Unbroken: When Saying Awesome Makes Sense

You know how people abuse the word “awesome”? As in, “I bought popcorn for tonight’s game! Awesome!” or “I just won five bucks at the slot machine in Vegas. Awesome!” kind of abuse?

They keep using that word. I don’t think it means what they think it means.

Let’s consider this event from the true story of Louis Zamperini, as told by Laura Hillenbrand in her best-seller book Unbroken, about to be turned into a movie.

Louis and two other crew members, Mac and Phil, survive a plane crash in the Pacific during World War II.

After 33 days on the raft, a Japanese bomber spots Louis and the other men, and makes five rounds to shoot at them with machine guns.

Mac and Phil are too exhausted to jump in the shark-infested waters; they take their chances on the raft.

Louis jumps into the water under the raft during every bomber’s round, and every time he’s attacked by two sharks, approaching fast, mouth wide open, ready to bite his head off. He makes scary faces and punches them on the nose (learned that in survival school).

He survives both the gun fire and the sharks. This is a guy on the brink of starvation, so thin you could see the curvature of his femur bone.

When the bomber gives up, Louis goes back onto the raft and finds that the other two guys also have survived without a single injury, even though the raft they are on is full of holes, down to the tight space between the two bodies.

This is right after six days without water, when Louis had prayed to God that, if He would spare them, he would dedicate his life to Him.

Then, after spending a few sleepless days and nights mending the punctured raft with leftover glue and wet sandpaper, arms numb with fatigue, Louis feels (understandably) unhappy that the sharks had tried to eat him, so he decides to eat them; his friend uses the meat of a captured bird to tease a four-foot shark, while Louis pulls the shark’s tail from under the water, drags the shark sideways onto the six-foot raft, and stabs it in the eye, killing it instantly; he then cuts its liver out and eats it raw along with the other two men, feeling full for the first time in over thirty days.

Now, you are out-of-your-skin overwhelmed with admiration and happiness for their resilience and resourcefulness, so you do want to say this is awesome, but you just wasted the word for your friend’s greasy popcorn, so words fail you.

So, after a while, you mumble it’s great.

Unequally Yoked and Married. Is That Christian?

I already wrote a post about Christians marrying unbelievers. I’ve been asked, however, to provide further evidence from the Bible and from the writings of biblical scholars, since I seem to state that it’s always ok for believers to court and marry unbelievers.

In a sense, this is understandable; Christians have been hammered for so long with the idea of not “being unequally yoked” that, in their mind, the idea of wanting to marry an “unbeliever” is automatically a sin worthy of the discipline outlined in Matthew 18:15-17. When a fellow Christian comes along and says, “marrying an unbeliever is not automatically a sin; the Bible leaves it to our spiritual wisdom, when counseling such a believer, to discern the best course of action,” he or she is met with reactions that range from a raised eyebrow to accusations of downright heresy.

So, what does the Bible say on the issue?

Old Testament

The Old Testament clearly prohibits marriage to unbelievers that will lead God’s people into spiritual apostasy (Deut. 7, Joshua 23, Ezra 9-10, et al.) On the other hand, in Deut. 21 God makes a provision for marriage with foreign captive women:

When you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God gives them into your hand and you take them captive, and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you desire to take her to be your wife, and you bring her home to your house, she shall shave her head and pare her nails. And she shall take off the clothes in which she was captured and shall remain in your house and lament her father and her mother a full month. After that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife ((The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Dt 21:10–13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.))

Such women were to undergo rituals of mourning and cleansing for a period of 30 days before the wedding. According to some scholars and rabbis, such rituals would indicate a departure from the women’s former life and religious practice, at least outwardly, since the passage does not speak of inner conversion:

An Israelite was permitted to marry a beautiful woman from the captives of a particular battle. This assumes the battle in question was against one of “the cities that are at a distance” (20:15), not a city within the borders of Palestine. Therefore the prospective wife would not have been a Canaanite woman (cf. the prohibition against marrying a Canaanite man or woman, 7:1, 3–4). 21:12–14. A soldier’s marriage to a foreign captive could not take place immediately. The prospective wife was first prepared psychologically for her new life as an Israelite. This was accomplished by her shaving her head, trimming her nails, having a change of clothes, and mourning for her parents for one month. The mourning may indicate either that her father and mother had been killed in battle or that she was now separated from them by her new marriage. The other rituals mentioned may also have symbolized her mourning for cutting herself off from her former life. ((Deere, J. S. (1985). Deuteronomy. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 300). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.))

Also:

This law must apply for conquests of cities far away (20:10–15), otherwise the women would have been destroyed (20:17). It both ends the discussion of topics under the heading “you shall not murder” and introduces the section on “you shall not commit adultery” (5:18; see note on 21:15–23:14). 21:12–13 shave her head and pare her nails … take off the clothes. These actions indicate a departure from her former life, no doubt including its religious practices. ((Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 361). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.))

The rituals by these captive women also indicated shame or grief:

The removal of hair with a razor or other sharp implement. Both male and female Israelites allowed their hair to grow long. Barbers trimmed, but did not crop, men’s hair, so giving special significance to the shaving of the head or whole body. These actions indicated shame or grief. Shaved head a sign of grief: Job 1:20 See also Dt 21:10-14; Isa 15:2; Jer 47:5; 48:36-37; Eze 27:31; Am 8:10; Mic 1:16; Jer 7:29; 41:5 ((Manser, M. H. (2009). Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser.))

