Spoiler alert: I’m going to explain how the book of Ecclesiastes turns out, while our weekly study will continue running for a couple of months.
First, a little context. Solomon took the throne rather like a big fish in a small pond. He wasn’t the most powerful of emperors because he avoided the sort of control that comes with empire. He was a king over the one most stable and prosperous kingdom in an age when there weren’t very many stable governments anywhere.
His father David did most of the work of extending influence and power over the unraveling edges of previous empires. At the same time, David established the standard for Hebrew poetry. Solomon established the standard or Hebrew wisdom literature. David still carried the familiarity with nomadic living and fighting for survival, so things had not hit the stasis we see much later when Israel virtually forgets how to live in tents. Thus, David’s poetry exhibits the kind of depth and hunger of soul for peace that makes great art. Solomon still had the taste of that as he settled things down. He experimented with a lot of things in a very short number of years and had the talent to comprehend the importance of what he did. Thus, the pinnacle of Hebrew visionary prophecy was just a couple of centuries later, then the culture of the people went downhill on the same slope of their lost devotion to God’s truth.
Solomon represents the pinnacle of Hebrew self-awareness. It is deeply ANE (Ancient Near Eastern). If you approach Solomon’s books of wisdom from a Western perspective, you’ll be lucky if you are smart enough to think it’s existentialism. It isn’t, but it will seem that way from a Western epistemology. You’ll read things back into his words in just about any translation and it will seem to match the likes of Albert Camus.
You’ll miss the point entirely.
There are several ways to state the fundamental query Solomon makes. In essence, he explores every effort mankind has made, or could make under any context, to overcome the curse of the Fall. Can it be ignored? Good luck with that; you still won’t escape it. Maybe you can convince yourself it’s all bogus and really do some great things and rise in power and importance over great stretches of land and humanity. But it won’t allow you to escape the futility of human existence. Being human after the Fall is the definition of futility. This life isn’t worth much trouble, and certainly not worth a moment’s anxiety.
Solomon does not directly address the issue of cosmology. It’s not a simple matter of not having one, or not understand it. They had access to ancient legends and literature. Don’t forget that despite all the lies by those who hate the Bible (ala the Documentary Hypothesis), the Books of Moses were already published and available for anyone to read. They knew what they believed, and didn’t see much need in hashing it out again. If anything, Solomon hashes out the failed assertions to the contrary.
The one thing you could easily miss is how he smashes the entire range of Western epistemology before there was a West.
The point of Ecclesiastes is to show how foolish it is to embrace the idea that man is not fallen. There were plenty of philosophers in his day promoting the ideas later crystallized in Aristotle’s teachings. Aristotle might have come up with his ideas independently, but they weren’t new. Lots of folks had long asserted the unitary universe. So Solomon decides to play their game and applied his legendary wisdom and intellect to the question of whether they were right. He points out how it all goes wrong in the end.
He tested living on those terms, an honest effort to see how it works out. He did all the things humans could do, all the different ways people chased after some sense of purpose and accomplishment on this earth. Even at the pinnacle of his power, it really didn’t mean much. In the end, he still had to die. And even if you could be immortal on this earth, you wouldn’t like it.
Without directly saying so, Solomon asserts it is not possible to evolve into a higher life form, either. God won’t permit it. Feel free to argue with Him, but it’s a waste of breath.
If you focus on the thing itself, nothing you do will matter for long. You’ll enjoy it, but when it runs out, it’s game over. You still die and someone else gets your stuff. The final answer is for you to make your best effort to discern what God intended for you personally. Don’t make the mistake of thinking He doesn’t notice. He made you and knows what’s best.
Don’t chase what captures your imagination. That might tend to indicate something, but it could also be the worst delusion. Stop daydreaming about stuff you can do, as if doing is important. Stop dreaming about being something or someone. Solomon was in his day the ultimate Someone, and it didn’t matter in the end. That’s the part that sounds like existentialism, or fatalism and some other -isms you might dream up. It all misses the point.
If you are certain God has called you to conquer the world, do so. If you simply want it for yourself, don’t be a fool. Meanwhile, the humblest peasant who scraped by is no worse off than King Solomon in the end. Living as King of Wisdom didn’t help matters, except it allowed him to see all too clearly and write it up in a little book.
You can do no better than embrace God’s revelation and figure out what God wants for you. Then chase that with all your might, because that’s how you reach out to God Himself.
The question remains: Can a human come up with better answers about life in this world? Surely becoming king is worth something, no? Solomon describes how he kept a part of his mind objective in testing everything. This isn’t plunging wantonly into mere physical pleasure, but includes that idea as a small part of a much bigger picture. Solomon tested the limits of what is position offered.
As the legendary King of Wisdom, Solomon entertained an endless stream of royal guests, the greatest artisans, the widest range of scholarship, exposing himself to everything a man could know about the world and the people in it. This did not satisfy his quest. At the same time, he indulged himself in the widest range of culinary experiences, using the shorthand term of wine-tasting. The whole time, he reserved a portion of his awareness for gauging whether any of it seemed to make life worthwhile of itself. Was partying with the greatest of this world going to bring some sense of satisfaction? Wrong again.
Next, Solomon threw himself into the work of amassing material possessions. He explains how built structures for every use man could imagine. Nor was this in any way frivolous. Not just water parks and gardens for himself, but genuine works of civil engineering that helped others. We know Solomon was a prodigious builder and architect in his own right, a genius at engineering. He piled up a vast army of slaves, piles of treasures from all over the world, the most rare and beautiful specimens any collector could desire. He had musicians running out his ears and more women in his harem than a single man could get to know even as a passing acquaintance. None of these things filled the void in the soul.
What about the eternal question of wisdom versus folly? Of course it’s better to be wise and intelligent. A fool has no idea what he’s doing or where his life is going. Such folks might not ever understand how they got where they are. A wise man, even with no power whatsoever, can at least see where things are going, what will be the results of things he does or does not do. Then again, the final end of both is about the same, since all die and return to dust. The one really bad side-effect of Solomon’s vast wisdom is he clearly understood that even wisdom was futile in that sense.
Worse, he clearly saw how everything he had gained would be passed onto his sons, regardless of whether they were foolish or wise. They would probably be deprived of the experience of rising up on their own accomplishments, because there would be little left for them to do, since their father had done it all. What was the point of all this work, because the work itself was probably the best thing, and it can’t be passed on to his sons.
Wisdom and native talent drive you relentlessly in the daylight. When you try to sleep, you always rehash everything you did and failed to do. So while it’s good in general for a man to work and enjoy the fruit of his own labor, the mere act of enjoyment is a gift of God’s mercy. God can easily take away the fruits of honest labor, but just as easily take away the joy itself. Everything men might imagine they could want comes from God. Some folks God has favored with moral wisdom, but fools only know about how they want something they don’t have. And once they get all they can, God gives it to the wise. You can’t fight God.
