Saturday, August 08, 2015

Think bigger

The eschatological bigotry of low expectations.
Huck illustrates some limits of The One who might-have-been:
Our Simple Affirmative Action President is batting zero again across the sea, this time with the desertion or destruction of a super-duper ISIS-fightin’ commando team that the US trained, equipped and then turned loose just weeks ago.
Now?
POOF.
Gone.
It’s like everything that man touches turns to feces.
I will miss him when he’s gone, I think.
While over the past 6 years we have witnessed plenty of Evangelical hyperventilation over whether El Presidente might be the Antichrist, all we have illustrated, in my opinion, is that we have not taken the idea of Antichrist seriously enough.

This is going to be a different kind of post.  In most posts where I reference the Bible, I am careful to stick with what the scripture says and try to expound and weigh honestly whatever varying (and sometimes contradictory) interpretations exist.  When one is trying to teach the scriptures, that's probably a pretty safe approach.  At least it allows me to sleep at night.

But in this one I'm going to give free reign to imagination, the theoretical, the wildly improbable*.  And I'm going to do it because I believe that most people don't think things through when they start promoting the idea our president is mentioned in Revelation. When Michele Bachmann and others propose Obama will bring about "the Biblical end of days," I laugh as much as Obama's audience, but for a different reason: there is simply no way for Obama to accomplish what Antichrist will. He hasn't got it in him.

I'm going to provide a small quote from Jesus' larger discourse on those end of days, and it's one that I think illustrates how Christians looking for Antichrist are setting their sights way, way too low:
Then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'There he is!' do not believe him. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
-- Matt 24:23-4 (NET Bible)
Think about that for a minute.  Is there anything that Obama has done that fits what Jesus said we ought to look for?  Well, Obama appeared, so that is something.  Has he performed any signs or wonders?  Despite the left's hyperventilation about Obama's epically chocolate countenance, he has never done a single thing, either before or after election, that might legitimately qualify as a sign or wonder. He hasn't stopped the oceans' rise. He hasn't set us on a course toward a more peaceful world. He hasn't even balanced a budget.  

But that's not even really the test. In order to be whom Jesus warned us about, he would need to perform signs and wonders that could  deceive the elect, i.e. those most committed to Christ.  Is there anything you can imagine Obama could do to convince dedicated Christians that he is to be obeyed and followed and even worshiped, to the exclusion of the Lord we presently claim?  If not, then we need to think bigger.

In fact, we need to think about what kinds of things the Antichrist must be that could deceive the most dedicated of Christians.  Think about some of the things Scripture says will happen around Antichrist:
[People] worshiped the beast too, saying: "Who is like the beast?" and "Who is able to make war against him?"
-- Rev 13:4


The second beast was empowered to give life to the image of the first beast so that it could speak, and could cause all those who did not worship the image of the beast to be killed.
-- Rev 13:15

These [ten] kings have a single intent, and they will give their power and authority to the beast.
-- Rev 17:13
Now, I'll be the first to admit that Revelation is filled with symbolism and that we oughtn't push it too far in a literal sense.  But we can get a 'feel' from it, and that feel is that not only is the Antichrist someone whom most people will marvel at and follow, but someone to whom those with real worldly power will willingly turn their thrones over.  He will also be able to openly kill those who oppose him without consequence. In fact, he will probably do it to cheers.**

Is there any conceivable circumstance under which Obama (or any other world leader today) could command such loyalty? Can you imagine the presidents of Mexico, France, and Syria abdicating in favor of Obama? Can we imagine Putin stepping aside in his favor? If not, then we need to think bigger.

There actually are hypothetical circumstances under which such things might happen, under which Christians and atheists and ISIS might join together. They are admittedly outrageous. But it's my opinion that only under such outrageous circumstances could the earth possibly become united under one ruler. Despite the machinations of the Illuminati or the Freemasons or the UN, I suspect that in order to voluntarily join forces, the entire planet would need to face an undeniable, imminent, external, extinction-level threat.


