I came across an interesting article about faith and politcs today while surfing Beliefnet.com. For those of you interested in the topic, I thought you might find this interesting.
I came across an interesting article about faith and politcs today while surfing Beliefnet.com. For those of you interested in the topic, I thought you might find this interesting.
Centuries ago in feudal England, ones wealth was based largely on the amount of land and livestock owned. Livestock was managed by an army of servants. A “ward” was a servant who had responsibility for some aspect of the operation. The feudal lord’s most valued possession was often his herd of pigs. Consequently, the most trusted ward was the one who watched over the sty where the pigs lived. He was the “sty ward.” “Steward” (from sty-ward) is the word that emerged in English to describe our relationship to God concerning material possessions. “Steward” is not a frequently used word any more, yet it is probably the single best description of our relationship to wealth.
My father-in-law used to raise hogs. He worked at a meat packing plant toward the end of his career. He had oversight of the enormous freezer warehouses where the slaughtered hogs were kept. The hogs had to be kept at just the right temperature and moisture level or they would be ruined. I once asked him what he thought of his job. He told me “On a good I am responsible for millions of dollars of inventory. On a bad day I hang around a bunch of dead pigs.” Melissa and I will occasionally ask ach other how our day went. Sometimes, when things haven’t gone so well, we say “I had a dead pig day.”
The fact is that, “dead pig days” or not, there are only two relationships we can have with wealth. We can forgo wealth or we can be stewards of it for God. The wealth we control ultimately passes from our hands to into another’s hands. As Don Henley used to sing in his song “Gimme What You Got,” “…you don’t see hearses with luggage racks.” The illusion is that we make our own wealth and we are free to do with it as we please. But God declares:
Deut 8:17-18 NRSV
17 Do not say to yourself, "My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth." 18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.
It is God who ultimately is responsible for what we have and all of it returns to him.
The first three or four commandments (depending on how you number them) of the Ten Commandments addressed our relationship with God. The remaining commandments dealt with our relationships to each other. Jesus taught that the two greatest commandments were “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.” He taught that all of the commandments are grounded in these two.
If there had been no rebellion from God, would these commandments have been needed? I don’t think so. I think we would have been so thoroughly integrated into God’s character that these behaviors would have been instinctive. What threw humanity of the track was an illusion of injustice. The sin in the garden was accepting an illusion that framed God as tyrant and us as gods. As I reflect on the ten commandments, it strikes me that they all have one common theme: They are all related to our human desire to be in control, or as Genesis puts it “to become as God.”
Having no other gods, not making graven images, and using God’s name falsely all address our desire manipulate God for our ends. As George Bernard Shaw said, “God created us in his image. We decided to return the favor.” The Sabbath stands against our frenetic striving to be ever more in control.
Honoring father and mother speaks to a desire for power and autonomy so strong that we would subvert what should be the most nurturing of relationships. Our rebellion against godly authority becomes rebellion against earthly authority.
So consumed are we with our desire for power and autonomy that we will end the life of another to get what want. We will destroy the oneness of marriage in order to fulfill our basest desires. We will take what belongs to others and pass it off as our own. We will spin lies and deceptions in order to gain or protect what power and autonomy we can. Even if we don’t act on our desire, we will compare our lives to other people’s lives. We will nurture such a longing for their status that we will destroy meaningful relationships with others and develop contempt for what we have been given. Such was the nature of the world into which God spoke these commandments.
The Ten Commandments are strong medicine intended to disillusion us and expose the truth of who God is and what he wants for us. Creating a disillusioned people in the midst of world full of illusion was God’s means of disillusioning the world.
Several weeks ago I wrote about viewing Scripture as a six act play. Act 1 was the creation of the heavens and earth and the placement of Adam and Eve in Eden. Act 2 was the rebellion of humanity against God. Act 3 began with the call of Abraham and the birth of the Israelites. It continues up to the birth of a child in Bethlehem.
Act 3 began with the call of Abraham and the saga of his family down through Joseph and the sojourn of the people into Egypt. The next scene is the Exodus of the people from Egypt and into Canaan (after a lengthy detour.) It is immediately after there departure from Egypt that God takes Moses up on Sinai and explains what he expects from his chosen people.
It is significant that the Ten Commandments begin with God identifying himself as the one “who brought you out of the land of Egypt,” and not as the creator and sustainer of the universe. His instruction is based on his special relationship to a people he has chosen and not just as supreme Lord. The Ten Commandments are to be moral and ethical foundation for his chosen people in contrast to the rest of the world.
Catholic and Lutheran traditions believe verses two and three of Exodus 20, to be a preamble. They split verse seventeen into two commands, one being about “coveting your neighbor’s house” and the other about “coveting your neighbor’s wife. This makes three commandments concerning our relationship to God and seven about our relationship to each other. Most Protestant traditions see verses two and three as the first command and view verse seventeen as one command. This makes four commands about our relationship with God and six about our relationship with each other. Either way, there is a clear division into two types of commands. Look first at the God focused commands.
Why no other gods and no graven images? As I noted in earlier posts, fallen humanity must worship. Being estranged from God through sin we create false gods to give the illusion of order and meaning to our lives. It has been common to erect symbols as representations of our gods to make these gods more real to us.
Abraham had come from Babylonia where there were many Gods. The Israelites had just left Egypt where there were several gods. Also, the Israelites were about to enter Canaan with its panoply of Baal and Asherah gods. The Ten Commandments interject something startling into history. They insist on monotheism. “No other gods before more me,” does not mean Yahweh should be first in line among other gods. It means there are to be no other gods before, or in, his presence.
A common symbolization of the gods in Babylonia, Egypt and Canaan was as cattle. The irony of the biblical story is that just as Moses was receiving his instructions, Aaron was “passing the hat” through the camp to collect gold so he could make a golden calf. Upon completion, he said "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!" (Exodus 32:4 NRSV) The Hebrew Elohiym is the word translated “gods” here and it is one of the names of God, although it can have other connotations.
