Sunday favorites

Romans 12: 9-21

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Just wanted to say, Fred, that I’m really liking your new “Sunday favourites” series. You’re sharing a lot of good stuff that many people, including many who look at the Bible a lot, don’t know. Really good stuff.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Wouldn’t it be simpler to just put the burning coals there myself?

    ——–

    Seriously though, I like this passage quite a bit.  It’s largely applicable to real every day life, which is important. 

    I came to a thought awhile back that religion and philosophy are little different – the exception is that the former tries to impart divine authority onto it’s philosophy.  Still, philosophy is useful if it’s applicable; and this, thusly, is largely a good practical bit of philosophy imo. m

  • Anonymous

    Everyone be quit reverent Clark is preaching

  • Anonymous

    Seconding the love for Sunday favorites and I’m hoping that Fred will make this a regular feature.
     
    “Wouldn’t it be simpler to put the burning coals there myself?” – JJohnson
     
    Heh. Yeah, I’ve never been quite sure how to take that. It’s a rather mixed message.
     
    *crosses fingers about first attempt to use italics in Discus*

  • MaryKaye

    I have never really been able to forgive passages like this, and “turn the other cheek”, for the women I know who have been advised by their churches to persevere, forgive, and keep showing love to men who abuse them.  This type of advice, quoted in that specific context, has done a world of harm.

    The burning coals may arrive in a hypothetical afterlife, but in the meantime there’s Hell on earth.

  • hagsrus

    Quit what?

  • Anonymous

    It seems rather a grotesque message to me.  Love your enemy not because they’re actually deserving of love, but because kindly behavior is actually an effective tool for long-term revenge?  (A revenge so long-term as to be rather pointless, since, as MaryKaye points out, it won’t actually stop your enemy from doing horrible stuff to you in this world.)

    It’s a clever social-engineering trick for managing a small and threatened community, though.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    I think it’s a typo.  Was probably intended to read “Everyone be quiet, reverand Clark is preaching.”

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    I think it’s a typo.  Was probably intended to read “Everyone be quiet, reverand Clark is preaching.”

  • Anonymous

    sorry I meant: be quiet

  • Anonymous

    sorry I meant: be quiet

  • Anonymous

    exactly my mistake.

  • Anonymous

    exactly my mistake.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    I don’t think that’s really what it means.  I think the burning coals are not indicative of hell, but rather indicative of how loving your enemies, and being a pacifist, will actually cause them great discomfort – and potentially spark introspection.*

    There’s a few reasons I’m reading it that way:

    1)  It works in RL.  Look at non-violent movements throughout the 20th century – most famously the Civil Rights movement in the US and the indpendence movement in India.

    Both are unambiguous in what they want, and when they want it – there’s no wishy-washiness about that… but both emphasized that despite how it may feel – how injustice may really, really make you want to lash out violently; that ultimately waging peace wins.

    A quote from MLK Jr that I feel helps illustrate the point:

    Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
    Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness
    multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when
    Jesus says “Love your enemies,” he is setting forth a profound and
    ultimately inescapable admonition. … The chain reaction of evil —
    hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we
    shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.
    – MLK Jr. Strength to Love, Chapter 5

    2)  Hell is not really talked about a lot in the Bible.  Fred’s brought that up many, many times.  Thus for this to be a reference to hell is very unlikely; even though  many folks will at first blush make that assumption.

    3)  This segment here ‘…but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’  is imo the most problematic of the lot.

    That said,  I think this is meant as a part of the warning against taking personal revenge – essentially saying that revenge is God’s alone to take.  Does it imply some far off vengence against those who wronged you? Absolutely.  I suspect that’s largely to mollify the very human (and very counterproductive) desire to swing back when struck;  a nod to human frailty.

    I could be wrong too; but that’s how I’m seeing it anyway.

    *I want to specifically note that I feel attempting to tell an abuse victim that this is the appropriate response is stupid and a misuse of the idea here.  The power dynamics of an abusive relationship are very different from the typical situation where someone has wronged you – even wronged you greatly.

    There’s a huge difference between someone beating their spouse and say… your boss constantly sticking you with the worst assignments because he/she does not like you for some reason.  Or your cubicle neighbor making snide comments.  Or even a jackass who hit you with a car and ran off.

