Please turn with me to Hebrews 9, and verse 6. Paul says:
Heb. 9:6 – When these things had been thus prepared – and he’s talking here about the things that were prepared for the Day of Atonement in the Old Testament – when the two goats were ready, when the priesthood had prepared for the sacrifice, when the high priest was ready to perform the ceremony that day. So he says, Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. But into the second part – that was the Holy of Holies – the high priest went alone once a year – and that was on Atonement – and not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance. And then he says, The Holy Spirit indicating this: that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. It was symbolic for the present time, in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered, which cannot make him who performed the service perfect, in regard to the conscience, concerned only with foods and drinks and various washings and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation. So, he’s saying that what happened in those days, on the Day of Atonement, was symbolic for something that was to come, just like he told the Colossians – “the holy days are shadows of things to come” – and that that sacrifice that was made of that goat – the perfect goat – was to picture Jesus Christ. And then he says in verse 11:
V-11 – But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands – that is, not made of this creation. Most people really do read right over this without understanding the significance of what they’re reading. Here, in the New Testament, we see the Apostle Paul – the apostle to the Gentiles – explaining the meaning of the Day of Atonement in God’s salvation plan. It’s not something that was just back under the Old Covenant. It has a meaning for the New. And he’s explaining the link between the holy day and Jesus Christ. Then in verse 12, he says:
V-12 – Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the most holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? For this reason He is the mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. So, there he lays it out, doesn’t he? He explains that Jesus Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant and that it’s based on His death – His sacrifice – and through that we’re forgiven of our sins. We don’t have to sacrifice animals anymore, and literally spill blood, because His was spilled for us.
But let’s try to think beyond that to the meaning of what those things mean. When you boil all that down, when you distill it, when you strip away the details, what is this really talking about? What does it mean for us? I know, it’s all about the two goats – one was cast out in the wilderness, the other was sacrificed. That’s the day when they splattered blood all over everybody in the crowd and the high priest going behind the veil. But what is that all about? What does that mean? What’s it all for? What is going to happen to us because of that.
David said that he was looking forward to living in God’s presence. Before he said that, he explained, and Paul said that he anticipated some day knowing God as well as God knew him. That’s part of our dilemma, isn’t it? We know God knows us inside out. And that feels really good, but we don’t know Him as well as He knows us, do we? He’s a mystery to us in many ways. All we know is what He’s revealed, and He hasn’t revealed most of it yet. These things that we’ve talked about here – living in God’s presence, knowing God as well as God knows us – these things all point toward an eternal relationship with God. These are terms that talk about closeness – being known as we are known – being close – understanding the experience of others.
Think about an eternal relationship. And how deep can that get? All of us have suffered the loss of relationships in this life. We suffer from them. Some of us lose people through death, and others through misunderstanding and things like that. We all suffer losses in this life – loss of relationship. Loss of relationship, once we enter the Kingdom of God , will end. It will be gone. There won’t be any more grieving for us. Our sins will be removed as far from us as the East from the West. And we will have a body and a mind that is no longer disposed to weakness. There will be no barriers between us and God, or between us and each other. And as we think about Jesus talking to His disciples, telling them that they were going to be one in Him and God, just like He was in God and God was in Him, we have somewhat of a sense of how close that relationship is going to be.
So, this day is a relational day – a day of at onement, we call it – when our sins that separate us from God are removed, and when we’re finally going to be close to God. Paul here is making that New Testament link between the Day of Atonement and the goat that was sacrificed for the people, while the book of Revelation tells us the meaning of the goat that was cast out. Satan is to be bound and cast out of our lives forever, we’re told. But really the greater meaning of the Day of Atonement is not about the devil, but about God undoing what the devil has done.
You might remember an Atonement sermon several years ago – or not – where we played the song from Les Miserables – the theme song – I Dreamed a Dream. I was reminded of this recently by a friend of mine. It is about paradise lost. It’s about the agony of living in Satan’s world and the urgent need for rescue from that. And Atonement is about that rescue. Not only is Satan bound, but we’re thrown into a relationship with God in a way that we’ve never imagined.
