|altar rail detail, St. Paul's Cathedral, chapel, San Diego|
When you read that there are sheep and goats and God will decide which are the sheep who get into heaven and which are the goats who will be cast into hell with much wailing and gnashing of teeth (making my orthodontist quite unhappy).
And somewhere, perhaps not so deep down, you wonder if you're following Christ truly enough to count as a sheep, because after all most of us in the United States are still among the richest people in this world.
I am doing the Bible Challenge again this year and this is where stuff like this comes bubbling up. Last year I read it canonically (straight through), this year I'm reading it chronologically, using George H. Guthrie's "Reader's Guide to the Bible: Chronological Reading Plan", which is, of course, a best guess as to the chronological order of when the stories in the Bible happened.
We're in Numbers right now, where God does a great deal of smiting of people who argue with Him, or complain too loudly, or want to be holier than they currently are. (Numbers, chapters 14-16, but not only there.)
Last week we read in Numbers 5:11-31 about the law when a man knows or suspects his wife is committing adultery. In summary, the man brings his wife before the priest and she agrees to drink the priest's "water of bitterness that brings the curse" (v. 24, CEB). If she miscarries, she's guilty. Meantime, the man's brought a guilt offering for his jealousy (v. 15), a bit of flour, which is also an offering to recognize guilt. The instructions for this end with:
"The man will be free from guilt, but the woman will bear her guilt." (v. 31)Whaa?
There's no punishment for the man for his jealousy -- he's already "paid" for it with his bit of flour, but the woman ... bearing in mind that the water is probably some sort of drug to bring on her period ...
This isn't the only time woman draws the short straw in the Torah.
And then I realize ... that this rule, barbaric as it was, was a step up in treatment of women from other Middle Eastern law codes. (I read this somewhere.)
And that as we continue to read through the Bible, God continues the steps upward to equality, no giant leaps beyond one's fathoming, but steps that aren't too much to ask: women become judges, the prophets cry out for the widow and the orphan, Jesus recognizes the unclean woman, the Samaritan woman, women are the first to witness God's resurrection and spread the good news, women become deacons, leaders of the church... until Greek/Roman codes of conduct catch up with a church that seeks acceptance in its community, anyway, but even then it's a step beyond. (for a great explanation on the last, see Rachel Held Evans' book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood)
God encourages us to take that one more step for equality and freedom, be it for women, slaves, LBGT, any minority you care to think of, any "other" that sits outside your comfort zone.
God loves us all and step by step he brings us up to the same level of love.
May we see it in our lifetime.
I'll be writing about my scripture struggles throughout the year as I read the Bible again. How about you? Are there parts of the Bible that make you wonder about God's love for you?
PS. I discovered a new blogger, Kristen, which I think you should read, if you too struggle with this Bible texts. This post is, and this one starts a series on 1 Timothy -- the "woman should be silent" verse which appears to be a pretty lousy translation from Greek. Makes me wish how much else has been mis-translated....
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