A little background. I've been reading up on Charismatic theology, which basically states that humanity lost its authority in the Garden of Eden by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and received curses (even the earth itself was cursed to be unproductive), and that Jesus won it all back for us. Therefore whoever is in Jesus is not only "saved" for the afterlife, but has the authority to heal all sickness and disease, break the curses, and cast out demons right here right now. Which is all well and good and actually very exciting. The implications are profound. Healing sickness (and injury) by itself is breathtakingly awesome. Being able to heal the earth is also right up there, given the horrors humans have inflicted on this planet and its plants and animals. Casting out demons is ... well, if you've battled them like I have and know they cause so much heartbreak and suffering on our planet, you'd be psyched, too.
But wait... what IS the fruit of that infamous tree? (I'm defining "fruit" as results... like how peace, joy, etc., are fruit of the Holy Spirit as per Galatians 5:22-23)
I never understood the tree of the knowedge of good and evil. First of all, for a long time, I was not big on Genesis (sorry, too much knowledge of science). Secondly, why would God put the tree there, knowing the outcome? Thirdly, what's so bad about gaining knowledge? It sounds like God has something to hide.
But the more I learned about how Jesus not only "saved" us for the afterlife, but that Jesus won all authority in Heaven and on Earth, and in fact wants us to exercise authority on Earth and bring Heaven to Earth, the more I had to take Genesis seriously. (I'm not sure how absolutely literally I take it, but I do take its underlying meaning very seriously now.) What does it mean to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? In other words, why is it so bad to be learning about good and evil?
I have read thousands of Near Death Experiences (NDEs), as well as as many After Death Communications and Pre-Birth Memories as I could find. As I compared notes between what I've read, and prayed on this topic, suddenly something clicked.
Take a look at what some NDEers, pre-birth memory people, psychics, and others who have had spiritual experiences say about why we come to Earth. This is just a sampling. There are many other anecdotes and teachings on this elsewhere.
Although the last quote is from someone who believes in reincarnation (which is anathema to most Christians), his point is that we came to Earth to learn the lessons of death and dying. Many NDEs and pre-birth stories seem to confirm this. Apparently we need "contrast" to appreciate the good things. Contrast is achieved by having challenges, which we select before we are born with the help of other spirit beings. The challenges we plan for our life on Earth are usually loaded with suffering. We suffer disease, oppression, difficulty, poverty, or other such ills, in order to progress spiritually. Apparently we often even choose how we will die (ref. Betty J. Eadie). And why not suffer in order to learn wisdom, especially when a lifetime is over in the blink of an eye? That's the NDE lesson view, anyway.
But somehow this has always bothered me. The emphasis on learning from suffering, from making mistakes and from others' mistakes. Another word for mistakes is "sin."
Then it hit me: is this not eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?
In the highest Heaven, the Light, there is no darkness. No pain, suffering, torment, oppression, lack, sickness, death. Pain, suffering, etc., are the fruit of evil.
Oppression from those who do evil, is a fruit of evil. Sickness is (my Charismatic friends will assure you) from the devil (well, let's put it this way: Jesus healed every sickness and disease). Poverty is lack, usually brought on by evil circumstances of things ranging from sickness, laziness, unfairness, economic oppression, unequal opportunities, ignorance, etc. Sins. Sins as our teacher? Does the end justify the means? Really?
One of the authors quoted above actually goes so far as to say that, to become like God, we need to learn from opposition, that "only opposition allows us to gain" our "highest potential." Where does most opposition come from but from THE Opposition, the enemy?
"The thief comes only to kill and steal and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and more abundantly." (Jesus, John 10:10)
Wow. We REALLY ARE eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil! No wonder God didn't want us eating that fruit - the price paid is great suffering for ourselves and others - but it seems God had to offer it because we have the free will to choose!
(As a side note, this also for me clinches the Charismatic Christian view that humanity gave up authority to the enemy. Not just because Adam and Eve listened to the serpent as per most Charismatic books on deliverance (this argument never made sense to me), but because we chose to give authority to evil to be our teacher and guide, through suffering... wanting the fruit of evil as a means to learn.)
So, why is claiming darkness as our teacher bad? We learn so much from our challenges. We learn to sympathize with the sick when we get sick. We learn to appreciate the good things when we don't have enough of them. We learn what's really important when we're dying or when our loved ones pass on to the other side. What's bad about all this?
