What is the Source of Human Fragility, Sickness, and Disease?

Here is a spiritual conundrum posed by a reader named Joe:

I’m looking for doctrinal statements that deal with the human physical fragility and its source. Is human fragility (sickness, disease, etc.) a consequence of original sin? Is human fragility a consequence of the curse to the ground. (ie. The ground is cursed, we grow food from the ground, we eat cursed ground food and we eat animals that eat cursed-ground food, we therefore are processing cursed-ground foods and we get sick and have diseases). I hope you get my drift and may have some helpful insight or direct me to a reliable resource. Thank you for your time and I really appreciate your message “Curses or Consequences…”

Wow! Great question, Joe!

And since it’s such a huge question, I’ll give you the short version first:

Like human beings themselves, human fragility, sickness, and disease is a result of a highly complex interaction of many physical and spiritual causes, both individual and societal, from the past, the present, and (strange as it may seem) even the future.

If a person is sick—especially if it is a serious illness—there is no single, simple cause, nor is there a single, simple solution. All sickness and disease is systemic. Even if it may appear to affect only one part of the body, in fact it both affects and is affected by the entire body, mind, and spirit of the person who is sick.

It also both affects and is affected by the person’s physical, social, and spiritual environment. We humans are social creatures embedded in a human environment. We are also biological creatures embedded in a physical environment. Our physical and spiritual environments have a profound effect on our sickness and health.

Because of this highly complex source of human frailty, sickness, and disease, we both do and do not bear responsibility for our own weakness and disease as individuals. By taking responsibility for what we can take responsibility for, we can indeed improve our physical and mental health.

And yet, there will always be factors beyond our control influencing us. Even if we were to live a near-perfect life and lifestyle, we could still suffer from human frailties and diseases because of the rather toxic physical and spiritual environment in which we live. Being sick is not something to beat ourselves up about. It does not necessarily mean that we are bad people or that we are being punished for our sins.

But it does mean that we have work to do, both individually and as a society.

Now for the long version, including responses to your specific doctrinal and Bible-based questions.

Is human fragility a consequence of original sin?

There’s no way to sugar coat this, so I’m just going to state it bluntly:

There is no such thing as original sin.

Original sin is the traditional Christian doctrine that because Adam sinned by disobeying God and eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, all human beings are born guilty of sin, and are therefore destined for hell from birth.

Contrary to popular belief, the doctrine of original sin is not taught in the Bible. In fact, the Bible specifically denies that children inherit guilt for their parents’ sin. The Bible passages that are usually quoted in support of original sin have been misunderstood, and in some cases badly mistranslated.

Original sin will be the subject of a future article all its own, and we’ll look at those Bible passages then. For now, let’s look at just one Bible passage:

The word of the Lord came to me: What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die. (Ezekiel 18:1–4)

Do yourself a favor and read the rest of Ezekiel 18. It provides clear examples showing that children are condemned or exonerated based on their own behavior, not on their parents’ behavior.

Adam’s sin is not the source of all human sin, but the prototype.

Saying that we are all sinful because Adam sinned is like saying that all Toyota Corollas are Toyota Corollas because the original prototype was a Toyota Corolla. No, each Corolla is a Corolla because the assembly line workers build each new Corolla based on the plan of the original prototype. If they used a different plan, it would be a different car.

In the very same way, according to the Bible, we are not guilty of the sin of Adam! It is only when we ourselves sin, thus following the prototype or pattern of Adam, that we are guilty of sin.

Hereditary evil: the example of physical health and disease

Though we do not inherit sin from Adam, or from our parents and grandparents, we do inherit evil—or more accurately, tendencies toward evil. And this does have a direct impact on human frailty, sickness, and disease.

We can understand this a little more clearly if we look at our hereditary tendencies toward various diseases.

Granted, many babies are born with already developed hereditary diseases such as cystic fibrosis, Down syndrome, and sickle-cell disease. We can only hope that future advances will make it possible for us to treat these diseases genetically or by other means before their symptoms develop in the womb.

However, for the more common diseases linked to heredity, such as cancer and heart disease, the genes involved cause a tendency toward that particular disease. That tendency may be stronger or weaker for different people. And the person with that tendency may or may not develop the actual disease, depending on various environmental and lifestyle factors.

In general, people who live a healthful lifestyle and live in a healthful environment are less likely to develop the symptoms of the diseases they are predisposed toward by their heredity. Or, if they do develop the disease, it is likely to be a milder case, and to develop later in life than if they lived an unhealthful lifestyle, and in an unhealthful environment.

In other words, even if we have a genetic predisposition toward a particular illness such as cancer or heart disease, if we take care of our health and avoid doing things that are known to contribute to these diseases, such as smoking and eating a lot of fatty foods, we can increase our odds of living a long, productive, and happy life.

Hereditary evil and our spiritual health and disease

In the very same way, each of us inherits tendencies toward particular spiritual diseases—traditionally called “evils” or “sins”—from our parents, grandparents, and so on:

  • Some families are steeped in pride, arrogance, and a belief that all other people are inferior to themselves.
  • Some have a history of violence and abuse as a way of controlling others’ behavior.
  • Some are driven by greed and a desire to be wealthier and more powerful than everyone else in society.
  • Some exude a pervasive sense of their own worthlessness and the futility of even trying to be anything more than the dregs of society.

The list of social and spiritual evils that run in families like hereditary diseases could go on and on. No family is free of them. Each of us is predisposed toward certain ways of being, shall we say, less than fully human.

However, like a genetic predisposition toward cancer or heart disease, the social and spiritual evils that we “inherit” from our parents are not necessarily a death sentence. That’s because we humans are even more free to determine our own course spiritually than we are physically.

Physically, we can decide to break away from the unhealthful lifestyle we may have been brought up with, and live in a more healthful way. We may not be able to repair all the damage done by our earlier unhealthful habits and environment, but we can move in a better direction, and enjoy the benefits of better health.

