Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Jesus and Paul on Singleness,Marriage, and Divorce

Without question, of all the lectures I give, the one the prompts the most questions, sometimes even an avalanche of questions is my lecture on what Jesus and Paul actually say about singleness, marriage, and divorce. Obviously this is a sensitive subject since the church in our age, like the world,is experiencing so much brokenness, and pastors are desperately seeking guidance, handholds, wisdom to help them deal with the daily traumas of their flocks. Precisely because of this, I have been increasingly disturbed by what passes for exegesis of the key NT texts, even by those who profess to have a high view of Scripture and its relevance on these dicey subjects. Accordingly, I have decided to summarize a few of the insights that are already in print in my Women in the Ministry of Jesus, and Women in the Earliest Churches monographs I did lo these many years ago for Cambridge U. Press. The following is only some highlights.

The first point to make is that there is a rather broad range of agreement between what Jesus and Paul both say on these inter-related subjects. The essence of their views are as follows: 1) the eschatological age is now breaking into human history and with it God's final divine saving activity in and through Jesus; 2) this being the case what had been said before on the matters of marriage, divorce, and singleness is no longer adequate, since it was not addressed to the current salvation historical frame of reference. In short, new occasions teach new duties, and to those to whom more is given (by way of grace and divine help) more is required. In essence, both Jesus and Paul up the ante on fidelity and restrictions compared to what is mentioned in the OT about marriage and divorce. In fact Jesus even says that Moses made those rules due to the hardness of the human heart, but that that factor will no longer be taken into consideration now that the Kingdom is coming.

2) Jesus, followed by Paul, are perfectly clear that in light of the eschatological situation, it is no longer required, even of Jews, that they marry. The creation order mandate--- "be fruitful and multiple" (and the obligation to marry that goes with it) must now be seen as a blessed option, not an obligation for all of God's people. Now instead, as Paul puts it both getting married or remaining single need to be seen as a calling from God. One has to have the 'charisma' the grace gift, to properly undertake either state of being (see 1 Cor. 7), and there is a certain advantage to remaining single for the sake of the Kingdom, namely one has less earthly worries and anxieties about spouses, children, supporting them, and the like. The goodness of being single is emphasized, and Jesus' teaching about being a 'eunuch' for the sake of the Kingdom' becomes paradigmatic for many, as well as a justification for why he remained single (no, there was no Mrs. Jesus-- see my Gospel Code book).

This is a key point for the church today. Until we recover the proper teaching about singleness, and its goodness in Christ, and stop pressuring anyone and everyone in the church to get married, we have no business pontificating about marriage and its blessings. Too often, single persons in the church are simply viewed as 'candidates for dating and marriage' (never mind that the Bible says nothing at all about dating, or late Western notions about romance and courting). This is a trainwreck waiting to happen, and the result is many persons are pressured into marriage who are neither ready, nor have the grace gift to be in a marriage relationship. This in turn leads to numerous divorces-- and the endless cycle of matrimony, acrimony, and alimony receives another push.

I would especially remind one and all that we live in the most litigous age and litigous society on earth, and when you add to this the strong sense of self-justification and entitlement attitudes our narcissistic culture encourages, it is a recipe for endless strife and trouble to carelessly get married without the proper spiritual maturity and commitment on the part of both parties. The church does not exist for the sake of creating nuclear families. The primary family is the family of faith according to Jesus, and the nuclear family is to fit its agendas into those of the family of faith, not the other way around. A family church should be one that is a family to all who are present, single or married, not one that is merely an incubator for nuclear families.

3) Not all persons who get married in the church building have been "joined together by God". Think about it. In the first century A.D. when Jesus and Paul were speaking there were no church buildings, there were no certificates of marriage that were just like modern ones, and weddings, at least in early Judaism, did not require ordained rabbis to solemnize them. What then made a marriage a Biblical marriage if it wasn't the officiants, the piece of paper, or the locale where it transpired? The answer is that God led two people to be together, they made vows and promises in the presence of God and human witnesses and they agreed to 'plight their troth' to one another. That's it.