Some commentators suggest that Aaron was not outright rejecting Yahweh but was mixing the worship practices of the region with worship of the God. These practices entailed extremely licentious behavior. Syncretism was the sin here and it would plague the people for centuries in Israel. God was denouncing any representation of him, and he demanded that he alone should be worshiped according to his directions. He also proscribed any use of his name that would trivialize or minimize his authority.
Finally, there is no known precedent to the Sabbath in ancient culture. The lives of the ancients were a continuous oppressive effort to survive. Work was ceaseless except to worship the gods from whom they hoped to earn divine favor. God entered the picture and told his people that their survival depended not upon their frenetic efforts but upon their faithfulness to him. The Sabbath was a time to cease from labor and thereby demonstrate their reliance upon God. It was also a time for people to become reconnected with God and his purposes. The Sabbath was a defiant contrast to the oppressive fearful lives of the people in the land.
The worship of God alone combined with Sabbath observance was a direct assault on the illusions of the surrounding cultures.
The Israelites experienced God’s miraculous deliverance from bondage in Egypt. God deconstructed the illusion of power and permanence of the Egyptian Empire. He had called out a people that would give witness to him in the world.
At Mount Sinai, God spoke to Moses and gave him the foundational moral and ethical framework for his people. The Ten Commandments were not spoken into a vacuum. They were spoken to a people surrounded by cultures that were enemies of God. These commandments pointed away from fallen humanity and toward an ultimate ethic grounded in God’s character.
Ex 20:1-17 NRSV
1 Then God spoke all these words:
2 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me.
4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work -- you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
13 You shall not murder.
14 You shall not commit adultery.
15 You shall not steal.
16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Author Dick Keyes once wrote, “In seeking to become like God, we have become less than human.” The biblical story says we were created to be in relationship with God. When humankind rebelled, we lost our orientation and we lost our immorality. There was nothing left to give order and meaning to our existence. Human existence became the land of the living dead.
We were made for purpose. We were made for eternity. The land of the living dead is an intolerable place to live. We create civilizations and cultures (symbolized by the city) to shelter us from our absurd existence. Inequities inevitably emerge in these cultures. Powerful elites use culture to justify and perpetuate their power. Often many are oppressed. Still, The masses honor the social structures because of the stable orderliness they bring.
But these human shelters are, in the end, little more than elaborate illusions. The illusions collapse if pressed too hard. Consequently, the aim of human culture is to keep the populace sufficiently diverted from seeing the absurdity of their existence. Idols are offered as objects of worship. These idols may take the form of graven image or something as abstract as credits in a bank account. As long as most of the people buy the illusion most of the time then all is well.
Walter Bruggemann speaks of culture creating an “eternal present.” People are deluded into believing that the way things are, is the way they have been, and always will be. The present order is the moral imperative. Those who would challenge the order are either insane or evil. They are subversive.
It is precisely into this context that a subversive God steps into the picture. He intervenes in human history. He begins by calling Abraham and starting a nation that will reflect his character to the world. It is a subversive God leading a subversive people. He leads his people into the grasp of the most powerful human illusions ever on the face of the planet, ancient Egypt.
The amazing story of the Exodus is not just one of God setting his people free. It is a story of God systematically debunking the “eternal present” of the Pharaoh and Egypt. This event points to the end of time when God will bring his people out of the “Egypt” of human culture and into the New Jerusalem. He will debunk the human pretenders and every knee shall bow.
As I mentioned, God accomplishes his mission partly by calling out a new people to model the relationship God intends between humanity and himself. Later it became the Church. The visible presence of God working in his people is a sign to the rest of the world, and a constant subversive challenge to other cultures.
So what is it about God’s called out people that make them different? What are we to make of Old Testament laws? What we are we to make of the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament Church? How do we even begin to apply these ancient texts written to a world of rapid globalization? Without the Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic I wrote about last week, I believe we risk dangerous errors.
Yesterday I wrote about the Redemptive Movement Hermeneutic. Today I thougt I would share a diagram that William J. Webb used to illustrate the idea. It comes from "Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy," page 383.
A few years ago I learned that I have a Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic. (Not to worry. They tell me that with surgery and proper medication it can be treated.) A hermeneutic is the “lens” we look through to read scripture. This lens involves our understanding of God and his purposes in giving Scripture. It involves our perceptions of the authors. It involves cultural assumptions we bring to the text from our own experience. We all engage in hermeneutics but we usually do it without reflection. It is taken for granted.
Years ago I began to realize that theologically conservative Christians and liberal Christians have something in common. Their hermeneutics assume Scripture is static. The conservative perspective views Scripture as a once and for all time “blueprint” for humanity. It is often referred to as a “manual for living” or “God’s plan” for our lives. In my estimation, there is often a lack of appreciation for cultural context within this perspective.
The liberal wing of the church tends to see Scripture as a collection of inspired (if that) human documents written by fallible authors. Scripture offers us very general principles about things like love and worship, but it is not much use for giving guidance in contemporary living. Human reason and knowledge have advanced so far beyond biblical understandings that all we can truly glean are the broadest of principles. We place ourselves above Scripture to interpret it. In my estimation, this perspective lacks appreciation of the divinely inspired nature and preservation of Scripture. It undercuts the authority it has over our lives.
My concern with both of these perspectives is that they are static and not dynamic. William J. Webb is the one I stole the “Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic” label from. He uses an “XYZ” formula.
X stands for the particular culture context a Scripture passage was written in.
Y stands for the concrete words of Scripture and the ethic they teach in contrast to culture.
Z stands for the ultimate ethic the God intends for eternity.
Redemptive-Movement begins with the creation and fall. It understands God to be redeeming humanity and creation over time, until one day all realms will be united under his authority. There is a progression, not a flip of a switch, from fall to full redemption. God is shaping things toward a predetermined end.
Therefore, when I read a passage of Scripture, I have three questions to keep in front of me.
Question X - What was the nature and practice of the surrounding culture?
Question Y – What exactly is the biblical passage saying and how does that contrast with the surrounding culture?
Question Z – What is the ultimate ethic to which the biblical passage is pointing?
Just a quick example.
(X) The “seven-fold vengeance” said that what ever wrong you do to me I will repay seven times worse. This excessive vengeance was prevalent in the ancient Middle-East.
