Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Defense of the Faith vs. Avoiding Empty Arguments

Woodcut of the Augsburg Confession, Article VI...

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And who will harm you if you are deeply committed to what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed, but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
1 Peter 3:13-17 (HCSB)

This passage is often cited as the basis for the area of theology called apologetics.  The word "defense" in "...ready to give a defense..." is the Greek word "apologia."  Often apologists feel compelled to go beyond a explanation of why they believe to an apologetic for God.  Let me say in no uncertain terms, "God does not need me or any other person to give a defense for His acts or inaction.

If a person asks me why I believe the Bible is clear that I must be ready to explain.  My faith must not be based on some whim, passion, or feeling.  It is to be understood.  "Reason" in this passage is the Greek word "logos."  This is a very important word.  In the secular philosophy at the time the 1 Peter 3:15 was written logos meant a reasoned discourse or mode of persuasion based on reason. 

Definition of rhetoric as "the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion." Of the modes of persuasion some belong strictly to the art of rhetoric and some do not. The rhetorician finds the latter kind (viz. witnesses, contracts, and the like) ready to his hand. The former kind he must provide himself; and it has three divisions -- (1) the speaker's power of evincing a personal character which will make his speech credible (ethos ); (2) his power of stirring the emotions of his hearers (pathos ); (3) his power of proving a truth, or an apparent truth, by means of persuasive arguments (logos ).
Rhetoric -Aristotle

So then as Christians we ought to be able to provide a reasonable statement of what we believe. 

However, we begin to cross over to empty argument when we attempt to defend the actions of God. 

Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding irreverent, empty speech and contradictions from the "knowledge" that falsely bears that name. By professing it, some people have deviated from the faith. Grace be with all of you.
1 Timothy 6:20-21 (HCSB)

Notice Paul admonishes Timothy to guard what is entrusted to him.  What has been entrusted to him?  The gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 1:11, 15).  How does one guard the gospel?  For the most part I believe that one guards the Gospel by being prepared to give a reasonable defense.  He adds to the admonition avoid irreverent, empty speech, and contradictions.  Most arguments that come from unbelievers usually can be classified as falling into one of these arguments. 

Irreverent Arguments

In other translations the word "bebelos" is irreverent, profane, and wrong.  Profane is a blatant disregard for things that are sacred.  It is often abusive, crude, and obscene.  These are to be avoided.  One reason I believe they are to be avoided is because it is difficult to come away from a mudslinging match and not get at least a little bit soiled.  Another reason is that it fails on the "logos" approach.  Irreverent arguments are emotional appeals ("pathos" arguments).  Emotional appeals can be persuasive to a person that is open to what you are saying.  However, a profane person is not likely at all to be moved no matter how emotionally appealing you make the Gospel.

Empty Arguments

"Kenodoxos" is translated empty speech, empty sounds, prattling, vain babbling, and foolish talk.  It comes from a compound word in the Greek meaning "vain-glory."  Vainglory is an old English word that describe being empty of honor or empty boasting.  There are some things that are unworthy of even a response.  I think these are the type of arguments that Paul is describing with this word.  This type of arguing has more to do with making the arguer puffed up with pride.  In some ways it relies on the credibility of the person making the argument ("ethos" argument). 

Another way to look at empty arguments is one that lacks substance and/or commits a logical fallacy.  I would say that the most common form would be an appeal to authority.  The assumption that because a person in authority believes something that it must be true.  Others would be sweeping generalizations, appeal to ignorance, affirming the consequent (very common with evolutionists), cherry picking, attacking the person (ad hominem), ad Hitlerium (making the case that Hitler was a Christian), ad Crusades (Making the crusades out to be normative Christianity), and others.  It is these empty arguments that we are to avoid because then do not present a reasonable argument for or against the Gospel (ie "logos" argument).

Contradiction Arguments

"Antithesis" is translated contradiction, antipathies, and oppositions.  These arguments were from the "'Knowledge' that falsely bears the name."  Some would point to the Gnostic Hersey as the ones that are opposing with a false knowledge.  Gnostics believed that "true knowledge" was process of internal intuitive knowing.  This true knowledge superseded all other forms of knowledge.  They also view the material world as evil and the spiritual world as good.  They stood in opposition to the Gospel because they said that Jesus (though a heavenly messenger) could not be God in the flesh because God being good could not take an evil material form. 

