Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Random Bible Verse of the Day - Lamentations

This verse is a bit different from what I might have naively expected from the Bible.   I must say, in my unsophisticated taste for poetry, this is quite nice prose.  I find the imagery vibrant and engaging.  Though I find the plot a bit weird and contradictory rather than clever that in the end reflects the basest of human tendencies so often shown in the Bible.  This one is a bit long, but not a hard to comprehend so let's read some Lamentations - Chapter 3.

1 I am the man who has seen affliction
   by the rod of the LORD’s wrath.
2 He has driven me away and made me walk
   in darkness rather than light;
3 indeed, he has turned his hand against me
   again and again, all day long.
 4 He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
   and has broken my bones.
5 He has besieged me and surrounded me
   with bitterness and hardship.
6 He has made me dwell in darkness
   like those long dead.
This passage obviously is written from a human perspective, yet it sets out to enumerate the way that the author's lord has caused grief.  Given god's Old Testament temper, this isn't too surprising, but the way it is presented, from a seemingly bitter individual, is interesting.  But, as the author concludes his airing of grievances, she seems to have a change of heart:

 25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
   to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
   for the salvation of the LORD.
27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke
   while he is young.
 28 Let him sit alone in silence,
   for the LORD has laid it on him.
29 Let him bury his face in the dust—
   there may yet be hope.
30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
   and let him be filled with disgrace.
 31 For no one is cast off
   by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
   so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
   or grief to anyone.
 This portion of the verse seems to be fraught with contradictions and inconsistencies.  First we are told that the lord rewards those who seek him which is immediately followed by the assertion one should wait for the lord...so which is it!

Then we have the notion that the young must endure grief in order to be free from despair, which is attributed to the work of god.  ...And immediately followed by the claim that god couldn't help it.  So much for omnipotence!
52 Those who were my enemies without cause
   hunted me like a bird.
53 They tried to end my life in a pit
   and threw stones at me;
54 the waters closed over my head,
   and I thought I was about to perish.
 55 I called on your name, LORD,
   from the depths of the pit.
56 You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears
   to my cry for relief.”
57 You came near when I called you,
   and you said, “Do not fear.”
And now we have the twist of the story - it really wasn't god's fault that he had to inflict such suffering on the author.  Instead it was the author's enemies that made god do bad things to the author.  But god took a power nap and is ready to kick some ass!
64 Pay them back what they deserve, LORD,
   for what their hands have done.
65 Put a veil over their hearts,
   and may your curse be on them!
66 Pursue them in anger and destroy them
   from under the heavens of the LORD.
And now you understand what happens when you believe an all powerful being communicates with you and has chosen you as his own - you will suffer, then rationalize that suffering as part of god's plan, then blame your suffering on your 'enemies', and then seek righteous revenge in the name of THE LORD YOUR GOD.

You will be wiser and realize that inflicting human suffering to avenge human suffering is a fulfilling and effective strategy that will ensure more human suffering thereby clearing your way to eternal bliss and bloodshed. </sarcasm>

*****
As I said at the beginning, I find the prose well done even if the plot perpetuates some futile ethics.  But I was curious as to what this chapter was actually talking about.  From Wikipedia:
the Book of Lamentations was written by one or more authors in Judah, shortly after the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BCE;[8] and was penned as a response to Babylonian Exile, the intense suffering of the people of Judah, and the complete and utter destruction of Jerusalem
Well that makes a lot of sense and explains the non-supernatural source of the suffering described.
The Book of Lamentations reflects the theological and biblical view that what happened to Jerusalem was a deserved punishment; and its destruction was instigated by their god for the communal sins of the people.
This is an unfortunate feature of religion that it has a tendency to ascribe greater meaning to an event than is necessary. 

Surely there is a more parsimonious explanation for an adverse event than just "we made god upset". Yet we see this faulty thinking even today. Just turn on the news after a natural or man-induced disaster and you will inevitably hear someone attributing the carnage to god's wrath brought on by humans or thanking god for sparing them of the destruction.

One would hope that society would have moved past such faulty attribution of random events.  I suppose there is more work to be done.

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