Also, such women were not just concubines, but wives:

Wives might also be taken from among captives after a war, provided that they were not Palestinians (Dt. 20:14–18). Some writers regard these captives as concubines, but the regulations of Dt. 21:10–14 regard them as normal wives. ((Thomson, J. G. S. S. (1996). Marks. In (D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, & D. J. Wiseman, Eds.) New Bible dictionary. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.))

Some have argued that such provision in Deut. 21:10-14 was made for two reasons:

  1. Israel was an ethnic group, not a church. Not everybody in Israel was saved, whereas every member of the church is saved. (Some O.T. laws presumably account for such difference, even though I can’t think of any scriptural evidence for such dual standard in the O.T.)
  2. The action of taking a captive woman as wife was not ideal, but it reflected the first point above. In other words, God knew it was going to happen and made a provision for it. (In other words, “This is not good, but it’s going to happen, so this is how you do it.”). This seems to be the argument by some rabbis in the Babylonian Talmud.

Now, The first point is puzzling; both O.T. Israel and N.T. Gentile church worship the same God, in the same way (Hebrews 11), not because of ethnic pride or because of merits on men’s part (Matt. 3:9), but because God made a covenant with Abraham to bless his seed (Gen. 12:1-3); both Israel and the church are to be holy (Lev. 19:2 and 1 Peter 1:15); they are both a congregation: the Hebrew word (“qahal”) for “congregation” or “assembly” is translated as “ekklesia” (“church” or “assembly”) in the Septuagint; finally the Gentile church was grafted in because of Israel’s unbelief, but God is by no means done with Israel (Romans 11).

Even in the Old Testament, marriage was not about racial purity, but spiritual faithfulness:

When Ezra arrived in Jerusalem, the city leaders confronted him with the problem of intermarriage. Echoing the days of Moses, the sins of the people were likened to those of the Gentiles who had ensnared Israel in the past (9:1–2; Exod 34:11–12; Deut 7:1–6). The purpose of this segregation was not to create a pure race but to avoid marriages that would lead to spiritual unfaithfulness (compare Judg 3:5–6). ((Dockery, D. S., Butler, T. C., Church, C. L., Scott, L. L., Ellis Smith, M. A., White, J. E., & Holman Bible Publishers (Nashville, T. . (1992). Holman Bible Handbook (p. 292). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.))

The second point is even more puzzling. Even assuming that there is indeed a difference between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church, the question remains: was marriage to a foreign captive woman a sin? Does God make provisions for sins? Does God say, “Well, I know that adultery is bad, but I know that you are going to commit it, so let me make a provision for it. This is how you do it.”? Or, “Well, idolatry is bad, but I know that you are going to do it, so let me make a provision for it. This is how you do it.”?

God forbid. We know fully well the treatment God reserved to sinners in the Old Testament. We can then safely conclude that the provision made in Deut. 21:10-14 was for acceptable behavior; not ideal, but provisioned for, and therefore not a sin.

What are we, therefore, to conclude from the Old Testament laws about marriage? The most straightforward understanding is that interreligious marriage was strictly forbidden when the spouse (woman) was from a wicked country that committed abominable things:

For the peoples of the lands, see note on 3:3. They are further identified as idolatrous nations, for the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, … and the Amorites are among the seven nations that Israel was commanded by Moses to drive out of the land (see Deut. 7:1–5). The Ammonites and Moabites were nations east of the river Jordan, outside the Promised Land, who were regarded as especially hostile to Israel (Deut. 23:3–4). And in Lev. 18:3, Egypt is regarded as morally equal to Canaan. The peoples of the land who keep themselves distinct from the returned temple-community are thus portrayed as the same in principle and in character as these ancient enemies. These are specifically wives (Ezra 9:2) of foreign nations who had not abandoned their worship of other gods, for 6:21 makes it clear that such people could join the people of Israel if they were willing to follow the Lord God alone (see note on 6:21). Their abominations (9:1) refers to these peoples’ worship of other gods and the associated practices that Yahweh, God of Israel, regarded as particularly wicked (Deut. 12:31). It is implied that the foreigners’ religions in Ezra’s day were just as idolatrous as in ancient times, and thus it is clear that the issue is not ethnic purity (cf. Ezra 6:21). Intermarriage with the indigenous population carried the danger of religious apostasy, and therefore was expressly forbidden by the law (Deut. 7:3). The holy race (Ezra 9:2) is literally “holy seed/offspring” and alludes to the “offspring” of Abraham, who bore the ancient promise of covenant and land (Gen. 12:1–3; 15:5; 17:7–8). The “holy seed” was also seen in prophecy as the surviving remnant that would be brought to life again after the terrible judgment of the exile (Isa. 6:13). The involvement of all classes of the community—the priests, the Levites, and the people of Israel (Ezra 9:1), as well as the officials and chief men (v. 2)—shows that the problem included all the people. The term faithlessness (Hb. ma‘al, v. 2) is an extremely strong expression for abandonment of the faith, especially by leaders (see 1 Chron. 10:13, where it is translated “breach of faith”). ((Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (pp. 817–818). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.))