Reagan said before the UN that one thing that might cause humanity to set aside our differences would be if we faced an alien invasion.  We've all seen it in countless movies, where the whole world waits on the black smartass, the misunderstood Jew, and the drunk Boomer to save them.  And they do, because Hollywood. We laugh and cheer and go home the same people we were hours before.  But how would our collective outlook change if real spaceships, as large as Mount Shasta and as impenetrable as the basement of the New York Fed, appeared over every city in the world and started making demands of us? Would it even matter if they were hostile?***

Or what of the universally-derided Planet X/Nibiru? Imagine that a brown dwarf star, one that orbits our own sun on a ~3600-year cycle, came burning through the inner solar system, laying waste to everything from our weather to the makeup of our atmosphere itself, blocking out the sun, tossing our moon away, literally setting our sky on fire.  For months it grows in the night sky, then the daytime sky - undeniable, unavoidable - while panic and disorder rise, across the globe, without ceasing.

I'm not saying either of these will happen, and certainly not on Sept 23rd of this year.  I'm saying that when Jesus states in Luke 21:26 that
People will be fainting from fear and from the expectation of what is coming on the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken
He's not talking about lunar eclipses and he's not talking about secretive 7-state training exercises. He's not talking about "headline" diseases and he's not talking about an earthquake here or there.  He's talking about events so epic, so universally terrifying, that they are able to unite most of humanity under one demonically ruthless and charismatic man. Events that the elect, his followers who are not deceived, will be literally sacrificed in order for the rest of humanity to avoid.

This is an important point, a critical point: whatever the crisis is, it will have an undeniably religious aspect. It will divide the elect from those under the power of the ruler of this world. It will separate those who gladly receive the mark of the beast from those who will not, even under pain of death. The threat may be real in an existential sense or it may be an enormous, diabolical deception. But it will look real enough to all that denying the consensus response will seem not merely insane, but dangerous and evil. Those who will not go along will be done away with. Everyone will have to consciously choose that day whom he will serve.  Antichrist will attempt to conquer the world, yes, and for a while he will seem to do it with amazing ease. But more importantly he will attempt to mislead it, away from the truth, away from the risen Christ, away from the revealed words of God, to another system that will leave every adherent eternally condemned by the words of his own mouth.
Remember, I have told you ahead of time.
-- Matt 24:25
Jesus says that the Antichrist will arise under circumstances so deceptive that even the elect could be deceived, leading to days so terrible that if God did not shorten them, not a single person would survive. He told us what to look for, and what would happen to us and to the world. He also told us that what's coming is much bigger than Obama or any other political opponent we might imagine. Most importantly, he told us how to escape these things and stand before him, as one of his own.

Be ready. No fear. And don't sweat the little stuff.

* so from this point forward you are invited to ignore everything I say.  This is not what the Bible says, this is just Saturday night noise.
** On the D&D scale of 3-18, I suspect he's going to display INT 23 and CHR 25
*** For maximum deception, I suspect they would play a game of good cop / bad cop to get us to do something. Or they might claim to be Jesus' reapers, here to separate the wheat from the chaff (Matt 13:30), just in a different order. But remember, I'm just speculating.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

On the mark of Cain

This is not the mark
you are looking for
It's not the curse:
Now says the grand father I will not distroy the seed of michal and his wife; and cain I will not kill you, nor suffer any one to kill you, but I will put a mark upon you. What is that mark? you will see it on the countenance of every African you ever did see upon the face of the earth, or ever will see...

I tell you, this people that are commonly called negroes are the children of old Cain. I know they are, I know that they cannot bear rule in the preisthood...
-- Mormon Prophet Brigham Young, Feb 5, 1852
What old Mr. Young* said before the Utah Legislature is, unfortunately, representative of that brand of folk theology that has passed down even to the current day. Cain killed his brother, we read, and God cursed him with black skin, everyone knows.  Except what everyone knows ain't necessarily so.

The backstory for the biblically impaired is this: Cain got jealous of his brother and killed him. So God cursed Cain and put a mark on him.  Then chattel slavery**.

So with that in mind we're going to take a little stroll through Genesis 4 to discover exactly what we know and don't know about the curse and the mark of Cain.
...Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering;  but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.
-- Gen 4:2-5
So here we have the setup: sibling rivalry, no doubt.  Cain is a farmer and brings God a nice tray of steamed veggies. Abel brings a plate of steaming-hot mutton, basted in honey.  It has been argued that God rejected Cain's offering because Cain acted from an impure heart, or maybe because God demanded a blood offering in this specific case***.  We don't know why, we only know that Cain got bummed and God gave him a little talking to about attitude (vv 6-7).  Cain then applied this newfound insight by killing his brother (v 8).  Uh-oh.  Houston, we have a problem.