(Y) God gave Moses the commandment to limit vengeance to “an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
(Z) Jesus told us to love our enemies.
The “eye for an eye” standard was to limit violence. It was not the ultimate standard but it pointed us in the direction of the ultimate standard. To act on an “eye for an eye” mentality now would be a regression from the standard.
The ultimate ethic as clearly articulated in Scripture for this issue. This is not the case on many other issues. For instance, no where in Scripture does it explicitly say to end slavery and there were slaves in New Testament churches. To return to New Testament ethics would be a reversion from an ultimate ethic.
My aim in following posts is to think about globalization using this hermeneutic.
(William Webb’s “Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis” is where a first read the term redemptive-movement hermeneutic. He also wrote a summary article of this concept in “Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy,” Chapter 23.)
I have written in recent posts about globalization as articulated my Thomas Friedman in his “The World is Flat.” I visited the impact this is having as cultures collide. I have given a hint of what this has meant (and will mean) for the US and other technologically advanced societies. But there is yet another question. What about the roughly 3 billion people, half the planet, that are as yet untouched by globalization?
Participation in the global economy requires several things: An educated labor pool, a healthy labor pool, physical infrastructure, just social institutions, and hope. Most people can quickly identify the first four of these.
People must be literate and capable of doing basic mathematics to interact with the global economy. Diseased and malnourished people can not function on a day to day basis. In Africa, where AIDS is epidemic, not only are the victims incapacitated but millions of caretakers are absent from the economy. Countless orphans do not receive sufficient care and education. One of the biggest sources of disease is contaminated water. Without clean wells, water delivery systems, or at least roads over which to transport resources, there is no way to maintain healthy communities. With intermittent or no power, there is no way to take advantage of labor saving and life saving technologies. Furthermore, it makes no difference if an educated healthy person with access to needed infrastructure wants to advance themselves if government corruption, bribes, and absurd regulations only take back whatever they accomplish. Sexist or ethnically discriminatory values keep large portions of populations from reaching, or even trying to reach, their potential.
I believe that significant improvement for cultures suffering these maladies can only happen in the context of hope. There must be the belief that the future can be different. I have written elsewhere about Walter Brueggemann’s assessment that the goal of fallen human culture is to keep us in an “eternal present.” It is the belief that what is, is what always well be. It provides meaning and order, even if many or most live in deprived conditions. Challenging the “eternal present” is always dangerous because there are always some who disproportionately benefit from the arrangement and they will retaliate. People will not change unless there is some new vision that inspires them to risk and to struggle. They need hope.
What is the role of the Church in this context?
I see our good buddy Will Spotts has been busy. He has written a Guest Viewpoint for the Presbyterian Outlook on the Peace, Unity, and Purity (PUP) Taskforce report of the PCUSA, coming to an outlet near you on September 15. You can check it out at:
Globalization isn’t just about events in far away places. The following is story from Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat”:
“Consider this multiple identity disorder. In 2003, the state of Indiana put out to bid a contract to upgrade the state’s computer systems that process unemployment claims. Guess who one? Tata American International, which is the U.S.-based subsidiary of India’s Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. Tata’s bid of $15.2 million came in $8.1 million lower than that of its closest rivals, the New York-based companies Deloitte Consulting and Accenture Ltd. No Indiana firms bin on the contract, because it was too big for them to handle.” pp. 205-206
Mind you, this project was about unemployment claims! The Democrat (usually protectionist) governor chose the Tata and the Republicans (usually free trade) raised a stink about the outsourcing of jobs. The governor reneged on the contract shortly after it was under way and gave it to an American firm at about 50% more cost.
So…. who is the victim in this story? With the governor’s first choice, American firms lost more than $20 million in business. Tata and their employees, as well as Indiana taxpayers benefited. But politically, the governor lost. So he reversed himself. This meant that he minimized his political damage and an American firm got $20 million in business. However, Tata competed on a legitimate basis but was denied $15 million in business it should rightfully have had. Indiana taxpayers had to fork out 50% more.
Stories like these are mushrooming throughout the country. Entire industries are being shuffled around as businesses slice and dice pieces of their operations and move them to locations around the world. Foreign competitors are entering US markets. This creates lower cost goods but removes jobs from Americans. On the other hand, the rising living standards of people around the world is creating a greater demand for goods and service that Americans provide, thus increasing the demand for a variety of jobs.
What is the appropriate response to these dynamics? What does it mean to be a Christian in this environment?
Globalization is a powerful reality. While it brings much prosperity, it intrudes ever more on a variety of proud and ancient cultures. Tom Bandy described the phenomenon on a listserv as the collision of two major weather fronts. Having spent most of life in the tornado alley of the central United States, this conjures up images for me of devastating storms and violent tornados.
Thomas Friedman’s book the “World is Flat” tells of ten factors that are “flattening” the world. (See yesterday’s post.) He is basically describing the integration of half the planet into one interdependent community. This integration is creating tremendous economic benefits for most of the peoples involved but it is also challenging long held cultural values in many of these places, including the United States. Those not involved in the integration are fast becoming isolated into regions of poverty.
Almost a century ago, Marxist-Leninism (ML) emerged in Russia as response to feeling humiliated and oppressed by both monarchical rule and the sweeping tide capitalism in the early 20th Century. The Russians, and later the Chinese, sought out disaffected societies and tried to instigate a revolution against capitalism. They wanted to usher in a workers paradise. The collapse of the Soviet Union, starting with the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, spelled the end of any major storm front between communism and the free market world. However, another storm front was right on its heels.
Friedman writes of Islamo-Leninist in his book. Many Islamic nations have a proud and ancient past. Yet around them they see nations who do not value their culture achieving unprecedented prosperity. The cognitive dissonance between “having the true religion” while a widening array of “infidels” are rapidly prospering is very distressing. Some Muslims have sought integration between the two worlds, but others will have none of it. Their aim is to destroy the globalization juggernaut and usher in an Islamic paradise. Their means is exportation of terror cells around the world to disrupt and “close up” free societies. The explosion of a nuclear weapon in a major city would almost certainly bring globalization to a stand still. Would it stop it all together?
