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The Language of Christian Deism

Religious beliefs are expressed in words. Since a word may have several different meanings, it is important to know how a speaker or writer defines the meaning of a word.

Throughout the essays on Christian Deism in this web page, there are key words that carry specific meanings from the viewpoint of Christian Deism. Some of these words are used by Trinitarian Christians who give the words very different meanings. Therefore, I think it is important to define, in this essay, the meaning of key words as used in Christian Deism.

1. GOD. “God” refers to the Creator of the world, including human life. From the evidence of “intentional design” seen in the nature of the world and human beings, Christian Deists infer the existence of an “Intentional Designer” called “God.”

Christian Deists do not presume to describe God. Christian Deists view God in the same way that Jesus viewed God. Jesus said that “God is spirit” (John 4:24) and “It is the spirit that gives life” (John 6:63) to human beings. An individual’s “spirit” is the “life” or “personal self” that a person perceives within his or her physical body. Christian Deists believe that the “spirit” in a human being comes from, and is of the same essence, as God’s “spirit.”

It is the “spirit” within our bodies that gives us consciousness and the power to “reason.” Reason is the ability to “think logically” about what we perceive through our five senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. It is through the power of reasoning that we analyze and evaluate what we perceive through our senses concerning what is happening to us and around us. Then, based on our evaluation, we use our mental power to decide how to respond, and to initiate any physical and/or verbal response to what we perceive.

Christian Deists believe that God created the world to operate on its own and be governed by natural laws. These natural laws are inherent in the design of whatever exists. Human beings are designed to live in accord with two basic laws which can be discovered by any human being within his or her own nature. Jesus discovered these laws within himself and called these laws “God’s commandments” (Matthew 22:37-39).

2. NATURAL LAWS. “Natural laws” are the ways that God intends for the world to operate. Various natural laws are inherent in different things. For example, the planet called “Earth,” on which we live, is designed to revolve around the Sun at precise distances that allow life to exist on Earth. This is controlled through the natural laws of “gravity.” Likewise, the laws of gravity enable us and all other inhabitants of the Earth to remain on this planet instead of being hurled into outer space as the planet Earth zooms at 67,000 miles per hour around the Sun.

Also, natural laws are inherent in the design of seeds, soil, and rain that enable plants and trees to reproduce and provide food required by human beings. From our own observation of ourselves, we know that our “happiness,” or personal satisfaction in living, is determined by whether we choose to live as we have been “designed” to live. Jesus identified two natural laws by which God intends for human beings to live: (1) love for God and (2) love for “neighbor” (Matthew 22:37-39). Failure to love is destructive to ourselves because we are acting contrary to human nature.

3. LOVE. Jesus used the word “love” to mean “respect for” or “appreciation” for God and “neighbor.” Respect for God is based on the recognition that our individual life is a gift, from God, to be enjoyed and to be invested in making the world more enjoyable for all others. Respect for God also includes caring for the natural resources of the Earth that God has provided for the maintenance of life.

Love for “neighbor” means respecting the value of every human life. As a Jew, Jesus had been taught to “love your neighbor as (you love) yourself,” as stated in the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 19:17). But this law only required Jews to love (value) their “Jewish neighbors,” defined as “sons of your own people” (Leviticus 19:17), and any “stranger” who “sojourns (lives for awhile) with you in your land” (Leviticus 19:33-34). Jesus expanded the definition of the word “neighbor” to mean ALL persons, including persons who are different from ourselves, and even persons whom we consider to be our “enemies” (as seen in the parable of the “good Samaritan,” Luke 10:30-37).

Jesus defined the word “love” to mean “do good” to others. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). “Love your enemies and do good …. for He (God) is kind to the ungrateful and selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36). “You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends his rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45).

As God is good to all persons, we must be ready to “do good” and “be merciful” to all persons, even those whom we consider our “enemies.”

It is important to notice that “love your neighbor” should be “as (you love) yourself.” Respect or appreciation for oneself is something that God expects of us. Our own life is valuable and is to be appreciated. We show our respect for ourselves by the way we treat our bodies and minds as valuable. Living in a way that is harmful to our physical and mental health shows a lack of appreciation for the life that God has given to us.