In fact, I would stress that a lot of Christian persons have raced into marriage ceremonies without really seeking out the spiritual basis for what they are doing, without really asking, Is God leading us together? Even Christians are capable of coupling themselves together, just as non-Christians do, without the permission, guidance, or blessing of God. If God has not joined them together, or if they are not prepared to submit their relationship to God after the fact and beseech God so he will indeed join and bless their togetherness, then they do not meet either the pre-requisites for what Jesus and Paul say about marriage, or the pre-requisites for what they say about divorce.

Christian marriage is a high and holy state. It is also a temporal relationship that does not continue into eternity but was given as an earthly blessing (see e.g. Rom. 7.1-4). We need to rethink just what counts as a Christian marriage, and what the criteria are for evaluating whether God has joined two persons together or not. Does the relationship manifest the fruit of the Spirit, for example, both before and after the marriage ceremony, or is it the hormones on overdrive that are dictating the dance? These questions need to be asked, and the answers may become uncomfortable. This is why no Christian marriage ceremonies should be performed without considerable pre-marital counseling first. The church ought not to be a broker for hatching, matching, and dispatching (baptisms, marriages, and funerals).

4) The essential position of both Jesus and Paul can be summarized as "celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage". Jesus talks about being a eunuch for the sake of the Kingdom (Mt. 19. 10-12) and Paul urges his audience to remain as he is--- single (1 Cor. 7), because they believe that by the grace of God it is possible to live in such a chaste condition, and be pleasing to God. In their view, no single person, of whatever sexual orientation should be engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage, which in the Bible is always defined as heterosexual monogamy. Of course Jesus is perfectly aware of the infidelities of the human heart, but he also believes that "greater is he who is in the believer than any of those forces in the world".

5) As 1 Cor. 7 makes evident, religiously mixed marriages in which only one partner is a Christian, are not viewed in the same way as Christian marriages. In regard to the mixed marriage Paul's wisdom is that if the unbeliever desires to depart, the believer is not 'bound' to maintain the relationship, though they may do so. The word for 'bound' here is the same word used for the marital bond. Apparently, Paul does not think non-Christian marriages come with a necessary 'until death do us part' clause. He says nothing about remarriage of divorced persons, but he does say that widows may remarry "only in the Lord".

6) the famous exception clauses in Mt. 5.32 and Mt. 19.9 do not refer to adultery, or as we euphemistically call it 'marital infidelity' The word 'porneia' there from which we get the term pornography, refers to either: 1) prostitution; 2) incest, or if it is used more generally 3) all sorts of sexual abberations including beastiality, incest, prostitution, pedophilia, and adultery. My point is this. The word for adultery is 'moixeia' and it is found already in the same context in Mt. 5.27. 'Porneia' is a different word with a different range of meaning, and it is never used to mean adultery quite specifically.

It is indeed possible that in Mt. 19 Jesus is commenting on the incestuous relationships like that of Herod Antipas and Herodias, which his cousin John 'lost his head' over for criticizing. In other words, the exception clause in its original context may mean "except on grounds of a marriage that wasn't a real marriage to begin with-- an incestuous one."

As should be clear from both Mk. 10 and 1 Cor. 7.10-11, Jesus' essential view is no divorce for those joined together by God. Of course Jesus also knows that divorces happen, which is why he warns "let no third party put asunder what God has joined together". The advice of both Jesus and Paul is that remarriage of a person whom God has joined to another can even be called commiting adultery against that first partner. It is not advised, except perhaps in the case of religously mixed marriages or those cases where both partners had been pagans or non-Christians to begin with. Neither Jesus nor Paul have anything to say about marriage completely outside the covenant community of believers.

This is more than enough to absorb from one blog, but I want to stress that these are inter-related matters-- one's views of human sexuality and what God intended for that, one's view of marriage, ones view of singleness, one's view of divorce.

