Thursday, July 26, 2012

What makes humans different from other animals?

Not too long ago I read that a professor was claiming that there is no real difference between people and other animals. Apparently he had never heard an explanation of the differences that satisfied him.

Do we use tools? So do some animals. Do we travel from one continent to another? Look at migratory birds or butterflies. Do we have the ability to use language? Chimps have been taught sign language.

All of this seems like a huge exercise in missing the point. People have an overwhelming sense that we have a purpose -- or should have a purpose -- beyond surviving. We seek mastery of everything -- not just our territory or even our world, mind you; we have left our planet and explored the moon. We have sent probes and explorers out into the solar system, and dream of going beyond. We seek to know everything -- not just what we need to eat and satisfy our bodily needs, but how atoms are put together, how the planets move, how the sun works, why apples fall from trees. We write encyclopedias and fill libraries with books.We even have universities.

As for that professor and his theories -- I'm sure he teaches lots of students. He has probably done it for years. He likely teaches several classes of students each week. No doubt he has colleagues, fellow members of the faculty where he works. And I don't doubt for a moment that every one of them -- students, faculty, staff -- are all human. No rabbits have signed up for his classes on why humans are no different than rabbits. None of the guest lecturers is a cat. Has this never occurred to him, when he is looking for whether there are any differences between humans and other animals? I wonder what explanation he would give for that. He may never have heard a clear and satisfying explanation of our differences from the other animals; that doesn't mean he should discount what we can see with our own eyes until an explanation satisfies him.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Lutheran visits Church of Christ services

This continues my summer visits to different Christian worship services, both to help my thoughts about Christian reconciliation and also as part of a quest for a hungry soul to be fed. (This week I heard from an old friend, former member of my church. Some 10 or more years ago when our congregation's current pastor came, she left our church over some events related to her and her husband's needs at the time, and the pastor's response. She asked -- hopefully, I thought -- whether he'd left yet, and I told her no. She still doesn't really have a church home.) I have remembered where to find some good sermons on-line, and that is helping. But still, I did visit another church this week before going to my own service.

The worship space

The Church of Christ worship space was lacking absolutely anything that would identify it as specifically Christian or even religious. There was no altar, no crucifix, not even a cross. There were no religious images or even banners. There was no marking to designate we're in the season of Pentecost. (I got the feeling that the Church of Christ doesn't recognize a liturgical year. I'd be curious what they do with holy days such as Christmas, the Resurrection, and Pentecost.) The walls were utterly bare, other than three flat-screen TV's at various places, showing the same thing to people seated in different sections. Before the service, the screens  usually showed a countdown of time until the service began (5:35 ... 5:34 ... 5:33 ...) though occasionally mixed with written announcements ("Please turn off cell phones"). Despite this institutional-looking start, the people were friendly enough. Promptly when the countdown got to 0:00, a worship leader stepped up onto the stage (yes, a stage) to the podium (small and clear plastic, definitely not a pulpit). Interestingly, it was almost exactly an hour later (1:00:00, I wouldn't be surprised) that the service ended. There were signs notifying people that the service was being recorded.

The worship service

The worship service started with several praise songs, none of them familiar to me, but all so familiar to the members that they knew the tunes without consulting the hymnal or songbook. The words were put up on the monitors around the worship space, but without notes so that I had to resort to the hymnal or songbook (depending on which song) in order to sing along. There were probably seven or more songs during the service, all short and peppy, and most of them in a recognizably modern American style. (Making no comment on whether that's good or bad; just mentioning how it was.) They all had fairly singable tunes. The songs of the day were themed around imitating God, being like God, or volunteering ("Here am I, send me").

There was no place in the service where we had a Bible reading exactly, or said a creed, or prayed the Lord's prayer. The closest we came to a Bible reading was that several verses from the parable of the sheep and the goats were quoted and shown on-screen at the start of the sermon. The service consisted of welcome announcement, songs, a prayer, communion and offering, the sermon, and more singing. (They might not acknowledge the ancient liturgy, but other than leaving out a place for regular Scripture readings and prayers and the creed, the outline was close enough.)

Church of Christ particulars

I had heard that the Church of Christ forbids instrumental music. There was no sign or sound of an instrument during the service. So it surprised me that music was so much a part of the service, and was well-done. All the singing was without any accompaniment. They've apparently found ways to keep the singing on-key, and on-beat, without musical instruments. They even had a lot of people venturing harmony, and a number of songs where the men and women were singing different words, overlapping and harmonizing as they went. Overall the music was good.

