Should I worry about buying video equipment called Blackmagic Design?

Q.  I’m getting back into cinematography and for my new company I’m looking at some video equipment from a company called Blackmagic Design. Nothing about the company indicates that they are occult based, but the name is an odd one.  This seems to be really good equipment at affordable prices. Should I worry about the name?

Blackmagic Design logo, courtesy Wikipedia

No, I don’t think you need to worry about the name.

For one thing, as you suspect, this company has no involvement with the occult.  Blackmagic Design is the name that founder Grant Petty chose apparently to echo of the name of his former company, Digital Voodoo, after (in his own words) he “lost management control of the company and resigned.”  And no occult connections seem to have been intended for that earlier name, either.  Rather, the Internet was being described in its earlier days as “a kind of digital voodoo, a blur between technology and magic” (as this website for a different company of the same name explains), and the expression came to be used for any other advanced digital technology.  In other words, the references to “magic” and “voodoo” are simply metaphors, and such they are harmless, as I explain in my post entitled “Should Christians read books and watch movies that have magic in them?

Secondly, and more importantly, even if Blackmagic Design did have some occult connection–even if the founders, say, had sold their souls to the devil in order to become successful, or even if they put curses on every product on its way out the door–buying the equipment still couldn’t hurt you.  An analogous case in the Bible is the Corinthians’ question to Paul about food offered to idols that was then sold in the marketplace.  Citing the Scriptural principle that “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,” Paul advises, “Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience.” 

In other words, even though the meat had been offered to idols, it didn’t carry any spiritual power or effects with it.  An innocent purchaser would be unharmed by any of its previous associations.  In the same way, digital equipment, whatever its source, is simply a product of creation and culture by the time it comes into the hands of the end user, and it can be freely used by those who love and serve “God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

The one qualification, again on biblical grounds, would be not to use the equipment if this caused anyone to stumble.  A new follower of Jesus, for example, might trying to break free from past occult involvement, and using equipment with the name Blackmagic might cause them to violate their conscience by doing something they felt was wrong. Even though this would not be absolutely wrong, they shouldn’t violate their conscience, and no one else should encourage them to do this.

But that is only an unlikely hypothetical situation.  I think the only real concerns anyone should have when considering such equipment are quality and price.  I do not have the expertise to advise you on those issues.  But do I hope I’ve helped reassure you about the name.

 

Can a graphic novel presentation of Scripture still be the Bible? (In this case, yes.)

In this panel from the Word For Word Bible Comic, Samson repulses the Philistines using the jawbone of a donkey as his only weapon.

In this panel from Word For Word Bible Comics, Samson repulses the Philistines using the jawbone of a donkey as his only weapon.

In a recent post, taking up an example offered by Christianity Today, I asked, “If you put the Bible in a flow chart, is it still the Bible?”  I argued that the particular flow chart in question, which presented the biblical laws about oxen, was not the Bible because:
(1) It was not just the Bible—it added explanation and interpretation;
(2) It changed the literary form of the Bible into another form; and
(3) It isolated the laws from their original surroundings, so that the broader principles they taught were lost.

Based on these same criteria, I have to conclude that the remarkable presentation of the Scriptures now taking shape in graphic novel form as The Word for Word Bible Comic is indeed still the Bible.  Let me explain, with the help of some material that the artist behind this project, Simon Amadeus Pillario, sent me after we connected through the Bible Gateway Bloggers Grid

(1) As Pillario explains here on his site, W4W (as I will abbreviate the name) presents the entire verbal text of the Bible, with nothing omitted.  Even narrative explanations that are not essential when the story is presented visually are still included, though in gray at the bottom of the panel.  The only added “words” are sound effects, such as a lion’s roar.

By contrast, other illustrated presentations of the Bible typically add imagined events and dialogue.  For example, midway through the story of Samson (the story that W4W is starting with), one previous presentation reads this way:

Narrator: News of Samson’s escape from Gaza spreads through the country. Rulers of Philistine cities are worried and call a meeting.
First Ruler: Samson must be captured. Let’s put all our armies together.
Second Ruler: I’m not risking my army on Samson. We’ve got to find another way.
Third Ruler: I have an idea!

None of this, of course, is found anywhere in Scripture.  One great strength of W4W is that it will be “just the Bible,” but still the whole Bible, in terms of the words and events depicted.  (Because in places the Bible can present scenes that are violent and “adult-themed,” W4W comes with a parental advisory, explaining that “parents and guardians should be aware of the strong content of the Bible” and that “this comic will only be suitable for readers over the age of 15.”)

