18 December 2015

Lessons from Jewish (and Christian) mythology.

Jude referred to a few Pharisee myths. But on’t get hung up on whether they’re true stories.

Jude 1.5-8

Jude 1.5-6 KWL
5 I want to remind you—though you knew all this already:
First the Lord rescued his people out of Egypt.
Second, he destroyed those who didn’t trust him.
6 Including the angels!—who didn’t keep watch over their own realms,
but left their own dwelling-place by choice.
On the Great Day, in eternal prison, in the dark—
that keeps watch.

Jude isn’t the only apostle who finds it fascinating that God judges angels. (And apparently we Christians judge ’em too. 1Co 6.3) Simon Peter brought ’em up, 2Pe 2.4 and Christ Jesus himself taught the everlasting fire was constructed for them. Mt 24.41 The apostles wanted to point out how if God doesn’t spare angels when they sin, why do we presume he’ll spare humans when we sin? Grace is awesome, but it’s still not a free pass.

Irritatingly, Christians have flipped this idea completely over, and made it meaningless.

How’d we nullify this teaching? Simple. We pointed out the bible says nothing about atonement for angels. ’Cause it doesn’t. Jesus died for our sins, but we have no idea whether he died for angels’ sins. He became human to die for us; he didn’t become angel. He came to save the world, Jn 3.17 not the heavens. Angels are [dooky] out of luck.

I heard it taught in seminary, and emphasized time and again by various Christians: Jesus didn’t die for angels. When we sin, we get grace. But when angels sin, somehow it’s a billion times worse. They see God’s face, up close; they of all people should know better than to sin. So when they sin, it’s one strike and you’re out: They’re fallen, and go to hell. Do not pass the cross; do not collect atonement.

This strikes me as entirely unlike God’s character. God is love, right? 1Jn 4.8, 16 Why does his love evaporate when an angel sins? Why are humans of infinite value to him, yet angels are disposable? Even if God loves us way more than he does them, it’s still really inconsistent to imagine God behaves so gracelessly towards them.

And inconsistent with the apostles. They were trying to make a logical comparison between angels and humans. If angels get in trouble, so do we. Now, maybe we’re not on an equal plane; maybe God does love humans more. Fine. Then what the apostles were talking about is what the Pharisees called a kal v’khomer/“light and heavy” comparison: “If God does this light thing, how much more likely is it he’ll he do this weighty thing?” Lk 12.24, 28 So if God punishes lesser being like angels, how much more will he punish valuable beings like humans?

Or vice-versa. Doesn’t matter. Point is, the apostles’ argument doesn’t work unless God should show grace to angels—unless he ordinarily forgives them their sins—but when they’re unrepentant, he puts ’em in angel-jail. Because if God just tosses them into hell regardless, what’s the apostles’ point? “God throws fallen angels into hell, but we get grace, ’cause Jesus died for us.” In other words: Big deal.

So this is why I believe God forgives angels. The apostles’ warnings about how God doesn’t spare angels, don’t work otherwise.

Wait, what’s God punishing angels about?

When angels sin, apparently God doesn’t want ’em roaming free on the earth to harm humans. So he sticks them in the fréar ábyssos/“deep well,” or “bottomless pit,” (KJV) a prison for fallen angels, and eventually the devil. Lk 8.31, Rv 9.1-11, 20.1-3 That’s what Jude meant by “eternal prison, in the dark.” It may be fire (’cause it sure makes smoke), Rv 9.2 but it’s dark fire.

In Christian mythology—the stories we tell which aren’t in the bible (seriously, they’re not; this is based on scripture, but not from it)—the devil and dark angels, at the beginning of time, went rogue. Satan and its groupies decided they didn’t want to be subservient to God. Some myths say God was gonna make Satan subservient to humans, and its response was, “I, the mightiest spirit in heaven, have to answer to animals?” and balked. And this is supposedly the reason God had to toss them out of heaven, Rv 12.9 and now they swarm the earth, Rv 12.12 trying to get worshiped like gods, peevishly tripping up us humans lest we turn to God, and possessing some of us for fun.

Christians assume Jude was speaking of our myths. Nope. When the apostles referred to myths, the foundational stories which’re found neither in history nor bible, they weren’t getting ’em from the same places we Christians do.

Our myths come from the 20 centuries of Christian literature after the New Testament was completed. Christian fanfiction (which we sometimes call “apocryphal gospels”); stories the Church Fathers heard and told; inventions of Christian poets and authors; guesses and extrapolations by clever or foolish preachers; conjecture based on personal experience (i.e. dreams, visions, and near-death experiences). But that’s us. The apostles didn’t know our stories. Their stories came from the Pharisees.

