Reading Note – Ezra – The Power of God

My mom likes to say that the hearts of kings and princes are in God’s hand. That’s what I cameaway with after reading Ezra. I was bowled away by the statement of Cyrus, the king of Persia,

The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah… And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem…  And all who were about them aided them with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, with beasts, and with costly wares, besides all that was freely offered.  Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. Cyrus king of Persia brought these out in the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. And this was the number of them: 30 basins of gold, 1,000 basins of silver, 29 censers, 10 30 bowls of gold, 410 bowls of silver, and 1,000 other vessels; 11 all the vessels of gold and of silver were 5,400. – Ezra 1:2, 4.

After the Israelites had spent years in exile, God was able to convince a foreign king to send them home, and give them everything they need to rebuild his temple. He did not forget them, or hold their past sins against them. He kept his promise and forgave them. Not only that, he had Cyrus convinced that he was only ruler of such a large area because of the Hebrew God. That is power. He did this not once, but thrice. During the reign of Darius, when the rebuilding of the temple was opposed, Darius sent out a letter saying,

And whatever is needed—bulls, rams, or sheep for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, or oil, as the priests at Jerusalem require—let that be given to them day by day without fail, 10 that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the life of the king and his sons. 11 Also I make a decree that if anyone alters this edict, a beam shall be pulled out of his house, and he shall be impaled on it, and his house shall be made a dunghill. 12 May the God who has caused his name to dwell there overthrow any king or people who shall put out a hand to alter this, or to destroy this house of God that is in Jerusalem. I Darius make a decree; let it be done with all diligence – Ezra 6:10 – 12

He did it the third time during the reign of Artaxerxes (Ezra 7). God’s mercy, kindness, love, and power was on display during that time. He wasn’t leading them with pillars of fire or parting seas, but he was with them. In the same way he provides for his people today.

Ezra’s Response to Intermarriage

In keeping with my tradition of blaming all wrongdoing in the Bible on the people rather than God, I must express outrage at Ezra’s handling of this particular event. God had commanded the people not to marry foreigners to prevent those foreigners from bringing foreign gods and leading the people astray. However, some Israelites had done that during the exile. Ezra’s solution was to send away the foreign women and their children. The people had already sinned. In ending those marriages he showed disregard for the institution of marriage and put those women in a bad place. He deprived the children of their fathers. How is that a good solution? It seems more that he missed the point of the command and neglected to show mercy. He would have done better to ensure that the foreigners were converted and put in measures to ensure that the law was followed. The crime had already been committed.

The Myth of Religion

I  just read a review of the book The Myth of Religious Violence by William Cavanaugh. The book eloquently puts into words the reason I have decided to delete the word ‘religion’ from my vocabulary. To be explicit, the use of the word is arbitrary, deceptive and offensive. It is ambiguous in its definition. The word isn’t something with a definition to which you can then put examples. It is something to which examples are put without definition because defining it is problematic. Try to produce a definition of religion that works without problems and you’ll meet with little success. Merriam Webster defines it as “an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods”. This definition is fine as long as you have a working definition of ‘god’, but it means that Buddhism, which is non-theistic, is not a religion. This is certainly not the way ‘religion’ is used in public. A cursory study of Buddhism would reveal that it is definitely a religion as the word is commonly used. This is also a problem with the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of religion as “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods”. Defining a religions using practices rather than beliefs results in a definition that makes Capitalism, Communism, and Patriotism religions.

Given the arbitrary nature of religious classification then, making statements about the nature of religion smacks of dishonesty and encourages deception. What does it mean to say that religion causes violence when ‘nonreligious’ ideologies like Communism and Imperialism are equally guilty? Why should Christianity be banned from the public sphere when Capitalism is not? Why should ‘religious’ people be forced to keep their beliefs to themselves when every other ideology enjoys expression in public life and government? It is unjustified marginalization masquerading as reasoned demands. A word so badly defined it useful mostly for oppressing those on its wrong side. So, to hell with the notion of “separation of church and state”.

You can see that I’m quite passionate about this topic. I never respond well to being hurt or unjustly marginalized whether it’s by being forbidden from building churches or being told not express my beliefs in public. If other people can promote policies based on their philosophical views, I should be able to.

