The title of this blog comes from a definition of theology from Richard Hooker. I come here to post about things I'm currently reading many of them are on the topic of theology but not always.Ask me anything Submit
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
It is rather fitting that I am updating my blog this weekend. Yesterday was the gay pride parade in San Francisco and I spent a lot of the week digesting a new book I just finished reading. The book is called What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality. It was a refreshing read because it reinforced my own personal beliefs on the subject. Essentially, it states that the Bible is neutral on the topic of homosexuality, despite a small handful of texts that have been used to condemn it. It was written by Daniel Helminiak, a Catholic priest, who does not present original research on the topic but rather organizes and presents the latest research by the leading scholars on the subject.
Personally, I feel very strongly about this issue. It sometimes surprises me that I have such passionate feelings about it, especially because I’m not gay myself. There are reasons for it, but I won’t go into them now. But whatever the reason, I cannot stand the way that the LGBT community has been judged, bullied, condemned, and ostracized by the Christian church. I think books like this need to be read and discussed by people on both sides of the issue. Recently I went to a Christian internet forum and I was shocked to find that they had banned users from talking about homosexuality. What a horrible thing to do. How will this issue ever be resolved if we bury our heads in the sand and refuse to discuss and debate it? I like the way Helminiak puts it, “Indeed, when conventions are misguided, unreasonable, or oppressive, they ought to be changed, and change in these matters often entails heated debate and outright conflict.”
I don’t really want to go into all the specifics of the arguments, but I would definitely recommend this book to people on either side of the issue. I realize that where I stand on this issue is not where most of the Christian community seems to stand. It upsets me so much sometimes that I am tempted to distance myself from those who disagree with me. But I know that is the wrong move. I am committed to continuing and advancing the debate. I also want to send out the message to the LGBT community that the Bible is certainly not against them.
I’ve read quite a bit since my last post, not all of it theological in nature. I did finish N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God and I thought it was fantastic. It taught me much more than I could hope for on the subject, but I didn’t find it to difficult to access. Wright is a really gifted writer. I also started and finished another book by Wright called Paul: In Fresh Perspective. I started reading this earlier and found it way too dense for me, but after reading Wright’s other massive book, it wasn’t so difficult.
So now on to the secular reading I’ve been doing. On a friend’s recommendation I read The Hunger Games trilogy. I was hooked on those but finished in about a week. I definitely think the first one was the best and was disappointed that the film couldn’t do as well with characterization as the book did. The second and third books were entertaining, but didn’t move me emotionally like the first one did. I also read 1984, finally. I figured I should since it is my birth year and it was on sale at Target. That was a much much better dystopia than The Hunger Games and it genuinely freaked me out.
From there I went on to read The Millennium Trilogy. This came about when some friends of mine were talking about The Hunger Games and how disturbing the premise is. One of my friends said that The Millennium Trilogy was much more disturbing. This got my attention. For some reason, maybe it’s my inner hipster, I am really skeptical of things that are extremely popular. So I was completely uninterested in all the fuss about The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and the other books. I had no clue what it was about, I just wrote it off because I felt that too many people liked it. But, as soon as I found out it was really disturbing I immediately wanted to read it. Perhaps I should be concerned about that.
After devoting much of my spring break and a few days after completely engrossed in the books I have developed quite an unhealthy obsession with them, particularly with Lisbeth Salander. The fact that one of my favorite directors, David Fincher, directed the American version of the film should have perked my interest in the trilogy much sooner. But although I’m late to the party, I’m making up for it now. I loved the film and I thought Rooney Mara was absolutely perfect in it. I wouldn’t change a single thing about her character. I wish that I owned every article of clothing and jewelry that she wears in the film. I’ve seen the Swedish version of all three books as well and I loved Noomi Rapace’s Lisbeth too. I have to give a slight edge to Rooney’s Salander and overall I felt that the American film was much better.