This phrase can also be taken in a broader form.  In my experience there are three dispositions that people have who do not believe in or know the Gospel.  One is of curiosity.  That is to say they do not know if it is true, but they are curious to find out if it is.  Second is disinterest.  They do not care one way or the other if it is true.  Third is opposition.  They are actively against the gospel as being true.  It is the last group that hold to a spirit of contradiction.  They are not looking to see if it is true.  They are looking to find reasons why it is not true.  Their position is to stand in opposition no matter what.  At times these people do get carried away in there opposition.  They will invent contradictions where there is no apparent contradiction.    They place their own understanding, their own knowledge ahead of the Gospel.  They are puffed up in knowledge.  It is these types of arguments that Paul is warning Timothy to avoid. 



By the way Christians can fall into irreverent, empty, and contradictory arguments.  I think one of the reasons Paul instructs Timothy to avoid such arguments is that they are so easy to fall into ourselves.  When we become irreverent, use empty rhetoric, or engage in a spirit of contradiction we do the Gospel a disservice.  People are more likely to look at us rather than the Savior we are attempting to share.  Humility, gentleness, kindness, thoughtfulness are certainly qualities that we want to uphold as we attempt to give a reasonable explanation for what we believe.   In short if someone has a genuine interest in learning about what you believe then be prepared to share what and why you believe.  On the other hand if a person is only seeking to rude, empty, or contradictory avoid these discussions. 

 

God Bless You
~BJ

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Coping with Anger

A metaphorical visualization of the word Anger.

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There are times in which the situation that has you upset is not going to change or at least not change in the short term.  It is at these times that we have to learn to cope and work through the difficulty.  Here are some strategies for coping with anger. 

Express Feelings through�

We have an extraordinary ability to channel strongly held emotions in to all kinds of activities.  We can do this with anger.  The possibilities are as varied as people are varied.  I tend to express my feelings through writing.  But you could also write music, make music, create art and so on.

Go for a walk

Walking often takes you away from the anger provoking situation.  It lets cooler heads to prevail.  It also uses up some of the excess energy that comes from being upset.  When you walk try to clear your mind using CALM MIND

Physical Exercise and/or sports

Doing something physical helps to release the energy and can also be a acceptable way to release anger.  A little bit of an edge can be gained through anger.  I know that when I am lifting weights for example I can lift a little more weight or a couple more sets when I have been angry. 

Continue to relax

Relaxed and angry states are incompatible.   That is to say you cannot be physiologically angry and calm at the same time.  Here are some ways to practice relaxation.

Avoiding trouble

"Don't do it,  Don't say that!"  Your conscience is sounding off the alarm and you just plow right through with your own way.  Ever done that?  Well it seems silly to point this out, but in reality we need the reminder.  Approaching troublesome situations while you are feeling angry it a bit like pouring gasoline on a fire. 

Setting Healthy Boundaries

Sometimes our anger comes from the fact that we have not set healthy boundaries for ourselves.  We want to say, "NO!" but cave to other's desires at the expense of our own well being.  In this case the anger is resentment toward the other person for taking advantage of us.  We bear some of the responsibility. If we become good at setting boundaries with others then we can avoid situations where we reluctantly go along with things that hurt ourselves in the end.  Boundaries can be hard to set for someone that has been reluctant to do so.  First you have to guard your heart.  If people can hurt you at a heart level you are unlikely to set firm boundaries.  Then you have to give yourself permission to say "NO."  Next you have to learn to be assertive in a positive way rather than passive or aggressive way.  Finally you have to be clear and firm with what your boundaries are.  I think the topic of boundaries deserves a post to itself.  Maybe in the near future I will do some on the topic. 

Humor

Humor is good medicine.  You may not feel like it when you are upset, but humor can lift the spirits.  Whether it is you adding a little levity to a tense situation or if it is finding something humorous to be entertained with.  There is a strong indication in research that humor is one characteristic of a mutually satisfying marriage.  I believe that humor keeps us out of the hurtful bitterness that comes from unresolved anger. 

Personal Reflection

Sometimes when we are annoyed and irritated it is not clear to us why.  Sometimes we are upset with ourselves and we take it out on others.  Sometimes we are just plain selfish.  In these cases I believe personal reflection is in order.  Finding the root cause of your anger even if it is yourself or is a reflection of self-centeredness is useful in sorting things out.  Personal reflection can take the form of meditation over the situation to understand (not stew or blame).  It can be through writing it down (in a journal or a log).  The goal is to be more aware of your thoughts and pay attention to your internal dialogue. 