The sarcasm and mocking Solomon offers here could easily be aimed at the large number of Western Christians who don’t get Hebrew wisdom literature. The underlying premise of the book is portraying the vanity of trying to understand life, the universe and everything from a human point of view. The wisest man in human history could not come up with a good answer, try as he might all the ways men seek to conquer this existence.
That much is obvious. The difficulty is that virtually no one in Western Christianity has a clue about the fundamental human approach Solomon uses here. This book is easily the pinnacle of Hebrew mysticism. That is, there is nothing here truly spiritual, in the sense that this book is wholly a matter of God’s moral laws for fallen mankind. It does point to spiritual depth, but never mentions it directly. As non-Western literature, there is nothing here of questioning the nature of existence, nor defining the meaning of things from a rational position. That’s the wrong question here. The question is how to make the most of human existence after the Fall. The question is how best to obtain the very most life here can offer.
That question is played out while trying to avoid references to revelation. Solomon experiments with all the ways men pursue the different approaches, and he does so with vastly superior native ability. He does make reference to mere logic in the rational mold, but dismisses it, too. In the end, he answers with the assertion that, taking the very best of all the various philosophical approaches to the basic question of how to make the most of our human existence, and using the very deepest and wisest mind with access to as much human knowledge as existed at that time, you still can’t come up with anything better than a pretty simple grasp of God’s Laws.
Solomon didn’t have to put pen to parchment here; he had numerous scribes working in the palace. It’s possible this was published after his death. However, you can’t take seriously scholars who assert it comes from Post-Exilic times, because by then, only a tiny handful of Hebrew scribes could possibly understand what Solomon meant. They would have written up an entirely different book from his notes. By the time the Exile was over, Hebrew Mysticism was virtually forgotten, and this book is very firmly the product of classical Hebrew Mysticism before the Exile.
There is no ambiguity in the author’s identity: Solomon, heir of King David to the throne in Jerusalem. He calls himself “the one who assembles,” a Hebrew pun describing one who assembles words of truth, then assembles people to teach the truth.
The first thing he tells us is to not take this world too seriously. It doesn’t matter what you bring to the task, you can’t make much of by yourself. No matter what you accomplish by any scale of human measure, it won’t make any difference for very long. You can’t change the rotation of the earth, the movement of wind currents or the hydrologic cycle. The better you understand things, the more it drives you nuts. The one thing you most want to change is hardest of all — human nature. It ever reaches for things it cannot have. What little improvement there could be requires paying attention to human history, but even if they know it, they still repeat it.
Again, the issue is not whether we can change our world physically. We should know better than that, Solomon says. The one thing that affects us all the most is fallen human nature. If there is one thing we could fix, and should try to fix, the one thing which is the key to all our problems, it would be human nature. Thus, the whole point of verse 15, for example, is a description of human nature itself — irreparably bent and broken.
Solomon informs his readers he has examined the issue fully. Human talent, wisdom and creativity simply cannot change anything that matters. Here he sits, the wisest human on earth so far, downright legendary for his grasp of things, and with all he gained in that department, he still can’t change anything. God has revoked human access to the Garden of Eden, so man must work simply to stay alive, and it is work guaranteed to do little more than keep him alive. Should he somehow amass the resources for leisure, he ends up wanting more of something else. It is unspeakable misery to realize nothing can be done to nudge humanity back where they could be.
The greatest peace fallen men can have is engaging the task itself of staying alive and minding your own business. Sure, give expression to your soul’s longings but never take yourself seriously. Once you begin to imagine you have some advantage over others, you cannot avoid creating trouble for yourself and others. You will only make things worse.
Western reasoning gets in the way of everything, even in ways we don’t realize.
We can be smart enough to recognize when something needs only concrete logic. If you drop a rock on your foot, it will hurt; if you touch fire, it will hurt. That’s physical science; we get that.
We can be smart enough to recognize when something requires abstract logic. That’s the whole point of analysis, where we examine the world around us and try to recognize patterns. We see how certain types of phenomena work according to the same principles. We learn the details of one instance and can discover how it applies to other instances that are not exactly the same, but seem related. After awhile, we refine our understanding of the underlying principles until we can reliably predict what will happen when we do this or that by abstracting the principles from reality.
We can learn those things from others by deductive logic. If we find someone is a reliable source of information on reality, we listen when they assert basic principles and apply them in other cases. We build an understanding much more quickly because we don’t have to discover the basic principles for ourselves. Someone is able to explain convincingly and on our level, and we build from their work.
We can also learn when things we’d like to say require encoding. We learn to use symbols for words and sounds, and we transmit our knowledge much more efficiently. So we abstract our communications and people can deduce the meaning by a common standard of symbolic communication. Computers, anyone? We reach out to reduce the entire pool or human knowledge into symbols any computer can pass down a wire to another. We now have the luxury of instant access to more knowledge than any of us can possibly process, much less use.
But this is not the same as symbolic logic. Symbolic logic is a very ancient form of reasoning; it assumes there is an active force in this world which is not part of this world. It posits humans could, in theory, have a faculty for dealing with this outside force, but it would have to be a faculty above logic and reasoning, per se, because anything powerful enough to intrude on this universe must be more powerful than anything inside it. And we further deduce it would be awfully hard to discuss it with anyone if we don’t possess the means of communication to tap into that other person’s super-intellectual faculty. If we could, it would surely be something we couldn’t simply write in symbols. It would require symbols inside the symbols, a symbolic logic that is simply too much for human communication itself, because it’s too much for the intellect, which is the foundation of communication. Symbolic logic is not exactly rational in nature.
The whole question of dealing with forces greater than the universe itself demands something above our conscious human level. I can’t prove it because it’s outside the range of proof, in the sense that you could surely find an alternative explanation for things I claim reveal something from that greater force. If the existence of that higher level is not self-evident, there is nothing I can do to help you with it. If you find it self-evident, then there is grounds for trying to communicate something about our individual experiences with that self-evidence.
If that outside force gets involved in the process by communicating in some way, it changes the whole picture. That is, we assume this higher force is able to accurately assess what we need in order to cooperate. However much that demands from us, we are compelled to try. A critical element of that is gaining use of symbols. By our own human level reasoning, we realize the best we can hope for is communication that is not descriptive of things which are above description, but are indicative of what we can do with those things. If there isn’t anything we can do with it, we dismiss it. Most folks end it right there, of course, which is what we call agnosticism. For some of us, there is a compelling call to accept the notion we can do something with it. We can’t own it with our minds, but our minds can be instructed on some level. That’s where the symbols come into the picture; the symbols are indicators.
