Tuesday, July 17, 2007

sermon questions

10:48 AM Posted by: M., 21 comments

As you may or may not know, I still attend church. I go to church most Sunday nights with my Christian friends. I go because I am not fully "out" as a non-christian to people and it is easier now for me to keep up appearances than answer prying questions by people who wont understand why I dont believe anyway--and also I figure that I may learn something interesting or earth-shattering that may lead me to become a Christian again, or I may also get some good fodder for discussion here. Also, contrary to the fact that so much christian music sucks ass, the music there is pretty good. But anyway, I come with a few questions and comments about the sermon this past Sunday.

The sermon was on the subject of the Exodus and how God used it to kick Pharaoh's ass and prove his strength and all that. Well anyway, there were a few interesting points that I would like people to comment on.

First, the pastor woman (yes woman) said that she had a hard time dealing with the fact that God caused all the firstborn sons to die in the plague against Pharaoh. I agreed. What was interesting though, is that the pastor had everyone raise their hands who felt uncomfortable with the fact that God would kill all these sons, and out of probably 115 people, I was either the ONLY person to raise my hand, or one of a few (I didnt look at the rows behind me). Now, this may be because people didnt feel like raising their hands, but at least there was an obvious general apathy to the question. That bothered me.

But anyway, the pastor said that she could begin to be less disgusted at the plague when she realized that it was really the only way for God to show he is supernatural and in control--because all of the other plagues can be explained away by naturally occuring phenomenon. God used the killing of firstborn sons because it could not be explained but for an all-powerful God to do it. What do you guys think??? I am still digesting that and it doesnt make me feel any better at all.

Also, she talked about how God hardened Pharaoh's heart so that he would reject God's plea for the Israelites and how that bothered her too. Me too...
But she said that some scholar said that it wasn't really God that hardened Pharaoh's heart, it was that Pharaoh's egotistical heart was hardened incidentally by the fact that he realized God was more powerful...does that make sense to you?

Well I am holding my reactions to myself for now because I want to discuss this stuff more. What do you guys think about this subject and her answers?


21 comments:

maybeitsnonsense said...

Hi Marie
Having spent years in church and been in the situation where the pastor asked for a raising of hands it is not surprizing that people did not raise their hands in response. Personally, I would not read into it to determine who was or was not actually bothered by the killing of the firstborn.
I think it is cool that the pastor was actually admitting to struggling with biblical accounts. Did it really seem like she was satisfied with the explanations or was she just throwing it out there as a possibility?
I have heard biblical scholars explain the killing of the first born differently. I do not remember all of the details but basically all of the plagues targeted a specific "god" of the egyptians- and the plague was a statement to express that the egyptian gods were "dead" gods.
As I understand it, culturally the first born was the family prize. killing the first born was like destroying the strenght of egypt, although i am not sure what god is targeted.
I have also heard the same about pharoahs hardening. It was not god that hardened it, but god's actions brought out the hardness of pharaohs heart. the hard heart already existed but the opportunity brought its manifestation.

so what do i think?
the killing of the first born is definately troubling. and why do christians view pilate (it was pilate right?) as so cruel when he ordered the killing of all young males because he heard of the birth of christ and did not want his throne threatened. and yet in this account god does the same action but it is "ok"

about pharoahs heart, oh i do not know. this passage use to really trouble me also. i accepted the explanation that I already gave to you. it made sense to me.

BethPie said...

To Maybeitsnonsense:

It was Herod who ordered the killing of male babies (Pilate washed his hands of Christ's blood). And at the time, Jews were oppressed. Killing the babies of an already down-trodden people is sad.

BUT... I think the reason Christians are not as troubled by the killing of the Egyptian first born is because the Egyptians were the oppressors of the Jews - the "bad guys." Granted, many of these first-born were innocent of the atrocity of enslaving the Jews. And you'd have to be heartless not to feel sadness about the death of anyone. It saddens me. But in the Old Testament (as I'm sure you know) the punishment for sin was often swift, literal and harsh. Which is what makes Christ's appearance on the scene more meaningful & liberating.


