The Aaronic Blessing

Numbers 6:22-27

יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם

May the LORD bless you and keep you;
May the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
May the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Posted in Blessing, Hebrew language, Holiness, Prayer | 1 Comment

Hope and the Rejection of Utopia

(Cross-posted from The Moral Christian)

One of the puzzling questions raised by the story of Adam and Eve is why they would reject the worry-free existence of an immortal life in Utopia for a life of struggle that can only and ultimately end in death.

It’s not a difficult question upon reflection, though among many of my Christian friends an immortal life in which every want is satisfied is their vision of God’s heaven. Is this what heaven is like? God help us and to understand why, we need to familiarize ourselves with Xenophon, a historian and student of Socrates. In about 470 BCE Xenophon wrote a short dialog called Hiero. In this dialog, one of the main characters argues that a tyrant((In ancient Greek, the word ‘tyrant’ meant an authoritarian who ruled for his own, personal gain, but carried no pejorative connotation. King Solomon, for example, evolved into a king who ruled for himself. He garnered enormous wealth, had 700 wives and concubines, yet died an unhappy, unfulfilled man.)) does not have access to the happiness enjoyed by those over whom he rules. Xenophon’s reasoning can be applied to the question of why the utopian life in the Garden of Eden was rejected by Adam and Eve.  To explain, I’ve replaced “Tyrant” with “Utopian”in my summary of Xenophon’s Hiero below:

The most striking characteristic of the Utopian is that he has little hope. For Xenophon, Utopians were worse off than Mortals. Take food for example. That the Utopian has at his disposal every conceivable type of food deprives the Utopian of the pleasant expectation of something he cannot obtain. Utopians can get anything they want and as a consequence they lack the anticipation of greater delights. A life in utopia offers no source of joy; just unending disappointment. What we see of Utopians is a life in which the hope for something better or greater does not exist.

Why does this matter? It matters greatly because the inability to hope leads to a lack of appreciation of the future. In a life of hopelessness the bleakness of the Utopian’s soul is complete. The mortal, by contrast, lives with the hope (and expectation) of a better tomorrow — more friends, a nicer house perhaps, or a more just and peaceful world. Mortal expectations create incentives that order their behavior to achieving those goals. Or to be more precise, hope and its expectations makes personal sacrifices not only possible, but desirable. The Mortal sacrifices and suffers in order to achieve something that otherwise could not be achieved.  But the Utopian does not know of hope; he has everything and therefore lacks purpose. The Utopian’s is a barren soul, incapable of understanding the joy of flourishing.

Fredrick-Douglas-hopeThis, I would argue, forms the rationale behind God’s revelation that mankind rightly chose the mortal life. God’s author understands, as did Xenophon, that only a mortal life can lead to flourishing because only the mortal life is possessed of hope. To achieve something hoped for through struggle enriches us far greater than simply ordering something into existence. It is hope that drives struggle and therefore it is hope that leads to progress and human flourishing.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Bible Study, Genesis | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Adam and Eve: Literal or Literary

loin-coveringsIs the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden historically true? Did Adam and Eve really exist and begin their lives in a utopian garden? Are they really the progenitors of the homo sapiens species?

The Biologos foundation is one of the preeminant institutions to address the issue of the historicity of the biblical creation accounts and does so in a balanced and objective fashion. For the biblical creation class I am currently teaching, I have provided a page that links to a set of the articles - both pro and con – describing the views of the historicity of creation. I hope you find them as interesting and illuminating as I have.

 

Posted in Bible Study, Creation, Genesis, History, Old Testament | Leave a comment

Matthew 25:40 – “the Least of These”

matthew25v40This month’s Christianity Today contains an article by Andy Horvath titled

What You Probably Don’t Know about ‘The Least of These’

The article is of a kind whose content reveals confusion about the nature of faith. Here’s the money paragraph from the peice:

Also, caring for the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick, and imprisoned isn’t taught elsewhere in the New Testament as the measuring stick for salvation. Can we really affirm that what ultimately matters is caring for the poor, not faith in Jesus? This reading veers toward a mere social gospel, where what ultimately matters are actions, not beliefs. As a result, the importance of evangelism is minimized, and feeding people is prioritized over calling them to follow Christ.

 Read carefully, Horvath reveals a deep misunderstanding of what it means to follow Christ and, more broadly, how actions are related to faith. I would argue that caring for the poor (and other acts of love) is precisely how faith in Jesus is scored (see the syllogism, below). Mr. Horvath claims that since caring for the marginalized of society isn’t widely taught in the New Testament those who order their lives toward showing compassion for these people gain no salvific credit. This is breathtakingly naive. Let’s take this apart, claim by claim, to see why.

Horvath: Can we really affirm that what ultimately matters is caring for the poor, not faith in Jesus?

mother-theresaHow is caring for the poor mutually exclusive of faith in Jesus? This claim would surely surprise Mother Theresa. Per Mother Theresa, the person who helps 47 poor people is just as faithful as the person who helps 617 poor people. Faithfulness simply means to live by faith. If you claim to have faith in the safety offered by commercial banks but then squirrel all your money away under your mattress, can you truthfully claim you have faith in commercial banks? By the same token, if you have faith in Jesus and ignore His teachings (they are divine, after all), how can you say you have faith in who He was and what He demands?

HorvathThis reading veers toward a mere social gospel, where what ultimately matters are actions, not beliefs.

Where does Mr. Horvath get the notion that what we do is disconnected from our beliefs? To understand faith as disconnected from action is a conceit shared by many (most) contemporary Christians – Christians who accept, without critical reflection I believe, the notion that good works especially ordered to the priorities taught by Christ, do not count toward salvation. Mr. Horvath and those who share this understanding of salvation do not understand faith as something that must be expressed. Yes, salvation means you must express your faith. Many of the believers I know who agree with Mr. Horvath define their faith as simply assenting to the truth that they are redeemed by Christ’s atoning death and so assume that they will be granted eternal life.

This is almost absurdly naive. This understanding of faith, unless expressed in some way, is no more than an interior feeling. An emotion. According to St. Paul faith must be expressed so that others may see and benefit((I’ve written on this extensively and would refer you to this article.)). In a nutshell, the relationship of faith to good works is captured in the following syllogism:

  1. Faith is necessary for salvation.
  2. Faithfulness is the proper expression of faith.
  3. Works (i.e., acts that conform with one’s faith) is the proper expression of faithfulness.

Therefore, works are necessary for salvation. Faith unexpressed is to have no faith. For example, suppose I feel deep compassion for a certain homeless widow, but do nothing to express that compassion. Is the fact that my compassion is heart-felt sufficient for others to judge me as a compassionate person?

The bottom line is that for humans, actions speak louder than words. To have faith in Jesus/God is to walk the walk, not talk the talk?

Now, go and study

Posted in Grace, Obedience, Salvation, Theology | 3 Comments