Meditation on Scriptures

I find that the Bible is like a mirror to the soul.  We look into a mirror to fix our hair and see our faces.  But we do not see the deeper self, our soul.  When we look into scriptures and we allow God's Holy Spirit to do His work the Bible becomes a powerful force in our lives to reveal our inner nature.  Meditation on scriptures not only is revealing, but it is also transformative.  Meditation will take your anger and change it to love and forgiveness. 

Forgiveness

The highest act we can do in our lives is to forgive one who has offended us.  Forgiveness is an act of the will choosing to live peaceably with consequences of someone else's missing the mark (sin).  In so far as it is possible with you you choose to live at peace with the person who has offended (Romans 12:18).  Forgiveness is not saying what someone has done to hurt you is right.  Forgiveness is not the elimination of external consequences.   Forgiveness is not putting yourself back into a situation to be hurt again. 

Unforgiveness hurts you more than it hurts the person you do not forgive.  In reality the person you refuse to forgive does not likely  think of how they offended you.  If they were thoughtful of you then they would not have offended you in the first place.  Or if they do care about how they offended then they would have quickly sought reconciliation.  As it is when you hold on to the hurt it becomes bitterness and bitterness becomes despair and despair robs you of life. 

 

In the end anger is a complex and rich emotion.  We have to learn to respect and use anger in a healthy way.  Anger itself is not bad, but much evil can come from anger if we let it.  On the other hand if we use anger to push us to greater action and to transform our lives and the lives of others then it can be a force for much good.  The choice it yours.  What will you do the next time you are affected by this passionate emotion we call "anger."

 

God Bless You
~BJ

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Problem Solving

Angry Sphynx

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In dealing with anger you can recognize that you are angry, cool down, and turn your mind so that you are thinking more clearly, yet still in the end have a legitimate problem that needs to be addressed.  In this post I would like to outline a few things that you can do to solve a problem that is triggering your anger. 

Seek Wise Counsel

Without guidance, people fall, but with many counselors there is deliverance.
Proverbs 11:14 (HCSB)

It is interesting to me that when I am angry it seems that "I know best."  Yet when I have had a chance to cool off I often realize how foolish I really was.  One way to solve problems is to seek out counsel from someone that has had good life experience and knows how to handle your situations.  Go to an expert in the problem you are dealing with and ask them.  It could be a family member, friend, pastor, teacher, professional counselor, or other wise person.  Having a problem to solve ought not hinder us.  It is a great opportunity to learn and grow.  Going to someone that is in the know will lead you to effective action. 

Ask for What You Need

We are often angry because there is something that we are deprived of.  This is a frustration form of anger.  However, many times the thing that we need or desire is not verbalized.  It is unfair to the person that I perceive has neglected me if I have never expressed the need or desire.  In fact unstated expectations are poison to a relationship.  Learn to express your need confidently and calmly.  Often just stating your need or desire is all that is needed.  Admittedly there are times when this will not work.  Do not take possible rejection as a reason to keep your expectations silent.  Also learn to negotiate (See Below).  Give to get is often a good approach to getting needs met.  If you are going to ask for something be prepared to explain what you are willing to do for their benefit. 

Say "No" If Needed

Learning to say "No" is a critical part of setting healthy boundaries in relationships.  If you need to say no, but end up going along with or doing the thing that you do not believe is best or right then you set yourself up.  Initially it may feel like the right thing, like avoiding a fight for example.  However, over time not setting a boundary will lead to feelings of resentment.  If these feelings of resentment are not dealt with then it can lead to bitterness. 

Negotiate With Others

Often when we are angry we fall into either/or win/lose my way/your way thinking.  This type of thinking lends itself to prolonged conflict as each side works to convince the other side that they are right.  It also tends to keep us in the mind set that either I win or you wind, but one of us is going to lose.  This is a very unfortunate frame of mind.  The biggest problem is that it is most likely a false dilemma.  Most of the time any problem that people face in a relationship will have a multitude of possibilities to resolve the problem.  In fact no two people will solve the same interpersonal problem in the same way.  So to think there are only two ways of looking at the problem you are facing (really just one "My Way") then you really are stretching it a bit.  Why not three, four, or five ways.  Your so busy arguing for your way that maybe you missed the best way which would be the sixth way. 

First to negotiate you have to resolve to think that my way may not be the best way.  This does not automatically mean the other person has the best way either.  Perhaps both of your ideas stink.  But you are so locked in on arguing a bad idea you would never no it.  Second you have to be willing to understand the good points of the other person.  Then you have to be willing to offer suggestions that take the best of both points of view to solve the problem.  Finally you have to willing to let go of some of the things you wanted in order to get some of the other things that you wanted.  Fact is the only way to always get what you want is to live in total isolations, but then you may want to be around people so even then you would not get what you want. 

