Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Who will remain standing in day of Judgment?

I originally sat down at my computer to vent with outrage at how the Religious Right was misusing Scripture to rationalize the aims of the Right in certain geopolitical military exploits. I had just read the dailykos article, Outrage Over the Publication of Rumsfeld's Christian War, which discusses this GQ article. Apparently someone has found some material where former US Defense Secretary had prepared scripture quotes to pep up the morale of troops fighting in Iraq. One of the passages was Isaiah 5:28:
28 Their arrows are sharp,
all their bows are strung;
their horses' hoofs seem like flint,
their chariot wheels like a whirlwind.
I wanted to learn more about the passage, because out of context I wasn't sure whether it were in fact a passage describing bad people or the actions of God's agents. Wouldn't it be like the Religious Right, I presumed, to misuse a passage by describing America's troops with biblical language meant to describe God's enemies? Anyway, while googling up the passage, I ran across the Skeptic's Annotated Bible. They had this to say in their commentary on Isaiah 5:28.
God will kill those who despise his word and fail to follow his laws. Their carcasses will be "torn in the midst of the streets."
This actually bothered me more than Rumsfeld. The writers of this commentary were trying to point out how stupid and mean and silly it was to follow a text where it is said that God will slay those who do not follow his laws. I believe this is based on a (very flawed) view of God's law as (what Luther described as) "nominal and childish sins." In this view, the laws are all about spoiling our fun, completing boring ceremonies, following the secret handshakes of the club: the law has nothing to do with man's inhumanity to man.

C.S. Lewis, on the other hand, in Mere Christianity once summarized the reasons for God's wrath as "greed and trickery and exploitation." What if God's law had the smallest iota of relevance to greed and trickery and exploitation? Why, there might be at least some kind of justice to the idea of an angry God, if He were also mad at those A.I.G.? What about all those other people who exploit the poor? What about you! What about me?! Indeed, according to Luther's Explanation to the Ten Commandments:
The Seventh Commandment.

Thou shalt not steal.

After your person and spouse temporal property comes next. That also God wishes to have protected, and He has commanded that no one shall subtract from, or curtail, his neighbor's possessions. For to steal is nothing else than to get possession of another's property wrongfully, which briefly comprehends all kinds of advantage in all sorts of trade to the disadvantage of our neighbor. Now, this is indeed quite a wide-spread and common vice, but so little regarded and observed that it exceeds all measure, so that if all who are thieves, and yet do not wish to be called such, were to be hanged on gallows the world would soon be devastated and there would be a lack both of executioners and gallows.
Who could remain standing? That is the proper understanding of God's law and wrath. It is not a reason for mocking the idea of accountability to a higher power; it is surely NOT a reason to go punching those who have committed slightly fewer sins than yourself.

Too often I feel that fundies & atheists agree on more than they disagree. Maybe the Religious Right and the less-well-read "skeptics" of Christianity would agree that sin is merely a list of a few nominal and childish vices. In that view, for God to have "wrath" over it is is both mean and stupid. But if however His law were more about lifting up the sheet and showing all the bloody ways we've exploited, harmed, and killed each other, then perhaps God's law is a reason to shudder. And seek the shelter that can only be provided by the cross.

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