4. KINGDOM OF GOD. Jesus used the term “Kingdom of God” to refer to wherever God’s will is obeyed. Jesus prayed to God, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). As a Jew, Jesus originally viewed the Kingdom of God in a nationalistic way. According to their tradition, the Jews believed that God had promised their ancestor, Abraham, that his descendants would have a land of their own if they were obedient to God. Jews equated the “Kingdom of God” with the political “Kingdom of Israel” and attempted to establish it by military force. The Jews were defeated and controlled by Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, Egypt, Syria, and the Roman Empire.

In Jesus’ time, the Jews were ruled by the Romans. Jesus joined the religious/political movement of John the Baptizer calling for the reestablishment of the “Kingdom of God” (Kingdom of Israel) to provide peace, freedom, and plenty for the Jewish people. As he preached the coming of the “Kingdom of God,” Jesus came to recognize that persons of all nationalities yearned for the same good life that the Jews were seeking. Jesus began preaching a new kind of “Kingdom of God” based on love for all people. Jesus called for people to repent (turn away from) their lovelessness so the Kingdom of God could become a reality in the hearts of individuals and in society.

Jesus’ new view of the “Kingdom of God” was considered heretical by the Jewish religious leaders, and Jesus was considered a Jewish revolutionary by the Romans. Jesus was crucified, as a political revolutionary, by the Romans but he survived his brief crucifixion and met with his disciples for a short time before leaving them. Some of his disciples believed that Jesus would return as the Jewish “messiah” during their lifetime but this did not happen. When Jesus’ teachings were recollected and written between the years 70 CE and 100 CE, it became apparent that the “Kingdom of God” that Jesus envisioned was different from the “Kingdom of Israel” that the Jews expected.

5. GOSPEL. The word “gospel” means “good news.” “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel'” (Mark 1:14). Eventually, Jesus came to view the “kingdom of God” as coming “on earth” as people followed God’s “commandments” or laws of love for God and for each other. This is the “gospel,” or message, found in the parables of Jesus. Unfortunately, after the time of Jesus, a man named Paul began preaching another “gospel” based on his belief that Jesus had died (by crucifixion) like a lamb was sacrificed in the Jewish temple to atone for the sins of people. Paul never claimed to have seen or heard Jesus, except in some kind of “vision” after the time of Jesus. Paul’s “gospel” promised “eternal life” to those who believed Paul’s theory about Jesus. Paul’s message was rejected by the Jews but was received by many Gentiles (non-Jews) in Asia Minor and Greece.

Paul established congregations, or churches, that later assumed leadership in the Christian movement after the deaths of Jesus’ closest disciples. Paul’s gospel, as modified by church councils, eventually became dominant in Trinitarian churches.

6. SIN. “Sin” is a word that refers to disobedience to God. Since it is God’s will for human beings to love God and love each other, any failure to love is “sin.” We sin against God if we fail to appreciate and use our life as God intends for us to use it, or if we fail to take care of the natural resources of the Earth on which life depends. We sin against other human beings if we cause human suffering or if we are indifferent to human suffering, as illustrated in Jesus’ parable of the “good Samaritan” (Luke 10:30-37).

7. REPENTANCE. “Repentance” was a central theme in the teachings of Jesus. When Jesus proclaimed that “The Kingdom of God is at hand,” he said “Repent” and believe this good news (“gospel”). The word “repentance” means “turning away from.” It is used in relation to “sin.”

Jesus defined “repentance” by his parable of the “prodigal son” (Luke 15:11-24). The process of repentance includes:

1. The recognition of and acceptance of personal responsibility for sin.

2. A sincere feeling of remorse and sorrow for having sinned.

3. A conscious decision to stop the wrong-doing.

4. An actual “turning away from” the sin. This is a change of direction in behavior.

5. A confession of sin and a humble request for forgiveness. The request is made to God and (if possible) to any person who has been hurt by the sin.

