Saturday, June 16, 2018

Biblical Theology XXV: Joel

Theology: The Book of Joel gives us the theology concerning the “day of YHWH.” This is a day that God decides to bring judgment upon His people. In Joel, that judgment takes the form of extreme famine, where locusts have devoured all of the crops. This judgment is taking place because the people have sinned against God, and are, therefore, no longer under His protection. In the ancient Near East, the people are only under the protection of deity when they remain in his or her favor. As long as they have the god’s favor, the elements of chaos (e.g., invading armies, natural disasters, etc.) are held at bay. The protection of the deity functions much like a damn holding back mountains of water. When that favor is lost, the damn is broken, and the waters of chaos flood in and destroy everything. The day of YHWH is the day He decides to judge His people for their sins and no longer hold back chaos.

Ethics: The response to this coming judgment, as in all of the prophets, is to repent. Repentance is said to look like a complete focus of thoughts geared toward obedience to God, fasting (i.e., the sacrifice of food/resources in order to take care of the poor among God’s people), weeping and mourning (i.e., the external emotional signs that accompany repentance. However, a caution is given to not confuse an emotional sorrow with real repentance. Hence, Joel urges the people to “rend your mind and not your garments.” This is defined as “returning to YHWH your God” (2:13). 

The people have hope in this because God is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, full of hesed, redirecting His favor away from chaos” (v. 14); but it is not a sure thing that God will, in fact, turn His judgment back (v. 15). This is a common theme in the prophets, and it conveys the idea that God is not mocked. He may or may not forgive. He has the discretion to do so or to refrain from doing so. No one, and no act (even an act of repentance), controls Him. However, because of His character, there is hope that He will turn from His wrath and bless the people instead. The hope of repentance is that God will remove the threat of chaos and restore the people and the land to prosperity.

Repentance is also corporate, not just individual (2:16), and corporate repentance is to be led by the priests, who are to intercede for the people (v. 17).

Joel is really a warning to Israel to repent before the day of the Lord, i.e., before God withdraws His protection and lets chaos flood in. In this regard, Peter’s use of Joel in the Book of Acts is consistent with its theme. He warns them of the oncoming judgment for their killing of the Messiah. They, however, do not repent, and God withdraws His protection. The chaos that ensues when the Romans attack the city is, therefore, a result of God withdrawing this protection on the “day of the Lord,” precisely, because it functions the same way as it does in Joel. It is not because there is only one day of the Lord, but because the day of the Lord is any day that God withdraws His protection from upon His people and lets chaos come bursting in. 

Joel also connects the day of the Lord judgment of locusts to one or more in the future, where the people of God repent and are, therefore, given the Spirit of God so that revelation becomes abundant. This is the opposite of the judgment of God that withholds revelation from people. Instead, even the children will prophesy, and all who call upon the name of the Lord will be placed on the Lord’s holy mountain/Jerusalem and will escape the judgment, and all of their enemies (i.e., agents of chaos) will be judged instead.

Friday, June 8, 2018

On the Road to the American Genocide

I've been quite alarmed by the type of speech that has surrounded our culture since the election. If we keep going the way that we have, this speech will not evaporate in the air but solidify in the actions of horror. Words have great power. They can turn into beautiful things, but they also have the ability to become very ugly things, perhaps, much uglier than their original speakers intended.

I study genocides quite a bit, more in terms of how they begin. I do this largely because I'm curious how what seems to be a somewhat organized and civilized society can suddenly turn into one that condones and practices the mass murder of others. From what I can tell, it begins with a single sentiment:

Resentment toward a perceived or real oppressor.

One may think that it is the oppressor who often brings genocide, but in the mind of those committing genocide, they are actually the freedom fighters. They are the ones who are fighting to make their way to peace, and the main obstacles in the way of utopia are the oppressors who have stolen something or preventing a certain condition or environment that would bring in this utopian bliss. Whether it is prevention of wealth, health, equality, etc. the oppressors must be moved out of the way or this nirvana, where the oppressed are on top will never occur.

This resentment, then, begins to emerge in speech that degrades the humanity of the perceived oppressor. After all, anyone who would oppress others is a "monster," a "rat," a "dog," a "cockroach," a "Nazi." The terms are largely irrelevant. It's simply necessary to use some term that describes another human as less than human, or rather, not deserving of their humanity due to their perceived oppressive behavior.

Speech then turns into action as these oppressors are put in their place by the heroes of the resistance. Social shunning, job loss, defamation of one's character and name, laws created to protect the oppressed by limiting the rights of the oppressor are all justified as the oppressors are moved out of positions of influence and power and shamed into being subordinates.

