9/11 and Health Care

As far as current reflections are concerned, I watched Michael Moore’s Sicko about a month ago, and a big part of the movie is when Michael Moore takes 9/11 rescue workers to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The rescue workers were unable to receive treatment for physical and psychological maladies they got after 9/11. The cost was high, their insurance companies weren’t sufficiently helping them, and the government wouldn’t pay for their treatment. Then, Michael Moore showed Republicans defending Guantanamo Bay, arguing that it’s not mean to terrorists and enemy combatants because it provides them with free medical care. Michael Moore then asks: Why are we giving free medical care to terrorists, but not to the American heroes of 9/11? He took the rescue workers to Guantanamo Bay to demand an answer.

I decided to put Michael Moore on my list of web sites after that, even though his name appears unusual in a roll that includes Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin. Sure, Michael Moore can be one-sided, and people question if his documentaries are always honest. But I liked the way he grandstanded on behalf of 9/11 rescue workers. People accuse the Left of being anti-American, but, here, Michael Moore combined his liberalism with love for his country.

Published in: on September 11, 2009 at 7:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

War in Heaven, War on Earth

N.R.M De Lange, Origen and the Jews: Studies in Jewish-Christian Relations in Third-Century Palestine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976) 170.

E.g. Mekilta on Exodus xv.1 (Lauterbach ii.20): ‘and so you find that God will not eventually punish the kingdoms until he has first punished their ministering angels…’

I read my online Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael (fourth century C.E., perhaps), and the context of the passage is as follows:

The Mekhilta is offering various interpretations of Exodus 15:1: “Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD: ‘I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea’” (NRSV). One interpretation of “horse and rider he has thrown into the sea” is that God cast down the guardian angel of Egypt, who presumably was riding on a horse; then, God defeated the Egyptian army at the Red Sea. The Mekhilta then cites biblical passages to argue that God will not punish the nations of the earth until after he’s punished their guardian angels:

Isaiah 24:21: “On that day the LORD will punish the host of heaven in heaven, and on earth the kings of the earth.” God first punishes the hosts of heaven, then he turns his wrath on the kings of the earth.

Isaiah 14:12: “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low!” For the Mekhilta, this means that God casts down two beings. First, he casts a being out of heaven. Then, he punishes an earthly tyrant who laid the nations low.

Isaiah 34:5: “When my sword has drunk its fill in the heavens, lo, it will descend upon Edom, upon the people I have doomed to judgment.” God will slaughter heavenly beings, then he will judge the nation of Edom.

When I was at DePauw, my New Testament professor described apocalypticism as a belief that earthly battles reflect battles in heaven. I didn’t really understand this at the time, but it makes some sense to me now because heavenly beings have an impact on earthly events. I’ve been watching Jimmy Swaggart’s series on biblical eschatology, and he states that Alexander the Great got his military ideas from a demonic power, who helped Alexander conquer much of the world. Based on Daniel 10′s references to the “prince” of the kingdom of Persia and the “prince” of Grecia whom the angel Michael had to fight (vv 13, 20), Swaggart concludes that the nations of the world have demonic entities supporting them.

At the first and only (so far) Society of Biblical Literature meeting that I attended, someone discussed the interpretation of Deuteronomy 32:8-9 in apocalyptic thought. The passage states: “When the Most High apportioned the nations, when he divided humankind, he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the gods; the LORD’s own portion was his people, Jacob his allotted share.” Scholars of the Hebrew Bible refer to this passage to show that the existence of other gods was acknowledged in ancient Israelite religion: other nations belong to other deities, but Israel worships the LORD alone. But, in apocalypticism, the gods of the nations were interpreted as demons, meaning that, technically speaking, there’s only one God: the LORD, the God of Israel.

Within the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, there’s a belief that spiritual powers influence what happens on earth. Whatever you call them–”gods,” “the host of heaven,” “demons”–they support and bless their nations’ imperialism and influence them to do evil. That’s why God sees fit to bind and punish forces in heaven before he goes after nations on earth.

Published in: on September 11, 2009 at 6:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

My Private Little Cave

Frank Schaeffer, Crazy for God (Cambridge: Carroll and Graf, 2007) 136-137.

After talking a little about his dad’s depression, Frank offers the following insights:

Suffering from bouts of depression, I have come to understand that the choice is to carry on or not, no matter how I feel. And since my dad literally had no close friends, let alone a confessor or therapist to talk to, his suffering was in near-total isolation. When that bleak grayness envelops everything for a few days or hours and sucks all the joy and air out of a day, as a writer I can just shut the world out, if I want, and retire to some inner cave and nurse my depression. Dad craved privacy, too, but his work was people. And Dad never sought counseling.

