Is Anyone Watching (Part two)

(For those interested, I have attached an accompanying song for this blog)

Most everyone who has been on this earth for very long has lost a loved one. I certainly have. More than that, I can almost guarantee that every person reading this has heard something like this before: “we know that she (or he) is in heaven right now, watching over all of us.”

In part one of this topic, I talked about us—the living—and how we view the deceased. I ask you to consider whether or not the belief that the dead are now watching over us is a good thing, or a bad thing. In general, I think that question could be answered in two different ways. For some, the thought that deceased loved ones are watching over them is extraordinarily comforting. For others, this prospect brings with it an overwhelming feeling of dread and paranoia.

As I said, not all people are good, and not all people are worth remembering.

But let’s consider the other side of the coin. Would it really be a good thing for those who have passed away to “watch over us?” They have supposedly moved on to a place of perpetual bliss, but you have to ask the question: what sort of life would that be like?

Is that really a heavenly existence?

I feel that most of us who talk about how the “dead are watching over us from heaven” have not thought this through very far. No offense intended by that statement. None at all. But I’m not sure that is what any of us should even want.

If you fall in the camp that finds comfort in the belief that a lost love one is watching over you, consider how that loved one might see things. Do you want your mom, dad, brother, sister, spouse, friend, or—Lord forbid—your child, seeing what happens in your life after they are gone?

Think hard about that question.

It’s all well and good to think that they might be celebrating with us at, say, our college graduation, our wedding, or at the news of a big job promotion. But we also know what that sort of ability (the ability to see our lives) would also bring with it. Every time we fall short; every time we fail; every time we lash out in violence or anger; every time we suffer; every time we make others suffer; every time that tragedy strikes; and every time that one passes away . . . they would be watching.

Would your mom or dad want to watch you die? That question ought to be rhetorical. No: who would want that?

Besides these issues, there is one really huge problem with this belief. Wouldn’t the ability to see everything we are doing essentially equate to having God-like knowledge and understanding? Isn’t it God—and God alone—who is supposed to be able to peer into every person’s life, and track his or her every move?  It troubles me that most of us are so eager to grant those abilities to deceased human beings. It should bother those of us who do it.

Clearly, God can handle this ability—but even He mourns our losses; “Costly in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Ps. 116:15). We of course know that Jesus wept (inconsolably) at the death of his friend Lazarus. However, it’s a little crazy to think that deceased human beings can endure seeing all of the death and suffering that occurs in our world. Don’t you think?

I am not trying to lay a guilt trip on anyone. That is not my intent in saying any of this. As I noted earlier, I don’t believe most of us have thought this through. But now we can. It is not too late to change the way we think about death, or the way we speak about the deceased.

The next time that tragedy strikes, and someone you know leaves this world, think about how you speak of him or her. Whenever we either say or hear, “this person is looking down at us from heaven,” ask yourself what all that would actually entail.

Is it really a good thing for them if they are now “watching over us”? Is it really a good thing for us, either?

Personally, I answer “no” to both questions.

 

Thank you for reading! If you found this blog interesting, please see all the other posts on this site. You can purchase The Death Myth by clicking here.

The (Real) Rich Man and Lazarus

It’s everyone’s favorite biblical parable! Well, at least for those who are looking to explain what happens when we die. A favorite—do doubt. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most misunderstood stories in the Bible.

While many people believe this was Jesus’ way of telling us that the dead go on to live as disembodied spirits, was it? Is that really the message that Jesus was trying to convey?

A close evaluation of this story may actually suggest something different. For those who are not familiar with the tale, it appears in Luke 16:19-31. I will now provide a brief sample from The Death Myth, in order to briefly explain the parable.

“Essentially, the story goes as follows: there is an unnamed wealthy man who encounters a poor beggar named Lazarus on his way to and from his estate, on what is apparently a regular basis. The rich man “lives in luxury every day,” while Lazarus is financially destitute and is living on the streets outside the rich man’s property. To make matters worse, Lazarus is most likely a leper (v.20), and is regarded by others as being even lower than the dogs that came to lick his wounds. Though not directly stated, it is clearly inferred that the rich man cared nothing for Lazarus and was quite content to maintain their radically different living conditions. Thus, the story tells of a cruel-minded person of means and a kind-hearted person of poverty. For this reason, it is strongly implied that Lazarus was religiously faithful and the rich man was spiritually bankrupt.”

As the story progresses, we learn what becomes of these two men after they die. Good old Lazarus goes on to a place of peace and comfort, called “Abraham’s bosom.” Meanwhile, the rich man heads to the dark side of the underworld, called “Hades.” The script had been completely flipped; the suffering man had been rewarded with a good life, and the nasty miser was now being treated to a life of torment.

