Volume 4: The Human Condition
The Human Condition
Shakespeare’s Hamlet asks, “What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?” Methinks Hamlet was right to question man’s tendency to think too highly of himself. We like to imagine ourselves reasonable, capable, altruistic, and wise—despite the hash we usually make of things if given half a chance. We’re fallen creatures: we invariably fall far short of our God-given potential.
No serious contemplation of “the human condition” can be made without suggesting comparisons. Secular humanists like to imagine that we are “the paragon of animals,” that is, high functioning, highly evolved primates—and nothing more. It’s easy to see yourself as Mr. Wonderful when you’re comparing yourself to a chimpanzee, I suppose. But we are not “highly evolved.” We are highly created—in the image of God, no less—not physically, but morally, mentally, and spiritually. And our Creator has a completely different take on the issue: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares Yahweh. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) If we’re willing to honestly compare ourselves to God, the whole rationale behind our self-congratulatory pride goes out the window. We are indeed more like Hamlet’s “quintessence of dust” than the enlightened being “infinite in faculties” we may have imagined ourselves to be.
In order to have a prayer of understanding the human condition, we need to come to terms with the fact that we were created—and created for a purpose. We didn’t just happen by accident. In some ways, in fact, we humans are the most complicated, amazing things God made. Angels may be smarter and more powerful, but they have none of the really problematic bits that Yahweh built into our nature. We’re living, but mortal. Biologically, we’re like animals, but there’s more to us: we’re made with a unique spiritual component—something beyond a body and the soul that makes it alive.
Comparing humanity to both angels and animals can be a revealing exercise. Of course, our data on angels—created spirit beings—must be derived from God’s Word: angels do not subject themselves to scientific enquiry. And it can be a tricky endeavor, because the Bible is not about angels (or demons—fallen angels). It is about us—and more specifically, about what our relationship with our Creator is supposed to be. What we know of angels (literally: “messengers”) must therefore be picked up piecemeal throughout scripture, and as often as not, read between the lines.
Perhaps the clearest statement of our “place” before God is this notice from David: “When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of Your hands. You have put all things under his feet.” (Psalm 8:3-6) Four living entities are in view here: (1) the Creator, Yahweh (the “You” to whom David is referring); (2) the “heavenly beings” (“angels” in some translations—the word in Hebrew is actually me-elohim: gods, rulers, judges, mighty ones, superhuman beings, angels, sons of God); (3) man (Hebrew adam: mankind, a common, ordinary human); and (4) “the works of Your hands,” which would include the animal realm.
Man’s assigned “job” was defined in the creation account: “Then God blessed them [the humans, both male and female], and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28) Our God-assigned station, then, places us above the animals, but beneath the angels. We should thus recognize one obvious factor right up front: if God says “man” is to have dominion over the animals, then he must not merely be one of them, but must be—in some fundamental way—a separate sort of created being. Note that man was not given dominion over other men—only animals.
Secular humanists protest that man shares a great deal of his DNA coding with apes (though our simian similarity is actually in the 70% range, not the high 90s, as is sometimes claimed). But when they use this genetic overlap as “proof” that we share a common ancestor, they’re making an unwarranted leap of faith. Why? Because there is no reason to suppose the Creator would have started over from scratch every time He wanted to build a new life form. Rather, once he created the “alphabet” (DNA) with which to “write’ his living physical creatures into the epic tale of the earth, He used those same letters every time He introduced a new “kind” of animal or plant. Different words, same alphabet; different stories, same language. It’s efficient. It’s logical. It works.
Consider this: would you expect Shakespeare to use one language for Hamlet, and a different one for his sonnets, just because they speak of different matters? No, that would be silly, although using a slightly different vocabulary within that language would certainly be appropriate. Or think of it this way (as I do, since I was trained as an artist in my youth): two paintings of different subjects by the same artist are going to show similarities—beyond the fact that he’s using oil on canvas. Style, brush technique, thought process, point of view—all of these things are going to “sign” the artist’s work even more effectively than his signature might. For that matter, the same artist is likely to sketch his subject with completely different materials—Conte crayons on Canson paper perhaps (or a Sharpie on a cocktail napkin, for that matter) before he actually proceeds with his “real” work of art. That’s why at the molecular level, bacteria, chipmunks, and nuclear physicists all show signs of having been “painted by the same Artist.”
But if men and animals and plants and viruses are creations of one sort—physical beings that are living though mortal, capable though limited, “oil on canvas,” as it were—then angels are like works of art rendered in a completely different medium: sound or light or aroma, so to speak: think of the difference between a Cezanne landscape and a Mozart symphony, or between the scent of perfume and a dazzling sunset. Angels “exist” in an entirely different mode than we do; they have different properties, capabilities, and purposes. Though “real,” they are not physical. Though “alive,” they are not subject to death. And though powerful, they have not been given the privilege of free will.
We are assured, however, that both of these vastly different “media” were employed by the same “Artist.” “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend [i.e., overcome] it.” (John 1:1-5) It is remarkable enough that Yahweh—the only being who has life within Himself—uses his angelic host on occasion to communicate with men (who, as David reminded us, are “lower than the angels”). But it is positively mind boggling that He condescended to manifest Himself as a man, living among men, in order to heal the breach between us that our sin had created.
John writes, “In Him was life.” All life is derived from—it’s the result of—God’s life. (The odd idea that life somehow arose spontaneously from non-life is an insupportable pipedream for godless people with poor math skills.) And as we have seen, there are four distinct types of sentient life: God’s (eternally self-existent); angelic (created but immortal); human (mortal but with provision for eternal spiritual indwelling); and animal (mortal, with no spiritual component). Of the four, only the life-type of man seems to me (for what it’s worth) to be inexplicable—counterintuitive, unexpected, unnatural, and illogical. But it is this very preposterous proposition that defines “the human condition.” Our species is unique in creation, if God’s Word is to be taken at face value. There is something about the type of life we live (or at least can live) that reveals why we’re here. What sets us apart is our ability to reciprocate and respond to God’s love. It’s the only conceivable reason He might have had for creating us.
Since the modern myth insists that humans are nothing more than intelligent, highly evolved animals, we ought to check Yahweh’s creation record. Animals are described several times as “living creatures” (literally, living souls—Hebrew hayah nephesh). And yes, the very same phrase is used to describe men. Animals were made when God commanded the earth to bring them forth. The word used to describe their “creation” is bara, which means to form, fashion, shape, create, or choose. He also uses the word asah, meaning to accomplish, do, or make, to describe the process. And again, both words are used to describe the making of humans: “Then God said, ‘Let us make [asah] man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created [bara] man in His own image. In the image of God He created [bara] him. Male and female He created [bara] them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” (Genesis 1:26-28)
So far, then, it sounds like the evolutionists may have a point—we appear to have been made the same way the animals were: formed, fashioned, and brought forth from the earth (although by God, not by blind chance). But the process by which men became “living souls” is entirely different: “And Yahweh, God, formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being [hayah nephesh].” (Genesis 2:7) This time, the word for “formed” is the Hebrew yatsar—used of a potter fashioning a vessel out of clay, or a wood carver making a statue. The underlying emphasis is upon purpose, of design and intention. But the heart of the distinction lies in the nature of the “breath of life” that Yahweh breathed into us.
The word translated “breath” here is neshamah—which (if its usage is any indication) has no direct English equivalent. Technically, “breath” is meant, but the word invariably bears a heavy symbolic component. It is sometimes translated “spirit,” although the usual Hebrew word for “spirit” (ruach) also literally means “breath.” And just to make things interesting, the word usually translated “soul” (nephesh) is also derived from the concept of breath. In fact, the verb from of the same consonant root, naphach, is translated “breathed” here in Genesis 2:7. (Confused yet?)
All we know for sure is that the other living creatures did not receive this particular sort of “breath,” the neshamah, that defines the kind of life that is unique to humanity upon the earth. So although our bodies may resemble those of animals (complete with DNA-based molecular structure), and although men and animals alike have “souls” (nephesh) that make our bodies “alive” (and without which our bodies are merely lifeless, rotting sacks of complex chemicals) there is an added component to man—something that defines him as having been made “in the image and likeness of God.”
