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Ask a theologian

I have observed the misery of my people . . . ;
I have heard their cry. . . .
Indeed, I know their sufferings,
and I have come down to deliver them (Exod 3:7f).

 

Ask a theologian

Dr. Aaron Milavec

I have been wrestling with questions for 32 years.  So, when you entrust me with your question by posting it in the “comment” box below, I will endeavor to answer directly, honestly, and faithfully.   If I cannot answer, I will try to find someone who can do so.
At the end of your question, decide what sort of answer you prefer by ending your question with ?Head, ?Heart, or ?Hist.  This is a shorthand for the following:
?Head=Appeal to my mind.  I want to know the truth.
?Heart=Appeal to my heart.
?Hist=Give me a brief history of the theological and pastoral issues.

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28 thoughts on “Ask a theologian”

  1. Have you given any kind of thought at all with converting your main web-site into German? I know a several of translaters right here that would help you do it for no cost if you want to make contact with me personally.

    1. Great idea. It warms my heart that you would take this initiative.

      Please begin with the front page, http://www.churchonfire.net. Please ask your translator(s) to aim toward a dynamic translation–one that uses the idioms and habits of speech to which German speakers are accustomed.

      Then I can put it into place and see how many German-reading visitors come to the site. This then can allow us to see whether their is a substantial benefit for German-speakers who, at the moment, are being left out in the cold by my English-language site.

      Aaron

  2. Very great post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I’ve truly enjoyed browsing your blog posts. After all I will be subscribing in your feed and I hope you write once more soon!

  3. Have you ever considered publishing an ebook or guest authoring on other websites?

    I have a blog centered on the same information you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information. I know my viewers would enjoy your work.

    If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send me an e mail.

    1. Thanks for your kind words. Yes, I do plan to allow six months for the blogs here to mature and, then, I will bring them together in an e-book.

      Please send the address of your blog.

      P.S.: Just published this Kindle eBook with Amazon.com:
      new book

  4. I’m truly enjoying the design and layout of your website. It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more pleasant for me to come here and visit more often. Did you hire out a developer to create your theme? Excellent work!

  5. This design is incredible! You definitely know how to keep a reader amused. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Wonderful job. I really loved what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!

  6. My question is in regards to King David and Davidic worship. My understanding is that David operated for a short period of time with his tent and the ark of the covenant, with no animal sacrifice etc, at the same time while the ‘sanctioned’ tabernacle of Moses was operating with its proper rules under the law. My question is if this is true, how did David get away with it? Both under God and under the Jewish law?

  7. Dear Wes,

    I’m not an expert in this area, but I will endeavor to present an informed working start by way of responding to your question.

    #1 Worship of Yahweh prior to David

    In the large picture of things, it must be remembered that, during the time of the patriarchs (2091- 1876 BCE), there were many places for offering sacrifices to Yahweh and that the patriarchs were free to make their offering without a priest. During this epoch, none of the children of Abraham and Sarah were designated as “priests,” and no single place was set aside for sacrifices.

    After the exodus, Moses is commanded by the Lord to install Aaron, his brother, as the first of a line of priests and to set aside the tribe of Levi exclusively for the purpose of assisting the priests in offering fitting worship to Yahweh. Needless to say, Aaron and his sons began gradually to function as priests, but that still does not mean that they were systematically turned to whenever a sacrifice was anticipated (See, e.g., 1 K 3:2). According to Leviticus, sacrifices were to be brought to the “tent of meeting” where the Ark of the Covenant was stored (Leviticus 17:2-4). Here again, this is what came to be, but not necessarily what was routinely practiced.

    The “tent of meeting” was used as another name for the Tabernacle of Moses. However, before the tabernacle was constructed, God met with Moses in a temporary tent of meeting: “Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the ‘tent of meeting.’ Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. . . . As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses” (Exodus 33:7, 9). The fact that Moses set up the tent of meeting outside of the camp underscored that the people had broken fellowship with God at Sinai when they had made the golden calf (see Exodus 33:3). After the tabernacle was built, Moses no longer needed his temporary tent, and the term tent of meeting began to be applied to the tabernacle. (http://www.gotquestions.org/tent-of-meeting.html)

    #2 The Impact of King David on Worship

    With the anointing of David as King of Israel (1025 BCE), a new era was born. David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14) who set forth principles, guidelines and patterns of worship according to the directions he received from the Lord. David rescued the Ark of the Covenant from captivity (2 Samuel 5-6) and brought it to Jerusalem, which was the last fortified town that finally fell to the army of David. In this fashion, David, on receiving instructions from the Lord, began to reform the Aronide priesthood and to prepare for building a permanent “house of the Lord” (the Temple) in Jerusalem.