Meanwhile another potential storm front is China. China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 and has had massive economic growth ever sense. However, China has tightly controlled the level of capitalist activity it will allow and is still under the control of a totalitarian government. What will happen when a sizeable middle class develops that begins to demand political freedom as has occurred ever where else free markets have penetrated? Will the “walls fall” or will there be retrenchment? This has the potential for being a devastating storm front for globalization although it is not immediately threatening.
So what does it mean to be a Christian in this time and place? As a Christian, I think the dream of an Islamic utopia is another expression of a desire to return to Babel. So is the dream of a communist totalitarian society. On the other hand, is not the rule of the world by global corporate agendas another way of uniting the world at Babel? What does it mean to give witness to the New Jerusalem today?
More to come.
I just finished a book about globalization. I thought I would summarize the author’s basic understanding of globalization. I will have more about this book in later posts.
Thomas L. Friedman analyzes the key factors that are driving the global economy and politics. In the first half of the book he identifies ten factors he believes are “flattening” the world. Then he suggests three ways these factors are converging to reshape the world. In the second half of the book, he analyzes how this will impact America, developing countries, corporations and geopolitics.
1. 11/9/89 When the Walls Came Down and the Windows Went Up
The Berlin wall came down on 11/9, marking the end of competition between free markets and global communism. Borders were opened. People, goods, and capital were freed to flow over a much greater portion of the world.
Six months later, Windows 3.0 was released allowing people to access computer technology through a graphic interface. Anyone could learn to use a computer without knowing programming languages.
2. 8/9/95 When Netscape Went Public
Netscape developed the first full-scale mass distributed web-browser and went public on 8/9/95. Until the web-browser, one had to learn cryptic Unix code to access information on the internet. The web-browser made seamless the storage and retrieval of information on the internet.
3. Work Flow Software
There was a time when a business might have customer service using one computer application, manufacturing another, and distribution yet another. Often these applications could not interface with each other. Work flow software came along and created a seamless integration of applications and computers.
4. Open-Sourcing. Self-Organizing Collaborative Communities
Microsoft, Netscape, Oracle, Sun and IBM, (to name a few) spent millions of dollars developing Web server software. Who won out? Not these folks. University of Illinois’ National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) was the place where the initial software code written for today’s Web environment came from. As the NCSA became overwhelmed with internet growth, an online community of computer “geeks” collaboratively wrote patches and made improvements. The software was free for anyone to take and modify as along as they acknowledged the underlying NCSA contribution and shared any improvements with the rest of the community. This made the technology open and available to anyone with programming knowledge and insured an ever improving Web environment.
5. Outsourcing Y2K
India had developed some of the best technical schools in the world the last half of the 20th Century, but because of a socialist bureaucratic economy there were never enough technical jobs. Only a small minority of technicians could manage to go to the US or Europe for jobs. Most of these MIT equivalent trained professionals were resigned to whatever work they could find, which was usually way below their skill level.
A decade ago, a worldwide concern developed about computer software that registered dates as two, rather than four, digits. It was feared that on 1/1/2000, that computers would read the day as 1/1/1900, and thereby cause massive computer failures. Fixing these problems was a massive undertaking requiring an army of technicians.
Meantime, fiber-optic cable had been laid around the world in anticipation of a dot.com bonanza and India could now connect to US computers by hi-speed internet. When the dot.com bubble burst millions of miles of cable was sitting virtually unused and available for virtually nothing.
US corporations who had been skittish about doing business with Indians before changed their tune. With the new technology and a cheap reservoir of technicians, the Indians were the best hope. The venture worked. The experience was highly profitable and effective for everyone. An ever expanding effort has been made ever since to take advantage of untapped human resources in areas like programming, technical support, customer service, and back-room activities in any number of industries.
China joined the World Trade Organization on December 11, 2001, which meant they were obligated to follow the standards of other nations in trade. Because of an enormous untapped cheap labor pool, corporations have been willing to move large numbers of labor intensive manufacturing operations to China. (This is different from outsourcing where a corporation may “outsource” one function of their operations to another location.)
Wal-Mart is one of the biggest and best examples of a company that has worked to create as friction free and environment as it can from extracting raw materials to placing a product in a customer’s hands. Because of there purchasing volume they virtually dictate price and quality standards. They compel seamless integration into their supply chain and thus with each other. Their competing suppliers and direct competitors are compelled to meet Wal-Mart standards in order to compete. This story is repeated across a number of industries.
UPS used to just deliver packages. Now they do things like laptop computer repair at their distribution hubs and logistics for Papa John’s Pizza. The help even a small company have a big presence anywhere in the world. No need to create a supply chain because UPS will be that for you. Even large corporations find the global shipping and logistics issues to complex and have invited UPS and similar companies into their back offices to run certain aspects of their businesses.
Google, Yahoo!, MSN Web Search, and the like are the way to creating a world where anyone with access to a computer can find out anything anyplace. Search engines allow for information to be queried in ways that are only limited by the imagination of the inquirer.
10. The Steroids. Digital, Mobile, Personal, and Virtual
Digital, mobile, and personal devices have made access to information and communication more accessible than ever before. Even in relatively underdeveloped regions with undependable power, there are devices that can access satellite delivered data. Virtual meetings allow people half a planet apart have the experience of being in the same room.
THREE WAY CONVERGENCE
The combination of the ten factors led to iterative and accelerating development of new technologies and collaboration without regard to geography, distance, time, and increasingly language.
The reshaping of business practices and cultures that facilitate and maximize the use of the new technologies and collaborations.
The incorporation of the half of the planet that is still largely untouched by the “flattening” of the world. Thereby, tapping even more creativity and innovation.
Most ancient cultures developed myths and legends that gave citizens a common frame of reference for understanding the world. A few years ago, I read an author who suggested that the motion picture is our modern equivalent of myth and legend. So about three years ago I found a list of the 100 greatest movies ever made (up to about 1996) according the American Film Institute. I also got a list of the pictures that won the Oscar for best picture.