For me, today was one of those days. Every once in a while, I go to downtown Cincinnati. There are times when I don’t care what people think of me, or I’m happy because I’m singing or entertaining myself in my mind. My mood is carefree, and people around me in downtown Cincinnati seem pretty nice. But then there are times when I feel depressed, lonely, angry, and disconnected from people. I look at a pretty girl, she doesn’t look back, and I grumble, grumble, grumble. My mind eventually turns to my Asperger’s, and I wonder if I’ll ever have a life in which I’ll be able to support myself, let alone find a mate. And if I find a mate, will I be able to get along with her and sustain the relationship, since I’m a pretty boring guy, plus I can get moody, annoyed, and temperamental. And my mind then goes back to my bad social experiences in the past. I begin to think that my life sucks, always has, and always will. When my mood is like this, I need to retreat to my private little cave and nurse my depression.

I don’t know what I’ll do if I have a job and this mood hits me. Many people are able to hide their bad moods, but I feel mine seeps through my face. How will I be able to be around people if such a mood strikes?

Fortunately, I feel better now, but that’s for the following reasons: (1.) I don’t have to impress anybody in my private little cave; (2.) while I was reading about Origen, I watched all the Twilight Zones I had on my DVR, and some of them were actually good (on Saturdays, I watch Joyce Meyer and Jimmy Swaggart); and (3.) I wrote a lot, and doing something constructive and creative helps me cope with my depression.

In a sense, I nursed my depression, but that brings me to (4.): it gets to the point in the day where my mind starts to think negative thoughts, and I’m about to grumble, grumble, grumble, but I realize I’m tired of grumbling, so I throw my hands in the air and say, “Why bother? Let it go!”

I prefer not to answer the phone when I’m in my bad mood, since I don’t want to yell at my family. Sometimes, however, I’m surprised when I don’t. Last Thursday, after coming home from downtown, I was in the same sort of mood I was in today. After an afternoon of grumbling, grumbling, grumbling, I check my e-mail and see a problem with my financial aid (which fortunately got resolved). I called my mom, and I rationally expressed my frustrations and asked for suggestions on what I should do. I may have raised my voice, but I didn’t yell at her, as I have in the past. Maybe all my pent-up anger was tired for the day.

Frank talks about one way his father dealt with his depression: he went to his room and played classical music really loud. Of course, once he went out of his room, L’Abri students would bombard him with theological and philosophical questions. But he did have some measure of privacy inside of his room.

And, although Frank doesn’t portray his mother Edith as depressed, my impression is that she coped with life through her own “private little cave”: prayer. According to Frank, his family and the people at L’Abri marked half-hour time slots that were devoted to prayer. Edith usually took three hours or more. Frank portrays his mother as a spiritual super-woman, someone who wanted to show everyone that she was more spiritual than them. That could be, but I think one would really have to enjoy or need prayer to do it for three solid hours!

In my pool-side reading of Portofino this morning (after I returned from downtown Cincinnati), Frank says that Elsa (Edith) made her husband mad when she went to the lighthouse with her Bible and prayed for three solid hours. Her husband had just thrown all her clothes out the window, and threatened to toss her out too (as the character had done many times before). So she left the house, went to the lighthouse, and prayed. Her husband thought she was just showing off her spirituality.

Maybe she was. But, let me tell you, there are certain people who make me want to go to a private place and commune with God or myself for three solid hours! There have been times when I’ve come home and have prayed for about that amount of time, and it’s not because I’m super-spiritual! I needed that time to recover from my day, to go from desolation to consolation (to use Joan of Arcadia terminology–see Joan of Arcadia: Desolation and Consolation).

Prayer is supposed to put us into a better mood, and it often can–until I have to interact with people again. You see something like that in Portofino. Not long after her prayer, Elsa’s having a meal with her kids, and her husband comes along. She gives him some of her chicken, and he sarcastically thanks her. Eventually, he knocks all the plates onto the floor.

I’ve not had experiences that were this bad, but I had plenty where I’d pray in my room and get in a good mood. Then, I’d go out and greet my roommates with a cheerful smile, and they’d say “Hi James” in their less-than-enthusiastic tone. Or I’d pray, feel pretty good, and go to school, to put up with the people there. Prayer is a good coping mechanism, but it doesn’t always replace being able to interact with people–successfully, that is.

So I identify with Elsa. But I also identify with her husband. I can get into a mood in which everything and everyone annoys me. In that sort of situation, I need my private little cave to recuperate. But what will I do when I have to be around people all the time: if I have a job, or a family of my own, etc.?

Published in: on September 11, 2009 at 2:41 am  Leave a Comment  

More on Origen and the Sabbath

N.R.M De Lange, Origen and the Jews: Studies in Jewish-Christian Relations in Third-Century Palestine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976) 93.

