Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Thoughts on Hosea

I’m baffled by those who’d turn over the award for Best Romance to Ruth or Song of Solomon. Ruth isn’t romantic at all. The men who say so are fooling only themselves. It’s all about opportunism of a divinely-sanctioned sort. And the variety of romance found in the Song of Songs isn’t anything with which anyone nowadays can – or cares to – identify. Of course, that might be the case simply because no one’s quite sure what the storyline is.

Now take Hosea:

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
And there I will give her her vineyards
and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,
as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.
- Hosea 2:14-15 (ESV)


But like the best romances, this is a tragedy (only one with a promise of a happy ending). God uses the maternal affairs of His prophet to illustrate His own love for His people who have turned away from Him (i.e., “played the whore”). The pain felt along with the longing to set everything right is present in the text. There is tension between justice and mercy, punishment and reconciliation (cf. Matthew 1:18-25).

Interestingly enough, God doesn’t share His woes to solicit pity. He demands empathy. The “children of Israel” are no more faithful to each other than they are to their Lord. The daughters are prostitutes, dragging the family name through the mud, and the wives commit adultery, la traïson. God uses these examples to show how much the Israelite’s infidelity insults Him. Those who are unfaithful to God do not deserve justice when others sin against them (Hosea 4:14). Taken from a different perspective, as told in “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant,” we owe others mercy precisely because God has shown us mercy (Matthew 18:21-35; cf. Luke 17:3-4).

That’s probably one of the most difficult lessons in the whole Bible: taking the “Golden Rule” (Matthew 7:12; Luke 3:31; etc.) and its negative form to a natural conclusion. God offers us forgiveness with the expectation – dare I say, under the condition – that we reciprocate by offering it to our fellow man. This is one of those principles that sounds great in church but doesn’t make it out the front door after the service lets out. We each have our own list of unpardonable sins. My own list concentrates on episodes involving heartbreak, public shame, childhood trauma, and devastating long-term consequences. As petty as these might seem from a larger perspective, these are serious obstacles to completely healing my relationships with others.

The question running through my mind is not “why,” since I know I must forgive others, but “how.” When we have to live with the repercussions of others’ poor judgment, it’s difficult to forgive. When others perpetually sin against us, we argue that they’re not genuinely repentant and therefore undeserving of forgiveness. Showing mercy on others becomes a daily chore of astronomical proportions. We’re obligated to do this, but how can we bear it?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Thoughts on Revelation

Last night I finished the Book of Revelation (c. AD 68-70). In my teens and early twenties, I was literally obsessed with eschatology, reading tons of material promoting and critiquing the dozens of different viewpoints Christians have on the “end times.” Sometime around age twenty-five, I lost interest, and Revelation became a really tiresome book. However, this time I did get a fresh look at it.

The one thing that really stood out to me was an apparent parallel between the apocalyptic plagues seen in John’s vision and the ten plagues of Egypt discussed in the Book of Exodus. In the past, while my attention had been directed towards arguments about the proper interpretation of the seven angels, seven trumpets, and seven bowls, I had overlooked one key phrase found amongst it all:

“…and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.” - Revelation 11:8 (ESV)

There’s a clear association made between Egypt and Jerusalem. I had to kick myself for not realizing the relationship before, but then I wondered why, out of the many preachers, authors, or speakers I’ve come across, I can’t recall one ever pointing out a connection with the Egyptian plagues. Did they not notice it either? Or was it just dismissed it as unimportant? Taking a fresh look at the text now, I wonder why that story from the Old Testament Law hasn’t played a stronger role in the development of “last days” theories.

Does everyone else see what I’m seeing? (Or am I forcing too much into the text?) Is there a way to account for the missing matches? Has someone written about this?

Egyptian Plagues
  1. Water Turned to Blood (Exodus 7:14-25)
  2. Frogs (Exodus 8:1-15)
  3. Gnats (Exodus 8:16-19)
  4. Flies (Exodus 8:20-32)
  5. Egyptian Livestock Die (Exodus 9:1-7)
  6. Boils (Exodus 9:8-12)
  7. Hail [Thunder, Lighting] (Exodus 9:13-35)
  8. Locusts (Exodus 10:1-20)
  9. Darkness (Exodus 10:21-29)
  10. Death of the Firstborn [by the “Angel of Death”] (Exodus 11; 12:1-32)

Apocalyptic Plagues

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Photos Not Re-Touched

“Is that really you?”

No, it’s a pixelated image of me.

Recently, I was thinking about how I need to do another photo shoot since the pictures I’m using are way past the one year mark. (It’s been one and a half years to be exact.) That brought to mind an exchange that took place when I had the old ones taken. I’d decided (during a brief period of insanity) to reenter the online dating arena and, having been dissatisfied with my earlier makeup-less pics taken with my point-and-click digital camera, wanted something more professional looking.

I scheduled an appointment with a local photographer (who has a great report with his clients, btw), and let his stylist do whatever with my face. Looking back, I know I should’ve spent more time prepping (primping). And something appears to have gone wrong the either the makeup or the lighting. But all in all, the results were satisfactory. I was happy with photos, and everyone I showed them too loved them.