I had also heard that the Church of Christ believes in some form of baptismal regeneration -- like the more ancient churches, in that respect. The closest it came to being mentioned during the service was an offer for visitors to meet and talk to someone if they wanted to know "What's all this about baptism?" (I have to admit to starting out with a bad feeling about the Church of Christ because someone I knew had a bad encounter with them that kept him away from the church. His mother was intending to become a member and intending to be baptized, but before the date of her baptism she was killed in a car accident. He was told that his mother was in hell because she hadn't yet been baptized. I'm really hoping that's not their standard teaching and was just some uninformed person making a horribly cruel and wrong statement at the worst possible moment. At any rate the man wanted nothing to do with Christianity afterwards. His mother has been gone for nearly 30 years now, and last I heard he has not yet been to a church.)

The sermon

The majority of the service consisted of this sermon of sorts. The sermon wasn't about a particular Bible reading so much, though the starting point was from Jesus' words of the Last Judgment. The teacher said that this Last Judgment was a final exam that we all wanted to pass, but that Jesus had given us in advance not only the question but also the answer, in how we treat the least of these. The rest of the talk -- which probably went on for close to half an hour -- covered the details of various ministry programs carrying out that type of help for those in need. The ushers passed out sign-up sheets for people to volunteer for one of these ministries. The ministries ranged from visiting shut-ins, to giving people rides to medical appointments, to helping people with house and yard work after an illness or hospitalization, and so on.

From my point of view much of this was admirable, that they would place so much emphasis on serving others in genuine love, and be willing to devote so much of their church's emphasis to carrying out service in the world. In part it was exasperating, that there was almost no recognition given to what Christ has done for us.

I'm sure a Lutheran would never have preached on the sheep and the goats without a plain acknowledgment that we follow Jesus imperfectly and we are forgiven; the lack of that was surprising. (From their point of view, I wonder, if they would say, "The Church of Christ would never have preached on the sheep and the goats without a plain acknowledgment that our service is expected, and without the church providing opportunities for people to serve.") Ever notice that our divisions in the church tend to result in such either-or thinking, along the fault-lines after a division?


I say that "almost" no recognition was given to what Christ has done for us; but they did have communion, and acknowledged plainly that it is more than a memorial, more than a proclamation of Christ's death and an expectation of his return, but that it also acknowledges our dependence on what Christ has done for us. (I don't remember that "forgiveness" was ever mentioned in the service; there was certainly no confession and repentance and proclamation of God's forgiveness. The closest they got to any of that was a recognition of our "dependence on what Christ has done".) As they began communion, they made a defensive-sounding announcement that there had to be some kind of leader to keep there from being chaos. The ushers passed around trays containing tiny pieces of unleavened bread (not quite as big as a sunflower seed) and little glasses of grape juice. The words of institution ("On the night in which he was betrayed, Our Lord Jesus took bread" etc) were not said at all. So "This is my body, given for you", "this is my blood, shed for you", and "for the forgiveness of sins" were not said at communion. All the same I was surprised that they had communion; I've heard that non-liturgical services don't typically have it at all. This is probably obvious: they did not sing "Christ, Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" in the way that any liturgical church would at communion. (A rousing Lutheran chorus of "This is the feast of victory for our God!" would have been right out.)

The prayers

There was very little praying during the service, to the point where the lack of prayer surprised me. I think there was one prayer during the service, though it lasted just a moment. The Lord's prayer was not included, or any of the prayer concerns that are a standard part of a liturgical worship service. (A liturgical church like mine will not have a worship service without including the Lord's prayer as well as several other prayers.)

The leadership

The worship leaders were all men, unlike the Roman Catholic service I had attended recently. They did not wear the "robe and stole" common in Christian liturgical churches, with the stole being a recognizable variant of the Jewish tallit. The leaders were in street clothes. (I don't expect that the dress code of the leaders matters much, so long as it isn't a distraction.)

The congregation

The people were, again, friendly and full of a noticeable Christian goodwill towards each other. There was an offer, as we dismissed, for people to go meet with others who were willing to hear their story and pray with them, as needed. (That, or hear them explain their views on baptism.) But I had my regular service to get to, so I left.

Back to my own congregation

A Lutheran visits Lutheran services: The songs were not very singable compared to the a capella ones I'd heard earlier. But it sure was good to pray, and to read from Scripture, and to hear about the forgiveness of sins.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Biblical studies: The elephant in the room

I recently saw a Biblical Hermeneutics course describe its goal as teaching the Bible "with attention to studying the Bible in its historical, literary, and cultural contexts." It sounded like that would be the focus of the course.

