Jesusians

A Courteous Contrararian

The Covid

Written By: Jon Jaroszewski - Jul• 03•20

Can we just drop the 19? There aren’t many other covids to confuse it with. Economists estimate that we can save $2.4 billion in ink and labor costs.

I’ve been thinking about the covid in the big picture, the stuff we either don’t think about or don’t talk about.

In the short run, I’m proud of humanity. For the first time in history, we have put the value of lives above the economic considerations. That’s pretty astounding. Initially, nearly the whole world shut down.

I think world leaders didn’t want to tarnish their legacies. They didn’t know what the covid would be like, but they knew worst case scenario would be like the decimation of the Spanish Flu that killed an estimated 50-100 million people. With today’s population, that would be 450-900 million people. No leader wanted to be responsible for the death of 20-30 million in their own country. But yay for us.

Now that we understand the covid a bit better, of course we need to reopen. People need a place to live. They need to eat. They need to touch other humans. How we open has been a healthy debate. It should be.

What I can’t understand is this debate about masks and distancing. I hate wearing a mask but I do. And I tend to be a conservative. I’d feel terrible if I didn’t and then got someone sick. Wearing or not shouldn’t be a political statement, it is kindness.

We can all claim our right to do something or not, and we love to rail at the government for taking our freedoms. I don’t like to cut my grass. It’s my grass. Every blade is taxed. Shouldn’t I have the right to not cut it? But I know if I didn’t, my neighbors (face mask deniers or not ) would be unhappy with me. And what if my new freedom encouraged a few more neighbors to also quit. My freedom from grass-cutting might lower property values. I have a social responsibility to the people around me, and they to me.

To place our own “rights” above the wishes of our neighbors is narcissistic. It makes the whole world an ever-so-slightly worse place. So does driving drunk. So would a shaggy lawn or leaving out my trash cans. And according to Jesus, who are our neighbors?

We can all grumble about the re-openings or reversals, but until most people feel safe, let’s be kind to them. Even if “they are sheep misled by the mainstream media.” Especially for those poor, frightened people. It’s not such a huge sacrifice. Be kind.

Doing the Work of God

Written By: Jon Jaroszewski - Jul• 24•15

I heard a story on NPR yesterday that horrified me until I started to understand why God is allowing it.

ISIS, everyone’s favorite bad guys, have been displaying remarkable diversity when choosing murder victims. In addition to Christians and other religious groups, they have been uploading videos of their efforts to rid the caliphate of homosexuals.

Standard procedure, after identifying someone as gay, seems to be to throw them off a rooftop and then stone them to death. Thoughtfully, before they toss them, they save their cellphones. This allows them to search the dead man’s contacts and texts in hopes of tracking down future victims. Soon, we might surmise, the only LGBT people left in the Islamic State will be those without phones.

Mohammed borrowed primarily from three religions to construct the religious collage we call Islam: Christianity and Zoroastrianism to a lesser degree and Judaism much more heavily. I am not an Islamic scholar by any means but somewhere along the way Mohammed must have picked up the little nugget from Leviticus 20 about killing homosexuals. The faithful Muslims are even employing the preferred Levitical method of execution for the sexually immoral when they kill them by stoning.

In all this, it seems to me, although I disagree with much else in their philosophies and practices, they are doing the work of God. And although I hold out scant hope for a political or military solution, might this point of agreement be the beginning of a new ecumenicalism; a place where Jew, Muslim, and Christian might find a common ground?

Some Christians, and I fear some Jews, may have strayed far enough from biblical teaching as to abhor the murder of someone for their sexual orientation. But these are some of the same people who consistently point to the OT description of homosexuality as an abomination. We can’t have it both ways, people. If we insist that it is an abomination, we must insist on their deaths. Because one of the two verses that calls man on man action an abomination also calls for their deaths.

And we don’t have to feel bad about killing them because the verse say the blood guilt falls upon the victims, not the killers. If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them. [Lev 20:13 NASB]

Hooray, ISIS, good for you!

In churches all across America in the last few weeks, pastors have lamented the Supreme Court decision favoring gay marriage. I think this is wrong. The Bible, as near as I can tell, is much in favor of marriage. But now we have a way to please (almost) everybody and still remain biblical. We can let the Ls, as well as the Bs and Gs, and maybe even the Ts, get married. And then we can stone them to death on their honeymoons.

Heroic

Written By: Jon Jaroszewski - May• 25•15

When I think of the image I have of God, or at least of his actions and disposition, the word I think of first has come to be heroic.

My heroic God and our heroic God. Although my idea of heroic isn’t the same as most people’s idea. I imagine most of us think of a victorious God leading us to final victory because that’s what I used to think. Not that that’s wrong. He tells us he will be victorious and I for one believe him.  He will be victorious but I don’t think of it as heroic when I think of it in this way. The odds are overwhelmingly in his favor. Or so it used to seem.

