Hosea 8

A chapter of “you’re gonna get it”. It’s where the phrase “sow the wind, reap the whirlwind” comes from. And that is a summary of the content.

Which gives a moral to the suffering of the Israelites that our current pandemic doesn’t have. I feel theologically numb to it. I googled and the first link was pretty good, a new York Times article Where Is God in a Pandemic?

…the overall confusion for believers is encapsulated in what is called the “inconsistent triad,” which can be summarized as follows: God is all powerful, therefore God can prevent suffering. But God does not prevent suffering. Therefore, God is either not all powerful or not all loving

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/22/opinion/coronavirus-religion.html

The answer it turns out is that the author doesn’t know God’s purpose in this pandemic. Best answer he can give. He’s still rather follow Jesus than not, and so would I. But Hosea makes a provocative contrast.

Kelly noted the other day the irony that this plague had meant that Passover was cancelled.

So we wait it out, and I don’t take it as retribution for our sins.

Hosea 4

Aboriginal people at work were explaining totems to me. You don’t eat your totem. To my friend’s mob, kangaroos were sacred. So as well as being a complex tapestry of different languages and countries, this culture saw Australia as a tapestry of different animal sanctuaries.

That blew my mind a bit. It’s abundance thinking, recognising that, as long as you don’t get greedy, the regenerative machine of God’s creation will provide enough for all forever. A practical way of ensuring God’s will is done on earth as in heaven: God gave us all these animals. If you respect that gift enough to never kill all of any one kind, you’ll have them forever. And that is personally expressed through being bought up having an empathic affinity with a particular animal.

Today’s passage is about the corruption and greed of all Israel. God won’t allow them to point fingers at each other. You’re all equally bad, the passage says.

It explains God’s choice of prostitution to make the point, because the religious practises they had adopted in defiance of God’s revelation literally involved a lot of prostitution. Their spirituality and their economy was built on it. Sacred and secular, almost everyone complicit in this deep corruption of their society.

I say almost everyone, because the prophesy will not allow the double standard of victim blaming:

“I will not punish your daughters

    when they turn to prostitution,

nor your daughters-in-law

    when they commit adultery,

because the men themselves consort with harlots”

V14

Very clear that Hosea’s story was not about “slut shaming” Gomer, wife and prostitute, but exposing the exploitative patriarchy she was born into.

I thought: our society isn’t as bad as that. There is a lot of good. We aren’t as corrupt as Israel was. And I don’t know the answer. But I’ll tell you, greed is on the up and up.

Look at toilet paper. When the history of the 2020 pandemic is told, the ridiculous toilet paper crisis in Australia may be forgotten.

But you can’t find it anywhere. Most Australians seemingly decided that the way to stock up for the possibility of 2 weeks of quarantine was to buy about a years worth of toilet paper, so the shops are currently empty of it.

This is not abundance thinking, it’s selfish greed, admittedly fuelled by panic. But the toilet paper thing seems like a prophetic symbol worthy of the old testament in a world where inequality is dramatically rising, and political movements based on xenophobia keep winning elections.

God promises that the world does have enough for everybody, if we can just be less greedy. But still, greed is rampant.

And sexual exploitation is in this weird place. It’s more harshly condemned than ever in my lifetime, via #metoo and the demarginalising of all kinds of sexual preferences. But at the same time the internet swirls with unprecedented access to it. But I suppose no weirder than the contradiction of Hosea’s marriage. Plus ca change..

So our spiritual health is patchy perhaps, but not great, not at all.

Prophesy is about being God’s presence. WWJD. We’re good for toilet paper.

Ezekiel 29

We’re into 4 chapters of judgement on Egypt.

It opens with an elegant simile likening Egypt to a crocodile, with God as crocodile hunter, pulling it out of the river that allows it to thrive and leaving it in a field where it is weak and struggles.

And Egypt’s glory days never really did return after the Babylonians attacked and exiled them.

There’s a few things going on here that subverted my thinking.

This is another exile, being presented as God’s teaching another country a lesson. Israel’s exile is so profoundly tied to the revelation of God’s salvation plan, I tended to think it was unique.

Mind you, Egypt’s weakening and exile is also a lesson for Israel, an urgently relevant one. At the time the prophesy was made. They were trying to make alliances with Egypt to save them from the Babylonians. Big mistake, trust God not man.

I suppose God is caring about and shaping the narrative of all nations. I mean it says he does, but the Bible doesn’t often expose the untold stories. You tend to assume he’s only working on the chosen people.

