Left or Right?

During basic training in the military, we did a lot of marching shouting out jody calls to help us keep our cadence count as we were moving as a unit.  One of the chants was:  “Sound off 1-2, Sound off 3-4.  Sound off 1-2-3-4, 1-2 – 3-4.”  We also wanted to make certain that we were all marching on the same foot, so we would say: “To your left, your right, your left. To your left, your right, your left.  If you had a wife and 15 kids, you would have left; you would have left, you would have left, right now.”

I did my basic training in Biloxi, Mississippi, during the summer months.  We used to kid each other about holding a pebble in your right hand, so you would always remember which direction was right, just in case the heat fried your brain.  But it was interesting that we always wanted to know which side was right and not left.  Right was the important side, while left was just the other side.

As I got older, I found out that I was ambidextrous and could play tennis both right and left handed.  This came in handy when I had tennis elbow in my right arm, since I just simply switched hands.  My opponents said they didn’t even notice that I switched sides.  That either means that I was so bad right handed that they didn’t notice when I switched hands, or that they were paying me a nice compliment.

So, I grew up not really favoring the right or left side.  Even in politics, I always looked for the best candidate.  Before I could vote, I remember liking Adlai Stevenson, a Democrat, because I thought he was a very thoughtful politician.  Even then, I knew that he was an anomaly in politics.  I liked Ronald Reagan, a Republican, because he knew how to delegate and he accepted the blame for failures of his people.  After Papa Bush, I did not have any favorite presidents, either Republican or Democrat, but I liked what I read about President Truman, a Democrat.

As a moderate, I really prefer the middle, but as our society becomes more polarized, it has become increasingly difficult to remain in the center.  Both left and right wing extremists make you feel incompetent if you do not choose a side.

It is interesting that the Bible does take sides.  Jesus told his followers to fish out of the right side of the boat.  He also said that the goats, not entering heaven, would be on the left side, and the sheep, entering heaven, would be on the right.  Ecclesiastes 10:2 states, “A wise man’s heart is at his right hand, but a fool’s heart at his left.”

It is important to remember that Jesus preached temperance and moderation, but there are times when you have to choose a side.  And the Bible is telling you that the right, meaning correct, side is naturally right.  Jesus taught us to honor the poor and love your neighbor, which sounds very similar to left wing comments.

But there is a difference.  Jesus meant it, while socialist leaders do not.  The truth is that both left and right wing leaders are most interested in promoting their own interests.  It would be wonderful if Jesus were running for President.  I trust him and would vote for him.  However, there is no politician running for office, who even remotely resembles Jesus.  Politicians all have evil intent and motives.

So, when is the right side the right choice?  It is the extreme position that you must take when there is no more room in the middle.  When Jesus reached the end of his days on earth, he knocked over the money-changers table and took more extreme positions to make his points more effectively.  And not much is more extreme than being tortured and crucified.  All this was done to save mankind.  When all the bridges crossing the middle are destroyed, you must remain on the right and wait for the end of days, which will include torture and death at the hand of the left.

Morality vs. Societal Values in the 21st Century

Introduction

Morality is no different in the 21st century than it was in any of the centuries past.  Morality has always been based on the right thing to do.  The right thing to do has remained the same over the millennia.  It is embedded in our conscience.

However, societal values and laws relating to ethics interpreting the right thing to do are different today than they were centuries ago because these moral guidelines fluctuate with the government, ruling class, free time, and the education of the citizenry.

Let’s start with determining what “the right thing to do” is.  Whenever you feel that hiccup before you take an action or whenever you feel a tinge of guilt while taking an action, you know this is not the right thing to do.  Remember Jiminy Cricket in the Walt Disney movie, Pinocchio, and how he and Pinocchio were instructed to always let their conscience be their guide?  Even when we know the right thing to do, we can rationalize or talk ourselves out of doing the right thing with little difficulty.

But society interprets “the right thing to do” through laws and ethical codes.  So how does society determine what the right thing is?  I believe that a fair and just society can use either one or both basic methods for making this decision.  The first is what individuals think, and the second is what others think.  Ideally, the law should coincide with one or both of these ethical perspectives, but that is not always the case.[1]  Many governments, including totalitarianism, impose arbitrary and capricious laws and codes on citizens.

