A Narrow Path
13. Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14. Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Christianity is not for everyone. When Christians forget, bad things happen. This is not to say that Christians should quit looking for new converts. Far from it! I frequently reach out to liberals and libertarians hostile to Christianity to encourage them to reconsider their positions. And I strive to enlighten existing Christians to a fuller understanding of scripture.
25. At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.
26. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight.
27. All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.
3. And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;
4. And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:
5. Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
6. And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
7. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:
8. But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.
9. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
10. And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?
11. He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.
12. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.
13. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.
14. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:
15. For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
16. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.
17. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.
13. But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.
21. In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.
22. All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.
23. And he turned him unto his disciples, and said privately, Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see:
24. For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.
23. Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them,
24. Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.
25. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are:
26. Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets.
27. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.
28. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.
29. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.
30. And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.
44. No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
65. And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.
24. Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.
25. Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me.
26. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.
27. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
28. And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
29. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.
1 Corinthians 1:
18. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
19. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
20. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
21. For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
22. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
23. But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
24. But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
25. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
26. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
27. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;
28. And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:
29. That no flesh should glory in his presence.
1 Corinthians 2:
10. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
11. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.
12. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
13. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
14. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
15. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.
16. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
1 Corinthians 7:
13. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.
14. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
15. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.
16. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?
17. But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.
1 Corinthians 12:
3. Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.
37. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
38. Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
39. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
40. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.
41. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
48. And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.
2 Corinthians 4:
3. But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:
4. In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.
4. According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
5. Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,
6. To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.
17. This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind,
18. Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:
19. Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
5. A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it.
6. And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture.
7. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it.
8. And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
9. And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be?
10. And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.
11. Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.
12. Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.
13. They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.
14. And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.
15. But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.
But I expect limited success. Christians must scatter many seeds in the hope that a few bear fruit. Not all are called.
Christians who forget can go wildly astray, acting in direct opposition to Gospel teachings. They can become violent monsters: burning witches, torturing heretics, baptizing Jews at sword point, and launching violent crusades. Yet they do so for love. If unbelievers are destined to experience everlasting torment, any action that leads pagans and atheists to Believe – including baptism at sword point and torture – is an act of supreme mercy. The logic is compelling.
But violent conversion is illogical at another level; it contradicts Jesus’ message of mercy, forgiveness and turning the other cheek. We have a paradox! Perhaps this paradox can be resolved at a practical level: violent conversions often backfire in the long run. Such actions appall the gentle and inspire contempt in the logical. I can thus argue against forcible conversion to Christianity on these grounds, but the argument fails to compel. To this day many Christians are tempted to force people into church or at least into Christian standards of behavior. Laws to this end remain on the books, including laws that go beyond the Law of Moses.
Christians who hold fast to the gentler messages in the New Testament are tempted to err in a different direction: to water down the meaning of “Christian” so that all can qualify. This error is older than the first, going back to when Christians were persecuted by the Roman government. Relics of this error are found throughout the Christian calendar: saint’s days that correspond to pagan holidays, Christmas trees to appease forgotten tree spirits, Easter eggs and Easter bunnies…Most Christians worship on Sunday instead of the Sabbath in deference to a forgotten sun god.
The process continues to this day. Many mainline Protestant denominations have dumbed themselves down to the point where sin is rarely mentioned, and when so, in mushy terms having little connection with Biblical teaching. The ordination of homosexual priests in the Episcopal Church is but one glaring example. I’ve personally endured many a platitudinous sermon based on the Gospel of Pop Psychology or the Gospel of National Public Radio. I’ve heard priests read a passage of scripture and then expound a feel-good sermon saying the exact opposite of the quoted passage.
When Christians use force or compromise to grow the Church, the Church ceases to be truly Christian. Outsiders voice contempt for good reason to. So does our Creator.
Back to politics: when Christians today feel compelled to force Christian standards of behavior on everyone, they invoke the might of the state, polluting the law books with unenforceable laws. Courts clog. Jails fill up. Crime surges. Contempt for Christianity grows in the hearts of those who love freedom and justice. Many call for a new Post Christian era.
I am not one of them. When the people cease to worship the Creator, they often worship the State instead. I’d rather deal with nosey Puritans than fawning followers of a modern god-emperor. Better yet, I’d rather live in a society heavily spiced with real Christians, Christians who knowingly walk the Narrow Path.
Liberty and morality are best served when Christians walk the Narrow Path, setting a high example for others to follow at a distance. Christians should live an exemplary life, far above the requirements of secular laws. Christians should be the “salt of the earth” shouldering the burdens left behind by the faithless. Schools, hospitals and other institutions would teach and inspire higher morals if Christians would voluntarily pay for them – without the benefit of the Tax Man to ensure that slackers pay their fair share.
