New addition to this day’s updates, quoted from article: “The persecution of Christians is quickly escalating in war-torn Syria. On July 23, an entire Christian family was brutally murdered by Islamists in the Damascus neighborhood of Bab Tuma. According to the Catholic News Agency, Islamists from the rebel group Liwa al-Islam, meaning “The Brigade of Islam”, ordered Nabil Zoreb, a Christian civil officer, his wife Violet, and his two sons George and Jimmy to get out of the car. The militants opened fire, killing them all.” Continue with the article here (Persecution.org blog); important information about Syria, a country reeling out of control.
July 13; reported July 15, 2012 Mexico
About 90 minors were attacked by a violent group of 12 men at a Christian youth camp outside of Mexico City, and seven females were raped. The area was supposed to be patrolled by police but no police intervened. No arrests were made at the time of the report, and corruption is feared. “In a report published this week, Amnesty International mentioned the state’s abuses against women, and said Mexican police solve only one in every 21 rapes.” “Devoted Christians have often been singled out for attacks by violent groups in the country for a variety of reasons, according to church groups and Christian rights investigators.”
April – present, reported July 9 & 18, 2012 Kyrgyztan
Although Kyrgyzstan has religious freedom laws, those laws are often disobeyed. Following a 2009 “religion law,” churches are required to register before starting, but most are not approved; a pending law will make it even more difficult to practice Christianity since it will censor materials allowed in the country. A Christian worker, Narsbek, who was severely attacked in the village of Ak-kyia in April, has filed suit in Kyrgystan in order to bring the religious laws out into the open and to hopefully provide peace to Christians in that country. Narsbek and his brother-in-law Marazat were in Ak-kyia by invitation of the school master, who wanted them to distribute humanitarian items. After they had arrived at the school, the village mullah visited them, and then 20 young men with him through stones at the men, and beat and strangled them. They were able to escape, though the men chased them and ruined their vehicles. The humanitarian items were burned by the Muslims; the police did nothing. Narsbek spent a year in prison 14 years earlier because of his faith – and due to the same village mullah. The lawsuit filed by Narsbek seems to be headed to the country’s Supreme Court.
Updating news on the persecution of Christians in Iran is not an easy task since there is so much of it going on there. If the reader is interested in learning more, any sources provided in these updates will have news about Iranian Christians and persecutions.
Currently, there is much concern over the health of Benham Irani, a pastor who has been in prison since May 2011 for his faith. He has received many beatings while in prison, resulting in leg and eye injuries; he lost consciousness due to a bleeding ulcer and many fear he will die within the next few months. He had also been subjected to psychological torture. Since Irani is considered an apostate, that means he “can be killed.” He is now in the prison hospital.
There is some good news. Noorollah Qabitizade, a house church leader who had been arrested in December 2010 for apostasy, has been released. He did not deny his faith in prison, and even shared his faith.
As can be seen by the experience of the two men mentioned above, there seems no rhyme or reason as to who is kept in prison and who is not. The most widely known case right now is that of Youcef Nadarkhani, a pastor who has been in prison in Iran for his faith since September 2010. He had been sentenced to death for this faith but has a new trial set for September 2012 (the charges have not been announced!). A great deal of international pressure has been in place, and continues, on the government of Iran. Nadarkhani was arrested after complaining that his children were not required to be taught Islam in their school (Iran’s constitution has provisions for religious freedom of minority religions). Believers in Brazil have been instrumental in gaining international attention to this case.
There was no grave grave enough
to ground me
to mound me
I broke the balm then slit the shroud
wound round me
that bound me
There was no death dead enough
to dull me
to cull me
I snapped the snake and waned his war
to lull me
to null me
There as no cross cross enough
to nil me
to still me
I hung as gold that bled, and bloomed
A rose that rose and prised the tomb
away from Satan’s willful doom
There was no cross, death, grave
to hold me.
In The Poetic Bible, collected by Colin Duriez (Hendrickson Pub.s 2001), 159.
And the Lord was not in the Whirlwind
by Louis MacNeice
And the Lord was not n the whirlwind.
