For a long time now, I have wanted to write about what the Bible teaches concerning the salvation of humankind. Coming from a background as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I thought the task would be relatively simple. That has not turned out to be the case.
Part of the problem has to do with clearing the mind of years of false doctrine. The devil has done a most effective job of confusing the issue of man’s salvation. For instance, the idea that the good go to heaven and the evil to hell is not exclusive to Christianity. Muslims also share it. Hindus believe that by achieving Muksha (salvation) they are freed from the endless cycle of death and reincarnation (a sort of hell) and become one with God in heaven. Shintoism believes in a hellish underworld, but influence from Buddism has introduced the alternative of a blessed afterlife. Mormons believe in heaven and some form of hell. They also believe that the Latter Day Saints will be appointed to rule over planets of their very own. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that only 144,000 humans will go to heaven to rule over earth for 1,000 years and that the rest of humankind will be resurrected to the prospect of eternal life on earth. They are one of the few religions that do not believe in hell, except as the common grave, a state of nothingness.
In religion after religion we find variations on a common theme: The good die and go to some blessed form of afterlife elsewhere. The bad die and go to some damned form of afterlife elsewhere.
One thing we can all agree on is that we all die. Another thing is that this life is far from ideal and the desire for something better is universal.
Starting from Scratch
If we are going to discover the truth, we must start with an empty slate. We mustn’t assume what we’ve been taught is valid. Therefore, rather than enter the study trying to prove or disprove past beliefs—a counter-productive process—let us instead clear our mind of preconceptions and start from scratch. As the evidence accumulates, and the facts are understood, it will then become obvious if some past belief fits or should be discarded.
The question then becomes: Where do we start? We have to agree on some core truth, something we take as axiomatic. This then becomes the premise upon which we can venture forth to discover more truths. As a Christian, I would start on the premise that the Bible is the reliable and truthful word of God. However, that eliminates hundreds of millions from the discussion who do not accept the Bible as God’s word. Most of Asia practices some form of religion that is not based on the Bible at all. Jews do accept the Bible, but only the pre-Christian part of it. Muslims only accept the first five books as God’s word, but have a book of their own that supersedes it. Oddly enough, the same can be said for the so-called Christian religion of the Latter Day Saints (Mormonism), who put the Book of Mormon above the Bible.
So let us see if we can find a common ground upon which all sincere truth seekers can agree and upon which we can build a consensus.
The Sanctification of God’s Name
A major theme in the Bible is that of the sanctification of God’s name. Does this theme transcend the Bible? Can we find evidence for it outside of Scripture?
To clarify, by name we do not mean the appellation by which God may be known, but rather the Hebraic definition which refers to the character of the person. Even those who accept the Bible as God’s word have to acknowledge that this issue predates the writing of the Bible by over 2,500 years. In fact, it goes back to the time of the first humans.
Due to the suffering which humanity has experienced throughout its history, the character of God has been brought into reproach with many believing him to be cruel, or at the very least, uncaring and indifferent to the plight of humanity.
Axiom: The Creator is greater than the creation
To date, there is nothing to suggest that the universe is not infinite. Each time we invent stronger telescopes, we discover more of it. As we examine creation from the microscopic to the macroscopic, we uncover awe-inspiring wisdom in all its design. In every way, we are surpassed to an infinite degree. It follows that in issues of morality, we also are surpassed; or are we to believe that we are capable of more compassion, more justice, and more love than the one who made us?
Postulation: To believe in the salvation of all humankind, one has to believe that God is neither indifferent nor cruel.
A cruel god would not offer a reward, would not care about saving his creation from suffering. A cruel god might even offer salvation then snatch it away out of vindictiveness or to take sadistic pleasure from the suffering of others. One cannot trust someone who is cruel, and an all-powerful being who is cruel is the worst nightmare imaginable.
We detest cruel people. When people lie, deceive and act hurtfully, we react viscerally because our brains are made that way. Pain and disgust are sensations we feel due to processes occurring in the brain’s limbic system’s cingulate cortex and the anterior insula. These also react when we experience lies and injustice. We’re wired that way by the creator.
Are we more righteous than the creator? Can we look down on God as inferior to us in justice and love?
Some reason that God is indifferent. This was the philosophy of the Stoics. For them, God was not cruel, but rather devoid of emotion altogether. They felt that emotion implied weakness. An unfeeling god would have his own agenda, and humans would merely be pawns in the game. A means to an end.
He might grant some eternal life and freedom from suffering while arbitrarily denying this to others. He might use some humans merely as a means to perfect others, smoothing off the rough edges as it were. Once they’d served their purpose, they could be discarded like used sandpaper.
We would find such an attitude reprehensible and condemn it as unfair and unjust. Why? Because we are made to think that way. God made us that way. Again, the creation cannot surpass the creator in morality, justice, nor love.
If we believe that God is indifferent or even cruel, we are exalting ourselves over God, for it is plainly evident that humans can and do love even to the point of sacrificing themselves for the welfare of others. Are we to believe that we, the creation of God, surpass the creator in the manifestation of this fundamental quality?[i] Are we better than God?