    The return of the Ark resulted in great rejoicing. There was food, singing, instruments playing, sacrifices to God (2 Samuel 6:1-19) and dancing. David danced with all his might before the Lord (2 Samuel 6:14-15). He was so free in his dance that he embarrassed his wife (2 Samuel 6:16). He did not care–he was led by the Spirit to worship God with abandonment. The Ark was placed in a tent (tabernacle) and David appointed skilled musicians and leaders to worship around the Ark day and night. Thus David not only offered the animal sacrifices (2 Samuel 6: 13, 17-18) preferred by the official priests, he authorized musical instruments, singing, chanting, shouting, lifting of hands, clapping of hands, processions and dancing as entirely pleasing to the Lord as well.

    Davidic worship was often prophetic (1 Chronicles 25:1; Psalms 46:10, 50:7, 85:8 ), and the singing of new songs was encouraged (Psalms 33:3, 96:1, 149:1). Corporate worship within the tabernacle focused not only on joyfully lifting up the name of Yahweh (Psalm 34:3; 57:5), giving thanks (Psalm 30:4; 35:18), repentance and recommitment (Psalm 26:2; 139:23 ), but also on inviting the manifest presence of the Most High (1 Kings 8:11; Chronicles 5:14; Psalms 50:2). (http://www.sharefaith.com/guide/Christian-Music/praise-and-worship/davidic-worship.html)

    How did David get away with all these innovations into the domain reserved for priests? Well, to begin with, one must remember that the Israelites were not accustomed to having “kings” and that Yahweh was very reluctant to grant them the right to do so (1 Samuel 8:4-18, Judges 8:23, Deuteronomy 17:14-20). The first king, Saul, was a bitter failure. David, on the other hand, was an overwhelming success. As such, the Israelites tolerated his innovations because David had brought into play a period of peace and security that had been hitherto unknown to them. The legends that surrounded David later made their way into the official texts and established his reign as the unabashed “Camelot period” of Israelite history.

    Even in his seduction of Bathsheba and his murderous treachery towards her husband, the story is told in such a way that we learn how he sinned audaciously yet repented mightily when accused by the prophet Nathan. Then he bitterly lamented the death of his son as the punishment for his crime (2 Samuel 12:15-18). Instead of being dismissed as in the case of Saul, even the failure of David secured for him his first place in the ranks of those who have come to known as the faithful servants of the Lord.

    #3 Worship by Kings Challenged

    Only during the reign of King Uzziah (783–742 BCE) do we find the first instance whereby the high priest, Azariah, and eighty other priests publicly confronted the king for acting like a priest: “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary . . .” (2 Chr 26:18). At this, the king defies the priests, but then “leprosy broke out on his forehead . . . and he himself hastened to get out [of the Temple] because the LORD had smitten him” (2 Chr 26:19-20). This demonstrates that, with time, not even the king could presuppose that he had the right to act like a priest. It is also a small step toward the epoch wherein the priests would be charged with instructing and judging kings, and, in due course, able to replace the kings entirely and to rule Israel as they saw fit.

    Need to know more? Try this:
    The Shaping Of Jewish History: A Radical New Interpretation.
    by Ellis Rivkin

    So, Wes, what do you make of my reply?

  8. Hi. If at all humanly possible, can you PLEASE tell me what these abbreviations are for as used in the Lexicon, for non-biblical writings (from Walter Bauer’s), as I’m doing a search on the usage of the Greek word ‘sunerchomai’ as it relates to the relations between a man and a woman.

    (abbreviations)
    X, Mem., Diod. Ps. Apollod, Philo, Virt, Jos, Ant.
    I can’t read Greek so I cannot look up what texts these abbreviations are for. I only know they are non-biblical text, which is what I’m needing to look into, so I can say I have a ‘thorough grasp’ on how the word sunerchomai was used back then. Thanks. ?head.

    Deb

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  12. Will our resurrected bodies express gender and sexuality? If so, how? Will we continue to image God as ‘male and female’? Or will we all be male in the image of Christ? Or perhaps even female in relation to our Bridegroom? In short, what will our embodiment express in terms of gender/sexuality?