6. An offer to make amends for the hurt that was caused by the sin.

Jesus said that we should “believe in the gospel (good news)” that the “kingdom of God is at hand.” The reign of God is a reality here and now for those who commit themselves to love God and to love each other. How do we know if we are committed to God’s way of love? We know by our experience of “repentance” whenever we fail to love.

If we have chosen to follow God’s natural laws of love, we will experience remorse and sorrow whenever we fail to love. This should lead us to repent (turn away from) such unloving behavior and to seek forgiveness. If a mentally competent person is not committed to following God’s natural laws, such a person will not feel remorse or sorrow over a failure to love.

The ability to repent of any failure to love is evidence that a person is truly committed to trying to follow God’s will for us to live by love.

8. FORGIVENESS. In his parable of the “unmerciful servant” (Matthew 18:23-35), Jesus taught that God will forgive us of our sins in the same way that we are willing to forgive those persons who repent of their sins against us. In the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, Jesus makes this same point, “And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” (Luke 11:4).

Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in a day and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). Also, Jesus said, “If you forgive men their sins (against you), your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their sins (against you), neither will your Father forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).

Christian Deists reject Paul’s theological theory that God cannot forgive sin unless the “death penalty for sin” is paid by Jesus’ dying as a “substitute” for humankind. The theologian Athanasius, the architect of the Creed of Nicaea (325 C.E.), adopted Paul’s theory of “salvation by the death of Jesus” and this “substitutionary theory of atonement” became central in Trinitarian churches.

Christian Deists believe Jesus who taught that God forgives us of our sins if we repent of our sins and we are willing to forgive those who sin against us. Christian Deists totally reject Paul’s “substitutionary theory of atonement.”

Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice'” (Matthew 9:13). Here, Jesus is quoting the Hebrew prophet Hosea who claimed to be quoting God: “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice; the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

9. JESUS. Christian Deists believe that Jesus was only a human being. Jesus described himself simply as “a man who told you the truth which I heard from God” (John 8:40) but Jesus did not make any exclusive claim to “hearing” the truth from God. Jesus said, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God’ (Isaiah 54:13). Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” (John 6:45). Jesus only claimed to know the truth in the same way that “all” can know the truth about how God intends for us to live.

Jesus did not claim to be “God.” Those who claim that Jesus is “God,” or “the only Son of God,” usually quote John 10:30 where Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” But those who claim that Jesus was more than a human being fail to read John 17:11 and John 17:21-23 where Jesus explains what he meant by being “one” with God.

Let us examine John 10:30-38. “(Jesus said,) ‘I and the Father are one.’ The Jews took up stones again to stone him (to death). Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘We stone you for no good work but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your law*, ‘I said you are gods?'” (*Note: Jesus is quoting Psalms 82:6, “I say, You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.”)

“(Then Jesus said,) ‘If he (the psalmist) called them gods to whom the word of the God came, do you say …. ‘You are blaspheming’ because I said that I am (a)** son of the God? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father’.” (**Note: Greek manuscripts do not have a definite article “the” before the word “son” so this should be read as “a son of God” not “the son of God.”)

The unity, or “oneness,” that Jesus claimed with God did not mean that Jesus claimed to be God because Jesus prayed that his disciples “may be one, even as we (Jesus and God) are one” (John 17:11). Later, Jesus prayed that his followers will “all be one, even as Thou, Father, are in me and I in Thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me. The glory which Thou has given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and Thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that Thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as Thou hast loved me” (John 17:21-23).

The “oneness” that Jesus had with God was a “oneness” that Jesus wanted his followers to have with each other, with Jesus, and with God. According to Jesus, it is through our love for God and each other that we experience a “oneness” with God and each other, and we come to know that God “hast loved them (us) even as Thou hast loved me (Jesus).”

Although Jesus spoke of spiritual unity that he and we can have with God and each other, Jesus clearly distinguished between himself and God.

When someone addressed Jesus as “Good teacher,” Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Mark 10:18). Jesus refused to be called “good” like God.

Jesus prayed to God on many occasions. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus “fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible to Thee; remove this cup (danger of death) from me; yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt'” (Mark 14:35-36). Jesus’ “will” was clearly separate from God’s “will.”

