Hello reality; goodbye religion

God said we’d die, and there hasn’t been a human yet who hasn’t died. Hello reality, therefore; we’re all going to die – either in the natural ageing process, often advanced by disease and poverty, or we’re killed by accident, war or a natural disaster. And even if scientists discover how to reverse the ageing gene, imagine what billions of ageless humans would do to each other in the fight for survival.

But religion jumps in with a soothing solution: Death happens to us all, yes, but not to worry, there’s another life after death, based on some vision of the afterlife a man had. And being a very charismatic chap millions of people in his region of the world believed him.

And isn’t that how Christianity got started too? Jesus arrived on the scene, also claiming he had special insight into life after death. He even claimed he’d come from God and been sent by God to solve the problem of human death in himself, and humans would no longer have to worry about death if they believed and followed him. And many people in his region of the world did believe and follow him too.

But Jesus’ credibility took a nosedive when he died. So now what proof was there of life after death when Jesus, just like all the other charismatic visionaries in human history, died, and with their death the proof of whether they were right or not about their version of the afterlife died with them?

But Jesus came back to life again. And the most shocked people of all were his followers, who thought he’d been talking through his hat when he predicted he would rise from the dead. But now he’d gone and done it, forcing that rag tag bunch of shattered, despondent men and women to face reality, that what he said about life being possible after death was true.

And face it they did. It’s what started them on the road to believing in this man. It wasn’t for any religious reason or superstition based on vague, unprovable visions; it was based on evidence, the pure, raw evidence that a human being had defeated death, and he was standing there and talking to them – and eating food – as proof of it.

So hello reality, goodbye religion, because who needs the superstition and vague visions of religion when the proof of life after death has already happened, and a human has defeated death? But religion breezes over that as if it never happened, resulting in all sorts of weird ideas about the afterlife that have no proof whatsoever to back them up.

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Does God still give visions?

In Acts 2:17, Peter quotes a prophecy from the book of Joel that “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people,” and “your young men will see visions.” The Greek word for visions means God-given visions, and so does the Hebrew word for visions in Joel 2:28, so yes, God gives visions, but does Acts 2:17 mean God will be giving visions to Christians all through the centuries, or was it meant only for the Jews back then?

In context, verse 14, Peter is talking to his “Fellow Jews” when he quotes Joel, and he ends the quote with “Men of Israel” in verse 22, so the prophecy is clearly meant for the Jews and Israel back then. But why Joel? Because Joel’s prophecy was both a warning and hope for the Jews of Peter’s time, just it had been a warning and hope for the Jews of Joel’s time.

In both Acts 2 and Joel the Jews were heading for the “dreadful day of the Lord” (Joel 1:15), a time when Judah would be attacked and destroyed by an invading army. In Joel the attacker was most likely Babylon, and in Acts it would be the Romans in 70 AD, when Jerusalem would be totally destroyed.

To the Jews in Joel’s day who responded to his warning and repented, God promised mercy, protection, and the pouring out of his Spirit and other “wonders” to provide clear evidence that he was with them before calamity struck, and that he would save any survivors who called on him when calamity struck. So hope was offered with the warning. But the Jews of Joel’s day didn’t respond to God’s call, and all the way up to Acts 2 they never received protection from pagan powers and they never received the Holy Spirit or the other wonders Joel promised.

And now in Acts 2 the Jews are warned again of the dreadful day of the Lord coming, in their case the impending attack by the Romans, but with the same hope being offered of the pouring out of the Spirit and other wonders to provide clear evidence God was with them, and that God would spare those who called on him from the calamity coming.

And many Jews did heed the warning (Acts 2:40), and the Holy Spirit was poured out on 3,000 of them in one day, followed by all sorts of visions and other wonders given and done by the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts.

In context, then, Acts 2:17 is about God giving visions back then, and why. If some take that to mean God still gives visions today, Acts 2:17 is not a good verse for proving it.

Visions, dreams and “messages from the Lord”

It was documented brilliantly in the movie ‘A Beautiful Mind’ that the human mind can create people and events that seem utterly real but aren’t real at all, caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. How can a person say with certainty, therefore, that he’s receiving supernatural visions, dreams and messages from the Lord when they could have a natural cause too, like a change in medication, mental illness, intense stress, or simply eating too much before bed?

The human mind can be easily manipulated too. A hypnotist can make people think and do all kinds of crazy things, none of which are from God. Who can say with certainty, therefore, that the vision he saw, or voice he heard, came from God, when it could simply be his own mind playing tricks on him?

History has also shown how visions, dreams and “messages from God” can lead to all sorts of charismatic visionaries starting new religions that conflict with other religions in their beliefs and ideas about the afterlife. History is now littered with warring religions, denominational splits, wild speculation, failed prophecies, arrogant know-it-alls, chronic self-deception and horrible disillusionment, all caused by people who claimed they were receiving direct revelation from God.

So how can we know if something is from God, or not? Fortunately, God himself provided the means for detecting a real message from him. He sent Jesus Christ with all the messages we’d ever need, and then confirmed his choice of messenger personally by bringing him back from the dead. So all we need do when someone says he or she has a vision or a message from God is compare it to the message of the one messenger we know for certain came from God, and if it agrees, great; if it doesn’t, ignore it.

It won’t stop people claiming their visions and revelations are from God, of course, because it’s a great attention-grabber and it gives average folks centre stage and a following of adoring groupies. It won’t stop people making great pronouncements about their absolute authority as a prophet either, or stop their ugly warnings to those who “dare challenge the Lord’s anointed.”

But we CAN challenge them, because we’ve already got all the messages from God we need, delivered in person by God himself when he was here on earth with us. The only vision we need, then, is a clearer vision of what he’s already told us in his word. And to aid us in that quest, God promised us a Spirit helper (John 14:26), who also happens to be the “Spirit of truth,” enabling us to recognize a self-proclaimed prophet talking through his hat.