I went through the lists and marked off more than 2/3 of the pictures as ones I had seen. Then I decided to view each of the pictures I had not seen. I completed the AFI list last year and this weekend I completed the Oscar list.
I saw some really great stuff I never would have checked out but I also had to suffer through musicals. (I really dislike musicals; unless they have Danny Kaye.) On the whole, it was really worthwhile. You can really see how culture has changed over the past century through the themes addressed and how they were treated.
Anyway, I just thought you should know how much of a life I don’t have.
I have been in a reflective mood today. Just thought I would share the lyrics of one of my favorite songs with you.
SHUT IT TIGHT (T-Bone Burnett. "Proof Through The Night")
I find it hard sometimes to say the way that I feel
I do the very things I hate to do
I act like a child and I'm afraid of what is real
And so I try to cover up the truth
I stumble like a drunk along this crazy path I walk
I have a hundred thousand questions too
I'll go to any length to prove that nothing is my fault
Then later on I will deny the proof
I don't like to win but then again I hate to lose
And in between is something I can't stand
I don't care what you think and I hope that you approve
I am just an ordinary man
Sometimes I want to stop and crawl back into the womb
And sometimes I cannot tell wrong from right
But I ain't gonna quit until I'm laid in my tomb
And even then they better shut it tight
Rodger Sellers linked an article at his blog called An Interview With Stanley Grenz in Modern Reformation magazine. It is a short piece about the emergence.
I have read several of Grenz books and have been influenced by his work. I really appreciated his Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry volume. I consider it, along with the recently released Discovering Biblical Equality: Compelementarity Without Hierarchy, the two best books written on the topic. I also appreciated his work on the trinity.
Sadly, he died of a brain aneurysm last March in his fifties. He was to be at the Emergent Convention in Nashville a couple of months ago. I had looked forward to meeting him there. That meeting has merely been postponed.
I have been writing about “illusion” for the last six weeks within the context of the book of Genesis. I have more Bible study to share later, though maybe not as in depth as I have been doing with Genesis. Having reached the end of the book I thought I would suggest some of the themes I have seen as I have studied the book. You will find a link to my posts on this topic at the end of this post. I conclude at least the following.
* God created us to be in loving relationship with him.
* There are evil forces at work that want to destroy that relationship.
* The primary means of destroying the loving relationship is to trap humanity into seeing a false image of God and flaming the passion within us to be our own gods. We become deluded in our minds.
* Apart from God there is no meaning and purpose for existence. We either can not find God because we are cut off from him or we chose not to find God because of the implications it would have for us. We are between a rock and hard place.
* Our solution to our dilemma is to create a powerful enough illusion to reinforce our delusions of autonomy. The illusion will also characterize God as someone other than who he is. The most symbolic representation of this illusion project is the city. Enoch and Babel being the most significant examples in Genesis.
* God reaches “down” to us with a promise to restore the relationship between humanity and him. (i.e., Jacob’s ladder)
* The plans of God can not be thwarted as evidenced over and over again in the stories of Genesis. God is sovereign.
* While not fully revealed in Genesis, the first signs are present about God’s intended means of returning humanity to himself: Disillusion. He will dispel human illusions so we may see him for who he is and how much he desires to be in relationship with us.
Are there others? I hope this study has been meaningful so far.
Here is a link to the post dealing with Genesis 12-50:
Tale of Two Cities
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
God Will Provide
Isaac’s Failing Vision
God Gets the Last Laugh
Stairway to Earth
Jacob or Israel
Jacob's "Safe" Option
For links to posts dealing with the first eleven chapters of Genesis:
If you don't frequent www.theooze.com you may have missed a interesting article a few weeks ago called Response to Recent Criticisms. It was co-authored by Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Spencer Burke, Brian McLaren, Dan Kimball, Andrew Jones, and Chris Seay. They are among the more prominent emergent leaders.
I think this article shows some of the fault lines that exist between the emergent folks and the broader Evangelical community. One of the things I found interesting in this article is how explicitly these guys do see themselves as an extension of Evangelicalism. My hope is that the whole emergent thing becomes an extension of nothing other than the mission of God in the world.
My illusion posts have carried through the first 35 chapters of Genesis. The remaining Genesis chapters tell the story of Joseph. It is a very rich and multi-layered story. I am not going to probe this story but I do want to make two observations.
The scheming, deception, and mind games in the story are ….. well …. of biblical proportions. The key verses in the whole saga for me is 50:19-20. Joseph’s brothers, upon the death of their father, are fearful of what Joseph might do to them. Joseph assures them.
Gen 50:19-20 NRSV
19 But Joseph said to them, "Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 20 Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.
Joseph began as a cocky spoiled brat. God gave him a dream of the future where he would be in authority. You have to wonder if Joseph would have been so thrilled about the dream if he knew what he would go through on the way to the dreams fulfillment. At the end of the journey he could look back and see God’s involvement in every aspect. It appears that as he matured he was disillusioned from his youthful arrogance and found his identity in God.
Finally, back in Genesis 10, we counted seventy nations that had filled the earth. Seven and ten were perfect numbers and seven multiplied by ten signified a large perfect number. In Genesis 46, we find the following:
Gen 46:27 NRSV
27 The children of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt, were two; all the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy.
Scholars believe that “seventy persons” refers back to the seventy nations in Genesis 10. Israel was to become a symbol, a microcosm of what God intended for the whole world. The seventy people represented the seventy nations and Gods plan to bless them all. Symbolically, the whole world had become refugees from their home (symbolized by Israel entering Egypt.) But one day God would miraculously bring them home to a place he had promised (From Egypt to Canaan through the Red Sea.) A foreshadowing of things to come?
Yours truly has been quoted in the Christian Science Monitor in an article called "As we forgive our debtors." Reporter Jeff McDonald did an hour long phone interview with me about a week ago. I always hold my breath because you never know what will end up in print. I like the article and he accurately reported what I said although the characterization of my international development credentials was a bit gracious. My education and experience has been more in small scale US development. He found me because of another article I published about five years called Jubilee and Debt Forgiveness. Always be careful what you write. Someone might read it.