But now, when I think of the battle as I see it in life and read about it in the Bible, it seems as though God is fighting against almost insurmountable odds. Because I think the battle is between God’s Good and Free Will. Someday God will make it all right. The lion will alternately lie down and graze with various animals and we’ll live in peace and justice. But I don’t think he’ll take away our free will, ever. We’ll want to put our hands into snake’s nests when we’re babies.

If God never takes away our freedom and yet turns us into peaceable creatures, that would have to be the biggest miracle ever. Bigger than the Big Bang.

NT Wright tells the story of the Bible in somewhat this way: God created all things good and perfect and at first humanity got along swimmingly until Adam and Eve were ambushed by the Serpent of unparalleled Wisdom and Beauty. God’s answer was to work through Abraham and his seed who became God’s chosen people.

The only problem with God’s solution was that his chosen people could never seem to fulfill the role he had laid out for them. He gave them the Law. He dangled blessings and curses. Because that is what you do when you’re dealing with people who have the freedom to choose one or the other. But they were a stiffnecked people for the most part, just like the people they were supposed to convert. The propensity to sin is common to all of us. That’s why Paul says, in the part of the sentence we never quote, There is no difference between Gentile and Jew for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. [Rom 3:23-4 NIV]. 

So the problem was that there was little difference in the things that counted between the Jews and the rest of the world. (I’ve heard the same charge leveled against us.) But God had (according to NT) the rest of his plan to yet enact. He reserved a remnant for himself. And the remnant kept getting smaller. It was down to eight thousand by the time of Elijah. By the time of Jesus, it was pretty much down to Jesus and the apostles. And then, there on the cross, it was down at last to Jesus alone. He was the final remnant of Israel, a nation of one. He at last fulfilled Israel’s destiny. He didn’t partake of sin, for Sin was the problem from Adam ever after until him. He was the Hope of Israel and Israel’s Consolation. He was Israel personified. This is the reason we can read the servant passages in Isaiah and know they are about Jesus while the Jews read them and know they are about Israel.

And then he took our sins on his own back, and not only our sins but the sins of the whole world. That’s heroic to me.

Other people have other ideas of heroic. Think of Martin Luther King or Gandhi. Passive action in the face of overwhelming odds is heroic. But in the same vein, King and Gandhi have nothing on God. He, from the beginning has turned passive action into an art form. The finest example ever is the cross. It is how God works. By dying for us he made a public spectacle of the powers. He has not only achieved the victory, he embarrassed his enemies. Not by slaying them with a sword but by giving up everything he had.

Or how about the single parent that has no time for anything than kids, work at home, and work at work. The mom with no time for herself, that pours her love into her children. That’s just what God does, that’s what God is like. He ours his love into us, heroic.

There’s the epitome of bravery and heroism, the soldier who unthinkingly falls on the grenade to save his friends’ lives. Jesus fell on a hydrogen bomb, deliberately, after an eternity of contemplating something so scary and foreign as Sin and Death, with no way for him to imagine how terrible it was going to be.

The longsuffering of God. His patience with us. His love for us in spite of what we are. Heroic, heroic, heroic.

Giving of himself in every moment, fighting what seems like overwhelming odds, functioning with grace and elan. always optimistic, always working to bring the best out in others. God does it silently, uncomplainingly, eternally.

Heroic.

 

Religion of Peace Part 6

Written By: Jon Jaroszewski - May• 18•15

I ended the last post with a sarcastic quote, a quote that I have actually heard in real life, and more than once. “Oh, you have some new understanding of Scripture that no one has grasped over the last 2000 years?”  How can anyone answer in the affirmative without seeming prideful and arrogant?

The answer to that rhetorical question is: slowly and carefully. That’s what this series has tried to be, slow and careful while answering yes.

We started with the biblical; how God changes his methods for dealing with us when we are capable of understanding differently. He can make us capable of understanding differently because he is God. We have examples of God acting in a cruder manner earlier in the narrative we call the Bible, and even then he would talk about something better for us, and promise it was coming: the wonderful and/or terrible Day of the Lord.

Then we looked at Jesus, who tells us he copies his Father. What we see, I hope, is the underlying core of who God is rather than just what he does. But even Jesus told us he worked in parables so that some might not understand. Yet others did, and we do yet today because of the timelessness of the example.

Paul told us that those who saw but didn’t perceive couldn’t perceive. Then he told us of those who could perceive, Christians. Hebrews told us of a day when all would know God, from the greatest to the least. If we take away predestination (as I tried to do in my series on Predestination, see side bar) as a reason why someone can or can’t perceive, becoming someone who can perceive can fit nicely into the vacuum.

