Monday, May 31, 2010

Still Evolving; Selling; Bath-House Prayer; One Textbook; History; God’s Land; Memorial Day and Natalie Holloway

1. Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, page 4.

Once a species becomes well adapted to a stable habitat, evolution often slows down.

An argument that I’ve often heard against evolution—primarily from family and friends—is that evolution is not true because we’re not still evolving. And the response that I’ve heard to this argument from family and friends is that we’re not evolving because we’re now adapted to our habitat.

I too wonder why we don’t appear to be evolving. Where are the mutations, the weeding out of people with bad mutations through natural selection, the preservation of people with good mutations, and the consequent advancement of humanity? Does the weeding out of bad mutations have to entail the deaths of those with those bad mutations? If a person is mostly fit and has a bad mutation, could he simply not pass that bad mutation on through his genes?

There’s stuff I don’t understand here. That’s why I’m reading a book that explains evolution.

2. Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land.

I read about a character who is trying to move the subject of a conversation to religion, in an attempt to convert someone. That reminds me of the movie, The Big Kahuna: the Christian character used the topic of a person’s dead dog as a stepping stone for sharing the Gospel. But Danny DeVito saw that as manipulation, as “selling” something. DeVito thought that we should express genuine interest and concern in other people, without a hidden agenda of “selling” them something.

3. Alberdina Houtmann, Mishnah and Tosefta, page 116:

Tosefta Barakhot 2:20-21 says that a Jew can pray or say the Shema in a bath-house if people there stand dressed, but not if they stand naked.

How dressed do they have to be? It is, after all, a bath-house!

4. Michael H. Floyd, “‘Write the Revelation!’ (Hab 2:2): Re-imagining the Cultural History of Prophecy”, in Writings and Speech in Israelites and Ancient Near Eastern Prophecy, pages 136-137:

Floyd said that not everyone in scribal schools had to be literate, for the students may have relied on the teachers to instruct them in wisdom. The teacher had the only textbook, in short.

Why did they especially get to go to school to learn wisdom? Were they prepared for any type of vocation, or were they professional students?

5. Baruch Halpern, “The State of Israelite History”, in Reconsidering Israel and Judah, page 542:

Halpern says that, many years ago, when he was a student in a graduate program in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, his program did not allow him to minor in philosophy of history, for it preferred for him to focus on philology, “the centerpiece of the Albrightian tradition”. Halpern says this after he mentions minimalists, who deny the existence of David and Solomon. I’m not entirely sure what his point is, at least not yet. Maybe his point is something that a professor of mine has said: that the maximalist/minimalist debate is misquided because it neglects the crucial question of what history is. Halpern says that history discusses the past, yet it speaks to the time of the historian. I’ve heard this lots of times, even at Hebrew Union College, which focuses a lot on language. Have biblical studies changed since the time that Halpern was a graduate student?

6. Here’s a good quote from Peter Hass’ review of Roger Brooks’ Support for the Poor in the Mishnaic Law of Agriculture: Tractate Peah:

The particular tractate before us considers the farmer’s obligation to leave some portion of his field un-harvested and available to the poor. This obligation, first spelled out in Lev 19:9-10 and Deut 24:19-22, was originally intended, Brooks claims, to insure that all Israelites would share in the bounty of the Land. For Mishnah’s framers, these laws have an added importance in that they demonstrate God’s continued control over the Land, despite the apparent ascendency of Rome.

This reminds me of something I studied in a class on Leviticus Rabbah and Pesikta-de-Rab-Kahana: a Jew is noble when he lets his land rest every seventh year, even though that’s difficult for him because he has to pay taxes to the Romans. He’s honoring and trusting God, and he’s demonstrating that the land belongs to God, not to the Romans.

7. Today is Memorial Day. I still have the same thoughts that I had during the last two Memorial Days: Memorial Day 2008 and Two Memorial Day Reflections.

For Memorial Day, I watched shows about veterans and soldiers who died, people who answered their country’s call to service. The causes for which they fought were not always worth their death or (for those who survived) anguish. But they still answered their country’s call of duty, and the country—in some capacity—should say thank you. And it should definitely treat its veterans well!

Yesterday was the anniversary of Natalie Holloway’s disappearance. When that happened, and Fox News was covering it day-in and day-out, I wished that it would shut up about it! I was more interested in watching political wrangling between Hannity and Colmes, or O’Reilly and whomever! I know this is cold.

I became more interested in Natalie Holloway when I watched the Lifetime movie, which starred Tracy Pollan (Michael J. Fox’s wife, and Ellen on Family Ties) as Natalie’s mother. I then watched a documentary about her shortly thereafter.

I don’t think that the movie was overly fair to Natalie’s dad. It portrays him (in my estimation) as a self-centered jerk who gave up on the search when the going got tough. Actually, according to the documentary that I saw, he was the most committed member of the search party.

The movie and the documentary did do a good job in highlighting the tension between the people of Aruba and Natalie’s mother. The people of Aruba felt quite insulted by Natalie’s mother, especially when the Aruba police was devoting forty per cent of its resources to the search for Natalie. And yet, was its search a sham? Because the police asked Natalie’s mother at the outset if Natalie had seizures, some concluded later on that it knew what happened to Natalie from the very beginning: that she had a seizure, and so the boy she was with dropped her into the sea, to dispense with Natalie’s body and avoid murder charges.

The movie also showed Natalie’s mother—after a long and futile search—accepting the boy’s story, even though he had changed it multiple times. His final story was that Natalie had a seizure, and so he dropped her into the ocean while she was unconscious. Others disputed this story, saying that the boy was trying to impress a drug dealer, who was actually an undercover cop. But Natalie’s mom felt that this story made a degree of sense. After all, the boy wasn’t thoroughly evil—he wouldn’t kill Natalie for no reason at all. But he was self-serving, and he was trying to cover his own tracks.

The movie was sad because Natalie went into a car with a group of boys, expecting to have the time of her life. Then, she was never seen again. Although the movie was quite dramatic and evoked emotion, the documentary’s presentation of the actual news footage did the same.

Gary Coleman and the Change in Television

I’ve been reading about Gary Coleman and watching You-Tube videos about him. For a long time, I thought he got a raw deal. He worked so hard as a child actor, making him a ubiquitous presence in my own childhood. (You had the Saturday morning cartoon in which Gary Coleman was an angel, Different Strokes, movies like The Fantastic World of D.C. Collins, the Amazing Stories episode in which Barbara Billingsley called Gary Coleman “the Beaver”, and Dirk Benedict “Wally”, etc.) And, monetarily, he didn’t have much to show for it. I do recall hearing, however, that the tragic way that his parents handled his money inspired reforms to help other child actors, so maybe his pain wasn’t entirely for nought.

As I’ve read about Gary Coleman, I’ve found things that I admire about him. He was a virgin until his 30′s, even though he could have used his celebrity status to seduce women. He told a porn star (or whatever he was) that he didn’t just want sex, but intimacy. And he appeared on the show Divorce Court with his wife, only he wasn’t there for a divorce; rather, both of them wanted to save their marriage.

But people can point out some of his negative characteristics: his problems with the law, his difficulty in getting along with people, etc. I like to focus on the positives, however, since there are enough people who look at the negative! Moreover, I always liked Gary Coleman’s blunt, “matter-of-fact” way of talking. I probably would have gotten along with him, in medium-sized doses!

Something else I’ve been thinking about: When I was a little kid, my mom had me watch the episode of Different Strokes in which Kimberley and Arnold get into a car with a stranger, and the guy holds them hostage! She used that episode to teach me not to get into a car with strangers.

That’s the way the 1980′s were: the family sitcoms helped parents teach lessons to their kids. When there was an episode of Webster in which a teacher molested one of Webster’s friends, my parents used that episode to teach us that an adult shouldn’t touch children in particular spots, and that we should tell an adult we trust if that happens to us. When there was an episode of Mr. Belvedere in which a kid is stigmatized because he had AIDS, my dad said that we shouldn’t hate people who have that disease. Family Ties had its share of didactic episodes, as did Growing Pains and The Cosby Show. And, going beyond the family sitcoms, Michael Landon’s Highway to Heaven presented opportunities for my parents to teach me about why racism is wrong, why we should care for the environment, and the need to be kind and considerate to people. And The Smurfs also taught valuable lessons: we shouldn’t lie or tattle on others, for instance. “Don’t do drugs” was another message that came through loud and clear on these shows (even the Smurfs, which had an episode in which an orb was a drug for the Smurfs).

Does television help parents out like this nowadays? Many television shows—including Desperate Housewives—have a sense of morality, but are there shows that the whole family can watch, which parents can use as object lessons to teach their children right from wrong? I think that those types of shows were common in the 1980′s. In the 1990′s, ABC still had a few, such as Full House, Family Matters, and Step by Step. But, by-and-large, the 1990′s were the years of Seinfeld and Friends, which were about sex and making fun of life. And, now that the 2000′s have ended, I can’t think of any sitcom that the entire family can enjoy, from which parents can draw object lessons for their children.

Is the situation as bleak as I am seeing it? Do we see less of the types of shows that existed in the 1980′s because TV was catering to the baby boomers at that time, who had children; now, the baby boomers’ children are out of the house, and a lot of them are single.

Ultimately, things aren’t totally bleak, because we still can watch the classics on TV Land and other stations! But, in my opinion, TV has changed.

The "Been There, Done That" Argument

Under Ken Pulliam’s post, James McGrath on “What’s Wrong with Penal Substitution”, there is a discussion between Grace and Andre. Grace is a Christian who used to be an agnostic. And Andre is an ex-Christian.