He sat in the cave looking out and the cave was the world;
Or he sat in his office with in-tray and out-tray
While nobody, nothing, came in but typed memoranda
Although through the curtainless window the wind
was twirling the gas-drums
And whipping all London away into interstellar negation—
But the Lord was not in the whirlwind.
And the Lord was not in the atom.
He sat in a bar looking in (and the bar was the world)
On a high metal stool between intake and outlet
Still breathing in, breathing out, but nothing and no one
Passed the swing-doors while he waited and watched
his tumbler erupting
A genie that grew like a mushroom, deleting the
Words of Creation—
But the Lord was not in the atom.
Yet after all that or before it
As he sat in the cave of his mind (and the cave was the world)
Among old worked flints between insight and hindsight,
Suddenly Something, or Someone, darkened the entrance
But shed a new light on the cave and a still small
voice on the silence
In spite of ill winds and ill atoms blossomed in pure
Of what lay behind and before it.
In The Earth is the Lord’s: Poems of the Spirit, H Plotz, compiler (Thomas Y Crowell Co 1965), 154.
I am not Skilled to Understand
By Dora Greenwell (1800s)
I am not skilled to understand
What God hath willed, what God hath planned;
I only know at His right hand
Stands One who is my Savior.
I take Him at His word and deed:
“Christ died to save me,” this I read;
And in my heart I find a need
Of Him to be my Savior.
That He should leave His place on high
And come for sinful man to die,
You count it strange? so once did I
Before I knew my Savior.
And O that He fulfilled may see
The travail of His soul in me,
And with His work contented be,
As I with my dear Savior!
Yes, living, dying, let me bring
My strength, my solace, from this spring,
That He who lives to be my King
Once died to be my Savior!
In The One Year Book of Poetry, P Comfort and D Partner, compilers (Tyndale House Pub.s 1999).
God reveals Himself over and over again in the Old and New Testaments (and yes, there is much cumulative evidence to believe this is so), but Elijah’s encounter with an angel and with the Lord in 1 Kings 19 is one of the most interesting. Perhaps this is due to its poetical as well as enigmatic nature. Some commentators provide that we do not really know why this story is in the Bible. But what can we learn from it?
Elijah was one of the most extraordinary prophets of God in the OT and he appeared in the NT “as” John the Baptist (Matthew 17:9-13; Luke 1:17) and in the Transfiguration (Mark 9:1-8). Since Elijah seems to show so much human weakness in chapter 19 of 1 Kings, it can provide encouragement to anyone who has fears or has become depressed. But why did Elijah become so fearful and depressed? To answer that question, some background is needed.
In Chapter 18, God conducted a (very) dramatic demonstration through Elijah to show the people that He was the real thing and not Baal, a god whom many Israelites were worshiping. Indeed, Yahweh, the only creator God and the God of Israel, was becoming thought of in the same terms as Baal, and from the site Kuntillet Ajrud, dated to this same period, Yahweh was even being associated with Asherah (a mother goddess). Not only was idolatry rampant, but paganistic syncretism. So, on Mt. Carmel Elijah called on God, and He rained down fire and consumed a huge water-drenched sacrifice. But the 450 prophets of Baal could not get Baal to do anything. To rid Israel of this idolatry and all that resulted from it–besides the syncretism, all the prophets of God in Israel were being killed–the Baal prophets were executed.
Chapter 19 starts with Queen Jezebel, a Baal worshiper and killer of the prophets of God, refusing to believe the undeniable demonstration of God at Mt. Carmel. She said to Elijah, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow if I do not make your life like that of one of them [the prophets of Baal]” (interestingly enough, her curse on herself becomes fulfilled). Despite the miracle that God just did through Elijah, and God’s other works through him, Elijah is terrified and runs away, far away, in fear.
