Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Study in the Changing Face of Evil Part 2

[I'm a little worn out from shoveling 7-tons of 3/4" gravel every night after work during the past week to fill the hole left by the septic tank I mentioned last Sunday and to spread on two driveways. Hopefully this message will still be coherent.]

From Perelandra by CS Lewis: "To think that the spectre you see is an illusion does not rob him of his terrors: it simply adds the further terror of madness itself--and then on top of that the horrible surmise that those whom the rest call mad have, all along, been the only people who see the world as it really is."

I'm as curious about the world as the next person, but at the same time, I don't get easily excited about much of anything. I'm actually very pragmatic about spirituality. Things have to make sense to me and be of practical use. When you start looking into all the alternate belief systems out there you will quickly find that 90% of it is pure nonsense if your BS detector is working at all. The problem is that the vast majority of people in this world have zero discernment skills. Discernment in human behavior is something you can learn. Discernment in spiritual matters, however, is a gift. It's something everyone should pray for daily. I have since I was a little boy, and it's just about the only spiritual gift I can truly say that I have. I've always been very good at separating the wheat from the chaff. We talked about integrity in the last lecture, and it comes into play here just as it does in nearly everything you do and every thought you will ever have. Even discernment in human behavior is going to be wide of the mark without it. Witness the sensationalism focused on Michael Jackson the past few months. Is it not astonishing the way his fans somehow manage to either look past, or rationalize away, his obvious sexual attraction toward children? Mention it to them, and they'll say he was never convicted, that those who brought charges against him were lying and only after his money, and they will in all likelihood accuse you of being racist just for saying it if you're white. It pays to be suspicious however. The prosecution in Jackson's last court case introduced a nine page document the police compiled from a raid at his house stating all the pornography they found in his master bedroom--the same bedroom children stayed in with him. I don't know everything that was in it, but I do know that there were some magazines and videos (perhaps the majority of it) by a company called Barely Legal that specializes in publishing pornographic material spotlighting teenagers who are just barely of legal age, but who look like much, much younger adolescents. He also had enough booze in both his bedroom and master bath to start a liquor store. (Remember the Jesus juice)? If this guy was not a child molester, I think it's very obvious that he desperately wanted to be one. And there's the rub in all this--the fact that something can be so very plain, so incredibly apparent, and yet be rationalized away by so many. It's enough to give any rational person grounds for believing something very evil is afoot--some unseen force. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Surely you must have noticed by now the way a writer can make any spiritual topic credible by simply piling on the psychobabble and pure gibberish. It's not acceptable to say that your mad uncle Henry is out wandering through the desert waiting for the mother ship to come swooping out of the skies and send out a traveler from a distant galaxy to show him the future of mankind. No, he's out on a hermitage taking consolation from a clandestine vaticinator. Likewise no one talks about trance states anymore. It's all an exploration of the super conscious now. Writers who still use terms like parapsychology are destined to publish on the internet. But if you can talk about changing your reality by "inner transformations" and focusing on the "divine source that flows through all", then you can walk around barefoot with a shaved head on a PBS stage making millions from people who have no idea what you just said, which is okay with our bald headed guru because he probably has no idea what he just said either.

At the heart of most modern spiritual mumbo jumbo is the notion that all things are connected. I like the way Chesterton said it in his first Father Brown detective series: "There is in the world a very aged rioter and demagogue who breaks into the most refined retreats with the dreadful information that all men are brothers." You'll find this to some degree in the ancient traditions as well, particularly in many sects of Hinduism. But while some ancient religions may teach an interconnectedness of creation, most will leave room for a kind of inexplicable separateness too. Even Paul taught the Greek maxim that in God we live and move and have our being. Yet Paul, Jesus, and several other biblical figures also taught about a separation between the articles of creation. Even the earliest portion of Genesis speaks of the Creator separating his creation by parting waters. I believe this is the inspiration for John of the Cross' idea of a "great sea that is God". I think he saw the waters as a metaphor of the mind of God and the separation of them as the mind of God at work imagining the world into being. And the Spirit of God resting on those waters was the primordial élan vital, the only true force there is, the force behind every other force. Some Christians see everything as existing within the mind of God. This I think of as the mystical interpretation of the world because so many Christians, such as John of the Cross, who have claimed to have a mystical life believed this. Others tend to think of creation as being separate from God and a thing he stands outside of. If creation is God's imagination at work, then he is constantly at work sustaining it, thus the tarot card of the magician is also often called the juggler for we see vegetation all around him representing creation, and the sign of infinity is above his head denoting sustaining abilities such as those of a juggler who keeps balls moving in constant motion. (I only mention the tarot card as an interesting aside because many people think the images on tarot cards have a Christian origin even though they're often used for very un-Christian reasons today. I have no opinion on the topic).