    The power dynamic and the relationship is what makes an otherwise very applicable lesson inapplicable in that situation.

  • Amaryllis

    Supposedly, the “coals of fire” thing is a metaphor taken from metal smelting, warming the metal to soften it and remove impurities. These explanations usually quote Samuel Wesley (father of John and Charles):

    So artists melt the sullen ore of lead,
    By heaping coals of fire upon its head:
    In the kind warmth the metal learns to glow,
    And pure from dross the silver runs below.

    So, by returning good, or at least peaceful protest, for evil, the hope is that one’s enemy will become ashamed, his heart will be softened, and his conduct will be changed, right here in this life. Sometimes it even works.

    Sometimes, of course, it doesn’t.

    If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

    Sometimes it isn’t possible. Sometimes it doesn’t depend on you.

  • chris the cynic

    I’ve been trying to figure out how to say what I want to say about quotations like this being used to tell abused people to stay in the abusive relationship.  In writing, deleting, and rewriting over the past few hours I’ve probably written pages on the subject.  Somehow what I want to say always seems to fail to come through.

    I don’t think that the way people use passages can necessarily be blamed on the passages.  If someone uses, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” to justify telling someone to stay in an abusive relationship they’re pretty clearly misusing the words good an evil, among other egregious things.

    Another thing that stands out is that to apply a passage like this you’ve got to admit that the abusive partner is in fact 1) evil, 2) an enemy, 3) a persecutor.  If someone comes out and says, “Your husband is clearly evil.  He is your enemy.  He is persecuting you.  You should definitely stay with him,” I have to think there’s a problem there that goes beyond the quoted passage.

    The Bible does have a lot to say about how to treat evil and how to treat enemies.  It probably has a similar amount on the topic of persecutors although I am not familiar with such passages.  What I’m reasonably sure it doesn’t say is that you should get into, be in, or stay in a close personal relationship with those things.  If there’s a passage in the Bible that says, “When you find evil you should marry it,” it’s in one of the parts I have yet to read.

    Even the part that says turn the other cheek, a part of the Bible that explicitly tells you to submit to physical violence, doesn’t tell you to remain in a situation where that will come up again if you have the power to leave.

    To recognize something as evil, and then tell someone to stay in that situation and simply preserve rather than try to end the situation seems to be advising people, “Do be overcome by evil, face evil by helping it perpetuate itself.”  That would seem, to me, to be a misreading the passage.

    -

    And, obviously things can be open to interpretation, for example I can see, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all,” being used to argue that someone shouldn’t make waves or cause friction and thus should endure abuse or something like that, but it looks to me more like it is saying that insofar as it is within your power all abuse should be opposed.  After all, if you are being abused, abusing, or doing nothing in the face of abuse to others, you are emphatically not living peacably with others.

    -

    It’s still not good.  Sorry, I wish I could do better, but after several hours of trying I think that I simply don’t have better in me.  The short version is this:
    1 I’m pretty sure that, “Love your enemies,” doesn’t mean you should be married to/dating/otherwise in a close relationship with your enemy.
    2 If someone can make something like, “Overcome evil with good,” into a tool of oppression, I think the problem is somewhere other than the quotation.

    Also, I’m not saying anyone else’s point of view is wrong.  This is just how I look at it.

  • Anonymous

    In the case it isn’t possible to live peacefully: kill the motherf*ckers

  • Anonymous

    If there’s a passage in the Bible that says, “When you find evil you
    should marry it,” it’s in one of the parts I have yet to read.

    Clearly you haven’t read the part that requires rapists to marry their victims.

    Also my computer is in the process of crashing and I haven’t been saving my work on an article I’m writing. *screams*

  • Anonymous

    Trigger warning: death, torture.

    Can we please not use death threats on people? I don’t care who they are. I’m still shaky from the knowledge that somebody on Facebook would cheer were I to be crucified. http://www.blaghag.com/2011/08/its-not-just-one-person-sending-death.html

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Eugh… I’m not surprised but… I admit that’s making my stomach churn; and I like to think I’m fairly jaded by this point.

  • Anonymous

    sorry didn’t think this through had the soundtrack of team america world police in my head.

    I will remove it now

  • hagsrus

    Of course – stupid of me.

