Why Not Rather Be Defrauded?

 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? (1 Corinthians 6:1-7 ESV)

This is the passage where Paul tells the Corinthians not to go to court with each other, and then we sit around in Bible studies and explain to each other why we can’t obey this any more.

The cultural roadblocks are not as important as the central idea, which is:  the reputation of Jesus is more important than personal justice for yourself.  In fact, we usually find ourselves choking over the practical problems after we’ve already stepped around the central idea, in imagination or in actuality, to get to the apparatus of justice.  We wouldn’t struggle so much over this passage if we accepted the premise before we set out to exegete the impossibility of satisfaction for those who’ve ignored the premise.

That said, we should acknowledge the practical blocks in the cultural differences between us, in the 21st century, and Paul’s world of 1st century Roman occupation.  Everyone wants to talk about how there are no church courts now, and no common acceptance of their authority in property matters even if we could manage to cobble them together.  But the biggest cultural divide comes before that one, even, and is missed:  there is a clear line between those inside the church and those outside.   Paul and his audience know immediately and intuitively that the secular courts are outside the church.   Once this primal division has been blurred, the rest of the passage is going to be harder than it was designed to be.

It isn’t just that the courts were Outside.  Inside was clear, too.  The readers of the letter could look around at “brothers” and know the names of Those Inside.   Those conservative churches who still take membership seriously and even – gasp! – exert church discipline are Paul’s heirs.  That such strictness is abused more often than not does not invalidate the truth that each local congregation has the obligation to hold members to standards of visible living.

We also lack any agreement inside the church that the church even has the authority to impose an adjudication of a real property dispute.  We’ve successfully stripped the church of any authority, and “we” means a broad open conspiracy between clergy and lay to strip clergy of all pastoral authority.  “Look, the church is hamstrung!  I know, because I hold the knife.”

It’s silly to blame Paul, or to smirk knowingly at his primitive niavete, when the “cultural differences” are mostly differences we’ve cultivated.  We’re the culprits in the prequel.

But back to the central point, which as usual, is not culturally distant from us.  Put the reputation of Jesus above your need for justice.  Once this submission is embraced, the case-by-case minefield could be navigated.

So what we acknowledge is that this is a hard passage to obey – once we try to imagine how to disobey it.

God is not in control and everything serves His purpose.

God is NOT in control of earthly events, and everything serves His purpose.  Let me say that again:  God is NOT in control of earthly events, and everything serves His purpose, because of the strength of His love.  

The Christian God, unlike all other conceptions of God in history, including the Aristotelian one most of you are now struggling with, accomplishes his end by love, which precludes control.  The story arc of the Bible shows Him gradually shifting from power to love alone, like every parent must do with every child.  So sovereignty, in the Christian universe, is not SIMPLY an issue of the silly calculus of free-will versus His action.  The question is more nuanced and interesting than that.  

He accomplishes His purpose without control?  Sure, the Bible actually opens by posing the problem, divests God of control as the story develops toward the Nativity scene (the least control you can have is to be an infant), and climaxes in the victory of the Apocalypse.  

Meditate on what God actually did in the first few moments of the world.   In the Garden, He:

1. indisputably, voluntarily gave up control, which

2. indisputably went badly, which

3. indisputably served His purpose. 

Extrapolate at will.

The Necessary Oomphalos

Apparent Age is a fringe thought. From the view of the typical secularist it is one of the craziest uncles in a crazy family of religious ideas. When the evidence of an old universe first put pressure on the literal reading of Genesis, some sincere creationist argued that Adam must have had a belly button, that he must have appeared 30 years old right down to his inny oomphalos a minute after he was made. So then, goes the argument, the universe might appear 13.5 billion years old, but it is really 6,000 years old, but with a belly button, put there by God’s finger to fool us.

Is it surprising that this Oomphalos idea has been ridiculed? It’s been characterized as arguing that God builds trickery into His creation. And Christians weren’t pepared to defend that systematically, so we took to ridiculing our own uncle. Even though we believe that God made the world by His word, we wouldn’t be associated with such an unsophisticated notion as that “apparent age” nonsense. But it won’t do. Us supernaturalists need to think this thing through and admit that any belief in miracles is also a belief in apparent age. There is no such thing as a miracle that does not alter the apparent age of the object of the miracle.

We need to embrace our inner kook. We need to move our crazy uncle from the closet under the stairs out onto the front porch and paint OURS on his forehead. Not because he is useful, but because if you believe in miracles at all you are an Oomphalist. You can’t conceive of an act of special creation which doesn’t involve apparent age. It has nothing to do with trickery, and everything to do with the character of things as reified time. Time is what things are. To make a thing, or alter a thing, is to manipulate time, or nothing at all.

