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Sunday, September 30, 2012

What Goes Around . . .

It often seems what goes around comes around. Like the subject of this blog post. I originally posted it in June 2011, but was reminded of the principles embedded in the post after a recent conversation about Scripture with someone from my church. In fact, my post of a week ago (here) was in response to that conversation.

But I now repost the June 2011essay to reemphasize my conviction that God gave us Holy Scripture as a means to guide us into a deeper relationship with Him. Part of that guidance into intimacy is rooted firmly in the faith that within holy writ God said what He meant to say, and that He meant what He said.

Over the four decades I've read and studied Scripture, I've come to the conclusion that when the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, we do not have to seek other meaning, unless of course the context of the passage clearly indicates the writer was using symbols, analogies or metaphors to describe a spiritual truth. I have lived my Christian life for 40 years by that principle, and following that principle has done me well. Indeed, it was that very principle that convinced me God was calling me into the Catholic Church.  You can read that story (here).

But because I continue to hear from people who remain confused about the value of Scripture because they run into people who question its historicity, reliability, divine objectivity, and eternal worth as a guide for life, I thought it good to revisit the subject.

Now, here is that earlier essay:

[They examined] the scriptures daily to see whether these things were so (Acts 17:11).

Every so often I chance upon something written by a Christian which absolutely astounds me by its seductive and erroneous theology. Like an article in which the author -- a well-known Catholic author and speaker -- declared Scriptures which speak of God’s anger, or love, or mercy are metaphors, rather than statements of reality.

At first blush (and a very quick one, at that), such an idea might sound logical. After all, God is not human. But after that first blush disappears, it is clear to me the author has to play some very imaginative and disingenuous philosophical games to explain away each of the hundreds of verses in Scripture that speak of God’s love, compassion, anger, mercy, and so forth.

For example, is Psalm 103:10-14 a metaphor about God’s compassion, or does He really, in fact, have compassion on us? If we confess our sins (1 John 1:9), will God really be merciful to forgive those sins – or is that, too, a metaphor? When the Lord Jesus – who wept at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:35), who angrily warned the Pharisees of their impending judgment (Matthew 23), and who whipped the merchants out of the Temple – when Jesus said to His disciples, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), was He using a figure of speech, or did He mean what He said – “the way I act is the way the Father acts”?

Did Moses use metaphors in Leviticus 10:1-2 when he wrote about the anger of God toward Nadab and Abihu (the sons of Aaron) when they sinned against Him and were struck dead on the spot? Did Moses use metaphors to describe God’s anger against sin when he wrote of the sudden deaths of Korah and his cohort after their rebellion against God (Numbers 16:25-33)? Did the writer of 2 Samuel use metaphors when he described how God’s anger burned against David for his sin with Bathsheba, and subsequently took the life of their first child (2 Samuel 12:9-14)?

And of course most of the book of Revelation tells us of God’s anger toward sin and His direct and repeated judgment upon a people who continue to shake their fists in God’s face. Are we to believe those many chapters are figures of speech, or are they dire warnings rooted in fact?

If the hundreds of texts written in Scripture declaring the love, mercy, anger and righteousness of God are simply figures of speech, then the warnings inherent in those same Scriptures about obeying God are without weight, and Hebrews 10:31 – It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God – is little more than a hiccup in what could be viewed as the fairy-tale of God.

In the beginning, Satan tried to get Eve to question God’s word when he asked, Hath God said? (Genesis 3:1). Unfortunately, he succeeded in his mission, and the rest of the story makes for sad history. It should not be a surprise, then, that the Psalmist asks the reader, If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psalm 11:3).

The foundation of our Christian faith is the word of God. Catholic Christians believe God appointed Peter and his successors with the sole authority to interpret for us the Scriptures (e.g. Matthew 16:18-19; 1 Timothy 3:15). And so, St. Paul wrote to the Christians at Colossae: See to it that no one captivate you with an empty, seductive philosophy according to human tradition, according to the elemental powers of the world and not according to Christ (Colossians 2:8).

Let us then be ever vigilant to test any teaching about God and His word, to judge whether what is said is true according to our Catechism of the Catholic Church – or merely someone’s seductive philosophy.



kkollwitz said...

And all those food miracles...I guess they were metaphoric as well!

Richard Maffeo said...

I've heard/read that taught as well. Like I said in my post, when do we decide what is story and what is true history? What about the resurrection? I choose to believe it is all history unless the context clearly indicates symbol or allegory. Lot's of Saints and saints in history lived wonderfully fruitful lives simply believing God said what He meant and meant what He said.