Do we want to study its historical context? Sure; consider how the gospels make more sense when you understand about the people living in a territory occupied by the Roman empire, and how locals who collected taxes for the conquerors were not viewed well.

Do we want to study its literary context? Sure; everyone who reads the Bible comes across its allusions to other writings, and the common poetic styles employed. There's even some understanding to be gained by comparing other literature from surrounding peoples.

Do we want to study its cultural context? Sure; consider how the Passover and Pentecost, both ancient Jewish celebrations, figured into early Christianity.

Is that enough? No, and in a vital way. "One course can't teach all you need to know about the context" -- that may be true but it's hardly the biggest problem with the approach. The larger problem is that, even if somehow you learned everything about the historical context, literary context, and cultural context, it doesn't touch these questions: What mattered most to the authors? Why did they write? What were they hoping to communicate? If a course on understanding the Bible doesn't consider those questions, is there any way it can be an adequate course on understanding it? What is the point of studying a book, if the whole time you make a point of avoiding the book's point?

If a legitimate study of the Bible includes its content and message and purpose -- if we think it has anything meaningful to say about what it's talking about -- then historical context, literary context, and cultural context are background to bigger things. Study the background to help you grasp the bigger things being discussed, but not as a replacement for them. The Bible itself aims to be, strives to be, something that touches eternity, and the purpose of life, and the nature of right and wrong, and what it means to know God and to live as his people. If we're going to study the Bible in earnest, we can hardly help noticing that the authors intended to reach beyond their own immediate context and touch something more universal. Did they succeed in transcending their local limits? Did they find purpose in life? Did they give us insight on the nature of right and wrong? Do they tell us anything about what it means to know God, and to live life as his people? Did they, in any sense, communicate the word of God?

Any course that claims to teach the Bible -- even from a non-religious point of view -- is being dishonest with the material if it does not consider the questions that the authors themselves raise.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

New Testament Commentaries on the Ten Commandments

Do not think that I have come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I have not come to destroy, but to fulfil.(Matthew 5:17)

  1. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:2-3)
    Concerning eating things offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. Even though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there are many gods, and many lords), but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we are in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we are by him. (I Corinthians 8:4-6)
  2. You shall not make for yourselves any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4-6)
    You say that a man should not commit adultery; but do you commit adultery? You detest idols, but do you commit sacrilege? (Romans 2:22)
    So put to death whatever belongs to the earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)
  3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.  (Exodus 20:7)
    Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, "You shall not break your oath, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord."  But I say to you: Do not swear at all: not by heaven, for it is God's throne; not by the earth, for it is his footstool; not by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your own head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But for your words, let "yes" be yes, and "no" be no. Anything beyond these comes from evil. (Matthew 5:33-37)
  4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. In six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work -- neither yourself, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant or maidservant, nor your cattle, nor the stranger within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: so the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. (Exodus 20:8-11)
    And he said to them, "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath. So the Son of man is also Lord of the sabbath." (Mark 2:27-28)

    And Jesus answering spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?" And they did not answer. And he took the man and healed him, and let him go. (Luke 14:3-4)

    And he said to them, "Is there any man among you, if one of his sheep falls into a pit on the sabbath day, will not lay hold of it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath days." (Matthew 12:11-12)

    And he came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath days. (Luke 4:31)

    One man esteems one day as more important. Another esteems every day alike. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. (Romans 14:5-6) (h/t Martin LaBar)
  5. Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the LORD your God gives you. (Exodus 20:12)
    Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. "Honor your father and mother," -- which is the first commandment with promise, that it may be well with you -- "and you may live long on the earth." (Ephesians 6:1)
  6. You shall not murder. (Exodus 20:13)
    You have heard that it was said by the people long ago, "You shall not murder," and whoever murders shall be in danger of judgment. But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without cause shall be in danger of judgment: and whoever calls his brother a contemptuous name shall be in danger of the council. Bu whoever says, "You fool" shall be in danger of hell fire. So if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:21-24)

    Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him. (1 John 3:15)
  7. You shall not commit adultery. (Exodus 20:14)
    Mat 5:27  You have heard that it was said by the people of old, "You shall not commit adultery." But I say to you, that whoever looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and cast it away from you. For it is better for you that one of your members should perish, than that your whole body should be cast into gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off, and cast it away from you. For it is better for you that one of your members should perish, than that your whole body should be cast into gehenna. (Matthew 5:27-30)

