Friday, August 10, 2012

NO PERSON WITH ANY DEFECT MAY COME NEAR...Destructive Views Of God..August 2008

Below is an email exchange I had with a long time friend from the same religious background as myself. I had shared with this person that an ALS(Lou Gehrig's Disease) hospital patient had told me she had doubts about God accepting her fully because of her illness and the imperfections of body that the disease caused. She was led to this belief by an Old Testament statement that attributes God as declaring that anyone who has any physical blemish was not worthy to be a full worshiper in the Temple. Here are the words she was rationally applying to herself and her relationship with the Sacred as she understood it. Leviticus 21: 16-24 …..16 The Lord said to Moses, 17 “Say to Aaron: ‘For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. 18 No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; 19 no man with a crippled foot or hand, 20 or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. 21 No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the food offerings to the Lord. He has a defect; he must not come near to offer the food of his God. 22 He may eat the most holy food of his God, as well as the holy food; 23 yet because of his defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar, and so desecrate my sanctuary. I am the Lord, who makes them holy. ’”
24 So Moses told this to Aaron and his sons and to all the Israelites. NIV

Deformity Was  Reason For God, as perceived, To Reject Worshiper

Dear Friend.   I know what you mean about how our 'background' regarding how to think of God has negatively affected our perspective. This is the dark side of any fundamentalist (written, legalistic and arbitrary) religious teaching. And the mainline churches are often just as much at fault in assuming such dark and irresponsible images of God. Much religious teaching has tended to place in us a view of God being primarily an 'outside Holy judge',  or 'sugar daddy in the sky', pretty much like a big and all powerful  person, who continuously is making decisions about who is going to have what happen to them for good or bad.  This very easily becomes a  'bully' image of God with everyone trying to stay on his good side. Many  families tragically copy that model usually with some male in the role of the   'Bully god.'
God , As Perceived, Rejected  Crippled Persons from Full worship

I know its not easy to 'not' think of God that way, as a super powerful person who is in charge,  but it is no longer my image of God. And I'm confident it is the general picture I get of Jesus in the gospels that has led me away from such a destructive image of God. I have in good conscience necessarily rejected that older notion as how to think about God. It does not fit with and support the image of being a responsible and loving human being who believes that all persons are equally valued and who have the same need and inalienable right to live and grow in their own true God given nature. What I consider higher images of God in the Bible, such as Jesus being a model of the nature of God, I find to be in harmony with these ideals of what it means to be a responsible and loving human being. To cling to a view of God as the 'great arbitrary decider in the sky' who has dictated  in a book his perfect and exact law for all time  leads to many inconsistencies in real life and lack of authenticity, which in turn lead to a view of God that becomes more and more irrelevant to the person seeking to responsibly live from both heart and head.

My own human experience, along with reading the Bible with honest discrimination, tells me different from what I was first taught and I see the harm that comes from such an arbitrary and distant  God image.  Our background, not that there was not also much good in it,  taught us to 'look down' on various groups or types of human beings instead of  accepting and looking for how we are connected mutually with them all and all sharing what is Biblically called the 'image of God.' Our background views of God have generated much  anger at such an arbitrary God, whom we should be angry at if God were that way, and much prejudice toward   very large parts of the human race whom we see as the 'other'. The 'other' may be  people on the other side of the world  or 'harmless ones' we have put into our own prisons for non-violent crime because we can. Or any other kinds of 'others' we generate for ourselves from our unexamined 'images of God' , of what we've come to believe God must actually be like and how God's nature and ours are  interrelated in actual experience.

The Biblical texts, to the extent they are taken as manuscripts directly dictated from God and which show the full and real nature of God which we are justified in accepting  without any discriminating thought, will produce exactly these negative views of God  described above. Instead we have the responsible choice of  seeing  the Bible as, though  a fascinating and extremely important  spiritual resource of our culture, still very much humanly produced displaying limited human views of the fullness of God.    ( Look at what my lady with ALS is doing to herself with this Leviticus passage. If she does it to herself imagine what harm she can potentially do to others as well if they listen to her perspective of God. This passage presents God saying of anyone with a physical imperfection... “But because he has a defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar. He is not to desecrate My sanctuaries, for I am Yahweh who sets them apart.”verse 23. )  Without these precautions we will see ourselves, others and God in these very destructive relationships.

 This is where many persons in the world are now I think with respect to their religiosity. Other major world religions have also used their writings in the same non-discriminating way  we have ours. This is the meaning of fundamentalism. So we stand poised to suspect, ignore, resent, hate and destroy each other for having different takes on God. People like you,  me and  many others are becoming aware of this danger but it is still hard to  break out of our religious self centeredness regarding the big picture which life presents to us.  It is important that we see all written descriptions of God as human visions of god which humans have had as the race developed- not as final and complete views of the ultimate Sacred. Such statements as the Leviticus one must be seen in that light. Scripture which  claim violence, abuse and favoritism by God as God's actual will for humanity simply need to be seen, for numerous reasons, for the danger they are.

