Monday, October 31, 2011

Dashmiel's Jealousy

I read pages 1-54 of Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story last night. I had a difficult time getting into it, to tell you the truth, but I’ll persevere and hope that I start to like it better over time. I’ll also note something that stands out to me each time that I read it. Last night, what stood out to me was something that Lisey was thinking about Roger Dashmiel, an academic colleague of her late husband, the renowned author Scott Landon:

“Lisey thought Dashmiel had somehow believed their positions would have been reversed in a truer, fairer world; that he, Roger Dashmiel, would have been the focus of the intellectual interest and student adulation, while Scott Landon—-not to mention his mousy little wouldn’t-fart-if-her-life-depended-on-it wife—-would be the ones toiling in the campus vineyards, always currying favor, testing the winds of departmental politics, and scurrying to make the next pay-grade.” This was on pages 25-26. On page 28, Lisey reflects:

“Dashmiel is one of those men who seem older than they are not only because they lost so much hair and gained so much belly but because they insist on drawing an almost stifling gravitas around themselves. Even their witticisms felt to Lisey like oral readings of insurance policy clauses. Making matters worse is the fact that Dashmiel doesn’t like her husband. Lisey has sensed this at once (it’s easy, because most men do like him), and it has given her something on which to focus her unease.”

I can identify with a lot of this. I can see where Dashmiel is coming from. I’m not as supercilious as Dashmiel, I don’t think, but there have been plenty of times when I have thought that, in a fairer world, I would receive more than I am getting, and I look at those who have it so easy and wonder what exactly makes them better than me—-what do they have that I don’t have? Moreover, it’s easy to get jealous when some people have things easy, whereas others have to live in such insecurity—-to use Lisey’s example, currying favor, testing the winds of departmental politics, and scurrying to make the next pay grade.

I suppose that, as I think back, most people I know have had to work hard. They have to make a good impression on people. They have to produce something. But then there are people for whom things come easy, due to charisma they may have, or talent. I think that even they may have some cross to bear, however, and that is a point of this book: that, even though Scott had fame, renown, and adulation, he still had a dark place, which may be depression. (I am not entirely sure yet.) But I try not to make myself feel better by reminding myself that objects of my jealousy are suffering somehow. In my opinion, the way for me to deal with jealousy is for me to realize that I have the cards that I’ve been dealt, to try to do something productive with them, and to be grateful for whatever success I may have, even if it’s not as great as somebody else’s success.

Donaldson: Three Views on Gentiles and the Torah

I started Terence Donaldson's Paul and the Gentiles. In my reading today, Donaldson talks about Jewish beliefs about the relationship of Gentiles to the Torah. Donaldson goes into five points-of-view within Second Temple Judaism, and I read about the first three. Donaldson also refers to rabbinic opinions on some of these viewpoints.

The first viewpoint is that the Gentiles are headed towards destruction. Overall, representatives of this first view believe that Gentiles should keep the Torah, but they do not stress proselytism, and Donaldson thinks that they only say that Gentiles should keep the Torah to justify God's eschatological punishment of them for not doing so. Believers in this approach include Jubilees, 4 Ezra, Testament of Moses, Pseudo-Philo, and the Apocalypse of Abraham.

The second viewpoint is that Gentiles should convert to Judaism. There are nuances in this position. Some Jews believed that they should actively seek converts, whereas others simply accepted Gentiles into Israel when they desired to convert. Shammai and some other rabbis, however, were skeptical about the motives and the value of proselytes. Donaldson believes that those who passively accepted converts represented the majority position. He also refers to some of the sources representing the first viewpoint in his discussion of this second viewpoint---4 Ezra, Pseudo-Philo, 2 Baruch---perhaps because, technically-speaking, they did maintain that the only way Gentiles could be saved in the Life to Come was through conversion to Judaism. Another issue is how far a Gentile had to go to become a Jew. Donaldson acknowledges that there were some debates on the precise boundaries, and that there were Gentiles who (say) kept the Sabbath but were not circumcised. But Donaldson's position appears to be that, overall, circumcision was a requirement for Gentiles to become Jews.

That brings me to the third category: Natural Law Proselytes. These are Gentiles who do some Jewish things, such as worshiping the God of Israel alone, but they are not circumcised. In certain passages, the third Sibylline Oracle, Philo, and Joseph and Asenath stress the righteousness of Gentiles who worship the God of Israel alone and practice virtue, but they do not say that these Gentiles are circumcised or observe the Sabbath. Josephus tells of Ananias, who said that a Gentile did not need to be circumcised to enjoy a relationship with the God of Israel. Donaldson does not seem to think that Jews considered Natural Law Proselytes to be full members of Israel, but Donaldson says that some Jews discuss these Gentiles in terms of proselytism because that was the only vocabulary they had to describe this phenomenon.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Reformation Sunday

Today is Reformation Sunday, but my church did not mention it. To be honest, I don’t care. I think that the debate between Protestants and Catholics over justification is primarily about semantics. There are Protestants who like to run their mouths about how their view gives people more peace, since the Catholic conception of justification puts good works into the picture and thus makes people wonder if they are truly saved. But, quite frankly, I think that the Protestant gospels put good works into the equation, too, except for those that are completely antinomian. When Protestants say that we know that we’re saved by looking at our spiritual fruit, or that truly saved people perform good works, or that we’re not saved by good works, but we’re also not saved without them, then they are creating an atmosphere of insecurity. The effect that these messages had on me was that I wondered if my good works were enough for me to be in the “saved” category. I started to experience more happiness when I stopped worrying about the whole issue.

I do admire Martin Luther, though. I can identify with his hatred of God when he was relying on his works for salvation, and also the peace that he found when he began focusing on God’s grace. His sermons and other works have comforted me over the years. And, in a sense, I can also understand his propensity to prioritize some Scriptures over others, as when he called the Epistle of James an “epistle of straw.” At least he did not try to force James into a Pauline/Lutheran sort of paradigm, as many evangelicals do with James and other Scriptures. Rather, Luther was honest about what he thought the text was saying, and he went with the more gracious passages of the Bible. I can identify some with that, even though I also understand the perspective of friends (Christian and non-Christian) who view that approach as rather arbitrary.

Finishing The Stand

Yesterday, I finished Stephen King’s The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition. There were many things that stood out to me in yesterday’s reading, but I will focus on two issues:

1. Prayer was an issue that came up more than once in yesterday’s reading. First of all, Stu was in the desert dying of pneumonia, and Nick in a dream was giving Tom Cullen information on how to treat that—-by having Stu drink lots of fluids, by walking Stu (who also had a broken leg), and by giving him penicillin and other drugs. But Nick told Tom that even this treatment would not absolutely guarantee that Stu would survive. Consequently, Tom had to add prayer to his list of ways to treat Stu.

Second, even after the villain Randall Flagg’s community in the West has been destroyed in a nuclear explosion, there is doubt about whether Flagg is even dead. Tom Cullen says in a trance that Flagg never dies, and that he continues to inhabit various wild animals. And, on page 1139, Stu tells Fran that the Free Zone is safe for a while—-for a little while. Stu also says that it will be a good idea to find the place where the government made the superflu, and to “fill that place up with dirt and seed the ground with salt and then pray for it. Pray for all of us.”

Prayer can help one to get through the uncertainties of life, even if the prayer is not answered as one hopes. I can’t speak in absolutes on this, for I’m sure that there are plenty of people who have been discouraged by unanswered prayer. But there are also many who find peace and comfort in praying. Some argue that prayer is a poor substitute for actually working to solve a problem. Indeed, it can be, and prayer should not take the place of concrete action (as even the passages of The Stand that I just mentioned acknowledge). But there are some things that we are powerless to solve, and prayer is a way for us to gain clarity of mind and confidence, as well as to express concern for others.

I was thinking about prayer this morning at church. Every Sunday morning, my church has a part of the service in which we share our joys and concerns. We hear about things such as sickness, or people being victims of unfairness, or unemployment. I do not always know how those situations turn out, but there is a degree of comfort that I get from lifting up those concerns to God. I hope that these situations turn out well for those involved, but, in any case, I like how the church through prayer shows concern for others, making them less alone.

2. I thought that the resolution of the book was rather bittersweet. It could have been entitled The Stand: The Next Generation, for it was about how the Free Zone was getting new leaders. Stu is now an honorary relic from the past, and the new developments within the Free Zone lead him to think about what the late Glen Bateman would have said. The characters I love in The Stand are now yesterday’s news, and, usually, when I feel that way about a story, I’m hesitant to go back and read about those characters—-at least for some time—-because that will only remind me that life will go on and their experiences are not frozen in time, even though they have strong personalities and thus look eternal (if that makes any sense). I do somewhat wish that there had been a way for the Free Zone to hold on to its past by having more relics of its founders—-the same way that Fran wanted to have some connection with her pre-superflu life through the survival of her baby, whose father was Fran’s boyfriend Jesse (a casualty of the superflu). That would have still been bittersweet, but not as bittersweet as the current resolution.

That said, I really enjoyed this book. The next book that I will read and blog through is Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story.

Ramblings on Coincidences and Service

There were two things that stood out to me at church this morning:

1. We had beautiful guitar music. The man who played the guitar and led us in song told us of a time when he and his wife were driving and saw three crosses in a lawn, and, while they were passing those crosses, there was a song on the radio about three crosses. The man said that he did not think that was a coincidence, but that he doesn’t yet know the meaning of the experience.

That experience sounds to me like a coincidence. Coincidences happen, and is it a wonder that, in a nation such as the United States where Christianity is prevalent, one would see three crosses on a lawn and simultaneously hear a song on the radio about three crosses? But I can identify with wanting to see significance in those kinds of events—-to feel that they somehow communicate God’s love and care. I also liked what the man said about not yet knowing the meaning of the experience. A belief in mystery that is wrapped in the care of God makes life colorful and interesting—-as if there is a present to unwrap. Moreover, what appears to me to me to be a coincidence may touch somebody else on a deep and a personal level.