One of the Pharisees’ more popular myths, which you might’ve seen in Darren Aronofsky’s movie Noah, is based on the Noah story in Genesis. There, the LORD ordered Noah to load his big wooden box with two of every animal—and seven of every clean animal. Ge 7.2-3 Here’s the thing: Ritually “clean” animals weren’t defined till Moses handed down the Law. Lv 11 So how’d Noah know which critters were clean and which weren’t? Uh… er…

(My guess: Whoever last edited Genesis also edited Leviticus, knew what “clean” and “unclean” meant, and put the word in the LORD’s mouth because the editor felt it best described what God wanted Noah to do.)

The Pharisees’ explanation: Angels must’ve taught Noah what “clean” meant. So that’s the myth they told. God sent an ir/“watcher” Da 4.10, 14, 20 —a whole team of them—to tech the Law to the pre-flood humans. (In Aronofsky’s movie the watchers look like rock monsters.) And thus was the Law handed down by angels. Ac 7.53, Ga 3.19, He 2.2

Clearly the watchers sucked at their job, since the LORD was later obligated to destroy everyone but Noah’s family. The Pharisees had an explanation for this too: Instead of training people in the Law, the watchers started banging the humans. No I’m not kidding. There’s this odd little bible story about “sons of God” and “daughters of men” Ge 6.1-4 and the Pharisees claimed the watchers were these “sons of God.” Once God found out what they were doing, he threw these pervy angels into the pit, where they’re chained for eternity—or till they’re sicced on humanity during the End Times. Rv 9.1-12 Either way.

Now, when I tell Christians this myth, their typical response: “I’ve never heard that story before.” Well of course you haven’t. You heard the Christian myth, which comes from John Milton’s 1667 epic poem Paradise Lost. It’s all over Christian culture. Christians teach it as if it came straight from Revelation (and a really out-of-context bit of Isaiah), and forget it came from Milton. That’s the real story, and has to be what Jude refers to.

If people are gonna embrace a myth, we tend to go with our favorites.

Part of their concern is also that if Jude refers to the Pharisee myth, it automatically means the Pharisee myth is true. And if Jude is gonna embrace any myth, it’d better be the Paradise Lost version of events. ’Cause that myth, they believe. Watchers teaching Noah the Law? They don’t even like the Law, and can barely imaging God wasting Moses’s time with it, much less Noah’s. (Which is a whole other misconception I’ll have to deal with elsewhere. I’ve only got time for this one today.)

Firstly: Does referring to a myth mean someone believes it? Nah. I refer to pop culture all the time: Shakespeare plays, Star Wars, Monty Python, Batman… stuff I know is fiction, and so do you, and it gets your attention ’cause it jogs your memory. (Or not, but because I swipe my ideas from clever people, people might assume I’m clever.) The stuff of our popular culture is our culture’s mythology, and who says we have to believe it’s true? Why would Jude have to believe it too?

So relax. You (and Jude) don’t have to believe all his illustrations come from non-fiction sources. Unless an apostle is quoting bible, or referring to people they know, it’s okay to assume they’re speaking hypothetically, or making cultural references just like we do. Pay attention to Jude’s points and conclusions. That’s what’s important.

Sodom and Gomorrah.

Jude 1.7 KWL
Like Sodom, Gomorrah, and the cities round them with this same lifestyle:
Fornicators and deviants, chasing other flesh.
They set an example of eternal fire,
the punishment they suffer.

Just as there are popular Christian myths about fallen angels, so there are myths about Sodom, Gomorrah, and Lot. More precisely popular false teachings.

The LORD destroyed the Dead Sea cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Ge 19.24 The Sodomites got a bit rapey when visitors came to visit them, Ge 19.4-5 but for some reason most people use “Sodomite” to describe, not rape, nor even homosexual rape, but homosexuals in general. That’s what they’ve reduced homosexuality to.

Contrary to popular belief, God didn’t condemn and destroy Sodom ’cause of the homosexuality. He did so because the Sodomites and Gomorrhans did nothing for the needy. No really; it’s in the bible.

Ezekiel 16.49-50 KWL
49 “Look, this is the evil of Sodom, your sister:
She and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, prosperity, and rest.
But her hand did little for the poor and needy.
50 They were proud, and committed abominations in my face.
So I got rid of them. As you’ve seen.”