Spiritually, there are powerful tools of repentance and rebirth by which we can leave behind our old, destructive ways of living and begin a whole new life, transmuting our past evils into shadows stretching behind us. We will notice those shadows less and less as we travel forward on our spiritual journey and experience the warmth and light of God’s love and wisdom in our life—and share that warmth and light with our fellow travelers here on earth.

Heredity as a source of human frailty, sickness, and disease

To sum up:

When we talk about (non-existent) “original sin” or (tendencies toward)  evil inherited from parents and ancestors, we’re talking about the same thing spiritually as scientists and physicians are talking about physically when they speak of genetic diseases.

In both cases, tendencies toward evil that we inherit from our parents can be a powerful influence toward physical or spiritual frailty, sickness, and disease. If we live in a sloppy, unhealthful way and immerse ourselves in toxic environments, we are likely to suffer and die from the same physical and spiritual diseases as our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents did.

However, the power is also in our hands to break the chain of sickness and evil that stretches back through the generations before us. There is a wealth of information available about how to live in more healthful ways physically, mentally, and emotionally. There is also a wealth of information about how we can turn the tide in our lives spiritually, and begin an upward journey toward spiritual enlightenment, love, and service—which together are the true meaning of heavenly joy.

Is human fragility a consequence of the curse on the ground?

The “original sin” question is the spiritual parallel of the scientific concept of genetic sources of human fragility, sickness, and disease.

Now we turn to the spiritual parallel of environmental sources of human fragility, sickness, and disease.

In Genesis 3:17–19 we read:

Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, saying, “You may not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it will bring forth for you; and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you will return.

As I mentioned in the article “Curses or Consequences: Did God Really Curse Adam and Eve?” this story is not really about a curse on the ground at all. Rather, it is about how when we turn away from God and decide we want to do things our own way rather than God’s way, our life becomes a daily struggle as we learn things the hard way, through painful trial and error.

However, we can also read the story in a quasi-literal way as telling the story of how sickness and disease enters human life when we depart from the physical lifestyle for which God created us, thus vitiating both our environment and our physical health.

Humans have fallen away from God’s design

In the article “What are the Roles of Men and Women toward Each Other and in Society?” I explored how the first three chapters of Genesis chronicle the fall of humankind from God’s original creation of men and women as equal partners to our fallen state in which man rules over woman. Similarly, the first several chapters of the Bible chronicle a fall of humankind from a simple lifestyle and a clean diet close to nature to one in which we are no longer living and eating in the way we were originally designed to do.

Here are three key steps along the way:

  • God originally gives humans as food “every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit” (Genesis 1:29).
  • After Adam and Eve disobeyed God, instead of foraging for plants and fruits, humans had to till the ground through hard labor, and God said, “You shall eat the plants of the field” (Genesis 3:18)—meaning grains that had to be harvested, threshed, milled, and cooked.
  • After humankind became so corrupt that God destroyed all but Noah and his family in a great flood, God said, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything” (Genesis 9:3). This was when humans first began eating meat in the Bible story.

Of course, these stories in the early chapters of Genesis were never meant to be taken literally, and the Bible was not written as a guide to diet and lifestyle.

Still, the overall message is clear: Just as every animal has its proper food and lifestyle for which it is adapted, God created the human organism to live and thrive on a particular diet and lifestyle close to nature, for which the human digestive system and overall physique is best adapted. There is huge debate over just what diet and lifestyle humans are best adapted to. However, I think it is safe to say that the closer our foods are to their natural state, the more healthful they are.

We humans have certainly fallen away from our original state of eating simple, natural foods and living a healthy, vigorous lifestyle, to an unnatural diet in which we eat whatever pleases our jaded palate and misuse and abuse our bodies in many ways. And in a sense, this is part and parcel of the “curse on the ground.” Because we have departed from the natural lifestyle for which our bodies and minds are adapted, we have brought fragility, sickness, and disease upon ourselves.

Environmental factors

Unfortunately, this departure from natural living is not an individual thing, but a widespread cultural and societal thing. And just as we abuse our bodies in so many ways, in the process of living our unnatural lifestyle we abuse our environment in many ways, resulting in food, water, and air of poor quality, containing many toxins.

This is not something we as individuals can easily or entirely escape from. Yes, perhaps a few of us are hardy and dedicated enough to move to remote areas of unspoiled wilderness and live off the land. But most of us live in cities and towns whose air and water quality may not be the best; and we buy food in the grocery store which, due to the methods used to grow it, contains nowhere near the nutritional value that it would have if it were grown using more natural methods.

Thankfully, more and more people are becoming aware of these issues, and society is moving ever so slowly toward more natural foods and lifestyles, and toward a cleaner environment. As we make progress in these areas, our physical and mental health will improve along with the improvement in the quality of the air, water, and food that sustain and nourish our bodies.

In short, though individually we can have some positive effect on how our physical environment helps or hurts our health, reversing the “curse on the ground” is something that we humans must do together as a society.

Our spiritual environment

The same is true of the spiritual environment in which we live, and its effect on our physical, mental, and spiritual health.

When we humans are driven by selfishness, greed, and a desire for power and pleasure, we create a spiritual environment rife with the evils of anger, jealousy, revenge, and a general desire to gain pleasure through the pain and misery of others.

  • The “rat race” that many people live in is not part of God’s plan; it is what we humans do to one another when power and profit are our primary motives instead of love for God and love for our fellow human beings.
  • The ugliness and destruction of war, crime, and exploitation of others that blights so much of humanity is also a result of the spiritual evils of selfishness and greed.
  • The atmosphere of conflict, jealousy, shame, and disrespect that reigns in all too many households and neighborhoods is yet another result of a lack of spiritual sensitivity and maturity.