To Marie:

I love my church. I do. But I get irked when our pastor asks us to raise our hands about anything. So I don't - ever. I wouldn't use that as a gauge. ;o)

I think your Pastor's explanations are common and accepted by most Christians. I don't disagee with her assertions. It's important to remember that in some earlier passages in Exodus, Pharaoh hardened his own heart a number of times.

"I go because I am not fully "out" as a non-christian to people and it is easier now for me to keep up appearances than answer prying questions by people who wont understand why I dont believe anyway..."

I'm still wondering why you're concerned about the appearance of your deconversion to others. Very interesting to me.

"I figure that I may learn something interesting or earth-shattering that may lead me to become a Christian again..."

But I think that's a really good attitude. :o)

exapologist said...

There is, of course, no possible justification for killing babies -- or anyone else, for that matter -- for someone else's crimes ("You guys are just so naughty! You know what? I'll show you a thing or two: I'll kill your *kids*". It's also, of course, unethical to *defend* such immoral behavior as though it were moral -- whether by God or anyone else. If you think it *is* ok to defend it, then you don't have any ground to stand on to criticize theologically-motivated terrorists on *ethical* grounds. For they can say the exact same thing -- God told them to do it, so it's all good, and to hell with your ethical intuitions; God's morality is higher than man's").

The Cubicle Reverend said...

I do not like raising my hand either, fortunately my pastor rarely asks me to do so.

As for killing the first born, I don't know if it necessarily makes people uncomfortable, but I do think more people's head spins as a result of it. These are one of the stories in the Bible that don't make a lot of sense to people.

And doesn't the bible specifically say God hardened Pharoah's heart?

lowendaction said...

marie,

welcome back...

first i'd like to echo bethpie's comment regarding your "out" status. I am of the mind that everyone has the right and freedom to choose to believe and follow whatever they wish. However, and this is my personal thing, commit to it! The bible is quite clear about those who are luke warm. Be on one side of the fence or the other, but do not toggle on top of it. It's just not healthy (both spiritually and emotionally)! didn't mean to sound harsh, just trying to be encouraging on your journey!

killing babies...well, from my perspective, God created ALL things, and therefore who am I to judge what He wishes to take away? I know to the skeptic this might seem like an "easy out", but it is based on my solid belief. If you have chosen to build your faith in God, then you must also accept His will. If the concept of God is foreign to you, then your "morals" will be rooted in human "values". To me this issue is above morals, because God has the ultimate say. I also think there should be a clear disctinction between the direct actions of God, and those commited "in His name"...big difference!

I think we should also pan back for a minute and appreciate the dynamic relationship that God had with the OT Isrealites. From my point of view in history, I'd like to believe that maybe they recieved "special" treatment (that included the good and the bad) so that we might better appreciate the freedoms we have through Christ. I think far to often we get sucked into a single moment or event in time, when through God's eyes there is no time. So things like cause and effect, reason and reactions, can have much larger implications.

BTW, I think raising hands in church isn't so bad, in fact, I'd like to see alot MORE interaction during these boring sunday sermons. I've never quite understood the idea of one person standing up there for 30 plus minutes and just talking at people. I happen to believe that the early church was a lot more dynamic and interactive.

i think that's enough for now...

Heather said...

Marie,

**God used the killing of firstborn sons because it could not be explained but for an all-powerful God to do it. What do you guys think???** I think there's no good way to explain this, period. We wouldn't just be talking about adults here: this would include children, and infants. The act would be evil and immoral if done by anyone else, or in any other setting. In fact, if this were in the Koran, Christians would be saying it was immoral according to the standards of God. So what makes this good/okay? This one particular God did it -- in which case, the meaning of good/evil is completely up to whatever God says/does, and not by any set standard.