    1. I appreciate the suggestion that we might “all be female in relation to our Bridegroom.” Neat.

      Thomas Aquinas (d. 1275) thought that each of us would retain the same sexual orientation in the resurrection since we had gained our salvation as such within a particular body. But how about those who were never very comfortable in their given bodies? This question never occurred to St. Thomas.

      Some authors cite this text of Jesus by way of demonstrating that the resurrected bodies will not have sensual/sexual functions: “They neither marry nor are given in marriage”

      Jesus uses these words is contending with the Sadducees regarding the expectation of the general resurrection of the dead in the Last Days. Jesus upholds the resurrection saying:

      You know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven (Matt 22:30, Mark 12:25, Luke 20:35f).

      Some authors have used this text to argue that Jesus himself understood his celibacy as an anticipation of the world to come where no one will be married.

      As in the case above, the intent of Jesus must be gathered from considering his words in their original context. Here, one finds Sadducees “saying there is no resurrection” (Matt 22:23 and par.) based on the hypothetical case of seven brothers who, by Jewish tradition, had a serial marriage with a single women (Matt 22:24-26 following Deut 25:5) in the attempt to raise up offspring. On the basis of this extreme case, the Sadducees posed the dilemma: “At the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven will she be? For all of them had married her” (Matt 22:27). The implied logic of this case is that God would face an impossible situation at the final resurrections since each of the seven brothers had the right to claim the women as his wife.

      The clever responder might suggest that each husband might have the women one day a week. Each day, however, six of the brothers would be deprived of their wife‑-a condition hardly acceptable in the kingdom of God. Or, again, maybe God, at the general resurrection, would clone the woman such that each brother would have her as his full-time wife. The bible, however, says nothing of cloning and one has no reason to believe that God anticipates cloning by way of solving certain problems.

      Could God then take six women who never married and to transform their appearance such that they looked like the women that was married to the seven brothers? And so it goes. . . . Endless bad proposals and the final sense that maybe, in view of real cases like this, there will not be a resurrection.

      So what does Jesus propose by way of unraveling this tale? The logic of Jesus’ rebuttal is that the Sadducees underestimate “the power of God” (Matt 22:29) when they imagine that the world to come will be organized according to the social codes found in the Hebrew Scriptures. More to the point, Jesus postulates that, in the world to come, there will be “no marriage” but all will live in community “like the angels” (Matt 22:30).[12] Living “like the angels” does not mean that Jesus envisions that human existence will involve disembodied spirits. Such a proposition would deny the bodily resurrection of the dead and forfeit the argument to the Sadducees. Rather, the argument is simply that the angels live quite well in community without pairing off as marriage partners and that, in the future, humans will get on quite well doing the same.

      This argument says absolutely nothing either favorable or unfavorable about resurrected bodies being asexual or incapable of sexually functioning.[13] Thomas Aquinas would not favor such a situation since it would mean that resurrected bodies would be impaired rather than perfected.

      Speaking for myself, I can only observe that sexuality offers a glorious capacity to enjoy and to bond with another human being and that our resurrected bodies would assuredly have refined sensual, sexual, and social powers. In this regard, our situation as humans is better for us and there is little room to imagine that humans will ever become angels.

      Surely, however, there will be no room for using sexuality as a tool of repression or for the subjugation of another human being. Perhaps this is where Jesus would have again favored the practice of denying marriage in the world to come because, in his experience, the bond of marriage often meant that a husband exerted a cripling domination over his wife.

      When all is said and done, however, we must all allow that “eye has not seen and ear has not heard what God has in store for those who love him.”

      Fraternally,
      Aaron

  13. I have been wresting with questions for many years .. hope you can help clarify it for me.

    When I was 9 years old, I attended Bible School and church on Sundays with my neighbors. My parents were good people, but did not attend church. My neighbors invited my parents to attend service with us one Sunday night.

    At the conclusion of the service, when people were walking to the altar to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior, I was greatly compelled to go. But as I rose to walk to the front of the church, my mother caught my arm and returned me to my seat.

    As soon as I could, I rushed outside to our car where I proceeded to cry my heart out. Hindsight, I wonder if I was saved during that moment .. not because of a denied opportunity but because that was my moment of salvation?

    Unfortunately, my parents moved and as a teenager, I fell into a bad crowd. I did some things that I am ashamed of, and I have prayed many times for forgiveness.

    My question(s): Was I saved or not that fateful Sunday night? And if I was, did I wreck it by my bad behavior as a teenager?