This parable is one of the central texts used as evidence that the soul continues to live apart from the body during the “interim period”—that is, the time between death and the resurrection (i.e. where the dead are right now). It seems so straightforward. Good people die and go to a good place, and bad people die and go to a bad place. And this happens immediately after death.

Simple, right?

Not quite. There are serious problems with using this parable in such a way. The first problem is the most obvious one—this parable is, well, really a parable! Jesus’ favorite teaching method was to use short, fictitious stories (parables) to teach people important lessons about real life. The stories themselves were not literally true, but they were most definitely spiritually true. The events didn’t happen, but the lessons they reveal are very real.

I know of no other parable that is taken literally in all of Scripture. Not one. And to be sure, this story is absolutely a parable. It is chock-full of imagery, like chasms and fire. It follows a string of other parables within the Gospel of Luke (the Lost Sheep, the Lost Son, the Shrewd Manager, etc.). It even has unknown, or even purposely unnamed, characters. We don’t know who Lazarus was; this was almost certainly not the Lazarus that Jesus raised from the dead. The “rich man” isn’t even given a name. If being named (or unnamed) is what determines whether or not a character really existed, then it appears that at least half of the story is fictional right out of the gate.

Friends, this parable is viewed literally by many people for one reason: a literal reading would lead us to believe that we will live apart from our bodies when we die. Beyond this story, the evidence for that belief is quite scarce, and is also typically based on more metaphor.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that a literal reading of this parable goes against the most common belief about the state of the dead: that believers die and go to heaven. Both cannot be true at the same time. We might go to Abraham’s bosom, or we might go to heaven, but we can’t do both. The same applies to Hades and hell. That’s for sure.

What, then, is the purpose of Jesus’ story? If it doesn’t tell us what happens during the interim period, what does it tell us? In my mind, it tells us two major things.

First, it tells us that there is going to be life after death (ultimately), and that the choices we make now will determine what that life looks like. As I have said many times, the whole discussion of the afterlife within the Bible revolves around the return of Jesus and the resurrection. At that time, we will receive the reward or punishment that is due to us.

Along with that, it also shows that there will be a “reversal of fortunes” that occurs in the afterlife. Those who righteously suffered will be exalted, while the unrighteous will be debased.

Second, the story tells us that there will never be enough evidence to appease those who desire more and more of it. The rich man begs (as Lazarus once did, ironically) Abraham to send a messenger to warn his family that they are heading for their doom as well. Abraham told him no; absolutely not! They had the Scriptures to learn this lesson from. Besides, they wouldn’t change anyway. Not even if a dead person rose to pay them a visit! (see Luke 16:29-31 for this dialogue)

There will never be enough “proof” for some people. Many who saw the risen Christ didn’t even believe it!

Jesus’ parable of the Rich man and Lazarus has a rightful place as one of his finest teaching tales. It warns all of us about unbelief, and the incredible results of it. It shows us that all people will one-day be righteously judged and appropriately sentenced. It even shows us that God has already offered all the proof we need, and that a rejection of that proof will result in an afterlife of anguish and separation from God.

It does not, however, illustrate what literally happens to each of us at the moment we die. In other words, this parable is really a parable.

 

 

Thank you for reading! If you found this blog interesting, please see all the other posts on this site. You can purchase The Death Myth by clicking here.

 

Is Anyone Watching? (Part One)

Throughout my time researching the issues surrounding death and the afterlife, it has occurred to me that people have mixed feelings about where the dead presently exist (or, don’t exist). However, I may have underestimated just how important this particular issue is for many people.

For the moment, never mind the question as to whether or not it would be preferable for the deceased to have to watch the living. That will be the topic of my next blog (part two). Right now, the focus is on those of us who are alive in this world.

It is extraordinarily difficult to lose those who are closest to us; no doubt about it. In fact, there may not be anything more difficult to endure. For some, there is great comfort in the thought that their lost loved ones are in a “better place.” While they no longer fill our lives with joy, we can at least believe that they live in a place of peace and comfort. This is particularly true for those who have had to watch a mother, a sister, a brother, or any other close friend or relative, suffer until his or her exit from this world.

More than simply existing somewhere as disembodied spirits, it is often believed that our loved ones may even be watching over us, observing our daily lives. That, too, is a source of comfort for certain people.

While that sentiment is certainly true for some, there is of course another side to this issue. There seem to be at least as many people who have the opposite perspective. For them, the prospect that their deceased friends, family members, or acquaintances, are tracking their every move provides no comfort or solace. Instead, it offers an almost paralyzing sense of dread: a haunting, debilitating feeling of discomfort.