Lessons From David and Bathsheba

1. The seductiveness of sin.

Even David, the man after God’s heart could fall to such a level. Perhaps anyone is capable of adultery if they’re lonely enough. Perhaps David was lonely even with so many wives, but who would have thought he was capable of murder? This is the same David who would not kill Saul in self-defense, despite Saul’s treachery and God’s promise to make David king. That ought to show us that anyone is capable of falling. David wasn’t  bad person – to use the common understanding of the word. He bore no ill will towards Uriah. He probably wasn’t even being selfish. In one moment of stupidity he had condemned Bathsheba to death, and it fell to him to save her. When Uriah refused to partake in the solution, David probably felt his only other option was to marry Bathsheba. He probably told himself that he wasn’t responsible for Uriah’s death. He just helped it along. People die in battle all the time. Uriah might have died anyway.

Sin draws us in with promises of hope and never delivers. Whatever David hoped to get from his adultery with Bathsheba, it wasn’t worth the consequences. Killing Uriah was to cover their sin, but all it did was make matters worse. Then there was that moment when Uriah was dead, Bathsheba was remarried, and it all looked like it would be OK. Only, it wasn’t.

2. The Inevitability of Discovery

If David had confessed his sin and begged forgiveness when Bathsheba turned up pregnant, his sentence might have been lighter. He certainly would not have been guilty of murder. But he tried to hide it. Hiding your sin seems like a rational response when you don’t want to be judged by others, but we can’t hide from God. It can be comforting to know that we are always in his presence, but we fear his reaction to our sins. But no matter how scared we are, the best response is to go to him immediately and get it sorted out. You can’t hide from God. If you try, he might punish you immediately, or he might wait until your sins can no longer be ignored. Trying to hide doesn’t work, and in no way lessens your punishment.

3. God’s Graciousness

It’s scary facing God, but I take comfort from the fact that he probably won’t strike me with lightning. Treat it like going to the dentist – or taking a shower for some of you. Stop dreading it and just get it over with. You’ll feel a lot better. He doesn’t want to punish us. He went to great lengths to not have to punish us. When we refuse to confess and make use of the forgiveness he offers us, we mock his sacrifice. But don’t waste your time. Forgiveness is for those who actually repent. If you sin with the belief that God will forgive you when you pray, remember: sincere repentance includes the desire to never repeat the wrong act. It also requires regret for the past action and the desire to right those wrongs.

God has forgiven a great many things – child sacrifice, murder, theft. Chances are, you’re nowhere near as dirty as the other people he’s forgiven.

4. God’s Justice

Paul famously said, “Do not be deceived. God is not mocked. whatever a man sows he will reap”. At least, I think it was Paul. (God forgave David in that he was allowed to live). But he exacted a heavy penalty. In sinning you hurt yourself and you can’t always count on him to prevent the negative consequences.

Reading Note – 2 Chronicles 19 – 24

  • 2 Kings 12:2 says that Jehoash did the right thing all the days of his life because Jehoiada the priest instructed him, but 2 Chronicles 24:2 says that Jehoash did the right thing all the days of Jehoiada’s life. After the priest’s death, Jehoash allowed the worship of idols. He also killed Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada. 2 Kings does not mention that. It simply refers the writer to the Chronicles. This is a recurring thing. Kings treats the kings of Judah leniently, saying only that they were good/evil. On the other hand, Chronicles says that they were mostly good, but they did some bad thing during their lives. The effect is that Kings makes a lot of the kings of Judah seem good, while Chronicles suggests that there were no kings who sought God with all their hearts. There were just varying degrees of faithlessness. Kings seems to treat the matter too simply, while Chronicles goes into more detail. That is probably why the writer of Kings keeps referring the reader to Chronicles.

Zombie apocalypse strikes World Cup


Because this is hilarious.

Originally posted on Scholars and Rogues | Progressive Culture:

Suarez bites again. And it isn’t funny. No, seriously, it’s not. Stop laughing!

Serial biter Luis Suarez of Uruguay took a hunk out of Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder in today’s 1-0 win over the Azzurri.

With FIFA certain to review the incident, it appears that Suarez may have bitten off more than he can chew.

