Saturday, April 07, 2007

Authenticity of the Bible

Recently a friend of mine asked if it bothered me that there were so many challenges to the authenticity of the Bible. I responded that that these challenges don’t bother me, because if God is omniscient and omnipotent He certainly can control what we have come to know as His Word. If God doesn’t have these “omni” attributes, then he is at best irrelevant, and more likely non-existent—definitely not worthy of our attentions or worship.

Believing in the inspired nature of the Bible doesn’t resolve the issues that are raised in Dr Heidi's post early-christian-protest, it just challenges me to find a framework that fits. I cling to a few additional beliefs including:

  1. If a topic is important it will be repeated in the Bible
  2. There will be things about a non-created thing–God, that created things will not be able to understand
  3. The reason the universe exists is because God desires a relationship with us

My recent ponderings on the death and resurrection of Christ have revolved around the role of language in reaching a diverse and intellectually evolving world and wondering if the Passion of Christ was really an instantiated metaphor for what really happened before the beginning of time: Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men”. Phil 2:5-7

Friday, April 06, 2007

Saul--King of Israel 2.0 - a study in scarcity?

For me the story of King Saul has morphed from being a vaguely remembered Sunday school story to a puzzling tale of why God chooses whom He chooses. Early in the story I discovered that Saul was not the first king of Israel--God considered Himself the first king. This is one of those rare cases where the second release is dramatically inferior to the first.
Scene I: A New King for Israel
The people of Israel (to Samuel): "You have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations."
The Lord (to Samuel):"Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them."
MeditatorSaul was really the Hebrew's 2nd King, God was the 1st. As Christians, God is King of our lives, but how often do we reject His kingship to pursue phantoms of justice, security, or prosperity?
Samuel (to Saul) "And you shall go down before me to Gilgal... You shall wait seven days until I come to you and show you what you should do"
Narrator"So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal.
MeditatorIn spite of screwing up almost immediately Saul was king for probably 12 years or more. God selected Saul out of the whole nation of Israel. Was Saul the best to be had? It would seem so.
Narrator (about Saul)"Now he waited seven days, according to the appointed time set by Samuel, but Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattering from him."
Saul"Bring to me the burnt offering and the peace offerings."
Narrator "And he offered the burnt offering. And it came about as soon as he finished offering the burnt offering, that behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him and to greet him"
Samuel (to Saul)"What have you done?" (with anger)
Saul (to Samuel)Because I saw that the people were scattering from me, and then you did not come within the appointed days, and that the Philistines were assembling at Michmash, therefore I said, Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not asked the favor of the Lord. So I forced myself and offered the burnt offering.
The importance of obeying God’s specific instructions exactly is an oft repeated theme. Many times the Lord’s direction is faint or missing, but when it is clear take note and don’t deviate.
Saul's sin--not waiting for God, even when God is "late". The people were drifting away, Saul wanted to take action. He trusted the quantity of soldiers under his command more than he trusted God. Quite a contrast to Gideon sending most of his army away. So Saul "forced" himself to disobey God's command--because he had not yet asked the favor of the Lord. We want the Lord's blessing without the inconvenient or distressing obedience bits...
Samuel (to Saul)"You have acted foolishly, you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, for now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. "
David’s kingdom was established through his offspring –which ultimately resulted in Jesus. If Saul had been obedient would Jesus have had a different mother?! How invariant is God’s plan?

Scene II Destruction of the Amalekites
Samuel (to Saul)"Thus says the Lord of hosts...Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child, and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey."
Narrator"But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were not willing to destroy them utterly; but everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed."
MeditatorGod's command to utterly destroy everything did not sit well with the Israelites. Likely the disobedience came for a desire to prevent "waste", avoid offending the masses, or perhaps to be "religious". In any event not obeying God's direct command exactly is not a good idea.
Lord (to Samuel)"I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not carried out My commands.."
MeditatorGod's response to Saul's sin? Some translations say regret, others say repent--or was it just a sigh (the simple definition of the Hebrew word used)
Narrator"And Samuel was distressed and cried out to the Lord all night. And Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul"
Bystander (when asked where Saul was)"Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself, then turned and proceeded on down to Gilgal."
Saul built a monument to himself for "his" big victory against the Amalekites. So much for giving the glory to God.
Narrator"And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him"
Saul "Blessed are you of the Lord! I have carried out the command of the Lord!"
Samuel"What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?
Saul"They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; but the rest we have utterly destroyed."
SamuelStop!...Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?”
Saul"I did obey the voice of the Lord, and went on the mission on which the Lord sent me, and have brought back Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took some of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the choicest of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord you God at Gilgal."
MeditatorSaul was not willing to take responsibility -- "the people" did this, or that.
Samuel"Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, "to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. "For rebellion is as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being king."

Scene III Too late -- Repentance
Saul“I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may worship the Lord.”
Samuel“I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.”
Narrator"Then Samuel went to Ramah, and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel."
Narrator "Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord terrorized him."

The rest of Saul's reign is really a nightmare: evil spirits, attempted murder, the ordered killing of Godly priests, consulting with a medium.
Given His omniscience I wonder why God chose Saul. But regarding God's choices you can say the exact same thing about all of mankind. Even the bright spots like Moses and David were murderers!
Is the story of Saul a microcosm of God's relationship with mankind? He creates us, selects us, we choose evil almost immediately, and things go mostly downhill from there? The only thing that makes sense is that God so desires relationship that He was willing to endure the pain and heartache of a mostly disastrous result. He chooses the best possible reality.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Where are the modern day idols?

In the Old Testament idols were a big deal--two of the ten commandments are taken up with prohibitions against them. Not many people in Europe, or the Americas seem to be worshiping Baal at stone altars or wooden Asherah these days. However in a recent trip to China I saw a lot of people offering incense and bowing down to various Buddhas and other idol like figurines. I have seen similar stuff in Japan. Are these just the fading pockets of idol worshiop? Will this be mostly gone in 50 years? So what are the 21st century idols? Have idols morphed into something else, or are they a vice man has mostly left behind--perhaps the only one? Conventional wisdom says that our material things (e.g. Plasma TVs) are modern day idols--but this is not compelling to me. People typically don't worship these things or pray to them--they just want them for status or to immerse themselves in a football game. Have we elevated science to god status now? Looking to it for protection and for answers to the mysteries of life.

After Saul botched his assignment to wipe out the Amalekites Samuel tells him:"For rebellion is as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry" This equates idolatry with disobeying God -- essentially putting yourself in the position of God.

Mike Thorburn Bayside said that anything that comes between you and God is an idol. This approach would promote a lot of things to idol status--in fact almost everything sinful or evil. This strikes me as perhaps too broad--but this would fit with the emphasis given in the Ten Commandments.

Scot Douglass in his book, Theology of the Gap says: "Diastema and Kinesis are antidotes to humanity's propensity to idolatry. The very fabric of creation speaks of the absence of God and invites those within the diasteme to seek for God elsewhere".

Yes, I agree it is arguable whether this last quote is actually in English. My paraphrase of Scot's sentences above is that life is the juxtaposition of "now" -the moment that we live in, and the untouchable past and future. If we recognize the mystery of that, then we are far less likely to seek god in a wooden statue wrapped in gold foil.