His likeness? What is God’s mode of existence? What does it mean to be “made in His image?” Yahshua answered that question for us: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24) Technically, therefore, to be made “in the image and likeness of God” means that humans (unlike animals) must have a spiritual component in addition to the biological life we can perceive. Furthermore, since Yahweh is eternally self-existent, this spiritual component has the ability to render someone immortal—not their bodies, of course, but their souls, the part of their physical makeup that made their bodies alive in the first place. In other words, as the soul makes the body alive (in either men or animals), a spirit can make the soul alive (but only in humans).
So far, so good. But there’s a problem. Even though Yahweh breathed into Adam and Eve the neshamah of life, He also told them that “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17) Sure enough, they did eat of it. But they did not die (physically, anyway) the same day that they fell into sin. Adam’s body, in fact, lived on for 930 years before he finally croaked. So what was it that “died” on the day that he ate of the forbidden fruit? He still had his neshamah, but Yahweh’s eternal Spirit—his Ruach, that which had made him alive in the same way God is alive—had departed, rendering Adam’s soul as mortal as his body was: he had died spiritually. I have no choice but to conclude, then, that the neshamah—the “breath of life” that made Adam unique among God’s creatures—is what gives humanity the capacity for spiritual indwelling. It’s not the Spirit per se, but rather the “container,” so to speak, in which Yahweh’s Holy Spirit is held in the human experience.
Adam’s sin had separated him from his Creator. Was it all over for him, then? Was there no way to reestablish the relationship that had been severed, making Adam, for all practical purposes, a spiritless animal? Although we aren’t told outright, subsequent Biblical revelation (both symbolic and historical) makes it pretty clear that Adam and Eve did experience spiritual restoration. If you’ll recall, when they first realized they were naked (the first evidence of conscience) they “sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.” (Genesis 3:9) But later, “Yahweh, God, made tunics of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21)
What’s the difference? Either way, their nakedness got covered up. The difference is that in order for the “skins” to be procured, something innocent—an animal, in this case—had to die. Without the shedding of blood, there would be no forgiveness of sins. (See Matthew 26:28, Hebrews 9:22, Colossians 1:14, etc.) Voluntarily putting on the “tunics of skin” that God had made for them symbolized their acceptance of His remedy for their sin. Though they had fallen, they were now redeemed (that is, bought back), reconciled to their Creator, and reunited (one might say “reborn”) with His Spirit.
The principle had thus been established: only innocence can adequately cover guilt. The animals whose skins were used to cover the shame of humanity were, by definition, innocent. Having no neshamah, they had no free will, no moral choices to make. Although animals may do things we find inconvenient or even harmful (like wolves eating our sheep, mosquitoes sucking our blood, or cats shredding our furniture), they do not—and indeed cannot—make moral decisions. Nothing they do is right or wrong in itself: an animal cannot “sin.”
This metaphor—the animal’s innocence atoning for man’s guilt—would be repeated and confirmed many different ways over the years, culminating in the Levitical offerings mandated in the Torah. But the brilliant reality that cast all these shadows would turn out to be the self-sacrifice of God Himself—in the form of the human Messiah, Yahshua—the ultimate and definitive expression of innocence covering guilt.
Where does that leave us? We humans, sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, are born with bodies whose souls make those bodies physically alive (just like any animal); but we are also born with the capacity for spiritual indwelling—the same neshamah our proto-parents had. This gives us the ability (and responsibility) to make moral choices, something animals cannot do. Free will is our birthright. But because we are a fallen race, God’s spiritual indwelling isn’t automatic. That is, we have to ask for it. We are born into the same “lost” condition that Adam and Eve inhabited between the time they sinned and the time they received Yahweh’s remedy—donning the animal skins He had prepared to cover their nakedness.
Yahshua explained to Nicodemus that one’s neshamah must be indwelled with God’s Spirit if he is to be spiritually alive, just as he is biologically alive only if a nephesh/soul indwells his body. He said, “Unless one is born again [literally, from above], he cannot see the kingdom of God…. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit…. You must be born again [in order to be spiritually alive]. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:3, 6-8) That is, although the Spirit that renders one’s soul alive and immortal cannot be seen or measured, it will nevertheless leave evidence of its presence in the life of the one who has been reborn. That evidence (we learn elsewhere) is love—provided, of course, that the Spirit within him is Yahweh’s. (It is also possible to be “born from below,” so to speak, in Satan’s spirit, which explains why Yahshua referred to the scribes’ and Pharisees’ spiritual source of as “your father the devil” in John 8:44.)
Being “born again” in Yahweh’s Spirit is, for all intents and purposes, our equivalent to Adam and Eve’s donning of His animal-skin remedy for their sin. It is receiving God’s solution to our fallen condition. But how does one “put on the animal skins” in today’s world? How can we reconnect with God, covering the naked shame of our sins? Yahshua explained that, too: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life…. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:16, 18) Follow the train of thought here. We are saved from our sinful condition in exactly the same way Adam and Eve were: through belief in—reliance upon, acceptance of—the efficacy of Yahweh’s sacrifice, recognizing the inadequacy of our own efforts (our fig-leaf garments, so to speak). Note that Christ confirms here what I noted above: that we are all “born lost,” born into a state of “condemnation.” (Greek krino: we start out judicially distinct from those who have been declared innocent before God according to a legal standard). Then as now, only innocence can cover guilt, and only belief in God’s sacrificial remedy can apply that innocence to our lives, declaring us to be innocent.
The key to the “human condition,” then, is the role the neshamah plays in our destiny—our capacity for spiritual life. In a manner of speaking, it’s the “God-shaped vacuum” within us of which Pascal spoke—the thing common to Man that compels us to worship, to be in awe of creation, to wonder why we’re here, and to seek meaning and purpose in our lives. It manifests itself as our conscience—that inbred knowledge of right from wrong that we all seem to possess from the womb. Even though we disrespect it on occasion, whether accidentally or purposely, at some level we all know what it is to “do the right thing.” In fact, “not knowing what you did was wrong” is the only basis allowed for an insanity defense in a court of law.
It has been said that without God, there would be no reason for atheists to exist. But actually, it’s the neshamah within each of us that drives us to “take sides” on the issue of deity’s existence or Yahweh’s sovereignty. I’m pretty sure groundhogs and garden slugs don’t give the issue much thought. That is, they simply know—their relationship with their Creator is not “second nature,” it’s just nature. “Ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of Yahweh has done this? In His hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.” (Job 12:7-10)
Let us then examine a few other instances of the word neshamah in the Hebrew Scriptures in an effort to determine what it is and how it works. Solomon writes, “The spirit [neshamah] of a man is the lamp of Yahweh, searching all the inner depths of his heart.” (Proverbs 20:27) What does a lamp do? It helps us see things that would otherwise be obscured, hidden in the darkness. The lamp of Yahweh would take that to the next level, allowing us to discern the true nature of these hidden things, both the pitfalls and the opportunities. And where is this “lamp” stationed? In the heart of man. The prophet writes, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it? I, Yahweh, search the heart; I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10) As I said, the neshamah functions as our conscience. We ignore it at our peril, and violate it to our detriment.
“Let everything that has breath [neshamah] praise Yahweh.” (Psalm 150:6) As we have seen, of all God’s creatures, only man “has the neshamah.” That is, only he has the privilege of choice, the gift of free will, the capacity for endless spiritual life. That’s a good news-bad news story, however. The Psalmist here is pleading with mankind to praise Yahweh because we have the unique ability not to. Man can, if he chooses, reject God’s love and spit on His salvation. The rest of creation has no such capacity: “For you [the participant in Yahweh’s covenant] shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace. The mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55:12) The rocks will cry out in praise, and the trees will applaud their Creator, for it is in their nature to do so. But only neshamah-equipped man, in all of creation, has the capacity to reciprocate God’s love—or withhold it. If love is not voluntary, it isn’t love at all.