In despondency and what seems to be humility, Elijah prays, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” After this an angel provided food and water for him twice, saying to Elijah that the “journey is too much for you.” Since he hadn’t started his journey yet, it appears that the angel already knew where Elijah planned on going; nothing had been said about Elijah going to the mountain of God (Mt. Horeb) previously. Elijah leaves for Mt. Horeb, a journey taking 40 days and nights, with no other food than what the angel had already provided him. The following takes place the day after his arrival:
“The word of the LORD came to him: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’ The LORD said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by. Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”
Does Elijah change his tune after this demonstration by God? No, and he answers the Lord with the same exact statement he provided at the beginning, “I have been very zealous . . .”. One problem with this answer is that he seems to be ignoring what a devout man told him shortly before, that 100 prophets were in hiding and had not been killed by Jezebel (1 Kings 18:1-15). In any case, Elijah seems to think he’s alone; after the angels’ help, and after thinking about things on the long journey, and after God’s amazing demonstration, he still feels despondent and afraid! So the Lord then tells Elijah to leave and anoint two named persons as kings and to also anoint Elisha as his successor. God also tells Elijah that 7,000 believers will be left after the coming bloodshed. As we find later, one of the anointed kings helps to get rid of Jezebel (2 Kings 9:30-37).
Since Elijah leaves and no longer seems depressed, he must have understood that the Lord was taking care of things . . . right? The Lord let him know that he was not alone, so perhaps that helped his mood. However, Elijah does not seem to have done all that the Lord told him to do, but only anoints his successor, Elisha. We find later that Elisha anointed one of the kings (2 Kings 9:6); the other never appears to have been anointed (2 Kings 8:7-15). So, did Elijah still walk in fear during the rest of his life? It is impossible to say, but Elijah was taken up into heaven bodily and is a major player in God’s future work, so the Lord loved (and used) him despite his apparent disobedience.
But what to make out of the powerful demonstration the Lord made for Elijah at Mr. Horeb? Did Elijah need to learn that God was not in destructive forces of nature? It would seem very odd to think so! Did Elijah need to know that the Lord spoke in a soft voice? That also would seem very odd since the Lord had already spoken to Elijah many times. So . . . why? It seems that the best explanation is that Elijah needed to be reminded, in a real way, that God is the one to be feared, and not others. The demonstration was frightening. The Lord told Elijah to “stand on the mountain” to watch, but by the end, Elijah is inside the cave, no doubt with his knees shaking.
But the Lord is the one who controls things, not people like Jezebel. When Elijah had prayed earlier, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors,” he seemed to be saying that he didn’t have faith in God, that he didn’t think God was really in control, and that he couldn’t shake his fear of dying at the hands of Jezebel or her idolators. In fact, he didn’t seem to trust God to keep him alive on the mountain while all that destruction was going on.
Since Elijah answered in the same distressed way after the Lord’s demonstration, it almost seems that what God did was wasted on Elijah. However, the Lord gives him work to do, and Elijah shows faith by leaving to do it. He gains strength, as can be seen by his future confrontation with the King Ahab (1 Kings 21), Jezebel’s husband. Later, he is taken up to God in a whirlwind of fire, the powers of which he finally learned he did not need to fear (2 Kings 21-18).
I’ve tried to leave this post just as it was originally written because it was a heartfelt response after a very traumatic experience. But I’m sometimes clumsy with words and even when I think I am writing clearly, there is always the reader who doesn’t know my heart or doesn’t hear the words the way they were intended.
I feel as though a few people have taken what I said and twisted it. When I wrote my post on Friday, I had a grand total of eleven blog followers. Yes, eleven. I generally post on facebook and have had a loyal little group of readers that numbered thirty or so. That is who I generally write for. People who know me know that I dislike talking on the telephone. I’d pretty much rather clean a toilet than spend time on the phone. I…
Boko Haram had declared war on the Christians in Nigeria and it seems that every weekend a church is bombed. Officials are being assassinated. The Red Cross reported yesterday that 5,500 people have fled their homes because of attacks on villages – most of them Christian – during July so far. Over 100 people were killed in these attacks on villages. Over 80 people were killed on July 7th alone. “The humanitarian organisation said it was now providing food, blankets, soap and other essential items to more than 2,800 displaced people.”