(2)  But what about not changing the literary form of the Bible?  How can a historical narrative reworked into a comic book still be the same thing?

We need to recognize that the original form of the Bible was not written, but oral.  And oral storytellers would inevitably add their own “illustrations” to the material they were reciting, in the form of gestures, facial expressions, changes in intonation, etc. W4W is, in effect, a recitation of the story of the Bible with corresponding “illustrations” that just happen to be drawn pictures instead of gestures.

I realize there’s a fine line here.  But I would argue that W4W is not really a “comic book” in genre, which would be the case if it portrayed Samson like a superhero (more about this below) and if it adopted conventional comic-book stereotypes when it came to characterization, dialogue, and even things like coloration.  What I see as I read it is an attempt to represent the Scriptures accurately and faithfully, so that they provide the governing conventions.

Indeed, one might argue that W4W is actually a more authentic presentation of the Bible than our bare printed texts, which invite us to fill a visual vacuum by supplying pictures in our own imagination of people and events. We tend to do this as if they happened in our own time and place, or else in a generic “Bible world” where nothing really changes culturally from Abraham to Paul. W4W instead brings the reader very authentically back into the specific cultural world in which each story originated, through careful archaeological research.

For example, as Pillario demonstrates on this page, the Samson story depicts the specific pottery, clothing, footwear, headgear, etc. of that story’s place and time.  Other material the artist has sent me shows how he has authentically reproduced the armor of the Philistines in this period, right down to documented colors, instead of dressing them like Roman soldiers, as other illustrated Bibles have done.  He even follows the shift from four-spoked wagon wheels to six-spoked wheels when that occurs historically!

(3)  Finally, what about not isolating biblical material from the larger themes it would teach if encountered in context?  For me, one of the greatest strengths of W4W is that it carefully brings out these themes.

For example, in other illustrated presentations, Samson is typically drawn as if he had the physique of a bodybuilder, as in this depiction in an older book of his fight with the lion:

But as Pillario observes, if this is what Samson really looked like, there would have been no need for the Philistine lords to try to discover the “secret of his great strength.”  That would have been obvious: he had great strength because he had huge muscles.  W4W instead depicts Samson as the ordinary looking man he was (compare his physique in the panel at the top of this post), showing that he had great strength only because the Spirit of the Lord came upon him.  This  is an essential theological theme of the book of Judges: ordinary, weak, even flawed people become instruments of God through the power of the Spirit.  In cases like this the artistic depiction in W4W supports, rather than undermines, the larger theological themes of the Bible.

However, in the end, the most important question here may not be, “Is this graphic novel still ‘the Bible’?”  That question could admittedly be answered in different ways, depending on the criteria chosen. Instead, the right question is simply, “Is this an approach worth checking out?”  And I’d say it definitely is.  I think it will set a new standard for accuracy and fidelity in illustrated presentations of the Bible.

Have a look for yourself and see.  The artist has just launched a campaign through Kickstarter to raise money for the next phase of the project, a full graphic novel of the book of Judges.  On this page you will find a video version of the Samson story along with detailed information about each of the design principles behind W4W, which I have described only briefly here. You may find that you want to help him along with a pledge, as I have.  But even if you don’t, what he’s doing is definitely worth seeing.  Check it out.

 

Can Christians ever take one another to court?

Q. How literally should we take Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians that Christians should settle their disputes out of court? If Christians do have to go to court (say, in a situation in which someone else brings a case against them and they don’t have a choice), how literally should they take Paul’s instruction to “rather be wronged or cheated”? For example, should a Christian be willing to be “wronged or cheated,” rather than engage in speaking harshly about another Christian, even when the stakes are high (such as in a child custody battle)?

If we are really going to take Paul’s counsel about this “literally,” we should recognize that the people he was addressing were members of the same local congregation, or at least members of the community of Jesus’ followers in the same city, so that they were under the spiritual authority of the same leaders.  Paul is saying that these leaders should have the wisdom to settle the dispute and so the aggrieved parties should submit it to them.  His point is not that we should never dispute about important things, but that our disputes should be settled under the authority of the Christian community.