Jesus said, “For I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has Himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak” (John 12:49). Jesus did not claim to have the same authority that God had.

Jesus told his disciples, “You heard me say to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father; for the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). Jesus claimed that he did not have equal status or rank with God.

When Jesus was being crucified, Jesus “cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabschthani ?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Here, Jesus felt “forsaken” by God. Jesus clearly viewed God as Someone other than Jesus.

After he emerged from his tomb, Jesus was surprised to see that he was still alive on earth. He told Mary Magdalene, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and to your God” (John 20:17). Here, Jesus refers to his relationship with God as being the same as the relationship between his “brethren” and God. Again, Jesus did not claim to be God.

There are other verses in which Jesus distinguishes between himself and God, including John 14:1, 14:24, 14:31, 15:15, 16:28, and Matthew 20:23.

Jesus was conscious of his “inner self” or “spirit” within his physical body, just as every human being is conscious of one’s own “spirit” within. Jesus viewed this “spirit” as coming from, and having the same essence as, God. But Jesus did not claim to be more that any other human being. Jesus viewed God as the Source of the life-giving spirit that is in every human being, including Jesus himself.

Jesus believed that when a human body dies, the person’s life-giving spirit returns to God. When Jesus thought that he was about to die on the cross, Jesus prayed to God, “Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46), trusting God’s care for the future. This is the prayer that Christian Deists should pray, trusting in God’s care beyond the life we have now.

Deists believe that God designed human beings to love (care for) each other, and if a person tries to do this, and repents of failures to love, that person will enjoy the inner peace that comes from satisfaction with oneself in this life, and will have reason to hope for another life from God in the future.

An Overview of Christian Deism

How you live your life and the happiness you find are largely dependent upon your view of yourself and the world that you live in. Your view of life is known as your “worldview,” or “religion,” or “philosophy of life.”

Your understanding of life comes from what you are taught by others, and by what you learn from your own sense perception, experience, and reasoning. Sense perception refers to what you learn through your five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Experience refers to what you learn from what happens to you as you interact with the world around you. Reasoning refers to what you learn from thinking about what you perceive and experience.

The word “religion” comes from the Latin word “religio” which is related to the verb “religare” meaning “to bind” or “place an obligation on.” The World Book Dictionary defines “obligation” as “duty” meaning “a thing that a person ought to do, or a thing that is right to do.” In other words, “religion” deals with “how a person ought to live” or “what is right to do.”

When we look around us, we see many different “organized religions” such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and others. These “religions” offer different views of life, and offer instructions about “how a person ought to live.” Some religions claim that their teachings came from “supernatural revelations” received by particular individuals such as Moses, Muhammad, or Paul of Tarsus.

These so-called “revealed” religions make exclusive claims to knowing the “truth” from God, and the followers of other religions are frequently viewed as “infidels” or “unbelievers.” This has led to hostility, oppression, persecution and wars between the followers of different religions.

In contrast to so-called “revealed” religions, there is another kind of religion called “natural” religion. Whereas “revealed” religion claims that truth about life comes through some supernatural revelation from a source beyond human knowledge and experience, “natural” religion is based on what human beings can discover from their own sense perceptions, experiences, and reasoning.

One of the greatest teachers of natural religion was a man named Jesus from Nazareth. Jesus was a Jew, reared in an ancient form of Judaism, but his personal perceptions, experiences, and thinking led him to a deeper understanding of life, and how it is intended to be lived. Jesus described himself simply as “a man who told you the truth which I heard from God” (John 8:40) but Jesus did not claim to have any special revelation of truth from God.

Jesus said that everyone knows the truth, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” (John 6:45). Jesus also said, “My teaching is not mine, but His who sent me; if any man’s will is to do His (God’s) will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority” (John 7:16-17). According to these statements, people already know God’s will and those who are seeking to follow it can recognize that Jesus is teaching the truth, and they will be attracted to Jesus.

Jesus summarized God’s truth or “commandments” (laws) as “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). The word “love” means “to appreciate” or “to value.” We should appreciate God as the giver of life, and we should value life in other persons as much as we value life in ourselves.