These and many other toxic spiritual and social environments take a heavy toll on us physically, mentally, and emotionally. And like our physical environment, though we may have some ability to move to a better human environment, sometimes we get trapped in situations and communities that are major sources of human fragility, sickness, and disease. When this is the case, we may have to fight an exhausting rearguard battle against forces beyond our control that are dragging us down physically and spiritually.

The sources of human fragility, sickness, and disease—and their solutions

Of course, even this much only scratches the surface in examining all the forces that tend to tear us humans down both inwardly and outwardly.

If we put all of these forces together, we can see that there is no single, simple source of human fragility, sickness, and disease.

  • Some sources are physical, others are mental and spiritual.
  • Some sources are individual, others collective.
  • Some sources are in the past, others in the present.
  • Some sources are from our family, others from our own actions.
  • Some sources we can control, others are beyond our control.

As individuals, we can eliminate some of these sources of physical and spiritual sickness. For example, we have more or less ability to:

  • Improve our diet and lifestyle,
  • Move from less healthful to more healthful physical environments,
  • Leave behind destructive social environments for more constructive friendships and associations, and
  • Commit ourselves to a process of spiritual renewal, rebirth, and growth.

For some other sources, we will rise or fall with the overall level of the human society in which we live.

About the only general statement we can make is that beyond purely physical causes of human suffering such as hurricanes and earthquakes, the common denominator is that the more we humans depart from God’s command to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves, the more we create a toxic heredity and environment that causes fragility, sickness, disease, and early death.

The corollary to this is that the more progress we humans make in aligning ourselves and our society with God’s natural and spiritual plan for humanity, the more we will overcome human fragility, sickness, and disease.

How the future affects and is affected by our sickness and health

When we experience disease and misfortune, we may question whether our life is simply cursed, and even whether there is any sense or purpose to life at all. Why do we humans suffer so much? What is the point? And how could God allow such terrible suffering?

It helps to understand that as much as God has compassion for us in any present suffering we may be enduring, God looks at our lives from an eternal perspective. In overseeing our lives, God’s greatest goal is to give us happiness and joy in our eternal future.

For that reason, God often allows sickness and suffering in the present if God sees that this will “soften us up” and make us more likely to turn our lives over to God and live our lives with compassion for our fellow human beings. If we have suffered ourselves, we are more likely to be moved to ease the sufferings of others—and grow spiritually in the process.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, under God’s providence our future happiness may be a higher cause for our present disease and discomfort. It’s not that God causes sickness and suffering. But God allows us to experience sickness and suffering when God knows that it is a necessary step on our path toward eternal spiritual health.

Overcoming human fragility, sickness, and disease

Another way of looking at it is that while human fragility, sickness, and disease are the results of all sorts of physical and spiritual evils, they can also be the cause of our working to overcome the very evils that are their source.

  • When we realize that our bad diet, our addictions to alcohol and drugs, and our unhealthful lifestyle is destroying our health, we may finally move toward a more healthful lifestyle, and break our addictions.
  • When we truly see and experience the destruction of war, we may work to bring about more peaceful ways of resolving conflicts in order to make war a thing of the past.
  • When we see the lives destroyed by domestic abuse and neighborhood violence, we may organize people to combat and overcome these blights on our communities.
  • When we see the many lives claimed by diseases whose causes are well-known, we may work to eliminate from our society the causes of those diseases.

In short, the more we experience and recognize the many sources of human fragility, sickness, and disease, the more we can take the power into our hands to overcome them. No matter how many sources there may be for our weakness and suffering, God gives us the means to overcome them over time if we will only set our hearts, our minds, and our hands to the task.

This article is a response to a spiritual conundrum submitted by a reader.

For further reading:

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Pain and Suffering
41 comments on “What is the Source of Human Fragility, Sickness, and Disease?
  1. You tackled this so well. GOOD job.

    All sickness and disease is systemic. Even if it may appear to affect only one part of the body, in fact it both affects and is affected by the entire body, mind, and spirit of the person who is sick.

    Absolutely. It’s a wonder most remain oblivious to all the elements that comprise our whole. We are called to love God with strength, heart, mind because they work in collaboration — for better or worse.
    And so healing too must happen on all levels. How marvelous is redemption: the reversal of the effects of the Fall. I have not forgotten your article on young earth. It is where I can retrieve it readily. Have been terribly busy trying to get up my other blog on holistic integrative nutrition.

    Diana

  2. Walt Childs says:

    Great article, Lee. You nailed it.

  3. Genesis, which you say is not to be taken literally, says that Enoch did not die. He walked so closely with God that God just finally took him.
    Did Elijah literally get taken up into heaven in a whirlwind?
    Why do people have to die to get to heaven? Why can’t they just be taken up like Elijah and Enoch?

    • Lee says:

      Hi WorldQuestioner,

      It doesn’t say that Enoch didn’t die. It says, “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him” (Genesis 5:24). It is commonly said among Christians that Enoch didn’t die, but the Bible doesn’t actually say that.

      It doesn’t really matter whether Elijah literally got taken up in a whirlwind. The Bible was never meant to be literal history and biography. It was meant to bring us into right relationship with God. Whether things happened historically as described is not particularly important.

      One thing to understand, though, is that the ancient Israelites did not think of heaven as an alternate plane of existence, such as our idea of the spiritual world. Rather, the word “heaven” in both the Hebrew and Greek Bibles literally means “sky.” To the extent that they believed in heavenly beings, they pictured them as living above the dome of the visible sky—which is also where they believed God dwelt. When it says that “Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kings 2:11), it should really be translated “Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into the sky.”

      Today, most Christians are less materialistic in their thinking about heaven. Yes, some fundamentalist and literalist churches still believe that our physical bodies will be resurrected and we will live forever on a newly recreated physical earth. But most Christians now believe that we will go to heaven, which they think of as a spiritual realm distinct from the physical realm. It therefore doesn’t really work for Elijah to ascend in a whirlwind into heaven, because no matter how high he went, he would still be in the physical world, not in the spiritual world.

