Moses Died for Your Sins: An Alternate Timeline

Things are looking grim for the people of Israel. Oppressed by a foreign power, they seek a great leader who will break their chains of bondage. Finally, the man himself arrives! Not only does he perform great miracles, he provides his people instructions on how to live a life pleasing to God.

Jesus Christ? No, the man is Moses, and I would like to propose a way that God could have saved a lot of time (and given us a much more concise Bible) by making Moses the savior of humanity.

Picture the backstory: we’re only a few chapters into the Bible, and sin is already wreaking havoc on God’s creation. God has already tried and failed to cut off the infection by firebombing Sodom and Gomorrah and rebooting all life on Earth with the Great Flood. Is the solution to create a temporary fix which will redeem only one specific people? Why not sent the savior of humanity now, instead of waiting a few thousand years?

In the Bible, Moses speaks to Pharaoh on behalf of his people, Pharaoh finally lets the Israelites go after ten plagues, but he still pursues them until Moses parts the Red Sea and closes it on the Egyptian army. I’d like to propose an alternate scenario that is essentially similar, but with a few key tweaks.

In my scenario, Moses is the Son of God. His birth narrative in Exodus is already pretty unlikely, floating down the Nile in a basket and allowed to survive when all other Israelite sons were being killed. We just need to make him born of a virgin to give him a truly miraculous origin story.

The story proceeds from there until Moses is grown and makes his escape into Midian. In a classic hero’s journey trope, he encounters God in the burning bush, where he learns of his divine provenance. God then instructs Moses to not only be Israel’s liaison to Pharaoh, but to beseech the Israelites to turn from their sinful ways (as Moses will do in the Sinai anyway) and follow Jehovah only. Moses obeys, performing signs and wonders to prove that God has sent him.

When the time comes for the tenth and final plague, Israel is not spared by painting their doors with blood. Rather, Moses allows himself to be captured by Pharaoh, who has once again had his heart hardened by God. The next morning, Pharaoh executes him, an innocent man, just as the spirit of the Lord passes over Egypt. The firstborn of Israel are spared by Moses’ sacrifice, but the firstborn of Egypt are not. The people of Israel now escape thanks to the distraction.

They proceed to the Red Sea, where they find themselves trapped between the army of Egypt and the water. Suddenly, Moses reappears! He has defeated death, and proceeds to part the Red Sea and allow Israel to pass through, closing it again over the pursuing Egyptians. Safe on the other side, Moses presents God’s message to his people and all of humanity: accept Moses into your heart, repent of your sins and you will be saved.

This alternate scenario solves a number of problems with the overarching biblical narrative. Many stumbling blocks are removed from prospective believers – God never commands genocide, never demands the stoning of homosexuals, never condones slavery or allows slaves to be beaten. You no longer have to cherry pick which Levitical laws are important (gays are bad but blended fabrics are fine?). You no longer have to contrast the vengeful Old Testament God with the loving New Testament God and wonder how an “unchanging” god has changed. Most importantly, millions more souls have the opportunity to be made right with God sooner.

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Never Trust God to Do a Man’s Job

One of the most damning realizations of my deconversion was that, despite my years of prayer, of studying scripture, of earnestly seeking to draw closer to God, I was no closer at all. I had never heard the voice of God like some claimed to have heard. I had no miraculous experiences, no unbelievable coincidences, nothing that seemed out of course for a workaday life. I prayed for things, and sometimes I got what I asked for, sometimes I didn’t. It was as if the act of praying had no influence on the results of the prayers. Sure, I gave God credit for a lot of things, but stepping back I wondered where exactly God was acting in these situations.

For example, when my wife and I bought a house, our friends and family praised God for his favor in providing us with this wonderful house. Even as a Christian at the time, I wondered where God fit into the process. Did God save our money for us? Did God contact the realtor for us? Did God sort through dozens of listings, visit house after house, make the phone calls, fill out the paperwork? Why is God being given the credit for our hard work?

How many Christians go to the doctor when sick? Why don’t they do as James says:

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. [James 5:14-15]

That’s the Bible’s prescription for your ills. You may as well throw away your antibiotics, your insulin, your heart medication, your Viagra. Take off your casts, your splints, your hearing aids, your glasses, and stumble blind and deaf, guided by your faith alone!

But what if you do this and you don’t get better. Is that God’s fault? He’s in control here. He could heal you in a second if he wanted to – wouldn’t even break a sweat. Will you blame God for your ills? Or will you assume God has a bigger plan in play, that somehow your suffering, even if it leads to your death, will somehow result in a greater good?

Christians tend to “see God moving” in retrospect through the rosy filter of confirmation bias. They assume that any trifling benefit came directly from God while completely ignoring the times when God has failed to move, either in their own lives or the lives of others. The situations where Christians find comfort believing that “God is in control” are the same situations that would be avoided if God was actually controlling things. Why does God help people find their car keys but not a route to work that will avoid that horrific accident?

