Saturday, February 23, 2008

Why Deuteronomy Is My Favorite Book of the Bible

As I was doing my daily devotional on Friday, I read this passage:

"And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen..."
-- Deuteronomy 10:12-21

I could've thrown all of chapter 11 in there as well but I think this gets the point across. I love the book of Deuteronomy. To me, it always feels like a pep talk that a coach might give his players before a game. And in the context of the book, that's not too far off. Moses is preaching his final sermons to the nation of Israel, preparing them for battles that their parents weren't ready for. It's a book of encouragement.

But look at the nature of encouragement. Moses never talks about how good these people are or the good things they have done. He goes so far as to call them children of sinners, stubborn, disobedient and stupid in various ways. Moses does not puff up their egos, he deflates them. But he tells them to have confidence in God. And that I suppose is the big difference between feel-good psychotherapy and biblical encouragement. Psychotherapy invites us to look in and real, biblical encouragement invites us to look up.

In the passage above, Moses gives, what is to me, one of the greatest descriptions of God. God the just, the mighty and terrible. Too often, I believe the faith of modern Christians is weak and sickly because it lacks balance. God is only seen as doting Father or suffering Jesus. Where is the fierce wrath and anger? Where is the terror of justice? If the idea of God does not cause a part of us to tremble, to disintegrate in fear then I do not think we have a complete idea of God. But yet, Moses does maintain the balance. The mighty matchless God who is willing to slay every firstborn child, the God who smashes nations as if they were pottery, the great God of pure justice has set his heart on us, his love on us and the sojourner.

As small as the passage makes man, it also lifts him up. It sets a mountain of infinity before us and beckons us to climb. Only those who understand the beauty of the journey and the nearly-divine uplift of attempting great goals will understand why this unachievable task is uplifting.

This is real, authentic, meaty Biblical encouragement. This is what I need my friends to show me when I crawl through the darkness. This is my favorite book of the Bible.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Not A Bang But A Whimper

"... An unleashed lust for wealth and power turned them into aggressors, resulting in reprisals, that required their cities to abandon vulnerable outlying fields and intensify production closer to home, eventually pushing land beyond its tolerance.

"Society had evolved too many elites, all demanding exotic baubles." He describes a culture wobbling under the weight of an excess of nobles, all needing quetzal feathers, jade, obsidian, fine chert, custom polychrome, fancy corbeled roofs, and animal furs. Nobility is expensive, nonproductive, and parasitic, siphoning away too much of society's energy to satisfy its frivolous cravings.


It was a desperate society that had lost control... Its monuments were soon eaten by the forest: in a world relieved of its humans, man's attempts to make his own mountains quickly melt back into the ground.

When you examine societies just as self-confident as ours that unraveled and were eventually swallowed by the jungle," says Arthur Demarest, "you see that the balance between ecology and society is exquisitely delicate. If something throws that off, it all can end.

He stoops, picks up a shard from the moist ground. "Two thousand years later, someone will be squinting over the fragments, trying to find out what went wrong." -- Alan Weisman, in "The World Without Us"

As I'm reading this book, I'm more and more disgusted by humanity in general. Specifically, I'm disgusted by people living in poverty, the middle-class as well as the affluent. For the most part, I see our society as irrevocably doomed.

The above passage referenced Mayan civilization. Its affluence caused its destruction. Why should America think itself any different?

It should really come as no surprise that watching T.V. burns less calories than sleeping. Sleeping is useful. Watching T.V. is not.

I firmly believe our society will crumble to ruin around us not with Muslim radicals gassing us in the streets but as they watch from afar, horrified, as we eat cake and drink syrupy beverages rotting in front of glowing internet and T.V. screens. They will call Allah's judgment on America justice and poetic for they will believe that it must have been only by divine appointment that He used our greed to destroy us.

Will the Muslim world look on? I don't think it much matters. I actually don't think they will much outlast Western civilization. As Western civilization falls to ruin, would they grow affluent and follow our descent?

The key is this: comfort breeds contempt.

I am beginning to truly believe that if life's goal is comfort and ease then we are quite possibly sick beyond repair. If life is nothing more than accumulation and social status, life is probably not worth living in any sense of the word. What a useless blip on the historic map. Such a life as that is contemptible, worthy of equal consideration as that of a worm or insect. There would be no difference.

And personally, I find that this is the cause of my deepest spiritual struggles these days. I was fed from birth with the idea that life is accumulation, life is comfort. Give money to Darfur and then spend on a lavish vacation. Live longer. Be balanced. Retire early.

I believe all that.

And yet in my mind, I understand that life is only a resource as in time, as in money. Biblically, this is how I see life. But I do not believe the Bible on that point.

I would love to care more about starving children but I'm too preoccupied with my own entertainment. I, like the rest of this society, is doomed. And the fate is far worse than death, an apocalypse of flame or war... would that be preferable to death by clogged arteries and a soft mind thinking dull, worthless thoughts? Living a life of worth and meaning... shouldn't that be far more valuable than a life of comfort and ease? So why won't more people pursue it?

Oh, I know.

Because it's uncomfortable.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Steroids and Statistics

I thought that this was a fantastic, articulate, well-thought out article that uses solid examples to show that Congress is incompetent.