And also Williams:

The situation had nothing whatever to do with racial prejudice, since there is nothing in Scripture which prevented God’s people from marrying those of another race or nation, provided they were prepared to worship the true and living God. ((Williams, P. (2006). Opening up Ezra (p. 98). Leominster: Day One Publications.))

Marriage with a foreign woman was, however, permitted when the woman was not from such countries (whatever they were) and underwent a ritual of mourning and purification, such as the one described in Deut. 21:10-14. Next, let’s consider what the New Testament has to say on the subject.

New Testament

The New Testament has several passages that talk about marriage; among them Matt. 19:4-6, 1 Cor. 7, Eph. 5:22-23, Col. 3:18-19, Heb. 13:4-7. Especially relevant for the couple, before the wedding, is 1 Cor. 7:39 and, after the wedding 1 Cor. 7:12-14.

According to 1 Cor. 7:39, the believer is free to marry whomever he wishes, only in (obedience to) the Lord. Some read “in the Lord” as to mean “A Christian,” but adverbs like “only” cannot modify nouns, so it’s meant to modify the whole phrase before, that “marry in the Lord.” This construction is similar to the one in Eph. 6:1, where we would not say that children are to obey their parents only if the latter are Christians.

According to 1 Cor. 7:12-14, the Christian spouse should stay married with the unbelieving one if the latter is happy to stay in the relationship.

One passage that does not specifically talk about marriage, but that is often brought up in conversations about marriage between believers and unbelievers is 2 Cor. 6:14-16:

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God. ((The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (2 Co 6:14–16). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.))

Is 2 Cor. 6:14 a warning from Paul to the Corinthians not to get involved in partnerships with unbelievers? This common interpretation — especially when applied to marriage as the highest form of partnership between individuals — presents two problems.

First, has this verse superseded Deut. 21:10-14? If it is now a sin to marry an unbeliever, was it also a sin in the O.T. passage above? That would mean that God made in Deut. 21 a provision for sin.

Second, do we have firmer laws against interreligious marriage in the New Testament than we did in the Old Testament? That seems strange, as even John Calvin admitted:

Calvin recognized that the Old Testament prohibitions against interreligious marriage were firmer than the laws that governed modern-day Christians. He addressed this squarely in his late-life Lectures on Malachi (Doc. 10-5). In the Old Testament, God had sought to erect an absolute “wall of separation” between Jews and Gentiles so that the Jews could remain a pure and holy people of God. The prohibition against interreligious marriage was part and product of that broader mandate.’ In the New Testament, however, Christ broke down the “wall of separation” (Eph. 2:14) between “Jew and Greek,” encouraging all to be united in Christ (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:10-11). ((John Witte Jr.;Robert M. Kingdon. Sex, Marriage, and Family Life in John Calvin’s Geneva: Courtship, Engagement, and Marriage (Religion, Marriage and Family Series): 1 – Kindle Edition. (Chapter 10: Do Not Be Unequally Yoked with Unbelievers) ))

Perhaps an even bigger problem for this interpretation of 2 Cor. 6:14 is that the passage, in context and grammar, is most likely not even a warning against potential sinful partnerships with unbelievers, but a injunction to stop a partnership already in progress:

Paul next issues a command: Do not be yoked together with unbelievers (v. 14). Actually the command is even more pointed: “Stop yoking yourselves to unbelievers.” Use of the present imperative shows that Paul is not merely warning the Corinthians about a potential danger (“do not start”) but instructing them to stop an action already in progress. The command appears to come out of the clear blue. Has Paul not been lobbying strenuously for the Corinthians’ affection? Has he not just asked them, as his children, to open wide their hearts to him? Moreover, he resumes his lobbying efforts at 7:2: “Make room for us in your hearts,” he repeats. ((Linda L. Belleville. (1996). 2 Corinthians. InterVarsity Press.))

That this is the case seems to be shown by Paul’s conclusion of his command in 2 Cor. 7:1: “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” (ESV)

If 2 Cor. 6:14 were a mere warning against a potential, future danger of illicit partnerships, there would be no need for Paul to request that the Corinthians cleanse from any current defilement. So, the partnership is one in progress.

But if the partnership in 2 Cor. 6:14 to 7:1 is in progress, and it is to be forsaken, how do we square that off with Paul’s own approval of the marriage partnership between believers and unbelievers in 1 Cor. 7:12-14? That partnership was also in progress, and Paul gave it his blessings. Is Paul contradicting himself?

