2 Chronicles 12

Solomon’s son king Rehoboam tries out not believing in God.

It is punished in literal terms, Egypt attacks and carries off most of Solomon’s treasure like his gold shields. It is punishment and lesson. The prophet comes and interprets the theological meaning.

Rehoboam repents before Jerusalem is taken, which saves the city. But God allows the Egyptian king to occupy them in some way, to teach them what the kingship of others is like.

So the treasure goes, and Rehoboam needs protection just to walk the streets.

The story of Israel’s Kings is quite simply the story of kingship in many ways. It applies to the choices we make as to who is king of our life.

Almost no one consistently surrenders their crown to God. Why do we find obedience to God so hard?

I also ask myself, reading this in a week where another massive report of church abuse of children has been released, ‘is the church’s decline a literal punishment for all is sexual sin?’

I mean, it’s a consequence of loss of trust even without divine intervention. So it’s a question of the theological overlay we place on events.

I suppose we’re constantly tempted to think ‘shit happens’, there is not a God who claims kingship of your life.

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Deuteronomy 27

New section. We’ve had all the rules now committing to them and the transition of leadership to settle the holy land.

They take a moment of silence and the priests declare them to be God’s people. 

First thing they will do is climb two mountains. Mountains equal meeting God.

One will be for curses, one for blessings.

The curse mountain has all the law written on some of its stones, and an altar for sacrifice also piled up of its uncarved stones.

They’ll do a fellowship offering, ie: one that celebrates God’s presence rather than removing sin. And they will formally declare that rejecting God, being greedy, unfair, uncaring to the vulnerable or sexually immoral will bring God’s curse.

It is a marker, a baseline, a resolution they will be able to look back on and test their society against. When they are deep in an argument about tribal boundaries, they will look back on this moment and remember declaring before God as a nation that they would be cursed if they ever did this.

I don’t remember becoming a Christian, I don’t have a moment of dedication of my life to God. Like the Israelites who would be born in the promised land, I have the choice to accept or forget every day the faith I was handed down by my parents. I pray for my children, and my witness to them. 

Leviticus 18

The Israelites are to be defined and set apart by their sexual morality.  Its pretty funny in a way, they are not to be like the people they left behind in Egypt, or like the people they will find in Canaan.  Basically, they are not to be like everyone ever. Sexual morality doesn’t come naturally.

But neither does endlessly rampant sexual behaviour.  Societies seems to naturally settle somewhere between a degree of sexual wildness in certain contexts, and a degree of stable self restraint.

The Israelites sex laws are a mixture of things that our current society either judges severely still, regards as taboo, or thinks nothing of. Paedophilia: severely, incest and bestiality: largely frowned on and taboo, homosexuality and adultery: meh.

We as christians are now free from all those laws, through grace, and free to follow our own rules for living right with God. In my lifetime and society, divorce has not been harshly judged, though Irish Catholics were perfectly logical to observe that it sets up a situation of serial adultery.  But that’s not mattered here.

Of late many Christians seem to be getting progressively less hot under the collar about homosexuality, but that wasn’t the case when I was young and there remains of course significant and deep divisions about it.  Society is judging christians much more harshly than when I was a kid for anti-homosexual ideas.  And don’t we hate it, it drives us nuts being on the wrong side of the mainstream even though the bible says to expect it one way or other.

Homosexuality per se I think does pretty much zero emotional damage compared to adultery and cheating. Or homophobia. The most devastating sexual experience of my life was technically chaste hetero dating, ie: kissing, holding hands… and breaking up. Killed me.

Though the gay grindr type of scene I do find confronting and crass, as I do demeaning hetero porn or promiscuity. I don’t think there is no consequences in allowing yourself and others to be lust meat, I think on some level its got to eventually spill over into other aspects of your humanity and compassion. I think of it a bit like scar tissue, a progressive deadening of sensitivity and nuance. Emotionless sex. I understand the urge, I do profoundly in my being, in fact compared to proper love with emotion gone wrong it can seem like a great idea, but I don’t believe it is, really.