The symbols don’t obey the rules of lesser levels of reasoning. They are bigger, and seem out of focus, sort of fuzzy. They are granted from that higher force, so we are compelled to use them, but we can’t possibly control them. Our only hope is to deduce their meaning by how they act in any given context. That effort awakens a slender link between our higher faculties and our minds. Something in us responds to a question of the mind: Now what? It carries that question up to the higher faculty, which then answers back with some imperative. The mind struggles to make sense of whatever pattern it can discern. The process is never completed, so we remain open to fresh applications of the symbols all the way to the day we die. We don’t lose confidence, because we discover that higher faculty is more reliable than the rest of our entire human nature.
The Old Testament uses a lot parabolic or symbolic language. It is designed to call upon our higher faculty to engage the situation and learn how to apply the imperatives of that higher force. Jesus used parables that way. It was designed to keep out those who lacked the higher faculty because people who run around insisting on relying entirely on the lesser human capabilities were unable to act according to the imperatives. It wasn’t exactly a question of having that higher faculty, but using it. In essence, if you don’t exercise and build that link between the higher faculty and the mind, and learn to trust that higher faculty, you have no business pretending you can do God’s business reliably. You’ll keep trying to force Him into your intellectual constraints, and you will be wrong when it counts the most.
Humans without that higher faculty can move a lot closer, but it’s been centuries since any corpus of learning has been sought by humans trying to learn about it, at least on a wide scale. In fact, I submit to you that religious pagans have been working harder on it than just about anyone, certainly more consistently than the Church. The Church seems intent on denying the real deal and demanding we keep everything within the constraints of human intellect and a very human frame of reference. Virtually everything churches have done for the past few centuries is entirely under the power of human control, and views with great suspicion anything that smells like it comes from outside it. Thus, when someone gets a taste of that higher faculty, there is no background of teaching to guide it. That results in a lot of wacky stuff. It’s not God’s fault; He’s doing what He promised to do. The wacky stuff is our fault for not keeping alive the knowledge offered in the Old Testament.
Everything God did to establish a proper frame of reference has been thrown in the trash, and the first to trash it was Judah. When Christians began to reclaim the heritage, the Jews fought tooth and nail to take it away from them. In one sense, they succeeded, in that the infrastructure for that broad understanding leaked away from the churches rather early.
It didn’t go away completely, but it was buried in the sands of time. I’m struggling to recover some of it, and I have no way to gauge how well I’m doing. There are others involved and we share the labor but I don’t yet see a way to share the fellowship of the struggle. Too many of those contributing aren’t interested in actually using it. It makes their discoveries a little suspect, but it’s all we have. It’s quite possible the community of those willing to work together on this will remain small. I don’t pretend to know God’s plans on this matter. I know only what He demands of me.
Part of that demand is offering a prophetic warning to Christians. I have to trust the higher force — God — to work out all the things I can’t handle, which is an awful lot.
Let me leave you with this: If you aren’t otherworldly, you are too worldly. There is no stark clean line of departure between what the flesh can accomplish and what the Spirit does. It can only be perceived from that higher faculty. You can accomplish a lot of good in the flesh, but for some small portion of all that, you’ll miss the point and God doesn’t get the glory — people are not given a glimpse of that higher realm. You cannot understand the Cross with your minds alone. No amount of theologizing will produce the right answer. It still requires you and God together in communion on that higher plane where He exists, using that higher faculty to bring the Cross to life inside your soul. Then you are in a position to put into practice what you cannot possibly explain.
We tilt our awareness toward a readiness for any part of our human processes to be interrupted by the Divine. We don’t have to understand much about it, only understand that there is a demand that we obey. Attempts to explain will require those symbols that can’t quite be defined. We have to say things like, “I’m not sure I can explain to your satisfaction, but if I don’t do it this way, I’ll be guilty of disobeying God.” To the flesh it looks like mere sentiment or emotion, something lower the reason. We cannot possibly convince the flesh otherwise, and who’s to say in “real” terms it isn’t? There is no certain proof on this level, only the sense of divine peace we can’t explain.
Thus, I may still have a divine necessity of dropping a rock on my foot despite knowing it will hurt. There are other decisions I’ll make contrary to human logic because symbolic logic is above that. We discount suffering as a steering component on itself. We examine human suffering in light of whether it matters at that moment in spiritual terms. The flesh is just a tool, and our entire human existence is merely a passing resource in service to something outside this universe. We take care of the flesh so much as God says it matters to Him, not on any other basis. We offer comfort to others who suffer, but only the comfort God says He wants us to offer, not the comfort which human logic says is demanded by the need. We use human reasoning when the Spirit is silent, which isn’t very often. We default first to the symbolic reasoning of the Ancient Hebrew traditions, which many people call “mysticism,” then slide on down to deductive reasoning, then abstract, and finally concrete reasoning.
There is no answer to the question of what a symbol means without a context in which to apply it. When that makes sense to you, we can talk to each other about following Christ.
Translation of the Bible into English is inevitably difficult. Virtually every translation I’ve read does something I find objectionable. That’s because knowing how to get an English word or phrase from one of the biblical languages is no guarantee you got the right one. There is a substantial culture and history translation, too. There are biases, and not a single English translation approaches it with a genuine Hebrew mindset. They make the assumption someone writing in Greek must have been thinking in Greek, when clearly some of them were not.
So we have words and phrases from the Bible that don’t mean for us what it meant for the authors in many cases. Some biblical language has been imbued with a different meaning by readers far removed, convinced their viewpoint itself is holy. You cannot build a theology from a translation; you have to learn better what the first audience would have gotten from it. Written and spoken language can never represent independent truth, as if anyone centuries later can simply pick it up and get it 100%.
Phrases used interchangeably in most Christian religious conversation: born-again, born from above, having spiritual life or spiritual birth, saved, redeemed. Sadly, those last two are not the same as the others in the Bible. In the context of the Hebrew culture, they could include saved on this level without reference to the spiritual level. In other words, the average American Christian confuses the Two Realms very badly. Even with all the help of folks like Augustine and his Two Cities, we still get it wrong because Augustine himself was a bit confused and too Platonic.
Conversion and spiritual birth are not synonymous.
Because of my years of training and experience in psychology, chances are good I could convert most people. Given sufficient time and clues to what motivates them positively and negatively, I can eventually sell one kind of religion or another. Add enough enthusiasm and it would be whole herds of people.
The problem is, it has to have some measure of falsehood in it. There has to be some sort of fundamentalist edge to it, something about it that removes very real choices from your frame of reference. If I do it well enough, there’s a very good chance you’ll be committed for life. Right up to the day you die, you will believe and act accordingly.
But what about after that?
There is a correlation between conversion and eternal life, but no causal link. Indeed, the saddest part of my imaginary scenario is a virtual guarantee that a convert will believe he is going to Heaven and it doesn’t happen. Instead, he brings his assurance that he has the Holy Spirit and a genuine faculty of faith into the church and proceeds to implement his false faith.
