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31 July 2018

No one has ever seen God. Except 74 ancient Hebrews.

John’s theology versus Moses’s experience.

Exodus 24.9-11 • John 1.18 • 1 John 4.12-13

Most of the reason we Christians are pretty sure John bar Zavdi wrote both the gospel with his name on it, and the letters with his name on them, is ’cause the same ideas and themes (and wording, and vocabulary) come up in them. Including today’s bible difficulty, the idea nobody’s ever seen God. John wrote it in both his gospel and his first letter.

John 1.18 KWL
Nobody’s ever seen God.
The only Son, God who’s in the Father’s womb, he explains God.
1 John 4.12-13 KWL
12 No one’s ever seen God, yet when we love one another, God’s with us.
His love’s been expressed in us, 13 so this is how we get to know we’re with him and he’s with us.
He’s given us his Spirit.

The reason it’s a difficulty? Because people have seen God. In Exodus 24, we have this interesting little story:

Exodus 24.9-11 KWL
9 Moses, Aaron, Nadáv, Avíhu, and 70 of Israel’s elders,
went up 10 and saw Israel’s God:
Under his feet was something like a manufactured sapphire pavement,
pure as the skies themselves.
11 As for the Israeli nobles, God didn’t strike them down:
They saw God, and they ate and drank.

Wait, what?

Yeah, nobody bothers to read their Old Testament, so it stands to reason they’d utterly miss this one. Or any of the other God-appearances in the scriptures.

In the OT, on a regular basis, humans freak out when there’s a chance they might see God. Jg 13.22 ’Cause a rumor was going round that if they did see God, they’d die. God’s pure, holy awesomeness would consume them like a volcano taking out stupid tourists. Although you do get the occasional dark Christian claim that God would be unreasonably pissed about it, and destroy them for daring to approach his majesty. Pretty sure that second idea only reflects their twisted secret wishes about how they’d like subordinates to approach them. God’s cool with his kids approaching him. Ep 3.12, He 4.16 But I digress.

Yeah, it was a rumor. And sometimes rumors are true. The LORD himself warned Moses he’d only get to see God’s back, because his front was much too much for the prophet.

Exodus 33.20 KWL
God said, “You aren’t able to see my face.
For a human cannot see me and live.”

And yet we have this story in the middle of Exodus, where apparently 74 people saw God, had lunch with him, and lived to tell of it.

And it’s not the only instance! Abraham had lunch with God too. Ge 18.1-7 Well, more like served him lunch. Isaiah and Ezekiel saw God on his throne. Jeremiah even experienced God touching him. Jr 1.9

Whenever I point out this rather vast discrepancy, Christians flinch, then usually respond one of two ways. Either they dismiss the passages where people got to see God, or they dismiss the passages where seeing God would get you struck down. The authors of the bible must not really have meant what the text clearly says.

30 July 2018

No longer a mystery: Gentiles inherit God’s kingdom.

And how dispensationalists get this so mixed up.

Ephesians 3.1-12

Paul was under house arrest when he wrote Ephesians, either before the first or second time he stood before Nero Caesar. Paul optimistically thought of these circumstances as his opportunity to share Jesus with Roman officials, with himself as Jesus’s official ambassador. Ep 6.20

But y’know, much of the reason he got in so much trouble, was because he insisted on sharing Jesus with gentiles—who were and always had been part of God’s plan, but Pharisees had blinders on about it, so this information was new to them. Because Paul was notorious for hanging out with gentiles, it’s arguably why he was arrested in the first place. Ac 22.21-29 Not that he didn’t totally take advantage of it to meet Agrippa Herod and Nero Ceasar.

This, Paul recognized, was the real reason he was in chains:

Ephesians 3.1-6 KWL
1 Here’s the reason I, Paul, became Christ Jesus’s bondservant for you gentiles—
2 unless you already heard God’s system of grace he gave me for you.
3 He made the mystery known to me through special revelation—as I previously, briefly wrote you.
4 Its readers can see my meaning about “Christ’s mystery.”
5 It wasn’t made known to previous generations of the sons of men.
He now revealed this mystery to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:
6 Through the gospel, the gentiles are to be
co-inheritors, co-body-parts, co-sharers in Christ Jesus’s promise.