Adultery is probably worse than bestiality in the societal damage it does, in my opinion, though bestiality is just, well, weird.

Incest, to a degree, and  most certainly paedophilia are easy to see as exploitative and unfair, though different societies view the limits of it differently (we are horrified by 13 year olds getting married, other societies not so much).  Incest has the public health factors mixed in too, as with much in Leviticus.

Its something I really don’t know what to think about.  I am confused and evolving. Its all always been, and mores are fluid from society to society. Though there are themes.

I did like the idea in this chapter of sex being owning each other’s nakedness, and inappropriate sex being taking that other person’s nakedness from them when it is not yours, that’s something that gets to the intimacy of sex and the hurt and betrayal that can come with it. Its romantic.

The reference to Molech, a nasty canaanite deity, is interesting too.  Historians speculate that the Molech rituals involved harsh child sacrifice, maybe as a way of killing babies from inappropriate relationships like rape, incest or affairs.  A sort of late birth control.  Perhaps more than just a simple ban on child sacrifice, Israelites are being told to love their illegitimate children, which would make sense of mentioning it in the rules about sexual morality.

There has never been a consistently monogamous society or culture on earth, research suggests.  But – it seems from Wikipedia at least – there has been very few societies in which some form of monogamy or stage of exclusive commitment to a stable relationship was not seen as an ideal, and which had no sense of jealousy, passion and betrayal coming from sexual relationships gone bad.  Ironically the gay marriage debate has produced public paeans to the ideal of monogamy such as I’ve not witnessed up to this point in my life.

I’m quite resolved to let it all flow, I don’t see any point in opposing gay marriage in fact I believe christians should support it, even those don’t think homosexuality is right in God’s eyes. Marriage is not a sacrament, ie: an ordained ritual of god’s blessing, its a social construct which periodically gets redefined. It becomes unfair not to allow it if the negative taboo falls away. It all part of a piece.

You can’t separate church and state and then join them again when it suits you.  And you can’t argue for the continuance of an alliance, however convenient, between homophobes and christians who may be sincerely not homophobic but honestly believe that condemnation of homosexuality is an essential part of christian theology. The sincere christians still have to view the death of homophobia as a good thing, and be prepared to give voice to their theology in a way that is compassionate and kind, as well as marginal to the point of being generally loathed, which is way harder than it used to be. Thats how its gonna be now.

Every time a christian who is not personally tempted by or interested in homosexuality, in fact is culturally afraid of it, finds themselves about to condemn it, they should stop and condemn their own sexual and gender sins instead. Ditto abortion.  There is way too much ignoring of logs in christians own eyes in the sexual area.  Sins you are upset or threatened by are easy to condemn, and broad to define!

And fortunately nothing about transitioning to other genders or gender fluidity, that’s all unregulated, whew!

Father, give me self control, give me wisdom.

Below: wisdom.

 

 

 

 

 

Genesis 38

Genesis! Like a classic TV series, they keep wrong footing you on plot. 

On the basis of the last chapter you think it’s going to be Joseph’s story, he is the child of destiny, betrayed and left to rot in Egypt.

But that moment of high suspense is left on hold to tell the side story of Judah, the brother who had the idea to sell him into slavery.

It’s like a sensationalist soap opera, lurching between lurid, corrupt characters. Like Dynasty or Dallas, but with glimpses of the divine.

Judah continues to cover himself in no glory. Not a godly man at all. He marries a Canaanite woman, and falls into the local sexually promiscuous religion.   

The background to the subsequent events is the strange polygamous family marriage rules of that world. In well off families, women’s male children were their financial security, and they could keep marrying sons until they got one.

So when Judah’s eldest son died his widow Tamar became a wife of the second son. But he practised withdrawal contraception to rob her of the possibility of conception, presumably to favour the inheritance of another wife’s child. This was ethically a cruel and grievous crime against Tamar.