Subjective ethics are relative to the individual.  This theory is common in America, a country of immigrants from a variety of cultures with differing ethical values; however this subjective theory has inherent weaknesses because of our humanness.[2]  Objective ethics, also called rational ethics or moral absolutism, deems actions right or wrong based on a consistent objective test.  It imposes a duty on all citizens to refrain from violating the rights of others.[3]  Sometimes, it is the better approach.

The closest objective test in law I could find was included within the elements of negligence.  A legal duty must first exist between the parties to establish liability through negligence.  As mentioned above, the duty in objective ethics is to refrain from violating the rights of others.  The next element is a breach of that duty.  This requires the actor to meet the standard of care, which in many cases is what a reasonable person would or would not have done under the same or similar circumstances.[4]  In other words, would a reasonable person believe this was the right thing to do?

For example, you are shopping at Kroger’s and you haven’t eaten for five hours, so you are tempted to take a grape and pop it in your mouth.  Nobody would miss one grape.  What is the right thing to do according to 21st century society?  Well, let’s apply the subjective test.  The majority of people in today’s society would not have a problem with this.  Most would rationalize that nobody would really be hurt by the loss of a one grape.  The store would still sell the bunch of grapes, and the purchaser would never know the difference because each bunch of grapes had a different amount of grapes anyway.

In earlier centuries, stealing a grape would have been different from stealing a horse only by the value of the item taken.  But clearly, the moral and right thing to do would be to not take the grape no matter what century you lived in at the time of the decision.

What happens when we utilize the objective test in the 21st century?  Let’s employ the quantum of proof required for negligence just like we learned in law school.  In a civil case, the burden of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence also known as “more likely than not” and “greater weight of evidence.”[5]  A case under the Civil False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 2729, somewhat analogous to our determination whether an act is the wrong thing to do, also uses this burden of persuasion.[6]

Let’s first examine the preponderance of the evidence test.  If the scales are just a little lower with the weight of evidence on the side of this being the right thing to do, then it is the right thing to do.  We would have to examine all the evidence and place it on the scales of justice to see where the scales tip.

In this case, we have evidence indicating that taking the grape would be good for the decision-maker because it would stem the hunger until the groceries paid for get home.  We also have evidence that there will be little to no harm to Kroger’s or the ultimate purchaser of the grapes.  The theft of a grape would not be worth prosecuting since the value is so low.  Where do the scales tip in this instance?  A reasonable person would not consider the taking of a grape as the wrong thing to do or, in other words, the decision to take the grape was the right thing to do after examining all the circumstances.

In certain situations, you may find that the scales seem fairly balanced.  That is when we examine the “seven steps.”  These seven steps should be taken to determine if any of them tip the scales.

The magnificent seven are:

  1. Examine your “gut” feeling.  The NCIS “Gibb’s gut” is used.  If your “gut” tells you that the action is not right, then more than likely it is wrong.  This “gut” feeling could tip the scales for you on the side of deciding not to take that action.
  2. Take the “CNN test.”  You can substitute any newspaper or television news report for CNN, but you need to determine if the action could create “bad press.”  If you fear the action could lead to a problem with the media, you should, at least, run it by your public affairs experts.
  3. Examine the pragmatic angles.  If the action is not practical, then why gamble with it?
  4. Res ipsa loquitur – “the thing speaks for itself.”  This is an evidentiary rule that permits some degree of evidence from an inference of a breach by the outcome.
  5. Burden of persuasion is on proving that it is the right thing to do.  A tie goes to proving that it is the wrong thing to do.
  6. Err on the side of avoiding gray areas in the law.
  7. Avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

In this case with the single grape, how would the application of the seven steps work out?  Examine the seven potential tipping points.

  1. Your “gut” may be telling you that there are no real consequences to third parties.
  2. There will be no “bad press” because there is no potential for this being a violation of criminal law.
  3. Practical value of eating this grape to satisfy hunger is greater than problems encountered even if caught.
  4. A single grape makes little noise for itself.  It carries little significance in the scheme of things.
  5. The preponderance of evidence is that a reasonable person would do this and consider this the right thing to do.
  6. There is no legalistic gray area.
  7. If this appears to be a problem, then it is a problem.  This is where the 21st century ethics will not find this as even appearing to be a problem, while earlier centuries would find that the theft of anything would create the appearance of a problem.