The Book of Job is the oldest writing in scripture, dating from about the time of Abraham. Job and his contemporaries seemed quite familiar with the neshamah and its function. For example, Job’s young friend Elihu says, “The Spirit [ruach] of God has made me, and the breath [neshamah] of the Almighty gives me life.” (Job 33:4) His point, in context, is that he has a right to speak out, despite his youth: his spiritual relationship with God, he says, gives his opinions and observations weight. He is no dumb, spiritless animal, and therefore perhaps Job should heed his words. In a fascinating and often overlooked twist, we note that Elihu was not excoriated by God along with Job’s other “miserable comforters,” Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, at the end of the book. So maybe young Elihu had a point: if one’s neshamah has been quickened and filled with the Holy Spirit, he is less likely to make a fool of himself—though we’re all a long, long way from omniscience. It is as Solomon said: “The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10) It may only be “the beginning” of wisdom, but we must begin somewhere.
Job, in his distress, could only protest that it was his intention to serve Yahweh with a whole heart as long as he lived. “As long as my breath [neshamah] is in me, and the breath [ruach] of God in my nostrils, my lips will not speak wickedness, nor my tongue utter deceit.” (Job 27:3-4) Between the lines, we can detect Job’s understanding that his integrity is not based on his own effort or determination, but upon the Spirit of God dwelling within him, within (and as a function of) his neshamah. The human condition puts us in a peculiar position: while we draw breath, we are free to praise God and reciprocate His love for us, but our mortal lives also make sin a possibility. After we die, we will sin no more—a state I, for one, am anticipating with alacrity. But Job has revealed the solution to our quest for sinlessness in this life: the Spirit of God inhabiting our neshamah—the breath of life within us. David said roughly the same thing when he wrote, “For You have delivered my soul from death. Have You not kept my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living?” (Psalm 56:13)
Another observation from Elihu points out how critical the neshamah is to the corporate life of the human race upon the earth. “If He [God] should set His heart on it, if He should gather to Himself His Spirit [ruach] and His breath [neshamah], all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.” (Job 34:14) The implication is that if no one’s neshamah was indwelled with Yahweh’s Spirit, the human race would soon disappear from the earth. Hysterical rhetoric? Actually, no. Something very close to that scenario took place at the time of the great flood, and is prophesied to recur during the Last Days:
First we are told, “And now you know what is restraining, that he [the Antichrist] may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.” (II Thessalonians 2:6-8) The “restrainer” referred to here is none other than the Holy Spirit who indwells those of us who rely upon Christ’s sacrifice for our salvation. But He cannot be “taken out of the way” while the church still dwells upon the earth. Why? Because of Yahshua’s promise: “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17) Forever means forever.
But the church (represented by the fellowship at Philadelphia—see Revelation 3:7-13) will be removed from the earth at some point, taking the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit with it (as promised). Thus Elihu’s premise that “If He should gather to Himself His Spirit [ruach] and His breath” [neshamah] will come dangerously close to fruition at the rapture. As Yahshua informed us, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved [just as Elihu warned us: ‘All flesh would perish together’]; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.” (Matthew 24:21-22) These “elect” are represented by the belatedly awakened Israel and the church of Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22), those who will come to faith only after the rapture of the Philadelphian church (who are to be “kept out of the hour of trial which is to come upon the whole earth”). Laodicea is comprised of those who will (tardily, I’m afraid) take Yahshua’s counsel to acquire gold purified in the crucible of tribulation, the white garments of imputed righteousness, and the eye salve of truth—even though it will spell martyrdom for many of them.
The reason so many of the neo-Laodicean believers will be martyred (see Revelation 7:9-17) is that after the rapture, the world will be run virtually without opposition by people whose neshamah is either (1) uninhabited by any spiritual entity—making them mere spiritless “humanimals”—or worse (2) indwelled with demonic spirits. But I have reason to believe that by the end of the Great Tribulation, everyone on earth who’s still alive will have invited one spirit or the other (i.e., either Yahweh’s or Satan’s) to inhabit their neshamah. (Obviously, they won’t characterize this spiritual indwelling in those terms, but that’s precisely what’s going on.) No one will be a mere “human animal” any longer—God will force everyone to make a choice, to get off the fence, to fulfill his purpose for man or choose not to, for better or for worse.
Daniel describes the timing and conditions of the end of the age: “It shall be for a time, times, and half a time; and when the power of the holy people has been completely shattered, all these things shall be finished.” (Daniel 12:7) That is, for the last three and a half years of man’s reign on the earth, the newly redeemed will have no power, no voice, and no influence over the course of events. Since God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness (see II Corinthians 12:9), Yahweh’s awesome glory will be revealed as never before during these dark days. And the times will force the issue: receive Yahweh’s Spirit, or Satan’s. There is no middle ground. (For the whole story, see The End of the Beginning, elsewhere on this website.)
Unregenerate man doesn’t want to hear it, but our race was created by Yahweh for His own pleasure and purpose—in a word, to love. The “problem” is that love requires choice: if no alternative is possible, the concept of love is meaningless. That is why God has allowed sin to coexist with righteousness for the past six thousand years: to provide an environment in which free will can operate. I realize it sounds counterintuitive, but think about it: the concept of man choosing to have a relationship with God requires the opportunity to reject Him. That’s the reason God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. Neither angels nor animals may choose to disregard or disobey their Creator—animals don’t have the capacity, and angels, though capable, don’t have permission. (That is, demons are treasonous deserters, not opponents; they’re like insubordinate soldiers headed for a life sentence in the brig.)
So the Psalmist implores us to choose wisely: “Know that Yahweh, He is God! It is He who made us, and we are His. We are His people, and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him; bless His name! For Yahweh is good. His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100:3-5) You say you didn’t see a choice implied there? Consider the alternative, for it’s something the fallen world screams at us incessantly: “Ignore the idea that there is a Creator God named Yahweh. Nobody made us—we just evolved by accident. Nobody owns us, and nobody takes care of us (except maybe the government), so we aren’t obliged to be thankful or loving. There’s no such thing as an absolute standard of right or wrong, so do whatever feels good—whatever gets you what you think you want.”
For some unknown reason, the more “educated” people are today, the less willing they seem to be to honor the God who made them. Part of it is pride—the idea that because you’ve got a piece of paper hanging on your wall that says you’re smart, you must be smart. But wisdom says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.” (Proverbs 16:18-19) (Oh, and don’t try to tell me how smart you are until you’ve paid off your student loans.)
If, after years of higher education, you don’t “know that Yahweh is God,” then somebody has been hiding the truth from you—and you’re so gullible you’ve bought the lies. I realize you can’t prove the existence of a spirit, but the sheer mathematical improbability of the living human body attests beyond the shadow of a doubt that a super-intelligent Mind is behind it all. David acknowledges this: “For You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Psalm 139:13-14) It doesn’t take a PhD in microbiology or genetics to figure this out. All it takes is an open mind.
But if you’ve bought into “scientific” fairy tales of spontaneous generation of life and upward progress through evolution, then know that “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 16:25) And as for those who try to enhance their own academic reputations by teaching fables to eager young minds, remember the words of Christ: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42) You’ve been warned.
The human condition as we know it is defined by the fact that we have a moral nature—we intrinsically know the difference between right and wrong. But at the same time, we are a “fallen” race. That is, having been given free will, we have chosen to defy our Creator. This is true on two different levels. First, our entire species is corrupt because of the sin of Adam—through which the neshamah of our entire race was emptied of the Spirit of Yahweh, meaning we are now “born lost,” as I explained above. Our “default” position is that we have the capacity for spiritual indwelling, but no actual Spirit present to render our souls permanently alive. If that doesn’t sound quite fair to you, then consider the second level of our moral culpability: each individual human has also personally fallen short of Yahweh’s standard for our holiness and behavior: we do not lead perfect lives before God, or at least, none of us ever has (with one exception, of course).