In my post, Origen, the Sabbath, and the Literal Sense, I quoted De Lange’s discussion of an Old Testament command about the Sabbath that Origen considered impossible to fulfill: the command for Israelites not to leave their homes on the Sabbath. Origen also thinks it’s impossible not to carry a burden on the Sabbath day (see Jeremiah 17:21). I asked in my post if Origen thought that God never intended the Israelites to observe the Old Testament law literally. De Lange seems to argue that Origen believes it was observed literally at some point in time, but his purpose in demonstrating the impossibility of certain Sabbath laws was to show that the spiritual meaning is what’s important, not the literal ritual.

In my mind, I wondered how Origen interpreted the Old Testament laws about the Sabbath. Here is De Lange’s answer:

The true Sabbath-observance consists of a complete break with worldly occupations and a total dedication to spiritual acts. Origen reinterprets the prohibitions mentioned above: ‘Burdens’ refers to sins, which are compared to heavy burdens in Psalm xxxvii(xxxviii).5, and fire, which is also forbidden on the Sabbath (Exodus xxxv.3), is likewise referred to evildoing, on the basis of Isaiah 1:11. As for the command to stay in one’s own place, ‘what is the “place” of the spiritual soul? Its place is justice, truth, wisdom, sanctification; everything which Christ is is the place of the soul’. Even so, the true observance of the Sabbath is impossible in this world, where even God does not rest on the Sabbath; the present age is the ‘sixth day of creation’, and the true Sabbath is the age to come.

There are two areas in which this quote interests me:

1. There appears to be a method to Origen’s allegorization. I’ve not read everything Origen has written, but there are many times when his search for “deeper meaning” in Scripture looks rather arbitrary. For my daily writing on De Lange’s book today, I was going to discuss Origen’s treatment of Zechariah 9:9-10, in which he addresses the Jewish argument that Jesus didn’t fulfill that passage, since Jesus didn’t cut off the bow of Ephraim, as v 10 says the man riding on the donkey would do. Origen’s response is to interpret “Ephraim” as something other than Ephraim–I think he said it refers to people who believe wrongly about something. For me, anything other than a literal interpretation appears to be arbitrary eisegesis.

But, in the case of the Sabbath laws, Origen actually offers Scriptural evidence for his interpretation: “burden” refers to sin because that’s how it’s used in a Psalm; the prohibited “fire” means evildoing because of Isaiah 1:11 (which bans hypocritical sacrifices). This is a technique that the rabbis use: you interpret the meaning of a word in a biblical passage by seeing how that word is used in other biblical passages.

One can argue that Origen’s method is not full-proof, since there are plenty of places in Scripture where “burden” means burden, or “fire” means fire. But Origen can come back and say that, if a command can’t really be obeyed literally, then its primary meaning must be spiritual, so one should go with the spiritual interpretation of the passage, which is supported by how other passages use particular words.

2. In a sense, Origen says that the fulfillment of the Sabbath command is yet future. I’ve had a debate on two separate occasions with two Sabbatarians: one is an ex-Armstrongite who’s currently an independent Sabbath-keeper, and the other’s an Armstrongite, or a prospective Armstrongite (he likes to quote the United Church of God). They say that we should keep the seventh-day Sabbath because it hasn’t been fulfilled yet. The animal sacrifices were fulfilled when Christ shed his blood on the cross, so we don’t have to do them anymore. But the Sabbath’s fulfillment is still future, so we still have to keep it, in their reckoning. For these two gentlemen, the Sabbath will be fulfilled in the time of the millennium, when Christ will rule the earth after his return. That will be the seventh millennium of human history, the “rest” that Hebrews 4 exhorts us to enter.

There really isn’t much Scriptural evidence for the millennium being the seventh millennium of human history. That’s speculation. But many early Christian thinkers seemed to believe something along those lines. The Epistle of Barnabas has such a concept. And, while I’m not sure if Origen believed in a literal thousand year reign of Christ, he thought that the age of come was the Sabbath.

Yet, just because Barnabas and Origen believed that the Sabbath would be fulfilled in the future, that didn’t mean they thought Christians should literally observe the seventh-day Sabbath. Barnabas is big on Sunday, as is Origen. And Origen tends to spiritualize the Sabbath, maintaining that it’s a total dedication to spiritual acts.

Echoing Colossians 2:16, Origen doesn’t think people need to keep the Sabbath because it’s a shadow of things to come. But, if the thing to come hasn’t come yet, does that mean we still have to keep the Sabbath, the same way the Israelites needed to sacrifice animals before Christ came and fulfilled the animal sacrifices? Or did Origen think that, in some sense, Christ at his first coming began the process of fulfilling the Sabbath, of being the object towards whom the Sabbath pointed?

In a sense, Christ brought “rest,” “the Messianic age,” “the kingdom of God,” whatever you want to call it, only it’s not in its state of completion at the present time. New Testament scholars call this the kingdom being “already but not yet.” And so perhaps Christ has made it possible for us to spiritually keep the Sabbath right now, to rest in him from worldliness and sin, but we can’t do so perfectly because the kingdom is not fully realized at the present moment. But it will be when Christ returns in glory.

