Punitive

The punitive God of the Old Testament.

That’s what people think.

Joshua and the Israelites are told in chapter 8 to do to Ai as they did to Jericho, only taking its spoil and livestock, but killing the people. This kind of thing is what skeptics hold up as barbaric and indicative of biblical madness meaning either that God is a gleeful and sadistic lover of violence, or that the Bible is not a holy and revealed word but made up by sinful people, leaving us no actual guideline from a lofty, non-specific kind of god.

Jesus passes most of the postmodern scrutiny, but Jehovah? Where do we find the punitive spirit of this bloody passage in the compassion of Jesus, if they are supposed to be one God? Actually, as I was thinking about it this morning, we kind of do. Jesus’ compassion extends to the depth of forcefully removing all that could separate us from him, surgically if necessary. Jesus calls on two occasions in Matthew’s gospel for us to tear out our eyes (Gloucester-style) and cut off our hands and feet if they cause us to sin. (Matt 5:29-30, 18:8-9)

Sometimes, when caught off guard, I don’t know what to say to such objections about Jehovah’s cleansing instructions. It is a matter of state of mind: If I’m not absolute enough with myself, I’m going to be offended when God is absolute with other people.

I normally do not consider cutting my arm off. It sounds barbaric. If I were Aron Ralston (in 127 Hours) trapped between a rock and a hard place with the choice to die there or to cut my arm off and possibly escape, I might consider it. And funny enough, Gloucester ‘saw better’ which son loved him and which one did not after he lost his eyes.

127 Hours

 

Gloucester Edgar

Edgar finding his father

Romans 8:38-39

Reading the August 1st entry from Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling, I noticed something in these verses that I didn’t before. Read the whole thing first.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [ESV]

What is it that I noticed? Paul is sure that neither death nor life will be able to separate us from the love of God. Life cannot separate us from the love of God. Sometimes I am convinced that things suck and I’m tired of it and wish God would decide that it’s time for me to go. There’s a faint sense, at least in thinking of what I would be like if I were convinced that God loved me much, that I am tired of life because I think God doesn’t love me hence this is what he’s giving me. Conventionally, death sounds something terrible, but sometimes for Christians, life is what conventionally sounds something terrible if, you know, we get to be with God in death and free from this world. I’m not sure this is an orthodox or accurate interpretation of the verse, but to those who think like me at times, here it is: even sucky times of life do not mean we are separated from the love of God.

Event Planning 101

  1. Never completely trust an “I wanna go!!!” Save yourself the heartache. Don’t get excited until you’re all on the road / at the party … etc.
  2. Asking “Do you want to go on a road trip?” is the same as asking “Do you like road trips?” It gives you no indication of whether the person will actually go on a road trip with you on any day you suggest.
  3. Instead, ask, “Do you want to go camping at Location Alpha with myself and so-and-so from the umpteenth of Mayvember to the impteenth of Apruary? It’ll cost $300. We’re leaving by 19:07 and returning by 15:29.”
  4. Remember that your friends are still your friends, even if they keep bailing on you. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Sometimes, I feel that righteousness alone would not actually be that hard. (Now really, it is, but let us conjecture for a short while.) That would be to claim, perhaps rightly, that you are in the right and have been wronged and there’s no argument about it anymore.

But to have righteousness with grace and mercy and peace is another thing completely. To be in the right but not to boast, or be proud, or seek to dishonour others by pointing out that you were in the right (unlike somebody), and not be easily angered, and yet after that to keep no record of wrongs, and then following all the aftermath to still want to trust and hope and persevere? This is where the Bible gives us a far far higher standard than to merely be righteous.

Waiting

Waiting, a topic which reminds me about why this blog exists. The point is to dwell on and consider ideas, expressing thoughts and testing them so that I give myself a mnemonic in some ways about certain themes and concepts that emerge as I write.

A long-ish while ago I wrote about learning to see “waiting” as an activity that is not a totally passive thing, but like waitressing. “Waiting” (tables) does not mean kicking back, relaxing, and zoning out. “Waiting” (tables) is certainly not constantly pestering where you are serving. “Waiting” (tables) is more like approaching to do what should be done at the suitable time, and hanging back at suitable times.

Now don’t take my waitressing advice too seriously in a restaurant business sense, as I once infamously waitressed a few times one summer, on my way to discovering what I am and am not good at. You can guess whether I was or was not good at waitressing. Anyhow, this past Sunday, I was reminded about waiting once again, but from a different perspective. God waits for us. Why doesn’t He reveal Himself to everyone if He wants humanity to worship Him? Why doesn’t He change us instantly if He really wants us to be a certain way, or be a certain kind of person? Why doesn’t He this or that and whatnot? Sometimes He waits for us to change our attitude first and return to Him broken and contrite; then, at the suitable time, He acts.

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel,
In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.
But you were unwilling, and you said,
“No! We will flee upon horses”;
therefore you shall flee away;
and, “We will ride upon swift steeds”;
therefore your pursuers shall be swift.
A thousand shall flee at the threat of one;
at the threat of five you shall flee,
till you are left
like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain,
like a signal on a hill.
Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.
(Isaiah 30:15-18 ESV)

By nature, waiting implies that there is something that you are waiting for. In our waiting then, if we are waiting in the ways we should so that we can act at the suitable time, let us be watchful waiters. Watchful, for we do not always know what we are waiting for.