Opposite Action "Do something nice."

A secret gift soothes anger.
Proverbs 21:14 (HCSB)

This one usually gets funny looks when I say it.  Fact is doing something nice for someone that you are upset with soothes his/her anger, but it also soothes your own anger. 

Pros and Cons of Change

When you have a problem to solve it is always a good idea to consider both the benefits and drawbacks of making a change.  Especially negotiated change.  The reason is that the first time one of the drawbacks comes up you are likely to say, "See I told you we should have done it my way."  Fact is that what ever change you make it will have benefits and it will have drawbacks.  The best change is one that maximizes the benefit for all involved and minimizes the drawback as well as distributes the drawbacks fairly.  

Put Energy Into Something that has Purpose and Meaning

There are times when the best thing you can do is put the energy that anger creates to good use.  Finding meaning and purpose in the midst of a difficult time will help to channel your efforts into a productive outcome.  Sometimes the activity can be somewhat trivial (eg yardwork).  At other times the activity could be profound (eg social advocacy).  What ever you do, don't just sit there and stew in your anger.  Get up a do something. 

Prayer and meditation can be very helpful in finding meaning and purpose in life's difficult moments. 

Four Problem Solving Steps

  • Define the Problem

When defining the problem avoid defining it as a person.  When you define a problem as a person then you give all your power to change to the person you are upset with!  The definition of the problem should be something that is within your power to change.

  • Brainstorm solutions

Come up with as many ideas as you can.  Do not evaluate them at first no matter how silly they might seem.  The idea is to be creative as possible.  You can also ask others for ideas. 

  • Pick one or more to try out

You want to pick the one you are most likely to do and with greatest potential for success.

  • Evaluate how you did

Did your solution work?  If it did make a note of it.  You will likely solve similar problems in the future using the same or similar idea.  If it did not work go back to the beginning and make sure you have defined the problem correctly.  Then go through the other steps again. 

 

Chances are that solving the problem that is triggering your anger will take more effort than any one of these ideas on there own.  However, if you practice these you will become an effective problem solver. 

God Bless You

~BJ

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dealing with Anger TOC

This is a Table of Contents for Posts that I have written about dealing with anger. 

Anger Defined Biology of Anger
Ring of Anger (Unhelpful Actions) The Soul and Anger
Path To Peace (Helpful Actions) Surrender
   
Steps to Dealing with anger:
Step 1: Recognizing Anger
Step 2: Relaxation (cooling down)
Step 3: Changing Angry Thoughts With a CALM MIND
Step 4: Problem Solving or Coping
 
   
Biblical Perspectives on Anger:  
Proverbs on Anger Raising Cain
Slow to Anger Anger: The Story of Esther
Burning Anger God's Anger
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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Nobody likes to be around a grump

Grumpy Bear from the Nelvana episode, "Ho...

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Sometimes stating the obvious is the only way to go.  Times we try to make life and relationships much more complicated than they need to be.  If you are having a hard time relating to someone and you care to make a change why not start with your own attitude toward that person.  It seems that we can always make room to be civil to the annoying telemarketer when the phone rings, but with the people that we care about they get the raw ugliness of our spirit.  Sometimes just making a simple attitude adjustment is all the world. 

Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not conceited, does not act improperly, is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs.
1 Corinthians 13:4-5 (HCSB)

Hmmm.  A little kindness will go a long way.

A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.
Proverbs 15:1 (HCSB)

You see it does no good to let your irritations hang out.  Being a grump and pointing out someone's faults (or even thinking about their faults) is about as likely to make them want to be around you as to be around a skunk.  Your attitude stinks. 

"But they started it."  Come on now did you learn to get over that in the sand box days.  Probably not.  I know that if I do not remind myself I easily fall  into this kind of thinking. 

So give it a try.  Love, patience, kindness, and gentleness will go a long way toward making things better. 

God Bless You

~BJ

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Intimacy of the Eyes

Pearl nl: Parels de: Perlen

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There is a level of intimacy and vulnerability communicated with the eyes. It occurs in the moment that a couple is wed and the pastor says, you may now kiss the bride. You can see it in each of their eyes that loving gentle kind connection that bonds each other in intimacy. It would be cool if we could capture that moment in a bottle and keep it cherish it, hold it I think it would be an amazing thing. It is almost as if a moment of eternity is captured in that look. What happens when we stop looking?