God’s attitude to the Babylonians surprised me too. The siege on Tyre lasted 13 exhausting years and the wealthy merchants who ran the city sailed away to a nearby island with most of the valuable stuff,

So God says he is giving them Egypt without much fight as a kind of payment. A reward for the effort on Tyre, because they did it for God.

God showing concern that Babylon be rewarded for their efforts is strange to me, but sure seems to tell of his loving nature.

It reminds me of how I found the moment in Joshua 5:14 so pivotal, where the angel says God is on neither side of the conflict over the promised land.

A theme of the old testament is that wealth and prosperity leads to spiritual poverty, and losing everything material leads to spiritual renewal.

I’ve been thinking about that, as a big financial deal is going ahead that will give our church a big income. Danger ahead!

Goodies, baddies, success, failure. The Bible is telling us that nothing is as it seems.

The world is like groundhog day, set up to be generational, to restart over and over. And the specifics don’t matter a bit compared to the spiritual meta-journey.

That movie blends a little more of god’s view, eternity, into human experience than is normal, and so it draws out different implications of being both mortal and eternal.

God loves the Babylonians and the Canaanites too. We don’t comprehend God’s love with our natural instincts. God has to bless us with spiritual insight. And he does, the whole world, in different levels.

Job 18

Bildad, the most black and white of the friends, doubles down on his theory that evil people suffer.

The thing is it works one way: evil leads to being cut off from God. But it doesn’t work backwards: if you seem cut off from God, you must be evil.

It is completely false in Job’s case, we know from chapter one he was chosen to suffer because he was so righteous and loved God so much.

It means that what Bildad says is horribly unjust. Job lost 10 sons in an accident, and that is attributed to his evil. He has a horrible skin disease, ditto. He’s being kicked when he is down, its cruel.

It’s easy to dismiss Bildad, but it’s harder to have a sensible theology of sin, evil and hell.

I’m mixed up about it, but in some respects in a good way because the old testament has such conflicting rhetoric about it. One minute everyone but the chosen people are as good as dead, and probably most of the chosen people are too. The next minute all nations are dancing on a highway to blessing though the desert blooming with crocuses.

Hellfire and brimstone are pretty out of fashion as preaching topics. I do believe warnings are needed, Christianity does exist partly to call out evil, corporate and individual.

Beyond the injustice we see around us however, the cosmic consequences of evil, the specifics, which people, which evil, what punishment, seems to go fuzzy.

The consequences of personal immorality and unethical living, Jesus’ ‘unforgivable sin’ It’s a project for when I get back to the new testament to figure out how that impacts on daily life for me.

The barista at work is someone who’s been through the salvation army mill, in recovery from addiction, now a keen attender. He got a denture to replace his four upper teeth the other day. I noticed and he said how he had hated going out with the top teeth missing.

They were evidence of his ‘poor life choices’ as the Salvos like to call them, and he felt judged. And rightly so, I judged him. It branded him as someone with an uncontrolled past. A brawler. Its not fair, some of the least evil looking people can be as evil as all get out.

The Anglican Synod wanted to ban Aboriginal smoking ceremonies on church properties, because of links to paganism or some such. Where do you start? Should we ban christmas and easter too?  How about Aboriginals ban churches from being built on stolen land? Job wasn’t christian, not even jewish – how did he even make the bible cut?

I was excited by the idea that seemed to be in chapter 14 that sin shows us we are not God. Its a big part of Jesus’ teaching: use sin, learn from sin.

Had a couple of  more positive days at work, feeling more cheerful.

Job 11

Job’s friends are commenting on his misfortunes. Today we heard from the third, Zohar. And he is the most plausible.

They’ve done the ol’ literary 1-2-3. Like the beds in little red riding hood, Eliphaz was too soft, Bildad was too hard, Zophar is closest to fine.

And Job hasn’t been all oppositional… He’s agreed with some points, objected to others and made a few of his own. There is a sense of zeroing in on the nature of God.

The voices are like – indeed they are probably literally – different aspects of one internal monologue inside the mind of the author of the book, as ideas are considered and tested.

His first point is that Job’s claim of innocence has to be baloney. This is what I actually believe, the doctrine of original sin.

People decide they are innocent with so little prompting. I remember visiting jails when I studied criminology, and the prisoners never related their punishment to their crime, to them their incarceration was always unjustified. They’d forgotten the crime, all they could see was the punishment.

But rather than attempt to join the dots between a sin and Job’s suffering in a simplistic cause-and-effect way as the first two friends did, Zohar echoes Job’s sense that there must be more. Some missing bits to our understanding of God.

