In college, my friends and I had a saying:
You cannot begin to change until you know the opposite of what you are.
It was a reminder that the only path to real growth was to see the truth about yourself (i.e. the Ego) and then understand the way(s) in which Spirit was different from that. Sometime in my mid-thirties I realized that most of what I knew about success or moral character – pretty much everything – I learned by example of what not to do or who I did not want to be like. It was then that I began to understand experientially what our college saying meant in terms of the power of contrast to teach.
Time, experience, and study have expanded and deepened my understanding of the Bible as well. I now realize that the stories within it most often reveal what Spirit is not, and in fact, what the true inner self of man is not. This particular learning tool can prove quite effective when the ego mind is struggling to comprehend the vast, ‘silent’, and invisible realm we call Spirit. But nuance tends to be ignored under a strictly literal view of the text.
For example, countless sermons have been preached on Genesis 22, the story of Abraham’s call to sacrifice Isaac. Most people, commentaries, preachers, and Christians believe that god was testing Abraham’s faith when he told him to take Isaac up on a mountain and offer his only son as a sacrifice. They believe that god provided a ram for himself that foreshadowed god one day sacrificing Jesus to appease himself. But is that really what the story of Isaac was about? Does Spirit really test peoples’ faith in such horrific ways? Is this same god so offended by ‘sin’ that he requires a human blood sacrifice to be appeased? Sounds an awful lot like an egotistical deity to me.
Most (if not all) cultures contemporary to Abraham practiced blood sacrifice to appease the anger of their god(s). In fact, some sort of blood sacrifice has been practiced for centuries in almost all cultures ever to exist. Here is an eye opening site on the history of blood sacrifices around the world. I found the conclusions page fascinating.
So when god told Abraham to kill Isaac, he was not telling him anything new. Sacrificing children, especially the first-born, to the god(s) was commonplace in those days. In fact, everyone was doing it. To Abraham it would have been business as usual for his god to demand the kind of worship that required the ultimate sacrifice of human blood – even if it was the only son that Abraham had. But while the story began ordinarily enough, the ending revealed something radical. Just as the knife made its way to Isaac’s heart, a voice called out. A ram had been caught in a nearby thicket and the voice instructed Abraham to sacrifice it rather than his son. Here was the first instance of Spirit showing man that he was in fact unlike all of the ego’s imagined gods.
Lesson #1: God does not require human blood to be appeased.
If you believe that the revelation of Spirit’s nature to mankind has been given throughout history progressively, then you would get how this little nugget rocked the ancients’ overall understanding of deities in general and the God of Israel in particular. But this was just a stepping-stone to a much broader understanding of what makes Spirit different from the ego. Fast forward to the establishment of the temple cult under Moses’ leadership. Here god distinguished himself from other gods by commanding one animal sacrifice each year to bring justice for the entire nation.
Lesson #2: God does not require unlimited animal sacrifices.
The last puzzle piece of what god is like can be found ringing in the voices of the prophets. They called the nation of Israel to put a stop to ritual sacrifices altogether. According to them, the God of Israel had no need for blood at all.
Lesson #3: God does not require blood because Spirit needs no appeasement.
How can Spirit be offended by anything my paltry and utterly insignificant ego does? Even thinking that there is a god my ego might offend lends power to my false sense of self.
Yet, despite this final clear message from the prophets at the close of the Old Testament, the Christian church continues to teach that Jesus was the ultimate blood sacrifice for sins. They even go so far as to say that god himself put Jesus to death as our substitute – making Spirit into the worst father ever to exist. Which brings me to why I am writing this post today.
In 2011 I wrote a post called Walking Through the Pieces. It went on to become my all-time most-read page, clocking in at a whopping 10,209 views as of January 6, 2020. No other post of mine has come anywhere near this number.
I know now that Genesis 15 (and even much of the rest of the Bible) was nothing more or less than a look at what Spirit is not like.
In the cultures contemporary to Abram, people made agreements this way: they cut animals in two and spread the pieces apart, leaving a path between them. Both parties walked between the pieces while stating the terms of the covenant. Walking the path symbolized a vow and a curse in one: I promise to do thus and so, and may this happen to me if I do not keep my end of the bargain. The practice was quite common and would have been second nature to Abram. This is a clear example of the evolution of the Ego attempting to protect itself – its persistence to survive by exacting revenge should it ever be crossed.