Eshan Behrooz had been imprisoned for his Christian faith, enduring 105 days of solitary confinement during his eight months in prison. In July 2010 he had been arrested along with other Christians; he was not released because he refused to sign a document renouncing his faith. He had been released on a very high bail at one point, but then re-imprisoned. He has suffered mental and health problems because of his treatment in prison, and was not allowed basic rights like seeing his family or a lawyer. He was a student at University of Mashhad, but now may not be allowed to return.
A small group of Christians held a brave and rare protest in Gaza, after becoming too frustrated over the forced conversions of Christians and the systematic persecution there that is driving so many Christians out of Gaza. While Christians claim the conversion of a family (Al-Amash, his wife, and daughters) was forced, mediators claim it seems legitimate [there are actual forced conversions in many parts of the Muslim world, so the Christian claim is not unreasonable]. Since Hamas took over Gaza, life for the small minority of Christians has become so bad that many have left. There are only about 1,500 Christians left, when a few years ago there were 3,500. “The two converts, Al-Amash, and Hiba Abu Dawoud, 31, could not be reached for comment. . . . ‘People are locking up their sons and daughters, worried about the ideas people put in their head,’ said Al-Amash’s mother, Huda.”
In eastern India, in Chhattisgarh state, 150 Hindus forced 12 Christians in Jawanga village to a Hindu temple. The Christians were made to participate in Hindu rituals, worshiping tribal deities. They were reportedly assaulted as well, but details are not available. After this, the assaulting Hindus would not let the Christians return to their homes, but chased them out of the village. The Christians later requested from the village head that they be allowed to return, but they were not given permission. They are all staying in Geelam. Chhattisgarh state had adopted the “Freedom of Relgion Act,” which has actually harmed religious freedom [as many in the West said it would]; about 1 in 50 Indians are Christian. “The June 19 episode is only the most recent example of harassment of Christians in Chhattisgarh. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported in April that 300 residents of Belgal village disrupted the attempted burial of a man who had converted to Christianity. Ten people were injured, and the burial was completed after district authorities intervened.”
Students and teachers were terrified and beaten by 20 in Maharashtra, India, but police do nothing. Ankur English Middle School is run by a Christian trust. It has about 250 students, most of which come from the disenfranchised Pardhi tribe. “‘The goons did not spare even our women, who were also beaten up,’ he said. The incident shows the attackers wanted the Pardhi people to remain illiterate so that they can continue to exploit them, the attack was carried under the pretext of checking religious conversion.” The chairperson of the school’s trust claimed a former member of parliament, Jambuwantrao Dhote, is behind the attacks.
In response to continued violent attacks on Christians, more than 10,000 Christians in Nghe An province led a peaceful demonstration, calling for religious freedom and the end of state-run propaganda against them. Knowing the demonstration was planned, the government (and perhaps others) attacked individual Christians (one journalist was stabbed in his home) and made major efforts at intimidating marchers the night before, deploying tanks, using hired thugs to roam and threaten, and blocking ferries. They even threatened and tried to detain a prominent Christian lawyer. Christians from other areas in Vietnam held smaller demonstrations in support of the Nghe An Christians.
House church pastor Nathaniel Shubas (26) was beaten by Hindu radicals and jailed. Shubas has been a pastor in Kanartaka, India, for about three years, and he had been spreading the gospel to surrounding villages. On the 15th of July, he had been preaching at a friend’s house when someone joined them, recorded part of his message, left, and then returned with about 20 Hindu activists. They abused and beat him and dragged him to the police station, where they falsely accused Shabu of forcefully making converts. Shabu was then jailed, yet those who beat him were not jailed or fined.
This post could be opening up a whole can of worms, but so be it. Why all the possible worms? When my son was very young I thought – based on so much of what I read and heard from Christians – that video games were just all from hell and will lead to hell. In more recent times, I have posted online with some Christians who still feel the same, though I’m hoping they don’t really think “Harvest Moon” or “Hello Kitty” games provide a direct ticket to the brimstone dungeon. There are nasty games out there for sure, games that relish dishonesty, crime, blood, gore, and killing. But does that make all video games bad? Putting aside the issue of time spent by the Christian on past-times (hobbies, entertainment, etc.), are certain video games not only fun and cathartic, but also potentially useful for stretching the mind and for witnessing? I think yes, so let’s take a look at Skyrim with its Dawnguard expansion (Hearthfire, added September 4, 2012, adds pleasantries to the game).