    The past 11 years of my life (I’m now 65) have been more than painful and I wonder if this is my punishment for turning away from God all those years ago. I’m a real mess. Sorry for the length of this letter but appreciate your response, if you have the time. Thank you

    1. Dear Val,

      Yes, at that moment when you were impelled to go forward to proclaim your salvation, the Holy Spirit had gripped your soul. No matter that your mother stopped you. You responded by receiving the “baptism of desire” and your tears outside washed your soul clean. . . .

      But God did not stop there. Salvation is not a one-time affair. The deeds you did and the bad conscience that followed, was this not also the grace of salvation erupting? And the multiple acts of repentance, was this not the Lord tugging at your heart and welcoming you home?

      So, at 65, you seem ready to have your whole life examined and turned inside out. I would suggest you pray over this. Maybe consider a confession of your entire life that includes a recounting of your sins and your acts of grace to the Lord in the presence of a close spiritual friend or to an ordained minister. . . .

      Fraternally,
      Aaron

  14. How does one get in touch with Dr. Milavec?
    I am trying to locate a copy of the work listed below the signature. I have tried to find the journal but with no success. I would appreciate your assistance.
    Title: Is God arbitrary and sadistic: Anselm’s atonement theory reconsidered
    Author: Milavec, Aaron
    Source: Schola
    Date: 1981-01-01
    ISSN:
    ISBN:
    Series or Collection Title:
    Volume: 4
    Issue:
    Start Page: 45-94

    Database: ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials
    Item Number: ATLA0000795289

    All email are dead end links.
    Please help.

    Dr. Craig Kubic
    ckubic@swbts.edu

  15. I have a historical-ish question. When Christ was crucified, two theives were crucified next to him. One was repentant, and Christ said “Today you will be with me in Heaven.” Only, He didn’t go to Heaven straight away, right? He spent 3 days in his tomb and 40 days on Earth after His resurrection. So, where was the thief this whole time? Was he in hell for all that time? Or did he get into heaven before even Christ did? I know this is a silly question, but it’s been nagging at me.

    1. Dear Audrey,

      Excellent question! If you examine the text closely, the thief was not repentant respecting his thievery. Rather, he says, in effect, “We are getting what we deserve, but this guy is innocent of the charges (insurrection) against him.”

      Furthermore, Luke’s Gospel does not imagine that those who die go immediately to heaven or hell. Rather, body and soul die together and, only at the resurrection of the dead, do those in the grave rise to new life. Then, those like the “good thief” will enter [the Garden of] Paradise. Jesus never says anything about “going to heaven.” From the vantage point of the thief, however, he dies at one moment and, in the next moment, he experiences being raised from the dead. Hence, from his vantage point, it all happens “today.”

      Notice also that Jesus gets taken up into Heaven because God has future plans for him. What plans? God intend to send Jesus back to earth as the Messiah during the Last Days. In the Jewish tradition, the prophet Elijah was taken alive into heaven and it was Elijah (not Jesus) who was preserved in Heaven for return to herald the Last Days. See the final lines of the books of the prophets to confirm this.

      Jesus believed that God was getting ready to come to earth to bring about the Kingdom of justice and peace. This is why Jesus prayed, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is [already being accomplished] in heaven.” Thus, for Jesus, God is preparing to come to us; hence, it makes no sense to want to go to heaven for he won’t be there for very long. See Rev 21:1-14 where God takes his place on the throne of the new Jerusalem and “wipe(s) away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more.”

      So, in effect, your puzzlement opened up a whole host of associated questions. “This day you will be with me in Paradise” is thus fulfilled in ways that you might not have expected.

      Fraternally,
      Aaron

      Further Reading:

      The Return of Elijah from Heaven Prophecy by Joel Smith
      http://bci.org/prophecy-fulfilled/elijah.htm

      Evolution of the Soul and Immortality in Christian Thought by Rt. Rev. N.T. Wright
      http://www.slate.com/bigideas/is-there-life-after-death/essays-and-opinions/nt-wright-opinion

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soul_in_the_Bible [good summary]

  16. Is there ever an instance in the Bible where a person makes a prayer request that God really does not want to honor, but the person beseeches God and God grudgingly answers what is asked for?

    1. Dear Jennifer,

      The classic case here is that of Abraham:

      When God informed Abraham of his plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham challenged him. When challenged, God did not pull rank and dismiss out of hand Abraham’s challenge. Rather, he saw the merit of Abraham’s observation. Thus God himself changed his mind and conceded that Abraham had made his point.