2. The sermon was about service. The pastor told us that he and his puppet, Jake, recently entertained at a Halloween party for the disabled that was put on by the Elks, and he praised the Elks for organizing this party. That, to me, exemplifies service: doing something to brighten the day of somebody else. But there are many times when service is a life and death issue, particularly when it relates to feeding the hungry, healing the sick, etc.

The pastor referred to the eternal consequences of service, and he also said that, for God, service is the path to greatness. This stood out to me because my church just went through Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God, and a point that the attendees got out of that study was that we should give to God and to others out of love, not to receive a reward. But Jesus does talk about rewards for service. I think of Luke 14:12-14 (in the KJV): “When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.”

That is a provocative passage. If I were to live only for this life, of course I would throw a party for my family, kinsmen, and the rich or influential, people I know or who can pay me back. But would I throw a party for the poor? I suppose that I could think of reasons to do so: the satisfaction of helping other people. But the belief that God would honor my service would be quite a motivator for me to throw a party for the poor. But how do I even know that Christians are correct on what the afterlife is like? Living my life in reference to the afterlife, therefore, can be quite a challenge, especially when service can get quite taxing. In such a case, I would wonder what exactly I’m working for. I admire people who are so altruistic that they do good simply because it’s good.

There is something about service that is attractive to me. I was thinking about that yesterday as my brother was getting napkins for all of us during dinner: just a simple act of service. But there are times when I do not get a “thank you” for service that I do, or acceptance and appreciation after I (say) chip in and put away chairs after an event. In those times, it’s easy for me to ask why I even should serve. The notion that God notices my service and will honor it then becomes a comfort to me, if not a motivator.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Larry Leaves Romans 7 and Enters Romans 8

Last night, I read pages 1052-1104 of Stephen King’s The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition. In this post, I will talk about Larry Underwood.

Larry has interested me as I’ve read this book because I can identify with his journey, at least the beginning and the middle of it. No, I’m not a rock star, or even musically-talented, for that matter, but, like Larry, I can be a well-intentioned taker, and I can even come to the point where I shed all pretense and recognize that about myself.

After the super-flu, Larry tries to atone for that sin. Larry does not like to be identified with his hit song, “Baby Can You Dig Your Man?”, because that reminds him of the time when he was a taker. Mother Abagail on her deathbed says that Larry was trying to do penance for a life that was a closed book. When Stu breaks his leg while he, Larry, Glen, and Ralph are heading West to confront Randall Flagg, Larry does not want to leave Stu behind. Glen asks Larry whom he is trying to save: Stu, or something in himself. Was Larry trying to abandon his selfish past, or any callous selfishness that still remained within him?

But Larry finds that he has grown and has found a degree of inner peace. On page 1068, Larry is being put into one of Flagg’s jails, and pages 1068-1069 say: “[Larry] sat on the bunk and listened to the silence. He had always hated to be alone—-but in a way, he always had been…until he had arrived in the Free Zone. And now it wasn’t so bad as he had been afraid it would be. Bad enough, but he could cope.”

On page 1074, we read regarding Larry: “…the old wound in himself had finally been closed, leaving him at peace. He had felt the two people that he had been all his life—-the real one and the ideal one—-merge into one living being. His mother would have liked this Larry. And Rita Blakemoor. It was a Larry to whom Wayne Stuckey never would have had to tell the facts. It was a Larry that even that long-ago oral hygienist would have liked.”

Larry there is thinking about people in his past. His mother was the one who called Larry a taker, one who only came around when he wanted something. Wayne Stuckey confronted Larry because Larry was going into debt by throwing parties for fair-weather friends. The oral hygienist slept with Larry, and Larry was a jerk to her the next morning. And, after the flu, Larry tried his best to be selfless and others-oriented in his relationship with Rita, but he found a sense of relief after she died of an overdose. Now, as Larry reflects about his relationships with these people, Larry is in jail, and he has found that he has grown. He is selfless. He is responsible. He is at peace, even when he’s alone. And he’s not having to work hard at this, for his real self and his ideal self are merging into one. That’s a hope that religions and philosophies (not all, but several) have offered: that we can arrive at the point where being good is not a great struggle for us, but flows naturally.

Psalm 48

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 48 and its interpreters. I have two items:

1. I have encountered the same kinds of interpretations of Psalm 48 that I have for other Psalms: that the Psalm is eschatological in that it concerns God's future deliverance of Israel from her enemies, which will precede God's establishment of a sort of paradise in which the nations will submit to Israel and worship her God; that the Psalm pertains to a specific event in history, such as God's deliverance of Jerusalem from the Assyrian King Sennacherib; that the Psalm is about God's general protection of Jerusalem and subjection of chaos; and that the Psalm relates to the church and to Jesus Christ.

But I'd like to mention two interpretations of Psalm 48 that stood out to me. One interpretation viewed the Psalm in terms of God protecting Jerusalem from Israel's national enemies. According to this interpretation, when the kings in vv 4-6 are afraid, that means that God has scared them from attacking Jerusalem, which contrasts with the pilgrims in the Psalm who actually come to God's holy city and are encouraged to walk through it and look at its various parts. In this interpretation, God preserves Jerusalem from danger.

Another interpretation, however, is that Psalm 48 concerns the fall of Jerusalem. In this view, the kings of vv 4-6 are shocked at Jerusalem's desolation, and, in vv 12-13, Israelites are encouraged to look at the city so that they can tell their children about it after it falls, thereby offering their children a vision of what God will rebuild in the future. I do not know much about this particular interpretation, but its idea appears to be that Psalm 48 is about Jerusalem's fall and restoration. After all, v 7 refers to God breaking the ships of Tarshish, which may be about God defeating certain enemies of Israel (whether they are from Tarshish, or merely have large Tarshish-style ships that are able to go long distances). Some have even interpreted the exhortation in vv 12-13 to walk about the city in light of Nehemiah 12, in which post-exilic Jews dedicate and rejoice in the rebuilt city of Jerusalem.

2. Psalm 48:2 says (in the KJV): "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King." The Hebrew word for "north" here is Tzaphon, which, in ancient Ugarit, was the name of the mountain of Baal where the divine assembly met. There are different ideas about what is going on in Psalm 48:2. Some just take "tzaphon" to mean "north" and contend that the point in Psalm 48:2 is that Zion was north of the city of David (Radak), or that the Temple was north of Zion (E.W. Bullinger), or that winds from the north hit Mount Zion (Theodore of Mopsuestia), or that the "north" refers to the fact that sin offerings and guilt offerings were made on the north side of the altar (Leviticus 1:11), resulting in happiness for the one offering the sacrifice and for the entire world (Rashi and the Midrash on the Psalms). Augustine comes up with an elaborate spiritual interpretation of Psalm 48:2. On the basis of the rebellion against God in "tzaphon" (the north) in Isaiah 14:13-14, Augustine argues that the north is a place of evil, whereas the south---the location of Zion---is good. Yet, Augustine notes that clouds of gold come from the north in Job 37:22, and, since gold is good, Augustine concludes that Jesus Christ must have plundered the north, that place of evil. Even though Augustine does not take this insight into a universalist direction, I appreciate his sentiment that God turns places of evil into places of good.

Others believe that "tzaphon" in Psalm 48:2 refers to the Ugaritic realm of the gods. For support of this view, some point to v 14, which mentions death, an enemy of Baal. The idea is that the Psalmist is saying that Zion is the true Tzaphon, the same way that others in the ancient Near East applied the label of "Tzaphon" to specific mountains (such as Casios, in Ugarit). I like how Peter Craigie framed the issue when he said that "The psalmist affirms, in effect, that the aspirations of all peoples for a place on earth where God's presence could be experienced were fulfilled in Mount Zion, the true Zaphon." That was true of historical Israel, whenever God visited the earthly sanctuary on Zion. It coincides with the Jewish and Christian eschatological hope that God will one day make his home with human beings on earth. And Craigie also notes that Psalm 48 has been used by Christians for Pentecost, a day that commemorates when God sent the Holy Spirit to empower the church. For Craigie, Psalm 48 is about God being with us.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Looks and Character, Fear and Love, Life Is Valuable, Confidence Builder, Cleansing

Last night, I read pages 1001-1052 of Stephen King's The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition.

Here are some jewels from last night's reading:

1. On page 1002, Lloyd thinks "of how nice it would be if Julie Lawry's firm, rounded body could be grafted onto Shirley Dunbar's skills and gentle, uncomplaining nature." Earlier, on page 997, Lloyd reflects about Julie that she's "Easy to slap the make on, but watch out for the fingernails afterward." Isn't that what many men want in a woman: looks and character?

2. Tom Cullen is on the run from Randall Flagg now. He was spying on Flagg's team, but now he has been found out, and so (with Nick Andros' guidance via dreams) he is going through the desert by night to get back to Boulder. On page 1017, Tom reflects that he met plenty of nice people on Flagg's team, but they had no love inside of them because they were afraid, and "Love didn't grow very well in a place where there was only fear, just as plants didn't grow very well in a place where it was always dark." Stephen King may have gotten this idea from I John 4:8, which says that there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. I admit that fear inhibits me from loving others. I suppose that I can get to the point where I respect people as human beings, but I have difficulty reaching out to them when I am afraid of them. But should I conclude that God will throw me into hell because of that? That's pretty stupid, since that only makes me more afraid, and, as Stephen King aptly observes, fear is not fertile soil for love.

3. Trashcan Man has blown up one of Flagg's bases, thereby eliminating some of Flagg's equipment and killing most of his pilots. Trash's demons from his past are haunting him again, and the sight of an explosion soothes Trash's soul. But Trash realizes that he was wrong to do that to Flagg and to Flagg's community, after they had welcomed him and given him a role in their society, and so he seeks to atone for his sins by finding a missile for Flagg.