The situation is quite different when the two parties are not part of the same community.  If there is no spiritual authority whom both respect and who knows them and understands their situations, it’s hard to follow Paul’s counsel as he intended it.

We should also recognize that Paul’s main concern was not simply the avoidance of conflict. (Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians he wrote, “There must be divisions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.”). Rather, his concern was for the reputation of the gospel. As I explain in my study guide to Paul’s Journey Letters, he tells the Corinthians that it is “an embarrassment to their community and to Jesus’ reputation in the city” for them to be publicly bickering and appealing to “unbelievers” to settle their differences.

It was only in this context that Paul said it was better to allow yourself to be wronged or cheated—better this than to put any stumbling block in the way of people believing the good news about Jesus.  As he wrote a little later in 1 Corinthians, “We put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.”

So if the weak and defenseless would otherwise be oppressed, if a child’s welfare were clearly at stake, if the cause of the gospel would actually suffer more if an injustice went unopposed, in all such cases I would not see Paul’s counsel to the Corinthians as a blanket prohibition against appealing to the law to settle a dispute, even among self-proclaimed Christians.

However, I would also caution that the law is a blunt instrument.  It can only declare a winner and a loser in a court case.  And most situations that lead to these cases are much more complex than that; there’s right and wrong on both sides.  I imagine that a case that made even followers of Jesus consider litigation against one another would be very complex and nuanced, so that no one should be satisfied with a simple “judgment” in favor of one party or the other.

There are Christian mediation services (a simple Google search for that phrase turns up many) that can help resolve matters out of court, and I would strongly recommend going to them before considering litigation against another believer.  Turning to these professionals is not quite the same thing as submitting a dispute to someone who is in local spiritual authority over both parties (I hope today’s church pastors and elders are up for that challenge when it does arise), but I think it’s a wise and well-advised course.

In summary, as I say at the end of the discussion of this topic in my study guide, “Followers of Jesus might see this question in two different ways. Some would be concerned that the demands of justice be honored, so that someone who says they follow Jesus shouldn’t be allowed to defraud another person flagrantly. Others might say that modeling Christlike sacrifice and non-resistance could help another person realize that they need to change their ways.”

Did Jesus send a mixed message about repetition in his teaching about prayer?

This question was asked in a comment on my post, “Do our prayers really get through to God?”

Q.  I appreciate this post and I had a bit of a follow up question. Over the years I’ve struggled with what I see as a mixed message in the New Testament. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” But in the Parable of the Friend at Midnight and in similar parables, Jesus seems to be saying that we should essentially pester God and repeatedly bug Him until we get what we are after. He also gives us the “Lord’s Prayer,” which seems quite fixed in its order and style. How do you understand this apparently mixed message? Do you think that a lot of the prayers we commonly hear in church are made up of the “empty phrases” Jesus warns against? Phrases like “be with us,” “protect us,” “watch over us,” “bless us,” “forgive us,” etc. Often unthoughtful catch phrases . . .

Actually, I think Jesus is talking about different things in these two teachings.

When he warns in the Sermon on the Mount against “heaping up empty phrases,” he’s specifically saying that we shouldn’t expect God to hear us and grant our requests based on how many words we’ve said—that is, how much time and energy we’ve put into saying long and repetitive prayers.  This is really a form of “works,” of trying to earn something from God by our own efforts.  Jesus directs us instead towards grace:  “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”  What we receive from God in prayer is an expression of His love and goodness towards us, not our efforts.

On the other hand, in parables like the one about the Friend at Midnight, the Persistent Widow, etc. Jesus is saying that once we have become convinced that something will advance God’s purposes in our lives and in the world, we should pray for it with a persistent, relentless faith.  We shouldn’t pray one or two half-hearted prayers along the lines of “Well, if you think you might want to do this, and you could maybe get around to it, we’d appreciate it.”

Rather, the kind of persistent prayer Jesus describes in these parables is what the author of Hebrews calls “boldly approaching the throne of grace.”  But note that in this case as well the answer to prayer comes as a result of God’s grace, not our efforts.  Hebrews makes clear that it rests on Jesus’ own high priestly intercession for us.  And it begins with a revelation to us of God’s purposes in the world; we then join in those purposes through our prayers, with the faith God gives us to pray them and believe for their answers.  (I suggest in my study guide to John, for example, that Jesus turns the water to wine at the wedding in Cana because “Mary’s persistent faith and implicit trust show him that God is powerfully at work at this very moment.”)