It doesn’t really matter by which expression of God’s standard you choose to measure yourself. We have fallen short of all of them. The most specific, of course, is the Torah (the so-called “Law of Moses”), which, as Peter admitted, is a burden nobody—not even the most serious Jew, steeped in the Torah from his youth—has ever been able to bear (Acts 15:10). The least specific (because it isn’t really codified) is our conscience—that little voice within us that tells us “this is the right thing to do,” or “this is wrong.” Every single one of us has violated his conscience sometime in his life.
In between the two is the rule of man—laws that we agree are beneficial to society, statutes that we all tacitly agree to abide by. Or even if we don’t think they’re just, we at least agree that the government has the power to enforce these laws by imposing penalties for their infraction. For example: my wife has been driving for half a century. In all that time, she has gotten one traffic ticket. One. In the eyes of the law, then, she is a lawbreaker, a sinner, one who has fallen short of perfection—just like me (someone who has gotten, let’s just say, more than one). But here’s the rub. Even if someone drives their whole life and never gets a single traffic citation, can he or she claim to be “perfect” behind the wheel? Not really. Have you ever driven 46 miles per hour in a 45 zone? Have you ever slowed to 1 MPH—instead of stopping completely—at a boulevard stop? Have you ever made a lane change without signaling at least 100 feet ahead? Have you ever driven a car with a tire that has insufficient tread depth remaining? Keeping the rules—even if you agree with them—is not as easy as it looks.
Yahweh has taken great pains to inform us of our predicament—and what to do about it. But sometimes we have to sort out His symbols if we hope to comprehend His truth. For example, in Leviticus 13 and 14, He rambles on to the point of ennui identifying “leprosy” (a catch-all term for a whole range of infections or infestations), teaching Israel how to deal with it. But although there are a few practical instructions for keeping the congregation as healthy as possible, the fact is that no Israelite leper (to our knowledge) was ever cured of the disease under the rules of the Torah—until Yahshua showed up. This should tell us that something else is going on with these rules. “Leprosy,” it turns out, is a metaphor for sin—a debilitating, potentially contagious condition that will kill us all in the end if we don’t find a cure.
The Leviticus passage, strangely enough, doesn’t spell out how to cure “leprosy,” though it is clear that it can be (presumably by God’s grace). Rather, the emphasis in chapter 13 is how to identify it, and in chapter 14, how to ritually pronounce a former leper to be clean, so that he may rejoin society. I covered the particulars in depth in The Owner’s Manual (elsewhere on this website), so I won’t rehash them here. But I would like to point out how one facet of this interminable law of leprosy pictures a permanent cure for the human condition. We read, “And on the eighth day he [the cleansed leper] shall take two male lambs without blemish, one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish, three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil as a grain offering, and one log of oil.” (Leviticus 14:10)
There are three lambs—and three different types of offering. The ewe lamb was an olah, a “burnt offering,” a sign of pure homage and thanksgiving to Yahweh for our cleansing. (And if I may read between the lines, the fact that the lamb is female may be an indication that Yahweh’s ruach qodesh—His indwelling Holy Spirit—is specifically in view.) But the revealing thing here is the disposition of the other two lambs—both males (prophetically indicating Yahshua’s sacrifice).
The first one is an asham (a “trespass offering”), which is normally offered to cover lapses in holiness. This would therefore reflect our cleansing from our fallen condition as children of Adam. “For as by a man came death, by a Man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (I Corinthians 15:21-22)
But the other lamb is called a chata’t (a “sin offering”). This time the cleansed leper’s own sins, his personal lapses in behavior, are in view. The point of offering both types of sacrifices is that we are not only condemned by our fallen nature (making us incapable of avoiding the mistakes that prove us unworthy to stand in the presence of a holy God), but we’re also damned by our own sins—things we can’t logically blame on Adam: our own bites of forbidden fruit, as it were. Yahshua’s sacrifice atones for both types of guilt. As Solomon said, “Though I have searched repeatedly, I have not found what I was looking for. Only one out of a thousand men is virtuous, but not one woman! But I did find this: God created people to be virtuous, but they have each turned to follow their own downward path.” (Ecclesiastes 7:28-29 NLT) Something tells me Sol was being overly generous to the men.
Notice that this all happens on “the eighth day.” The first seven days of the procedure declaring the leper to have been cleansed represent what goes on during the tenure of man upon the earth—the seven thousand years of humanity, as predicted in the creation account and the Sabbath law. The eighth day, then, represents what comes afterward: in the eternal state. The lesson is that if we have been freed from our sinful condition (both positionally and personally) the blood of the Lamb (Christ) will enable us to be a part of the congregation of the righteous, standing as redeemed saints before Yahweh, forever.
It can come as something of a relief for some (an epiphany for others) to realize that nothing about the human condition has taken our Creator by surprise. He knew we would sin—fall short of the mark of perfection—before He ever endowed us with free will. But He did it anyway—preparing in advance what would be needed to rebuild the bridge between us that we had burned. “Yahweh looks down from heaven; He sees all the children of man. From where He sits enthroned He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, He who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds.” (Psalm 33:13-14) But He doesn’t just observe. He takes an active role in our redemption, though always allowing us to choose our own destiny.
In the Garden, He provided the skins of innocent animals to cover the shame of Adam and Eve—but only after providing fig trees with nice big leaves that looked like they may get the job done: the opportunity for choice. In securing Israel’s freedom from Egypt, He presented the same sort of choice in different terms: sacrifice the Passover Lamb or negotiate with Pharaoh yourself—something that hadn’t worked any better for Israel over the previous four centuries than the fig leaves did for Adam. Of course, these examples (and many more) were mere dress rehearsals for the definitive “performance” of God’s love and provision. At Calvary, we were presented with the final and definitive choice: embrace and rely upon God’s sacrifice of His only begotten Son as the remedy for our sins, or continue doing what clearly hadn’t worked for us since the dawn of history—trying to provide our own cure to our own sorry human condition.
Job’s friend Eliphaz asks an interesting question: “Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker? Even in His servants He puts no trust, and His angels He charges with error. How much more those who dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed like the moth.” (Job 4:17-19) We’ve already discussed how angels—who do not possess the free will afforded to mankind by the “breath of God,” the neshamah—can still rebel against Yahweh (like foot soldiers refusing to obey the orders of their commanding officer). Eliphaz realizes (as David did in Psalm 8) that mankind is a race inferior to angels (here it’s the Hebrew malak—spirit messengers). We’re mortal, corrupt, and destined to return to the dust from which our bodies were made. His mistake is in presuming that Job’s afflictions were due to some flaw in his performance before God—as if he (Eliphaz) were doing a better job, which explained why he wasn’t himself sitting in an ash heap scraping boils with a potsherd. It wouldn’t be until the end of the book that Yahweh explained the real reason for Job’s sorrows (which, let’s face it, are common to man): “You aren’t God.”
Well, when You put it like that, we’re forced (or should be) to look at ourselves in a whole new light, in which we find we’re not quite as good-looking as we thought we were. The fact is, our salvation—from any predicament—is not within our power to procure. Our only recourse in the end is to do what Job himself did: “Then Job answered Yahweh and said: ‘I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, “Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak. You said, “I will question you, and you shall answer [Hebrew yada—literally “know”] Me.” I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.’” (Job 42:1-6) If we had any idea how great and loving our God is, if we had the smallest inkling of how miraculous his provision for us truly is, we too would repent in dust and ashes. I myself feel like a total idiot for taking Yahweh for granted as I so often do.
That being said, there is a fine line between “taking Yahweh for granted” and holding an unshakable faith concerning my destiny in Him. As Job said, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth. And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27) Job’s subsequent personal encounter with Yahweh (apparently in the form of a theophany) was not quite what he had envisioned, though what he described here does agree with what we know of our resurrection bodies (as described in I Corinthians 15 and elsewhere). The question remains, will (or should) our reaction to seeing our risen Lord be materially different from what Job’s response was, just because we will already have been transformed into the immortal state when it happens? Will our spiritual vindication outweigh our appropriate self-loathing because we will have left the human condition behind at that point?