And here is the tough part.  Even if the scales are level, the burden of proof has not been met, and you cannot take or recommend taking that action.  In other words, you cannot say that it was a “tie,” allowing you do nothing.  It doesn’t work that way.  Even if the scales are barely tipped to the side of not taking the action based on your “gut” feeling, the decision has been made, and you must argue to not take that action.

Who Makes the Final Ethics Decision?

Is there a judge or jury to decide the case for you?  Or is the decision entirely up to you?  Wouldn’t that be great if you could decide what the wrong thing was?  You could rig it so that you could never do the wrong thing.  All your choices would be spot on, dead center, right on target.  But if you “ain’t the king,” you are going to be second guessed by everybody.  Do I really mean everybody? Yes, I do, including: your supervisor, your co-workers, your secretary, your friends, your parents, your wife, your kids, and even your dog on bad days.

If your supervisor came into your office and asked you to change your opinion because it went against what the company wanted to do, how would you handle it?  Would you comply or would you refuse to change your opinion?  Would you apply the subjective test and rationalize that it wasn’t that big a deal to cave in to the boss?  Live to fight another day.  Or would you examine the situation using the objective test and present a logical argument to take to higher officials within the company, including checking with Public Affairs on their take on the issue?

When I was teaching the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) as an Air Force JAG to combat pilots, I always asked them to make their decisions after employing the “CNN Test.”  You can insert any news media in place of CNN, but CNN was big back during Desert Storm.

What did I mean by the “CNN Test”?  Any choices by pilots to fire or not to fire would be examined under the scrutiny of world opinion or the “CNN Test.”  What would the world think about this decision?  How would it appear in the newspapers tomorrow?  There was always the thought that in war, “you gotta do what you gotta do.”  We wanted the pilots to return safely from every mission, so if somebody were attempting to obtain a firing solution on them, they needed to fire immediately.  But if they had time to think through situations like in selecting targets, they should think about the consequences of world opinion.

Now, why should we care about what other people thought?  We are number one aren’t we?  We are more important than other people.  Who cares about other people’s opinion?  Well, we should care because society benefits from people doing the right thing.  We should place a high priority on doing the right thing and following laws.

 21st Century Decision Making

An eighty-year-old grandfather told his grandson that there was a battle going on between two wolves inside us all.  One was an evil wolf, filled with anger, jealousy, hate, greed, resentment, lies, and a huge ego.  The other was a good wolf with joy, love, peace, kindness, humility, truth, and empathy.

The grandson asked which wolf would finally win.  The old man leaned back and smiled, “The one you feed.”

I present 21 questions for the current century.[1]  I will first give the societal value answers of this century and then I will provide what I believe the moral answers should be.