As for the Lord’s Prayer, I think it’s important to recognize that this was Jesus’ response to his disciples request, “Lord, teach us to pray,” after they had seen him at prayer.  When we see it as a teaching, we realize that the Lord’s Prayer is designed to show us what the themes and priorities of our own prayers should be:  for the advancement of God’s kingdom first, and then for our own needs in the context of our participation in that kingdom, as well as for forgiveness and deliverance from temptation.

The Lord’s Prayer is, therefore, a model prayer that we are meant to imitate but not necessarily to repeat verbatim over and over again (as by trying to do “penance” by saying “ten ‘Hail Marys’ and ten ‘Our Fathers’”).  However, I think the Lord’s Prayer can nevertheless be used very effectively in liturgical settings.

For example, when I was a pastor we realized that even in our small church we had speakers of a dozen or more languages—African, Asian, European, etc.  So one week, at the time when we usually shared the concerns of the congregation and prayed for them together, we instead had people take turns simply saying the Lord’s Prayer in their own native languages.  This was a powerful and beautiful experience that people talked about long afterwards.

Another time we were visiting one of the great British cathedrals, York Minster.  At noon a voice came quietly over the public address system reminding us that this was not just a historic building, it was a house of worship, and that it had been that since the early 600s.  And so we were all invited to join in a brief moment of worship by saying the Lord’s Prayer together, once again in our native languages.  This, too, was a powerful experience that illustrated the unity of God’s people through space and time by means of shared liturgical material.

Finally, as for the “empty phrases” that can creep into our prayers (“bless them, Lord”—how, exactly?), I think you’re right, we need to take an extra moment to think about what we really mean to say, rather than fall back on platitudes.  This is one more good warning to take to heart from Jesus’ multifaceted—but not mixed, I would say—teaching on prayer.

John Everett Millais, “The Parable of the Unjust Judge” (= the Parable of the Persistent Widow)

Can Christians do “magic tricks” with cards?

Q. Do you think it is acceptable to do card tricks if this doesn’t involve calling on spirits, foretelling the future, etc.? I have studied it for a few months and hope it may further my personal development. However, there are several things that make me uncertain whether it’s ok to practice anymore now, as I have to do the following two things in order to succeed in card tricks:
1) Telling lies to misdirect spectators
2) Keeping card trick secrets.

Actually, I think you can definitely keep doing card tricks, even as a follower of Jesus, if you just give a disclaimer before you perform them.  You can say something like, “What you are about to see is an illusion intended for your entertainment.  There’s no magic and nothing occult involved.  What I say during the performance is designed to support the illusion and it may not all be true.” That way everyone has fair warning and the right expectations.

In fact, if this would be appropriate for your audience (for example, in a church setting), you can even say, “As a follower of Jesus, I’m careful to follow the Bible’s teaching not to be involved in magic or the occult.  What you are about to see is an illusion . . . ,” etc.

I agree that practicing and performing card tricks could be good for your personal development.  It will help with things like hand-eye coordination, concentration, memory, logic, and public speaking.

There’s no necessary connection between doing illusions or slight-of-hand tricks and the occult.  See this recent article about how a group of Christian magicians has defended itself as not being involved in the occult.  You may want to see whether you can get involved in a similar group where you live, such as the Fellowship of Christian Magicians or ChristianMagicians.org.  (I am not familiar with either of these groups first-hand and so I cannot give them an informed endorsement, but I mention them as examples of how magicians in many places are using their art to share the gospel in memorable and appealing ways.)

You may wish to read my post on the topic, “Should Christians read books and watch movies that have magic in them?”  It explains how even Christian authors such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien have legitimately used magic as a literary device in their writings, but it also explains the possible risks and dangers of suggestions of magic.

Best wishes as you continue to develop your craft and use it in positive ways!

Card tricks can be used in positive ways: Here a man does a trick to propose marriage to his girlfriend! (Click on picture for link to video.)

Why did God make people and angels who would fail and fall away?

Q. I have a friend who is wrestling with understanding how so many people and even angels could turn their backs on God. When you consider all the great names of the Bible, they usually come with some failures; 1/3 of the angels fell; Judas turned away from Jesus. My friend wonders not just at the failure and what that means for us who have never even walked with God like our forefathers, but also why God chose to create such fallible creatures, knowing He would have to destroy many if not most of them? He also asks why God didn’t protect Adam and Eve in the garden. Instead, He permitted Satan to hang out there. My friend is asking some honest questions that many people wrestle with, I think. I came across this blog and enjoy the well thought-out answers that you’ve written, so I thought I’d throw in these questions and see what comes back.