As a footnote I would add that the usually passages trotted out from the Pastoral Epistles about being "the husband of one wife" (or as the Greek puts it "being a one woman man") do not refer either to a requirement for an elder or deacon to be married, nor do they refer to a requirment that they only have been married once, nor to a polemic against polygamy. This pithy phrases refers simply to the elder or deacon (who are assumed to be married already, but not required to be so) being faithful to their one and only spouse.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Tour Time-- The Trip of a Lifetime, June 2006

Just a brief announcement to let you know that once again I will be leading a tour to two of the Lands of the Bible on behalf of Asbury Seminary. We will be spending a week in Israel and a week in Turkey between June 19th-July 3rd 2006. Inasmuch as we will have only limited seating (we will all be together in one large bus) we have only 50 spots for this tour. This will not be a cosmetic 'shopping' tour, though of course there will be time to get some souvenirs and Christmas presents. We will be visiting various of the major Christian and archaeological sites and I will be lecturing on the sites-- this includes Jerusalem, Bethelem, Nazareth, Capernaum, Bethsaida, Qumran, Masada, Ephesus, Pergamon, Sardis, Laodicea, Colossae, Istanbul and many other sites. Furthermore we will be on pilgrimage, as this is intended to be a spiritually formative journey. If any of you out there in the blogosphere are interesting in going, my advice would be to sign up now by contacting Ms. Tammy Cessna at the seminary at

A good and blessed time will be had by all.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Christian's Duty to the Poor

What follows here is a quotation of a part of a sermon that John Chrysostom, perhaps the greatest preacher of the early church gave on a portion of Hebrews and Mt. 5.2.

"'Give to him who begs from you and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.' Stretch out your hand; let it not be closed up. We have not been constituted examiners into others' lives, for then we should have compassion on no one. When you call upon Gold, why do you say, 'Remember not my sins?' So, even if that person is a great sinner, make this allowance in his case also, and do not remember his sins. It is a season of kindness, not of strict enquiry; of mercy, not of account" Err on the side of compassion, not caution.

"The frost is hard, and the poor man is cast out in rags, well-nigh dead, with his teeth chattering. Both by his looks and his air you should be moved. And yet, you pass by, warm and full of drink. How do you expect that God should deliver you when in misfortune? And often you will say to yourself, 'If I had found one that had done many wrong things, I would have forgiven him, so won't God forgive me?' Do not say this. You neglect the one who has done you no wrong, yet you would be able to help. How will he forgive you when you are sinning against him?"

"And it does not even stop here. Immediately accusations are brought against the suppliant. For why does he not work, you say? And why is he to be maintained in idleness? But, tell me, is it by working that you have what you have? Did you not receive it as an inheritance from your fathers? And even if you work, is this a reason why you should reproach another? Do you not hear what Paul says? For after saying 'If anyone will not work, let him not eat,' he says 'Do not be weary in well doing.' But what do they say? He is an impostor. What do you say, o man? Do you call him an impostor for the sake of a single loaf of bread or a garment? But you say, 'He will sell it immediately.' And do you manage all your affairs well? But what? Are all poor through idleness? Is no one so from calamity or shipwreck? None from lawsuits? None from being robbed? None from dangers? None from illness? None from other difficulties? If however we hear anyone bewailing such evils and crying out loud and looking up naked toward heaven, with long hair and clad in rags, at once we call him 'The impostor! That deceiver! The swindler!' Are you not ashamed? Whom do you call impostor? Do you accuse the man or give him a hard time? But you say 'he has means and pretends'. This is a charge against yourself, not against him. He knows he has to deal with the cruel, with wild beasts rather than rational persons. He knows that even if he tells his pitable story, no one pays any attention. And on this account he is forced to assume an even more miserable guise, that he may melt your heart. If we see a person coming to beg in a respectable dress, 'This is an impostor' you say, 'and he comes in this way that he may be supposed to be of good birth.' If we see one in the contrary apparel, we reproach him too. What then are they to do. Oh the cruelty, oh the inhumanity! And why, you say, 'do they expose their maimed limbs?' Do you not see it is because of you? If we were truly compassionate, they would have no need of these artifices. If they persuaded us at the first appeal, they would not have contrived thesed devices. Who is there so wretched as to be willing to behave in an unseemly way, as to be willing to make public lamentations, with his wife destitute of clothing, with his children, to sprinkle ashes on himself? How much worse than poverty are these things?" Surely the lose of all personal dignity is more humilitating than poverty.