We show our appreciation to God by how we use the life we have been given. We show our appreciation for the value of life in others by how we treat them. Human nature is designed for living by love. Everyone knows that our Creator intends for us to live by love because failure to love is destructive to life, our own and others. We know this from our own perceptions, experiences, and thinking. This truth is the foundation of natural religion.

Failure to love is acting against our human nature. We fail to love God when we waste the gift of life that God has given to us. We fail to love other persons when we cause human suffering or when we do not try to relieve human suffering when we have the ability and opportunity to do so.

In his parable of the “talents” (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus taught that we show our love to God by how we use the life that God has entrusted to us. In his parable of the “good Samaritan” (Luke 10:30-37), Jesus taught that we fail to love others when we cause human suffering or when we do not try to relieve human suffering when we can do so.

In his parable of the “good Samaritan,” Jesus expanded the definition of “neighbor” to include everyone, even those who are viewed as “enemies.” Jesus said, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor but hate your enemy,’ but I say to you, Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45).

Jesus added, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). Love your enemies and do good . . . . for He (God) is kind to the ungrateful and selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father (God) is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36). Jesus went far beyond the religion that he had been taught in his day. Just as God provides the necessities of sunshine and rain to all persons, including the “good and evil” and the “just and unjust,” we must be ready to “do good” and “be merciful” to all persons, even those we consider our “enemies.”

The failure to love God or “neighbor” (all persons) is called “sin.” The only remedy for sin is repentance. Jesus taught the meaning of “repentance” in his parable of the “prodigal son” (Luke 15:11-24). According to Jesus, repentance is the prerequisite for receiving forgiveness of sins, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in a day and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,” you must forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). Also, Jesus said, “If you forgive men their trespasses (against you), your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses (against you), neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).

In the teachings of Jesus, we see the essence of natural religion.

Unfortunately, soon after Jesus’ lifetime, a man named Paul of Tarsus began proclaiming a very different message. Paul never claimed to have seen or heard Jesus during Jesus’ lifetime, but claimed that Jesus had appeared later to Paul in some kind of vision after the death of Jesus. Paul began preaching that Jesus “was in the form of God, . . . . but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death of the cross” (Philippians 2:6-7).

Paul viewed the crucifixion of Jesus as a sacrifice to God to atone for the sins of humankind. Paul wrote, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ (Jesus) died for us. Since therefore we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:8-9). According to Jesus, we are forgiven by God if we repent of our sins and we are willing to forgive others who sin against us, but Paul taught that Jesus had to die as a human sacrifice to obtain God’s forgiveness and save us “from the wrath of God.” Paul’s teaching, or “gospel,” was very different from Jesus’ gospel.

Paul claimed that his “gospel” was revealed directly to Paul by Jesus after the death of Jesus. Paul wrote, “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12).

It is clear that Paul replaced Jesus’ natural religion with a so-called “revealed” religion. In all of his letters found in the New Testament, Paul never quotes the teachings of Jesus. Jesus’ gospel calling for people to repent of their failures to love, and to forgive each other, was replaced with Paul’s “gospel” of blood sacrifice to appease an angry God. A series of church councils in the fourth century compounded the errors of Paul by making Jesus equal to God and institutionalizing Paul’s “substitutionary theory” of atonement.

In the seventeenth century, in England, a movement called “deism” began in opposition to the doctrines that had been adopted by the church after the time of Jesus. The deists opposed the doctrines of original sin, the virgin birth and divinity of Jesus, the “trinity” of God, blood atonement by the death of Jesus, and “hell” as a place of unending torture. The deists viewed so-called “miracles” as unverifiable, and they viewed so-called “supernatural revelation of truth” as unnecessary.

The deists believed in natural religion rather than revealed religion. Most of the deists viewed themselves as “Christians” who were seeking to return to the natural religion taught by a man named Jesus. The words “deism” and “deist” come from the Latin word “Deus” which means “God.” Deists believe in one God and they view Jesus as simply a human being. Christian Deists view Jesus as a great teacher of deism.