View original 424 more words

Midweek Praise – 10,000 Reasons

Bless the Lord oh my soul
Oh my soul
Worship His Holy name
Sing like never before
Oh my soul
I’ll worship Your Holy name

The sun comes up
It’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass
And whatever lies before me
Let me be singing
When the evening comes

Bless the Lord oh my soul
Oh my soul
Worship His Holy name
Sing like never before
Oh my soul
I’ll worship Your Holy name

You’re rich in love
And You’re slow to anger
Your name is great
And Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness
I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons
For my heart to find

Bless the Lord oh my soul
Oh my soul
Worship His Holy name
Sing like never before
Oh my soul
I’ll worship Your Holy name
Bless You Lord

And on that day
When my strength is failing
The end draws near
And my time has come
Still my soul will
Sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years
And then forevermore

Bless the Lord oh my soul
Oh my soul
Worship His Holy name
Sing like never before
Oh my soul
I’ll worship Your Holy name

Bless the Lord oh my soul
Oh my soul
Worship His Holy name
Sing like never before
Oh my soul
I’ll worship Your Holy name
Yes I’ll worship Your Holy name
I’ll worship Your Holy name

Sing like never before
Oh my soul
I’ll worship Your Holy name
Jesus I will worship Your Holy name
Worship Your Holy name

Frank Schaeffer Admits Madness – Or Something Like That

I am reluctant to review this post because I suspect Frank Schaeffer knows what he says to be nonsense, but says it anyway. How else could he say with a straight face that he’s an ‘atheist who believes in God’? But I’m doing this for myself. This is the first post I’ve been interested and motivated enough to write in a long time. Let’s get to it, then.

All the public debates between celebrity atheists and evangelical pastors are as meaningless as literary awards and Oscar night

Strangely, I don’t think any of the above are meaningless. Square Circles are meaningless. Literary awards might be boring or pointless, but they certainly mean something. At least he doesn’t say debates between educated atheists and Christian Apologists are meaningless. Peter Millican isn’t a celebrity and Frank Turek isn’t a pastor (as far as I know). So we should be good to go there.

They are meaningless because participants lack the objectivity to admit that our beliefs have less to do with facts than with our personal needs and cultural backgrounds.

That’s a strange thing to say. Frank had better be willing to admit that his beliefs are sufficiently based on facts or it will be outrageous to expect us to listen to him. But if he says his beliefs are sufficiently factual and not based on needs and backgrounds, he’ll be engaging in special pleading. He’s damned if he does and if he doesn’t. Perhaps then he should have made that ridiculous statement.

The words we use to label ourselves are just as empty.

What exactly is a “believer?” And for that matter what is an “atheist?” Who is the objective observer to define these terms?

Now, Frank, unless you want to call every single word we use meaningless, you really shouldn’t say that. The fact that no single observer has the right to define any word doesn’t make the word empty. Words are defined by common usage and consensus. To insist on one person’s definition is to tempt us all to beat you to a pulp. It will also invalidate everything you say. “How dare you define those words?! I say ‘cheese’ means to have two legs. What makes your definition any more valid than mine?”

Maybe we need a new category other than theism, atheism or agnosticism that takes paradox and unknowing into account.

Take me, I am an atheist who believes in God.

Why would we need a definition that takes idiocy into account? You pick a word that already has one meaning, give it the exact opposite meaning, and insist we take you seriously? Being an atheist who believes in God is about as paradoxical as a square circle. To allow a definition that takes into account square circles is to tolerate stupidity. I, personally, am strongly against stupidity in any form.

Let me explain.

This I have to see.

I believe that life evolved by natural selection. I believe that evolutionary psychology explains away altruism and debunks love, and that brain chemistry undermines the illusion of free will and personhood.

I also believe that a spiritual reality hovering over, in and through me calls me to love, trust and hear the voice of my creator.

OK, so you’re a materialist. That doesn’t make you an atheist who believes in God, dolt. It makes you a theistic materialist. It’s hard to see why someone would hold such inconsistent views, but there’s no reason to demean yourself by claiming madness. We have ways of helping people like you: reading, college, therapy, etc.

It seems to me that there is an offstage and an onstage quality to my existence. I live onstage, but I sense another crew working offstage. Sometimes I hear their voices “singing” in a way that’s as eerily beautiful as the offstage chorus in an opera.

That’s OK. You know why? Because both onstage and offstage exist! You’re not crazy for thinking there’s something behind it all. The lights, curtains, and sound effects come from somewhere. I promise. Once again, there’s no need to claim madness.

My youngest grandchildren Lucy (5) and Jack (3) are still comfortable with this paradoxical way of seeing reality.

Most grownups don’t have the transparent humility to deal with the fact that unknowing is OK. But Lucy and Jack seem to accept that something may never have happened but can still be true.

*snort*. You seem to be using your poor grandkids to justify illogical views. No, Lucy and Jack probably aren’t as illogical as that, but even if they are, they’re babies. That they believe something contradictory (again, not paradoxical) isn’t a sign that they are somehow more mature than adults. It’s usually a sign that they’re not.