    It has been said, "Whoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce." But I say to you that whoever shall put away his wife, except for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries the divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32)
  8. You shall not not steal. (Exodus 20:15)
    He who has been stealing must steal no more: but instead, let him work, doing something useful with his own hands so that he may have something to share with the one who is in need. (Ephesians 4:28)
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. (Exodus 20:16)
    Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immorality, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things that defile a man. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man. (Matthew 15:19-20)
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor any thing that is your neighbor's. (Exodus 20:17)
    What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Definitely not. No; I would not have known what sin was, except by the law. I would not have known what coveting was, except the law said, "You shall not covet." (Romans 7:7)

    Having eyes full of adultery, they cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls. In their hearts they have given covetousness a workout, accursed children. (2 Peter 2:14)

The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; you shall not murder; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not covet" -- and any other commandments there may be -- are summed up in this saying, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor: therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:9-10)

You have heard that it has been said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you, and persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what have you done more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do that? Therefore be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)

Bless those who persecute you: bless, and do not curse. (Romans 12:14)

Do not repay anyone evil for evil, providing what is good in the sight of all men. (Romans 12:17)
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"Bloodline" Discoveries Admitted to be a Hoax - Where were the headlines?

The movie Bloodline was the 2008 entry in the anti-Christian polemics series that we see many years around the anniversary of Jesus' resurrection. It was based on the work of an amateur archaeologist going by the name Ben Hammott. He has since acknowledged that his discoveries were a hoax.
I have thought many times about coming clean and telling the truth, but lacked the guts to do so. Everything I said I discovered is a hoax, planted by me and only me. (Statement on his website. H/t Cadre Comments.)
The movie Bloodline and its surrounding claims received much publicity just a few years back. Was there any publicity at all around the admission that the thing was a hoax? What about the effects on people who believe this kind of thing, or the general impression left on the impressionable (which is a large number of people)? And, finally, does honesty or integrity require that the hoax should be reported by any purported news outlet that publicized the original hoax? Isn't at least a retraction in order?

Sunday, July 08, 2012

A Lutheran visits Roman Catholic services

This summer I hope to visit different Christian worship services. Part of the reason is to help my thoughts about Christian reconciliation. Part is because my pastor is not reliably Lutheran in his teachings; he does not reliably focus on Christ, and on God's love, and on God's faithfulness. He shows no passion for following Jesus, or for leading his sheep in the same. This leaves my soul hungry as often as not, even right after worship.

Why start with Rome? Honestly, it's because the 7:30am mass left me time to still be at my own church service this morning.

So here are my thoughts about the differences that I saw. I should mention from the beginning that the priest had a thick accent and struggled with English; I caught most of what he said, but not quite everything.

The sanctuary

The sanctuary was beautiful. They had paintings and stained glass and -- though I didn't get a close look -- I think also some sculpture. I know that there are Lutheran churches that do the same, but it's less consistent or (sometimes) not quite as whole-hearted. Does that matter? I think it does in this sense: a full-bodied religion -- as opposed to a reactionary splinter schismatic group -- has enough breadth and depth that it encompasses all of human culture: writing and music, art and sculpture, government, philosophy, scholarship, architecture, and so on. The mature religions have, at some point, by themselves had full and sole responsibility for running a nation or even building a civilization, usually for centuries at a time. It is a litmus test that I use in my own mind to gauge whether a group is in full engagement with God and his world, or is merely reacting to someone else. If a group does not produce any artists or scholars or musicians or leaders that are high-caliber, recognized and admired outside their own group, then I tend to suspect the group is a reactionary sect, that their thought and theology and spiritual life are lacking on a very basic level.

Liturgy and worship

The service was a recognizable liturgical service: three Scripture readings (Old Testament, Gospel, and Epistle) with a psalm in the middle; a sermon; an offering and holy communion, with prayers at various points. There were some small differences in the service from what I was used to. The doxology was split off from the proper Lord's prayer; that is to say, "the kingdom and the power and the glory" part was said separately. (This is one instance in which Rome's liturgy sticks closer to the Bible.) The Agnus Dei ("Lamb of God") canticle before communion had a line about "Prince of Peace, who takes away the sin of the world" where the liturgy I'm used to has several repetitions of the Biblical "Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world". The words of institution for communion were also altered from what is in Scripture, "This is the new and eternal covenant." I'm sure Lutherans would not argue against the new covenant being called eternal, but the change from simply reading Scripture at that point in the service was unexpected. The Nicene Creed was in a different translation than I'm used to, and (unsurprisingly) spoke of one holy catholic and apostolic church, in keeping with Rome's opinion, as best I can tell, that they themselves are the one true church. (I like those translations of the creed that speak of one holy worldwide or universal and apostolic church; as far as I can tell that's in keeping with the original meaning of the word.) They had kneelers built into the pews, so that people knelt in their pews before communion, but received communion standing up, and not at the altar. (In Lutheran churches we typically do not have kneelers in the pews, but go to the altar and kneel to receive communion.) There were few songs during the service, and when there were songs, few people sang. Those who did sing were quiet, nearly a whisper of a song. There was no choir. (I had the impression that this congregation was hesitant about music in the same way that some Protestants are hesitant about visual art.)