I would say that the majority of Christians are afraid of the very mention of the word mystical because they've never really been taught what it means, and because they have a very distorted view of spirituality both in and out of the bible. Today it's more confusing than ever. The invention of the printing press mixed with the freedom of the press in so many countries brought about an enormous slush pile of poorly written and feebly conceived books on how the spirit world works. In modern times we also have the internet to deal with, and it is a virtual madhouse of spiritual nonsense. Regardless of its merits, I believe the world would be better off by far without it.

Divination is one term that seems a bit confusing when found in the bible. Here is how Word Web defines divination:

1. Successful conjecture by unusual insight or good luck
2. A prediction uttered under divine inspiration
3. The art or gift of prophecy (or the pretense of prophecy) by supernatural means

The first may also be speaking of omens. Often the word divination in the bible can be interpreted as "omen". (Omens are something else the bible speaks of in both favorable and unfavorable terms). But are not the second and third definitions harmless enough on the surface? Do not all God's prophets offer predictions "uttered under divine inspiration"? Isn't prophecy listed by Paul as a supernatural "gift" of the Spirit? We find certain biblical writers condemning divination in some instances, yet far from it in others. Joseph boasts to his brothers when they come to Egypt saying, "Don't you know that a man like me can find things out by divination?" Ezekiel 13 talks of divination quite a bit. It mostly discourages the use of a false kind of divination brought about by using charms.

Ezekiel 13:9 My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. ... 17 "Now, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people who prophesy out of their own imagination. Prophesy against them 18 and say, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the women who sew magic charms on all their wrists and make veils of various lengths for their heads in order to ensnare people. ... I am against your magic charms with which you ensnare people.... Because you disheartened the righteous with your lies, when I had brought them no grief, and because you encouraged the wicked not to turn from their evil ways and so save their lives, 23 therefore you will no longer see false visions or practice divination.

It says in the previous chapter:

12:21 The word of the LORD came to me: 22 "Son of man, what is this proverb you have in the land of Israel: 'The days go by and every vision comes to nothing'? 23 Say to them, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am going to put an end to this proverb, and they will no longer quote it in Israel.' Say to them, 'The days are near when every vision will be fulfilled. 24 For there will be no more false visions or flattering divinations among the people of Israel. 25 But I the LORD will speak what I will, and it shall be fulfilled without delay.

When we go through the bible looking at the word divination, we find that when it's used derogatively that it generally is a sort of divination using magical means such as looking through an animals entrails or using charms to call on the favor of a false god which generally ends with a false vision that is not from the creator-God. We also find divination used with other nations in conjunction with detestable acts such as sacrificing children by burning them along with casting spells. In such cases people are looking for some kind of personal gain out of the practice. This, however, is a far cry from praying for guidance into the future by seeking the face of God which is generally what prophets did. Even prophets from outside Jerusalem were not condemned when they earnestly sought guidance from the "Creator". There are two good examples.

The first would be the "wise men" who traveled from distant lands following a star and a prophecy that led them to the baby Jesus. By all accounts they appear to have been people gifted in interpreting omens among the stars. Not only are they not condemned for doing this, they were actually fulfilling an Israelite prophecy in doing so. Also, the bible, including the New Testament, is loaded with references to stars and constellations during various stages that would be historic. (I strongly recommend a recent film called "The Star of Bethlehem" by Rick Larson for further information).

The second example is the account of a man from Moab called Balaam. His story is a brief one that covers all of Numbers 22 through Numbers 24. It unfortunately appears to be one of the half dozen or so places in biblical texts where some of the manuscript is missing. Balaam is a prophet/seer, but while not a Jew, he appears to have a relationship with God that is much like that of Israel's prophets although he has been known to resort to sorcery at times (probably never having been taught not to). When the Moabite king comes to him asking for a curse to be put on Israel, Balaam seeks out God for guidance and will only say the words God gives him to say. Further, his method of divination is exactly the same as that used by the Israelite prophets of preparing a sacrifice and laying prostrate in stillness, or getting away from the crowd, often to a hilltop, to be alone to talk with God like Moses or Elijah.

