John, the Gnostic

John, who is considered to be the author of the Gospel of John, the three books of John, and Revelation at the end of the Bible, is one of a handful of Gnostic writers whose works were not destroyed by the church establishment.  A majority of the books included in the Bible had no Gnostic theology at all, so it is important to examine John’s books to uncover the beliefs of an important Christian sect that was pushed into a dark corner to be hidden from future Christians.

Why were the Gnostics so feared by the church leaders?  Well, it is rather simple.  The Gnostics did not believe that clergy were required to intercede for believers to reach God.  The central thesis for the Gnostics was dualism:  the spirit is entirely good, while matter is entirely evil.  The human body and all material in the universe are bad, while God and the spirit are good.  Separation of your spirit from your body requires special knowledge.  The Greek word for knowledge is gnosis, the derivative for Gnosticism.  Thus, Gnostics believed that you unified with God and became one with God through your mind by leaving your body behind.

In the Gospel of John, the author emphasized that God would send down the Holy Spirit to help us become one with God, just like Jesus and God are one, John 17:11.  Jesus said that the Spirit will be in us, John 14:17.  Jesus is in his Father, just like he will be in you and you in him, John 14:20 and 17:22-23.  After Jesus died, he returned to command us to “receive the Holy Spirit,” John 20:22.

John’s books were included in the Bible because he was not an extreme Gnostic.  For example, some Gnostics believed in “docetism,” which meant that Jesus only seemed to have a body.  John believed some Gnostics of his day were false prophets under the influence of spirits alienated from God.  In other words, there were both evil and good spirits, and we should test the spirits, 1 John 4:1-3.  Some Gnostics, who followed Cerinthus, believed that Jesus was not in the spirit form until he was baptized by John the Baptist and then right before he died on the cross.

But John was a Gnostic in the sense that he believed that you must unify with God.  John believed that God must be in you, 1 John 4:4, and living in you, 1 John 4:12.  He stated, “We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit,” John 4:13.  And John explains that it is important to have God inside you, giving you confidence and driving out any fear we might have on judgment day, 1 John 17-18.  In other words, fear could be disastrous for us in the afterlife, so if we have God inside us, we will lose much of that fear.

John also apparently believed that God’s creation was a closed universe, so that God and Jesus existed before the universe was created, John 17:5 and 17:24.  The creation must have occurred outside our universe, meaning that it has a boundary that separates it from God’s universe.  This comports with the Law of Conservation of Mass and Energy, which states that mass and energy cannot be created nor destroyed within our closed universe.  Creation must occur outside the perimeter of our universe.  And God’s universe is outside and separate from our universe.  Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” John 18:36.

John’s Book of Revelation is perhaps the most intriguing of his works.  If you asked twenty theologians to analyze the meanings, you would hear twenty different interpretations.  However, it is still worthwhile examining the passages.  For example, Jesus said that he was “the Alpha and the Omega,” in Revelation 1:8, meaning that he is the beginning and the end or “the First and the Last,” in Revelation 2:8.  This seems to indicate a closed universe with a beginning and an end.

Does that mean that God will destroy the entire universe?  Does that mean that we will no longer be conscious or aware?  The end of our worldly bodies is something we expect anyway.  The end of the universe is something altogether different.  If God can create our universe outside of its boundaries, He can also end it from outside.  But does that mean that after God destroys the universe that we will no longer be thinking?  Unfortunately, it seems we will not be that fortunate.

A Roman poet, Cornelius Gallus, wrote in the first century B.C., “Worse than any wound is the wish to die and yet not be able to do so.”  Revelation describes the end of times when God will select only 144,000 people to be protected from the torture and agony that is the future.  The remaining people “will seek death, but will not find it; they will want to die, but death will elude them,” Revelation 9:6.  The 144,000 are described as having God’s name on their foreheads in Revelation 14:1, which because of John’s Gnostic leanings may have meant that these citizens had God inside their thoughts and were one with God.

As mentioned in 1 John 4:1, we should test the spirits because some are evil.  Revelation describes evil spirits working to forge forces to fight in the final battle of Armageddon, Revelation 16:13-16.  Revelation does not offer any peace for people unless they unite with God.  Those who oppose God like Satan will be relegated to a fiery lake where they will be tormented for eternity, Revelation 20:10.  These may be allegorical references to torture forever within our own thoughts.  We may torture ourselves more than God ever would.  Nobody knows for certain except the Creator, who also holds the power of Destroyer.  If we were in that fiery lake, we might beg Him to destroy us and put us out of our misery, but apparently that does not happen.

At the conclusion of Revelation, Jesus mentions the Omega or ending again and then describes a new world which is outside the old universe (Alpha and Omega) in Revelation 22:13-15.  It is logical that in order to join Jesus and God in their world, you have to unite with them and become one.

Fear of the Unknown

What do you fear more than anything else?  When are we scared the most in a horror movie?  Is it when we actually see the hairy, one-eyed monster or is it before we see it?  Our imaginations tend to fill in the blanks with a much more horrific monster than would ever be produced for the screen.  Movies that scared me the most were the ones that kept the monsters in the shadows, so that they remained unknown.

The unknown is very troubling to us because we worry about it too much, causing us to emphasize the worst case scenario.  Have you noticed that our dealing with the unknown is rarely a positive experience?  People associate the unknown with the dark side, where bad things happen to us.  One of the rare times when the unknown is considered a good thing is when we receive a wrapped present for Christmas or our birthday.  We expect to tear off the paper and ribbons and find a nice gift.  But, in this case, the event is known with only the specific present being unknown.

None of us know what will happen after we die.  This is a significant unknown.  Even if you don’t fear death, you fear the unknown… what happens after death.  If nothing happens after you die, then there is nothing to worry about.  However, if there is something waiting for you after death, it is unknown to you.  You will not know what it is until after you die, and you may not know the full impact of what happens until a long time after you die.  It may be a process, rather than an event, which may extend into eternity.  But whatever awaits us is and should be feared.

Winston Churchill once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  He probably was telling the English not to fear the unknown effects of the next bombing run by the Germans, since their imaginations would create something worse than what would actually happen.  Was he also saying that since we are afraid only of an emotion called fear, we should dismiss it since it really cannot harm us?  It’s only in our minds; it does not exist in the real world.  But isn’t the emotion that is in our minds what is most dangerous to us if we are still thinking at death?  The fear that grips our thoughts, creating nightmares and ghouls feasting on our souls, is what I think could follow us into our afterlife.  The reality of that new experience might be based entirely on what you are thinking.  We can be very afraid of that.

So, how do we deal with this fear of the unknown at death?  Perhaps, we can employ religion to give us faith that we will be saved from eternal damnation.  But that may not be sufficient.  If you are religious only for purely selfish reasons, you will have no protection.  You must believe in something other than yourself.  You must be genuinely humble, recognizing that you cannot possibly navigate through the chaotic storms of the underworld, and petition for assistance.  You must allow God to come inside you and be a part of you.  This unification probably will not come easily.  You may have to spend the rest of your life preparing to leave your body behind and becoming one with God.  Nobody knows exactly how this happens, so you will need to be prepared for whatever might occur.

You will need somebody inside you to calm you and guide you.  We know we are temporal and are nothing in the grand scheme of things.  Just think of all the things that are unknown to us in our visible universe, which is only about 4% of the entire universe.  We literally know nothing.  We are nothing.  We truly are not worthy to be accepted in God’s kingdom, but we should be as prepared as we can be to follow God’s lead.  God said, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”