Roman Catholic particulars

Many of the people genuflected before entering the row to sit down. They rang a bell -- and for an extended time -- as the bread and wine were consecrated. As we left, the fellow in front of me took some water (which I would guess was holy water) on his way out the door, and seemed to make the sign of the cross with it. Making the sign of the cross during worship was more common than I'm used to. There was a mention of "Mary, Mother of God" -- which is something Lutherans acknowledge yet, in light of how easy it is to misunderstand the phrase "Mother of God" and how adoration of Mary has at times gone beyond proper boundaries, we generally find more direct ways to proclaim Christ's relation to God.

The sermon

Today's gospel reading was Jesus being rejected at Nazareth. The first sermon point was that God is in ordinary things and places that we may reject for their ordinariness or familiarity. Still, God is present in the ordinary and familiar just as surely as in the extraordinary and unfamiliar. The second sermon point was that we should imitate Jesus' courage in the face of rejection, and not bow before pressure to meet the expectations of the world. The priest closed with a joke that seemed completely unrelated to the sermon but served as an ending laugh-line. I suppose that any preacher might give in to the wish to be entertaining. The main thing a Lutheran would object to in the sermon is speaking of Christ mainly as an example of how we are to live our own lives, or an object lesson about how God uses the ordinary, rather than as himself the good news transforming our lives.

The prayers

The only prayer that took me by surprise was a petition for those who we wish were here with us and for the harm that the church has inflicted. The topic of Rome's sex scandals has already been done thoroughly, so I'll limit my comments here to saying: it's probably a good thing to pray about it, and to frankly acknowledge it in the service as the reason that some people aren't attending. There was also a part about thanking God for counting us worthy to be there or something along those lines, which is something Lutherans probably wouldn't dream of saying. If we did (which is doubtful), we would be quick to add that it was solely on account of his mercy that he shows to all the world.

The leadership

The early Protestants spoke of "the priesthood of all believers", so it made me smile with the irony that Rome has more leadership in worship from people other than the priest than my own congregation does on a typical Sunday. Someone other than the priest read the various Scripture readings, and there was mention during the announcements of a sign-up sheet to be a reader. (Many Lutheran churches still follow the ancient practice, inherited from the synagogues, of having members of the general congregation read the Scriptures during worship; mine somehow does not.) And while someone other than the pastor gives out communion at our church when the pastor is out of town, generally the pastor has a key part in distributing communion at a typical Sunday when he is in attendance. In this church, while the priest blessed the sacrament, it looked like distribution was done entirely by other people, both men and women, at various places in the sanctuary.

The congregation

The people were friendly, and the service was clearly come-as-you-are. (Which is good, considering I'd assumed it by habit, and dressed accordingly.) There was some general handshaking during the "pass the peace" portion of the service. Everyone seemed to have a general Christian goodwill towards the other people there. I wondered if they had known I'm a Lutheran, what the reaction would have been. Would the love of Christ have taken first place, or would our divisions (and centuries of its effects) have been first in their minds? That would probably depend on the person.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Ecclesiastes Wisdom and Jesus' Wisdom

Ecclesiastes is possibly the bitterest book in the Bible. I tend to read it when times are tough. The author makes valid points at times, and is generally considered wise. Still, the reader senses that the author has succumbed to despair, and in his despair we see glimpses of the foolishness and madness that he imagines himself able to avoid. He sees that his wisdom is not enough to save him from death or to ensure his legacy. His disappointment in his wisdom -- and in all the pursuits of life -- is profound.

With that in mind, below are some selections from Ecclesiastes, paired with responses from Jesus' teachings.The general approach was suggested to me by the way that the phrase "eat, drink, and be merry" from Ecclesiastes is taken up by Jesus in one of his parables, and that Jesus had also alluded to Moses in a similar way.