Atonement is about the restoration of paradise here on the earth through Jesus Christ. We know that Adam and Eve lost the relationship with God and paradise long ago. They couldn’t find their way back into God’s good graces no matter how hard they tried. They couldn’t find that guiltless, shameless love and confidence they once had. It was gone. It was gone forever from them. So, first and foremost, for God to pull us all back into relationship with Him, there has to be atonement. It’s about reconciliation. It’s about restoring broken relationships.
I was at a training this past Friday. A lady that I’ve learned a lot from – her name is Mary Helen Snyder – was in town for the this training. She was talking about going to a conference put on by a Buddhist monk, named Tik Not Han. Now Tik Not Han, when he was a young man, was expelled from Vietnam . He was a Vietnamese. He was expelled from Vietnam because he was against the war. He wasn’t for one side and against the other. He was just against the war, so both sides hated him. And they kicked him out of Vietnam . He lives in France now. He talks to people because he has understood about life – it goes way beyond Buddhism. They resonate with Christians and psychotherapists and just people, because he just talks about living life and how to do it in a good way. This conference that he put on – the theme of it – was How To Restore Broken Relationships , how to approach people that we have offended or hurt and rebuild relationships with them. And she said that most people – she included – went to that conference not really understanding that that can ever happen. But as he talked through this conference, and it started to sink into people that he actually knew a way that you could make those things happen, you could hear people sobbing in the audience – as they realized, “Oh, there’s hope that I can regain the relationships that I’ve had with others.” And she taught us some of those things while we were at the conference. She was making the point that we are such relational beings, and we really – even though we harden ourselves to broken relationships and go on – we all really wish that we could have them restored. And you could hear it in the sobbing in the group there.
So, the question I want to ask – or another question I want to ask – is, “How exactly is God going to do that?” How is He going to pull us back into relationship with Him and everyone else? And maybe even ask, “How can we pull other people back into relationship with us – if we’ve lost relationship with them?”
Turn to one of the most personally instructive scriptures – at least to me, personally instructive. This really clicked a lot of things for me when I read this for the first time.
Jn. 12:32 – I read this all the time. It’s nothing new to those people that hear me talk frequently, but I keep coming back to it because it’s so important. Jesus said, And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to myself . There’s something about Jesus Christ being lifted up on that stake, and being crucified, and sacrificing His life, that has a huge drawing effect on all of us. What is that great drawing effect? Well, He pointed out just a few chapters later, in John 15:13.
Jn. 15:13 – Greater love has no one than this than to lay down his life for his friends. So, when we recognize that Jesus died for us, because He loves us, we’re drawn to Him. And why is that? Because we were created so that love would motivate us. I hate to use this term, because it has another meaning, but it’s kind of like we all have a big “love-handle” on us. We’re creatures who were designed to respond to love. We’ve been created so that love motivates us.
David said that we’re an amazing creation. And the more time humankind has on the earth, the more advanced they become technologically, the more we learn how just so true that really is. Every day we learn more about the human brain. And we see the hand of God more clearly in that work that He’s created inside our skull. They now have these sophisticated imaging machines. They can tell what neuronal pathways are being fired and where the brain activity is happening inside the human brain. So, they’re starting to understand a lot more about how the brain works, how it’s organized, what the structures are and the systems are in the brain.
Just to give you an example, in the seventies, I was reading a book in preparation for a sex seminar I was going to give teenagers, and the author made the point of explaining that romance and sexual attraction were the same thing. But you know they just demonstrated that they absolutely know that is not true. Because when people are romantic, one spot fires up, and when they have sexual attraction to somebody, something else fires up. So, they’ve demonstrated that that generalization from the past isn’t real. We know so much more about genetics and so much more about biology because of electron microscopes.
