25 July 2010

Jul 25

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today we read about Abijah's son, Asa. Asa is, for most of his reign, considered a pretty good king. He trusts the Lord for his military successes and enacts religious reforms (until he doesn't, then he's considered bad).

For a supposedly good king, we get hints of some pretty terrible actions. We read about a battle where the Lord help's Asa defeat some invading Ethiopians/Cushites (translation oddity). God defeats the invading army and Asa and his men kill and plunder the retreating army. Then:
While they were at Gerar, they attacked all the towns in that area, and terror from the Lord came upon the people there. As a result, a vast amount of plunder was taken from these towns, too. They also attacked the camps of herdsmen and captured many sheep, goats, and camels before finally returning to Jerusalem.
So while they were pursuing a retreating enemy, they also attacked and pillaged the towns and herdsman in the area? I try not to apply my modern moral standards to ancient societies too often, but really, this is completely unacceptable.

Another questionable decision made in Asa's range occurred during the religious reforms:
They agreed that anyone who refused to seek the Lord, the God of Israel, would be put to death—whether young or old, man or woman.
Again, blech! Not acceptable to me. But I do understand what the author of Chronicles is trying to do here. In the books of Kings, the blame for the fall of Judah to Babylon is placed squarely on the shoulders of a single person, King Manasseh, son of Hezekiah.

In Chronicles, the author is trying to spread the blame over the whole community. Under this model, the community cannot be blamed unless the whole community is seen as making a covenant with the Lord. Of course, this has happened before (with Moses, Joshua, Solomon...). However, reiterating the point and making the community have some of the responsibility for enforcing the covenant just makes it that must easier to later blame the community as a whole.

Asa eventually loses the favor of the Lord because he appeals to human help in a battle. He is then plagued by war for the rest of his reign. He died because he relied on his physicians rather than God to kill his foot disease.

New Testament
With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it.
Well then, I'm convinced. If you really really feel like something is true, it must be true right? People would never ever believe that they were getting religious revelation if it wasn't true, right? That's why all of the world's religions are so consistent!

Oh wait, sorry, back to reality. Paul needs to learn that believing that you speak the truth does not necessarily make your belief true. But then again, I suppose that attitude is consistent with Paul's general attitude that those who do not agree with him are willfully rejecting God (as I have mentioned in the past).

Paul goes on to reinterpret God's promise to Israel to show how God has not actually broken his promise to Israel. He then talks about how it's perfectly okay for God to make arbitrary decisions because he's God. We then get an annoyingly bad apologetic argument for God's arbitrariness.
Well then, you might say, “Why does God blame people for not responding? Haven’t they simply done what he makes them do?”
No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” When a potter makes jars out of clay,  doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into?
This is the same sort of garbage that people try to pass off today. First, Paul resorts to the "God is mysterious" argument. I might be more inclined to see that as a legitimate argument if it weren't for the fact that it is only ever applied when theists are faced with something unpleasant. E.g., the problem of evil, God's arbitrary nature, bad things happening to good people, etc.

Paul then pulls out the argument that those who are made have no right to question those who made them, using the analogy of a potter having the right to make both decorative jars and garbage jars. However, this ignores the rather obvious fact that a clay pot is not conscious. It's not just that the potter is more wise and knowledgeable than the clay pot. The clay pot is inanimate.

Now, if a potter started making pots that were conscious, that were able to feel pain and have memories and judge and analyze then yes, the potter would have some obligation to take their feelings into account or at least justify his decisions to them. If God created humanity with the ability to suffer from the consequences of being a "garbage pail" rather a than a "decorative jar" then he has given them the right to question.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing of particular note.