(1) Folly to be wise …

I started my Theology course at University in 2007.  I was an ‘external’ student, living in different state.  In February of the following year the University held a Residential School.  I went, very excited, looking forward to meeting others who were also ‘Investigating God’ and ‘Investigating the Bible’ .. which is how I thought of what I was doing.  They were a mixed bunch, all ages, all walks of life, all focused on God, including the young evangelist who might have been from Nigeria, who was told ‘not’ to evangelise in class (mind you, he was fun to listen to).  The lecturers were fascinating too.  So much knowledge, so much understanding.  Their reinterpretation of the story of Noah was amazing. I should have had a tape recorder.

At the first lecture our head teacher said –

“The study of Theology will either make or break your faith”.

I have never forgotten those words.

In the years that followed my studies I learned many things, and read many interesting authors, some following the basic tenets of the faith, and some breaking boundaries and stomping on old beliefs.  I have met many decent people who only give lip-service to the Book, not reading the parts ‘they don’t like’, but focusing on those that support their chosen beliefs.  I’ve had lectures from them, as I’ve mentioned in other blogs on this site.  I have loved them all for their differences, for their courage, both in sticking so firmly to their beliefs in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and those who dared to be different.  I was not taught to be different at University, and no one told me I could be, even in passing … so I often felt conflicted between what the University appeared to want to read, and what I really wanted to say – such as “there is no Trinity”.  I put that statement at the bottom of one of my assignments, appropriately, and, in red ink, was told that “if I took something away I had to replace it with something else”.  I read that as “don’t change the rules” .. and shut up.  You don’t replace a mistake with another mistake.

Another time I was going to write an assignment on the Gospel of John.  I went to my good friends, the ex-nun and ex-Jesuit priest, to discuss it, and sat there dumbfounded as the Peter explained the core of the message to me, not section by section, the way we were taught to examine the Bible, but the sum of the whole .. and I knew I would never be as wise as he.  So I stopped studying for a while, caught up in my sense of failure – even though I knew he was brilliant, literally, and had been a priest for over 30 years.  There’s the folly, I could not match him at all, so I stopped trying.

But something always calls me home …

I cannot stay away from studying the Bible and questioning God.  I take breaks.  I do other things.  I try my best in the ‘real’ world, but the siren song of the Book always calls me.  And the Wisdom literature has always been my favourite.  According to the Bible, Wisdom is both a woman and a bitch.  I think I will examine that for a while …

The character of Wisdom in Proverbs has always been seen as contradictory. Proverbs is described as a literary gathering of diverse wisdom, which requires a “humble, earnest effort to hear what the other says and a willingness to see our world in the other’s terms” (18:13).(1)  Occasionally I might stretch your sense of other to almost breaking point, but I have found, through my searching, that some of the confusion is removed from the passages by a broader understanding of the nature of Wisdom when described as a being, rather than a set of rules. I have picked these three chapters because they show, to some degree, the conflict between what we think Wisdom is, and what it might actually be.

Proverbs 1:20-33  Wisdom as a female prophet

20 Wisdom cries out in the streets; in the squares she raises her voice.
21 At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?
23 Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you.
24 Because I have called and you refused;  have stretched out my hand and no one heeded, 
25 And because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you,
27 when panic strikes you like a storm, and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.
28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.
29 Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
30 would have none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof,
31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own devices.
32 For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them;
33 but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.
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And then we have another question .. who is Wisdom actually?  Why do I ask that question, read the next two chapters.
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Proverbs 8:1-36  The Blessings of Wisdom
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1  Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?
2  On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she stakes her stand;
3  beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
4  “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.
5  O simple ones, learn prudence; acquire intelligence, you who lack it.
6  Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right;
7  for my mouth will utter truth, wickedness is an abomination to my lips.
8  All the words of my mouth are righteous; there is nothing twisted or crooked in them.
9  They are all straight to him who understands and right to those who find knowledge.
10 Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold;
11 for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.
12 I, wisdom, live with prudence, and I attain knowledge and discretion.
13 The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.  Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.
14 I have good advice and sound wisdom; I have insight; I have strength.
15 By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just;
16 by me rulers rule, and nobles, all who govern rightly.
17 I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.
18 Riches and honour are with me, enduring wealth and prosperity.
19 My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver.
20 I walk in the way of righteousness, in the paths of justice,
21 endowing with wealth those who love me, and filling their treasuries.
22 The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.
23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth –
26 when he had not yet made the earth and fields, or the first bits of soil.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30 then I was beside him, like a master worker, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.
32 “And now, my children, listen to me; happy are those who keep my ways.
33 Hear instructions and be wise, and do not neglect it.
34 Happy is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors.
35 For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favour from the Lord,
36 but those who miss me injure themselves; all who hate me love death.”
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Proverbs 9:1-18  The Way of Wisdom
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1  Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars.
2  She has slaughtered her animals; she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table.
3  She has sent out her servant girls, she calls from the highest places in the town,
4  “You that are simple, turn in here!” To him who lacks sense she says,
5  “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.
6  Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
7  Whoever corrects a scoffer wins abuse, whoever rebukes the wicked gets hurt.
8  A scoffer who is rebuked will only hate  you; the wise, when rebuked, will love you.
9  Give instruction to the wise, and they will become wiser still; teach the righteous and they will gain in learning.
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10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
11 For by me your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life.
12 If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; if you scoff, you alone will bear it.
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13 The foolish woman is loud; she is ignorant and knows nothing.
14 She sits at the door of her house, on a seat at the high places of the town,
15 calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way,
16 “You who are simple, turn in here!”And to those without sense she says,
17 “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
18 But they do not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.
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There are some key issues I want to discuss here, but you will have to wait until next time …

