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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Day 106 (Number Trouble)

[reaction to OYB's Nov. 30 - Dec. 4 readings]

Today's readings include the apocalyptic half of Daniel and a portion of the First Letter of John. The Letter of John is an interesting mix of sayings that are a big part of my faith, such as, "God is Love" (4:8), "God lives in us, and his love is made complete in us," and (4:12), "let us not love with words or tongue but actions in truth" (3:18). I believe it also contains the first reference to antichrist that I've read (2:18). It is interesting because John makes it clear that everyone has heard of the antichrist and he will be here very soon. The last major theme from the First Letter of John is that you can tell who is "in the light" or "knows Jesus Christ" by the fact that such people love their brothers. Anyone who hates his brother, does not know Jesus Christ. It's an aggressive formulation.

The readings from Daniel are challenging, and contain temptation to be over analyzed. The temptation comes from an abundance of very specific numbers. Daniel has a vision that says the new sanctuary will be reconsecrated in "2300 evening and mornings" (8:14); that "the desolation of Jerusalem will last 70 years" (9:2); "From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One the rule, comes, there will be seven 'sevens,' and sixty-two 'sevens.'" (9:25). Now, when you read the actual numbers, and the quote at the end of Daniel when he is told "close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end," (12:4), it would be clear that these events are represented in the book itself as having already happened. But these type of things just make it so tempting to find a secret. One way to stretch these time lines out is to use the notion, found in the psalms for example, that a day is like a year to God. Obviously, so ridiculous to pull these unrelated scriptures together, but what can you do? It is unfortunately the source of so much nonsense. Indeed adding together the life spans of the ancients to date the earth is another example of this. It is ironic that the scientific notion that quantifying data gives power to it would be imported into the faith by the anti-science crowd.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Day 105 (Why Believe?)

[reaction to OYB's Nov. 25-29]

Today's readings conclude the letters from Peter and include what I believe to be the non-apocalyptic portions of Daniel. The first portion of Daniel is a major departure from the prophets I have been reading. Rather than a book of prophesy, it begins with an extended Narrative. Like Esther and Joseph, Daniel finds himself a servant to a foreign monarch. And like his Hebrew predecessors he finds favor with the Monarch. The Book provides one very compelling reason to believe in, and by that I mean to be loyal to and to honor the relationship with, God. That reason is, he works miracles. For example, Daniel and his companions grew strong despite being vegetarians, perhaps more miraculously, he saved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the flames of the furnance and, as we all know, Daniel himself from the lion's den. As a little cultural intersection, we get the expression "the writing is on the wall" from this story of Daniel letting Belshazzar know that he had been weighed in the balance and found wanting. I actually prefer the Johnny Cash version, here.

Peter offers more subtle reasons. First, they "did not follow cleverly invented stories when [they] told you about the power and ocming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses o fhis majesty." 2 Peter 1:16. Also, the Second Coming will happen, and "[t]he Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." 2 Peter 3:9. So, God wants you to repent, and also, such repentance will/may bring about the Second Coming. Also, faith is the first step in a process that can permanently deliver you from sin as follows:
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.
This last one is the closest to why I believe. But, I think there are others who believe for other reasons listed, and probably some not listed.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Day 104 (Deja Vu)

[reaction to OYB's Nov. 22-24 readings]

Today I finished Ezekiel. Toward the end it took a strangely detailed turn. The prophet described a vision of a new temple is striking detail. I reminded me of the description of the temple built by Solomon. I wonder if these were actually plans for the Second Temple. Also, it ended with a discussion of how to divide land when the tribes of Israel, all of them, return to the promised land. It also identified one clan of the Levites, those from Zadok, as the only ones authorized to be priests in the new temple. Very similar to the Levitical laws, it detailed sacrifice rituals, purity requirements, etc. And of course, I now can read Revelation as almost a parody of Ezekiel, even down to the new temple revealed in a vision. I guess that's foreshadowing.

The Epistle reading is from 1 Peter. In some ways, it is very similar to Paul's letters. It emphasizes self-control and obedience to authority. But it also starts of with this to blow a hole in my fledgling theory that bodily Resurrection was a replacement for the absence of a Second Coming in the life time of the early church members.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
That's not to say there weren't competing ideas. There absolutely were as is evident in Paul's comments about false teachers and by various disagreements among even the authors that made it into the Canon. But, the self-evident explanation I posed in my Mature Audiences Only post seems challenged by this.

Peter also has some nice stuff your mom told you, like, "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse ou of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." (2:12) The best revenge is to live a good life, right? Most significant for me is Peter's discription of salvation. "[Y]ou were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers." (1:18) This is what I think salvation is all about. Being saved from an empty life.

Day 103 (Works)

[reaction to OYB's Nov. 17-21 readings]

Today's readings include the entire letter of James, and the most famous chapter Ezekiel. The latter is so famous it's a song, YouTube version. In Ezekiel 14, like end of Isaiah and Jeremiah, we get a peak at some hope with the famous vision of the dry bones, once Ezekiel prophesies to them as instructed by YHWH, come back to life.