  • Anonymous

    my mistake

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    @ChrisTheCynic:disqus

    It’s a difficult subject.  I’ve had a lot of second thoughts since posting upthread with similar interpretations; and even typing it I was (and still am) constantly thinking:

    “Am I writing in defense of something I agree with… or am I writing a defense of something that I want to be there so I can agree with it?”

    The passage by itself is, I think, wonderful.  But context is important and as much as I try to caveat in my posts when i feel necessary I sometimes feel like even as I try I am failing miserably at hitting the nuanced line of thinking I’m aiming for.

    Err basically my point is:  This is complicated.  It’s also a worthy endeavor – as we say here fairly often:

    Test everything, hold on to the good.  This is the testing process, right?

  • chris the cynic

    While not having read it would be a great excuse, the truth is that I have read that part.

    For whatever reason it didn’t come to mind when I was trying to dredge from my memory the various things the Bible said about the treatment of evil and enemies.  The things that did come to mind were many and varied (from stoning to love) but that wasn’t one of them.

    Anyway, that’s a very good point.  I’m not sure if the text of the book recognizes that the rapist is evil, the enemy, and a persecutor.  But we all certainly should.

    -

    Good luck with your computer.

  • Amaryllis

    I have no idea what anyone’s talking about. What’d I say? What death threat?

    Actually, I have some idea what chris the cynic and EllieMurasaki are talking about.

    As far as “marry your rapist” goes, that’s another place where context matters. I don’t believe that “rape” in that law necessarily means what we’d call rape; it meant having sexual relations with an unmarried or unbetrothed woman, thus spoiling her chances to make a good marriage. The lot of  a woman who was unmarried and un-virgin was not a happy one, whether she’d been raped or enthusiastically consented. The law was an attempt to see that the woman was provided for, in a culture where the only provision for a woman was marriage. Of course, it also required monetary compensation for the woman’s father, since he’d lost his chance of profiting by his daughter’s marriage.

    So, sexist in its very assumptions, absolutely, but so was the culture. So are most cultures, after all, I sometimes think that sexism is the original Original Sin. And it’s easy to take an attempt at describing an ideal of mutuality and forbearance, and twist it so that it means something different and toxic For Women Only. That’s not necessarily the fault of the words themselves.

    “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” might just as easily mean “do not stay in an evil situation; do not permit evil to be done to you if you can stop it.” More easily, to my mind.

  • chris the cynic

    “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” might just as easily mean “do not stay in an evil situation; do not permit evil to be done to you if you can stop it.” More easily, to my mind.

    That’s certainly how I would interpret it.

    -

    As for the the death threat thing, that was something in the post by flat which has since been edited to say “sorry inapropiate content” it really had very little to do with what you said.

  • ako

    I think the “marry your rapist” thing is one of those things that seems less bad when treated as the flawed product of a deeply sexist culture just beginning to grasp things like “It matters whether sex is consensual at least some of the time, and the woman shouldn’t be punished* for what’s done to her against her will” and utterly monstrous if taken as the eternal wisdom of an omniscient arbitrator of universal justice.

    *Being told to marry the rapist would constitute not being punished by the standards of a bunch of male tribal patriarchs from several thousand years ago who probably couldn’t imagine a better way of minimizing the harm to women than not stoning them to death and ensuring they were able to get married to someone, not by my standards, just to clarify.

  • ako

    I’ve heard that kind of advice put about in child abuse cases, including incest cases, and had to reassure several girls that it wasn’t horrible or even unreasonable to not be able to instantly forgive their fathers, so I understand being bothered by those passages.

    I think abusers and other manipulators (every abuser I’ve ever spoken or heard from has been incredibly manipulative) like to blur the distinction between “Don’t seek revenge” and “Don’t do anything that might stop the abuse”.  I don’t think that’s the intent of that passage, but I do think it can be used that way quite easily, which is one of the reasons I think the prooftexting-’literalism’ approach to the Bible is really bad for people.  In a tradition where “But what does that really mean?  What’s the intent?  How does cultural context figure in?” are reasonable questions, it’s a lot harder to turn something like that into “God wants you to go back and be beaten and raped some more.”

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think that’s really what it means.  I think the burning coals are not indicative of hell, but rather indicative of how loving your enemies, and being a pacifist, will actually cause them great discomfort – and potentially spark introspection.