The time frame in Skyrim seems to correspond nicely with the Iron Age in Northern Europe and/or France and the British Isles. Skyrim refers to a region in the continent of Tamriel, and is one of a number of games in the Elder Scrolls series. The region makes up the north central part of the continent, and its Nordic inhabitants are akin to the real world Norsemen (Vikings). For example, what is like heaven to the Vikings was called Asgard, and the honored hall Vahalla. In Skyrim, these are referred to as Sovngarde and Shor’s Hall (Hall of Valor), respectively. The Imperials, which very obviously correspond to the Romans, have kept order in Tamriel for some time, though they are present in Skyrim now in order to crush a rebellion. This isn’t just a little rebellion, but a power play that would affect all of Skyrim and its relations to the rest of the Empire. Spoiler alert: In typical historic fashion, the son of a king killed his own brother in an attempt to be high king. Each region in Skyrim has a king, and these kings choose a high king from among them. This was a spoiler since only one or two characters in the whole game actually tell you that the king killed was the usurper’s brother.
The point about this power play, however, is that the usurper, Ulfric Stormcloak, had gotten many in Skyrim behind him because he claimed that his primary goal was to reestablish the free worship of the god Talos. Talos used be just a man (Tiber Septim), but was made a god by the other gods (somehow – how this happened is unclear) and thus became worshipped, not just revered as a Dragonborn or for uniting Tamriel in the distant past. Why was the worship of Talos banned? To end a major war the Imperials and other leaders had signed a treaty with the High Elves, and part of this treaty prohibited Talos worship, as the High Elves considered Talos to be a false god.
Despite the treaty Talos worship was going on quietly, but Ulfric’s uprising changed that. Because of the rebellion, the High Elves began persecuting Talos worshippers, thus giving the Stormcloaks fuel for their fire. There are subtle complications added to the game to make the decision regarding which faction to follow not necessarily an easy one; it certainly shouldn’t be rushed. While most people in Skyrim revere Talos, there are some things said to make a player wonder about him. For instance, the self-proclaimed mouth-piece of Talos in Whiterun is annoying and may seem mad (he definitely is depicted as a melodramatic street preacher), and indeed, his feverish support of the Stormcloaks ignores both the reality of what is going on behind the scenes with the Imperials (many of whom also worship Talos) and the conniving and tyrannical nature of Ulfric and his Stormcloaks.
The Stormcloaks are pretty nasty, saying that if you don’t join them you’re against them (an enemy), yet the Imperials say no such thing. There is much more to seemingly righteous rebels behavior vs Imperial behavior, but I’ll leave that for your exploration. The Stormcloak rebellion is one of the two major plots/quests of the game, the other being Dragonborn’s (the player is the Dragonborn) destiny to rid the world of Alduin, the world-eater dragon. The quests are not totally separate. Without paying close attention, a player may totally miss that Alduin and Ulfric are intertwined.
For the Christian, Alduin is of great interest since he is a Satan figure (without the Satan figure, one could maybe take Talos to be a pagan mythological man-god). He claims to be the first born of the great god Akatosh (and some even worshipped him as Akatosh himself), but in reality he was created, and for a specific purpose. He defies Akatosh regarding his purpose, interferes with man, and is arrogant. Skyrim is full of hints and references to religion, folklore, history, and literature, although much of these are not wholly analogous. As might have been inferred by now, talking with someone about Skyrim can be a starting point to talking about Christ and even the existence of Satan.
An inquisitive player may decide it’s worth his or her time to look into the real-world peoples and such in the game. Besides the examples already discussed, there is the goddess Mara, who quite obviously corresponds to Mary, mother of Jesus. Elves are of course derived from folklore (as are the Dwarves), and their demise followed the acceptance of Christianity in European areas. The magical High Elves came from a large island to the southwest of Tamriel, and so this alludes to Atlantis. There are Bretons in the game and there are real world Bretons.
