Friday, December 28, 2018

At the Bridge

I read an article about my favorite Christmas movie, It's a Wonderful Life. The author of the article says that George Bailey lived a virtuous life that brought him to the bridge, to the point of brokenness. Perhaps because I relate so strongly to George Bailey, the movie has become my favorite.

I have stood at the bridge. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in my twenties and fibromyalgia in my thirties. Heart issues have plagued me over half of my life. In the movie, George Bailey also encounters health issues. He loses his hearing and is declared 4-F and is not able to join his brother and friends in defending his country. 

Health problems have brought me to my knees more than once. I have cried for God to ease the pain and wondered if God has heard.

I have stood at the bridge. I lost my father when I was in my twenties and then chose to provide care for my mother. My mother knew I'd remain by her side, come hell or high water, and often took out her frustrations on me. I endured them, although not always with equanimity. In his twenties, George lost his father and was forced into a difficult situation. His hatred of the Building and Loan was not stronger than his sense of duty. Humiliation dogged him, not only from Mr. Potter, but also from the embarrassment of not providing adequately for his family.  

Like George, I prayed for God to take the burden from me or to ease the strain, and like George, often thought God had not heard my prayers. 

I have stood at the bridge. Daily living has a way of knocking the breath from your dreams. George Bailey had not completely given up on his dream of being an architect. Tucked in the corner of the living room, in the midst of family chaos, were a model, a drafting table, and books. Like George, my family has infringed upon my dream, in my case, of being a writer. 

I, too, have knocked my dreams aside, dashed them to the floor in a rage, and prayed to a God whom I thought did not answer.

I have stood at the bridge. People I've known have brought me to frustration and tears, much like George's uncle who brought him to financial ruin. I have faced betrayals and lies and had no clue how to handle them. And often, the actions I took only added to the heartache. 

With tears streaming down my face, I have cried to God to ease my anguish and only heard my own echoing cries. 

I have stood at the bridge. Like George, I've seen someone floundering in the water, about to go under, and have jumped in to help. George jumped in, literally, to save Clarence, and by doing so, was given a chance to see the impact he'd made on the lives of others. I have not seen the impact I've made and won't, not this side of heaven, or at least, not completely. 

I have cried to God and asked if I have made a difference and have only encountered silence.

And yet, it is in the silence where we find God. In the moment of stillness, when we are completely aware, we know our lives are not in vain. God answers, in his time, in his way. Health problems teach us compassion. Struggles teach us patience. Frustrations teach us to rely on God. And even when we think we are at the end of our rope, God can still use us to help one more person. 

Sacrifices we make are not unappreciated, are not useless, are not wasted effort. A sacrificial, virtuous life is a wonderful life.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Eve, Mary, and 1 Timothy 2:11-15

A Study of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 (updated)

To gain a full understanding of First Timothy 2:11-15, let’s begin in Genesis 2:20. In this verse, the word translated as “helper” is the Hebrew word ezer. We're familiar with the line Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I’ve come in the hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” Ezer means help, to run to the rescue, or to bring aid.

In the Old Testament, sixteen times this word refers to God. For example, in Psalm 46:1, we find: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (KJV)

God knew one day man would be in need of rescue. And from where would that help, that rescue, come? From God’s son, through Mary, a woman.

This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.
Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." (KJV, Acts 4:11-12)

According to these verses, Neither is there salvation in any other. Again, we have a line from a hymn, “The Old Cross Road” that emphasizes this—There is just one way to the pearly gate.

And yet, isn't it strange some have difficulty with 1 Timothy 2:13-15? Let’s look at these verses.

And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety. (KJV)

A casual reading of this would indicate the “she” must refer back to “the woman,” Eve. However, notice the “they” in the last part of verse 15 is not the “she.” Perhaps “they” refers to all those who accept Jesus as the son of God and “continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”

1 Timothy 2:13-15 cannot contradict the basic tenet of Christianity—the only way to heaven is through God's son, Jesus Christ. It would be nonsense to say there is only one way to Heaven except in the case of women who are saved through childbearing.

