Christian folks often have a blessed ignorance when it comes to heaven. O.k., the Book says not much ’bout it, but we missed to make us some warmer thoughts on that topic. Most folks did not even realize the full extent of what is going wrong on earth, so they expect too much stuff from earth to be also in heaven, and then start to wonder if God is love if there is steady toil in heaven? Or even worse, if God will prohibit us in heaven from knowing each other, or from loving our mate from earth in a special way?

But now, for the alternative. Do we dare to think heaven is a place that is a permanent blessing for the senses? And without toil in the work? Like Schlaraffenland but with love instead of laziness? If yes, we think that Gods wants a permanent (eternal) sensual blessing for us. Then, we cannot at the same time think that anything “less than heaven” in this world corresponds to God’s character, or even, in the full sense of the word, is a gift of God. If it’s “worldly good”, it is what God can give us while we live here (constrained by the state of the world as it is), but so much less than what he wants to give us. If it’s “worldly bad” (natural catastrophies etc.), it has nothing to do with God’s character at all.

To express this kind of insight, I want a 30min movie clip that expresses this “heaven” feeling when viewed in a comfortable position on a big screen and with good audio equipment. The mood when starting to view this clip is of no relevance, as such a clip has the power to communicate the desired feeling into any personal situation. The clip should use instrumental music in the background, sounds of nature, and probably no spoken words. It should be about people’s daily lives, filled with love and adoration, without any pain, toil, illness and death.

Such a movie clip, and others of that kind, could be the best kind of stuff to make people think about life, love and God.

There is a disagreement in Christianity if the world can be helped at system level, and if yes, if a Christian is allowed to do so.

First position: it’s forbidden

Some people hold the opinion that the world cannot be really helped at the system level. Because man is, in essence, really bad. And even if it would be possible to implement a just social system that stays stable in spite of man’s sin nature, this would just confirm mankind to live out this nature, that is, drive him more away from God.

Helping, in this view, is nothing more than acting out of love and compassion towards individual people. Without the motivation (or allowance) to see the causes of the problem at the system level and to help there. Because helping the individual that was wrecked by the system offers the possibility to explain the Gospel as ones motivation to an attentive individual. Whereas this is not possible when helping at system level, and if succeeding there, the system would not even create attentive individuals by wrecking them.

People with this view offer the Gospel as the solution to the sad state of the world, and understand it to be this message: man is totally depraved, but God is prepared to forgive anybody who seeks forgiveness in Christ Jesus. This message offers no hope of improvement at system level for the remaining time on earth (there will never be so much Christians that they influence the system). This message also offers no hope of improvement by immediate, miraculous help by God (this might happen, but is an exception meant to show God’s presence). This message offers hope of improvement for the time after death.

Second position: it’s demanded

Other Christians are motivated by Christian compassion and benevolence to help people in misery. Then they think about how to help best with the few resources they have, and they see some kind of help at the system as the best solution for this. Because, it might be so much more effective to prevent calamities (like AIDS infections) than to cure them. These Christians see their service at system level as a part of their service for God, and as an adequate expression of being “light of the world”, and even as a way to make people think about God and the Gospel.

Third position: help by bottom-up replacement

The above two positions are, in my current view, expressions of different concepts of God. In the first position, God’s love is no real, benevolent love, but a hard, uncompassionate attitude that just wants people to “get saved” (though pure theory until heaven) and is not interested in their suffering from unnecessary calamities. The conception of God in the second position is close to mine, but I must admit that some logic on how to help the world is better in the first position.

Because, this is true through history: any system-level help for the world has been prone to decay and won’t help in the long term. From the Christian perspective, this is because it deals with symptoms but does not change persons. The only way to change persons would be if these persons start to believe; so the only system-level help is transforming the world into a church of believers. According to Jesus’ last words on earth. We will probably not succeed fully, but partially.

So, here is my attempt of a third position:

I think that the church is the help at system level, by being the new system to replace the old. It is intended to implement God’s idea of living, which is true help on system level. People can profit from the new system by being in its proximity, but to really get helped, they need to take part by believing in Christ. The church is the visible part of God’s kingdom, the area where government has to be done in reversed pyramid scheme, the area where changing people meet and which therefore enables a social system that would not work with still “totally depraved” people.

