Apparently, and based upon an uptick in readership, my last title and/or blog post struck a nerve?
Either a lot more people than myself have concerns about how the text of scriptures are being interpreted in light of our days, or those who know me are concerned for my near heretic thoughts of late.
The older I get, the more I need to be clear about thoughts that for decades, given my calling as a change agent, have been held perhaps too close out of respect for my elders and the offices they held.
My annual read through scripture now has me reading from Jeremiah. In verses 21:12-14, I am reminded of Isreal's religious culture and her ancient alignment with the Old Testament. Her religious history combined with a secular governance based upon national sovereignty, along with an uncanny and quite rich sustainability, has made Isreal globally respected by many, feared by some and hated with a passion by others.
Given all this, one can understand their sense of license for horrendous assault and continued devastation in Gaza, though many innocent Palestinians are suffering untold anguish.
Their Old Testament prophet Jeremiah writes of a God quite vengeful at times even with Isreal:
"O house of David, thus saith the LORD; Execute judgment in the morning, and deliver him that is spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor, lest my fury go out like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings. Behold, I am against thee, O inhabitant of the valley, and rock of the plain, saith the LORD; which say, Who shall come down against us? or who shall enter into our habitations? But I will punish you according to the fruit of your doings, saith the LORD: and I will kindle a fire in the forest thereof, and it shall devour all things round about it."
Many even among those most literal in their understanding of scripture now show concern as to how far Isreal may be going with their rights for national defense. Yet, if we think back to Pearl Harbor, even more recently 9/11, we likely would respond the same way, should terrorists attack our homeland.
They also sit beside several nations known as seedbeds for terrorists. Iran in particular perhaps moreso driven by religious fanaticism, a theocracy, fighting a proxy war that for 16 years was well-planned with a maze of fortified tunnels strategically placed underneath a heavy population of innocents, schools and hospitals.
I can't imagine the pressure on Isreal's leadership, given allies like our own nation, growing more and more anxious, as we live at the mercy of a pipeline of goods out of China and fuel from the Middle East.
The allies of China, nuclear capable Russia and North Korea, no doubt rattle the ears of a purely secular, brilliant but likely merciless, Xi Jinping.
He perhaps could care less about Isreal, a nuisance to wealthy partners, oligarchs and oil magnates!
Control of the South China Seas is his higher priority given our allies, Taiwan and South Korea. Meanwhile, Xi struggles to keep a state controlled economy rolling, one that must provide for over 1.5 Billion people, among them a relatively few wealthy loyalists, scores of state educated, tech savvy intellectuals, yet with scores of paupers, who fear for their lives while grinding out products for transport to spoiled Americans.
As well it seems, under the radar building ports in Shanghai! Shanghai, Peru that is, in South America, ports that could easily harbor war ships in time of crises.
These are bizarre times, meanwhile our own culture seems far adrift at home, with struggling churches all across our land.
Let me get back to Jeremiah.
All these recent horrors combined with and the image of God as depicted in the Old Testament, bring me to a staggering halt when I consider who Jesus was, "the Word become flesh."
An uber compassionate human, born strategically to a lowly carpenter, though his Uncle Zechariah was deeply embedded in the priesthood. There must have been a reason that God, who was Christ, avoided entry into royalty, wealth and a religious hierarchy already fomented by an institutionalized priesthood.
The New Testament's red letters further beg the question of many of the doctrines which have divided Christian's over the centuries, as we have attempted to anchor our religious alignment with Christ by way of the Old Testament.
I would guess that I am not alone in my thoughts, as over the centuries the Institutional Church has insisted that the Gospel need be interpreted by way of the foreshadowing in the Old Testament, but only by those first sanctioned by the church. Then later, as shared within my last post, Protestantism made an attempt to break from the institution, then declared the text infallible, yet capable of being understood by all through the Spirit, still multiple versions exist.
Those most emphatic about the text's infallibility also profess the possibility of an intimate relationship with the Christ, The Word, even an infilling of the third party of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete who will "guide you into all truth", but then caution any thoughts apart from their given version.
