God’s Devotional; Openness; II Kings 6

1.  William P. Young, The Shack, page 107:

“Well spoken, Sarayu,” said Papa, her face beaming with pride.  “I’ll take care of the dishes later.  But first, I would like to have a time of devotion.”

Mack had to suppress a snicker at the thought of God having devotions…He half expected Jesus to pull out an old King James Bible.

Instead, Jesus reached across the table and took Papa’s hands in his, scars now clearly visible on his wrists.  Mack sat transfixed as he watched Jesus kiss his father’s hands and then took a deep look into his father’s eyes and finally say, “Papa, I loved watching you today, as you made yourself fully available to take Mack’s pain into yourself, and then give him space to choose his own timing.  You honored him, and you honored me.  To listen to you whisper love and calm into his heart was truly incredible.  What a joy to watch!  I love being your son.”

My readers who have not yet read The Shack are probably confused by the narrator calling God “Papa”, while referring to God using a feminine pronoun.  Basically, God the Father is appearing to Mack as a big African-American woman, for the reason that this image is unlike how Mack has pictured God.  Mack envisioned God as looking like Gandalf from Lord of the Rings—white skin, white beard, white robe.  But God’s in the business of shattering Mack’s stereotypes.

I like this part of the book because it addresses the issue of devotion.  There was a time when the prospect of God having devotions would strike me as proud on God’s part.  You mean God is glorifying himself?  But I didn’t have this reaction today.  The devotion was celebrating God, but primarily his acts of love and kindness—the good things that God has done.  Values are being elevated.  It’s not surprising to me that God would engage in that kind of devotion: a Bible study (if you will) that encourages love, kindness, humility, meekness, etc.

The part about God giving Mack “space to choose his own timing” also sounded good to me, for I’m not big on people shoving things down my throat. 

2.  Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land, page 203:

Madame Vesant had not had time to compute a new horoscope and was improvising.  But she was untroubled by it; she was speaking a “higher truth,” giving good advice and helping her friends.

As yesterday, I had a hard time finding a notable quote in this book to blog about.  This one stood out to me, but I’m not sure what I can say about it.  Maybe I can say that we can hear good insights in things that appear to be imperfect, random improvisations.  That doesn’t mean that we have to follow everything others tell us, but I think I should be open-minded—not so much to horoscopes, or what not, but to other ways of looking at things.

3.  For my weekly quiet time this week, I studied II Kings 6.

Elisha’s school of prophets wants to build a place in which they can live, for their current place has become too small for them.  Maybe this is because Elisha has gotten more recruits: people who have been impressed by Elisha’s miracles, or who desire to serve God, or who have received their own prophetic calling.  In any case, Elisha and the prophets go to the Jordan to cut down trees for their new place.  An ax-head flies into the river and sinks, and the prophet who was wielding that ax is discouraged, for that ax wasn’t his: it was borrowed.  But Elisha put a stick into the water, and the ax-head floated to the surface.  The prophet who borrowed the ax then lifts the ax-head out of the water.

Christian commentators—from Justin Martyr in the second century, to Gabriel Swaggart (son of Jimmy) in the twenty-first century—have treated this story as an allegory of the Gospel.  Like the ax-head, we are sunk deeply in the murky waters of sin, error, discouragement, etc.  But the wood—symbolizing the cross of Jesus Christ—can lift us out of this mire, if we believe. 

Do I believe this?  I’m not sure.  Can God lift a homosexual out of the mires of homosexuality (not that I’m a homosexual)?  Sometimes he does—or, at least, there are homosexuals who no longer practice a homosexual lifestyle.  Sometimes, God leaves homosexual Christians with their homosexual desires, as they either embrace celibacy or struggle to endure it.

Do I believe that God can lift me out of the mires of my shyness, my introversion, my social ineptitude, my Asperger’s?  I don’t really look for God to touch me with a magic wand and to make me into a new person.  Rather, I try to cope and to thrive with what I have—as God made me.  I hope to learn social skills and ways to cope with fear, but I view this as a process, which I undertake with the advice of people such as my therapist, my sponsor, my family and friends, etc.  (BTW, Gabriel Swaggart and his father frequently take swipes at “humanistic psychology”.)  If God wants to transform me in the course of this, then I have no objection!

