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Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

Will God forget to bless us?

If God is merciful, why do we pray?  Psalm 86:15 says, “1But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”  Later in Isaiah 49:14-15 when the Israelites lament that God has forgotten them, he reassures them: 14 But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me,  the Lord has forgotten me.”  15 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”  If God will not forget to show us compassion, then why do we have to intercede in prayer for ourselves and others?  Can we change his mind if he was not initially planning to be compassionate?

Can we change God’s mind?

If God is infallible, why do we pray?  Indeed, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 calls us to “pray without ceasing,”  to a God that we are told in James 1:17 does not change, that is “the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”   On the other hand, in Exodus 32:9-14, after the Hebrew people make sacrifices to idols, God tells Moses that he intends to destroy them, but then repents when Moses pleads with him:

9 “I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”  11 But Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God. “LORD,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” 14 Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

This passage suggests that maybe we pray because we can change God’s mind, but that contradicts the steadfast nature of God that is mentioned elsewhere in the bible.  The only answer I know to this issue is that prayer changes me.  It makes me calmer, and still, and I feel like sometimes I hear guidance from him.  It brings me into a relationship with God because there is no relationship without communication.  These are good reasons to pray – peace, wisdom, communication.  But if my prayer doesn’t change anything except my own perspective, why do we pray for other people?  I don’t know the answer to this question.  I prefer to think that my God is so great that there is nothing that I could say that would change his mind, but then I’m not sure why I intercede in prayer for others.  I just do it anyway.

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I stumbled this last week in dealing with my anxiety, but I’m pulling myself back up.  I have been gearing up to see Casting Crowns in concert this week and while listening to their new CD “Come to the Well” I was struck by a song they sing about God and how He exists outside of time:

All my fears and all my questions
Are gonna play out
In a world I can’t control
When I’m lost in the mystery
To You my future is a memory
Cause You’re already there
You’re already there
Standing at the end of my life
Waiting on the other side

There is peace for me when I cling to the idea that God knows how my current crisis is going to turn out.  I cannot control this world, but it’s okay, because wherever today is going, He is already there and He is waiting for me.  I think if I lived forever I would be more calm because I would have seen every type of crisis at least once and I would know I could handle whatever comes my way.  Since I’m not going to live forever, it comforts me that I’m relying on someone whose experience is eternal.

More than God being in control, this song also makes me wonder, what do moments feel like when you’re immortal?  Novels with immortal characters (usually vampires) always focus on how much ennui they feel when they know they’ll never die.  They are jealous of humans whose mortality gives moments poignancy and immediacy in a way that they have long forgotten.  I think God must exist both inside and outside of time in a way that distinguishes him from angsty teenage vampires and allows him both vast perspective and the ability to savor each moment.  Do you wish you were immortal?  I don’t.

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Okay, Catholics.  I know you’re out there.  I want to know why you think the Virgin Mary died a virgin.  After all, she was…married!

*

I studied theology at a Catholic seminary that trained monks and nuns for one semester.  I was the only non-priest, non-monk, non-nun in this class, which in theory was supposed to be about the history of the modern in church.  In practice, the coursework reached the Reformation during the first week and never advanced beyond it for the entire semester.  Periodically, my professor would beseechingly ask me questions about why I was a protestant heretic.

My favorite such encounter was when he stopped mid-sentence during one lecture and said to me, “FierceLinguist, why don’t you love the Virgin Mary?  Your church is motherless!” *cue much gasping from the nuns and monks in the audience*  I offered a halting explanation in Spanish at to why Protestants think the Virgin Mary is a Very Nice Lady and yet not someone who can help you with prayers.

I’m actually a big fan of the Virgin Mary, but I’m really not sure why it’s so abhorrent for people to think that she eventually had sex with her husband.  My husband has requested that I not  ask our priest about this at mass this weekend.  I’m pretty sure he’d just start talking about Tradition with a capital “t” anyway.  Or say it’s a “mystery” of the church, which means, “Bless your heart, it’s rude to ask about the sex lives of saints.  This is why you’re one of the separated brethren.”

*http://blasphemes.blogspot.com/2009_11_01_archive.html

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I’m really interested in alternative family life styles, particularly when they are connected to religious beliefs.  I’ve been thinking a lot about polygamy of the type that is practiced by Fundamentalist Mormons.  I believe that it is none of the government’s business how consenting and informed adults structure their marriages.

Why are modern Christians so opposed to polygamist marriage?  (I just used “Christian” in a way that excludes FLDS members, but that’s a post for another day.)  Many of the important biblical patriarchs like Noah, Abraham, Jacob, and David practiced polygamy, and nowhere that I know of in the New Testament does the bible state that polygamy is a practice of the old covenant, but not of the new.  (I read the bible every day.  I’m kind of a Pharisee.)  For that matter, why are modern day Jewish people opposed to polygamy?

To clarify, I am not personally interested in practicing polygamy.   However, I’m deeply interested in the extent to which Protestants rely on extra-biblical tradition (rather than “sola scriptura”) when defining church doctrine. It seems to me that the Catholic church has a very coherent position opposing polygamy since they can call on Tradition with a capital “t” to justify their doctrine, but that people who believe that the bible is the literal and infallible word of God with nothing to add or subtract are standing on shakier ground when it comes to this issue.

Do you think polygamy should be legal?  Protestants, what are you basing your (presumed) opposition to polygamy on?*

*Yes, I ended that sentence in a preposition.  It’s okay – I’m a trained linguist.

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