Arbtirary thoughts on nearly everything from a modernist poet, structural mathematician and functional programmer.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Balaam is a figure (apparently a prophet, or oracle) in Numbers (22-25) who was summoned by the Moabites to curse the Israelites as they went from Egypt, through Moab to the promised land. He did nothing of the sort, but still did not do as God commanded him to, and in the end, went against Israel. He is most famous for having a donkey which laid down, and then spoke when beaten. "The way" (2 Pet 2:15), "The error" (Jude v11), and "The teachings" (Rev 2:14) of Balaam are all condemned by New Testament authors.

The teachings of Balaam, which come last in Numbers (and aren't explicitly shown to be associated with him until Chapter 31), quite clearly represent an attempt to subvert Israel by intermingling them with Moabites and Moab culture. There isn't much mystery in them, so I will skip them.

The way of Balaam, often confused or associated with the error of Balaam, is typically taken to be greed. The Oxford NIV Scofield Study Bible has, I think, a mostly correct analysis of the error of Balaam: "The error of Balaam was that he could see only the natural morality. A holy God, he reasoned, must curse such a people as Israel. Like all false teachers he was ignorant of the higher morality of vicarious atonement, by which God could be just and yet the justifier of believing sinners." There is, I think more to this story, but it is details, and not incredibly important, so I'll move on.

The way of Balaam, as I said before, is typically taken to be Greed. This comes as no surprise, since both 2 Peter and Jude mention money (Peter says "wages"; Jude, "profit") when characterizing Balaam's problem. I think this is wrong. Firstly, profit and wages are used throughout the New Testament as metaphor for just about everything-- I guess people thought about money as much in the first century Mediterranean world as they do now.
Beyond that, Balaam quite clearly does not go for money. Instead, I think, he is afraid of conflict... afraid to tell people things they don't want to hear. He is too "nice" to go against them. The following are all quotations from Numbers (NIV); I'll try to edit out only what isn't important, but all quotes are "out of context"...

"The elders of Moab and Midian left, taking with them the fee for divination. When they came to Balaam, they told him what Balak [King of Moab] had said.
"'Spend the night here' Balaam said to them, 'and I will bring you back the answer the Lord gives me.'
"The next morning, Balaam got up and said [...] 'The Lord has refused to let me go with you.'"

Notice that he does not immediately go with them, thought they represent the king of Moab. He instead says he cannot go.

"Then Balak sent other princes, more numerous and more distinguished than the first. They came to Balaam and said:
'This is what Balak son of Zippor says: Do not let anything keep you from coming to me, because I will reward you handsomely and do whatever you say. Come and put a curse on these people for me.'
"But Balaam answered them, 'Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the Lord my God.'"
Again, he does not go for wealth or power.
Later, three times he is asked to curse Israel, by the king Balak himself, and 3 times, he listens to what God says, and tells Balak. Eventually, he is sent on his merry way without gold or jewels.

However, at every point in the story, Balaam is as polite as possible, going as far as he can to satisfy the people who are asking him to do something that God Himself told him he could not do... He is afraid to tell them what they do not want to hear...

insert(Balaam.concluding_paragraph()); //I don't have anything else to say here...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

God of Judgment?

A friend of mine recently posted something about his uncle's response to him being gay. It included "I guess that’s why you decided you really didn’t believe in God. Made it convenient to act in ways He condemns.”
this reflects a sentiment which is rather common in modern "Christianity": that the Christian God is a God of condemnation. A cursory reading of the Bible might lead one to suspect this is so, but a little more depth shows something quite different.

I'll start with the "curses" God pronounces. And he pronounces several. But all of them amount to this "The consequence [not punishment] of this action is as follows. Choose wisely." God pronounces several curses before the choice is made (e.g. Genesis 2:16-17, 1 Samuel 8:11-18), and a few after the fact (as in Genesis 3:6-19).

The first curse, in Genesis deserves particular attention. First he says "If you eat of this fruit, you will surely die." After they eat the fruit (and don't die), he says "All these bad things will happen to you."

But what about death? There are two things: They did die... later. Would they have died otherwise? The passage (Genesis 3:20-22) suggest otherwise. Also there is spiritual death, which we as humans, most certainly do experience.

So, why would God condemn us to this, simply for wanting a fruit which made us "wiser"? There is a lot happening in this curse, but it boils down to 2 things:

Firstly, it is not "I sentence you to this" but "this is the result of your action." God wants us to choose to love Him. Choice requires that we can choose not to love Him. Since choosing "not God" is the same as choosing sin (by definition). Choice means sin can exist. The existence of sin implies the existence of evil. So God enabled the existence of evil. His statement in Genesis 3 is that we have actualized that opportunity.

The second thing is that he wanted Adam and Eve to be happy (because he loved them). To choose to eat of that fruit meant to choose not to trust God; to not trust God is to reject his love. To be unloved is to be unhappy, and so choosing wisdom over love is to choose unhappiness.

Beyond that, God pronounces other curses, which contain similar sentiments: "Love me (or come to me, or repent or ...) or this bad thing will happen." They represent the same idea: This is a result that follows from your actions.

There is more to say on this topic, but it really doesn't matter. It comes down to this: God did not create us to condemn us; He did not send His Son to condemn us. He created us, and He sent His Son to love us. "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." (1 Cor 4-7)

Christianity is missing a lot of things these days, the most important one is Love.

Friday, October 3, 2008


Do we, as a society, understand the notion of mystery? We explain everything away, so that even that which is "mysterious" to us isn't really a mystery, isn't something mystifying and awe inspiring: its something to coldly study...

The lack of mystery is among the many things that we are missing. Mystery drives us, it fills us with passion; it moves us.

Almost no one feels that mystery. Maybe in the past not many people did... maybe it's only those with above average intellect who actually feel mystery and are inspired by it, and in the past they were the only ones who wrote, so the apparent lack of mystery in our lives is just the result of biased data.

But I think even most of those who "explore" the universe don't feel mystery in their daily lives. I think we have a habit of just accepting the world and moving on...

I think that's a problem.
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