Thursday, August 5, 2010

August 6

OT: Ezra 3:1-4:24

I read today's reading to Greg on our way up to Charlotte this afternoon. We talked about the beginning of chapter 4, where the "enemies" of the Judeans offer to help rebuild the temple. These enemies say, "Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here." (4:2). Understanding the Bible clarifies that these enemies are the Samaritans, and I seem to remember something about the king of Assyria sending men from other nations to resettle in Samaria. What I didn't get about this passage is why the returned exiles so flatly refused: "You have no part with us in building a temple to our Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us" (3). Was this the right response? My instincts say no. Yeah, those people were foreigners, but the Law seemed to make it clear to me that the Israelites were supposed to welcome foreigners who desired to worship their God. My instincts also tell me "no," because the Israelites go on to hate the Samaritans with a ferocity that Jesus soundly refutes in the NT. He was kind to the Samaritan woman, and even pointedly made a Samaritan the star of his most famous parable. Not to mention the fact that Jesus was all about love, and not hatred.

But then again, I'm certainly not completely sure that they were wrong. The subsequent bitterness of their enemies definitely raises some questions about their motives. Apparently, since they weren't allowed to help, they then try to sabotage the whole project by writing Artaxerxes to try to get him to stop the Israelites. And they were successful! Our reading today ends with Artaxerxes ordering the temple work to stop. And indeed, it "came to standstill" in the last verses of today's passage (24).

NT: 1 Corinthians 2:6-3:4

Paul continues the theme of man's wisdom versus God's wisdom, maintaining that God's wisdom can only be understood by spiritual people. I found myself to be a bit ambivalent about this tactic employed by Paul. On the one hand, it seems to shut down all dialogue. What I get from Paul is that if you don't understand or believe him, well, it is just because you aren't spiritual enough (or spiritually mature enough). How do you respond to that? It puts those who disagree in an indefensible position.

On the other hand, I ultimately believe that what Paul says is true. Like I talked about yesterday, so much about God's revelation to us is counter-intuitive. My mom was telling me that she had used one of my old Sunday school lessons on Uzzah to teach her 5th and 6th graders. The theme of the lesson was on trusting God rather than your own instincts. As an application, she used those "crazy" portions of the sermon on the mount. My mom loved the lesson, but assured me that her 5th and 6th grade boys were not having it. She said they just shook their heads, laughed, and said, "I'm sorry, Mrs. Bev, but if someone slapped me in the face, I'd punch them." Yeah, I guess the concept of turning the other cheek, even to an insult, doesn't make a lot of sense in the light of "human wisdom." Now, to be clear, I think that Paul is talking about more than just turning the other cheek here. Rather, it seems that he is referring to the whole idea of Jesus. I think this b/c the only specific reference Paul makes is to the crucifixion of Christ: "None of the rulers of this age understood it [God's secret wisdom], for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (8).

Moving on...

By far, the most intriguing line of this passage to me is found at the end of verse 16, where Paul declares, "But we have the mind of Christ."

We do? That sounds awesome, but what does that mean?

Judging by all that comes before it, I'm guessing that Paul is referring to the Holy Spirit. And wow. What a great way to refer to the Spirit. At first, it seems intimidating. Whenever I read that verse, I have to think, "Do I have the mind of Christ?"

And you know what? I do! It's not that I'm perfect by any stretch of the imagination, or that I always know what's what (this blog more than proves my ignorance in so many areas). But I truly believe that for the most part, I love what God loves, I hate what God hates, I mourn what God mourns, and I celebrate what God celebrates. I believe fully that as I've walked with God as a Christian over these last almost twenty years, that He has refined my heart and helped my moral compass to point closer to north. Do I still screw up on an alarmingly regular basis? Yes. Am I still plagued by selfishness? Guilty. Do I still have a breathtakingly long way to go? Oh, yes! But do I have the mind of Christ? I believe so.

Psalm 28: 1-9

David begs for God's intervention in his life.

Proverbs 20:24-25

When I read today's reading off Greg's phone this afternoon, it was in the NLT, and its version of verse 24 said:

"The Lord directs our steps,
so why try to understand everything along the way?"

I laughed out loud when I read that, b/c it seemed so tailored to me: "But I want to understand everything along the way! Is that so wrong?!"

While typing my blog tonight, I had my NIV in front of me, and its version is more stately:

"A man's steps are directed by the Lord.
How then can anyone understand his own way?"

To me, that concept is deeper than what is conveyed by the NLT. I'm going to have to ponder that one...


  1. But I truly believe that for the most part, I love what God loves, I hate what God hates, I mourn what God mourns, and I celebrate what God celebrates.

    I know you meant well, but I certainly find this sentiment kind of terrifying. People from most religions have this attitude. Even when they completely disagree with each other. Even when they are committing atrocities. To use a somewhat cliche example, I am sure that many of those who ran the Inquisition thought that they hated what God hated just as truly as you do.

  2. Hmmmm...I can certainly see what you are saying, as well as the potential for abuse there. It even scares me sometimes when leaders seem to insinuate that they believe that they have received God's guidance in their decisions. While I do prefer my leaders to be Christian, and while I believe that God does guide Christians, it still makes it scary, given the corruptible nature of man, to think that a leader has power over our lives and that he might somehow think that he is the mouthpiece or the hand of God.

    At the same time, how do you convey a life controlled by the Spirit WITHOUT sounding somewhat scary? How do you describe the process of transformation, which is ultimately of becoming more like Christ...who is God? When you say, "I think I'm becoming more like God," I can see how that might sound terrifying, but how DO you say it?