God confronts Cain and Cain utters the famous line about Abel's now-neglected hives, Am I my brother's beekeeper?  God ignored the question and instead laid The Smackdown on Cain.  Here's what he said:
Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth.
-- Gen 4:11-12
There's the curse of Cain. What was the curse? That he could no longer farm.  Cain had been a farmer, now the ground that had received his brother's blood would no longer yield anything to him.

That's also the whole of the curse. Cain was fired and he would never work outside this town again. He would have a brown thumb. Sow as he might, he would never, ever reap. Not even a mustard seed.  It would suck for a farmer, no doubt. But that is the curse of Cain and the whole of it. There is no indication it would apply to his descendants or anyone but Cain.

Still, as you might imagine, getting fired from your first job by God is a pretty hard thing to take, even if it's not on TV. Cain was nonplussed:
Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is too great to bear! Behold, You have driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 
-- Gen 4:13-4
Cain didn't expect the best of luck in his future endeavors, though it could have been worse: God might have simply killed him.  Or maybe this was worse. For Cain, living in a time where only one man had ever died, now had to live in constant fear that Abel's sons and daughters and nieces and nephews and maybe even parents might decide to do him in once and for all.  They might even think they were doing God's will in offing the cursed, murderous old vagabond.

Despite the righteous rationalizations of would-be assassins, if God wanted Cain killed, he would have done it himself. So upon further review, God did something else to Cain:
So the Lord said to him, “Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord appointed a sign for Cain, so that no one finding him would slay him. 
-- Gen 4:15
As the KVJ says, the Lord set a mark upon Cain. So what was this mark or sign that God puts on Mr. Not-a-Farmer?  We simply do not know.  Besides black skin, a popular guess in the Mormon Church 17-19th century western world, others have proposed it was a little internal beacon of hope or maybe a forehead tattoo that marked Cain as God's personal property.  Pastor extraordinaire Ray Stedman suggested it was a hangdog face that made Cain look so pathetic no one could possibly kill him. The breadth of the guesses is a clue to how little we actually know.****

I suspect that any mark that made him stand out would make him more of a target than less.  But I don't know because the Bible doesn't say.  Anyone who tells you that they know what the mark is is speculating, no matter how confident their tone. 

But for those who claim to know, their claims must correspond with what we do know about it -- the reason for it and its effects -- to be taken seriously. In other words, any proposed "mark of Cain" must conform to the following truths:
  1. The mark/sign must be protective*****. The mark was appointed to keep Cain safe among people with good reason to kill him. God promised to visit personal vengeance seven times on anyone who killed Cain and the mark was evidence of that promise.
  2. The mark/sign must be only for Cain.  Not only is there no indication that it was genetic or heritable; given its nature of protecting Cain from the consequences of his personal guilt there is no reason that it might be.
  3. The mark/sign must display a work of mercy on God's part.  God cursed Cain, and when Cain appealed that judgment, God gave Cain the mark.  The mark is not the curse: it is a protection from some of the curse's logical effects.
I don't pretend to know what the mark of Cain is.  But if anyone does claim to know, and their claims don't follow what the Bible tells us about it, I submit to you that they are pretending as well.

* Who when he arrived in Salt Lake City was the Governor, the Prophet, and the President of the only bank in town. No wonder he had so little time to read his Bible.
** Profit!
*** Even though grain offerings would be fine later (c.f. Lev 2)
**** Plus we're completely ignoring the speculative hoops we must jump through to get Cain's descendants to the dry side of Noah's flood and into sub-Saharan Africa, whence Virginian tobacconists could offer them long-term employment contracts.
***** Black skin turns out to be not especially protective, fwiw.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

As in the days of Lot

There were drawings of giants in the earth in those days.
They might (not) be giants:
Matthew 24:37 – But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

Here Jesus is giving us a description of conditions in society prior to His return and what things will be like in the last days. Therefore it would benefit us to know what things were like in Noah’s day before the flood...
Society was impacted with the presence of giants in those days. These giants, called Nephilim in the original language of the Old Testament, were the un-natural off-spring of the fallen (evil) angels that had sex with the daughters of men. They were a perverted form of human, not a being as God had created in Adam. Satan’s purpose in having his angels mingle with human women was to prevent “the seed of the woman from bringing forth the one (Jesus the Christ) who would bruise Satan’s head as God declared in Genesis.

