I generally don’t like Christmas music for various reasons, but I found this a minute ago, and it’s super good. I do have to say that I am partial to this particular song.
Yesterday massively sucked. Our house cleaner comes every other Tuesday, which basically means I can’t work every other Tuesday because I’m out all day doing mind-numbing errands with my mom and brother and by the time we get home I’m kind of fried. Yesterday was a house-cleaning day. Usually we’re up and out of the house pretty quickly, but for whatever reason, we took what seemed like over an hour to leave. On top of that, we had decided to go to Flat Bread Pizza for lunch, which for us is in Salem. Salem is a pretty long ride for us, and by the time we got to the restaurant I was famished. This is probably sounding like whining so far, and under normal circumstances, it probably would be.
Shortly after we got to the restaurant I started feeling sort of sick, so I just sat still and figured I’d be fine once I got some pizza in me. Flat Bread is my favorite. However, shortly after I got my first piece down, my head started spinning, I started feeling faint, and then I got sick in my plate. We left after that and went to a gas station next door where I tried to keep down some chips and some Gatorade. I couldn’t even keep down the chips, and I could keep down the Gatorade for a while until we got almost back to our house. Then I got sick again in a container of wet wipes.
I was so dizzy I could barely make it to the bathroom on the second floor of our house (which is across from my bedroom) to get cleaned up before I slept for several hours. I did finally get up around nine PM and was finally able to eat some crackers and drink some Gatorade. I was also, thankfully, able to get my epilepsy pills down, and then I slept pretty well last night.
Today I got up feeling almost back to normal. I ate a pancake and some cheese and crackers and a bit of fruit before going to get my blood drawn (to make sure I’m not, you know, dying or anything), which went swimmingly, and then I got coffee with my mom, and I just finished writing the fifteenth story in my mythology.
It kind of seems like I’ve had more weird health issues lately. I had a thought a little bit earlier today. Is a cry for help a kind of worship? I’ve learned to say, when I ask God for help that I trust him. He did get me through yesterday, and yesterday was one of the worst days I’ve had in a quite a long time. A little while after we had left the restaurant I was feeling really crappy, and I told my mom I thought I should go to the hospital. Willingly going to a hospital is like admitting the worst kind of defeat for me. I have to be almost convinced that if I don’t I’m going to die. I’m not exaggerating. My whole family (on my mom’s side, anyway) is like that. Luckily my dad talked me out of it, but I prayed to God before we got home, and I said, “I don’t want to die, but I trust you, and whatever happens, I’m ready. Just please help me.” Now reading it, it sounds absurd. I’m twenty-four, but yesterday I was ready to die if that was what it was coming to.
I suppose this needs a bit of explanation. The symptoms I was experiencing yesterday seemed to be the result of really low sodium levels. One of my epilepsy medicines does deplete my sodium, which stinks because I’m also kind of a health nut, and a lot of salty things aren’t particularly healthy. Sure enough, though, once I got some crackers and Gatorade down, I was a lot better. I should also say that I’m only a health nut in the sense that I try to eat fairly small portions and ration the amount of actual junk food I eat. I also prefer, in general, to snack on fruits and vegetables, but I certainly don’t go overboard to the point that I feel like I’m missing out on something.
Still, none of this really answers my question. Is a cry for help a kind of worship? After yesterday I’m inclined to think so. I think it depends on whether one trusts God, and if one remembers that he’s there in the good times as well as the not so good ones. I remember our priest talking about this a handful of times in church when I was younger, before I had ever even accepted Christ, really. He said it’s so easy to remember God and to call out to him when we need something, but he’s not just here to give us whatever we need or want. He seeks our worship when things are going well because he loves us and he wants us to love him back.
While I was waiting for my appointment today I was trying to work through this in my head, and ultimately I had to realize that I keep asking myself the same questions over and over, which all boiled down to one: Am I worth dying for? In the opinion of the God I worship, I am. Part of that question is: How am I, one out of millions, and nothing special, worth it, and why am I worth it? I’ve decided to stop asking, though. I told him that in the waiting room. I’m done asking, and instead I’m just going to say, “I love you, too.”
Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!
Imagine you know you’re part of an army but you don’t know who your allies are. You know you’ve got enemies, but you don’t exactly know who they are. For all you know, they’re invisible. They’re often smarter than you, and they’re masters of trickery. It’s dark, you’re tired, and you know your side is losing. You start to wonder if resistance is futile. Eventually it really starts to seem that way. Then something drastically changes. Defeat seems inevitable until a new ally suddenly appears. He fights valiantly and he teaches you his ways. He heals your allies and defeats innumerable enemies.
Then, once again, something changes. He warns that it is only a matter of time before his death, but your victory. He is captured, tortured, and killed, and you are forced to fall back, but miraculously, just days later, he is alive and your enemies vanquished. He was right, and he celebrates your victory with you because now that enemy you faced is conquered for good. He eventually says that he has to go, but he will send his spirit so he can always love you and guide you and help you, and he keeps his promise.
Centuries go by until it seems that the whole world knows him, or appears to know of him. He is glorified in acts of heroism that mirror his own. He is honored in acts of love and goodness. Fantastic works of af art are created by those who love him still. You find, nonetheless, that things inevitably change. Slowly but surely, in many places he is forgotten; in many places is made into a laughing stock; even his very name is dishonored, thrown into the mire of language with unutterable words.
And you ask, “what does it matter? What is a name?” A name is how you are known. You are known by your name as a writer or a thinker or a worker or a finder, or something else that makes you who you are. He is a hero, still here, still living, and his very identity is used as a curse. His name has weight; it is precious.
This is a day late, but we had partying to do this weekend.
The Easter Vigil starts in darkness. Everyone takes an unlit candle and finds their place. The priest lights one candle and then, from that person, we all light each others’ candles. There are several readings from the Old and New Testament, and then, after weeks of waiting, the lights come on, and we sing “Glory to God in the highest,” and we celebrate and worship because Jesus beat death.