What interested me was what takes place on page 1019: Trash knows that he has screwed up, but he reflects back on his past and concludes that life has been preparing him for where he is now. That reminded me of when Harold was wounded, abandoned, and about to shoot himself. As Harold scribbled out a note, he thought back to how writing was a comfort to him in the past amidst his loneliness----something that gave him opportunities to perform labors of love----and how he used to watch movies all by himself. It intrigues me how, even when a person (or Trash and Harold, at least) has screwed up, he can still deem his life to be of such value that he reflects back on it----on his experiences, both good and bad, his loves, his dislikes, etc. And, in my opinion, every life has that kind of value, wherever a person may end up.

While I'm talking about Harold, let me add that I prefer how the book handles Stu's reaction to Harold's death over how the miniseries depicts it. In the miniseries, Stu is aware that Harold has killed himself, and he says, "May God have mercy on his pitiful excuse for a soul." I did not like that reaction because I felt that Stu should at least have sympathized for Harold, since Stu did enter into a romantic relationship with Fran, whom Harold loved, and that was a significant reason that Harold was resentful. In the book, Stu initially does feel contempt for Harold, which is not surprising, since Harold's act did take innocent people's lives. But, when Stu sees Harold's corpse, he reflects on the waste that Flagg created: Flagg influenced Harold to commit a deed that took the lives of Nick and Sue, which was a waste of good and talented people, but Harold, too, was a victim of Flagg. Harold was a person of value who could have contributed to the Boulder community, but now here he was, dead. And Stu is angry at Flagg for using Harold then disposing of him when he had no more use for him.

4. People are sneaking out of Flagg's community to live elsewhere, and Lloyd is invited to go with them. But Lloyd chooses to stay with Flagg because Flagg delivered him from rotting in jail and gave him leadership responsibilities in his community, plus Lloyd realizes that he is not as smart as the people who are leaving, and while the old Lloyd would have been content to sit back and let smarter people be in charge, he is now used to being a leader, and so he prefers to remain a leader by staying in Flagg's community. I identify with much of this, but what I particularly like is something Lloyd thinks on page 1029: that he gives orders and things turn out all right most of the time. That would be a confidence builder: for our plans and our ideas to work out.

5. Glen, Stu, Ralph, and Larry are still on their journey to the West. Ralph remarks that they will need God's provision when they go through Utah, for there aren't many stores where they can get food, plus the water is sparse. (Mother Abagail commanded them not to take any food and water, so they have to get it on the journey.) When Larry wonders why they have to walk to the West, when driving there would have been so much faster, Glen goes into a discourse on the desert being a cleansing experience, and he appeals to the experiences of Native Americans, people in the Bible, and others. Their journey through the desert was detaching them from their attachments, and that would somehow prepare them for their stand against Flagg. It will be interesting to see how this plays out: will their desert experience make them single-minded in their stand against evil, as well as resistant to any temptations that Flagg may throw their way?

A couple of people remark that they feel better as a result of the de-toxing desert experience. I wonder to what extent that would be true for me, though. Glen compares the desert experience to a person who loves TV having to deal with his TV breaking down, as well as being cut off from his books, his friends, and his stereo. Some may feel good after dealing with the loss of those distractions, but those distractions help me to be in a fairly decent mood. Otherwise, I'd be alone with my mind, hashing through the resentments of life, exposed to my own perspective and no other (unless God spoke to me). At the same time, there would be a possibility that such an experience would illuminate me on what is important and what is not. Glen, for example, becomes so deflated in terms of his ego that he is at peace with dying on his mission.

Finishing Westerholm's Book on the "Lutheran" Paul

I finished Stephen Westerholm's Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The "Lutheran" Paul and His Critics. I have two items:

1. An issue that I have revisited continually has been whether Paul believed that the Torah was for Israel only, or for the Gentiles as well. Some of the points that I will discuss under this item overlap with the points I have made in previous posts, and so I may sound like a broken record. But I have some fresh meat---fresh in the sense that I haven't discussed it before.

As I said in a previous post, Heikki Raisenen mentioned what he considered to be a tension within Paul's writings. On the one hand, Paul maintains that Gentiles are apart from the law and are not under the law, which is consistent with God giving the law to Israel alone. On the other hand, Paul talks as if all of humanity, Jew and Gentile, is in the predicament of being under the law's condemnation and unable to fulfill the law on account of sinful flesh. Westerholm has said that (in Paul's thought) right and wrong are the same for Jews and Gentiles; that the Jews have that morality in their Torah, whereas the Gentiles have it in their conscience; and that the Jews are supposed to instruct the Gentiles (but Paul notes that they are not doing so all that well because they, too, are sinners). You'd think that Westerholm believes that Paul views Gentiles as under the law in the sense that they are under the authority of their inward sense of morality, which is consistent with the law, yet Westerholm does not go that route. Ultimately, Westerholm goes with E.P. Sanders' view that Paul is speaking as a Jew, even to Gentiles, and, as a result, Paul unconsciously projects the predicament of the Jews onto the human race as a whole. It's like when Paul calls Abraham "our forefather according to the flesh" in Romans 4:1, or the wilderness generation "our fathers" in I Corinthians 10:1, even though he is writing to predominantly Gentile audiences, who were descended from neither Abraham nor the wilderness generation. Paul wrote as a Jew, and sometimes acted as if his audience was Jewish, even when it was not.

And yet, Westerholm does act as if Gentiles are under the law in the sense that they are under their conscience, or sense of morality. On page 418, Westerholm states: "When flesh that is hostile to God encounters the wisdom of God in his created order or in the Mosaic law, the issue is inevitable: human rebelliousness is provoked into sinful actions ([Romans] 7:7-13)." But Romans 7 only refers to the law, not God's wisdom in his created order. Westerholm is trying to show how Romans 7 can relate to Gentiles, even though it talks about plight under the Jewish Torah, which Gentiles were not under (and he does not agree with the proposal that Paul is primarily addressing Jewish Christians). In the process, he appears to read into the text what is not explicitly there.

2. On page 428, Westerholm seems to agree with the New Perspective that Paul was not plagued with a guilty conscience prior to his conversion to Christianity. One version of the Old Perspective was that Paul felt guilty over his inability to fulfill the burden of the Torah, and that the message that God saves through Jesus Christ was relief for him. Paul is said to have had the same predicament that afflicted Martin Luther. But the New Perspective says that Paul was not plagued with guilt prior to his conversion, for Paul says in Philippians 3 that he was blameless in his obedience to the Torah prior to his conversion to Christ. Many advocates of the New Perspective hold that Paul was working from solution to plight rather than vice versa: Paul believed that salvation was through Christ alone and that the Gentiles could become a part of God's people through faith in Christ, and Paul worked backward from that to come up with the problem that Christ came to solve: human sinfulness. For many New Perspectivists, it's as if Paul did not genuinely believe that he was unable to fulfill the law, but merely threw that concept together so as to explain what Christ was saving us from.

I think that the New Perspective raises some good points because it shows how Paul's writings do not necessarily coincide with the usual evangelical script, and it also demonstrates that there is more nuance to Judaism than trying to achieve merit (though, as Westerholm and others point out, there is more nuance to Judaism than New Perspectivists think, too). But, to be honest, I really can't stand the New Perspective, because it takes a central point of Paul's message---that our sinful flesh cannot fulfill the law---and treats that as unimportant to Paul's ideology, while over-emphasizing Paul's statement in Philippians 3 that he was blameless. I agree with the New Perspective in that I doubt that Paul converted to Christ out of a sense of guilt. Before his encounter with Christ, he may very well have believed that his own righteousness was sufficient. But the encounter convinced him that it was not sufficient. As I mentioned yesterday, Westerholm does well to point out that Paul in Philippians 3 does not regard his pre-Christian righteousness as a good thing, for it entailed his persecution of the church. Maybe Paul's encounter with Christ led him to see his need for a savior, and, when Paul was talking about the weakness of the flesh and the predicament of humanity under God's condemnation, he wasn't just throwing something together, but he was expressing his genuine beliefs.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Positive Impression (with Reservations); Flagg's Feet of Clay

Last night, I read pages 950-1000 of Stephen King’s The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition. I have two items:

1. My comments on this item will overlap with my post on The Stand for yesterday.

Yesterday, I said that people on the good side (the Free Zone) and the evil side (Randall Flagg’s team) both do good and bad things, and I thus wondered what exactly separates the good from the evil. In my reading last night, that point was fleshed out some more. Dayna and Tom Cullen are spies from the Free Zone, and they have infiltrated Flagg’s team in order to learn if Flagg is mobilizing to attack it. What are the impressions of Flagg’s team that Dayna and Tom Cullen have? Surprisingly, the impressions are good. They find that there are nice people on Flagg’s team. Dayna notes that people on Flagg’s team work hard and do not have a problem with drugs, whereas there is more laziness in the Free Zone, plus the Free Zone has a drunk who continually causes problems for the community. Flagg’s team has a school for the young, in which people with teaching certificates teach the classes. Lloyd, Flagg’s right-hand man, “who had quit school after repeating his junior year for the third time, was very proud of the educational opportunities that were being provided” (page 951). Tom, a developmentally-delayed man, likes one of the kids and his mother, and they like Tom. And, in my own reading, I see a human side to the people on Flagg’s team. Lloyd, for example, gives chocolate to one of the kids.

And yet, Dayna and Tom have reservations about Flagg’s team. Dayna, in her mind, compares Flagg’s people to the Nazis, who were charming, athletic, and did not go to night-clubs, yet had a dictatorship that killed millions of people. Dayna observes that people around her are scared to death of Flagg, and she did not see that sort of fear in the Free Zone. Tom Cullen genuinely likes the people on Flagg’s team, but he senses that there is an inner monster inside of them. Why exactly are they on Flagg’s side? My hunch is that they believe that Flagg will triumph, and they want to be on the side that wins.