Presbyweb had a link to a post at Andrew Jones Blog "Tall Skinny Kiwi." I hear a lot of discussion about what defines emergent churches and I think he pretty much nails it. The link is
Gen 35:1-7 NRSV
1 God said to Jacob, "Arise, go up to Bethel, and settle there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau." 2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, "Put away the foreign gods that are among you, and purify yourselves, and change your clothes; 3 then come, let us go up to Bethel, that I may make an altar there to the God who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone." 4 So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak that was near Shechem.
5 As they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities all around them, so that no one pursued them. 6 Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him, 7 and there he built an altar and called the place El-bethel, because it was there that God had revealed himself to him when he fled from his brother.
Jacob retuned to Bethel both physically and spiritually. This had been Jacob’s destination all along until fear gripped him and diverted his journey. He decided to play it “safe.” The “safety” nearly destroyed his family as they were seduced by foreign Gods and lifestyles. Instead of being peaceful shepherds in the land they became feared aggressors. God called to Jacob once again in the midst of the disaster. God called him back to where it started.
Jacob began with repentance. The narrator foreshadows rituals found in the Mosaic Law. Jacob required the clan to put away their foreign gods literally and figuratively. The people responded. Jacob disposed of the idols and thereby resumed his role of authority. They put on clean clothes symbolizing a life of purity. Having repented (turned around) Jacob headed to Bethel.
Jacob built an altar upon arrival and named the place El-Bethel. I wrote earlier that Bethel meant “house of God.” The new name essentially meant “God of the house of God.” Jacob had come to the realization that God was not confined to a place. No shrine or temple could contain him.
Jacob had departed from God’s call out of fear. The fear created a delusion in his own mind that it would be safer to go other then where God was leading. He bought into the illusion of safety even as family was being lured to spiritual death by embracing foreign gods and lifestyles. So numbed was Jacob that he had become indifferent to the horrifying assault on his daughter. God apparently used the vengeful wrath of his Jacob’s sons to snap the spell Jacob was under. God disillusioned him. God called Jacob on to the reality he had in store. Jacob repented and followed. He realized it was the only “safe” thing to do.
The Berkley Blog today was about a great sermon given by N. T. Wright to the Anglican Consultative Council, 28 June 2005. It is a long read but I highly recommend it.
Here is one excerpt I particularly wanted to note in light of my ongoing posts on the illusions of human culture and the call to disillusionment.
"It is sometimes proposed today that in order to grasp the political meaning of the New Testament, you have to downgrade the theology; as though, for instance, a high Christology would lead you off in the direction of ‘religion’ rather than politics, or as though talk of the bodily resurrection would project you out into the world of ‘pie in the sky when you die’ rather than the hard, real world in which we are called to work for justice and peace. In fact, as Paul or Revelation would make just as clear as Luke, the opposite is the case. It is because Jesus is bodily risen from the dead, because Jesus is Israel’s Messiah, because he is the one and only Lord of the world, that the Sadducees are worried, Herod is worried, the Athenians are worried, the idol-makers of Ephesus are furious, and ultimately, if he knew his business, Caesar should be making his will. The point about Jesus going to heaven is not that we’ll go there to be with him one day, away from this wicked old world at last. The point is that from heaven he is ruling the world, ruling it through the faithful lives, the suffering and the witness of his Spirit-driven apostolic followers, calling it to account, demonstrating that there is a new way of living, a way which upstages all Caesar’s pretensions to have saved the world, or united it, or brought it genuine justice, freedom and peace. (All those claims, by the way, are the standard things that all empires have claimed, whether in the first century or the twenty-first.)"
The next scene in Jacob’s life was his encounter with Esau. He was relieved that Esau had welcomed him but he resisted Esau’s attempts to hurry Jacob along the journey home and declined an offer of men to help in the journey. Jacob was now free to continue his journey. He could fulfill his vow to return to Bethel and then on to his father’s home. But after Esau left, we read:
Gen 33:16-20 NRSV
16 So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. 17 But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house, and made booths for his cattle; therefore the place is called Succoth.
18 Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram; and he camped before the city. 19 And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem's father, he bought for one hundred pieces of money the plot of land on which he had pitched his tent. 20 There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel.
Succoth was a short distance from Penuel and where Jacob encountered Esau. It was still east of the Jordan River. Jacob evidently stayed there a period of time since a built a home and shelters for his livestock. Finally, he moved but he went due west across the Jordan to Shechem instead of south and west toward Bethel and his Father. He bought land that was within the sight of the city. Jacob apparently thought this was a safer option.
Sometime after settling at Shechem (maybe a decade) we encounter a disturbing story. Jacob’s daughter Dinah ventured out to meet some of the Canaanite women. (A young woman traveling alone was dangerous. Where was Jacob’s oversight?) She was raped by Shechem, son of Hamor, who decided he wanted her for his wife. Hamor and Shechem showed no sense of shame. Jacob’s sons were incensed but Jacob showed a stunning degree of indifference and just wanted to smooth things over.
Jacob’s sons devised a treaty that required the men of Shechem to become circumcised. When the men of Shechem obliged, Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi attacked the incapacitated men in the town and killed them all, including Hamor and Shechem, and plundered the city. It was reminiscent of Lamech’s “Seven fold Vengeance.”
It is significant that Jacob did not follow God’s leading and proceed to the appointed destination. He lapsed into passive emotional numbness seeking safety by avoiding Easu and his father. Jacob failed to give direction and leadership. His family was becoming polluted by their surrounding environment. His daughter had been violated and his sons had become bloodthirsty killers. Safety? The events at Shechem were a wake up call.
The same night as Jacob’s prayer at Penuel, Jacob had yet another encounter with God.
Gen 32:22-32 NRSV
22 The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." 27 So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." 28 Then the man said, "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed." 29 Then Jacob asked him, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved." 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.
There are many different takes on this story. What we do know is that Jacob was born clutching Esau's heel. Jacob struggled with Esau and prevailed. Then Jacob struggled with Laban and won. At the time of this encounter, he had just sent everyone on ahead of him and was standing alone. It was then that he was confronted a mysterious opponent who wrestled with him through the night. Some have suggested that this was Esau and others an angel of God. The passages itself seems to indicate God himself in some limited human form.
