pride

Day 98-105

“It came to pass on the eighth day that the writer finally updated In Excelsis Deo.”

Welcome back, people. I’m alive, and mostly well. I’ve been very busy, apparently too busy for my duty to myself and to God. It feels bad to write that, sort of.

Here’s the thing: I struggled back and forth with doing

A) a series of rapid-fire, single-post updates, or

B) one giant update with everything in it.

I obviously went with option B. My first thought was that I’d just write every post and make each update individually so that I wouldn’t feel as bad about “copping out” and cramming everything together in one big update. But then, I thought, if I feel bad about writing one big update, then maybe I should just do it and accept my shame. Then I thought, what if I’m being prideful about my shame, and parading it around by admitting it, the way people do when they talk about how humble they are?

“Oh, I’m so ashamed of myself! Look at how low I’ve brought myself before God! Look how devoted I actually am! More than you, I bet!”

It’s like I’m ten layers deep into self-aggrandizement. It’s like Asshole-ception.

So I decided to just say “f*** it” and go for it. It’s true that I goofed up, but apparently (partly due to the nature of this blog) I can neither sin nor be forgiven in silence. Part of the point of this blog is to explain my thought process (often in wondrous streams of consciousness) as I read the Bible and (ideally) move closer to an understanding of God and what He means in my life.

But I was struggling with this last night, because all day yesterday I put off this update. I recorded this little gem on my phone, describing my feelings:

“Is this one reason that people give up? That people lose faith? Because they don’t feel they’ll ever be good enough? They feel like they’re just too imperfect, too weak, too animalistic, and that it’ll never change? That they’ll never ever be satisfied? That they’ll never be good enough? Is that why?

I don’t know. Because I know it’s hard to reconcile that with the idea of infinite forgiveness. I don’t know what to tell you.”

I mean, it sucks. This is something I’m seeing, especially in our modern society, where suddenly no one has to feel bad for who they are. That’s good, sort of, but we’re doing it for all the wrong reasons. I once heard some quote about — ah, f*** it, it’s worth looking up:

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'”

— Isaac Asimov, The Cult of Ignorance

So now what we have is a combination of that as well as what C. S. Lewis mentioned when he wrote that we are (paraphrased) “reducing all virtues to kindness.” So there are two things at play: we reduce all virtue to kindness, thus discounting the possibility of submission, faith, etc., as being virtuous, and then we have this attitude that Isaac Asimov described above.

People want to have the right to not be ashamed of themselves, to not feel guilty. To that I say, well, don’t feel guilty. We can’t help what we are, so there’s no sense feeling guilty about it. But shame? Here’s how I see it, and I’m sorry if I’ve written this before.

“We should have the good sense to look ahead, to dream for something bigger and better, so that when we look at ourselves, we are not content with our current state.”

I wish I could say that more fluidly right now, but oh well. You get the gist of it. By aiming for righteousness, by submitting to God’s will and finding the Good that He works in everything, we can look at the way we are now in comparison to what we will become (so to speak), and we can be ashamed of ourselves. Again, no sense in feeling guilty! But I see now that shame can be a very Good thing.

But people don’t want to feel that. Comfort in life may be an incredible burden disguised by our society as the greatest blessing. Everyone wants to be accepted for who they are, to not be discriminated against. And you can find that in God. But here’s the problem: people also want to be told that who they are is okay. God will not tell you that. God says, “I love you for who you are, no matter what, but I love you so much that I want you, I need you, to become better. I cannot bear to see you the way you are now. I love you and I cannot bear to see you suffering in your sin and imperfection.”

We have to love ourselves enough to want more. Being content with our sins is not self-love, maybe self-acceptance at best. But that is only the first step. If we love ourselves as God loves us, we will strive to be better and better, but we will realize, as I did above, that we hit a wall. We can only go so far in these human bodies. This is why we must turn our eyes above.

As a quick aside, I’m surprised more Christians don’t believe in evolution. To me, the idea that we struggle against our animal natures on the path to God is perfectly in line with Christian theology. Divine souls though we may be, we are confined to animal bodies governed by physical laws.

In the Bible, Adam was created to be supposedly “perfect.” The first sin was disobedience, which granted knowledge that led to self-awareness and shame. The ego is the source of sin.

The way I see it is this: humans evolve, but are still essentially animalistic. They are in awe of the world around them because it does not make sense. It appears in many ways to be unpredictable and uncontrollable. Humans, though having small and “crude” tools, essentially rely on the patterns of earth and sky for their sustenance. And then that changed.