As with much fantasy in modern times, the game includes Orcs. Where did Orcs come from? Well, from the mind of JRR Tolkien (author of Lord of the Rings)! In Skyrim they are not just like Tolkien’s Orcs, but they are still a corrupted form of Elf. Without getting into a lot of detail, I was disappointed with the game in some ways. Skyrim seems to favor doing bad things, despite the character played being the Dragonborn, a person who brings good and who is in line to become Emperor. The game has achievements, and many of these involve doing evil things. This is unfortunate, and while a player is not at all required to do these things, some aspects of the game are closed-off if a player ignores these activities. The new expansion of the game, Dawnguard, seems to make up for this somewhat.
Most of the hype was directed towards the evil side of this expansion, involving vampires, but really, as far as I can see, the “good side” gains here. I also have to pat Bethesda (the game maker) on the back for making the vampires in fact gross and bad. Some may have a problem with the main vampire character being “good,” but at least they included dialogue for you to choose that shows your disdain for the whole idea, if you so choose to use that dialogue; there is also the possibility that this character will willingly give up her vampirism (become cured).
These games are made for the masses and they are not in business to lose money, so one has to take the good with the bad and make the most of it; in real life this is often murkier and harder to do than in games like Skyrim. That being said, the Dawnguard include in their ranks a witty, funny, smart, and spiritually active ex-priest. He adds a positive spiritual character that is a counter to the street preacher that so many players actually want to kill. Finally, I’ll leave you with basic good and bad points of Skyrim/Dawnguard/Hearthfire, and this quote from John Battle-Born of Whiterun.
This statement may very well be Bethesda’s commentary on the gaming world and not Skyrim, since there appears to be no connection to it and anything in the game–except perhaps that everyone that you encounter in the wild seems to want you to kill them!: “You know what’s wrong with Skyrim these days? Everyone’s obsessed with death.” Good points:
Truly beautiful to look at and wander around in: HUGE. Our world beautiful, not abstract, though there are awe-inspiring places that mix underwater concepts into air-breathing spaces.
Complicated main quests and min-quests that require you to listen to many characters to decide what’s best (if you do it right).
Religious and political aspects and some real-world history, along with the fantastic. Real world lessons in deciphering the truth, in seeing through people’s blind ideologies or loyalties.
No sex and little swearing.
Fun and rewarding; tons of play time and things to do including blacksmithing, mixing potions, exploring, etc., besides fighting bandits and doing the quests.
Absolute loads of books, notes, recipes, etc. (I believe there are over 1,000), promote reading and the value of the written word.
The new Hearthfire expansion allows the player to – finally – adopt children, as well as do some fun housebuilding.
Passive goriness along with some slow-mo killing scenes (however, using magic makes for really awesome slow-mo scenes).
There is much fighting, which might not appeal to some. Play yourself to decide (use the Dawnguard crossbow and you just might get hooked – forewarning you).
In Skyrim, the bad seems to be rewarded more than the good. The new Dawnguard and Hearthfire expansions seems to even this out some.
The longer you take to finish the Vampire quest, the more citizens die in the towns – regular citizens, not just stand-ins.
Glitches, apparently the more you play the more there are.
This isn’t BAD, but just saying – it could’ve used more humor (there is some subtle dry humor in the game).
For more thoughts on Skyrim, particularly regarding its darker aspects and dealing with them with your children, see On Skyrim: A Vent from a Christian Parent (a mom who plays). November 5, 2012. I just found this out so I thought I’d pass it along, from the Bethesda Softworks site on October 26, 2012:
Earlier today, Skyrim came away as the big winner at the UK’s most prestigious gaming award show, The Golden Joysticks. The game captured the night’s biggest award, Ultimate Game of the Year, as well as awards for Best RPG and Best Moment (visiting the Throat of the World).