There are lots of expositions of Jesus' statement that the days of his return will be like the days of Noah. But a growing number, it seems, quote Matthew 24:37 and jump immediately into a discussion of the Nephilim (giants/mighty men) of Genesis 6, and conclude that Jesus is hinting at a resurgence of angel/human hybrids and related supernatural shenanigans.  Some even say that Jesus' reference to "marrying and giving in marriage" speaks specifically of the marriages of the Nephilim with human women.

What they say about Genesis is fine by me. I share their belief that Genesis 6 is not talking about a godly Seth line and an ungodly Cain one, but about the mating of humans with some form of angels resulting in superhumans/titans/whatever.  One can deny that such a thing ever happened, but it's hard to deny that this is a plain and reasonable reading of the passage*.

But what about the days of Lot? Wait, wut? Jesus didn't mention Lot, did he?

You will note that people who take the above line of reasoning always quote Matthew 24:37.  They almost never quote Luke 17:26-32:
And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.
It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all.
It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, the one who is on the housetop and whose goods are in the house must not go down to take them out; and likewise the one who is in the field must not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife.
A larger context puts "the days of Noah" into a little different perspective. In the days of Noah, which were just the same as happened in the days of Lot, and therefore the days we can ourselves expect, people were going about their business when judgment fell. And Jesus' main point, what all three passages emphasize, is the immediacy and permanence of judgment on an oblivious people. If you were not in the ark or outside the city when it fell, time had run out for you. If you were not watching or ready or taking action, you were toast. But there's not a single giant mentioned in the accounts of Sodom's judgment** and Lot's escape, so there is no reason to expect giants must play a part in ours.

It's easy to take a verse and run with it while ignoring those that do not support your teaching.  It's even easier when that teaching is new and exciting, providing to the listener the thrill of being in on some secret heretofore unrevealed. People today, as in the days of Jesus, are fascinated by the supernatural. That's why when the son of perdition comes he will deceive so many: he's going to perform miracles that cannot be denied and will astonish billions.

But it's dangerous to neglect Jesus' context, to add more to his words, or to ignore what he emphasizes.  After all, when you are going about your business and judgment falls, if you stand around looking for giants as in the days of Noah, you're probably not going to live long enough to find any. 

* and most importantly, a reading that explains what follows.  I have never seen a reasonable explanation for why the relations of Cainites with Sethites or of rulers with serfs would create a race of giants.
** I suppose that one could argue that the desire of the Sodomites to have relations with Lot's visitors is a shadow of Genesis 6. But that's a tough sell. The Sodomites did not know the visitors were angels, nor did they expect to bear gigantic children by them.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Is Washington also amongst the prophets?

The future you chose
We'd better hope not:
No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States...

[but] we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained...
Washington's First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789
Eternal rules, like this one:
[F]rom the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one.
Mark 10:6-8 NASB
Whatever the specific "constitutional" arguments in favor of the Supremes' gay marriage ruling*, there can be no doubt that in addition to overthrowing 2500 years of Western culture, our highest court has arrogantly disregarded the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.  Jesus here is quoting from the very first chapters of the very first book of scripture. If ever rules of order were ordained by Heaven for men, that marriage is a joining of a man and a woman is surely one of them.  But our courts claim to know better than God, to be more fair than God, less bigoted than God, more modern and sophisticated than God.

Of course, one can always argue that God isn't real or that if he is, he doesn't really care what people do in their bedrooms or what nations do with what's spelled out in scripture.  That's a very modern and sophisticated thing to say, and all sophisticated, modern people say it, including lots of churches.** They'd better damned sure hope that's the case. 

Because if our founders were right, if our first President in his first inauguration speech was right, we can fully expect that the propitious smiles of Heaven, which Washington credited with our successful secession from England and the establishment of our nation, to frown mightily when this arrogant nation spits that blessing back in God's face.

The blessings of liberty, the blessings of prosperity, even the blessings of peace, are about to be removed from America. This is not a prophecy, for I'm no prophet.  It is a simple matter of recognizing God's character and ours, God's purposes and ours as expounded by our founders, those dead old white men who were so silly as to beleive that the creator of the universe cared about them, their freedom, and their prosperity. 

Laugh and dance and celebrate the end of that superstition if you wish. Just don't say you weren't warned by your own founders.  Not that it will help, I suspect: a nation that turns its back on God is in no position to see God turning his back on them.