The reasons for this should be obvious—not everyone in the world is a kind, generous, and caring person. Some people are rotten to the core, and are not really worth remembering. Worse, some people may not even deserve to be remembered (if we can help it).

This is a hard pill to swallow, but swallow it we must.

We all know a widow or widower who had a tumultuous marriage, and is now attempting to move on with his or her life. We all know someone who had an abusive father, or a vindictive, controlling mother. We might know someone who is scared to enter into a new relationship, sell their home, change locations, or make any number of other decisions, out of fear that a deceased person would not approve of it.

“Will Sam understand if I date again?” “Is Sharon upset that I did not visit her grave this week?” “What would mom think if I sold the house that she and dad built?” The list could go on and on.

We know these people, or perhaps we might even be one of these people. This is the other side of the coin.

I can only offer my “2 cents” on this issue. Through researching all of the biblical evidence available to us, as well as issues like near-death experiences (NDEs) and communicating with the dead, I have concluded that deceased human beings do not exist anywhere at present. They are not in heaven, experiencing a life of bliss. They are not suffering in hell, either. Most importantly, the dead are not watching us. They are not there to praise our good deeds, nor are they around to condemn our perceived mistakes and failures.

Dead means dead: gone, deceased . . . the absence of life.

I am also quick to add that all people will one-day stand before God, and that He will decide our appropriate rewards or punishments. This will occur at Christ’s return. The dead will live again, and will someday be in one of the places people assume—and falsely, I believe—they are currently living in.

In the end, I have made this case through the entirety of The Death Myth, and it is up to each reader to decide whether or not my view makes the best sense of things. As for me, I do not spend one second of my life thinking about what the deceased are doing, or what they may be thinking about me personally. I certainly remember them, but I do not worry about them. To me, nothing good can come from a preoccupation with the dead.

The good people who have passed from my life would rather me spend that time focusing on God or my living family and friends, anyway.

Of course, it is also up to each reader to assess the implications of either worldview. Do you find joy in thinking that the dead are watching you, or do you find liberation in the thought that they are not?

I suspect that every person may answer that question a little differently.

 

 

Thank you for reading! If you found this blog interesting, you can purchase The Death Myth by clicking here.

 

Who is Living in Hell?

If we are being honest, everyone has thought about hell at one time or another. Some of us may try not to think about it, but that effort is sort of like trying to ignore a chipped tooth or a man adorned with a rainbow-colored tutu; it’s just not possible.

Granted, this is a very thorny topic. This subject is the stuff of nightmares and medieval paintings. However, it is also something that I discuss in The Death Myth. But why? — you may ask. Believe it or not, the biblical descriptions of hell can actually tell us quite a lot about the state of the dead and the interim period (the time between death and the resurrection); odd as it may be, hell can actually tell us something about our own futures.

While Jesus may not have spoken directly about hell as frequently as some believe—certain thinkers have speculated that Jesus spoke twice as much about hell as he did about heaven—there is no question that hell (Gehenna), and the issues surrounding it, was a very common topic for Jesus. I find this to be particularly interesting, since I have often been told that “hell has no place in Christian theology!”

I think Jesus’ main purpose for talking about hell is that deterrents typically work as well (or better) than incentives. Avoiding a punishment can be as good as receiving a reward, particularly when eternal separation from God is the consequence. But let’s get to the real point here. In a strange way, it would be satisfying to know that the monsters of the world are now “getting theirs” in hell. We all yearn for justice. We would like to think that tyrants like Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Jim Jones, and the child rapists of the world, are all “burning.”

Don’t pretend the thought hasn’t crossed your mind.

But they aren’t. None of these people, or the countless others that could be mentioned, are living in hell. Not according to the Bible, at least. I will go one step further on this. Satan—the most renowned villain in all of human history—is not living in hell, either.

I realize that almost everyone who is reading this blog (thank you, by the way) is probably a little confused. Just as you may have been taught that believers go to heaven immediately after death, my hunch is that you have also been taught that the wicked go to hell at that time.

I have the same response to both propositions: NO. Deceased believers are not living in heaven right now, and no one—not even Satan or the demons—is living in hell at this moment, either. Don’t get me wrong, both will happen: just not now.

What follows is a cross section of passages taken directly from The Death Myth. Along with providing another free sample of the book (parts of pages 82-84), I hope that it will also explain why no one is currently living in hell.