So if you want to contribute at system level: build God’s kingdom, in all areas of life. The essential part is no never conceal the necessity to change in heart – else the new system will fail in eternity, but also in this world, as it currently does in Western societies based on Christian values but lacking Christians. To let church properly take its role as “the new social system”, church would include more of its members’ lifes than is current practice in highly civilized societies: living together, helping each other, working together, even being an autarchic cell.

The interesting, and non-convential thing about church is: it is a bottom-up change, a grassroots movement. While all other help on system level wants to achieve that through a top-down change, controlled by a central instance, but forced upon unchanged and rejective people. (So, never try to make church a centrally organized system. Church is a local and autonomous group, joined by faith to other groups in the worldwide church, not by organizational links.)

It is hard to see why people always think that the help at system level has to be to down, and by force. The effects are not only short-lived (as can be seen in history), it is also very hard to invent a working top-down system, and to manage it. I lately read an highly interesting discussion about economic systems (“Utopien des Weltinnenraums und seiner Umwelt“; German). If you read it, read also through all the comments. Though cool to read, the discussion also shows that there is a great cluelessness about how to create a just and stable economic system in a top-down approach. Compared to top-down methodology, large systems in nature use a “complex system approach”: entities only interact with their local environment in a meaningful way, and globally meaningful behavior emerges from that. The human body, for example, seems to work in many aspects that way, including the brain. That’s far different from a top-down strictly hierarchical design like a computer or an army.

Another reason for the bottom-up approach is: even if anybody had any idea how to help top-down, it could not be implemented, as there would be mighty people opposed to it. So the only way is to start at the local level. And the only help possible there is a community of changed people, as autarchic as possible to be isolated from the surrounding system’s deterioration.

In the Christian view, a community of changed people is a church of people who accepted the Gospel. With un-changed people, these communities would quickly deteriorate into authoritarian structure that grow like cancer and if successful, replace the current system with another instance of the same, authoritarian system. Now the church will never include more than just a few percent of humankind, but the good news is that, as a local system, people in church are better off even if there’s only one local church in the world. This system does not need global scale to help; it scales from 2 persons to infinity.

Some ideas how to make one local church to the local system which provides help to the world at system level, and thus helps people before their earthly death:

  • The central idea is to use possessions (in the sense of resources one has but does not need for oneself) for the good of all. This is enacted by education in changed people. But it cannot be enacted in unchanged people, so that it results there in all the problems that the misuse of possession brings: being able to exploit others, being able to aggregate even more possessions to even better exploit others. Now in the sense of the idea presented here, richness would still be allowed, as it’s unjust to level out all differences that resul
    t from different productivity of persons, but effective education would guarantee voluntary levelling out. This value is even part of the German constitution: “Property is an obligation. Its use shall at the same time serve the benefit of all.” (GermanGrundgesetz art. 14 section 2; original in German).
  • Have a system based on voluntary action, and education of all members towards that, rather than any formal system of wealth distribution.
  • Have a system of giving and generosity rather than a system of taking and getting ones legal right. This is after the example of the donations to the first church in Jerusalem, which we can read about in Acts.
  • As long as people work in their jobs (the church being no economically autarchic unit, and there is no strict need for it to be this): educate people to understand that money is a means to help others, not primarily meant for private luxury.
  • Create voluntary “pools” of money to distribute to members (and others) in need, by the example found in early Acts. To prevent lazyness, this must be combined with the permanent education of people that they must work for their own needs as good as possible. The secret of this system is that this education will work because people basically accepted the authority of God, whereas it does not work outside church for lazy people, and therefore dooms liberalism.
  • Spend really much time together, also working together etc.. Employ modern IT to coordinate, if necessary.
  • Have food autarchy (in cities, by guerilla gardening).
  • Have simple medical help within church, like physiotherapy.
  • Only if organizationally necessary, have a clear understanding who is inside the church (within the autarchic solidarity group) and who is without (receiving voluntary donations and benefits, but only if left over after distribution in church is done).
  • Prepare being mobile, i.e. for quickly leaving the current country to live in another, also in autarchy right from the start. This might be necessary if the surrounding system gets really bad (civil war, immiserization etc.).
  • If possible (and not being an utopia), have a subgroup develop into a “power community”, which will be the “special forces” service unit that serves both the community and the surrounding society in special needs.