This was outrageous news to bigoted Judeans who were certain God would wipe gentiles off the face of the earth, and populate his kingdom with only them.

Where’d they get such a genocidal idea? A rather sick interpretation of the bible. Taking the book of Joshua global. But it didn’t take into account the rest of the scriptures. Messiah isn’t gonna wipe out the world’s kings; they’re gonna kneel before him. Ps 2.10-12 “King of kings and lord of lords” means other kings and lords are gonna exist in his administration, under him. And not all these kings are gonna be Hebrew! Messiah—we gentiles call him Christ—was always gonna be gentiles’ king of kings. Everybody’s king.

The Pharisees kinda knew this, but like everyone who wears blinders when it comes to the bible, they didn’t wanna know this. They liked their wrath-filled idea way better. Had grudges against gentiles. Some of those grudges were centuries old; some of ’em were still pissed at the Egyptians for enslaving them 1,500 years (now 3,500 years) before. They didn’t care for the Romans at all, nor their Greek, Syrian, Nabatean, and Samaritan neighbors. So they indulged their prejudices, spun the scriptures to imply God’s gonna decimate the gentiles, and though they couldn’t build physical walls like the Israelis today, built all sorts of cultural and mental blocks.

The idea the gentiles would share their inheritance from God, share their Messiah? In synagogue after synagogue, Paul discovered this gospel pissed them off. It’s like telling an Arizonan, “The feds wanna give the Mexicans free healthcare.” If they had guns back then, they’d open fire on Paul, Barnabas, Silas, and any Christian who suggested such a thing. They did try to kill Paul in temple, y’know.

27 July 2018

My pacifism. Sorta.

In response to the responses about it.

Since I wrote that piece about how Christ Jesus expects us, his followers, to be peacemakers and practice nonviolence, naturally I got some pushback from my conservative friends.

Of course they pitched me all the usual objections. Some with compassion, some with scoffing; it all depends on whether these were knee-jerk reactions, or they were actually trying to understand where I’m coming from. If we reduce people to nothing more than their points of view, of course we’re more likely to fight ’em than love ’em. But that’s another discussion.

You might have some of these objections yourself:

  • What, d’you wanna open up all the jails and let the murderers and pedos run free?
  • Are you suggesting we abolish the military, and let America’s enemies have at us? [I live in an Air Force town, and have a number of Air Force and Army relatives, so this is a big deal.]
  • If some madman is about to harm your family and loved ones, would you just let him?

It’s not like these questions never crossed my mind. They certainly did when I was more political than Christian, and would argue against pacifism.

To be blunt, these arguments are meant to appeal to my, and everyone’s, fleshly nature. Our sense of outrage at wrongs being done to innocent people. Our tendency to demand vengeance. If someone threatens to grievously harm me and mine, shouldn’t I want them stopped by any means possible? And if I don’t—if I resist those natural impulses which every ordinary, “healthy” human being oughta have—what is wrong with me? There is, people worry, something sociopathic about anyone who swims against such a massive tide.

Especially since most folks would totally kill anyone who dared to harm them and theirs. Not only would they kill ’em, they’d sleep quite soundly about it afterwards. Or so they imagine. Perhaps they oughta have a chat with cops and soldiers who actually have killed people in the line of duty, and see how they dealt with it—assuming they have.

But—to continue to be blunt—these vengeance fantasies are as unlike Jesus as they come.

Yeah, it’s pragmatic to want to defend your family and friends and homeland. Actions oughta have consequences. Evil oughta be stopped. But you know Jesus—assuming you do know Jesus: He doesn’t want anybody to die. That’s why he came into the world, remember? Jn 3.16

Of course there are gonna be those who insist the “should not perish” part of John 3.16 has to do with eternal perishing in hell, not death. Usually these’d be the Christians who think the point of the gospel is heaven, not life; and who are trying to find a loophole which permits ’em a little death here and there.

And of course I may understand Jesus’s point of view, and totally agree with it… but when push comes to shove, and I’m faced with someone who’s threatening my family, I have a bad feeling I’m gonna fail Jesus and really mess the perpetrator up.

I’m not perfect, y’know. Working on it though.

26 July 2018

Karma has a breaking point. Grace doesn’t.

When our “grace” only goes so far, it means we’re not really practicing grace.

