"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

TYOLB - Last Notes & Questions for you

So, my last post on The Year of Living Biblically did not include all the notes I had written from AJ Jacobs' book. I'd actually copied a bit more that I figured I'd put on my March Books post at month's end, but since I've not posted much lately I figured "eh, why not post these few things for now?"  Thus, my final notes. And I do mean final this time for sure since I am planning to return the book to the library tomorrow.  :) 

Reading the Bible without the benefit of commentary or tradition, AJ notes one would likely come away thinking Jacob was the awful twin and Esau was taken advantage of. What brother wouldn't give his brother a bowl of soup if he were hungry? Why demand such a high price? This is where rabbinical tradition comes into play.  One thing AJ learned from it: Esau was "a slave to his urges, pure id, and an exaggerator to boot. He'd do anything for a snack, including selling the sacred birthright; he showed no respect for what God had given him."  (pg. 239)

After reading through "rabbinically tinted lenses" AJ could see Esau's flaws more, but added: "Still, I don't want to whitewash Jacob. I love the complexity of the patriarchs, that their flaws are as numerous as the stars in the sky and, in some cases, come close to eclipsing their righteousness.  And I am awed by the profound and extraordinary fact that the entire Judeo-Christian heritage hinged on a bowl of soup."  (pg. 240)

I have to admit that I've always seen Jacob as quite the, er, well, let's just say I'd never hope to have a child like him!  But I do appreciate AJ's thoughts on the "complexity of the patriarchs" and his being okay with their being flawed individuals.  It demonstrates for me again how God can use sinful humans to accomplish His purposes.

AJ met Jews from different perspectives.  Some like Mr. Berkowitz liked that religion told him exactly what to do, what types of materials to wear, what to eat for meals, even how to put on his shoes! Yet, Mr. Greenberg told him, "'Never blame a text from the Bible for your behavior. It's irresponsible.  Anybody who says X,Y, and Z is in the Bible -- it's as if one says, 'I have no role in evaluating this.'"  Whereas Berkowitz celebrated religion giving him freedom from choice (which reminded me of Amber's recent post, Abdicating Responsibility) Greenberg "grappled" with the Bible.  (pg. 268)

Which do you prefer? Which do you think is more accurate?  Religion giving you freedom from choice because it spells every.single.thing.out. for you? Or religion making you wrestle with the texts
and not excusing you for your actions?  Or maybe you prefer something in between those two views?

Remember the story Jesus told about the prodigal son?  Here is what AJ thought upon reading it:

When I first read the parable of the prodigal son, I was perplexed.  I felt terrible for the older brother.  The poor man put in all these years of loyal service, and his brother skips town, has a wild good time, then returns, and gets a huge feast? It seems outrageously unfair.

But that's if you're thinking quantitatively. If you're looking at life as a balance sheet. There's a beauty to forgiveness, especially forgiveness that goes beyond rationality.  Unconditional love is an illogical notion, such a great and powerful one. (pg. 275)

Do you tend to look at life issues in terms of a balance sheet, something rational where rewards can be given out in a fair manner? Or do you see life as wild and messy and with "illogical notions" such as unconditional love and forgiveness coming into play?  Which do you prefer?  Why?

AJ admitted that he had a foul mouth, but after reading the Bible's warnings about cursing and not having bad communication, he fought both gossiping and using bad words.  At one point his wife laughed at his attempts...

"She can mock me, but the weird thing is, I think my G-rated language is making me a less angry person.  Because here's the way it works:

I'll get to the subway platform just as the downtown train is pulling away and I'll start to say the F-word, I'll remember to censor myself. So I'll turn it into 'fudge' at the last second.  When I hear myself say 'fudge' out loud, it sounds so folksy, so Jimmy Stewart-ish and amusingly dorky, that I can't  help but smile. My anger recedes. Once again, behavior shapes emotions."  (pg. 282)



Nocturnal Queen said...