Happy Easter everybody!
I’m only just getting to writing this after midnight, so when I say “tonight,” I mean Thursday. Anyway, there was a service at my church tonight for the beginning of the Easter Triduum. Our priest explained that it was on this night that Jesus passed his ministry on to his disciples and instituted the sacraments. The service was long, and the church stayed open afterwards for Adoration. I go to Adoration almost every week, but it felt special tonight, even though it was significantly less formal, and I didn’t stay for the whole hour. I was able to really pray.
A lot of times when I’m scared or nervous I’ll pray for Jesus to stay with me. Tonight my prayer was simply, “I’m with you.” Like I said in a previous post this week, relationships go both ways. I know he’s not suffering again, but the memory is a pretty dark reality. What I do know is that loving Jesus means loving his people, and I definitely know how to do that. I can certainly get better at it. That was my prayer tonight: that he would help me to get better at it.
Earlier today I spent quite a lot of time trying to write a lengthy philosophical post about why life is fundamentally good. I will write that post some other time, but what it really all adds up to is that life is good because God is good. God is so good that he is willing to do the insane and impossible and unthinkable for every single human life so we can be with him despite how small and imperfect we are. I think it has always been a very weird, paradoxical mystery, and we’ll never really figure it out. A word of advice: the next couple of days are a really good time to say “Thank you.”
Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!
On Monday I got an email from a guy who is friends with the youth minister at our church. He’s a seminarian, and has spent most of the summer at a church one town over. Brad had told him that I play guitar and like worship music, so he contacted me regarding a service he was putting together on Thursday. I said I’d be delighted to play, but I’d need a few details. He didn’t get back to me until Wednesday, but he wanted to meet in person. I invited him to my house, and we talked about what music we would do. We decided on four songs, only one of which I knew, so I had just over twenty four hours to prepare. A rookie mistake when it comes to music is to sign up for something like this on ludicrously short notice. I’ve done it before, and it hasn’t turned out well.
Luckily the songs were very simple, one of them we decided to do acapela, and I learned them very quickly. I also had an epiphany when I went to bed Wednesday night. My epilepsy started acting up a bit, and when it does this I try hard to pray. The problem is that epilepsy inhibits me from using words, so I had to figure out a way to pray without them. Interestingly, I can still process visual ideas, if you will, and that includes the shape of words, so I traced Jesus’ name on my arm over and over. All I need is to know that he’s with me when I’m having problems, and that did the trick. My epilepsy is the one thing that really scares me these days, but I think I figured out how to fix that. It was a darn simple fix.
Last night I arrived at the church a few minutes early so Aaron could set me up. The purpose of this event was to call on the Holy Spirit to give us new energy and new excitement for the Gospel, and also to give us whatever gifts we need to share our faith. This was his first time organizing something like this, and it was my first time actually leading worship. Before people started arriving we prayed, and our prayer was: “Jesus, we don’t know what we’re doing, but you do, so you lead us.” As expected, we made a couple mistakes, but overall, I think the whole thing went well. I think Aaron will be a phenomenal priest. His prayers were genuine and faithful, and I could tell that something amazing was happening in that chapel.
I read a thing the other day about how God doesn’t expect us to be “good enough.” He wants us to rely on him to be good enough; strong enough; smart enough; eloquent enough; brave enough. He is enough. There’s a line in one of the songs I played last night that goes: “You are hope, you are hope, you have covered all my sin.” I don’t even know how to explain how much that means. Once again I’m realizing just how much God loves me, and how beautifully unfair that is. It used to vaguely bother me that his love is unfair; that I can’t equal it, but I’ve come to realize that I don’t want a God whose love is fair. I love him more because I can never equal him. The fact that his love is infinite means that I can always grow in love; I can always change; I can always do better because he is always leading me. It also means that now matter how bad I mess up, he will still love me, and that especially makes me want to do better.
Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!
Over the past year I’ve been working on reading the Bible cover to cover. Right now I’m in the book of Jeremiah, and man, that is not a happy thing to read. It’s all about how God is going to punish his people for betraying him and not adhering to his laws and teachings. He’s angry, and he speaks of his anger through the prophet Jeremiah. There’s not a lot of hope to be found there at first glance, especially if you don’t know where this story is ultimately going, and it’s literally scary to read. What I’ve found, though, is that God’s anger is relatable. There are little moments in what he says where one finds genuine hurt. In these moments he’s really saying: “I love you, and I just want you to love me back. I love you so much, but I don’t know what else to do. You’ve abandoned me, and the only thing left for me to do is to show you what that feels like.”
Today I found this: “I will bless you with a future filled with hope—a future of success, not of suffering. You will turn back to me and ask for help, and I will answer your prayers. You will worship me with all your heart, and I will be with you and accept your worship.” Jeremiah 29:11-14. God repeats over and over in this book that he will punish his people, but he makes sure to promise over and over that he won’t punish them forever. Even in his anger, God’s love shines through. He likens Israel and Judah to an unfaithful wife. I don’t know a whole lot about infidelity, but I have witnessed it from a distance, and I’ve seen how it hurts people. Forgiveness in that situation is hard.
Still, God wants, more than anything, for his people to love him back. He refuses to give up on them. He makes this very clear when he goes so far as to sacrifice himself and suffer real, physical betrayal and pain. Jesus took God’s judgment on himself. Said differently, he took on our betrayal. We can never pay that back. I don’t think it has ever hit me quite this hard. It is a love that cannot be reciprocated. I found myself actually thinking, “That isn’t fair…”
I guess that’s the point. No one will ever love God the way he loves us, no matter how hard we try; no matter what we do; no matter how nice we are; no matter how much we scripture-spam our Facebook friends; no matter how much we talk about God’s love, we can never come close to what he’s done for us. That’s just not fair, and to be perfectly honest, it’s a little hard to process. It’s unthinkable. There are no words to describe it. I can’t even say “Thank you,” because that would be inadequate. The only thing I can offer is genuine worship, and I think I understand a little better now what that is. I’m not sure I can put it into words yet.
Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!
NOTE: This is a rough version of a project I’m working on. I’m posting it now because I would like some feedback, so comments are much appreciated.
I can’t prove God’s existence. A lot of people want proof, and as much as I would love to, I cannot provide that. What I can tell you is that proof comes with faith. Proof comes with a willingness to follow, even if you don’t know where you’re going. That’s not the end of anything. That’s where things start. Once you have faith, God will answer your questions, but nothing will happen unless you are willing to suspend disbelief in the first place. My advice is to do your research. You won’t find conclusive evidence for God’s existence, but you will find numerous evidence in history and various scientific fields that point to it. I will leave that up to do because, as I said, I’m not here to prove God’s existence. I’m writing this to try and help make some things make sense.
This is about the big questions. Why do good people suffer? Why, if Jesus promised to return, has it been 2,000 years? How do science and faith relate? How do you explain impossibilities in the Bible? How do you explain the violence that is not only prompted, but often orchestrated by God? I see these questions come up a lot. Christians and Atheists alike ask them, and I would like to try and address them from a personal perspective. I will try to remain unbiased where I can, but much of my discussion will be coming from a Christian perspective and will be driven by personal experience. Furthermore, this article will not offer an exhaustive study of each topic, but serves as an overview of each and a study of how they relate to one another. Lastly, you will note that I do not cite conventional sources. This is because I am not a Bible scholar. I have a degree in Creative Writing, and secondly, this is, in part, an opinion piece, and although it might help, I don’t think you need a degree to study theology. If that doesn’t interest you, then I’d suggest moving on.
If this does interest you, we’ll start here: why do good people suffer?
I use the word “good” instead of “innocent” on purpose. People tend to ask why innocent people suffer when I think this is the wrong question. It’s a dicey topic because, for one thing, “innocent” means different things to different people, and secondly, there are no truly innocent people in the eyes of God. I get that this seems harsh. It doesn’t seem fair that some people get to be born in America, completely by chance, eat what they want when they want, and watch football on Sunday night, while a poor family from Syria has to flee their country and seriously worry about where they’re going to get their next meal. Furthermore, it’s entirely possible and even probable that the people who suffer more have more faith than the people with very easy lives.
Then there are those who choose more difficult lives. They choose to suffer a little to help those who suffer a lot. Sometimes the most wonderful, selfless people suffer the most. There are people in this world who would sacrifice everything to help someone else, whether it’s their child or a stranger who really needs their help. These people go out of their way and make their own lives difficult to help others who have it worse than they do.
And what about the child who is born with a serious birth defect and dies before he’s a year old? Surely he was innocent. Surely a loving God wouldn’t let something like this happen to him and his parents. But it does happen. People die of starvation: are forced to leave their homes: contract treatable diseases that kill them because they were born in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I can’t provide a completely satisfying answer. The answer I can provide isn’t even completely satisfying to me, but it’s the best I can do. First, a quick explanation of what actually happened when Jesus rose from the dead and what it meant. The resurrection meant that humans were saved from sin. It did not mean that we were no longer sinful. Even saints are sinners. Quite frankly, it’s extremely difficult, and probably impossible to live a completely sinless life. Whatever happened a long, long time ago, it infused our human nature with something nasty, whether it literally involved an apple or not. Secondly, we need to remember two statements that Jesus makes that help understand the context of this question. He states in Mathew 26:11, “The poor you will always have with you…” and in Mathew 20:16, he says, “The last will be first and the first will be last.”
From the beginning, God tells his people to take care of the poor and vulnerable. He constantly makes mention of orphans and widows, and makes sure that these people are remembered by the Israelites. What I think we have to remember is that humanity is much more interconnected than we think or even want it to be at times. We’re one big dysfunctional family, and whether we like it or not, it is our duty to take care of the people who need us. God has a special place in his heart for those who suffer, so he certainly hasn’t forgotten them.
But why will the poor always be with us? I think there are several answers to this question.
- It’s human nature. Whether we like it or not, people have selfish tendencies. No matter how good of a person we are, we naturally take things that we want and whether by accident or intentionally, we keep things from other people. This isn’t always a bad thing. It’s partly a survival instinct. All animals do it with territory, water, and food. We just happen to do it particularly with money because in a civilized society, money is a survival resource.
- Socialism doesn’t work. There will always be haves and have-nots. For a similar reason as I just explained, a society will never be entirely equal. There will always be people who work harder than others, and those who want more than others. For some, living on the bare minimum can be satisfying, while to others, it’s just not. Ideally, in a socialist society, the people who are more ambitious or simply have better-paying jobs or just have more resources would freely share those resources with the less fortunate. It’s a nice idea, but it doesn’t work because a) there are selfish people in the world, and b) too many people take advantage of the system. You can’t receive if you don’t give anything.
- This is also related to my previous points. Along with money comes status. While it isn’t necessary to have money in order to have status, they are generally related. Furthermore, regardless of the means by which it is achieved, people strive for status, and while a given social structure may be fluid, there is, and always will be a status quo. In order to be high on the social ladder, by necessity, there needs to be people below you.
When it comes to the question of child labor, child death, sex slavery and other such tragedy involving children, there are a few things to remember. These things by no means make any of it okay, but they can shed a little light into some dark places. First of all, children who die before the “age of moral accountability” are automatically saved. They go straight to heaven. This could mean that a child who would otherwise have a short and miserable life is now in paradise with their heavenly Father. Again, I’m not saying it makes it any more okay. It’s still tragic and quite frankly, unfair if you ask me. But what about the children who do grow to be a little older, only to be cut short without ever hearing about Christ? I think the answer can be intuited. Never hearing specifically about God or Jesus isn’t necessarily a problem. It’s rejecting him that causes problems. Want proof? “The truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God” (Romans 1:19-20, New Living Translation). I found this after a very brief Google search.