* And I'll confess to having not read them.  They hold no more interest to me than a scientific study that concludes that the moon is made of green cheese or that gravity is caused by little, invisible screws that pull things toward the ground.
** There was probably never a better test of a church than this ruling.  If your church disregards Jesus' opinion in this matter, you do not attend a Christian church.  There can hardly be any arguing of the point.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Letter to a Scammer

Nigerian scams are better
than a sharp stick in the eye
Apparently I have gotten onto the main Nigerian Scam email distribution list.  It seems that 3 or 4 times a day, princes, businessmen, philanthropists, and others find an urgent need to wire me money.

I almost always ignore them, but on occasion I'll get one that claims to be from a Christian*.  Today's is from a 58-year-old London cancer victim who wishes to send me $10 million.  Her name is Mrs. Faith Williams, who greets me "in the name of God" and signs off "Yours in Christ."

To those I generally have a canned reply of my own.  Maybe it makes a difference, maybe not.  but at least they cannot say they weren't warned:
Dear friend:
I generally just delete these emails on sight, but yours demanded my attention.  So I wanted to write you back and let you know that you are in terrible peril.  Oh, not from the law; you and I both know that the police can’t or won’t trace down every such email or transaction. Not even from cancer, for we will all die someday. No, you in trouble that will last far beyond death.


You see, you have pretended to be one of Christ's beloved and used his name to defraud another.  One day you’ll stand before him – as we all will – and He will ask you about this very thing.  Then as He promised in Matthew 7:23, He will say to you, “Away from me you evildoer! I never knew you.”


And things will be bad for you, my friend. Forever. Perhaps you do not believe in Christ, or perhaps you did not think at all about what you are doing.  But I urge you, before it is too late, to repent of this evil and ask His forgiveness.  Jesus is kind and gracious to those who turn from their sin.  But to those who refuse, He brings justice. You do not want to receive that justice. Seek Him today, before it is too late.


Yours in Christ,


Bill Hoyt
* Hell, maybe it even is. Christians have done worse, like work for Goldman Sachs.**
** Where they run this same scam much more efficiently. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Oh, you didn't know?

It's right there in the book.
Here's a secret:
6. ‘GOD’ REACHES FOR THE OFF-SWITCH
Many scientists have pointed out that there is something fishy about our universe. The physical constants – the numbers governing the fundamental forces and masses of nature – seem fine-tuned to allow life of some form to exist. The great physicist Sir Fred Hoyle once wondered if the universe might be a “put-up job”.
More recently, the Oxford University philosopher Nick Bostrom has speculated that our universe may be one of countless “simulations” running in some alien computer, much like a computer game.
That the Universe actually IS a put-up job has been known for millennia.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Shut up and Forgive

It seems that any time a preacher approaches Luke 17:6, you are in for an exposition on the power of faith. Usually one, I might add, that makes no sense whatsoever. For when Jesus told his disciples, If you had faith like a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you,  He was not talking about the power of faith at all. He was talking about the necessity of obedience.

For the biblically impaired, the backstory is this:  Jesus is traveling through Judea, delivering some of his more famous if misunderstood parables, such as the Parable of the Unjust Steward and the Parable of Lazarus.*  Then he gets to the matter of forgiveness among men and especially among his followers. 

Now, I’m going to present the entire teaching below, but I’m going to lay out the gist of the conversation here so you can use it as an interpretive framework.  Unfortunately, too many people divorce the teaching from its context, and so draw horrible lessons from it.

Here’s the framework, which is deceptively simple:
  • Jesus: “Forgive your brother.” (Luke 17:3-4)
  • Disciples: “We can’t do that.” (Luke 17:5)
  • Jesus: “Do it anyway.” (Luke 17:6-10)
It’s wholly in line with scripture - and human nature - that the disciples try to make their shortcomings God’s problem and that Jesus uses a parable to illustrate the depths and riches of even the simplest command. That's what happens, so let’s get on with it.

Jesus said, “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him.” - Luke 17:3-4

Now here’s a pretty tough command.  The idea here is that the brother is sinning against you personally - burning your house down, banging your wife, whatever. But it’s a sin that you must forgive, which means that you must let it go. You must release him from any sense of debt to you and you must give up any feeling of “getting him back” for it.  It’s a hard saying. But it’s also how God forgives us. 

How many times have you asked God to forgive you for theft or lust or drunkenness or whatever, the same sin you’ve committed for years, even decades? That’s how you need to forgive: Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And, For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.  It’s a hard saying, but if you ask it of God, God demands it back of you.

