Monday, September 14, 2015

Sacrifice as true giving.

Hebrews Chapter 8:  In this chapter the author points out that Jesus is an eternal, undying high priest. He notes that the purpose of the priest is to "offer gifts and sacrifices."  What about this idea of God requiring sacrifices and gifts?

This idea is offensive to the modern mind, as it seems primitive to us.  In its worst case, we think of ancient Aztec gods, or the ancient near eastern god Molech, requiring human sacrifice.  So how does the idea of sacrifice, and the giving of gifts to God, jibe with the concepts of God's love for us, and with his self-sufficiency, ie, the fact that he needs nothing?

Let us start with giving in general.  When we give something, generally, we lose it.  When we buy someone a present, we lose the cash that bought it.  When we give of our talents, generally we lose the one thing we cannot otherwise buy: time.  Even when we "give" someone something intangible like "the benefit of the doubt", we are forfieting our right to make our own judgments.  True giving always has an associated cost.  King David understood this when he refused the offer of land upon which to build an altar, saying, "I will not offer to the Lord somewhich which cost me nothing."  Such an offering would not, in reality, be an offering at all,

Next, consider what giving signifies: love, or at least good will, toward the receiver.  We give to those for whom we wish the best, to those for whom we feel empathy, compassion, love.  Even when we give to our enemies it is with a view to breaking down the enmitiy from our side.  When we give out of guilt (the gift that we mean to say, "I'm sorry") it is, in its best manifestation, an approach to healing a breach with someone we esteem.  This is not to say that gifts cannot be motivated by crass self-interest, but in that case there is a better word: bribe.  We generally reserve the word "gift", in its purest or most fundamental sense, as something given out of love and good will.  We give most frequently to those we love: our spouses, our children, our friends.

So, giving gifts to God is, in its purest sense, something to be expected in a lover of God.  God is represented, in the Bible's ultimate denouement in the New Testament, as a loving Father who wishes his children to be made whole and hence loving like himself.  He is revealed to have given of himself the ultimate gift, his own life/death on the cross, to heal the breach that we created.  In his request that we give him gifts, especially of things that he doesn't actually need, he is merely encouraging the behavior of a loving child toward a beloved parent.  How many useless and inscrutable drawings and clay sculptures do we parents retain as tokens of our children's affection?  We value these gifts not only because they betoken our children's love for us, but because they demonstrate that our children love and are learning to give, a behavior we recognize as good and mature.  To the extent that we give to God, we likewise learn to be lovers and givers, which is his design for us.

The requirment of sacrifice, likewise, can be seen as an appropriate requirment of a loving parent.  We want to see our children learn to accept responsibility for their bad actions, and especially if they have insulted or injured another, we seek to find consequences that embody the idea of restoration and reconciliation.  We want our children to become the kind of people who try to make it right, at whatever cost to themselves, when they have made it wrong with someone else.  In this we are like God, who wants us to see and acknowledge that we have offended against him, against his love for us.  We know that no sacrifice can actually atone for that offense; we own nothing in proportion to that offense.  That is not the point of the exercise of sacrifice.  The Sacrifice will be made for us, by God himself.  But we must understand the nature of restorational giving if we are to be made truly in his image, and if we are to understand the magnitude of his love for us.  Hence, we learn to give sacrificially in symbolic recognition of the grief we have given One who loves us.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Return to blogging.

It has been a long time since I have written here, and even longer since I have written with any regularity.  I am now well on in life, and have been reflecting on how I might live better, and decided that I must spend more time in organized, regular discourse with myself, to clarify for myself what is important, what is true, what is beautiful and worth contemplating.  On the chance that such meditations may be helpful to others, and the likelihood that others may have some wisdom to impart back to me, I hope to make some of these thoughts public, in this space, going forward.

One thing that I have learned in my years here: the best is the enemy of the good.  I will attempt to make these posts useful and clear, but I will not wait for them to be perfect, or perfectly organized, before posting.  A structure may evolve over time, perhaps, but I expect the topics to be somewhat rambling; perhaps stimulated by a new item, or my reading, or some observation.  We shall see....