Judah promised her the third son, once he got old enough to marry, but then appeared to forget the promise when the time came, leaving her a vulnerable childless widow, double betrayed.

She took the extraordinary step of posing as a temple prostitute and got pregnant to Judah. When the baby started to show he threatened to burn her for adultery until she proved he was the father.

Judah broke down and said “she is more righteous than I” as well he should, having had revealed: his callous disregard of his promise to her, how far from his religion he had strayed, and his eggregious double standards. The punishment of burning for adultery was unusually severe even for those days… It’s rather like he welcomed an excuse to dispose of her. And he knew he was no better, frequenting prostitutes. 

She has twins. The one actually fully born second stuck a hand out of her first, and a Scarlett ribbon was tied to it to indicate which had broken out first. 

What is it about scarlet threads and the line of Christ? It brings to mind, thousands of years before the event, the blood shed for mankind. A Scarlett thread also features in the story of Rahab in Jericho, a later feisty female link in the great chain that would lead to the Messiah. 

Yes, Tamar is in the messiah’s line giving a blessed grace to the domestic disaster zone that is nasty Judah’s nasty house. It was by faith, presumably, that she posed as a prostitute!

Genesis!

1 Samuel 2

God’s grace can seem unfair especially in the old testament because it is poured out on chosen people who are in stark contrast to the unchosen.

This choosing is the meta story of how grace became available to all. Today whoever chooses god is chosen.

Some ideas about grace that weave through this story. 

God knows we are corrupt, works through it, but it is our fault. The priest’s corrupt sons are cheating on God by taking the prime cuts of sacrificial meat for themselves, and using their position to sleep with women. God prophesies their fall and death because of their evil, but they are responsible for it. 

Reversal – Samuel’s mum sings a joyous song at the start of the chapter. Grace for her has been the experience of the barren becoming fertile. She extends this in her song to the poor becoming rich and the low becoming high.

All the while Samuel grows both physically and spiritually and is admired by all. He is the embodiment of god’s grace. 

I am so dry father, help me remember your grace.

1 Thess 4

So down to the teaching – two chapters.  Its a doddle really, the emotion of the book is in the part we have already read, Paul’s delight at how the truth has taken with them.  This bit is sort of a “carry on!” pep talk.

We instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more

Sex!

First issue is sexual immorality, which may have been a pretty natural part of life for the Greek, idol worshipping community prior to conversion. He condemns it as bad faith towards others (taking advantage of a brother or sister) and God.  

The immorality is an excess of lust to the extent that the body is controlled by it alone. It is a simple corollary of God calling us to holiness. Even if everyone consents, God hates it, because he has called us to be holy.

Consent can certainly be misleading as a test of morality. Sometimes it’s the lesser evil compared to say, social ostracism or loneliness. We’ve all known of consenting relationships that are bad ones. Paul is saying that at the base of sexual impurity is a lack of bodily control; of your own urges making you indifferent to the impact on others.

The alternate view is that the urge makes it right… To dump a family, to persuade someone to do something they would rather not, to live with someone who must put up with feeling unloved.

Is it faithless to want to understand gods rules? Jacob didn’t ask God why he wanted him to sacrifice his son. It’s tempting when debating issues such as sexual purity as a Christian to argue that God’s way is actually the best practical way to live in our world. But it often doesn’t ring true, the psalmists could see that.

The bible does often call us to feel like strangers in this world. I think the western church, as it’s cultural dominance wanes, is struggling with this. We are not used to feeling marginal. Arguing for sexual purity is increasingly awkward in this sex mad world. Though Paul is taking to believers here. The church is sufficiently marginal that there is no suggestion of any sort of influence in the wider cultural norms.

Love

They don’t need to learn a thing, what praise! Just do what you are doing more and more. What does an ideal loving church look like? Here it is quiet and self reliant, quite surprising. Our love is what we should be known for, that is our advertising sign, our calling card and our cultural distinctiveness. Our teaching on sexual purity is for us.