The Disciples were having none of that:

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" - Luke 17:5

Here’s the part that preachers ignore: the Disciples’ plea is a response to the command to forgive.  They do not say, “Yes, Lord.” They don’t say, “OK, we’ll try.”  They say, “Increase our faith.” Cook their response how you wish, but it boils down to “We can’t forgive like that and it’s not because we choose not to. We don't have it in us.”  It’s a pushing of responsibility off of themselves.  To understand Jesus’ next statement, you have to understand it as a response to that claim.

And the Lord said, "If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you.’” - Luke 17:6

Whatever preachers preach about the power of faith, the fact remains that Christianity is not filled with mulberry trees flying into the ocean. Jesus is not speaking literally, but metaphorically to illustrate a point. And the point is not the power of faith at all.

He is saying that more faith will not help them.  They do not need greater belief in God or his goodness to do this. If even a little faith allows one to do great things, and they rebel at doing this little thing, then it’s obviously not a lack of faith that is their problem. He swats their objection away by saying that they have all the faith they need.

What their problem actually is Jesus then illustrates by the next 4 verses:

"Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come immediately and sit down to eat'? But will he not say to him, 'Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink '? [The master] does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'" - Luke 17:7-10

And therein is the true answer and the teaching.  God tells you, his servant if you are a Christian, to forgive those who sin against you.  God is not going to thank you for doing that. He’s not going to praise you or give you a whizzo button. When you do what you are commanded, you are simply acting out your service.  If you claim the forgiveness of salvation, as every Christian, every slave of God does, then you are commanded to forgive the same way.  And when you forgive, you don’t get to be a martyr about it, you don’t get to claim a halo for it, and you don’t get to demand that God give you something more to help you to do it.  You do it.  Or not.

“As we forgive those who trespass against us” puts us under a debt to God. It sets a standard to which we hold God and he holds us. If you want to be a Christian, then you must forgive as God does. But if you want God to thank you, if you want God to praise you, if you want God to reward you for your epic forgiveness toward others, then out-forgive God.

Good luck with that.

* Which is more misunderstood than this section, if that were possible.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

It's not a coincidence

Ride the Lightning
It's just stupid and evil:
[A]n eerily odd correlation between the president of the United States and 2,000-year-old biblical texts has many scholars scratching their collective heads.

Luke writes in chapter 10, verse 18 that Jesus said: “I saw Satan ‘fall like lightning.’ The Hebrew translation is “baraq o bamah,” according to Strong’s Concordance word numbers 1299 and 1116.

According to some biblical and literary scholars, Jesus’ own words could, in my opinion, have been: “I saw Satan as Barack Obama fall from the heavens.”

Having been a student of all things “end times” for 40 years, many other characteristics are associated to the antichrist as he is conveyed in the Bible, to be sure.

Still, it is difficult to ignore the uncanny similarity no matter who you are.
40 years or not, our author here is neither a good student nor a good witness.*

The actual argument from Luke 10:18 goes something like this:

1. Luke 10:18 reads, "And [Jesus] said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven."
2. Jesus probably spoke Aramaic.
3. Aramaic is descended from ancient Hebrew.
4. In Hebrew, the word for lightning is baraq (Strong's 1299).
5. Heaven doesn't always mean God's home, in this case it means a high place.
6. Isaiah in 14:14 talks about Satan's vow to ascend to the "heights"
7. The "heights" in ISA 14:14 is bamah (Strong's 1116).
8. You could connect the concepts of baraq and bamah by joining them with an o, giving you "Lightning from Heaven" as "baraq o bamah," which kind of sounds like Barack Obama.
9. Therefore, Jesus might have named Barack Obama as the Antichrist.

There are a couple problems with that, as you might imagine.

The first is that we don't know what language Jesus spoke these particular words in.  He knew Aramaic, but he also knew regular old Hebrew.  He might have even known Greek, given his conversations with Gentiles, especially in Luke. He might have used baraq for lightning, or not. He might have used bamah for "heights" or not.  It is simple speculation. I don't mean that as a compliment.

The second is that even if Jesus used the very words mentioned, they could not possibly be interpreted as "I saw Satan as Barack Obama fall from the heavens."  They would be, at best, "I saw Satan as baraq fall from bamah."  If bamah is "heavens or high places" then both cannot appear in the sentence.

