My Take: The death and resurrection of Christianity

·6 min read

Much of the Bible concerns Heaven and Earth — extreme opposites, one eternal the other temporal. God is perfectly good, whereas humans are evil. Heaven and Earth are incompatible. As a perfectly just judge, God rightly punishes sinners through suffering the absence of heavenly goods, like the lack of experiencing blissful love divine. Thus, after Adam and Eve rebel against the divine will for the good life of shalom, God exiles them from Paradise, their descendants suffering the same punishment. (Is that fair?) Later, when the collective sins of Israelites peak, they undergo traumatic exile from the Promised Land.

Indeed, people often bring misery, although avoidable, upon themselves. Rob a bank and go to jail. Join a crazed movement that scapegoats a hated Other for problems in the world — in order to conveniently escape the horror of brutally honest self-assessment regarding one’s own disturbing motives — and suffer the ruin of civil society.

Kurt Volbeda
Kurt Volbeda

Nevertheless, the Bible repeatedly promises that return to divine life follows exile. Salvation follows judgment. Therefore, the Church preaches divine justice expressed in corrupt humans suffering death and preaches the compassion of eternal life.

For many decades, I happily grounded my self-identity in the life-enriching worldview of the Bible. Looking back, however, I never noticed that the Old Testament book of Job exposes a fatal flaw in the Bible’s mainstream view of God’s perfect justice! In all the books of the Bible, only Job brazenly waves an unmistakable red flag. None of my church teachers ever pointed out that the author of Job outright rejects belief in God’s perfect goodness.

The book is a theological experiment meant to trigger a terrible realization, though it rarely does. Suppose a person was innocent of all evil; even then, that person would not escape suffering! Of course, Job himself is the innocent who undergoes extreme trauma — despite his steadfast faithfulness! So Job naturally cries out, "What’s the matter with you, God?”

Four centuries later, Jesus also experiences the dark side of God. Although sinless, like Job, Jesus undergoes slow torture to death as a criminal anyway. And, like Job, Jesus in his darkest hour wailed: “Why, God (of blissful love), have you forsaken me?”

Actually, several Old Testament texts portray God as darkly unpredictable. He promises Abraham endless offspring with permanent land to live on. Notice that God, in fact, agrees to traumatically immolate himself, if not fulfilling that promise (Genesis 15). Regardless, God later tempts Abraham to reject trust in ultimate divine goodness. God tricks him with seeming betrayal (Genesis 15:18; 22). But Abraham rises above the emotional abuse and remains faithful to his unpredictable, terrible God anyway and is rewarded for it.

In New Testament times, biblical authors still struggle with erratic, divine behavior. The Lord’s Prayer includes a petition for God not to tempt persons (into disbelief). But James declares that God is never evil, always good and tempts no one (James 1:13). Conveniently, Christianity has cleaned up biblical incongruity about the divine nature. “God is light; in him is no darkness at all,” which doesn’t fit the experience of Abraham, Job, Jesus or my own. Today the mantra, “God is good all the time,” dominates.

Biblical Christians act the same as Job’s three Jewish friends, who take turns trying to convince him of having sinned after all. Job deserves to suffer punishment. Astonishingly, God himself later declares Job in the right and condemns his friends’ faithful attempts to forestall the death of their religion and rescue God from outright evil (Job 42:11, which some translations downplay.) Toward the end of his traumatic life in WWII Germany, the Christian theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, suffering in prison and later executed, became increasingly troubled by the book of Job, which inspired him to sketch out a gutsy vision of God closer to the truth.

Today, any Christian who publicly doubts God is always good will not be welcome in most churches. God’s children depend on their Father to be rock solid. Mistrust generates insecurity and other life poisons, until overcome anew more deeply.

Do not overlook that Job thereafter undergoes an overwhelming experience of extreme divine goodness. And it totally transforms his depressing view of dark, earthly life and his terrible God, just like persons who undergo a powerful, life-transforming glimpse of heavenly afterlife in a Near Death Experience. Consequently, Job — reinvigorated by the experience of overwhelming, divine, eternal love — admits he doesn’t have a clue about God’s ways after all.

Four hundred years ago, Christian (!) astronomers disastrously discovered that God’s Heaven isn’t literally located in the sky above Earth, as the Bible incorrectly teaches. No wonder that Galileo, a Roman Catholic, was condemned. Consequently, Heaven’s floor will never literally split open, God’s full glory never literally transforming Earth below into divine utopia (though its symbolic reinterpretation remains valid.) That's why the theme of God’s death began to appear among western intellectuals after the Scientific Revolution.

Still, the Christian Church (along with prescientific Islam), has mostly managed to successfully deny harsh reality. For instance, during the trauma of the Holocaust, God did not miraculously intervene to protect innocent Jews, his chosen people, from crucifixion. And the Christian Church has yet to process the dark implications of that divine failure. (How about viewing Jesus' crucifixion as God's self-immolation, a promise kept?) If God breaks Old Testament promises to Jews, what makes anyone think God will keep all New Testament promises to Christians? It unexpectedly turns out Jews and Christians have far more in common than ever realized, equally sharing in divine betrayal.

In midlife, the painful realization came over me that the God of classic monotheism died centuries ago and I with him. I’m still processing the agonizing grief of that devastating loss.

Since Heaven doesn’t exist in the sky, the Bible has been shown fallible, and I am free to revise my Christianity closer to truth. Today I identify with my Master more intimately than ever, who shows me the way, the dark way of God's Earth into higher resurrection life eternal in Heaven. Therefore, I continue claiming to be a faithful Christian. I await full heavenly glory.

The Sentinel regularly publishes articles about traditional Christianity. And I’m thankful, not calling for change. Indeed, I continue to be reinvigorated by church services. Moreover, I sympathize with the faithful refusal of the Christian Church to undergo its own horrific death. Even so, as mentioned, God herself has planted hidden seeds in the Bible for Christianity to survive in the endless cosmos of material science (just as hidden seeds sprouting the New Testament can be found in the Old.) Unlike widely believed, the awful cycle in the Bible of earthly crucifixion followed by heavenly rebirth has not ended, is not once and for all. Every person undergoes this hard mystery.

What God did not explain to Job or Jesus can now be understood, given the endless scientific cosmos. God’s eternal nature ever expands in glory by means of God’s temporal nature manifested in the dark cosmos. Heaven and Earth, two different states of conscious reality, are yet one, ultimately not incompatible but interdependent. Difficult earthly life is meant to expand our hidden, angelic glory, especially the more we consciously cooperate. Divine glory isn’t static, topped out and perfect, but always undergoes further fulfillment.

In sum, as angelic children, wholly innocent, (Matthew 18:10!), while on Earth, we humans add to God's glory and our own, the more we remain faithful to her terrible way of this world. Jubilant return follows sorrowful exile.

— Kurt Volbeda is a resident of Holland.

This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: My Take: The death and resurrection of Christianity