Thanks for joining in the discussions on this blog!

You said that you thought many people wrestled with the same honest questions as your friend, and I’d have to agree with you, as I’ve already had the challenge on this blog of trying to respond to some questions very similar to the ones he’s asking.

For example, he was concerned about why God would choose to create such fallible creatures, knowing He would have to destroy many if not most of them.  I’ve shared my thoughts on essentially the same question in this post entitled, “Why does God make people He knows are going to reject Him?

Your friend also asked why God didn’t protect Adam and Eve in the garden, rather than permitting Satan to hang out there.  I address that concern in my post entitled, “Why didn’t God protect the children he created from an evil being like Satan?

And as for why people who walked with God, and even angels who saw God face to face, could still fail and fall away, see these posts, for example:

How could God call David a “man after his own heart” when he committed adultery and murder?

Why did God create Satan?

Perhaps you and your friend can both read these posts and then discuss them together.  Maybe that will help address his concerns.  But please write back with any follow-up questions you have afterwards.  Thanks again for joining the conversation here.

What’s your take on Adam Hamilton’s “Making Sense of the Bible”?

Q. I am reading quite an eye opening book called: “Making Sense of the Bible” by Adam Hamilton. I have some issues with it, but I am enjoying it! What is your take on this book!

I’m sorry to say that I haven’t yet had the chance to read this book, but from what I can find out about it on line, it looks very intriguing.  According to the publisher’s information, it takes up some of the very issues I’ve had the chance to discuss on this blog in response to readers’ questions, such as:

  • Were Adam and Eve real people?  (See this post.)
  • Why is God so violent in the Old Testament? (See this post.)
  • Why would Paul command women to “keep silent in the church”? (See this post in its series)
  • Is Jesus the only way to salvation? (See this post.)
  • How does God view homosexual people? (See this post and the series it begins.)
  • Is the Book of Revelation a guide to the End Times? (See this post.)

I thank you for bringing this book to my attention and I look forward to reading it for myself.  Once I have, I’ll post a more detailed review.  Stay tuned!

Does God know in advance who will be the Antichrist?

This question was asked in a comment on my post entitled “Why Did God Create Satan?

Q. Wow I really love this article. For years I’ve been trying to make sense of two somewhat conflicting beliefs, (1) that we are made as an expression of God’s love and (2) that God made Satan knowing that he would turn on him and tempt Eve. I’ve often wondered if God makes the deliberate choice to not know what choices we will make. Being God he certainly has the option to make that choice if he wants to. My only thought that would seem to contradict this theory is that the Bible talks about the future Antichrist and it’s pretty clear about what choices he makes. What are your thoughts on this?

If God does know in advance what choices we’re going to make, then the creation of Satan certainly raises a great problem for the idea that God loves us and wants the best for us.  How could God create “such a monster,” as the questioner behind my original post put it, knowing what havoc he would wreak on humanity and the creation?

The solution I suggest is that God created not Satan but Lucifer, a great and glorious angel who had tremendous potential for good.  Because Lucifer had the freedom to follow God or not, what he would eventually choose was not knowable in advance—at least according to my understanding of freedom.  And not knowing what cannot be known is not a deficiency in omniscience or foreknowledge.

You’re suggesting a different solution:  God could know every choice in advance, but God chooses not to know, perhaps for the same reasons I describe in my original post, to allow true freedom so that true love will also be possible.  (Love that is compelled is not love.)

I think that both of these approaches work, so I just need to address what you’ve raised as a potential counterexample:  Isn’t it clear from the Bible that God knows in advance what moral choices the Antichrist is going to make—another “monster” whose choices will wreak havoc?

I’d say in response that I think we need to examine critically what we’ve been led to believe about what the Bible predicts regarding the Antichrist, that is, the person who will lead a worldwide rebellion against God at the end of history.

For one thing, the term “antichrist” is not used in the book of Revelation or in any of the other biblical passages that are typically understood as predictions of the end times.  It is used only in the letters of First and Second John, where it is defined as anyone who denies that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.  This, John writes, “is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”  In other words, for John, “antichrist” is not so much a future person, it’s a spirit that has already arrived.  We need to be careful not to come under its influence ourselves, but this does not mean that God knows in advance which specific people will choose to give in to its influence, not if their choices are truly free.