Do we have a hard time wrapping our head around Christian freedom? It seems so, as some will say that we Christians need to follow laws and rituals in order to do our part in our own salvation. Others will go to the opposite end of the spectrum, saying that Christians can do whatever they want because they are “free in Christ.” Neither assertion is valid. The first denies the work of Christ, which does not come with an “also” list for salvation; we only need to believe in Him and surrender ourselves to Him (in other words, have faith in Him). The second denies the indwelling of Christ in the believer and the work of The Spirit; God with us and in us will not allow for a life of sin.
But then, what is Christian freedom? In his letter to the Galatians, Paul is upset that those whom he helped lead to Christ and who learned the gospel, were now being lead astray by legalists who were teaching that works of the flesh were also necessary for salvation.
“We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified” (2:15-16). “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (2:21).
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? I guess Paul thought so too, since he next exclaims, “You foolish Galatians!” (3:1). Paul believed that the Galatians received God’s Spirit, as he goes on to ask them if they received that Spirit by observing the law, and if they were going to reach their goal of salvation by the law after having received the Spirit. Abraham and others, prior to the giving of the law, were righteous because of their faith (see also Romans 4). So why was the law given?
“The law was given to a nation of sinners. They could never obtain righteousness by keeping it because they did not have the power to obey it. The law was meant to show men what hopeless sinners they were, so they would cry out to God to save them by His grace. God’s covenant with Abraham was an unconditional promise of blessing; the law resulted only in cursing. The law demonstrated the unworthiness of man to receive free and unconditional blessing. If man is to be blessed, it must be by the grace of God” (MacDonald p 1885).
The law was like a guardian for God’s child. Israel was seen as God’s immature child, and the child had to follow the rules set forth by the Father until the child reached the right age. In practical terms, the child was a slave to the law. The child was an heir of God, but could not come into his inheritance until the right time. The child could not come into his inheritance if he did not obey all the laws, either, since the consequence of disobedience was death (now that’s one tough guardian!). At the right time, however, God sent Messiah so that the heir might come into his inheritance. “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4).* Believers receive God’s Spirit, are redeemed from the law, and are no longer slaves to the law. Because they are in Christ, they cannot suffer death due to legal disobedience.
What the Galatians were doing, then, was making themselves slaves to the law all over again! They were making the law an idol. Were they the children of Hagar the slave woman (representative of the Law), or children of Sarah the free woman, whose offspring are children of God’s promise?
“These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent the two covenants” (4:24a; emphasis mine). “But what does the Scripture say? ‘Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.’ Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman” (4:30-31).
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (5:1a). Legalism is of no value – “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (5:6b). “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (5:13). Since we have the Spirit and are not under the law, we are to live by the Spirit. The Spirit is contrary to sin, so those with the Spirit will not live a life that is enslaved to the sinful nature. Contrary to the “easy believism” types, a person who has God in them is not going to abuse Christian “freedom” by living life “in the flesh.” In fact, we are free from being under the control of sin and are slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:15-23). Although we all sin at times–since we are still physical beings in a corrupt world–we are awakened spiritual beings who have the Spirit of God to give us guidance and strength. Our lives will not be characterized by sin but will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit.
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:19-24)
Therefore don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is the Messiah (Colossians 2:16-17).
* Interestingly, Paul was not alone in his thoughts regarding the change of status or make-up of the law relating to the Messiah. Many rabbis thought that the Torah was for the age prior to Messiah, and that a new Messianic age would mean changes of some sort to the law (Kaiser et al, pp 564-565).
Cabal, Ted, General Editor. The Apologetics Study Bible. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007.
Garrett, Duane A, General Editor. NIV Archaeological Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.
Kaiser Jr, Walter, et al. Hard Sayings of the Bible. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996.
MacDonald, William. Believer’s Bible Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995 (1989).
The story of the Samaritan woman, or the woman at the well in the gospel of John, chapter 4, is a good example of two items related to our topic: what Jesus thought of women and what later interpreters have done with this (you will need to know the story to understand this article, and it can be read here). Many commentaries you can read today, or pastors whom you can hear, unfoundedly portray the woman at the well in a very negative and biased light, which both degrades and takes away from the full meaning of the event.