There are many reasons for it to happen. Let's face it life is filled with things to do. Got to go to work, got to pick up the kids, got to go to the store, got to take care of the yard, got to wash the dishes, got to cook supper, got to ... Then there is the want to's Want to get a new house, want to get a new car, want to get a new job, want to watch the latest movie, want to go out with friends, want to stay home and relax, want to... Then there are the hurts. Big or small they are the unresolved moments of thoughtlessness, selfishness, neglect, and aggravation. These moments can loom large in our minds. When we hold on to these moments they kill the look of eternal. The look of intimacy is replaced with "if looks could kill."

When we stop looking we loose something of intimacy. The bond is weakened. Consider this story:

There once was a merchant in search of a very fine pearl. He looked round the world in hopes that he would find it. He search high and low near and far. He happened upon this pearl in an obscure market in some far off land. He knew that at that moment he must have that pearl. However, he had a great dilemma; he had spent all of his money in search of this pearl. So he returned home longing to find a way to purchase that pearl. In his minds eye he could see the beauty of the pearl. The opulence of such a magnificent object captured his soul. He noticed (again from memory of it) the way it shimmered in the light like a soft beautiful white dove nesting with her young. Just a glimpse of it would draw you into eternities breath. "Too beautiful" he thought, "too beautiful to be pining away in some way off corner of the world." He determined to find a way to get that pearl.

He looked around for things that he could sell. He sold his car; he cashed out his stocks, and bonds; he took out a personal loan from his family. With money in his hand he set out again to purchase the pearl. He found the pearl just as he had remembered it in the obscure market. He paid the price with just enough money left to cover his trip home.

When he returned home he crafted a special pedestal on which to display the pearl. He found special lighting on it so that it would reveal the milky opalescent perfection that was the great pearl. He then decided to have a party. He invited all of his friends to see this pearl. They were all amazed at his find. Even more amazed at the lengths he went to get the pearl. Some said, "It certainly is a fine pearl, but the cost seems too much." His friends admire the pearl, but only the merchant could really see the pearl and its worth.

Think of it for a moment. The great value that the merchant place on the pearl through the act of looking. Notice how he cherishes it, sacrifices for it, and celebrates it. All from seeing the object of his pleasure. Now imagine that our story takes a turn.

Everyday at first the merchant would give pause to look upon this pearl. He would spend hours, just soaking in the beauty of its luster. As time passed he realize that he needed to get back to work for he was in debt over the pearl and would need to pay these off. He reasoned, "It was certainly worth it!" He very eagerly go to work with thoughts of his beautiful pearl at home. He would even talk about it in the market place. Some people even tried to make deals for him to sell it. He said, "No way it is not for sale. It is my prized possession." He would come home at night exhausted. He would spend some time looking at his pearl saying, "What a fine pearl." After some more time passed he would be caught up with the business of his market place. He was quite the business man and brought in a good income. The more that he experience success the more that he had to spend time to keep the success going. Meanwhile his time with the pearl became less and less. He kept up the care of the pearl for a time. Taking it up regularly to dust it off and polish it. He would replace the light as it burned out.

However, his care began to wane. He would forget to polish it. A dusty layer began to obscure its beauty. He noticed the great pearl less and less. One time he was mindlessly walking and ran into the pedestal in the middle of the room. He thought to himself, "This is a strange place to put a pedestal. It seems like it is really in the way." So he set the pedestal aside. As he did this he cleaned off the dust and adjusted the light to shine on the pearl. He remembered when he first laid eyes on the great pearl. How perfect it seemed. After a few minutes he was snapped back and thought, "I got to get back to work."

The pearl stayed in that place for a long time. The light burned out; the dusty layer returned. The man would notice the pearl out of the corner of his eye occasionally. But over time it became part of the background. The pearl was not greater and no worse than the lamp that used to illumine its beauty. It was like that old book that sat on the shelf beside it. One time that book was read and loved, but now it just sits there waiting to be rediscovered.

Eventually the merchant would pass by the great pearl without a look at all. He would not pay it any attention. It blended into the background of his life. In some ways it became invisible to him. Neglect, busyness, lack of care, what ever it was the Pearl had been cast aside. How? How could such a great pearl, such a wonder that would hold the affection of this merchant be now lying in some obscure corridor without much attention paid to it all?

In short the merchant stopped looking. He failed to appreciate the pearl and eventually lost interest. I wonder how often we loose great things in our lives simply because we stop looking. I encourage you to always look and see the real value of the pearl in your life.

God Bless You

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

God is a Meanie II (2 Kings 2:23-24; God Kills Little Children)

Prophet Elisha, Russian icon from first quarte...

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The last passage Numbers 31 was a favorite, but my experience is that this passage is a second favorite of atheists.  Atheist would have us to understand that a Prophet of God had is feelings hurt by a group of unruly kindergartners (or grade schoolers) followed by God's directing two bears to come kill them.  Unfortunately they are not interested in details so they miss the point of this verse they also jump to conclusions about that it is saying. 

As I have said before, "Why is it that atheists are so interested in what an imaginary deity does?"  The level of interest in these God is a Meanie passages from the Bible seem sort of bizarre.  I do not believe for a second that people who are considering faith in God pick up a Bible and come to this passage in particular and say, "Well I was considering that God might exist, but this passage is a deal breaker.  After reading that I am convinced He does not exist."  Really?  Let me suspend my incredulity and assume that there is an atheist that has a genuine interest in this passage. 

From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking up the path, some small boys came out of the city and harassed him, chanting, "Go up, baldy! Go up, baldy!" He turned around, looked at them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two female bears came out of the woods and mauled 42 of the children.
2 Kings 2:23-24 (HCSB)

A straight reading of this passage seems to favor the interpretation of the atheists.  I must admit that it seems to describe a serious consequence for a rather trivial offence and it does appear based on the language we are dealing with little children.  Lets dig a little deeper into the passage though to see if first impressions are accurate.

Little Boys"Small Boys" 

The phrase in Hebrew "qtnim norim" is translated in this passage "little boys", "little children", and "little lads."  Depending on which English translation you are using.  Since there is some variation between translations that usually indicates that it is a difficult phase to translate.  Looking elsewhere in the scripture the word "little" refers to size and relative importance in many cases.  When it is used to describe a person it is often used to establish birth order namely the youngest in the family without regard for a specific age.  The word translated "boys" is translated "Young men" (76 times) or "servant" (54 times) and then "child" (44 times), "lad" (33 times), "youth" (6 times).  It would seem that this term is roughly equivalent to adolescent or youth.  

Looking and the instances these two words occur in combination we discover it is used in 6 passages in addition to this one (1 Samuel 16:11; 1 Samuel 20:35; 1 Kings 3:7, 1 Kings 11:17; 2 Kings 5:14; Isaiah 11:6).  The first reference was to David who was tending sheep at the time.  We know that David was able to kill a lion and a bear while he was tending sheep so it is unlikely he was a young child while doing this (see 1 Samuel 17:34-35).  I would put David's age between 15 and 18 at the time.  The second reference was a companion of Jonathan.  He was old enough to retrieve arrows and to return home on his own.  It is difficult to say how old that makes him.  The third reference Solomon uses to describe himself when he is coronated as king.  Solomon was 18-21 when he became king.  The forth reference was to Hadad who escaped, but there are not real clues to his actual age.  The fifth is describing youthful skin.  And the sixth is describing a child leader in poetic (prophetic) language.  So based on the times we can identify and age range it would put our "small boys" in the 15-21 age range. 

Children

"Children"

In verse 24 it says that 42 children were attacked by these bears.  The word children in this case again seems to be a generic child without a specific idea of age.  Two examples would be Daniel 1:4, 17 and 1 Kings 12:8.  In these cases it is translated "young men."  Daniel and his companions were taken to Babylon somewhere between the ages of 12 and 18 to serve in the royal court.  Rehoboam (and young men he grew up with) was a mere 41 years old when he became king (1 Kings 14:21).  So with this term we have an age range of middle childhood all the way up to age 41. 

With that kind of age range it seems to change our understanding of this passage.  It seems that it was a mob of at least 42 young people came out to greet the Prophet of God. 

"Go up, baldy.  Go up, Baldy"

Where is it that these children wanted Elisha to Go up to?  It would seem that they had heard about Elijah (Elisha elder companion) being caught up into the sky.  Elijah was not always popular and I suppose that some were happy to see him go.  I believe that is the message being sent here.  They want Elisha to leave so they are mocking him (and God) in regard to Elijah being caught up to God.  "Baldy" seems a strange insult.  In the culture of the time though "it was using an extreme curse, for the prophet being a young man, may not actually have been bald-headed."1

How serious was this?