Bible Study and Prayer

I have written other essays relating to the practice of Christian deism as a personal religion. In the essay, “Christian Deism as a Personal Religion,” I focused on what it means to “love God” and “love neighbor” as we live each day. I also focused on repentance by us, and our forgiveness of others. In the essay, “Christian Deists: Christians Without Churches,” I focused on the meaning of worship “in spirit and in truth.”

In this essay, I will try to address the subjects of Bible study and prayer in the practice of Christian deism.

In regard to “Bible study,” my focus as a Christian deist is on the teachings of Jesus found in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the New Testament. Preceding these books in the “Bible” is the Hebrew Bible, which Christians erroneously refer to as the “Old Testament.”

The Hebrew Bible presents the story of a primitive people (the Jews) struggling to survive in an environment of conflict with other nations. In that conflict, the Jewish leaders clearly believed that “might makes right” even if it meant the slaughter of innocent women and children of other nations in the Jews’ pursuit of a land of their own (Numbers 31:13-17). What makes this even worse is that this brutality was allegedly done in obedience to “God’s will.” Although there are some valuable passages in the “Old Testament,” these are too few to be of much value to a Christian deist.

Following the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the book called “The Acts of the Apostles” provides some history about the early years of the Christian movement, at least as it was viewed by the writer about fifty years (or more) later. The remainder of the “New Testament” includes letters that Paul (a Jew from Tarsus) wrote, expressing his interpretation of Christianity which varies significantly from the teachings of Jesus. Also included are some letters and books, by unknown writers, reflecting late first Christian century theology, much of which was influenced by Paul.

Finally, in the New Testament, there is a book called “Revelation” predicting an imminent end of the world to encourage persecuted Christians to hope for a “new heaven and a new earth” after the destruction of “evil doers.” This fantasy writing continues to inspire modern-day “end-of-the-world” fanatics to lead their followers to disappointment (at best) and destruction (at worst). Christian deists should view this book as useless.

In reading the books of the New Testament, a Christian deist must put each idea to the test of reason. The basic theology of Paul, with his idea of the crucifixion of Jesus being a sacrifice to pay for the sins of humankind, should be summarily dismissed. However, a Christian deist can identify with Paul’s statements about faith, hope, and love in the letter called First Corinthians, chapter 13. Unfortunately, the scope of Paul’s love did not include persons of a different sexual orientation.

In studying the life and teachings of Jesus, a Christian deist should keep in mind that Jesus was a human being like ourselves. Some of his ideas simply express the cultural views common among Jews two thousand years ago in a pre-scientific age. Some ideas, such as “demons” causing epilepsy, have no validity. The idea of a “devil” tempting and misleading people is also a sign of that time, and has no place in a religion based on reason.

Let me say this clearly: If you find an idea in the Bible that does not seem reasonable to you, you do not have to believe it. God gave you a mind to use, so use it.

In the New Testament, it is clear that Jesus began his career as a Jewish revolutionary who was seeking liberation of the Jews from the Romans, but Jesus gradually came to recognize that the rulership of God (the “kingdom of God”) on earth would not become a reality by military force but by the gradual recognition of God’s laws “in the heart” of individuals. This concept was too “unorthodox” for his compatriots to accept at the time, but Jesus’ view of the “kingdom of God” came to be understood later when Jesus’ teachings, especially his parables, were collected.

Now, let us think about prayer. What is the meaning of prayer to me as a Christian deist? Put quite simply, prayer is communion with God. Jesus taught that “God is spirit” and it is the “spirit that gives life” to us as individuals (John 4:24 and 6:63). In other words, the essence of God and our own being is spirit. This is not an idea that originated with Jesus. Ancient Greek philosophers, such as Heraclitus over 500 years before Jesus, recognized that a “creative intelligence” (they called “logos”) was responsible for the creation of order in the world, and for the creation of “intelligence” in individual human beings. In other words, there is a “Mind” which we call “God” and we each have a “mind” through which we can communicate “mind-to-Mind.”

