Saturday, January 8, 2011

Obedience starts with fear, irrational Christianity

Can you be scared into love? It does not sound that reasonable, you can be scared into paying your taxes but it is not all that likely that you will find that after paying your taxes you find that you love paying your taxes. Wesley Snipes is in jail for not paying his taxes do any of us really think that when he gets out he will love paying taxes? Often however Christianity has this mindset that says we first fear God because of what He will do to us and that through the obedience out of fear we will later learn to love Him.

Recently on the Adventist Today website discussion of an article on Hell one of the bloggers of the site said the following:

“My take on the “hell” doctrine is that if it were not for it, there would be no Christians. It is somewhat analogous to teaching/informing your children that there are, and will be, corporal consequences to willful disobedience; even though your strong preference is that there will never be an occasion to ever administer it.

Obedience starts with fear. As we mature and come to understand that the source of the consequences cares about us and knows more than we do, fear becomes respect. As the maturation process continues further, and we realize that we love and owe a debt of gratitude to the executor of the potential consequences, obedience results out of…love and gratitude.
If there were no initial fear of (ultimate) consequences, the obedience which always directly results in our good would never commence in the first place.”

There is something twisted in this kind of thinking, but the author of the above is probably in the majority of Christians. They see God in terms of crime and punishment. Obey or God will kill you. And if you obey Him then He won't kill you and you then become thankful that He won't kill you and you begin to love Him. Christianity as a sort of Stockholm Syndrome. After all God in the Old Testament is quite free with His killing. It is that kind of thinking that informs many people as their interpret the Creation story. Eat of the fruit and God says He will kill them. As the King James version says

Genesis 2:27 KJV But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die

Many interpreters take that to mean God is pronouncing what God will do as opposed to a natural consequence to the action. The more accurate New English Bible makes it clear that the “day” is idiomatic for “when”, after all they did not die on that day and no they did not spiritually die on the day either though you will hear teachers make such claims as nonsensical as they may be.

But this idea of death as punishment rather then the natural consequence of actions has powerfully changed Christianity. The cessation of life because one does not accept the gift of life given by God becomes God's punishment of death. Instead of God as the source of life they focus on God as the cause of death. But if one rejects the offer of life from God the natural consequence is death because God's gift is not accepted. The wrath of God then becomes something that God does to people rather then something that people do to themselves by their own actions. It is very understandable if one does not read the progression of understanding in the Bible. After all in the Old Testament both the good and the bad came from God. The successful blessed by God the sick cursed by God. The side that won the war was the result of God making them successful. We who read the Bible have to learn to read it with these historical factors figured in however.

After all there is a lot of confusing language in the Bible. If we took it all literally we could not mix crops or material in clothing, we would be killing rebellious children, adulterers and sabbath breakers and even as we kill them claiming we are loving them. That become the problem, we assume these kind of things about God and make Him to be as irrational as ancient human beings. Then of course to explain the irrationality we would say God's ways are not our ways or God is mysterious and we can't understand what He does or will do.

But is this what God in human form wanted us to do. Jesus wanted us to be friends with God, Jesus wanted us to move even beyond the idea of servants because servants do what their master says to friends who understand what the Master wants done.

John 15:15 NIV: I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
When we look at the first sermon ever recorded being preached after the resurrection of Christ it has nothing to do with fear.

Acts 2:22-24 NASB“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know— this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. “ But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power

The good news, the New Testament is not about the threat of God but the salvation of God. Peter could have threatened them with damnation for killing Christ but he did not, he offered what God offered and that is forgiveness rather than condemnation. Love as a demonstration of God rather then punishment to scare people into behavior. You can scare people into conformity but you can't scare them into love.

The question we should always be asking is what does our doctrine say about the God we believe in?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Traditions and the God that kills so Adam won't be naked

A good example of this is to be found in this comment from my article on Jimmy Swaggart’s Study Bible, the comment is as follows:

“i don't have his bible but i know from the bible that they did animal sacrifices back then.. because of God killed one.. to make there garments. thus starting the animal sacrifices because God covered them with animal so in turn they covered there sins they did and do back then till Jesus came for all.”

If one were to question the above comment they would have to ask did God actually kill an animal or animals just to make garments? Does it not take a good deal of processing before one skins an animal before that skin can be used successfully as clothing? Was this the same God who just spoke the universe into existence and now He has to kill in order to make clothes for humans? Was God really the very first being in recorded Jewish/Christian history to kill another living creature? If this was meant to be the first sacrifice why did the story not emphasize the killing as sacrifice idea rather then just making it about how God provided garments for Adam and Eve? And finally why does not any other part of the Bible reference this incident as emblematic for the sacrificial system?