      This also answers your question about why people have to die to get to heaven. In order to become fully and permanently conscious in the spiritual world, we must leave our physical body, and its physical senses, behind. Only then can our spiritual senses, in our spiritual body, be fully opened so that we can live to eternity in heaven.

      • Couldn’t God just teleport us to Heaven rather than having us die? I mean, he’s all-powerful that he could teleport things between worlds, universes, and dimensions. Right? Does the Bible mention we will have glorified bodies? What about transformation? Was there a literal Michael? Wasn’t there a literal Gabriel? Did they start out as mortals, born as a baby? Because haven’t you said that people become angels, or did I misunderstand your articles and comments?

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          God’s plan of having us go to the spiritual world through death seems to be working just fine. It also allows skeptics and atheists the freedom to believe as they wish to believe. Human free will is central to God’s plan for Creation. For a rather philosophical take on this, please see:

          God: Puppetmaster or Manager of the Universe?

          The Bible does not say we will have glorified bodies. It says we will have spiritual bodies. Only the Lord (Jesus) had a glorified body, after the resurrection. Jesus’ transformation is called “glorification” in the Gospel of John, whereas our transformation is called “being born again.” “Glorification” means becoming divine. Humans never become divine. Rather, we invite the Lord into our life, and this brings about our rebirth as new creatures in the image of Christ.

          It’s possible and even likely that Michael and Gabriel were whole communities of angels presenting themselves as an individual rather than literal individual angels. At least, that’s what Swedenborg believed. Various communities of angels in heaven have different jobs to do, under God’s direction. It’s also possible that such communities sent an individual angel as an emmissary, and spoke through him as a group, similar to an ambassador representing one country to another.

          And yes, all angels started out as mortals, born as a baby on earth. See:

          What is the Biblical Basis for Humans becoming Angels after they Die?

        • Did God always plan for there to be carnivores/predators? Carnivores/predators give their prey a painful death. That’s inhumane. As food for lions, why can’t can’t zebra and antelope die a quick and painless death?

          Why does death have to be so painful? When killing their prey for food, why do predators inflict so much physical pain? Why can’t the prey just die a painless death? Euthanasia!

          Same goes for parasites and pathogens. They cause misery to their hosts. It inflicts pain.

          It’s never ok to hurt an innocent person.

          I believe in proportional punishment, like punishment being proportional to the degree of transgression. I also believe in divided blame. For our sins, divide the blame between us and the devil. The Devil has to get some credit. The Devil tempts people against God’s will. It’s a sin for the Devil to tempt anyone.

          Just hypothetically, if the Devil decided to turn and repent and not tempt anyone or inflict suffering even if God gave him permission, God would be pleased, right? Just hypothetically.

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          About carnivores, please see this article:

          How can we have Faith when So Many Bad Things happen to So Many Good People? Part 2

          I will also point out that the amount of time prey species spent getting eaten is very short compared to their full lifetime. They live for several years. When they get caught, they are dead within a few minutes. Most of their lives are spent peacefully grazing, reproducing, and so on.

          The pain of being caught by a predator is also an incentive for them to protect themselves from predators as best they can. Generally speaking, it is the old and weak that become prey. This also has the beneficial effect of keeping the prey animals strong genetically and physically. It’s a tough system, but it works very well.

          About the Devil, please see:

          Is there Really a Devil? Why??

          There is no individual Devil. The Devil is a collective term for hell.

          If hell as a whole decided to turn and repent, then yes indeed, God would be very pleased. Hell exists, not because God wants it, but because its residents insist upon it. The unfortunate reality is that they want to be there, and have no interest whatsoever in turning and repenting.

          And . . . you can plead your case that “the Devil made me do it,” but you’re not going to get anywhere with that line.

        • Don’t those that choose hell, realize that turning and repenting would be a lot less painful than perishing no hell for eternity? Aren’t they just unaware, unknowing, or blind?

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          We’ve covered this before. Though there is punishment in hell, the Bible’s description of hell is metaphorical, not literal. People in hell do not roast over flames to all eternity. The “hellfire” mentioned in the Bible is the spiritual hellfire of anger and hatred that evil spirits in hell feel against anyone who gets in their way, and especially against God and the angels. Their own experience in hell is mostly a fairly ordinary criminal-style life of conflict and fighting with one another, stealing from one another, and so on, and then suffering the retribution and punishment that those they have harmed (their fellow evil spirits) wreak upon them. See:

          Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?

          They don’t enjoy the pain that always follows their evil pleasures. But they enjoy those evil pleasures so much that they engage in them anyway. People who like getting smashed drunk know they’re going to wake up with a hangover. But they get drunk anyway! It’s the same in hell.

          In general, they are well aware of their own situation. Some of them are even allowed to go up to heaven and see what it is like there. But they find heaven not only completely unappealing, but actually painful, because the atmosphere there conflicts with the evil things they love to do. You can read the account of one of them in the section titled “A conversation with some inhabitants of hell” in this article:

          The Bible, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Reincarnation

          (Scroll way down. It’s a long article.)

        • Then the old and weak should have a higher threshold of pain, while the strong and healthy should have a lower threshold of pain. Higher threshold of pain shouldn’t necessarily make one less likely to survive, it should be the other way around – those less likely to survive should have a higher threshold of pain.
          Those with a lower threshold of pain should be faster and stronger and with stronger immune systems and such. Not necessarily the other way around.

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          They’re all the same species. That sort of arrangement would be unlikely.