So, “notwithstanding she shall be saved through childbearing,” must have something to do with that basic tenet.

“She” is the woman Eve. It is through her seed that Mary will give birth to Jesus. Jesus provides salvation, not only to Eve, but to all who continue in faith, love, and holiness.

In Galatians 4:4-5, we find

But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.

Those “under the law” were redeemed by God’s Son, “made of a woman.”

Furthermore, we read in Hebrews 9:14-15:

How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.

Jesus is mediator and redeems the transgressions of those under “the first testament,” that is, those under the Old Testament, including Eve. How, then, will Eve be saved? Through Mary's childbearing, through Eve’s seed.

And thus, the Bible brings us full circle.
Image courtesy of Pixabay

Eve will bring salvation by her offspring, her ancestor, her seed, Jesus. God gives the first prophecy of Jesus when speaking to the serpent: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. (emphasis mine)

And this is exactly what happened when Mary brought forth the Son of the Living God. Jesus bruised the head of Satan and offers salvation to all who ever existed, who now exist, or who will one day exist.

And all is accomplished through the Savior's birth, Mary's childbearing, Eve’s seed.

Thus, the use of ezer in Genesis 2:20 makes perfect sense. Through childbearing, help was on its way to redeem us, to rescue us, to save us.

However, what of the rest of these verses in 1 Timothy 2, specifically verses 11-14? Let’s take a closer look.

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
For Adam was first formed, then Eve.
And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.
Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety. (KJV)

Let’s begin with verse 11, a verse that has been misunderstood by many for generations. To fully understand this verse, we need to look at the Greek word translated as “silence.”

That Greek word is hésuchios and, interestingly, is the same word used at the beginning of this chapter.

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;
For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. (KJV 1 Timothy 2:1-2, emphasis mine)

That word translated “quiet” is hésuchios. It’s ludicrous to suggest that the we in this verse must remain silent. A “quiet” life and a “silent” life are certainly not the same.

We can thus conclude that this same word in verse 11 can also be translated “quiet” and not “silent.” Women were not being told by Paul to be silent, but to learn quietly. In other words, to listen, and to respect their teachers. This was especially important for women during that time. Within the society in which they lived, few women were given the opportunity to learn. They had a lot of catching up to do, and their teachers, by necessity, were men.

Let’s move on to verse 12.

But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

First, note that Paul uses “I.” In other words, Paul spoke to a particular group of women, at a particular place, during a particular time. It is up to each reader to decide if Paul’s “I” constitutes a command from God.

Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, it does constitute a command. What is Paul saying here?

While the woman is learning, as we’ve just seen in verse 11, quietly and with respect, she is not to take over the teaching role by “usurping authority over the man.” Usurp means “to seize and hold in possession by force or without right,” according to Merriam-Webster.

And again, in verse 12, the word translated “in silence” is hésuchios. Therefore, instead of this:

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

Perhaps 1 Timothy 2:11-12 could be rephrased as this:

Let the woman learn quietly, with all respect for her teacher.
But I (Paul) don’t allow a woman (while she is learning) to take the leadership role, especially by disrespecting the man teaching her, but to learn quietly.

Let’s continue to verses 13 and 14 which are translated as:

For Adam was first formed, then Eve.
And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.

Verse 13 is plain and straightforward, and few have problems with this verse. A look back in Genesis helps to clarify verse 14 further.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”(Genesis 2:15).

In the passage above, we see that God gives the instructions about the tree of knowledge to Adam before he formed Eve. It’s not until verse 22, we read:

And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.

Eve is not yet in existence when God gives the instructions, and as far as we know, Adam passes along the information to the newly formed Eve. It is certainly possible God gave Eve the instructions face to face although the Bible never tells us this.

Regardless, Eve becomes confused, whether her own fault or Adam's. We know this because she tells the serpent in Genesis chapter three, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.”(emphasis mine)

God’s instructions to Adam did not include neither shall you touch it.