No, he’s not. Whereas the unbelieving spouse in 1 Cor. 7:12-14 is happy to live with the believer and is not leading the believer into sin (as in Deut. 21:10-14), the unbelieving partners in 2 Cor. 6:14-16 are exercising a sinful, controlling influence on the believers and are leading them into sin (as in Deut. 7, Ezra 9 and 10):

Its main topic is the problem of associations with idolatry which, we propose, was one of the roots of the dissension in Corinth and the focus of the previous severe letter. We have contended that 2:14-7:3 is a defense of Paul’s frank criticism of the Corinthians in this letter and now argue that Paul recapitulates his exhortation in that letter in 6:14-7:1 to reinforce the seriousness of the problem […] After boldly reiterating the same ultimatum he issued in his severe letter, he will next move on to praise them for their godly sorrow and repentance (7:4-16) […] If this proposal is correct, then this passage is not “a piece of ‘common’ parenesis meant for Christians who live in the midst of manifold dangers in a Gentile world.” The Corinthians did live in a world filled with various trade guilds and associations in a city dotted with pagan temples and pervasive idolatry. But I would argue that 6:14-7:1 is specifically composed for the Corinthian situation to address the problem of forming appropriate boundaries for the Christian community to ward off the deleterious effects of idolatry. Goulder is on target in pointing out the strong overlap of language between 6:14-7:1 and 1 Corinthians 8 and 10, making it likely “that the particular question Paul has in mind is that of idol meat.” ((Garland, David E. (1999). Second Corinthians: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, Vol. 29 (p. 323). The New American Commentary. Holman Reference.))

Also:

It could be that Paul is responding to news just received from Titus about a continuing problem with pagan associations. Another possibility is that having asked the Corinthians to “open wide” Paul is now cautioning them about what not to be open to (compare the LXX of Deut 11:16, “Do not open wide your heart [me platynthe he kardia] and turn away to serve and worship other gods”). Judging from 1 Corinthians 10:1-22, they would clearly have been in need of such guidance. It could also be that Paul is engaging in a little structural diplomacy. By starting and ending with statements of affection, he attempts to cushion the force of his command. The likeliest explanation is that Paul is specifying the cause for the Corinthians’ constraint toward him: their ongoing partnerships with unbelievers. But there need not be just one explanation. A number of things could have led Paul to tackle the problem at this point and in this fashion. […] Paul concludes this block of verses with an exhortation to be pure and holy: Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God (7:1). The language and phraseology are not typically Pauline. It may well be that he is quoting a familiar homily or a well-known ethical injunction. In the sphere of agriculture, katharizo (“purify”) means to “prune away” or “clear” the ground of weeds–which may not be far off the mark here. The more usual way to construe the verb is to “wash” or “cleanse” of dirt or other filth. Paul’s use of the reflexive heautous would support this sense (“to cleanse yourselves”). The aorist tense suggests a decisive action of cleansing (katharisomen). Cleanliness as next to godliness fits well the religious mentality of Paul’s day. Both Greek religion and Judaism placed an emphasis on physical and ritual purity. Within Judaism this mentality was grounded on the presupposition that uncleanness and Yahweh were irreconcilable opposites. The Essenes, in particular, were well known for their rites of purification and daily immersion practices (Link and Schattenmann 1978:104-5). From what, though, are the Corinthians to cleanse themselves? According to Paul, it is from everything that contaminates body and spirit. Contaminates is actually a noun denoting that which stains, defiles or soils (molysmos). The noun is found only here in the New Testament, although the verb is used twice in Revelation (3:4; 14:4) and once in 1 Corinthians (8:7) of defiling the conscience through the indiscriminate eating of meat sacrificed to idols (compare 1 Esdras 8:83; Jer 23:15). This brings us back full circle to Paul’s opening injunction to stop entering into unequal partnerships with unbelievers (6:14). The close association of molysmos with idolatry suggests that Paul is thinking especially of defilement that comes from dining in the local temples, membership in the pagan cults, ritual prostitution, active engagement in pagan worship and the like. ((Linda L. Belleville. (1996). 2 Corinthians. InterVarsity Press.))
Conclusion

Scriptural evidence makes it clear that Christians cannot automatically oppose the marriage of a believer with an unbeliever on the sole basis of their relationship. We need to use spiritual wisdom to discern the situation case by case; especially if the unbeliever is a girl that already believes in the existence of God and is willing to explore the faith and submit in the Lord to her husband, we don’t have the Biblical authority to condemn such union.

Why Do People Die?

My brother-in-law’s grandmother passed away last week. Another funeral, less than a year after my father passed away. When I was young, I never thought about death. I took people for granted. I remember one summer day, when I was nineteen, looking around at the people at the beach, taking them in as is. As if old people were born old, and young people were born young.

I knew death was out there, of course, but it was a distant, impersonal idea. Would never happen to me or my family, right?

Then you get older, and all the loved ones you took for granted start dropping like flies, from grandparents, to parents and uncles.

And at the funeral you sit there, listening to their adult children reminisce about them, about a life full of memories and loving deeds and sacrifices, and decisions. And that is all gone, left to weak, fallible, and fading memory of their children and friends. And when the latter are gone, there’s nothing left.

It’s like Rutger Hauer’s character in the movie Blade Runner:

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

All that wisdom, all those memories. Gone like tears in the rain.

Sometimes I wonder, would we become wiser if we were to live a thousand years instead of a hundred? Would it make a difference? What is it with most people, who go through life grudgingly, never really living, but then cling to it with shark’s teeth, not willing to let go?

Is it just because of fear of the afterlife? Or lack of it?

I’ve done a 180 on old age and death. I took them for granted  when I was young; yet now they seem so unnatural. We all want to live forever. You’d think that, after eons on this speck of dust whirling around a tiny nuclear furnace at the periphery of an obscure galaxy, in a numbingly silent and ruthless universe, humans would get used to it. but no, here we are, mourning the death of loved ones and dreading our own, cursing every grey hair and every new wrinkle on our precious skin. 