There are a lot of issues here. One issue that comes to my mind is how goodness and grace can promote laziness and laxity, whereas sheer terror can scare people to behave, and yet goodness and grace are preferable. But this is not an absolute, for a high morale (in response to being treated right) can also encourage productivity and efficiency. This issue comes into play in Christian discussions on faith, grace, and works, including Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God, which I recently read for my church’s Bible study group.

2. I’ll turn to another issue, now. A theme in my reading last night is that Flagg is slipping, or his feet of clay are becoming manifest to people. Many who are on Flagg’s side assume that Flagg is omniscient and has control of everything. Indeed, Flagg is able to see things—-as he enters into animals and spies on people, or as his eye looks at what’s going on. But his clairvoyance is slipping. For example, he is aware that Mother Abagail has died, but he does not know what she told the people around her deathbed (namely, to go West to confront Flagg). Nadine, Flagg’s future wife, convinces Flagg to mercifully dispose of Harold by causing a road accident rather than by causing Harold to go crazy before he dies, and she is shocked when Harold is about to shoot her right after the accident. She considers that Flagg may have been allowing Harold to do that in order to scare her into remembering that she belonged to Flagg, but then she reflects on the possibility that perhaps Flagg had no purpose for it: that it took him by surprise, too. Nadine’s reflections reminded me of how many religious people try to seek some righteous and divine purpose behind the evils and accidents that occur in the world, whereas there are others who hold that there is no purpose: that God is not in control and cannot defeat evil or prevent accidents, or even that there is no God.

Finishing The Prodigal God Study

Last night was the final night of my church’s Bible study group, in which we went through Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God, a book about Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son. My pastor told me that we’ll have another Bible study group in the Spring, and (if I’m still here) my plan is to attend that.

The theme last night was how believing in Jesus helps us to get through life’s problems. On the DVD that we watched, Tim Keller said that—-if we have a foretaste of the eschatological banquet—-we will feel more secure when people reject us, or when we experience other problems. In the group’s discussion, one lady referred to someone who was sick who said that we’ll all get through this with the grace of God. And another lady told about how, when her mother died, her Christian faith kept her from hopelessness, and she and other Christian relatives shocked another relative when they were laughing and going through old photos, reminiscing.

I agree that life is not very secure. Many of us spend our lives having relationships that end on account of death. I personally would not know what I would do if my parents died, for they have been a source of wisdom and help to me over the course of my life. Regarding life’s problems, I often find myself saying that I’ll cope well with life, unless such-and-such happens. I have a hard time meeting life with hope. It’s a challenge. Tim Keller and other Christians may say that we can do so by believing in Christ, but, with all the religions and philosophies in the world, why should I assume that Christianity is true? And, as I and others have asked before, why should I expect God to take care of me, when he does not appear to take care of so many people in the world? But, of course, that brings me to Matthew 25, which someone in the group cited, in which Jesus says that we should feed the hungry and visit the prisoners, for helping the least of these is the same as helping him. I must confess that, although I have a record of helping the poor, I haven’t done a whole lot for the poor during the past ten months.

I find that I have some sort of faith, however. For example, I do not believe that this life is all that there is. I think that there’s an afterlife. I do not believe that evangelical Christianity is the only game in town in presenting what the afterlife is like, however, for there is anecdotal evidence for reincarnation, or ghosts. But my opinion is that this life is not all that there is.

At the same time, if I accept a non-Christian view on the afterlife, am I sacrificing something? What I liked about Tim Keller’s book was that he showed how Paul rooted his ethical exhortations (about giving to the poor and the relationship between wives and husbands) in God’s act of grace through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. As Tim Keller noted, the Gospel of God’s grace is not just the starting point for the Christian life, but it is the Christian life from A to Z. Without Christ’s sacrifice, I suppose that I can have a concept of God’s love, but it’s not a love that cost God something. In Christianity, God was so loving that he was willing to become flesh and to die for us, just to get us back.

But some people have tried to reconcile Christianity with, say, ghosts. I know one Christian universalist who believes that Christ’s death saved everyone, and yet that some souls after death are ready to enter the light, whereas others are not.

Westerholm Takes On Sacred Cows (Except for Some Evangelical Ones)

I'm almost done with Stephen Westerholm's Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The "Lutheran" Paul and His Critics. In my reading today, I appreciated Westerholm's swipes at the New Perspective, the view that Paul was concerned more about Gentile inclusion into God's people than salvation from sin. Westerholm asks why Paul would be preoccupied with Gentiles entering the community of Israel, when Paul notes that Israel, too, was sinful and under condemnation. Against the New Perspective argument that Paul before his conversion was not wracked by guilt over his inability to keep the law, since Paul in Philippians 3 says that his righteousness according to the law was blameless, Westerholm argues that Paul obviously saw flaws in his pre-Christian "righteousness", since it led him to persecute the church. That means that Paul thought salvation from sin through Christ was important. And, in response to New Perspectivists who take issue with the "Lutheran" interpretation of Paul because it superimposes Martin Luther's views on Paul's writings, Westerholm shows how some New Perspectivists superimpose liberal views onto Paul, as if Paul were a pluralist.

Actually, even in my previous days readings, I have enjoyed Westerholm's swipe at scholarly sacred cows. You know the debate about whether Paul intends "faith of Christ" or "faith in Christ" when he uses the phrase, pistis Christou? Westerholm goes with "faith in Christ", but he also does not see the point of the debate, since both sides agree that Paul thought people were saved by Christ's work of faithfulness, and yet needed to believe in Christ. And, against those who say that "Torah" and the Greek word Paul uses for it, nomos, are different, with "Torah" meaning "teaching", and nomos meaning "law", Westerholm demonstrates that the Pentateuchal writings present themselves as law, and also that the Book of Ezra uses an Aramaic word for "law" or "decree" when translating "Torah".

Overall, I have appreciated Westerholm's interaction with the issues of legalism and grace. He points out that Judaism had grace, as did Pelagianism (which Augustine attacked as works-based) and Catholicism (which Luther deemed to be legalistic). Yet, as Westerholm notes, there was a strong component of obedience in Judaism, as Jews needed to observe the Torah to stay in the covenant. Westerholm contrasts Paul with Judaism, portraying Paul as a believer in righteousness by receiving God's free grace. But, while Westerholm mentions the concern some have raised that Paul himself has a notion of obedience, he does not (at least so far) successfully exculpate Paul from the possible charge that his beliefs can lead to legalism, since Paul holds that doing good works coincides with being a justified person. Westerholm says that Paul views good works as a product of grace, whereas Judaism did not believe that one needed to be spiritually transformed to obey God's law. But, if good works are a product of grace, why does it feel as if I'm the one doing them? And why do they take effort, on my part?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Good and Evil in The Stand

Last night, I read pages 904-950 of Stephen King’s The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition. I have two items:

1. After Harold and Nadine blew up the site of the Free Zone committee and left, a meeting of the larger Free Zone was held. Stu was chairing the meeting, and he was trying to persuade the people there that, were Harold and Nadine to return, they would be tried according to the rule of law, not the rule of the mob. After all, the Free Zone is the good side, he points out, and thus it should deal with things in a more civilized manner than Randall Flagg does. (Randall Flagg simply crucifies people if they get out of line.)

The reason that this passage stood out to me was that the Free Zone had the good people, and yet even the good people could do bad things. Earlier in the book, that was why Stu was appointed a marshall: because, without the rule of law, people were getting out of hand. There were accidents and drunken disorderly conduct, which did not flow from evil, but there was also the woman who cheated on her husband, who then got jealous and sought to kill his rival.

At the same time, on Randall Flagg’s side, which is evil, there are people who do good things. Trashcan Man, who was never accepted throughout his entire life (except by his mother), finally finds acceptance in the midst of Randall Flagg’s community. (But a lot of that is mercenary, for, as Lloyd notes, Trashcan Man always brings back a supply of weapons that he has found.)

So what sets apart a good person from an evil person, if both do good and bad things? I suppose that one difference between the Free Zone and Randall Flagg’s side is that the former is constructive, whereas the latter is destructive, in that it wants to destroy the Free Zone. Good is conducive to construction; whereas evil may have to do constructive things to survive, however, evil contains the seeds of its own downfall because of its destructive nature.

I think that this is Stephen King’s point. I believe, though, that Flagg tries to contain the destruction by running so tight of a ship. But how easy is that, when he has attracted to his side the people who have destructive tendencies?

2. Mother Abagail is on her deathbed, and she sends Glen, Stu, Larry, and Ralph on a mission: to go West and to stand against Randall Flagg (and yet she realizes that one of those four will fall on the way). Mother Abagail believes that people were drawn to Boulder, not to form committees or to re-organize society, but rather to destroy Flagg. On first sight, this does not make much sense to me. I mean, shouldn’t reorganizing society be more important than taking out Flagg? Taking out Flagg is a means to the end of protecting a society that is trying to reorganize itself, for Flagg’s desire is to decimate the Free Zone. But perhaps people were drawn to Boulder for the specific reason of destroying Flagg, for they did not have to come together to Boulder to reorganize society: different pockets of people could have re-started society in a variety of cities throughout America. But they would have still been vulnerable to Flagg, who would have sought to spread his reign of evil and terror throughout America. So standing against Flagg is important.

There was a lot about theodicy in what I read last night. Fran does not want Stu to go on Mother Abagail’s mission, for Stu may die, and Fran calls God a “Killer God”, blaming him for the plague. But there is an attempt among the people there to trust that God is good. After all, would God bring all those good people to Boulder if his sole design was to screw them over? Moreover, God through Mother Abagail heals Fran of the whiplash she got from the explosion, as a sign of God’s goodness. At the same time, there is uncertainty about what God will do: perhaps God wants to use Flagg to purify people’s character, and so Flagg could prevail, at least temporarily. But I do not think that Mother Abagail’s faith is ultimately pessimistic, for, if her God does allow suffering for a good end, that must mean that God’s design is good—-that the end of the story will be good.