Drinking Blood

As you may have guessed, though the title suggests the possibility, the following content is not vampiric in nature. Rather, this is about the Last Supper. And about Leviticus. And communion.

Jesus took a cup (presumably of wine, as it is from the vine) and told his disciples, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood…”

(Matthew 26:26-28 ESV)

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

The shock factor of this command increases when you consider the cultural background of these men, whom observe the Levitical laws against eating blood. “Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.”

(Leviticus 17:10-16 ESV)

“If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood.
“Any one also of the people of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off. And every person who eats what dies of itself or what is torn by beasts, whether he is a native or a sojourner, shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening; then he shall be clean. But if he does not wash them or bathe his flesh, he shall bear his iniquity.”

The thing is, blood was to be revered and not eaten because of its symbolic value in being a life fluid. To read the rest of that section in Leviticus, blood on the altar was special and had the power of atonement for the people’s souls, so it was not to be eaten as merely common food. But because blood atones and gives life in that spiritual sense, Jesus fulfills and hence references this mental construct and symbolic association established long ago to show the disciples with pizazz how his death and the loss of blood associated with this death would be the blood on the altar to atone for all sins. Once and for all.

“Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Leviticus is like a tome of metaphors to unlock the oomph and awe of the New Testament gospels!

Mara: bitterness

This wrinkly thing below is bitter melon a.k.a. bitter gourd. It tastes awful. (I think so, and I’d eat almost anything digestible.) Bitter melon is actually quite good for your health.

Here’s the story:

She moved to a difference country with her family. Her husband died. Her two sons died. She had no grandchildren, and only her daughters in law were left. A troubled immigrant who had everything taken from her, with reason to bear sorrow.

She said to her daughters-in-law, “My daughters, my life is much too bitter for you to share, because the LORD’s hand has turned against me.”

When she and one daughter in law arrived back in her home province, she said to those who remembered her and greeted her, “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara,” she answered, “for the Almighty has made me very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has pronounced judgment on me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?” [passages from Ruth, HCSB]

——

It would seem that Naomi is a bitter woman because of her bitter life. It would seem that she has had unfortunate things happen to her, and that she is a victim of misfortune. We are, however, informed of a few things that could suggest otherwise. This happens historically in the time of judges ruling Israel, which is a time when men did whatever was right in their own eyes. There was a famine in the land of Judah, possibly a sign of judgment about the wickedness in God’s people, purposed as a wake up call. Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, moved their family to Moab, a pagan land far away from people who worshipped God, to escape the hard times. Their sons married women who did not worship God. There’s quite a bit of disobedience and lack of faith and trust amongst the family.

The deaths (and the rumour of food back in Judah) ultimately caused Naomi to return to Judah with Ruth. When Ruth ends up marrying well and bearing a son, there is no record of what Naomi says.

——

So the LORD’s plans at the juncture of the deaths and returning to Judah appear to be a bitter hand dealt to Naomi. However much of this was her fault is irrelevant; even if Naomi’s personal sin was not a direct cause of this entire bitter fate, Naomi is also not a mere victim. She was bitter, mara, vexed, provoked, annoyed, irritated, angry. Many years earlier, the Israelites had grumbled to Moses about the bitter water, and the LORD’s lack of provision in the desert. They were tested. They discovered that they needed to obey and trust, and not to complain. [Exodus 15:22-27]

——

At the end of Naomi’s tale, the other women in Judah say to her, “ ‘Praise the Lord, who has not left you without a family redeemer today. May his name become well known in Israel. He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. Indeed, your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.’ Naomi took the child, placed him on her lap, and took care of him.” She has nothing to say now but does seem to treasure what God gave her eventually. Her life was bitter for a time, but hindsight is 20/20. You see things so much more clearly as you reflect and look back than while you were in the middle of it; and yet we hold on to the past as if we knew better.

In time, the Lord who is good will provide, ultimately in eternity but also somehow in the land of the living. In the meantime, we must be blind to take unsavoury situations with annoyance, irritability, anger, vexation or bitterness in our hearts. God is at work, and we must keep up with Him, being ready to change our minds, change our behaviour, and change our desires. Not easy for change-resistant breeds like us who think we know better.

Jesus’ words: implications of a simple statement

Mark 2:17 (ESV)

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.

Thinking over that last part, Jesus is essentially saying that in his coming to earth, there are some people he calls, and some whom he does not. In other words, some people Jesus saves, and others he does not.

The natural discrimination falls at “the righteous” and “sinners;” the sinners are saved and the righteous are not! However, we also know that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. If everyone is a sinner, wherefore art the distinction?

Clearly then, the distinction of whether one is ‘called’ by Jesus is made based not on whether you are righteous or a sinner, but whether you consider yourself a pretty decent person or whether you despise yourself and repent in dust and ashes. Sound melodramatic? This latter group have the presence of mind to say, “Jesus, without you I am lost, and cannot hope to stand before God, in His glory and holiness, and say that I have lived a good life worthy of God’s stature and of being in His presence evermore.

All these implications Jesus packed into 9 words: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.
(Well, translated over to ESV, it’s 9 words; maybe even less in Aramaic or Greek or Hebrew.)