"If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.
In the last several years many have noticed a cultural disconnection from common sense and logical thinking in society. Even educated, intelligent people have been pulled into what would have been easy to spot lies only a few years earlier. It seems as if the modern world has in essence unplugged from reality.
In late winter of 2022 I had a call from a client who was purchasing some vintage items from my wife and I. It was one of those surreal conversations that sticks with you. I’ll call his name “Peter” for the sake of sharing some of our conversation.
Peter was telling me his story… he explained he grew up in a Catholic Christian home… he used to make fun of his grandmother and mothers faith. It was illogical… it was backward! Peter was at that time a radicalized anti-Christian… anti-faith… pro whatever opposed Christians and Christianity kind of guy.
He ended up having a reaction to some medication and it left him alone and with tons of time to think. He began to notice that there was a heck of a lot of evil in the world… it led him to a search for truth… a search that he is still on today. He told me “I had to apologize to my Grandmother and Mother for making fun of them”. What struck me most in this long conversation with him is this line:
“With all the evil in the world… there had to be an evil force behind it…. which meant that there must also be an opposing force for good as well”
Now… I’m very confident that Peter will find truth in Christ someday… but he is already so right in that statement!
Peter had noticed the disconnection between reality and truth in the culture around him. It was as if the world was pointing at a blue sky and saying “the sky is red”… and he was no longer buying it.
What is this modern fascination with ignoring material, physical truth and embracing a spiritual, detached from reality belief system that makes prosperity teachers look almost intelligent?
In Acts 8 we read of a man named Simon the Sorcerer who is thought to be Simon Magus. Simon is believed to be the founder of a movement that combined Buddhism with Christianity which was called Gnosticism. Several letters from faith leaders in the first and second century credit Simon with founding this heretical belief system. These writers include Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Hippolytus and Epiphanius.
The effect of Gnosticism in the early Church was much like todays Church… it drew a large number of people away from faith in Christ and into a very different faith system. Gnosticism was a belief system that taught there was secret knowledge that opposed and defied material knowledge… as a matter of fact in Gnosticism, material knowledge was considered primitive.
This belief system had many offshoots… Manchiesm for one… which Augustine of Hippo adopted and later recanted.
Here are some beliefs that Gnostics taught:
The concept of cosmological dualism which is the belief that two opposing truths can co-exist regardless of burden of proof,
They taught Asceticism - which Paul addresses in his letter to the Colossians. Asceticism is strict denial of the body, which Gnostics likely gleaned from Buddhism. What was odd was that Gnostics taught this denial of the flesh but yet practiced every form of sexual indulgence. The spirit... or their truth lived apart from the body after all.
Gnostics taught that the body and all material things were irrelevant, perhaps even evil. As long as the spirit was in oneness with itself and the spiritual forces apart from all material things… the earthly body was largely unrestrained.
They taught that Christs body was not real, it was spiritual. It appeared real… but it was an apparition. This belief was called Docetism. Further to this they taught Christ was not God but rather a divine being that came to bring mankind back to recognition of his own divine nature.
They believed in the existence of the divine spark in humans. The Devine spark in Gnostic teachings was believed to be that a portion of God lived in each human being. The purpose of life according to Gnostic teaching was to release that divine spark from its captivity in physical matter and allow it to return to god… who is perceived to be the source of divine light.
All of this sounds a lot like the dribble coming from teachers like Eckhart Tolle and many other modern day false prophets.
When one really digs into history we can see that Gnostic teachings had teeth in some fringes of Christianity regularly. To a degree these teachings affect us today as well in the Church. The results in a Church can be manifest in various ways:
Prayer becomes all important… to the degree that works is not. Showing kindness or compassion is not important so long as we are in prayer. In essence prayer becomes the spiritual act - and the body can continue to follow its desires.
Evangelism becomes all important… to the degree that other acts of respect and kindness are ignored. Things like taking a meal to someone in need is thought of as unimportant in comparison to sharing the gospel resulting in undue pressure being exerted to share faith... even before people are prepared to do so.
An overemphasis on missionary work can overtake and elevate missions above all else. Churches sometimes elevate the importance of full time missions over someone who works at a full time job. Placing a higher level of Christian faith in one over another.
In the world, Gnostic beliefs abound even more today… Eckhart Tolles book “New Heaven New Earth” was a New York Times bestseller. From cover to cover it is a Gnostic guide. It could have been written by Simon the Sorcerer himself.
Gnosticism in current culture believes that within every human there is a deep good… that this Good just needs to be released. This was what Augustine of Hippo believed for many years... even travelling and preaching this word. He did this until he began to see the truth... as written in his works entitled "Confessions". It is hard to believe this in light of all the awful things even "upright" men have done and continue to do to each other today that there is good in any man… but the fact that many believe this shows the level of deception in the world today.
The more things change... the more they stay the same. We don't need to condemn ourselves about this. What we do need to do however is come before the cross of Christ... and lay our dead works, our virtue signaling faith and our pride before Jesus... and like the thief on the cross admit we are also unworthy...
This thief by his confession of guilt, his acceptance of Christs innocence stepped into heaven that day as shown in Luke 23.
“One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.””
This thief... he found truth. He had no baptism, didn't utter the "salvation prayer" and didn't share his faith with others... and yet Jesus said of him "Today you will be with me in paradise". This passage will mess with many a modern faith dogmas. He found truth... and gained comfort!
Let’s be the change…