So, what is it that they’re learning in science that is so absolutely astounding? Daniel Siegel, in his landmark book, The Developing Mind , writes about the function of the brain and likens it to a very complex predictor. The brain is designed to anticipate what will happen next. In other words, the human brain tries to find meaning in the things that go on around us. You know, the “predictor” thing is very, very simplistic. It’s much more complex than that. This propensity to find meaning in the things that go on around us is what causes us to seek the answers to life and to find meaning in the universe. The human brain has these processes and structures deeply imbedded in it. The brain has been created to seek the spiritual. That’s what scientists are saying now – not ministers – scientists. They’re saying that the brain is designed to seek answers to the great transcendent questions of life. Our brain has been designed and organized to seek and connect to God. That’s what they’re starting to figure out. Of course, they talk about it in these non-God terms, but that’s what they mean. Their evolutionary religion won’t allow them to talk about God, but that’s what they mean.
When I was a child growing up my family was not especially religious. When I was thirteen I was in the eighth grade and I took an electronics class. The first project that we had to do was to build a crystal radio. I remember taking a paper towel roll and winding copper wire around it to build a coil. And then there was a capacitor and a diode. I had a thing that ran from the coil – it had an alligator clip on it – and I could hook it on my bed frame. Then I had a little earphone and I could listen to the radio. You could run a little thing across the coil and you could pick up the different stations – at least that was the plan. What actually happened was, there was a 50,000 watt, clear-channel station about a mile from house and that’s all I could get. My dad told me, “Son, don’t listen to that thing after you go to bed.” So, of course, I did. Every night, at ten o’clock, I had my alligator clip clipped on the bed frame, which is the best antenna in the room, and I was listening to the radio. And every night at ten o’clock Herbert W. Armstrong came on – and Garner Ted sometimes – with the World Tomorrow . I mean I had to be the most irreligious kid that ever walked the face of the earth. And somehow a cord was struck in me about what this guy was saying. I have wondered for years why that happened – why what he said to me was interesting. I followed that until I went to Ambassador College and found out there were lots of kids listening to the radio when they were thirteen and fourteen, and they were there at college with me! I mean it was like a quest we had to go on. I was so confused about why that happened to me all my life until I read Daniel Siegel’s book. It explains that even children who grow up in non-religious homes often have the same level of spirituality as other children, because it doesn’t just come from family training, but from a biological system in the brain structure itself. We’re hard-wired to be interested in those things. Our brain is created in such a way that we seek those things out.
Of course, if you’ve grown up in the church, and you’ve sat through boring services for years and words fun and church don’t fit together any more, that gets muted in your experience until you get older. And that’s a shame that that’s happened to so many people. If I have my way about it, that’s going to change, but I may not get my way about it. But that’s what I hope for all the young people in the church – that church will be a lot more inspiring and encouraging and interesting for them.
But God built that desire into me and into everyone else. Some people are taught that and other people just get at it from a different direction. And that’s because of how God designed our brain.
Another thing to think about here, when we think about connecting to God, is that family, they are learning, is biologically wired into the brain, too. Back in the fifties, sixties and seventies, there was a concerted effort to eradicate the family concept in America and in the West. But they have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that parental presence has an impact on the biology of family members of children. Here’s one example of how that works. Everyone gives off chemical substances in their breath called pheromones . They are like biological identifiers. When we’re around other people, we’re always inhaling their pheromones. (All the obsessive-compulsive people will probably not like that idea, but nevertheless, that’s what happens.) Researchers have found out that an adolescent girl, who lives with her biological father, tends to more slowly reach the onset of puberty, because she’s absorbing his pheromones day in and day out. Now when she lives with a biologically unrelated adult male, such as a stepfather, or some other man, like the mother’s boyfriend, just the opposite happens. Her physical sexual development accelerates. Isn’t that amazing? So there’s something about a father that does something that’s very helpful to the biology of a young girl. Family is designed into and affects our brain chemistry and even our physiology. So much for the idea of eradicating the family. It’s built into our brains.
When a girl hugs her father, literally every cell in her body knows he is unique in the world to her. He feels different than anyone else. And this means that the family is not just a social convention that humans have invented. The family is a structure than affects, and is wired into, the biology of the brain. And we know that that has been created by God.