That’s because “conversion” is a very well established term in behavioral science. We can explain how it happens and duplicate the effect in the majority of people we encounter on the street. It’s a form or manipulation, a purely psychological effect. When I attended college as a preacher boy, that’s what I was taught to do through my sermons, lessons and various “evangelism” skills.
Who remembers Evangelism Explosion? How about The Four Spiritual Laws? Since those came out, I’ve seen a huge number of personal evangelism training curricula with all kinds of cute or edgy names. If you can package it, it’s fake. It’s manipulation, brainwashing and it brings about mere psychological conversion. It produces a vast sea of “Christians” who remain spiritually dead and are utterly certain they are not. It’s a cultural Christianity with it’s own language and habits. It explains the buttonholing manipulation programs, the memorized/canned spiel with its compelling logic, which have angered so many who aren’t that easy to manipulate.
It’s called “decision theology.” The language of “Jesus’ offer of salvation” and “invite Jesus into your heart” is not in the Bible. It’s a Western rationalist approach people read back into Scripture. It’s efficiency and efficacy from an alien perspective. It’s about bringing the mighty miracle powers of God down under human control. That ain’t happening.
I would love it if there was anything at all you or I could do that would bring about spiritual birth. Sorry, but God keeps that entirely under His hat; He refused to explain how it works on His end, on what basis He chooses. He does not surrender Himself to our sense of justice and logic. The problem is on our end. He does what He does, and the one thing He put in our hands was the call to repent coupled with the power to live that same repentance ourselves. Spiritual birth is not a choice anyone but God can make.
If I offer the truth, and do so truthfully, you remain totally free of my control. I recognize the results are not in my hands. I refuse to do the things that would bring about a result that satisfies my fleshly intellect. God alone can make His Laws winsome with or without spiritual birth, so spiritual birth is surely His alone. All I can do is talk about it and tell you what I experienced, because there is a part of me that encounters God personally on some level. I can’t afford to fake it.
theology: the study of God and of the nature of religious truth; a school of thought arising from such study; an organized course of study within the academic field of religion
There is no theology in the Bible. There entire concept arises from Aristotelian epistemology. Aristotle made a god of his logic. He was pretty sure his conclusions and the very path by which he reached them were self-evident. What he really did was explain how one should go about the process. His logic demanded that human efforts to understand things should be divided into certain fields of knowledge. Thus, the majority of our entire academic curricula around the Western world owes much to Aristotle.
It’s not as if ancient civilizations before Aristotle and friends didn’t study things. It would be wholly untrue to suggest they didn’t follow logic, but it was a different logic from that of Aristotle. One more time: The logic God taught His people to use is not Aristotelian; it was surely different from Aristotle and better. Aristotle’s logic starts with the assumption there can be no revelation from God. From that assumption, his whole system was derived. If you insist on using his system of logic, you cannot force the revelation of God back into it. You are bringing in a factor that does violence to his system, because it’s a presupposition that is ground to bits by his procedure. In other words, if you read the Bible through Aristotelian logic, you will always be wrong about what the Bible actually says.
The Bible is a narrative record of what God wants us to know as humans after the Fall. The central focus of the Bible is teaching humans to see the logical system God proclaimed as the best way to understand His Creation and all He did to redeem us. It doesn’t solve the problem of the Fall; it establishes the frame of reference for His redemption.
Aristotle’s logic assumes an analytic approach to human knowledge. A fundamental assumption is giving the mind first a good education in his logic so that it can properly disregard false information, as he saw it. When properly cleared of falsehood, the mind can be competent to observe and process human experience into a matrix of truth. With the proper matrix of truth, one can act rationally and get the desired results. Because Aristotle wholly and flatly rejects the fundamental fabric of morality revealed by God as a necessary element in Creation, Aristotle’s reason will always come up short. You’ll have to generate your won morality through your experience and logic. Because God tends to operate on a much longer frame of reference, a frame including reference to a plane of existence outside this one, a great deal of critical input is missing. Adhere to Aristotle and you’ll never understand why the world works as it does, not even the mechanics of matter itself. God’s moral provisions do affect matter at the fundamental level of subatomic processes.
So a proper theology from Scripture starts with an entirely different set of assumptions about reality. The words in the Bible are meant to be taken a certain way, and you can most certainly read them wrong, simply because the words and images have a distinctly different meaning when you take them outside the original frame of reference. A proper theology starts first with discarding Aristotle as irrelevant for the most part, and embraces the Hebrew intellectual foundations on which the Bible is built.
From such a frame of reference, it is really not so hard to formulate and enunciate certain doctrines as taught by Scripture. It most certainly does offer a self-consistent frame of understanding with certain concepts and ideas rather bluntly stated. It also offers a frame of reference by which we can deduce and extrapolate for questions not directly answered by the narrative. As we drift farther into speculative territory, you are on your own. That is, given the vagaries of human nature and individual talents and experiences, you’ll inevitably develop a frame of reference which is neither denied nor supported well by Scripture, but seems to account for your direct experience of God’s hand in your life. Such speculative theology is your own personal organization in your mind of how you will obey God.
That speculative theology is what most people call Systematic Theology. It is by far the least reliable outside your own head. It is the most dangerous and shaky ground, wholly unsuitable for building blocks of cooperation with other believers. There may well be some overlap because it is inevitably culturally derived. However, the very suggestion it is somehow normative is blasphemous. A proper course of Systematic Theology in seminary should assert this up front, and keep reasserting it throughout the course of study, and remains standing when the student is finished. As you might have observed, this is the reverse of what normally happens. Someone with a talent for persuasion convinces some segment of the world that his bright vision is God’s own. He builds on the assumptions of Aristotle’s categories of reasoning and believes unconsciously that what seems obvious to him is obvious because it is the absolute truth.
Humility goes out the window.
The strong foundation of Christian faith is Hebrew biblical theology, called “doctrine” in the New Testament. On these things I tend to be unyielding, as they are the proper ground for prophetic messages. Deductive theology attempting to answer questions not directly addressed in biblical theology is fairly trustworthy, but that assumes your deduction is closely linked the well recognized doctrine. You could hold others accountable to it, but only as your faith, not your logic, demands. Anything the least bit speculative (based on analytical reasoning) is merely personal. It is wholly unsuitable for making demands on anyone outside your own skin.
Systematic Theology invariably gives us bad religion.
Addenda: An offline question indicates I could have been little more pointed.
The reason we have a Bible is so we can initiate the process of redemption on our human level. It provides sufficient grounds for whatever part we can play in the quest for escaping the consequences of the Fall. As noted, that assumes you aren’t so stupid as to reject the fundamental epistemology of the Hebrew people. We can characterize the question answered as, “What do we do now?” It answers the question of what you need to know only in passing, as the question of what we need to know addresses a condition of obedience. The point of the Bible is to inform your obedience. In the broadest sense, the only thing you can know about God — the only proper objective of theology — is knowing what God demands of you on a human level. All this business of trying to understand what we are (the question of being) is simply wrong-headed. It is not answered in Scripture except in the most brutal assertion that we are fallen, hopelessly lost and at war with the God who made us.
