humble

Day 147

Numbers 29

Moses outlines the festivals that followers of the Lord are commanded to celebrate. Interestingly enough, celebration was the topic at last Sunday’s sermon, which… took place on the day after I was supposed to write about Numbers 29.

The problem with the sermon, as well-meaning as I believe the pastor to have been, is that it sounded a lot like “if you’re somber or sad, then you’re not being a good Christian.” This is a little too close to what has been called prosperity theology, or the prosperity gospel. To quote Wikipedia,

“Prosperity theology teaches that Christians are entitled to well-being and, because physical and spiritual realities are seen as one inseparable reality, this is interpreted as physical health and economic prosperity.”

It is also noted that followers and preachers of the prosperity gospel view poverty and sickness as spiritual ailments or curses that can be alleviated through faith. My partner has had some very negative experiences with churches that follow prosperity theology.

Poverty and illness are curses? Yeah, I mean it’s a damn shame to be sick or poor, and I believe that dedicated faith can lead to greater willpower and desire which can in turn lead to financial success. However, I don’t think that God’s plan for people involves or guarantees financial well-being. Poverty is not a sign of God’s disfavor.

Can poor personal habits and a lack of direction lead to poverty? Yes. But I don’t think that physical, material wealth has much to do with faith in Christ.

I see this situations as teaching surrender to God and His will, as opposed to undesirable curses. Does being poor debilitate a person? Damn right it does. I’ve lived with it for a long time, and sitting around that poverty line is depressing. It emotionally and spiritually drains you. Or it can.

But regardless, God can and will give you the strength to work through it, if you ask. “Thy will be done, in all things.” I seriously hate the phrase “Let go and let God,” but it’s important to ask that His will be done, that He may guide you to it.

Can the principles in the Bible teach you to be rich? Probably? I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but I’m willing to bet that if that’s the motivation one has while reading it, one will find a variety of implementable tips or lessons for financial success.

And just to be clear, I have no problem with people who want to be rich. I myself am determined to achieve some measure of wealth, to surpass my parents and my family, to provide for my own family and possible future children.

However, I think we, especially as Christians, have to see wealth as a means and not an end. Wealth as an end is idolatrous. But with wealth, one can do many things and help many others. We should seek to do our best as Christians even in poverty, but if we are wealthy, then our goal should still be to serve and glorify God.

Bill Gates is probably my favorite example of a wealthy person who does amazing things with his riches. Go to the website of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Read the 2014 annual letter. If that doesn’t restore some of your faith in humanity, I don’t know what will.

Wealth and power are responsibilities. Health and stability may be gifts if God intends them to be, but they may make us complacent.

“[A]s there may be pleasures in Hell (God shield us from them), there may be something not all unlike pains in Heaven (God grant us soon to taste them).”

— C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

In Numbers 29, the Israelites are commanded to celebrate, but every day of these festivals and celebrations involves sacrifices and offerings to God. Even, or especially, in our celebrations, we are told to humble ourselves to God, to supplicate ourselves before Him, and to glorify Him in all things.

In sorrow and in joy, do not forget the Lord.


Numbers 30

Oh my goodness, I went and looked at Matthew Henry’s unabridged commentary. It made my head hurt a little.

Numbers 30 concerns the making of vows, oaths, and pledges. Basically, at its core, this chapter states that a man who makes a vow must not break his word.

That’s a quote, by the way: “[H]e must not break his word but must do everything he said.”

This chapter also outlines how fathers and husbands have the power to override vows made by their daughters and wives, respectively. I think this is meant to be indicative of the Biblical position of fathers/husbands as the heads of households, which I think is intended to correlate with how God (the Father) is meant to be the head of the Church, both as a collective and as the singular body of worship that one human being offers.

Now, I don’t have the book in front of me, but I am reminded of the book Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill. If I recall correctly, he talks at some point(s) about the importance of keeping one’s word or speaking the truth. Or maybe I’m thinking of The Four Agreements, in which I know for a fact the author Don Miguel Ruiz outlines the importance of what he calls “being impeccable with [one’s] word.”

“Impeccable,” by the way, comes from a Latin word, meaning “not liable to sin.” An impeccable word is free of sin.

The way I see it, breaking vows erodes the strength of one’s soul. You make a habit of being disingenuous, of saying things that you have no intention of following through upon, of being careless in word and in deed. There is some Biblical support for this, I think:

“Better not to vow than to vow and not pay.”

— Ecclesiastes 5:5

Keep those words and deeds in line, dear readers! Keep that soul strong, exercise the power of your will, that you may have more dedication to offer to God.

Peace be upon you.

Day 85-87

I really am terrible at this game. It’s hard; I’m not at that third level of yirah yet where sin is abhorrent. I’m still giving in to some pretty base impulses over here and neglecting my duties.

I’d like to take a moment to apologize to God and ask His forgiveness. What I really want (and what I think a lot of people really want) is the be living in a state of bliss, as best we can achieve it on Earth, anyway. The problem is, it sure does take a lot of work to get there. “I’ll do it tomorrow” doesn’t quite cut it. Tomorrow never comes.

That all being said, I did go to church on Sunday and it was a very pleasant experience. A friend of mine who is not actively religious asked me if I wanted to go and I said yes. I’m glad I went; I learned a lot again and got some good ideas. He got… I know not what, but I could see that it was good.