        • Does the Bible ever make a clear distinction between spiritual and physical death? I bet Hebrew and Greek don’t have separate words for each. What are the Hebrew words for physical and spiritual, and what are the Greek words, and are they ever used as adjectives for the words (Greek Thanatos, I don’t know the Hebrew word) for “death”? Why not? Why doesn’t the Bible say “physical death has always been part of God’s creation, but spiritual death…”

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          The Bible is not a theological treatise. It doesn’t spend time defining its terms and providing precise disquisitions on the nature of God, spirit, death, and so on. It also doesn’t provide labels for what is meant to be taken literally and what is meant to be taken metaphorically. That depends upon the perspective and thinking mind of the reader. This is intentional on God’s part, so that people who cannot think beyond the literal and material level can get what they need from the Bible, while people who can think on a spiritual level can also get what they need from the Bible.

          Still, there are certainly strong suggestions that various things said in the Bible are not meant to be taken literally. For one example, see:

          Eat My Flesh, Drink My Blood

          Back to death, the book of Revelation does mention the “second death” several times, in Revelation 2:11, 20:6, 14, 21:8. It never says what the first death is, but clearly that would be our physical death at the end of our lifetime here on earth. Therefore it’s not a big stretch to read the second death as a reference to the spiritual death of those who choose evil over good. This works for the symbolism of the passages in Revelation that mention the second death.

        • Why doesn’t it give general rules? So readers could determine what to take literally based on those rules?

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          The Bible gives general rules about how to live, such as the Ten Commandments and the two Great Commandments. The Bible is more concerned about how we live than about what we believe.

        • Couldn’t the Bible give criteria as to what is to be taken literally and what is figurative?
          Take a look at https://www.gotquestions.org/biblical-literalism.html and https://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-literal.html. If you refuse to look at them, you won’t know what you’re missing.

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          I have read plenty of articles at GotQuestions. By now it is a well-known mouthpiece for biblical literalism and a Protestant evangelical/fundamentalist viewpoint. Which is to say, it takes a low-level, materialistic view of the Bible, and accepts the common Protestant twisting and distortion of what the Bible says.

          For just one example of the latter, in the third paragraph of the second article you link, the writer says, “He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), pay the penalty for our sin (Matthew 26:28), and provide eternal life (John 17:3).” If you read the linked verses, you will see that the first and third say pretty much what the author says they do. But the second, Matthew 26:28, doesn’t say anything about Jesus paying the penalty for our sin. It says:

          For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (KJV)

          Nowhere does the Bible say anything about Jesus paying the penalty for our sin. That is not a biblical teaching. It is a doctrine originated and developed within Protestantism a millennium and a half after the last books of the Bible were written. That’s why the author has to point to a verse that doesn’t actually say what he says it does. This twisting of the Bible’s message, and pointing to passages that don’t actually state their doctrines as if they did, is characteristic of Protestant evangelicals and fundamentalists.

          Ironically, GotQuestions does not derive its doctrine from the literal meaning of the Bible. It derives its doctrine from various historical Catholic and Protestant theologians, and then reads them into the Bible as if the Bible said these things—which, in a strict, literal reading, it certainly does not. See this eight-part series for many more specifics:

          The Faulty Foundations of Faith Alone – Part 1: God is a Trinity of Persons?

          Meanwhile Swedenborg, who is sometimes accused of “spiritualizing away” the Bible, insists that:

          The Church’s body of teaching is to be drawn from the literal meaning of the Word and is to be supported by it. (Sacred Scripture #50, True Christianity #225)

          Unlike the Catholic and Protestant churches, which regularly ignore the literal meaning of the Bible in favor of their favorite human-invented doctrines, Swedenborg actually does draw his doctrines from the literal meaning of the Bible, ignoring and rejecting all the human theologians who, over the centuries, have contradicted what it says and developed the unbiblical, non-Christian doctrines that are accepted by almost all Christian churches, clergy, and lay teachers right up to this day, including the authors of the GotQuestions website.

          In the first paragraph of the first article you link, GotQuestions states its position on biblical literalism:

          Biblical literalism is the method of interpreting Scripture that holds that, except in places where the text is obviously allegorical, poetic, or figurative, it should be taken literally. Biblical literalism is the position of most evangelicals and Christian fundamentalists. It is the position of Got Questions Ministries as well.

          And yet, on the issues that really matter, which are the fundamental Christian teachings about God and salvation, Got Questions Ministries rejects the literal statements of the Bible, and replaces them with the statements of theologians such as Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas, and Martin Luther. See:

          Got Questions Ministries’ claim to follow the Bible literally therefore rings hollow. In all the areas that really matter, Swedenborg follows the Bible much more literally than do GotQuestions and its fellow fundamentalist organizations.

          Even on the unimportant issues of whether this or that thing in the Bible happened literally and historically as described in the Bible, GotQuestions falls into its own trap of putting forward an arbitrary dividing line between what is to be taken literally and what is to be taken figuratively. As quoted above, it holds that “except in places where the text is obviously allegorical, poetic, or figurative, it should be taken literally.”

          But who decides where the text is “obviously allegorical, poetic, or figurative?” Does this criteria provide any better dividing line between what should and shouldn’t be read literally in the Bible than U.S. Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart’s famous criteria for what is and isn’t pornography: “I know it when I see it”?

          To my mind, the book of Job and the book of Jonah are obviously not literal history, but are carefully constructed novellas that were written to tell a moral story. According to GotQuestions’ criteria, from my perspective, the text of Job and Jonah are “obviously allegorical, poetic, or figurative,” and should not be taken literally. Similarly, the early chapters of Genesis are clearly, to my mind, carefully constructed figurative stories about the early spiritual development and history of humankind on this earth. Therefore, by GotQuestions’ criteria, the first ten or eleven chapters of Genesis are “obviously allegorical, poetic, or figurative,” and should not be taken literally.

          In both cases, I’m sure the GotQuestions authors will disagree with me.