Proper theology: To know God is to know what He demands of us. The primary answer of obedience is glorifying His Name. The primary means to glorifying His Name is figuring out how to live after the Fall. Your proper application of intellect is organizing how you will implement that in your personal life.
It ain’t happening.
I keep hoping people will understand when I attack Aristotelian epistemology and European tribal mythology. I keep hoping they’ll recognize all those unconscious assumptions about life, the universe and everything. I pray that they learn the very different approach necessary to understand the Bible. More than that, it is the necessary intellectual approach to understand life, the universe and everything as God revealed it.
Apparently there are educated people out there who read my efforts and it just doesn’t happen. Somewhere between my keyboard and their brain is a short circuit. I confess it could well be I lack the writing talent, but I’m not sure what I can do about it. There are plenty of folks for whom the whole thing is simply over their heads. Scary to me is how many there are. As someone who once worked in public education, I understand all too well why there are so many like that. Public education in America is designed to make them that way. I keep praying God does something to give folks a chance to break out the intellectual bondage so they can serve Him as full participants, as shepherds instead of sheep.
It’s good we have people who recognize that the Bible is not a science book. It’s good we have a smaller number who realize the Bible is not a history book, either. Big as it is, the Bible is actually pretty minimal. It’s just barely enough for a human to begin training their intellect to obey the Spirit of God.
So if you read the Law of Moses, you understand from the narrative that it can’t possibly cover every detail of life a human is likely to encounter just in the context in which is the Law is revealed. There were lots of questions because real world situations don’t always fit the rather simple declarations of God’s Laws. The Law included provisions for selecting wiser heads and prophets to help clarify things. Moses was taught by his father-in-law not to assume he was the only one who could understand the Law. Moses and his readers were supposed to wait on God to raise up folks who could read the text and see between the lines what it was God was trying to convey, a truth about life on this fallen plane of existence.
The Hebrew mind, if it worked well at all, assumed truth was impossible to reduce to mere words. Truth was the Person of God Almighty, and our best hope was something in a written narrative could give us a clue. There is no matrix of truth the mind can plumb with logic; there is only the Person of the Living God. The mind is supposed to extrapolate based on underlying moral truths too difficult for words. Try as I might to contrast this with the Aristotelian expectation of defining an objective body of truth, I still run into people who read my stuff and demand I adhere to Aristotelian forms of expression.
There are people out there who will read this very blog post and still do that.
The Hebrew Scriptures do not address every question likely to occur in our minds. It didn’t address every question likely to occur to Ancient Hebrew minds, much less our Post-modern Western minds. A critical element is in the question: Why state the obvious? If everyone is expected to believe a certain fundamental truth, why need we mention it? So very much of Hebrew Scripture was a reaction to falsehood, not an organized attempt to catalog a full discussion of reality. For us, there are huge gaps in the Bible narrative. The purpose of putting the Old Covenant into a written form was not so you could analyze and know, but so you could obey.
It’s no different in the New Testament. There are lots of things Jesus never addressed in the Gospel narrative. Maybe He did address some of those questions in real life, but we have no record of it. Instead, we have a record of things He said and did in reaction to the concerns of the day and time of those men who wrote those narratives. Our job as scholars is to reconstruct the context of the narrative as much as we can, but surely the rest is simply resting in the Holy Spirit.
We take it as an article of faith that God would not leave us high and dry on essentials, and that the Bible must be enough. Whatever it is we really need must be there, somewhere. And it is, but if we approach with the wrong frame of mind, we are sure to get the wrong answers, because we’ll ask the wrong questions. Aristotelian minds want information for analysis, something they can harness under their human logic. Such minds presume to own the data as masters of understanding, rather than be owned by it. The Hebrew Bible calls that demand “fallen nature.” That is, the very assumption truth can be held in human intelligence is the very nature of what happened with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden eating the Forbidden Fruit — it was the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. That word “knowledge” implies one who makes executive decisions as if he were the designer. We want to see the plans for the universe on our level. God said, “Nope. That’s above your existential level.”
The Bible teaches almost nothing about the knowledge of being, and very little about doing, because it is all about morality. It teaches moral understanding.
We look back upon the record and we see a small handful of amazing people who worked from even less of that written record than we have, yet they had the most amazing depth of insight. And then they were commissioned to either write or edit the writing of more of that narrative. They weren’t necessarily brilliant linguists; some couldn’t even read or write. They were morally brilliant. Jesus was morally precocious. Such was the single distinguishing human character trait He carried — maximum human moral genius. If there is one thing on which we ought to focus our searching, it’s not rules and principles, but moral apprehension. Not formulating moral principles, but learning the moral fabric woven into Creation already as a living thing. Moral truth is a reflection of the character of God, insofar as He requires us to know Him.
A Hebrew writer would never write it like that, because writing it that way comes from a question that would not occur to him. Only by careful hindsight do we recognize that most of what Jesus said in His disputes with the Pharisees was over this very problem, in that the Pharisees were too Aristotelian. They had made a god of their logical system for understanding Moses, and it was not the logic of Moses by any means. The Pharisees insisted Moses was propositional truth (without using those words), and this was a clear departure from how the Hebrew intellect approached things up to the time when Hellenism was sold to them around 300 BC.
The Bible was intended for reading with the power of the Holy Spirit, not with the power of mere human logic. It was not intended to produce uniformity of thought and action, but unity of commitment to Jesus Christ. Don’t confuse them. The unifying power of the Spirit cannot be expressed in terms humans can understand, much less control. If you try to squeeze from Scripture a theology and practice by which you command others to obey as if unto God, you are not bringing glory to the name of Jesus Christ; you are still just another Pharisee.
So I’m obviously not a Fundamentalist at all, and not really an evangelical, though my choice of words sometimes sounds like them. And I am certainly not any kind of liberal by common definitions. I’m a Christian Mystic, an ultimate primitivist. I don’t do propositional teaching. I’ve offered here adequate explanation why not, but I’ll be glad to elucidate further, if you want it. Just ask.
Somewhere out there, someone’s going to read this and it will cross his mind to demand I answer all his questions with propositional statements. It ain’t happening.
This post is a response to some very good questions to my previous Righteous Activism.
I may misunderstand the question, but let me answer what I believe is the question and we can work from there. God as my witness, I wish it could be shorter, but I’m not smart enough to be more terse and condensed. It’s the function of pastors and elders to do whatever is possible to help people get what they need to serve the Lord.
