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

The Scoreboard of Life

This is ultimately not about the World Cup happening right now this beautiful 2014, but the title was inspired by it being that I think scoring goals in soccer / football is not just due to skill and teamwork but also a matter of psychology. You know when you are so sure that a certain team is not going to catch up after losing a goal? I don’t think it’s purely thanks to skill and teamwork, but also the momentum of morale at that point.

Anyways, these are actually thoughts about living faith and the psychology behind it that I got from some insights about the psychology of learning.

Carol S. Dweck speaks about the psychology of learning in education, and has an acclaimed book entitled Mindset. This is my transcript from the first part (the first 2.5 minutes) of a talk she gave on the subject, entitled How to Help Every Child Fulfil Their Potential:

Here’s that talk:

  • [Picture of a happy baby.] We all come like this: infinitely curious, always experimenting, always learning, and addressing the most difficult tasks of a lifetime with tremendous gusto. You never see an unmotivated baby. [Picture of a bored, smoking baby ‘bum’, face propped by up a hand.] Nooo. And yet, just a few years later, you start seeing lots of kids who look as turned off as that baby. [Picture of a young student in a pose like the baby, minus the cigarette.] Not so different from the baby.
  • But what we have now discovered is that mindsets are at the heart of this kind of problem. Mindsets that make kids afraid to try, and make them easily derailed by setbacks. But what’s important is that we are also discovering why this happens, and what to do about it.
  • In my work, we find that some students have a fixed mindset about their intellectual abilities and talents. They think intelligence is just a fixed trait: you have a certain amount and that’s that. This is the mindset that makes kids afraid to try, because they’re afraid to look dumb.
  • But other students have a growth mindset. They believe that intelligence can be developed through their effort, dedication, learning, and mentorship from others. They don’t think that everyone’s the same, or that anyone can be Einstein, but they understand that even Einstein wasn’t the guy he became before he put in years and years of dedicated labour.

It’s a great talk on its own, but being the distracted listener that I am whenever someone gives an informative talk, I started to draw the parallels between a mindset about intelligence with a Christian walk and the mindset about faith:

  • Babies are born with an openness and willingness to know God, and most children too. After some years, you get teens who become doubtful, skeptical, or legalistic, and they can grow into adults who are even more so.
  • Our mindset about faith and its cultivation at the heart of this problem. Certain mindsets make us afraid to trust God and easily derailed by setbacks. As such, we do not live freely.
  • Some Christians have a fixed mindset. This could be because they see ‘faith’ as a binary of believing or not believing, so you either have it or don’t have it. God chose you and that’s that, so we have no obligation to do more. This could also be because they see faith associated with ‘legitimate’ activities showing the abundance of your faith: working in ministry, being a missionary, successfully making lots of money (to tithe though, you know), being married, being a mom/dad… This mindset makes Christians narrow-minded and focused on the Scoreboard of Life. If they are hitting certain checkboxes they are on track as Christians, and easily satisfied by things other than God and God’s plans. If they fail in that work or lose that role, they do not know their purpose or value, and this can cause them to be embittered with God. They are afraid of change, because it takes away the confidence of faith they’ve built up in their chosen check points.
  • But other Christians  have a growth mindset. They believe that faith can be developed through their effort, dedication, learning, and mentorship from others. It’s not that they think everyone can save themselves through those efforts, but they know that after God has set us aside and saved us, we must respond by taking personal steps of faith, and not just to meet a set of standard criteria set by societal norms or even church norms. They understand that even the greatest men and women of faith put in years and years of dedicated labour, and even Jesus as a child made an effort to learn and know God’s Word well. They understand that faith is a constant development and that there is no plateau to reach and no stagnancy in what God expects of us. We are not to look constantly at a Scoreboard of Life on which we decide how successful or unsuccessful we are being as Christians personally, but we are to fix our eyes on Jesus, author and perfecter of our faith, not to grow weary with sin or prideful with success. They understand that being too occupied with the things of this world that can be seen is not the best that God intends for us, and they hold things and people loosely before God, despite loving them deeply.

Alright, I don’t know if my theology is completely straight with every word there, and I know for sure there are other good parallels I am not drawing, but I think the general outline compares well. Am I fixing my eyes on the Scoreboard of Life (I have a job, I’m witnessing to co-workers, I have a Christian husband, I have a beautiful family, I have smart well-adjusted kids…) or am I fixing my eyes on Jesus, counsellor for the one who gives and takes away?