Is this really because we were created to be immortal?

I believe so. I still think it’s the best explanation, no matter how post-Christian and secular is the world around us. It makes sense to me that old age and death are really an act of mercy on the part of our Creator. This is, after all, a most miserable planet, full of selfishness and war and abuse and hate. Wasn’t it Will Durant who said that, in the last 3,500 years of history, our planet has only seen 268 years of peace? Eight percent.

We are a pathetic race.

Some good exceptions, for sure, but overall a wasted experiment.

It seems, however, that our Creator has not given up on us. I can understand that, the creative pride of having made something that was good. I can see that in the eyes of young children.

Such beauty. Such innocence. Such potential.

Yet, we rebelled. And after thousands of years of progress and technological wizardry, we are still moral morons, fighting for the very same things our ancestors gave their lives for: pride, lust, money. Perennial horny monkeys who never learn from their mistakes.

And what is the artist supposed to do when his beautiful creation goes astray?

Should he fight for it? Or give it up?

I guess it’s hard to give up the creature when it has consciousness, and can feel pain and pleasure. Hard, even when the creature rebels and turns to evil.

So what do you do? I guess, what I would do, if I were a loving creator, I would respect the freedom of my creatures. I would grant them some time to figure out that evil leads to death, literally, and love leads to life. Eternal life.

I would let them play this “moral tic tac toe” game, either for real or in their head, for them to reach the inescapable conclusion that eternal life and happiness can only be possible when all the members live out, voluntarily, the Golden Rule, a rule that was given to them and that was also sealed in their hearts.

All other ways lead to death.

Sooner or later.

Does God Burn People in Hell Forever? Is That Fair?

The doctrine, held by most Christians today, that God burns the wicked in hell forever bothers many (and rightly so, I would say). Usually Christians reply to such concerns by saying that people have an incomplete understanding of three things: the nature of God, the nature of man, and the nature of sin. As fallen human beings, the nature of God and of His holiness is a difficult concept for us to grasp. We tend or want to see God as a kind, merciful Being whose love for us overrides all His other attributes.

No Christian would deny that God is loving, kind, and merciful (1 John 4:8, 1 Cor. 13), but He is also a holy and righteous God and judge. He is so holy that He cannot tolerate sin. His anger burns against the wicked (Isaiah 5:25; Hosea 8:5; Zechariah 10:3). He hates all manner of sin (Proverbs 6:16-19). And while He is merciful, there are limits to His mercy. “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7).

Humans are sinful. Let’s not beat it around the bush. I think it was the famed twentieth century historian Will Durant who pointed out that, in 3,500 years of recorded history, mankind has only seen 268 years of peace (about 8% of its history). Not a great performance.

I think everybody knows that we deserve punishment. Yes, we might consider ourselves good people when judged by human standards (we are better than Hitler, right?). Yet our standards are fairly low when compared to God’s (Matthew 5 to 7) . Our life in this matrix is a stress test that determines if we are fit to judge angels (1 Cor. 6:3) and administer  a quadrant of God’s next matrix (maybe the other 7 dimensions we can’t see) in the next life (my humble understanding); what makes this life important in this Matrix is not the physical, temporary aspect of it, but its moral aspect, for I believe that this latter aspect is eternal and universal, and that it bounds God Himself (Numbers 23:19, Titus 1:2).

Yes, God loves us (John 3:16) and wants us to be saved from hell (2 Peter 3:9). But because God is also just and righteous, He cannot allow our sin to go unpunished. Someone has to pay for it. In His great mercy and love, God provided His own payment for our sin. He sent His Son Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for our sins by dying on the cross for us. If we confess our sin and place our faith in Christ, asking for God’s forgiveness based on Christ’s sacrifice, we are saved, forgiven, cleansed, and promised eternal life in heaven.

What happens to those who refuse Christ’s sacrifice on the cross?

As sad and terrifying as it is, they are on their own. The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). Their destination is hell.

But does hell mean eternal torment? Does God punish the wicked forever and ever for 70 years or so of sins?

Most Christians tend to believe so.

I disagree.

I don’t believe that hell equals eternal torment. Rather it’s the place that will destroy the souls of the wicked. This is the second death mentioned in Revelation 20:14, 15.

Yet God is love. He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasurein the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from you evil ways; for why will ye die?” Ezekiel 33:11

To illustrate the fate awaiting the lost, the Bible points back to the Flood and to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. On the Flood, see Genesis 6-9and 2 Peter 3:5-7. Concerning Sodom and Gomorrah, see Genesis 19:24-29, 2 Peter 2:6, and Jude 7.

Also, in the Bible, eternal fire is a fire that destroys forever, as in Sodom and Gomorrah. See Jude 7; Matthew 25:41; Matthew 10:28.

Brimstone is burning sulfur that suffocates and destroys. This imagery comes from the destruction of Sodom, which was incinerated without a trace. The Bible really means it when it says the wages of sin is death. See Genesis 19:24-25, 29 Deuteronomy 29:22-23; Psalms 11:6; Ezekiel 38:22; Revelation 14:10; Romans 6:23.