John Chrysostom-- Homily on Hebrews 11.7-9.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Broken Flowers for Broken Relationships

Bill Murray's latest offering, Broken Flowers, which won highest honors at the Cannes Film Festival, is now circulating in the theaters in a limited release. Like his release from a couple of years back, 'Lost in Translation', this is a serious film, as Murray continues to demonstrate he can do drama as well as comedy. Also like that previous film, Murray plays a rather burned-out middle aged person who seems incapable of sustaining meaningful enduring relationships with women, despite or perhaps because of his considerable reputation as a lothario.

In Broken Flowers Murray plays Don Johnston, a deliberate punning on the former star of Miami Vice Don Johnson. The movie opens as well with Murray watching an old classic film about Don Juan, the man who lost his life because he had one lover too many. The theme that there is a cost to having a string of relationships with women none of which end in marriage is set from the beginning, and Murray plays out the script of being someone who has both been burned, and is now burned out In this film there are many curious connections meant to make us wonder whether there might be a larger design to life, but Johnston is clearly incapable of figuring out what it might be.

The movie begins with Murray receiving a letter on pink stationery with no return address and no signature announcing that twenty years previously he had fathered a child. Johnston doesn't really much react to this announcement nor is he really at all sure that it is true, but when he shows the letter to his neighbor Winston, Winston insists that he must list, and then track down his previous lovers and find out whether this claim is true. In fact Winston goes so far as to book Johnston on planes and gets him rental cars and maps. Winston, is much more curious to get to the bottom of the matter than Don Johnston is.

Johnston is reluctant but acquieses and we are off on mapquest to find out what the truth is about the progeny. Johnston even follows the script of what to do given him by Winston, as otherwise he would be clueless. He is to go to each one looking classy, bring them pink flowers and in an indirect manner look for clues to the truth as to which woman could have sent him the letter, and whether what the letter claims is true or not. The encounters with these women (four in number) range from the sublimated to the ridiculous, and we are left to piece things together for ourselves. None of the women say they have a son, but then Johnston mostly tries to ferret this information out indirectly rather than directly. The movie ends with Johnston back home but having an apparently 'chance' meeting with a young man--- who may or may not be his son.

It is hard to generate much sympathy for Murray's character as he seems more like "a patient etherized upon a table" to use a line from T.S.Eliot, than like a vibrant lover of life and women. But one thing that comes through loud and clear in the movie is that a string of short term sexual encounters does not an enduring relationship make. Instead of such encounters leading one to be more alive or lively or vibrant, they in fact have a deadening and cheapening effect.

Meaningless sex leads not to one becoming more capable of loving, but rather becoming incapable of love, commitment, or much of anything vital. The end result of playing this part this way is that Murray becomes the poster child for what is meant by dead pan acting. Though a few things surprise him and frighten him, and he is a little curious about whether he has a son or not, nothing really moves him or causes him to engage with life.

This movie is almost like something the old existentialists like Sartre would have created had they made movies. Life lacks meaning, therefore one seeks pleasure. One obtains pleasure, only to discover that it too can be without meaning, and does nothing to fill up the void in one's life, the great need for genuine and lasting love. Instead of seeking meaning and purpose elsewhere, one simply tries pleasure over and over again. But alas, the God-shaped vaccuum in a human life can only be filled by God, as another Frenchman, Pascal said.

This movie is not for everyone, but it does indeed expose a raw truth-- pleasure does not necessarily vivify a person. Indeed it may do the opposite, and is certainly no substitute for real love. And more to the point being a serial lover always has a cost. Broken relationships like broken flowers quickly die and look sad and pathetic in the process, leaving persons grasping at straws and wondering what might have been. Murray plays the part of the man with endless ennui to the hilt. It's not very exciting to watch, but it very effectively makes its point about life.
In an odd and indirect way, this movie is a powerful testimony that life without Christ can indeed be boring, bothersome, worrisome, troublesome and ultimately unfulfilling.