Then we looked at statistics and anecdotes from the last two thousand years. Despite frequent aberrations, we are becoming slightly more civilized. Less murder, less violence, less racism, less sexism, less harsh working conditions, less xenophobia. We still have plenty of all those things but statistically we have less than before.

 

I have one last puzzle piece, a last point to my argument, and it is personal. As I studied the Bible rather than what people said about it, tentative ideas I had began to group themselves into something more cohesive. They supported each other, made each other more valid. The result better matched reality as I experienced it. That, in my mind, made it a more successful theology.

But still, there were crazy ideas in my burgeoning theology, things no one had ever thought; things I had to keep to myself. Like the idea that God doesn’t know the future and plainly tells us so.

And then one day I heard a radio preacher attack something called Open Theology! I was so excited I could barely wait to get home and do a Google search (before smartphones).  There were thousands of people, maybe more, who thought that God doesn’t know the future! I wasn’t alone anymore. Links led to other links. To process theology and limited universalism, to all sorts of ideas I had gleaned and a few I hadn’t. To ideas I had thought and ideas I didn’t agree with, to ideas that fit my theology and ideas that just tried to tear down the old conservative scaffolding.

The important thing for me was that I was no longer The Lone Idiot, who’s ideas were so outlandish that he had to keep them to himself. I was part of a movement. Knowing the heavy role the Holy Spirit played in my personal development, and so the role he must have played with these other alternative believers, I can’t help but think of it as a movement of God.

And now, if someone asks me that question again, “do you have some new understanding of Scripture that no one has grasped over the last 2000 years?” I can answer, “Yes I have, but it isn’t only me who thinks this way.”

And to think it all started with the Amalekites.

 

Oops. I almost forgot the point of this series.

Can we say, based on all we’ve thought about, that we might be a bit better than we were before? Is Christianity different than it was two hundred years ago, or five hundred, or fifteen hundred? Yes. Is it better? Yes. Is humanity better for having us in their midst? Yes. Are we a more peaceable religion than we have been? Yes. Yes we are becoming, slowly, the religion of peace.

For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes. 

 

 

 

 

 

First Let’s Kill All The Liars

Written By: Jon Jaroszewski - May• 15•15

The title of this post is a play on a line from Shakespeare’s King Lear. First let’s kill all the lawyers. Perhaps I shouldn’t start by joking because I want to talk about a very sad story.

Yesterday I read about a grandmother who was sentenced to life in prison for killing her granddaughter, and the story has haunted me. She had found out that the little girl lied about stealing some candy from a friend and made her run as punishment. She ran the girl, back and forth in front of their house for hours, threatening worse punishment every time the nine year-old wanted to stop. A neighbor finally intervened when the girl collapsed and even then her grandma was threatening worse punishment unless she got back up and resumed running. At that point the girl was finally taken to a hospital where she later died.

I mourn the loss. I’m sure you do too. The punishment was far worse than the crime, and that’s the horror, the terrible injustice. I wonder if the grandmother feels the weight of it now, if she’s horrified by her own actions.  Her attorney said she handled the court proceedings “like a Christian woman,” whatever that means but that Christian women still claims the granddaughter wasn’t punished for lying or stealing; Grandma was training her to make her run faster because she had finished second in a race at school. Since the girl’s punishment happened immediately after the school bus driver reported the theft to the grandma, her defense appears nonsensical, a lie.  Using the grandmother’s own standards, doesn’t that mean she should be run to death herself? I would hope you answer would be in the negative; if we killed the grandma for lying we would be as much a monster as she was.

I am far more concerned about the granddaughter’s death than the the grandmother’s life sentence. Because, according to our theology, unless the granddaughter had accepted Christ as Savior she is now burning in the pit of Hell. Her life was so short, and probably miserable if her grandma and stepmother always treated her so severely, and now she has to spend eternity in Hell. Does that seem just?

You might counter that she was only nine; she hadn’t reached the “age of accountability.” But we have biblical evidence that nine year olds have reached that age, if there is any such thing. One of the last kings of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord at eight years old.

Jehoiachin was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned three months and ten days in Jerusalem, and he did evil in the sight of the LORD. [2 Chronicles 36:9 NASB] This verse is so disturbing that many translations, like the NIV, change the eight to eighteen. The earliest manuscripts say eight. The predominance of the manuscripts say eight. I imagine some scribe deciding that was wrong, taking it upon himself to make better sense of the verse and so changing it to eighteen. But translators are supposed to translate the best available data, not what fits their own thoughts about justice.

If an eight year-old can do evil according to the Lord, I imagine a nine year-old would not be exempt. Did she do evil? She stole and she lied. That makes her a liar and a thief.