Numbers 21:3 Then Balaam said to Balak [the Moabite king], "Stay here beside your offering while I go aside. Perhaps the LORD will come to meet with me. Whatever he reveals to me I will tell you." Then he went off to a barren height. 4 God met with him, and Balaam said, "I have prepared seven altars, and on each altar I have offered a bull and a ram." 5 The LORD put a message in Balaam's mouth and said...

And a little later:

Numbers 24:1 Now when Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he did not resort to sorcery as at other times, but turned his face toward the desert. 2 When Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came upon him 3 and he uttered his oracle:

"The oracle of Balaam son of Beor,
the oracle of one whose eye sees clearly,

4 the oracle of one who hears the words of God,
who sees a vision from the Almighty,
who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened:

5 "How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob,
your dwelling places, O Israel!

His story rivals that of Moses in another way. There is a passage in Exodus 4 where Moses is talking with God while beginning a journey back to Egypt with his wife and sons. God tells him what to say to Pharaoh when he gets there in verses 21-23. Then in verse 24 seemingly out of the blue it says: "At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him."

It seems evident that there is a piece of missing text there. Obviously Moses must have done something wrong. People have tried to resolve the story a number of different ways, but it always rings hollow.

We see the same sort of thing in the story of Balaam. It says in Numbers:

22:20 That night God came to Balaam and said, "Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you."

The very next two verses say: 21 Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. 22 But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the LORD stood in the road to oppose him.

God actually sends an angel to kill Balaam if he travels the path with these people, telling him that he is on a reckless path. But later once again he says to Balaam that he should continue on with the men from Moab. It makes no sense whatsoever. Obviously we have a piece of missing text. Something happened sometime between the time during the night when God told Balaam to go with the men originally and the time in the morning when he began the journey (or perhaps during the journey itself). As near as we can tell from the text, Balaam does nothing else wrong and only speaks the words God gives him to say to his king, basically telling him to leave Israel alone. Chapter 24 ends saying, "Then Balaam got up and returned home and Balak went his own way."

This is all we have of Balaam's story. Yet for some inexplicable reason we're told in Numbers 31 that the Israelites killed Balaam along with several other Moabites. It says in 31:16 "They were the ones who followed Balaam's advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the Lord's people."

But when did he ever give such advice?

2 Peter 2:15 says, "They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness."

And Jude says, "They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam's error...."

Again, it's rather obvious we're missing something from the story. Apparently Balaam at some point must have given in to the king's bribes and tried to put a curse on Israel. We simply don't know what happened. But we do know that his approach to prophecy was very much like the prophets of Israel, and this consisted largely of laying down and being still while listening for the voice of God. And this leads us back to the subject of astral projection which we'll pick up on next week.

[Be patient; I know the first two parts in this lecture seem discordant, but we will pull everything together eventually.]


Anonymous said...

Ok I'll be patient.....but you have left me hanging here after your previous blog entry.

Glad I found out about your blog! I am a subscriber to your Youtube channel and I like the way you think. I am a big GMD fan, (my son and I listen to a chapter a night as part of evening devotion). I also appreciated your lessons on the documentary hypothesis and fundamentalism.

I also play guitar and write songs (MDFsongs on youtube). I recently ordered the film "How Green Was My Valley" based on your recommendation though my wife and son were not convinced it is the best film ever made.

I attend a rather fundamentalist church but don't quite fit in since my beliefs have shifted over the last 10 years. I am now universalistic, preteristic, and evolutionistic. This pretty well makes me a heretic. But I feel its not fair to force my family to switch churches when they don't really share my beliefs. We've had some heated discussions but have agreed to disagree.

I look forward to reading your blog weekly and may comment from time to time. I just wanted to let you know that there is someone out here in cyberland who appreciates your ideas.

Mike A

shadowlands said...

I'm reading the blog too!

C W Seper said...

Glad you're onboard Ros. You always light up a ciber-room!