For instance they take Bible stories we read at face value, and yet I see a flicker in their eyes that tells me that they already know the stories are not true in the same way boiling water is true and can be tested—it’s hot!

I’ll take your word for it that the flicker in their eyes say they believe but also don’t believe the Bible stories. Ok, actually, I won’t. They either believe the thing or they don’t. It’s possible they suffer from some form of schizophrenia (God forbid), but it’s easier to believe you’re wrong. And even if you’re not, that’ll just make your grandkids illogical. Like your article.

It’s like that mind-bending discovery from quantum mechanics that tiny objects like electrons can actually be in two places at once and act simultaneously like a particle and a wave.

Well, intelligent people usually don’t believe anything scientists say, especially since said ‘discovery’ is flat out inconceivable and a good portion of the scientific community thinks that it’s sensationalist nonsense. It won’t do to start believing nonsense in the name of science. In any case, there’s a clear difference between flat out impossibilities like something being true and not true at the same time; and things that just don’t make sense.

Maybe my grandchildren will embrace quantum theory, and won’t look for ways to make the irrational rational by hiding behind words like “mystery” in order to sustain their faith in science or God.

If quantum theory is irrational, so is any scientist who believes it. In that case, they should be fired before they completely undermine the entire operation. Once again: “I can’t conceive it” does not necessarily equal “it’s irrational”.

Or maybe they’ll embrace apophatic theology, the theology of not knowing.

And know that they don’t know? Possibly.

Atheists in the Bible Belt: A survival guide

But it’s not the easiest thing to do.

Our brains are not highly evolved enough to reconcile our hunger for both absolute certainty and transcendent, inexplicable experiences.

Yes, they are. I do it all the time. Watch: I do not know what makes scientists think particles can be in two places at once, but I am certain they’re not all lying.

Nor can I reconcile these ideas: “I know that the only thing that exists is this material universe,” and “I know that my redeemer liveth.”

Because that’s not just inexplicable. It’s impossible for P and not-P to be true in the same way at the same time. Irrational. Nonsense. I’m tired of telling you that there’s a difference between being unable to understand something and the thing’s being impossible.

Depending on the day you ask me, both statements seem true. And I don’t think I’m alone in that.

Yeah, well, sometimes it seems to me that everybody else is nuts, but I’m slightly certain that’s not true.

Behold, the six types of atheists

We’re all in the closet, so to speak. We barely come out to ourselves and never completely to others. I have met people who claim a label –evangelical or atheist – until you get to know them well enough.

So, you want another name for people who believe something, but are inconsistent in their actions? How about ‘Inconsistent’?

Then, things get more complicated.

Many of us, even the devout, have many more questions than answers about God and religion.

In other words, people just like me: atheists who pray and eloquent preachers who secretly harbor doubts.

Kind of like scientists who believe in quantum mechanics, but don’t understand it?

I believe that we’re all of at least two minds. We play a role and define that role as “me” because labels and membership in a tribe make the world feel a little safer.

When I was raising my children, I pretended to be grownup daddy. But alone with my thoughts, I was still just me. I’m older now, and some younger people may think I know something.

I do: I know how much I can never know.

In other words, you were not a grown up daddy, but you pretended to be. You weren’t of two minds. You were pretending to be other than you were. If you learned nothing in more than 18 years, well, accept my sympathy.

Many Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Christians inherited their faith because of where they were born. If you are an atheist, you hold those beliefs because of a book or two you read, or who your parents were and the century in which you were born.

Don’t insult us. Perhaps you think yourself stupid, but some of us cried and prayed and studied for years and got where we are by the sweat of our brows. Some of us saw our parents believing things that we figured out were false – by thinking – and chose differently. Some of us have read more than one or two books, spent years studying our beliefs – in school and out of it. We don’t subscribe to the idiotic kind of faith you seem to have in everything.

Don’t delude yourself: There are no ultimate reasons for anything, just circumstances.

I can understand you not having any reason for writing this nonsensical piece, but I assure you that the rest of the world is different.

If you want to be sure you have “the truth” about yourself and our universe, then prepare to go mad. Or prepare to turn off your brain and cling to some form or other of fundamentalism, whether religious or secular.

You will always be more than one person. You will always embody contradiction.

You—like some sort of quantum mechanicals physics experiment—will always be in two places at once.

We’re in agreement, then. You think you know the truth about why you believe what you believe. You must be mad. We sympathize.