This is not to say that Christians have no role inside of government; I do not believe in separation of Church and statesman. The Bible provides beneficial guidance to modern lawmakers – if they realize that they are making laws for more than Christians. This is not the Holy Land. And government has a role in punishing the more heinous breaches of morality – those breaches that triggered divine wrath even unto non Believers in the past. Human sacrifice was such a breach and late term abortion bears a strong resemblance to the ancient practice. I side with the Religious Right on this one.
Government should be more moral. Ayn Rand wrote that liberty is best served when people abandon religion and Christian morality in favor of rational self-interest. Nonsense! Rational self-interest in the hands those in power leads to pork, corruption, crony capitalism. Good government – limited government – requires altruists, or people who expect to be rewarded for today’s restraint in the afterlife. Though a free market often reconciles rational self-interest and the good of society, it takes active unselfish morality on the part of the governors to have a free market. The Founders of this country knew this. Furthermore, the free market does not reconcile self-interest with the common weal in all cases. The exceptions are significant, and if good people fail to come to do the right thing voluntarily, taxpayers will pay for bureaucrats and social workers involuntarily. Liberty needs Christianity, or something like it.
At least, liberty needs Christianity when Christians recognize that not all are called. Otherwise, Christianity is a tool for tyranny. But accepting that not all are called is hard. It is hard to abstain from sin when the swinging next-door neighbors are having such a good time in their hot tub. It is hard to pay for important charities when the neighbor across the street is using the money he saved on charity on that brand new Porsche. And it is harder yet to believe that Belief is limited by God, that unbelievers will experience eternal agony, and that God is just and loving.
Questions of Divine Justice
Have you read the quotations on the sidebar yet? If not, do so now. Better yet, look up the passages in a modern faithful translation such as the New American Standard or the New King James. I copy scriptures from the King James edition so I don’t have to worry about copyright issues. I also like the fact that the King James translation mostly preserves ancient metaphors vs. interpreting their meaning. Paraphrase editions which interpret metaphors are too susceptible to bias by the interpreter. On the downside the English language has drifted considerably over the centuries making the King James translation hard to read and even misleading at times, so a modern translation in the same spirit of the King James is preferable, albeit copyrighted. (It would be really nice if some foundation would sponsor a truly open source translation. Or perhaps a group effort in the mode of Wikipedia or freeware could do the job.)
Now that you have read these quotations, do you accept them? If you are like many Christians, probably not. Or even if you accept them intellectually, are you ready to follow through with the implications? Can you be at peace with the fact that many will be atheists, Buddhists, witches, etc.? (Of course, we as Christians should seek converts from this pool of non-Believers, but should we go into panic when many refuse?)
These quotations have been born out by history. At the time they were written, few had heard of Jesus or had any access to the Laws of God other than by observing nature. It took centuries for missionaries to make even the first introductions around the globe. Even in areas where Christianity was the supposed dominant religion, pagan practices were continued underground or merged into the liturgy. Bibles were scarce and in a foreign language. Many priests were ignorant and/or corrupt, taking the job for political or monetary reasons. Even today, many non-Believers attend church merely in order to have a moral social network. (Which is not always a bad thing, as long as non-Believers make a reasonable effort to live by the Bible’s strictures. Non-Believers will get true Belief when resurrected, and will be rewarded for their moral efforts, if I read the scriptures correctly – but I get ahead of myself.)
The difficulty is neither scriptural clarity nor observational evidence. The problem is logical. How does one reconcile the following statements?
- Non-Believers will roast eternally in Hell.
- Believers will be freely given a blissful eternity in Heaven.
- God chooses who will Believe and dis-Believe. You have no choice in the matter.
- God is loving and just.
Some simply shrug and say “It’s a mystery,” and thereby drive the logically-minded from the Faith. I have a different answer: the first two statements are wrong. The fate of non-Believers is more complicated and uncertain than stated above. The New Testament hints at multiple levels of punishment for the unrighteous, and it is unclear if any human merits eternal torment. And believers do not get a free pass into Heaven. Belief is but a first step to many trials and tests. Not all will pass. And even those who do pass aren’t done working, and they may not spend much time in Heaven. The Call is not an invitation to an eternal vacation in the sky. The Call is a job offer.
In the chapters that follow I will make the case for divine justice and show how many conventional views of the afterlife contradict scripture. After piecing together a more Bible-based view of the afterlife, I will speculate on why this view makes sense. All this will lead to the final political point to be made in this book. (I have a major treat for religious conservatives who make it through this study.) Finally, I’ll list some of the scriptures which appear to contradict the views I present. I could be wrong. The conventional views do have some scriptural basis.
This study is a long journey. So is the Narrow Path. Next, we will look at hard a path it is, and take a first look at at the nature of that divine job offer…
14. For many are called, but few are chosen.