Jacob wrestled through the night, demonstrating his perseverance and stamina. These were worthy traits that had served him well. Yet with one touch, God injured his hip joint, the key point of strength for a wrestler. God took away his strength, both physically and metaphorically. Immediately Jacob initiated a verbal struggle with God as he grabbed hold of God and demanded a blessing. Jacob’s perseverance went from reliance on his own abilities to boldness in weakness. He saw the face of God and lived.
The name Jacob means “supplanter” or “deceiver.” Jacob had been under the illusion he could always prevail by using his cunning and skill. God removed the illusion. God said his new name was Israel which means “wrestles with God” (and wins His blessing.) Jacob now recognized true victory was through bold reliance on God. The illusion of self-reliance was gone. For his physical and spiritual descendants, there has been an endless struggle over which name to claim: Jacob or Israel.
Yesterday I wrote of Jacob’s encounter with God at Penuel. Jacob proceeded from there to the home of his uncle Laban. Laban and Jacob ended up in a game deception in which Jacob prevailed. After one last deception Jacob fled in anticipation of Laban’s anger. Laban pursued Jacob but no harm came as the two made a covenant.
At this point Jacob could no longer return to Laban and his hostile brother Esau was ahead of him. Jacob learned he had reason to be alarmed because Esau was indeed coming out to meet him with a large party. At the Jabbok River, during the night, Jacob decided to send gifts ahead, send family ahead, and then he would follow behind. But he also prayed the following:
Gen 32:9-12 NRSV
9 And Jacob said, "O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD who said to me, 'Return to your country and to your kindred, and I will do you good,' 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan; and now I have become two companies. 11 Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him; he may come and kill us all, the mothers with the children. 12 Yet you have said, 'I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted because of their number.'"
Jacob invoked God. He acknowledged his own failing. He asked for God’s intervention based on the promise God had given him. Finally, he expressed his confidence and hope in God. Jacob transcended what seemed from a human perspective to be a hopeless situation. He chose to believe God.
This was the first and only prayer of real substance recorded in the Genesis and it symbolizes the growing awareness by Jacob that he has a relationship with God. But the night had just begun for Jacob.
Gen 28:10-22 NRSV
10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11 He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. 12 And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And the LORD stood beside him and said, "I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14 and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. 15 Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." 16 Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place -- and I did not know it!" 17 And he was afraid, and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."
18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, 22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God's house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you."
Esau was not pleased about being duped out of his blessing. Isaac blessed Jacob again and sent him to Paddan Aram (and away from Esau) to find a wife. It was on this journey that Jacob had an amazing encounter with God at the royal Canaanite city of Luz.
I wrote about the attempt to build a tower to heaven at Babel (Gate of God) in earlier posts. They intended to name themselves and take authority over their own lives. The word translated “ladder” here is a little obscure in its meaning and could mean “stairway.” Indeed, a common image in Mesopotamia was of people ascending a stairway from the netherworld up to heaven. (Where do you think Led Zeppelin got the idea for their song “Stairway to Heaven?”) This also relates to ziggurat (temple of stairways) built at Babel.
Key to the dream is verse 12 where it says the “ladder was set up on earth,” which has the clear connotation that it was placed on the earth from heaven. God was reaching down to humanity! The angels moving up and down the ladder symbolized the pre-fall exchange between God and humanity. It is in the midst of this dream that Jacob learns that all of humanity is to be blessed through him. But there is more.
Jacob was in the middle of the city of Luz. He was on the run with Esau behind him and uncertain prospects in front of him. His life to this point had been one of scheming, conflict, and struggle. To his astonishment, God broke in and revealed Jacob's true location both geographically and within God’s story. Babel was Babylonian for “Gate of God,” but it was a gate humanity was building to bring down God. Jacob calls Bethel the “Gate of God” because he saw it as the place where God was breaking through to reach down to humanity. Jacob was called out of the human “eternal present” into the future God had in store.
God disillusioned Jacob about his plight and called Jacob into a divine plan. The illusion had been exposed.
Jim Berkley brought the letter below to my attention at The Berkley Blog. Many of you know that the PCUSA General Assembly voted last June to begin considering divestment in Israel because of the security wall they were building. This has led to a firestorm of protest from Jewish groups and many Presbyterians. I agree with Jim that these Presbyterians from the Presbytery of New Covenant (Houston area) have crafted a well thought out response in the form of a letter.
I have friends who live on the Arabian Peninsula. I got to spend some time with them awhile back. The told me of rather ironic thing happening in the Mid-East. Last year, Mel Gibson released his movie The Passion of the Christ. As you will recall, much of the press leading up to the movie chastised Gibson for his “anti-Semitic” portrayal of the events. Arab and Muslim leaders approved the showing of the movie based on the assumption that this would be the case. A cottage industry pirating copies of the movie sprung up everywhere.
My friends tell me that many Muslims are captivated by the movie and it has sparked more sincere discussions about Jesus than anything else they have seen. Personally, I thought the film was good but not exceptional. But it was hardly anti-Semitic. I conclude that many who objected on the movies release in the US had political agendas that had little to do with movie. Yet their opposition and attempts to censor the movie actually resulted in millions of Muslims seeing the movie who otherwise would not have seen it. Once the movie was out there was no way to bring back under wraps. A God thing? It wouldn’t be the first time less-than-noble human efforts were incorporated into God’s plans.
Yesterday I wrote about Jacob receiving Isaac’s blessing through deception. Think about the key players in that story. First there is Esau who sells his birthright for a meal and latter marries Hittite women. (Hittite women were known to bring their household gods into a marriage while Aramean women adopted the gods of their husbands. Esau was not to marry a Hittite.) Second, there is the “wonderful” relationship between Rebekah and Isaac that prompts her to scheme behind his back. Third, there is Jacob who steals Esau’s birthright and then unabashedly lies to his father to get the blessing. Fourth, there is Isaac who knows what Esau has done and tries to bless him anyway. No one comes off smelling like a rose in this story. Yet God accomplishes his plan.