So my secular readings have not had anything to do with theology but both trilogies have been really enjoyable reads for me. It was quite refreshing to read books with such strong female protagonists. I find those to be pretty rare. I can see the inherent problems with my idolization of Lisbeth Salander. My aim to live my life more like Christ is still priority for me. But there is something about her that spoke deeply to me and made me identify with her. I certainly do not want to model my life on a philosophy based on revenge and evil expelling evil. Even in the books, I don’t think those decisions took the character to good places, they tended to just make things much worse. But it is nice that so many people love a female character who is androgynous, introverted, socially awkward, has trouble showing emotion, and struggles to make friends except with people on the internet. I guess it makes me feel less freakish.
Plus I really really love her clothes.
The other day I said that I would post about what I’m currently reading, so I’m sticking to that today. As I mentioned, I’ve been reading this book:
It’s the second book by Wright that I’ve read. The other was called Simply Christian and was a much quicker and easier read than this one. This book is serious business. I’ve been reading it on the Kindle app on my iPad and I’m on page 294 of 738. And it is not a quick read, it is quite dense. But I’m loving it so far.
First, let me clear up the terminology so that people don’t think I’m talking about this:
Wright offers many definitions of resurrection, including “new life after a period of being dead” and he often refers to it as “life after life after death.” He also talks about there being a continuity between the life before and the life after death so that people retained (for the most part) the earlier life they had. So much for the zombie idea unless someone regularly went around eating human flesh before they died too.
In this book, Wright begins by talking about the Pagan beliefs about resurrection, mostly focusing on Homer and Plato. He then talks about the Jewish beliefs on resurrection, then the early Christian beliefs. Right now, I’m right in the middle of his treatment of Paul’s views on resurrection. He has shown thus far that Pagans outright rejected the idea of resurrection and the Jewish people in the second temple era (i.e. 516 BCE to 70 CE) had varied beliefs about it. Paul shares some beliefs about resurrection with the Pharisees (the Jewish sect that he was once a member of) but he looked at it differently since he believed in Jesus’ resurrection.
My own views of resurrection have had a somewhat varied belief as well throughout my life. For most of my life I wasn’t a very serious Christian. I didn’t disbelieve in it, I just didn’t really care much about it. I was essentially a Christian agnostic. I was also indoctrinated with a post-Enlightenment (Age of Reason) worldview that made it very difficult to accept miracles. I was glad to embrace a more liberal theology that deemed that you did not need to believe that the bodily resurrection of Jesus literally happened. I thought it was just fine to think that his “spirit” or “soul” or whatever had been raised, but of course not his physical body; that would be impossible.
So what’s the big deal? Does it matter if Jesus was literally raised from the dead? Of course it does! In short, if Jesus was not resurrected, Christianity would be false. That is how much it matters. Wright argues that it is the foundation for all of Paul’s beliefs. Without it, you can prove Christianity itself to be wrong (which may excite some of my atheist friends).
Thankfully, my recent interest in learning about who Jesus really was and is caused me to abandon the idea of Jesus not literally undergoing resurrection. I now believe that Jesus was physically raised from the dead and those who are his true followers will also be resurrected in the future, but this has yet to happen. All this I accepted as true before I started this book.
What this book is doing for me is giving me a more full and complete picture of early Christian beliefs on resurrection in contrast to the prevailing beliefs of the time. It is also teaching me quite a bit about Paul, a person I have been fascinated with recently. Before I undertook any serious attempt to study the Bible, one of the only things I knew about Paul was that he was sexist (my view on this has changed as well, but that’s another story). That stopped me from wanting anything more to do with him. But after I read Antony’s Flew’s book There Is a God and he said that Paul was a “first rate philosopher” I thought I better give him another chance. When I read his letters there were parts I loved, but mostly there was a lot that puzzled me. Wright is giving me new insights on Paul I would never have discovered otherwise.
The most amazing insight I’m picking up from Wright’s book is about Paul’s use of resurrection as a metaphor and as a literal reality. He does this brilliantly to create an overlap between this interim period after Christ’s resurrection and before the time of the future resurrection of all believers (also called the Second Coming of Christ). He is saying that all believers take part in the death and resurrection of Jesus on the metaphorical level through baptism. Our symbolic death is a death to the power of sin and our symbolic life is that of a new creation as a follower of Christ (hence why many Christians refer to their conversion as being “born again” to symbolize the new life). Yet this is metaphorical because we are still going to literally die someday because our physical bodies are corruptible.
