Sunday, February 26, 2006

Who Has the Best Plan of Salvation: Ezekiel or Paul?

Sunday, an excellent day on which to consider salvation.  I’m going to assume here that the reader and I both pretty much agree on what the plan of salvation is according to Paul. I’m thinking of the one coming from the likes of those great bible scholars, Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, and Jack Chick:  1. Admit that you are a sinner because we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of god.  2. Be willing to turn from sin because in times past God winked at ignorance, but now commands all men everywhere to repent. 3. Believe that Jesus Christ died for you, was buried, and rose from the dead so that if you confess with you mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved.  4.  Through prayer, invite Jesus into your life to become your personal Savior, because anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Some churches, which are bit closer in thought with the “whore of Babylon” like the Lutheran, Episcopal, Church of Christ will add 5. Be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for he that believes and is baptized will be saved.  I only add this because you, dear reader, may be from such a church.  Much to the annoyance of my old Church of Christ, Paul didn’t put as much emphasis on baptism as could be hoped for.  The short coming is troublesome because Church of Christ theologists interpret Christ, Peter, John, James, and the OT via Paul like most Christians do.

The salient points of Paul’s salvation thinking are: 1. A person is a worthless pile of crap which naturally God wouldn’t want on his living room carpet. 2. Once a pile of crap, always a pile of crap unless, 3. Someone not a worthless pile of crap has his nose rubbed in it, and 4. I, a self acknowledged worthless pile of crap, believe that this someone did have his nose rubbed in it, then 5. I’m no longer a pile of crap.  So, as long as I can hold this picture in my mind as a logical and loving certainty and necessity I get to live for ever.  

I put the above paragraph in such rude terms on purpose in order that you may more easily see that Ezekiel’s plan of salvation, supported by Matthew’s Jesus, allows one to maintain human dignity and still have a relationship with God.

[A quick note on context: Just because the writings found in the Christian Bible were arbitrarily chosen and pasted together by the early Roman Church does not mean that they are in actual context with one another.  That means that Paul and Ezekiel do actually disagree with one another, and that there is no contextual reason to suppose Paul superior to Ezekiel in understanding God.]

Dear Reader, Ezekiel’s plan of salvation is not well known so you may want to refresh you memory of it by reading through it a couple of times.  Ezekiel 18

Ezekiel writes that what he has to say came right from Yahweh.  Since Zeke made the bible compiling cut, religious folks have to give him some authority.  Paul is somewhat less assertive about the source of his musings.  Paul got his information from the Christ, rather then directly from the head God.  Since Paul also made the cut, how should one judge between them?  As an outsider, I would say go with the guy that reported to the head man especially since he is supported by at least one version of the Son of God and Son Inc.  – More on that later.

You will notice from the beginning God’s description of a righteous man is given.  The righteous man does not eat at mountain shrines, does not look at idols, does not mess with his neighbor’s wife, does not have sex with menstruating women, does not oppress anyone, does not rob, does not take interest on loans (the American Standard is a poor translation here as are most modern translations that dare not speak against capitalism), and in general does not do wrong. A righteous man does return collateral for a loan.  A righteous man does feed the hungry.  A righteous man does cloth the naked. A righteous man judges fairly between man and man.  A righteous man does keep God’s laws.  

Since God can describe a righteous man, one might be given to ponder the possibility that there could be such people born of Eve.  At this point the average Christian will be tempted to guess that God is describing Christ.  However, that is not clear.  “The righteous man will live,” says Ezekiel, but we know that, according to Paul, the righteous Christ must die.  In addition we find that God is disputing Israel’s belief that they, or anyone, dies for someone else’s sin. (Vs. 3&4)  One might even get the crazy idea that Yahweh doesn’t have much sympathy for St. Augustine’s idea of original sin either. Vs.20 “… the son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son.”

And then Yahweh says, “The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him,” [!!]  Ezekiel’s Yahweh doesn’t support the idea that your righteousness is useless being only filthy rags.

It is about here that the Pauline apologist will be tempted to claim that the life and death being spoken of is temporal.  However, there is little evidence that temporal authorities ever put men to death for oppressing the powerless, the poor, the widow, or the orphan.  There is little evidence of men being put to death for charging interest on loans except by medieval kings and lords that didn’t want to make good on their debt.   There is even less evidence of people being put to death by temporal authorities for not being charitable.  Indeed these are the sorts of behavior that often lead to wealth and power. Vs.21 puts an end to the idea that Ezekiel’s Yahweh is talking about temporal life and death.  It is impossible for a dead wicked guy to turn his life around by acting righteously.

Not only does the wicked man save himself by repenting and practicing righteousness, but he gets his sins forgiven and taken off the books: vs.22 “none of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him.”  This is repeated with more power in vs. 28: “Because [the wicked man] considers all the offenses [the wicked man] has committed and turns away from them, [the wicked man] will surely live; [the wicked man] will not die.
And it is re-emphasized again in vs.30: “Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.”

Warning, Jack Chick wannabes might want to skip over this next bit of vs. 22.  Ezekiel’s Yahweh says “Because of the righteous things he [that’s the wicked man] has done, he [that’s the wicked man] will live.  Hmmm!  According to Paul this can’t happen.  Vs. 24 is a spoiler for those readers who might be of the “once saved, always saved” stripe.  If you are invested in that belief you may want to skip vs.24.

What does this mean if Ezekiel is writing the Word of Yahweh?  Well of course it means that you don’t need a savior.  It means that you can be righteous in the sight of Yahweh by your own efforts to be righteous.  To say otherwise makes Ezekiel’s Yahweh out to be flip flopper at best and a liar at worst.  However, I think that the notion that Yahweh is the same yesterday, today, and always kind of does away with the possibility of Yahweh being a flip flopper.  So either Yahweh is a liar or Paul is.  As an atheist I would say that the problem is just another illustration that shows that religion is what ever the latest James Dobson type says it is.  However, if I were still religious I would lean towards Ezekiel, because doing so solves a number of problems.

The most serious problem it solves is that of being condemned for something you have no control over.  The Pauline idea of condemnation is rather like condemning a dog for not being able to fly.  “Not fair,” I’d say.  But old Zeke said, “don’t whine about not fair!  Of course it’s fair.  You do what you’re told and you’re in.  And, even though you are a measly human, you can do what you are told.”  I like that if only because it prevents Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and their ilk from getting into heaven at the last second via a quick sinner’s prayer.

Since I’m still an admirer of Jesus as a good teacher, sorry Clive, I’m amused and gratified to know that at least one version of him agrees with old Zeke.  Matthew 25: 31-46.

Upon close reading now that you are familiar with Ezekiel 18 you will notice how much Jesus’ picture of the “last judgment” echoes Zeke. To me what is more telling is what Jesus doesn’t mention as being important when standing before God for the last time.  

Nothing about what you believe is mentioned.  No troublesome beliefs are required. You don’t have to believe that Noah crammed two or seven of all the animals in the world in a wood boat for a year with no place to put the poop.  You don’t have to believe in a Virgin Mary.  You don’t have to believe blood is better than Tide for whitening.  You don’t have to believe that you are a worthless piece of crap. By means of silence Jesus clears up all the theological bickering and killing over crap like baptism, communion, trinity, Popes, tongues, etcetera, etcetera, and etcetera.  Heck, believing in God himself is not even required.  Just were you as good to people as you could be given your resources and abilities?  Even I can do that.