For people who focus on belittling others and judging, the woman is seen as a (very big) sinner – apparently one that is worse than they are. They claim that Jesus was making the woman realize her sin to feel guilty about it, in order to come to salvation – but this goes against at least some theological views about repentance and salvation. “If repentance is cited as a condition of salvation in terms of feeling sorry for one’s sins, then it is wrong usage of the term” (Enns 342).
There is nothing in the story to actually confirm the view that the woman was “loose,” which could be an explanation for her having had many (five) husbands and current “common law” spouse. It would seem easier to think this of a woman with such a background today, but how in biblical times? Women could not divorce. A man could divorce his wife easily, however. This woman could have been married to some that died, and some that divorced her. She could have been divorced for fairly simple things, or for not producing children.
Did this woman come to the well with any of her children? No. If she had older children, it would seem that at least one would help her. If she had no children, she would feel shame for this (one could only imagine how she’d feel if they were taken from her, which was common in divorce, or had died in some way). Being barren would be shameful for a woman at this time, as much of a woman’s worth was based on her producing children. If she were barren and divorced, then she would have a very hard time of it in life. It seems possible that she lived with a man because she simply needed to survive, and for whatever reason (legal or social), the man did not marry her. All of this could be shameful to the woman, and it could simply be her “lot in life” without her being intentionally immoral. We don’t know, but all these things are possibilities, and maybe more probable than the hussy theory.
And, it is biased for commentators or pastors not to mention that it would not exactly be righteous for a man to divorce a woman for being barren. Men could have caused her, through no fault of her own, to be in the predicament she was in. Remember Abraham and Sarah? Abraham did not divorce her for not producing a child (Sarah was quite old when she gave her handmaid to Abraham so that “she” might have a child); is was not until she was considered beyond the age of conceiving that Sarah became pregnant as God said she would, with Isaac. Remember John the Baptist’s parents? Zechariah was a priest, and his wife Elizabeth had been barren. Zechariah did not divorce Elizabeth because she was barren; she was quite old when she gave birth to John. Abraham and Zechariah (and Elizabeth, too!) are called “righteous” in the bible (Genesis 15:6; Luke 1:6).
So this woman, who came to the well outside of town, alone, is feeling what? We can’t know for sure. The fact that she came to this more distant water source (Bruce 106), in the middle of a hot day, seems to indicate that she was in shame and perhaps something of an outcast. She must not have had a great outlook on life. Probably childless, older now, living in shame . . . And what happens? The creator of the universe meets her there. Did he need to do that to make her feel guilty? No. He came for something much better. He came to lift her up. If indeed her husbands had died and/or divorced her, Jesus came to bring her new life, removing the sadness and disgrace. Did she repent of her sins there? No (not outwardly, anyway) — she got happy.
If you read the story, you will see that Jesus said some things that could have made any Samaritan quite angry. But she was starting to guess that he was the Messiah, not just a prophet, since Samaritans did not believe in any prophets accept the One to come after Moses. She called him a prophet, but the only prophet possible was the Messiah. So then, what truly remarkable thing did Jesus do? He told HER that he indeed was the Messiah! An “unclean” Samaritan woman; at this time, many Jewish men held both women and Samaritans in contempt. Search the New Testament and you will find that Jesus told very few people who He really was. What happens next? She believes him, loses all her shame and goes and tells the whole town about Jesus! No doubt it was her transformation, and her seeming sheer nerve, that so impressed the townspeople who they believed her.
Jesus is delightful. He did not trudge all the way to Jacob’s well in order to condemn the woman for her sins, whatever they might have been, but to transform her. Transformed she was, running to town and preaching to and teaching men. Both Origen (died 254) and Theophylactus (died after 1071) considered her an apostle. That other church leaders have not thought this, or acted upon their knowledge, has nothing to do with God’s view of women, but everything to do with men’s view of women.
Sources: The Gospel & Epistles of John (FF Bruce); The Moody Handbook of Theology (Paul Enns); Believer’s Bible Commentary (W MacDonald); How Christianity Changed the World and Veiled and Silenced: How Culture Shaped Sexist Theology (Alvin J Schmidt).