That said, I was still advised to have them re-touched. As I sat at a computer looking at the dozen or so photographs, the retoucher guy was telling me about all the changes “we” should make. I was a bit taken back by this. It wasn’t as though the idea was new to me. I’d “photoshopped” an image or two to because of red-eye or poor lighting. But manipulating a photo to hide physical blemishes and imperfections seemed like overkill.

I’m not a professional model whose only purpose is to sell something. I’m a real person who’s keenly aware of what goes on on dating sites. Everyone has a tale about meeting someone who didn’t look like his or her picture, either because it was an old one or a fraud. Maybe I was paranoid, but it seemed dishonest to paint myself a flat tummy when I not motivated enough to make it a reality.

Twelve years ago, I sat in a class on the history of jazz music. The professor talked about the one-shot recordings. In the 1920s, bands like Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five didn’t have the luxury of cutting and pasting their six best takes, and rerecording was expensive. So the listener is treated to what amounts to a live performance, flaws and all. But we tend to love the genuineness of those early recording…sort of like the old movie swordfights: real skill, no special effects to make people look cooler than they really are.

But wait! Don’t makeup, hair dye, and undergarments of steel create an ideal that will never materialize? Can’t clothing, lighting, and well-selected camera angles hide flaws anyway? Where do we draw the line? It’s impossible to second guess anyone browsing your profile. Who knows what will offend someone.

On the other hand, do guys ever even notice?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Thoughts on Jonah

I’ve blogged about Jonah before (or more specifically, the “Jonah Syndrome”). I like the book because of how it shows God’s patience and mercy (3:10; 4:2). From earlier Old Testament history, when the Israelites are warring against the Canaanites, it might seem as though He doesn’t care about all the lives (human and animal) and property destroyed; but this book shows that God is very calculated – even economical – about His judgments. He shows pity on the repentant Assyrians of Nineveh and chooses to spare them and their livestock (4:11; cf. 3:7-9).

Another important part of Jonah’s story is that of God’s mercy on the runaway prophet. Despite being a “type of Christ” in both calming a storm while at sea (1:4-6, 15; cf. Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25) and being in a fishy tomb for three days and nights (1:17; cf. Matthew 12:39; Luke 11:30), Jonah disobeyed the Lord. So, like King David, he cried out to God for help.

If I knew more about Hebrew literature and the prayer's construction, I would know whether or not to call it a “speech,” “poem,” or “song.” Regardless, I’m often surprised that no Christian musician seems to have ever bothered to set it to music. Is it because we’ve decided that David’s psalms are aesthetically superior? Or is it because putting Jonah’s words into our mouths would be a blatant admission of our own guilt? As “sinners in the hand of an angry God,” why not sing it? Doing so has already literally saved one man from “Hell” (2:1).

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Thoughts on I Peter

The first Petrine epistle (c. AD 64-65) is popular among those hailing from the Stone-Campbellite churches because of its strong message about baptism (3:21). But among the rest of Christiandom, 3:1-6 (or 3:1-7, as the case may be) gets the most airtime. The verse about Sarah calling Abraham “lord” (3:6) seems to be a particular favorite of men across all demographics. When rereading this book recently, I was reminded of a number of bitter discussions over the apostle’s commandment for wives to be subject to their husbands. However, the proper interpretation of this passage is not what I wish to draw your attention to this evening. I’m concerned about how we as believers of the Word determine context.

From 1 Peter 2:11-3:9ff, the author looks at Christian conduct and reputation and, in a Pauline fashion, admonishes his readers to watch their behavior so that they may be better witnesses to unbelievers. He gives three examples of case law, if you will: how Christians in general should treat unbelieving civil authorities (2:13-17), how Christian servants should treat unbelieving masters (2:18-25), and how Christian women should threat unbelieving husbands (3:1-6). In all three, forms of “to subject one’s self” (ὑποτάσσω) are found: Ὑποτάγητε (2:13) and ὑποτασσόμενοι (2:18, 3:1). Even in translations where different English words are used, an obvious connection is made. The author intends for his readers to defer to the earthly authorities placed over them in a like manner.

What bothers me is not so much the way “subject” is defined and defended, but the way the definitions are so consistently applied inconsistently. Many Christians are quick to argue the strictest interpretation of “subject” in the case of wives to their husbands, but then outright deny any responsibility of men to their governments. Worse yet, once confronted with the biblical text, they stubbornly refuse to provide any explanation whatsoever for why they insist that 2:13 is obsolete but 3:1 still in effect. It’s picking and choosing your Scripture at its worst.

The simplest interpretation seems to me that Peter had in mind one definition for ὑποτάσσω and purposely created the three consecutive, parallel passages to show his readers how to carry out his instructions in 2:12. That would mean that those who take a very strict view of wives’ duties to their husbands (e.g., no recourse in cases of physical abuse, adultery, nonconsensual sodomy, or abandonment) should also advocate complete submission to all taxes and laws imposed on them. On the other hand, for those who insist that they have a right to “alter or abolish” their governmental system, a more liberal stand on marriage is in order. It’s my opinion that many of the unrealistic (or outright dangerous) interpretations would disappear from the debates on wifely submission once men are required to impose the same rules on themselves.