Bibles:
The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 4th Edition, New Revised, Standard Version, with the Apocrypha. MD Coogan, Editor, Oxford University Press, 2010.

The Interlinear Bible, Hebrew, Greek, English, Green, JP, Sovereign Grace Publishers, Lafayette, Indiana USA. 1985

Commentaries – main:
The New Interpreter’s Bible, A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1997 (1) page 20
And a variety of others as mentioned.

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Created in ‘his’ likeness …

God created all of us in ‘his’ likeness. If we remove the sexism, assuming there is only one God, then God is both male and female. For simplification I’ll keep calling God ‘he’ ..

If God created all of us in his likeness, then some part of him is black, white, yellow, red and gay. Gay people use a rainbow flag .. I think that’s appropriate, because gay people are found in every culture in the world. Some cultures accept them and appreciate the difference, others condemn them and expect to see them in hell .. because people who ‘judge/condemn’ are breaking God’s commandments, so why do they think they will be going to heaven? Heck no, walk a mile in my shoes before you decide whether my beliefs are worse than yours .. at least I’m accepting of the differences, and I don’t see demons in every cupboard, or under every bed. Or in bed, for that matter .. and no, I am not gay.

Here’s a question for the genetics buffs .. why are there more people born homosexual or lesbian these days, or are they simply not pretending, or hiding, as much anymore? Is the devil suddenly in charge of human procreation that this would be happening? I don’t think so – so why has God decided that we need more of these people that are both male and female in their bodies .. without the external signs, because people are born hermaphrodites too? And while you dip frantically into the bible and start quoting Sodom and Gomorrah at me, better look in the mirror and thank God you were not born one of the hidden ‘under classes’, where persecution is a way of life and where you can’t feel you can be yourself in case someone finds out and hurts you. And yes, that is still happening all around the world.

I think perhaps the lesson humanity is being given is one of tolerance and kindness, of seeing past differences to the commonalities, the importance things, like ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ and ‘love one another’. That ‘love’ is not physical, but spiritual, unconditional love, that God gives to ALL of his creations .. or they would not continue to exist.

Jesus was not specific in condemning gay people, regardless of the attempts by people to define fornication as homosexual and lesbian behaviour. Perhaps, being the ‘son of God’ he could see past the small and unimportant issues, look into the loving hearts of every individual .. no matter which way they expressed their true natures? After all, as I have just written .. God created all things, God is in all things, and all things return to God .. even the judgmental people.

BE of a loving heart ….

Vengeance is Mine!

Let me set the scene: a discussion on another site, with a person (A) who says that the Bible says s/he is justified to seek vengeance against another person (B), by cursing them .. literally using a spell. This person (B) had done the victim (A), and others s/he says, harm, and the curse had changed them (B) into a better, now God fearing, person. What do I believe? When I asked the caster (A) to remove the curse and forgive the person (B), s/he refused .. s/he said it had been God’s will that s/he had done it, and it would be God’s will when the curse came off, if it ever did. I suggested s/he removed it to see if it had been the curse that had forced the person (B) to change, or had the person simply chosen the happier path themselves? S/he (A) also refused to do this. S/he is still angry at the person for what they did to her/him. By her/his own admission s/he is unforgiving.

It got me thinking about the bible, and as usual, comparing the OT with the NT .. and so I dipped into both, via Strong’s Concordance .. and was flabbergasted at the amount of times the word revenge, avenge or vengeance was used by Strong’s, only to find them retranslated, occasionally, in my NOAB into retribution, or switched between avenged and revenged, or verses where it was removed completely and taken back to a better translation. What it showed to me was the mindset of the person who first did the translation of the Bible from the Hebrew and Greek that Strong bases his Concordance upon – Vengeance is mine! or is it? How do we justify vengeance when Jesus words ask us to choose another path?

Dictionary meanings –

Vengeance – Infliction of punishment in return for a wrong committed; retribution.
Idiom: with a vengeance
1. With great violence or force.
2. To an extreme degree.