To go further, Carol Dweck lists 3 worlds in which the mindset about intelligence works:

  1. Goals
    1. Fixed mindset: look smart at all costs
    2. Growth mindset: learn at all costs
  2. Effort
    1. Fixed mindset: it should come naturally; if you have the ability you don’t need effort
    2. Growth mindset: work hard, because effort is key
  3. Setbacks
    1. Fixed mindset: hide mistakes and deficiencies
    2. Growth mindset: capitalise on mistakes and confront deficiencies

I can see this translated too for faith:

  1. Goals
    1. Fixed mindset: look smart faithful at all costs
    2. Growth mindset: learn develop faith at all costs
  2. Effort
    1. Fixed mindset: it should come naturally; if you have the ability faith you don’t need effort works
    2. Growth mindset: work hard, because effort actively trusting God in everyday things is key
  3. Setbacks
    1. Fixed mindset: hide mistakes sin and deficiencies
    2. Growth mindset: capitalise on mistakes and boast in deficiencies and confront deficiencies sin

 

Waiting (cont.) … then Beholding!

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.  -Isaiah 43:19

When you speak of waiting, the wait times can vary. Taking a ticket for 098 when the counter displays 016 feels disheartening, but taking one for 94789 when the counter is 94787 is almost, just almost, like winning a lottery. When you wait on God, there is no counter, and often no definite outcome, there is only trust. He will do good.

Suddenly, all my troubles seem so far away…

Alright, that was in a quote offset, but it’s not actually a quote. It’s a misquote of The Beatles song, Yesterday. It actually goes, “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away…” and, “Suddenly, I’m not half the man I used to be…”

My point is, though, that God works almost under the radar. Oftentimes it seems like He’s just waiting until you let your guard down, until you reluctantly lay down a burden of your own expectations and desires or whatever else, and as soon as it leaves your hand, BAM, he roars, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

I know this section in Isaiah is foretelling Christ as the new thing God is doing, the path to God in the desert of sin, but just like you seek God, find Him, and then continue seeking God for the rest of your life to know Him more deeply, Christ is The New Thing to a worn and weary generation, and yet God keeps reminding us to look to Christ anew, and to look to Himself for new things. New hope, new life, new beginnings.

No matter how much I try to guess what the new thing is, I never get it. Ever. It’s always always beyond what I could come up with, though I may come close. (I think I do like it that way.) It’s at a different time, or under different circumstances, or in a different way.

Here goes one more on the counter for a new thing that has sprung forth! God is funny, and I feel like Jesus must have been tremendously humorous as a man.

I am dust and ashes. For me the world was created.

I’ve started a new book, and in the introduction, the author, Greg Ogden, quotes a Hasidic piece of advice that says you should go about with a piece of paper in each pocket, with one that reads “I am dust and ashes,” and the other, “For me the world was created.” What a fine paradox.

Let me just quote the first introductory section:

Would Jesus ask something of us that couldn’t be done?

At the center of all the biblical commands and at the very core of “everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20), Jesus declares that we are to love God with everything we’ve got and love our neighbors in the same way that we cherish ourselves.

Really? Is this possible?

The energy behind the writing of this curriculum comes from an insight that is quite frankly embarrassing. It is embarrassing because I should know better. At first, the insight doesn’t seem very dramatic. In fact, every time I have shared this personal “revelation” with others I have been sheepishly apologetic. But here is the amazing truth: Jesus actually thinks we can become like him. Jesus actually believes that it is possible for frail and deeply flawed human beings to focus our complete affection on God and others.

The key word here for me is possible. I had unconsciously given up the possibility of actually doing what Jesus commanded. No, I had never consciously thought or said, “Jesus, I think you’re an idealistic dreamer,” or “Jesus, you can only expect so much from flawed humanity.” I was not even aware that I had dismissed Jesus’ belief in me. But what had taken over my spirit in my attempt to be authentic was a focus on where I had fallen short of Jesus’ call. In my desire to make sure that I was not deceiving myself about my capacity for sin, I had given up the upside possibility that the character of Jesus could actually take over my life.

[…]

[Jesus didn’t follow up his Great Commandments] by saying, “I know I’m asking a lot, but do the best you can. I know you’ll never fully approximate this high and lofty goal, but it’s still worth striving for.” No, I added that part myself. In my spirit I washed out the possibility that this could actually be, saying, “I know the guy dwelling in this body all too well. Not a chance that this weak and feeble individual could ever approximate Jesus’ expectation.”

Besides that he used the word “cherish” – one of my personal favourites – doesn’t the rest of this whole passage make you want to read more? A great introduction if I ever read one. Rather deft writing technique too, as his claim that this was his own embarrassing realization disarmingly invited me to have that embarrassing revelation too. Well, the title is The Essential Commandment: A Disciple’s Guide to Loving God and Others.

The Essential Commandment

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!

Tongue Twister Mnemonic

“No need of a physician.”

Say that really fast 5 times.

It’s not easy, is it? Not easy to pronounce all the “f,” “z,” and “sh” sounds accurately anyways!

“Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick.” – Mark 2:17, see the previous post. Trying to memorize some of the things Jesus says in the gospels, so that I can actually say, “Jesus said…” when I need to.

Random tongue twisting (enunciation dysfunction) episodes like this can still be used in your favour as a mnemonic device!

(Another fun thing to say/sing is, “The tip of the tongue, the teeth, the lips,” especially for ESL students.)