There’s something else that has been learned recently. I can remember back in the seventies watching The Phil Donahue Show . One of his favorite themes was nature or nurture. He was always having scientists and sociologists come on his program to try to figure out what causes people to be the way they are. Is it genetics? Is that the way they come? Or are there behaviors and experiences created by their environment? Think about it. Which is the dominant thing? Actually it’s both and actually it’s neither. This is what they’ve learned. That argument is not anywhere close to what really happens. Here’s what they’ve learned:
When a mother nurtures her child effectively, that child’s gene transcription is affected. And that child can then pass on good nurturing genetically to her children. So, this child’s early experience with good nurturing can become a part of her genes passed on genetically to her children. It takes to the third and fourth generation to mutate that out. That’s why God said, “If you do what I tell you, your children will be blessed to the third and the fourth generation. And if you don’t, the curses will be there for that long as well.” How our parents connect to us will affect how we connect to our children, and how our children genetically connect to theirs. There’s another huge pointer that points toward the fact that human beings are dependent on and are engineered for connection. We’re just such social beings.
How does a person become a good person? A moral person? Have you ever seen a baby come from the womb? Not too many people in this day and age actually have been present at the birth of their children. I was there for both of mine. They used to tell us that they can’t really see anything distinctly. That’s the biggest bunch of bologna that ever came down the pike, I’m telling you. They come out of the womb and they’re looking for a face to lock onto! That’s what they do. They come from the womb seeking a face. They’re born to attach. If a baby has a mother who can attach to her, who can nurture her – you know, when she cries, the mother comes and takes care of it – the baby begins to realize that “I will be taken care of” – a sense of trust begins to develop between the infant and the mother. You can remember our series on the Spiritual Growth and Human Development . We said, “Trust is built in the first two years of life.” It’s all about the connection between baby and mother. Another awareness there is that trust drives morality. As someone once said, “The human baby is talked into talking and loved into loving.” God is love, right? So, the way a baby learns morality and to be loving is by being loved. And that ability to love is passed from mother to child through the attachment and that affects the child’s gene transcription. They become genetically predisposed to love their children.
There’s an attachment expert named Robert Karen, and this is what he says in proof of what I’m talking about. He kind of goes the negative way with it, but it points back the other way. “All the early researchers, though unaware of one anothers’ work, have unanimously found the same symptoms in children who have been deprived of their mothers: superficial relationships, the poverty of feeling for others, the inaccessibility” – you can’t connect to them – “the lack of emotional response, the often pointless deceitfulness and the inability to concentrate in school.” What this tells us is that we can see that when a child lacks that connection as an infant, a moral life of loving one’s neighbor becomes more of a problem, because they’re not able to reach out to others. They don’t know how to respond to people. So it just makes it harder. Conversely, when children do have that, they are emotionally available. Their relationships are not tending toward superficiality. They’re not just pointlessly deceitful, but tend to be more honest. And all the good things start happening. So the beginnings of spirituality stem from human attachment, which is, again, what we’re talking about – connection! Children who are well-attached find it easier to love their neighbor.
This is another thing they’ve learned about the brain imaging and the biology. When a child becomes a teen, that same kind of morality, that stems from parent-infant attachment, turns outward toward the community. Young people need to attach to and idealize people outside their family and also ideas outside the family. That’s where good examples in the congregation and in the greater church come into play. Teens are designed to connect with those of their own age, but they are also biologically designed to connect to spiritual meaning and to people who set them a good example that they can idealize outside the family.
Now there have been a number of studies that prove that people with spiritual underpinnings tend to be more resilient, healthier, happier than those who have none. They have lower levels of stress hormone. They are more optimistic. They have a greater commitment to helping other people. They don’t see people who are hurting and just discount them. They tend to want to jump in and help those who need help. When a baby attaches to mother, the spiritual underpinnings are there – more resilient, healthier, happier than those who have none, lower levels of stress hormones, more optimism, greater commitment to help others. And the amazing fact here is that this kind of physical and emotional resilience also can be developed through that other kind of connection – to people outside the home and to ideas outside the home. There are two ways to become a loving person. One, you can learn it through your attachment. And two, you can learn it as you get older through authoritative community, such as the church, and from people who are loving people. They see the same kind of brain firing in both situations. That’s why some people, in the practice of their faith, find some of the security and well being that they didn’t find in childhood from parents. The church can parent you if you didn’t get what you needed. It can parent you as an adult.