Discussing the weaknesses of the Christian churches with a friend, it became apparent that the church is, and ever was through its history, way below its potential. Where potential of course does not mean what the church does with buildings, money and authority; but in what degree it’s good for the people, in the sense of educating them in the message about the savior Jesus Christ, helping them in practical needs, educating them how to live better and help others. The ultimate degree of the church’s potential is, probably, the Kingdom of God here on earth: a perfect parallel society, with everything from handling authority to finances totally different from what we know, that would be including every believer, and doing good also to all the others.

Now, the church might only be able to run on 1-10% of its potential, due to human weakness and the influence of sin nature. But compared to what the world has to offer, this is splendor. So it should not be frustrating that men is able to envision the ideal of 100% in thinking, while when investing in church in reality it is stuck to 1-10%. It might be better at times to not think of the ideal.

Some hints how to “perform best” in this area of 1-10%. First, it’s not about performance as effort, but as natural effect of what one has learned from and become by living with God. Second, focus on living the local church, avoid affiliations of them and other non-local Christian authorities; the local church, with each believer directly connected to God and having the Bible, is the last authority in all questions. Third, keep it simple, sweetie; focus on the pure Gospel as God’s message of the necessity of salvation and salvation itself, and on living it out by taking God and his standards and ideas seriously; any man-made extension of the faith (like self-made prophecies, elaborated theology, and the misuse of natural authority) can only hurt.

It might be that my idea of power community (see elsewhere in my blog) is well beyond the 10% of the achievable potential of the church, and that I should not cling to such an Utopia any longer.

I’m in the process of preparing an international journey to observe God’s immediate, supernatural activity. Which means that I think these things do not happen in our Western societies any more, and for long, I wondered why. Finally, here are two ideas why God might be silent in Western societies.

One could be derived from the OT story of Eli, who lived at a time where the Bible says the word of God was rare: people are doing as they please, and as a consequence, God hides, because the people do not seek him. This relates to the society as a whole, not to the Christians still in it, because signs and miracles are not foremost signs to the believers but to the unbelievers (see the notion of the sign of tongues in one of Paul’s epistles).

Another reason could be that God spares a society of more severe judgment by not performing miracles, as they are in a condition that they would not accept them if they would happen. This could be derived from Jesus saying that he could not do many miracles in a city because of their unbelief: if he had done, they would’ve to be judged more severely, but he wants to spare them. Also see Jesus words on Capernaum and Nazareth, saying that they will receive harder judgment that Sodom and Gomorrah because they saw great miracles and did not believe in spite of that.

Together this seems to explain the absence of God’s immediate actions, and the reason is God’s grace with non-believers and not God’s judgment of or being angry at his people!

God might be far away, meaning answers to prayer and messages from God are really, really rare. At least in the Western world at this time. And it is difficult to deal with that distance, it is something “unlivable” to put all ones hope into something that will not (or nearly not) come into experience in this life.

A means to deal with this situation could be to develop a sense of awe. God might be far away (thought not absent, means you can still find some signs of him). But he is so great that he is sufficient even in that distance. This becomes apparent when studying his work in nature: the human body, the laws of nature etc..

In the recent article “Third way cont., up to the end” I said that it would be “the last to the “Second Acts” series of posts, canceling that project resp. leaving it to be “just some visits” while on my tour through Africa.”. This is no longer true … I realized in the time since then that I simply cannot or do not want to believe life-long in something that is just in “the Book” but not in my experience.

It felt “unlivable” to be doomed, as a Westerner, to in effect have a deistic God for ones time on earth. For Westerners also, experience is something totally different than knowledge: knowledge is the informational representation of experience. Knowledge might be enough to believe (and I do believe because I know something about God from history), but it is not enough to have living, life-giving, life-long hope for eternal life.

If the existence of eternal life depended, in some strange way, on the existence of the charm quark c, I think I would also be interested to know for sure and by personal observation (“experience”), rather than just from some physics books in the library.