“There is a good reason why the forces of darkness are not associated (in the present tense) with hell in the Bible—hell is not currently a reality for anyone. It was previously noted that hell is the place prepared for Satan and his angels. In the same verse, we see that hell is also the destination for those who choose to follow Satan rather than Christ (Mt. 25:41). But the main point remains the most pivotal—Satan and the fallen angels, the very entities that hell is/will be designed for, do not even exist there at the present time. As a matter of logic, it stands to reason that Satan’s deceased followers do not exist in hell right now, either. At the moment, no one is suffering in hell.

Within the New Testament, any discussion about the “lake of fire” (Gehenna) or the place of everlasting punishment revolves around the end of this age. The book of Revelation summarizes this point well: “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (20:10). This exact point in time quite obviously occurs in the context of Christ’s return and the ultimate separation of the righteous and the wicked. It appears that even the fallen angels (demons) are well aware that God is going to administer their punishment at a specific point in the future. The Gospel of Matthew (and its synoptic parallels) makes this point clear for us when it tells of Jesus’ confrontation with two demon-possessed men:

“When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. ‘What do you want with us, Son of God?’ they shouted. ‘Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”

Clearly, hell is the future place of punishment for the forces of evil. If hell is an existence yet to be experienced by Satan (or anyone), what could that potentially reveal to us about the state of the dead? What does this have to do with deceased believers? While the biblical descriptions of hell do not directly tell us something about heaven, they certainly do so indirectly. The question really comes down to this: if the unrepentant do not go directly to Gehenna when they die, then why should we believe that the faithful go directly to heaven when they die?

. . . It should be noted that a story like Jesus’ parable of the Weeds is absolutely incompatible with the perspective that we will go straight to heaven or hell at death. If this were true, then the landowner doesn’t actually separate the wheat from the weeds when the harvest time comes, as Jesus so clearly revealed. Instead, the story would have to be rewritten, and the landowner (God) would need to tell the servants to separate the weeds (the unrepentant) from the wheat (the righteous) on the spot. If the weeds are not being sent to their everlasting destination during this age, how can the wheat be? They are both supposed to be living together until the harvest, after all. More than that, they are supposed to be completely separated when—and only when—that day comes. As Jesus tells us in his own interpretation of the parable, the harvest is clearly an allusion to the judgment that will occur upon his return (Mt. 13:39).

Now, what does all of this mean to us? Simply put, it means that if believers are entering heaven before the harvest occurs, then Jesus was wrong in his assessment of the judgment and the afterlife. Suffice it to say that this should be a deeply troubling problem for those who think that heaven is the immediate destination for the souls of deceased believers. While heaven and hell are on completely opposite sides of the spectrum, they are inextricably bound in terms of their temporal placement. No one goes to hell immediately after death, and no one instantly goes to live in heaven, either.”

Thank you for reading! If you found this blog interesting, please see all the other posts on this site. You can purchase The Death Myth by clicking here.

 

 

References

Rossiter, Brian. The Death Myth: Uncovering What the Bible Really Says about the Afterlife. pg. 136.  iUniverse. Bloomington, IN. Copyright, 2018. Print.

Wilkinson, Dan. “Did Jesus speak more about Hell than about Heaven?”. Jan. 14, 2015. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/2015/01/did-jesus-speak-more-about-hell-than-about-heaven/

Ghosts: Playing with Spiritual Fire

To start this particular blog, I want to provide a brief section directly from The Death Myth:

“Though the belief that human spirits interact with our world is far from new, it has reached a fever pitch in American society over the last decade or so . . . One of the most recent (2005) Gallop polls that inquired about the belief in ghosts revealed that roughly 75 percent of those interviewed believed in something we would consider to be paranormal. More specifically, 37 percent of people believed that houses can be haunted, and roughly 32 percent of people believed that we can somehow encounter the ghosts or spirits of dead people in particular situations. In 2006, when asking more than four thousand American teens about behaviors regarding the supernatural, the Barna Group found that an astonishing 73 percent of these teens admitted to having made some type of effort to contact spirits. For Christian parents in particular, these numbers should be more than a little alarming” (pg. 136).

Since the publishing of these polls, I would venture to guess that the numbers have only increased. Most Americans believe that deceased human beings exist as disembodied spirits. Nearly 1/3 of us believe that we can personally interact with dead people. Most alarming, nearly 3/4 of our teens have actually made an effort to do so.

From a biblical standpoint, there are two major things to consider on this topic. The first is that communicating with ghosts is not an option, because they do not exist. In its sixty-six books, the Bible mentions the existence of a deceased human spirit returning to earth approximately once. 1 Samuel 28 records that Saul—Israel’s first king—went to a pagan medium (called the “Witch of Endor”), in order to bring the prophet Samuel back to life. He wanted advice, as his kingship spiraled out of control. He desired counsel; what he got was an omen of death. As the “spirit” of Samuel emerged from his slumber, he declared the following:

“Because you did not obey the Lord or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the Lord has done this to you today.  The Lord will deliver both Israel and you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me” (1 Sam. 28:18-19).

