31 July 2010

Jul 31

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today we read about Hezekiah. Hezekiah instituted reforms to undo some of the damage done by Ahaz. This time around, Hezekiah's reforms do not seem as impressive. Maybe this is because we know from reading the books of Kings that they will not stick. Maybe it is because from the way the chronicler relates things, my impression is that Judah had a bunch of okay kings scattered amongst a couple bad ones, and having to undo the effects of one of the bad ones seems par for the course.

In any case, Hezekiah reopens and restores the temple (and the chronicler limited himself to only one short list of the people working on that. What restraint!). After the temple is restored, Hezekiah hosts a huge rededication ceremony.

The way this section is written makes it sound like the temple had been abandoned for years and years rather than for the reign of one king. In particular, consider this speech (emphasis added):
“Listen to me, you Levites! Purify yourselves, and purify the Temple of the Lord, the God of your ancestors. Remove all the defiled things from the sanctuary. Our ancestors were unfaithful and did what was evil in the sight of the Lord our God. They abandoned the Lord and his dwelling place; they turned their backs on him. They also shut the doors to the Temple’s entry room, and they snuffed out the lamps. They stopped burning incense and presenting burnt offerings at the sanctuary of the God of Israel. 
“That is why the Lord’s anger has fallen upon Judah and Jerusalem. He has made them an object of dread, horror, and ridicule, as you can see with your own eyes. Because of this, our fathers have been killed in battle, and our sons and daughters and wives have been captured. But now I will make a covenant with the Lord, the God of Israel, so that his fierce anger will turn away from us. My sons, do not neglect your duties any longer! The Lord has chosen you to stand in his presence, to minister to him, and to lead the people in worship and present offerings to him.”
This passage, especially the parts I emphasize, seem very targeted at a post-exile community. Remember that the books of Chronicles were probably written after the exiled Jews had been allowed to return to Jerusalem. My guess is that part of the purpose of the author(s) of Chronicles, especially this passage, was to try to inspire the people to reinstitute temple based worship, which had necessarily fallen aside while the people of Judah were in exile.

New Testament

Paul discusses how not all the believers have to have exactly the same beliefs about what is right or wrong. Not everything is a core belief. Paul's specific examples focus on diet, but I think he means to make a more general point. In particular, he hints at a more general message in a couple places:
Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let him judge whether they are right or wrong. And with the Lord’s help, they will do what is right and will receive his approval.
Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.
I am going to break my own rule about not talking about current events today.

There are churches and individuals today that conflate religion and politics. Many believers are made to feel that if they want to be religious in the "right way" then they have to vote Republican, even if they only agree with the Republicans on a couple issues that the Republicans have managed to portray as vital to whether or not one is a "real Christian".

There are churches and individuals today that not only teach hatred of homosexuals and subjugation of women, they also teach that those who do not agree with them on these issues are not "real Christians". They teach that those people should be condemned and pushed away not just from their church, but from any church.

There are churches and individuals today that try to convince others that science cannot be trusted. That the only valid way to interpret the creation story is literally. They harm science education and they harm their own cause by causing many scientifically literate believers to distance themselves from religion.

Today's reading condemns all of those people. By conflating religion with particular non-core beliefs, these individuals and institutions are causing others to stumble and fall away from religion. They are not willing to let the Lord judge right and wrong. They feel the need to do it themselves.

Furthermore, and this is why I, an atheist, care, they push all of this into the public arena. Instead of aiming for living "a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit", they sow strife, and that strife affects my life. Perhaps they should think about this passage more often.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing of particular note.