But I will probably not come back to the scientific style that the “Second Acts” project originally had. Such a thing is over my limits in terms of time and money. It will be “just some visits” in Africa, but with substantial results and documented per video.

There have been numerous posts in my blog about the “Third Way”. This is probably the last, about the “end of the Third Way” and the lifestyle that’s enabled when arriving there. It is also, most astonishing, the last to the “Second Acts” series of posts, canceling that project resp. leaving it to be “just some visits” while on my tour through Africa.

They have the Scriptures

Miracles seem not to happen in people groups that can be expected to realize that Jesus is the Christ by looking at the Scriptures and judging them by their history etc.. Abraham said, when requested to send Lazarus back from the dead, they have the Scriptures – may they hear them. They really had the Scriptures, as they were in a culture that was enabled to judge and understand them. (However, Jesus performed miracles also among the Jews … perhaps to have them written down as scripture for us to believe, see the Gospel of John: these are written so that you may believe.) The Romans and Greek were not in a culture to understand the scripture of the Jews, that is to judge them correctly, even if translated to them; so they experienced miracles. And today, it seems that miracles happen mostly in regions and people groups that either do not have the Bible at all, or do not have the education to be able to see its truth. (I got this impression when watching the “finger of God” film and subtracting the decadent alleged miracles.) This general rule might have many exceptions and should not be thought of as a rigid one, but it seems to be a general rule.

This also means: the fact that Jesus is the Christ can be realized by looking at the Scriptures, and by judging the reliability of the Scriptures by looking at other artefacts of history. In our Western culture, it needs no miracles for that, and I should not expect them for that. Means that the role of miracles as “signs” is obsolete here. Intellectual people are blessed because they had the possibility to gain education, so God seems to expect they also use their education to get to know something about God.

So all in all, it seems that being a Christian in a Western culture means: believing that Jesus is the Christ, on the basis of history and written tradition (“Scriptue”), and trying to live accordingly. But without expecting supernatural experiences at all (they might happen nonetheless, however). Means, life feels “all natural”, as there is normally be no direct, supernatural contact to God, either, so no visions, voices etc.. “Only natural ingredients”. This is a very relaxing view of life and “religion”. It concedes that there is some mystery in what we believe: we do not really know why God does not want to be more obvious.

But what about answers to prayers?

Christians may pray, and expect answers to prayer. Also in highly civilized societies. According to my observations, what one can expect as answers are solutions to problems, but implemented with natural means, normally no “signs and miracles”.

The difference is: signs and miracles prove that there is a supernatural agent (God), while solutions only justify to strongly assume, but not to know, that God was at work. Nonetheless, it’s possible to live that way, even be thankful for what one assumes to be the work of God. It just is no immediate encounter with God, again emphasizing the importance we in highly civilized societies must attribute to history and written tradition (the “Scriptures”).

Third way of practical faith

If God does not do anything currently, thank him for what he did in history. Especially, thank Jesus that he provided eternal life for us through his death. That way, in third way, our occupation in this world is to thank God for what he did for us. (Inspired by the sermon of bishop Anba Damian on Freakstock 2009.)

Of course, searching confirmation for what we believe about God, by searching for his contemporary activity, is not forbidden. But don’t be desparate doing so – history is already enough to believe. Also, signs and miracles will be observable in other countries just like they are not observable here. Which means I will need no scientific methods to prove them, just as I do not need them to prove their absence here. Just stopping by and seeing them will do.

Conclusion: In essence, it seems to be fact that cultures that can understand the Bible should believe because of the Bible and history, while other cultures will get signs and miracles to be able to believe. This is also ok with intellectual integrity, as it means that a Christian is not to expect supernatural experiences with God when believing in a Western country; so I do not have to search these to confirm my faith, as they are not promised. Which means that the project as a research expedition is canceled, while I will still be interested in seeing God at work whenever I will be able to get a glimpse at it.

End note: it it interesting to see how it took 2-3 weeks for my brain to process the “Finger of God” movie, leading me to these conclusions (above) just now. So thinking is a pipeline: for continuous output, you need continuous input, but your feeding is rewarded weeks later.