The chapter then shifts to another story.  The king of Syria is going to set up camp in an Israelite city, called “such and such a place” in the NRSV.  Note that this story does not specify the exact place.  The author may not have known what place it was.  If so, then this tells me that the Bible has a human element: it was written by people who knew things, or didn’t know things.  But, even though the Bible is human, it can also be a vehicle for divine revelation.  God uses humans—with their flaws and incompletion—to get his point across.

But back to our story.  The king of Syria is going to set up camp in an Israelite city.  Elisha then warns the king of Israel not to go to that city, presumably because some Syrians are hoping to set up camp there and ambush him (the king of Israel).  The king of Israel then warns that place about the Syrians.  The Israelites there either set up fortifications to prevent the Syrians from coming, or they throw the Syrians out.

But the king of Syria is perplexed, wondering how the Israelites learned of his plan.  He hears about Elisha the prophet, who has the clairvoyance to know what the king of Syria is planning.  The Syrian king then sends a great army to Dothan, where Elisha is, in an attempt to capture the man of God.

Elisha’s servant is worried, until Elisha shows him that there is a great heavenly army surrounding them.  Elisha then asks God to blind the Syrian soldiers.  When God does so, Elisha leads the Syrians to Samaria, where they regain their sight.  The Syrian soldiers are now at the mercy of the Israelites, and the king of Israel wants to kill them.  But Elisha says “no”, and orders a great feast to be set before the Syrians.  The Syrians eat and drink, and Elisha then sends them on their way.  V 23 says that the troops or band of Aram (Syria) did not again come to the land of Israel.

Then, v 24 describes the Syrians making a blockade against Israel!  Does v 24 contradict v 23?  Some say “yes”, arguing that the story from v 24 on has been misplaced and put in the section that became II Kings 6.  Others say “no”.  One attempt at harmonization states that the Syrians didn’t come into Israel for a while, but there came a point when they broke their agreement with Israel (solidified by the meal) and resumed the war.  Another harmonization attempt states that the Syrians no longer sent bands or large forces into Israel, but they sent the entire Syrian army, which is what v 24 mentions.  According to Josephus, in Antiquities 9, the king of Syria realized that he couldn’t fight the God of Israel with mere bands or forces, so he decided to send his entire army!     

This gets me thinking about war.  The fourth century Christian thinker Ambrose, along with biblical scholar Walter Bruegemann, applaud Elisha’s peaceful approach towards the Syrians.  Elisha tells the king not to kill them, and instead to give them food.  In this case, Elisha prefers peace and kindness to warfare when it comes to the Syrians.  I wonder why God couldn’t have used such an approach in other situations.  Rather than ordering Israel to exterminate the Canaanites, for example, could God have shown the Canaanites his power as God by blinding them, thereby bringing them to repentance?  Could God have told the Israelites to show kindness to the Canaanites, winning the Canaanites over that way? 

There are times when a peaceful approach can work, but there are also times when it does not.  Elisha showed the Syrians kindness, yet they responded by coming back to Israel with greater force.  Some people are like Palpatine on Revenge of the Sith, whom Made Windu said was “too dangerous to be kept alive”.  Some people could become a continual thorn in the side of Israel, and so kindness wouldn’t work with them.

This doesn’t solve all of the problems with the Conquest.  For example, why did God order the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanite children?  God didn’t have to do that, for, with regard to the non-Canaanite peoples whom Israel conquered, the Israelites could take the children as booty (Deuteronomy 20:14).  And why couldn’t God plague the Canaanites with infertility, as he did for the house of Abimelech in Genesis 21?  That would have cut down on the Canaanites’ numbers, allowing the Israelites to dispossess them.  Why did God have to resort to violence?  Was it to show the Israelites his power, as the Israelites gained faith in God by doing the impossible: defeating kings and armies that were more numerous and powerful than they?

But the issues of violence, war, and peace are complex, in my opinion.  Retaliating against evil can make the evil people madder and more violent, whereas peaceful non-retaliation can show them a better way.  But evil people can also take advantage of the mercy that is shown to them to do more evil.  There are times when Christians should arguably bear evil, as God does.  But there are also times when some may feel that evil should be stopped, by force, if necessary.  That’s why there are people who support war, or the death penalty, or vigilantism, or self-defense: they don’t think that the kinder, gentler approach works in all cases.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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