James is probably my favorite letter so far. James says, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." (1:22) Also, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (1:27). In political terms, that would be fiscally liberal, socially conservative. On the idea of faith or works, James says, "faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." (2:17) Finally, the letter supports not giving up on people by concluding, "Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins." (5:19)

Day 102 (Faith)

[reaction to OYB's Nov. 12-17]

The giant selection is two fold. First, I want to catch up so that I can have a shot of finishing on Christmas. Second, Ezekiel has had a run of really boring lists of all the nations God is going to smite. Finally, I wanted to finish Hebrews.

In this reading, chapter 11 of Hebrews illuminates faith, one of the most important concepts in Christianity. The chapter lists all that was accomplished through faith. I emphasize accomplished because the point is that faith is not simply believing something that is hard to believe. It is about trusting in something and that gives one courage to do that which is good.

Faith involves trusting in God as you would a Good Shepherd. Indeed, there is a break in the ugliness of Ezekiel's prophesy to talk about knowing God through his love, as a Good Shepherd, in Ezekiel 34. It closes with this, "Then they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Sovereign LORD. You my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are people, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign LORD.’” And again, as Hebrews says, "May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Day 101 (NC-17)

[reaction OYB's Nov. 9-11 readings]

Today's reactions is for mature audiences only.

First, Ezekiel has just flipped out with his Israel is a whore motif. He tells the story of a parable about these two prostitutes, Oholah and Oholibah. In the parable, "Oholah is Samaria, and Oholibah is Jerusalem." Ezekiel 23:4. A bit later, describing how badly the women betrayed God, he writes this, "Yet she became more and more promiscuous as she recalled the days of her youth, when she was a prostitute in Egypt. There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses." Ezekiel 23:19-20. One, there are not that many passages in the Bible that I think people would really be upset to have their children read, but this and the rest of chapter 23 probably fits the bill. Two, this stuff actually bugs me. It is hard to read it as not promoting violence against women at some point. Metaphor after metaphor of Israel as a women being attacked.

Second, Hebrews caused me to continue my suspicion that initially Christians like Paul were looking for a Second Coming, and when it didn't happen, the Christians who said Jesus had already returned won the argument, and that view was supported in the Gospels. In Hebrews, the author explains, "Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him." Hebrews 9:27-28. So, this is weird because it seems to not be aware of Jesus' return in the resurrection. Furthermore, we have the earlier quoted condemnation from Second Timothy for false teachers. "Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some." 2 Tim. 2:17-18. And, you might think that the resurrection discussed there was the resurrection of the dead along with Jesus. But, remember from Matthew 27:52-52 that when the Gospel writers about resurrection it included the dead. When Jesus was crucified, "[t]he tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people." So, obviously a heresy, right? But I really wonder. It also answers the question of why the Gospel writers would have Jesus says that they would see his return in the lifetime of those listening.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Day 100A (Personal Responsibility)

[supplemental reaction to Day 100 readings]

Ezekiel 18:30 says, "Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall."

Although personal responsibility is certainly found elsewhere in the Old Testament, it often with mythical characters--e.g., Adam & Eve--or with particularly significant people--e.g., Moses or David. Furthermore, Ezekiel's words seem particularly significant as the royalty are being shipped off to Babylon.

This is the subject of the entire eighteenth chapter, and earlier, the prophet tells the listerners that even Noah, Daniel and Job could have only saved themselves, not their family. Context.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Day 100 (Metaphors Gone Wild)

[reaction to OYB's Nov. 3-8 readings]

Working my way through Ezekiel I came across chapter 16, which is another extended metaphor of Judah as an unfaithful woman. Remember the following is talking about an unfaithful nation
. . . therefore I am going to gather all your lovers, with whom you found pleasure, those you loved as well as those you hated. I will gather them against you from all around and will strip you in front of them, and they will see you stark naked. I will sentence you to the punishment of women who commit adultery and who shed blood; I will bring on you the blood vengeance of my wrath and jealous anger. Then I will deliver you into the hands of your lovers, and they will tear down your mounds and destroy your lofty shrines. They will strip you of your clothes and take your fine jewelry and leave you stark naked. They will bring a mob against you, who will stone you and hack you to pieces with their swords. They will burn down your houses and inflict punishment on you in the sight of many women. I will put a stop to your prostitution, and you will no longer pay your lovers. Then my wrath against you will subside and my jealous anger will turn away from you; I will be calm and no longer angry.
Seriously? I don' know. I suppose this was necessary to get Ezekiel's point across.

The other extended metaphor, at least I think it's a metaphor, is this idea from Hebrews that Jesus is a high priest of the order of Melchizedek. First, the author assumes we all know the story about the order of Mechizedek. Here are the brief mentions of Mechizedek in Genesis and Psalm. The Genesis story is after Abraham saves Lots bacon again and the Psalm is describing the descendant of David. The author of Hebrews actually makes several logical steps based on the "fact" that Jesus is a high priest of the Mechizedek order, concluding that this means that the new covenant is superior to the old one. See, e.g. chapter 7. Weird.