Monday, September 19, 2005

A Myth of Origins: America's Christian Founding Fathers?

It is always a surprise, and sometimes very painful to have one's bubble burst. This is all the more so when it has to do with something or someone a persons loves deeply and is deeply commited to. Take for example our country. It is not a very old country by global standards. Our less than 250 years of actual nationhood pales in comparison to a country like Egypt which has been extant for thousands of years. One would think with such a short history we could get the facts right about the religious character of our nation, and the beliefs of its founding fathers--- but apparently what we as Christians often wish was true, colors how we read our history so strongly that we cannot believe it could be otherwise.

Now before I go further I want to stress that of course plenty of the first persons who came to America were devout Christians--- both Protestant and Catholic. Not for nothing is Mary-land named for Jesus' mother, or Pennslyvania named for the great Quaker William Penn. Then too, Providence Rhode Island came by its name from its Christian leaders. We could go down this road a rather long way. We could recount for instance how Harvard was founded as a school for the training of Evangelical clergy and when it became too liberal in the minds of many Yale was founded as the antidote and when it became too liberal in the minds of many Princeton was founded by persons who made Jonathan Edwards, America's greatest early native theologian, its first real head. We could talk about why institutions of higher learning founded on Christian principles often go native within a generation.

What I am interested in however in this posting is the persons who framed our Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, not to mention the Bill of Rights. More partricularly I am interested in the real architects of these documents, especially the Declaration of Independence.

What one discovers on close scrutiny is that it is not Christians, but rather Deists (Unitarians as they called themselves) who were most influential. Though I could talk about George Washington and his Masonic faith in the syncretistic rites of the Masons (one part Christian, one part Jewish, one part Egyptian--- look at the Pyramid on George's dollar bill sometime, and ask yourself where that came from), or I could talk about free thinkers and radicals like Thomas Paine. But I must focus on Thomas Jefferson the intellectual heavyweight of the period, and close friend to John Adams. These two of course were the second and third Presidents of our nation, and they shared common views on the blessings of Unitarianism.

I provide here an excerpt from a letter which Jefferson wrote to James Smith in 1822, a Unitarian pamphlet writer, only shortly before Jefferson died. He shared the same sentiments about this matter as did John Adams. In order to understand this letter one needs to keep three things in mind: 1) by 'primitive Christianity' what Jefferson means is Christianity shorn of its supernatural character--- without miracles, without the Trinity, without the resurrection. He is talking about the image of 'primitive Christianity' he was helping to create himself by his Jeffersonian Bible-- a Jesus Seminar kind of Bible with all the miracles in the NT snipped out, leaving us with the Sermon on the Mount and other ethical teachings. 2) the three headed dog Cerberus from Greco-Roman mythology is the point of comparison for his derogatory comment about the Trinity; 3) Unitarians were rationalists and Deists. They were the split offs from the controversial battles fought by the Congregationalists, originally in New England, who divided between Trinitarians, which is to say traditional Christians, and Unitarians.

Here is Jefferson's letter to James Smith written in 1822:

"I have to thank you for your pamphlets on the subject of Unitarianism, and to express my gratification with your efforts for the revival of primitive Christianity in your quarter. No historical fact is better established, than that the doctrine of one God, pure and uncompounded [i.e. not three persons in one God], was that of the early ages of Christianity; and was one of the most efficacious doctrines which gave it triumph over the polytheism of the ancients, sickened with the absurdities of their own theology. Nor was the unity of the Supreme Being ousted by the force of reason, but by the sword of civil government, wielded at the will of the fanatic Athanasius. The hocus-pocus phantasm of a God like another Cerberus, with one body and three heads, had its birth and growth in the blood of thousands and thousands of martyrs. And a strong proof of the solidity of the primitive faith, is its restoration, as soon as a nation arises which vindicates to itself the freedom of religion opinion, and its external divorce from the civil authority. The pure and simple unity of the Creator of the universe is all but ascendant in the eastern states; it is dawning in the west, and advancing towards the south; and I confidently expect that the present generation will see Unitarianism become the general religion of the United States."

