So many important things are going on in the world at this time…world? Heck, I can't keep up with the country, much less the world! But so many things are happening – good and bad and anxiety fed.
It seems that I get a lot of my news from what is currently causing a ruckus on the House of Bishops and Deputies listserv or on Facebook. A couple of sure things that will always get a good boil going are same sex marriage (aka gay rights/justice) and abortion.
Times of stress and anxiety are not new to the world. These things are historical and basically just a part of life. How we deal with our anxiety levels is the issue.
Yesterday's reading from Deuteronomy (13:1-11) gave me great pause. Not only are we cautioned to not pay attention to those who might be prophets or dream interpreters, but for those who "secretly entices" us, regardless of who these enticers might be, we are to kill them, to "stone them to death" for taking us away from God. Big sigh.
Gosh. I cannot count how many times I have turned away from God – or been turned away by the secret enticement of another (although it was so secret as to be unknown to me). It seems to me that "others" are not really to blame when I turn from God…seems like that might be more of a personal responsibility issue rather than a blame someone else. Yet, the author of this passage clearly states that the one who is enticed shall be the one to first raise the hand to start the execution of the one who enticed. Lord have mercy on Tucker the next time he forgets to do something that I have told him 500 times to do and boy oh boy will he be in trouble when I get so irritated that I totally forget God and I turn all red in the face and scream in anger at him. It is nice to know that he is the enticer and I am the enticed; he is guilty and I am not. Not. So not.
This is one of those passages that I just can't believe is the inerrant word of God. What I think is that it is the word of one who felt led to write it to try to save a group of people who seemed hell bent on straying away from what God tried so many times to make the people understand – Love God, love one another.
But typical of us – we get it wrong every day. We think that because we believe in something so strongly and with what we believe to be clarity that it is what God wants. I would bet that the most recent murder of Dr. Tiller, known as the "abortionist" doctor. The guy who murdered Dr. Tiller in the church in which he worshipped, probably thought that he was acting on the word of God – he was executing one he thought was enticing others to do wrong things. To give gay-bashers the benefit of doubt, maybe they attack, beat and even murder those they think are gay because they believe that being gay or lesbian is sinful and therefore punishable…with them as the executers of the punishment.
Not being a believer in the benefits of capital punishment, I think that there are mountains of proof that punishment, be it capital, torture or incarceration, does little to deter crime. As long as human need and greed are the motivators for committing crime, we will have crime. Being a believer in the idea that crime is an issue of public health (and therefore should be dealt with in measures that are preventative) I do not think that execution is ever a good solution. The threat of it does not keep people from committing a sin, nor does it obliterate the sin.
So, what do we do with this passage? Some group of people thought it was important and left it in. We can't just get in the habit of tossing out those passages that we don't like or with those we disagree. (all the "clobber" passages) But neither can we just accept these in the plain text of the writing. We have to know more than the words on the page.
Deuteronomy is the fifth book in the Hebrew Bible – a part of the Torah, the Pentateuch. Basically, it is the politics of Hebrew law, given to the people by Moses because he knew he would not be there to lead Israel across the Jordan – and God knows, the Hebrews needed something. Even with Moses right there all the time, they had a difficult time following.
Once upon a time a very long time ago, when I was learning to write real estate contracts, I was told by a learned mentor of mine that the more I put on paper the easier it would be for someone to get out of the contract. Well, I don't know if that truly relates to the Mosaic law or not, but Moses seems to be intent upon making certain that he covers all the bases for these people after he is gone.
To me, Moses covers so much that he leaves nothing up to free will. Follow God or die. And while that may be true, can we really follow God simply because we think we will die if we don't?
Can we kill someone because we believe that person has done something wrong, even heinous? Can we beat someone because we disagree with their beliefs? Can we stone our neighbor because her bratty kids keep throwing rocks at our door and denting it? How does "love your neighbor" fit into "stone them to death"?
Harper Collins Study Bible NRSV states that Deuteronomy is the "key" to understanding the whole Pentateuch as the "abiding revelation of God's will for the ongoing life of the covenant people." (p. 266)
Are we still a "covenant people"? Yes, we are, but we are children of the "New Covenant". That is, we are children of God who believe that "Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again." We believe that Jesus not only died for us, but rose for us and it is through his resurrection we are born again into new life, new hope eternally and forever.
We cannot "stone them to death" nor can we lift our hands in violence against one of these children of God. We cannot hurt, abuse, maim or kill those we consider gay or lesbian or abortion doctors. Nor can we hurt, abuse, maim or kill those who would do the same to gays, lesbians or abortion doctors.
What part of "Love one another" are we just not understanding? So how do we deal with these things that stress us to the point of wanting to exact revenge?
The only way we can understand these things is to know that the "enticer" is not the source of the problem. To blame that "enticer" is to ignore the fact that there is only one thing over which we have control – ourselves. To think that we have no control over our own thoughts, words and deeds is to walk fully outside the circle of love. God holds the power of forgiveness but first we have to stop blaming other when we react to their actions. To allow ourselves to act in retaliation is to be enticed and that sin does not belong to another…only to us.