Our brother Michael offers standard Western reasoning; he is in much good company. I couldn’t answer at all had I not spent so many years of my life wandering in the puzzling world of Western Post-Enlightenment theology. If we step outside the confining limits of that tradition, we stand in a better place to recognize the larger collection of intellectual traditions. While it’s easy to recognize a broad common stream of thinking within the whole of Western Civilization, we find a great many Westerners are encouraged to take Western thinking entirely too seriously, to so deeply identify with it as to take it personally, to be unconsciously offended when something contradicts it. I’m not saying Michael is an idiot, but his objections are very common among those who haven’t become acquainted with the differences between Western Christian traditions and something much older.
I’ve often warned that Western reasoning is built on a rejection of revelation. Christianity and faith are actually quite ill-fitting in Western traditions. Because it’s a bad fit, we end up with a host of problems manifested in the disputes and bloodshed which soaks Church History. We sense that messy history does not reflect what the Apostles gave us, but we are crippled by a lack of documentation. There are some few letters and treatises of those who directly followed the Apostles, but we sense there is some selective record-keeping at work here. Yes, I allege someone in the past destroyed some of that documentation with malicious intent, but I can’t chase that rabbit right now. But, if we take seriously the study of intellectual differences between the Hebrew people and what we have some few centuries later, we see a very huge gap, a really substantial move. I’ve tried to offer at times my best estimate of how that shift came about, and avoid reading back into it my own prejudices. I suggest most of Western Christian scholarship you’ll encounter today has not tried hard enough. That is, a great deal of Western Christian tradition still buys into the false world view, the fundamental assumptions about reality, that are not at all consistent with those who wrote the Bible. I even wrote a book trying to point out how Jesus was a Hebrew man with a viewpoint totally at variance with most of the modern Western church.
So a great deal of Western reasoning is not wrong as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. If you stay within those boundaries, revelation will never make sense. To some degree, it’s not supposed to make sense, but I believe we can come closer by moving from our Western rational tradition back to the ancient Hebrew intellectual roots. As it is, I often warn the truth of God cannot really find a home in our human understanding. It requires a separate, higher faculty in the Spirit, something which does not dwell in the conscious intellect. Our problem is the barrier between the spirit and mind, and our knee-jerk reflex to keep the mind in the driver’s seat. The mind is not competent, and where the spirit has been brought to life by God, we dare not rely on it for anything more than merely organizing our response to things mandated from the Spirit in our spirits. There must ever be a thousand unanswered questions. That was the overall meaning behind the symbol of sheol. We cannot know what’s beyond this life. Much of what I have encountered in my years of study in theology and philosophy assumes too much, trying too hard to make faith cerebral. The Hebrew intellectual traditions are truly different from that. Sometimes I still struggle with it.
The justice/injustice standard is based on obeying God’s revelation. Justice is what God says it is; it reflects His divine character. God built the Hebrew intellectual culture by His own hand as the one context fit for revelation. We are forced to assume that legacy is as close as human minds can get to His truth on this earth. By contrast to the Hebrew concept, if efficiency was part of the standard, then it’s best to die and not be here in the first place. I don’t pretend to know when God deems a child accountable in the course of human development. The Hebrew culture never nails it down beyond a nebulous comment in passing about knowing to do right from wrong. It assumes there is such a point without trying to calculate. They wouldn’t pretend to speak for God on something like that because He didn’t say, but they did notice when things got dicey dealing with a particular child. We don’t know the absolute truth of such things; all we know is what we can read in God’s revelation about what we should do about it.
Take a look at how David handled the death of his first son by Bathsheba. His sorrow was for himself and he said so, not for the child. “He cannot come to me; I must go to him.” The Hebrew understanding of reality is darker than ours. There is an overwhelming sense that this life makes no sense, nor can it. There is really nothing to accomplish — “All is vanity of vanities.” You really don’t want to be here, but God is the one who decides when it’s over. Until then, you have little choice but to obey or suffer the consequences. Even in the matter of consequences, much of it is incomprehensible. God dumps His wrath on sin and the guidelines for avoiding His wrath are ill-defined by human standards. It’s not supposed to be easy. And even if we do stand before Him relatively clean-handed by His Laws, we still have to wade through the common sorrows of all the rest of humanity. In other words, it’s very tempting to try to come up with a matrix of reasoning that ignores God’s infuriatingly fuzzy revelation and just work it all out on the human level.
So yes: Who wouldn’t choose death as soon as they could? Except, it’s not ours to choose. We are obliged to stay here and endure the sorrow until God is pleased to let us go. Could you take your own life? Sure. Suicide is not horrifying in Scripture; there are times it is the only thing left to do when a man has gone too far in miscalculating the vagaries of this life. He realizes his mistake too late to undo the damage. If your mission here is destroyed, it’s possible for you to realize it’s time to go. But there again, Hebrew culture assumes it becomes obvious that you are simply carrying out your own just death sentence, not simply because you are sad. Your pain is not reason enough; it has to be calculated with dispassion whether you sense God has said you have failed your mission. It’s all about mission and calling, not your happiness. Still, the whole question remains vague and so it must be, but I assure you our modern Western horror about suicide is not at all from Scripture. The mainstream Western Christian reaction on that question is actually from pagan European backgrounds. We have this reflex of reading our cultural assumptions and feelings back into the Hebrew people, and it’s wrong.
As Michael noted, the Hebrew Scriptures don’t present a very good view of the afterlife. Now, we do have a pretty good pile of Jewish traditions regarding what was taught but not recorded in Scripture. Unfortunately, it’s not uniformly trustworthy. Jesus rejected most of it with just a few words about “traditions of men.” But then His disciples did dredge up oral traditions from the Hebrew culture and put them in Scripture, so we have no simple standard, no good solid feel for how to handle the apparent difference between what is obvious from Hebrew Scripture and what it seems the New Testament does to clarify. We know in theory they were guided by the Holy Spirit, but we find ourselves with a sense we can’t be quite so sure from where we stand now. If we read through the Jewish traditions, we would probably seize on the wrong thing.
So I read back into Hebrew culture what Jesus said about these things, simply because He was the final revelation of what was not so clear as before. It is Jesus who says so much more about the afterlife, but we know He says it based on Hebrew assumptions. If it seems He adopts imagery from, say the Persians, and maybe a few other cultural backgrounds, it is not because He is a syncretist, but because He found a handy image people would understand. Everyone wants to ignore how the Hebrews readily borrowed from other cultures if it was a good way of expressing something far beyond words and images in the first place.
This is the biggest stumbling block of all: Hebrew language is not descriptive, but indicative. Hebrew intellectual efforts are not aimed at resolving human questions, but at providing some bit of traction for obedience. It’s impossible to overstate what a radical difference that makes when you start trying to think about things. It was always assumed you cannot understand with your mind. Jesus said parables were necessary for His teaching because the truth cannot be told, only indicated by imagery and symbols. The writer of Hebrews rather bluntly states the real world is at best only a shadowy copy of ultimate truth, in describing how Moses commanded the design of the Tabernacle as a shadowy representation of God’s throne room in Heaven. He then talks about how faith is a form of perception which fills in the blanks for the intellect: It is the substance of things we wish we could understand, but those things are rooted in another realm.
