Saturday, August 25, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Wisdom 13-14 and 1 Peter 4

Wisdom 13 – Those who worshipped the beautiful things in nature – fire, wind, stars, etc – rather than their creator are next addressed. They are less to blame:

“Small blame, however, attaches to these men, for perhaps they only go astray in their search for God and their eagerness to find him; living among his works, they strive to comprehend them and fall victim to appearances, seeing so much beauty (13:6-7). Still, if they are so intelligent, they should be able to go beyond nature to its creator.

How stupid to worship things made by human hands as gods – idol worship. It seems so stupid to the author:

“He does not blush to harangue this lifeless thing [this idol] – for health he invokes weakness, for life he pleads with death, for help he goes begging to utter inexperience, for his travels, to something that cannot stir a foot; for his profits and plans and success in pursuing his craft, he asks skill from something whose hands have no skill whatever” . . .(13:18-19).

Wisdom 14 – Others worship “tutelary” gods (animistic protectors); things like an effigy placed at the prow of a ship to assure that it will come safely to its destination. This may not be as bad as child sacrifice, but it is the kind of thing that leads to all kinds of bad stuff.

The author examines the image of a merchant’s ship using such a tutelary god to bring it to port. What is force that brings the ship into existence, that sends it forth and brings it safely in?  Human desire plays a part. It is the merchant’s “craving for gain” that makes him want the ship in the first place. The building of the merchant’s ship taps into the “wisdom of the shipwright” but it is ultimately God’s “providence” that steers it through the ocean’s waves and brings it safely to port.

The Jerusalem Bible note indicates that this is the first appearance of the word “providence” in the Old Testament. That is pretty amazing: the first use of the word “immortality” in chapter 3 and now the first use of another fundamental notion, “providence.”  While the idea of God’s providence is very much a part of the scripture narrative, the word itself is borrowed from the Greeks. The Encyclopedia Britannica says the term was used around the 4th c. BC by poet and philosopher Cleanthes and later became part of Stoic thinking.

It is clear that idols will eventually be destroyed. He says that the “invention of idols was the origin of fornication, their discovery the corrupting of life” (14:12). Man was initially monotheistic, the author seems to believe; but “in the course of time the godless custom hardens, and is observed as law and by command of prince, the carved images receive worship” (14:16-17).

“With their child-murdering initiations, their secret mysteries, their orgies with outlandish ceremonies, they no longer retain any purity in their lives or their marriages, one treacherously murdering the next or doing him injury by adultery” (14:23-24). Here the writer is apparently making reference to the orgies of Bacchanalians or to Dionysian or Phrygian Mysteries.

1 Peter 4 – We should remember always what Christ suffered and try to take on his resolution; bodily suffering helps us to break from sin and superficial desires. Again, the writer notes that even those who had died before Christ’s coming have been approached by him “so that though, in their life on earth, they had been through the judgment that comes to all humanity, they might come to God’s life in the spirit” (4:6).

Like Paul and other early Christians Peter believes the end of time is soon approaching. Still they are to remain calm and loving. And each person should put themselves to the service of others. “If you are a speaker, speak in words which seem to come from God; if you are a helper, help as though every action was done at God’s orders; so that in everything God may receive the glory, through Jesus Christ, since to him alone belong all glory and power for ever and ever” (4:11).

He reminds them that they may indeed be “tested by fire” (4:12). This is our way of sharing in the suffering of Christ. “So even those whom God allows to suffer must trust themselves to the constancy of the creator and go on doing good” (4:19).

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