What amazes me is how so many people use a “been there, done that” sort of argument. A while back, I blogged through the Zondervan publication, More Than One Way? Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World. John Hick said that he used to be a conservative evangelical. And I believe Alister McGrath said that he was once a religious liberal.

A professor once used the “been there, done that” argument on me. I was writing a paper that tried to tie Isaiah 53 to Jesus, and which sought to uphold a conservative view of Scripture. He told me that he used to hold that sort of viewpoint, but not any more.

The implication of the “been there, done that” argument is that, just because a person once held a viewpoint and found it wanting, that viewpoint actually is wanting. Also, there’s a view about growth that is in the “been there, done that” argument: a person once held a worldview, and now feels that she’s outgrown it, and so she looks at people with the worldview that she once held and considers them to be immature—as if they need to outgrow where they are to arrive at her level.

But I don’t think that the “been there, done that” argument is that good. In fact, I’m sick of seeing it (not that I have any power to stop it, and I may use it myself at times!). Just because one person couldn’t make a particular worldview work for him, that doesn’t mean somebody else can’t. And who’s to say that ex-(fill-in-the-blanks) held the best possible version of the belief that they are now repudiating?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Only a Theory?; 70 Virgins; Praise Here; Textbooks; Is Source A Really Early?; Where Is the Holy Spirit?

1. Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution Is True.

Rachel Held Evans recommended this book to me a while back on her blog, when I said that I didn’t understand the nuts-and-bolts of evolution. She said that she could actually comprehend the book, even though she’s not a science person. That assures me, for I’m not a science person, either.

Essentially, the book presents the scientific evidence for evolution. Many people say that there is no solid evidence for it—that evolution is just a theory. Many creationists have said that creation and evolution are in the same boat, for we don’t know which idea is true, since none of us was here that long back. And, as Coyne notes, even those who learn about evolution in high school are unaware of the evidence for it. Coyne even says that there are biologists who are unaware of some of the stuff he is about to present!

So this should be an interesting book.

2. Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land, page 323:

“Well,” said Miriam, “I had heard about the beautiful houris that Mohammedan men have for playthings when they go to heaven and that didn’t leave much room for wives.”

“Houris aren’t women,” said Jubal. “They are separate creations, like djinni and angels. They don’t need human souls, they are spirits to start with, eternal and unchanging and beautiful. There are male houris, too, or the male equivalent of houris. Houris don’t have to earn their way into Paradise; they’re on the staff. They serve endless delicious foods and pass around drinks that never give hangovers and entertain in other ways as requested. But the souls of human wives don’t have to do any housework, any more than the men…”

So that’s where the seventy virgins come from! I’ve often wondered that.

3. Alberdina Houtmann, Mishnah and Tosefta, page 112:

T 6.7a supplements M 9.3b, which supplements the scriptural justification for the rule to recite a blessing both in favourable and unfavourable circumstances.

I checked the passage. Basically, it talked about praising God with one’s soul, even if someone is about to take that soul (kill you)! It also cited Psalm 119:175, in which the Psalmist asks God to let him live so that he can praise him. But, if we’re going to praise God in the afterlife anyway, then what is the purpose of asking God to save our lives so that we can praise him here? Psalm 6:5 says that people can’t give God thanks in the grave, so that may be the answer. I wonder how Mitchell Dahood interprets that verse, since he argues that the Psalms support a sort of celestial afterlife for the righteous.

How can bribing God with praises make him want to preserve us? What does God gain from praise?

4. Michael H. Floyd, “‘Write the Revelation!’ (Hab 2:2): Re-imagining the Cultural History of Prophecy”, in Writings and Speech in Israelites and Ancient Near Eastern Prophecy, page 125:

Floyd talks about how Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey were orally performed for a long time, but they were eventually written down so they could be studied in schools, even as the oral performances continued.

But the rabbis studied their literature in schools, and they kept it oral, until it absolutely had to be written down, due to persecution, or other factors. Why did Homer’s works have to be written down to be studied in schools? Perhaps the focus of those schools was on the text itself, for there was text criticism of Homer. Or maybe the cultures were different, as some preferred textbooks in schools to keeping everything oral.

5. Steven L. McKenzie, “The Oracles against the Dynasties in the Book of Kings”, in Reconsidering Israel and Judah, page 413:

Because her corpse is eaten by dogs, what is left of Jezebel is not simply like dung on the ground but actually is dung.


6. Anthony Saldarini says in his review of Jacob Neusner’s History of the Mishnaic Law of Purities:

Neusner establishes the reliability of these attributions by establishing that no authority is ever assigned a teaching that depends upon or presumes the existence of a law assigned to a later named authority. The consequence of this is that the attributions and the substance of the laws harmonize and the attributions are reliable. One obvious alternative explanation is that a later redactor may have imposed consistency. In answer Neusner cites cases where laws and opinions that show no awareness of each other are nevertheless chronologically consistent (3 241, 243) The argument seems likely,but the intervention of a redactor is not disproven. Overall, Neusner has verified the common generalization that halakic attributions are reliable.

I’m going to write some about this quote so I can see if I understand it. We have source A, which the Mishnah attributes to an early sage. Source A can indeed be a saying by that early sage, or it could be from somebody later, who put those words into early sage’s mouth. How can one tell which is the case? Neusner believes that source A was indeed spoken by that early sage, and here’s why: the saying does not build on or assume a law that is attributed in the Mishnah to a later sage, source B. Therefore, source A is not aware of source B, because source B hasn’t come into being yet. Source A, therefore, is as early as the tradition says it is.

But Saldarini says “Not so fast!” Saldarini says that a later redactor could impose consistency. Okay, here, I’m a little confused. I thought Neusner’s reason for believing source A is earlier than source B is that the two are inconsistent, since source A doesn’t presume or seem aware of source B’s argument.

7. I went to Latin mass this morning, and we had the priest who speaks about love. He said that the same Holy Spirit who helped create the universe in Genesis 1 is in our lives, renewing us. I wonder to what extent this is the case. The Holy Spirit hasn’t removed my Asperger’s, which hinders me from reaching out to people (love)!

Not Quite Out of The Shack Yet!

I finished William P. Young’s The Shack yesterday, but I still have things that I want to say about it. There are some quotes that still stand out in my mind. Plus, I want to comment on The Shack‘s explanations for why God permits evil—its theodicy. Here are three items:

1. On page 98, Papa (God the Father) says this: “…The problem is that many folks try to grasp some sense of who I am by taking the best version of themselves, projecting that to the nth degree, factoring in all the goodness they can perceive, which often isn’t much, then call that God. And while it may seem like a noble effort, the truth is that it falls pitifully short of who I really am. I’m not merely the best version of you that you can think of. I am far more than that, above and beyond all that you can ask or think.”

But is seeing God as the best version of ourselves even avoidable? Whenever we define anything, we bring ourselves into our definition, right? In praise-and-worship, when I sing praises to a God whom I can’t even see, what exactly am I supposed to be praising? What’s supposed to be going through my mind? For me, its my conception of God, shaped by what I choose to focus on in the Bible. Fundamentalists may gasp at this: “Oh, you’re creating God in your own image, and picking and choosing from the Bible! That’s idolatry.” But let me ask them: whenever they praise God, do they focus on the Bible passages in which God commands the Israelites to slaughter Canaanite children? I’m not asking them if they believe in those passages—of course they do! I’m asking if those passages deeply impact their image of God, which they carry around in their day-to-day lives. Whenever we read and interpret the Bible, we bring who we are into the equation.

To be honest, and this may be because of my social difficulties, I have a hard time knowing what makes another human being tick, let alone God. Whenever I see a person doing something, I ascribe to him certain motives, which are based in large part on what would motivate me to do such an action.

But can the Bible challenge me and stretch me beyond where I am? Can it function as an authority outside of myself? Yes, in a way, it can. I don’t love a lot of people, for instance. God loves people perfectly. But would “Papa” say that, even here, my God is a projection of the best version of myself: one who is loving? Probably.

In my opinion, we almost have to bring God down to our level in order to interact with him. And, in the process of that, my conception of God shares common ground with who I am as a person. Otherwise, would there even be a bridge connecting me with God?

2. On pages 134-135, Mack and Sarayu (the Holy Spirit) have this discussion (which I’ve conformed to a dialogue format):

Sarayu: Let me begin by asking you a question. When something happens to you, how do you determine whether it is good or evil?

Mack: Well, I haven’t really thought about that. I guess I would say that something is good when I like it—when it makes me feel good or gives me a sense of security. Conversely, I’d call something evil that causes me pain or costs me something I want.

Sarayu: So it is pretty subjective then?

Mack: I guess it is.

Sarayu: And how confident are you in your ability to discern what indeed is good for you, or what is evil?

Mack: To be honest, I tend to sound justifiably angry when somebody is threatening my ‘good’, you know, what I think I deserve. But I’m not really sure I have any logical ground for deciding what is actually good or evil, except how something or someone affects me. All seems quite self-serving and self-centered, I suppose. And my track record isn’t very encouraging either. Some things I initially thought were good turned out to be horribly destructive, and some things that I thought were evil, well, they turned out…

Sarayu: Then it is you who determines good and evil. You become the judge. And to make things more confusing, that which you determine to be good will change over time and circumstance. And then beyond that and even worse, there are billions of you determining what is good and what is evil. So when your good and evil clashes with your neighbor’s, fights and arguments ensue and even wars break out.

I identify with this in some areas, but not in others. In terms of my disagreement with the passage, I don’t see what’s wrong with developing a moral judgment based on what helps and hurts me. In my opinion, that could very well be how ethics developed in the first place: people didn’t like being hurt, and so they developed rules that would protect everyone from the hurt that results from immoral actions. This isn’t totally subjective, for most of us are hurt when we are the victims of certain sins: theft, assault, etc.

