Bible Experiment Haggai
First, today is a big big day for me. And, you realize, that this is all about me. haha. When I started this experiment I was reading an Atheist, who was reading the Bible and giving us his opinions about what he was reading. You can see what I am talking about right here: https://heyguysitsthebible.wordpress.com/ – and if you do head over there, you’ll notice right away… like immediately, he’s done. He stopped working on this project. And I get it. I totally understand why. Because it is a fool’s errand almost to read every single book of the Bible, and then write 1,000 words about it. ESPECIALLY FOR SOMEONE THAT DOESN’T BELIEVE.
(sorry for the all caps, might possibly have been a little too loud, but whatever.)
But the key here? This anonymous fellow stopped after finishing his write up of Haggai. But this was possibly one of his more poignant and thoughtful critiques (as opposed to vitriolic rantings) of Haggai, and one that I’d like to address head on. I’d like to look at the insights and pointed questions Anonymous brought to the table about this book, and then see if there are answers. Before we can do that though, why don’t we just get a grasp of what it is exactly that Haggai is all about. Not spiritually, or whatever, just the facts please. Thank you.
Haggai Factual Overview
So Israel, being clueless and mindless as they are throughout the Old Testament, gets captured by the Babylonians, and walked off into slavery. This goes on for several hundred years, and is eventually freed. Yay!
The all wander back to Israel, and set up shop again there. They try to rebuild the temple, but that goes poorly and they quit. So they say… screw it. Let’s just build our homes, and kick start our farms back up… and go on with life. It’s too hard to build the temple when we have invaders sneaking into our build crews and sabotaging everything. So vineyards? Check. Granaries? Check. Homes, roads, schools? Check, check, and check.
Eighteen years later though, a prophet shows up and says… so, about those granaries? And vineyards? How they working out for you guys? That’s right, they aren’t working out great for you all. And that’s because you are not putting God first. Let’s talk about where He stands in your life. And where He stands in your culture. You all might as well be back in Babylon.
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Consider your ways! You have sown much, but harvest little; eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.”
So God is saying to them… your vineyards aren’t even good enough to get drunk on! Your clothes are not enough. Your food is inadequate. And why? Because you are putting yourselves first. Does not everything come from God? There is even a verse where God says to them, you live in paneled houses… and haven’t even bothered to build me a house? It was God that restored them out of captivity. It was God that provided the grain for the granary and grapes for the vineyards. And yet, they’d forgotten God because it was just a hassle, and a bit too difficult?
“So, this really isn’t going to have a lot to do with the book of Haggai. I’ve been having enough trouble with the last few books, and honestly, this one is so short that it would probably be hard to come up with something even if it wasn’t going over well-worn territory. I mean, we get it: God wants people to do something, then they do it. God is unhappy, so he hurts their crop production and sends droughts, which somehow convinces the people of Jerusalem to build a new temple.“
To be 100% clear… the story of the Old Testament has not been, at all… “God wants people to do something, then they do it.” I actually can only think of maybe one or two times when the people of Israel did what God wanted them to do. The story, as I see it, has been more like, “God wants people to do something… they laugh in His face, God gives them grace, but warns them that walking on your own is a terrible place to live… then calamity happens, and maybe they walk closer to God for a little bit, and by little bit I mean 10 years.”
But Anonymous is right. Haggai is one of the only examples in all of the Old Testament when the people of Israel do what God is asking them to do.
I am sure that an Atheist would have a very hard time understanding this, but my perspective, I do not believe that I suddenly start making more money when I do what God wants me to do. I do not believe that I am more materially blessed when He says sit, and I sit. Or when He says stand and I stand. That isn’t the heart of what is happening here, at all.
I believe that the call of the entirety of the Old Testament has been God saying… “I created you for a reason, and that reason is to commune with me… to walk closely with me. Do that, and you will find your purpose. Your meaning. Your raison d’etre, if you will. And isn’t that what we are all looking for anyway? Even Atheists? Even polytheists, or deists or anarchists? Aren’t we all just trying to figure out what we are here for? Don’t we just want to find purpose, and meaning in this bizarre thing called life? And wouldn’t it be amazing to fill that God shaped hole within our hearts? (Rabbit trail alert: I dislike it greatly when people quote Pascal as having said exactly that. He didn’t. What he said was way way cooler and more to the topic, if not as sound bite-ish as we’d like… this is specifically what he said about our God sized hole, ‘What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself’.)