So while the Hebrew Scriptures make passing references to sheol and how death is more like sleep, it’s totally consistent to read back into it things Jesus taught. It is not consistent to read back into it anything else from any other human source. Jesus is the one who said dying in righteousness brings us into Paradise, whatever it was He meant by that word. This counters somewhat the Hebrew image of death as a place of sleep, of knowing nothing (we could burn up a lot of time chasing the inherent meaning of “knowing” in that context). And I fully agree the idea of dying and going into the torments of Hell is missing in the Hebrew Scripture. Again, Jesus brought up the idea of Hell as one of the two alternatives, the other at one point described as the Bosom of Abraham. He reveals what was incomplete in ancient Hebrew understanding. Maybe it was there but never explained, or maybe it was simply missing altogether, but Jesus completes the picture.
A major point of confusion is the Hebrew assumption of Two Realms, an understanding utterly missing from Western Civilization. We have words for it, but the matrix of understanding is missing. We end up with “eternity” meaning “time without limit” whereas the Hebrew conception is totally outside the time-space continuum. Even if I can get those words into a nice Sunday School lesson in your average mainstream evangelical church, the intellectual background is missing. There is almost no place to hang such a thought, and people unconsciously dismiss it. So it tends to come off as mythical and not real. Just listen to how people talk about eternal things and you’ll see a serious tangled mess in which the Two Realms are confused. The Law Covenants together reflect a moral regime which carries us through this fallen existence. It manifests deeper truths about things in the Spirit Realm, but by no means answers all the questions. Rather, the Laws put us on track to discover as much as any human mind can grasp about eternity.
God does not explain why He chooses some for citizenship in His Eternal Kingdom and not others. He never explains the basis for how He decides to give some spiritual life and others remain spiritually dead. He does say some part of the process is our witness, but He pointedly warns us no part of the eternal change is in any human hands at any point. We participate in revealing or manifesting His decision from before Creation — that’s how it’s presented to us. Even then, I can’t be certain I’m saying it right. Yet Paul warns nothing in humanity is capable of even wanting eternal life, but that our nature is implacably hostile to it. Whatever it is God does, it counts as a miracle totally from His initiative. There is sufficient space in Heaven for every soul born on earth since the beginning and until the end. It’s where we belong, but we won’t all get there. Scripture hints at the notion the majority will not, yet it asserts rather clearly it’s possible in some sense all could theoretically make the grade. There is no effort at all to explain why.
There is a lot of talk about the Law Covenants and how they make life better here below. We are left to recognize how that picture symbolizes something of the inexplicable spiritual reality somewhere beyond the shadowy mess we have here. All we can pin down is this: If there is anything we can do about gaining eternal citizenship, it begins with repenting under the Laws of God. The connection is not defined, merely asserted. We do understand it somewhat from the other side of things, in that we know those who come into spiritual life and the attendant awareness it grants will find the Laws winsome and irresistible, though not always fitting every occasion. The Laws taste a bit like our spiritual inheritance. The problem is our human mind getting in the way. If your spirit is dead, you don’t have much else to work with except your mind. But if the spirit is alive and aware, then it takes over and mind serves instead of ruling. That is by far the most difficult transition to make, and most of the Western church never even tries, because they are so deeply pickled in Western assumptions that there can be nothing above the intellect. Western Civilization disembowels faith before you ever get there.
In the Realm of the Spirit, a child born on this fallen plane has their citizenship in eternity. It’s our birthright under Creation. But at some point, the poison of the Fall takes hold. I don’t have the words to explain it, but the penalty of the Fall is not applied until sometime after birth and well before adulthood. There is a period of moral innocence recognized in the Law Covenants, but not explained. Killing an unborn baby sends that baby to Heaven. That reflects God’s justice. Killing them after that indefinable point risks sending them to Hell. God says that’s justice, too. It’s offensive to our Western notions, but that’s because we are pickled in the lies of Satan — AKA, Western Civilization. Can’t get your head around that? I’m not sure what I can do to help, but I’m trying. If we could choose to die in innocence, we would. But by the time we know enough to make the choice, we cannot. Why it is the innocence dies in so many people and never comes back to life in spiritual birth, I cannot say. The Bible makes no attempt to explain it, only asserts just enough for us to get a few pointers.
We aren’t allowed in on the divine counsels of such matters. We are permitted to realize our own spiritual birth, but even that is really tough. We need a lot of help from others to explain what to make of that in itself, never mind all the other particulars. What I can say is the logic of doing right to win Heaven is false logic. It results in “works righteousness” and a wealth of error and sin. The most dangerous people in the world are those logically certain of their righteousness while spiritually dead (or at least ignoring the Spirit). We see that exemplified in the Jewish persecution of the New Testament.
Confusing things considerably is how the Jews themselves had corrupted their understanding and left behind their Hebrew intellectual heritage. Scripture doesn’t document it. Oddly, the Talmudic records do document that intellectual shift, but try to justify it. The point is, that shift from Hebrew Mysticism to Western Rationalism was morally fatal, and deeply confused what little understanding of spiritual matters was possible. I know the Bible teaches us that this life is supposed to be miserable. By His mercies, we can work towards a certain measure of mitigation by observing the Law Covenants as whole. We can even abstract the underlying logic, but that underlying logic is not at all amenable to Western minds. We are not subject to something so neat and clean as a body of objective truth within our theoretical reach. We are subject to a living Person. If I could point to one heresy most seriously threatening to obeying Jesus Christ, it is the assumption God cannot defy logic, when “logic” is cast in Aristotelian terms. Aristotle went to Hell, folks. He refused to accept the message of the Old Testament and refused to repent of his sins. We know he encountered that message, yet his work reflects a clear departure from it. You cannot learn God’s ways from someone like Aristotle, nor can we pretend to somehow recast God’s revelation in Aristotle’s frame of reference. That frame of reference is behind the “traditions of men” Jesus warned about when He disputed with the Hellenized Jewish scholars of His day.
When God says something is just by His standard, it’s our job to reach for as much understanding as possible about that. Most important is not that we somehow figure it out in its essence, but only so much as need to formulate our obedience. The injustice of abortion is rejecting God’s moral standards regarding conception of life, and refusing to accept the burden of responsibility for raising that child — refusing to adhere to God’s moral standards in the first place. Sending that unborn child to Heaven is not the problem, but virtually no one involved views it that way. They dehumanize the child by making it a mass of tissue. This is pretty much the same thing as Cain killing Abel — it’s murder. It’s taking life for any reason short of God’s justice. The problem with most anti-abortion activism is focusing on the loss of the child, as if it’s somehow unjust to the child. That’s wrong. It’s a sin against themselves by refusing to take the path God prescribed, and a sin against God for rejecting His ways.