Revenge – tr.v. re•venged, re•veng•ing, re•veng•es
1. To inflict punishment in return for (injury or insult).
2. To seek or take vengeance for (oneself or another person); avenge.
n.
1. The act of taking vengeance for injuries or wrongs; retaliation.
2. Something done in vengeance; a retaliatory measure.
3. A desire for revenge; spite or vindictiveness.
4. An opportunity to retaliate, as by a return sports match after a defeat.

Avenge – tr.v. a•venged, a•veng•ing, a•veng•es
1. To inflict a punishment or penalty in return for; revenge: avenge a murder.
2. To take vengeance on behalf of: avenged their wronged parents.

There is a lot of vengeance (revenge/avenging) going on in the OT, and lots of folk asking God for it, and joyfully naming God ‘vengeful’, and glorying in what God might do to their enemies. Isaiah said there is even a Day of Vengeance (34:8, 61:2, 63:04) (later Luke calls it ‘days’ 21:22 – wasn’t one enough?) Jeremiah calls it a Day of Retribution (46:10), but the meaning is the same. A day when harming others will not anger God? Oh yes, doesn’t Psalms advise us that “the righteous will rejoice when they see vengeance done; they will bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked ..”? But who decides who is wicked?

I guess if we all play ‘follow the leader’ seeking revenge/vengeance is not so surprising, given that Jehovah either did it, or threatened to, on a regular basis. Or, as one lady I know said, this is how the writers wanted believers to see Jehovah, as defending them when they were in strife, but .. what happened when they broke the rules .. the jealous God (Psalm 94:1, Proverbs 6:34) of Vengeance suddenly turned the tables and attacked them … look at Saul and his torment by an ‘evil angel from the Lord’ because he spared the life of one man. Was Moses being banned from the promised Land God’s revenge for disobedience, and then there is Jephthah having to sacrifice his daughter because of his promise to Jehovah, even though Abraham’s hand was stopped when he went to do the same to his son? Even Revelation demands it .. written after Jesus’ teachings – what was ‘John’ thinking? “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth”? This is the Jesus that taught ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘love one another’, it’s a puzzle that John ignored him.

But there was a quiet, very quiet, voice of reason within the OT. Leviticus 19:17 “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself ..”. And questions can be raised by Psalm 99:8 .. how a forgiving God can be an ‘avenger of their wrongdoings’? A person who forgives has no reason to seek vengeance; surely a God who forgives would be even less inclined to do so? After all, ‘he’ laid down the rules.

Jesus went up the mountain to speak to the people, to give them a new way of living, a new way of thinking about how they acted in their lives. He called us ‘the Light of the World’ (Matthew 5:14). He said our light should shine for others (5:16), but how can it when our hearts are filled with pain and darkness? 1 Sam 14:24 called casting a curse a ‘rash act’, and it is, for none of us can know the repercussions of our actions. Oh, we might see an immediate effect, and pat ourselves on the back for it, but what about the long term, and what about if we choose to continue to hate instead of loving, to glory in another’s pain, what then?

Jesus taught ‘if you are angry you are liable to judgment’ (Matt 5:22) and he disputed the old teachings of ‘an eye for an eye’ (Matt 5:38), which is what so many use as their excuse to do harm to others – ‘they did it first’ or ‘they hurt someone else’. He said “… do not resist an evil doer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also …” (Matt 5:39), and keeping turning, and walk away. He placed God’s love, and our place in heaven, far above any earthly concerns. He also said ‘be perfect … as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matt 5:48).

Ok, now I go back to shaking my head in puzzlement. The God of Vengeance is perfect, but we are not allowed to act like him? Which God was Jesus talking about? Oh I know, the one he called out to from the Cross .. EL, not Jehovah.

Jesus taught ‘forgive and keep forgiving’ (Matt 18:22). He did not teach ‘punish first, and then stay angry’. Paul continued the theme with a few add-ins .. Romans 12:19-21 “Beloved, never avenge yourself, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. No, if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

In my opinion Paul needed to work on his ‘forgiving’ attitude, but I do understand what he meant. When you do good to others who would harm you, you can make them very angry. They want you to react from the same pain they are feeling; when you don’t, when you ‘love’ instead of hating .. you show them themselves in a very ugly mirror. If you will hold Love in your heart, instead of pain and fear, you become the Light Jesus wants us all to be, which he says we already are.

The bible is confusing people .. again. Who do we choose to follow when the OT teaches of a vengeful God, and the NT says “don’t be vengeful”, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31), “Love one another as I have loved you” (Luke 13:34), “turn the other cheek”? I suppose it depends on our mood at time .. given that the Bible isn’t consistent as well? But I would rather follow Jesus .. consistently. So Vengeance isn’t mine, and nor do I think it is Jesus’ God’s first thought either. How could ‘He’ have said “love one another as I have loved you” if he was planning on judging us all in the near future (his version anyway) and sending most of us to hell?

But that’s another story.

Love & Peace
Ama