          That would only prove my point. GotQuestion’s criteria of what is to be taken figuratively and what is to be taken literally is entirely arbitrary, and not at all helpful. The application of their criteria is largely in the mind of the beholder.

          In short, GotQuestions fails its own test when it says, in the final paragraph of the second article:

          Finally, when we make ourselves the final arbiters of which parts of the Bible are to be interpreted literally, we elevate ourselves above God. Who is to say, then, that one person’s interpretation of a biblical event or truth is any more or less valid than another’s? The confusion and distortions that would inevitably result from such a system would essentially render the Scriptures null and void.

          By its own principle stated here, GotQuestions’ interpretation of a biblical event or truth is no more or less valid than my interpretation of the same biblical event or truth. What is “obvious” to them is not an all “obvious” to me, and vice versa. In fact, the various Christian denominations and churches vary all over the map on what parts of the Bible they take literally and what parts they take figuratively.

          GotQuestions falls into its own trap. In doing so, it does indeed “render the Scriptures null and void” by doing exactly what Jesus accused the Jewish leaders of his day of doing:

          He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

          ‘This people honors me with their lips,
          but their hearts are far from me;
          in vain do they worship me,
          teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

          “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” (Mark 7:6–8)

          None of the “fundamental” teachings that GotQuestions and its ilk preach are taught anywhere in the Bible. They are all human precepts and traditions being taught as doctrines, while abandoning the commandments of God as stated in the Bible. See the above-linked series of articles on the faulty foundations of faith alone.

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          Even GotQuestions’ own examples show how weak its arguments for literalism are. It claims that Jesus took the Old Testament literally, and says:

          If God’s commands in Deuteronomy 8:3, 6:13, and 6:16 were not literal, Jesus would not have used them and they would have been powerless to stop Satan’s mouth, which they certainly did.

          Deuteronomy 8:3 reads:

          He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

          Jesus quoted to Satan the last part of that verse, “one does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

          So . . . do we literally live not by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord?

          It is plainly obvious that Deuteronomy 8:3 is speaking figuratively, not literally. And it is plainly obvious that Jesus, in quoting it, is also speaking figuratively, not literally. But GotQuestions refers to this verse to “prove” its point that Jesus takes the Old Testament literally.

          GotQuestions is so wrong about this that it’s not even funny. Jesus was constantly speaking figuratively—”in parables,” as the Gospels say. He was constantly quoting and alluding to the Old Testament figuratively in his teaching. To give just one other example, in Matthew 12:40 Jesus says:

          For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth.

          Did Jesus literally spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth? What is “the heart of the earth” anyway? How can we even take that literally? So far, no matter how deep we have dug, we have not come across any heart pumping blood around the earth. Clearly Jesus was speaking figuratively when he spoke of “the heart of the earth”—which is also not the literal belly of a sea monster.

          Further, if you count the days from the crucifixion and burial to the resurrection, it was not three days and three nights—not even by Jewish reckoning, which counts days from sunset of one day to sunset of the following day. Jesus was crucified on Friday, and resurrected on Sunday. We know he was buried before sunset, because the Gospel story tells us that his death and burial were rushed so that he would not be on the cross on the Sabbath day, which begins at sunset on Friday. Jesus was actually in “the heart of the earth” (if you want to non-literally call the sepulcher that) only one full day (Saturday), which could be stretched to three if we count the partial days of Friday and Sunday, and only two nights: Friday night and Saturday night, or by Jewish reckoning, the evening of Saturday and the evening of Sunday, which fall before the daylight portions of those days.

          If Jesus was talking about his crucifixion and resurrection, and using Jonah’s time in the belly of the sea monster as an example of that, obviously he was speaking metaphorically, and he was taking that story metaphorically, not literally. If we attempt to read it literally, he got his facts wrong. If he were speaking literally, he should have said, “So for one full day, two partial days, and two nights, the Son of Man will be in the . . . .” well, he wouldn’t have said “heart of the earth,” because once again, that is obviously not literal.

          GotQuestions’ own arguments fall flat to anyone who has actually read and paid attention to Jesus’ words, and to his use of the Old Testament in his teachings. It’s almost as if the person who wrote this didn’t even bother to read the Gospels before writing it.

          What’s happening here is that the folks at GotQuestions already think they have the truth based on their human teachers and human doctrines. On that basis they just wing it and say that the Bible supports what their arguments, when in fact the Bible continually contradicts their arguments.

          In reality, the Bible contradicts GotQuestions’ entire structure of belief. Or to put it the right way around, GotQuestions’ entire structure of belief contradicts everything the Bible, and Jesus Christ himself, teaches us.

          GotQuestions has fallen into the same trap that the people who stopped following Jesus in John 6:22–70 fell into: taking his words literally instead of understanding them figuratively. On that occasion Jesus himself said:

          It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63)

          GotQuestions has clung to the flesh that is useless instead of seeking the spirit that gives life. It has therefore stopped following the teachings of Jesus Christ, and is instead following the teachings of Constantine’s council, Anselm, Aquinas, and Luther.

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          There are so many gaping holes in GotQuestions’ arguments in these two articles that I could spend an entire day, or even a week, pointing them all out. Just one more for now. The second article you link concludes by saying:

          The Bible is God’s Word to us and He meant it to be believed—literally and completely.

          And yet, in the paragraph just before this one, the author of the piece admits:

          Although we take the Bible literally, there are still figures of speech within its pages.

          And goes on to refer to Psalm 17:8 as an example, which reads, in the version referred to by the article:

          Keep me as the apple of your eye;
          hide me in sthe shadow of your wings,
          (English Standard Version)

          So, we are to believe the Bible “literally and completely,” but at the same time take some of it figuratively, and not literally. So we are not to believe the Bible “literally and completely,” or at least not all of the Bible “literally and completely” . . . .