Throughout the Old Testament it was Spirit’s practice to reveal its characteristics over and against the surrounding gods and cultures of the day. In Genesis 15 we discover a god who does not bargain with mankind,since only Spirit ‘walked through the pieces’). The lesson here is clear: Spirit blesses, gives, and loves without requiring anything in return. Spirit is about love and grace, not law and judgement. Too bad Sonny did not understand that all he need do was understand who he was.
Today, most Evangelicals will tell you that salvation is part of a covenant with their god called the gospel (good news). They use Abram’s initial belief in the promise of an heir to teach that man’s part of the bargain is to believe that Jesus’ death paid god back for our sins, because God requires recompense in blood. Whoever refuses to hold up man’s end of the covenant (belief or faith in said bargain) will be treated like those slaughtered animals – except they will not merely be cut into pieces and die, but suffer an eternity in hell (at the hand of this same so-called ‘loving’ god)!
Even I was ensnared by this interpretation of the narrative when I swallowed the assumption that Jesus’ broken body was the fulfillment of god’s part of the covenant on our behalf – that god himself slaughtered Jesus to pay for our sins. And that I was somehow worthy of the wrath of god.
But now I know that interpretation of the story is completely erroneous. The church is as wrong about Spirit as good ol’ Sonny. Jesus’ death itself is the true picture of love – nonviolence in the face of persecution and slaughter – and the ego – the willingness of self-absorbed man to kill any perceived threat to its survival and then create a god in their own image.
I have come to see that the real point of Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven on earth was to draw a clear picture of how we were all made to live: manifesting our dreams through dependence on Spirit, free from unworthiness (the law of guilt and shame), filled with love for ourselves and others, connected to the Divine Spirit through meditation and prayer, able to envision perfect health and thereby cure all illnesses, living with no need to defend or ‘save’ ourselves from what is an inevitable part of life itself – the death of the body.
What if the Roman Ego sacrificed Jesus because his message of spiritual freedom was a threat to their perceived earthly power? What if it really had nothing whatever to do with god’s purported anger towards mankind? What if the story of Jesus dying on a cross was never about salvation, because we don’t need saving, because the prophets told true: GOD DOES NOT REQUIRE BLOOD OR NEED TO BE APPEASED? The New Testament is most certainly not the story of what happens to anyone after they die, as Christians claim, because the gospel text has absolutely nothing to do with a bloodthirsty god.
What if the story of Jesus’ death is a picture of what Spirit is not like?
As my understanding of the sacred texts has evolved into a more esoteric understanding, the true power of the story has blossomed. Believing that Jonah was swallowed by an actual fish reduces the powerful metaphor of a blackness in the soul manifesting as anger, depression, anger, self-absorption, and suicidal ideation to nothing more than a fantastical fairytale. The sobering truth of the power of the mind to take us into the depths is much more life-altering! Believing that Jesus literally walked on water belittles the real meaning of his utter commitment to a life lived by the Spirit, from the heart space rather than any reliance on the rational mind.
The literal interpretation of the Bible has served for several centuries to perpetrate division, hatred, and war – our modern forms of ritual sacrifice – all in the name of the god of religion – exactly the opposite of what the story of the gospel is there to teach us.
It is time for the world to be turned upside down once again. It is time to challenge the powers that be with the nuance of a Biblical narrative that reveals a spiritual force that lives within each and every one of us, that is more loving and full of grace than any of us have ever dared imagine or hope for. We are walking containers of the god-spark that blesses no matter what, loves no matter who, and requires nothing in return. A Spirit who stands in relentless, nonviolent opposition to the angry, bloodthirsty ‘gods’ invented by ego-driven men, drunk on the idea of earthly power and gain, trapped themselves within a system designed to control others using fear, guilt, and shame, all under the delusional concept of ‘survival.’
True change can happen once we know the opposite of what we are. May Spirit grant that we be given the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the courage to face the truth.
Thanks so much for reading.
P.S. If you are suffering under the oppression of any religious system and would like someone to talk to who understands where you are and how scary it feels to even think of walking out, please contact me. As a recovering evangelical myself, I would be happy to talk you through the pain and of waking up. Please know that you are by no means alone!