Friday, September 13, 2013

In my name shall they cast out devils (Matthew 7)

Okay, time for Matthew 7 and finishing up the Sermon on the Mount, which we start with the question of whether or not we should judge people. My take on this verse, and actually most of what's on the linked page is that we should always be careful before we decide to pass judgment on others. Most of these "judge not" verses aren't saying straight out not to judge so much as they're saying that we should think twice before we judge, and consider our own faults, which as the SAB says, is a good thing. Judging is something that we simply do as humans, in my opinion, but there's a difference also between the kind of judgment that says "X is a bad thing to do." and the kind that says "You are a bad person because you do X." In my estimation the former is a natural and good sort of judgment, while the latter is not, especially since if you happen to be judging wrong in the former, you at least won't screw up the latter, if that makes any sense.

Verses 3-4 have a bit of hyperbolic language that the SAB seems to understand, since it doesn't mark them as absurd. A funny metaphor that Jesus paints, he suggests that the average person who wants to pick at a tiny piece of sawdust in another person's eye might not realize they have a big plank of wood in their own eye blocking their view.

I'm not a Jehovah's Witness, so I'm not sure what to say about the note on verse 6. Actually, I'd have to admit that verse 6 is another one in this passage that I really have very little idea as to what it means.

Verses 7-11 seem to talk about the power of prayer, and the SAB has, perhaps rightly, an issue with the claims made here. Jesus seems to be suggesting that prayer is a sort of blank check we have with God, and we can simply get whatever we want whatsoever. There are few people that really believe this to be the case, so what does it mean? Well, one thing that can be said is that verse 11 specifies "good things" and the distinction is important. If my kids asked me for candy, would I be a good parent if I simply always gave it to them? I think there's a sense in which this is really saying that if you ask for something, you will get something good, although it may not be what you asked for. I know that there is a bigger theological question in here for which this only approaches a sufficient answer, but it's what I've got. As for the question of whether God can be found, I don't think that any of the verses in either column of that page are intended to suggest a general principle, but are apropos to certain specific situations and people.

In verse 12, Jesus gives a formulation of the Golden Rule, as it's widely known, and the SAB like most of us, is a fan. However, it then asks if the OT is supposedly summed up with the Golden Rule (which Jesus is far from the only Jew to have made such a claim) why does it have so much cruelty and violence? It's a bigger question than I'm prepared to address in this post, but I'll readily admit it's food for thought, and worth asking.

In verses 13-14, Jesus does indeed seem to be saying that most people will go to Hell. I don't know that the claim that "He seems to be OK with that." is warranted. If Jesus was okay with it, then why would he urge people to avoid it?

I'm wondering why verse 15 is marked as good stuff. Perhaps the SAB is all for being aware that the world is full of religious people who will use their religion to manipulate you. I can see how that would make sense.

Verse 19 is very similar to what John the Baptist said a few chapters ago, and once again, my response to the SAB calling it unjust, violent, and intolerant is to say that it's just an observation.

Verse 21 has a claim that's a real big deal, and something that should cause a Christian to pause. Jesus is saying that there are people who will look and maybe act like Christians, but they're not saved. while I can give a suggestion as to the significance of this apparent disparity, I have to admit that my suggestion is reading more into the verses in the "Yes." column of this page than is immediately apparent. My suggestion is that it's more than simply calling on God, but that there is some degree of sincerity in the call. Part of the problem with this reading is that in verses 22-23, these people seem to be quite surprised that the things they have done are not in line with "the will of my Father which is in Heaven." Admittedly, it seems strange to me that these people would not know that they lacked the proper sincerity.

Especially since they seem to have had the authority to do something like casting out devils as the SAB questions on two very similar pages. I'm going to use the latter page, as it breaks these verses out into three categories that I think are worth discussing. I think that the principle being illustrated by the passages in Mark 9:38 and Luke 9:49 is that Christians aren't a singular, monolithic group. I think that the people who were casting out demons in those verses were Christians, just not ones that traveled with Jesus. While I don't know that my personal view on the matter is a popular one among Christians, it's been my view for some time that there are people out there in the world who are going to be saved that aren't Christians in the matter one usually thinks of. These people may believe in Christ but they don't go to a church, or they may not know the full truth of Christianity but are still seeking the will of God, I don't know. I think such people are going to be spiritually like Christians even if they aren't like Christians in appearance or action. Just a theory. (I may owe some of this to C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle, and an odd plot twist towards the end of that novel.) As for the comparison between our current passage and Mark 16:17, I think Jesus is saying that every Christian can potentially cast out demons, but just because you cast out demons doesn't mean that you're a Christian.

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