**But she said that some scholar said that it wasn't really God that hardened Pharaoh's heart, it was that Pharaoh's egotistical heart was hardened incidentally by the fact that he realized God was more powerful...does that make sense to you?**

No, because it comes across as twisting the text in order to make it more comfortable to the reader/listener. It plainly says that God hardened Pharoh's heart, that's how it would be read in any other setting, it would be that God hardened Pharoh's heart. And yet if that happened, if God played a direct role, then it would follow that God 'made' Pharoh sin, and that is not allowed.

If I sound frustrated, it's because the reasons that are used to explain these sound like excuses, honestly, and not going for a straight reading of the text. Excuses that don't pan out if used in another religion, that wouldn't be accepted if a Hindu or Muslim were saying this, so why should this religion be able to wiggle out of it?

marie said...

Just to explain more, the hand raising was like a big thing, like she was encouraging people to raise their hands for a while and she was like, "no one is bothered by this?" a few times and still no one did. I am not saying it is proof, but at least people didnt care enough to get over raising their hand in public. I mean, we are talking about mass killing!


to Bethpie: I don't know what kind of christian background you come from, but my entire family and network of friends are committed, staunch evangelicals. If I just said, "hey, I'm not christian" most of them would likely cut me off or try to change me. I am not exaggerating. My parents' hearts would be broken and they wouldnt be able to look at me the same again. For me, the stakes are big to tell people so I am choosing to do it on a slower, more steady basis so if I tell someone I can discuss it rather than just have them judge me on knowing nothing about why.

To Lowendaction:

I think that it would be stupid for me to commit to a belief that I dont believe in. What if I was contemplating conversion to Islam, would you just tell me to commit to Islam, already? Unlikely... I bet you would have me examine Islam and all its tenets and scholars, read, etc. and finally reject it...If I have to commit now, I am totally committed to being a non-christian.

If God hates lukewarm, in that I am incidentally lukewarm after trying to really figure out the truth...then he really does not value our choice to be devoted to him because he would be favoring a blind commitment over my investigation.

Your other comments make a lot of sense to me, and if I believed in God, I would probably try to believe something like you said. Although, I can't understand why God would so "clearly" lay out morals in the Bible, yet break his own moral code and then punish us when we can't get over the contradiction there because we value human life.

marie said...

Hey Heather,

Thanks for your honest answer. I was seeing the answers of my pastor also as excuses, but I wasnt sure what other people thought. I think you make a good point about if the story was featuring another god, we would have a cow over it. A lot of christians demonize muslims because of what is in the Koran, but wouldnt use the same scrutiny for their own text

Heather said...

Marie,

**A lot of christians demonize muslims because of what is in the Koran, but wouldnt use the same scrutiny for their own text.**

Exactly. And I'm sure those in other religions do the same to their texts, in comparison to other texts.

Ultimately, the answer to matters such as killing the first-born, or hardening Pharoh's heart, come down to believing something 'against the grain.' The typical response I see is that God works in mysterious ways, and we are not to judge. Okay, but then that *same standard* has to apply across the board, to all religions. If a Muslim says that about an atrocity in the Koran, a Christian cannot say that it's clearly not God's work, because God doesn't do that. However, if the standard switches on the basis of behavior, then that standard has to apply to killing the first-born. Otherwise, it's a double-standard, and what's most frustrating is the double-standard comes from those who say they have a claim on absolute truth.

On a side note, you do have my sympathy for the situation you're currently in. It can't be easy to be surrounded by a mindset that you no longer ascribe to, and have them converse with you as though you think the same. If I were in that situation, I know something would break. If you currently need to go to church right now in order to preserve the peace, then do so. It has nothing to do with being lukewarm, or deceiving God. You are the one who is living in this situation, you're the one who knows the ramfications.

brianna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
brianna said...

On Reading the Text:
Comments have been made that the text needs to be read for what it says and not twisted. The issue here is that the english bible has numerous translations. Students of the bible refer to the original text and extrapilate deeper meanings from the original text. So when the english translation reads that God hardened Pharoahs heart, this word "hardened" may be an entire sentence in the Hebrew text. I do not know if this is the exact case here, but nonetheless it is something to keep in mind.