That being said, it doesn’t give us license to slack off when it comes to telling people about God and his promises. We are clearly told that we must spread the Gospel throughout the whole world. It’s a pretty clear job description for anyone who calls herself Christian. On the flip side, it also doesn’t give us license not to seek the truth about God when we have the resources readily available. This actually helps answer our question: why do people suffer? It also leads into the question: why has it been 2,000 years since Jesus’ resurrection? First, good people suffer because the rest of us don’t do enough to stop it. Remember that the Church, which ideally encompasses all of humanity, is the body of Christ. Most people just think about it in the context of salvation, in other words, we tend to think of it in a very spiritual sense. What it actually means is that we are here now to do Jesus’ work in the world. We are here to literally heal the hurting and feed the hungry. We are literally here to be his voice and hands and feet in a very physical, real time sense.
This means finding a cure for cancer through serious medical research. This means starting schools in places where education isn’t really available for kids. This means volunteering for or donating to nonprofits that help refugees. This means blogging and trying to answer the hard questions. This means standing up to the bullies who just want to tell you you’re an idiot for believing in something. It also means praying. It means being proud of what you believe in. It means not trying to change the subject when people bring up religion, even if that’s way easier than having that difficult conversation. This is as much a reminder to myself than anyone else, so bear with me.
One thing to remember is that we are a significant part of God’s plan. The other thing to remember is that God has a different understanding of time than we do, so what seems like a really long time to us, can seem like no time at all to him. At the same time, we’re told to be ready because Jesus could return and things could drastically change tomorrow or within the next hour. We could argue that so much more could get done and the world could be made a lot better a lot quicker if God chose to be more directly involved. In the Old Testament particularly, he is depicted as doing absolutely miraculous things for the Israelites, singlehandedly winning battles for them. These days it seems that miracles aren’t quite as noticeable, if they even happen at all. On the other hand, we cured Polio; we figured out how to use electricity; we figured out how to make a smart phone, for crying out loud. Are any of these things not miraculous? While things happen slower, I think we should consider it a privilege to be so involved in making God’s world a better place. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that the Jewish religion, which was the context in which the Church was born, started out pretty tiny. This could explain why God had to really directly help them out. Jump ahead to the present day, and not only are we much more advanced in many ways, but Christianity is now the largest religion in the world. These two factors really seem to be significant.
So the question is, do we ever see miracles that could only be explained by the existence of God?
These medical miracles took place mainly in the 1960’s and 70’s.
Here is the story of an unexplained miracle rescue.
Here is a story of a little girl whose accident cured her of two diseases, and who had a near-death experience, in which she claims to have gone to Heaven.
This is a Facebook page where anyone can write in their miracle stories. There are a lot
Miracles can happen in many ways that we take for granted. Many times we see them just as coincidence or luck. I have a few miracle stories of my own that might change your mind, though.
- My friend told me that he has often had dreams about things before they happen, and they often happen exactly as they did in the dream. This has been happening to him for years now, and is usually the only kind of dream he has these days.
- My friend also told me that his girlfriend’s family sometimes gets premonitions and intuitively knows things about the past or future that wouldn’t make sense unless they were told these things. For example, my friend’s girlfriend intuitively knew that her aunt’s house once had a balcony that was taken down before she was born.
- Towards the end of high school, into my first year of college I was starting to have emotional problems. I felt very lonely a lot of the time, even though I knew that my family and friends loved me. I was missing something. I thought I needed a romantic partner, and I prayed about this a lot, though at the time I didn’t quite know God. One night, two months into my Freshman year I said “I love you” for the first time in a prayer, without really even meaning to, and an indescribable feeling of love and peace came over me. I’ve felt different ever since.
Then consider the fact that life on earth exists. The conditions had to be exactly perfect. The planet had to be an exact distance from the sun. There had to be water. The conditions in the air had to be just right. Narrow it down to human life. I don’t know the exact odds, but it seems unlikely that any species on earth would be intelligent enough to learn to use language, learn to write, understand abstract ideas, or be spiritual. None of these things help us survive, so from that perspective, they are completely useless abilities. There are explanations for why these things happen, but at the same time, they are extremely unlikely. A miracle is something that seems impossible but happens anyway. Maybe one day we will find a scientific explanation for every miracle, but I see science as a way of understanding God.
In some sense, the answer to any prayer can be considered a miracle, even if it looks like coincidence. Many people assume that God only does or would do miracles through supernatural means, but often, God answers prayers by putting people in the right place at the right time or allowing natural events to happen that allow a person to get ahead or even save their life. God is the commander and creator of both the natural and supernatural world, and these two aspects of reality are much more interconnected than one might suppose.
However, many of the events that are written into history are natural impossibilities. We have already seen that God uses natural and supernatural means to do the impossible, but many of the events in the Bible seem quite unbelievable. They just don’t make any sense. How do we explain things like the Creation story, or the flood in the story of Noah, or the parting of the sea in Exodus? To answer this question we need to look at several things. We need to look at the Bible as a whole and determine what, if anything, is supposed to be taken literally or figuratively, we need to look at the historical and cultural context, and we need to look at what these stories are actually trying to tell us if the Bible is supposed to be believed as the timeless Word of God.