  1. Why be good?
    21st century: There is no good reason to be the good wolf, so do what you want.
    Morality: Your conscience is a moderate, moral compass, telling you to be good.
  2. Is it ever permissible to lie?
    21st century: Yes, lying is permissible in many cases.
    Morality:  Your conscience permits lying only in moderate amounts, when it is beneficial to the listener.
  3. What’s wrong with gossip?
    21st century: Nothing.
    Morality: Your conscience tells you it is wrong when it is not done in moderation and harms others.
  4. Do you have an obligation to be healthy?
    21st century: No, you can do what you want.
    Morality: Yes, your conscience lets you know that you should live a temperate life and remain healthy so you are not a burden on others.
  5. May I take a grape while shopping?
    21st century:  Yes, because it doesn’t hurt anybody.
    Morality: No since quantity is not the issue in morality; moderation does not permit murdering of an infant because of their size; theft is theft and murder is murder.
  6. Is it wrong to make as much money as I can?
    21st century:  No, although this is changing as capitalism loses out to socialism in this century.
    Morality: you should live modestly and make as much money as you need to survive, avoiding greed.
  7. What are my obligations to the poor?
    21st century: None, although this is changing as capitalism loses out to socialism in this century.
    Morality: You should take care of the poor by teaching them to fish rather than giving them fish.
  8. Can we do better than the Golden Rule?
    21st century: Do unto others before they do unto you.
    Morality: Do more for others than you would do for yourself.
  9. Why can’t I just live for pleasure?
    21st century: You can.
    Morality: Your living for pleasure must be moderated by your conscience.
  10. Why can’t I date a married person?
    21st century: You can as long as the relationship is consensual.
    Morality: Because adultery runs afoul of your conscience and is not temperate sex.
  11. Are jealousy and resentment always wrong?
    21st century: No, these are human emotions that should be accepted.
    Morality: They are wrong when they are not controlled and you keep feeding them.
  12. What are the rules for respecting privacy?
    21st century: You have little privacy under capitalism and no privacy under totalitarian rule (socialism generally degrades into totalitarianism); both extremes in government take away your privacy.
    Morality: The Golden Rule applies to rules of privacy.
  13. What do I owe my aging parents?
    21st century: Nothing.
    Morality:  Your conscience will guide you to providing what your parents reasonably need.
  14. Should I help a suffering loved one die?
    21st century: Yes, if it means one less person on social security and an early inheritance.
    Morality: No, find a way to relieve their suffering other than killing them; murder is murder.
  15. Is “genetic enhancement” playing God.
    21st century: There is no God.
    Morality:  No, it is playing Hitler; genetic enhancement is a dangerous tool that extremists could misuse.
  16. Is conscientious objection a moral right?
    21st century: Yes, anybody can claim this right.
    Morality: It is a reasonable right based on our freedom of religion and convictions, but this right cannot be claimed for spurious and disingenuous reasons; conscientious objection must be done in moderation, following the conscience.
  17. Is it always wrong to fight back?
    21st century: You have the right to fight back as long as you aren’t going against the government.
    Morality: No, you can even go against the existing government if it is a bad government that does not support the citizens of that country; non-violent revolution is permissible.
  18. Should the death penalty be abolished?
    21st century: It should be permitted, especially for revolutionaries and crimes against the state.
    Morality: Yes, it is murder and thus is not permitted by our conscience.
  19. Is torture ever acceptable?
    21st century: Yes, it allows the government to obtain important information.
    Morality: No, it goes against the very fiber of our morality.
  20. Do animals have rights?
    21st century: No, humans are more important than animals.
    Morality: Yes, humans are animals, and your conscience tells you that all animals have rights.
  21. Why should I recycle?
    21st century: Because it is what everybody else is doing.
    Morality: Because it is the right thing to do.

 Conclusion

Have you ever looked for a book on moderation?  There aren’t many.  Have you ever wondered why?  My guess is because the extremists are the squeaky wheels who are always getting the grease to get their books published.  Extremists also have better sound bites for television interviews.  Furthermore, extremists make better headlines and will sell more newspapers and books.  Extremists excite you, energize you, and win you over to their powerful magnetic force.

Moderates are boring because all they want to do is stay in the middle of every argument.  They are the weak force.  But have you ever thought about how difficult remaining neutral really is?  When you have two extreme forces tugging at you, it is actually extremely hard not picking a side.  As the magnetic field strengthens, you generally are drawn to either the north or south poles.  No wonder the world is becoming more polarized with moderates becoming an endangered species.

When we make decisions, we are generally influenced by extreme positions.  Our two-party political system is an example of how two opposite sides polarize America.  Moderate parties generally do not win elections.  However, my conclusion is that people should utilize moderation in making choices in life.  The “Golden Mean” of Aristotle, the “Middle Way” of Buddha, and the “Balanced Order” of Confucius are the heart of virtue ethics.

The 21st century societal value answers to the 21 questions were not moderate.  But the morality answers tended to be more balanced.  That is not to say that the morality answers were perfect.  Any human answers are flawed by humanness, which is found in us all.  But moderation is perhaps the best goal that we as humans can utilize to achieve a heightened sens of morality.

Unfortunately, a revolution generally does not lead to the reinstatement of morality.  Typically, it leads to a new government with new laws, which more than likely will be based on something other than morality, subjective ethics, or objective ethics.  The new leadership will have its own self-interests to serve.  Even communistic revolutions, promising power to the people, have ended up with totalitarian governments taking away everything from the people, including their lives.

Perhaps, this is why morality should be the choice of the people rather than societal or governmental values.



[1] Gordon W. Brown, Paul A. Sukys, and Mary Ann Lawlor, Business Law with UCC Applications, 8th Ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995), 3 and 8-9.

[2] Brown, 4.

[3] Brown, 7.

[4] Richard A. Mann and Barry S. Roberts, Smith and Roberson’s Business Law, 9th Ed. (New York: West Publishing Company, 1994), 175.