I, for one, am counting on Him to “wipe ever tear from my eyes” (Revelation 21:4)—especially tears of regret for my having failed Him so often. But the essence of our “work” in this age (“belief in Him whom Yahweh sent”—John 6:29) includes believing that what He accomplished on Calvary actually did separate us from our sins. David reminds us, “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so Yahweh pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:11-14) But we must bear in mind that the time for repentance is now—in the state in which we find ourselves. The day is coming—and soon—when the Sabbath of man’s tenure upon the earth will preclude the exercise of faith, for we shall walk by sight in the physical presence of our Lord and King.
We (okay, I) usually cut off Job’s hopeful quote in mid-paragraph. But there’s more to it. His whole argument is based on the fact that none of us has the right to judge a brother—especially on the basis of his material circumstances, as if God’s hatred and punishment of the poor and infirm explains their plight, but the rich and healthy got that way because He loves and rewards them. It doesn’t work that way. Job’s “miserable comforters” assumed he was suffering because of some hidden sin in his life. But having declared his living expectation in a blessed immortal destiny, Job answered his detractors: “If you should say, ‘How shall we persecute him?’—since the root of the matter is found in me—be afraid of the sword for yourselves. For wrath brings the punishment of the sword, that you may know there is a judgment.” (Job 19:28-29) His point is that even as there is a glorious immortal future awaiting the redeemed of Yahweh, so also is there wrath and judgment in the future for those who reject His grace—if not in this life, then in the next. God may be patient, and His timetable may seem maddeningly slow to us, but in the end—and on His own schedule—He will right all wrongs, settle all debts, and balance all accounts.
In the meantime, there is a reason He allows sin to run its course in the world: “When the wicked spring up like grass, and when all the workers of iniquity flourish, it is that they may be destroyed forever.” (Psalm 92:7) David explains why this is so: it is encouragement to us who choose to live godly lives (even if we don’t always get it right). “They [the wicked] are brought to ruin, with their own tongues turned against them; all who see them will wag their heads. Then all mankind fears; they tell what God has brought about and ponder what He has done.” (Psalm 64:8-9) It should come as no surprise that the wicked often succeed in this world. But their “prosperity” is due solely to the fact that they don’t care who they step on in order to reach their short term objectives. It is their choice to suppress conscience, deny the laws of God and man, and withhold mercy and justice in order to realize their carnal desires. Their lusts, however, never endure past death; their goals are mocked by the grave.
It is said that a tiny minority—only three to five percent of a populace—can take over a nation if they don’t have any qualms about murdering their law abiding opponents. It has happened many times throughout history—Muhammad’s Muslims in Arabia, Lenin’s Communists in Russia, and Hitler’s Nazis in Germany, for example. But God admonishes us to take the long view—His view. The prosperity of the wicked is only temporary, but their destruction is eternal. We, meanwhile, are instructed to “ponder what He has done.” The tricky part, of course, is sorting out the “wicked” from the “redeemed,” because we all sin; we all fall short of God’s standards of holiness and behavior. In some ways, we all look alike. As Isaiah wrote, “Man is humbled, and each one is brought low, and the eyes of the haughty are brought low. But Yahweh of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows Himself holy in righteousness.” (Isaiah 5:15-16) Remarkably, we can be a participant in Yahweh’s exaltation, but we must receive His holiness on His terms, and from His hand—we cannot seize it for ourselves.
So we are presented two different—seemingly contradictory—points of view in scripture: (1) the righteous will prosper while the wicked will not, and (2) the wicked often seem to prosper, while the righteous suffer for their faith. Both premises are true, but they operate in different time frames: the blessings of the righteous are eternal, while the prosperity of the wicked is temporal—and temporary. We’re quite familiar, of course, with the errant mindset of Job’s comforters, who presumed that one’s health and welfare in this world was an infallible sign of God’s favor, and that Job must be suffering because he had become a wicked man. However reasonable that may sound, we now know it to be a deduction one cannot logically make (never mind the “health and wealth” heresy preached from so many pulpits today). Job’s woes were in the end revealed to be a test—with a valuable lesson attached for a hundred subsequent generations of believers.
The Bible spends a great deal of time warning us that the prosperity of the wicked is an illusion, a temporary circumstance that cannot be maintained without bloodshed and falsehood. Solomon writes, “Do not be envious of evil men, nor desire to be with them; for their heart devises violence, and their lips talk of troublemaking…. Do not fret because of evildoers, nor be envious of the wicked; for there will be no prospect for the evil man. The lamp of the wicked will be put out.” (Proverbs 24:1-2, 19-20) His father David had said something quite similar: “Do not fret because of evildoers, nor be envious of the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.” (Psalm 37:1-2) “Soon” may take a lifetime to bring to fruition, but what is seventy or eighty years when compared with eternity?
It may seem counterintuitive, but we are warned that the time to worry is when everything is looking rosy, when we face no opposition. Yahshua warned us, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26) If some people don’t hate what we have to say, then we’re probably not telling the truth loudly enough. And as the end of the age approaches, we can expect the world to be completely upside down: “Know this, that in the last days perilous times will come. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!...” Who could deny that these things are in evidence today as never before? “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (II Timothy 3:1-5, 12-13)
The bottom line is that one’s temporal circumstances at any given moment are neither a reliable indicator of God’s favor nor of His disapproval. Not only is it none of our business to “judge” the spiritual status of our fellow man (whether on the basis of his prosperity or by any other metric), it is a dangerous policy to try to judge our own spiritual condition by the girth of our wallets, our popularity, health, or any other measure of success. Remember: the “evil men and impostors” about whom Paul warned Timothy will both deceive and be deceived: they don’t have a clue what’s really going on. There isn’t any correlation, one way or another, between our worldly circumstances and our spiritual condition. We are to merely examine our own hearts, thank Yahweh for his provision, petition Him for our needs, and bless those God has placed in our path as He has blessed us.
The human condition—free will being exercised by a fallen race—can lead us to some very strange places. How many times have you heard someone say, “All this ‘God’ stuff is fine for you Christians if you need a crutch to get you through the day, but I don’t need it. I’m just fine the way I am.” Just because God has made it a matter of choice as to whether or not we’ll trust Him for our salvation—or to believe that He even exists—it does not logically follow that one can be “just fine” without Him.
As I said, we are all “born lost.” Therefore, it should come as no particular surprise that we don’t find being lost particularly strange or frightening. But we are also born with the potential for spiritual life (what Yahshua called being “born again” or “born from above”) that compels us to seek meaning and purpose in our lives—something unique to our species. It seems to me that our default condition, that of “lostness” or spiritual emptiness, was designed by our Creator to teach us that we’re incomplete without Him. We are supposed to feel vaguely uncomfortable if we’re living like mere animals, driven only by primeval urges like finding food or mates or shelter—scratching the itch, as it were.
These animalistic urges often manifest themselves in our world as ambition, greed, or narcissism—the psychological “need” to impress and dominate our peers in our careers or interpersonal relationships. Or failing at that, we revert to “survival mode,” in which satiating our immediate desires and short-term lusts—whatever their object—is how we spend our days. But either way, we’re programmed to find such a life somehow unsatisfying and unfulfilling. Our Creator has designed us to discern that “There must be something more to life than this.” But what is it? What are we missing? As we’ve seen, it’s the spiritual component that was designed to complete us, transform us, and make us “living souls.”
Unfortunately, most people mistake this phenomenon for religion, which is either a placebo or an outright counterfeit of that which we seek. I’m speaking of religion in the broadest possible terms here: not so much adherence to a moral code or observance of certain rituals and holidays as a means by which mankind thinks he may approach God, but a belief system invented by man as an attempt to fill that empty space within our souls in which God’s Spirit is meant to reside. The problem with religion is that it masks the spiritual longing within us; it masquerades as the “something more” our humanity was craving. The “natural” or “carnal” man can easily discern something is missing in his life; the “religious” person not so much, for he has forced a six-sided peg in to a seven-sided hole, so to speak. It doesn’t fit, but it looks sort of like it should have.