Also, I think it’s good for us to help people. And, as with (1.), I bring myself into the equation to determine what helping people means. I like things that benefit myself. If I’m sad and lonely, I like for someone to express concern. If I’m looking for a job, it’s good when someone gives me some leads. But, if I like that for myself, shouldn’t I do that for others as well? Jesus himself tells us to think about ourselves in developing an ethic for how to treat our neighbors: that’s what the Golden Rule is all about, as well as the command of “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Sure, we should also remember that people are different, and so what helps me may not help somebody else. I can’t really make an absolute, iron-clad rule, here. All I’m saying is that self-interest plays some role in our ethics—when it comes to us determining what our rights are, and what others’ rights should be.

But I can see the quote’s point in that people do not always (or even often) do what we want, or fulfill our needs and expectations. Also, as the book points out elsewhere, God can use pain to accomplish good. But that doesn’t mean that I should inflict pain on another person, thinking that it will help him or her develop character. Rather, I should try to enhance others’ lives.

My problem has long been that I’m okay at obeying the negative part of the Golden Rule—the part that says that I shouldn’t steal from others (or do other negative things), because I wouldn’t like others to do that to me. But I find the positive part difficult. I want others to reach out to me, but I’m nervous about reaching out to them.

What’s interesting is that The Shack isn’t big on a Christianity that’s based on rules, and yet it sounds rather fundamentalist in the quotes that I feature in (1.) and (2.): it says that we shouldn’t get our picture of God or our morality from inside of ourselves, but rather from the outside—from God (even though our picture of God and our morality bear our own imprint, in some way, shape, and form).

3. I was thinking last night about The Shack’s theodicy, and how it’s basically the same old evangelical spiel about why God permits evil. The Fall is brought in. The book says that God doesn’t like to violate free-will, for God desires love for him that is freely-chosen. We even see some version of the Armstrongite spiel that God gave man 6,000 years to do his own thing, apart from God, and to reap the disastrous results of that. Granted, the book doesn’t contain that exact scenario, but it speaks a lot about how we want to be independent from God, and so God grants us our wish, with the unfortunate result that evil exists in the world.

I don’t feel as if I’m trampling on sacred territory by questioning these theodicies, for they’re not in the Bible! Or they’re not emphasized in the Bible. Let’s take the Fall and the human desire for independence. Sure, the Bible says that the Fall brought death to the world. But that didn’t stop God from punishing the wicked after the Fall! God killed Er, Nabal, and others in the Bible. In the Bible, God doesn’t really treat human free-will or independence as a reason to permit evil.

It’s interesting that, when we come across a book in the Bible that tries to tackle theodicy—the Book of Job—God’s response does not contain the usual evangelical platitudes: God permits evil because he respects free-will, the Fall brought all this evil that Job is observing, etc. Rather, the existence of evil is presented as a mystery. The New Testament indicates that trials can build our character, but I agree with The Shack that God doesn’t directly cause our pain: God just uses it.

I think that some of the typical evangelical spiel has wisdom to it. God may very well allow free-will to take its course, to prove a point—that evil is bad, that we really need God, etc. But I don’t consider that to be the definitive, God-given answer for why evil exists. If it were, then why isn’t it explicitly stated in the Bible?

But evangelicals are probably doing the very thing that I was defending under (1.) and (2.): projecting their own ideas onto God. We live in an age that glorifies choice, so is it a surprise that people appeal to “free-will” to explain why God permits evil?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

One More Dennis Hopper Movie I Saw…

Speed, with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bulluck! Hopper sure was a scary villain in that movie!

Dennis Hopper

Dennis Hopper has passed away. I was reading the wikipedia article on him, trying to see if I’ve seen him in anything. I haven’t seen him in much, since I haven’t gotten around to watching James Dean movies (though I did watch the James Dean Biography, back when I had my DVR). But I noticed that there was one role in which I did see Dennis Hopper, a role that has been in my mind for probably more than a decade. Hopper played Shooter in the movie, Hoosiers.

Shooter was an alcoholic, who continually embarrassed his son, a high school basketball player. But he knew a lot about basketball. Shooter could sound really learned about it in the barber-shop, discussing strategy. And so Coach Norman Dale (played by Gene Hackman) decided to make Shooter his assistant coach.

Shooter was definitely a rough diamond in the works! He showed up at one basketball game drunk, again embarrassing his son. Coach Norman dunked Shooter’s head into the bathroom sink a few times, telling him that he wouldn’t tolerate that sort of behavior!

On another occasion, Coach Norman was thrown out of the game because he argued with the referee, and so Shooter was left holding the bag. Shooter didn’t know what to do or say, so he just stood there. Again, his son was embarrassed. Shooter made Coach Norman promise never to do that again! And Coach Norman promised.

But some promises are made to be broken, and Coach Norman understood that Shooter had potential that needed to be brought out. And so Coach Norman had another outburst, and was again thrown out of the game at a crucial point. Again, Shooter was left holding the bag. Shooter’s son melted the ice a little bit by offering his father some advice. Shooter then develops a solid winning strategy for the team. Shooter wasn’t as glib at that game as he was in the barber-shop, but he had a little more confidence, compared to the last game in which he was left holding the bag!

I identify with Shooter because of the alcoholism, and also because I too can freeze up and appear dumb in certain situations. But is there a diamond underneath all that, as there was with Shooter? I hope it’s that way for all of us!

Wrapping Up the Shack; Righteous Lot?

1. I finished William Young’s The Shack today. Here’s the passage from it that I want to feature. It’s on page 248:

If you ever get a chance to hang out with Mack, you will soon learn that he’s hoping for a new revolution, one of love and kindness—a revolution that revolves around Jesus and what he did for us all and what he continues to do in anyone who has a hunger for reconciliation and a place to call home. This is not a revolution that will overthrow anything, or if it does, it would do so in ways we could never contrive in advance. Instead it will be the quiet daily powers of dying and serving and loving and laughing, of simple tenderness and unseen kindness, because if anything matters, then everything matters.

I’m often disturbed when I hear Christians using militaristic language. I remember praying in a Bible study group, and one of its members asked God that we might become a “mighty army”. An atheist friend pointed out to me that Promised Keepers used the term “army” at one of its rallies, to refer to itself. There are Christian leaders who say that they want to “take America for Christ”. Then, there’s the old song, “Onward Christian Soldiers”. I can understand why this kind of language would intimidate un-believers, or even some of us who do believe! It sounds aggressive!

The Shack itself uses a word that itself is pretty loaded: revolution! Revolution means “change”. I think of people at Tea Parties ranting against the U.S. Government.

But I like how The Shack clarifies its usage of the term, “revolution”. It’s not talking about aggression, or overthrowing anything by force. Rather, it’s talking about service and meekness—the little acts of kindness that can have a positive impact on the world around us. Actually, there are many situations in today’s world in which kindness is a pretty revolutionary way of doing things!

And so I’m finished with The Shack. It was all right, in that it got me thinking about such issues as forgiveness. I also got to exercise my brain muscles to determine if The Shack was presenting heresy. Here’s an article by one of the book’s collaborators, which takes on that charge: here.

There’s talk about making The Shack into a movie. To be honest, I can’t picture it on the big screen, but I can envision it as a cheesy TBN movie, similar to that one movie in which a woman had dinner at a restaurant with God.

There are people who have been really touched by The Shack. I am happy for them. Personally, although I learned some things from the book, I found it to be loaded with a lot of the same old hackneyed evangelical platitudes on why God allows suffering. It especially gets on my nerves that this book acts as if it’s presenting something fresh, brilliant, and revolutionary.

But, if I was intrigued by anything, it was by an element of the author’s life-story that I read on wikipedia. Here it is:

An article in Maclean’s magazine in August 2008 indicated that Young, is a “Canadian raised from birth by his missionary parents in Dutch New Guinea, Young was sexually abused by some of the people his parents preached to, as he was again back home, at a Christian boarding school. Young drifted through life as an adult, buoyed a little by his faith and a lot by his wife, Kim, keeping his secrets and building his shack: ‘the place we make to hide all our crap,’ he calls it. Until, at 38, he found himself at the nadir. ‘I had a three-month affair with one of my wife’s best friends. That was it, that just blew my careful little religious world apart. I either had to get on my knees and deal with my wife’s pain and anger or kill myself.”

There’s something real about this author’s story. I see here genuine change and healing, as a result of a serious grappling with problems. It’s much more than experiencing a tragedy, and going to a shack to listen to the same old evangelical platitudes for a few days.

2. In my reading today of Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, Jubal talks about the biblical character of Lot. II Peter 2:6-7 refers to Lot as righteous, saying that he was internally vexed by the wicked conduct that was around him. But Jubal wonders why Lot was so righteous. Lot took the best land when Abraham asked him to choose where to live. He offered his daughters to the Sodomite rapists, to protect his guests, whom he suspected were important anyway (according to Jubal). Why was Lot considered righteous?

This reminds me of what John MacArthur says about Lot in his book, The Gospel According to the Apostles:

But wait. Doesn’t Scripture include examples of believers who committed gross sin? Didn’t David commit murder and adultery and allow his sin to go unconfessed for at least a year? Wasn’t Lot characterized by worldly compromise in the midst of heinous sin?

