Love Shack

Oh my god you guys the wifi in my apartment is the worst. I’m sorry it took me to the end of the day to get this up, but I kept working on it for a few minutes at a time and then trying to download a photo and then being cruelly denied and then leaving in a huff to listen to the NPR Sunday Puzzle and allow Will Shortz’s soothing voice to heal my psychological wounds. I would like to write these at 1369 Coffeehouse from now on (which would be great because the 45-minute limit on free wifi would force me to manage my blogging time better), but I can’t right now because I’m fasting for Ramadan. I know, I know. I’m the strangest atheist. Whatever. I warned you guys up front that I fucking love church. This shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Oh yeah, also I read some Bible today. Here it is.

OT: Exodus 33; Psalm 23

Exodus 33

God tells Moses to take the Israelites to the Promised Land, and ominously pledges to “drive out” (2) six other tribes for unspecified reasons. But God won’t accompany his favorite tribe on their road trip, because they are “a stubborn people” and so he would “destroy” them before they ever made it to their destination (4). Seems harsh, but then again, I’ve shared a car with my grandmother from Massachusetts to Virginia, so I can’t help sympathizing with God here. Although I can’t say I get the part where he inexplicably demands that the Israelites all remove their jewelry* before the journey.

Did they have to remove their shoes too?

Moses set up a special tent where people could go to ask God for advice. It’s unclear whether or not everyone else got a response, but when Moses visited the tent, God would show up and talk to Moses “face-to-face” while a tornado blocked the door (9-11). Oh, and apparently Joshua, Moses’s assistant, never ever left the tent, for some reason.

Why is this book so full of unnecessary and unexplained details?

Anyway, at one of their littltête-à-têtes têtes-à-tête têtes-à-têtes conversations, Moses is like, “Look, God. You keep telling me to take these people somewhere but I don’t even know where I’m going or who will guide us.” And God is like, “Ok, I’ll go with you.” [Then what was all the business with the refusing to go and the jewelry removal?] Then comes my favorite part of this boring chapter, where Moses goes on haranguing God without listening at all to what he just said, continuing to demand what he has already agreed to, because Moses and God are an old married couple. Moses is like, “If you don’t go, how can we even go at all? Nobody will know we are special unless you are there to tell them!” And then God says [verbatim], “I’ll do exactly what you’ve asked because you have my special approval, and I know you by name” (17). Whaaa? I’ve already said how problematic I think it is for God to arbitrarily give one person or group his “special approval” or to have a “chosen people,” but it’s even weirder to think that there might be some people in the world whom he doesn’t know by name. Again, I’m sorry, but doesn’t this completely annihilate his hypothetical omniscience? Seriously, how do people rationalize this?

Then things get a little kinky when Moses begs God to “Please show me your glorious presence” (18), bringing their relationship from old married couple to awkward hormone-soaked teenager status. God gets all coy with Moses, and is like, “Ok, I’ll walk past you and flaunt my glorious presence. But I’ll put you behind a rock, so you can’t see me. But there will be a chink in the rock, so you can see me. But I’ll cover the rock with my hand, so you can’t see me. But then I’ll take my hand away at the last second, so you can see me – except I won’t take my hand away until I’ve passed you, so all you’ll be able to see is my back.” God justifies this convoluted plan by explaining that “you can’t see my face because no one can see me and live” (20), which sounds suspiciously like a rule he made up just now for fun, and is difficult to reconcile with the claim made just a few verses before that he and Moses have been speaking “face-to-face” (11) in their little Love Shack tent.

* There couldn’t have been much jewelry to remove anyway since Aaron already melted all the gold down to make the calf in the last chapter. Just saying.

Psalm 23

Okay, I’m sorry, I can’t do the Common English Bible on this one. I saw “my cup is so full it spills over!” and I knew this wasn’t going to work. I’ve got to go with the good old KJV here.

This is, justifiably, the most famous psalm. It’s less whiny, more celebratory, and just prettier than any of the others I’ve read so far. I’m not even going to try to cutely summarize it. I’ll let it speak for itself.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Highlights

Weirdly enough, the psalm is actually the best part of today’s OT portion. It speaks to one of the qualities we most wish we had in a god: protection. The God of Psalm 23 provides for you, he leads you where you need to go, he always wants what’s best for you, he showers you in blessings, he defends you from harm. He is your home. It’s a beautiful specimen of wishful thinking. And, if you like, it illustrates what we need from ourselves and from each other in a godless world. If there is no house of the LORD to dwell in, we must build our own home, fill our own cups, and find our own route to the green pastures and the still waters. We must be the gods we wish we had.

Lowlights

Psalm 23 also gets today’s lowlight, because it reminded me of my AP Chemistry exam, which was definitely a lowlight of high school. Just in case that connection isn’t crystal clear, allow me to explain: When I arrived at the school where I would be taking the exam, I realized that I had left my calculator at home. I didn’t have time to go back for it, and I panicked double hard since chemistry was already my worst subject. I was in acute distress, facing certain failure, when I spotted one of the only people I knew in this entire school walking through the halls between classes. When I told him of my plight – looking for commiseration, not solutions – he immediately handed me his calculator and walked off to his next class. To express my deep and abiding gratitude, I wrote him this poem, which I just dug up from the bowels of my Facebook notes.

TEDDY is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to do well on my chemistry test: He leadeth me through the free response section.

He restoreth my calculator: He leadeth me in the paths of accuracy for his awesomeness’ sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of failure, I will fear no stoichiometry: for Thy calculator is with me; its exponents and its logarithms they comfort me.

Thou preparest a solution for me in the presence of acids and bases: Thou anointest my head with relief; my answer booklet runneth over.

Surely 4s and 5s shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will totally owe TEDDY for ever.

So…yeah, that happened.