The second sense of resurrection that Paul talks about is the future resurrection of the bodies of the believers. At that time, the new creation will literally be formed by the creator God and with it a new body that cannot ever decay (again, so much for the zombie apocalypse). The amazing part is how he bridges together these two. For Paul, our current existence should already be anticipating the future events of resurrection. His metaphor for this is a preparation for the dawn, even though it is still night. The metaphorical sense of resurrection should instill in us the behavioral changes that will carry through to the future resurrection era. The icing on the cake for me was the way this was used to parallel the exodus story in the Old Testament. I love it when things come full circle like that. Makes my little OCD side so content.
I’m sure I’ve not done this massive book any justice in my little post, and I hope I haven’t misunderstood Wright’s points too much. But I will carry on reading and if I have some other thoughts I might come back and post them.
Well, I’m back after a pretty long hiatus. Since my last post I’ve moved to a new city almost 400 miles away and started a brand new job (my first ever full time salaried employment, by the way) so I’m chock full of good excuses for why I haven’t been blogging. I thought I’d give a quick update on my progress on “Trying to think straight about who God is.”
In brief, since my last post I’ve read 12 books about theology, 4 of them by my favorite author, C.S. Lewis, and 5 of them covering my favorite topic, apologetics. So I have plenty to share about what I’ve been learning. I also finished reading the One Year Bible and I was very proud of the fact that I didn’t get more than a couple of days behind throughout the year. However, I’m not proud of the fact that at the end I didn’t do as well at studying and analyzing the texts as I did at the beginning. Honestly, I reached a point where I just wanted to get through it. I don’t blame the books themselves, it had more to do with my own attitude and perception. Basically, there were just other things I would rather be doing, so I got through it as fast as possible. Clearly, I have a long way to go in my discipline and maturity in my faith.
So now what? I would like to get back to blogging and spending more time studying the parts of the Bible that I sort of breezed through the first time. I’d like to use this blog as an outlet for sharing the new things I’m reading. I’m currently reading N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God which is an incredibly thorough treatment of resurrection and early Christian beliefs. I’d also like to share my experiences in my continued journey of trying to grow as a disciple of Jesus. But for now, I’ll just leave this as a somewhat quick update and overview of what I’d like to do from here.
I originally started this blog to share my daily thoughts as I made my way through the One Year Bible. I struggled to keep up with the blogging, but I have continued to do the readings each day. Today, I wanted to take some time to share a bit of insight that hit me this morning as I was reading 1 Kings.
One of the main reasons I wanted to read the Bible in its entirety was to see for myself what was in it, especially in the Old Testament. I came to it with many preconceived notions that I was hoping would be clarified through study. One of the main ones involved the character of God in the Old Testament. I have heard many claim, both believers and non-believers, that the God of the Old Testament is vengeful and is constantly doling out punishments on people. To me it seems that this has become common knowledge and many of the challenges to this that I have heard from Christians still leaves me wondering. How could the same God that has this kind of vengeful reputation in the Old Testament be the same God that Jesus followed in the Gospels?
Today, I had a bit of insight. Now, taken completely out of context, how does this sound?
“I have bad news for you. Give your husband, Jeroboam, this message from the Lord, the God of Israel: ‘I promoted you from the ranks of the common people and made you ruler over my people Israel. I ripped the kingdom away from the family of David and gave it to you. But you have not been like my servant David, who obeyed my commands and followed me with all his heart and always did whatever I wanted. You have done more evil than all who lived before you. You have made other gods for yourself and have made me furious with your gold calves. And since you have turned your back on me, I will bring disaster on your dynasty and will destroy every one of your male descendants, slave and free alike, anywhere in Israel. I will burn up your royal dynasty as one burns up trash until it is all gone. The members of Jeroboam’s family who die in the city will be eaten by dogs, and those who die in the field will be eaten by vultures. I, the Lord, have spoken.’” 1 Kings 14:6-11
Sounds pretty vengeful, and it really struck me yesterday when I read it. I kept mulling it over in my mind and was unable to see how this wasn’t God exacting his vengeance on Jeroboam for his sins against God. However, today I read about the fate of Jeroboam and his descendants, and now it makes much more sense. Here is what happened:
“Nadab son of Jeroboam began to rule over Israel in the second year of King Asa’s reign in Judah. He reigned in Israel two years. But he did what was evil in the Lord’s sight and followed the example of his father, continuing the sins that Jeroboam had led Israel to commit.