He says that of course job has sinned, God’s already forgotten more of Job’s sins than he could ever confess. But sin isn’t the point. Understanding God, becoming wise, is.

And that has to come from God. He memorably says the chance of us coming up with an understanding of God without His help is about the same as a donkey having a human baby.

It ends with perhaps the most significant turn around of the book. He says that if he humbles himself before God he will receive hope, love, and a satisfied mind free from fear… Rather than stuff. The others just spoke of a return to prosperity and respectability.

So we’ve tested the conventional wisdom, it’s fallen short and we need new paradigms on sin and blessing that are aligned to the revealed nature of God.

Sin is useful as a contrast, shows us how we are not God. Makes us desire not only his mercy but wisdom, insight, understanding of how things were designed to be, how things could be better.

Similarly, blessing is about His kingdom coming, not ours. Earth as per heaven.

And as far as human philosophy and effort can take us, in terms of really understanding the universe, it’s like expecting a donkey to give birth to a human.

Or a human to give birth to God. Just a minute!

Psalm 32

The upside of being forgiven.

This is a poem about your relationship to your sense of your own evil.  Believers and non believers are hardly different in this. Everyone has a sinful nature.

We all have lots of sin that we don’t know about, probably. You can tell this because you often meet people who have massive faults they are barely aware of, so it follows logically that you could have them too, even if you you’re not aware of them…

Also some sin we are aware of but forgive ourselves of. Indulgences.

Some sin that eats us up with guilt. It can make life a living hell.

But… only believers believe the cosmic promise of rightness with their creator, that the centre of the universe is love, and against all odds, despite everything, they are loved. And it’s a fantastic, light feeling. A wonderful way to be.

The psalm compares it to being surrounded by songs, unafraid of rising waters (not just a metaphorical threat these days), protected, safe, and watched out for by God’s loving eye; glad, joyous, singing and enveloped in love.

The images of being controlled by sin are vivid: it leaves you groaning and weighed down, saps your energy like a hot summer day.

It robs you of judgement and understanding.  You still answer to God, but your relationship to him is like a horse being controlled by bit in its mouth. People who accept forgiveness are more like children, who learn and actually come to understand God’s mind.

I’m tempted to default to thinking Christianity is a bargain, you pay by losing some fun and freedom, but gain by getting god.  But this psalm is a great reminder, sin sucks equally for everyone, there is no substitute for being free of it.

2 Chronicles 33

King Manasseh, the longest reigning (55 years) and one of the worst Kings. Apparently he sacrificed children. He converted the temple to worship of the stars, which was the Assyrian religion.

Also king Amon, too boring to mention.

I wondered why the worship of other Gods keeps coming back, what is the attraction? Some suggest it might have been economic, to encourage trade deals.

Certainly that’s how it seemed in Solomon’s time, he’d marry to make an alliance and then build an altar for the wife’s religion. That’s how Molech the child sacrifice God got on the scene.

A historian suggested that Mannaseh’s reign was economically quite prosperous, he had a better foreign policy than Hezekiah. Of course the Bible is mostly interested in his religious impact.

This bio includes his repentance, not mentioned in Kings.

There is an apocryphal “prayer of Mannasah” which is a really beautiful prayer. They have an ancient scrap from the dead sea scrolls and a later Greek version, but no complete consistent one, so it didn’t make the cut in our Bible version.

Even if it’s just a poet imagining what he would have said, rather than his actual prayer, it certainly catches an awareness of how much God can forgive;

I am not worthy to look up and see the height of heaven because of the multitude of my iniquities.
I am weighted down with many an iron fetter, so that I am rejected because of my sins, and I have no relief;
for I have provoked your wrath and have done what is evil in your sight,
setting up abominations and multiplying offences.
And now I bend the knee of my heart,
imploring you for your kindness...”

It only came later in his life, after he caused the streets to run red with the blood of prophets and their followers. But God can forgive much!

That is two Kings in a row who have had repentance in their story. It’s a powerful, wonderful move that makes a tangible difference in this world.

The transformation it can make in people makes you believe, and want to believe, in God. People find it confronting to be told to repent, it’s like a bad Christan cliche, but to witness it in others is very convincing and attractive.

In anticipation, you can worry it will make you seem weak, or be a needlessly unpleasant airing of your worst moments, which is how the church got in such a pickle.

Our egos mean we kid ourselves we get away with a lot more than we actually do. By the time we repent, the need for it is often bleeding obvious to those around us.

And from the outside, it generally seems strong, because it marks you as a person of principle, honesty, fairness and honour.