So it is possible if not likely that this was not a group of third graders, but rather a mob of adolescents.  But boys will be boys and we cannot make much of them being rude to Prophet of God.  God kills for rudeness. 

First it is not clear that these young people were killed.  They were mauled, but it does not say they were killed.  Is it possible that they were attacked but not killed by these bears?  I would think that it is possible and likely that is what happened here.  If they were killed then why would you not say they were killed.

Second a mob a teens is a serious matter.  I came across this story as I was preparing this post.

This story is eerily similar to this event in the Bible.  These youth were insulting and threatening.  They were age of 15-17.  They were able to subdue a Marine.  Think about if a handful of teens could take down a Marine then a mob of 42 would seem a serious threat to Elisha.  If we were to apply the atheist interpretation of the Bible to this event here then we would have say that the bystander that flashed his gun to scare off the teens and the police that tasered the teens were meanies also.  Again if you are looking for moral high ground it seems very strange to side with these unruly youth over the Prophet of God.

 



1 Fred H. Wight, Manners and Customs of Bible Lands, (Chicago: Moody press, 1980), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 96.
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Saturday, January 1, 2011

God is a Meanie (Numbers 31; Genocide and Sexual Slavery)

Moab leads Israel into sin, as in Numbers 25:1...

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Another tactic of Atheists is to point to the times that God in His divine wrath judges people in the Bible.  They suggest that God is misogynistic, homicidal, genocidal, tyrant.  One of favorite passages of the Bible for many atheists is Numbers 31.  In this passage the Israelites God commands, "Execute vengeance... against the Midianites."  The Israelite men of war attack this tribe of Midianites kill the men and capture the women and children.  Moses becomes upset because they have allowed the women to live.  He orders the execution of all the women and male children.  The female children are allowed to live.  I have often been told that if you ask someone their favorite passage you can learn a lot about a person.  I am not saying this applies in this case as an atheist does not believe, but it does give pause to think.

My first question to the Atheist would be, why so much vehemence against this ancient text?  I have read several translated ancient texts and have come across stories much more violent and much more unjust than this one appears.  Why so much energy into a fictional story about a mythical God and a people who probably never did any of this anyway?  The only explanations that makes sense to me is either they have doubts about their atheism and pointing to passages like this makes them feel better, they wish to win converts to their way of thinking (faith), or they are engaged in religious like indoctrination of other young atheists. On the last one it is a control technique to create cognitive dissonance through some emotional appeal, then resolve that dissonance by saying you have the answer.  In short this argument is an emotional one more than a rational one.

Now if you ever catch an atheist willing to talk about their favorite passage you will find they are not interested in understanding the background of this passage and only want to judge it on the surface.  Their conclusion is that the passage describes genocide and the sexual slavery of women.  Yet when you try to help them to greater understanding of the passage they will not be bothered by details.  For "free thinkers" they are very narrow-minded.  In case you might find yourself in a discussion about atheists favorite passage, let's take a look at these two claims, but first a little background to the story. 

God told Moses to "Execute vengeance."  For what?  What had the Midianite people done that was so evil that God felt the need to command vengeance?    There is a clue in the passage. 

Yet they are the ones who, at Balaam's advice, incited the Israelites to unfaithfulness against the Lord in the Peor incident, so that the plague came against the Lord's community.
Numbers 31:16 (HCSB)

There are many clues really.  Who is Balaam?  What was his advice? And what was the Peor incident?  Who is Baal Peor?  If we can understand these questions then we can have a better understanding of the events that lead to the execution of this group of people.  I would add one more question "Who are the Midianites?"

Who is Balaam?

Balaam was a man who had a gift of prophecy.  Balak the King of Moab at the time when to Balaam when the Israelites came up out of Egypt (Numbers 22:5).  He desired that the Prophet would curse the Israelites for him, because he felt threatened by them (Numbers 22:6).  Balaam heard from God that he could not curse the Israelites because God had blessed them (Numbers 22:12).  After several attempts by Balak and tempted by the promise of riches Balaam decided to go (2 Peter 2:15).  There is some misunderstanding of Numbers 22:20-22 (NASB) in that it seems as though God gives permission and then becomes angry with Balaam.  The permission to go was given conditionally.  God says "If the men come to call you, rise up and go."  However, Balaam the next morning "Arose and saddle his donkey.."  It seems that Balaam was all too eager to go with them and did not wait on them to call him.  Instead his heart was in to going with them to curse the Israelites and receive his reward.  God Judges Balaam's heart and is angry.