Since this is the only event in the Bible that records such a thing, and the summoning was performed by witchcraft, many commentators (myself included) suggest that it wasn’t Samuel who came back from the dead at all. Who was it, then? All in good time. Beyond this quirky event, the Bible makes no other reference to the actual existence of ghosts. More than that, all deceased human beings should exist in heaven, hell, Abraham’s bosom, or Hades, according to the “traditional” view of the afterlife. If not, they should be unconscious entirely (i.e. not “living” anywhere). In the book, I argue for the latter.

But let’s be clear: from a biblical perspective, under no circumstances could the dead be roaming the earth in spirit form. As I discussed in my two-part discussion on contacting the dead (see part one and part two), the existence of deceased spirits would not be a good prospect, even if they were real.

The second thing we must consider is that necromancy—the attempt to summon or communicate with the dead—is highly discouraged within the Bible. Both Leviticus 19:31 and 20:6 strictly forbade those of the Jewish faith from making any such effort. Deuteronomy 18:9-13 is equally clear. Before consulting the Witch of Endor, Saul actually banned all mediums and conjurers from the land (1 Sam. 28:3), no doubt from divine command. Paul encountered a woman with related powers in Acts 16:16-18, and he ended up having to cast a demon out of her!

The verdict? Clearly, a biblical worldview supports neither the existence of ghosts nor any attempt to contact them. In fact, it strictly forbids it. However, one question remains: why is it so wrong to try to contact the dead?

In the book, I chronicle an event that occurred with a good friend who believed that his deceased relative haunted his home. He was so sure of this that he made regular attempts to communicate with the entity. This all ended on the day he was pushed down his basement steps by his “dear old uncle.” He had not been communicating with the spirit of a deceased relative, but with some type of malevolent force. The Bible calls these forces “demons.”

All of this tells us one very important thing: we would do well to heed the Bible’s warnings about ghosts and all efforts to contact them. It seems likely that the Jewish people—and by extension, Christians as well—were strictly forbidden to contact the dead because they would not really be contacting “the dead.”

Attempting to communicate with ghosts is like playing with spiritual fire; you may well receive the contact you are searching for, but you may also get burned.

 

Thank you for reading! If you found this blog interesting, please see all the other posts on this site. You can purchase The Death Myth by clicking here.

 

 

References

Barna, “New Research Explores Teenage Views and Behavior Regarding the Supernatural.” https://www.barna.com/research/new-research-explores-teenage-views-and-behavior-regarding-the-supernatural/

Moore, David W. Three in Four Americans Believe in Paranormal. Gallup, 16 June 2005. Web. 20 May 2015. http://news.gallup.com/poll/16915/three-four-americans-believe-paranormal.aspx

Rossiter, Brian. The Death Myth: Uncovering What the Bible Really Says about the Afterlife. pg. 136.  iUniverse. Bloomington, IN. Copyright, 2018. Print.

Jesus Wept. Lazarus Should Have.

It is one of the most famous events in the New Testament, and is unquestionably the shortest verse within the entire Bible. John 11:35 does not parse words: “Jesus wept.” It is not terribly difficult to see why Jesus shed tears, either. Lazarus—one of Jesus’ dear friends—had died, and Jesus had not been there to help him. Jesus was distraught, as were Lazarus’ other friends and family. But if you really think about it, it may have been Lazarus himself who ended up having the best case for being emotionally devastated.

How can that be? Lazarus was the dead one! Well, yes. But that was soon to be remedied by the great Physician. As we read, Jesus proceeded to raise Lazarus back to life. With the simple words, “Lazarus, come out!”, the dead man rose. After everyone had removed their jaws from the floor, they naturally rejoiced. Lazarus—their beloved friend and brother—had been given the most amazing gift imaginable: the gift of life. He had once again been given an existence.

Of course, that’s not actually what the “traditional” Christian view of the afterlife asserts. The view that most of us have been taught is quite a lot different from that. It is usually taught (and has been since about the 3rd or 4th centuries AD) that each of us is essentially a soul that inhabits a physical body. Greek philosophers, particularly those following in the footsteps of Plato, believed that we have an “immortal soul.” In essence, this implied that the human soul continues to exist at death, rather than expiring like the body. It can mean more than that, but it at least means that the soul consciously survives the death of the body. It’s an easy view to find in Greek philosophy, but is much harder to find within the Bible.

