22 July 2010

Jul 22

Reference links:
Old Testament

Solomon is pretty much taking on the role of the high priest here. He is praying in front of the whole community and leading the giving of sacrifices. The priests seem like little more than assistants. Now, the dedication of the temple is a special event, but it still does not seem quite right for Solomon to be taking on these roles.

Solomon's dedication prayer (which is very similar to the one in Kings) has a couple points in it which make it fairly clear that this was composed after the destruction of Judah. In particular, there are references to exile (emphasis mine):
If your people Israel are defeated by their enemies because they have sinned against you, and if they turn back and acknowledge your name and pray to you here in this Temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and return them to this land you gave to them and to their ancestors.
If they sin against you—and who has never sinned?—you might become angry with them and let their enemies conquer them and take them captive to a foreign land far away or near. But in that land of exile, they might turn to you in repentance and pray, ‘We have sinned, done evil, and acted wickedly.’
It is also very interesting how central the Temple is in these prayers. To earn forgiveness, the people must pray in the direction of the Temple.

God then answers Solomon in a very direct way, telling him that the Israelites will be forgiven as long as they follow God's commands.

The rest of the reading briefly describes Solomon's achievements and emphasizes that he only made the non-Israelites living in the land do forced labor. Well then, that makes it all okay, now doesn't it? I mean, these are only the people who were living in the land before the Israelites conquered it. In fact, we ought to be enslaving Native Americans. I mean really, someone who was a native in a land taken over by someone else doesn't deserve to be treated humanely, right?

New Testament

Paul makes the good point that human beings are contradictory creatures. They want to do right but often end up doing wrong instead. He then promptly loses any ground he may have gained by implying that this sinfulness is something separate from self. Individuals are invaded by sin, but sin is wholly other and can, therefore, be eradicated.

This, to me, seems like a harmful way of dealing with the capacity of humans to do wrong and act in ways that are inconsistent with their conscious desires. By making sin wholly other, we lose the insight to be gained by seeing it as coming from the same source as other human passions and desires which are labeled good. Paul, as perhaps should be expected by now, tries to separate the world into two neat parts: that in the self which is sin and that which is not. As usual, such stark division loses out on the complexity of human nature.

Paul also, in today's reading, makes it seem pretty absolute that accepting Jesus frees one from one's sinful nature ("He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit."). Clearly, human behavior shows that either this is not the case or pretty much no one actually has followed Jesus. The issue may well be addressed later, but for now Paul seems to be making claims about the power of accepting Jesus that do not hold up under scrutiny.

Psalms and Proverbs
Lazy people take food in their hand
but don’t even lift it to their mouth.
I know this is meant symbolically, but I want to point out that if this were literally true, then we would not have to worry about lazy people because they would quickly die.