In another letter written at about the same time Jefferson shared his confidence that "I trust that there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian." (These quotes and more can easily be found in David Hempton's fine study entitled Methodism. Empire of the Spirit (New Haven: Yale, 2005, p. 48).

Our founding fathers and the chief drafters of America's foundational documents wanted at all costs to avoid having a State or national church endorsed and under the patronage of government. Even more they wanted to avoid have a church which shaped, or partially controlled the government. There had been too many religious wars in Europe and they wanted to avoid that scenario in America--- which of course was a noble aim. The principle of 'freedom of religion' is of course not one found in the Bible strictly speaking. Elijah, for example in 1 Kngs. 18, was hardly an advocate of 'freedom of religion' when he attacked the prophets of Baal, but then Israel was hardly a democracy anyway, nor was Jesus' vision of the kingdom democratic. These entities were intended to be benevolent monarchies, though as you will remember, God was loath to give Israel a king in the first place.

One thing we must never do is make the mistake of equating Israel with America. America has always been a nation commited to pluralism (remember 'e pluribus unum'), though it has always debated how much pluralism was too much. Democracy of a sort, and freedom of religion was the sanction needed to allow for that sort of pluralism. Of course it is true that the Founding Fathers did think we could be united, whether Christian or Jew or even native American, in a belief in one God, in divine providence, in ethical principles (many of them from the Bible including the ten commandments) to undergird the nation.

Modern pluralism goes way beyond what the Founding Fathers could have conceived as either true or good, and indeed they did see the minimal beliefs of Deism as something that could unite everyone. It was a least common denominator sort of religious foundation for the nation, and its principles of respect for difference, open and free inquiry, no religion imposed on anyone had numerous merits when compared to the ugly spectacle of Christians killing each other over their differences in religious beliefs.

Another myth that dies hard is that we have written down somewhere in our founding documents the principle of 'separation of church and state'. Actually that is not in the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence at all. It was however an undergirding principle of various of our founders in an attempt to avoid European religious scenarios. America's founding documents reflect the individualism (often of a radical sort if one reads Thomas Paine), rationalism and empiricism and even eudaemonism of our founders (noting the clause on the individual pursuit of happiness rather than holiness). These things made good sense then with the rise of the industrial revolution on the not too distant horizon.
In other words, our founding documents owe more to the libertarian sentiments of the Enlightenment than to the Bible. Our founding fathers believed democratic government could help set the people free--- one did not need to wait for revivals and Jesus and the Holy Spirit to do the job. Of course it is true that democracy has many virtues, and probably is the best sort of government found on earth. It is certainly far closer in many ways to Biblical ideals than communism.

But by the same token we need to be honest about the founding of our nation, and the beliefs of its founding fathers. We need to recognize that America was not founded to be a Christian nation if by Christian we mean orthodox Christianity that believes in a supernatural Gospel, a Trinity, a virginal conception, a bodily resurrection, an atoning death of Jesus, or the Bible as divine revelation. Perhaps you may have noticed that the quote from Jefferson places him in the camp of the Dan Brown's of this world who blame Constantine and Athanasius for orthodoxy, not realizing that Trinitarian thinking about God already existed in the first century A.D. as any careful reader of the NT can see.

The question then I wish to pose is--- if Christians should give up the quest to 'get back to Christian America', what then should we do? I would suggest we should go forward towards a Christianity in America that does a better job of being an advocate for its own position in all spheres of life and public discourse, not retreating into the narrow bubbles of holy conventicles, churches, home schools and the like.

If we really want to help our nation to go to Hades in a handbasket more quickly we can continue to retreat into our holy huddles, counting on the separation of church and state to protect us--- when ironically there is no such written down principle in our founding documents.

