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26. October 2009

Love, Logic, and Leviticus

Filed under: Theology — admin @ 17:11

There are a lot of people, especially in Seattle, who like to pretend that the Old Testament and a lot of God’s laws don’t matter to modern people. They say this for many reasons, but mostly because they believe that they themselves are somehow morally advanced beyond Biblical law, and as such, the Bible is oftentimes culturally irrelevant.  Aside from the problems which accompany this kind of thinking (like how nobody can really be sure which portions of the Bible are divinely inspired), Christians employing this kind of “logic” generally forget about someone.  He’s called the Devil.  You may have read about him somewhere in the Bible.

If Yahweh is the author of truth and the Devil is partially defined as the author of lies, then anything in the Bible which we suggest is false or evil is from the Devil.  This includes “culturally irrelevant” stances on gender roles (oppressive and unloving!), ideas about submitting to authority (unAmerican, of course!), and keeping the Sabbath holy (before the modern consumptive economy!).  But the most important thing “modern” Christians enjoy painting as the Devil’s work is Levitical law, as they claim it is archaic and oppressive, having completely unacceptable standards for treating women, or unacceptable intolerance of idolators, homosexuals, and false prophets.  These people would claim that when Jesus arrived, suddenly God changed His mind about standards and started preaching a philosophy of hugs while throwing any sort of orderly function–and justice–out the window (“love your enemies” apparently means letting them do whatever they want).

But as Pastor Paul Schmidtbleicher of Evergreen Baptist Church points out, while Jesus absolutely commanded His followers to love their neighbors as themselves, He wasn’t demanding fuzzy feelings.  A closer look at His statement reveals that all the law and all the prophets hang on this commandment to love, making the practical application of Levitical law–regardless of what “modernity” says–the standard and proper order of loving interpersonal interaction.  This makes love less like lawlessness and more proper procedure; a verb instead of a noun.  The law was simply an incomplete guideline by which to base and legitimize your loving behavior, which Jesus completed upon His arrival. 

It should be noted that this is a radical departure from how Westerners see love, as Christians see feelings as the result of loving behavior, not the other way around.  Throw out the law and you’re left with a myriad of people’s opinions about what loving behavior constitutes, as well as a lack of proper justice for those who violate loving interaction.  And is the promotion of chaos and extreme individualism truly love?  Or are justice and order and the promotion of harmony?

Of course, if the reader is interested in suggesting that patriarchal systems or an intolerance of homosexuality–God’s commandments–aren’t loving, we must understand that they are suggesting one of four things: that either God is not loving, that the eternal God is becoming “more moral” on a human time scale, that the reader has higher moral standards than God, or that The Devil himself was responsible for putting falsehoods into our Old Testament (strangely enough drawing a parallel to Muslim claims about the Qur’an’s conflicting applications of law). As one can see, any one of these greatly shakes the foundation of Christianity, certainly enough to spawn a few cults and reduce God from Omniscient and Righteous to Infantile and Capricious, His word from divinely mandated revelation to culturally-influenced speculation.

But my point is this.  If what you are looking for is to be God’s boss, then be an idolator and place yourself on His throne: throw His Levitical standards for interpersonal interaction out the window and make your own up.  But if you are indeed convinced that Jesus Christ is your Lord–not your Therapy Santa–and that your righteousness and your understanding are not enough to enter His Holy kingdom, but rather a dependence upon Him, then be dependent and consider what He says about His law.  We love people by our righteous actions, and anything aside from this is something else, regardless of how we feel about what we do.

Now, we must be careful not to confuse laws of personal interaction with unnecessary Levitical priestly duties and cleanliness laws.  We also have to be careful and not pretend as though we can achieve the Kingdom of Heaven by following the law, as even Christ’s apostles were clear to the new gentile converts that only a handful of rules–mostly pertaining to idolatry and sexual immorality–should be uniform throughout the entire Christian church.  But that doesn’t mean we have license to do whatever we want: Christ commanded us to love one another through orderly and harmonious social expression, and the Law is His guideline to that proper functioning.

Of course, if someone can give another biblically-based Christian definition of loving behavior, they are welcome to post it.

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