The dichotomy between religion and spiritual indwelling can be really hard to sort out, however, because they both appear to begin at the same place: the word of God. Or perhaps I should say “the word of a god—with a small “g.” What I’m getting at is that our religions—our belief systems—follow a variety of deities, and they don’t all resemble the Judeo-Christian God, the One revealed in the Bible. As the world stands today, there are four broad “religious traditions,” each of which claims 21-22% of the world’s population, and each of which (for different reasons) has proved itself unable to fill the human need for spiritual life.
(1) The Religion of Denial is atheism, agnosticism, secular humanism, etc. Their “god” is Nothing, Blind Chance, Fate, or the Will of Man—i.e., not a traditional deity, but one in which they place their trust nevertheless. Their “scriptures” are the collective expression of human wisdom, the “way that seems right to a man, whose end is the way of death” (as Solomon put it in Proverbs 16:25). The entire humanist endeavor depends on situational ethics—moral relativism (as opposed to moral absolutism in which there is an unconditional, unchanging standard of right and wrong). The theory is that if there is no God, there must be no such thing as sin—never mind what your conscience is telling you. There is therefore no moral foundation for justice; law is therefore merely a contrivance for cultural convenience.
(2) The Religion of Despair is comprised of the broad swath of “Eastern religions”—Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and a plethora of spin-off religious philosophies. They range from polytheistic to pantheistic to atheistic to monotheistic, but they all have one thing in common: they offer no plausible solution to the central fact of the human condition—sin. Their “moral code” consists of following the dictates of one’s conscience, but there is no remedy for having failed to do so, as they acknowledge we all have at one time or another. Since most of these religions incorporate some permutation of reincarnation, the best one can hope for is permanent death—merciful release from the endless cycle of birth, life, and death. They literally have nothing to look forward to.
(3) The Religion of Death—Islam—purports to be a monotheistic religion whose god is Allah, but it is in fact a violent and acquisitive political doctrine whose goal is to dominate the Earth. Its “scriptures” include the Qur’an (supposedly the very words of Allah), the Sunnah (i.e., “example”), the biographies of Muhammad, and the Hadith (the “Sayings of the Prophet”). There is a moral/legal code in Islam, but it can’t be derived from the Qur’an (except for the oft-repeated command to engage in jihad—constant and compulsory warfare intended to subjugate the world). “Sharia law,” in contrast, is strictly man-made doctrine: it must be cobbled together piecemeal from the Hadith and Sunnah; in other words, it is purely a reflection of what Muhammad did and said—which in the final analysis was nothing more than the single-minded pursuit of power, sex, and money, fueled by jealousy, lust, narcissism, and a thirst for revenge. There is no mechanism for the atonement for sin in Islam, and the only “goal” (besides the booty you can steal in this earth) is the promise of Paradise—a realm of unending debauchery promised exclusively to those few jihad fighters who kill and are slain pursuing the “cause of Allah.” (And I do mean few. Muhammad declared that the total capacity of Paradise was only 70,000 souls.)
(4) The Religion of Compromise is what I’d call “liturgical Christianity.” It is Christianity as a religion (as opposed to a simple relationship with Yahweh through Yahshua the Messiah). Although it is ostensibly founded on Biblical principles, the traditions and authority of man are given equal (or greater) weight. By far its largest contingent is Roman Catholicism, though it is also found in Orthodox Christianity and several Protestant denominations. Although not entirely apostate, it has been the home of serious flaws in Christianity virtually since the beginning of the church age. It is described in Christ’s prophetic letters to the church in Revelation 2 and 3 as the component in need of repentance in Ephesus, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, and pre-repentant lukewarm Laodicea. Only the church under persecution (Smyrna) and the faithful church of the next-to-last days (Philadelphia) are spared His rebuke. Christ’s essential complaint against these folks is that they have, one way or another, compromised with the world. It’s not merely style or cultural issues, either. We’re talking about incorporating doctrine and practice from non-Biblical sources—paganism, humanism, new-age philosophy, folk religions, even Islam. It’s not just error; it’s idolatry—the insidious leaven of corruption. It’s a purposeful attempt to merge man’s ideas with God’s, to blend Babylon with the Biblical truth. The Religion of Compromise is the antithesis of holiness: its proponents are not separate from the world (as Christ commanded us to be), but are wading hip deep in it.
As I said, all of these profiles are, demographically speaking, quite evenly matched in today’s world, at 21-22% of our planet’s seven billion-plus souls. The remaining 14% consists of Evangelical (a.k.a. “fundamentalist”) Christianity, Judaism (never more than 0.2%), and a motley assortment of cults and sects that don’t fall within the “big four.” Man is indeed a “religious” animal—that is, he invariably answers the voice inside him telling him to worship something, if only himself or a figment of his own imagination. It’s just the way we’re wired.
As “scriptures” go, Bible has by far the largest influence on what men believe. Not only is it the basis of both liturgical and evangelical Christianity as well as Judaism and a plethora of quasi-Christian cults (even if they don’t really know or believe what it teaches), it is also the foundation (in a distant, twisted sort of way) of Islam. You see, after Muhammad fled from Mecca at the point of a sword, he and a few followers ended up in Yathrib (now called Medina). Three of the five tribes populating the town were Jewish, though whom Muhammad (a pagan) was exposed to teachings from the Talmud—which is based (all too loosely) on the Tanakh—the Torah, Psalms, and Prophets: the Old Testament. That’s why we see “Bible” characters like Adam, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Jacob, Ishmael, Esau, Joseph, Moses, and Pharaoh showing up in the Qur’an. Of course, the Jews of Yathrib rejected and ridiculed Muhammad’s messianic aspirations, earning them the undying and irrational hatred of Muslims down to this very day. (He hated Christians as well, for the “prophet” envied us with every fiber of his being.)
So easily half of the world’s population is directly influenced—whether positively or negatively—by the Bible. And a cursory reading of scripture might lead one to the conclusion that God is interested only in Israel and the church. But this is a misconception borne of religion—which I’d define as man’s search for God (as opposed to God’s outreach to mankind, the Bible’s real subject). As Christ prepared to make the supreme sacrifice, He revealed who His “target audience” was supposed to be: everyone. “‘And I, if I am lifted up from the earth [a reference to crucifixion], will draw all peoples to Myself.’ This He said, signifying by what death He would die.” (John 12:32-33) “All peoples” takes the intended beneficiary of his sacrifice beyond the bounds of Israel: it’s the whole world.
Those who receive Him are defined as the church (the Greek ekklesia, literally, the “called-out”). The church (in its true sense) is not a religious organization at all, but an invitation to every living human to become reconciled to our Creator-God through the elimination of what separates us—our sin. Israel, meanwhile, was more than just the vehicle by which Yahweh’s salvation would be delivered to the earth. It was also recruited as a symbolic microcosm of humanity. What happened in and to Israel was recorded as a graduate-level course in The Human Condition. If we cut this class, we will have very poor comprehension of our true situation before God. Of course, Israel is also a real family, with a real relationship with the Creator. His promises to her, and their fulfillments, are undeniable testimony to His willingness and ability to keep His word. We ignore Israel to our detriment; we attack her to our destruction.
My point is that Yahweh is not only interested in Israel and/or the church. He is reaching out to the entire human race—through them. His desire is that no one would perish in their sins, although the privilege of free will that He bestowed upon us makes the choice of whether we live or die ours, not His. When He instructs Israel, He is admonishing all of us; when He addresses the church, His intention is to “draw all men to Himself.” The Psalmist says, “Yahweh looks from heaven. He sees all the sons of men. From the place of His dwelling He looks on all the inhabitants of the earth. He fashions their hearts individually. He considers all their works.” (Psalm 33:13-15) This is a most remarkable thing to say, considering how infinitesimally small our planet is in relation to the vast universe in which we reside, and how insignificant we humans are as we scamper about upon its surface. Logic would tell us that we’re inconsequential—that if there is a God, He surely must have better things to do than to consider our puny race, never mind relate to us as individuals. As David asks, “O Yahweh, what is man that you regard him, or the son of man that You think of him? Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.” (Psalm 144:3-4)
And yet, the Human Condition drives mankind to seek God, for we intuitively know that life alone begets life, so there must be Something out there that has life within itself—within Himself. As we have seen, over three quarters of the world’s population actively seeks God (though we don’t remotely agree on who He is or what He’s like). And the remaining 21-22%? What does the atheistic secular humanist have to say about it? As Shakespeare would put it, “he doth protest too much, methinks.” Their vociferous insistence that God does not exist (implying in turn that sin is an illusion) betrays a lurking subconscious fear—an uncomfortable suspicion that He does indeed exist, and worse, that He is interested in the affairs of men, and worse still, that He is the source of the morals and standards by which most humans somehow know they should live.