The third problem is that baraq** and Barack are entirely different words: b-r-q and b-r-k (the original Hebrew has no vowels). Though q and k sound the same in English, they are different in Hebrew. Barack's name comes from Barak (Strong's 1288), which means to kneel, to bless God.

The fourth is that the words do not appear together in the verse, are not a name, and there is no o*** - giving absolutely no reason to join them together except to intimate that Obama is the antichrist. If we want to get technical, that probably counts as "bearing false witness."

The fifth is that the Hebrew translation of Luke 10:18 does not use any of these words. It transliterates as “Ra’iti et HaSatan nophel k’varak min hashamayim.”  k'varak here is "like lightning," - another possible word for Jesus to have used - while hashamayim is "heaven." The latter is translated so because of the Greek word ouranou, which they interpret as God's home as opposed to a high place. This is not conclusive by any means - it's a translation from the Greek, after all - but it does underscore the weakness of the author's case since not one of the very important words baraq or o or bamah appear in the Hebrew translation, contrary to his claim. His case would be massively improved if he could provide a single, pre-2000 Hebrew translation that uses baraq o bamah, but alas, no such claim is in evidence.

But the main problem is that this kind of weasely "study" of the scripture pisses me off to no end. It's not just careless, it's filled with guesses, misrepresentations, and lies. As Newton noted long ago, this sort of mishandling of scripture does not just expose the speaker to earned ridicule, but it brings the very words of Jesus into disrepute.  It gives the world a reason to pour derision upon the Bible and upon the Lord.**** It makes it harder, not easier, to reach people with Jesus' message.

People are often their own worst enemies, and from this propensity Christians are not immune. But we had better be very, very careful that in our pursuit of political gain or playing prophet we are not making ourselves into enemies of Christ. For he said, "Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”

If you're a Christian who is taking away the key to knowledge by muddying the scriptures, then you've got a lot more to worry about than who is the Antichrist.

* I hate to use the phrase "Lying for Jesus," but there it is. 
** Bonus error: (1299) is a verb, not a noun.  It does not mean lightning, but to cast forth, to throw lightning.  Strong's 1300, baraq (noun) can mean lightning, glittering, gleaming.
*** In the original presentation of this argument the narrator of the youtube video linked above introduced the Hebrew letter Waw (also Vau), transliterated U or occasionally O, as a conjunction that could be used to join baraq and bamah.  It has since been dropped from the vid completely and without explanation (I suspect a real scholar got ahold of it). But still appears, now without support of any kind, in the letter.
**** Maybe they will anyway, but it makes little sense for Christians to make that seem act just and reasonable.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Alone

Faint light hailed a cold Sunday morning as Mary Magdalene led her co-conspirators through the city's heavy gates. Their mission was as necessary as it seemed impossible: to enter the tomb of a rich man to pay their last respects to a poor man, an itinerant country preacher Rome and the Sanhedrin had condemned and crucified. To do the final duty of women for a man they had loved and who had led them and who had loved them. And who had left them. Now the burial spices they carried were all they could offer his memory.

Mary shook her head as Salome asked again how they should remove the stone from the tomb’s face, a stone that had required three men to place, a stone that had been sealed and was probably still guarded by those afraid that Jesus’ own disciples might poach his cold, bloody corpse by moonlight. It was the third time Salome had asked her, the youngest of the four women yet somehow in this hour of pain their leader. But Mary didn’t know. Why did they ask her, she complained (though only to herself) if she didn’t know? Even among friends, Mary felt alone.

The whole garden seemed a tomb as her feet led her toward a place she had last viewed through tears. The wet, cold ground absorbed the sound of her footsteps. The quiet whimpering of Salome and the heavy breathing of the others were the garden’s only sounds. Then all the sounds stopped, for each of the women had seen what Mary saw: the tomb, dark and quiet. But it was also open. And it was also empty.

The pain in her side was nearly unbearable as Mary bounded back through the gates, fighting her way against the bustle of those leaving Jerusalem for home. The other women would follow at their own pace, she thought. They could not be expected to keep up with her, and she needed to find Peter. None of the explanations that formed in her mind said what she needed to say because she didn’t know what to say. She couldn’t decide how to explain everything she didn’t find. When Peter and John answered the door, she simply said, “They have taken away the Lord, and we don’t know what they have done with him.” With sideways glances at one another they rushed past her, grabbing cloaks to be donned on the run. She tried to follow them but could not keep up, not after having run so far. The two melted immediately into the anonymous mass, leaving her alone once again.