First let’s look at the Creation story. The first story we are told in the Bible is about the six day creation of the world. Scientifically, this story is completely inaccurate and could not have happened, if it is taken literally. A world cannot be created in six literal days, and even if it could, everything is created in a completely nonsensical order. The theory of evolution teaches that all species originated from one life form and branched off from there. Species were born and went extinct and continue to do so and will always continue to do so. The Big Bang Theory goes back further and teaches that the Universe was created after a singularity exploded and all matter developed from there. If you want the details, I’m afraid you’re reading the wrong article. The question is, where did the singularity come from? To me this seems to be an unanswerable question, at least for a girl who studied creative writing with a little philosophy and theology thrown in. However, what we do know, in terms of scientific facts seems very compelling, and some use these scientific theories, which however compelling, could still be proven wrong, as evidence against the supernatural. This is where we must look at two things: historical context, and the use of language.
While many teachings in the Bible are timeless, one must remember that many of the stories, particularly in the Old Testament were written at a fixed point in time, about a fixed point in time. The writer of the Creation story would have had no knowledge of evolution or the Big Bang Theory. They would have had no idea about how atoms interact or how life was created, from a scientific standpoint. Therefore, they pieced together from their understanding of the universe, an explanation of how the Earth was made. However, it isn’t the creation that is truly the focus of the Creation story. The focus is God’s relation to his creation, and most importantly, his relation to humanity. God creates the universe peacefully, and it is greatly emphasized that this creation is good. It is also emphasized that humans were created in God’s image and that we are here to take care of his creation. This is the point we are supposed to take from Genesis. God’s creation is innately good, and we are a significant part of it.
So then what about the story of Noah? What are we supposed to take from a story about the near destruction of the whole human race by the God that created it? The point of this story, it seems, was not to describe literal events, but to demonstrate a point about human nature, the nature of faith, and what a relationship with God provides and entails. Noah survives the flood because he is faithful, while many do not survive the flood because of their sinful behavior. I would like to pause and address a related question before moving on. Stories such as this, including stories in Exodus, Joshua, and Judges depict horrible violence, largely orchestrated by God himself towards large groups of people.
It does seem that many of these stories are meant to be taken literally. The Israelite conquest of Canaan was, in fact, a real, traceable series of events. Jesus tells us in Mathew 5 that we are to love our enemies as well as our neighbors. However, the depictions in the Old Testament of conquest and violence make this command seem almost hypocritical. There are several reasons why the violence committed by God and his people may have been exaggerated, for one thing, and also may have been justifiable. Professor Lawson Stone from Asbury Theological Seminary explains in this article, which I will provide in full.
“It’s hard to imagine anyone today who is familiar with the Bible not being concerned about the violence in the Old Testament. It’s a fashionable bomb tossed by the so-called new atheists, and the easiest way for critics of Christianity to dismiss the Bible. To hear them talk, on every page of the Old Testament cities are burned to the ground, whole populations annihilated. Yahweh, the God of Israel, is in turn portrayed as a wrathful tribal deity constantly calling his people to commit atrocities in his name.
The problem of violence in the Old Testament centers mainly around the stories of Israel’s struggle to settle the land of Canaan. These stories center on the books of Joshua and Judges. So establish some starting points by looking in a general way at the question of violence and war in the Old Testament. Then in the installments to follow, we’ll turn specifically to Joshua and Judges.
All these presentations will share one important conviction: central to getting the Bible right is hearing it in its own cultural and historical setting. This is not just good scholarship; it’s good listening. That’s why I’m excited to be sharing with you from a place called Bedhat es-Sha’ab, a little-known and infrequently visited site just west of the Jordan river that is possibly one of the earliest places where Israelites assembled and worshiped as they settled in the land of Canaan. Being an outsider in this barren, desolate place reminds me that the biblical characters didn’t live in a world of civilian police, ambulance and 9-1-1 service. Nor did they have 2000 years of reflection on the whole Bible. The Old Testament characters need to be seen and heard in their own time, not dismissed from the perspective of our time.
With that in mind, here are seven facts to to help focus the question of violence in the Old Testament:
Jesus and the NT writers never complain about the violence in the Old Testament. That should flash at least a yellow, caution-light on our hasty dismissal of the Old Testament. Are WE more morally sensitive than Jesus and the New Testament writers? Did they see something in the Old Testament that we miss?
Secular historians and the Bible itself tell us that the land of Canaan at the time of the Israelite settlement was not inhabited by a uniform, indigenous population. Canaan was a crossroads and a diverse culture of many different groups: You know, all the “-ites”-Canaanites, Amorites, Perizites, stalactites, stalagmites… If you’d asked a random inhabitant of Canaan “Whose land is this?” You’d have gotten different answers. It was a no-mans-land.
Genesis 12-50 tells us the Israelites’ ancestors had actually lived in Canaan for centuries before their sojourn in Egypt. They were not outsiders trying to take a land from its original owners. In fact, the Pharaohs of Egypt would have seen no real difference between Canaanites and Israelites. They came from the same place, spoke the same language, had the same physical anthropology, i.e. they looked alike. So there is no parallel between the book of Joshua and, say, the European settlers in North America displacing the earlier inhabitants.
This a biggee. By Joshua’s day, Canaan had long suffered under a harsh political system. Canaan in the time of Moses and Joshua had been ruled for centuries by Egypt. Egypt had been ruled by foreign kings known as the Hyksos, who possibly came from Syria-Palestine. A native Egyptian dynasty expelled these foreign kings, pursuing them into Canaan. To insure they never came back, Egypt annexed Canaan and ruled it with two aims: first, never-ever would Canaan be a corridor for anyone attacking Egypt!
Second, Pharaoh exploited Canaan economically. He administered Canaan by appointing rulers in the top 30 or so towns. They managed the country like a giant agricultural plantation, a kind of “factory farm.” They focused on producing a small number of crops valued by the Egyptian upper classes, mainly olives and a type of grape that thrived only in Canaan.
This reality had serious consequences.