Isn’t that the rhetorical gambit many of us learned to use when witnessing; to show people they are indeed sinners? “Have you ever stolen something, maybe a pen from work? That makes you a thief, a sinner. Sinners, according to the Bible, deserve to go to Hell unless Jesus covers their sin with his blood. Because even one sin is too much to allow us to come into the presence of a Holy God.”

So here’s the question: If the grandma was a monster because she killed her granddaughter for lying, wouldn’t that make God a greater monster for then condemning the little girl to eternal torment?

 

Religion of Peace Part 5

Written By: Jon Jaroszewski - May• 05•15

We’ve been thinking about how the meanings of certain passages are changed over time, when God has finally made us ready to perceive them in a new way. We looked at Jesus and Isaiah as they told us we would see and hear parts of God’s word but not understand them.

We surmised that God wasn’t hiding things – they have always been part of our texts – he was making us ready for a more complete understanding. So we could be saved. So we could be healed.

We have a couple of scriptures that point out God’s continual efforts to help us understand; that show he is not hiding certain ideas. One is from our old friend Isaiah and one is from Paul, who quotes Isaiah in exactly the same context.

All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations [Isaiah 65:2 NIV]
But concerning Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.” [Romans 10:21 NIV] God’s hands are an anthropomorphism for his effort. And all day long doesn’t mean God tried hard for a day, it means he never gives up. The Israelites were seeing but not perceiving but it wasn’t due to God hiding the truths from them. Paul probably understood this better then even Isaiah did.

Paul also talks about mysteries a lot. When he does, he doesn’t usually mean ideas that weren’t previously in the Bible, he means ideas that were always there but that the people didn’t understand in the way they were meant. In fact, as proof, he would back his ‘mysteries’ with citations from the Hebrew Bible.

What might this all mean to us today? A few things, and I think you might find them surprising. But first we have one more idea to consider. We have to answer an important question. Are these changes in how we interpret Scripture a one-off event, the work of Jesus and the Apostles only, or is the process continuing?

I gave part of my answer already. Luther and Calvin reshaped how we think about God. But they could only do so because God had finally made a significant number of people ready to grasp their ideas. Society and technology were maturing enough to support them. Luther and Calvin came in their own fullness of time.

Even today we are being changed by God and made ready for new things. The End-Times verses are viewed differently in America than they were two hundred years ago. Heck, they’re viewed differently than they were 30 years ago.

The Pentecostal movements and its children are newer still. I think they may be God’s way of saying, “Have you forgotten the Holy Spirit?”

The Baptists, the people I come from, are not immune. You’d think the conservative branch never changes but it does. I hear about brokenness and wounds though I never did twenty years ago. Christus Victor is even making an occasional cameo on Moody, whether they realize it or not.  Sermons are far different than they were 30 years ago. And 50, and 100, and … Not many of us would enjoy a more typical sermon series from 200 years ago. Or agree with some of what the preacher said.

The intellectual battles between Jesus and the Pharisees weren’t a matter of God vs. unbelievers, they were between God and misbelievers. Paul said the Jews were zealous for God but without knowledge. Of course the Pharisees were very knowledgeable in Bible matters, but they couldn’t take into account the fresh work of God.

We almost shouldn’t blame them for it because new revelation from God is a scary thing. Think about it, the whole of the OT was a progressive revelation. Each of the 39 books taught us things we didn’t know before. The Pharisees thought they had it down pat, but that was probably due to the fact that there hadn’t been any fresh revelation for hundreds of years.

Today we are in the same boat. There hasn’t been new revelation for 2000 years. Or has there? What about the work, all day long, of the Holy Spirit? He isn’t bringing us new books of the Bible, he doesn’t have to, the ones we have are sufficient. But he does help us understand them in a new way. That’s what Paul did with the ‘mysteries’. That’s what Luther did. That what Calvin did. And Augustine and Aquinas. The list goes on and it always will, until Jesus returns.

Even the conservative church changes, although ever so slowly. Today, on Moody radio and from our pulpits we speak of a God of love. It is a far cry from Jonathan Edward’s famous Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, a God who dangles sinners over the pit of Hell…

much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else (Thanks to Frank Viola blogging on Patheos for that quote.)

Yeow! Should we tell our unbelieving friends and family that they are loathsome insects? Perhaps not, unless we are 21st century Pharisees. We have to roll with the changes God has wrought in our midst. As he works all day long to help us understand better. Because, don’t forget, he is always at work to this very day.

So when someone appeals to tradition, when someone says, “Oh, you have some new understanding that no one has grasped in the last 2000 years?” you can tell them that is how God works and has always worked and that is how the Bible works and has always worked.

Religion of Peace Part 4

Written By: Jon Jaroszewski - May• 01•15

I want to show you something from the Bible that I find startling.