Christians regularly pray for the sick to be healed. If the person gets better, hooray! God (not modern medicine or highly- trained doctors or the body’s own immune system) has healed them. But what if they don’t get better? What if they suffer a horrible, painful, unnecessary death? This might be looked at as “God taking them home” or “God’s higher purpose,” but it is rarely looked at as “God choosing for unknown reasons not to expend the tiniest bit of his supposedly limitless power.”

Seemingly, God chooses to bless people but never chooses to curse them. This does not hold up to reality. He may not directly cause suffering, but he consistently causes suffering indirectly by not using his unlimited power and foreknowledge to prevent harm.

Would we graciously thank a doctor who didn’t use every tool in his arsenal to cure our loved ones? If a sick man could be cured by a simple penicillin shot, what would we think of a doctor who refused to administer it? To paraphrase the Simpsons, God is the cause of and solution to all life’s problems.

Pop Quiz, Hot Shot

1. Which creation story sounds the most plausible?

  1. The gods fashion man unsuccessfully first from mud, then from wood, and finally succeed with corn and corn meal
  2. A god fashions the first humans from clay mixed with the flesh and blood of a deceased god
  3. A god fashions the first human from clay, and another god breathes life into it
  4. A god fashions the first man from the dust of the earth, and then fashions the first woman from a rib of the man

2. Which flood story sounds most likely?

  1. A great flood lasting generations is abated with the assistance of various supernatural creatures
  2. A great flood lasting several years is survived by one man on a giant boat containing all animals and plants
  3. A great flood lasting several days is survived by one man, one woman, and a multitude of babies on a massive canoe
  4. A great flood lasting forty days is survived by one family on a boat containing sets of every animal

3. Which miracle most likely occurred?

  1. A man multiplies the yield of date trees to help someone pay off their father’s debts
  2. A man produces fire from one side of his body and water from the other
  3. A man cures his immobilized leg and arm by sprinkling them with water
  4. A man feeds a crowd of thousands using only five loaves of bread and two fish

4. Which is the most believable afterlife destination?

  1. Islands of fertile soil, bountiful produce, and fair winds
  2. A massive hall with a roof made from golden shields and an endless supply of mead
  3. A paradise of palaces filled with sensual delights, including delicious food and drink
  4. A city with golden streets, gates of pearl, jasper walls, and jeweled foundations

Why should we believe the Jewish/Christian account of creation and not the Mayan, Babylonian, or Greek versions? Why should we believe the Jewish/Christian flood narrative and not the Chinese, Hindu, or Squamish accounts? Why should we accept the miracles of Jesus and not those of Muhammad, Buddha, or Sathya Sai Baba? Why aim for the Christian heaven and not the Greek, Norse, or Muslim variants?

Growing up Christian, I was raised hearing certain stories in church and naively accepting them. This stores didn’t seem strange until I stepped back and viewed Christianity in the context of other world religions. When you realize your faith has its fanciful tales, and other faiths have their fanciful tales, you start wondering which is actually true – or if none are true.
Continue reading “Pop Quiz, Hot Shot”

Sometimes a Flag is Just a Flag

Photo: Joshua Nathanson

The recent furor over NFL players kneeling for the National Anthem has become increasingly distressing. I’d fully expect Trump to go the fascist route and show hostility towards dissent, but I can’t believe that so many of the American people would go along with him. Fully half of Americans believe NFL players are in the wrong by engaging in peaceful protests, and half also believe that the league should force its players to stand.

What’s the problem? Do you not want to get politics mixed up in your sports? Perhaps you shouldn’t let four minutes of kneeling overshadow the several hours of football you’re about to enjoy!

Do you feel the flag is being disrespected? The flag is an inanimate object – it will be fine. No one fights and dies for a flag. A flag is a symbol, and our soldiers have fought for the freedoms the flag represents. Do you really want to make the case that NFL players should simultaneously be thankful to live in a country with freedom of expression and not exercise that freedom? Are you more concerned with the mistreatment of a piece of cloth than the mistreatment of American citizens?

Do you think the protesters are disrespecting America? It’s possible to be glad to be American and grateful to be American without being proud to be American. You can love America and recognize its imperfections – in fact, that’s the only way to truly make America great again!

As usual, it’s a good rule of thumb that Trump is on the wrong side of an issue. Part of being president is recognizing that individuals are free to disagree with you, and to use more dignified language that “son of a bitch” to talk about them. Part of being president is realizing that America is not a “love it or leave it” arrangement; someone like Colin Kaepernick can work to change the country he has, rather than “find a country that works better for him“.

Protect Yer Johnson! Why Churches Should Support the Johnson Amendment

The Republican party’s hegemony in American Christianity never ceases to astound and befuddle me. Jesus had tons to say about eschewing wealth and providing for the poor, yet the GOP, the de facto Christian party, consistently rewards the rich while turning its back on the needy and destitute. Conversely, Jesus never broaches the subjects of abortion or homosexuality, yet somehow these are among the most pressing issues in Christian political circles.

The fact is, neither of our two major political parties is 100% representative of Christ’s teachings. Politics is a nasty, sinful business, and the church cannot ally itself with one or the other without getting blood on its hands. That said, the GOP is so cartoonishly opposed to Christian values that the church would do well to speak out against them, rather than support them unthinkingly.