We talked about all the terrible things that parents do to their kids – and there are some really bad things that happen – but it’s not impossible for God to reverse that in us. Just as our brains are wired to connect to parents, they are also wired to connect with God. And the results can be the same. Jesus does say that He’s going to come and heal the brokenhearted, doesn’t He? It is possible. Doesn’t that make us feel so good? Doesn’t that give us something to pray about?
I’ve just seen this happen so many times. At one of the schools I worked at, there were two little boys – brothers. When I first met them they were in kindergarten. They didn’t know how to eat with utensils. They’d been neglected and emotionally abused, if not physically. One of them told me, when he was in the second grade, that their father used to make them fight each other for entertainment. They lived in a crack house. Who knows what those children had seen. One of them told me once, when he was in the second grade, that he was having bad dreams. And I said, “What kind?” He turned away from me, and said, “Nasty.” So who knows what he’d been seeing in that place. Those two little boys knew how to get help. They just seemed to know what they needed. Instead of wanting to be out at recess with the other kids at recess and lunch, they wanted to come eat lunch with me and with other adults. They liked to hang out with their favorite teachers. They had a way of being cute, even though a lot of times they came to school filthy and in ragged clothes. They had a way of endearing themselves to adults. So we wanted to have them around us, because they were fun. They absorbed from us, in the two years that I knew them, how to eat, how to behave, how to dress, how to get along and how to love. They stopped fighting as much. They quit getting in fights with other kids. They learned how to get along, even though they didn’t get any of that from their mother – through their primary attachment. I saw them four years later when they were in the fifth grade. I was at a different school by that time and they got transferred over there. They were fairly well dressed. They were doing better in school. When they both saw me, the ran up to me and both gave me a simultaneous hug. They had grown past their past. That didn’t happen at home. It happened at school. And that’s that kind of authoritative community where there were people they could idealize. I didn’t realize I had been one of those people, but when they were ten years old and they saw me, I could tell that I had been. So were many other people that spent time with them and gave of themselves to help them rebuild themselves. They did it themselves.
That’s interesting, isn’t it? That God has built redundant systems into the brain, so that if we lack something in childhood – and this isn’t true in every case…. There are just some things that aren’t going to get undone. There’s a thing called reactive-attachment disorder. There are a lot of different personality disorders that are very difficult. But most of the problems that people go through in childhood and infancy can be overcome with thought and skill and support in adulthood or in teenage. God has built redundant systems because it’s so important for us to learn these things.
I believe that if we miss things in childhood, and we ask God, He will send the people into our lives to help us. And I don’t think that those of us in the church have to wait until He returns to have broken hearts healed. I think that that can happen now. And again, that’s a generality. I’ve already mentioned that there are some things that are difficult to overcome, but by and large, God put those redundant systems in the brain because connection is a very, very important part of human life.
So let’s consider the spiritual significance of these things. I’m cutting it short. We could just go on and on and talk about the things that have been learned. It’s so fascinating. But the fact of the matter is, all this new brain research is proving that we were created to be connected. And we begin seeking connection from the moment we’re born. The very beginning of our sense of morality comes from our very first connection to mother. Anything that we can do in the church to promote that kind of connection with mother – anything from premarital counseling, where you talk to premarital couples about connections and attachment, and how important that is, to parenting classes, to moms groups…. There’s a young woman I know in Cincinnati who started a moms group so they can talk about mom stuff, because mom is very important. We also know that family is biologically structured into our brains, so anything that we can do to focus on the family, and help the family become stronger, is going to produce more morality and more spirituality in our children. If we can teach our younger women how to nurture and attach – because some of them don’t know how to do that…. There’s a lady in the church back east who works in an attachment clinic actually. She teaches young girls, who had children out of wedlock and way too young, how to talk “baby-ese,” where you talk to babies in a language they can understand. It’s not the words you say, but it’s the sing-song, “Oh, you’re such a stinky little thing (melodically)”…. They don’t care what you say. They just like the tone of your voice. They wiggle and squirm when you do that. All of those kinds of things are so helpful, because in our society we’re losing the ability to do those things naturally. We have to relearn them, because there have been too many generations where that hasn’t been genetically passed on.