          And so the contradictions and dogmas pile up, all the while ignoring what the Bible actually does say on all the subjects GotQuestions preaches about so wrongly and falsely.

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          You seem very intent upon the Bible giving criteria as to what is to be taken literally and what figuratively. Why is that so important to you?

          Note that the two articles you linked also do not give any criteria from the Bible as to what is to be taken literally and what is to be taken figuratively. They quote and accept a human-formulated statement on that subject.

          If the Bible itself doesn’t give such criteria, why is it so important to you?

        • Because people make the mistake of taking Genesis literally. If there was a gap in lineage as well as time between Genesis and the later books, people probably wouldn’t make the same mistake because there would be a clear line. If the Bible didn’t list the ten generations from Adam to Noah, and/or didn’t give the age of each patriarch when the next named patriarch was born, and/or didn’t list the generations from Jacob onward… people would divide the literal from the figurative.

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          The fly in the ointment of your theory is that some people need to take the Bible literally because they are earthly and physical-minded people. If there were a clear line between the literal and the metaphorical, so that it was obvious that those early chapters of Genesis were not meant to be taken literally, hundreds of millions of people who are currently evangelical and fundamentalist Christians (or fundamentalist Jews, or even fundamentalist Muslims) would reject the Bible altogether, and become irreligious and lawless.

        • You think fundamentalists would even exist?

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          They would be the same people, with the same materialistic mindset, but they’d get hard-core about something else besides Christianity and the Bible. Probably nationalism or racism or some such thing—which they already have a tendency towards anyway.

        • somatikós thánatos σωματικός θάνατος – Why would that not be in the Greek New Testament or the Septuagint? And what about πνευματικός θάνατος pnevmatikós thánatos מוות פיזי How could that not be in the Old Testament? I was translating those two Greek phrases and the Hebrew phrase using Google Search. Didn’t get a translation for “spiritual death.”

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          Because once again, the Bible is not a theological treatise. Much of it is metaphorical rather than literal.

          When we read of “death” in the Bible, it could mean either physical death or spiritual death or both, depending on the context and on whether we read it literally or spiritually. People who are physical-minded will read it only literally, which means reading it physically. People who are spiritually minded can read it both physically and spiritually.

  4. Hoyle Kiger says:

    “The power that God has over our lives pales in comparison to how we choose to interpret that power”.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Hoyle,

      Is that a quote from some known person?

      I would say, rather, that the power God has over our lives depends upon how we use that power.

      • Hoyle Kiger says:

        It’s my quote. I suppose an individual would first need to recognize, interpret and accept God’s power, as they understand it, before deciding how & when to use it? I don’t know. These are just my thoughts on a whimsical God-given day.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Hoyle,

          God’s power acts differently in different people, not because God changes, but because the people receiving that power use it in different ways, according to their particular character and beliefs. As an analogy, the same sunlight falls on a rotting corpse as on a leafy tree, but its effects are very different because a rotting corpse receives it very differently than does a leafy tree.

        • Hoyle Kiger says:

          I agree that God’s power, at least one of them, manifests itself in the form of human life, biologically speaking. I was somewhat confused by your analogy as it intertwined the characteristics of inanimate objects and their abilities to generate and absorb energy. Would it then be a fair interpretation of your analogy that God’s power is constant but the effects of that power depend upon the receptiveness of those on the receiving end of said power?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Hoyle,

          Yes, that is the point of the analogy.

        • Hoyle Kiger says:

          In your view, are there any “checks and balances” to insure God’s power is actually God’s power as it relates to its effect on humans; as opposed to someone who might misinterpret a “Godly Power” or a nonauthentic power?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Hoyle,

          If the question is how we know whether something is or isn’t God’s power when it is exercised by human beings, Jesus’ criteria of “by their fruits you will know them” is a pretty good one. What are the results of the exercise of power? Does it contribute to the general welfare of human beings? Or does it detract from and destroy the general welfare of human beings? If the former, it is God’s power being exercised. If the latter, it is demonic power.

          If you mean are there any limits on what “nonauthentic power” can do, history says that despotic, demonic power tends to be self-limiting over longer periods of time. Once again, Jesus words that “a house divided against itself cannot stand” apply. Evil power is always divided against itself on larger scales, because every individual and group motivated by evil is ultimately against every other individual and group motivated by evil power. By “evil power” I mean the power of self-aggrandizement and greed. In that struggle, it’s ultimately “every man for himself.” This is why human nations and empires rise and fall.

          Even on the individual level, evil power is self-destructive, and tends to tear the person down over time. Aside from good people resisting and fighting against the actions of people motivated by evil, the main check and balance on “nonauthentic power” (which is evil or hellish power), is this self-limiting and self-destructive bent of hellish power. Evil spirits in hell bring their own punishment upon themselves, just as a drunken binge inevitably leads to a hangover and a hammering headache. Sooner or later the alchoholic will drink him- or herself to death.

  5. Hoyle Kiger says:

    It’s a positive that the Bible is open to interpretation because it’s more inclusive of those with differing views. Lee and I disagree on many ethereal issues however, we do agree on the “goodness” of Biblical wisdom. I separate my spiritual awareness from religious teachings regardless of the religion I might be considering at any particular time. I don’t believe that God is impressed by a man’s presumptive knowledge, claims, or experiences ( I’m thinking of Swedenborg) but by what lies in a man’s heart and that cannot be shared with others.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Hoyle,

      Certainly it is what’s hidden in a person’s heart that determines everything. Both our thoughts and our actions flow from the beatings of our heart.

      About Swedenborg, he did not think of his writings as originating in his own mind. Clearly they were filtered through his thinking mind, and some of what he wrote was based on his own knowledge and experience. Still, what he said was:

      I also testify that ever since the first day of this calling, I have accepted nothing regarding the teachings of this church from any angel; what I have received has come from the Lord alone while I was reading the Word. (True Christianity #779

      You can accept or not his testimony that the “teachings of the church” that he explained came from the Lord alone, rather than from his own mind. But in his mind, these were not “a man’s presumptive knowledge, claims, or experiences,” but were things revealed to him by God.