You can’t “Love thy neighbor” when your party’s president emboldens white supremacists. You can’t really support “the least of these brothers” when your party consistently cuts programs that benefit the poor and destitute. You can’t preach that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” when your party of choice is entirely in the service of their wealthy benefactors.

This is why I think churches should support the Johnson Amendment, even though recent legislation proposes an exemption for churches. I see no reason why the church shouldn’t elucidate the Christian view on issues of the day (even though I question which issues they emphasize), but when you enter the realm of specific candidates and parties, you are now inextricably associated with their actions, Biblical or not. The church is losing enough members these days without formalizing their involvement in our political quagmire.

A Confederacy of Dunces, or Robert E. Leave Me Alone

Photo: Flickr user jypsygen

I’ll just say this out front as a disclaimer: I live in Texas, but I was born and raised a dirty Yankee. It’s entirely possible that there are fundamental aspects to Southern culture that I don’t fully understand since I wasn’t brought up here.

That said, I can’t imagine why there would ever be statues of Confederate figures still up in The Year of Our Lord 2017. The city of Dallas recently removed a statue of Robert E. Lee from a park that bears his name, and the resulting backlash was full of more knee-jerk ignorance and hypocrisy than I’ve seen in quite some time. Let’s see what the people have to say about it!

Snowflakes,want to change history😡😡Dallas ,wake up!Spend$$ on education, hurricane victims…Something that matters…This is stupid😡😡😡

It’s not the Dallas that is changing history. Glorifying a traitor to America as if he were a war hero would be changing history!

What’s happened to standing up and defending and preserving history. The statues represent a time in this country of war, independence, rights yo freedom, where some received their Sir names from the slave owners yes.

We have surpassed that time in this country. We should all stand together not apart. That dream that MLK talked about was coming together were all are equal, standing together as brothers and sisters.

Sad, sad, state of affairs.

Can’t link the profile picture, but this is a white lady invoking Martin Luther King to defend a man who fought to keep slaves.

It’s a travesty. Ask people why it wasn’t offensive until recently! It’s merely a political tool by the Dallas mayor to garner more votes!

Of course, the mayor of Dallas thinks this massively unpopular endeavor will somehow gain him votes (for an election that is two years away).

Now tomorrow I expect the City of Dallas to be cured of all racist beings and Love, Love Love. I think it is pure insanity. 81+ years and now it bothers some folks whom were not even alive then. . How a statue is going to make the races get along is beyond me.I suppose a statue of Hitler in it’s place would be acceptable. Tomorrow it will be Obama and MLK statues under fire. 🤔

This may looking like a run-of-the-mill Godwinning, but Bob actually brings up a pretty good point. I’m German, so what if I wanted to put up a statue of Hitler in honor of my German culture? Would Bob have my back?

 I also think that this wouldn’t even be happening if the media didn’t put BLM, AntiFa and the statues in the spotlight. America has never been more divided in my lifetime, and much of that division is caused by the media for advertising money and ratings.

Oh yes, it’s anti-fascists who put the spotlight on Confederate statues, not the Nazis who rallied around one and ended up killing a lady.

And now I have heartburn. I’d be willing to bet that, on any other issue, many of these people would be stereotypical flag-fellating, military-worshipping über-patriots, and yet they remain fixated on a traitor who oversaw the killing of American soldiers. Maybe I’m better off not understanding.

Meta-Question: Why a Book?

Photo: John Snyder

Every discussion we might ever have about Christianity comes back to the Bible. It is the ultimate source of Christian doctrine, and as such Christians cling to it tenaciously. We can, and do, argue endlessly about interpreting the Bible literally or metaphorically, about it’s historical accuracy, and about it’s original authorship, but there’s a bigger question here that overshadows all of these.

Why would a God, with the most important message of all time, with the power to communicate it any way he choose, choose to transmit this message via the printed word? A book is relatively slow to transmit, easy to cherry-pick and misinterpret, and every translation into another language runs the risk of losing the nuance of the original. A book may appear to be “just another magic book” when compared to the Quran, the Vedas, the Agamas, the Guru Granth Sahib, the Avesta, the Book of Mormon, Dianetics, the Tao Te Ching, and on and on.

This is God we’re talking about here! If he wants to set himself apart from all the impostor gods out there, he should do something no other god could do! He could appear to everyone, personally, under no uncertain terms – speaking to them directly in their own language, so clearly that his message could not be misunderstood. I’ve heard it argued that it would be a violation of free will for God to appear in person, because how could you not choose God once you’ve basked in his glory?

Well, a skeptic could easily remain hard-hearted and dismiss the appearance as a dream or hallucination. Furthermore, we know Lucifer and his rebel angels were once in God’s presence, and yet they still chose to turn against him. God’s personal appearance would do no more to take away our free will than Jesus appearing to his disciples took away their free will.

Instead, we’re left with just another magic book. How are we to ascribe divine qualities to a message presented in the most human of methods?