At this point, violence is justified. A monster should be vanquished. A rat should be exterminated. A dog can be beaten. A cockroach should be killed. A Nazi should be punched in the face.

The final step, then, is simply to remove the oppressors from society physically. This can mean prison or death. As Oprah Winfrey said of old white people who are still racist, "Those people just need to die." There is no tolerance of those who cannot be re-educated quickly. They just need to die, and the wolf will lay down with the lamb, the new world will begin. And what a beautiful world it will be once all of that grass grows over all of the dead bodies of men, women, and children who were in the way of the visions of the KKK, Young Turks, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, the Hutu, ISIS, the ANC Youth League, ANTIFA.

The oppressed become the oppressors. They look much more like monsters and sub-human creatures seeking the blood of their victims than their perceived oppressors ever did. Like T'Challa says to his cousin in "The Black Panther," when his cousin's solution is to subdue the oppressors via war and genocide, "You have become them."

But it's OK, you see, they're making the world a better place. They just have to terrorize and slaughter a few million people like pigs first in order to get there.

The United States has sat comfortably for around 150 years now without a war on its own soil. That's quite a few generations that know nothing of the terrors of war. What this has created is a sort of obliviousness to the fact that such horrors are coming, and an unwillingness to entertain the idea that genocide could ever take place in our society. Yet, the resentment, and the verbal manifestations of the beginning stages of genocide, are already here.

The world can only bring solutions that end in murder because it has no basis to forgive. Even when it attempts to superficially forget about wrongs done, it holds them down deep within, unsatisfied and unplacated by a calm brought about by mere words. Furthermore, even when wrongs have not been done, but are perceived as existing, there is no basis for giving another the benefit of the doubt. Why be generous to a Nazi?

The church's responsibility is to give the world a basis for forgiveness, and that can only be brought about in the proclamation of the cross. Only then can wrongs be justly punished without the murder of so many. Only viewing people in Christ as new creations will bring peace, as only Christ can bring peace. Humanity must first be reconciled to God, become His life-giving images again, and then they will be able to be reconciled to one another.

But have no doubt, we are on the road to civil war and genocide. The resentment that has been fostered, and the words that have begun to form reality, have set our culture on that path. And there is now only one force powerful enough to stop it.

The rhetoric of murder has, and will never, become the utopia of radicals. It will instead create the ugliness of a bloody and destroyed world, and they will simply replace one oppressive regime with another; but the words of the gospel will become the beauty of paradise.

Biblical Theology XXIV: Hosea

Hosea sets the tone of the singular anthology entitled, "The Book of the Twelve," or simply, the "Minor Prophets" by placing the prophets in the framework of lawyers who bring charges against Israel/Judah/the nations on behalf of God. 
Theology: The theological contribution of Hosea is its teaching concerning the nature of the covenant that God has made with His people. In the ancient Near East, the covenants that most gods made with the people had to do with the deity protecting the people as long as they kept up his or her temples, brought sacrifices, etc. As long as these rituals were performed, it pleased the god and one could go on his merry way to live his life according to what he thought was right.
Hosea, however, presents the covenant as something akin to the type of love commitment one makes in a marriage covenant (and toward the end, as the type of obligation one sees in a father-son relationship). What the book does for the reader, therefore, is to describe the things that are faithful and unfaithful to that covenant in such a way as to give the reader an understanding of what type of love God requires of His people. In other words, Hosea helps us understand what love looks like in relationship to God and others. 

Contrary to our views of love as romantic and emotional affections for someone, and contrary to their views of loving deity that merely require the upkeep of temples, the tributes of holy days, and the bringing of sacrifices, the book argues that loving God is a commitment to do what pleases Him, as it is revealed in the law. Hosea argues that Israel is unfaithful like a wife who prostitutes herself is unfaithful when she goes after other men. Israel is worshiping other gods along with YHWH, and merely thinks that bringing sacrifices and offerings is sufficient to fulfill their obligations of love to Him. Deity is the driving force in one’s life, and to go after other gods is to have others becoming the driving force for what one does.  Yet, YHWH demands the sole position as the driving force in one’s life like a husband who demands the sole position as the one to whom love is due.

According to Hosea, to be unfaithful  to God in this covenant of love, therefore, is to break God’s commandments, regardless of whether the superficial ritual activity is observed.  Because of this understanding of love and the nature of the covenant Israel has made with God, it has fallen under the condemnation of an adulteress. Hosea, therefore, presents God as bringing Israel into court, making accusation against her, rendering a verdict, and dealing out the punishment (i.e., death, destruction, and deportation). 