When Mary reached the garden again it was empty, as before. Her companions had certainly reached the city by now, she thought. Peter and John, if they came at all, had left as well. She slowed, walking at last, seeking the tomb though she didn’t know why. She listened for movement but her own ragged breathing and the sound of her heartbeat drowned out any sounds that might have revealed a friendly presence or betrayed the approach of anyone else. She had composed herself by the time she reached the open tomb, and she peered again, wondering if perhaps those who had taken his corpse had left behind a clue. Then she froze. There were two men in the tomb, and one of them was looking at her.

“Woman, why are you weeping?” The voice revealed the hollow kindness of one who lacks human warmth and before she could catch herself she blurted out the same explanation she had given Peter. Then the second man looked up at her, his face strange and perfect and cold. Her courage broke and, mumbling an unlikely explanation for her presence in another’s private garden, she fled as far as her aching legs would drag her - mere yards from the tomb but out of sight of its gaping mouth. She feared being discovered in this strange and lonely place, but her body would bear her no further.

"I don’t know where they have taken him," she said to herself, and the sobs came again. This time she could not stop them.

“Woman, why are you weeping?” The voice was close behind her, but Mary could flee no more. She could not even turn. She knew what she would answer even before she said it; a few familiar words now besieged her whole lonely world.

“Sir,” she said, “if you have moved him, please tell me where, and I will take him away.”

“Mary.” The voice was the same, but this time it seemed familiar. She shook her head, but from confusion rather than stubbornness.

“Mary, turn around.” The voice was urgent and yet edged with a joy unexpected.

She looked up and a man stood before her. One she envisioned would have a trowel in his hand instead had on his open hands the scars of nail wounds. She looked up at his face, now expecting to see dried blood from a crown of thorns and a visage shattered by blows, but instead finding a smile on living lips and a twinkle in kind eyes. Her legs forgot their weariness as she leaped into his arms.

“Rabboni,” she cried.

And this time she did not cry alone.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Jacob's pillow

The innocent seldom find an uncomfortable pillow. - Cowper
BJT0 asks via email:
So what do you know about stone pillows? 

28:10-11  Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran.  So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set.  And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep.
One of my study bibles says he may have used the stone to protect his head, rather than as a pillow. Concealment, maybe?  This must have made sense to the original readers of the story but I don't understand what he did with this rock while he was sleeping.
As you have doubtless noticed, a number of commentators claim that he literally used the rock as a pillow.* But the word itself apparently means "headplace" (Keil and Delitzsch) or "headpiece" (Strongs). It can, but does not necessarily, mean "pillow." In short, it's something he put at his head while he slept and the rest is context. That he put it under his head I doubt – the dude had lots of sheep, so I'm sure he owned a very nice sheepskin pillow.

Though the text does not mention others with Jacob, it was also highly unlikely he was traveling alone through such dangerous country; most likely he had an impressive retinue of guards and servants.** These would not only serve to deter raiders, but would also impress his future wife and perhaps more importantly, her father. It's rather like Abraham earlier in the text – from reading Genesis it's easy to presume he lives alone with Sarah; then suddenly he raises an army of more than 300 men (14:14) who just happen to live in his "household." We're dealing with the tribal described as personal, and the actions of a group epitomized by its chief. So it might have been a very large stone that protected not only him, but many men.

It seems to me that there is something symbolically honorable or at least meaningful about the stone being at his head, though I have no idea exactly what it is, nor, judging from the mass of contradictory commentary concerning it, does anyone else. Perhaps it was a particularly attractive or unusual stone, but I highly doubt that its main quality was that it made a fine pillow.*** For whatever reason, Jacob concluded that this stone, of the many around, would make a fitting monument to his fathers' God; the qualities that made it a good monument probably account for him placing it as a "headplace" in the first place.

But the fact that he placed this stone at his head before he had the vision is explanatory to the original audience, who would have understood that it was a special rock that he used to make a meaningful monument to God.

That's my vague and wholly unsupported opinion, and worth what it cost you.

* The KJV, in v. 18, incongruously mentions "the stone that he had put for his pillows." 
** I'm sure he could have borrowed a pillow from one of them and not slept on a rock. 
*** That's not the sort of quality that makes a fitting monument to any god but Hypnos.