Throughout the Bible, “gnashing of teeth” denotes not eternal torment, but extreme anger and hostility. See Job 16:9; Psalms 35:16; Psalms 37:12; Psalms 112:10; Lamentations 2:16; Acts 7:54; Matthew 13:43, 49-50; Matthew 22:13-14; Matthew 24:50-51; Matthew 25:30; Luke 13:28.

When Scripture speaks of smoke rising “forever,” it means irreversible destruction. See Isaiah 34:10-15; Revelation 14:11.

The “worm” in the expression “worm that dies not” is a maggot that feeds on something dead until there is nothing left on which to feed. The idea of everlasting agony in torment originated with former pagan Greek philosophers who also thought human beings had a “soul” which will never die. Isaiah 66:24 read in context helps clear up the confusion. See also Mark 9:47-48.

The expression “unquenchable fire” in the Bible always signifies fire which cannot be resisted and which therefore consumes entirely. See Isaiah 1:31; Jeremiah 4:4; Jeremiah 17:27; Ezekiel 20:47-48; Amos 5:5-6; Matthew 3:12. Contrast human fire which can be quenched or put out, mentioned in Hebrews 11:34. Long after Christ, some church fathers understood the doctrine of hell as a fire which burns forever but never burns up what is put in it.

The Old Testament’s final book describes the end of sinners as ashes under the soles of the feet of the righteous. See Malachi 4:1-3. Long after Malachi, the apocryphal book of Judith introduced the non-scriptural idea that God will put fire and worms in people’s flesh so they will feel pain forever.

Jesus compared the end of the wicked to someone burning chaff, dead trees or weeds; he also said it will be like a house destroyed by a hurricane or someone crushed under a falling rock. See Matthew 3:12; Matthew 7:19; Matthew 13:30, 40 Matthew 7:27; Luke 20:17-18.

Jesus described Gehenna (hell) as a place where God can destroy both soul and body — the entire person. See Matthew 10:28.

By portraying hell’s punishment as “eternal,” the Bible indicates that this punishment takes place not in this life, but in the coming age; it also means that its results will be everlasting. See Matthew 25:46; 2 Thessalonians 1:9.

The context and lesson of the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus are about the urgency of responding to God while there is still time. The context of the parable has little if anything to do with what happens to the wicked after resurrection and judgment. See Luke 16:9-16 for the context, and Luke 16:31 for the lesson to be derived.

The New Testament uses the adjective “immortal” to describe the resurrection bodies not of the lost, but of the saved. See 1 Corinthians 15:54-57; 2 Timothy 1:10; 1 John 5:11-13.

How to Do a Clean Install of OS X Mavericks

It seems that Apple is not releasing security updates for versions of its OS previous to OS X Mavericks. If this is confirmed by Apple, it means that all users that do not upgrade will be running an operating system with many disclosed, but unpatched vulnerabilities. This opens them to attacks.

Not good. I had planned on waiting a month or so before updating my production Macs to Mavericks, but I don’t want to run the risk of running an unpatched OS, so my office Mac Mini and my home iMac will be joining my MacBook Pro into the Mavericks club.

So, upgrade it is. But how? Should I simply download Mavericks from the App Store and install it? I read the upgrade is silky smooth, yet I’m a clean install kind of guy. Since Mavericks, like Lion and Mountain Lion before it, does not come on a DVD, I followed the procedure below to create a setup USB flash drive.

Before you do anything related to the installation of Mavericks, you’ll want to do some Mac housecleaning. Make especially sure that you have your latest Time Machine backup handy because you’ll use it to restore all your data. I cannot emphasize this point enough. Make sure you have a working backup of your Mac before doing a clean install. If you don’t use Time Machine (why not?), you can use a disk cloning app like Super Duper. I use both (yes, I have two backup drives of my home Mac since it stores, well, my life. I keep my second backup drive, created with Super Duper, off site for safety reasons.)

Ok, now that you ready, this is what you want to do. First launch the App Store and download your free copy of Mavericks. Once the download is complete, a window pops up, prompting you to install the new OS. Close it.

Second, download and install the free (donations accepted) DiskMaker X (formerly known as Lion DiskMaker). Then, using Disk Utility, format an 8 GB USB fish drive (that Mavericks installer is over 5 GB, so you need an 8 GB drive or greater). Format it as Mac OS Extended (Journaled); it’s the topmost option. I named the drive untitled, but any name should work.

Disk Utility Drive Format Image

When done, launch DiskMaker X, which will prompt you to download the newest OS 10.9 (Mavericks) if it detects that you have a previous version installed (as it should, otherwise what are you doing here?). Since you have already downloaded Mavericks from the App Store, select the NOT NOW option.

Diskmaker X prompt image

The next DiskMaker X window asks which version of OS X you wish to make a boot disk of. Select Mavericks, of course.

os version prompt image

The next screen shows that DiskMaker X found a copy of the installer software in your /Applications folder and asks if you want to use that copy. Choose “Use This copy.”

use this copy image

The next screen asks which kind of disk you want to use: an 8 GB USB thumb drive, conveniently available to you, I’m sure.

