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Bleak Theology: Hopeful Science

Do not argue with God about liturgy, (or theology)

This is my last full day in Canada. Tomorrow is to be spent on planes: I will cross the international date line and “lose” Thursday and arrive back in NZ Friday morning, God willing.

Canada, as usual, has been illuminating. The country is in many ways more progressive than NZ. This applies to much of their publick theology and religion, which is overtly liberal. There is a conservative rump, but they are silenced.

The trouble is that God does not think that way.

Numbers 16:20-35

20Then the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying: 21Separate yourselves from this congregation, so that I may consume them in a moment. 22They fell on their faces, and said, “O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one person sin and you become angry with the whole congregation?”

23And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 24Say to the congregation: Get away from the dwellings of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. 25So Moses got up and went to Dathan and Abiram; the elders of Israel followed him. 26He said to the congregation, “Turn away from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, or you will be swept away for all their sins.” 27So they got away from the dwellings of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram; and Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the entrance of their tents, together with their wives, their children, and their little ones. 28And Moses said, “This is how you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works; it has not been of my own accord: 29If these people die a natural death, or if a natural fate comes on them, then the LORD has not sent me. 30But if the LORD creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up, with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the LORD.”

31As soon as he finished speaking all these words, the ground under them was split apart. 32The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, along with their households – everyone who belonged to Korah and all their goods. 33So they with all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol; the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. 34All Israel around them fled at their outcry, for they said, “The earth will swallow us too!” 35And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the two hundred fifty men offering the incense.

There are far more comforting passages in the lectionary today. This passage reads as unfair. The entire family died, including the little infants, for the sins of the paterfamilias. But the principle behind this was that they were rebelling against the worship of the temple.

The tabernacle or temple was designed by the regulations and direction of Moses and was a mirror of a heavenly model. To deviate from that is to deviate from the modelĀ  The atonement available within the law applies to that tabernacle, to that temple — and that temple was destroyed by the Romans.

There is an analogy here. We have been directed, as a church, in but a few things, and we get them wrong.

  • A elder (presbyter, bishop) should be without reproach, and the husband of one wife. (Single and ceiibate men can lead as Paul did, but not those divorced)
  • Women should not teach in church. (Prophesy, perhaps) but instead the older women should teach the younger
  • There is a formula for the Lord’s Supper.

The Liturgical requirements are pared back to minimalism.There is no need for a priestly caste, of Levitical choirs. Elaborate or simple expressions of this are permitted.

But we have kept the form and broken the gospel underneath them. And when we do that, we face the risk that we will be judges by Kothah — for we had his example and we flouted it.

It is a fearful thing to be confronted with the living God.


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