    Well, I think that’s almost certainly the original significance of the “burning coals” line in Proverbs 25, which is being quoted here.  Proverbs 25 is basically a collection of life advice–here’s how to behave in court, here’s how to treat your neighbor, here’s what sort of marriage you should shoot for–and doesn’t deal at all with divine retribution.  (And the authors of Proverbs would have had no notion of a Christianish hell, of course.)

    This Romans passage, though, marries that quote to the “Vengeance is mine” quote from Deuteronomy, which is allllll about divine retribution.  It seems to me that the burning coals take on a new significance in that context.

    2)  Hell is not really talked about a lot in the Bible.  Fred’s brought that up many, many times.  Thus for this to be a reference to hell is very unlikely; even though  many folks will at first blush make that assumption.

    Fred’s made that claim, yes.  Personally, I think it’s rather overblown; a couple of blog posts here and here make effective critiques of his argument.  I think Fred’s on firm ground when he says that the Bible doesn’t give us a consistent, detailed picture of what will happen to wrongdoers after they die, let alone a picture that matches Team Hell’s specific idea of “a physical place that the Bible says is the destiny of all non-RTCs who will go there to receive eternal torment.”  But there are still an awful lot of NT passages about how God’s going to do something really really unpleasant to a lot of people in some future state of existence, and it’s urgent to avoid being one of those people.

    Similarly, Paul doesn’t talk about hell.  But he does talk rather a lot about God’s present and coming wrath and how much it sucks and how only Christ can protect us from it.  “Burning coals” fit right into that, metaphorically or not.

    That said,  I think this is meant as a part of the warning against taking personal revenge – essentially saying that revenge is God’s alone to take.  Does it imply some far off vengence against those who wronged you? Absolutely.  I suspect that’s largely to mollify the very human (and very counterproductive) desire to swing back when struck;  a nod to human frailty.

    Oh yes, and that’s why I was saying it’s a clever bit of social engineering.  Instead of simply condemning feelings of anger and resentment, it gives people an outlet for them while still pushing them to pro-social behavior.

  • http://twitter.com/shay_guy Shay Guy

    “Nessa hates hate. But Nessa loves love!”

  • Anonymous

    Supposedly, the “coals of fire” thing is a metaphor taken from metal
    smelting, warming the metal to soften it and remove impurities.

     

    I dunno, there are other mentions of coals of fire in the Psalms and elsewhere in the OT, and none of them really seem to fit that particular metaphor–they mostly seem to just represent pain and unpleasantness.  I mean, it’s possible, but I’m not sure there’s positive evidence for it.

    I’ve also read some suggestions that it refers to an Egyptian ritual of repentance–there’s a text where someone carries burning coals on their head when returning a stolen object–but again, I don’t know if a positive cultural link can be drawn.

  • Amaryllis

    @cb605338dfd1d2f2d003abf4254dbb45:disqus : oh, I agree with you. It’s monstrous if you interpret it as a command to the woman to “marry your rapist so he can go on tormenting you,” instead of as a command to the man that “you are responsible to the woman that you sleep with” (I believe that many translations use “lie with” or “sleep with” instead of “rape” in this particular verse, just because the question of the woman’s consent is unclear).

    That whole passage is like that; some of it is quite monstrous to our eyes: stoning as a penalty for losing one’s virginity before marriage, or committing adultery, or not resisting rape loudly enough. On the other hand, it also requires the death penalty for the rapist in cases of undoubted forcible rape, with no penalty for the woman; treats both partners in adultery as equally guilty; and provides for compensation for women who are falsely accused. Again, it’s a society which kinship and inheritance were based on on controlling women’s sexual behavior, but it’s groping towards an attempt at some sort of justice even for its second-class citizens. It’s flawed, but it’s a start.

    It’s certainly not an end, of course. And not to be used as an excuse for abuse by people so far removed from the original cultural context– certainly not by people who don’t spar a thought for making sure that all their coats have tassels (as commanded by the immediately preceding verse).

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Lipton/100001171828568 Jeff Lipton

    Even the part that says turn the other cheek

    As I understand, that had a very specific context:  It was considered to the height of “just.not.done” to slap someone with the back of your hand.  When you “turn the other cheek”, you are forcing them to back off or to humiliate themselves.

    This won’t work with Republicans someone with no sense of honor (but I repeat myself).  Someone who would abuse a “loved” one definitely has no sense of honor.


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