October 02, 2006

When Lord When?

So we're confronted by these meek and mild Christians living under the altar in heaven screaming for blood and we sort look at this and say, hey, wait a minute.

Larry calls the behaviour sub-christian. But then doesn't go on to explore any metaphorical implications that may help unpack this sub-christian behaviour.

Let me try.

First let's recall these guys are dead and from a mythic standpoint the rules for dead folks is different. DZ Phillips points this out in his books on prayer and immortality (good stuff BTW -- especially the one on prayer). Their cries for vengeance are kinda like Abel's blood.
Genesis 4:10 And the LORD said, "What have you done? Listen; your brother's blood is crying out to me from the ground!

We can also draw on Forrest's anthropological analysis of "wrath" -- not emotional anger -- but social obligation. As martyred saints they're God's kinfolk now and God has an obligation of propriety to them.

Let me continue by linking this passage with two others that have little to do with one another in a logical connect the dots kinda way.

First consider Abraham as he haggled with God over the fate of Sodom. Suppose there are fifty upright people in the city. Will you really destroy it? Will you not spare the place for the sake of the fifty upright in it? he asks God in Genesis 18. He haggles God all the way down to ten and then gives up -- afraid because he doesn't think God will find ten honest men in Sodom.

Matthew 5:13 "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot."

Now salt, is a preservative before there were fridges. We cured bacon, pickled meat, and in the process we toughened it and kept it from going bad. In a sense, by being the salt of the earth we function like the ten righteous men in Sodom. When when those ten righteous men get murdered by the multitudes of wicked folks living there? The salt is gone, the meat begins to rot. And the blood of Abel cries out from thee earth.

Its kinda like the fate of world is being weighed in the balance of the scales of justice. While in this world, the righteous keep this world from the judgment of God. When this world murders us, that self-same righteousness testifies against this world.


At 1:41 p.m., Blogger forrest said...

So far I continue to count more than 10 good folks even in this city. (But if I ever have to include myself in the count, I'm leaving town. To preserve my humility...)

It sounds like we're still trying to reduce God's behavior to a system. Granted that it must be purpose-driven, there should be some order to it, and trying to find order is a monkey's second favorite activity.

We're looking at material from somewhere between 50 AD and 150 AD, asking ourselves whether it reveals anything to us in 2006. It was addressed to people whose assumptions about the nature of the world differed from ours, sometimes in ways we have trouble imagining, and not necessarily for the worse. We can look at the world through some of their lenses, see how it looks, whether it brings out something valid we might not have noticed.

I keep wrestling with this ancient notion that history is not just a record of human mistakes, but of God's judgments and human development. A few thousand years ago we got laws that said we shouldn't put things in a blind person's path and guffaw when he fell over them--and now we have a law that says it's okay to torture someone if people in authority want to do it and can find an excuse. (And an awful lot of us are looking at this and saying, "Wow!" Is that reaction, then, what "progress" means?)

Do we incur some kind of collective guilt, just by living here? The sort of disaster that happens over and over in Revelation suggests that we might. The angels in the story who go around marking people to be spared imply that we don't. But how would it feel to be Lot? Did he like some of his rowdy neighbors; will he miss them? Does he get bad dreams, dive under the bed whenever something sounds like an incoming angel?

We find metaphors about how God responds to us, based on whatever social structures we know. God as ancient Mediterranean king vs God as modern teacher or psychotherapist? (Were the 60's the result of divine meds with weird side effects?)We don't need to assume a God magically compelled to defend either his personal honor or our notion of "justice." We just find a world with no justice unnerving, unsafe.

Throughout history we are confronted with a God who lets "things like ___" happen. And also confronted with the recurring dream of New Jerusalem, the Kingdom, the Revolution--a world that makes more humane sense than this. I think it's that dream, that the martyrs are crying for.

At 12:51 a.m., Blogger crystal said...

guys are dead ...Their cries for vengeance are kinda like Abel's blood .... the fate of world is being weighed in the balance of the scales of justice. While in this world, the righteous keep this world from the judgment of God. When this world murders us, that self-same righteousness testifies against this world.

Jesus was dead, was still hanging around for a while, and during that time, didn't cry out for vengence on those that had killed him, but spent time with friends.

Maybe this was how it was in the OT, but it seems to me that Jesus changed this. We may be testified against by our bad deeds, but as I read somewhere else ...

The good news is that our brother paid the penalty for our sins, our dad is the judge, and the Holy Spirit is our legal counsel (paraclete).

... Grace trumps justice.

At 5:49 a.m., Blogger david said...

Maybe grace trumps law, never justice. The blessed cannot truly rest while others continue to be victimized. God spared Cain, yet Abel's blood still cried out from the earth.

I'm not so sure I have craeted a system for God to deal with us, so we can predict and control. I have noticed a pattern in the symbolism. Victims of injustice long for some settling of accounts. Without that something is missing. Even when they enter the blessed rest (chapter 7 coming up). But at the same time, we have a story of grace as Crystal points out. they need some reconciliation in our hearts and minds.

What reality these mythic symbols point to remains a mystery to me. I only know, I do not long for teh eternal damnation of thsoe who oppress me, but at the same time Ia slo want soemthing more than an eternity wehre we are all reconciled and living in equality. Some settling of the books is demanded.

At 10:22 a.m., Blogger forrest said...

Truth matters. "Justice" is about keeping score fairly. The real thing, is more about restitution than about making anyone suffer; our popular notion comes from fear.... (Hmmmm!) "If so and so can kill ___ and not get offed, who of us is safe?" Of course the answer is that no one can be kept safe that way; our only security is under God's protection.