8 gb thumb drive image

The next screen intelligently shows only the thumb drives available, the one named “untitled.”

untitled image

Notice that the “Choose this disk” option is grayed out. That’s because you actually have to click the “untitled” drive in the field above.

click on drive image

The next screen warns you that the drive will be formatted (meaning: you will lose all your content on that thumb drive). you are smart and know that already since you formatted the drive during step two above, so you are ok with it.

format drive warning image

The next screen tells you that you’ll have to enter your admin password to authorize the setup.

privileges image

You are almost done. DiskMaker X will now spend 15 to 30 minutes setting up the Mavericks installer on the 8 GB thumb drive and making the drive bootable.

copying files image

When the process is complete, DiskMaker X will prompt you to quit, make the thumb drive your startup disk (I never do this), or make a donation to the kind developer of the app. We all need to eat. Notice that, if you do not make the thumb drive your startup disk, you will need to press and old the OPTION key while rebooting your Mac to choose the boot from the thumb drive instead of booting from your Mac’s hard drive. Of course you’ll have to have the thumb drive plugged into your Mac’s USB port by then, but you already know this.

quit and donation window image

You are all done. Good job. You are now ready to do a squeaky-clean instal of the latest and greatest Mac OS.

Before rebooting, make sure you stick your 8 GB flash drive into one of your Mac’s USB ports. Then reboot while pressing and holding the OPTION key till you see a screen that shows both your Macintosh HD and your OS X 10.9 Install Disk (you might also see a recovery drive option). Choose the OS X 10.9 Install Disk option and wait till you see a screen that shows a few options; one of them is the Disk Utility one. Choose that. You will see a screen similar to this one.

disk utility window image

After making sure that YOU DO HAVE YOUR BACKUP DRIVE WITH YOUR LATEST BACKUP, select Macintosh HD, and under the ERASE tab, click the Erase… button. This will erase all the content from your Mac’s hard drive and install a clean copy of OS X Mavericks on it. Once Disk Utility is done erasing your Macintosh HD, you can close the window and go back to the window with the option to install the OS. Do that.

After the OS is installed, it will ask you if you want to transfer information from another disk (Time Machine backup or other drive). Choose the option that allows you to do so, and restore all data from your Time Machine or Super Duper backup drive.

The process is usually as smooth as silk; I’ve been doing it on many Macs (mine as well as friends’) since the days of OS X Tiger 10.4 without a single issue.

Congratulations. You are now a proud surfer of Mavericks.

 

10 Great Ideas for a Father-Daughter Date

The other day my wife found a book with lots of ideas for a father-daughter date. Here are our favorite ten.

WRITE A STORY

Start with location, characters, plot ideas, then take turns writing the story, one paragraph at a time. This will get your creative juices flowing.

BUILD AN INDOOR FORT

Grab blankets, pillows, chairs or stools, and build a fort with your daughter. Then lie down and read her favorite story or watch a movie together. This is best for rainy days.

GO TO THE PARK

Take your daughter for a picnic at the park. Or just for a walk or a few minutes on the swing and the slide.

FLY A KITE

We purchased an inexpensive kite, and my daughters had a blast flying it; the smile on her face as she managed to keep her kite up in the air was the stuff of memories.

RUN ERRANDS

My daughters absolutely love running errands with me. Whether it’s going to the grocery story, the library, or dropping off stuff at Goodwill, they cherish every instant of every errand. So do I. They also come up with the funniest lines in the car while observing the outside world.

CAMPOUT IN THE BACKYARD (OR BALCONY)

Last summer we pitched a tent on our upstairs balcony and set up an airbed with pillows in it. Then we lay down at night time and talked till my daughters fell asleep all cuddled around me. priceless.

TAKE A BEACH TRIP

My daughters love the beach. We go for  long walks while we talk about everything under the sun, or they enjoy building sand castles and running by the water. When we are done, we go get a frozen yogurt and eat it while watching the ocean.

WATCH THE BIRDS

Grab binoculars and sit quietly in the back yard with pencil and paper. Watch the birds fly by and draw them with your daughter(s).

BUILD A VILLAGE

Stop by the local appliance store and ask for old boxes. Spend the afternoon with your daughter turning those boxes into a town she can play in and with. Cut and decorate the boxes into buildings and cars, and let her imagination come to life! We do this every year for their AWANA end-of-the-year movie-in-a-box event.

SERVE BREAKFAST IN BED

When my daughters wake up early, sometimes we make breakfast together for mommy. They love watching the look on mommy’s face when she gets her favorite breakfast in bed.

The Ten Commandments for a Happy Marriage

Once upon a time, I was sitting in my psychology class in college, and the professor was talking about the halo effect, the perfection-perception one feels about his or her new loved one, how they as a couple can never fail, hurt each other, do anything wrong. Yes, all the couples around them have fights and problem, but they won’t. Ever. “And then, you know what happens?” asked the professor. “Yeah,” the resigned voice of an older student cut the air from behind me, “reality sets in.”

Everybody laughed.

Everybody laughed because we all want to love and be loved “happily ever after,” but know few do.

We laugh about it when it’s not us. When we are not the ones hurting from a broken relationship, when we have to look into the eyes of our children and tell them that mom and dad, their heroes, their world, are no longer one soul, but two broken vessels, floating about in a ocean of pain and regrets.

Then it sucks.

