Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Not everything Biblical is Christian. Part 11 - divorce

Dear Johnboy
It's been awhile since the last letter. It's funny that it has taken me this long to write about the most straightforward example from the mouth of Jesus in the gospels that not everything biblical is Christian. Divorce as discussed in Matthew 19 is as uncontroversial as they come in my opinion.

The story starts with the religious elite ask Jesus if divorce is always acceptable. Jesus answers by appealing to the Adam and Eve story and the verse there which says the "two become one flesh" a mysterious work of God. Jesus then reasons if God does this mysterious work, it shouldn't be undone.

The religious dudes start rubbing their hands together because later on in the same block of scriptures called the books of Moses, when Moses gives the children of Israel their religious laws, he permits divorce. Jesus responds Moses gave them a concession to hard hearts. Jesus contrasts God and Moses here. It sounds to me like another example that not everything in the Bible is God-breathed, even Moses, the greatest prophet in Judaism gets God wrong according to Jesus.

The Bible has many internal disagreements like this. It's a book in conversation with God and his people and their enemies. This debate had continued to the close of the Old Testament canon.

The prophet Malachi proclaims, 2:16 “For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.”

On the other hand, the priest Ezra forces Israeli men to divorce their non-Israeli wives. Ezra 10:10 Then Ezra the priest stood and said to them: “You have committed a terrible sin. By marrying pagan women, you have increased Israel’s guilt. 11 So now confess your sin to the Lord, the God of your ancestors, and do what he demands. Separate yourselves from the people of the land and from these pagan women.”

The question is does God hate divorce or mixed marriages (and the children of them) more? Historically, Christians leaned Ezra's way often enough. There are American preachers today who oppose interracial marriage based on the Bible and stories like Ezra's and his understanding of what God demands. When Western missionaries encountered polygamous converts some demanded the husbands put away their extra wives and children. Those unsupported wives and children, without a support system usually suffered terribly under this policy. I heard an anecdote recently of an African believer who took communion for the first time in the Western church he visited and wept openly. Because as the child of an extra wife, his local church had decided against forcing a divorce which is good but added that only the first wife and her children could be members in good standing of the church. The other wives and their children could not be members and were thus denied the privilege of the eucharist. Through no fault of his own, this man, who grew up believing in Jesus was denied the flesh and blood of Jesus by the religious elite in his world.

The question remains, does God hate divorce or mixed marriages (and the children of them) more? Divorce is devastating. Marriage is hard. Jesus says God does a mystery in marriage, but the Matthew 19 story adds the caveat of infidelity. So the church has made this the only exception ever. American religious elites such as John Piper encourage women to remain in physically abusive relationships instead of divorce unless the violent man also commits adultery. He has since repented of that shitty advice, James Dobson has not though. But other religious elite still push this biblical conclusion. The question then becomes, does Jesus ask the abused to stay in harm's way because he hates divorce more than abuse? What is the way of the Christian, that reflects the way of love? Compassion.

Jesus knows of two views of divorce in the Old Testament. He picks the way of love. He is not extreme in his advocacy of marriage though. Infidelity is soul wrecking, likewise abuse. Who am I to judge what is soul wrecking for someone else?

Not everything Biblical is Christian.

Series review----------------------
This is part ten of the series, Not everything Biblical is ChristianPart one points out that the words of Satan recorded in the Bible are not Christian doctrine. Part two shows the Sermon on the Mount overruling the cursing of enemies exhibited in Psalm 137. Parts three and four show Moses getting overruled by Ezekiel and Jesus. Part five merely brushes the concept of source criticism.  Part six looks at the Old Testament application in the early church: a brief summary of the book of Acts. Part seven looks at how the church has worked this out regarding slavery. Part eight, showed one example of how an unchristian part of the Bible helps tell the Christian story. Part nine asks who would Jesus hate? Part 10 discusses women as Biblically approved spoils of war.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Mayweather vs. the Christian guy vs. Jeremiah

I'm the only one who saw that fight, and I saw it today while meditating, but failing, and instead wrestling with Jeremiah.

