Tuesday, December 11, 2007

So man lieth down, and riseth not (Joshua 23)

In Joshua 23, apparently the fighting is over, and Joshua calls the tribes together to give them a speech. The main purpose of the speech seems to be pretty plain: he's giving a review of what the fighting was all about. He reminds them of their victories (and not their failures, perhaps hypocritical, but I'd like to think he was just aiming for a positive note) and admonishes them to stay faithful to God and the law that was given to them by Moses.

The SAB notes that verse ten is both absurd and unjust. I don't know if I've said it before, but sometimes I don't understand such a juxtaposition: how can something be both at the same time? Absurd seems to me to imply that it's just not going to happen, but if it's not happening, how is it unjust? Anyway, I don't think it goes against justice or practicality to have a righteous few overpower an unrighteous multitude. Aside from the Biblical example of Gideon, who defeated 120,000 Midianites with an army of 300 (not 1,000 to one, but 400 to one; still impressive), America has a police force that is about one in 400, and they do manage. Still, I think it's more than likely that we're talking hyperbole here. "One man of you shall chase a thousand" sounds a lot cooler than "One man of you shall chase a lot more than one." If the unjust part is that God is on their side, consider that Joshua is telling them this as a conditional thing. Too many people, especially today, are willing to go to battle in the belief that God is on their side. God doesn't take sides, the best you can do is to join God's side.

The second point brought up by the SAB is a real meaty one, perhaps one of the best questions I've come across yet in the SAB. Is death final? This is a key point in understanding what the Bible teaches, and a difficult one to deal with because admittedly, there truly is contradictory accounting of this matter to be found in the Bible. Yes, this is one of the biggest issues in the Bible that I will readily admit has contradiction behind it, and won't claim to not exist. The real manner in which one addresses this contradiction is not to ignore it, but analyze what's really going on here, as this is a key question that most religions ask.

One very notable thing that most people realize without having to delve too deeply is that the majority of scripture that talks about the afterlife is found in the New Testament, not the Old. Even the earliest citations given by the SAB in the "No" column are really not addressing the issue of an afterlife or "resurrection", but the issue of coming back from the dead or "revivication". Everyone today knows that the latter is a possibility. Most of us in fact probably know someone who was temporarily dead and came back to life after CPR or application of a defibrillator. When it comes to the concept of an afterlife, the first very solid mention of such a thing is probably Daniel 12:2, where the phrase "everlasting life" is used. There are actually some who will tell you that only Christians have the promise of "everlasting life", and Jews just have an outdated moral system that was only created as a foundation on which to build Christianity, but I think that's a seriously flawed theological position. I'm not sure I even fully buy the slightly less offensive position some have that Judaism is just slightly lesser and was meant to come to full understanding with the coming of Christ. No, even as a Christian who believes that full revelation did not come until the advent of Christ, I don't believe that Judaism was in any way inferior; after all, God invented it, didn't He? One way or another, I do believe God gives all people, in one way or another, a path to salvation and everlasting life. This certainly includes God's Chosen.

So why does the general Old Testament view of death seem to be at odds with the Christian one? First of all, I'd like to say that in many places, there can be a danger of overstating the case. In our Joshua passage, I think there is too much being read into Joshua's statement. When Joshua says, "This day I am going the way of all the earth," does it truly imply that Joshua believed there was no afterlife? After all, whether there is an afterlife or not, the statement is true, and it lines up fine with the New Testament view of death which, although not thinking it final, agrees that all living things die. Also, one should note that even with consideration of the afterlife in the mix, death is still final in a sense. Even though Christians look forward to a resurrection, there is understanding that once a person has passed from this life to the next, there is a true dividing point, and there is no natural method of turning back. The Christian who dies will leave their family with an understanding that they will be reunited in Heaven, but most assuredly not on this earth.

More problematic are verses like the one in Psalm 6, which claim that once a person is dead, there is no more knowledge, and no more chance of praising God. While the passages quoted from Job are more like the Joshua passage, and merely state the fact that death is inevitable, the Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Isaiah passages have a lot more to to say about the nature of a person's awareness being snuffed out after life has passed. It's really quite likely that many if not all of these passages are truly contradictory to the point of view of there being an afterlife. It's a difficult thing to deal with that not necessarily everything that is said in the Bible has the same force of truth behind it. As I have said before, and will revisit in my next post, Stephen gave a farewell speech in the book of Acts that is full of technical errors. I don't think everyone expects that every person who ever spoke in the Bible spoke without error. (In fact, the first instance of someone misquoting information is back in Genesis 3!) While Stephen makes factual errors and/or takes certain liberties in his storytelling, the Psalmists may make errors and/or take some poetic license. I personally find it more than a little shaky when somebody bases a doctrine on a verse in the Psalms. For instance, David wrote Psalm 6, which suggests that he doesn't believe in an afterlife. At the same time, David says of his dead child in 2Samuel 12:23, "I shall go to him," prompting some to claim that the Bible is saying here that all children go to Heaven. While I believe this to be true, I don't base a doctrine on an offhand remark by David, especially when he's not consistent in this matter.

So, to sum up, I do think this is a contradiction. It is however a contradiction only in that not every person who follows God in the Bible has uniformity in their belief in the nature of the afterlife. For the definitive answer, I look to the words of Jesus, which seem to me to point to a definitive "Yes, there is an afterlife."


Anonymous said...

I don't see where the contradiction is in Psalm 6 or for that matter anywhere else in the Bible regarding life after death. The OT & NT are in complete agreement concerning the afterlife. The best source from the OT is:

"Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.

Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. Ecclesiastes 12:6-7

Like Psalm 6, Eccelesiates 9 speaks of the flesh body; when it goes into the ground, it is never to be remebered again, because it's nothing but dirt and the spirit is already with the Father who gave it. Ecclesiastes 12 speaks of the spiritual body.

In the NT:

"Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:

(For we walk by faith, not by sight:)

We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord." 2 Corinthians 5:6-8

Brucker said...

The problem is that verses like the one in Psalm 6 indicate a cessation of knowledge, which doesn't seem to match up to the concept of going on to an afterlife.

If "in death there is no remembrance of thee[God]", how does that line up with being "present with the Lord"?