I don’t know if Adam had a bully button — I don’t know why he would — but if you think he existed you must picture him with human parts of some kind..say..hair? Hair, then. And if you could pluck one hair from his numbered head and analyze it scientifically, how old would it appear? Can you even conceptualize a hair that appears 10 seconds old? Isn’t a hair, by definition, a thing that has grown over time? Isn’t the age of the thing intrinsic to the thing? I mean, everything is a product of a certain process, and it is not also something else alongside that. The essence is in the elapsed time, not, again, somehow alongside it. Take another miracle story: Jesus turns water into wine. Look at the wine five minutes after it was created and tell me how old it is. The physical process of fermentation is the very definition of wine. I’m sure there are chemical measurements that can quantify the amount of fermentation and elapsed time. That wine looked like old grape juice or it didn’t look like anything at all. Jesus wasn’t trying to trick anyone; He was just making real wine.

The most accurate imagining of creation in literature must be the creation scene from The Chronicles of Narnia. Read it again: trees don’t just materialize out of thin air (materializing from air is a modern, jejune innovation), they grow, but quickly. After all, isn’t the meaning of “tree” a certain product of light, air, water, and dirt? If God would try to make a tree that was not a product of light, air, water and light it would not actually be a tree. How many rings could you have measured on the trees of Eden, the morning they were made? To think you are obligated to imagine an Eden tree without rings is an insult to God’s work. Whether they grew in a nano-second or a minute or in a fashion such that sequence itself is not applicable, I don’t know, but let’s not imagine them without rings, nor imagine Eve without glorious shining tresses. God saw His work, and thought it good.

The age of the wine at Cana is not apparent; it’s actual. There’s no meaning of the word “age” outside some physical metric. When the metric equals five, the age is five. That’s all the word means.

So it isn’t that the age is an appearance or a trick: the Cana wine really is 5 years old a scant 5 minutes after it was made. It is actually, literally, chemically 5 years old. If you manage to recover from the docetism that has been baked into your neurons by our post-enlightenment sun, you would be unable to imagine a thing apart from its accumulated physical metrics.

But this is not an argument to offer to skeptics or scientists, because it can’t be used in their work. If the universe appears 13.5 billion years old on a scientist’s instrument, it is actually that old. We can believe that God made it 6,000 years ago if we want, but it is not accurate to say it is now 6,000 years old. It is not.

Matthew 27: 24-31: That One: He’ll Do Just Fine.

“His blood be on us and our children.”

They were passionate about something. These are not the words of people who are doing someone else’s bidding. They were rioting, and Pilate gave them Jesus and released Barabbas to satisfy them. All my life evangelical preachers have implied that the cry for Barabbas was just a pretext of the crowd. The crowd, we’re told, wanted Jesus to die more than anything, and Barabbas was a convenient transaction who wandered into the scene.

But that’s reading into the text something that is not shown. I think the opposite is true. At face value, the crowd passionately wanted Barabbas and he was their focus. His meaning to the crowd is the missing backstory, which the gospel writers just left out. And if this is so, then Jesus was the crowd’s lucky find, not Barabbas. Jesus was the one simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

For sure, the Pharisees and Sanhedrin were the drivers of the plot and they used the passion of the crowd. Their goal was the death of Jesus; but the crowd’s goal was the release of Barabbas.

This means that the videotape of the trial, in our heads from a lifetime of Sunday School illustrations, is wrong. Our picture has Jesus as the focus of the dramatic scene. He is front and center, and the camera is on him. But I think the crowd saw a different scene. They saw him fleetingly, peripherally, a figure over to the side who they traded away to save their hero, Barabbas, and he was the figure in bright lights.

If you had read the story the next day in the Jerusalem Post, you would have read a story about Barabbas, with a paragraph about Jesus. We are the crowd; we did not regard Him, even as we killed Him.

Luke 20:18: United or scattered by the cornerstone

“…everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”   (ESV)

I’ve heard this exegeted a dozen ways, none of them convincing.  What I haven’t heard are the two verbs contrasted.   “Broken” and “crush” are two different words in the Greek.

The first, sunlasthesetai = future passive of suntthlao  = sun (together) + thlao (crush).   The “sun” ((English’ syn) suggests the result of the force is a pile, or mass of material.

The second, likmesei = from llikmao = from liknon (a winnowing fan) – so the verb means grind to powder, which is something that can be winnowed, or scattered in the wind.  The result of this force is the opposite of a pile or mass of material.

So the two verbs hold contrasting images:  “together”, versus “scattered”.

So I think it means something like “everyone who gets on the right side of Me will be pounded together, but everyone who gets on the wrong side of Me will be scattered apart.”

Let It Be According To Your Faith

Matthew 7: the healing of the centurion’s daughter.

In fact, the centurion was wrong at some level, wrong in his assumption that he needed to extract a word from Jesus. There is a hint here, as elsewhere in the Gospels, of Jesus’ puzzlement that we so need His imprimatur.

In all of the life we know in this world, healthy people don’t actually want friends who remain utterly dependent. Only in some styles of piety is that a picture of health.