This past weekend the sinful Floyd Mayweather, Jr.,  undefeated boxer, matched up against the devout fighter, Manny Pacquiao, from the Philippines. According to my completely unscientific survey of my christian twitter and facebook feeds, prayers were rising to heaven for the guy on God's side. But he lost. He did tweet a selfie the next day on his way to church though.

Jeremiah was upset about situations like this.
Jeremiah 12:1 You are always righteous, Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease? 2 You have planted them, and they have taken root; they grow and bear fruit. You are always on their lips but far from their hearts. 3 Yet you know me, Lord; you see me and test my thoughts about you. Drag them off like sheep to be butchered! Set them apart for the day of slaughter! 4 How long will the land lie parched and the grass in every field be withered? Because those who live in it are wicked, the animals and birds have perished. Moreover, the people are saying, “He will not see what happens to us.”
He is uptight that there is a drought but the wicked Jews who worship idols, the Mayweathers, still seem to be making out alright. In fact, he is praying to God to not only end the drought but to butcher the wicked who are not suffering.

Jeremiah has God's response to this.
Jeremiah 12:7 “I will forsake my house, abandon my inheritance; I will give the one I love into the hands of her enemies. 8 My inheritance has become to me like a lion in the forest. She roars at me; therefore I hate her. 9 Has not my inheritance become to me like a speckled bird of prey that other birds of prey surround and attack? Go and gather all the wild beasts; bring them to devour. 10 Many shepherds will ruin my vineyard and trample down my field; they will turn my pleasant field into a desolate wasteland. 11 It will be made a wasteland, parched and desolate before me; the whole land will be laid waste because there is no one who cares. 12 Over all the barren heights in the desert destroyers will swarm, for the sword of the Lord will devour from one end of the land to the other; no one will be safe. 13 They will sow wheat but reap thorns; they will wear themselves out but gain nothing. They will bear the shame of their harvest because of the Lord’s fierce anger.”
It seems to me that the wicked will eventually be as screwed as the righteous remnant, because God is pissed.
Was God pissed at Manny too? Maybe because he is Catholic, a papist. If not that then he must have some secret sin. But wait, God wasn't finished talking to Jeremiah.
Jeremiah 12:14 This is what the Lord says: “As for all my wicked neighbors who seize the inheritance I gave my people Israel, I will uproot them from their lands and I will uproot the people of Judah from among them. 15 But after I uproot them, I will again have compassion and will bring each of them back to their own inheritance and their own country. 16 And if they learn well the ways of my people and swear by my name, saying, ‘As surely as the Lord lives’—even as they once taught my people to swear by Baal—then they will be established among my people. 17 But if any nation does not listen, I will completely uproot and destroy it,” declares the Lord.
See, the wicked Mayweathers will be screwed longer than the righteous Pacquiaos. I'm not feeling the comfort though. God promises to inflict collective punishment, the good as well as the bad are killed or exiled. The prophet in exile, Ezekiel, says God doesn't do that. The children are not punished for the sins of their parents, Ezekiel 18:19.

Does God change his mind about things like this?
Is God an abusive parent?
Or did weather patterns change and kingdoms rise and fall because that is what happens in history and God had nothing to do with any of those things? Did Jeremiah get God wrong?
When drought kills large animal populations, is that God's action?
California is struggling with a 500 year drought. Instead of repenting, they are building desalinating plants.
During the US Civil War, the Confederate troops, the more orthodox of the armies, regularly had camp revivals and repentant fasts, but God did not let them succeed either.
Judah's King Mannasseh was one of the country's wickedest kings and had one of its most prosperous reigns. Was God not watching? Was he busy? Is that why Jeremiah's fellow citizens decided to supplement their Yahweh worship with idols? The correlation between behavior and consequence is tenuous at best.
Or are the words of the prophets like Jeremiah, not God's words? Are the motives and intentions Jeremiah ascribes to God not really God's?

What if God is like Jesus who cares about loving the outcast and least among us and our neighbors and less about who wins a hundred million dollars?