So David, who wasn’t noted for his political correctness, says, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They [these fools] are corrupt; they have done abominable works; there is none who does good. Yahweh looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside; they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one. Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call on Yahweh? There they are in great fear, for God is with the generation of the righteous.” (Psalm 14:1-5) While it is true that none of us—even those who seek God—are sinless, and that none of us is “righteous” in his own strength (see Romans 3:10-18), we can be “accounted as righteous” as Abraham was, and for the same reason—our trust in God’s word. But the foolish person who denies the existence of God is described here as corrupt, ignorant, apostate, evil, and, as I observed above, living in abject fear that God actually does exist, and that He cares about humanity. Notice two things here: (1) Their “fear” is occasioned by the testimony (whether spoken or merely “lived out”) of the “generation of the righteous”—those who honor Yahweh; and (2) David identifies these fools, these “workers of iniquity” who “do not call on Yahweh,” by their propensity for attacking God’s people—Christian believers and Jews.
I imagine it must sting a bit for your Maker to call you an ignorant fool, especially since atheists imagine themselves to be wise, witty, highly educated, and intellectually superior to God-fearing folk. Paul describes the secular humanist pickle: “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man.” (Romans 1:22-23) Claiming to be wise does not make it so. That would be a definition of pride. No, it is as Solomon reminds us: “The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10)
Although it would seem a foreign concept to most people, Yahweh actually wants us to be wise—to gain in understanding and comprehension—for the better we know His ways, the more godly and loving we will be. (Islam’s Allah, meanwhile, demands submission and bloodshed, the Hindu gods ostensibly seek appeasement, and the atheists’ “god” asks nothing of them. Yahweh alone encourages “growth in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man.” Because He loves us, He wants us to become better people than we were.) “Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice?... To you, O men, I [Wisdom] call, and my cry is to the children of man. O simple ones, learn prudence; O fools, learn sense.” (Proverbs 8:1, 4-5) Yahweh’s path to wisdom is to revere Him, to strive to understand what He has revealed about Himself—information that comes not from human logic and deduction, nor from wishful thinking, but from careful consideration of His revealed word, or even from observing what He has made.
Call me overly excitable, but I find it hard to consider anything in the natural world—from single-celled bacteria to vast galaxies—and not conclude that their Creator is awesome. Was it just because I was trained as an artist that I can perceive such beauty in everything that man didn’t make? Or is it merely wisdom borne of a healthy reverence for Yahweh? Job’s young friend Elihu gives us some good advice: “Remember to extol His work, of which men have sung. All mankind has looked on it; man beholds it from afar.” (Job 36:24-25) The testimony of God’s greatness is written in the skies, and all men (not just Christians or Jews) are held responsible to notice the magnificence of Creation.
And when are we to do this? God’s word constantly reminds us that we are mortal: there is a time limit to our tenure upon the earth—both as individuals and as a race of created beings. We would therefore be wise to “extol His work” at the earliest possible opportunity. As Solomon says, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before…the dust [your human frame] returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1, 7) Yahshua gets more specific with the same truth: “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” (Luke 18:16-17) It’s not that repentance leading to salvation is impossible once someone grows old, but the faith that must be exercised in order to do so is a child’s faith. “Grown-up” strategies don’t work: one cannot work, scheme, calculate, buy, or even reason himself into the kingdom of heaven. He must simply believe.
The human condition—the privilege of choice exercised by a fallen race—endures from conception until the end of one’s mortal life, and we never know how long that’s going to be. Alas, these days, one is fortunate if he lives long enough to even see the “days of his youth,” for one child out of every four is murdered in the womb before he or she can even see the light of day. This appalling fact brings into focus something Yahweh is very serious about: curtailing someone else’s freedom to choose eternal life in Him is virtually the worst thing you can do.
Preventing someone else from exercising his God-given free will is tantamount to murder—spiritual murder, with eternal consequences. It is not surprising that prohibiting murder made God’s “top ten” list, but what we seldom consider is that physical murder—the murder of the body—is a metaphor for spiritual murder: keeping somebody from enjoying a living relationship with Yahweh. (Of course, one way to achieve spiritual murder is to kill someone who has not yet exercised his privilege of free will as a mortal human being.)
That’s why John told us: “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (I John 3:15) The ultimate hatred is to prevent your brother from being reconciled to his Creator. You can’t really force someone to believe a lie, of course, but you can try to make sure the truth is unavailable to him. That is the stated goal in most Islamic nations today, and it is an agenda that atheistic secular humanists pursue with reckless abandon. God doesn’t appreciate it: “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.” (Luke 17:2) We’re all going to die, but Yahshua is drawing a comparison for us to ponder: would you rather die in your sleep after living a nice, peaceful, abundant life, or be executed Mafioso-style, with cement shoes in the Hudson River? That’s our choice. Do not, under any circumstances, prevent your fellow man from experiencing Yahweh’s salvation.
Since we’re all fallen, mortal creatures, physical death is the ultimate symptom of the human condition. There is no way to bypass this step (short of getting raptured). It happens to the best of us, the worst of us, and everybody in between. But as Adam discovered on the day he ate of the forbidden fruit, physical death is not the essence of God’s punishment for disobedience. When Adam sinned, it was spiritual death that he experienced—the departure of Yahweh’s Spirit from his neshamah. That being said, from that point forward, physical death was inevitable—and not just for Adam and Eve, but for all of their offspring as well.
So as the writer to the Hebrews noted, “Just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.” (Hebrews 9:27-28) Yahshua has already dealt with our sin. It is finished. His passion fulfilled all of the prophetic requirements of the Levitical sacrifices and symbolic Torah precepts. So if we take it upon ourselves to declare the blood of Christ insufficient for the atonement of our transgressions—if we unilaterally decide that more is necessary of us for salvation (e.g., alms, penance, good works, or observance of rites such as circumcision or baptism)—then we are, by our own definition, still in our sins. Christ can do no more for us than He has already done, and our own works are woefully inadequate for the task.
Yes, Yahshua will come again, but not to atone for our sins—He has already done that. Next time, His coming will “save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.” The word for “save” here (Greek soteria) means, in this context, “the sum of benefits and blessings which Christians, redeemed from all earthly ills, will enjoy after the visible return of Christ from heaven in the consummated and eternal kingdom of God.” (Thayer) We who are “eagerly waiting for Him” are already “saved” in a positional sense, but at His second coming, we will experience that salvation as we never could have as fallen (though redeemed) mortals.
But what of those who are not “eagerly waiting for Him?” The vast majority of mankind would (or should I say, will) be horrified to discover that those Christian fundamentalist lunatics they hated with such fervor were right after all: Yahshua the Messiah—Jesus Christ—will reign on earth. He will rule with a scepter of iron. This is not merely wishful thinking on my part, but the oft-repeated promise of a God who has never broken a promise. That being said, a careful analysis of the human condition in the world today would suggest that mankind is rushing headlong toward a dystopia of our own making—to be followed in short order by the unceremonious extinction of our race. (Please see Volume 4 of The End of the Beginning, elsewhere on this website.) In other words, no one can see the Kingdom of God as the inevitable—or even plausible—outcome of the trends in our present world. The only way we can know it is coming is through the eyes of faith—trusting reliance in what Yahweh has told us through His prophets and apostles.