Difficult to understand this concept, but try this on for size. God says to Taylor… walk with me. Live life with me. And so I do. I am living a life of thankfulness and prayer, constantly conferring with Him and conversing with Him about everything. And as a result of this life that I am living, a shooter walks into my workplace and demands to know if I am Christian. I say that I am… and he shoots me in the head. Does that mean that I am not blessed? Does that mean that I somehow missed it? NO! It means that I was right there, in the center of his will living out life with reckless abandonment in God. I know that my purpose is derived from Him and nothing else matters. I don’t know why I died in that moment. But I die trusting. I die very very happy with the knowledge that God is good. My vantage point is not fixed on the things of this world… the crops, my job, my 401k, my stock portfolio. If I am walking with God daily, I am happy in the knowledge that He is giving me my everything. And even though I am dying in that moment, I die aware of His goodness and mercy in SPITE of my circumstances, or any lack of “prosperity” in the world’s eyes.
But Anonymous’ objections go much much further – here is the crux of his larger objections – and I am going to string a number of quotes together here, in order to get at the heart of his point. Feel free to read his entire post here if you’d like.
“…Someone who feels defined by their faith will never be able to acknowledge any flaws in it or anything wrong with the sacred texts or leaders or basic tenets of their religion, nor will they be able to look at it objectively. So it’s probably useless to point out any of this to them, that it’s possible droughts and floods are unrelated to piousness, that it’s possible there is no connection between Baal and being conquered, or that it’s possible their deeply held beliefs are just kinda silly. It’s probably useless to point out that their conviction is absolutely meaningless.”
“I guess the main point here is that it’s impossible to apply the standards of the Bible to the world and believe that the standards are worth having. And it’s impossible to not apply the standards of the Bible to the rest of the world if it’s something that you believe is true. When you try to apply supernatural explanations to ordinary events, you end up in logical trouble. But when your supernatural beliefs depend on those explanations as proof, you’re already in that trouble. So I can’t see a way to reconcile that and keep that belief. But I’m sure there is one. After all, it’s been thousands of years. Someone must have come up with something.”
And with that, Anonymous concluded his walk through the Bible. Done. Finished. No more.
As a Christian, I would be remiss to say, Hurricane Katrina was God telling the world that we are sinners and he was punishing us all. I would be remiss to say that the suicide bombers, and the attack on the French people in Nice were all about God’s wrath, judging us for not walking with Him. But at the same time, I would be equally remiss if I were to not say, walking closely with God, and living our lives for Him could have, almost certainly, changed all these events naturally.
And yet, we live in a fallen world. The earth is even stained with our evil. Like, literally, the earth groans with our corruption. So, until God draws everything to Himself… and until He makes everything New again, these terrible things will continue happening. And it is because of this unknowability, it is because of my inability to comprehend it, that I know that a higher being exists. It is because His ways are higher than mine, that I can trust Him with everything.
Which sounds like sheer stupidity to an Atheist. And yet… I would also assume that it would distantly echo as true… or as desirable. Maybe not in a way that he’d admit out loud. But going back to the Pascal quote, I would assume that he has tried to fill that hole with everything around him, and that it has not worked. Because nothing can fill that ravenous gaping hole but God. Nothing.
“I guess the main point here is that it’s impossible to apply the standards of the Bible to the world and believe that the standards are worth having.”
The message of the Bible, which you didn’t fully see because you haven’t fully read it Anonymous, is that we are really good at being terrible. And yet! And yet! The standards of the Bible speak of a way in which we can have that terribly deep and dark hole in our soul filled. It speaks of a love that is beyond human love. It speaks of a life, now, a life right now, that is beyond comprehension. Let alone a life beyond…
let alone a life beyond.
So, Anonymous Atheist, so long – and thanks for embarking us on this journey of exploration. I have tried contacting him so many times I really do think he might very well be gone forever. He’s stopped commenting, or replying to anyone. My hope is that he is ok. And that he is just lurking in the shadows… continuously seeking and looking for real Truth with a capital T. Hopefully he is ok and hasn’t given up the search. Because it was because of his honest enquiry that I really decided I needed to really look closer at the Bible, and has ultimately drawn me closer to the Bible, and closer to my faith as a result. So thank you good sir. Thanks for the intellectual honesty, and thanks for giving me the courage to even begin… to even start.
And now I continue on, next time, talking about Zechariah…