Those are all very reasonable questions but I bet the writer of the above comment has not thought about even one of them. Reason is not the enemy of faith, in fact reason encourages faith because then there are reasons for the faith. The reverse however is not usually true; faith is often the enemy of reason. Because then they say if I had a reason to believe something why would I need faith. That is the problem that the traditionalist and the Fundamentalist have when they deal with what is written in the Bible. Their faith is in fact their tradition, their belief is not evidence based but tradition based, to question their tradition is to question faith in their minds. That however is not how the entire Bible lays out faith. Faith in God was based upon the multitude of stories that fill the Bible, the evidence of the Messiah, as Jesus came and lived among us. Those stories, the very pages of scripture are evidence to base ones faith upon.

Blind faith is exactly what it says, a faith that is not seen, a faith without evidence, a belief without reason. It cannot be reasonably explained to anyone it is accepted or rejected based upon nothing because it stands on nothing. As Gandhi said: “Faith... Must be enforced by reason...When faith becomes blind it dies.” Unfortunately that is not quite true because it does not die it instead becomes a vice. A more accurate quote by Ray Cove would be “If you don't have faith in your people in the field, you are lost. If that faith is blind faith, then it is not faith at all, just maladministration.” Blind faith is very problematic.

So how do we answer the traditionalist? We must take them back to their source material and ask them to explain their presuppositions. That is why this is a blog rather then simply an article. The subject is simply too vast, it is too vast for one book, with such a vast field of thought to engage in not every possible objection can be covered or every possible explanation given. Thus this is a conversation, a dialog that continues and evolves as we learn more and as we examine more implications. For our friend who believes that God was the first to kill we can answer fairly simply by going to the source. Because the Genesis story never once says that God killed an animal to make the garments for the people.

As the Exposititor’s Bible Commentary says: “The mention of the type of clothing that God made--"garments of skin [`or]," i.e., tunics--is perhaps intended to recall the state of the man and the woman before the Fall: they "were both naked [`arummim], and they felt no shame" (2:25). The author may also be anticipating the notion of sacrifice in the slaying of the animals for the making of the skin garments, though he has given no clues of this meaning in the narrative itself.”

Tunics that is coverings, it does not say animal skins that is the from the early English translations. When you look at the text and then the interlinear of the words here is what we see using the King James with the
Strong’s numbers following the word:

Adam 120, wife 802, Lord 3068, God 430, coats 3801, skins 5785, clothed 3847

When you look at the word skins 5785 we see that it includes man’s skin also:

5785  `owr (ore); from 5783; skin (as naked); by implication, hide, leather:
KJV-- hide, leather, skin.

5783 says:  `uwr (oor); a primitive root; to (be) bare: KJV-- be made naked.

It is not all that hard to see that God made tunics to cover the skin of the people and thus they were clothed. You don’t have to kill anything with such an interpretation. You don’t have to have God kill an animal and then perform a miracle to immediately make the skin usable for sewing or to become supple and move about comfortably in.

Remember “animal” is not in the Hebrew, just skins and skins can have varying meanings. It could be the cover layer of something else, wool is the covering layer of a sheep, various barks or leaves could be considered to be coverings, a snake sheds its skin, so there are other options available.

All we have is the quick aside in the story that God had seen their nakedness and covered them. God cares, He assists them even when they disobeyed He maintained their interests at heart. It is a simply line in a simple story that people want to pour so much meaning into that it eventually loses the initial meaning.

After this we have to consider what the author was trying to say. Was he trying to reference sacrifices and just did not know how to create the implication very well? Was he trying to express his idea of how God could have done things, without the conception of God that the Bible progresses through. Say for example God in his estimation could kill anything and anyone with impunity and it would not matter because God is the ultimate power and as such can do what He wants and the character…the very essence of God…how He acted and how He loves would be of little concern in his story. God cared enough to cloth them it did not matter how he did it.

We have a lot of questions and perhaps not a lot of answers. The people with all the answers like the original commenter seem to have none of the questions. They don’t know how to ascribe original meaning to the text or application to the present but they do have the answers that their traditions maintain. I prefer the method of the late A. Graham Maxwell who would constantly ask “what does this say about God”.

If that is you, stay tuned to this blog as we explore past the traditions.