2014 Lent 23

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I Corinthians 10:14–11:1

Whoa!  Got some feedback to that last one–my last Lenten post, that is (cf. “2014 Lent 22”)!  Some readers hated it.  Others loved it–picked up a few new followers, in fact.  So I went back over it to see if I could discern why the controversy.

My thinking is that it’s the last line.  There I said something like, “So yeah, Paul, I know you’re the writer of sacred scriptures and all, but in this case reason and experience must rule the day for me.”

So my thinking is that maybe this sounds like I’ve just elevated my own reason and experience over scripture in the authority department.  Is that it?  Am I actually suggesting that, even though the scriptures are authoritative for me, my reasoning capabilities and personal experiences are nevertheless somehow more authoritative?

No.  That’s not what I am suggesting.  My heart beats a certain way; my mind follows the laws of logic as I know them.  But I am just one person, extremely limited, who is keenly aware that individuals are almost always poor assessors of self.

So I offer a clarification.

St. Paul writes to the Corinthians to address division in their congregation.  In his letter, he brings up some causes for division revolving around the matter of liberty.  How much liberty should a believer in Christ be allowed?  Should a believer in Christ have to follow the Jewish custom of circumcision, for instance?  No!  What about Jewish dietary laws?  Are Christ-believers allowed to eat ham and shellfish?  Sure!  So, what about matters of sexuality?

Here Paul seems to waffle a bit.  He argues that marriage isn’t really that good–and by implication neither is family–that such relationships burden the Christ-believer with unneccessities (my cool new word, by the way).  But, for the sake of controlling lusts, marriage is allowable.  But when a man sleeps with his stepmother, that’s going way too far!

But Paul also believes that the end of the world is near, perhaps to come even in his lifetime.  In other words, he has an apocalyptic worldview.  In this scenario (indeed, just watch an episode or two of The Walking Dead), marriage and family certainly would be a burden.

But we’re not facing an imminent apocalypse.  Or even if we are, we don’t know it and therefore shouldn’t live like it.  Jesus himself says, when charging folks to remember Lot’s wife, that in the days of Noah, right up until the very day of the flood, they were eating, drinking, living, carrying on business, and marrying and being given in marriage.  Even before a worldwide cataclysm, people were carrying on life as normal.

Now Paul says not to since the world’s about to end.

I resisted this idea a little.  It was just a few posts ago if you want to see, something like “2014 Lent 18.”  Point is, I argued with the apostle.  And it felt good to do so.  After all, he and Jesus are making contrary points here; they can’t both be right.

But that post generated little response.

So why now, when I disagree with a method Paul uses to argue a point do I sense such resistance?

Paul makes a great point in I Corinthians 10:14: “Flee from the worship of idols.”  I totally agree, 100%.  Any time something becomes more important to me than God, it’s ugly.  But getting to this point Paul says we shouldn’t eat meat sacrificed to idols if doing so would cause someone to stumble in his or her faith.  Huh?  He also uses fear tactics in his argument:

“Remember all those Israelites who died in the wilderness after God delivered them from Egypt?  Well, they died because of God’s judgment.  Do you want to die under God’s judgment too?  I didn’t think so.  Therefore flee from idols.”

So my point yesterday was not that I disagree with a great truth, but that I disagree with Paul’s methods to get us there.

We are so far removed from Paul that we don’t even really know what meat sacrificed to idols looks like.  So we have no problem with his statement about that.  Why then can’t we remove ourselves from using fear tactics in our moral teachings?  In judgment, he says, “Twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.”  This is a huge number.  Certainly, I’m not about to make a brazen statement about Hurricane Katrina, for instance, being a demonstration of God’s judgment.  But isn’t that the idea behind what Paul does in chapter 10:1-13?

So here’s another statement that some of my readership might disagree with: Paul was a product of his times.  My reason strongly suggests this anyway.

Yes, he wrote a good chunk of our sacred scriptures.  And yes, there are many moral truths from his writings that transcend cultural contexts and are thus broadly applicable.  But he also shows some inconsistencies, such as vilifying pagans in one breath and then condoning their actions in the next (cf. 1 Cor. 5:1-2), not to mention that bit above where he disagrees with Jesus.

So I’m learning to argue with Paul.

He’s used to it.  He himself was raised in a tradition that values discussion and debate.  Indeed, arguments continue to this day between Rabbis and the Torah.  It’s part of Midrash.  So what if I come along and question Paul’s methods?  According to Paul himself, I have liberty to do so.  Why then should the concluding statement of Saturday’s post be so rankling for you?

Interestingly enough, Paul ends today’s reading with another timeless charge: “Whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”

No argument there.

Nevertheless, I have taken upon myself a serious discipline this Lent to give substantial consideration to a passage of scripture daily as evidenced by my writing about it.  And this daily consideration includes engaging Paul in argument.  Following his charge, then, I am thus arguing with him for the glory of God.  That’s how I see it anyway.  For the remaining skeptics, however, I offer this: at the last day, after all the arguing and wrestling and rankling is over, I will say, eagerly, “Not my will, Jesus, but yours.”

Now, how in the cosmos is that putting my reason and experience’s authority above that of the scriptures?

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