The fact is plain: The entire concept of the salvation of all humanity is incompatible with an indifferent or cruel God. If we are to even discuss salvation, we have to acknowledge that God is caring. This is our first point of intersection with the Bible. Logic tells us that if there is to be salvation, then God must be good. The Bible tells us that “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Even if we do not yet accept the Bible, we have to start on the premise—based on logic—that God is love.
So we now have our starting premise, a second axiom, God is Love. A loving God would not allow his creation to suffer (whatever the reason) without providing some form of escape—what we will term, Our Salvation.
Applying the Logic of the Premise
The next question we can answer without the need to consult the Bible nor any other ancient writings that men may believe come from God is: Is our salvation conditional?
To be saved do we have to do something? There are those who believe we are all saved no matter what. However, such a belief is incompatible with the concept of free will. What if I don’t want to be saved, if I don’t want whatever life God is offering? Will he reach into my mind and make me want it? If so, then I don’t have free will anymore.
The premise that we all have free will also discounts all thought of an eternal afterlife of damnation.
We can demonstrate this logic by a simple example.
A rich man has a daughter. She lives comfortably in a modest house. He tells her one day that he has built a mansion for her with all the amenities. Further, it is built in a paradise-like park. She will never again want for anything. She has two choices. 1) She can move to the mansion and enjoy all that life offers, or 2) he will put her in a prison cell and she will be tortured until she dies. There is no option 3. She cannot simply remain where she lives. She must choose.
It seems safe to say that any human from any culture past or present would find this arrangement to be unfair—to put it mildly.
You were born. You didn’t ask to be born, but here you are. You are also dying. We all are. God offers us a way out, a better life. Even if this offer comes with no strings attached, no conditions, we may still choose to refuse. That is our right under the law of free will. However, if we are not allowed to return to the state we were in before we were created, if we cannot return to the nothingness of pre-existence, but must continue to exist and be conscious, and are given one of two choices, eternal suffering or eternal bliss, is that fair? Is that righteous? We’ve just accepted that God is love, so would such an arrangement be consistent with a God of love?
Some might still feel that the idea of a place of eternal torment makes sense from a logical point of view. If so, let’s bring it down to a human level. Remember, to get this far we’ve agreed that God is love. We also take it as axiomatic that the creation cannot surpass the creator. Therefore, though we may be loving, we cannot surpass God in this quality. With that in mind, let’s assume you have a problem child that has given you nothing but heartache and disappointment throughout his or her life. Would it be appropriate—assuming you had the power—to cause that child eternal pain and suffering with no way out and no means of ending the torture? Would you call yourself a loving father or mother in those circumstances?
To this point we’ve established that God is love, that humans have free will, that the combination of these two truths require that there be some escape from the suffering of our lives and finally that the alternative to that escape would be a return to the nothingness we had prior to coming into existence.
This is about as far as empirical evidence and human logic can take us. To get more details as to the why and wherefore of the salvation of humankind, we have to consult with the Creator. If you can find convincing evidence of this in the Quran, the Hindu Vedas, or the writings of Confucius or Buda, then go in peace. I believe the Bible holds these answers and we will explore them in our next article.Take me to the next article in this series
[i] For those of us who already accept the Bible as God’s word, this issue of salvation goes to the heart of the sanctification of God’s name. Every wicked and evil thing said about and/or attributed to God will be seen as a lie when man’s salvation is finally realized.
I don’t this interesting because I could easily imagine that some might not want what God offers. Free will would be the reason, and not necessarily a lack of love or respect for God. Might some feel that eternal terrestrial life would be not to their liking? I suspect that much more is in play than we are aware of. We know that God created the material realm, the earth and life on this planet, including humans, but why? We, as humans, have within us something more which requires expression. It is why symphonies are written, fine paintings are created… Read more »
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After reading this again I am struck by how it seems to be largely focussed on whether or not there is eternal damnation. Meleti, is this because you are trying to establish exactly what it is that we need salvation from? Just wondered. 🙂
If by eternal damnation, you mean eternal torment in hell, then my position is that the Bible teaches no such thing. The next installment should be out this week which will go further to making the point about what salvation is.
Where do we start?
The core of the truth is with every being. How a human access it? Feel your inner state by “looking at the lilies of the field”. (Luke 12:27) It may be all that is needed.
Some thoughts: I think salvation has to do with God wishing that all his perfect creatures have the opportunity to choose if they want everlasting life. I don’t believe its about his Godship (being the boss) or proving a point. The demons know he is God, the universal sovereign. Is he good? The observant angels have seen him react in a loving way to every situation, so he doesn’t need to prove a point to them…and he is not required to prove the point that he’s good to the demons or wicked humans, no more than Jesus was required to… Read more »
Yahorakam, well,well, what have we here? 🙂 You don’t know how wonderful I felt while reading what you have shared here. It is very apparent that you have been doing a lot of thinking and researching, and personal Bible reading (studying) “outside of the box” : The spoon feeding from the self assuming, not yet appointed, “Faithful Slave.” I have to tell you that I am on the same page that you are on. This is the exact conclusion that I have come up with from my own personal study and research. So nice to see that others are able… Read more »
On revisitation, (sorry to sound catholic) I looked up the word “Premise” definition: statement or idea that is accepted as being true and that is used as the basis of an argument. If we are to consider Meleti’s article this is an important word.. A couple of relevant points so far contributed – “they do not have to be part of a defined group, a religious organization under the authority of an ecclesiastical hierarchy. I now believe that the existence of any such religious authority is a surefire sign that the group is not Jehovah’s people.” And. “The purpose of… Read more »
So, I am still working through my entrenched thoughts from decades of JW association that it is not about OUR salvation at all. It is about who is the boss and does he have the right to be the boss.