In the present circumstance, this tells us quite a lot about old Lazarus. If the typical view of the afterlife is correct, Lazarus had not been given “life” at his resurrection. He was previously living as a disembodied soul or spirit, prior to being raised. In other words, he was already “alive:” just not alive with a body here on earth. More than that, Lazarus should have been in a “better place,” as we have all heard many times before. He should have been in heaven, with God and the angels. If not there, then he should have been in Abraham’s bosom or “paradise,” which are both thought to be realms of existence for the souls of fallen believers. Whatever the case, Lazarus was supposed to be living a life of bliss and splendor after his departure from this fallen world.

By now, I think you may see the problem.

If Lazarus was living as a disembodied soul, in a place that is certainly better than here, then Jesus actually did him a disservice. Jesus put Lazarus (his soul) back in a human body, and robbed him of his “better place.” Lazarus had to come back to his fallen body, back to the fallen world, and most importantly, back to a place where the certainty of death still loomed. He would now have to do what very few others ever had to: die twice. Not only had Lazarus been taken away from the glories of the afterlife, he would now have to make the trip to the grave all over again.

In predictable fashion, the very next chapter of John’s Gospel records the following: “So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him” (Jn. 12:10-11). Lazarus immediately became a target, just like Jesus. This means that, on top of it all, he also had to live in fear after his resurrection.

Let me be clear: Jesus’ miracle of raising Lazarus back to life was indeed a miracle. This event was clear evidence that Jesus had power even over death itself. However, we also have to ask what it meant for Lazarus, on a personal level. When really evaluated, the typical understanding of the interim period—the time between death and the resurrection— and the nature of the human soul paints an unfortunate picture for Lazarus. We could add Jairus’ daughter (Mk. 5:22-43, Lk. 8:41-56), a widow’s son (Lk. 7:11-17), a woman named Dorcas (Acts 9:40), a man named Eutychus (Acts 20:9-10), and a few others, to this list.

All of these people were stripped of their heavenly lives, in order to be placed back in this world.

With that said, it is still possible that Jesus really did do Lazarus (and his loves ones) a great favor by bringing him back to life. This would be true if Lazarus was actually dead—really, truly gone and unconscious—and Jesus restored him to the land of the living. Now that would be a reason to rejoice! But if the typical view is correct, and Lazarus was previously living in a place of bliss, that can hardly be the case. Lazarus did not “come back” to life; he simply moved from a heavenly existence to one here on earth.

If the most common way of looking at death, the afterlife, and the human soul are correct, there is only one conclusion to draw from all of this: Jesus wept, and Lazarus should have.

Thank you for reading! If you found this blog interesting, you can purchase The Death Myth by clicking here.

James and the Giant Flood

The Hobbit.  FernGully.  Gulliver’s Travels.  James the Giant Peach.  Noah and the Great Flood.  All are more or less equally factual, because none are factual at all.  None of these cute little tales are really true.  Let’s be honest about it: the stories of a massive deluge that wreaked havoc on humanity are all hogwash.  Utter nonsense.  Please . . . just call it for what it is.

This is of course the standard narrative that is pushed by the precious few who are enlightened enough to know better.  To these intellectual “grownups,” science and rationality have slowly extinguished the flame of religious folklore.  However—and as is seemingly always the case—they are clearly wrong.  More than being wrong, they appear to have it completely backwards.

In 1993, Columbia University scientists William Ryan and Walter Pitman made a scientific expedition to the Black Sea with the Russian Academy of Sciences.  Utilizing sonar imaging techniques, they were able to detect that shorelines had once been about 140 meters (nearly 460 ft.) lower than they were during the measurement.  The presence of a single, uniform layer of mud was also found, suggesting that a flood may well have occurred on the Black Sea.  Moreover, the expedition recovered sun-bleached freshwater mollusks via sediment samples. Using carbon-14 dating methods, they were able to tell that the mollusks from both the deepest and the shallowest layers of that sediment were only about forty years apart; the waters had not risen gradually, but rapidly.  What typically causes rapid flooding?  Hmm, you got me.  A column on Columbia News summarized their subsequent theory in the following way:

“Ryan and Pitman believe that the sealed Bosporus strait, which acted as a dam between the Mediterranean and Black seas, collapsed when climatic warming at the close of the last glacial period and caused icecaps to melt, raising global sea level.  With more than 200 times the force of Niagara Falls, the flood caused water levels in the Black Sea, which was no more than a large lake, to rise six inches per day and swallowed 60,000 square miles in less than a year.”

