Category Archives: theology

The Babylonian Captivity of the Human Race


One of the biggest difficulties in Christianity is understanding the events of the Bible in context. We– myself included– tend to apply our the Bible to our life situations willy nilly, without any real understanding of what was going on at the time.

Exhibit A:

	And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” 
Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”

(Isaiah 6:8 ESV)

We love this verse. We use it to drum up support for the cause du jour and rarely ever stop to look at what God says in response to Isaiah’s willingness to take up his call:

And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

	“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
	keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
	Make the heart of this people dull,
		and their ears heavy,
		and blind their eyes;
	lest they see with their eyes,
		and hear with their ears,
	and understand with their hearts,
		and turn and be healed.”
	

(Isaiah 6:9-10 ESV)

Isaiah’s call was to be ignored.  I’m not trying to be a downer here, but it illustrates my point: Context changes things. (And really, what better way to prove a point during Advent than Isaiah?)

For those of you not in the know, the Christmas season, according to the way churches have traditionally reckoned the year, does not actually begin until December 25th. For four weeks prior to that, we are in a season called Advent.

Growing up, I came from a church that didn’t follow that calendar, and I had no idea what Advent was. I knew that Advent meant the coming of something, and I knew that it meant I got to open a little door on a glittery calendar every day (or every third day, since I had to share with my sisters -_-) and procure a tiny little chunk of Christmas-themed chocolate.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, Advent is the Lent to Christmas’s Easter. You don’t get a lot of people giving up something or fasting during Advent, but it’s a somber time. A low key time. While the rest of the world is singing “Joy to the World” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” during December, churches that keep Advent won’t be singing those songs until Christmas day, typically. What you’ll find instead are songs that are more in keeping with “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

Listen to the song. It’s not really all that cheerful, despite the refrain of “Rejoice! Rejoice!”

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

We’re not rejoicing for a salvation accomplished in this song; we’re begging, pleading. We’re seeking our ransom.

The terrible, horrible thing about taking things out of context isn’t that we’re going to lose the fact that Isaiah was to spend the next few decades ignored, it’s that we lose the impact of the movement of God in history. All too frequently, we take the life of Jesus out of context, and understandably; it was 2,000 years ago, and “messiah” meant something very different to the people of God then.

Or did it?

Messianic expectations– the desire for liberation from oppressive foreign rule– really came to the Jewish people after Israel had been shattered into two separate kingdoms, Judah and Israel, and then stomped over by various foreign powers. Towards the beginning of the sixth century BC, Nebuchadnezzar dragged thousands of Jews out of their homeland to serve in Babylon. Eventually, The Persian Empire swallowed the Babylonians several decades later, and as it turned out, they weren’t terribly fond of slavery, so they let the Jews go home and rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple, though they were still beholden to Persian authority. In the fourth century, Alexander the Great came through and swept up everything in his path, including the Persian empire, and after his early death, his conquered lands were divided amongst his generals, the Diadochi, or “successors.” These generals became kings, and ruled their various lands, pretty much up until Rome became ascendant. The Maccabean freedom fighters managed to overthrow their Greek kings in the second century, but that freedom lasted for about a hundred years on the nose. Civil war broke out, and eventually got so terrible that the Jewish people actually invited Rome to come put an end to it. Rome did, although not quite in the way they wanted; they came through, conquered the place, violated the temple, and the independence of Israel was finished for the next 2,000 years.

O come, o come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.

Look at that context. Can you imagine– the Israelites were the chosen people of God, meant to be the center of a theocracy that would be a just and holy rule over the world. Can you imagine having that expectation of divine rule shattered? Can you imagine being conquered again? Your temple, the holiest spot in the universe, because the Creator has deigned to dwell there, being profaned and violated? And God didn’t even bother to strike the general that marched into the Holy of Holies dead, as he did for merely touching the Ark of the covenant in the past?

Can you imagine how broken you would feel?

The reason why all this went down is because Israel couldn’t keep up their end of the bargain. They were supposed to be a shining beacon of justice and mercy in a world that was far more cruel and violent than the world we know today, but time and time again, they turned their back on God and his commandments until God plowed them under.

Which, really, is the story of humanity. We were supposed to walk with God, to live in community with him and with each other. We failed. We screwed up, and we turned our backs on God. The exile that Israel faced in Babylon, and the subsequent centuries of foreign rule, is an illustration of the human condition. Stupid decisions were made, and now we, like they, are under foreign rule.