Matthew 18.21-22 KWL
21 Simon Peter came and told Jesus, “Master, how often will my fellow Christian sin against me,
and I’ll have to forgive them? As much as sevenfold?”
22 Jesus told him, “I don’t say ‘as much as sevenfold.’
Instead as much as seven seventyfolds.”

The point of this teaching, as many a preacher will remind us, is to keep forgiving till we lose count.

True, there are those individuals who keep track of offenses to a ridiculous degree. They won’t lose count; they can enumerate every last offense. And if you get ’em angry enough, they will.

But typically they have a breaking point, and it comes way before 490. Won’t even make it to 10. “Three strikes and you’re out” tends to be the common rule, as if baseball’s limits should apply to all humanity. Simon Peter’s seven strikes sounds far more patient and generous than most. (I’m betting he thought so too.)

The reason I bring up forgiveness, and the idea of losing count of the times we forgive, is to reemphasize the Christian lifestyle is about grace. About radical forgiveness. About not keeping a record of wrongs. 1Co 13.5 About loving people like our Father does.

But human nature keeps imposing limits where God means for there to be unlimited grace.

Even “good Christians” will rebuke us for “letting people take advantage of your kindness.” Because to their minds, unlimited grace is wrong. Radical forgiveness is naïve. Not keeping track of how people are wronging you, means you’re getting exploited. You’re only to love them so far. Love them only when they fulfill certain conditions. Cut ’em loose when they stumble. Practice a little tough love; it’s what’s best for them.

It’s because our culture doesn’t do grace. It does karma. People have to earn our compassion, merit our help, be worthy of our time and efforts. Basically our aid isn’t charity; it’s an investment. And if the people we invest in, never ever produce any kind of return on our investments, we’re just wasting our resources. We’re not trying to help the needy; we’re trying to profit off them. It’s not Christianity; it’s capitalism.

This expectation of reciprocity is why a lot of the so-called “love” we see Christians exercise, doesn’t quite fit Paul’s definition of agapi. Our “love” has strings attached. While proper love never fails, 1Co 13.8 this “love” has a limit. Might be three strikes. Might be when the physical attraction wears off. Might be once someone’s borrowed just enough money. “Fool me twice, shame on me” indicates for a lot of people, everyone gets one, and only one, error.

25 July 2018

Dropping a little Hebrew on the fellow Christians.

It’s not because they get any closer to God. It’s because they can.

For some Christians, the only fellow Christians they ever encounter are a small, insulated bunch. Basically it’s just family members and their church, and the few books and podcasts they personally approve of. They’ve got narrow little boundaries and won’t travel outside. Often out of the dark Christian fear they might be led astray, but more often it’s just because they don’t care to stretch themselves. Either way it’s a shame. But I’m not gonna discuss that particular shame today. Me, I browse widely.

And from time to time I run into Christians who insist on referring to Christ Jesus as Yeshúa ha-Mešiakh. They’ll spell it lots of different ways; I spell it the way it’s meant to sound, so if it looks a little unfamiliar they might not be pronouncing it properly. Basically it’s Hebrew for “Jesus the Messiah.”

Because they learned some Hebrew. And they’re gonna use their Hebrew on everything.

  • God’s gonna get called Adonái/“my Master” or ha-Šém/“the [LORD’s] Name.” And if they wanna call him “Father,” they’ll stick with Abba.
  • The Holy Spirit’s gonna be Ruákh ha-Qodéš.
  • The Old Testament’s gonna be the Tanákh, the common Hebrew acronym for Toráh-Neveím-Khetuvím/“Law-Prophets-Writings.” The New Testament’s the Brit Khadašá.
  • Student, or disciple, is gonna be a talmíd. Plural talmidím.

And don’t be surprised if they generally drop Hebrew words and terms all over the place. And, every so often, Yiddish.

Why? Three reasons.

  1. They took a Hebrew class, so they’re showing off.
  2. They’re of Jewish descent and grew up knowing a little Hebrew, so they’re showing off.
  3. They think it’s important for us Christians to recognize our traditions stretch all the way back to the ancient, noble culture of Israel. So they’re showing off.

Yeah, I realize a number of them will be totally offended that I’ve accused them of showing off. The rest will shrug and say, “Well yeah. But who’s it hurting?” Well, nobody really. So relax.