But above all it’s healing, of relationships and of self.

All of my family are in pain for different reasons at the moment, is the weekend, praying we have some moment of grace.

2 Chronicles 14

We get to king Asa. He is one of those who loved the Lord. Chronicles seems more focused on the southern Kings so far, and on believers. None of the northern Kings were believers, however the North gave rise to powerful prophets.

Chronicles is like the good news version of history. It also skipped most of David and Solomon’s messy domestic stories. It is a manual for nation re-building and reclaiming former piety.

Asa’s reign was a time of religious renewal, and we’re going to get a lot of detail of it, 3 chapters here compared one paragraph in Kings. He removed shrines of other Gods. All the believer Kings do this… The shrines always seem to come back between them.

It is the ancient Canaan religion, and other local religions. They were supposed to have zero tolerance for them as the chosen people.

An army from Egypt is raised against him, and he prays for and is given victory without having to engage them head to head, the Lord strikes the enemies and they turn in fear.

It’s a strategic victory, Egypt do not terrible Israel again for generations, a demonstration of God’s favour once again against that nation’s ambition.

The Israelites plunder the army and the villages, which leaves a bad taste. Previous God given victories were acknowledged by not taking plunder.

Its interesting how you get the law books setting up the ideal and the measuring stick for what follows. Its not often commented on, but if you read them in order, you are always aware that the nation of Israel never, even in its finest moments, measured up to the ideal god set for it in Deuteronomy, Leviticus, Numbers etc.

The poets and the prophets, to follow, will spell out the limitations and inconsistencies, and look forward to more. In the histories, apart from occasional words from the prophets, or God himself, the failures of God’s law and the corrupting power or triumph of evil just sits there.

2 Chronicles 9

Behold! The Queen of Sheba.

The visit of this exotic personage, from a far flung and wealthy kingdom… (they think it was in present day Yemen, pretty much the edge of the known world to them) …lends massive credence to the honour and fame they have achieved.

This nation of former slaves, transformed by God’s blessing so that all the world acknowledges his greatness.

More descriptions of Solomon’s stunning opulence follow. It goes on for 40 years, Israel’s high period, and then Solomon dies. The Queen sums it up:

“Praise be to God who has delighted in you”

It’s what God wants for us. The garden of Eden is described in similar abundant terms, as is the new earth and heaven described in revelation.

The history of Israel is a huge lesson that people’s hearts don’t become loving if you pour out massive blessing on them.

Look at the wealthiest, most blessed nation on earth today. The US are desperate to become “great” again. Yesterday I read they slapped trade tariffs on Turkey because the world trade system is ‘so unfair’.

Great wealth has begotten more greed and bullying of nations poorer than themselves. Their policy of ‘America first’ belies the fact that they already are first. It’s actually America further first.

And Australia is not better, look at how we treat refugees while shrinking or foreign aid. If the West is in decline is because our rich diet is so bad for us.

Jeremiah 23

Lest we fear that the talk in the last chapters of God running out of patience with the house of David contradicts the other prophets, here is a messianic message.

David’s house will re-sprout.

Jeremiah groups the leaders of Israel together as “shepherds” -Kings, religious leaders, prominent citizens and government officials, all shepherds. David’s profession before he was king.

They’ve had bad ones, they’ll have good ones again.

He speaks of the gathering of the dispersed Jews. This will be a redemption that surpasses the escape from Egypt. And it will come from the line of David…

But for now… Jeremiah complains about bad practitioners of his own profession, bad prophets. They make him nauseated, is viscerally disturbing and mentally incomprehensible to him how describe and abusive of their power they are being.

And their message? One of comfort, sweetness, telling them everything will be ok. Telling them to follow their heart and find peace.

Sounds like a lot of churches I know. Sounds like me when I don’t want to be a wet blanket on a positive philosophical vibe with my non Christian friends.

Speaking truthfully though Jeremiah, God compares himself to a violent whirlwind.

Then to a harvester throwing away the chaff, to a hammer shattering a rock and to fire, burning and purifying.

How little will The sweet dishonest dreams the false prophets sell mean then.

On third thoughts they also remind me of advertising and PR companies.

He speaks of how they run to spread the false messages.

He wonders how they think they can get away with it… Do they think God’s isn’t listening?

Worst of all false prophets are the fake religious ones however. God pleas with them to stop saying they are the “Oracle of the Lord”. This will earn them everlasting shame.

Now I am a professional Christian it is particularly a warning to me. The lies these people are telling are false comfort, the most tempting lie of all for Christians.