I think God has designed the Bible to progressively reveal slightly different aspects of His Plan as we are ready to receive them. In my mind it is truly the living word.

When John tells us Jesus is the living Word, it is a clue supporting my premise. Jesus is the living Word in that he works from within our hearts continually; he is a living presence within. Part of that work is to illuminate Scripture. You know what I’m talking about. A passage that you’ve read many times before can make fresh sense on a day the Holy Spirit teaches you more. The living Word interacts with the living word. He changes us and then the Bible supports his work. Before we were changed in some small specific way, a passage or verse didn’t have the same meaning it has for us now.

I said we would look at biblical evidences, and we will momentarily. First I need to mention something else I’ve noticed about the Bible. It gives us what we would think is contradictory data, and it often does it within a single sentence or verse. The consecutive Proverbs verses that give opposite advice (Don’t suffer fools/suffer fools gladly) is probably the most famous example.

I first noticed this on a Calvinism vs. Arminianism discussion thread that I followed for years. Sometimes they would cite the same verse as proof of their position, or verses from the same passage. Witness, in the predestination argument, For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. and on the other hand … No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day [John 6:40, 44 NIV].

One example that occurs to me is I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ [Isaiah 46:10 NIV]. This verse is easily cited by people who think God knows the future as a concrete thing; I make known … from ancient times, what is still to come. But an open theologian (who thinks God doesn’t know the future) can point to the same verse. I will do all that I please. He hasn’t done it yet. Because it’s in the future. He’s just confident that he is powerful enough to bring it to pass. He was powerful enough to make our beginning and he is powerful enough to achieve his ends.

So why would God put cognitively dissonant ideas adjacent to each other so often? (And if you look hard enough, and open mindedly enough, you can find such “contradictions” on almost every page of the Bible.) I think he means for one to gain ascendancy once we are ready for it, and then the other.

God knows how we are. If we see two ideas that might be in conflict, we devise a method for giving one the greater weight. That’s theology. For example, the NT has various vice lists that warn we won’t get to heaven if we do such things. That same NT also gives ample proof that faith, not lack of sin, is the way to heaven. So which is it?

Since Luther, we have come down resoundingly on the side of grace. But it hasn’t always been so, or you wouldn’t even know who Luther was. For a long time before Luther, Christianity, even Christianity, was hung up on the rules, the Law. I think Luther is proof that we had changed for the better. Remember those homicide rates? By the time of Luther, lawlessness had receded to a more manageable problem, so the Law texts could be de-emphasized.

The Holy Spirit (so my theory goes) had up to that point been “illuminating” the passages that didn’t accentuate grace. Once we were ready for more, the Spirit began to teach us grace. And then the living Word made the Bible available to all through Gutenberg so we could confirm it for ourselves.

Now on to those examples. The verses I’m going to paste in are all passages that I didn’t quite understand previously. They share the idea that God was withholding truths from certain people. I couldn’t figure out why.

Actually, in this first one Jesus tells us why; to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy. But why did he prophesize such a thing in Isaiah?

This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ” ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving  Matthew 13:13-4 NIV]

Mark reports what might be the same episode but gives an additional reason for jesus’ obfuscation. so that, ” ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven! [Mark 4:12 NIV] Oh, Jesus doesn’t want them forgiven! That doesn’t even make sense.

Our resident historian echoes Matthew (actually, vice versa). He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, ” ‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’ [Luke 8:10 NIV].

To recap, the synoptic writers all think it important enough to mention that Jesus spoke in parables to confuse his audience. That’s the opposite of the idea we advance today. We say Jesus spoke of everyday things, of grain and wheat, wine and skins, rulers and servants, to clarify by timeless and commonplace illustrations. So which is it?

Both. He probably confused a great many of his listeners when he spoke that way but the timelessness of the examples helps us today.

And that thing about speaking in riddles so people wouldn’t get saved? A small jest. Jesus was being sarcastic. How do I know? Paul clarifies, without parable.

They (the Jews) disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet: 
” ‘Go to this people and say, “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.” 
For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ [Acts 28:25-27 NIV]

I think God healing them, from the end of the passage, is the same as them being saved, from Jesus’ joke. That’s why I think Jesus was being sarcastic. Otherwise he and the Father were doing the same thing for opposite reasons.

So, with the help of the Holy Spirit we can understand the parables differently than the original audience; the members of the faithful throughout the Dark and Middle Ages, sometimes each other, and often differently the we ourselves once did.

The Bible truly is the living word!

Religion of Peace Part 3

Written By: Jon Jaroszewski - Apr• 28•15

In the first two parts, I hypothesized that God deals with people sympathetically. He knows how we think and feel and act, and caters his actions to our capabilities. And he is always working to make us capable of more. This resulted in the historical and ethical incongruity we know as the slaughter of the Amalekites.