[5] Roger C. Park, David P. Leonard, and Steven H. Goldberg, Evidence Law, A Student’s Guide to the Law of Evidence as Applied in American Trials, 2nd Ed. (St. Paul, MN: Thomson West, 2004), 93.

[6] Brian C. Elmer, et al., Fraud in Government Contracts (Washington, D.C.: Federal Publications Inc., 1993), 3-15.

[7] Many of these questions are found in “Moral Decision Making: How to Approach Everyday Ethics” by Clancy Martin, a professor of Philosophy at the University of Missouri – Kansas City.  The answers are my own.

When Tomorrow Is No More

When tomorrow is no more,

After time-space fabric tore,

Falling through quantum door,

Where chaos is new core.

 

When tomorrow is no more,

But thinking is in store;

Infinity can be a bore,

Not something to adore.

Thoughts drifting without control,

Where senses play no role,

Asleep in a black hole,

With nightmares in your soul.

 

Torn away from what was known,

Drowning like a heavy stone.

Surrealistic evil makes you moan,

Possessing no goodness zone.

You’re lost and not found,

Until your soul touches down,

Finding the creator’s sound,

Where peace can abound.

 

It’s all in your mind,

Faith you must find,

For the ties that bind,

Avoiding chaotic grind.

 

If you don’t believe,

Then your soul will leave,

Disappearing to deceive,

Web’s forever weave.

 

When tomorrow is no more,

What will be your lore?

Will you be evil’s whore?

Or fight for more?

 

Standing as one,

It cannot be done.

Allowing God and His son,

Inside, you’ve won.

Individual Freedom or Society’s Common Good?

Although we have had third parties in America, we typically have two major political parties, representing opposing sides, usually the conservative and liberal side to issues.  As a general rule, we could say that today’s Republicans champion individual liberty and the Democrats protect society from greedy capitalists whose selfish ambitions take priority over what is best for our country.

Even though this is a contemporary political debate, the origin of this dichotomy dates back to Plato who, hating Athenian democracy, destroyed the individual to create a perfect state.  On the other hand, many early Greek philosophers were Sophists like Gorgias, Hippias, Protagoras, and Prodicus, who looked inward for answers rather than out upon the materialistic world.  Many of these early philosophers believed that individuals were more important than man-made governments and laws.

So since these issues have been around for about two-and-a-half thousand years, surely one side has proven itself through experience and usage.  But that is not the case.  And you might think that Americans clearly land on the side of individual freedom over social restraints, but that is not true either.  In fact, Americans talk out of both sides of their mouths.  They indicate that they believe in a free market and the importance of individual rights, but they also want to promote the welfare of society as a whole.

It seems this dichotomy is more complex when you actually attempt to apply it to a society.  For example when Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans in 2005, there were some businessmen who overcharged for products and services since the residents had nowhere else to go.  Was this a case of a willing buyer paying a fair price based on the market or was it a buyer under duress who was being fleeced by a greedy seller?  In other words, should the seller be able to charge whatever the market bears or should there be a law that prevents a seller from taking advantage of somebody in distress?

Quite frankly, it would be a mistake to argue that the rights of an individual are more important than the rights of society or vice versa.  A more pragmatic approach utilizes both doctrines as needed based on the circumstances at hand.  Such a blended government will permit the flexibility to adapt to the needs of society.  For example after Katrina, the government was needed to respond quickly and efficiently to the needs of the people in New Orleans.  Allowing businesses to take advantage of people in dire conditions would have gone against the grain of our notions of right and wrong.  But after getting past the emergency conditions, then the free market would return.

So which is better:  individual freedom or society’s common good?  My answer is:  it depends.  But don’t eliminate either one of them from your box of political tools.  

Degrees of Faith

There is a clear division among believers and non-believers.  Perhaps that satisfies the first test for the first heaven.  But there are degrees of faith among believers.  Sometimes believers waiver between trusting and doubting.  These degrees of faith may determine whether you pass the other tests for the other two heavens.[1]

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there and it will move.’ Nothing will be impossible to you.”[2]  Perhaps Jesus was noting that the quality of your faith is more important than the quantity.  In other words, a deeper one day of faith is more important than 365 days of surface faith.  The degrees of faith are also based on depth of faith and not how many days you said you believed in God.

As an example, Daniel had a powerful faith as he sat in the lions’ den.  He focused on God, who sent down an angel to protect him.[3]  Peter was walking on water like Jesus, but he lost his focus and started sinking.[4]  We must focus on faith more than the problems and persecution that would otherwise distract us.

