Archive for the ‘Gnosticism’ Tag

Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 27, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Job and His Alleged Friends

Above:   Job and His Alleged Friends

Image in the Public Domain

Orthodoxy, Heresy, and Compassion

NOVEMBER 11 and 12, 2019

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The Collect:

O God, our eternal redeemer, by the presence of your Spirit you renew and direct our hearts.

Keep always in our mind the end of all things and the day of judgment.

Inspire us for a holy life here, and bring us to the joy of the resurrection,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 52

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The Assigned Readings:

Job 20:1-11 (Monday)

Job 21:1, 17-34 (Tuesday)

Psalm 123 (Both Days)

2 Peter 1:16-21 (Monday)

2 John 1-13 (Tuesday)

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Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy,

for we have had more than enough of contempt.

–Psalm 123:4, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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With friends such as Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite, who needs enemies?  In Job 19:22 the main character laments:

Why do you hound me down like God,

will you never have enough of my flesh?

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

in response to Bildad.  Then Zophar echoes Bildad in arguing that Job must have sinned and therefore deserve his suffering.  Job replies in part:

So what sense is there in your empty consolation?

What nonsense are your answers!

–Job 21:34, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Refraining from blaming victims is a good start, is it not?  Compassion is a virtue, and tough love is different from abuse.

Turning to the readings from the New Testament, we find defenses of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and of Christian orthodoxy, which was in the early phase of development in the first and second centuries of the Common Era.  The Gospel, consistent with the Hebrew Prophets, comes with eyewitnesses (most of whom had died by the late first century C.E.), we read.  The text of 2 John adds a criticism of Gnostics or proto-Gnostics, who denied the Incarnation.  Indeed, many Gnostic texts have survived and are available in English-language translations.  They are baffling and non-canonical.  Their non-canonical status is appropriate, given that Gnosticism and Christianity are mutually incompatible.

Interestingly, the author of 2 John never accuses these deniers of the Incarnation of being cruel or otherwise mean.  No, they are simply wrong and dangerous, he argues.  One can be compassionate and theologically mistaken just as surely as one can be theologically correct and lacking in compassion.  One can also, of course, lack both compassion and theological correctness.  The optimum state is to be theologically correct and compassionate, is it not?

That leads to another, practical matter.  One might have compassion yet channel it in a way or ways that prove harmful at worst or not helpful at best.  One might read the Book of Job in such a way as to interpret the motivations of the literary characters of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar to be positive–to stage a spiritual intervention.  Yet the theological position of that book (in its final, composite form) is that their orthodoxy was actually heresy.  If one proceeds from a false assumption, one should not be surprised when arriving at an erroneous conclusion.

Each of us is correct in much and erroneous in much else.  May we, by grace, grow in orthodoxy (as God defines it) and effective compassion.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 3, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILL CAMPBELL, AGENT OF RECONCILIATION

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LIPHARDUS OF ORLEANS AND URBICIUS OF MEUNG, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF UGANDA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MORAND OF CLUNY, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND MISSIONARY

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/orthodoxy-heresy-and-compassion/

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Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 8, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Question Mark

Above:  A Question Mark

Image in the Public Domain

More Questions Than Answers

JUNE 28, 29, and 30, 2018

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The Collect:

Almighty and merciful God,

we implore you to hear the prayers of your people.

Be our strong defense against all harm and danger,

that we may live and grow in faith and hope,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 41

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The Assigned Readings:

Lamentations 1:16-22 (Thursday)

Lamentations 2:1-12 (Friday)

Lamentations 2:18-22 (Saturday)

Psalm 30 (All Days)

2 Corinthians 7:2-16 (Thursday)

2 Corinthians 8:1-7 (Friday)

Luke 4:31-37 (Saturday)

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Weeping may spend the night,

but joy comes in the morning.

While I felt secure I said,

“I shall never be disturbed.

You, LORD, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.”

Then You hid your face,

and I was filled with fear.

–Psalm 30:6-8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition (1996) defines theodicy as

A vindication of God’s goodness and justice in the face of the existence of evil.

Defenses of divine goodness and justice also occur in the context of misfortune attributed to God’s judgment of sinful people.  It is present in the readings from Lamentations and in Psalm 30, for example.  The anonymous authors of Lamentations wept over sins, wrote bitterly that the foe had triumphed, and thought that God had acted as a foe.  Yet the book ends:

Take us back, O LORD, to Yourself,

And let us come back;

Renew our days as of old!

–Lamentations 5:22b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The titular character in the Book of Job says of God:

He may well slay me; I may have no hope;

Yet I will argue my case before Him.

In this too is my salvation:

That no impious man can come into His presence.

–Job 13:15-16, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Modern translations of the Bible, with some exceptions, depart from the King James rendering, which is:

Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him….,

which comes from a marginal note in the Masoretic Text.  Saying

I may have no hope

differs from uttering

yet I will trust in him,

at least superficially.  The first translation fits Job 13:15 better than does the second rendering, but pressing the lawsuit against God indicates some hope of victory.

But I know that my Vindicator lives;

In the end He will testify on earth–

This, after my skin will have been peeled off.

But I would behold God while still in my flesh.

I myself, not another, would behold Him;

Would see with my own eyes:

My heart pines within me.

–Job 19:25-27, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Job, in that passage, speaks of a divine hearing within his lifetime.  During that proceeding a defender (presumably not a relative, since his sons had died and his surviving kinsmen had abandoned him) will speak on his behalf.  The translation of this passage from The Jerusalem Bible gets more to the point, for it has an Avenger, not a Vindicator.  These rendering differ from the familiar King James text, which George Frederick Handel set to music in The Messiah (1742) as a reference to Jesus:

For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth….

We who claim to follow God ought to proceed carefully when defending God.  First, God does not require the defenses which mere mortals provide.  Second, many human defenses of God depict God erroneously, as either a warm fuzzy on one hand or a cosmic bully or thug on the other hand.  Often our attempts to justify God to ourselves and others obstruct a healthy relationship with God and dissuade others from following God.  We need to question inadequate God concepts.

The God of Luke 4:31-37, who, through Jesus, delivers people from illnesses allegedly caused by demonic possession is the same God who has blessings and woes just two chapters later (Luke 6:20-26).  This is the same God who encourages repentance–the act of turning around or changing one’s mind.  Apologizing for one’s sins is a fine thing to do, but repentance must follow it if one is to follow God.

I do not pretend to have worked out all or even most of the answers to difficult and uncomfortable questions regarding God and human-divine relationships.  No, I acknowledge that my doubts and unanswered questions in these realms outnumber my answers.  Furthermore, some of my answers are certainly wrong.  I am, however, comfortable with this reality.  I can repent of my errors, by grace, and progress spiritually.  Besides, knowledge is not the path to salvation, as in Gnosticism.  No, grace is the path to salvation.  God has the answers.  That is fine with me.  I remain inquisitive, however, for the journey itself has much merit.

I pray that my conduct of my spiritual journey will encourage others in their pilgrimages with God and prompt others to begin, not have a negative affect on anyone.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 27, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHARLES VILLIERS SANFORD, COMPOSER, ORGANIST, AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF CHARLES HENRY BRENT, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF WESTERN NEW YORK

THE FEAST OF JOHN MARRIOTT, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT RUPERT OF SALZBURG, APOSTLE OF BAVARIA AND AUSTRIA

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/03/27/more-questions-than-answers/

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Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 22, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Kingdoms of Judah and Israel

Above:  Map of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel

Image in the Public Domain

Apostasy and Idolatry

OCTOBER 5, 6, and 7, 2017

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The Collect:

Beloved God, from you come all things that are good.

Lead us by the inspiration of your Spirit to know those things that are right,

and by your merciful guidance, help us to do them,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 49

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 2:14-22 (Thursday)

Jeremiah 2:23-37 (Friday)

Jeremiah 6:1-10 (Saturday)

Psalm 80:7-15 (All Days)

Colossians 2:16-23 (Thursday)

Philippians 2:14-18; 3:1-4a (Friday)

John 7:40-52 (Saturday)

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Restore us, O God of hosts;

show us the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

–Psalm 80:7, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The reading for these three days overlap nicely, focusing on the themes of idolatry and apostasy.  To commit apostasy is to fall away from grace.  (Thus grace is not irresistible.  Strict Calvinism is therefore mistaken about that fifth of the TULIP formula.  I am also dubious of the Perseverance of the Saints, which relates to Irresistible Grace.)  An idol is anything which takes the place of God in one’s life.  Thus an idol might be a false deity, an activity, or even a sacred text.  Function in one’s life determines that thing’s status relative to idolatry.  Among the most popular idols is the Bible, which is supposed to function instead as an icon–through which people see God.  But, if one treats it as an idol, that is what it is for that person.

The lessons from Jeremiah condemn idolatry which has led to national apostasy, evident in ill-advised alliances with foreign, predatory empires.

What then do you gain by going to Egypt,

to drink the waters of the Nile?

or what do you gain by going to Assyria,

to drink the waters of the Euphrates?

Your wickedness will punish you,

and your apostasies will convict you.

Know and see that it is evil and bitter

for you to forsake the LORD your God;

the fear of me is not in you,

says the LORD GOD of hosts.

–Jeremiah 2:18-19, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

From the gloom of Jeremiah 2 and 6 we turn to the Pauline tradition, which emphasizes Christ crucified and resurrected.  St. Paul the Apostle rejects, among other things, Gnostic asceticism, a form of Jewish ritualism, and the practice of worshiping angels as methods as obtaining the spiritual upper hand.  Christ is sufficient, the ever-Jewish Paul tells us through the ages.

I understand the Apostle’s objection to Gnosticism, with its reliance on secret knowledge and belief that matter is evil.  If salvation comes from having secret knowledge, as Gnostics insisted, the death and resurrection of Jesus were pointless.  In fact, in Gnostic thought, he did not die because he was not even corporeal, for, in Gnosticism, he could not have had a body, a body being material and therefore evil.  Thus Gnosticism was not Christian.  The exclusion of Gnostic texts from the Bible was not, as some “documentaries” on the History Channel claim, a conspiracy of Church leaders to suppress truth and crush dissent.  No, it was a proper course of action.

As for rituals (especially Jewish ones), I approach the text from Colossians differently than do the authors of some of the commentaries I consulted.  A high proportion of these writers were Presbyterians with little use for ritual.  Their paragraphs screamed between the lines “This is why I am not a Papist!”  I, as an Episcopalian, know the value of ritual and of approaching it properly.  It should be an icon, not an idol, although it functions as the latter for many people.  But so does the Bible, and I do not heap scorn on that sacred anthology either.

Apostasy, a theme from the Jeremiah readings, recurs in John 7.  Temple officials accuse some Temple policemen of it for refusing to arrest Jesus, who had impressed them.  These officials also accuse Nicodemus of the same offense.  I realize that much of the Gospel of John reflects late first-century C.E. Jewish Christian invective, for Jewish Christians had found themselves marginalized within Judaism.  Nevertheless, the stories in John 7:40-52 have the ring of truth, for fearful people in positions of power have attempted to retain it in many places and at numerous times.

Idols come in many varieties, shapes, sizes, and ages.  As I have written in this post, function in one’s life determines status relative to idolatry in that life.  Among the more common idols is attachment to the status quo ante, especially if one benefits from it.  Thus we become upset when God does something we do not expect.  This might threaten just our sense of order (hardly a minor issue), but also our identity (also a major consideration) and socio-economic-political or socio-economic standing (of which we tend to be quite protective).  But when was religion supposed to function as a defense against God?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 25, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MICHAEL FARADAY, SCIENTIST

THE FEAST OF BAYARD RUSTIN, WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/apostasy-and-idolatry/

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Devotion for July 14, 15, and 16 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   9 comments

Above:  Statue of Samson

Image in the Public Domain

Judges and Galatians, Part III:  Gentiles and Fidelity

SUNDAY, JULY 14, 2019

MONDAY, JULY 15, 2019

TUESDAY, JULY 16, 2019

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Judges 14:1-20 (July 14)

Judges 15:1-16:3 (July 15)

Judges 16:4-30 (July 16)

Psalm 103 (Morning–July 14)

Psalm 5 (Morning–July 15)

Psalm 42 (Morning–July 16)

Psalms 117 and 139 (Evening–July 14)

Psalms 84 and 29 (Evening–July 15)

Psalms 102 and 133 (Evening–July 16)

Galatians 3:1-22 (July 14)

Galatians 3:23-4:11 (July 15)

Galatians 4:12-31 (July 16)

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Samson boasted of his own strength, gave God no credit much of the time, and had bad taste in women.  His first love pleased him.  She was, according to the Alexandrian Greek text of Judges 14:1,

…the right one in his eyes.

She was also a Gentile.

The full view of Gentiles in the Hebrew Scriptures is not

Jews good, Gentiles bad.

Rahab the prostitute recognized Yahweh as God, so the Israelite forces spared her and her family.  Later in the Bible, Ruth, a Moabite, became an ancestor of King David.  Both women were, according to the beginning of Matthew 1, ancestors of Jesus.  The reality that most Gentiles would continue in their traditions led to the command for Jews to choose life partners faithful to God.

The Law of Moses defined that fidelity for a long time.  The Law, in Pauline theology, was like a house slave responsible for raising children.  No matter how capable that disciplinarian was, the children outgrew their need for him or her.  And Jesus, in whom there is no longer a distinction between Jew or Greek, has fulfilled the Law.

I do not pretend to understand all the implications of the previous statement, but that is fine.  Reliance on knowledge for salvation is Gnosticism, a grave heresy.  Rather, I accept readily the limits of my understanding and leave the details to God, who does grasp them.

I do know at least one thing, however:  seeking companionship of various forms with people who are faithful to God remains crucial.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 7, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT VICTRICIUS OF ROUEN, ROMAN CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR AND ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIXTUS II, BISHOP OF ROME, AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF JOHN MASON NEALE, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERHOOD OF SAINT MARGARET

THE FEAST OF MARION HATCHETT, LITURGIST AND EPISCOPAL PRIEST

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/05/03/judges-and-galatians-part-iii-gentiles-and-fidelity/

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Devotion for May 18, 19, and 20 in Ordinary Time (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   4 comments

Above:  Pool of Bethesda, Jerusalem, June 12, 1839, by David Roberts

Image Source = Library of Congress

Song of Songs and Gospel of John, Part I:  That Which Offends (More)

NOT OBSERVED IN 2017

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Song of Songs 1:1-2:7 (May 18)

Song of Songs 2:8-3:11 (May 19)

Song of Songs 4:1-5:1 (May 20)

Psalm 103 (Morning–May 18)

Psalm 5 (Morning–May 19 and 20)

Psalms 117 and 139 (Evening–May 18)

Psalms 84 and 29 (Evening–May 19 and 20)

John 5:1-18 (May 18)

John 5:19-29 (May 19)

John 5:30-47 (May 20)

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In John 5, the unity of which I have maintained, Jesus committed a good deed.  He did this on the Sabbath, a fact which made some especially strict interpreters of the Law uncomfortable.  And he spoke of himself in ways which sounded blasphemous to them.  The penalty for blasphemy, according to the Law of Moses, was death.

What makes us uncomfortable?  And which input makes us more uncomfortable than other input?  What do these facts say about us?  Consider Psalm 139:18-21 (1979 Book of Common Prayer), for example:

Oh, that you would slay the wicked, O God!

You that thirst for blood, depart from me.

They speak despitefully against you;

your enemies take your Name in vain.

Do I not hate those, O LORD, who hate you?

And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?

I hate them with a perfect hatred;

they have become my own enemies.

Then there is Psalm 137:9 (1979 Prayer Book):

Happy shall be he who takes your little ones,

and dashes them against the rock.

Those passages–and many others in the Bible–should make one uncomfortable.  Accounts of massacres depicted as God’s will cause me to squirm in my seat.

But do such passages make one more uncomfortable than love poetry?  Or does love poetry make one more uncomfortable?  The Song of Songs seems to be exactly what it appears to be:  love poetry.  There is nothing exploitative about it, and the two lovers are consenting adults.  Allegorical interpretations seem like stretches to me.  They look like attempts to make the Song of Songs seem like something it is not.

I think that often, in certain cultures and subcultures, people are more prudish about love and sexuality than squeamish about violence.  Our bodies, with their orifices, fluids, and urges, both repel and attract us.  Yet here we are, in our physical form.  And, if we focus so much on the spirit as to think negatively of the body, how far removed are we from Gnosticism?

So, which option–the means of leaving this life or the method of coming into it–offends us or offends us more?  And what does one’s answer to that question say about one?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 3, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH FERARD, ANGLICAN DEACONESS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ELIZABETH OF PORTUGAL, QUEEN

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/04/23/song-of-songs-and-gospel-of-john-part-i-that-which-offends-more/

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