Thursday, May 24, 2012

Comments on Our Daily Bread, "Coverups Stink"

Next in a continuing series of critiques of blandified Christian moral lessons. . .

Every few weeks I look at the brief devotionals provided by a website called Our Daily Bread. My goal is to show that this predigested Christianity, made as palatable as possible for a broad audience, does not accurately represent the Biblical stories and lessons, and, even on their own terms, they present Christianity as morally bankrupt. Here is an excerpt of the ODB posted today.

Coverups Stink

The smell at an overflowing garbage landfill site became a growing public concern. So workers installed high-pressured deodorant guns to counteract the smell. The cannons could spray several gallons of fragrance a minute over a distance of up to 50 yards across the mounds of putrefying garbage. However, no matter how many gallons of deodorant are sprayed to mask the odorous rubbish, the fragrance will serve only as a coverup until the source of the stench is removed.

King David tried a coverup as well. After his adultery with Bathsheba, he attempted to use silence, deceit, and piety to mask his moral failures (2 Sam. 11–12). In Psalm 32 he talks about experiencing the intense convicting hand of God when he remained silent (vv.3-4). Unable to withstand the conviction any longer, David uncovered his sin by acknowledging, confessing, and repenting of it (v.5). He no longer needed to cover it because God forgave him.

It’s futile to try to hide our sin. The stench of our disobedience will seep through whatever we use to try to cover it. Let’s acknowledge to God the rubbish in our hearts and experience the fresh cleansing of His grace and forgiveness.

When we do something morally wrong, we should act to repair the damage we cause and seek forgiveness from those we have harmed. However, King David was not just guilty of adultery. We all know the story, I assume. David committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, one of his military officers, got her pregnant, then brought her husband back and encouraged him to sleep with his own wife so that the child might be thought to be Uriah's and not David's. Since this did not work, David sent him out to the front lines and had his other soldiers pull back when they were attacked so that Uriah would die. David then comforted the poor woman he had widowed and married her. David’s immoral action did start with the coverup of his adultery, but it was mostly immoral because it was an act of deliberate murder.

God (“the Lord”) sends some dude named ‘Nathan’ to tell David a little story about someone who has everything but still takes from an impoverished person the one thing he has. David is incensed, and then Nathan reveals that it is David who did this when he took Bathsheba away from Uriah. God, through Nathan, then threatens to take away everything David has, so David says, “Oops, my bad!” So God says, “Oh, that’s all right then. I won’t kill you.” Then God kills the kid instead. And, no, I am not kidding; God gives the innocent child an illness that kills him.

Our Daily Bread’s inference is that we should beg God for forgiveness when we do something morally wrong. The only sin, ultimately, is disobedience to God. If we disobey God, God will kill some completely innocent other person to make us pay for our sin.

This is dangerous nonsense.

First, ODB misconstrues the Biblical story. David only repents of his sin after God threatens to kill him for it. It’s certainly unclear that any true repentance occurs. It’s one thing to feel guilty and repent; it’s another to say you repent because God will kill you if you don’t. Then God punishes David by executing his innocent child. It goes without saying that this Biblical story reveals God as a moral monster, not a fair or merciful judge.

Second, even if ODB’s interpretation were accurate, the conclusions would be unwarranted. Morally, David must beg forgiveness from the people he has harmed; it makes no sense to ask God for forgiveness for a harm committed against someone else. Murdering Uriah and committing adultery with Bathsheba is wrong because it harmed Uriah and Bathsheba, not because of David's disobeyed God in doing these things. There is no sin of disobedience to God. If God’s commands are morally justified, then we should obey them because they are morally justified; if God’s commands are morally unjustified, then we should disobey them. ODB’s view is a variant on the Divine Command view of morality, and it makes no more sense as a claim about obedience to God.

Finally, if God exists and is all-knowing, then God knows about any immoral behavior, and so, it is not possible to hide one’s sin from God. But it does not follow that when we have done something wrong, the best action is to confess to God and repent. God does not enter into the equation; God is not the injured party here, and no one acquires any special duty to God by .

Confession and repentance can make us feel better, but the morally important issue is whether we attempt to repair the harm we have done to others. David makes no such attempt, yet God forgives him. But, even worse, the justification ODB gives for confession and repentance is that it will benefit us to do so, and that means, to them, confession and repentance, are motivated only by self-interest.

It’s hard to see even this bland version of Christianity presented by ODB as anything but morally contemptible. God rewards murderers and adulterers while forgiving them if they only ‘repent’ under threat of death, then punishes the innocent instead, and the ODB Christians tell us that what this teaches us is that we have to confess our sins to this God, not in order to repair the harm we have done, but to reaffirm our fealty to God and to make ourselves feel better. This daily devotional leaves me feeling less than devoted.

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