Perhaps in the end it was a fruit: an apple, or perhaps as some have suggested, a fig. Something as simple and innocuous as all that. A person ate the fruit, and found smallish bits inside of it, seeds, that fell to the ground. At some point, some one put two and two together: food could be grown on purpose. Suddenly, Man could rely on himself. This is the turning away from God, from nature, from a state of ignorant bliss. Man thought that he knew how to game the system. Man thought he would no longer struggle, no longer hunger and thirst.

But now rules have to be established. People have to work long hours in the fields and grinding grain. Irrigation has to be controlled and monitored lest floods break out. People want to own land, own livestock, own workers or slaves. There needs to be a sense of order. Rulers have to enforce rules. People gain power and abuse it. Over-farming occurs. Lush fertile land reduces into barren desert. The land turns away from Man, the very earth spurns him. Man is brought low and is ashamed.

Some men find God and turn to him, appealing to a higher power, looking for the answer they cannot find by themselves. Some curse God for their misfortune and decide that they can make it work on their own without His help. And so it goes…


Leviticus 8

Alright, now these are going to be rapid-fire updates. Here goes nothing!

Moses takes Aaron and his sons, dresses them up in the prescribed priest’s clothes, they sacrifice some animals, and Moses consecrates Aaron and his boys with oil. Here’s a bunch more rules that you have to follow, the end.

(I know this is half-assed. Deal with it.)


Leviticus 9

Moses explains some things to Aaron about making atonement, not just for himself but for the people of Israel. They sprinkle lots of blood around the altar, several times, I believe. Aaron blesses all the people, comes out from the tabernacle, the Lord appears in all his glory, and consumes the burnt offering in fire. Everyone is awed and falls on their faces.


Leviticus 10

Two of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, decide to make an offering or some such thing that was previously forbidden by the Lord. He fries them.

Aaron is understandably upset about this, but Moses basically tells him, hey, look, God said “if people are going to try and come to Me, they need to do it properly and respectfully.” In my opinion, this is so that people will not constantly be making excuses, misinterpreting God’s word and trying to do His work while in reality committing sin against Him. I could see how this would be applicable today.

So anyway, there’s also a thing in here about not getting drunk in the tabernacle so that no one goofs up the sacrifices.

At the end of this chapter, two of Aaron’s sons screw up an offering. Moses rails against them and Aaron explains:

“Look. My boys are grieving. I am grieving. Sorry we were stressed out and couldn’t do it right, but we tried our best to keep the spirit of the offering. I was supposed to be rejoicing over this gift of food, but I am not in the right mind to do so. Do you really think God would have wanted me to eat it and disobey him thusly?”

Moses realizes that Aaron is sincere in his desire to please God, and has done nothing wrong. As long we have that desire sincerely in our hearts, we will eventually begin to do right.

(Credit for this chapter goes to John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes, because I had no idea how to interpret Lev 10:16-20.)


Leviticus 11

Here’s what you can eat, here’s what you can’t eat, here’s what dead animals not to ever touch, here’s how to clean yourself if you do touch them.

Taxonomy Bonus: Apparently bats are birds. (Lev 11:13-19)

Entomology Bonus: Apparently flying insects have four feet. (Lev11:20-25) This one I’m willing to chalk up to translation errors, but who knows.


Leviticus 12

If a lady gives birth, she’s unclean, she needs to be purified, etc. etc. Longer for a female than for a male, apparently.

This passage probably draws a lot of ire, but I interpret it like this: the whole blood and suffering thing that comes along with childbirth should serve as a reminder of our animal natures. Therefore, we should seek to “clean” ourselves afterward, reaffirming our commitment to being cleansed by God. Hell, wait til Leviticus 15, and men get theirs too.


Leviticus 13


Leviticus 14

Here’s the process for ceremoniously cleansing a leper or someone with a skin condition.

Also, if you get mold or whatever in your house, here’s how you guys deal with that. There’s only a moderate chance that you’ll have to tear down the whole house. Wash your clothes, don’t let them get moldy. Nasty.


Leviticus 15

This is the Biblical prescription for STDs. Enjoy that. Anything you sit or lie on or whatever is unclean.

If a man emits semen, he is a filthy animal and needs to wash. If he has sex (but only if he finishes?) then both need to wash.

If a woman is on her period, then for God’s sake, anything she sits on is unclean. If you have sex with her, you’re unclean.

If anyone’s unclean, separate them so that they don’t walk into the tabernacle and get fried.


And that’s the ball game!

Peace be upon you.

 

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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.