Paul, and Whether One Needs to Keep the Law Perfectly

I have two slightly-overlapping items for my write-up today on Stephen Westerholm's Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The "Lutheran" Paul and His Critics:

An evangelical view on the Gospel that I have repeatedly encountered says that a pure and holy God will only be satisfied by moral perfection (obedience to the Sinaitic law, for Jews, and to the moral demands of the conscience that overlap with the law in significant areas, for Gentiles), and, because we all fall short of that, we can only be saved by trusting Jesus Christ's sacrifice for our sins on the cross. Westerholm discusses two issues that stood out to me in my reading today. First of all, did Paul really believe this---that the law can only save if a person obeys it perfectly? Second, considering that Paul did view the law as a dead end that led to condemnation and death rather than life and righteousness, how did Paul address the fact that the Torah and Judaism had provisions for atonement? Don't they prevent the law from leading inexorably to condemnation and death? Was Paul unaware of that?

For the first issue, whether Paul believed that God only would accept perfect obedience to the law were one to try to obey the law to become righteous in God's sight, Westerholm on page 375 refers to scholars who interpret Galatians 3:10 (which mentions a curse on those who do not do all things in the law) to mean that "100 percent fulfillment is needed if one is to be found righteous..." But Westerholm thinks that, even if the "passing grade of righteousness" were set lower, it's a moot point, for Paul believes that people fall short even of that. Paul says that humanity, after all, is under a curse.

Was Paul assuming a position within Judaism, a position that maintained that Jews needed to observe the law perfectly in order to be saved, thereby making the law a burden? Claude Montefiore says that, if Paul was responding to a Judaism of his day, it certainly wasn't rabbinic Judaism, for that had provisions for repentance and forgiveness. E.P. Sanders argues that the intent to keep the Torah was key in Palestinian Judaism, not the success at actually carrying it out. But Hans Hubner affirms that the Pharisaic House of Shammai held that transgression of one commandment was like disregarding the entire Torah, and he may believe that this led Paul to the conclusion that there was no hope to be found in the Torah, which was why Jesus Christ was necessary for righteousness and life. I wonder if Hubner addresses the view attributed to the House of Shammai in Babylonian Talmud Rosh Hoshanah 16b-17a, however, which states that the intermediate Jews (who are neither fully righteous nor fully wicked) will enter Paradise after spending some time in Gehinnom. This implies that a Jew does not have to keep the law perfectly in this lifetime to enter Paradise, for, even if he's intermediate, he can go there after a period of cleansing in Gehinnom.

Second, how does Westerholm address the issue of whether or not Paul was aware that there were provisions for atonement in the Torah and Judaism? From pages 381-383, my impression is that Westerholm's answer is that Paul had a much more pessimistic picture of Israel than did Second Temple Judaism and the Jewish Christians with whom Paul contended. According to Westerholm, Second Temple Jews, by-and-large, held that they did live up to the covenant and were righteous, and that there were sacrifices that took care of their inevitable sins. Westerholm speculates that Paul's Judaizing opponents, too, thought that the law could be kept, but they maintained that Jesus' sacrifice took care of the inevitable sins of people who were righteous, in an overall sense. Paul, by contrast, did not believe that Jews were living up to the covenant, and he did not think that the law would be a path to righteousness and life to Gentiles joining the people of God. Rather, Paul felt that the world was sinful and that an "apocalyptic transformation" needed to occur for people to become righteous. Westerholm's point may be that, for Paul, Yom Kippur, sin offerings, and guilt offerings were not sufficient to cleanse people from sin, for people needed to be transformed by God's Holy Spirit if they were to live righteous lives. For Westerholm, Paul viewed the sin problem as deeper than did Second Temple Judaism and Paul's Jewish Christian opponents.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Catastrophe and Growth in The Stand

Last night, I read more than I usually do of Stephen King’s The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition. I read pages 850-904. Here are two items:

1. In the part of the book that I read last night, Harold Lauder and Nadine Cross blow up the house where the Free Zone committee meeting is being held, thereby killing and injuring innocent people. Before they committed this deed, they had second thoughts. Nadine reflected on how she fell from her moral principle of not killing people. Harold, too, wondered if he should go forward with the plan. But, at a certain point, Harold’s journal was found by Fran and Larry, and that contained his psychotic musings as well as his expression of his desire to kill Stu Redman. Harold and Nadine had to flee at that point. They could no longer stay in the Free Zone, for they were considered subversives. But they couldn’t go to Flagg without destroying the committee, for Flagg would not accept them if they did not do what Flagg wanted. They felt that they had no option but to go forward with their plan. But was there no other option for them? Some of the committee members talked about sending them into exile. Harold and Nadine did not have to go to Flagg, but they could have lived in one of the numerous other isolated towns and cities throughout America, and Harold’s intelligence and resourcefulness would have helped them to survive in those areas.

I could identify with Harold’s resentment in the book, as well as his desire for revenge. But the consequences of his act were devastating and jarring. Innocent people lost their lives—-people with names and faces and identities, fears and hopes, strengths and weaknesses. Even people who liked Harold and valued his contribution to the Free Zone, such as Teddy Weizak, died. Harold, too, was a victim of his own act. While he enjoyed doing it, he felt a deep inner impoverishment afterwards. He does not want to continue his relationship with Nadine, for he realizes that she belongs to Flagg. I cannot say that I comprehend Harold’s state of mind after his act—-perhaps it can be defined as solemnity. But, on page 892, Harold is likened to “an unwelcome drunk who has tried to enter a cozy little suburban tavern where everybody knows everybody else.”

Larry feels bad after the explosion, for he thinks that he should have been able to see it coming. After all, he was aware of Harold’s intelligence and resourcefulness, having followed Harold to Boulder, and he and Fran saw that Harold was working on something when they snuck into his house to look for his journal. That made me think about how sad it is that someone could use his talents for evil rather than for good.

The aftermath of the explosion leads some people to a deeper faith. Mother Abagail returned right when the explosion was about to occur, and the news of that led people outside of the house right before it exploded, thereby saving lives. Stu says on page 898: “I’ll tell you something, Fran. There’s more in the world—-and out of it—-than I ever dreamed of back in Arnette. I think that woman is from God. Or was.” And yet, as is often the case in Stephen King’s books, God has a tough or a cruel side. Stu is afraid that Mother Abagail will require something sacrificial from Stu. When Fran says that Mother Abagail would never harm anybody, Stu responds: “Mother Abagail does what her God tells her to…That’s the same God murdered his own boy, or so I heard.”

A final note that I want to make for this item is how Fran differs in this book from how she is in the miniseries. A reason that I felt sorry for Harold in the miniseries was that he loved Fran his whole life, and Fran essentially fell for Stu and forgot all about Harold, even though she said that she cared for him as a friend. In the book, however, that’s not exactly what happens. She feels guilty about ditching Harold and thus responsible for Harold’s resentment, such that people have to tell her continually that she’s responsible for herself, not for others. She is suspicious about what Harold may be plotting. She is also somewhat happy for Harold when he has a girlfriend, Nadine. Fran’s not as cold in the book as she is in the miniseries.

2. The growth and changes of the characters stood out to me in last night’s reading. Fran reflected that Stu would never have chaired a small or a large meeting at one point in his life, but the aftermath of the plague put him in a position in which his hidden potential could come out. Larry Underwood, who once found his identity in being a rock star who wrote a hit song (“Baby, Can You Dig Your Man?”), has now left that past behind, such that, when Fran tries to figure out who wrote “Baby, Can You Dig Your Man?”, Larry does not tell her that he was its author. Perhaps he associates that past with selfishness, and he wants to move past that.

There is also degeneration, as Nadine Cross descends morally and mentally. Then there’s the kid Joe, who has become normal as he has resumed his previous identity as Leo, and yet he sometimes goes back into Joe-mode—-which appears to be where his telepathic abilities are strongest. He prefers his identity as Leo, though. I don’t know what to say about his development as a character.

Westerholm and the "Lutheran" Paul

Today, I didn't get much read of Stephen Westerholm's Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The "Lutheran" Paul and His Critics. In terms of the question I have asked as I've read his book and N.T. Wright's Climax of the Covenant---whether Paul viewed the law as for Israel alone or for Gentiles as well---I got a little more light on Westerholm's views on this. For Westerholm, Paul maintained that God gave the law to Israel, and the Gentiles who were trying to become a part of God's covenant people through circumcision and Torah observance were barking up the wrong tree, for Paul argues that the Torah did not help Israel all that much on account of Israel's disobedience. At the same time, Westerholm states that Paul regards Gentiles as under the curse of the law because they have violated God's moral requirements of them, which happen to be in the Torah of Israel.

My impression so far is that Westerholm essentially believes in the Lutheran Paul, the one who emphasized justification (being declared in the right by God, or forgiveness) by receiving God's free grace, rather than through obedience to the Torah, which involved doing works and could encourage boasting. I think that Westerholm does well to interpret Paul's writings in this manner, but I'm curious about how he'll handle passages that are not exactly consistent with the Lutheran Paul. The Lutheran Paul, prior to his conversion to Christianity, was wracked with guilt at his own inability to observe the Torah, but Paul in Philippians 3 says that he was blameless in his Torah observance before he became a Christian. The Lutheran Paul after he became a Christian, like many evangelicals, perhaps would have recognized his own sinfulness and weaknesses, notwithstanding his innocent status before God, but Paul, by contrast, says at times that he has a clean conscience and is blameless. Westerholm has referred to these points as he has fairly summarized the views of New Perspective scholars, but I wonder how he addresses them.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Submissive and Independent Women

Last night, I read pages 834-850 of Stephen King’s The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition. Yesterday, a topic that came up in my reading was feminism.