Yes, those examples prove that genuine believers are capable of the worst imaginable sins. But David and Lot cannot be made to serve as examples of “carnal” believers, whose whole lifestyle and appetites are no different from unregenerate people… Not much is known about [Lot] from the Old Testament account, but what is recorded about him is disappointing. He was a pathetic example of compromise and disobedience. On the eve of Sodom’s destruction when he should have fled the city, “he hesitated” ( Gen. 19:16 ). The angelic messengers had to seize his hand and put him outside the city. Near the end of his life, his two daughters got him drunk and committed incest with him ( Gen. 19:30–38 ). Lot certainly did seem to have a proclivity for sins of compromise and worldliness. Yet the inspired New Testament writer tells us Lot was “oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day with their lawless deeds)” ( 2 Pet. 2:8 ). He hated sin and desired righteousness. He had respect for holy angels—evidence of his fear of God ( Gen. 19:1–14 ). He obeyed God by not looking back at Sodom when God’s judgment rained down (cf. v. 26).

Lot was certainly not “carnal” in the sense that he lacked spiritual desires. Though he lived in a wicked place, he was not wicked himself. His soul was “tormented,” vexed, grieved, tortured with severe pain at the sight of the evil all around him. Evidently his conscience did not become seared; he “felt his righteous soul tormented day after day” with the evil deeds of those around him. Though he lived in Sodom, he never became a Sodomite. Those who use him as an illustration of someone who is saved but utterly carnal miss the point of 2 Peter 2:8.

What is the lesson of Lot’s life as Peter saw it? Verse 9 sums it up: “The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment.” In Lot’s case, one means the Lord used to rescue him from temptation was severe chastisement. Lot lost his home; his wife was killed by divine judgment; and his own daughters disgraced and debased him. He paid a terrible price for his sin, being “tormented day after day.” If Lot proves anything, it is that true believers cannot sin with impunity.

II Kings 7

For my weekly quiet time this week, I studied II Kings 7.

Syria is besieging Samaria, the capital city in Northern Israel, and there is a desperate famine within that city. Elisha the prophet predicts that the famine will end the very next day. Not only will there be an abundance of grain, but its price will fall. Israelites will no longer have to buy expensive donkey heads or eat their own children, as they were doing during the famine.

A close advisor to the king mocks Elisha, sarcastically asking if God will open the windows of heaven. Elisha then predicts that the advisor will witness the end of the famine, but he will not partake of it. The fulfillment of this prophecy occurs later in the chapter, when the advisor dies as Northern Israelites rush to eat some newfound food.

At first, I thought that this advisor got a raw deal. Why should he believe the prophecy of Elisha? The prospect that the famine would end sounds like a pretty amazing thing! Pardon this advisor if he finds faith difficult. So do I, for that matter!

But Josephus offered a reasonable interpretation of this passage, in Antiquities 9, Chapter 4: the vast majority of the Northern Israelites, including the king, believed Elisha’s prophecy, on account of the “experience they had of the truth of his former predictions”. Elisha had a record as a confirmed man of God. Elisha had done miracles and had made predictions that came to pass. The king knew this, for he actually blamed Elisha for the famine! Commentators speculate that the king believed that Elisha brought it about, or allowed it to exist in that he refrained from asking God to remove it. The king and much of Northern Israel realized that Elisha was God’s mouthpiece. The advisor was just being a jerk. He should have believed Elisha, on the basis of Elisha’s sterling record as a prophet. This wasn’t a matter of blind faith! And, according to Josephus, the advisor expressed doubt that God could end the famine. It’s one thing to doubt that God will do something. It’s another thing to doubt that God can do something. Was the advisor guilty of the latter?

There were four lepers outside of the city of Samaria. Lepers had to be outside of the Israelite community, to avoid defiling it (Leviticus 13:46; Numbers 5:3). These lepers reasoned as follows. They’re hungry. They’ll die of starvation if they remain outside of the city. If they break the rules and go inside of the city, then they’ll die of starvation there, since that’s where the famine is. So how about going to the camp of the Syrians and surrendering to them? The Syrians may accept their surrender and give them food. Or the Syrians could kill them. But at least the Syrians have food! There’s a chance that the lepers will get fed in the Syrian camp. So what do they have to lose?

God causes the Syrians to flee from their camp, by causing a noise. The Syrians conclude that the Israelites must have hired the kings of the Hittites or the kings of Egypt to fight against them, and so the Syrians run away. Now, there’s a Syrian camp that is empty of Syrian soldiers, and yet it is replete with food, precious metals, clothing, etc. The lepers arrive at the camp, thinking that they’ll have to beg for food, but instead they find that food is there for the taking!

As the lepers enjoy the food in the Syrian camp, they conclude that they’re not doing the right thing: they’re enjoying all this food, when there’s a famine in the city of Samaria. They fear that they will find avon—iniquity or punishment—were they to remain silent about the food that they found. And so they go to the gate of the city (since they still can’t enter it, as lepers) and cry out that they have found food.

The king of Israel is initially skeptical, for he thinks that the Syrians are setting up a trap. The king of Israel has a particular scenario in mind: the Israelites will go to the Syrian camp to eat food, and the Syrians will come out of hiding, capture the Israelites, and take the city of Samaria. And so the king sends a few chariots to check out the camp.

But is this a wise plan? Didn’t the king consider that the Israelite soldiers in the chariots could check out the camp, find that the Syrians aren’t there, bring the Israelites to the camp, and then the Syrians would come out of hiding and do their dirty work? The king may have assumed that the soldiers were astute enough to determine if the Syrians were nearby. Or perhaps the king, like the lepers, had a “What is there to lose?” attitude. Here was a chance for Northern Israel to get food. Maybe the Israelites will die trying, but they’ll die if they do not try, so why not try?

But the Syrians really have fled, and so the Israelites rush to plunder the camp. The advisor, who scoffed at Elisha’s prophecy, gets trampled and dies in the onrush. And the famine is at an end. Not only do the Northern Israelites possess the wealth of the Syrian camp, but the Syrians are no longer besieging Samaria, blocking traders from entering the city. The Israelites now have access to food.

I have to admire the lepers in this story. Here were people who may have been punished by God for some sin, since leprosy could be a divine punishment in the Hebrew Bible. A trespass offering was part of the ritual that occurred when the leper was cleansed and about to re-enter society (Leviticus 14:12-14), perhaps indicating that the leper brought the disease on himself through some sin. And God struck Miriam with leprosy because she spoke against Moses (Numbers 12).

These people may have been punished by God, and they are definitely outcasts from Israelite society. But they feel compelled to share with all of Israel the food that they’ve found, rather than hogging it up for themselves. They could have chosen to be bitter against God and Israelite society, saying that God can kill them, as far as they care, as long as they go down full and happy. And, as far as the Israelites are concerned, who cares? Let them starve!

But the lepers don’t take this attitude: they choose to share. Part of their motivation is a sense that hogging up the food in a time of famine is not right. Part of it is that they fear God: they may have leprosy, but they still want to live, and so they won’t anger God further by keeping the food for themselves. But I’d like to think that another part of their motivation was that they didn’t allow themselves to be consumed with bitterness, even as their flesh on their bodies was rotting. Sure, they didn’t like their leprosy, but that’s the way their lives were at that point. They’d might as well accept reality! There was no point to snubbing the society who rejected them, or to angering further the God who may have been punishing them. They were where they were, and so they might as well work within those parameters!

I can see a parallel between this story and my Asperger’s. I dislike being an outsider. And there are plenty of times when I hate God because of my Asperger’s. And yet, I have what I have. I need to learn how to work within my situation, which, in this case, is who I am. I’m tempted to resent the communities that have snubbed me, and yet, they are people too! They have their needs. And, if this doesn’t warm my hearts towards them and motivate me to show them love, then I can fall back on the will of God, as the lepers did: God wants me to love them, to be concerned about their well-being as fellow members of the human race.

Then there are times when I should take an approach of “What do I have to lose?”, as the lepers did. I apply this to social risks: being friendly to people even if they reject me, asking a young lady out, etc. The only problem here is that there are pay-offs to being a loner: I can avoid hurt and pain. The lepers got to the point where they realized that there was no pay-off to them sitting around all day, doing nothing. If there was a chance that they could get food, then they’d might as well take it, even if they were to die trying!

Moreover, I shouldn’t put limits on God, which is what the king’s advisor did. I may feel that I will never find happiness, or enjoy the blessings that others do. But there are plenty of things that God can do—and, as we see in this chapter, God can act in ways that we don’t anticipate. God can bless a city that appears hopeless. And he can bless those on the margins of society, who feel cut off from God and their fellow human beings. I may feel discouraged, but I should never say never!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Unconditional Forgiveness?...Stuff...God or D.C. Collins?

1. William P. Young, The Shack, pages 224-225:

"So what then? I just forgive him and everything is okay, and we become buddies?" Mack stated softly but sarcastically.

"You don't have a relationship with this man, at least not yet. Forgiveness does not establish relationship. In Jesus, I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship. Mackenzie, don't you see that forgiveness is an incredible power---a power you share with us, a power Jesus gives to all whom he indwells so that reconciliation can grow? When Jesus forgave those who nailed him to the cross, they were no longer in his dept, nor mine. In my relationship with those men, I will never bring up what they did, nor shame them, or embarrass them."

Page 227: "Son, you may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely. And then one day you will pray for his wholeness and give him over to me so that my love will burn from his life every vestige of corruption..."

These quotes interest me for two reasons. First, they discuss whether or not forgiveness means that I have to be friends with the person who wronged me, or con myself into thinking that he did nothing wrong, when he did. According to these quotes (and their context), forgiveness doesn't have to mean fellowship, even though it can lead to that. Rather, it's ceasing to clinch the wrong-doer by the throat, trying to move on, and giving him over to God's love, which can entail discipline.