      Then, Abraham, seeing that God acknowledged that his plan was flawed, continued to press his advantage by openly bargaining with God: “Suppose there are forty . . . ; suppose there are twenty . . . ; suppose there are ten.”

      At ten, Abraham went no further because he calculated that, with Lot and his family, there would surely be ten righteous. Abraham thus felt assured that God would not allow the innocent to suffer with the guilty.

      But it was not to be.

      When the whole town surrounded Lot’s house and demanded that the two angels be surrendered to them for sexual abuse, the required ten righteous was not achieved. Nonetheless, one should take notice that Lot, when his own sons-in-law refused to seek refuge from the wrath that was to come, did openly bargain with the two avenging angels to save the small town of Zoar. One should also take notice that “God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot [his wife and his two daughters] out of the midst of the overthrow” (Gen 19:29).

      This indicates that Abraham, even while he was not able to avert the disaster entirely, does nonetheless get God to further reduce the collateral damage. As a result of this, God blessed Abraham precisely because he challenged and enlarged the justice of God. He did not meekly accept God’s judgment. Rather, he found fault with God, and, as a result, God changed his plans accordingly.

      Another classical case is that of David. One day from the height of his palace, he watches as Bathsheba, wife of Uriah, one of his loyal warriors, bathes on her rooftop. In lust he calls her to the palace and gets her pregnant. When he can’t blame her pregnancy on her husband, he arranges to have her husband killed in battle. Now, outwardly, there is no man to call the king into account, but inwardly David knows he is corrupt.

      But God is waiting for him to confess his failings. So one day God sends Nathan the prophet who tells David the simple story of a poor man being cheated by a rich man out of the little ewe lamb that he loves. Enraged, David blurts, “That man deserves to die.”

      Nathan then points his finger directly at the corrupt King and says with an even voice, “You are that man,” and, in so doing, he pronounces the king’s judgment against him. This shocks David out his denial and cover-up.

      Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned (hātā�) against the LORD.” [Notice that David in this setting is not aware that he has sinned against Bathsheba as well.]
      Nathan replied, “The LORD has taken away your sin (hattā�t). You are not going to die [as you yourself have indicated]. But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the LORD show utter contempt [for the Law?], the son born to you will die.” (2 Samuel 12:13-14)

      The Lord punishes David for his sin, but God reduces the punishment–the child conceived unlawfully will die. So Nathan the prophet and many others as well who know the truth come to recognize that God does not love David “his son” foolishly by giving him full pardon. But God does mercifully reduce the sentence. Meanwhile God ignores David’s prayer that his child be spared.

      Many scholars regard Ps 45 as David’s prayer to be washed clean of his sin, i.e., to be pardoned without any painful consequences. But such a policy would be a fatal blow to God’s justice–for even David the king who rules Israel in the name of God must be seen to submit to the Lord’s rule.

      The prophets Jonah and Elijah both petition God to kill them during their difficult circumstances. God’s answer was “no” because it was not a fitting prayer. God instead provides nourishment, safety and help for them–the very things that they should have been asking for in the first place.

      Jesus asked God to take the cup of suffering from him during his prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane, but as he prolonged his prayer, he realized that it was God’s will for him to drink of that cup, and he submitted to God’s will. Paul the Apostle also petitioned God three times to remove the thorn in his flesh and God said “no”. “My grace shall be sufficient for you.” In such instances, the one praying learns that the sheer repetition of prayers does not insure the response called for. Rather, through suffering, one often learns to realign one’s prayers.

      There are many other instances of unanswered and of partially answered prayers in the bible. These cases give us a broad set of variations: In the case of Abraham, God altered his plans so as to avoid killing the innocent with the guilty. In the case of David, the concealed crime was brought to the attention of the king. His honest admission of guilt lessened his sentence. God also waited patiently for David’s conversion. In the case of Jonah and Elijah, unworthy prayers were entirely ignored and God came forward with the kind of help that they should have been seeking all along. In the final case of Jesus and Paul, sustained prayer led to altering the mindset of the one praying.

      In the end, none of these instances demonstrates exactly that “the person beseeches God and God grudgingly answers what is asked for.” The case of Abraham gets closest to this, but perhaps not in the way you expected.

      So I have a question: “Do prayers in the bible serve to change God’s mind?” If not, is this a modern perception that has no warrant in the bible?

      Fraternally,
      Aaron

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