"Greater is he who is in us, than is in the world" should be our battle cry, or perhaps let us "take captive every thought for Christ". We must work and pray for revival not just of ourselves but of our whole nation. Escapist religion must be avoided. As John Wesley said there is no spiritual Gospel without the social Gospel. Indeed so, and we may say that while Christianity is a deeply personal matter, it was never intended to be a private matter--- we are after all called to make disciples of all the nations. Even our own. May it be so in our lifetime.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Katrina Reprise-- And Now for Something Completely Different

Well it was bound to happen. We now have the ultimate answer to the trivia question--- What do the fundamentalist Christian TV preacher and the head of Al Quaeda in Iraq have in common? Answer--- they both think that Hurricane Katrina is a judgment of God on American sin!

Yes, I kid you not, today Mssr. Al Zarqawi was on the news claiming that Hurricane Katrina was not only an act of God's judgment on American sin, a reprisal for the destruction we have wreaked on Afghanistan and Iraq, but in fact he claims that the hurricane is an answer to prayer--- namely the prayers of those who are part of Al Quaeda. When fundamentalist preachers and Al Quaeda operatives agree on something it is time to ask--- What's wrong with this picture?

Perhaps, we have forgotten entirely about the story of Abraham praying for Sodom and bargaining with God to spare the city (Gen. 18.16-33). Notice that in that story God spares Sodom if there are even ten righteous persons in the whole city. Abraham is persuasive in the story based on the rhetorical question "Will God sweep away the righteous with the wicked?" The answer to the question is no. God has better aim than that for one thing, and secondly the God of the Bible is compassionate over and over again even on recalitrant sinners (see e.g. Hosea 11.8-11--- thank goodness God is not like us in this regard). One can surely make the case that Biloxi, Gulport, New Orleans had more than ten righteous believers in them. Consideration of this sort of text should have eliminated some of the flippant rhetoric we have heard on Christian TV of late.

Or we could consider the brief story of Jesus' disciples asking whether they should call down fire from heaven on a village in Samaria that had not provided hospitality to the disciples (Lk. 9.54-55). Jesus' response is to rebuke the disciples for seeking judgment for those who reject them.

For the Christian person, the bottom line in this sort of discussion, however trite it may sound, is--- Would Jesus have suggested that the devastation that hit the gulf coast was a judgment of God? Or, would he perhaps have said of those cities what he says elsewhere about Sodom and Gomorrah, Korazin and Bethsaida--- that divine judgment of such places will not arrive until the Day of Judgment (Lk. 10.13-15). Judgment of that sort awaits the eschatological conclusion of history. Such texts ought at the very least to make us reticent to make snap judgments on why devastation fell on the Gulf Coast.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Cracks in the Wall


Cracks in the wall,
There by design,
Prayers on plain paper
One of them mine
Rabbis are chanting,
Torah held high,
Sunlight is fading,
In the blue sky.
Guards are watching,
Passing the time,
Nodding acquaintance
With the sublime.

Herod’s temple,
All that remains
Limestone platform,
Withstands the strain,
Mosque’s gold dome
Shines in the light,
Whose God is honored
By what’s in sight?
Prayers of the righteous
Meant to be heard,
But the papers are silent,
Don’t speak a word.

“We want messiah”
Yeshiva boy cries,
The irony is thick,
And darkens the skies
Christians with kepas
Stand by the shrine,
Praying to Jesus,
As someone divine.
The wailing wall,
Heard Jesus’ lament
That he would have gathered,
If Zion would repent.

Cracks in the wall,
Filled up with our prayers,
Perhaps it is this,
Which keeps God right there
Perhaps when Messiah
Comes (once again),
Perhaps then the Spirit
Will descend through the air,
Perhaps then true monotheists
Will kneel at God’s feet,
Be filled with his Spirit,
The Father’s Son greet.

True children of Abram
Meet at the wall
And confess Trinity,
The One for us all.
Is this a dream-- we three could be one?
Just as God is,
Whose plan is not done.
“Something there is
That doesn’t like a wall”
But this one unites
The One with us all.