The focus on massive production of a few crops not only risked depleting the land, it also destroyed the locally integrated, self-sustaining economies of small villages and towns throughout the hill country. These communities needed mix of farming and herding just to survive. The Egyptians also yanked the best of the work force out of these towns and villages to toil as forced labor, emptying the rural hill country of Canaan. Many people from Canaan, not just future Israelites, wound up slaves in Egypt. Settlement patterns in Canaan about 1300 B.C., just before the exodus and conquest, show the central hill country of Canaan was largely emptied out.
Under this kind of regime, Canaan was unstable and violent. The city rulers fought each other, hired mercenaries, sometimes cruelly treated the local populace. Bandits terrorized the highways. Men stripped of their land and living gathered around warlords, some of whom were good men, others just thugs or gangsters.
So, by the time Joshua led the Israelites into Canaan, the place was dark and bloody ground. It’s just possible that, far from being seen as invaders, Joshua and the Israelites represented the arrival of order, justice, and even peace.
The Old Testament shows us that, even in the conquest stories, the Israelites were not a militarized nation. While other nations boasted of their weapons and crack troops, the Israelites were not a professional army. Likewise, the Israelites were not a huge group. The idea found in some textbooks that there were at least 2.5 million Israelites comes from a misunderstanding of the Hebrew terminology for numbers. Archaeologists tell us that likely weren’t 2.5 million people living in all of Canaan and Syria combined!
The books of Deuteronomy, Joshua & Judges stress that, from a military perspective, the Israelites were out-numbered, out-maneuvered and out-gunned. After Joshua, they had no central authority. They were only a coalition of tribes, often divided, often untrue to their own religion. The Bible says they needed miraculous divine intervention just to survive. Hardly the profile of a nation of bloodthirsty, imperialists!
Warlike nations, and all of Israel’s ancient neighbors, gloried in their superior weapons and firepower. Images of Pharaoh portray him holding his hapless enemies by the hair and smiting them with a mace or battle axe. Or, we see Pharaoh thundering along in his war chariot, horses’ reins tied around his waist, unleashing arrows at cringing, fleeing foes. The Old Testament, in contrast, stresses that the Israelites were poorly armed, confronting fortified cities or huge chariot forces on foot. The Old Testament also emphasizes Israel’s lack of metal workers. Again, not exactly a warrior nation.
Finally, the world of Moses, Joshua, Gideon and David was a world of unspeakable violence perpetrated by massive, well-armed professional armies. The kings of Egypt, Asia Minor and Mesopotamia gloried in their brutality and savagery. In countless inscriptions throughout the history of the ancient Near East, the great kings boasted of boring through their enemies’ bodies, ripping their entrails out, galloping their horses and chariots through the gore of enemy bodies, splashing through enemy blood as if crossing a river, impaling thousands of “rebels” on stakes around conquered cities, flaying the skin off of their defeated enemies in full view of their families, and hideously mutilating the dead. And you know, almost nobody in the ancient Near East found this shocking. Rather, most thought it glorious proof that the gods had favored the king. Compared to the graphic detail, intensity, and sheer mass of these ancient descriptions, the Old Testament looks rather tame, even modest.
Whatever problems we might have with the violence in the Old Testament, it was One who claimed to be the fulfillment of the entire Old Testament, Jesus, whose Hebrew name was Joshua, who appealed constantly to the OT witness. Schooled in the Old Testament, Jesus called his people to love their enemies and to be peacemakers, not in spite of his Old Testament heritage, but because of it.
That’s something to think about.”
This, to me, is extremely compelling. However, does it justify the killing of women and children? This article may help answer that question. Note that I personally do not agree with everything that is said in this article, but as I said, I want to stay at least somewhat neutral.
There are two main points I want to focus on.
- “A basic knowledge of Canaanite culture reveals its inherent moral wickedness. The Canaanites were a brutal, aggressive people who engaged in bestiality, incest, and even child sacrifice. Deviant sexual acts were the norm. The Canaanites’ sin was so repellent that God said, “The land vomited out its inhabitants” (Leviticus 18:25). Even so, the destruction was directed more at the Canaanite religion (Deuteronomy 7:3–5,12:2-3) than at the Canaanite people per se. The judgment was not ethnically motivated. Individual Canaanites, like Rahab in Jericho, could still find that mercy follows repentance (Joshua 2). God’s desire is that the wicked turn from their sin rather than die (Ezekiel 18:31-32, 33:11).”
- “… The Scripture teaches that we are all born in sin (Psalm 51:5;58:3). This implies that all people are morally culpable for Adam’s sin in some way. Infants are just as condemned from sin as adults are…. an argument could be made that it would have been cruel for God to take the lives of all the Canaanites except the infants and children. Without the protection and support of their parents, the infants and small children were likely to face death anyway due to starvation.
It’s worth noting that most people, myself included, like to see the supernatural with rose colored glasses. We like God’s love, and ignore the parts that are scary. God’s justice can definitely be scary. As with more allegorical stories like the Creation story, the Flood account, and parts of the Exodus, there is a timeless takeaway from all this. God is serious, and God is righteous. He isn’t just one-sided, and he expects us to live a certain way. That being said, he does give us a lot of chances to change, and he helps us out in that effort.
One final point I would like to make before we beat this topic into the ground is that these stories are told from the point of view of the victors. In this next article, Professor Stone narrows his focus down to violence in the book of Joshua. You can find the whole article via the link, but I would like to focus on one thing that, I think, is really key.
“Scholars of ancient military texts remind us that in the ancient Near East, battle accounts used very stereotyped, extreme language. Nuance was not their strong suit! A king would claim he killed every single occupant of a land, only to report how much tribute the presumably dead enemies had to pay each year! Clearly, the claim of annihilation there only meant to convey total victory.