In effect, it was perhaps the Mediterranean Sea that had flooded, causing the Black Sea to fill so drastically.  Isn’t the Mediterranean Sea located just west of present day Israel and ancient Israel/Palestine?  Wouldn’t that actually be the most probable biblical location of the Great Flood?

A number of other researchers have come to believe that there was indeed a flood of large proportions that occurred at the Black Sea, several thousand years after the last ice-age.  Perhaps most notably, renowned Titanic researcher Robert Ballard has taken a special interest in the possibility of a Black Sea flood.  Ballard’s overarching theory was that around 7,000 BCE, post ice-age warming caused oceans and seas to rise, resulting in the “swelling” of the Mediterranean Sea and a subsequent push of its waters north through modern-day Turkey.  In fact, he too speculated that this water ended up hitting the Black Sea with a force 200 times harder than those created by the incredible Niagara Falls.   A surge of that magnitude could be called nothing other than a “Great Flood.”

Additionally, a 2004 expedition by a number of prominent scientists also led to the conclusion that the Black Sea was once “. . . an immense lake of black water that at one point in history began to widen in an unusually rapid way.”  While neither the works of Ryan and Pitman nor Robert Ballard suggested that the entire earth was covered in water, they certainly suggested that a sizeable flood occurred in an area that would fall right in line with the biblical account.  It’s worth mentioning that the size of Noah’s Flood is seriously debated, even among those coming from either Jewish or Christian backgrounds.  It is quite conceivable that the Flood was a local or regional flood, and that it occurred in this specific area.

While the proposition that an event of this magnitude actually occurred in the areas of the Black and Mediterranean seas is not widely accepted as absolute fact—William Ryan himself has ask some perplexing questions about the theory—it is nonetheless still compelling.  While parts of these theories have somewhat fizzled out—having found no tell-tale signs of extremely ancient housing, only wreckage dating between about 350-550 AD—the general idea that there was indeed a type of major flooding event that occurred in the Black Sea region is still difficult to ignore.  Was this the site of the Great Flood?  We don’t know.  It certainly does seem as though something of the sort happened, though.

But enough about the science.  Clearly, there are prominent researchers who support the idea of at least a local flood that occurred in the same general area described by the biblical authors.  Anyone who is familiar with my blogs knows that I value good science: honest, open, and investigative science.  However, they also know that I equally value the traditions of our earliest ancestors.  After all, who has ever been closer to the source of human origins than they were?  With every generation, we get farther away from the beginning of our race and the major events of our early history.  Of course, the early civilizations are precisely where the whole notion of a giant flood began in the first place.

The ancient Hebrew tradition tells of an immense flood in which God wiped humanity almost entirely off of the map.  Having become exceedingly angry with their consistent and egregious rebellion, God decided to destroy the world of men.  Genesis 6:11-13 records the following:

“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.  God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.  So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them.  I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.”

As the text describes, only a man named Noah and his family were allowed to survive the impending destruction.  While the Bible’s portrayal of the Great Flood is undoubtedly the most popular, it is not by any stretch the only flood tradition.  In fact, nearly every ancient culture had its own flood story.  Besides the biblical account, the most notable probably comes to us from the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh.  In its introduction of Gilgamesh, the King of Uruk—who is, incidentally, both part god and part man—the first “tablet” of the Epic makes several allusions to a great flood of destruction.

“He saw the Secret, discovered the Hidden, he brought information of (the time) before the Flood . . . Mighty net, protector of his people, raging flood-wave who destroys even walls of stone! . . . It was he who reached by his own sheer strength Utanapishtim, the Faraway, who restored the sanctuaries that the Flood had destroyed!”

While allusions to the flood show up very early on, it isn’t really until the end of the Epic (Tablet XI) that we are given greater clarity concerning the event.  Utanapishtim—the man commissioned by another god, named Enki, to build a massive boat that would preserve him and his family during the flood (sound familiar?)—reveals the “secret of the gods” to Gilgamesh:

“Shuruppak, a city that you surely know, situated on the banks of the Euphrates, that city was very old, and there were gods inside it.  The hearts of the Great Gods moved them to inflict the Flood . . . The gods were frightened by the Flood, and retreated, ascending to the heaven of Anu.  The gods were cowering like dogs, crouching by the outer wall.  Ishtar shrieked like a woman in childbirth . . . Six days and seven nights came the wind and flood, the storm flattening the land.  When the seventh day arrived, the storm was pounding, the flood was a war–struggling with itself like a woman writhing (in labor). The sea calmed, fell still, the whirlwind (and) flood stopped up.  I looked around all day long—quiet had set in and all the human beings had turned to clay!  The terrain was as flat as a roof.”