According to us (JW’s), our salvation is secondary.
I need to go away and read some more…before I can contribute in a meaningful way.
I am coming to grips with so many things and overturning lots of things held as truths, only to find out that many don’t stack up as we have been taught
Briefly, (I’m at work) then, the story of the daughter of the man who has the mansion… if all mankind, all who have life now. Those that have died. Everybody in other words who has ever lived.
Consider this. A point in the future when all are actually given tangible evidence that the mansion and the beautiful park are “presented” somehow. Actually manifested. Then I feel we could be looking at a universal salvation scenario.
However I’m not sure if that then would be bypassing faith.
It would be nice if that were true, but when I think of the many angels who dwelt in the presence of God and who still gave it up to follow Satan; and then I think of those who will surround the holy city following Gog after the 1,000 years have ended; and then of the millions of Isrealites who walked the dry Red Sea bed only to worship a stupid calf of gold barely a month after; well, I guess, I do have faith…faith in the stupidity of my fellows to screw it all up even when it is… Read more »
I’m going back to digest an article I found in the archives- “when does the first resurrection occur” I started that one and need to digest it fully so as to get a handle on this picture that’s forming. I’m jumping from one thing to another!
See you in a while….
Starting from scratch is like returning home and this time staying at it always knowing the way back makes you feel the true nature as human being. (Luke 15:17). Always directing your attention carefully at the steps of the Christ. (1 Pet 2:21)
These are just a few points to consider.
1. The real pronunciation of God’s name and its meaning?,
2. Salvation of what exactly?,
Much is made about the pronunciation of God’s name. I believe that concentrating on that causes us to miss the much more important issue concerning what the divine name represents.
Yes, the meaning is the main point. “My Father” is a more familiar expression to use or a similar like the one written in Rom 8:15.
“To believe in salvation, one has to believe that God is neither indifferent nor cruel.” Meleti, I think you assume too little to draw that conclusion. Something that may be a salvation for a person, may in fact be a gift from a cruel or indifferent god if, for example, by getting saved, that particular person just plays a role in gods grand plans, which may be evil towards somebody else. An analogy would be a human ruler using carrot-and-stick approach. Those who obey the rules and the will of the ruler, will constantly get carrots, being in the state… Read more »
Reasonable points, tyhik. Let’s start with this point: “I think something more is needed as a premise. Like the Bible. Or at least a few specific verses from the Bible.” The purpose of the first article on salvation was to try to find a premise that all could agree on whether they accept the Bible as God’s word or not. So the premise has to be something we can agree without involving articles of faith, or sacred writings. I’ll get into the Bible in the next article. Now as to the other point you raise, that only works if we… Read more »
There are those, like calvinists, who believe that salvation is not for everyone. When reading your article, I did not assume it either. However, if salvation for everyone is among your premises then I agree with your conclusions. I propose it should be explicitly stated.
Regarding the purpose of the article, yes, it was clear to me already from the first reading. You express yourself very clearly 🙂
So…. is it a matter of godship? (don’t know if that’s a word). Reading all over this site I still have strong nagging thoughts about the Name – Jehovah. I remember 36 yrs ago when in my mid 20’s getting an incredible peace come over me when grasping who this “Jehovah” was. Several times since finding these pages I go up to the top of this page, right hand side, menu, “about” and read through “what we beleive”. Bullet point 4 speaks of Gods Name. Though we don’t know the exact way to say it. IF the whole salvation thing… Read more »
For me, the question of who are God’s people was resolved when I realized they do not have to be part of a defined group, a religious organization under the authority of an ecclesiastical hierarchy. I now believe that the existence of any such religious authority is a surefire sign that the group is not Jehovah’s people. Jehovah’s people have but one King, the one whom Jehovah himself has appointed. This is why Jesus uses the illustration of the wheat and the weeds. He knew that Jehovah’s people would exist like strands of wheat surrounded by a field of weeds.… Read more »
I like such from scratch discussions based on logic.
look forward to next article.
Great start Meleti. Looking forward to Part 2 & 3. I hope it will have something in there about how God’s declarations and standards do not change…
Wow. My shortest comment yet! Woohoo!
….but Dajo still beat me with 6 key strokes.
To be honest,I only have a vague outline of where all this is going. I find as I write each portion, ideas come to me that weren’t there at the start. I try not to fight it, but just to let it flow.