17 November 2010

Nov 17

Reference links:
Old Testament

Edom will be destroyed for taking advantage of Israel's misfortune. Israel will be restored. I did like the imagery of Israel as a land which devours its children. It's a depressing image, but a well painted one.

We also get this gem which shows, once again, that God is more concerned with his reputation than with people:
They polluted the land with murder and the worship of idols, so I poured out my fury on them. I scattered them to many lands to punish them for the evil way they had lived. But when they were scattered among the nations, they brought shame on my holy name. For the nations said, ‘These are the people of the Lord, but he couldn’t keep them safe in his own land!’ Then I was concerned for my holy name, on which my people brought shame among the nations.
And this, apparently, is the reason he is restoring the people. To save his reputation.
I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations.
God could do more for his reputation if he brought about world peace and gave everyone a new heart as he says he will do for the returned Israelites:
And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.
Also, it's funny how this heart transplant doesn't seem to be considered any sort of violation of free will. Other than the lack of choice, the bit above could be considered to be proto-Christian, but that lack of choice makes a vital difference (unless you're a believer in predestination, but that opens its own can of worms).

New Testament

A new book means it's time for background! Let's see what Understanding The Bible has to say about the Epistle of James:
A Jewish-Christian anthology of ethical instruction, James defines both religion and faith in terms of humanitarian action. 
So far so good. Humanitarian action is generally a good thing. What else does Harris have to say:
Although relatively late church traditions ascribe this epistle to James, whom Paul called "the Lord's brother", most scholars question this claim. The work reveals no personal knowledge of either Nazareth or Jesus, to whose life or gospel the author never refers. ... Scholars regard it as an anonymous compilation of early Christian ethical advice made between about 80 and 100 CE. Accepted only reluctantly by the Western and Syrian churches -- perhaps because of the writer's attack on the Pauline doctrine of faith -- it was one of the last New Testament books to obtain canonical status. 
A collection of ethical precepts and proverbial counsel, it strongly resembles Hebrew wisdom books. Its tone is impersonal and didactic; its advice is extremely general. Without a discernible controlling theme, James present practical exhortation on a series of miscellaneous topics ranging from gossip to the misuse of wealth. 
Although this books lacks a unifying theme, one principle that lends some coherence to the work is James' conception of religion, which he defines as typically Jewish good works, charitable practices that will save the soul and cancel a multitude of sins. The religion God approves is eminently practical
I am a big fan of practical. =)

Finally, on the relationship between this and the Pauline epistles:
James' conclusion that faith without actions is as dead as a corpse without breath seems to repudiate Paul's distinctive teaching. Some commentators point out, however, that James may have intended only to correct a common misuse of Paul's doctrine. 
Today's reading reminds me of "The Secret":
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.
Why does this remind me of "The Secret"? Like "The Secret" this verse leaves an out for things not going as expected. If you don't get wisdom, your loyalties were divided. If you don't get whatever your intentions point to, it's because you actually held contrary intentions. It's a perfect unfalsifiable system.

In any case, the point of this is to celebrate hardship as God's way of testing them.

After that we get to read the claim that
Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.
This is often used as justification for saying that non-Christians cannot love or do good. Fortunately, most people, even most Christians, realize that such a claim is idiotic.

Psalms and Proverbs

Proverbs about the pastoral life.