Surely the Spirit of God, who is love, resident in us can guide one toward the appropriate application of the inspired text, while affording a progressive understanding of love when cultures shifts. The bottom line for Jesus, the Word become flesh, the One-God reflected in all three Persons of the Trinity, was that none should perish but that all should have eternal life. His last words, "It is finished!"
Living by the text alone seems insufficient as evidenced by the division throughout Christendom. Surely this was not God's plan, but the result of religion over the ages.
The text apart from a parallel relationship with the Word, who was Christ, is a problem. The distance between approaches from those who deem the text inspired to those hardened toward infallible, points to human opinion as a determinant. Worse yet, power driven institutions presents a greater problem.
We have justified the distance between the war prone God of Isreal and peaceful person of Jesus the Christ, by way of the concept of an Old & New Covenant. "The Old foretelling the New, the New fulfilling the Old," "interpreting the Bible with the Bible" as I was taught. Yet, the Words of Jesus were, "if you've seen me you've seen the Father. This (His life style) is the way, walk you in it." Christianity as we know it was not yet even a term being used in Christ's era, only later as a means of identifying the People of the Way!
Fortunately, though the God of the Old Testament seems quite wrath-filled as captured in the text, quite mysteriously, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit long before Pentecost, God leaks love through the pen of those men and women of old, folk long steeped in the idolatry of wrath.
"He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: My God; in him will I trust. Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, And from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: His truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; Nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; Nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; But it shall not come nigh thee. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold And see the reward of the wicked." Psalm 91:1-8 KJV
This is the God revealed in Christ, unlike the God captured by a weary Jeremiah, who in the distance of two verses swings from songs of praise to being cursed:
"Sing unto the LORD, praise ye the LORD: for he hath delivered the soul of the poor from the hand of evildoers. Cursed be the day wherein I was born: let not the day wherein my mother bare me be blessed." Jeremiah 20:13-14 KJV
It seems in our attempts at using the Canon for purposes of control and continuity of the faith over the centuries, the opposite has occurred. The idea of infallibility propagated clerical cherry-picking, opinionated doctrinal postulates that stretch one's reasoning, though the prophets words are "come let us reason together." One can easily understand how cherry-picking can be used to reinforce one's opinion, as I just did it!
Again, Jesus made it simple, I am the way, walk you in it...do as I do.
Such broad concepts as "justice" have been used to bridge the gulf between the God of the Old Testament and the New. God is just, we are wicked, and thus Christ became the sacrifice required by this just but wrath prone God. Calvary was the necessary sacrificial substitute for our at-one-ment, the Lamb slain for our sins. This sacrifice then tamed the savagery described earlier as God's response to Isreal's rebellion or their harsh war-time strategies.
Somehow all this seems totally distant from the thoughts expressed by our Lord Jesus Christ. If God was wrathful and the purpose of Christ was appeasement of this wrathful God, it seems He would have supported the Pharisees, those most aligned with such behaviors, lambasting the sinful outside of Judaism.
Jesus was "the very righteousness of God" incarnate, yet merciful with sinners.
Some see no problem with the above conundrum, one managed by way of concepts such as the Trinity, Old Covenant, New Covenant, etc.
The Good News is that the Word who was God, became flesh in the Christ, His death by human hands the highest expression of God's love toward humanity. His desire (God in Christ) was us becoming One with God, able to carry within our beings the righteousness of God, the Spirit of God. Love could finally and truly be incarnate, with peace on earth!
I think you may be seeing my challenge with a religion that professes grace and mercy, but clings to doctrines that hold fast to one's guilt, all of us sinners moreso than sons and God's need for justice, moreso than a heart for mercy.
So why John 3:16...a baby boy was born, a Son in terms of conception, a human who had a Father, who was God.
Perhaps it was a necessary language for peasants, shepherds, creating a text now hard to escape, even when that Person's life spoke volumes with a lifestyle quite different than religion had propagated?