Second, these quotes may touch on Young's views regarding universalism. They seem to suggest that God in Christ has forgiven everyone, whether they choose to believe in Jesus or not. As far as I can tell, Young deems that forgiveness to be unconditional. God freely holds out his hands to the world, inviting it to fellowship with him, without holding anything against it. And the reference to God's love burning corruption from the sinner reminds me of the Christian universalist teaching that hell is a place of temporary (yet long-lasting) cleansing and discipline.

Is this biblical? I think of II Corinthians 5:19-20, which affirms that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not imputing sin to it. That is why we serve as Christ's ambassadors, encouraging the world to be reconciled with God: God has done his part and taken the first step towards reconciliation, and now the world is invited to respond. This seems to correspond with Young's view. Yet, other passages suggest that forgiveness from God is conditional on repentance, faith, and baptism (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 10:43; 22:16). Still others say that it's conditional on us forgiving others (Matthew 6:14-15), or our confession of sin (I John 1:9).

Young refers to Jesus' prayer that God forgive those crucifying him, for they know not what they do. Does this suggest that God's forgiveness is unconditional? Some would argue "no". John MacArthur has pointed out, for instance, that those responsible for the crucifixion went home beating their breasts (Luke 23:48), a sign of repentance (Luke 18:13). For MacArthur, God answered Jesus' prayer by giving these people the grace to repent---by convicting them of their sin.

2. Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land.

Heinlein refers to "seeker services" for a religious institution. This is odd, because this book came out in the 1960's. I thought the push for churches to become "seeker-sensitive" came about in the 1990's-2000's. Am I wrong on that?

3. Alberdina Houtmann, Mishnah and Tosefta, page 102:

In M 4.4 and T 3.7, yet another reason is given for a short prayer, namely time of danger.

I checked the references, and the short prayers in times of danger (from bandits) do not relate to personal deliverance, but rather to God granting ease to those who fear him, or God delivering the nation of Israel. I admire the rabbis for telling people to think beyond themselves even when they are being robbed by bandits: to long for God's justice in general, which will come about when Israel is restored and the Messiah rules. This reminds me of the mourner's Kaddish: when a Jew mourns for his departed loved one, he prays a prayer that doesn't explicitly mention mourning. Rather, it expresses hope for God to set up his kingdom over the earth, praises God, and asks that God might bring peace to Israel.

In the Bible, people certainly pray for personal deliverance. But the Psalms and the Lord's Prayer also invite us to think beyond ourselves, to acknowledge God's broader agenda, and to express our desire that God will bring that agenda to past. That will take care of problems such as bandits and death!

4. Michael H. Floyd, "'Write the Revelation!' (Hab 2:2): Re-imagining the Cultural History of Prophecy", in Writings and Speech in Israelites and Ancient Near Eastern Prophecy, pages 106-107:

The social theorists who elaborated this basic scheme assumed that universal literacy was characteristic of the most advanced form of society, and they identified oral tradition with the most primitive form of society. The transition from a predominantly oral to a predominantly written culture became regarded as the primary indication of progress, on which any society's advancement in all the arts and sciences depended.

Floyd talks about how literacy leads to hierarchy, according to the social theorists whom he is critiquing. But there are advanced societies that prefer oral tradition, or the oral to the written. The rabbis were one such example: they resisted writing down their teaching because orality preserved the passing on of tradition from master to pupil. If pupils could simply go to the library and read the tradition, why would they need to receive it from a teacher? Ancient Israel had a hierarchy of priests, king, etc., but its prophecies were only written down when they had to be. Otherwise, they were orally proclaimed. (Yet, this is the debate that occurs in the book.) So I'm not convinced that orality means a society is primitive, whereas literacy indicates it is advanced. Sure, there may be truth to this, but it's not an absolute rule.

5. Steven L. McKenzie, "The Oracles against the Dynasties in the Book of Kings", in Reconsidering Israel and Judah, page 398:

"The one belonging to Jeroboam who dies in the city the dogs will eat, and the one who dies in the open country the birds of the sky shall eat..." The uniqueness of the curse and the rarity of [certain] expressions [in it] have led some scholars to contend that the language of these verses is not typical of the Deuteronomist and therefore betrays the existence of a predeuteronomistic version of the oracle...

To be honest, I really don't care. But apparently some do, which is why this article exists. I'm interested in source criticism in that it can present ideas as to the different theological viewpoints in Scripture, who held them, and why. But I don't think much is at stake---or interesting, for that matter---in the issue of who wrote the curse that dogs and birds will eat people.

6. I read a review of Saul Lieberman's Hellenism in Jewish Palestine, and it said that Hellenistic Jews were quite vehement against idolatry. This, even though they drew from Greek ideas! This reminds me of a post on Lawson Stone's new blog, "Five Smooth Stones": Thursday Thoughts. Lawson talks about Daniel and his friends, and how they went above and beyond Jewish dietary laws in their refusal of the king's food and wine. After all, the Torah didn't say that they had to eat only vegetables, or that they couldn't drink wine! In this case, they chose to proceed in an extreme direction. And yet, they also studied the Babylonian religion, which was a rather liberal move on their part. Why were they ultra-conservative in the area of food, but liberal in what they studied? According to Lawson, they wanted to reinforce their Jewish identity before they learned about the Babylonian culture.

Similarly, even as Hellenistic Jews borrowed from Greek culture, they made it emphatically clear that they wanted nothing to do with Greek idolatry! They were trying to avoid corruption from outside sources, while picking up aspects of those sources that may enlighten them.

7. Gary Coleman has passed away. You know, I've actually been thinking about him for the past week. When I was little, there was a movie called The Fantastic World of D.C. Collins, in which Coleman played a kid with a rich fantasy life---which was managing to intersect with his intriguing real life! My dad told me to say my prayers during this movie, and so I rushed to my room during the commercial break and did so. My dad then asked me if I was rushing through my prayers so I could return to my TV show, and I said "yes". He then told me that I should go back to my room and tell God that I'm sorry.

This is how I remember that, and you know how memories can be! They're not always accurate. But this memory got me thinking. Was my dad trying to teach me to love God more than the Fantastic World of D.C. Collins? And which did I love better when I was a kid? I'm not sure that I loved God at that time, since prayer for me was merelya ritual that my parents told me to perform: I basically said a bunch of words, and that was that! So, while D.C. Collins was on, of course I loved that show more than God! But the show came and went. I may find it on YouTube at some point and enjoy it, but I don't attach any ultimate significance to that movie. It's just a fun way to pass a few hours. But I do attach ultimate significance to God. So I'd say that I love God more than the Fantastic World of D.C. Collins.

But I'm not too big on "tests" to see whether I love God more than something else. I'll tell you: I did not feel compelled to turn off the TV and say my prayers during the last episode of LOST, just to show God that I love him more than LOST! I'd rather pray to God when I choose to do so, rather when I don't want to---even though, yes, I do pray every day, in order to keep my devotional life from disintegrating into complete chaos!

And I highly doubt that my dad would make me pray during D.C. Collins if he were to relive that moment. Something else I can say for my dad: he did a good "What you talkin' about Willis?"

In any case, R.I.P., Gary Coleman.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Judging; James Troesch Marathon; Fluent Prayers?; Written Prophecies; Macho Brand; Parallelism; Moishe Rosen

1. William P. Young, The Shack, page 203:

“Is that why we like law so much—to give us some control?” asked Mack.

“It is much worse than that,” resumed Sarayu. “It grants you the power to judge others and feel superior to them. You believe you are living to a higher standard than those you judge…”

I’ve been trying to express this concept into words for a long time. Throughout my life, I have believed that some people are right, and some people are wrong, and I have judged them accordingly. If a person doesn’t adhere to A, B, and C, I judge that person, and sometimes I assume that I shouldn’t be around him. This can be wise, for, if I were to hang around people who (say) did drugs, there would be a temptation for me to do drugs in order to fit in (not that I have ever used drugs). But I’ve often found that I judge people for not believing a certain way. At Harvard Divinity School, I had a checklist of things that a person should believe: inerrancy of Scripture, deity of Christ, Jesus being the only way to God, homosexuality and abortion being immoral, etc., and I would judge people and groups according to how they adhered to those standards. I assumed that those who believed in these things had the inside track to God.

Nowadays, I wonder: maybe I should spend more time loving people, and less time judging them. But it’s easier for me to judge. I have a hard time socializing with people and expressing genuine concern, but I’m a little more adept at boldly proclaiming my opinion on right and wrong.

And I still judge people, only now, I tend to judge right-wing Christians. I’ll continue to do my “Oh Brother” posts, but I wonder if there’s a way for me to love right-wing Christians—without allowing the really dogmatic ones to walk all over me.

Here’s another point: Some books stick in my head, for better and for worse. One of these books (in the “worse” category) is John MacArthur’s Vanishing Conscience. For years—maybe over a decade—I have felt bad about saying “Nobody’s perfect” because of the following passage in Macarthur’s book:

Nobody’s perfect. That truth, which ought to make us tremble before a God who is holy, holy, holy, is usually invoked instead to excuse sinful behavior, to make us feel better. How often do we hear people brush aside their own wrongdoing with the casual words, “Well, after all, nobody’s perfect”? People claim they’re not perfect to boost their self-esteem, but it is another evidence of a vanishing conscience. There is accuracy in the claim, but it should be a timid confession, not a flippant means of justifying sin.

I realize now that “Nobody’s perfect” is not only an acceptable thing for me to say, but it is necessary. If I simply reminded myself that nobody’s perfect, then maybe I’d be easier on myself and others.

2. Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land, page 291:

As for faces, Jubal had the most beautiful face Mike had ever seen…

Today, while doing my reading, I did a Highway to Heaven James Troesch marathon. James Troesch played a quadraplegic lawyer named Scotty. In Season 1, he’s introduced as a quadraplegic lawyer in a hospital who’s trying to pass the bar, and who’s encouraging “new wheels” to “live in the moment” and to be grateful for what they can do, rather than focusing on what they can’t do. Also in this season, Scotty meets and marries Diane, Mark Gordon’s cousin.

In Season 2, Scotty’s trying to get clients for his law practice, but he is failing because people don’t want to be represented by a handicapped attorney. His self-esteem is low, and his marriage is on the rocks. But he gets his first case, which is the type that appears un-winnable. Julian, a man with a birthmark splashed across his face, has for many years been known as “the monster” in his small town. When a pretty blind woman is injured and in a coma after she accidentally stumbles while looking for him, Julian is accused of a capital crime. But Scotty conducts an excellent defense, wins the case, and gains a reputation as a good lawyer. The clients start flocking to him!

In Season 3, Scotty and Diane want to have a baby, but Diane is unable to have children. They want to adopt a mentally-handicapped boy named Todd. But Todd already has parents: they put him in an institution years before because people they respected advised them to do so, and they never see Todd. Scotty and Diane go to court to adopt Todd, and Todd’s parents eventually allow them to do so.

But, back to the Heinlein quote: it reminds me of the episode in which Scotty was defending “the monster.” When Scotty first meets Julian, Julian is staring at him, and Scotty assumes Julian is doing so because he’s judging Scotty for being handicapped. But that is not the case. Rather, Julian is admiring Scotty’s perfect face and skin, which differs from his own marked face.

3. Alberdina Houtmann, Mishnah and Tosefta, page 85:

Just as it is proved to be a bad omen for a patient when Ben Dosa’s prayer was not fluent, so it is a bad omen for a congregation when its agent errs.

When I pray, I don’t worry about being eloquent or fluent, for I assume that God knows what I’m saying, even if my words don’t come out right. Doesn’t Romans 8 have a verse about that? We don’t pray as we ought, and so the Holy Spirit intercendes for us with incomprehensible words. But Judaism had prayers that were formal and recited. It still does, for that matter. But I’ve heard from some Jews that praying from the heart is also acceptable within Judaism. Can one make mistakes in those kinds of prayers, or be less than eloquent?

4. R.E. Clemens, “The Prophet as an Author: The Case of the Isaiah Memoir”, in Writings and Speech in Israelites and Ancient Near Eastern Prophecy, page 99:

Taken as a separate unit the memoir shows how written prophecy could fulfill a function beyond what was possible for oral prophesying. It is best described as a testimony text, since it is not autobiography except in a secondary and accidental manner. Its purpose as a witness to future generations of Israelites and Jews that God is both faithful and just is evident. It ensured that the future generations who were destined to suffer the disasters that Isaiah had foretold would understand why they were doing so and on whom the responsibility for this rested.

I pretty much agree with this explanation as to why prophecies were written. Of course, there could be other reasons as well. Jeremiah wrote his prophecy down so that someone else could read it to the king, since Jeremiah would be harmed if he did so himself.

5. Walter Dietrich and Thomas Naumann, “The David-Saul Narrative”, in Reconsidering Israel and Judah, pages 287-288:

Among solid young men, then, (temporary) homosexual relationships were not considered reprehensible; they were only despised when they were combined with effeminacy, even “unmanliness,” in the view of a patriarchally organized world.

This reminds me of the book, The Pink Swastiga. Actually, Izgad had a back-and-forth discussion/debate with that author of that book. To read it, visit and search under “Scott Lively”.

But, back to the quote. On my Christian dating site a while back, a pastor was posting passages from The Pink Swastiga, a book that argues that there were high-ranking Nazis who were homosexual. I responded that the Nazis persecuted homosexuals and put them in concentration camps, and the pastor replied that the Nazis didn’t care for effeminate homosexuals: rather, the Nazi liked the macho brand.

Anyway, this quote reminded me of that interaction!

6. My reading of book reviews today revolved around the issue of biblical parallelism: there’s a line in poetry, and then there’s a line after that, which is parallel to the first line. Sometimes the second line repeats the idea of the first line in different words. Sometimes it repeats the idea of the first line, while adding something new. Sometimes, there is contrast between the two lines. Sometimes, the two lines overlap primarily in the area of grammar, or the words that are used. And, sometimes, we should look at the larger unit rather than just the two lines. And idea may get repeated several lines down, not necessarily in the second line.

7. I just learned that Moishe Rosen passed away recently. Roisen was the founder of Jews for Jesus.

I don’t really have an agenda of converting Jews to Christianity—as if the Christian interpretation of the Hebrew Bible is the only viable one in existence. But there was a time when Jews for Jesus had a special place in my heart, which is probably why I got on their mailing list a few times, and have gotten their literature for over a decade. I grew up in the Armstrong movement, which kept the seventh-day Sabbath and biblical holy days, as well as some version of kosher. That looked strange to people in my small town, and so, looking for some box to put us in, they considered us Jews. My mom embraced that designation, since her side of the family had Jewish ancestry. Yet, we also believed in Jesus. And people in my small town liked to put people in boxes, so they were unclear about what we were.

That’s why I was happy when Jews for Jesus came to a prominent church in my small town and did a concert. Here were people who were like me: Jews who believed in Jesus! They were ethnically Jewish, and they probably performed some Jewish customs. Yet, they believed in Jesus, calling him “Yeshua”. And people in my small town were being exposed to this, making me look slightly less like an oddball!

Since that time, I’ve learned that the issue of Jews who believe in Jesus is rather complex. I briefly attended a Messianic synagogue at one time, and the rabbi there didn’t care for Jews for Jesus. I think his problem was that Jews for Jesus pointed Jewish-Christians to churches rather than Messianic synagogues, or failed to provide a viable way for Jews to honor Yeshua while retaining their own Jewish customs. He may be right on this. I’m sure he knows more about this issue than I do! But my reading of Jews for Jesus literature leads me to believe that the organization at least pays lip-service to Jewish customs.

There was a time when I was enamored by Messianic Judaism. I had some desire to connect with my Jewish heritage, while remaining a Christian in good-standing. Nowadays, I don’t care as much. Some of that relates to my not fitting into a Messianic congregation, and not being able to adopt the Messianic agenda as my own. And it also has to do with my needs: I’m more interested in spirituality nowadays rather than religion and ritual. I seek and find inspiration in a variety of sources.

But I feel a need to take my hat off to Moishe Rosen. From what I’ve heard about his personality, he’s not the type of guy I’d want to work for! But he started a movement that touched me, during a piece of my life.

Staci's Take on LOST

This is a good post on LOST because it addresses what the light was and why the Dharma Initiative wanted to study it. I wish it had gone into more detail about why the characters did what they did in the flash sideways, and how that was significant to the overall plot. But I’m understanding LOST by drawing from different sources.

Here it is: My Take On LOST.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

God Uses (Not Causes) Tragedies; Rich (Bummer!); Long Impression; Rabbinic Cessationism; Blowing Off Steam; Noth on DtrH; Good LOST Articles

1. William P. Young, The Shack, page 185:

"Mack, just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn't mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don't ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes...Grace doesn't depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors."

2. Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land, page 273:

"...Captain, you obviously don't know what an Old Man of the Sea great wealth is. It is not a fat purse and time to spend it. Its owner finds himself beset on every side, at every hour, by persistent pleaders, like beggars in Bombay, each demanding that he invest or give away part of his wealth. He becomes suspicious of honest friendship---indeed honest friendship is rarely offered him; those who could have been his friends are too fastidious to be jostled by beggars, too proud to be mistaken for one..."

That reminds me of an episode of Highway to Heaven that I watched today, "Lucky Man", which is from Season 3 (which I finally got for a low price off of Amazon, after waiting for years!). Mark wins five million dollars at a burger joint, and he wants to give it all to build a new gymnasium for at-risk youths. But some swindlers on the run from creditors are trying to get his money. One is a beautiful woman, who's posing as a wealthy socialite. She pretends to be deeply in love with Mark, so she can marry and then divorce him, taking his money.

For me, the lesson of this episode is how some of us can allow our fantasies to blind us. Mark thought that his dreams were coming true---that a beautiful woman was falling in love with him. But they weren't. Far from it.

3. Terence Collins, The Mantel of Elijah, page 147.

Isaiah 20 says that King Sargon of Assyrian captured the Philistine city of Ashdod. This occurred in 711 B.C.E., when Sargon punished Ashdod for rebellion and the its encouragement of other kings to rebel. The chapter then goes on to say that Isaiah is to walk around naked and barefoot for three years, as a sign that Assyria will take Egyptians and Ethiopians captive. That should teach the Israelites not to trust in Egypt for deliverance, when they should be looking to God!

Collins doesn't think that certain things add up. He points out that the Assyrians invaded Egypt forty years later. He also wonders why Ashdod is even mentioned, and he says that the warning to Israel not to trust Egypt would make most sense in 701 B.C.E., "when Sennacherib easily repulsed an Egyptian attempt to intervene" (Isaiah 37:9). Collins maintains that elements of Isaiah 20 have undergone revision, as older oracles were applied to new situations. And he contends that Jeremiah 37:11 applies Isaiah's prophecy against Egypt to his own day, when Egyptian intervention didn't help the Judahites during the invasion of their nation by the Babylonians.