Hats off to the comments made by exapologist- you are right! why is that some christians can so casually defend these actions (killing of innocent babies) and yet be so quick to point out the cruelty and injustice of another god/person.

Marie has said,
**If God hates lukewarm, in that I am incidentally lukewarm after trying to really figure out the truth...then he really does not value our choice to be devoted to him because he would be favoring a blind commitment over my investigation**
It would not make sense that god hated a "lukewarm" person as is assumed by some of these comments. Does not God allow grace in the journey?

And finally- On "coming out"
I sympathize with Marie. When a former christian (onfire) leaves the faith it is not a simple act. It is actually terrifying- One fears, will i be rejected? will i be pressured, confronted?

For those here that are believers I encourage you to give this further consideration. Most likely you believe Jesus is the only way to salvation, that there will be a great falling away, that sin and rebellion lead to where many of us de-converted are right now. We have been there, have thought these things and therefore understand the seriousness of telling our families, friends, and churches.

formerly known as maybeitsnonsense

Heather said...

Brianna/maybeitsnonsense,

**So when the english translation reads that God hardened Pharoahs heart, this word "hardened" may be an entire sentence in the Hebrew text. I do not know if this is the exact case here, but nonetheless it is something to keep in mind.**

I understand what you're saying here, and it is a good thing to keep in mind. Unfortunatly, all defenses I've seen of this indicate that translated it reads, The Lord hardens Pharoh's heart. The defense is then that it can't be interpreted as it actually reads. I haven't seen a verse that says it's been mistranslated -- rather, that we are misinterpreting what it says. I'm also not sure if Hebrew actually runs in an English sentence structure. But from what I've seen, the Lord hardened Pharoh's heart is accurate.

brianna said...

Thanks Heather,

**But from what I've seen, the Lord hardened Pharoh's heart is accurate.**
If this is the indisputable case then it is definately disturbing.

**I'm also not sure if Hebrew actually runs in an English sentence structure**
No it is not like english sentence structure, what I mean to say is that one word translated into english could have much greater meaning then the english word conveys.

brianna said...

More info on the hardening of Pharaoh's heart.

http://www.christian-thinktank.com/moharden.html

This website provides the original hebrew and states that half of the reference are toward the causation of man and the other half are of god. It basically concludes that Pharaoh hardened his heart first and then God hardened it.

BethPie said...

Marie,

True... how does one say "I'm no longer a believer" when they've been raised as a Christian? I'm sure you struggle with that. It will certainly cause pain. I'll tell you how my dad did it:

This came as an enormous shock considering he was a conservative, evangelical preacher for 25 years. Both my grandfathers are professors at a Christian college and ministers, as well. My childhood was spent in the churches my dad pastored - idyllic. He was a prolific preacher and led many to Christ. The man is a genius. So much of my early faith was based on what he'd preached and taught.

About 11 years ago, he had what the world would call a mid-life crisis (I call it a crisis of faith).

He, ultimately, left my mom (a wonderful wife by anyone's standards) and our church but was embraced by a very liberal denomination where he began preaching things that, years earlier, he had warned against. It was all about "being authentic" with himself. He began hobnobbing with some notable liberal theologians. And recently, he decided to end his pastoral career altogether and says he relates to athiests better. He hates the fact that my brother and I are still quite conservative in our beliefs (religious, political).

So that was his method.

lowendaction said...

brianna -

"lukewarm":

Revelations 3: 15,16

God's grace is not in question here. It will and always has been there for us. I think what this is refering to, is the indecisive nature of choosing to either follow God or not. Never has He expected perfection from us. But He does ask for that one real step of faith. The rest is a journey of discovery.

I guess what I was trying to say, is that if marie has chosen to no longer follow Christ, than she should make her break clean. I am in no way downgrading the importance of this step and the very real consequences that accompany it. But choosing to accept Christ is/should be just as monumental a decision, if not more.