I like what I heard a preacher say about the Prodigal son's brother. That when the father told him "all that I have is thine" (paraphrasing) he was saying, "You could've had a party everyday of the week if you had wanted it."

A soul coming to or returning to God, a family member returning home, these are things to be celebrated.

As for cussing, I'm very much against it. I like how not cussing changed his emotions and his attitude. :-)

As far as choice, I guess I'm somewhere in between. Some things obviously are spelled out in the Bible. If I have to choose between lying or not lying, well obviously I'm not going to lie (or try not to) since it's a sin. The same with things like adultery, murder, gossip, breaking covenants (marriage is a covenant), etc.

In other words, the big things are spelled out. There is no other choice to be made if you want to be obedient to God. (If you love me, keep my commandments.) But little things such as whether or not to drink caffeine or wear the color red (some people are against it) or wear opened toed shoes (some think it's immodest) and so on are personal and not spelled out in the Bible. God may give someone a personal conviction about certain things, but for the most part it's up to us. And I believe God honors whatever sacrifices or commitments we make to Him if they're not against the Bible or harmful to ourselves or others.

A better example might be that we're commanded in the Bible to pray, to fast, to study God's Word, to worship, but we have the choice as to when, how often and for how long to do those things.

Amber said...


Even reading it with commentary I think Jacob was a tool. He was! Esau may not have been the nicest guy, or apparently the sharpest tool in the shed, but just because one is more clever than another person doesn't make it right to take advantage of him.

As for life. It's not fair, or balanced. People don't always get what's coming to them or what they deserve. You can ask why that is, and no one really knows. Sure, some say that it's because life is a test, or that the world is fallen and so everything is out of balance. Or maybe it's just because there is no overwhelming balance to the universe. Everything is mildly ordered chaos and there's no ledger somewhere where everything is taken down and weighed against everything else.

Hah! Captcha is 'bless'.

Suroor said...

Got stuck on this: "Unconditional love is an illogical notion, such a great and powerful one."

I don't like cursing but I do curse sometimes. I am actively giving up on the habit though.

I'm in between the two scenarios you presented regarding choice.

Susanne said...

Niki, thanks for your thorough comment. I like that thought of the elder brother and having a party every day of the week.

"A soul coming to or returning to God, a family member returning home, these are things to be celebrated."

Very true! And I am glad to celebrate those things! Really it would bring me so much JOY to have some of my loved ones return to God. So I've never related to the elder brother on this.

Good thoughts on choices and such. Really appreciate all that you shared!

Amber, I totally agree with you on Jacob. Well, doesn't his name mean deceiver or something that gives off that vibe? Maybe God wanted to show for sure that he doesn't pick people based on their own merits so he used such a rascal as Jacob! :)

Interesting thoughts about the unbalanced world.... I sometimes wonder about those things. Why was I born here and others in places like Uganda or Sudan or North Korea?

Suroor, I appreciate your comment! Yes, that quote about unconditional love is worth thinking about.

Becky said...

I have to say I never much liked the way Jacob behaved either... and Rebecca's behaviour when Isaac was about to die is less than perfect too (not exactly the proudest moment of my name-sister!)

As for the prodigal son... yeah, I'm still not feeling too comfortable with that story. "all that is yours is mine" yes, but.... then again, is it really? Could he have had a party every day of the week? Possibly. Would it have been nice if his dad had showed some gratitude/appreciation for the work he did? Definitely. Maybe that makes me less kind/loving/forgiving, but I think it's natural to want to be appreciated by other people. I'm not saying that the father should not have thrown a huge party for the prodigal son, but rather that the other son should've been appreciated as well. But maybe that's just me. It's just, we all want to see ourselves as the prodigal son, but really, how would we feel to be his brother?

As far as choice goes, I'm very much in the middle as well. I liked what NQ said about the big things being spelled out, but it's up to us to interpret the smaller details.

Susanne said...

Becky, thanks for sharing your thoughts! I always like to see where people fall on the prodigal son story especially! :)

Did I ever tell you that Rebekah is my middle name? :D