Then Baasha son of Ahijah, from the tribe of Issachar, plotted against Nadab and assassinated him while he and the Israelite army were laying siege to the Philistine town of Gibbethon. Baasha killed Nadab in the third year of King Asa’s reign in Judah, and he became the next king of Israel.
He immediately slaughtered all the descendants of King Jeroboam, so that not one of the royal family was left, just as the Lord had promised concerning Jeroboam by the prophet Ahijah from Shiloh. This was done because Jeroboam had provoked the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, by the sins he had committed and the sins he had led Israel to commit.” 1 Kings 15:25-30
Now, the best way for me to explain why I do not think God was being vengeful is with an analogy. One of my favorite television shows is Intervention on A&E. If you are not familiar with it, it is a reality program about addicts whose families and loved ones plan an intervention for them in which they lovingly plead with the addict to seek treatment to cure their addiction. Usually, the most heart wrenching moments on the show are when parents are pleading with their children, whom they clearly love, to get help.
Often, the parents will try to appeal to their children during the intervention by saying something like, “If you don’t get help now, soon you will be dead.” Would anyone interpret that as a threat? Does anyone hear the parent of an addict say something like this and think they should be arrested because they must be planning to kill their child? Of course not! Yet this is exactly the kind of plea that God was making through his prophet Ahijah to Jeroboam in the first passage I quoted. You would be mistaken to interpret this as God saying to him “You shape up or else I will punish you!” which is how we would interpret a vengeful God.
Instead, God is the parent of a drug addict. God loved Jeroboam and he sent a prophet as an intervention. He did not coerce him, he ultimately let Jeroboam decide for himself if he would accept treatment for his addiction or not. Jeroboam chose not to, even after his own son died, and his addiction was passed on to his other son, the next king. Since God is not an enabler, he could not make good on the promise he made to many of his followers since Abraham in securing Jeroboam’s family line. If treatment is refused, there are consequences. But God did not destroy the descendents of Jeroboam, Baasha did. Jeroboam was merely left to his own devices and left to the mercy of the world, which at the time was certainly not a merciful place.
If a drug addict who refuses treatment ultimately dies of a drug overdose, that is a logical conclusion. Few people would argue that this was not a likely result of that kind of risky behavior. The fate of Jeroboam was just as likely. I’ve been watching Game of Thrones on HBO and I’m seeing many parallels here. In that show, as in this book, there are many people who are fighting over the right to be the king. And, in order to secure your rightful place as king, it is necessary for you to destroy every relative of the previous king since that is the way power was transferred at that time. So it is a likely conclusion that Nadab and the descendents of Jeroboam would meet this fate. It’s one of the risks of being king.
David was not immune from this risk either, even though he was faithful to God. Before his reign he faced many attacks from the previous king, Saul. During his reign, his own son led a rebellion against him. However, the difference between David and Jeroboam is that David was in recovery. He was still an addict, his actions toward Bathsheba and Uriah are proof of that (see 2 Samuel 11:1-17). But, he accepted God’s gift of treatment for his addictions. As a result, God lived up to his end of the bargain by securing David’s family line (which is a good thing since it is the line of Jesus!).
As far as God’s anger, the way I see it, God has anger the same way that the parent of an addict has anger. Both the parent and God deeply love their child and they deeply detest the addiction that is ravaging them and sending them closer and closer to death and despair. It is because God loves us that he gets angry. He does not get angry at us because something we have done has damaged his ego or vanity. He gets angry at our addiction behaviors and our refusal of treatment because he knows how much they will hurt us. Like any good parent, he wants what is best for us and it is agonizing for him to see us in pain and suffering. That is why he is angry. God’s anger burns with love not vengeance.