On page 836, Nadine Cross tells a kid named Joe, whom she took care of for some time: “You have Larry and Lucy. You want them, and they want you. Well, Larry wants you, and that’s all that matters, because she wants all the things he does. She’s like a piece of carbon paper.”

Nadine looks at Lucy with contempt because she thinks Lucy does not have a mind of her own, but rather wants whatever Larry wants. And yet, in what I read last night, Lucy can be adamant when she wants to be, for, when people at the Free Zone meeting are recommending the Judge for the legal committee, and the Judge is nowhere to be found (since, unbeknownst to most there, the Judge is going West to spy on Randall Flagg’s people), Lucy expresses strong concern about him.

On page 842, Fran, Stu, Nick, and Susan are talking about Dayna, whom they’re also sending as a spy to Randall Flagg’s region. Dayna’s background is that she played tennis and swam in college, and she went to a small community college in Georgia, where, for the first two years, she kept going steady with her high school boyfriend. Sue says that the boyfriend “was a big leather jacket type, me Tarzan, you Jane, so get out in the kitchen and rattle those pots and pans.” Then Dayna’s roommate, a “big libber type”, dragged Dayna to some female consciousness meetings, and Dayna became an even bigger libber than her roommate. Dayna dumped her boyfriend and successfully disarmed him when he came after her with a gun, then she became a lesbian, after which she went the bisexual route. (Note: I’m just saying what the book says, and I’m not going to get bogged down in a debate over whether homosexuality is a choice or not. Can we even speak in absolutes on that issue? Maybe it’s a choice for some people, but not for many others, who are born that way.)

I was thinking of an evangelical I knew a while back. He said that his Mom could not stand his fiancee, who was submissive and tried to serve others. The Mom probably felt about this lady what Nadine thought about Lucy: that she was a door-mat who did not have a mind of her own, or at least the strength to be independent. But it was interesting in college to see the more conservative women stand up for themselves. I remember one feminist lady giving a presentation in which she argued that Paul was a sexist for barring women from church leadership, and some conservative women in the class were fighting back and saying that Paul’s attitude did not give them a second-class status—-that God had different roles for men and for women, but that this did not mean that women were deemed inferior to men.

And then there is the burden that is placed on men—-to take charge, to be the leader. The evangelical I was talking about above said that being a godly man in a relationship is difficult because it entails being a servant, and women want a man who is a leader. This is probably true in the evangelical and the non-evangelical world, but there are plenty of women who are open to a degree of equality—-to 50/50, to men and women both having opinions in a relationship and compromising, or giving and taking. That’s the relationship I hope to have.

Gentiles, the Law, and Conscience

I'm still in Stephen Westerholm's Perspectives Old and New: The "Lutheran" Paul and His Critics, and I've primarily been inquiring about scholarly perspectives on Paul's approach to the law: Did Paul believe that God gave the law to Israel alone, or that God wanted Gentiles to observe it, too?

One could point out that, according to Paul, all of humanity is under the law's condemnation, which may imply that even Gentiles are under the law's authority. But Westerholm refers to the view of J. Louis Martyn that the Gentiles are under the curse of the law because the law separates Jews from Gentiles, while relegating Gentiles to the ranks of the impious. I did not see a reference to Galatians 2:15 in Westerholm's summary of Martyn, but some have appealed to that verse to show that there was a distinction that some Jews made between Jews and Gentile sinners, as if Gentiles were sinners by virtue of being Gentiles.

Westerholm's quotation of advocates of the New Perspective also contained items of interest to me. There was the view that people could only be righteous as members of the covenant community, as well as the notion that only members of the covenant community can enjoy God's full blessing. But what about the idea within rabbinic Judaism that Gentiles could be righteous and enter the World to Come by simply adhering to the seven Noachide commandments, which means that Gentiles did not have to become Jews in order to be saved? Was Paul unaware of this rabbinic view? Was Paul responding to another rabbinic view?

On pages 268-269, Westerholm refers to the Jewish idea that the Torah embodies wisdom, which is universal, implying that Gentiles could have true access to wisdom through embracing the Jewish Torah. Westerholm believes that, for Paul, the Torah was an expression of God's will, which existed before Sinai. According to Romans 4-5, sin was in the world prior to the law, meaning that God had a standard of right and wrong before Sinai, and that the giving of the law only revealed God's standard and made Israel accountable to it, for knowledge of the law makes people officially guilty when they sin. But, for Westerholm, Paul in Romans 2 believes that the Gentiles observe the law's demands whenever they act according to their consciences. The law given to Israel is God's unique guidance of Israel, yet Israel's law contains the standard of goodness that is required of all people, including Gentiles. Gentiles rely on their consciences for the law, whereas Jews have the law in written form, and that enables Jews to instruct Gentiles on moral responsibilities that they both share (yet Paul argues in Romans 2 that Jews have failed in this). I can understand Westerholm's point in terms of moral requirements, such as the ban on murder, adultery, etc. But what would Westerholm say about Paul's stance on the Sabbath, food laws, etc.? Did Paul think that the Gentiles were ever obligated to observe these features of the law?

Perhaps I will see Westerholm's answer to this question as I continue to read.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Roots for Harold's Evil

Last night, I read pages 822-833 of Stephen King’s The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition. In this post, I’ll talk about Harold. Harold knows that Fran broke into his apartment because she realizes that he looked into her diary, and now she wants to read Harold’s diary to see what he’s thinking. But Harold does not think that she found his ledger, for Harold wrote there that he wants to kill Stu, and Fran would be a lot less friendly towards him if she knew that he wrote that. This part of The Stand was somewhat meaningful to me because I’ve sought at times to gauge whether I’ve upset people or not, and that’s essentially what Harold does.

Harold is also struggling over whether to remain in the Free Zone or to go to the villain, Randall Flagg. Harold is tempted to accept the scales as even rather than continuing to seek revenge on Stu and Fran for their romance, for, as Harold reflects, he technically got back at Fran because she’s uneasy over him having read her diary. But Harold still resents being left off of the Free Zone committee. He thought it was because of his youth, but Nick Andros is on the committee and is only two years older than Harold. Harold also thinks that the Free Zone is beneath him, for he doesn’t want to spend his life writing thank-you notes to those he looks down on. Moreover, Harold believes that Flagg will win in the end, for, while the Free Zone consumes time on committees and the Constitution, Flagg is mobilizing to strike. As Harold notes, Flagg understands Darwin! My impression is that Harold is drawn to Flagg’s efficiency and ruthlessness.

Harold desires peace with himself and with others, but there are opposite attitudes within him as well: resentment, contempt, boredom, and an admiration for dictatorship, strength, efficiency, and ruthlessness. In Harold’s case, these attitudes become a root for his evil actions.

Loving with All My Heart and Mind

At church this morning, the topic was love for God and our neighbors. I’ll quote from the Litany of Confession that we used this morning, and then I’ll offer my comments.

“Jesus calls us to love God with all our hearts. All our hearts? More than our families and friends, our homes, our jobs, our cars, our computers? More than all of these because when we love God with all our heart, it is that love which influences us and enables us to act lovingly towards not only our family and friends—-who may be easy to love—-but towards others who may not be so easy to love. And we realize that people matter more than things. Forgive us, O God, when we fail to put You first in our lives.”

“Jesus calls us to love God with all our mind. Surely not all of our mind. More than our thirst for knowledge, our learning in schools and beyond, the books we read, our advances in information technology? More than all these because when we love God with all our mind, it is God’s creative love which then inspires our thoughts and our will so that our wisdom and knowledge are shaped by God’s kingdom values of justice and mercy, love and peace.”

Does loving God enable us to love others? I once heard a Bible study group say that, if we are not at peace with God, then we will not be at peace with other people, for, on the natural level, we always try to cut ourselves the best deal, and that is not necessarily conducive to good relationships. I cannot speak for others or make universal pronouncements, for there are non-Christians who are more ethical and loving than I am. But I can speak for myself. In my case, my religion does enable me to love others more than I would without it. When I remind myself that God loves everyone, then that encourages me to love—-perhaps a little more—-those whom I cannot stand. And, while this may appear mercenary (if that’s the right word) for some people, I try to trust that God will reward me for loving the difficult. And yet, I wouldn’t like other Christians having that sort of attitude towards me—-being nice to me to pat themselves on the back, or to get a reward from God. But maybe any motivation to live at peace with others is good.

How can I love God with my mind? I agree with the litany that knowledge should be placed in a context that promotes justice, mercy, love, and peace. But I’m not sure how I can apply that rule to my own field of study, religion. Many of you would find that puzzling, since is not religion all about justice, mercy, love, and peace? It should be, but there are times when it is not, and I would say that even about certain perspectives in the biblical writings. I guess what I get from that part of the litany is that there is something more important than my intellect, and that is love: God’s love for me, my love for God, others’ love for me, my love for others. Hopefully, my learning can inspire me to love.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Tom's Subconscious, Flagg and Linoge

Last night, I read pages 812-822 of Stephen King’s The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition. I’m proceeding through the book slowly but surely!

In my reading yesterday, Nick, Stu, and Ralph hypnotize Tom Cullen so that he will go West to spy on Randall Flagg’s team. The actual hypnosis scene did not present Stu telling Tom what he should be looking for when spying, namely, missiles that Flagg might use to attack the Free Zone. But there were some interesting elements.

Tom is mildly developmentally-delayed. But his subconscious is able to make connections that his conscious level cannot make. That’s why, earlier in the book, he went into a trance before he learned that Nick was trying to communicate to him (Tom) that he (Nick) was a deaf-mute. Before the trance, Tom did not know what Nick was getting at. Afterwards, he did.

On the subconscious level, though, Tom is somewhere between childhood and adulthood. Stu compares that to when he was graduating from high school with people he had known since the first grade: Stu looked at their faces and realized that they were not the children they once were, and yet they were not adults, either. According to Stu, Tom’s subconscious was at that level—-permanently just short of adulthood.