      • Hoyle Kiger says:

        No doubt Swedenborg thought that he was “special”, although I do not question his sincerity. I don’t believe it possible that any adult can “reset” his mind to zero and begin with a clean slate, no matter the subject. In my reading of True Christianity #779, I was reminded of those who place themselves into deep, meditative states of mind popular in Eastern cultures. Many experience divine revelation they say cannot be achieved through worldly and conscious thoughts. Neither do I question their sincerity. It remains inescapable, however, their experiences must be self-interpreted by and through the conscious mind and with an “unclean slate”. The psychology of those who claim to hear God’s voice and experience his essence is much too involved to discuss on this forum. A more thorough discussion of this issue may be found at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK540478/

        • Lee says:

          Hi Hoyle,

          Thanks for the link. Interesting piece. I might read some of the other chapters later.

          Though the linked piece is not entirely irrelevant to Swedenborg’s experience, just to be clear, Swedenborg did not “hear voices.” Even in True Christianity #779, he says nothing about hearing the Lord’s voice. Only “receiving” or “accepting” from the Lord “while he was reading the Word.” The sense is that the Lord enlightened his mind to understand things based on the Bible that he otherwise could not have seen and understood there.

          In particular, he never says that anything he wrote was dictated to him by a voice. And he specifically denies that any of it was done by “automatic writing”—i.e., by an unseen force guiding his hand to write what it wrote without conscious involvement of his own mind other than observing the motion of his hand and the writing being produced. This, he says, is not how his writings were produced, despite the claims of Signe Toksvig to the contrary in her once-popular biography of Swedenborg.

          He also made no claims that his own mind did not affect the content of what he wrote. In fact, in the few times he speaks of his own path toward and agency in the production of his theological writings, he emphasizes that the Lord prepared him throughout his life for this task through his study of nature and the natural sciences, not to mention other areas of human knowledge. It is clear that he saw a prepared and educated human mind as a necessary condition for God to reveal the things God did in his writings.

          In short, far from Swedenborg’s own mind and its contents not being a part of the process of producing his theological writings, they were a necessary and integral part of that process. He sums this up briefly by saying, also in True Christianity #779, that:

          Therefore it follows that he [the Lord] is going to accomplish this [the Lord’s second coming] through the agency of a human being who can not only accept these teachings intellectually but also publish them in printed form. (italics added)

          “Accepting them intellectually” involves understanding them. “Publishing them in printed form” involves the entire writing and editing process required to produce and publish a book. By Swedenborg’s own description, then, he was not a mere passive recipient of “voices” from the Lord. His own mind and pen were active participants in producing his theological writings.

          As for “hearing voices,” this is simply not what Swedenborg describes happening to him. Rather, he describes being fully conscious in the spiritual world with all of his spiritual senses, as if he had died and gone on to live there, yet while he was still living in his physical body. For example, in the opening sections of the very first theological work he published, he wrote:

          It is proper to reveal in these preliminaries that the Lord in his divine mercy has granted me the opportunity for several years now, without break or interruption, to keep company with spirits and angels, to hear them talking, and to speak with them in turn. Consequently I have been able to see and hear the most amazing things in the other life, which have never before come into people’s awareness or thought.

          In that world I have been taught about the different kinds of spirits, the situation of souls after death, hell (or the regrettable state of the faithless), and heaven (or the blissful state of the faithful). In particular I have learned what is taught in the faith acknowledged by the whole of heaven. All of these topics will, with the Lord’s divine mercy, be explored further in what follows. (Secrets of Heaven #5)

          Almost a decade later, in his preface to Heaven and Hell he wrote:

          Church people these days know practically nothing about heaven and hell or their life after death, even though there are descriptions of everything available to them in the Word. In fact, many who have been born in the church deny all this. In their hearts they are asking who has ever come back to tell us about it.

          To prevent this negative attitude—especially prevalent among people who have acquired a great deal of worldly wisdom—from infecting and corrupting people of simple heart and simple faith, it has been granted me to be with angels and to talk with them person to person. I have also been enabled to see what is in heaven and in hell, a process that has been going on for thirteen years. Now I am being allowed therefore to describe what I have heard and seen, in the hopes of shedding light where there is ignorance, and of dispelling skepticism.

          The reason this kind of direct revelation is taking place today is that this is what the Coming of the Lord means. (Heaven and Hell #1)

          And indeed, in his many stories of experiences in the spiritual world published throughout his theological writings, and especially between the chapters in his later writings, he describes traveling around in the spiritual world, visiting angels and spirits in their homes, seeing their gardens, walking down their lanes, seeing the architecture of their houses, engaging with crowds in the public squares, going into their churches, and on and on. It is all described just as one would describe traveling around to various countries and regions in the physical world, visiting people there and seeing the sights.

          Only rarely does he speak of hearing a voice. And when he does, it is usually some brief command, such as, “Sit down, close the door, and write.” The vast bulk of his spiritual experience is not “hearing voices,” but being fully conscious in the spiritual world as if he were living there.

          So although all the psychological analysis in the piece you linked of people “hearing voices” from God or from spirits is fascinating—especially in suggesting that at least some scientists are getting less fundamentalist about these phenomena over the years—it is mostly irrelevant to Swedenborg’s experience, which was nothing like “hearing voices.”

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Lee & Annette Woofenden

Lee & Annette Woofenden

Featured Book

God and Creation

By Lee Woofenden

(Click the cover image or title link to review or purchase. This website receives commissions from purchases made via its links to Amazon.)

Join 1,232 other followers
Earlier Posts
Blog Stats
  • 3,587,771 hits
%d bloggers like this: