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Old 07-30-2007, 02:14 AM   #181
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Yolland, in resposne to your earlier post there, I have to concede that yes my definition of sin may not fit the "classical" use of the term in Christian circles.

And I know it's pretty arrogant of me to conclude that my slightly different definition of sin is the "Correct" one, but what can I say! That's what I think! To quote Rich Mullins, speaking on the same issue of social justice "I know this goes against the teachings of all the popular evangelical preachers, but they're wrong. They're not bad. Just wrong."

That said, I shall continue. . .I've got a little time now

Sin on the micro level--the personal level (which is where most of the discussion on this thread has been focused)--can be defined a number of ways:

It can be defined as actions motivated by selfishness rather than love.

It can be defined as, described by Dreadsox, as seperating oneself from God--who in the Christian tradition is properly understood as the source of all Good (not the pissy, cantankerous and capricious old fellow who doesn't want us to have any fun).

It can be defined as anything that hurts you or someone else. (And why would hurting yourself be considered a sin, you ask? Well, for starters, how often has anyone ever hurt "just themselves" without it ultimately taking a toll on the ones who care for them?)

It can be defined as breaking God's law.

In reality, all the of the defintions above are really different takes on the same thing. No one definition excludes the others, and all the definitions contain the essence of each other one in it. (At least from a Christian perspective. I do think the first and third definitions could be used in a strictly non-religious sense though).

As to the question of who is a sinner, it seems clear to me the answer is everyone (though I've sure met some people that seem to be awful close to the sinless mark, though in most cases that's because it turns out it's usually just that I don't know them that well). It may sound silly, but this why I think it's true that sooner or later every single person you know--if you get to know them well enough--ill irritate, annoy, or anger you, at least on occasion. Whether it's their selfishness, pettiness, impatience or my own that causes the aggravation, it matters not.

I'm not going to speak for anyone else, for me saying I am sinner is a simple acknowledgment that "I haven't gotten there yet.' I could be a better person. There are still many ways I can grow. My "pretty good" is not good enough. Provided you don't beat yourself up over it, I'm not sure why acknowledging that is such a horrible, self-loathing thing. Believing that one should be better than one is should not necessarily lead to self-hatred!

And it's not so benign as a kind of accidental failing either. There are times when I CHOOSE to be unkind, times when I start to "believe my own press" and let an exalted opinion of myself go to my head, time when I frankly find myself unconcerned about the suffering of others outside my little sphere, times when I am selfish and times when I let fear rather than love rule the day. The reality is that I might not be carrying out the basest impulses, after all, again to quote my man Rich Mullins "I don't cheat on my taxes, don't cheat on my girl. . ." the fact remains that the impulses are there. They come out in smaller ways, perhaps less visibly hurtful, but they hurt nonetheless.

Much of sin on the "micro level"--especially beyond the general "don't murder, rape, and pillage"-- is intensely personal and by and large should be left for people to sort out between them and God. It seems like public judgement of sin should be limited to those areas where the harm is immediate and obvious to others. Trying to reprimand other individuals (this does not preclude talking about it in general though) for the less "obvious" (but no less damaging sins) like pride is a dubious proposition. Believers begin to run into trouble when they start arbitrarily creating and/or ranking lists of sins. And yes, Irvine is right, usually when this happens, it's because someone wants to control and manipulate others, which is of course. . .sinful.
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Old 07-30-2007, 03:08 AM   #182
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Is this view of the angry OT God unique to Christians, do you think?
In short, no.

I don't personally see the messianic/apocalyptic idea, in either Judaism or Christianity, as all that radical a break with the earlier notion of fearsome divine retribution for human wrongs; rather, it simply displaces the meting out of divine judgment onto "the end of times," collectively speaking, and/or the fate of "the soul," individually speaking--with the (IMHO) far crueler punishment of eternal torment now awaiting anyone judged adversely, as opposed to the Torah's assumption of death followed by Sheol, which is neither a 'place' of reward nor punishment, just a cessation of all awareness, and in fact the fate of everyone upon death, 'good' life or not. (Granted, some Christian denominations do take the view that Jesus' sacrifice redeemed all people, for all time, regardless of whether they commit the same old "wrong" of failing to live up to God's standard, i.e. to practice Christianity in this case.) The Christian version of this displacement seems to be roughly analogous to the eschatology of Roman-era Pharisees as described by the Talmud and the first-century historian Josephus, with the exception that for the Pharisees, the messiah and his works don't determine who will and won't be punished in the "end times," rather the actions of individuals and God's judgment on those actions. In the darkest Talmudic speculations--and there are many conflicting ones, with no attempt at synthesis--a kind of 'purgatory,' rather than eternal punishment, awaits evildoers; nonetheless it's assumed that God will, as always, be merciful and pardon most (after all, there'd have been a Flood once a week and a plague pretty much daily if people 'sinning' had always occasioned divine punishment). Thus, the Torah's implicit assumption that divine justice neatly parallels human justice--i.e., that offenders will either be pardoned or punished, and in the divine version, collectively, through wordly rewards or disasters--gets replaced by the Talmudic assumption that olam ke'minhago noheg, 'this world follows its own course,' but as for those wrongdoers who suffer no worldly harm, 'they will be called to account' in the end times. (Of course observance of Jewish law was only presumed to be relevant to the outcome for Jews, as Judaism has never understood it to be binding on non-Jews.) Ultimately, rabbinic Judaism never developed a clearly defined doctrine of the afterlife, just a menu of theories to choose from; nor did this new understanding of divine reward and punishment ever become the central preoccupation that it did in Christianity, though the old 'earthly punishments' idea never returned in force either. But that's a whole other tangent really...

As Ormus already touched on, Pharisaic eschatology was almost certainly profoundly influenced by external sources introduced through, first, the Babylonian captivity (586-539 BC) and subsequent Persian conquest of Babylon, after which a small but influential number of Babylonian Jews chose to return to what was now the Persian province of Yehud; and second, the defeat of the Persians by Alexander in 331 BC, followed by a long struggle between Alexander's heirs the Ptolemies and Seleucids, with control over Judaea passing from the former to the latter in 198 BC, ultimately to fall to the (Jewish) Hasmoneans in 142 BC. Canonization and redaction of the Torah (first five books) into its present form is thought to have begun during the Babylonian captivity and continued into the Persian period; canonization of the Nevi'im (Joshua, Judges, 1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the twelve 'minor prophets') during the late Persian and early Hellenistic periods; and canonization of the Kethuvim (basically, everything else a standard Protestant Bible has--meaning no Apocrypha) in the mid-to-late first century AD. Haggai, Zechariah, Nehemiah, Malachi, Ezra, 1&2 Chronicles, Job, portions of Isaiah and Proverbs, and probably Joel and Ecclesiastes were likely written during the Persian period, and Daniel during the mid-to-late Hellenistic period.

Somewhat firmer scholarly ground for speculating about Hellenistic influences exists, simply because there's more documentation outside the Tanakh for them--the Septuagint; Josephus; Demetrius the Chronographer; Aristeas; Aristobulus of Paneas; the neo-Platonist Philo of Alexandria, and so on. On the other hand, apocrypha and pseudepigraphic apocalyptic texts from both periods certainly exist. At a minimum, the ideas of a 'Final' showdown between the forces of good and evil (like 'messiah,' 'satan' is a previously generic term which arguably takes on definitively--as in proper noun--supernatural dimensions in post-exilic texts, particularly if you're counting apocrypha and pseudepigraphia) and 'The' Messiah who figures centrally in that, strongly suggest Zoroastrian influence, while the Pharisaic understanding of 'the soul' and its relationship to resurrection and the afterlife strongly suggest Hellenistic influence (the idea of the soul is of course also present in Zoroastrianism, but the way in which the concept is developed in the Talmud sounds unmistakably neo-Platonic). Both civilizations were far more scientifically advanced than the Hebrews, and both likely played a role in the turn away from the older understanding of earthly divine retribution to the newer thinking of 'this world follows its own course,' with 'real' divine retribution now expected to come in the 'end times.' One can certainly find expressions of these influences in the Tanakh itself, but they are superimposed, so to speak, on a recognizably Ancient Near Eastern foundation--the form and content of the laws, the 'tribal' understanding of God's loyalty to man and vice versa, the cast of characters and the self-referential narrative framework they occupy, and so on.

In a more general sense, though, I think that to expect broad similarities in tone between the "Old" and "New" Testaments is fundamentally misguided. The New Testament presents itself as a record of one heroic figure's spiritual teachings and a few near-contemporaries' expansions on them, covering a very brief historical window in which most of the social, cultural and political backdrop is simply taken for granted and not seen as much in need of articulation or justification. The Old Testament presents itself as a record of an entire people's history, recounting events spanning roughly two millennia in all kinds of formats--epic narrative, chronologies and genealogies, poetry, legal edicts, prophecy, 'wisdom literature' and so on, reworked and redacted many times but not nearly enough to avoid myriad jarring discrepancies, awkwardly abrupt transitions, suspiciously didactic-sounding rationalizations etc. If you want to get a better understanding of the scope of Jewish theology in Jesus' day than the parade of sinister character foils the New Testament has to offer, read the Mishnaic portions of the Talmud and some of the late Hellenistic Jewish sources mentioned earlier--don't expect Deuteronomy to be of much help in cluing you in. As I've commented before in here, while I don't myself suppose Jesus to have been strongly aligned with any particular Jewish sect of his day, and tend to think it makes most sense to see him as one who 'worked outside the sytem,' nonetheless I find it fascinating how much his ethical teachings overlap with those of the Hillelite Pharisees, above all in his elevation of the Golden Rule (Leviticus 19:18) to the status of the most important commandment.
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Old 07-31-2007, 01:18 AM   #183
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Thanks for your insights, Yolland. They were enlightening as always.

So in light of God's portrayal in the Scriptures, what's your take on Him? Scary and angry? Loving and kind? Something in between?
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Old 07-31-2007, 07:50 PM   #184
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What I hear in it is a God who seeks not only a relationship with us, but a partnership in the ongoing work of creation through redemption--the transformation from what is to what ought to be. We are 'made in God's image' in that we have the capacity to recognize, and the yearning and free will to fulfill, this transformative potential, though we can only perceive and experience a very limited arena of it. When we embrace this work with wonderment and joy, showing compassion towards and seeking justice for others (Lev 19:18 + Deut 16:20), that is the fullest expression we can attain of both our human freedom and God's will, as well as the fullest experience we can attain of God's own passion for all of creation--an 'I-Thou' relationship rather than an 'I-It' relationship, as Buber put it.

That is what I take to be the central 'message' of the Torah. That that message constitutes revelation is crucial to my beliefs; the precise historicity and perfect internal consistency of it is not, because ultimately it's still written by, for and about a people in their relationship to God, and human understanding is both imperfect and subject at every turn to the temptation to shrink from that 'ought'--out of fear, out of pain, out of delusion or complacency. (Which, as a quality, is perhaps not wholly a 'failing,' and in some paradoxical sense, may even be integral to what makes us worthy of this partnership; the Tanakh says twice that to be 'Israel' is to be yi-sra-El, one who struggles with God.) Furthermore, while the Torah is sacred to me as a Jew because it marks the beginning of that revelation to my people, and celebrates it through a covenant I take joy in following, still I see it as just that, a beginning--revelation is a continuously unfolding process, and didn't freeze in amber at some past point in time. I hear it in the Talmud, the Zohar, the Gospels, the Upanishads, in Buber and Heschel and Kierkegaard and a hundred other places as well--sometimes profound and awe-inspiring, sometimes provocative but dissatisfyingly incomplete, sometimes straining so hard to reconcile the past with the present as to border on sophistry.

