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The Left Behind Game

December 17, 2006

Clay Nelson

Advent 3     
Luke 3:7-18


You may remember that last Advent I told you God created the Internet so I could do my Christmas shopping online and avoid the malls. In my Christmas surfing I have found a most unusual gift. I wish I knew someone to give it to. It's a computer game called The Left Behind Game. It's based on a popular series of books of the same name that is based on the author's interpretation of the Book of Revelation. It takes place after the Rapture, when Jesus has taken his people to heaven and left nonbelievers behind to face the Antichrist. The book series has sold 60 million copies.


The goal of this adventure game is to convert or kill nonbelievers. The player can choose to join the forces for Jesus or the Antichrist. If you join Jesus you are a freedom fighter. If you choose to fight for the Antichrist you know in advance you are going to lose. But you get to choose a persona from fictional rock stars and Muslim-sounding names.


If you are a freedom fighter for Jesus your mission is to try to convert nonbelievers for which you get spirit points. If you fail, you kill them. If forced to kill them for their own good, spirit points are lost, but you get them back if you pray for them.


I hope you find the fact such a game even exists horrifying and an embarrassment to you and all Christians. So, what was your reaction as you listened to today's Gospel? Did you feel the same when John the Baptist warned the Jews that if they didn't convert and be baptised they would be cut down like dead trees and cast into the fire. Were you shocked that he predicts Jesus will separate his followers like wheat from the chaff, throwing the chaff into the fires of hell, which Luke assures us is “Good News”? If you weren't equally horrified maybe I should get The Left Behind Game for you.


The first thing I did after discovering that the luck of the draw had given me this Gospel to preach on was to see if scholars thought John really said these things. I was disappointed to learn that their consensus was that if John didn't say most of these things, he wishes he had. If John felt this way it begs the question, “Was this how Jesus saw things as well?” If so, he's not the man I thought he was.


This message and others like it, especially in John's Gospel, have been used to justify the burning of 40,000 women in Europe as witches, the torturous and deadly methods of the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Holocaust, the Iraq War, and even prayer in public schools. It is not dissimilar to many passages in the Qur'an used to justify flying jets into twin towers, car bombs in Baghdad, and suicide bombers in Tel Aviv. It echoes Deuteronomy in the Torah, “If your brother, your son or daughter, or the spouse whom you embrace, or your most intimate friend, tries to secretly seduce you, saying, 'Let us go and serve other gods'…You must kill him…You must stone him to death since he has tried to divert you from Yahweh your God.” [1]


It is this kind of Good News from Good Books that threatens survival of the species. Something is wrong when religions are the single worst threat to peace in the world. While Islam seems to be the worst offender at the moment, elements in Christianity who take the Bible seriously as the literal Word of God are no less a threat as the war in Iraq and The Left Behind Game prove.


The root of this negative aspect of religion is in the kind of apocalyptic thought John expresses. When people are oppressed in this life they understandably hope in an afterlife where God will balance the ledger and bring those in power to their knees. Many scholars believe that Jesus had an apocalyptic view as well, but his words and actions were more about loving your enemies or those with different beliefs than casting them into the fiery pit. He didn't proclaim a perfect life after this one; he called people to live in the kingdom of heaven now. Sadly many in most religions focus on the afterlife instead of this one. You might think so what. What people believe is a personal thing. But beliefs are the engine behind our actions. Beliefs about the afterlife may seem esoteric, but they are killing people every day. This and other beliefs that are based on no evidence whatsoever or outright deny knowledge available to a child do untold harm. So I've been looking beyond Scripture to examine my beliefs. Moderates and Progressives have been do this a long time. Lots of scripture has been rejected as being literally true in any real world sense: creation, virgin birth, physical resurrection, heaven as a place, even a personal God. But we are inconsistent and too tolerant of faith beliefs that do harm. As an aside I wonder why we work so hard to reinterpret the unbelievable?


So I have been looking outside of scripture to find the believeable. That for which there might be evidence to support my faith. Lately I have been focusing on spirituality and physics. I have to keep a copy of Physics for Dummies nearby to help me with the tougher concepts. Physics was the only subject in my education I began but didn't complete. I dropped it because I couldn't see how knowing how fast a steel ball rolled down an incline would be of any use to me. Little did I know that physics would give me a glimpse of God. Of course, when I studied physics it might not have done so, as scientists didn't know much yet about sub-atomic matter. The Big Bang theory was not even mentioned nor was the Quantum nature of being.