Prayer was important to Jesus, and we can learn much from how Jesus prayed. Usually, Jesus prayed by himself, away from the company of others (Matthew 14:23; Matthew 26:36; Luke 6:12). Sometimes Jesus prayed in the presence of a few close friends (Luke 9:28; John 17:1). Jesus cautioned against making a public display of prayer (Matthew 6:5) and he urged his disciples to “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:6).

Jesus urged his disciples to pray simply. He said, “And in praying, do not heap up empty phrases …. for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8).

Some Christians have a misconception about prayer based on their reading of Jesus’ statement (Mark 11:24), “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you will receive it, and you will.” Many Christians are disappointed when they fail to receive what they pray for. Some blame themselves for not having a strong enough “faith,” or belief that they will receive what they have prayed for. Others blame God for failing to keep Jesus’ promise.

The truth is that Jesus often taught by hyperbole (exaggeration). In the verses preceding Mark 11:24, Jesus told his disciples, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him” (Mark 11:22-23). This is an example of a hyperbole to express the importance of faith in God when we pray. But even Jesus did not believe that whatever he prayed for would come to pass.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that he would not die (“let this cup pass from me”), but he prefaced his prayer request with the words, “If it be possible” (Matthew 26:39). Here, Jesus recognized that sometimes what he asked for in prayer was not possible. We, too, must accept the fact that sometimes what we seek is not possible. Nevertheless, we may not know what is possible or not possible, so we should express our hopes in prayer. Believing that something is possible may be a deciding factor in something becoming a reality. Personal faith has been proven to be a factor in healing some illnesses, but not all illnesses can be healed by faith. And faith healing is not a substitute for medical treatment.

To me, prayer is more than just “talking” to God. It is also “listening” to God. I do not mean that God’s voice will come “out of the clouds,” but I am convinced that God can help us think of some solutions to our problems. Prayer provides a means of focusing our attention on problems in a way that may open our minds to possible solutions. I have prayed about a problem at bedtime and have awakened to find a possible solution in my mind the next morning. Perhaps this is the way God communicates with us.

I also believe that prayer is a channel through which we can receive strength to cope with our problems. Jesus told his disciples to “pray that you may have strength” so they would not be “weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life” (Luke 21:34-36). The Hebrew psalmist wrote, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

I believe that prayer is not just “communication” with God. Prayer is COMMUNION with God. In some way when we direct our thoughts to God in prayer, we join our individual spirit with the Spirit that gives us life. The Hebrew psalmist claimed that God spoke these words, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Without saying a word, we can pray by just being still and knowing that God is with us.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray by giving them an example which we call the “Lord’s Prayer.”

“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven; Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us; And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:9-13).

As we know, Jesus viewed God as being like a loving father. In this prayer, Jesus distinguishes God from a human father by referring to God as a heavenly Father. Then Jesus expresses respect for the sacred authority of God by using the words “hallowed” (sacred) and “name” (authority).

Then Jesus gets to the heart of the prayer by seeking the coming of God’s kingdom (rule) on earth, which Jesus equates with “God’s will.”

The request for “daily bread” is a recognition of the fact that we are dependent on God for the very basics for life (such as bread) that come from what God provides (such as seed, earth, rain). This recognition of God’s gifts is also an implied expression of thanksgiving to God for these provisions. Thanksgiving should always be a part of our prayers.

The request for God’s forgiveness of our sins (our failures to love others) is directly tied to our obligation to forgive those who repent of their sins against us.

Finally, the prayer concludes with a request for strength to resist temptation to do evil, and a request for help in protecting ourselves against those who would do evil against us.

This prayer is a good model to guide us in our own praying.

This short essay certainly does not cover all that should be said about Bible study and prayer, but I hope that it is enough to suggest an approach consistent with our beliefs as Christian deists.

Repentance and Forgiveness

 

When Jesus preached the gospel, “The kingdom of God is at hand,” he called for a response: “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” What does “repent” mean?

The meaning of “repent” is found in Jesus’ parable of the “prodigal son” (Luke 15:11-24) as follows:

“And he (Jesus) said, “There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that falls to me (by inheritance).’ And he (the father) divided his living between them.