We should also remember that our modern notions of genocide and total war come from our knowledge of weapons of mass destruction and the actual experience of genocide by these means. The ancient world, for all its ferocity, couldn’t do better than spears, arrows, swords and catapults. They had no way to envision the literal extermination of whole populations. The language was stock military rhetoric that conveyed an unquestioned, uncontested victory. Maybe that could help us with those statements in Joshua too.”
I think that, with caution, this understanding of exaggerated and allegorical language can be applied in our interpretation of many parts of the Bible. Some would argue that if the Bible is not taken literally in its entirety, then none of it can be taken literally, and therefore, many significant teachings can be dismissed. I disagree. If all parts of the Bible are taken literally, they become inapplicable to our modern world. In some sense, they become meaningless. If the book of Revelation is taken literally, it becomes an interesting, but very confusing, and quite frankly, very unbelievable story. Perhaps what is written in Revelation is literally what the Apostle John saw, but even that does not require that the vision be interpreted literally. On the other hand, it is clear that most, if not all of what is written in the letters of the Apostle Paul should be taken literally, though it is still important to keep in mind historical and cultural context.
The most important thing to remember when trying to answer any of these big questions is that God wants us to know him. His Word is timeless, and it will always reveal truth to us. That being said, the things God says and does won’t always make sense. People don’t always make sense, even when they have the best intentions, so we especially shouldn’t expect an all-knowing, all-powerful God to always make sense. God is good, though, and he does love us. This is a personal and emotional issue, and it’s been proven through the personal experiences of millions of people. Yes, many believe simply because they want to, and yes, faith provides an emotional crutch to lean on sometimes, but if the stories and teachings we believe in are nothing more than just stories, then a very large portion of the world’s population is certifiably insane, claiming to have seen, felt, done, and experienced the impossible. Beyond that, though, it seems that if it weren’t true and if it weren’t still relevant today, Christianity would have died out a long time ago.
That’s not to say that Christianity can’t change. There are many examples of how God’s people have changed over time, most notably with the birth of the Church shortly after the Resurrection, the official adoption of Christianity by the Romans, and the Reformation, which marked the birth of Protestantism. However, Christianity constantly goes through much more subtle changes. Worship style may change slowly, but the music that is used changes much more quickly with whatever genre of music happens to be popular at the time. This is a good thing, and there are many other examples of similar changes. The Church and the broader culture are meant to be amiable partners.
Freedom of religion means we have the right to believe whatever we want, and we also have the right not to believe anything without being bothered about it. However, it seems that because of this freedom, we’ve largely given up on the idea of absolute Truth for several reasons. Firstly, postmodern society, particularly in America and other first world countries, has become extremely relativistic. In other words, most people believe that anything could be true, but nothing is necessarily true. No one can claim to know the full truth about anything, but there is nothing wrong with asserting that a particular belief system or philosophy is true. This assertion gives us conviction and direction. In fact, this claim is actually made by those who firmly believe that there is no higher power. It is important to practice humility when claiming something as the truth. This means admitting that, while we know something to be true, we can never know the full truth.
This brings us to my second point. No one is willing to claim any knowledge of absolute Truth because we have become so concerned about offending people. In any given conversation about religion or philosophy, you will often hear phrases such as, “This is just what I believe,” or “I don’t know for sure, but…” There’s nothing wrong with claiming something is true as long as we can back it up with sufficient reasoning, whether it’s scientific or historical evidence, or logical explanations, or even personal observation. The problem is that people often see disagreement as a personal attack, and many have the mentality that if you strongly believe something to be true, and if you are unflinching on the matter, you are arrogant and self-righteous.
Third, “Because God says so,” is no longer a valid reason for anything outside of Christian circles. To be fair, it’s often not a satisfying answer to me at all. I find it extremely frustrating when I’m trying to figure out the reasoning behind a particular teaching, and the only reason I can find is “Because God says so,” or “Because the Bible says so.” The truth is, this should be a valid reason for things, but it’s not a satisfying one.
Lastly, we’ve become impatient, and we’ve turned elsewhere for answers. Biology, Chemistry and Physics tell us about how the world works, and how life works in it. Psychology and Sociology tell us about how the human mind works and why we do things the way we do. Economics and Politics give us a social structure to live in. The list goes on. There’s a field of study for just about every question imaginable, but we’ve erased God from the picture. Some would disagree with me, but I see this as a problem for several reasons.
- Having faith in God gives me a reason for seeking answers. It gives me a reason to keep on living. It brings purpose to life. Knowledge without purpose is empty. One might argue that the purpose of seeking knowledge is simply so we can be better at what we do; so we can have smarter and smaller technology, so we can cure diseases, so we can be more efficient and have a more productive society. But what’s the point? If there’s nothing after this life–if there’s no greater purpose–then why does any of that matter? There are surely selfless people who would want to make life easier for the next generation, or for a few generations down the road, but they would have no reason for doing it other than, simply, they were nice. It’s much more compelling and motivating to me to believe that there is something to look forward to after this, and I am part of a bigger plan.
- Faith in God provides the most stable moral code. Many would argue that you don’t need a god to have a moral code. In a sense, I agree. Whether we have a concrete idea of God or not, morality seems to be partly built into human nature, partly because a lot of it is just common sense. If I’m nice to you, you’ll be nice to me. We know intuitively that we shouldn’t steal or cheat or commit murder. Furthermore, many belief systems share very similar ideas when it comes to morality. However, without God, morality can change over time, which changes society, sometimes for better, but sometimes for worse. Also, without God, our morality is based on faulty human ideas. With God, the rules don’t change.
- If I can’t be reliant on God, I have to be completely reliant on myself. Having faith in God, at least to me, allows “I don’t know” to be an acceptable answer. Furthermore, if I have to completely rely on myself to get things done, not much will get done. I’m only one person. Not only that, but I’m not physically capable of doing a lot of things. If I can rely on God, I can do the impossible. Prayer works, and if I can rely on God I’m never alone.
