This will be somewhat of a wandering post, so be forewarned!
One Feast of Tabernacles sermon that I remember was given by Ron Dart. I don’t entirely remember where it was–Florida? French Lick? Williamsburg? Kentucky? I’m not sure.
But Ron Dart brought up Matthew 6:25-34, which concerns not worrying about life’s necessities. Jesus says in v 33, “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (NRSV).
Dart told a story about a student at Ambassador College who was worried about exams. He decided to spend an hour on prayer and Bible study each day, and he ended up doing better on his exams than the other students. Dart’s lesson was “Put God first, and everything else will fall into place.”
I’ve lived by this rule for a long period of my life. I need to trust in God for academic success. Tests are intimidating. I have to remember a bunch of stuff, and I feel limited in my capacities. You don’t think that I’ll be going into those tests relying only on myself, do you? You know the old saying: “As long as there are math tests, there will be school prayer.”
Moreover, if I had to spend my life only thinking about work or school, I’d be miserable. I need to feed my spiritual self. That’s another reason I pray every day–or “put God first.”
But do things always work out? You know, there are many times when I feel that God exists for other people, but not for me–or anyone else with Asperger’s, for that matter. I don’t feel like complaining about the specifics of that here, however, since I’ve done so in numerous other posts.
I always rest on the Sabbath and the holy days, because I assume that God will take care of me if I do so. This has worked so far. If I had an exam on a holy day, I could talk with my professors and take it at another time. At Harvard, there were enough Jewish students that I could take the test with a room-full of other people. And, at Jewish Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College, I actually got the holy days off.
But how do things work in the real world? I remember reading J’s blog about employment and the Sabbath and holy days. Those festivals can give a lot of employees problems, let me tell you! Does God provide in those cases? They don’t always keep their jobs, if that’s what’s being asked. But I doubt that many of them are going homeless, so maybe he does.
While I’m pondering the existence of God, I want to comment on one of J’s posts, “shiny-happy-bible-beating whitewash”. One of the posters there, I think it was Byker Bob, said that he noticed that Christian ex-Armstrongites were less bitter than the atheistic and agnostic ones. I’m not going to judge either group, but it got me thinking some about my life. You know, there were times this week when I really hated God, though I must say that, in the midst of all that rancor, I told God that I didn’t want to hate him. And I don’t. But why do I hate him? Because this life is so hard. My life doesn’t work out like what I see on movies or on television. Heck, it doesn’t even work out like what I see in other peoples’ lives!
Hating God does not make me feel better. But neither does telling myself happy-happy things that I have a hard time accepting. There have been many times in my life when I have tried the Christian route. I attempted to convince myself that God had a plan for my life and would bless me in the future. I sought to obey what I believed to be the will of God: to sell others a fundamentalist Christian script that I memorized, to attend church and Bible studies, etc. But my life still didn’t work out. I’ve still never had a girlfriend. I still didn’t fit into most settings. It just gets to the point where faith seems like a pie-in-the-sky delusion.
But I feel that God ministered to me through Ben Sira this week. This was one of my daily quiet times where I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and prayed. Ben Sira believes that God made everything for a reason (Sirach 39:33-34). And he talks a lot about how good it is for a man to have a nice wife as his help mate (7:19; 25:8; 26:1-4, 14-18; 36:26-31). 36:29-30 exemplifies Ben Sira’s positive treatment of women: “He who acquires a wife gets his best possession, a helper fit for him and a pillar of support. Where there is no fence, the property will be plundered; and where there is no wife, a man will become a fugitive and a wanderer.”
Yet, there are times when Ben Sira can be downright misogynist. I think many writers focus on these incidents to the exclusion of the good things he says about women, but one has to admit that this remark is pretty bad: “Better is the wickedness of a man than a woman who does good; it is woman who brings shame and disgrace” (42:14). Yikes!
But Ben Sira explains what he means throughout Sirach 42: men have lots of worries when it comes to their daughters. Will they be raped? Will they get seduced by a scumbag? When women had sex before marriage in those days, their bridal price went down, since virgins were more valuable. And a loose woman could also bring shame to her father.
I have a variety of reactions to Ben Sira here. For one, he somewhat creeps me out, since I can see a father using what he says as a pretext for abuse. I think of what Beverley Marsh’s father said on Stephen King’s IT: “Bev, I need to protect you from these boys.” But I also poked fun at Ben Sira in my meditation. “What’s the matter, Ben Sira?” I thought. “You said God made everything for a good reason! Are you saying God made a mistake when he gave you a daughter?” Then my mind turned to how unfair life can be. When women have lots of sex, they’re called whores. When men have lots of sex, they’re called studs. I can understand why there are bitter feminists.
So where did God minister to me in all this? Look, I can’t really say I know what God does. But I was reminded of two things that helped me out: (1.) God made all things for a purpose, but life is still hard and has lots of worries. Even a godly man like Ben Sira can acknowledge that, and (2.) Many people are bitter and view life as unfair, and for good reason, since society is discriminatory and unfair.
That doesn’t totally make me feel better, since my mind can easily bring up, “Well, at least they have social skills, or a job, or a date, etc.” But it helped me get out of my self-pity mode for just a little while.
I’m going to go outside to enjoy this beautiful day. I may finish up Ben Sira before the day is over!