“Not many days later, the younger son gathered all that he had and took his journey to a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want.

“So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything.

“But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.’

“And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

“And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to make merry.”

The parable of the “prodigal son” illustrates the process and meaning of “repentance.”

The process began when the young son recognized his wrong-doing against his father. The son had shown disrespect for his father by squandering the property that his father had given to him.

Next came the son’s decision to turn away from his wrong-doing and confess his sin with an attitude of contrition (feeling sorry for what he had done). The son said to himself, “I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

Then came the son’s actual change in direction in his life and his confession of wrong-doing (“And he arose and came to his father….and the son said to him, ‘I have sinned….'”).

The son’s confession of sin was made to his father who had been hurt by his son’s bad behavior, and the son was willing to make amends by working as a “hired servant.”

Of course, the father’s response was forgiveness and rejoicing (“for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found”).

Dictionaries define “repent” as “to feel sorry for sin and seek forgiveness.” But the parable of the prodigal son shows that repentance is more than this. The process of repentance includes:

1. The recognition of and acceptance of personal responsibility for sin.

2. A sincere feeling of remorse and sorrow for having sinned.

3. A conscious decision to stop the wrong-doing.

4. An actual “turning away from” the sin. This is a change of direction in behavior.

5. A confession of sin and a humble request for forgiveness. The request for forgiveness is made to the one who has been hurt by the sin.

6. An offer to make amends for the hurt that was caused by the sin.

Repentance is not just an intellectual exercise of “feeling sorry” for sins. Repentance involves a “turning” or “reorientation” of one’s life. The evidence of that change is seen in the “fruit,” or how a person lives. John the Baptist told those who came to confess their sins that they must “bear fruit that befits (evidences) repentance” (Matthew 3:8).

The parable of the “prodigal son” also teaches us that we are sinning against God “our Father” if we squander the life that we have received. God expects us to invest ourselves to produce something good in the world.

Jesus said something else about repentance in the parable of the “unmerciful servant” (Matthew 18:23-35) as follows:

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents (a large amount of money); and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment be made.

“So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, “Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.

“But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii (a small amount of money); and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused (to have patience) and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.

“When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.

“Then the lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in his anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt.”

Jesus said, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

In this parable, when a servant failed to pay what he owed the king, the servant fell down on his knees and asked for the king’s “patience.” The king had mercy on the servant and forgave him of his large debt. But this same servant refused to show mercy and forgive a fellow servant who owed him a small debt. The king condemned the servant who refused to forgive his fellow servant.

Jesus’ point is clear. If we repent of sins, God will forgive us in the same way that we are willing to forgive those who sin against us. In the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, Jesus makes this same point: “And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” (Luke 11:4).

The parable of the “unmerciful servant” tells us that God will forgive our sins (1) if we repent and ask God to forgive us and (2) if we are willing to forgive others who sin against us.

Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in a day and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him (Luke 17:3-4).

Again, Jesus said, “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).

The parables of the “prodigal son” and the “unmerciful servant” teach us something else about repentance and forgiveness. While we should ask God to forgive us of our sins, we should also ask forgiveness from any person who has suffered because of our sin, if that person is available. Repentance and forgiveness are not limited to our relationship to God but, in many instances, can and should take place in our relationships with other human beings.

Jesus said that we should “believe in the gospel” that the “kingdom of God is at hand.” The reign of God is a reality here and now for those who commit themselves to love God and to love their neighbor. How do we know if we are committed to God’s way of love? We know by our experience of “repentance” whenever we fail to love.

If we have chosen to follow God’s natural laws of love, we will experience remorse and sorrow whenever we fail to love. This should lead us to repent (turn away from) such unloving behavior and seek forgiveness. If a person is not committed to follow God’s natural laws, such a person will not feel remorse or sorrow over a failure to love.

Of course, no one is perfect. There will be times when we fail to live by love. But if we are trying to live by God’s natural laws of love, we will always experience repentance whenever we fail to love. The ability to repent is a sign that we “believe in the gospel” (good news) of the kingdom of God.