Believing in God is not enough.  That is a surface faith that will evaporate like water in the blazing sun.  When times get tough, our faith will be tested.  The degree or depth of your faith will determine your ultimate fate.

What is faith?  It is the conviction that God exists and will keep his promise to protect you.  But you make personal choices that God does not control.  God gave us free will.  These decisions belong to you and must be made carefully because there are consequences with all of them.  God does not protect you from making wrong decisions, but he does protect those who make righteous decisions.

Revelation mentions two deaths:  one is our initial death when the believers and nonbelievers are separated in Hades and the second is when those who are judged according to what they have done in the book of life and those who were not written in the book of life would be thrown into the lake of fire.[5]  This may explain two of the heavens: (1) if you believe in God, you will enter Hades as a believer and (2) if you have a higher degree of faith in God so that you serve God with righteous actions and thoughts, then you will enter a second heaven and avoid the lake of fire.

James, the brother of Jesus, did not believe that his brother was the savior of the world until he met him after his resurrection.  This changed everything.  James, more than any other writer, emphasized deeds over faith.  He said, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?”[6]  In effect, James was saying that a surface belief in Jesus and God was not good enough. 

James wrote: “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.  You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that – and shudder.  You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?  Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.”[7]

James was talking about a higher degree of faith that reached beyond believing in God, which he sarcastically indicated that even demons had that degree of faith.  James was telling us that we had to take our immature faith and build on it so that we would become more complete with a mature faith as shown by our actions.  In effect, our actions would be our beacons of a deeper faith.  Clearly, we will be held accountable for these actions in the second judgment.

Many of us have a wavering faith.  Typically as life becomes more difficult, we lose our faith.  We might even curse God as the tyrant who has made our lives so uncomfortable.  This unstable faith is called “double-minded” by James.[8]

James started his book with a powerful statement:  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.  But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”[9]

Your degree of faith to pass through the second heaven must be extremely high, which will be represented by all your good deeds and righteous lifestyle.  But the degree of faith to pass into the third heaven is almost impossible to reach.  That does not mean that you should not try.  It just simply means that this degree of faith leads to perfection as exemplified by Christ. 

You must come as close to Christ as you can.  This may mean that you will be tortured and persecuted like Christ as part of this test.  During these difficult days, you must always focus on God to get past the pain.  As James said, consider it joy going through the trials since it builds up your perseverance.  Your faith journey starts with a seed of faith, but it must grow and mature into a tall oak tree reaching for the highest degree of faith possible.

So what is your degree of faith?  Are you convinced God exists and will keep his promises?  Do you just believe in God when you attend church on Sunday or just as long as everything is going well for you? 

Do you obey God and leave all the consequences to him?  Or do you control your life until you have a major problem that you cannot solve?  Then do you blame God or do you turn over the controls to God?  Do you still carry the burden of your past sins? 

Do you continue to commit sins?  If you repent and are forgiven, then a true believer will not carry the burden of sin anymore.  A true believer will not continue to sin. 

So what is your degree of faith?  You and God both know the answer.



[1] 2 Corinthians 12:2, Paul mentions the “third heaven.”

[2] Matthew 17:30-21.

[3] Daniel 6:21.

[4] Matthew 14:29-30.

[5] Revelation 20:13-15.

[6] James 2:14.

[7] James 18-22.

[8] James 1:8.

[9] James 1:2-8.

God’s Love

There are many definitions of love: to cherish, devotion, tenderness, to caress, to fondle, to copulate, to take pleasure in, to like or desire, to feel affection, to thrive in, just to mention a few.

Perhaps the majority of men think that making love is the act of copulation.  Perhaps the majority of women think that making love is the act leading to copulation.  But human love generally leads to copulation. 

But there are types of love other than erotic or passionate love.  There is brotherly love.  There is agape love between brothers in Christ.  There is the love that a father and mother have for their children.  This may be the love that God has for his children, but we do not know for certain because the God of the Old Testament appears to be different than the God of the New Testament. 

There may be a love that we as humans cannot understand.  We see the manifestations of the love Jesus had for God and for us, but we do not fully understand that love.  What greater evidence of love is there than to lay down your life for those you love?  Jesus did that for his father and for mankind.  He accepted all the torture and pain for our benefit, certainly not his. 

