Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
[One of us] has proposed studying the Prophets for awhile. I want to continue with Luke meantime, but I hope we can combine both.
We are much more superstitious today. Rather than try to win a war by carrying a shrine into it-- we would think of a new name for the war, set up a new pr campaign.
God is the same God throughout-- utterly merciful and loving-- and therefore responding to each person according to who they are and what they need.
"What they need"-- for priests who've been stealing God's portion of the sacrifices, and groping all the women who come to participate-- is to be so spectacularly thumped that everyone involved sees that God does exist, doesn't let this sort of thing continue. Because the people who tell this story, and we who read it, need to know certain things. 'You can't turn God into a device for winning wars,' for example. 'God doesn't automatically prefer one nation to another;' that's another thing we USians particularly need to be reminded of!
And Eli? He does want to know the truth; he understands it isn't going to be good news, because he hasn't been able to correct what he knows to be a very bad situation. How does this differ from our condition?
People see God through the lens of their own minds. Many of the people in the 'old testament' are not particularly gracious or merciful; some of the customs they take for granted are downright nasty. But there seems to be a clear implication in it that God is working to correct this.
Maybe we should see the world as something like a first-grade classroom. Kids come in, learn a few things, go on to second grade. Next year, kids come in-- a lot like last year's kids-- learn a few things, go on to second grade. Maybe there are long-term trends, some kind of collective human consciousness that does learn over time; I just don't know. The people in positions of 'power' continue to be dominated by-- love of power, cunning and deception, lack of empathy, lack of innocent curiosity, lack of interest in truth, susceptability to absurd ideologies, etc. Because that's the nature of the subculture they need to fit into, to get into such positions. (But are they significantly different from say, David?)
I am certainly guilty of being unable to see God through the a biblical lens. Good ideas from James and Forrest about how people today are not much different. What I have trouble with is not the way people act but the story of God sentencing the bad priests to death and then killing 30,000 people along with them.
I find the idea that God does not automatically prefer one nation to another helpful. The unfortunate message I am getting fromthe story is that if you do the wrong thing God will favor your enemy! If you do the right thing God will favor our nation. I realize that James and Forrest are not promoting this simplistic interpretation. I think I am a reverse fundamentalist...reading fairly literally and then recoiling in horror..
"Time out!"-- "If you can't stop fighting, go to your room!"
"Sentenced to death" looks quite horrifying from this human perspective. Maybe the stones in a game of go are horrified when dead stones get picked up off the board and aren't seen there anymore. To me, playing the game, they seem to be just as happy sitting in the lid of their bowl afterwards!
You get some thousands of men, taking a break from their farming routine. Two groups hang out together, watching from safe vantages, occasionally whacking each other, until one group's cohesion/morale breaks down. They run off while the other group chases them, killing everyone they can catch, taking whatever loot they could. This was a favorite activity of the ancient world. For some subcultures, it was the only honorable way to make a living...
Does God care which group gets thumped? Not unless God has some longer term purpose in mind! One group or the other is likely to be unhappy about the outcome, but that's in the nature of the game they believe they need to play.
Our modern version seems to be rougher on bystanders. & some people are horrified by the harm they're expected to do to other people. It really is horrifying in terms of how much people here suffer, how much damage and waste it entails, how much fear and anger and paranoid illusion are required for it to happen, how much of these things result from it.
But I think William Stringfellow had it right, that even our War Against Vietnam was only a symptom of something deeper, which was going to manifest whether or not we were actually fighting.
I have 3 children. Once upon a time one of these children was driving me crazy by her hateful, spiteful attitude and behavior. I was at my wit's end when I finally heard from God (I don't remember how I heard) I heard that I had to stop feeding the fire of hate. The more I punished, threatened or even reasoned with her the worse she became. So I started speaking calmly, letting her know I loved her in spite of how she felt about me and her mother. She looked right at me and said "you think I am going to change. Well I'm not. I hate you and I always will" or words pretty close to that. I told her she'd feel differently in a year and she did. Sometimes people don't hear God telling them to not feed the fire or they hear Him and ignore Him forcing Him to douse it or it will destroy everything in it's path. Are there losses when a fire has to get doused? Yes. Did Hitler have to be doused? Unfortunately yes. Did Saddam Hussein have to get doused? probably not. Sometimes man plays God. Sometimes God plays man.
[Samuel's reputation grew after the fulfilment of his prophecy, and eventually he became leader, "judged Israel all the days of his life."]
I like to think about the words attributed to God as not actually spoken directly by him to Samuel, but rather Samuel's (or later, the Hebrew people's) interpretation of a complex and confusing set of events, an interpretive act motivated by an impulse to explain why bad things were happening. Samuel had a "vision," perhaps a dream, and spoke of it as though God uttered words. Who knows what layers of prophetic interpretation were imposed on the raw vision to come up with those "words."
One way to understand the "punishment" is that the wrong behavior itself sets the stage for, or begins the falling-domino sequence towards disaster. So it's not as though God actively intervenes and hurts people, but rather, the inherent violence in the acts of greed and disregard for God unfold of their own nature to produce the results predicted.
The Israelites realize intuitively that their distance from God has brought trouble but instead of going back to the root of faith, to a deep listening, they bring in the ark which they have been taught houses God, as a superstitious and superficial "fix." It backfires and even their God is captured . . . . what kind of God lets himself be captured?! Seems like a pretty exciting story unfolding when you ponder it with the question "where is God in all this?" in mind.
Closer to our own time.. James Nayler heard actual words, quoted from Abraham's call to leave everything he knew behind, to come serve God's purposes elsewhere. [I'm not convinced, by the way, that his later fate, unfortunate as it was, was so much a consequence of a misstep-- as a true witness that happened to be highly unpopular & inconvenient.]
Some people do their thinking--and get their inspirations--via one mode; some via another. I don't know as that matters. Certainly in a dream-- or a similar 'conscious' state-- There can be so many things occurring at once that there isn't time to describe them all precisely.
I like what you're saying about the 'punishment' aspect of this story. But it isn't something that happens 'automatically', in an uncontrolled way, or independent of God's intentions for the world.
A divine policy of immediately & appropriately punishing each piece of human misbehavior-- would turn this world into something like an enormous training camp, penal institution, etc.-- and without even the inevitable lapses in control that provide a certain amount of relief & opportunities-for-abuse that a human-run institution can't avoid.
So, we don't get that kind of world-- but then, many people come to imagine they can harm each other without consequence.
Yes, the kind of God who "lets himself be captured" is the same kind of God who lets his Messiah get crucified. & that's immensely meaningful & bewildering at the same time, at least to me!
This interpretive approach to the punishment is helpful to me. I continue to struggle to understand how God acts in the world. I need to have humility about how little I can know with any certainty. I lean toward "notions" that God does not intervene in miraculous ways (at least not usually)
I'm just lousy at humility!!!
So far as trying to let go of "notions"-- This guy is about that; ie If you're 'listening' aka just observing what God is doing, in the process of "being" your own ongoing life (among other things)-- You can still enjoy a notion or two, but don't need to let it confine you... Now if I can just remember to keep trying it...