All such things are wearisome. There is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:8, 9)

I observed all the happenings beneath the sun, and I found that all is futile, and pursuit of wind. (Ecclesiastes 1:14)

For what does a man get for all the toiling and worrying he does under the sun? All his days his thoughts are grief and heartache, and even at night his mind has no respite. That too is futile. (Ecclesiastes 2:22-23)

Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am humble and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

What real value is there for a man in all the gains he makes under the sun? (Ecclesiastes 1:3)

For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Matthew 16:26)

So, too, I loathed all the wealth that I was gaining under the sun. For I shall leave it to the man who will succeed me – and who knows whether he will be wise or foolish? And he will control all the wealth that I gained by toil and wisdom under the sun. That too is futile. (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19)

Therefore I praised enjoyment. For the only good a man can have under the sun is to eat and drink and be merry. That much can accompany him, in exchange for his wealth, through the days of life that God has granted him under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 8:15)

And I will say to myself: “You have many goods laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.”
But God said to him, “You fool, this night your soul shall be required of you. Then whose shall those things be, which you have provided?” 

So it is with the one who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. (Luke 12:19-21)

Another grave evil is this: He must depart just as he came. As he came out of his mother’s womb, so must he depart at last, as naked as he came. He can take nothing of his wealth to carry with him. So what is the good of his toiling for the wind? (Ecclesiastes 5:14-15)

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust corrupt, and where thieves break in and steal:
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrupts, and where thieves do not break in or steal:
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.  (Matthew 6:19-21)

If you would be perfect, go and sell what you have and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.  (Matthew 19:21)

A twisted thing that cannot be made straight, a lack that cannot be made good. (Ecclesiastes 1:15).

I further observed all the oppression that goes on under the sun: the tears of the oppressed, with none to comfort them; and the power of their oppressors – with none to comfort them. (Ecclesiastes 4:1)

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they shall be satisfied.  (Matthew 5:3-6)

I mused, “God will doom both righteous and wicked, for there is a time for every experience and for every happening.” So I decided, as regards men, to dissociate them from the divine beings and to face the fact that they are beasts. (3:17-18) 

Both go to the same place; both came from dust and both return to dust. Who knows if a man’s life breath does rise upward and if a beast’s breath does sink down into the earth? I saw that there is nothing better for man that to enjoy his possessions, since that is his portion. For who can enable him to see what will happen afterward? (Ecclesiastes 3:20-22)

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall be shown mercy.
Blessed are  the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 5:7-10)

For the same fate is in store for all: for the righteous, and for the wicked; for the good and pure, and for the impure. That is the sad thing about all that goes on under the sun: that the same fate is in store for all. (Ecclesiastes 9:2, 3)

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (Matthew 25:31-32)

Here is a frustration that occurs in the world: sometimes an upright man is requited according to the conduct of the scoundrel; and sometimes the scoundrel is requited according to the conduct of the upright. I say all that is frustration. (Ecclesiastes 8:14)

For I say to you, that what is written must yet be accomplished in me, “And he was reckoned among the transgressors”: for the things written concerning me are reaching fulfillment.  (Luke 22:37)

No man has authority over the life breath – to hold back the life breath; there is no authority over the day of death. (Ecclesiastes 8:8)

I am the good shepherd. I lay down my life for the sheep.
No man takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. (John 10:14, 15, 18)

All this I tested with wisdom. I thought I could fathom it, but it eludes me. (Ecclesiastes 7:23) 

For I have set my mind to learn wisdom and to observe the business that goes on in the world – even to the extent of going without sleep day and night – and I have observed all that God brings to pass. Indeed, man cannot guess the events that occur under the sun. For man tries strenuously, but fails to guess them; and even if a sage should think to discover them he would not be able to guess them.  (Ecclesiastes 8:16-17)

I thank you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and have revealed them to little children. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in your sight. (Matthew 11:25-26)

The point of this is how our wise cynicism isn't as wise as we think, and how Jesus addresses the "rational" points made in our bitterness.  

Or as Paul summed up, "The foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom." 

Monday, July 02, 2012


Among the greatest risks to our spiritual lives is the risk of self-idolatry. Self-idolatry is the true nature of the destructive sort of pride. In the Genesis account of Eden, it was the call to make ourselves into idols that caused us to turn away from God, and then caused people to turn against each other. I have heard some Christian sermons preached about money as an idol; not so much about pride and self-worship. I don't think we take the commandment against idolatry seriously anymore. Maybe it's time we did.