While the Epic’s insistence that there are a great number of gods and god-like beings (Gilgamesh being one of them) involved in this particular flood story, the Bible clearly depicts the Flood as being the product of one God, Yahweh, who had reached His limit with human disobedience.  Still, the similarities are striking.  There is a massive flood due to divine dissatisfaction with humanity, a righteous man who builds a giant ship to escape the flood, and the preservation of human beings and civilization through this great “Ark.”

Then we have a number of ancient flood myths recorded by the ancient Chinese people, the Gun-Yu myth being the most prominent.  Though the accounts vary slightly, the ancient Greeks also believed in a great flood that was sent by Zeus (the “father of the gods”) to destroy humanity.  Clearly, the flood traditions are very widespread among ancient cultures.  The ancient Sumerians, who actually preceded the Babylonians, also wrote (see Kramer, below) about a flood: “All the windstorms, exceedingly powerful, attacked as one, at the same time, the flood sweeps over the cult centers.”

These references to a flood indicates something very important—all of the most prominent cultures on record believed that there had been a massive flood.

It would appear that flood stories are not only extraordinarily widespread, but also extraordinarily ancient.  What was the cause of this catastrophic event?  The ancients were adamant about the cause: divine, heavenly beings were responsible for the Great Flood.  While these beings go by different names—Gun-Yu, Zeus, Yahweh, etc.—none of these cultures believed that the flood occurred by purely naturalistic causes.  According to the ancient traditions, it was intentional.  Even if we hold that the Flood was simply a product of ordinary causes, we would be left with the questions behind the question. 

How is it that Noah, for example, could have known that he needed to construct a giant boat in order to survive the event?  Who was responsible for warning those inhabitants about their impending doom?  Who could have known that the flood was coming, in a day and age without anything close to sufficient weather technology?  How could all of these cultures have similar stories when they were spread so far apart?

We can be nearly certain of several points in all of this.  The first is that there was almost certainly a Great Flood (or floods) because every prominent ancient culture affirms it, and modern science has slowly been verifying that something of the sort occurred.  To call all of these accounts “myths” is truly unfair.  It is more probable that this event occurred than not.

The second point is related to the first, in that there is essentially a cross-cultural consensus concerning the event.  While several of the most prominent accounts were mentioned, there are actually more than three hundred ancient flood stories from around the world.  More than three hundred.  It is quite true that many of the particulars (the details) of the flood stories differ from culture to culture, but the main aspects of each account are consistently present.

Can we really believe they were all just propagating some ancient lie that originated with a small group of people?

The third point is that there is also a consensus among the ancients that the flood was caused by greater, extraterrestrial beings who were releasing the waters upon the earth for the express purpose of destroying earthlings.  These cultures seem largely to affirm that the god/s decided to spare a remnant of human beings so that the human race could ultimately outlast the catastrophe.

In the end, this appears to be yet another case where ancient history and modern science are converging.  The simple fact that the ancient accounts all point to beings who possessed both extraordinary power and knowledge should cause us all to take pause.  We might dismiss the whole thing if only a couple small groups promoted the idea of a massive flood.  But when there are hundreds of accounts to consider—including the testimonies of the most renowned civilizations in ancient history—we have to admit that there might just be something to this.

Yeah, the notion of a Great Flood is no more realistic than all of the other fictional stories we love to read and tell about: the fairy tales we read to children before nap time.

Really???

 

References

Ballard, Robert. “Ballard and the Black Sea.” http://www.nationalgeographic.com/blacksea/ax/frame.html

Vintini, Leonardo. “Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood, Did it Really Happen?”.  The Epoch Times. http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/61371-was-there-really-a-great-flood/

Hannah Fairfield, “Finding Noah’s Flood”.  http://www.columbia.edu/cu/news/99/11/flood.html

Holloway, April. “Gun-Yu and the Chinese Flood Myth.” http://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends/gun-yu-and-chinese-flood-myth-00370

Kramer, Samuel Noah. History Begins at Sumer. Pg. 153. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday / Anchor, 1959

“Noah’s Flood.” http://www.columbia.edu/cu/newrec/2412/tmpl/story.4.html

Ryan, William. “Status of the Black Sea Hypothesis.” http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/~billr/BlackSea/Ryan_Chapter7_Springer.pdf

Stone, Larry. “Did the Story of Noah Really Happen?” http://www.foxnews.com/science/2014/03/28/did-story-noah-really-happen.html

The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablets I and XI. http://www.ancienttexts.org/library/mesopotamian/gilgamesh/tab1.htm