Our place in the history of God’s creation is a little bit better than theirs. Our savior has come and gone and in his wake, things changed. But that change isn’t finished, and God’s redemptive story is still ongoing.  The world’s still broken, still waiting Emmanuel’s return and the final healing of the world.

The next time you hear “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” take a moment to really listen to it. To empathize. To look forward to the end of the Babylonian Captivity of Humanity.

O Come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.

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I Hate All Your Show

On Monday nights this semester, I have a class entitled “Worship and the Community of God.” Last night, it ended with this.

There’s a fairly strong social justice thread to the Bible. We all tend to focus on the parts of the Old Covenant that are things like “don’t eat pork” and “holy cow, guys, you’re gonna jump through hoops to be ritually clean” but we forget that there are all sorts of subtle things about taking care of the world around us. Do you know why Deuteronomy 25:4 tells you not to muzzle your ox when he’s working? So your ox can eat and partake of his share in the labor. Leviticus 23:22 bears instructions telling us not to be thorough when we’re reaping our fields– leave the corners and leftovers for the poor and the aliens, so that they can eat.

I don’t have an ox. I don’t have a field to reap, and if I did, I’m pretty sure that the people around me wouldn’t know what to do with the leavings of a field of wheat. I sure wouldn’t. I gather that you can just eat the heads? Maybe? I might be missing something from when the disciples were picking grain because they were hungry.

Fortunately, Jesus, a few thousand years later, summed it up all very nicely:

 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with 
one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which 
commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The 
most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all 
your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second 
is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other 
commandment greater than these.”

(Mark 12:28-31 ESV)

Social justice, ya’ll. Pretty obvious, no? Deserving of a blog post? Maybe. Maybe not.

Here’s the problem: we’ve made a terrible mockery of the idea of social justice these days. It’s no secret that there’s a culture war raging in America– and, from what I’ve read, pretty much everywhere else in the Anglosphere. Some terribly important ideas have been co-opted and ideologically vandalized. Equality, the idea that we are all equal in the sight of our Creator, has turned into the idea that everything we do is valid. Freedom, the absence of oppression, has become “do as thou wilt.” In our hurry to undo the injustice of Jim Crow and slavery, Civil Rights has morphed into something I get the feeling the good Doctor MLK would be appalled by. Feminism, which bumper stickers tell me “is the radical notion that women are people” (You are! Huzzah! I value your opinions quite highly!) is wasting its time shrieking about some tacky shirt a scientist wore for an interview.

And it is tacky. Hideous. You’d never see me wearing that thing. But is it really important? Did it suddenly leach power from women and make their votes only worth 75% of the vote of a white male? (Alright, so there’s one opinion I don’t value quite highly.)

Self-disclosure: I am a white male. One flirting with the being the middle class, no less. Gasp, horror, shock. What am I doing talking about social justice? What can I know?

And that’s the thing, isn’t it? Social justice isn’t. Not anymore. We’ve taken the idea of ministering to the oppressed and the fringe and the hated, of imitating the life, compassion, and mercy of Jesus, and turned it into attacking the things that make us uncomfortable because we’ve been slighted by them. It’s a slight, subtle difference, but it is a difference, and it makes a huge difference in the way we’re going about it. The social justice warriors in our world seem to be driven by hate, not by love. When you chase after “justice” with hate, you’re not chasing justice. You’re chasing revenge. You’re chasing a grudge. Your legacy isn’t the beautiful legacy of wisdom and compassion that MLK left us, it’s something twisted, tainted, and hostile. (Here’s the point where I want to insert a .gif from The Grudge, but I’m not going to. Cuz, y’know, Japanese ghosts are frikkin’ scary and I don’t want to stare at that every time I have to come back to this page.)

When you chase after something holy, without holiness in your heart, you’re putting on a show. And make no mistake: ministering to the poor, downtrodden, and excluded is holy. But when the goal is to level everyone else instead of elevate those who are in need of it, you’re lashing out with bitterness. Your justice is a sham, because your heart is false and you seek after universal misery instead of universal liberation.

Loving your neighbor is an act of worship to God. But this is what God says about worship with your heart in the wrong place:

	“I hate, I despise your feasts,
		and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
	Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
		I will not accept them;
	and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
		I will not look upon them.
	Take away from me the noise of your songs;
		to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
	But let justice roll down like waters,
		and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

(Amos 5:21-24 ESV)

This is why we can’t have nice things, you guys.

