This post is a inspired by, and a response to a comment I got on my earlier post Teaching the Bible in US Schools.
James said at March 28th, 2007 at 8:55 pm:
I dont see a problem with discussing the Bible, so long as the discussion is balanced. I think the Bible, particularly the Old Testament contradicts itself… I particularly like an open letter to Dr. Laura that was written a while ago.
Dr. Laura Schlessinger is a radio personality who dispenses advice to people who call in to her radio show. Recently, she said that homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22 and cannot be condoned under any circumstance.
The following is an open letter to Dr. Laura penned by an east coast resident, which was posted on the Internet. It’s funny, as well as informative:
Dear Dr. Laura:
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the other specific laws and how to follow them:
When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness – Lev.15:19- 24. The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?
I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?
A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination – Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this?
Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?
Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?
I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? – Lev.24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)
James: I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.
I’ve come across this ‘Letter to Dr. Laura’ before, and recognized that it is intentionally written as a sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek piece that takes certain verses out of their context and presents them as shocking bigotry to our modern sensitivities. And if you respond to something like this in a fit of righteous indignation, you’ll have fallen into the trap!
Rat’s Nest has a rather humourous response to the letter, however, citing various Jewish laws that address the questions. Worth a look-see:
In fact, I recall a very amusing and sacrcastic humour site that purports to be ‘Where the worthwhile worship, unsaved unwelcome!’ Landover Baptist Church makes fun of real cases of over-the-top things some churches do like banning Pokemon because Pokemon is the devil. (The logic is some Pokemon have horns, and the devil has horns, so Pokemon is the devil. Never mind actual cows and deer.)
But when someone seriously confronts you with questions like these, how do you respond? Here I present my thoughts on the seeming conundrum.
THE FULFILLMENT OF THE LAW
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” – Matthew 5:17-18
Jesus Himself said this in Matthew 5. Today, many believe that we as Christians are no longer bound by the Old Testament Laws, particularly those that Moses set for the Israelites. They feel that apart from the Ten Commandments which are basic guidelines, we are exempt from things such as not eating pork, ceremonial washing and bloody animal sacrifices.
Yet if so, why did Jesus say that He did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it? Does that followers of Christ are still bound by the Jewish laws? Didn’t Jesus also, in the very same chapter, say things like:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” – Matthew 5:38-42
Isn’t that directly contradicting the Law as given by Moses in Exodus 21:23-25: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?”
A SHADOW OF THINGS TO COME
Let’s read on through the New Testament. Paul explains the concept more clearly in his letters to the churches. For although God Himself gave the Law to Moses, the Law was but a shadow of the things to come…
“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” – Colossians 2:16-17
Think of the person you most want to see. Imagine it’s dusk, and as he or she is walking towards you fromt the direction of the sunset, the first thing to reach you would be his or her shadow.
The shadow may represent him or her, and may look like a distorted shape of him or her. And you may be excited upon recognizing the shadow. But it is not the real thing. When the actual person comes, all your attention is going to be on the real thing. The shadow is still there, of course. But the actual person has come and fulfilled your hopes.
In fact, if you look closely at the Old Testament, you will find many other ‘shadows’ of Jesus. (It helps if you’re familiar with the entire Bible, so I encourage you to read through it at least once in this lifetime.)
There are many events in the Old Testament that have a striking parallel in the New Testament. Perhaps I can explain this more clearly with an example.
In Genesis 22, God suddenly asked Abraham to prove his devotion by sacrificing his own son, Isaac. The very same son that God had given to him by divine promise, that God said would give rise to a great nation of many descendants. So Abraham obediently did as God asked – though you can imagine the anguish and confusion in his heart.
When Isaac noticed that they were not taking any animal with them, he asked where the lamb for the burnt offering was. And Abraham replied: “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”
(Note that Isaac was a grown man by then, and could have easily opposed his father. But he too was willingly obedient, even unto death. Also note that although Abraham had an older child, Ishmael, that was a child by his own efforts and not the child of promise by God’s will.)
And when Abraham was about to commit the deed, God stopped him: “Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” And then God Himself provided the offering, a ram.
Now compare this account with the life and death of Jesus. For centuries, the Mosaic Law required sacrifices of blood and life of animals to temporarily atone for the people’s sins. But when Jesus came and gave His blood and life for us, He cleansed us of our sins completely.
Jesus obediently gave Himself up to trial, torture and death on the cross… Just as Abraham obediently took Isaac to be sacrificed.
