But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; with his wifes knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles' feet. "Ananias," Peter asked, "why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!" Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it. The young men came and wrapped up his body, then carried him out and buried him. After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter said to her, "Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price." And she said, "Yes, that was the price." Then Peter said to her, "How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out." Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.
- Acts 5:1-11I'm facilitating a class on the Acts of the Apostles right now. This passage is coming up. It is one of the most ugly passages in scripture, ranking right up there with crazy Abraham's child abuse and the Psalmist bashing baby heads.
Why are the monotheistic traditions so caught up in the wrath of God? A God who went around zapping people who ticked him off is not a God worthy of worship. Such a tyrant God would demand rebellion.
As time goes on, I find the bible to sometimes be more of a stumbling block than a help. I blame it on the invention of the printing press. Now every literate person is told they have access to "the plain truth of the bible." Nevermind that the act of reading, the eye taking in symbols on a page and forming them into words and the words into concepts, involves a process of interpretation. The bible said it, I believe it, that ends it. And if you don't "believe" (read, "interpret") like I do, then you are wrong, and are in danger of hell fire. Gag me with a spoon.
And we wonder why the three monotheistic faiths keep on trying to kill each other off? As they read it, the "plain truth" of their sacred writings justifies the bloodshed.
I also find the treatment of "God's Word" (which I always think is a reference to Jesus, but am usually corrected; Paul being more important in some circles than John, I suppose) as THE source of revealed truth to often be expressed in ways that sure seem idolatrous to me. Even my tradition, with our Gospel procession, etc., has the scent of idolatry around it. It's just dead trees folks. Words on a page. Far removed from the realities they attempt to represent. It astounds me when a book is given a higher priority than living beings. Do people really think God loves a book more than humanity?
When we get to this passage, I'll probably use the African Bible Study Method (also known as the Lambeth method). My experience is that even the most horrid passage can still be a conduit for inspiration, if we set aside all the cerebral stuff, and simply ask, "What is God saying to me, right here and right now, in this passage?" I could present the various spins on this text; exegesis, contextual setting, identifying the appropriate hermeneutical principles, etc. But the reality is that a bunch of that stuff that they put in your toolbox in seminary is just intellectual gymnastics to avoid having to admit the truth; some of the folks who somehow got their writings put in the bible were really twisted.
One way to understand sin is to define it as "twisted good." At the root of every sin is something good. The idea that we can cut sin out of our lives is a very damaging image; to do so would require we also cut out a piece of ourselves. Instead, why not engage in the slow process of untwisting it, until we arrive at the good root? I think the same thing can be done with the difficult passages in scripture. I do believe in redemption, after all. But to do so, we first have to get folks to agree that the passage is twisted. Good luck on that one.
Maybe I'll look into Buddhism. The only problem is I'm still head over heels in love with Christ. Maybe the Unitarians? Bad liturgy. Drat.