I mean, it is true, right? Sickness can be at its root caused by mistaken attitudes, and can show us when we're out of alignment. Various spiritual texts support this view. Peace Pilgrim relates of a story of a woman confined to her room for health reasons. "I could tell immediately from the lines in her face and the tenseness... that it wasn't physical.... [S]he was telling me all about how mean her sister had been to her.... I [explained] that if she would forgive... she could look for an improvement in her health." When the reconciliation was in progress, the woman's health improved. Jesus Himself told a man he healed at the pool of Bethesda: "See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you." (John 5:14.) So we know the laws of forgiveness can apply to our health.
Jesus confirmed the underlying principles in this way: "Judge not, and you shall not be judged." "Give, and it shall be given to you." "The measure you use will be used against you." (Luke 6:37-38.) He also confirmed that spiritual laws are based on loving God and one's neighbor: "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:40.)
And yes, "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)
I think God does allow us to continue eating of that fruit. Its foundation seems to be something like karma. The blessings, the curses (lots of suffering for not keeping the law). There is no doubt some people learn from suffering, at least some of the time, especially when they also love God. Thanks to God, I've learned some big lessons from suffering. I've seen for myself that we have to forgive each other to get through this life, that un-love creates all our problems, that love is the answer. Yes, screwing up helped me learn this.
However, I have really started questioning if the ultimate will of God is for us to have, as our primary teacher, the fruit of sin and evil. Why do we say that suffering is the best teacher? Isn't Jesus our Teacher? Why do we embrace sickness as a lesson, when Jesus made it part of His mission to destroy sickness and heal everyone who came to Him? There are people who die bitter and angry. There are millions killed by poverty, war, gender selection, and other such evils, and many of those probably don't get the oppotunity to learn the messages of forgiveness and faith. It is implied that many of these things are lessons to be learned for victim and perpetrator. Really? Why do we pre-choose circumstances in our life that ALLOW or EXPECT evil to wreak havoc, when we are supposed to be followers of Jesus, of whom it is written:
"[T]he Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil." (1 John 3:8)
Whatever life plan I chose before I came to Earth, if it involves darkness as my teacher or me causing darkness for others to teach them, I renounce it. I do not want the fruit of evil to be my teacher or the result of my actions. I want THE Teacher, THE Master, THE Lord instead. I want to learn from Jesus. I want to do His will on Earth, not cause darkness so that others may "learn." I want to be in God, in whom is no darkness:
"This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5)
I see now: we DO live in a fallen world. I now believe that our pre-life plans are part of the problem when we choose evil as our teacher. Jesus said that "stumbling blocks are sure to come, but woe to him through whom they come" (Luke 17:1). If I'm playing in the gutter, playing with the fruit of darkness, calling evil one of my greatest teachers, then it seems to me I am more likely to become a stumbling block for others (and indeed, I have been, and indeed, woe came to me). My own fruit will be mixed when I choose a mixed spiritual state of being as my default. I become part of the system that spawns evil when I acquiesce to evil and want the fallen world to be my teacher.
Here's my view now. Our job instead is to take up the cross - to die to the world, to die to our life plans that called for so much evil and so much darkness - and to live instead for the One in whom there is no darkness. We are here to take back a world that runs by karma, that embraces evil, that gives permission for bad things to happen because they are "lessons," and instead bring to Earth the Kingdom of God. Disease, death, and demonic oppression are things of darkness. We can learn from them because God is good, but let us not claim they are better teachers than God!
Do we have to suffer abuse to learn what love is and isn't? Do we have to suffer racism to learn to hate racism? Do we have to suffer health problems before we have sympathy for the sick and want to heal disease? Well, perhaps that's true for a while. But why is that people who are in Jesus say they feel HIS compassion flowing through them toward others? Maybe we can become close enough to Jesus where we feel divine love toward others without having to experience everything they did. Parents don't want their kids to learn all lessons the hard way (despite the old phrase "experience is the best teacher" - wow, are we dishonoring God with that). Wouldn't we try to offer a way out to a wayward child? Wouldn't we try to stop or rescue a child determined to touch hot stoves or get mired in drug addiction? Don't we wish we could transfer our wisdom more directly than to watch a child fall into pitfalls that we know are harmful?
Did God do exactly that through Jesus?
I wonder now: Is this one possible purpose of "death" in baptism? Does the "death" mean we can "die" to our old life plans? And by accepting Jesus, are we saying (in part) that we now refuse to let anything less than the goodness of God be our teacher and master and God, and that Jesus empowers us to do it? (WITHOUT having to walk in all the suffering to get us to sympathize with everyone of every condition?) Is this a big part of being "born again": we are receiving a higher, more divine blueprint, and a new spirit as well?