    All that I can say is that I know that I'm NOT God, I know that I'm just a fallible human, and that I understand how the view that I AM being transformed as a Christian might sound scary to those who know all to well what has been done in the name of God. However, what I mean by "having the mind of Christ" (and this is part of my transformation) is that I should love all people, even the unlovable, the despised, the helpless. I mourn the suffering in the world, and believe that I have a responsibility to alleviate it. I hate injustice, and celebrate when people find God. That sort of thing. And it's more than just general feelings or token efforts. More and more, I am feeling--and responding to--the Spirit's pull to center my life around these things. And that's what I mean by having the mind of Christ.

    Thanks for allowing me to clarify.

  3. Okay, sorry to continue to spout forth, but I was thinking further about your comment.

    I think that the bottom line is that strong beliefs are scary, ESPECIALLY when they are different from our own. People today are freaking out b/c Muslims are wanting to build mosques in this country. The sentiment seems to be, "You know those people have a propensity to blow up buildings, right? Do we really want such religion in our neighborhood?" There was a similar outcry over Catholics back in the day. I have actually read pamphlets sent out during the JFK election, warning people that, as a Catholic, Kennedy took orders from the Pope. What if the Pope told him to do something counter to American interests? What if the Pope wanted to make America a vassal state of Rome? Or, for that matter, there have been similar terrors associated with atheists: "You know those people don't believe in a God, right? How then can they believe in right and wrong, in absolute truth? How can they have any moral compass at all? Who KNOWS what an atheist might do? Look at Stalin! We certainly don't want any atheists in leadership positions!"

    Now, I can see why any of those belief systems would pose valid concerns to people who don't share them. At the same time, I do NOT believe that the answer is to forbid or to discourage any kind of strong belief. The forced secularization of culture is just as oppressive as an imposed religion. Rather, I believe that the key is found in communication, the type that we are doing right now. I know that you don't actually know me, but I would hope that, based on our limited interaction, you would hear me say, "I love what God loves" and not jump immediately to the Spanish Inquisition. To do so just doesn't seem really fair to me. And I don't mean that like I am personally hurt, b/c honestly, I'm not. I appreciate that you shared what you thought. But I do think it highlights a basic human unwillingness to give the benefit of the doubt to people who believe differently from us. And that's not a Christian or an atheist or an Islamic thing. That's just a human thing, and I know that I am guilty of it myself...

    End ramble.

  4. Thanks for the clarification, and I do agree with your general point that strong beliefs can be threatening. And I am most certainly not really scared by the part of your statement that says you believe you are coming to love what God loves.

    The part that seemed terrifying was where you declared, "I hate what God hates". Because hate is such a destructive emotion, believing that you are correctly hating in God's name is what terrifies me. Remember, the God of the Old Testament showed his hatred by the violent destruction of his enemies.

    Now, maybe you didn't really mean it when you said that you believe that you are coming to more and more hate what God hates, but there are people who believe that, and it is terrifying.

  5. I know that you don't actually know me, but I would hope that, based on our limited interaction, you would hear me say, "I love what God loves" and not jump immediately to the Spanish Inquisition. To do so just doesn't seem really fair to me.

    To be fair, you didn't just say that you love what God loves, you said you hate what God hates, and that leads directly to the Spanish Inquisition.

  6. Fair enough, Erika. I see your point. And since I now see clearly that it is the concept of hatred that bothers you, let me say a few words on that.

    Perhaps hatred is a strong word, and I first have to clarify that I do NOT believe that God hates people. From what I read in the Bible, I believe that God hates injustice, He hates the suffering of the poor and innocent, and He hates the causes of that injustice and suffering, which includes sin. The key, of course, for Christians, is to hate in the appropriate way, which is to hate the suffering/injustice/sin APART from the people committing or causing it, AND to react in the way that God tells us to in His word. I have a few verses that guide me in that understanding.

    "Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Eph. 6:11-12. These verses tell me that people are not the enemy.

    "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds." I Cor. 10:3-4. Our weapon to fight injustice is not violence, but love. This verse doesn't specify that love is the weapon, but I get that from so many other verses--indeed, from the whole theme of the NT.

    And lastly, "Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:22). Rather than respond like for like, we are to respond with goodness when confronted with the injustice, suffering, and sin that God hates.

    Like I said earlier, I get that "hate" is a strong word, and I also get how it has been and continues to be a dangerous force when misused. But surely we SHOULD hate injustice and suffering, right?

  7. Hate clouds judgment. We should condemn injustice and suffering. We should fight them. But should we hate them? I am not so sure. I suspect that leads to rash and ineffective responses. It may motivate one to initiate action, but in the long term hatred, even just hatred, destroys.

  8. I'm beginning to think that our difference of opinion is due to semantics, or maybe I am just misusing the word, hate. When I think of "hate," I think of "strong dislike." I am not thinking of it as an emotion in itself. The emotions connected to my "hating" injustice and suffering are sadness that it exists and frustration at wanting to stop it but not knowing how. Similarly, I do not think of love as an emotion. Love is a deep commitment that has emotions associated with it, but true love is not an emotion in itself.

    But even though I don't view hatred as an emotion, and even though I'm not talking about it as an emotion now, I DO speak of it as an emotion sometimes, like when I speak of people having hatred for other races that leads them to treat them in unspeakable ways. So it's not that I don't understand your use of the word; I think it is that I apparently have two different definitions in my mind for the word "hate."

    I just looked it up (did I really have to look up the word, "hate"?), and I do see that emotions of hostility and animosity are traditionally associated with the word. So you are right...maybe it is the wrong word. If nothing else, its connotations of malicious emotions are certainly not what I was trying to convey with my sentence. I'm not sure what to replace it with. Oppose, maybe?

  9. Oppose sounds like a decided improvement. =)