06 August 2010

Aug 6

Reference links:
Old Testament

The people rebuild the altar so they can resume the giving of sacrifices. After that they start to rebuild the temple. This is a bittersweet moment. The people feel joy that the temple is to be rebuilt, but those who can remember the old temple weep because they see how much less impressive this temple will be.

The rest of today's reading covers some of the obstacles that faced those rebuilding the temples. We read,
The enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were rebuilding a Temple to the Lord, the God of Israel. So they approached Zerubbabel and the other leaders and said, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God just as you do. We have sacrificed to him ever since King Esarhaddon of Assyria brought us here.”
But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the other leaders of Israel replied, “You may have no part in this work. We alone will build the Temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, just as King Cyrus of Persia commanded us.”
Then the local residents tried to discourage and frighten the people of Judah to keep them from their work.
The author of Ezra obviously considers the people thwarting the building of the temple to be enemies bent on sabotaging it. However, every story has two sides, and there is an obvious possibility for the second side of this one. Look again at what the people who have been living in Judah are reported to have said:
Let us build with you, for we worship your God just as you do. We have sacrificed to him ever since King Esarhaddon of Assyria brought us here.
Over the course of their time in Judah, over the course of a couple generations, it looks as if these people had at least partially assimilated to the culture of the land they were living in. They consider the religion of the people of Judah, or at least some adaption of it, to be their religion. Thus, they want to participate what they likely see as the greatest honor they can give to the being they now consider their God: they want to help rebuild his temple.

But the returned people of Judah will have no part of it. They want to do this all themselves and, as I believe we will later see, they essentially want to take away from the people living in this land everything they had come to consider their religion. However much truth there may or may not be in the reports of the actions these "enemies" took against those building the temple, it seems likely that they had a legitimate source of frustration.

New Testament

Whenever I read words like Paul's, words where the speaker is so sure that he truly has understood, or at least partially understood, God's purpose and spirit, I always come back to the same question: how do you explain all of the other people who are just as sure as you and who have come to completely contradictory conclusions?

This holds a direct relation to my frustration with the idea that all religions are pointing to the same truth. If there is a God, then this idea may have some merit at a high level, but the problem lies in the details. If all religions are pointing to the same truth, then most, if not all, religions are dead wrong about the details. But everyone who believes this sort of feel good message about all religions pointing to the same truth also believes that it is their religion that has the details right.

In any case, that's kind of a tangent. To bring it back to today's reading, the problem with the wisdom of God, as opposed to the wisdom of man, is that there seems to be nothing but one's owns feelings to indicate whether one is actually tapping into the wisdom of God or one's own brain.

Paul then goes on to talk about how the people of the church in Corinth were not and are still not mature believers. This could be be interpreted as a criticism against the Corinthians, but Paul's tone does not seem particularly accusing to me. It seems more as if he is just pointing out a fact. I am guessing that in Paul's time, as now, most believers are immature in their belief and, for the most part, do not know it. For like in any area, those people who are the least mature are often those who are least able to see their immaturity. Seeing that you lack is the first step in seeing how to improve.

Actually, this leads me to another tangent. It seems that the immature believers today are the ones most eager to denounce atheists. Yet I wonder, if there is a God, could he really prefer immature belief to mature seeking, even if that seeking led one to dismiss God, or at least the version of God that seems to be believed in by American Christians today? For it seems that in that situation, the believer's lack of understanding of Godly wisdom may be just as great, if not greater, despite the fact that one question happened to be answered correctly. (Caveats: No, I am not intending to imply that all believers are immature and all non-believers are mature. Yes, I realize that everyone, including myself, probably considers themselves in the mature seeker category and that most of us are wrong, just like most people consider themselves above average.)

Psalms and Proverbs

I usually make up little tunes to go with the Psalms to make them easier to digest. However, the irregular structure (in translation at least) of the couplets that make up the psalms often make this awkward. Today I tried a more rap-like style, and I had a much easier time dynamically adapting it to the shifting rhythm of the words. Yay!

Today's second proverb reminds me of Jephthah and his sacrifice of his daughter:
Don’t trap yourself by making a rash promise to God
and only later counting the cost.
Today's first proverb has some merit, but is also, in some ways, fundamentally distasteful to people like me.
The Lord directs our steps,
so why try to understand everything along the way?
It sometimes is necessary to reconcile ourselves to the fact that we cannot and will not understand everything. But some people, such as myself, fundamentally look at the world and ask "How does that work? Why does it work? What happens when I tweak this or that?"

For people like this, it is not enough to say, "It works, so who cares why?" We need to open things up and look inside. This is how we relate to the world. So to answer the question posed by this proverb, "why try to understand everything along the way?" is that, for some of us, the unexamined life is not worth living. The unexamined world is not worth living in. It does not matter if we come to a final answer (a final answer would probably be a disappointment). We have to keep asking and examining and finding new angles and new loop holes.