Ethics: Hosea helps the reader understand that to love God is to first have Him as the primary driving force in one’s life over all others, and secondly, to offer obedience, rather than affectionate gestures that are absent of becoming a good person according to God’s law,  as the sign of faithfulness to the covenant that God has made with him. If God’s people have not been faithful in this way, they will certainly be judged by God and removed from among His people. Yet, as with all of the prophets, there is hope of restoration in repentance. If one turns from his prostitution with other gods and the unfaithfulness of sin, God will restore His people and put down their oppressors once again. They will again seek God through the Davidic king, and be restored to the land. In this way, the judgment functions only as a purging of God's people so that only those who truly love God remain in eternal covenant with Him.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Biblical Theology XXIII: Daniel

The book of Daniel is the only fully apocalyptic book in the Old Testament. This is important to note, as apocalyptic is a type of prophetic book that is ex eventu (commentary on an event during or after it occurs rather than predicting it beforehand). Even the narrative portions should be seen as constructed to speak to the main event the book is addressing: the persecution under Antiochus IV. The book is written, not during the exile, but in the early second century B.C. during or after this persecution takes place. As is common among apocalyptic speech, a prominent individual in the past is chosen as the main character in the work, and the author, who lives at a later time, speaks to his own generation through the mouth of the "prophet" in the work.

Theology: The book of Daniel argues that God is the ultimate sovereign over all kingdoms, and that His kingdom will endure forever. The other kings and kingdoms are temporary and will one day pass away. Those who bow to the sinful demands of these kingdoms, therefore, will be destroyed with them, and enter into eternal shame in the resurrection. Those who choose to follow God, even in the face of death, will be resurrected to eternal glory in His enduring kingdom.

The book also argues that the reason why Judah is still undergoing severe persecution from the nations is due to the fact that it is still under the exilic judgment, which has been extended because Jews have continued to act unfaithfully even when they returned to the land. The book argues that the exile is officially over after the death of Antiochus IV and the initiation of Maccabean rule and the subsequent Hasmonean Dynasty.

Ethics: Because the empire of God is eternal and has God as its King, its concerns should be considered over the concerns of any earthly empire. Hence, identifying oneself first as a member of God's eternal kingdom means that he or she may have to disregard the pressures of temporal kingdoms that conflict with the eternal kingdom and one's ultimate King, God. This means that, even in the face of execution, one should remain faithful to what God has commanded over what the temporal king or empire demands. This is displayed in the narrative portion where Daniel and his three friends must face persecution and even death for worshiping God over the king. They represent good examples of those who are faithful under the persecutions of Antiochus IV and are willing to die before bowing to a temporal king over the eternal One.

Likewise, the book argues that all temporal kings would be wise to also yield to God as the ultimate King, to see their reigns and empires as temporary, and to set their policies and attitude toward God's people more in line with His commands.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

YA Stories and Narcissism

I often say that fallen humans are given over to self-worship. In fact, I've said many times that there are only two objects of worship: God or the self. Even other religions are created, not because those other gods are loved, but because they give something to the individual that he needs to worship himself.

It's interesting to see the flood of YA books and movies that have come out in the post-Harry Potter world because I think it reflects, and maybe even tutors and affirms, the self-centeredness of our culture in terms of relationships. This is especially true of YA science fiction movies that have hit the screen within the last decade.

If you're not familiar with the Young Adult-science fiction category, it's a genre of storytelling that usually presents the main protagonist as a special teenager who must save the world, usually by fighting against the evil adults.

Some of these movies include the Divergent franchise, Twilight, The Maze Runner, The Hunger Games, Eragon, The Giver, Mortal Instruments, I Am Number 4, The Seventh Son, The Golden Compass, the Percy Jackson series, Jumper, Ender's Game, etc.

In each of these, there is a special person or couple that is pretty much presented as the most important person or persons in the entire world. Every other character merely exists to show how special the main character(s) are.

If you think about that for a moment, kids are learning how to think about themselves and others often through these stories. The stories of a culture are extremely important. That's why they were once filled with moral tales that had much more to do with the tragedy of selfishness than the exaltation of it.

In our culture, however, we create our own worlds. Kids are the gods of their own personal online worlds. They are the heroes of their own stories. Everyone else is just a supporting character who exists to show how special he or she is. If someone doesn't function that way, he or she is often discarded. This is especially true of anyone who may critique what the would-be hero might believe or do. That's the opposite of showing how special he is. That's being a bad supporting character, one who is toxic to the unique specialness that is the jobless, witless teenager that currently contributes nothing to the world whatsoever except to place a strain on its resources while he imagines himself to be the most important person who has ever lived.