There are  some wonderful  life enriching themes in the OT. including the great spiritual need for humans to not accept as normal being 'under the bondage and dominance' of others such as being 'slaves of Egypt.' That God calls us to 'exodus' such bondage and  create  communities where  all are 'free' to be who and what God has made all humans to be in our great diversity. And where we truly do seek to put aside our  self-proclaimed  and incomplete 'images of God'. Another help is the O.T. theme  that humans come to find ourselves in various ways in 'exile'  and 'on a journey' back to who and where we have come. This is where many of us are a kind of exile with a vision of what life on earth is suppose to where there truly is  ' the justice and  acceptance of  a God who loves embraces us all' . This is an image of a God who wants all to benefit from the bounties of this productive earth. Not a world where a few dominate and squander, where the many barely are able to live. Where some have top notch medical care while many other families  are without any.  These kinds of discriminatory and harsh realities are not God's will as I , and I think many others, now image God from a positive Biblical perspective. And having charity  organizations is not a sufficient answer to fulfill this vision. The political and religious systems  of domination and unfairness must be changed for the realization of this vision of  'God's will being done'.

A God Image That Is  Opposite And Contradicts That of Leviticus 21
Then come the NT gospels with a vision of a human who embodies  what God is really like.  To Jesus all of the 'purity' laws(including the Leviticus statement above) so common of the O.T. god  Yahweh must be transcended in the name of love and human dignity. Jesus would have never quoted   O.T. purity passages that so many quote today as ways to marginalize and discredit the value, needs  and loves of fellow humans. We can see in the gospels a portrait of the character qualities of what all humans are destined to become. They are to also come into the fullness of who they have always been, similar as a mature Oak tree is present in an acorn,  which according  the gospel portrait, is to be like Jesus( In the sense of finding a similar courage and compassion in life that motivated him. And thus to be of the same heart as  a  God of compassion, acceptance and  justice. Surely not the  Yahweh God pictured in Leviticus 21:16-24) 

This is how Christianity has positively  imaged God for us. And it is such a Biblical image of God when lived out that will make our communities and world better and far closer to Jesus' prayer of it, 'being on Earth as it is in Heaven.' Other world religions have in their religious texts similar images of God which can potentially support each others views of the ultimate God. We can all learn something from each other. And maybe the  so called 'non religious' might just have some notions about God that religious folks should listen to as well. Surely, no one has a monopoly on the question of what is the necessary nature of God that is developing in human hearts around the world..

I'm rambling but these are the general ways that the Bible can still be such an eye opener to the reality that is at the heart of the mystery of God -- the destiny of humanity, the goal to which we have always been pointed.  We are far, as the human race, from that goal but there is much more consciousness and awareness of it now, and some of our common pitfalls, than ever before.  It remains to be seen whether there is enough awareness and  determined will in the hearts of enough humans who have the luxury of even considering such things-most in the world do not- to turn the tide ..... or  else to fall back into focusing on how others are 'different', to be feared , ignored and maybe hated; and mostly to outdated images of God that lead us back  to what many see as the 'good old days' rather than to the future that we have been created to enter. 

Thanks for listening to these thoughts. I hope there is some consistency and authenticity in my statement. I will continue for sure  trying  to make more practical sense and application from such thoughts about the nature of God. All this has been stirred in me from my ALS patient's question about an archaic Bible passage which was being  extremely destructive to her well being.  Take care. Jim

On Wed, 20 Aug 2008 04:14:06 +0000 writes:
As a 'Southern Baptist  along with my COC background'.. I could feel the pain of the lady you e-mailed me about. How mixed-up we have been to take the Bible so literally. In Leviticus 21: 16-24 was God discriminating against sick or handicapped people? I do believe that  he was referring to Priests that they had a certain life-standard/example to set before the people. However, we All have the New Testament, the Good News.....Jesus...It is just so hard for us Southern Baptist or other religious denominations to accept the plain fact that Jesus loves us matter what & that God created each &every one of us for his purpose, whatever that may be.........we may not find out until we get to heaven. In the meanwhile my heart goes out to her......because, I once felt this way. "I'm not trying to earn my way to Heaven or even justify my life...good or illness........trying  to look at everyone as Jesus would & especially love the handicapped, elderly, sick, disabled or just sinners. She sounds like a dear lady who needs to back off the rules as she was taught & let the light of Jesus shine through.
Bless you

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