I don't entirely understand Collins' point. Couldn't a prophet point to the Assyrian defeat of Ashdod to argue that human attempts to fight Assyria will come to naught, which is why the Judahites were going the path of futility in trusting Egypt for deliverance? Sure, Egyptian assistance would come to naught ten years later, and the Assyrians would invade Egypt forty years later. But couldn't the prophet have foreseen these events when the Assyrians defeated Ashdod?

How much is Collins motivated by naturalism in this case---naturalism here being the view that a prophet can't predict the future? Why would the prophet need to see Egypt getting pounced to predict it, whether there's a God giving him the message or not? Remember that there are scholars who have made the case that prophets got some things wrong when it came to Egypt: Jeremiah and Ezekiel said that Babylon would conquer Egypt, which didn't happen (or so scholars contend). Why are the prophecies that come true dismissed as current events written into the past, whereas prophecies that aren't fulfilled are just, well, prophecies that aren't fulfilled?

Collins may have a point in the area of timeliness, however. Why did Isaiah walk naked for three years, communicating a prophecy that wouldn't happen until forty years later? Did he expect the Israelites to remember his walk of nakedness about forty years before, once they saw Egypt get pounced? Well, maybe Isaiah walking naked would leave an impression on them!

4. Alberdina Houtmann, Mishnah and Tosefta, page 74:

In T 6.7b, there is again a sudden shift to a new subject, vain prayer. According to this tradition, it is vain to pray for a miraculous multiplication of produce.

But Elijah and Jesus multiplied food! Well, the rabbis didn't believe in Jesus. And were they cessationists when it came to the sorts of miracles that were performed in the Hebrew Bible? There are indications of such---statements that prophecy ceased at a certain point in time, or the view that Israel doing the right thing without seeing a miracle was a sign of her maturity. But I can't be absolute on this and claim that the rabbis denied the existence of miracles. Maybe they just believed that they were improbable, so why be frivolous by praying for certain ones? Ordinarily, God didn't multiply produce!

5. John Van Seters, "Prophetic Orality in the Context of the Ancient Near East”, in Writings and Speech in Israelites and Ancient Near Eastern Prophecy, page 84.

Crenshaw seems to place his emphasis on the oral nature of both delivery and transmission, based on the limits of literacy in ancient Israel. Davies argues that prophecy as a whole is a literary activity regardless of biblical suggestions to the contrary. Cullen focuses primarily on performance and its relationship to audience.

This is a summary of what came before in the book, which I appreciate. But Davies had some jewels. He acted as if some of the scribes were writing prophecies against social injustice and foreign nations in order to blow off steam, while attributing the prophecies to ancient prophets!

6. Martin Noth, "The Central Theological Ideas", in Reconsidering Israel and Judah.

Noth dates the Deuteronomistic History (DtrH)---Joshua-Kings---to the exile. He notes that DtrH doesn't talk much about sacrifice, preferring instead to focus on prayer. For Noth, that would make sense in the exile, when all Israel had was prayer, since she was without a temple! And Noth also doesn't think that DtrH believed that the Jews would be restored, for it doesn't mention that possibility. So is Noth saying that they would continue to worship God without hope? Or that maybe they can continue to hope, but redemption isn't likely, considering how bad they were?

Here's another interesting point that Noth made: DtrH believed that Israel should only sacrifice to God in the central sanctuary, Jerusalem. But there are exceptions to that. For example, Elijah sacrifices to God on Mount Carmel. According to Noth, DtrH believes this is acceptable because a true prophet is conducting the sacrifice.

7. Here are some good links on the finale for LOST, which I'm posting here for my access.

'Lost' finale recap, part one: And In The End... | Totally 'Lost ...

'Lost' finale recap, part two: Step into the light

I like these articles for two reasons: (1.) The first one connects Jacob's mission to keep the Man in Black on the island, with his mission to protect the island's light, which upholds the world. To get off the island, the Man in Black needs to destroy it. The island is keeping the Man in Black from leaving---as long as the Man in Black is the Smoke Monster. To leave the island, the Man in Black needs to become a mere mortal, which occurs only when he destroys the island. And how do you destroy the island? You turn off its light, which upholds the world. And so the Man in Black leaving the island would coincide with the island's light going out, and that would bring hell and destruction to the world. (2.) The second article explained the significance of Jack's flash sideways: Jack healed from his daddy issues by becoming a good father himself. And I guess it also explained Ben's flash sideways: Ben had evolved to the point of doing the right thing, which was good for Ben. I wish the article similarly explained the significance of the other characters' flash sideways.

The Most Controversial Part of The Shack

Yesterday, I neglected to discuss the most controversial part of The Shack. I try to blog about something I read in a book each day, and, in my reading of The Shack yesterday, I came across its controversial discussion of other religions, on pages 181-182. But I did not blog about that, probably because (1.) I somehow forgot about it, and (2.) I chose to focus in yesterday’s post on the issue of theodicy, how God can allow bad things to happen. That’s the issue that brought Mack to the shack in the first place.

Here, I want to comment some on the issue of other religions in The Shack, as well as give you an opportunity to give me your two-cents (as long as you’re polite and refrain from flamboyant apocalyptic language). Here’s the controversial discussion between Jesus and Mack about other religions:

Jesus: Remember, the people who know me are the ones who are free to live and love without any agenda.

Mack: Is that what it means to be a Christian?

Jesus: Who said anything about being a Christian? I’m not a Christian.

Mack: No, I suppose you aren’t.

Jesus: Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions. I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some are bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.

Mack: Does that mean that all roads will lead to you?

Jesus: Not at all. Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.

What is this saying? That there are followers of Jesus in non-Christian religions, who may not believe in Jesus, but who are part of God’s family because they are “free to live and love without any agenda”? Is this like Karl Rahner’s idea of the “anonymous Christian”? Or Aslan’s statement in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle that the guy who was faithful to Tash was at least faithful to something, and so Aslan transfers the guy’s service to Tash onto himself (Aslan), as if he was serving Aslan all along?

Is it saying that other religions can be a preparation for faith in Christ, since Jesus will meet people where they are in an attempt to bring them to faith in him?

It’s puzzling that Jesus says “They were Buddhists”, etc. (emphasis mine). Does that mean that they aren’t Buddhists now, but believe in Christ? The murderers and the self-righteous are presumably not murderers and self-righteous anymore.

And yet, Jesus says that he has no desire to make people Christian. Does that mean that Christian beliefs are unimportant—or at least not as important as love, which is what doctrines such as the Trinity and the sacrifice of Christ are actually getting at? Does The Shack hold that one doesn’t have to believe in the Trinity and the sacrifice of Christ to be part of God’s family, since one can show love—the point of those doctrines—without assent to those concepts, per se?

Or is this book criticizing organized Christianity, or cultural Christianity, or Christianity as a Western construct?

The Shack does believe that Jesus died and rose again to heal God’s broken creation. But does its author think that belief in Jesus is necessary? And, apart from belief in Jesus, how can Jesus heal God’s broken creation? I mean, knowledge of Jesus is a necessary ingredient somewhere, isn’t it? If Jesus died to give us a good example of sacrifice and to heal our corruption that way, we have to believe in Jesus’ sacrifice for that doctrine to have its effect, right?

Can there be sanctification apart from faith in Christ. And, if so, why did Christ have to die and rise again? Can Christ do something in the hearts of those who don’t acknowledge him directly? There are some who believe that Christ’s death absolved the sins even of those who don’t believe in him. Is their idea that Christ removed the barrier that their sins erected between themselves and God, and so now Christ can work in their hearts, whether they believe in him or not?

What is William Young getting at, and is it biblical (not that I’m comfortable with that word, for the Bible has a variety of viewpoints, but some ideas aren’t even in the ballpark of the Bible)?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

In Heaven; English; Historical Fiction?; Bathroom Devotions; Textbooks?; Cross with Weinfeld?; Isaiah Responds to Jeremiah

1. William P. Young, The Shack.

In The Shack today, Mack heals from his bitterness against God on account of God allowing a psychopath to kill his daughter. This occurs when Mack sees that his daughter is happy in heaven, playing with Jesus and other children. Mack’s daughter was comforted by the Holy Spirit immediately after her murder, as the Spirit took her to heaven. And she prayed for her daddy, that he might be happy.

If something like that happened to somebody I loved, I’m not sure if or when I’d give myself permission to feel good and say, “Well, he (or she) is in heaven.” Yes, I’m sure my departed loved ones would want me to move on at some point, but doesn’t it cheapen their lives (or even the act of murder) to dismiss my grief that way? I don’t know.

2. Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land, pages 264-265:

“…You will understand, then, how difficult I found English…English is the largest of the human tongues, with several times the vocabulary of the second largest language—this alone made it inevitable that English would eventually become, as it did, the lingua franca of the planet, for it is thereby the richest and the most flexible—despite its barbaric accretions…or, I should say, because of its barbaric accretions. English swallows up anything that comes its way, makes English out of it. Nobody tried to stop this process, the way some languages are policed and have official limits…English was in truth a bastard tongue and nobody cared how it grew…and it did!—enormously. Until no one could hope to be an educated man unless he did his best to embrace this monster.”

3. Terence Collins, The Mantel of Elijah.

Collins argues that the Elijah-Elisha stories in I-II Kings are not historical, for they have literary elements, pattern the character of Elijah after Moses, and have pretty fantastic stuff, such as bears goring children. But can history ever be expressed in a literary fashion? Can a historical figure be patterned after somebody important in the course of a historical narrative? Can fantastic things happen?