If the idea of sickness, disease, poverty, and so on being good teachers, better than God, bothers you as much as it bothers me, then maybe it's worth reading through these lines with a new thought that Jesus really does free us from the carousel of darkness:
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.... And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
"Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.... You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-9 in parts; emphasis mine)
Jesus replied, "Very truly I tell you, if any one is not born again [born from above], he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)
We may face difficult times, but if we truly walk in God, God is our teacher ... not the difficulty. God supplies the love. God supplies the understanding. God provides the strength. And with the authority and power to cast out diseases and demons, we can bring freedom to others. The Charismatic theology I've been reading supports the view that when we have Jesus in us through the Holy Spirit, then our new identity (if we realize who and what we have become) will naturally change us so that we no longer bring the fruit of evil to the world (in proportion, presumably, to how fully we live in Jesus - we still aren't perfect, but the spark of Perfection should be becoming ever brighter within). Friends who do the work of the Lord report being filled with supernatural compassion; stories abound of God taking away the urge to do drugs or other vices; yes, it is possible to have God's Spirit live within us.
"If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin." (1 John 6-7)
Now, I realize that most authors whom I quoted above also say that we must walk with God as well. That really is the key. No one disputes that love is important, that spiritual rules still govern the earth in the sense that we must forgive; we must not condemn; what we give is what returns. But in my new thinking, I reject "experience is the best teacher." I now embrace "God and His Word (who is Jesus) are our best teacher." In fact, Jesus said it: "But you are not to be called Rabbi, for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.... Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah." (Matthew 23:8, 10) In my new thinking, I cannot help but come against the notion that sickness and demons and disease are teachers that we accept and celebrate. Yes, we can learn from them, and learn tremendously, but I think if we listened to the Holy Spirit, we would learn all those lessons and more in pursuing the path of Jesus, who destroyed those things wherever He went.
In fact, Jesus sent out disciples at one point to do just that. He told them: "And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give." (Matthew 10:7-8)
Heal the sick (sickness is not supposed to be in our lesson plan). Raise the dead (death and dying are not our teachers). Cleanse the lepers (being outcast and unclean is not to be our lesson plan). Cast out demons (don't take in the dark side or allow it expression; kick out the spirits of iniquity and infirmity; don't embrace your supposed dark side). When adopted as a son of God through Jesus Christ, we should be walking as Jesus did: destroying the works of evil and death, and bringing forth the fruit of life.
And so I say, "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!"
My Facebook wall just came up with this quote from Graham Cooke's Living Your Truest Identity, and I think it speaks directly to this topic.
"You have to ask yourself this question all the time, 'Does this exist in Heaven?' Like frustration - is there any frustration in Heaven? Then it doesn't exist on Earth! ... What if you just don't know how to be patient? What if you can never be challenged by a negative? What if you can only be challenged by the fruit of the spirit?!"
In other words, don't learn from ungodly things. Learn as if you're a citizen of Heaven, living in Heaven, learning from God only.
I've also heard him say that he responded to the suggestion that God wanted to teach him something from a very sore back this way: "I don't want to learn anything from sickness! I want to learn something from the goodness and power of God!"
P.S. So, what does this mean for our life plans? Why do spirits on the other side help us come up with these? Why does Jesus Himself seem to approve of plans involving tons of suffering? Yeah, I don't know. I do think there are higher realms and lower realms on the other side. Not all plans are good; not all come to fruition; not all good intentions do God's will. Undoubtedly a loving God allows our foolish choices. It's up to us to choose better.
P.P.S. Some days after writing this, I was re-reading this essay and pondering a friend's comments on it, when the thought struck me that all that I am, including so many things I'm proud of (independent thinking, empathy for the underdog) are the result of suffering. Therefore, to gain more wisdom and compassion for others, I'd have to suffer more to understand more. It was almost like an accuser saying to me, "Didn't you learn these things from suffering? Could God have taught you any better than you going through it all yourself?"
I was stuck for while, because the accuser had a point. I am who I am in large part as a result of what I've seen and experienced. Was my essay above totally wrong?
But then the lightbulb clicked on in my head. I was thinking of what it would be like to have God's Spirit (the Holy Spirit) be so thoroughly alive in me that my fruit would be the fruit of the Holy Spirit... and I realized that I simply DON'T KNOW what that would really be like. So my answer to the accuser became: "I don't know what it's like to live and learn so directly in and from God, but BOY DO I WANT TO FIND OUT!" And I felt nothing but joyous anticipation. How much better to be grafted onto the vine of life! I am sure that it is an experience that would and will far surpass all the learning that I'd done previously in completely unexpected and surprising ways, AND also leave no room for ridiculous self-pride in my supposed "independent thinking" and miniscule "empathy for the underdog." There is no greater independent thinker than God, and no greater empathy than God's, and I declare there is no teacher I want at this point - not suffering, not "experience" - other than God!