription ‘To the Unknown God.’ Whom therefore you ignorantly worship…” (Acts 17:23). Is Nature your god and chance his only tool? The God we discuss is a God in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) both now and in eternity. Nature is a false god and an invention of humans with no promise for anything beyond this life.
—- John N. Clayton © 2019

Hidden Messages in the Bible

Hidden Messages in the Bible - The NapkinWe have all seen dubious claims about hidden messages in the Bible. They include everything from numerology to codes with special meanings. The only place where hidden messages do unquestionably occur in the New Testament is in the book of Revelation. That book uses symbols that the Christian readers would understand, and the Romans would not. However, there are a few cases that we might call hidden messages in the Bible that Christian or Jewish readers might understand and which other readers would miss.

One such example is the description of the burial tomb of Jesus in John 20:1-9. “Then Simon Peter … went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen … as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.”

Jewish protocol was that when the master of the house was finished eating, he would wipe his mouth and face and toss the napkin aside. That action indicated that the contamination was removed from him, and the event was ended. If he folded the towel and set it in order, that was a sign that he was not finished and would return to finish the meal or whatever he had been working on.

The folded napkin and the missing body sent a strong message to Peter and the women who visited the tomb. Jesus was indicating that He would return. It was a hidden message to the followers of Jesus that the Romans would not have understood. While it was not obvious or miraculous, it could be an important hidden message to those who were about to become the apostles of Jesus Christ.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Curse of Sin – What Is It?

The Garden and the Curse of SinMany Christians don’t have a clear understanding of the curses described in Genesis 3. God told Eve in verse 16, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children.” To Adam He said, “…cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground…” What exactly is the curse of sin?

We struggle with this account because of our assumptions about what life was like in the Garden of Eden and how it changed. Some have assumed that the environment changed and that humans were no longer gatherers, but that they had to develop agriculture to survive. Some have suggested that Eve underwent a physiological change so that the pelvic opening was reduced, causing increased pain in the birthing process. Some have felt that the Garden of Eden was essentially heaven, with no pain and no problems or work of any kind. That is not only a poor understanding of what heaven is about; it also raises more questions than it answers.

The Garden of Eden was a physical existence. Genesis 2:10-14 identifies a physical location with known rivers. Being physical means that the laws of physics and biology were in place. Adam and Eve were not in heaven, and they had work to do. In Genesis 2:15, God told Adam to take care of the Garden. The fact that thorns and thistles are mentioned in the curse tells us that they were in existence. The law of entropy was in existence, so things did age and die. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 4:3-4 that God created every creature “to be received with thanksgiving … for every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving.” Pitcher plants ate bugs, and bats and lions were not vegetarians.

The message of the curse of sin is not primarily physical. Thorns, thistles, and sweat are more than just a complication to those involved in agriculture. They are symbols of pain and the difficulty of life away from God. It has been said that the least amount of pain a woman has is the birth process. The struggle and pain of raising a child to adulthood can far exceed the pains of labor and birthing. Eating the forbidden fruit was not just a physical action but disobedience to God. The separation that it produced between humans and God also caused separation in human relationships. Cain killing Abel was a part of the curse of sin. The adage known as Murphy’s Law, “if something can go wrong, it will,” applies to far more than the failure of mechanical things.

Revelation 22:3 gives some pictures of our heavenly existence. Notice the simple statement, “No longer will there be any curse.” In 2 Peter 3:11-13, we read that the physical world with its thorns, thistles, pain, and sweat will be dissolved. There will be a New Heaven and a New Earth. We will be free from the curse of sin and enjoy the blessings of being back in the presence of our Creator. That existence will truly be Heaven.
— John N. Clayton © 2019