4. Alberdina Houtmann, Mishnah and Tosefta.

I read today of rabbinic attempts to distance prayer from bathroom activities. You can’t pray near feces, nor can you pray when you have to go to the bathroom. This differs from the practice of some Protestants—such as Martin Luther and Garner Ted Armstrong—who say that we as Christians have such an access to God that we can pray to God in our bathrooms. Not all Protestants approve, however, for I recall one Christian colleague who told us that he rebuked a roommate who did his quiet time in the bathroom. Some like to highlight our intimacy with God. Some say that God deserves more respect.

5. Philip Davies, “Pen of Iron, Point of Diamond (Jer 17:1)”, in Writings and Speech in Israelites and Ancient Near Eastern Prophecy.

I’m unclear so far about why Davies believes Israel had scrolls of prophets. He dismisses the proposal that the prophetic words were written down to edify others. But he says that the scrolls may have functioned in scribal schools, presumably as textbooks.

6. Frank Moore Cross, “The Themes of the Book of Kings and the Structure of the Deuteronomistic History”, in Reconsidering Israel and Judah.

Cross seems to go with the usual scholarly view that the Deuteronomistic History was written in the time of Josiah, and updated during the exile. But he also says that the theme in the History that God punishes sin is not necessarily exilic, for it could have been written way before that. Treaties in pre-exilic times had punishment for infringement, and there was a continual threat of Assyrian invasion, which could keep certain pre-exilic Israelites on their toes. I wonder if Cross buys into Moshe Weinfeld’s thesis that the Deuteronomistic School came into Judah from Northern Israel after its destruction by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.E., bringing the belief that God punishes national sin—as God just did with regard to Northern Israel.

7. Tod Linafelt’s Review of Benjamin Sommer’s A Prophet Reads Scripture:

Eikhah Kabbah (the primary collection of rabbinic commentary on Lamentations) states that “all the severe prophecies that Jeremiah prophesied against Israel were anticipated and healed by Isaiah.”

This is cool. I’ve heard attempts to treat Israel (or, more accurately, Second Isaiah) as a response to Jeremiah in another incident: at the first and only SBL meeting that I attended, a lady was arguing that Isaiah 53 was written as an apology to Jeremiah, who suffered for the sake of Israel.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Free Will Defense; Small; Astronomical Metaphor; Computer Rabbis; Living Traditions; God, not Pharaoh; LOST Fatigue

1. William P. Young, The Shack, page 164:

Mack asks an angel (or whatever she is) why God didn’t stop the murder of his daughter, Missy. The angel responds:

“[God] doesn’t stop a lot of things that cause him pain. Your world is severely broken. You demanded your independence, and now you are angry with the one who loved you enough to give it to you. Nothing is as it should be, as Papa desires it to be, and as it will be one day. Right now your world is lost in darkness and chaos, and horrible things happen to those that he is especially fond of.”

This is the free-will defense. To me, it sounds like a cop-out. But I wouldn’t dismiss it completely. And, if I were a victim of an evil person’s free-will, I may use that defense to try to hold on to my faith.

2. Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land, page 252:

Jubal had considered having Mike remain seated while Douglas came in, but had rejected the idea; he was not trying to place Mike a notch higher than Douglas but merely to establish that the meeting was between equals.

This reminds me of one of my thesis defenses. My chair was lower than that of the professors interrogating me! Or so I remember. I did feel small during that ordeal!

3. Raphael Loewe, “The Medieval History of the Latin Vulgate”, Cambridge History of the Bible, volume 2, pages 153-154:

It may be helpful to visualize the history of the Latin bible with the help of a sustained astronomical metaphor, Hebrew and Jewish monotheism being pictured as the center of a solar system. Around it moves a planet, the Hebrew bible, possessing its own moon, the Greek translation. Under the impact of Jesus and Paul the central object erupted, to throw off Christianity as a second planet, charged with sufficient energy to generate its own atmosphere of patristic tradition, and possessed of sufficient gravitational pull to attract the Greek bible—the ‘moon’ of the Hebrew bible—into orbit round itself. Christianity also acquired a second satellite in the shape of the Latin bible, compounded as it were out of the interplanetary dust of the Latin-speaking world. The Latin bible—which, down to at least the age of Charlemagne, often amounted for practical purposes to the Gospels, with perhaps the Pauline epistles and the Psalms—has from time to time been exposed to the gravitational pull of other objects that form part of the cluster that includes Judaism, Christianity, Greek philosophy and European humanism; and the outcome has been sundry attempts at improving its language by Roman classicism or by Hebraic realism in diction. Yet the patristic tradition that had nurtured the specialized vocabulary of early Latin Christianity has enveloped the Latin bible with an air that Christians could breathe: so that waves of hebraization, or of classicism, that have affected the atmosphere of the Church have given it but a transient negative charge. Thus it has come about that the Vulgate has always been held fast to its own orbit, whereas some of its own vernacular and other satellites have been captured, especially in the countries of the Reformation, by the gravitational pull of the original Hebrew of the Old Testament, and the Greek of the New.

I usually try to post paragraphs that summarize a piece, for my own benefit, even if the summary contains astronomical metaphors that confuse me near the end.

4. Alberdina Houtmann, Mishnah and Tosefta, page 51:

From Abot de Rabbi Nathan:

…Rabbi Aqiba he [Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi] called ‘A well-stocked storehouse’. To what might Rabbi Aqiba be likened? To a labourer who took his basket and went forth. When he found wheat he put some in the basket; when he found barley, he put that in; spelt, he put that in; lentils, he put them in. Upon returning home he sorted out the wheat by itself, the barley by itself, the beans by themselves, the lentils by themselves. This is how Rabbi Aqiba acted, and he arranged the whole Torah in rings. Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah he called a ‘spice-peddler’s basket’. For to what might Rabbi Eleazar be likened? To a spice peddler who takes up his basket and comes into a city; when the people of the city come up and ask him: “Have you good oil with you? Have you ointment with you? Have you balsam with you?” they find he has everything with him. Such was Rabbi Eleazar ben Azaryah when scholars came to him…

Houtmann ties this to computers, which he is somehow bringing into his work. But is the point of this passage that these rabbis were always ready to give an answer?

5. Robert Culley, “Orality and Writtenness in the Prophetic Texts”, in Writings and Speech in Israelites and Ancient Near Eastern Prophecy, page 55:

From Werner Kelber:

In the end I venture the suggestion that the gospel composition is unthinkable without the notion of cultural memory which serves ultimately not the preservation of remembrances per se but the preservation of the group, its social identity and self image.

This could explain why Gospels felt free to expand upon or clarify their sources—the Gospel of Mark, Q (if you believe in Q): their agenda concerned the identity of their community, which is what the Gospels were addressing, not so much the “preservation of remembrances”. Yet, Luke says in Luke 1 that he composed an orderly account of what Jesus did and teach, so I wouldn’t rule out the Gospel authors’ concern for historicity. But they were trying to apply that history to the situation of their community, so the Gospels may not be a mere transcript of past events. Rather, they’re applying the past to the present, by adding clarification to their sources. And there are scholars who maintain that some of this “clarification” may be rooted in the ideology of the Gospel author and/or his community.

6. From James Sanders’ review of Brevard Childs’ commentary, The Book of Exodus:

The signs, constantly rejected, were God’s judgment on Egypt, such judgment that Pharoah would not listen (p. 153). Even so, one fails to find in Childs the next, obvious statement of the whole: Pharaoh shall not share in the freeing of God’s people. (Compare the case of Cyrus and the problems which arose from that.) One feels that, if Childs had probed even more deeply, canonically, into Exod 10:12; 11:10; 1 Sam 6:6; 1 Kings 22; Isaiah 6 and 28-29 (cf. Rom 9:1-10:16), he would have seen the further point that if God had not hardened Pharaoh’s heart there would have been no Torah, in the full sense. The slaves would have been grateful to Pharaoh’s “emancipation” of them and not to God. All of these instances of God’s hardening the heart testify to a basic and intrinsic shape of the Bible: canonically the Bible is a monotheizing literature.

This is an interesting take on why God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. It reminds me of the Ten Commandments: Moses could have played his cards right and become Pharaoh, after which he’d treat the Hebrew slaves kindly or free them. But then the Hebrews would praise Moses, not God. They were already saying that they didn’t need the deliverer because they had Moses. And they called the Sabbath “the day of Moses”. There was Mosesolatry going on here! If the Pharaoh’s heart had not been hardened, would the Israelites have been grateful to the Pharaoh for delivering them, rather than to God? God didn’t take that chance.

7. I’m suffering from LOST fatigue! I wish that I were more inspired by the last episode, and that things were clearer, while simultaneously maintaining a sense of depth. Instead, things are unclear, which was why I spent last night and this morning doing what I did throughout the series: theorizing about LOST! That can build community, but I feel so incomplete. A final episode is supposed to give a sense of completion, right? But I don’t feel that.

I’m not in the mood right now to re-watch LOST episodes, since LOST brings things up that later are not addressed. And I’m not just talking about polar bears and what not: LOST killed off the Man in Black too early in last night’s episode, in my opinion! And we didn’t hear much about the debate on human nature (good or evil?). Plus, the episode took the easy way out by sending the main characters to heaven.

I wish that I knew how the flash sideways functioned as a purgatory. Why did we have to watch the characters’ stories in the flash sideways? Was it to get to know the characters better—which was what LOST chose to emphasize? I won’t rule out that there are answers, but I’ll wait until they are in an accessible place. I’m not sure I’m in the mood right now to plough through comments on blog posts for that jewel that answers my question, as insightful as those comments might be.

I may watch the entire series again in the future. There are movies and episodes of shows that I disliked the first time I saw them, but I appreciated them more in my subsequent viewings. That may be true with LOST. But, right now, I have LOST fatigue. And yet, I feel empty because there are no new LOST episodes for me to watch on Tuesday nights!

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