God is absolute Truth. Therefore, yes, I believe that everyone should believe generally in the same thing, and our world should strive for that Truth as one. I will not back down from that belief. However, what is also true is that God wants us to have the freedom to choose what we believe, and so do I. I support peoples’ right to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster if they so choose. I support peoples’ right to believe in absolutely nothing at all. While it is the duty of the followers of Christ to tell the Truth, it is not our duty to impose it. We should all surround ourselves with people who do not share our beliefs. We may not ever change each others’ beliefs, but we can promote respect, tolerance, and good listening in the world. Remember that Jesus hung out with weirdos and sinners. He didn’t have status or power in mind. His mind was set on love, and so should ours.
I was taking a walk yesterday, and I was amazed at just how colorful the trees in my neighborhood were. It’s kind of funny, actually; it’s like I forget that they get this way every year. They really are beautiful, and they drop giant piles of orange and red leaves that smell amazing.
I take a walk just about every day if it’s warm enough outside, and yesterday was about perfect. It was a bit cool, but not uncomfortably so. There was a bit of a breeze, and the sun was warm. My walk takes me around the horseshoe of the street I live on, then down a busier street, and onto the street that leads to the cemetery. I then wander down to the back of the cemetery, which is connected to my friend’s back yard, and I cut through there to get home. I sometimes sit in the back of the cemetery for a while and look at the sky or follow ants, or sometimes talk to my grandmother on the phone. Sometimes I just talk to myself. Yesterday I just sat there with my eyes closed. It was very nice.
There are a few particularly colorful trees on my street, and they, along with a video I remembered, made me think of something: The world itself is not evil. The world worships God. A similar thought came to my mind after seeing (or rather, hearing) this video in one of my classes. It is the sound of crickets slowed down to what they would sound like if they had the same lifespan as humans:
I remember a quote from John Keats that has stuck with me since high school. He said in his poem Ode on a Grecian Urn: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty–that is all/ Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” An idea that is thrown around a lot at my school is that, as Christians, we should be “in the world but not of it.” Well, the fact of the matter is, we are “of the world,” and I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. Nature is beautiful and innocent, and we are natural beings. Obviously we, along with many things we create, have been corrupted by sin, but we were created in the image of God, and I think that somewhere within us, that innate goodness remains. If it didn’t, I don’t think it would be possible for us to know God. Furthermore, I don’t think it would be possible for us to be creative.
What I’m trying to say is that the trees changing color is their way of worshiping God. Birds singing; crickets chirping; water flowing and giving life; the sun rising and setting everyday; it’s all Creation’s way of worshiping, and saying “thank you” to the Creator. As humans, we often try and do it so elaborately, with complicated music and ceremony and what have you: but in a way, even just existing and acknowledging where we came from and our place in the world is a form of worship; possibly the purest form.
Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!
Today I’m playing a little gig at our neighborhood block party. It should be quite fun because as far as I know, most of our neighbors downloaded my album, thanks to my mom. I find it awkward and funny and awesome all at the same time, but regardless, I’m going to play guitar today.
Last night my dad and I went to see Rend Collective. They’re a Christian band from Ireland, and they’re hysterically funny, talented, and otherwise awesome. My dad and I are concert buddies, and we were very overdue for some live music. The best part about it was that I was kind of in a foul mood before the show, but after it, I was happy as a fed guinea pig.
I was kind of thinking to myself that a rock concert isn’t exactly conducive to worship, but apparently it was without me explicitly knowing it. At one point the lead singer said something that I almost missed, but now I think I agree with it very much: he said Christians tend to think that spirituality has to be serious all of the time. The truth is that we’re supposed to celebrate and have fun. It’s sometimes hard for me to get past what I do wrong, and when I screw up, and I pray for forgiveness and I pray for him to fix me when I’m already forgiven.
I think this can be hard for a lot of people, including myself, because what we celebrate is, quite frankly, kind of confusing. When I really think about it, it actually pisses me off, what Jesus had to go through. I’m just going to go ahead and say that he was the nicest person ever to live. It’s pretty hard to argue with that. He was also the most innocent person ever to live, and he willingly went to a death he didn’t deserve. That confuses me and pisses me off.
What we’re supposed to celebrate is the freedom we now have and the salvation we have because of what he did, but there’s a bit of guilt that comes along with that. We’re not supposed to feel guilty, but a lot of times we do. It’s natural, and quite frankly, it’s annoying.
Last night I got an idea for a new song. Part of it was, despite the fact that the three bands who played last night were stylistically very different, they occasionally used some of the same motifs and metaphors in their lyrics. It’s a trap Christian bands often fall into. Rend Collective turned out to be a bit more creative, which I appreciated, but I decided that if I’m going to write a new worship song–which I am, it’s kind of what I do–I’m going to try and sneak away from convention. The idea for my new song is that the world is really loud and cluttered, and what seems to be missing is complete silence and complete darkness. I don’t know if I’ll even end up using these lines in my new song, or if they’ll be modified, but this is what I came up with last night. I think I like it.
I want to find the silence
I want to find the darkness
I want be where time Is endless
And there’s nothing between us
I have a feeling the idea might end up getting muddled if I’m not careful, but then I’m the queen of convoluted. Very few of my songs are actually straight forward. Maybe it’s a problem, but I don’t think so. I decided something else last night as well. I decided that when I perform, I’m never going to explicitly try and make my shows into worship sessions, whether I’m playing at a college, or a bar or a church. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s hard because when you go to see a show, at least from my experience, you’re kind of going to see the band and freak out about how good their music is. Then again, I find that it’s sometimes easiest to worship when you’re with a whole bunch of people who are singing the same songs, maybe even harmonizing, and jumping around because, yes, the music is EPIC. In reality, whether it “works” or not is on us.
Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!