We know that soldiers will sacrifice their lives protecting their brothers in arms. We know that the remaining eleven apostles sacrificed their lives as followers of Jesus. We know that other Christians were sacrificed for their beliefs, and they reached a level of love that may be required to enter God’s heaven. 

So what is God’s love?  Unfortunately, this is an unknown.  We may be assuming too much if we believe that God loves us so much that He will forgive us for all the mistakes we made during life.  God’s love may be something we have no comparison for in our world.  In fact, God’s love probably is alien to us because it exists in God’s universe. 

But Jesus is our intermediary to God’s world and God’s love.   We believe that Jesus loves us absolutely and completely, and because of that we can love him absolutely and completely.  If we love Jesus a little bit, but treat the Ten Commandments like they were a multiple-choice test, then we can expect our love to fall short of what is required in the judgment.  If we successfully avoid committing sinful acts, but our thoughts are corrupted with evil’s poison, then we can expect our love to fall short of what Jesus taught in the Beatitudes. 

When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.”  Matthew 22:37-38.  So, loving God with everything you have may be the radical way you have to love God.  I say radical because you must be willing to give up everything you have and own.  You must renounce everything, including your health, your wealth, your family, and your life for God’s love.

The Bible is our best source for determining the three steps to loving God with all your heart and soul. 

Step One.  In Matthew 1:21, “… he (Jesus) will save his people from their sins.”  Jesus stated in Matthew 10:32, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.”  Jesus emphasized faith when Peter failed to walk on water in Matthew 14:31. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”  Jesus healed a boy plagued with a demon while his disciples could not.  They asked Jesus why they could not drive out the demon.  In Matthew 17:20, he replied, “Because you have so little faith.  I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there and it will move.’  Nothing will be impossible for you.” 

After his resurrection, Jesus told His disciples to preach the good news to all creation.  He said in Mark 16:16, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”  In Acts 15:11, Luke wrote, “We believe it is through grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved…”   In Romans 3:22, Paul wrote, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.  He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

In other words, if we believe in Jesus as our Savior, we enter heaven’s first gate through the grace of God.

Step Two.  Once we receive God’s grace, we may not continue sinning.  In Romans 6:16, Paul wrote, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness.”  In effect, Paul was saying that once believers received God’s grace, they had an obligation to lead righteous lives.  Paul talks about the Holy Spirit that will direct your righteous actions that will please God.  The Bible talks about judgments based on our acts and deeds, so logically, there must be a second judgment with consequences for what you did or failed to do during life.

But it was James, a brother of Jesus, who made it clear that faith was not sufficient by itself.  In James 2:17, James questioned the good of wishing someone well without taking any action.  He wrote, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

In other words, our actions and deeds during life will be examined by Jesus to determine if we are worthy to enter the second heaven.    

Step Three.  The final step is a mystery known only by God.  The step into the third heaven, his kingdom, is limited to just a few.  In Matthew 7:14, Jesus said, “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

We only know about the three heavens because Paul wrote about them in 2 Corinthians 12:2.  However, very little is known about the three heavens.  The three potential judgments or steps discussed in this article appear to match the three heavens.  But there is nothing in the Bible listing three judgments. 

John the Baptist preached in Matthew 3:2: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”  The kingdom of heaven is mentioned 33 times in Matthew.  Repentance in the Bible is more than just saying I am sorry; it is a radical change in your lifestyle, renouncing our sinful nature and returning to the kingdom of heaven.  We can imagine that the judgment for the third heaven, which is listed by the author to refer to the entrance into God’s universe, requires a draconian approach to avoiding sin in your actions and in your thoughts, but it also demands that you give up everything in this universe and be prepared to sacrifice everything including yourself. 

This test will be extremely difficult because our human thoughts dip into sinful venom before we can stop it and we find it difficult giving up our worldly possessions and even harder to suffer pain and torture.  But in order for us to reach the third level, we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves, our family, and all that we touch in our world.  We must be extreme and radical in our love for God.  We must be willing to be crucified for our love just like Jesus.

As radical and excessive as our love must be for God, God’s love may be moderate.  At least, I hope it is.  If God’s love were a passionate love, it would burn out quickly.  A passionate relationship forever is not realistic, because just like stars, it eventually burns all its fuel and then explodes.  But a consistent love could last forever.  I pray that God’s love is moderate and lasts forever.