So then Balaam goes to Balak to curse the people of Israel.  He cannot do this since God has blessed them.  In the end Balaam also blesses Israel and curses the kingdoms of Canaan including the Moabites (Numbers 24:17). 

What was his advice?

There is no record of what Balaam said to Balak in Numbers.  However, in the traditional view, explained in Revelation 2:14, Balaam not being able to curse them (being restrained by God) suggested that if the Balak could convince the people to prostitute themselves to the men of Israel and get them to worship foreign gods that they would be able to subvert the will of God.  

What was the  Peor incident?

The plan worked.  The women prostituted themselves (Numbers 25:1) and the Israelites began to align themselves with Baal (God) of Peor (Numbers 25:2-3).  This was a serious matter and had it been unchallenged it could have altered the course of history.  If the Isaelites (God's chosen people) had followed after Baal, God's final plan of redemption would have been thwarted.  So Moses acted swiftly and had those that converted to Baal of Peor killed (Numbers 25:5). 

Who is Baal Peor

Baal Peor is "The Lord of the Opening."  Baal Peor was worshiped with prostitution and other unclean activities involving the openings of the human body (avoiding becoming graphic).  It seems that if you were to pick out a perfect deity to carry out this plan this would be the one.  The warriors (wives and daughters) would be worshiping the deity by giving their bodies in this way.  The men of Israel would be enticed away from God by their sexual appetites. 

Who are the Midianites?

At first it seems confusing; Balak the king of the Moabites and the women of Moab perpetrated this incident.  However, as we dig a little deeper we discover that the Midianites were also aligned with Balak and his plan (Numbers 22:4, 7; Numbers 25:17-18).  However, we cannot say that all Midianites were involved in this plan.

One problem is that Moses was married to a Midianite.  His father-in-law was a Midianite priest (Exodus 2:16, 3:1).  Another problem is that Moses killed every male (Numbers 31:7) and yet about 200 years in future Midian subdued Israel for seven years (Judges 6:1).  How can this be?  The most reasonable explanation is that Moses did not intend for the Israelites to kill all the Midianites (which would have included his own household), but rather the Midianites responsible for the Peor incident.  In fact the passage says as much (Numbers 31:16). 

Conclusion

So in summary Balak goes to the Midianite kings and says we have to get rid of these people they are a threat to us.  He attempts to get a local prophet to pronounce a curse against them because he does not foresee a military victory.  This not being successful they come up with a plan to have women go to seduce the men of Israel and lead them to follow the Baal of Peor.  Presumably the Midianites send a caravan of 5 kings, soldiers along with their wives, daughters, and children.  The wives and daughters, who are old enough, go to the Israelites and entice them to have sex with them.   The plan works and some men of Israel converted to Baal of Peor (Lord of the Opening).  Moses then orders the execution of the men of Israel drawn into this cult.  Later on God commands Moses to tell the Israelites to take retribution against the Midianite caravan that perpetrated this plan. 

Now that we have the background let's take a look at the claim that this was a genocide or taking of sexual slaves.  

The claim that the women spared became sexual slaves makes little sense.  It would seem that all the women of age involved in the plan to entice the men of Israel were executed for their part in this plan.  If the intent was to take sexual slaves then it would not make sense to kill the very women who were willing to give their bodies sexually.  What is more if the women of age (old enough to have sex) were killed that would only leave very young girls.  This would make the claim even more outrageous saying that the Israelites took to pedophilia with little girls.  This claim is outrageous given the restrictions that are clearly laid out in the Bible.  The Jews (because of the Law of God) were very conservative sexually.  Pedophilia does not make sense and is a stretch and perverts the text in Numbers 31.

The claim of Genocide also not make sense.  Moses was close to the Midianite people through marriage.  He did not kill all Midianites as they show up later in the Bible.  It is more likely that Midianites from five cities with five kings agreed to take part with Balak in the plan to perform sexual warfare against the Jews.  And the killing of these Midianites was in the context of the war started by Balak and his Midianite allies. 

In terms of moral responsibility for the children.  I do not want to get into a debate of whether it was right or wrong to kill.  In war the right to kill is clouded by the right to defend oneself.  There have been many men, women, and children killed by warfare.  But to think that these Midianite parents took their children into a war seems outrageous.  They even pressed their adolescent daughters into service as sexual warriors.  It seems that if you are looking for moral high ground siding with the Midianites in this case makes little sense. 

Of course in most cases you will not get someone using this argument to look at the evidence of their claims against God, but at least now you know the whole story. 

God Bless You

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