OT: Ezra 1:1-2:70
Reading and blogging the Bible have become so much a part of my daily routine that I don't feel a ton of emotion at the prospect of completing those tasks. Today, though, I was actually excited about reading. For one thing, we are starting two new books! For another, we are finally moving into a new phase of history in the OT! And lastly, my copy Understanding the Bible arrived today, just in time for me to read up on Ezra!
According to my new book, some scholars think that the Chronicler (they call him that, too!) wrote Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah because they have a lot of similar themes. And I've gotta say, I find the logic of much literary scholarship to be a bit weird. Just b/c books have similar themes, does that mean they have the same author? I'm just not sure that that logic is airtight. I get that all the books are focusing on the priestly, rather than the monarchical roles, but since they were all written around the same historical time period, maybe that shift in understanding history was just in the zeitgeist. Anyhow, apparently more scholars nowadays think that the Chronicler and the writer of Ezra/Nehemiah are two separate people. I still don't quite understand how the same person wrote Ezra and Nehemiah since my book said they contain contradictory info, but oh well. It was cool to read at least a little background.
So the Israelites (the Judeans, my new book calls them) were carried off into exile in Babylon. About 70 years later (according to 2 Chronicles), Babylon was conquered by Persia, and the emperor of Persia was named Cyrus. And according to the Bible and to contemporary historical sources, Cyrus let the exiled captives go back home. Now, many of them had followed Jeremiah's advice and had settled down good and deep in Babylon, and so they chose to stay (this, according to my book). About 42,000 of them, however, went back to Jerusalem, along with about 7,000 servants, 200 singers (why are we counting those separately?), and a bunch of animals. Cyrus also sent the articles that belonged to the temple that had been carried away by Nebuchadnezzar.
NT: 1 Cor. 1:18-25
I will never forget the opening of a sermon that my childhood preacher taught on faith. He first described Soren Kierkegaard's "leap of faith," and then he refuted it. He said that faith was not a blind leap; rather, it was based on reason. It was more of a step. I kind of think that my preacher's position encompasses the Modernist approach to faith. And while I don't know that I would describe faith as a blind leap, I also don't believe that it is incredibly compatible with Modernist notions of truth and science. Our text today seems to address the relationship between faith and reason:
"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.' Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" (18-20).
So...is Christianity anti-intellectual? It definitely does contain some precepts that are counterintuitive, to say the least. Love your enemies? Die to your very self? Turn the other cheek? Those principles don't exactly make an incredible amount of sense.
I am about to "out" my closet nerd husband by letting you know that he just finished The Age of Reason, by Thomas Paine. From the excerpts that he has read to me, I have deduced that Mr. Paine was not a fan of Christianity. Indeed, the logical giant behind Common Sense, who also happened to be a Deist, found the Bible to be the most ridiculous, blasphemous, outlandish representation of God that he could imagine. Basically, he rips apart about every part of the Bible he could get his hands on. He spends over a hundred pages shredding the Old Testament alone. But what really gets him is the crucifixion of Christ. Who could believe that God would kill His own son?? Not Thomas Paine! What kind of God would do that, he wonders.
I guess you could say that God frustrated the intelligence of this very intelligent man.
And frankly, Paul could have seen it coming. He understands that "Christ crucified" is "a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles" (23). He would have not been surprised at all by Paine's reaction
And yet, deep down, I don't believe that the Bible is anti-intellectual, and I don't believe that you have to set aside all reason and logic to believe it. I may not buy into the idea that it meshes well with Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment sensibilites, but I use reason all the time in trying to understand the Bible. It doesn't always work out so well, but even when I'm making a case for faith over reason, I'm still using reason to argue against reason. Which, by the way, is what Paul--highly educated man that he is--is doing right now in 1 Corinthians.
The bottom line is that this passage comforts me. It affirms that God is so much higher about us that "the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength" (25).
I think I've mentioned this before, but verses 26-31 remind me of an observation that my grad school professor made to me about Christians. Basically, she noted that Christianity seems to appeal more to the poor and ignorant than to the wise and educated. Surely I have noticed this, she said. And yes, I have noticed this. But my answer to her was that those people were the ones who knew they needed God. When you have everything figured out, what do you need God for? And the Bible makes clear that God loves the poor and the weak and the ignorant. Paul asserts that "God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of this world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify they things that are" (27-28). That last bit reminds me of Romans 4:17, which describes "the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as if they were."
All in all, I found this to be a contemplative and ultimately comforting passage.
Thinking of the faith/reason dichotomy made verse 8 resonate with me all the more today:
"My heart says of you, 'Seek his face!' Your face, Lord, I will seek."
Yes, my mind is motivated to seek God, but it is ultimately the motivation of my heart that draws me to him. It's not just emotions, though. It is a soul thing. It is the deepest part of me that draws me to God, a part that transcends both logic and emotion.
The first warns against revenge, and the second against dishonest scales.