God’s vision can not be thwarted. The name "Isaac" means laughter but in this case it is God who got the last laugh. It gives me courage to know that even when I mess up and see the Church acting dysfunctional that it can not stop God’s plan.
Gen 27:18-29 NRSV
18 So he [Jacob] went in to his father, and said, "My father"; and he said, "Here I am; who are you, my son?" 19 Jacob said to his father, "I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, so that you may bless me." 20 But Isaac said to his son, "How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?" He answered, "Because the LORD your God granted me success." 21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, "Come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not." 22 So Jacob went up to his father Isaac, who felt him and said, "The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau." 23 He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau's hands; so he blessed him. 24 He said, "Are you really my son Esau?" He answered, "I am." 25 Then he said, "Bring it to me, that I may eat of my son's game and bless you." So he brought it to him, and he ate; and he brought him wine, and he drank. 26 Then his father Isaac said to him, "Come near and kiss me, my son." 27 So he came near and kissed him; and he smelled the smell of his garments, and blessed him, and said,
"Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed. 28 May God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine. 29 Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!"
Isaac had a promising beginning. First there was his miraculous birth to Sarah. Then came his obedience in the face of death. Later was his marriage to Rebekah by divine guidance. Still later, came his trust in God to deliver Rebekah from her bareness. (Once again the God of the inconceivable brought about what barren humanity could not.) Finally, there was the transmission of Abraham’s blessing to Isaac. But something went wrong.
Genesis 27:1 says “When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, …” Apparently it wasn’t only his physical vision that had faded. As the oldest son, Esau it was assumed that it would be through him that God would fulfill his promise. Esau was a great hunter and Genesis 25:28 says, “Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.” But what of Esau’s character?
First, we know that Esau despised his birthright by selling to Jacob for a meal. Second, we know from Genesis 26:34-35, “When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite; and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.” The promised line was to come only through the parentage of Abraham’s tribe. Knowing all of this, Isaac still planned to bless Esau.
Isaac had deluded himself in to believing he could bless Esau. Isaac was confronted with an illusion of Jacob impersonating Esau that complemented Isaac’s delusion. If the blessing was meant for Esau, could God not have stopped the charade? Not only did Isaac loose his physical sight but he lost sight of God’s vision. Nevertheless God's plan prevailed.
Gen 22:1-18 NRSV
1 After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 2 He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you." 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you." 6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac said to his father Abraham, "Father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." He said, "The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" 8 Abraham said, "God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together.
9 When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 12 He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." 13 And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place "The LORD will provide"; as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided."
15 The angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, "By myself I have sworn, says the LORD: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, 18 and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice."
There are so many rich aspects to this story. The foreshadowing of God sacrificing his son as a substitute for our sin is especially powerful. Isaac, the one through whom all Israel will descend and all the nations of the earth will blessed, receives a death sentence. But God intervenes and provides a substitute, just as the nation and the world are sentenced to death through sin and God provides his son as the substitute.
The key point I want to emphasize is Abraham’s action. Cain, as well as the people at Babel , sought to create a civilization. The wanted a sense of immortality apart from God. In contrast, Abraham followed where God led. He circumcised his people. He waited patiently for his son Isaac, the child of promise. He finally had his son Isaac. Sacrificing Isaac was not just giving up a son. From a human perspective, it was giving up Abraham’s hope of immortality. Yes he had Ishmael, but Isaac was the one who would make him “immortal.” For one trapped in the “eternal present” mirage of human culture, God was asking the unthinkable.
There is no evidence that Abraham ever flinched. He did not tell Sarah and he did not tell his servants what he is up to when they reached the place of sacrifice. It seems likely they would have given opposition. Isaac did not resist upon discovery of his fate, apparently sensing that it was all of God.
The choice Abraham had was between the gift and the giver. Cain and Babel chose the gift and rebelled against the giver. They created illusions to justify their behavior. Abraham chose the giver and opted to believe that his human knowledge was illusion. He trusted God would do what he promised and in spite of the illusions.
So Abraham called that place "The LORD will provide"; as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided."
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop and I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will, and He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
(From the sermon “I’ve Been To the Mountaintop,” April 3, 1968, the night before he was murdered.)
"Behold here comes the dreamer. Let us slay him, and we shall see what becomes of his dream."
(Memorial at assassination site.)
I am taking a break over the holiday from the illusion posts and doing something a little different. I have see the test below from quizfarm.com on a number of sites so I thought I would take it myself. Not sure what to make of the results execpt that I may need years of therapy. What is your theological worldview?
You scored as Neo orthodox. You are neo-orthodox. You reject the human-centredness and scepticism of liberal theology, but neither do you go to the other extreme and make the Bible the central issue for faith. You believe that Christ is God's most important revelation to humanity, and the Trinity is hugely important in your theology. The Bible is also important because it points us to the revelation of Christ. You are influenced by Karl Barth and P T Forsyth.
One of my favorite movie quotes is when Vizzini in the Princess Bride keeps exclaiming, “Inconceivable!” One thing after the other happened that was counter to his expectation. His mind was too barren to conceive of the possibilities.
God made his intention clear that he intended to make a great nation of Abraham’s descendants (Gen. 15-18). However, his wife Sarah, barren all her life, is well advanced in years and beyond child bearing age.
Gen 18:9-15 NRSV
9 They [the messengers] said to him, "Where is your wife Sarah?" And he said, "There, in the tent." 10 Then one said, "I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son." And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?" 13 The LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, and say, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?' 14 Is anything too wonderful for the LORD? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son." 15 But Sarah denied, saying, "I did not laugh"; for she was afraid. He said, "Oh yes, you did laugh."
The idea that Sarah could give birth was laughable. Thus the name “Isaac” which means laughter. It was inconceivable both biologically and conceptually.
Who could have imagined that Sarah would have a child? All evidence of the past and all understanding of biology would have said it was impossible for this old barren woman to give birth. In the same way, who could imagine that anything would change for humanity? All evidence was to the contrary. The present was what always had been and seemed always would be. Humanity was barren of true life. It was the illusion of the eternal present. But then God entered the picture and God is the God of the inconceivable.