The Jewish scriptures taught that God kept a deterrent balance between people & groups; the authorities were supposed to apply the law rather than let one killing grow into a feud, but there also were the Cities of Refuge... or maybe one could hang on to the altar until reinforcements came along... If the authorities didn't move, we have the verse: "'Vengeance is mine,' sayeth the Lord." Which meant that it was not anyone's personal option; you were supposed to trust in God's justice.

My good news is not that we've got a good Lawyer who's made a deal for us--I would say that in God's eyes we were never guilty.

Last night I dreamed that I and my friends had committed some kind of crime for our country, and I needed to cover it up because admitting it would subject us all to punishment and disgrace our country. I kept thinking--I yearned to be able to live openly and tell the truth, but I kept thinking about what I'd need to do to keep our involvement hidden. The conflict was very painful, but I couldn't stop wanting to hide. (I was no better than a Republican!!!)

That's what guilt looks like. The "penalty" is what our fear imposes on us: the inability to live openly and look at things squarely.

I don't think the people under the altar mind suffer from being dead, or want anyone else to suffer (our idea of what "vengeance" has to mean) but they want things set to rights. They threw everything they had into God's cause, and God just let it go, leaving the people who'd killed them still in charge, still telling themselves they'd done right. It takes a lot of faith to see God get dishonored, still trusting that all will be made right. These people had faith enough to give their lives, but they won't be happy until they can see the end of this movie.

At 1:29 p.m., Blogger crystal said...

You guys, you arguments are not unlike the ones made by death penalty advocates :-) ... punishment deters others from doing the same and gives the victims justice. This is very human, the desire to square things ... I'm just suggesting that maybe God is a little bit ahead of the curve on this, but who knows. I do remember something St. Basil said (I think) ... that God doesn't want the sinner to die, but to repent and live ... and truly, I think that the best "revenge" is to turn your enemy into your friend.

At 2:49 p.m., Blogger Larry said...

Crystal, you and I are of a kind here. It invariably saddens me when the media report that so and so felt cheated, felt it was unfair when the felon get less than they think he deserves.

I think it's a holdover from Old Nobodaddy, the mean, vindictive, spiteful God who ruled so much of the O.T.

The truly redeemed wish only good for everybody, even for Hitler-- or the devil himself!

Whether that's biblical or not, I don't know. I only know it's my faith.

At 4:40 p.m., Blogger david said...

In most cases I woudl agree with Crystal also. I think some hurts go deep enough that we need to respect where hurt comes from.

I was born in 1961 in Canada to parents who never went to war. Nobody in my family died in WWII. It is utterly different thing for me to say, jesus forgives Hitler, from say, a Jew or Gypsy who survived the camp, or a child of one who didn't, to say that God forgives Hitler.

When the Amish families of the slain girls ask he world to pray for the killer and his family -- God's grace flows. But if one of those Amish people confesses she cannot forgive -- we must respect her hurt.

Hitler may very well be "saved" from eternity in a Lake of Fire. I think a loving justice requires he not be saved from facing the people who died in Belsen and Auschwitz. And just maybe that prospect is more frightening than the Lake of Fire.

At 6:34 p.m., Blogger forrest said...

I'm talking about human feelings about justice. Human beings are often afraid and therefore irrational.

Yes, there are excellent reasons to believe God sees it differently. God has nothing to fear, except harm to us. God imposes a certain amount of justice because we require it, leaves some slack in the system because we need that as well, isn't necessarily constrained by our concepts.

These are human beings talking under the altar, through a human being, to other human beings, specifically human beings living a visibly precarious life. So far as they're tuned in to God, they're receiving what they are ready to understand, not some ultimate revelation (although frightened humans are always eager to shut the Book to further input, lest it tell them anything unexpected...)

If you look closely at this culture's established beliefs about the nature of justice, they don't make sense. What my elementary school teachers said about "Two wrongs don't make a right," that makes sense!

Basically, I think all of us here agree with Crystal.

Here's the sticky bit... Many years ago, I and my son and some friends and their son (both quite young) were in the park; their son was very eager to try out his new toy golf club. My son wasn't paying much attention to the club; their son wasn't paying any attention to mine, coming up behind, so their son whacked mine good without noticing, while my kid burst into tears. No serious injury--and no reason their son should be "punished." What really concerned me was that he had no idea what he'd done, was totally unaware of my son's tears or the reason for them--and everyone but me was trying to smooth it all over. We're meant to inhabit the same universe, not a scattering of private ones, and we need to know what we've done to people. Not to dwell on it, or suffer "equal pain", but to know what we can do when we're unaware, so we do recognize one another and take appropriate care.

At 1:59 a.m., Blogger crystal said...

At another blog, I saw these two sort of contradictory comments about hell ...

Hell is not about what God does, hell is about what we do, about the horrendous evils humans commit. We trivialise these evils and betray the world’s victims if we deny the reality of hell.

and ...

... while hell is real, we may pray and hope that hell will finally be empty. “This much is certain, that we have no theological right to set any sort of limits to the loving-kindness of God which has appeared in Jesus Christ.” Thus the church will not preach hell – “the gospel at gunpoint” – “it will preach the overwhelming power of grace and the weakness of human wickedness in face of it” (Karl Barth). “For the Lord will not reject for ever” (Lamentations 3:31).

I'm not saying that people who do bad things to us and to others must be forgiven by us or deserve to be forgiven by us.

I don't think forgiveness means the same thing as saying that bad acts are acceptable.

Isn't it a christian belief that if a person who has fone wrong repents, they are forgiven by God? I hope that even those who don't repent will be changed by being in God's presence after death, but who knows.

At 5:17 a.m., Blogger david said...

Score another point for my hero, Karl Barth.


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