Abraham did not withhold his one and only son from God, but God stopped the sacrificial death in time. Yet God did not withhold from us His one and only Son… And Jesus did experience suffering and death on the cross.
And just as Abraham unknowingly foretold, God Himself provided the Lamb for the offering. Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, whose blood was given as an offering for our sins.
FOLLOWING THE CLUES FROM THE OLD TO THE NEW
You can find many other hints of God’s new covenant in Christ. The study of events that seem to have a correlation is called typology. You can read more about this topic at this site and another site.
And there are tons of examples! In fact, it has been said that the entire of the Old Testament serves the purpose of pointing to its ultimate fulfillment – Jesus.
Here are some of them:
When many people were being bitten by snakes, God commanded Moses to put a serpent symbol up, and anyone who looked at it would be healed of the venom. (Numbers 21:4-9). Jesus compared Himself to this: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15) He was lifted up on a cross, and those who look to Him now are healed of their sins.
Jonah was in the belly of the great fish 3 days and 3 nights, as good as dead. Yet he was vomited out alive. So was Jesus really dead and in the belly of the earth and on the third day emerged resurrected (Matthew 12:40).
The Israelites as they traveled to the promised land displayed the symbol of our faith, centuries before the Romans made it a standard method of execution.
In fact, even the genealogy from Adam to Noah points towards the salvation of mankind through the Messiah!
There are countless other foreshadowings in the Old Testament. And of course, many prophecies that directly foretell what the Messiah would be like and would do. See if you come across any in your daily reading.
When I read through the OT, often I am struck by how God hid little hints and sneak previews about His great plan of salvation in the least expected places! Our God has a keen sense of humour…
THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT
Besides, we are by no means Jews. The Mosaic Laws were meant specifically for the Jewish race. Paul speaks out many times in his letters against those factions who would force Christians to follow the old traditions such as circumcism in order to be saved. Nobody can ‘do’ anything to save themselves. All that is needed for salvation is the belief that Jesus has already saved you.
And what is the conclusion? That we can ignore the Ten Commandments? That it’s okay to murder, steal, kill and adulterize? That God permist us to worship other ‘gods’? After all, we’re saved by faith no matte what we do, right?
Well, put it this way: Jesus never broke ANY of the Laws in His time. In fact, at his trial before the Sanhendrin, He was blameless of any accusation. The only true act that was ascribed to Him was claiming divinity, which is extreme blasphemy and punishable by death – but it was true He was divine!
What Jesus taught us was to follow not the exact letter of the Law, which can easily be abused (by the Pharisees in His time, and by OJ Simpson’s lawyers in our time)… But to follow the spirit of the Law, what it intends to accomplish.
And what is the spirit of the Law?
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)
It’s so simple, yet so hard to carry out in real life. But if we can follow these two Greatest Commandments, then we can clearly see the correct way to respond to all of the questions in the letter to the Letter to Dr. Laura.
Homosexuality is not just condemned in Leviticus 18:22, but also in Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1st Corinthians 6:9, and of course the whole of Genesis 19 (Sodom and Gomorrah, particularly verse 5).
Isn’t that more than enough times to clearly see that homosexual relationships are not in accordance with God’s will? We can delve further into this subject by examining the Jewish laws and customs that had been practised during and since the Old Testament times, but I am not very familiar with that.
I shall end the list with the God-ordained example:
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” - Genesis 2:24
This is reaffirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19:4-6. God intended sexual relations to happen only in marriage between one man and one woman. Two flesh becoming as one. No other ways about it.
And as the saying goes: God made them Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!
So according to the principle of Two Loves in Balance, what should we say to homosexuals then?
First, do not hate or condemn them. Show them unconditional (but holy) love, just as God showed His unconditional love for us when we still horrible, horrible, evil sinners. That is love for your neighbours.
Second, make it clear that although God loves them unconditionally, He also loes them too much for them to continue living in sin. It breaks His heart to see them not living their lives the way He intended (which is the best way, if the guy who created everything is any judge). Homosexuality just cannot be accpeted as sinless. That is love for God.
God gave us guidlines to live by… But He also gave us hearts and minds. And most importantly, He gave us Jesus as an example of how to live our lives, and Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit to guide us every second of our lives even today.
I hope I’ve given you a better understanding of how Christians think and behave (well, at least how they are supposed to), and the reasons why. May God bless you as you follow the Holy Spirit of the Law!