And we realize that the guy behind me is right; sooner or later, reality does set in.

But can we avoid it? Can we have a happy, lifelong marriage? A marriage that blesses us, our children, and the people around us?

Yes, but like everything in life, it takes two things: knowing the rules, and applying them.

So here they are: the ten commandments for a happy marriage.

1. Thou shalt love sacrificially

What is love? Is it the butterflies in our stomach when we see our beautiful, young spouse? The fluttering emotions we feel when walking with her by the beach at sunset?

Sometimes.

Most of the times it’s doing things for her or for your children when you don’t feel like it, when you are tired, when your back hurts and your 2-month old is fussy at 2 a.m., yet you still hold him because your wife is exhausted. Have a servant’s spirit. Consider the needs of your wife and family before your own. Don’t wait to feel love. Act it. The feeling will come.

Don’t take. Give.

2. Thou shalt not point fingers

You look at your dating pictures and marvel at how you thought how adorable your now-wife was when she did one of her goofy things because, somewhere along the way, they were not goofy anymore; they have become an excuse to point out her failures, how she can’t grocery-shop wisely or boil eggs right.

Don’t do that. If you can’t say anything nicely, don’t say it. Leave the room, go out in the cool air, and reflect on this, “there is more than one way to do things right. My ways are not perfect either.”

Now go back in and praise your wife for what she’s doing right.

If you do have to correct her, praise her first, then tell her that if she could do this or that for you, it would mean the world to you, then close by telling her how much you love her.

As an added benefit, when you build her up, she will in turn build you up with family, friends, even strangers. (but that’s not why you do it; it’s the cherry on the cake)

3. Thou shalt be romantic

Remember that surprise candlelight dinner you made for her when you were dating? How many did you cook for her after you got married? When was the last one? What about all those sunset walks by the beach (or lake or park), holding hands, as you had promised her before the wedding? Make it a priority to do something romantic for her at least once a month. Once a week is better. Do something awesome for her. She gave you her life and her trust.

4. Thou shalt respect her

If she’s upstairs folding (your) laundry, and you’re downstairs watching Grey’s Anatomy and suddenly realize you need something. Don’t do what you are thinking; don’t yell at her out of laziness to do something for you. She’s not your dog. She’s your wife, the queen of your kingdom. Treat her a such. Get your royal self up and go ask her nicely and with a sense of gratitude. Make sure she knows you are grateful. If you realize you can do something for her on your way back down, do it. Even taking the trash out is more important in context than a show where everybody sleeps with everybody else or than a bunch of guys in shorts running after a stupid ball.

5. Thou shalt not name names

This is a major no-no. Watch your thoughts and your mouth. She’s not stubborn or stupid or impossible, or hard to deal with. Reserve those epithets for yourself. If you must call her names, use something like “love, cutie pie, darling, amore.” They are more accurate and will get you farther.

6. Thou shalt never argue in front of the kids

This is probably the biggest no-no. Children need safety. They need to know their parents love them and each other. Nothing rocks the world of a child more than the sense of uncertainty that comes from seeing their parents fight. Don’t be an idiot. No argument is so important as to hurt your children. Be smart. Come up with a code word that you and your wife know it means “Not with the kids here!” Use it.

Remember, we all make mistakes. And, no matter how hard we try, none of us can change the past. It’s over, it’s done. It’s a lesson for the present and for the future. Work on the present.

7. Thou shalt reconcile publicly

If you are stupid enough to break the above commandment, at least be sensible to also reconcile with your wife in front of your kids. Do it every single time. This not only reassures your kids that everything is back all right with the world, but it also models the correct way of handling disagreements in front them. It’s a lesson they will use in their social life.

8. Thou shalt kiss your wife often

Remember the frequent, passionate kisses you would give your future wife that prompted your friends to encourage you to get a room? Where did they go? Well, go back to the future. Start kissing her every day, even when you don’t feel like it. The feeling will come. Kiss her in the morning when she wakes up. Kiss her at night when she goes to bed. Kiss her when she fixes you a meal. Kiss her when you leave for work. Kiss her when the kids are around. Remember the saying, a marriage without kisses is like a sky without stars. Not only is it boring, you can’t tell where you’re going.

9. Thou shalt never stop having fun with your wife

Spending weekends at home watching reruns of “Everybody Loves Raymond?” Will you even remember that in a month? Get out of the house. Make it a point to not stay home two weekends in a row. Go out with your wife and kids and build awesome memories that will last a lifetime. As an added benefit, these family outings will help cement your marriage.

10. Thou shalt remember the sabbath

Your wife needs a break. Even (especially)  if she is a full-time housewife, she needs time off from the kids and house chores, where she spends over 90 hours a week. Give her a day of rest, where she can go make herself pretty, spend time with her girlfriends, relax one day out of the week. She’ll be forever thankful.

Most likely, you already know these commandments. In fact, knowing them is only half the way. We all must internalize them so that we use them when we are tired, frustrated, or when emotions run high.

This is the time to stop and think and apply wisdom. This is the time to be the most loving and caring you can. Keep asking yourself: “What can I do right now to bless my wife and kids?” or “what is the one thing that she really needs from me right now?”

You go through your life with this attitude, and you’ll have a happy, lifelong marriage.