I think I shall have to go once in a while.


Temptation and Duty

Before I get into Exodus, I want to mention here something that I may have already written. In one of C. S. Lewis nonfiction expository books, he talks about how the writing of the book seems to have become a temptation: a distraction from God rather than a duty to God.

I’m not sure about this blog yet, but I know it’s definitely not a temptation in and of itself. I have plenty of those to go around, and this isn’t one of them. This is still a chore, for better or for worse. I think by the time I’m done with the Bible I might have to revise that statement.

I need to get cracking; I’m almost up to Day 100. From there it’s only about 20 days before I’ll have reached my first third of a year. Which will mean that I’m approximately 1/9 to 1/10 of the way done. Hooray for progress!


Christians and Christianity

Okay, another few things. My partner and I are going to her brother’s wedding this weekend and she informed me that I’ll be meeting her sister, who we’ll call “Rose.” Now, Rose is a very convicted (read: judgmental) person who tries to come off as being concerned for everyone else’s souls, but seems to me to be tooting her own horn and trying to show how much better and how much more devout she is.

I finally have to dig up this quote that C. S. Lewis uses in The Problem of Pain:

“You can have no greater sign of confirmed pride than when you think you are humble enough.”

— William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life

If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far studying Christianity and the works of Christian authors, it’s that we are not good enough. We never will be. I can no longer claim to be a good man; my heart just doesn’t believe that any more.

The good news is that God loves us anyway. He wants us to come to him, to accept His love, and to love others as He loves us. We can do good in the world, to some degree. We can alleviate suffering and elevate the human spirit so that it reaches out to God; these are things we can do. But we cannot be perfect.

So when some person comes along and tries to say that one sin is more or less than another, it makes me sad and frustrated at the same time. God loves you; He knows you will not be perfect but I feel that He wants us as people to make peace with the past and move toward a brighter future. That is the idea of repentance. We make amends as best we can (ish) and move on.

“Go now, and sin no more.”

Unlikely, but it is a nice sentiment. Lewis in The Problem of Pain compares it to giving a puppy a bath and having the puppy run right back out into the mud. That is how we are. Even when we approach God, when we surrender to God, we can forget Him in the next moment.

I guess what I’m saying is, keep your self-righteousness. I don’t want to hear it. There is more to Christ than Christianity.


A Mathematical Explanation of Sin

I want to share a little argument that I explained to my partner this morning; this is how I think of sin and the weight thereof.

Here on Earth we tend to see certain sins or certain things as being “worse” or “better” than others: a white lie is seen as “less bad” than a murder, for example. Divorce or infidelity might be seen as “less bad” than homosexuality. You get the picture.

So we keep little tallies in our heads: “good” actions add up positively, and “bad” actions or sins subtract. Let’s just start with some hypothetical baseline of zero as an “average.”

Person A goes to church, donates to charities, and tells a few lies here and there, as we all do. As humans, we might ascribe a low positive value to this person, let’s say around +12.

Person B is a pastor at a church; he spreads the faith, advocates for Christ, and does good works. He might get a higher score, maybe somewhere around +43.

These numbers are of course completely arbitrary. Let’s look at negatives.

Person C is an alcoholic who beats his wife and lies habitually. We see this person and we ascribe them something like -19. Below zero, clearly tainted by their sin.

Person D gets an abortion and has problems with depression. She might get a very negative score, depending on perspective. We’ll give her -35.

Remember, I’m not condemning anyone here. I’m just setting up some arbitrary examples of our human judgment that we pass on one another.

But whatever the case may be, you can see we assign scores to people: Stalin is maybe the worst, followed by Hitler, followed by X… all the way back up on the positive side to the Pope? I don’t know.

And then we have God.

God is an uncountable Good; His “level” goes beyond mortal understanding. So we signify God with an infinity symbol: ∞.

God is all the Good in the universe; He is an infinity within which resides all the mathematical and cosmological infinities, and whatever other ones you can think of. If we’re talking about some abstract “amount of goodness,” then God is ∞.

Let’s do some math. How far from God are my hypothetical people, A, B, C, and D?

Person A: Infinity minus 12 equals…

Infinity. ∞ – 12 = ∞

(For you math nerds out there, I realize one doesn’t typically use ∞ in operations. But I’m making a point.)

Person B: ∞ – 43 = ∞

Person C: ∞ –  (-19) = ∞

Person D: ∞ – (-35) = ∞

If you take away any value, no matter how large, from an infinite quantity, the quantity is still infinite. In this case, we are speculating that God is an infinite distance “above” all humans, and as such, no matter how “near” or “far” we think we are from God, we will never in this life be as good as He is.

My point with all this? We are all separate from God. It is not our goodness that brings us closer to Him but our willingness to surrender to Him. Once we acknowledge that we are infinitely distant from Him, we can reach out and allow Him to bridge that gap by touching our hearts.

I am reminded here of the criminal condemned to die alongside Jesus Christ. He was not, by our understanding, a good man. But in his last moments, he realizes what he has done and the price to be paid. He turns to the Living Word, the Incarnation of God Made Flesh, and says:

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

— Luke 23:42, NIV

This one request, made with all our hearts, is all God truly asks of us. Because when it is made with all our hearts, we will dedicate our entire lives to be sure it is fulfilled.

Have a good day, all.

Peace be upon you.