Sunday, June 22, 2008

Saying Adieu to the Silent Treatment

I recently realized the need to have a Catholic Bible. This is a picture of the cover of the Bible, which is the hardback version of the Ignatius Bible. A long time ago I purchased a single volume of "The Apocrypha" that was from the original KJV. It's interesting to note that mere fact, that the KJV was not bold enough to leave these works of literature untranslated, but I digress. I was irked by the lack of a book that had these books bound together. There was something symbolic about my desire to see these books in one volume, and that was to not show a sign of disdain for the books. Sure, there are volumes that contain just the New Testament and Psalms, but my inner sense of completeness told me something was wrong. I had understood that there is something missing in my view of the Bible, and this is what that something is.

In contemplating the claims of Rome another fundamental thought has occurred to me. For the books called "apocryphal" or "deuterocanonical" are not simply more books to make up the Old Testament.
At another point it may be worth discussing the literary and linguistic basis for accepting this books, but for now, I have a more philosophical notion to consider.

Many Christians have challenged the notion that Jesus is not the Messiah by arguing that God would not have left His people without a continuing temple, a continuing presence of faithful witnesses. From Adam to Moses there was not a solid line of explication of how one should live, but after that time as the kings were established we have a faithful line of prophets who wrote the things we read in the Old Testament. That is true and agreed upon by all Christians.

However, what is not agreed upon is whether there is a period of time before Christ that takes this faithful line and views it as broken. Hanging in pieces and shards, the people of God allegedly lost the growing sense of His presence for roughly 400 years. For that is what one asserts if one states that Malachi was the last prophet until John the Baptist.

And thus, the acceptance of books such as First and Second Maccabees hinges upon a parallel acceptance that this silence did not happen to God's people. At the time when the Greeks, led by Antiochus Epiphanes, ravaged the temple and land in Palestine, challenging the Jews way of life, we can assert that God was with His people to give them a comforting voice, or we can relegate this history to some grey zone of silence. As for me, the former option is the not only the one that matches the notion of a faithful God best, it also makes sense out of some interesting aspects of the New Testament. For Jesus celebrated the Feast of Dedication, which comes from that same allegedly silent period (John 10:22-23). Furthermore, Hebrews 11 lists some faithful people who suffered martyrdom that strongly evokes images from 2 Maccabees (compare Hebrews 11:35 to 2 Maccabees 7 - and keep in mind, a Presbyterian pastor convinced me of this truth roughly four years ago). Therefore, the resounding cry that comes to me from my experience and the Bible is that there could not have been a period of silence where God's people were left to languish.

The deuterocanonical books do not merely make for more reading material, they support the idea that we can rest assured that there has always been someone faithful with God's word in this world.

Extending past the silent period to today, it's interesting to note that many Protestants have a similar notion of their own day to day existence, and Church history in general. Surely there could not be a Church that has remained essentially faithful to God, because that's just not how humans operate, or so they say. Never mind the promises of Jesus to Peter about the Church being built upon a rock that the gates of hell will not prevail against (Matthew 16). As some faithful Lutheran teachers once explained to me, gates are not offensive weapons. The Church was not merely going to withstand the devil and his minions, she was to conquer and trample down the defensive gates of hell, bringing a growing sense of peace and justice to this world. We are still on that road to peace, but how do we get there? By our own opinions, or is God still speaking to us? Well, the answer depends on the person you're talking to.

The point in this context is that if it was fine for God to be silent for 400 years before Christ, there is a parallel thought that it's fine for God to be silent with the Church. We are left with an infallible Bible to be fallibly interpreted, which simple logic demands that one will have a fallible view of God.

To this, my mind cries out and says this cannot be. As I have tried to persuade you, part of this skepticism is rooted in one's view that God was silent in the past. If He was silent in the past, why be so surprised that He is silent now? But not only did He promise that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church, Jesus went further and promised that for Him to ascend to the Father so that the Spirit would come would be even BETTER for His people (John 16:7). Far from wistfully looking to some future day with His physical reign on earth, we should take His promises and believe them. It really is better for us to have the Holy Spirit sent to us than if Jesus were physically reigning in Jerusalem (or Los Angeles). Of course, with all of the cacophonous voices screaming words "from the Lord" that contradict each other, it is hard to believe this truth, and I have much sympathy with those who do not hold on to this hope. But believe we must, or else we are all at a loss as to which voice(s) to hear, if any.

God speaks to His people. He is there, and He is not silent.

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