It’s not about the child, who suffers no loss. Allowing the child to live is a virtual guarantee it will end up in Hell as a sinner later in life. The question is not justice for the child. Was not Abel taken into Heaven? Didn’t Cain do him a favor? Cain sinned against the moral fabric of universe. I can’t explain why God insists we all pass through this horrible existence and then for most of us (apparently) to end up in Hell. But that’s what He has ordered, and we are damned if we argue with His plans. The sin of abortion is arguing with God.
God has revealed Himself. He has not been silent since the very first human mind became conscious.
The primary, fundamental fact of human existence here and now is we are fallen. It affects the totality of our human existence. No part of us is able to rise above the Fall without some outside assistance. The whole point of revelation is to serve as the beginning point of that outside assistance. Revelation is the gateway to redemption.
Fundamental to all human sin is arguing with God. It begins with Satan’s first comment in the Bible: “Is it really true that God said…?” His second comment was a blatant contradiction of what God said. All human evil today begins with the same trend of questioning God’s revelation.
Has God really said homosexuality is evil? Yep. It’s an evil desire, but that’s not the real problem. We desire a lot of things God said we shouldn’t have and that’s just one of them. If you cared to know, He also explains why He said that. I’ve explained that often enough in detail already, but the hint is social stability.
Sure, you can imagine all sorts of ways to keep social stability while doing things God said not to do, but your imagination excludes His revelation. He warned us that He designed Creation to do certain things, to operate in a certain fashion, and He said there were a lot of things that interfered with that operation. He referred to in terms best translated as justice. Gay sex is unjust. So is a lot of other sexual stuff we like to do.
No, you may not justly choose to have sex with just anyone you choose, at any time and place you choose. Most of them time, our profligate sexual sins results in conception of another human. God said a lot of things about why that is, but our modern society argues with Him about it. So we have lots of ways of preventing that conception. There might be good reasons for preventing it, but once it’s on the way, there is virtually no way to justify abortion.
Our massive legacy of abortion alone is all the justification God needs to destroy America, and we deserved to be crushed long ago. Same goes for the entire modern world.
It’s not about killing the baby. God can handle that; all murdered babies go to Heaven. They aren’t accountable. Talk of “age of accountability” is typically arrogant puffery, but the underlying principle is correct. There comes a point when God holds us accountable for our sins as humans, and it’s sometime well after birth. What a great way to end life, fully assured of going home to Jesus without having to live in this fallen world. It’s not so much the ending of life that makes God angry, but the injustice of it.
His wrath falls where His revelation is rejected. You can embrace His revelation voluntarily or you have it fall on your life involuntarily in the form of wrath.
You may recall His first comments about Law Covenants started with warning Noah mankind must take responsibility for taking the life of murderers. Yeah, it sounds crazy to our human reasoning, but that’s what God said. If someone takes a human life unjustly, according to the terms of His revelation, then that someone has forfeited his life. And it falls on other humans to take it justly. The difference is not in the killing, but whether it is justly done. People who insist God is against all violence are rejecting His revelation and lying just like Satan.
I’ve also spilled a jillion electrons explaining the context that He said must be firmly in place before we proceed with implementing such things as the death penalty. It’s that business of a Hebrew tribal social structure. Without that, justice according to God’s revelation impossible in the first place. This is why I’m not an activist for any particular cause but one: God’s prescribed tribal social structure. Yes, there are things we can do personally to mitigate His wrath in our lives even though we have no real leverage over the vast ocean of evil around us. Still, my only message to all humanity cannot be confined to one cause. It’s “repent” in the fullest meaning.
You see, if you have the Spirit, then His revealed Word serves to explain for our minds how to obey the Spirit. If you don’t have the Spirit — or more accurately, if the Spirit does not have you — then you desperately need His Laws because you can’t understand them on that higher level. Either way, you cannot possibly obey His Laws fully without that tribal social structure. You cannot hope to stop abortion and homosexuality until and unless people first submit to the Laws. So the only way I can be an activist is to restore that fundamental justice first. You see, what God told Noah about the death penalty was a good Hebrew parable that implied a lot more than what the words said.
Oh yeah; that business of thinking like a Hebrew is part of my activism. If you haven’t embraced the Hebrew intellectual foundations, you can’t possibly understand God’s Word in the first place. Western intellectual reasoning is wholly and utterly incompetent for the task. Without Hebrew Mysticism, you cannot hope to discover what God meant, because He created the Hebrew Mystical intellectual assumptions as the proper atmosphere for revealing Himself. I don’t care how expert you are in translating the original languages; without mysticism you have no idea what those words mean. So activism in favor of God’s Laws is double-barreled, harping on Hebrew intellectual traditions and tribal social structure.
Those things together are pretty much what John the Baptist meant when he called people to repent. It’s also what Jesus had in mind when He preached, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”
He can’t do many miracles because of our unbelief.
This isn’t simply psyching yourself up to believe. It’s far more subtle. After many years studying philosophy and the difficult questions of epistemology, I’m just beginning to understand the depth of difference in some of the most fundamental reactions in the mind.
In the West, we are hung in a false dichotomy. We have two choices that are both wrong, and little else is even possible. There is either the truly silly superstition of the Germanic tribal mythology and all the worst of human guttural fears and passions, versus the purely cerebral analytical approach. Worst of all, the latter doesn’t ever really trump the former. Rather, that brand of reason is wholly dependent on the superstition as the whipping boy. Without it, the reason has nowhere to run when things fail.
It’s exceedingly difficult to explain the ANE epistemological assumption about the power of morality. It’s difficult because the entire range of Western thought cannot see the underlying pattern of ANE moral reasoning. This is a nasty parallel to the fundamental failure of Westerners to grasp the meaning of Hebrew expressions in Scripture. Most Westerners are so deeply buried in the limited approach to reality, they are literally unable to process genuine Hebrew thought. In like manner, they cannot move away from the moral assumptions of the Enlightenment. Suggesting any change is for them immorality itself.
Western minds make a god of Western epistemology.
So while I can typically get folks to understand the necessity of adding mythology to a child’s educational development, they rabidly refuse to consider changing that from the standard Euro-centric garbage to something from the Middle East. This visceral hatred for anything not Western is a plot of Satan, if not the knowing participation of some evil human servants of his. That same hatred makes Christians literally hate their own Bible while allowing them to pretend they love it simply because they think they understand the words.
This alone justifies God destroying the whole of Western Civilization. We won’t let Him do many miracles because we can’t imagine them being anything except wild and incomprehensible magic. It’s the most normal, routine thing in the world, but we refuse to understand what God says about this world.
I keep hoping a few more folks will understand and start reaching for God’s truth before it’s too late.