We wonder why kids turn into snowflakes at college, but we ought to wonder what kind of thinking was instilled in them that opened the door to the pure narcissism we see produced by professors of the humanities and social "sciences" on college campuses today.

Maybe that narcissism was fostered much earlier than college. Maybe it's to be found in spending one's teenage years thinking of the world in terms of how it exists to display just how special they are. The world is a place to embrace or fight, depending upon what conditions will exalt the individual as praiseworthy. People exist only to support the individual's self-aggrandizing narrative, and if they would actually dare to suggest that the world does not exist for him, they are quickly removed from the final cut of the movie.

In short, it seems to be a genre of idolatry, where all things exist to the praise of our glory. All people must bow and confess that so-and-so is lord. This is why narcissists love these stories. Most of them are absolutely awful cases of storytelling. The writing and depth of dialogue is usually atrocious. But that is not their appeal. The narcissist is flattered by any presenation of himself as exceptional, and he sees himself in the protagonists of these stories. That's why he or she loves them so much.

Certainly, other movies function this way as well, but the move from groups to an individual, or an individual couple (because every teenager wants a girlfriend or boyfriend to complete their specialness) that represents, not a Christ-figure, but the individual reading the book or watching the movie seems to be nothing more than a move toward delusions of grandeur rather than one that plants one's feet on the ground so that he or she may have genuine relationships and see the world as something that was not made to glorify him, but the One who is truly unique, and yet, gave His life as a ransom for all.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Biblical Theology XXII: Ezekiel

The Book of Ezekiel is one of the books that display a transition from prophetic to apocalyptic speech (Zechariah being the other OT book that evidences the same kind of transition stage). It is written from the perspective of a priest named Ezekiel who is in exile. It is directed toward both those who went away into exile and those who remain in the land and are still being unfaithful, even after God has judged the nation. The book is divided into two sections: one of judgment (1-33) and one of restoration (34-48).

Theology: One of the important theological contributions that Ezekiel makes to the Old Testament is that he argues that God is not bound to the land of Israel or the temple. He presents God’s throne as a moveable chariot that conveys that God’s presence can be anywhere, and the wheels of the chariot as filled with eyes, representing that God sees everything. Since He is not merely a local deity, He is able to go with the exiles into the land, and also to see and judge the abominations that are practiced privately by those who remain in Israel. Hence, the four wheels filled with eyes, as well as the flying creatures represent God’s presence that covers the entire world, not just the land of Israel. Hence, His special presence leaves the temple and goes into Babylon with the exiles.

The book also emphatically argues that the judgment of God is active, not merely passive. False prophets are able to have such a devastating effect on the people because God causes them to be deceived through their words (14:9). If the people are given over to the practice of destructive rituals, like the sacrificing of their children, it is because God confuses them with false commands (20:23-26). In short, truth and good are distorted, so that the people believe that what is false is true and what is evil is good. This is part of their destruction.

Ethics:  The book makes it clear that each man is being judged for his own sins, and not for those of the previous generation if he turns from the deeds of that generation. This is a response to the exiles claiming that they have been judged because of what their ancestors did. God, instead, tells them that if they had turned away from the sins of their ancestors, they would not be judged. They are being judged both for their idolatry and for their hateful, rather than loving, acts toward one another.
The ethical responsibility of the prophet is brought out in the book. He is likened to a watchman on a tower who must warn the city of an oncoming army. If he does, his duty is fulfilled whether the people listen or not. If he does not, the people will perish, but he will be considered guilty of murder. God even tells him that no one will listen to him, but that he is to warn them anyway.

There is also the terrifying teaching that even if the most righteous men of the Bible were to pray for Israel once judgment is placed upon them, God would not relent, as His justice demands now that the exile take place. There is a point of no return when it comes to God’s judgment. As in other prophets, the judgment of Israel also produces the effect of God’s judgment of the world.

As in all of the major prophets, God promises that there will be a remnant who will be faithful due to their being given a new mind and spirit. They will be ruled by David forever in the land. Only those who repent by putting away their evil and doing good will become a part of this remnant. Hence, even though they must still go into exile, there is a possibility of restoration based on God’s mercy upon the repentant sinner. 

Ultimately, God will return to the temple, but the temple will be a greater one than before, and He will dwell in it forever. There is a correspondence between the resurrected people and the temple being restored to the land of the living. Hence, what is said goes far beyond the exile and looks forward to the reign of the Davidic king and the resurrection of the dead. Hence, the return to the exile is being discussed in terms of macrocosmic and microcosmic realities. Lots of imagery from Genesis is used. The restoration from exile is a microcosm of the ultimate restoration from the exile that occurred at the fall.