And so perhaps Christ has begun to fulfill the Sabbath and make it spiritual, but the process will be complete when he comes back. In the meantime, do we need to keep the Sabbath literally, when the object and goal of the shadow has begun his work of fulfilling it?  

Published in: on September 11, 2009 at 1:23 am  Leave a Comment  

The Deuteronomic Agenda and II Samuel 7, I Kings 8

For my paper on I Kings 8:1-30′s use of II Samuel 7, as well as the Deuteronomic emendations of both passages, I’ll need to define relevant parts of the Deuteronomist’s agenda using the Book of Deuteronomy. I’ll also have to identify the Deuteronomic emendations to II Samuel 7 and I Kings 8:1-30 and state how they relate to the Deuteronomist’s agenda, and possibly his terminology. Then, I’ll want to see what I Kings 8:1-30 is doing to II Samuel 7. My point there will be that it’s subordinating II Samuel 7 to a Deuteronomic agenda.

In this post, I’ll be defining three ways in which the Deuteronomist emends II Samuel 7 to fit his agenda, bringing in I Kings 8:1-30 when I deem it necessary.

1. II Samuel 7:13a says that David’s seed (meaning Solomon) will build a house for God’s name. Such a notion conflicts with the notion of sanctuary in vv 5-6, which define it as God living in a house or tabernacle. In I Kings 8:15-20, 27, which is Deuteronomic, it is emphasized that the house is for God’s name. While David in II Samuel 7 wants to build God a house to dwell in, I Kings 8:15-20 interpret II Samuel 7 to mean that David desires to build the house for God’s name, not God himself. And v 27 explicitly affirms that no house can contain God. But there is a contrary voice in I Kings 8, for Solomon says in v 13: “I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever” (NRSV).

In Deuteronomy 12, 14, 16, and 26, God’s sanctuary is continually referred to as the place where God will choose to put his name. That’s Deuteronomic terminology.

2. II Samuel 7:13a says Solomon will build the temple. Although II Samuel 7 mostly talks about God building David an everlasting dynasty, the Deuteronomist in I Kings 8:14-24 interprets the chapter in a manner that stresses Solomon’s construction of the temple: that’s the promise of II Samuel 7 that the Deuteronomist in I Kings 8:14-24 keys in upon, the promise that he himself inserted into II Samuel 7.

So what’s this have to do with Deuteronomic ideology? Deuteronomy 12:8-11 states that Israel’s rest from all her enemies must precede worship at the central sanctuary, the place God will choose to place his name. And I Kings 5:3-5 has Solomon saying that David couldn’t build the temple because he was a man of war, whereas Solomon can because there is rest during his reign.

So why did the Deuteronomist believe this way? Was it just so he could explain why David didn’t build the temple, as the sources in front of him indicated? I’m getting close to writing this paper, but I’d like to take one final look at how P. Kyle McCarter says II Samuel 7 fits into the Deuteronomist’s overall ideology.

3. II Samuel 7 presents God’s covenant with David for an everlasting dynasty is unconditional: if a Davidid sins, God will chastise him, but he won’t remove him from the throne, as he did with Saul.

I Kings 8:25, however, makes the promise conditional on the Davidid’s obedience: “Therefore, O LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, ‘There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’”

I wonder if I Kings 8:25 is Deuteronomic. My hunch is “yes,” for Deuteronomy 17:14-20 emphasizes the duty of the king to study and obey God’s commandments, and Deuteronomy 28:36 refers to exile of the king and Israel for idolatry. There are scholars who believe there were two stages of Deuteronomy: the pre-exilic Dtr1, and the exilic Dtr2. I don’t know much about how Deuteronomy 28 is treated within scholarship, but that may be something to look into.

McCarter identifies as Deuteronomic II Samuel 7:16, 22b-26, which say that David’s kingdom will last forever, as will Israel’s rest from her enemies. Does this preclude exile? Not necessarily, in my opinion, for v 25 (which McCarter identifies as Deuteronomic) has David asking God to confirm his promise. That tells me that the Deuteronomist believes the promise is at the pleasure of God, meaning it’s not unconditional. In McCarter’s scheme, the parts of II Samuel 7 that have unconditionality are not at the hands of the Deuteronomist.

But I-II Kings does present an unconditional covenant (see Unconditional Covenant in I-II Kings), in that God doesn’t destroy Jerusalem because he wants to preserve a Davidid. Do scholars consider those passages Deuteronomic, or what?

I want to start writing my paper soon, even if I don’t have all the answers. And it won’t end sentences with a preposition, as this post flagrantly does!

Published in: on September 11, 2009 at 12:14 am  Leave a Comment  

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