Quanta are minute bundles of energy that are the building blocks of atoms. They make up all things. They are the lowest common denominator of creation. Part of their mystery is that they can be equally described as solid particles like tiny billiard balls, or as waves, like the undulations of the surface of the sea. As particles they bounce off of each other protecting their identity from the power of the others. As a wave they join their identity with others to become one wave. In human terms, particles are separate individuals; they are anti-social and self-centred. Waves behave more like a community. They like to party. They value cooperation and relationship. They accept being a part of a whole while particles are wary of it. In physics and life both can be true at the same time. [2]


A quantum view of the universe requires learning a new word – Holon. H-O-L-O-N. Each of us is a holon. Each of us is made up of holons. And each of us is a part of a holon. A holon is not a kind of matter or a particle or a wave or a process; a holon is both a whole and a part simultaneously. Everything in the created order is a holon: “Whole atoms are part of whole molecules; whole molecules are part of whole cells; whole cells are parts of organisms, and so on… and the evolutionary thread…connects them all, unfolds them all, embraces them all, endlessly.” [3]


Evolution is the consequence of how holons relate. Different results occur when they act as particles instead of waves and vice versa. If they rely on their particle nature, they would rather die than adapt and some do, becoming extinct. If they act like waves they would rather join with other holons to adapt than preserve their independence. In their willingness to sacrifice some sense of self to join with another they create something new without anything that they are being lost. What they gain is self-transcendence.


While reason would suggest it is better for a holon to adapt than to risk dissolution it is not possible to predict which a holon will choose. Ultimately, as far as the cosmos is concerned, both are part of the creative process that is constantly emerging. This relationship between holons is at the core of our reality and why the universe is emerging and not static. It describes but does not explain the mystery of life. I think it is as close as we can get to understanding God.


Let me give a real-life example of how it works. Some months ago I shared the story of one of our most faithful members, who spent her days at the church and her nights sleeping in bus stops. Her rough sleeping made being in close proximity a less than pleasant olfactory experience. The staff you will remember at first tolerated her but we behaved as particles trying to keep her from impinging too much on our boundaries. But somewhere along the way our staff holon began acting as a wave. We invited her into our lives and made an effort to be connected. We got to know her and her story. We began working to improve her quality of life. What we didn't predict was what she would do for us. She and we had become a new holon. She was a part of our identity and we a part of hers.


This week Christmas came early. She moved into a room at an assisted living facility. She now has her own room, bed, and bath. While this was not a predictable outcome this new holon has resulted in self-transcendence. She gets regular, healthy meals, medical attention and has opportunity for meaningful activity. While we never foresaw this outcome, we can be quite certain that if the staff and she continue to acts as particles, this would not have happened.


The significance of Jesus is he reveals the truths about the universe we experienced in this example. His importance is not that he was something new in creation. He was one of our species. He was divine in the sense that each of us is the product of this emerging mystery of life. The truth of Jesus is found in the very building blocks of creation. Creation and how it unfolds is not an example to explain Jesus. Jesus is an example of creation at its best. We honour Jesus for living out its truth; not for creating it. It began unfolding 15 billion years before him. Anyone could've have done the same before him. Some probably did, he just got more and better press preserving his story. I don't say this to diminish Jesus but to remind us that if he is something more than we, we and our capabilities are diminished. If he is our saviour, we are victims. I don't think Jesus would have bought that. We each have the capacity to live in creative relationship with the universe as he did and thereby know self-transcendance. Our salvation is borne in our DNA.


Jesus understood our fundamental connection with one another and the universe and called for us to embrace it allowing for our self-transcendence into a new creation. His life tells us we can do it too, for it is a part of our created nature. In his death he showed that even when the whole is destroyed, its parts remain. In his case, his transforming love and the memory of his life became one with his followers inviting them into a radically new way of being one with the fundamental reality which is God. For me that is resurrection.


Jesus was a wave that is still rolling strong. His life invites us to become part of the wave. His cousin John was a particle threatening other particles using Jesus as the club. Sadly the church, which was the unexpected new creation from Jesus' death, has largely chosen to act more like John than Jesus. I think it always will if it holds on to apocalyptic thinking of an afterlife for which there is no evidence or support instead of looking at creation around us.


Religion generally seems more bent on being a particle than a wave.


Perhaps that's why Jesus doesn't seem to have been all that fond of religion, considering his views about the Temple and the Holiness Code and his lack of popularity with the Scribes and Pharisees. I wonder how pleased he would be to know a religion was founded in his name? If John is right about a judgment day at the end of time, considering the Church's past and present behaviour, it may be surprised by who is left behind. The Church may find itself the chaff that's burned. But it will be left behind no matter what if it doesn't look to our natural world to understand a better way to be the Church.


[1] Deuteronomy 13:7-11


[2] Wessel, Cletus, Jesus in the New Universe Story. Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York: 2003, pp. 53-54


[3] Wilber, Ken, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution, Shambahala, Boston: 1995, p. viii.

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