When I hope that God’s love is moderate, I do not mean I am wishing for a God that will love us less than we have loved him.  I mean that I desire God’s love to be based on moderation and temperance.  In a chaotic world, God hopefully has a moderate love that is under control.  This, logically, is the only type of love that could survive eternity. 

When you first started dating your spouse, you probably had a very passionate relationship.  After several years of marriage, your passionate fires were turned down to medium.  After several decades of marriage, your relationship probably changed and became less passionate and more moderate.  Most love stories revolve around passion based on extreme emotions that do not last.

God’s love is probably very different from the loves you have had during your life, requiring a quid pro quo.  God’s love is a gift of moderation after you have crossed the final gate, bearing the cross of crucifixion as well as Jesus did.  And don’t be embarrassed about loving God.  You must learn how to love God in an extreme fashion in order to enter the third heaven.

You can start with the love you have for your family.  Emphasize that type of love and bring that to your conversations with God.  Over your life, you can hopefully develop a relationship with God that will facilitate your judgments before Him in the afterlife.  The first heaven is not difficult, but the second is difficult.  However, the third heaven requires an extreme love for God, requiring a full commitment, being willing to sacrifice everything, including your family and body.

It is likely that the first two heavens are still in our universe, leaving the third heaven as the final portal into God’s universe.  Only a few will leave our universe and enter God’s kingdom, which means that the rest of us will remain behind to be recycled in our universe.  But that does not discourage me from doing my best.  I will love Jesus as the mediator, doing my best to pass the second judgment.

One of the things that I do is I mark down which virtues and good acts I have accomplished on a daily basis.  And I try to improve on these righteous acts and incrementally make myself a better person each day.  I try to model myself after Jesus as much as I can.  I think of it as getting a little closer every day, knowing that I will never reach the perfection of Jesus.  Jesus is my role model.  I have not been persecuted and tortured like Jesus, but I am prepared to accept that if it comes to pass.  

My love for Jesus and God will be equal to the love that I have.  I am prepared to give my all even if I do not make the third heaven.  I will do my best and will never stop trying to improve.  For I believe that God’s patient and moderate love is waiting for me.                       

Degree of Difficulty in Reaching Heaven

If you ask a minister if it is difficult reaching heaven, more than likely he will tell you that reaching heaven is as simple as you believing in Jesus Christ as your savior.  I wish that were true, but there are many verses in the Bible that make me think otherwise.  In fact, the Bible seems to be very clear on the matter.  Bottom Line: it may be extremely difficult to reach God’s kingdom.

Some of these verses are below:

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”  Matthew 22:14.

“Someone asked him, ‘Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?’  He said to them, ‘Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.”  Luke 13:23-24.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!’  Matthew 7:21-23.

“I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  Matthew 19:23-24.

“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him.  ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’  ‘Why do you call me good?  Jesus answered.  ‘No one is good – except God alone.”  The man declared that he had kept all the commandments since he was a boy.  “Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.’  At this the man’s face fell.  He went away said, because he had great wealth.  Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!  Mark 10:17-23.

“When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’  Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  Matthew 19:25-26. 

“Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  Matthew 7:13-14.

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.  At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.  Because of the increase in wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”  Matthew 24:9-13.

“To him who overcomes, I will give him the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.”  Revelation 3:31.

“Then I heard the number of those who were sealed:  144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.”  Revelation 7:4.

“Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.”  Revelation 14:1.

There is some confusion as to the number of judgments and heavens.  Paul says that there are three heavens in 2 Corinthians 12:2.  However, little else is said about them in the Bible.  However, it seems logical that there are multiple heavens because God’s grace is all you need for one judgment, but your works will be examined in another judgment.  They could not logically be the same judgment or lead to the same heaven.   

If there are multiple heavens and judgments, then it is possible that ministers are correct in saying that you will enter the first heaven through the grace of God simply based on your belief.  But since the Bible mentions that you will be judged also for your actions, which could be a second heaven and judgment.  But the third heaven sounds like the most difficult of all to reach.  That could be the one that involves persecution where you must be like Christ to the extent of being tortured like he was.  This is where people would drop out of the running in droves.

It seems that only 144,000 people will make the final cut to enter God’s kingdom or the third heaven.  That is a pretty low percentage of all the people who have ever lived on earth.