Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Trust The Rules

Someone was discussing confusion with the stories in the Old Testament of the Bible tonight. I wrote a reply. If you don't care for religious statements of faith, you should skip this entry.

If one is a literalist, the Bible offers plenty of contradictions to confuse one. The old testament God is a vengeful wrathful God who destroyed whole cities, brought down plagues, and distributed misery in plenty to all. The covenant in the old testament is an exclusive covenant with the Jewish people, not a covenant with all of man.

On the other hand, if one is a biblical historian well acquainted with the means, times and people by which the modern canon came to be, one knows the Bible is not the literal word of God in printed form, but multiple texts from multiple times created by multiple personages named and unnamed with different purposes and intentions for their works.

That these are two irreconcilable points of view is uncontested and what contests there are have resulted in even more misery and suffering on the people of the world. Of all wars, religious wars are the most violent and useless for one takes away no lesson but death and no reward but suffering. Jesus wept. That is why.

If one is a person of both faith and science, there is a third view. If God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, then being in all times and places with all knowledge and power, nothing of God is beyond God. If all that is so, all that there is, is God and God is in all of that. When God made this world, he set down rules that we must live by. Gravity, weather, the limits to our lives, their endings in death, the colors of our skins, our gifts and our shortcoming, all are of God and all are in God. If the rules for us are God’s rules and God is in those rules, God does not violate those rules for to violate those rules is to violate God.

It is as if one had a boss who sets one set of rules for the employees but lived by another set for himself. A boss like that may have power but would get no respect, only fear.

Do you think God is like that boss? If all is God, does he fear himself? Does that make any reasonable sense?

At one time, some did think that and they wrote down stories and these stories became the old testament that is one part folk legend, one part history of the Jewish people, and one part holy truth, but you have to know what you believe and trust your belief to know which is which. That is the challenge God sets for us in the Bible because by giving us free will, he gave us the responsibility to choose which is which. God can break these rules for his creation just as you and I can put wholly discordant and bad sounds in our compositions, but we do not because that would violate their beauty and because that beauty is of us, it violates us. For God to do so is to do so is to violate our trust in him and to do that is violate his covenant with us.

Why did Jesus come as a baby and not a man or an all powerful king as some who studied the old testament believed he would? Because he was promised as a savior not a conqueror, a teacher, not a master. His covenant with us is to love us, not to use us or abuse us. To make a new covenant, a covenant of love for mankind thus to be loved by all of mankind, God proved that he would live as man, know what a man knows, feel what a man feels, taste what he tastes, and die as a man. Because of this sacrifice, no man can say to God, “you are almighty, why do you torment me, you have no understanding of me, just wrath”.

The God of the new testament says, “I gave my only begotten Son, and he is now your intercessor for he knows what you know and so do I. He is the proof of my promise, the gift of my love, and the way to your own salvation, not because I make it so, but because you choose to let me make it so. That is how a covenant of love in God, in marriage, or in life is realized: by living under one set of rules for all which none violate without violating themselves.”

Such a love is not hard to understand. We are God’s creation. God exults in creation. Give voice to this. When we sing, when we compose, when we come together, that is all we need to understand. We feel our love for each other and thus God knows we exult in his creation, and through this, is made glad.

Polyanna wasn’t wrong. Be glad for God loves us and that makes loving each other very simple. Trust the rules.


Rev. Bob said...

the old testament that is one part folk legend, one part history of the Jewish people, and one part holy truth, but you have to know what you believe and trust your belief to know which is which.

It's a little harder than that. In fact, you're now up to your neck in the hermeneutical problem. Fundamentalism is not an instinctual response to hermeneutics from people who can't stand very much reality complexity (well, it isn't necessarily). In fact fundamentalism is a reaction to us religious liberals and our very real problem that we can't say for sure what part is legend, what part is history, and what part is the Word of God. We have faith in a process that might get us a lot closer than we are now, but you can appreciate how some folks might find that a little disquieting.

Obtw, it's not just the OT -- e.g., the Gadarene swine.

It sounds like you could benefit from some real honest to goodness theology. I think theology is a worthwhile practice for religious laypeople (Anselm never intended "credo ut intelligam" to mean stop at the credo and never mind the intelligam). A good number of churches are starting to offer classes in theology. I think this is a good thing, and whether your church is doing it or not, has a number of materials free for the signing-up that demonstrate that evangelicals can hold their heads high in the company of scholars. You don't have to be Catholic or Episcopalian or UCC to study theology.

And after all, what's the alternative? Good intentions? Yeah, the road to heaven is paved with good intentions, isn't it?

len said...

Wikipedia is a useful thing.

How many and who are comfortable with applying Hellenistic discourse to religious or faith-based topics, what you refer to as fundamentalism? There is something of the horse to water problem there. There are also problems of grounding a discussion in the logos of the theos for religions that don't have a theos as the center of the belief system, eg, Buddhism. Even in Hinduism where there is Brahma, the word 'darshana' simply means 'viewpoint' so we are back to the problem of belief-centrism as the basis of philosophy. Islamic theology is a discussion of Islamic law apparently because any dispute of 'belief in God' is considered bad by its very proposition. Rabbinical discussion is alive and well, on the other hand.

It seems to come down to the difference between studying the nature of God and studying the nature of the beliefs of a tradition, both of which could involve hermaneutics but more likely the latter. Are the tools used neutral with respect to the topics discussed and if so, is that really theology or philosophy? A not uncommon reaction to this in so-called fundamentalist circles is that theology is a secular, not a religious practice and similar to the Islamic reaction, is rejected outright often along with other logical considerations for a life rightly lived (see the Middle East today as our faith based government officials tangle with their faith based officials, sometimes called, "our right wing relgious nuts fighting their right wing religious nuts and taking the rest with them to Hell").

My post is mixing concerns of exegetical and historical Theology, no doubt; whereas, practical theology
might be a better study given current circumstances and dilemmas. Yet, too often, theology will be met with those who assert as H.L. Mencken did, "Theology is the effort to explain the unknowable in terms of the not worth knowing."

I personally favor Martin Luther in this one statement, "I have no use for cranks who despise music, because it is a gift of God. Music drives away the Devil and makes people gay; they forget thereby all wrath, unchastity,
arrogance, and the like. Next after theology, I give to music the highest place and the greatest honor." although my personal experience is that it doesn't exactly drive away unchastity unless the set list is chosen carefully and you keep them off the dance floor. :-)

Anonymous said...

That's beautiful... thank you. I never thought about it that way, being a person of faith but wondering about how the Old Testament was put together and everything, and is it really the inerrant Word of God... but yes, the life and death and mission of Jesus is how we know God.

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