I’d love to assume that this is a work of satire, some ridiculous sort of atheist guerrilla attack on Christianity. But the fact is, I grew up as an evangelical in the 80s, a time of slightly overboard world-rejection (Clarification: My parents went slightly overboard, but they’re very reasonable, intelligent people. I knew other, less reasonable people who went a little nutso.)  I’ve also read the ridiculous Turmoil in the Toy Box, which illustrates just how Satanic EVERYTHING that your children loved during the 80s is. (Including GI Joe, a show that taught young children that soldiers fought to protect people.)

(Okay. So, maybe the Monster can is a little crude. “MILF” isn’t a term I use on a regular basis, nor is the F-bomb; but y’know what? I know plenty of very decent people who do, and yes, they’re a little crude, but they’re not exactly the Antichrist.)

Here’s the thing. Satan and his minions are not orchestrating every aspect of the world that’s not related to a church. (Also, churches are not exempt from the influence of Satan. *gasp*) There is no clear-cut line in this world where you can say “this aspect of it is holy; this aspect of it is Satanic.”

We can look at the mountains or stars and see the work of God; there’s a holiness there. They’re also decaying. Erosion is wearing down the mountains. Stars are eating themselves alive. Everything is a little tinged with death in our world, whether we like it or not; death is an evil-thing. A Satan-thing.

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” (Rom 5:12, NIV) Per the apostle Paul, death is the result of sin; in a science-y world, we know that death is a byproduct of entropy, a law of physics that influences our whole world. What this means is that sin is everywhere in our universe. It’s in you, it’s in me, it’s in the president, it’s in the Pope.

To be sure death is felt in different ways across in the universe. Human beings don’t erode; mountains don’t sin. It’s felt in different intensities. I’d imagine that Pope Francis and Billy Graham are probably a little less likely to drop an F-Bomb (Or the linguistically appropriate equivalent) when they stub their toe in the middle of the night than I am. It manifests itself differently from person to person. I’m not inclined to theft, violence, or blasphemy; I am inclined to pride, sloth, and melancholy.

What does this have to do with Monster energy drinks?

Monster, for good and for bad, is a company living in a world that is thoroughly tainted by sin, death, and entropy.

Being crude doesn’t make you the devil. It just means that whoever it is responsible for it is human, just like you. Being angry doesn’t make you the devil; it just makes you another sinner, like everyone else in the world. Being tangled up in something messy or questionable doesn’t make you the devil, or even a devil worshiper, it proves that you exist in the same, fallen state as everything else in the universe.

Having a giant M slash logo-that-looks-like-a-monster-clawed-it that happens to bare a resemblance to the Hebrew letter vav, valued at six in the borderline bunk that is gematria, doesn’t make you the devil. Intentionally drawing comparisons to a monster doesn’t make you The Beast of Revelation. Having an O with a slash through it– intended to represent another Monster claw, I’m sure– that looks sort of like a cross, and sort of like an upside down cross when you turn it upside down, doesn’t make you the devil. If it does, it’s only in the town of South Park, Colorado.

Oh, and lest we forget, the upside down cross is Peter’s cross. You know, the one that Christ chose to found his church. The one who, according to tradition, wanted to be crucified upside down, because he wasn’t good enough to die the same way Jesus did.

so-you-like-upside-down-crosses-tell-me-more-about-how-youve-always-been-anti-religious

Oh, and, lest we forget, if you turn that big frigging can upside down to drink, you better be a professional level chugger. That’s a lot of fluid that’s gonna be in your face shortly.

If Satan’s behind this, it’s an attempt to use it as a distraction. Get someone fired up against Monster, against trick or treating, against space exploration (I’m looking at you, Ken Ham), and that’s one less person to chase after something that matters. You want to really frustrate Satan? Go after injustice, a form of sin-slash-cultural entropy. Fight for the personhood of the unborn. Fight to help the needy, the hungry, the cold, the oppressed.

Scientific American wonders if Jesus died for Klingons.

(The article is here.)

Before we begin, caveat emptor: Seminarian or not, theologian or not, this is all my own feelings. None of this is gospel, and a lot of it is me throwing stuff at the wall and wondering what will ultimately stick.

Well, I guess, there are a couple possible scenarios. Read the rest of this entry

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