And yet, Tom’s subconscious does not merely know how to make connections. Rather, it has an almost divine sort of knowledge. Unlike others, Tom has dreamed about seeing Randall Flagg’s face, whereas the others in the Free Zone have dreamed of Flagg but have never seen his face. Tom’s subconscious knows who Flagg is: a being from outside of time who knows magic and was the Legion whom Jesus exorcized from a demoniac in the Bible. Tom’s subconscious also knows that Mother Abagail (the prophetess of the Free Zone who has left) is alive, and what will happen to her in the future. On page 821, Nick says regarding Tom’s knowledge, “Some people through history have considered the insane and retarded to be close to divine.”

I’d like to comment on what Tom says about Flagg. In my post here, I say the following regarding Flagg:

“Chapter 23 is when we first meet Randall Flagg, the villain of the book. What I get about him so far is that he likes to incite political trouble, and he also gives people a bad feeling. What intrigued me was that page 183 says that Randall could not remember much before the 1960′s, except that he was from Nebraska and attended high school. So Randall Flagg, as powerful as he may be, may not have lived for a long time as IT did, nor does he seem to view himself as eternal.”

Actually, the issue is more complicated than I thought. Flagg has lived for a very long time, but he does not remember too far back. For example, on page 1152, after Flagg has supposedly died, he appears in a jungle and does not recall who he is—-though he later identifies himself to the inhabitants as Russell Faraday and realizes he is on a mission. Some have tried to identify Randall Flagg with Andre Linoge in Storm of the Century, since both cause trouble, both have lived a long time, and both are Legion (see here for other reasons). But I thought that Linoge lived for a long time and knew he had lived for a long time—-meaning his memory goes back a while. But Flagg’s memory only goes back to the 1960′s.

Risky Faith

On page 808 of Stephen King’s The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition, the Judge reflects on the disappearance of Mother Abagail (the prophetess):

“I wonder if we need to reinvent that whole tiresome business of gods and saviors and ever-afters before we reinvent the flushing toilet. That’s what I’m saying. I wonder if this is the right time for gods…She’s been dead six days now. The Search Committee hasn’t found a trace of her. Yes, I think she’s dead, but even now I am not completely sure. She was an amazing woman, completely outside any rational frame of reference. Perhaps one of the reasons I’m almost glad to have her gone is because I’m such a rational old curmudgeon. I like to creep through my daily round, to water my garden—-did you see the way I brought the begonias back? I’m quite proud of that—-to read my books, to write my notes for my own book about the plague. I like to do all those things and then have a glass of wine at bedtime and fall asleep with an untroubled mind. Yes. None of us wants to see portents and omens, no matter how much we like our ghost stories and the spooky films. None of us want to really see a Star in the East or a pillar of fire by night. We want peace and rationality and routine. If we have to see God in the black face of an old woman, it’s bound to remind us that there’s a devil for every god—-and our devil may be closer than we like to think.”

What the Judge says reminds me about what I heard a professor of rabbinics remark about why prophecy ceased within Judaism: prophecy produces social instability, for it allows a person to come along and unravel everything with a “Thus saith the Lord”.

I can sympathize with the Judge’s comments. A struggle that I have with faith is that I am afraid it will disrupt my predictable day-to-day life. Not everyone is cut out to go to Africa as a missionary, or to skip work to do one of God’s special projects. If I were Joan on Joan of Arcadia, and God was giving me a bunch of assignments, I’d wonder if that would take me away from my schoolwork. Of course, Joan had the luxury of knowing that it was God speaking to her. I don’t. If I felt “led” to take a risk, how do I know that’s God, or just me?

There are passages in Scripture in which faith is consistent with living a predictable day-to-day life. Ancient Israelites under the Torah would just go about their agricultural tasks on a daily basis, honor God with tithes and offerings, and be just in their interactions. Nothing dramatic there. But then there are the passages in which God or Jesus calls people to leave everything behind and to take a risk. Those are the passages that scare me.

Psalm 47

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 47 and its interpreters. In this Psalm, Israel is celebrating God on account of her inheritance (presumably the Promised Land) and God's status as ruler of the earth, and yet people of other nations are also assembling before God.

Many have interpreted this Psalm eschatologically. Many Jewish interpreters have held that this Psalm concerns the Messianic Era, in which Gentile nations will be subordinate to Israel, will worship Israel's God, and will learn of God's ways. (And I should note that Psalm 47 was used for Rosh Hoshanah during the Middle Ages.) Many Christian interpreters have maintained that we are in this sort of Messianic Era right now, through Jesus Christ, for Jews and Gentiles worship the God of Israel together, within the church; several Christian interpreters, however, have affirmed that Gentile Christians are not subordinate to ethnic Jews, per se, but rather are equal with Jewish believers in the new Israel, the body of Christ. And then there's the view that Psalm 47 was not eschatological but pertained to a historical ceremony in which Israel and her vassal states worshiped the God of Israel. Peter Craigie goes this route, even as he says that the Psalm has Christological significance.

There are at least two interesting details in this Psalm:

1. The Hebrew word maskil is in Psalm 47:8 (according to the MT's numbering of verses). Maskil pertains to having understanding. The Septuagint and the Targum on the Psalms interpret the verse to mean that people are to praise God intelligently or with understanding, and Christian commentators have cross-referenced to this verse passages about being reasonable or having understanding in our adoration of God (Romans 12:1; I Corinthians 14:15). Others maintain that the maskil is a vocative, indicating that the Psalm is exhorting the person with understanding to sing praises. A possible problem here is that the imperative in Psalm 47:8 for "sing praises", zamru, is second person plural, whereas maskil is singular. I read in the orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary on the Psalms an attempt by Otzar Nechmad to derive a lesson from this detail: that maskil is singular in this verse because each individual has his own level of comprehension. We are all to praise God, but each of us does so with his or her own degree of understanding, and so there is an individual dimension to praise. Then there is the view that maskil is simply there to signal that the Psalm is to be played according to a particular tune.

In my opinion, there is something to be said about praising God with understanding, which is what distinguishes praise from enjoying a nice song. (The fourth century Christian exegete Theodore of Mospuestia makes this point.) Unfortunately, we're often told by religionists that we cannot understand God because his ways are higher than our ways. This may be true, on some level, but I think that praise should proceed on the assumption that God is love. Since God commands us to love, that must mean that he himself loves. We can praise God for who God is because God exemplifies love, and we can thank God from our personal standpoints on account of God's love for each of us.

2. Psalm 47:10 (again, in the MT's numbering) says that to God are the shields of the earth. What does this mean? One view is that the shields of the earth are the Gentile rulers gathering before God in worship, the idea being that the leaders of nations are shields to their people, with the duty to protect them. The Jewish exegete Rashi, however, says that it means that God is a shield to those who take refuge in him, as the Gentiles are doing in v 10 when they gather before God, many of them as proselytes, like Abraham was.

I can sympathize with Jews and Israelites who desired for all nations to worship their God. Perhaps they felt that this would vindicate them, or at least mark a period of peace, in which nations are worshiping with them rather than attacking them. I have some issues with everyone on the face of the earth having the exact same religion, however, since part of what makes life interesting is diversity. At the same time, there can still be diversity even if people praise the same God, for their experiences with God have been different, and (as Otzar Nechmad says) understanding can be an individual thing.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Paul, the Law, the Gentiles, and Becoming Part of God's People

I'm still going through Stephen Westerholm's Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The "Lutheran" Paul and His Critics. The question I have been asking is how scholars conceptualize Paul's attitude towards the law: Did Paul believe that the law was for Israel only, or for the Gentiles as well?

In what I read today, I saw the view that Paul maintained that the law was for Israel alone and separated Jews from Gentiles, which was why parts of it became nullified through the work of Christ, which had the aim of uniting Jews and Gentiles into one people. But I also encountered the view that the Mosaic law was for Israel and illustrated Israel's tendency to seek to accomplish her own righteousness before God, as well as her failure to do so. According to this view, the law was for Israel alone, yet the law was an example of a phenomenon that pertained to all of humanity: our misplaced desire to please God through our accomplishments, and our failure to be righteous before God through our own efforts. Israel illustrated this principle through her interaction with the law, whereas others presumably demonstrate it in other ways. The former view (that the law was for Israel and separated Jews from Gentiles) is part of the New Perspective, which focuses on the inclusion of Gentiles into the people of God rather than issues such as becoming righteous before God, dealing with sin and guilt, and the pitfall of self-righteousness. The latter view, however, represents the Old Perspective, or a belief in the "Lutheran" Paul, for it focuses precisely on issues such as self-righteousness and dealing with sin and guilt.

Westerholm's discussion of Terence Donaldson also pertained to the universalism and the particularity of the law, and, eventually, I will be reading and blogging through Donaldson's Paul and the Gentiles. According to Westerholm, Donaldson tries to arrive at an answer to the question of why the mission to the Gentiles was so important to Paul. Donaldson does not believe that the Jewish idea that Gentiles could be righteous by observing the seven Noachide commandments played any role in Paul's mission to the Gentiles, for the "righteous Gentiles" idea did not presume that righteous Gentiles were part of God's covenant with Israel (whereas Paul thought that Gentile believers were entering that covenant), and it held that there were separate paths to salvation for Jews and Gentiles, something that Paul denied. Donaldson argues (on page 275-284 of his book, which I note for future reference) that pre-Christian Paul agreed with Jews who thought that Gentiles needed to become proselytes to Judaism to be saved. Christian Paul held a similar belief, only he felt that Gentiles became part of God's people by faith in Christ, not by circumcision and Torah observance.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Promise Yourself to be So Strong...

Last night, I read pages 792-798 of Stephen King’s The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition. Harold Lauder is continuing his plot of trying to gain acceptance from the Free Zone, before he goes to the villain Randall Flagg and betrays it. Harold volunteers to clean up the dead bodies in Boulder because he realizes that the best-liked and most trusted in a community are those who do the dirty job that nobody else wants to do—-and with a smile on their face.

