2014 Lent 17

carnivale

This photo is courtesy of my daughter: Carnivale 2014, somewhere in Italy.

I Corinthians 7:25-31

Remember, these are just thoughts I’ve been sharing; I’m not claiming that my words are to be seen as dogmatic truth.  I’m reading the daily lectionary and responding to the readings.  I’m not approaching I Corinthians or the other readings I’ve touched as a scholar would–researching, analyzing, processing, and finally writing down.  Rather, it’s more of a conversation.  And conversations are fluid.  The parties in conversations–genuine conversations anyway–do not have their minds made up ahead of time.  As more information reveals itself, either party can change his mind.

That said, today’s passage baffles me.  I’ve read ahead a little; I’ve also gone back some.  But doing so hasn’t helped much.  I remain puzzled by Paul’s words today.  So what I say today, I say with the caveat that I may change my mind on this.  But the gist is that my approach to marital counseling is vastly different than Paul’s.

He says–correct me if I’m wrong–that it is better not to marry.  But if you must marry (presumably for issues regarding self-control), then it is not a sin to do so.  But in light of the “impending crisis” (v. 26), i. e., that “the appointed time has grown short” (v. 29) and “the present form of this world is passing away” (v. 31), once married you should go on living like you’re not married–just as those who are mourning should not mourn, and so on.

No, I most definitely wouldn’t counsel a couple desiring marriage to: 1) go ahead and do so to control your lusts; but 2) keep living like you’re not married; and 3) give little thought to tomorrow, for the world’s just about to end anyway.

Again I could be wrong, but Paul seems motivated here by two philosophies floating through the air of his day: Stoicism and Apocalypticism.

Stoicism valued apatheia, a state of mind that was relatively unaffected by passions.  Hence the “and those who mourn as though they were not mourning” bit.  This state of mind was prized by many members of the Roman Senate, in fact–hardly a Christ-believing group in Paul’s day.

Apocalypticism held that the world would soon end.  The Qumran community, whence came the Dead Sea Scrolls, was a community formed around this belief; and so they moved out beyond the edge of town and lived something of a stockpile life, trusting and depending on only themselves until the end of days.  But their days ended and the world goes on.

Perhaps a similar feel was in the air as Y2K approached, some fifteen years ago.  I was living in Pennsylvania at the time, the “can-do” state.  And I knew several folks personally who had filled their basements with trash cans full of drinking water, hundreds of pounds of jerky and dried fruits and vegetables, and weapons.

Perhaps that sense of apocalypse hasn’t ended.  Just look at the proliferation of movies and TV shows about zombies, outer-space alien attacks, nuclear holocausts, and other end-of-the-world scenarios.  Even the church has its Left-Behind contingent, you know, that portion that thinks the world is just getting worse and worse until, at last, Christ will rapture all the good guys away and destroy the remaining bad guys along with all creation.

Anyway, I can’t go there–whether counseling a couple seeking marriage or in my own understanding of life in community and end times.

Paul wrote this letter nearly two thousand years ago, suggesting that the end was right around the corner.  But two millennia have passed.  why should we think the end is right around the corner, in our own life time?  Statistically it doesn’t make sense.

Too, such thinking de-motivates us.  For instance, when I was in seminary a professor told me about a visit he’d made to a Christian college in the midwest that believed in this apocalyptic end times stuff.  He didn’t name the school, so I can’t tell you which it is.  But the school was intentional about not recycling, since the world would all burn up in a few years’ time anyway.  Really!  With that mindset, why have a college at all?  Paul himself had to deal with this de-motivation.  In one of his letters to the Thessalonian church he admonished the Christ-believers there to work for their living: they apparently figured, since it was all going to end soon anyway, why bother?

Even more significant in my thinking, though, is that Christ’s life, death, and resurrection ushered in a new age, the Kingdom of God.  And throughout the scriptures the theme of “already but not yet” resonates.  The Kingdom is already here but not yet fully realized.  It’s being more and more fully realized though–quite the opposite of getting worse and worse, as some want to say!

No, Paul, in marriage counseling, I’m going to encourage the couple to enter a life together; to leave their old life (their “father and mother”) and cleave to one another; and to plan for the future.  So I pry a little: What will your budget look like?  Do you plan to have kids?  If so, how many?  And what’s your approach to discipline?  Are you compatible–what do you have in common, what do you enjoy doing together?  Where do you plan to go to church?  Even things like, what is your understanding of baptism?–for if one thinks infant baptism is the way to go and the other disagrees, well, you never know.

But I don’t ask things like: Hey, how are y’all doing in matters of self-control?  Is your lust for each other intolerable?  What about your views on the end of the world?  Tell me how you feel about zombies.

Etc.

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