It's impossible for me to fully extricate my historical awareness of the development of the Tanakh and its theology (much of which, of course, can only be deduced from narrative) from what I find eternal in it, because I was taught from the beginning to view it from both perspectives. And from within the context of an observant life, as well--Judaism being as much, if not more, about that than about an abstract set of ideas. I do believe both voices, the willing embrace and the shrinking withdrawal, really are in there, as they should be--it's a history of that relationship from our end, not God's lecture notes. This is actually bound up with why I dislike the punitive connotations of 'sin' (and perhaps also the anxious insistence on straw-man dichotomies like 'God: Coddling Parent or Genocidal Despot?'): it puts the emphasis and incentive on avoiding punishment, whether that's imagined as earthly disasters from a jilted master engineer on the warpath, or Something Very Bad after death from a cosmic headmaster who takes offense at the content of our beliefs, and holds our inevitable imperfections in contempt. There is something deeply thanatic, deeply antipathic towards life and humanity in the impulse towards that idea, and that to me is epitomally 'sinful.' But it's also, unfortunately, natural, and part of the limitations of being human--a material and mortal being with what sometimes feels like the curse of having the self-awareness to contemplate those limitations. I suspect there is a sense, one I can't fully grasp or articulate, in which God can actually relate to this angst...a longing for a (self-in-)Other, an enduring 'I-Thou' to make that awareness holistic, complete, in some way only manifestation can achieve. But that doesn't ultimately matter--what does matter in this life is the wonder of this opportunity we are offered, this partnership in transforming what is into what ought to be. We can't fully embrace it, nor truly experience God through it, if we approach it out of fear.




Erm. Did I answer the question this time?
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Old 07-31-2007, 11:36 PM   #185
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Quote:
Originally posted by yolland
What I hear in it is a God who seeks not only a relationship with us, but a partnership in the ongoing work of creation through redemption--the transformation from what is to what ought to be. We are 'made in God's image' in that we have the capacity to recognize, and the yearning and free will to fulfill, this transformative potential, though we can only perceive and experience a very limited arena of it. :
I agree all of that buand also think we were made in his express literal image:

Gen. 17:1, "Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless."
Gen. 18:1, "Now the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day."

Exodus 24:9-11, "Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they beheld God, and they ate and drank."
Exodus 33:11, "Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend..."


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Old 08-01-2007, 05:16 AM   #186
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That was beautiful, Yolland--caused some stirring in an apostate agnostic's heart. If I believed, it's the way I would believe.

I often saw the Old Testament, besides being the history of a people, as filled with challenges to God for justice and the occasional if you won't do it, we will (story of Esther) while still remaining faithful. I thought it was a lovely dynamic (not ignoring his occasional, massively destructive temper fits.) A limited but quasi equal footing, maybe that partnership you mentioned.

I saw that lacking in the New Testament. Almost as if "I've given you my son, now my obligation to you has ended and now you owe me big time." The dynamic shifted. God grew more distant. Inserted middle management, if you will.
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Old 08-01-2007, 05:19 AM   #187
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Erm. Did I answer the question this time?
Yes, you did.

And this time it was my turn to smile and nod as I read your eloquent post. Perhaps my favorite line, the one that pretty much sums up for me the nature of what it means to have a relationship with God:

Quote:
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We can't fully embrace it, nor truly experience God through it, if we approach it out of fear.
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Old 08-01-2007, 05:25 AM   #188
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I saw that lacking in the New Testament. Almost as if "I've given you my son, now my obligation to you has ended and now you owe me big time." The dynamic shifted. God grew more distant. Inserted middle management, if you will.
Funny, for me it's been the opposite. Often, in those dark times--and they do come from time to time,--it's only the picture of Jesus found in the Gospels, that kept me from slipping away all together.

I'm still learning to see that kind of God in the OT. Yolland's insightful post certainly helped me see a little better.
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Old 08-01-2007, 05:42 AM   #189
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Some day, you and I have to have a massive discussion, maycocksean. I enjoy, am challenged by the way you look at things.
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Old 08-01-2007, 02:08 PM   #190
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Some day, you and I have to have a massive discussion, maycocksean. I enjoy, am challenged by the way you look at things.
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