“But look, it says right there they committed abominations!” Yeah, I know it does. But the LORD defined their crime in verse 49: They didn’t care for the poor and needy. They exploited them. Visitors became victims. That’s what the LORD couldn’t abide. Ge 18.20-21

When I point this Ezekiel passage out to Christians, they tend to do the very same thing as when I tell ’em about the Pharisee myths: “I’ve never heard that story before,” and they reject it outright. They don’t care that it comes from bible. Their prejudices are more important than revelation.

Because Christians have hangups about homosexuality, that’s the only lens we see Sodom and Gomorrah through. Peter described Lot as righteous, 2Pe 2.7 but when we teach on Lot from Genesis, so many of us describe Lot as a sellout who lived in Sodom because his greed for greener pasture Ge 13.8-11 let him ignore all the sin around him. I’ve heard preachers even blame Lot for letting his own daughters rape him; Ge 19.30-38 how could he not notice they roofied him? Someone who suffered that much misfortune must have something wrong with him. And thus we devilishly blame the victim.

Peter called Lot righteous because he was: The LORD told Abraham he wouldn’t destroy these cities if there were as few as 10 righteous people there. Ge 18.32 Pity there was just the one. And God got the one out of there. Still, part of the reason Lot was there was because he was one of the many, many chances God gave Sodom to repent. Every culture is given many chances to repent. The LORD is patient and slow to anger, Ex 34.6 and wants to save everyone he can. 2Pe 3.9 But the Sodomites preferred their lifestyle to God’s warnings. Rape was simply the outward manifestation of their selfish, exploitative, rotten souls.

Hopefully we Christians aren’t that far gone. But a number of us are certainly working our way down. Jude brought up fornication ’cause promiscuity is an obvious work of the flesh. Ga 5.19 Loads of Christians indulge in it anyway, ’cause it’s fun, everyone does it, God forgives all, and it’s an “act of love”—and God is love, right? 1Jn 4.16 Actually it’s not an act of love, but romance and lust, and Paul warned us those who indulge in promiscuity won’t inherit God’s kingdom. Ga 5.21 If we can’t tell the difference between God’s love and carnal pleasure, we know neither love nor God.

Back to the libertarians.

Jude 1.8 KWL
Of course these people who dream of flesh stain themselves.
They reject authority. They slander the well-thought-of.

As I discussed when I was analyzing verse 4: The reason these folks are lawless, are sinning, are doing their own thing instead of following God, are rejecting the proper interpretation of scripture and the scriptures themselves in favor of their favorite myths, is because they answer to no one. They’ve warped “freedom in Christ” into libertarianism. They answer to Christ when they feel like answering to him. Like Sodom and Gomorrah, their desires take priority.

But more than just rejecting God’s authority, or the authority of anyone who preaches his gospel: They blasfimúsin/“slander” anyone who does so. They mock authority. As libertarians will.

You notice how political libertarians exhibit no respect for government and politicians. Not just corrupt politicians, who don’t deserve respect anyway: Libertarians respect no leader. Sometimes they grudgingly respect fellow libertarians, but that’s as far as they’ll go.

Now in the case of spiritual libertarians, they have no respect for spiritual leaders. Watch ’em sometime. They mock pastors, bishops, popes, evangelists, biblical scholars, Christian colleges—anybody with a pulpit. Christians, they insist, are all on an equal plane in the eyes of God; nobody’s better’n them but Jesus. They take it upon themselves to take every spiritual leader down a few notches. They take glee in it.

I know a few bloggers who take it upon themselves to analyze every famous preacher, and judge whether or not they’re heretic. Some pass muster; lots don’t. And we’re not talking actual heresy, i.e. they don’t believe in the trinity, or that Jesus is God. Nope, it’s whether they’re Fundamentalist like them. Or whether they’re politically conservative like them. Or whether they’re anti-gay, anti-Catholic, anti-feminist, anti-Muslim, anti-prosperity gospel, anti-government, anti-pagan, anti-everything like they are. Otherwise they’re anti-you.

And if they’re anti-you, it opens up the floodgates: They feel they now have license to call you every nasty thing they can get away with. They won’t question any rumors about you; they’ll accept them all as truth, ’cause you’re the enemy and all’s fair in war.

Jude goes on about this in the next verses. It’s safe to deduce Jude was writing about particular individuals he knew, who did this sort of thing in their churches. You know the overzealous sort. Quick to condemn, slow to accept? Yet at the same time, hiding a really active sin life underneath a steaming load of fake piety? Yeah, there are a lot of ’em in Christendom. I used to be one. Bashing Christian leaders was how we kept them off our backs.

But if God didn’t spare his own angels when they chose rebellion, 2Pe 2.4 what on earth makes us humans think we’re exempt? …Oh yeah, we answer to nobody.

Well, let’s see where that takes us.