There will come a time, and sooner rather than later, when all mankind will worship Yahweh. It will no longer be a matter of free will, for the Messiah will walk among us as God Incarnate, resplendent in glory and power—Someone it will be impossible not to honor. The prophet Isaiah speaks for Yahweh: “Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself: the word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that to Me every knee shall bow; every tongue shall take an oath. He shall say, ‘Surely in Yahweh I have righteousness and strength. To Him [the Messiah] men shall come, and all shall be ashamed who are incensed against Him. In Yahweh all the descendants of Israel shall be justified, and shall glory.’” (Isaiah 45:22-25)
I realize that prospect doesn’t sound plausible in today’s world unless you’re looking at it through the eyes of faith in God’s Word. Deal with it: the same truth is everywhere you look. Paul writes, “God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11) That’s right, not just men living on the earth, but also those who have died; and not just people, but angels and demons as well: everyone and everything will honor Yahshua as King of kings and Lord of lords.
He will reign in Jerusalem, but his authority will be universal: “‘Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,’ says Yahweh. ‘Many nations shall be joined to Yahweh in that day, and they shall become My people. And I will dwell in your midst. Then you will know that Yahweh of hosts has sent Me to you. And Yahweh will take possession of Judah as His inheritance in the Holy Land, and will again choose Jerusalem. Be silent, all flesh, before Yahweh, for He is aroused from His holy habitation!’” (Zechariah 2:10-13) Israel is even now hopefully awaiting this Messiah. What an epiphany it will be when they discover that their expected Messiah is the same “Jesus” that Christians have been exalting for the past two millennia—the same Yahshua whom their fathers had crucified.
Considering the setbacks and persecution Israel has suffered throughout their long (and mostly rebellious) history—both before and after the crucifixion—it is a miracle that they are still identifiable as a separate people, much less that they are a thriving and prosperous nation today. But Yahweh had promised that they would survive, in spite of it all. “‘For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before Me,’ says Yahweh, ‘So shall your [i.e., Israel’s] descendants and your name remain. And it shall come to pass that from one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh shall come to worship before Me,’ says Yahweh.” (Isaiah 66:22-23)
Alas, that “all flesh” reference doesn’t mean that the godless rebels who comprise the majority of the world’s population will all repent and come to faith, for the passage concludes: “And they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” (Isaiah 66: 24) So “all flesh” means “all flesh who have not transgressed, that is, who have repented and received God’s grace.” In other words, during the coming kingdom age, only those who honor Yahweh, who “come to worship before Him,” will survive. Something tells me we’re not going to recognize the place.
“The glory of Yahweh shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:5) What is this “glory of Yahweh” that “all flesh shall see?” Perhaps the question should be Who? The glory of Yahweh is He Himself in human (though glorified) form: Yahshua the Messiah, resurrected, reigning, and utterly resplendent in brilliance and power. Since both redeemed mortals and resurrected immortals will inhabit Earth during the kingdom age, I would expect Christ’s form to be as magnificent as anything mortal man can encounter and yet survive. We are told of encounters with angels in which men were driven to their knees in awe and reverence. Will the reigning Christ present Himself as anything less glorious than that? I think not.
God’s Word is replete with an extensive matrix of symbols and metaphors designed to enlighten us as to the nature of the human condition, and how we are to deal with it in light of our Maker’s primary command—to love. Remember, Yahweh’s symbols are designed to circumvent the vagaries and inadequacies of human language. If we pay attention to what God meant via the use of a symbol—The Torah Code, as it were—then we will be less likely to be led astray by the occasional mistranslation into languages six times removed from those of the original revelations. In short, we will be in a better position to “read” the heart and mind of God. As we have seen, a lamb is always a lamb, whether you’re speaking Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, English, or Swahili—and in scripture, it always denotes innocence.
I have noted three broad categories of Biblical symbols defining the human condition, all of which are universal and timeless:
The “second-greatest” commandment (according to Yahshua) is this: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke [Hebrew yakach: reprove, plead with, refute, or correct] your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am Yahweh.” (Leviticus 19:17-18) Yahweh is vitally concerned with how we treat each other, for our love (or hatred) for our fellow man is an infallible indicator of what our relationship is with Him. Let’s face it: it’s easy to say we love God, but how does one reveal such a love? The difference in scale (so to speak) makes direct demonstration of one’s love for God problematical, to say the least.
So the only way to prove (or even demonstrate) our love for our Creator is to love our fellow man—the people whom God loves. As John put it, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love…. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.” (I John 4:7-8, 20-21) Part of that love (as we saw above) is learning and teaching the ways of Yahweh, in which are found abundant life: we are to rebuke, reprove or otherwise “correct” those who are in error according to God’s standard. Failure to do so is defined as “hatred” by Yahweh Himself.
And who are we are most directly able to guide like this in the ways of God? They are the ones closest to us, our families, relatives, and children. So it should not be surprising that God uses those with whom we share close familial relationships—parents, spouses, siblings and children—as symbols revealing what a relationship with Him is supposed to look like. But He also uses others who inhabit our world—“neighbors,” so to speak, the people with whom we rub shoulders as we walk through life—to instruct us.
(2) Groups, Classes, and Institutions
Outside of personal relationships, we all fall into demographic clusters that define our roles in life. Are we part of God’s “circle of friends,” or are we total strangers? What is our assigned role before Him—and can that role be “upgraded?” Are we leaders or followers, set-apart by God for His service, or elevated by our own ambition and pride? This is where Yahweh’s calling out of a single earthly family (Israel) facilitates His desire to teach us about how to function in His presence. What does it mean (in symbolic terms) to be an Israelite, or a Levite, or a priest? What does being a gentile, a foreigner, or a Samaritan indicate in Yahweh’s symbol lexicon? Do we find ourselves kings, or slaves, beloved family members, or widows and orphans?
You’ll notice that most of these categories are not cultural niches we attain through human means or to which we can aspire. Rather, they’re merely “where we find ourselves.” We can’t control what family or nation we’re born into, our intelligence level, beauty, or station in society—“the luck of the draw,” so to speak. So if Yahweh elects to use Levites (descendants of Jacob’s son Levi) as a metaphor for “those who are set apart for God’s use,” He isn’t saying people who are part of this group through an accident of birth are somehow “better” than the rest of us, or that Irish or Japanese people aren’t useful to God. He’s saying, rather, that His instructions concerning this group reveal what it is to be set apart for His service. It has practically nothing to do with actual Levites (especially since no one even knows who they are anymore). The same thing could be said of any of these categories: in scripture, they are symbolic of our various positions in life, and what God says to do about them.
(3) Clothing and Coverings
What we wear (or don’t) often takes on symbolic significance in scripture. When Adam sinned, his state of nakedness morphed instantaneously from a picture of transparent innocence to one of shame and guilt. And covering (atoning for) that shame required the death of an innocent animal—our first hint of the way Yahweh would ultimately achieve our redemption and reconciliation.
From that moment on, apparel was recruited by God as a teaching tool. From Genesis to Revelation, the imagery of what we are wearing reveals our status before God. Are we covered by grace, or with works? Is there reverence, or disrespect? Pride, or humility? Celebration, or mourning? Sin, or purity? What is signified by the colors we wear? What do our hairstyles or head coverings indicate? What is meant by a crown or a signet ring? And what symbolic clothing must we “put on” in order to protect ourselves from the attacks of Satan and the world that follows him?
As we track down the answers to these and other questions, I trust God’s word will reveal valuable insights into the human condition. We’ll discover who we are, and who we can be; the nature of our problem, and the solution. We’ll see what works, and what doesn’t. Our relationships with each other will reveal what our relationship with our Creator is designed to be. We’ll learn how our place in the world—whether exalted or humble, blessed or challenged—always provides opportunities for a fruitful relationship with God and man. And we’ll discover the remarkable truth that how God sees us is a function of what we choose to “wear,” symbolically speaking.
The human condition needn’t be a debilitating malady, and it needn’t be fatal. But in order to learn to live with it (and live through it), we must consult the Great Physician. He alone has the cure.
(First published 2016)