If this is true, if God has faithfully and honestly given us a record of the history of his interactions with humanity, and if the record shows us maturing ever so slowly and changing for the better ever so slightly, we should applaud his methods even if we don’t understand them. And cut God a little slack. Don’t you think all those Amalekite children are in Heaven, even if the donkeys are not?

But we also need to keep chronology and our slow and painful ascent in mind as we look at biblical context. We need to ask, “Is this still relevant to us today and is it relevant in the same way?”

The question seems radical but it shouldn’t. We already ask the same question on a limited basis and have for two thousand years. These are questions Jesus taught us.

He didn’t use those exact words, but I’ll give you one of the many, many verses or principles he questioned. We’ve already referenced Jesus’ quote, the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Ultimately, he was discussing this passage.

While the Israelites were in the wilderness, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.” [Num 15:32-35 NIV]. It was an Amalekite-type judgment on a more limited scale.

Because that’s what the people needed at that particular moment. It was a spectacular mnemonic device to remind the people that they had Saturdays off. God said the Sabbath was holy because he is holy, and he is, but that’s not the reason for the stoning. If the Sabbath was truly made for man, as Jesus said, then God was actually sacrificing one life for the greater good of all subsequent generations, just like he always does. (You know I’m talking about Jesus, right?) And who knows, maybe that wood gatherer is in Heaven, too.

Jesus by his teaching about the Sabbath abrogated, or repealed, the OT law, or at least the penalties attached. An interesting comparison between Christianity and Islam begins at this point in the conversation. Abrogation occurs in both holy books. But in the Koran, more violent directives for the most part repeal more peaceful commands, while with the Bible the opposite is true.

Mohammed started as a peace and love guy but as he garnered more power he became much less peaceful and loving. God started with people where they were and has marked out a trajectory in which peace and love is part of the ultimate goal. Agape will someday be commonplace and even primary.

Islam was a perfect fit for the world when Mohammed or the angel invented it but its leaders, specifically through the mechanism of abrogation, have toiled to keep it a seventh century institution. And now the leaders of western Christianity are in danger of doing the same. As we become more anachronistic, our influence decreases.

That is how it should be. If God works to make us better and we choose or are taught to stay the same, it shouldn’t be a wonder that we are a people in decline. It is rarely effective over the long term to work at cross-purposes to God. He prepares us to work at Cross purposes.

If God treats us differently than he once did, evidence of it should be all over the Bible. It is. We’ll look for it next time.

Religion of Peace Part 2

Written By: Jon Jaroszewski - Apr• 25•15

Last time we looked at the LORD’s command to wipe out the descendants of Amalek and how it was congruent with the more violent outlook of people back then. David regularly wiped out all the people of the towns he raided so as not to leave witnesses. A thousand years later, the Romans still followed the practice.

I said I thought God issued the command as an encouragement. He was proving his might to help unify the national identity. The time might have been right for a fresh display of his power as the Israelites were under their first human king, after centuries of sporadic leadership under the Judges.

So as to be entirely clear, my point is this: God did what the people he was molding and shaping needed him to do, at the time they needed it. He was unconcerned about how we would view it today. He wasn’t silly enough to try and fight Iron Age battles with 20th Century concepts or political strategies. Passive resistance was not an option.

This battle, the battle form Israel into a kingdom under its first king, was not only a physical confrontation with Amalekites and other tribal nations. It was mental, emotional, and spiritual. To forge Israel as a nation was crucial to foster a place where Jesus could be born. So God led them to one more great victory before David’s ascendancy.

Regardless for the moment, of God’s good or bad reasons, can we find our way to a consistency, a constancy, in his actions?  How can Jesus, so tempered and full of love, be the same God who ordered a limited genocide? Did our God, who changes not, change? Was Marcion (whose name, I’ve just discovered, is pronounced martian) right after all?

The answer is no, and it is one of the most important answers we can contemplate. Its repercussions echo and modify almost everything we are led to think about God. Because the fuller answer is, no God doesn’t change, but his methods do. God’s change in methods is what Marcion noticed and the change should be easily apparent to us as well.

Throughout the Bible and biblical history, and even up to and including today, God changes his methods to suit the people he deals with. Want proof? Think about how he deals with you differently than he did before you became a believer. Now he chastens you as an act of love. Previously he left you to suffer the consequences of your sin. Romans 1 (among other places) even tells of another type of treatment for unbelievers, some are abandoned to their own desires.