The Bible does speak under other names of a person whom interpreters often identify with a future “Antichrist.”  In Revelation he’s called the “beast.”  This seems to be an echo of the way this same figure is described in Daniel as one of the “kings” of a “kingdom” that’s represented symbolically in his vision as a “fourth beast.”

But I think it’s important to recognize that the initial application of the prophecies in both Daniel and Revelation must be made to the near future from the standpoint of those books, that is, to the time when they were written, or shortly afterwards.  This is simply responsible biblical interpretation, to ask first what a text would have meant to its author and its original audience.

In that light, as I explain in my study guide to those two books, and in this post, Daniel’s references to the “tenth horn” of the “fourth beast,” equivalent to the “little horn” of his next vision, must be associated primarily with Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who desecrated the Jerusalem temple in 167 BC.  Similarly, as also I say in the guide and in this post, Revelation’s frequent references to the “beast” must be understood as referencing initially the Roman emperor Domitian, who persecuted the followers of Jesus late in the first century AD.

At least according to the “preterist” approach I take to Daniel and Revelation (see the explanation of that term near the end of this post), any further fulfillments of these prophecies will occur in the future by analogy and redemptive-historical “deepening.”  (This is precisely the way that Jesus, according to Matthew, “fulfilled” Old Testament prophecies—not so much literally as typologically.  See this post for a discussion.)

As the conflict between good and evil reaches its culmination at the end of world history—the Bible certainly envisions that happening—somebody will take the lead in opposing God, and that person will gather followers from all over the world.  But I’m not convinced that it’s knowable right now who this person will be, as countless people will make innumerable choices between now and then.  Rather, as Jesus said to his disciples, “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.”  In other words, the leading astray may be inevitable, but the actual person who leads astray remains indefinite (“anyone”).

As a result, I don’t believe the Bible actually predicts which specific person in the future will lead the opposition against God at the end of history.  And so what the Bible says about this future figure is not a counterexample to the idea that God does not know moral choices in advance because they are truly free and thus unknowable.  What we need to come to grips with is not God knowingly creating a monster, whether Satan or Antichrist, but God endowing us with such beautiful, terrible freedom.

“The Beast from the Sea,” medieval tapestry illustrating figures from the book of Revelation. This “beast” is typically identified with the Antichrist.

Do the souls of believers “sleep” after death until the resurrection?

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Q. Some people say that if you are going to heaven, you go right away after you die. Others think that you just “sleep” until the second coming. (One snag in this idea might be Jesus saying to the thief on the cross, “Truly I say to you, this day you will be with me in Paradise.”) What do you think?

You’re actually asking about an issue that has been the subject of continual debate throughout the history of the Christian church. References to controversy over the subject extend back to at least the AD 240s. The debate remains lively today.

The actual issue is whether the soul is immortal, in which case it survives death, or whether it is mortal, in which case it dies with the body and is resurrected with the body, or else it “sleeps” until the body is resurrected (perhaps “dreaming,” as some have suggested, of life in the person’s future ultimate state). There is, of course, no philosophical discussion in the Bible as to the mortality or immortality of the soul. (The Bible isn’t that kind of book.) So we have to try to come to some conclusion about this based on what the Bible does say.

Without intending any disrespect for the view that the soul is mortal, since this view has a long and venerable pedigree in Christian theology, let me nevertheless cite some passages in the Bible that lead me to believe that the soul is immortal, and that believers who die therefore pass directly and consciously into the presence of God:

• The author of Hebrews writes that we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.” I believe this means more than that the lives of faithful people, catalogued just before this statement (Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, etc.), are witnesses and inspiring examples to us. I believe the author is saying that such people are currently witnesses of our lives, so that we should “run the race” in the awareness that they are in the grandstands, as it were, cheering us on. But this means that they would have to be conscious and aware, looking on from a heavenly vantage point.

• In several places the psalmists express what seems to be the lively expectation of going immediately and consciously into God’s presence when they die, for example:
- In Psalm 16, “You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead . . . you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand”;
- Near the end of Psalm 73, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever”;
- Perhaps best known, in Psalm 23, “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

• As you mentioned, Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would be with him “today” in Paradise.

