I was recently indulging in one of my favorite things, walking through a bookshop. I was struck by how many books had titles similar to “Fifty things I learned from my dog” or “Life lessons my mother taught me.” They were typically written by famous celebrities.
I thought a bit about it. I’m obviously no celebrity, but it struck me how (unlike the celebrity authors) I did not learn some critical truths of life decades ago in a family setting, particularly those found in the Bible. I grew up in a typical protestant religion, switching to Roman Catholicism while attending college. Once visiting a family member, I noticed a stack of religious booklets that asked serious questions about biblical topics that I thought were moot. Questions like what happens when you die, what day should you be worshipping God on, what is the reward of the saved.
I didn’t know who the authors of the booklets were. And I pretty much didn’t care at the time, since the questions all seemed to be those of the “master of the obvious” type. Anyone who went to Sunday school knew those answers.
Or did they?
What I learned about Christmas
One of the profound lessons no one taught me as a youth was that the Christmas season was little more than papered-over paganism. When I first read that, I was shocked and more than a little bit offended. What could be wrong with the happy season of Christmas? Isn’t Jesus Christ was supposed to be at the very center of it?
What was truly shocking was this: It wasn’t hard at all to find and read authoritative secular sources that totally confirmed the holiday’s non-biblical, pagan origins! Any competent encyclopedia shows that the Romans celebrated the holiday of Saturnalia, a week long period of lawlessness celebrated between December 17-25. Some 300-plus years after Christ it was adopted and replaced by a totally artificial birthday of sorts set up for Jesus on the 25th. Thing is, Jesus was actually born sometime in the fall. As the popular historian William Manchester wrote of that act, “Christianity was in turn infiltrated, and to a considerable extent subverted, by the paganism it was supposed to destroy” ( A World Lit Only by Fire , page 11).
What I learned about Christianity
Another lesson that no one taught me was what the first century Christians were like. Thy were almost indistinguishable in how they worshiped God and followed the example of Jesus—you basically couldn’t tell them apart—from most of the practices of the ancient Jews of the day. Every Christian I knew went to church on Sunday. But I was stunned to find that there was nowhere in the Bible that changed the day of worship. As both sacred and secular historical sources clearly show, early Christians worshiped God by observing the seventh-day Sabbath! Further, despite concerted efforts to block them (beginning intently during the second century), many Christians openly went to Jewish synagogues on the Sabbath up until the fourth century.
What I learned about my life
Perhaps the deal-buster that represented the major lesson that no one taught me as a youth was this: I wasn’t going to heaven. According to the Bible, I wasn’t going to hell either, at least not in the popular sense of Dante’s Inferno. Either way, I was stunned. I had been authoritatively told that I had been saved and would spend eternity in blissful paradise. So when I was directed by these booklets to read the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, I could scarcely believe it. Paul even asked the question: “How do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Corinthians:15:12).
What? What was this rising from the dead bit? Didn’t we all just pop up to heaven? Paul wrote of something much more majestic and exciting, one that I could scarcely believe I was reading: “As we have borne the image of the man of dust [our present physical state], we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man [the all-powerful resurrected Jesus]…the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed ” (verses 49, 52, emphasis added).
Reeling from what this might mean, I then read further the unbelievable words of 1 John:3:2: “Beloved, now we are the children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He [Jesus] is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” And what does Jesus look like in His resurrected spiritual form? Read Revelation:1:13-18 for yourself, like I did. You’ll see a Being whose “head and His hair were white as snow, and His eyes like a flame or fire…His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength” (verses 14, 16). Do you know anyone who looks like this today? According to the Bible, you will.
>> Reprint with permission from Vertical Thought Magazine, published by United Church of God.