To reduce the concept to the absurd (a favorite thought exercise of mine) in order to highlight the principle, let’s go back to Adam and Eve. How could God have dealt with the Fall? He could have had Jesus be born instead of Abel, to restore them to immortality. That’s what he did later, in the fullness of time. But then, we would have never realized the magnificence of his sacrifice because we would have not realized the consequences of our sin. Humanity was in its infancy and we had to grow and learn before the Cross would have had its effect. We don’t treat infants like we do teenagers and neither would God.

He could have planted the Cross firmly at the peak of Mt. Sinai instead of giving the commandments through a haze of smoke and fire. But again, we would not have been ready for it then. Until we learned how to live, and how we couldn’t live as we should, Jesus’ magnificent sacrifice couldn’t mean what it does. God was giving rules to a young humanity in much the way we teach the ways of life to a three or four year old child. And can you imagine the Israelites conquering the promised land through agape, turning the other cheek and giving away their cloaks?

God works with what he has and what he has is us as we are. He tells us as much in Jeremiah’s story of the Potter and the clay. The clay became marred in the Potter’s hands, after he had begun working with it. That’s us, the marred clay. The Potter responded by fashioning a different vessel. He didn’t throw out the imperfect clay and he didn’t separate out the bad part, and thanks be to God for that. He works with what he has and he works to form us into the most useful and beautiful pottery possible, that’s the part of God that has never changed.

We all know God works to change our character before he changes our circumstances. He works to make us better than we have been. Has he been effective? He’s God, what do you think? He is effective but it is a slow process because we have free will. As we all (or most of us, or some of us) change for the better, humanity does too. That’s why I brought up the precipitous fall in homicide rates over the millennia. It has taken that long because we are stiff-necked people and change for the better is hard. It is a miracle that he can be so effective and still make allowances for our rebellious free will, all while hiding his mighty hand so well.

The whole of the Old Testament is the story of God gradually withdrawing his close and visible collaboration with humanity. He walked with Adam in the Garden. He visited occasionally with Abraham and more occasionally with Moses. By the time of Esther, he isn’t even mentioned by name in the whole of the book bearing her name. He hasn’t changed in that, his methodology is consistent in that he deals with us as we are able to be dealt with.

In this our Father is like a human parent. We change how we deal with our children as they mature even though our goals for them never change. We all continue to love our children and to prepare them for life apart from us in adulthood.

That’s what God is doing in the OT, maturing us to make us capable of more. Once we were ready, in the fullness of time, he sent his son. And now, because of his son and especially because of the Holy Spirit, he doesn’t need to order genocide. Our allegiances are formed differently because we are slightly different than the people of that young nation.

If you’ll generously grant that my proposition might be correct, it’s time to think about the repercussions I mentioned earlier. If God deals with us differently than he once did, are some of the ideas he gave us in the OT no longer applicable? Of course! We no longer sacrifice animals at the Temple for our sins, or anywhere else. We wear cotton/polyester shirts. We almost never remember the Sabbath; Saturdayish.

Jesus initiated many of these changes by his actions. He worked on the Sabbath, proclaiming that it was right to do so if we are helping other people because the Sabbath was made for man and not the other way around. He tossed out the law that commanded us to stone adulterers by telling us he who is without sin can cast the first stone.

We know all these things and yet we don’t make the connection to the story of Saul and the Amalekites. God never changes but one of his major goals is to change us. He is successful. And as we change, he changes his methods of dealing with us. He doesn’t give us more than we can handle but he makes us capable of handling more.

I’m glad I don’t live in the type of society that needs to fear raiders coming in and wiping out my whole family and suburb. I know such places still exist and so I am happy for the example of the progress God has made with us since the time of Saul because it means someday those people’s descendants will also be free of that fear. And because my little corner of the world has progressed, I’m really happy that I never have to consider wiping out the Amalekites or the Muslims or the Catholics. For God has made us better than that.

Religion of Peace?

Written By: Jon Jaroszewski - Apr• 22•15

You might think I refer here to Islam, but no. Islam is caught up in a hopelessly anachronistic attempt to revive its fortunes by the classic power move. Its leaders blame its failures on its adherents. If only they were purer, better, like those seventh and eighth century followers, Islam could return to its former glory.

No, I refer to the other Abrahamic religions, Christianity and Judaism. One thing unbelievers of one sort or another often bring up to criticize Christianity in our violent heritage. I’d like to discount various atrocities committed by believers on the grounds that they were really committed by human beings, just like every other atrocity.

Instead, I’d like to think about an atrocity instigated by God. Against the Amalekites. You might be familiar with the Old Testament story. Christian apologists certainly are, as they have to defend it. It is, of course, famous among critics of religion.

We don’t have to look at a long passage. One verse will do. The LORD Almighty is speaking. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys [1Samuel 15:3 NIV]. The question that crosses the mind is: why kill the donkeys? Right?

