Reading Scripture

In the RCIA class I’m helping out with, we’ve been discussing Scripture and Tradition. One thing I didn’t get to mention, but I imagine might come up: what to do with those passages that contradict beliefs you hold near and dear, beliefs you hold to be *obviously* true? Examples that leap to mind include Old Testament passages where God orders the complete slaughter – men, women, children, livestock and, I imagine, pets – of Israel’s enemies, and Paul’s commands that women remain silent in Church and be subject to their husbands.

My advice, for what little it’s worth: fight off the temptation to explain these passages away. Instead, ask: how could this be true? What could it mean? What does it tell us about God and man? Is there a non-dismissive way it can true?

Image result for adam and eve
Cranach, Adam and Eve, 1526. Adam, in a pose familiar to husbands, scratches his head when Eve offers him the apple. 

How could a loving God order His Chosen People to kill innocent children and non-combatant women? Clearly, I believe my notion of what constitutes a loving God precludes Him ordering his followers to kill innocent people. I personally would not obey such a command. I would assume such a command, if given to me in, what? a vision? a dream? could not be from God.

Still don’t exactly know what to make of this. The best explanations I’ve ever heard include the notion that this evil – the slaughter of whole villages and cities – was a result of Israel’s disobedience when they failed to promptly invade the Holy Land. Had they proceeded as ordered, the story goes, the inhabitants, faced with a huge army invading out of the desert, lead by God Himself, would have fled – and lived. But once Israel futzed about and was unfaithful, the 40 years passed, after which the inhabitants had ceased to be terrified. So God now needed to purge the Promised Land of the abominations of the worshipers of  the Baals – child sacrifice and sexual perversions being central features – to give His people any chance of remaining true. The slaughter becomes like the Mosaic permission of divorce: given because the people were weak, but not intended from the foundation of the world.

Intellectually, those are kind of OK. Not sure my heart agrees. Yet.

The wives are subject to their husbands and should remain silent in church stuff used to bother me much more than it does now. If husbands are to be as Christ toward their wives, laying down their lives for them, then the whole ‘who’s in charge’ thing seems to pale to insignificance. Further, unsolicited and coming as a complete shock, many years ago my wife said that of course she was subject to me. One of the chief reasons I wanted to marry her in the first place was because, while she was sweet and accommodating in general, I’d also seen that she had real spine when people tried to push her around. My immediate thought: I’m not the boss of you!

The effect of having my wife tell me that she is subject to me – and I’m sure she means it – is that I’m aware that she is looking to me to lead, and that what a terrible and wonderful duty that is. The last thing I’d want to do is push her around (not that I haven’t failed, but I don’t want to). Talk about throwing down the gauntlet: now I have to be as Christ to her! I think obedience, even to a clown like me, might be the easier task!

Once I did my best to accept that part, the whole ‘women silent in Church stuff seemed at least less offensive. If men must be in charge, but only in the sacrificial sense in which Christ is ‘in charge’, then reserving public leadership roles to men is defensible, and in fact could be beautiful is done well. The hard part: we will, and have, screwed this up. Our mothers, wives and daughters should be the most honored and respected people among us, as Christ shows repeatedly in His life, both in how he treats – and honors – the women he encounters, and in His command to love one another as He has loved us.

This cuts both ways, of course: men will error in both being bullies and in being cowards, women in being harpies and in being shrews. We’re one big screwed up family! Adam must now work and earn his bread by the sweat of his brow; Eve’s desire shall be for her man, and he will lord it over her. These two curses are perfect poetic justice for the sins. Doesn’t make it any easier on us.

And this disfunction all gets reflected in the Church. It’s almost like Democracy, in that we tend to get the leaders we deserve.

It is tempting and easy to come up- with ways to dismiss these troubling passages, or to let them destroy what little faith we have. I don’t know which is worse. It is better to embrace them, let them trouble us, and try to discover how they can be true.

This about plumbs the depths of my Scripture knowledge, so grain of salt and all that.

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

2 thoughts on “Reading Scripture”

  1. I like the first part of it as to except that what it says is what it means. I like your effort at not dismissing out of hand what does not agree with your conception of things.

    The more faithful rendering I really don’t entirely agree with but that’s OK.

    So running after the first instruction, that I’m going to look at it as indeed a statement of what actually occurred, and a statement that means what it says.

    I think it’s very simple to go back to the first commandment: Thou shall have no other god before me.

    My question is why would that have to be a commandment if indeed there was only one god? How could there be a false God?

    If you try to think logically into these questions you can’t really reconcile it to some fact that there is only one God. Because at some point you would have to ask yourself how is it possible if there is only one god that a person could have another God? At some point you would have to discount and dismissed out of hand what is been given right before you. And if you stick with your first principle that we’re not supposed to do that, well, do we only apply that maximum under certain conditions? Conditions that really rely upon what I believe instead of what is actually given to me?

    So to me it seems not that the commandment is there is only one God, but that you are not supposed to have any of those other gods before this one particular God. I’m not arguing whether it’s true or not, I am arguing from the perspective of a commandment.

    So then if that is indeed the case that a group of people or a couple people in particular had an experience with this one God, and this one God instructed them and told them how they should proceed in order to lead a group of people, then it seems in evitable that there would be some people that are not in the group, and that therefore are not having this one particular God before any other gods.

    Now try to keep in mind I’m not making any argument about whether God exists or not. Whether there is one God or whether there’s more gods.

    But given what the statement says and indeed what the Bible tells about the people that are following these commandments or lease are trying to in that there is this old testament, these books that talk about this group of people. Thereby if I am following this commandment, and these commandments buy this one God that I’m not placing any other gods in in front of and I am only following this one God and it’s instructions, then I am kind of automatically loving in the sense that this guy talks about in his books. Because the people who are not putting this one God in front of everything else every other God every other possibility of existence, They really have no basis for my love because in fact they’re not even human beings by virtue of the fact that God, The creator in as much as I am believing this one God above any other possibility, is talked about in the creation story etc.

    Thus it is only for me to follow God‘s command because that is the first commandment. Inasmuch as I follow this God in front of and before anything else that comes up in my life there by am I not committing any sins, I am not breaking any commandment. But those who do not, I don’t really know what to say to them and nor do I have any manner of organizing them into my scheme of faith and love except that I might put my God before them without them putting my god or this one God before them themselves.

    Jesus this comes to kind of correct the problem that occurs when this group now has been living with a bunch of other people, and a bunch of other groups, and for a while, and under in a parent larger government that no longer is just the judges from the Old Testament.

    Anyways there’s a lot to be said from there but…


  2. …but I like the “subject to men”. Seems to me she’s smarter than us Becuase it appears to me from your description that she is allowing you to be what you are as defined by a sort of limit that is unable to let women be who they are, which is not men. Men seems to have to make everyone submit to their idea of things; she is simply letting you ‘have your manhood’ under the maxim that if she didn’t then you would assert it in versions ways anyways. Easier for them; women (as a general category) perhaps are more accepting, more able to ‘love all things’ without dominating them and thought word and deed. It is a mans religion, and so Christ comes to give men some more justification for how they are without mEn actually having to acknowledge it.

    Thank God for women.

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