Thus, the serpent targets Eve, knowing she is armed with incorrect teaching. The story continues:

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate (Genesis 3:6, emphasis mine).

Adam stands by and watches the scene unfold without speaking up. Adam sins along with Eve. Adam sins knowingly and willingly. Was it not his duty to stop Eve from disobeying God’s word? Of course!

And this is why we find throughout the Bible; scripture says man is the one through whom sin entered the world.

For example, Romans 5:12 tells us: Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. (emphasis mine)

See also 1 Corinthians 15:22 and Romans 5:19.

So now, let’s take a closer look at 1 Timothy 2:13 with the commentary from Genesis:

And Adam was not deceived (He sinned knowingly. Furthermore, he was with Eve and did not speak up. By his actions, Adam brought sin into the world.),but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. (Eve, deceived by the serpent and not protected by Adam, transgressed and was part of the subsequent Fall.)

And so, let’s put what we’ve learned together and paraphrase 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

Let the woman learn quietly, respecting the man teaching her. I, Paul, am not going to allow a woman to disrespect a man, by being domineering. She needs to learn quietly.
And even though Adam was formed first, Eve, by her actions, her transgression, was caught up in the Fall. Even so, through her seed, Eve, along with Adam, and those in the past, present, and future, will be saved if they continue in faith, hope, and charity.

And let’s re-read these verses, in light of this study:

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
For Adam was first formed, then Eve.
And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.
Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety. (1 Timothy 2:11-15, KJV)

Friday, December 7, 2018

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

A common trait appears among popular television shows--Seinfeld, Friends, and The Big Bang Theory, to mention but a few. 

All deal with a group of friends who are loyal to each other. Loyalty is a trait often lacking in today's society. The absence of loyalty is a result of apathy or selfishness. 

For years, a lot of people posted memes about walking away from toxic relationships. Many felt empowered by these to leave a spouse or a friend, and sometimes they needed to do so.

Toxic relationships exist. Abusive relationships exist. 

However, sometimes we mislabel normal relationships as toxic or abusive. 

Normal relationships are often messy. People are sinful--all people, including me, including you. Sometimes we will say or do things selfishly or, at least, without thinking. Sometimes we have quirks. Sometimes we have a problem that might take a long time to uproot.

And how often will we continue in such behavior? Weeks, months, years, decades? 

When we forgive, we are giving up hope for a better past. When we walk away, we are giving up hope for a better future. 

Walking away from a relationship, the absence of loyalty, is the definition of toxicity.

For it is only through relationships that true happiness is found.

Bathing Feet

In chapter six of John, this exchange takes place: Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.

Peter had no doubt that Jesus was the Son of God.

The Child's Bath1893 by Mary Cassatt
A few chapters later, this takes place:
Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God;
He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.
After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?
Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.
Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.
Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. (John 13:3-9, KJV)
Peter at first refused to obey Jesus, the one he was sure was the Son of God.

Think about this for a moment. Suppose you were Peter, and knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, who Jesus was. Would you have refused to obey him? What prompted Peter to act in this way? Was it simply because Jesus was serving him? 
Peter had no doubts, and yet he refused to obey the Messiah
And here's the thing. Jesus had already taught them many times to serve others. Being a servant would not have shocked Peter, would not have compelled him to disobey the Son of the living God.
These men had traveled with Jesus for three years, had sat at his feet, hung onto his every word, and knew his teachings. 
Why was Peter so shocked? 

During that period of time, washing feet was usually a woman's work. More than that, it was often the lowliest slave woman's work. 

Besides household servants, often wives would wash the feet of their husbands. Sometimes children would wash the feet of their fathers, and disciples were known to wash the feet of a rabbi.

Jesus shocked them by taking on the role of a lowly slave woman, or a wife, or a child, or a disciple. 

Later, in Acts, we read that Christians "have turned the world upside down." 

This is what Jesus did. He turned everything topsy-turvy. He took on the role of a slave toward his master, the role of a disciple toward his teacher, the role of a wife to her husband.

He truly turned the world upside down.

(See Foot-washing in a Historical Perspective for more information about this practice.)