Why would God suggest what he does in this verse? To the civilized human mind, with our God-given sense of justice, God’s command doesn’t make sense. How could he order children and infants be slaughtered, what could they possibly have done to deserve such a fate?  An early church leader named Marcion was so disturbed by this passage and others like it that he thought and then taught that surely the God of the OT couldn’t be the same as the God of the New. Marcion was branded a heretic but the critics have never gone away.

Apologists for the faith have done their best to defend God. We’ll look at their reasons in a moment. First, let’s let God give his own reason. This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt [1 Samuel 15:2 NIV]. Genocide as revenge. Not the act of a gracious and loving God. At least that’s what we would think.

So the apologists try to make it more palatable. There was a gap of hundreds of years between the Amalekite aggression against Moses and the people and their eventual slaughter, for slaughter them Saul did. He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword [1 Samuel 15:8 NIV]. Luckily, all almost never means all, especially in the OT. Various Amalekites play parts in events at later dates. Oops, sorry for the digression. it is a bad habit.

There is a related verse in which God said the long gap was due to him waiting for the full measure of evil of the Amalekites to come in, and so the apologists use this verse to explain the order for destruction. The Amalekites were irredeemable.

The thinking goes: God is so holy and the Amalekites were so permeated by evil that even the children and infants had to die so they wouldn’t somehow “contaminate” the Israelites or impinge on God’s holiness. He did after all, dwell in the ark among the people.

This explanation, surprisingly, satisfies a lot of Christians. I can’t get past the injustice; or at least I couldn’t until I started to think about it in a different way. Now it makes sense to me, and it helps explain a lot of otherwise unexplainable things about the Bible, including giving us a reasonable explanation for the apparent differences in God from the OT to the NT. If only Marcion had thought of it. (Actually, he would have probably still been found a heretic on other grounds.)

A better way to think about the slaughter only dawned on me when I stopped believing the apologists and starting believing God. The reason for the atrocity had nothing to do with holiness and full measures of evil (not that “the full measure coming in” is not a solid biblical principle). The reason God gives is that they attacked the Israelites at the beginning of the Exodus. They would trail the nation on its sojourn and attack the rear, terrorizing the old and the sick – anybody that couldn’t quite keep up. They were a frequent thorn in Israel’s side.

As the Israelites drove the inhabitants from the promised land, the Amalekites were never defeated. They were a spectre, a goliath before Goliath, and a constant reminder – as if tribal memories didn’t go back far enough on their own – that God’s promises had not quite been fulfilled.

The reason God ordered the destruction of a people was to prove to his Chosen people that he was stronger than the Amalekites; stronger than their gods, who had given them the land, stronger than the gods of the valleys and of the hilltops, stronger than the gods that had held the Israelites in abeyance for so many years. Strange as it seems to the modern mind, God did it to encourage them. Because he loved them.

People were different than we are now. They thought differently and so they acted differently. Violence was much more a way of life. Life was not valued as it is today. It is estimated that in Jesus’ day, possibly a third of all people died a violent death. Murder rates today are 10 or 11 per 100,000 people. Quite a difference. A fall in violence is pretty indicative of an advance in civilization. The two concepts correlate through history. By the Dark Ages, for example, we think homicides had declined to about 400 per 100,000. In fourteenth century Germany, at the end of the Middle Ages I think, the murder rate had dropped to about 70 per 100,000.

So if the murder rate was so high when Jesus introduced us to agape love, think how high it might have been 1000 years earlier. Life was cheap.

Would you prefer biblical proof? Let’s stay within the same time period, maybe 20 or 30 years after Saul slew the Amalekites. David and his mighty men fought to survive in the wilderness where they stayed to elude that very same Saul.

Now David and his men went up and raided the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites. (From ancient times these peoples had lived in the land extending to Shur and Egypt.) (See, I told you the Amalekites were still around.) Whenever David attacked an area, he did not leave a man or woman alive, but took sheep and cattle, donkeys and camels, and clothes. Then he returned to Achish [1 Samuel 27:8-9 NIV].

Whenever David attacked makes it sound like a commonplace practice. Was David some kind of a monster? Yes, to 21st century eyes. It gets worse. Why did he slaughter everyone he attacked? To get rid of possible witnesses.

He did not leave a man or woman alive to be brought to Gath, for he thought, “They might inform on us and say, ‘This is what David did.’ ” And such was his practice as long as he lived in Philistine territory. Achish trusted David and said to himself, “He has become so obnoxious to his people, the Israelites, that he will be my servant for life.” [1 Samuel 27:11-12 NIV]. David sounds pretty obnoxious to me just now, too. What do we think about Mafioso or gangbangers killing potential witnesses? David was among the earliest and most ruthless gangbangers.

Oops. Sorry the post has gotten so long. The rest (I hope) next time.