These are only a few of the passages that could be considered in support of the immortality of the soul.  I don’t doubt that proponents of soul mortality would counter with some passages of their own. This is, in short, a question on which people of good will who are equally committed to the authority and inspiration of the Scriptures have long disagreed. So we each need to be “fully convinced in our own minds” but respectful of the other position.

Still, as I said, all things considered, my overall sense from the Bible is that the soul of a believer does pass directly and consciously into the presence of God upon death.

Titian, “Christ and the Good Thief,” c. 1566

Has the Holy Spirit ever taken on human form?

 

Francesco Albani, “The Baptism of Christ” (detail). The Holy Spirit appeared in material form, as a dove, at Christ’s baptism. But has the Holy Spirit ever appeared in human form?

Q. I know God and Jesus have taken human form before, and I was wondering, has the Holy Spirit ever done so? I don’t remember any passages where He does, but are there any?

(This is the second part of a question whose first part is answered in this post.)

I’m not aware of any biblical passages that describe the Holy Spirit taking on human form quite the way Jesus did in his incarnation, or the way God the Father did on several occasions in the Old Testament when He appeared as the “angel of the LORD” (that is, “the angel of Yahweh”). In some of those episodes, the so-called “angel” is identified directly with Yahweh. For example, after the angel of the LORD’s very first appearance in the Old Testament, to Hagar, we read that she “gave this name to Yahweh who had spoken to her: ‘You are the God who sees me.’”

However, there are at least a couple of places in the Bible where the Holy Spirit appears in material form. Luke tells us in his gospel that when Jesus was baptized, “the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove.” And Luke tells us in Acts that “what seemed to be tongues of fire” came to rest on each of the disciples as they were filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

Beyond this, there are three very intriguing occasions in the Old Testament when the Holy Spirit is said to put on the body of an existing human being as if it were clothing, in order to speak and act on earth.

Before I discuss these places, I need to say a word about Hebrew grammar so that I can quote from the original language without being misunderstood. The word for “Spirit” in Hebrew is feminine. This doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is a woman (biologically female), any more than the masculine pronouns that are used conventionally in Hebrew and Greek (and typically in English) for the first person of the Trinity, whom Jesus taught us to call “Father,” mean that this person is a man (biologically male). Rather, “Spirit” in Hebrew is feminine because it’s the same word as “wind,” and natural forces (sun, fire, wind, etc.) are conventionally feminine in Hebrew. But the Holy Spirit is a person, not a thing, and so the Spirit should definitely be given a personal pronoun, not an impersonal one (“it”). For this reason, when translating directly from the Hebrew, I say “she,” “her,” and “herself” for the Spirit.

Now here are the places in the Bible where the Holy Spirit is said to put on the body of an existing human being.

First, in the book of Judges, after God called Gideon to deliver the ancient Israelites from Midianite domination, “the Spirit of the Lord came on Gideon” and he gathered an army to fight. The Hebrew text says literally, “The Spirit of Yahweh clothed herself with Gideon.” The text is saying that the Spirit put on Gideon as if he were a garment, in order to be the one who was really acting to bring victory and liberation in this situation.

The next episode took place when David was living in Ziklag after he’d had to flee from Saul. Some men from the tribes of Benjamin and Judah came to him there and offered to join him. David couldn’t be sure whether they were sincere or whether they were trying to trick him and turn him over to Saul. So he told them, “if you have come to betray me . . . may the God of our ancestors see it and judge you!” In response to this challenge, which really amounted to a curse if the men were insincere, “the Spirit came on Amasai,” who would become one of David’s most trusted commanders, and he made an impassioned poetic protest of their loyalty and sincerity:

“We are yours, David!
We are with you, son of Jesse!
Success, success to you,
and success to those who help you,
for your God will help you.”

Once again, the Hebrew text reads literally, “The Spirit clothed herself with Amasai.”

Finally, some centuries later in the kingdom of Judah, when the formerly godly king Joash began to worship idols, “the Spirit of God came on Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest” and he warned the people that they would not prosper because they had forsaken Yahweh. In this instance as well, the Hebrew text says that “the Spirit of Elohim clothed herself with Zechariah.”

So although the Holy Spirit has apparently never taken on human form in the sense of appearing on earth as if human, on three occasions the Spirit has put on the body of an existing human being as if it were clothing, in order to speak and act to bring deliverance, affirmation, or judgment in a situation.

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