But Harold is beginning to feel genuine camaraderie with his co-workers, who call him “Hawk”. Before, Harold’s inside did not match his outside, for, while his outside was friendly, gregarious, and concerned for others, his inside was resentful, cold, uncaring about people, and contemptuous, as when Harold reflected that most people in the Free Zone were not overly smart in looking for Mother Abagail, since finding her was an exercise in futility. After all, there were thousands of square miles of plains and forests around Boulder where Mother Abagail could have gone, and she may not have even left Boulder, for she could be staying in one of the houses, where people would not look. (Presumably, she’d go out and get food at night.)

But, now, and at least temporarily, Harold’s outside is matching his inside. He realizes that he could be an asset to the group, and that he has found a place where he is accepted. His past of being a fat, pimply nerd whom nobody likes is just that—-past—-and the people around him now do not know about it, nor would they care if they did. On page 797, Harold thinks: “All of a sudden the old grudges, the old hurts, and the unpaid debts seemed as worthless as the paper money choking all the cash registers of America.” But Harold struggles with a thought: if he was strong enough to resist the ill opinions people had of him, shouldn’t he likewise be strong enough to resist people’s good opinion of him?

This thought actually resonated with me when I read it, and I’m thinking of some reasons for that right now. I want to be strong, whether people like me or not. Stoicism had the same sort of concept: having a peace of mind notwithstanding one’s surroundings. I do not want to be a slave to people’s approval of me, and one reason is that people’s approval of me is not a guarantee.

But, in my opinion, it’s good to enjoy people while they do approve of me. And it’s also important for me to appreciate those who love me for me, such as my family. When I have to be strong to resist those who don’t like me, it’s an endurance test and a struggle against pain. But it’s smoother when people like me, or when there is camaraderie.

Another Way to See the Parable

I went to my church’s Bible study group last night, and we’re going through Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God, which concerns Jesus’ parable about the prodigal son. One lady there asked me a question, and, in retrospect, I think that my answer to her was rather inadequate, but I’m somewhat glad that I didn’t say more than I did (although I wish I could have expressed myself more articulately).

The lady asked if there were other ways to interpret the Parable of the Prodigal Son than Tim Keller presents. The question initially struck me as difficult, for, to be honest, I really have not studied the Parable of the Prodigal Son that much. I answered that Tim Keller himself used a bunch of commentaries in formulating his presentation. I then referred to a lecture by N.T. Wright in which I heard that the son by requesting his inheritance was wishing his father dead, a point that Tim Keller makes in his book. Then I said that Tim Keller himself in the book responds to those who appeal to the Parable of the Prodigal Son to argue that blood atonement is not necessary to be forgiven by God, and so there is apparently a view out there that differs from that of Tim Keller. I then remarked to the lady that I’m not sure if I answered her question. I think that my comment may have evaporated in people’s minds, since it was inadequately presented.

After I went home and thought about her question, I formulated how I could have responded to it. Tim Keller is obviously approaching the parable from a distinct theological perspective. He is a Calvinist, and so he says on page 75 that we know God is working on us if we sense our lostness and want to escape it, a desire we couldn’t have generated on our own. And, of course, there are many Christians who are not Calvinists. Tim Keller also believes in blood atonement, that Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins, and he reads the parable in light of that belief. He notes that the elder brother in those days usually went after the straying younger brother at cost to himself, and that the father’s forgiveness of the younger son entailed a cost: the cost of the robe, the ring, the fatted calf, etc. Similarly, Keller argues, Jesus forgives us at cost to himself, for Jesus was humiliated as well as suffered and died for our sins.

But do many biblical scholars see blood atonement in the parable? I have not read a lot of commentaries on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but I did one time read a view by scholar Henry Cadbury that the author of Luke-Acts does not believe in blood atonement. Granted, there are a few references to it in Luke-Acts, and, if I’m not mistaken, Cadbury does not regard those passages as authentic to the work. That may strike many of you as rather arbitrary, but many times, in the presentations of the Gospel that we encounter in the Book of Acts, there is no reference to Jesus bringing atonement by paying the penalty for our sins. Rather, the focus is on Jesus being exalted, and somehow that coincides with Jesus being God’s instrument of forgiveness. Perhaps Cadbury’s view is that the author of Luke-Acts believes God exalted Jesus by raising him from the dead and then gave him the keys to the kingdom: Jesus’ persecutors thought they were winning by putting Jesus to death, but now God has given Jesus the authority to forgive. What, then, was the significance of Jesus coming to earth? Not every scholar would say that Jesus “came to earth” according to Luke-Acts, in the sense of being God and becoming flesh. Rather, in Luke-Acts, Jesus could have been a spectacular human being conceived by the Holy Spirit, who was exalted by God and made an agent of forgiveness. But there are different perspectives on Luke-Acts, as some maintain that Luke-Acts is consistent with classic Trinitarianism.

I also could have pointed out that there are different views on the atonement: the Christus Victor model, the ransom model, etc.

Another point I could have made concerns how revolutionary Jesus was being in his telling of the parable. Tim Keller presents Jesus as saying things that would have shocked his audience. The father, for example, was compromising his own dignity when he ran to meet his son. But would this have been overly shocking to Jesus’ audience? Within rabbinic Judaism, there was the idea that God humbled himself at times. The Hebrew Bible is a story about God forgiving people who have dishonored him. I don’t think that Jesus cornered the market in having the idea that God humiliated himself out of love for people.

But I’m not sure how people would have reacted had I said these things. This is a mainline Protestant church, but its view of the Bible is rather traditional. Would the people at the study have been open to the idea that there are different Christologies and views on the atonement in the Bible? I doubt that they would have accepted the idea, but perhaps they would have heard it as one view out there among others. I could have come across as smart in the group, but instead I appeared inept. But, at the same time, I don’t feel that everything that I think should come out of my mouth in a Bible study group, whose purpose is to edify, and my thoughts are not always edifying. These are people who have had experience living the Christian life of service to others and fellowship with God. They may not need to hear my beefs with Christianity. But I do comment, every now and then, when I see a need.

Raisenen Calls a Spade a Spade

I'm continuing my way through Stephen Westerholm's Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The "Lutheran" Paul and His Critics.

An issue that has interested me is how scholars view Paul's stance on the law: Did they believe that Paul viewed the law as universal, or that he felt that God gave the law to Israel alone? It was frustrating to read Westerholm's summary of scholars in an attempt to find an answer to this question, for it appeared to me that scholars talked on both sides of their mouths. On the one hand, they talked as if Paul saw the law as something that convicts all of humanity of sin. On the other hand, they held that Paul thought that the law was given only to Israel, and so they vacillated between maintaining that Paul is speaking of the plight of humanity under the law, and saying that he's referring to the plight of Jews under it.

I appreciated Westerholm's summary of Heikki Raisanen, for Raisanen seems to have acknowledged the tension within Paul. Paul said that the Jews were under the law whereas the Gentiles were without it (Romans 2:1; I Corinthians 9:20-21; cf. Galatians 2:15), and yet Paul also says that churches that include Gentiles have been redeemed from the curse of the law, as if they were previously under the law's condemnation, and thus the law's authority.

As I read Westerholm's summary of various scholarly perspectives on Paul, I wondered if Paul was telling Gentiles not to enter God's people through circumcision and observance of the law, for the law was a dead end for Israel, which was weakened by sin. Moreover, could Gentiles have been under the law in the sense that they were under the authority of their own consciences, which overlapped with the law (Romans 2)? In any case, many scholars agree that, for Paul, Christians (Jews and Gentiles) obeyed the law by loving other people, apart from Mosaic rituals.

The issue of Paul and the law is something that I will continually revisit on this blog.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hitting Reality, the Committee Election Scene

I have two items for my write-up today of Stephen King’s The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition:

1. Glen Bateman was defending faith after Mother Abagail left the Boulder Free Zone to seek the will of God, at the potential cost of her health and her life. But Glen shortly thereafter experiences his own miracle. His dog, Kojak, whom he left behind when he went with Stu on a journey to find Mother Abagail, has finally found Glen after traveling for thousands of miles. Glen is having a hard time processing that. When Stu reminds him that he was defending something extraordinary the previous night, Glen responds: “Oh, I can talk that stuff for hours on end. I’m one of the great all-time bullshitters. It’s when something actually happens.”

On a similar note, Larry realizes that he is about to be nominated to serve on the Free Zone permanent committee. He reflects that certain issues feel small when he was talking them over with fellow committee members in “the room comfortably lit with Coleman gas lanterns” (page 753). For example, sending out the Judge, Tom Cullen, and Dayna Jurgens to spy on Flagg’s team appeared to him to be like a chess game. But when Larry recognized that he was participating in decisions that had profound effects on people’s lives and deaths, he was scared to be a leader and was thinking of sneaking out of the nominating meeting.

It’s fun to shoot-the-bull about things that appear to be theoretical, but what happens when one hits his or her head into the hard wall of real life?

2. There are times when the book helps me to understand the miniseries better. In the miniseries, Harold asks for Stu (the chair) to recognize him, Stu and Fran are obviously suspicious of Harold, Stu recognizes Harold, Harold motions that all of Mother Abagail’s committee be approved in one vote, and Glen Bateman says (if my memory is correct) “Absolutely brilliant.” The book clarified what was going on. The people who were to serve on the committee were planning to be nominated, seconded, and elected on an individual basis, and it would be easy to throw a monkey-wrench into that process, for what if somebody else were nominated? But Harold did the potential members a service when he proposed an up-or-down vote on the committee in mass, and that’s why Glen said “Absolutely brilliant.” But Stu did not know that Harold would be trying to do the committee any favors, for he and Glen expected Harold to lead an opposition party against the committee, and that’s why Stu was suspicious of him. But things did not turn out that way, for Harold cleared the way for the committee to be formed—with the members that the clique desired, and nobody else.

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