As we grow older we seek connections to others and to spiritual significance outside the family. That’s where the congregation comes into play directly – to help those children growing up. The church needs to become a family for them – not their primary family – not to take the place of mother and father – but to augment and become part of a redundant system that can help nurture and instruct and help. We need to start studying with our children, start praying with them – helping them to get to know us and getting to know them, and trusting them and teaching them to trust us, and building spirituality into our activities with them. I know here, we do that frequently. We have a little Bible study. We eat while we study the Bible together. Then we pray for each other, or ask people to pray for us. We’re getting to know each other that way. So we’re drawing close and we’re learning to trust one another. And it’s easier to love people when that’s the case.
Even if we don’t learn how to connect as well as we could have as a child, we can still learn how as we grow older, because we’re all biologically wired to connect to others outside the home. So it’s good if our children can connect to other people in our congregation – and teachers and others.
I have a story. I think I told this before, but it certainly seems apropos here. There was a young girl in one of my congregations years ago. Her father had essentially disowned her and her mother. He just lived like a hermit back in his room most of the time, and left for work before she got up, and she hardly ever saw her father. Her mother told me this was going on when she was about sixteen years old. So I started spending some time with her at church. I’d come and watch some of her volleyball games at school. She was in our sports program, so I always made a special note to just cruise by and say, “Hi,” and check in and see what was going on. Then the big church split happened and I moved away and all that. I didn’t see her for a long time. Then just a few months ago, I got an email from her. She had googled my name and found me and sent me a picture of her three-year-old son. She was married. She told me all about her family and what was going on. She said, “I remember all the fun things we used to do in that youth program, but the thing that meant the most to me was you were there when I needed you the most.” See, that’s that mechanism. That’s that seeking that she has. She didn’t have a connection with her father, so I can’t be her dad, but I could at least provide some of the support. And she recognized that when she got older.
We’re all created so that we will seek spiritual meaning and connection. All the connections that we have to father and father surrogates all get transferred to God later. Jean Piaget said that – famous Swiss psychologist. So that is how it works. We’re engineered to connect to God. Things that happen to us in this life all point toward that. The way our brains are developed and designed and organized, and the systems in them, all point toward that. They all point toward the Day of Atonement. That’s one of the reasons that Jesus is so confident that His death will draw all people to Him in the end. When we recognize that people love us, it’s an attraction. We’re going to recognize His sacrifice for us as love because we’re created that way. Just as a young girl is enfolded in her father’s arms and knows that she is his, when we are born into God’s Kingdom, we also will know that we are His in a way that we can’t explain – only feel.
So what does all this point to for us? What is really important for us to accomplish while we’re here on this earth? Is it more important to be in the right church? To know the right doctrines? Is it important to acquire money and things? What is most important? I’m a big believer in doctrine. I believe in keeping the holy days. I believe you have to keep the law of God. I believe in order and all of that. But what’s the point of those things? All the law, and all doctrine, and all the word of God, and everything that God has created, it all points to us being in relationship with Him and with each other. That is what is most important! That’s why the Day of Atonement is so important. I watch people in our various COGs squabbling over what we ought to believe, and how we ought to obey the law, and they don’t even realize that they’re driving wedges between themselves and other people. They’re destroying relationships. They’re missing the whole point of spirituality. They’re demonstrating their own spiritual impoverishment. We are not supposed to strive with each other. We’re supposed to draw closer. We’re supposed to open our hearts up and trust each other, so we can learn how to love others, because that’s our future. That’s where we’re going. Many of us have it turned around. We think being good is keeping the rules and holding others to them. We don’t understand the rules are to show us how to treat each other, so we can connect and love one another. Seems like when another scientist turns on a brain imaging machine, we learn another reason why that’s true. And of course, all of it is portrayed in this day – a day in the future, after Christ is returned to heal the brokenhearted and commence the restitution of all things – a day when humankind will regain a relationship that was lost so long ago in the Garden of Eden – a day when we will be with God at last, at one.