I know this next statement is going to really piss some people off, but please know that I do not mean to purposely offend or judge anyone. I am simply tyring to understand all of this myself. I have a fairly strong conviction, that perhaps (and I am totally not saying this is how it actually was/is!!!!) the former relationships to God, that the de-converted speak of, where one sided. Now I know this is an over-used accusation by far to many conservative Christians, and therefore I do not throw this around lightly. All I'm suggesting, is that perhaps the "steps" of Christianity were being walked out to the "T", but a real conection through relationship with Him was never established.

I would argue that there are in fact a great deal of proclaimed Christians, who do in fact not share a personal relationship with God, but still "walk the walk".

Please understand. None of this is coming from a "look at me, I'm such a righteous Christian, so I can judge all of you" place, it really isn't! I myself am continually asking the same question in regards to my own relationship with God. I am only postulating...not judging. It is very important to me that I be clear on this point.

Finally, I would like to applaud marie for being couragous enough to share all of this with us, albeit anonymously, this is her journey, and I feel honored to be included in that adventure.

thanks

brianna said...

lowendaction-

"lukewarm"
*is the indecisive nature of choosing to either follow God or not*
ok, fair enough. But quick decisions that are not well thought out, especially when they affect your entire life, are foolish. So maybe some christians are just too quick to use this term "lukewarm".

on the comment you said that might piss some people off-
looking back, at one time i had, or thought that i had, a genuine relationship with god. i have had experiences that i held to: those "god spoke to me" moments or "i was in his presence" moments. somewhere along the way...i came to the point i am now. of course there is a long story in between. my frustration is that i ask "how do i know god more" and i am told "read the bible, pray, spend time with him" but i do not see him there. i do all of these things- but no god, no relationship, so what can i do?
(no answer expected)
i think this echoes the experiences of other disheartened people.

Heather said...

Brianna,

I looked at the link you provided, and it seems that the first verse that refers to Pharoh's heart being hardened was God doing the hardening? Exodus 4:21. It doesn't seem to list an earlier verse, unless I'm reading wrong.

brianna said...

Heather,
This is the excerpt I was refering to on the link-

“will stiffen his heart The motif of the stiffening, or hardening, of Pharaoh's heart runs through the entire Exodus story; it appears exactly twenty times. Half of the references are to an essential attribute of the man's character [Ex 7.13, 14, 22; 8.11, 15, 28; 9.7, 34, 35; 13.15] half are attributed to divine causality [4.21; 7.3; 9.12; 10.1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14.4, 8, 17]. In the biblical conception, the psychological faculties are considered to be concentrated in the heart. Regarded as the seat of the intellectual, moral, and spiritual life of the individual, this organ is the determinant of behavior. The "hardening of the heart" thus expresses a state of arrogant moral degeneracy, unresponsive to reason and incapable of compassion. Pharaoh's personal culpability is beyond question

Heather said...

Brianna,

I did see the excerpt, but what I"m puzzled about is the excerpt with God hardening the heart lists Exodus 4:21 as the first instance.

Yet the one where Pharoh is responsible has Exodus 7:13 first.

This leads me to believe that God hardened Pharoh's heart first, and then afterwards, Pharoh hardened his own heart. But God started the process.

And actually, there are two instances listed for God. Exodus 4:20 and 7:3, which come before Pharoh first hardening. And when Pharoh hardens in 7:13, it says it occurs as God foretold -- which God did in 7:3 when God said that he would make Pharoh stubborn. God was able to foretell it because God was responsible. Even 7:3 says that Pharoh would release the Israelites, except God makes Pharoh stubborn.

becky said...

Marie,

Part of the problem with how the Bible is read and interpreted is the Bible is literal as well as symbolic. Most churches today read the Bible literally only. Did you know that a Hebrew word has the possibility of 72 meanings (I may be off in numbers) the point is one word can mean several things. In addition, in order to understand the Word the Spirit must testify.

Now you may ask the question, why don't I hear the Spirit? I can't answer that I wish I could.
One thing that I am understanding about GOD is He is both wrath and grace. Alot of people have trouble with the wrath side. It is hard to believe a GOD of love can be a consuming fire.

Keep seeking.

becky