NT: Mark 4

Mark 4

Jesus stands in a boat and tells parables to a crowd of followers on the shore. He tells the parable of the soils again. When people are like “dude WTF,” Jesus is like, “No it’s cool. You guys can grok what I’m saying because God gave you the secret of his kingdom, but lame outsiders won’t understand what we’re talking about because it’s in a cool secret code.” Not sure what the secret of the kingdom is, or why Jesus doesn’t realize that even the in-crowd doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about. Anyway, he explains why he’s preventing outsiders from understanding his lessons: “This is so that they can look and see but have no insight, and they can hear but not understand. Otherwise, they might turn their lives around and be forgiven” (12). I believe, in professional circles, this technique is known as “stacking the deck.” Alternatively, “douchebaggery.” (It depends which professional circle you’re in.)

Jesus explains the parable the same way as recounted in Matthew 13 – it’s about all the different pitfalls that can stop someone from being saved after hearing the word. He promises that all will be revealed in time, and that “God will evaluate you with the same standard you use to evaluate others” (24).

He tells a parable about the kingdom of heaven that I don’t think we’ve heard before: it’s like when someone scatters seeds on soil, then goes off to sleep and ignores them, and the neglected seeds grow to maturity, and then the farmer reaps them at harvest. Can anyone explain that one to me? I guess I’m one of the uncool kids that Jesus doesn’t want to understand his amazing lessons.

After retelling the mustard seed story again, along with a bunch of other unspecified parables, Jesus and his posse leave for the other side of the lake. On the way, there’s a storm, and while people are freaking out, Jesus is asleep. His followers wake him up and are like “um news flash we are drowning, so if you are planning on giving a shit, now’s the time.” Jesus magically ends the storm with his Jesus-powers and then scolds his crew for not having faith. Everybody is like “whoaaaa who IS this guy?!”

Highlights

I like Mark 4:24 (and the other instances where the same thought appears – I know we encountered it in Matthew at least once).

A big part of why I like it is that it inspired the title of a Shakespeare play. The KJV goes something like “For what measure ye mete, it shall be meted to ye again.” And my expert opinion is that Measure for Measure is probably Bill’s most underrated play. So…go read it.

But I also just like it because of how it echoes the golden rule of doing unto others as you would have others do unto you. It’s just too bad God operates outside the rule.

Lowlights

I don’t know why it’s so important to Jesus to selectively hide important salvation information from certain people. How cliquey of him.

2 Responses to Love Shack

  1. Eli says:

    Has either testament even claimed omniscience for God yet? The Psalms have been saying a lot of nice/servile things about God, but no one has specifically said that God knows all, have they? That said, I’m pretty sure it’s necessary for anything plausibly calling itself “God” that that entity be able to know every past and present (and possibly future) detail of the existence of every person (and possibly every thing) in our solar system (and possibly the universe). This tangents me right onto my oft-repeated rant about how wishy-washy agnostics-in-principle are always saying things like “The only god I believe in is love” which is a misleading and meaningless statement whose implications the utterer probably doesn’t believe anyway, aargh. But anyway, when people alive today say “God”, they always, LITERALLY ALWAYS BECAUSE THIS IS THE MINIMUM DEFINITION OF THAT WORD, mean a consciousness capable of knowing and understanding the life and struggles of theoretically everyone. At the very least.
    But “omniscience” in the totally-disprovable sense (“does God know how to make a puzzle that God doesn’t know how to solve?” It’s the same problem as omnipotence) probably isn’t necessary for God.
    Indeed, the fascinating part of today’s OT portions (and for me, the most fascinating question of reading the Bible in general) is looking at the Bible writers’ conception of God and how it differs from that which we today take for granted. For instance, the thing about Moses only seeing the “back” of God. Can God have a physical back? Did the writers of the Bible have a physical back in mind when whichever of them wrote this wrote it? I think the Bible already established that God can appear anywhere and is in every thing in some sense, which would point to no physical shape. Are modern readers betraying the authorial (or should I say Authorial?) intent when they aver that God has no physical shape? He did “create humans in His image”. What does that mean – are we going to give the writers credit for more figurative imagination than most people of their age? I think most modern believers find the idea of a God who has some base shape, like Horus or Zeus, childish and deeply disappointing in terms of what they’re looking for from the spiritual universe. And yet, though I know many fervent deconstructionists who will clamor that authorial intent is meaningless, a believer who believes that the Bible is the Word of God must take Authorial intent to be true. Which leaves us with the riddle of what God’s figurative back would have looked like to Moses.
    Come to think of it, I have the same problem with Jesus’s many pronouncements about the Kingdom of Heaven as I have with the “My god is love” people. What, on the very basic level, IS the Kingdom of Heaven? I don’t mean “what does it look like?” I mean what are you talking about, as in “a triangle is a shape with three sides”. A definition, not a set of properties. You can’t define “God” as “love” because those two words continue to be used to mean different things. Love may be a property of things that are God, as having diagonals of equal length is a property of rectangles, but it is not the definition. And I think with all of Jesus’s metaphors for what the Kingdom of Heaven is like, we sort of lose the fact that what he’s talking about is, basically, who gets to heaven. As for the parable of the neglected seeds, I think it’s about free will: God doesn’t guide the hand of every individual human. So, like a farmer who lets his crops grow or fail as they will rather than tending to them to make sure every one survives, God comes back later to find some people who have morally thrived and get to go to heaven, and some who have morally failed and don’t go to heaven. I wonder if Ron Paul ever quotes this passage? (Not that that would be a correct reading.)
    And, to close this absurdly long-winded comment, one final blasphemy: speaking of kinky parts of the Bible: “thy rod and thy staff they comfort me”?

  2. Pingback: Shiny Happy People Holding Tablets « Blogging Biblically

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