Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Religions of Oprression or Exultation

Wednesday, September 5, 2012 -- Week of Proper 17
Gregorio Aglipay, Priest and Founder of the Philippine Independent Church, 1940

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 983)
Psalm 38 (morning)     //     119:25-48 (evening)
Job 12:1, 14:1-22
Acts 12:18-25
John 8:47-59

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

In today's readings we have a contrast between a religion of oppression and a religion of exultation.  It is the contrast between the words of Job and the words of Jesus.  (Ultimately, Job's experience of the presence of God reconciles him and takes him into a religion of exultation.  But not today.)

Today Job speaks of a God who is a distant and impeccable judge.  Job wonders why God would even concern the divine self with something as insignificant as a human.  We live short, brutal lives; we die; we are no more.  Job yearns for the impossibility of some sort of resurrection.  But the only picture is of an impassive God who brings fierce judgment upon humans, miserable sinners that they are.  Job would speak to God, but God is beyond human knowing.  Distant.  Silent.  Impassive at best.  When active, God simply destroys in judgment.  Such an oppressive God creates oppressive religion.

Gerald May said, "In all my experience as a psychiatrist and as a human being, the deepest, most pervasive pathology I have seen is the incredible harshness we have towards ourselves."  Some of the fault lies with religious education, he says.  "Religious condemnation and moral guilt have been used for child-rearing and political control.  ...The more cruel we are to ourselves, the more likely we are to be mean to others."

In my experience, the meanest forms of Christianity are those that picture God as a distant judge declaring sentence upon a completely guilty and sinful humanity.  The weight of such a God bears down upon us, miserable offenders.  Job's words apply.  How do you live up to perfection?  In those forms of Christianity, Jesus is our escape clause from God's judgment.  But so much of the focus remains on our sin and our character as hopeless and fallen sinners.

In John's Gospel, Jesus offers an alternative vision, grounded in an organic union with God, in love.  His picture of God is of a loving, intimate Parent-God who glorifies us and frees us for eternal life here and now.  Jesus offers an exalted, hopeful vision that sees us united in the very life of God.

The footnotes to the Access Bible trace the conversation between Jesus and his opponents.  "The argument with the Jewish leaders elicits an escalating series of claims from Jesus:  'I honor my Father; whoever keeps my word will never see death; it is my Father who glorifies me; I know the Father and I keep his word; Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; before Abraham was, I am.'  The opponents remain at the literal, earthbound level:  'You are a Samaritan and have a demon; Abraham died; the prophets died; you are not yet fifty years old.' " 

We see the contrast between two forms of religion:  judgment vs. grace, bondage vs. freedom, oppression vs. exultation.  Actually, both paths can lead to God.  If we travel the path of judgment, bondage and oppression, our despair can ultimately throw us into the arms of God.  Yet, always available at any moment is the path of grace, freedom and exultation.  Either way, Job's way or Jesus' way, all paths can lead ultimately to God.


Audio podcast:  Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week.  Go to:

About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at

Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 9:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good Morning,

One day I'd like to meet the author of Job, sit at his (or her!) feet, and ask how did you write this? It is such gorgeous, incredible literature.

And thank heaven (ha!) that we have the Gospel of John. The Jesus we meet there is astounding... Before Abraham was I am!

What reflecting these readings cause!


At 3:18 PM, Anonymous mike wertz said...

“Before Abraham was, I am.”

I wonder how that translation worked. What was it originally written in – Greek? No, something older than that I guess, then into Greek (which is Sanskrit to me) and … then God only knows what.

In English I read it as saying that “Abraham used to be the bearer of the law, nowadays, I am.”

Bold statement for that day and age – capital offense. I have come to believe it, of course, but it is still a bold statement. No wonder he got his self killed. I like that he never said he was God. That would have been too bold -- and untrue. He was the living Word of God because he sought to be that with his heart and his mind and his soul – probably chosen from the womb, anyway. And he followed his divinely scripted path to the inglorious (?) end. Quite the unusual fellow, Jesus. Someone whose life and words are worth considering, for sure.

Thanks Lowell and Janet

At 5:25 PM, Anonymous Lesley K said...

On the way to work this morning I was stuck behind a van absolutely plastered with religious iconography and decorations. You know the kind: Jesus fish, window stencil of a thorny cross, "Follow me to church" bumper stickers...

One of the stickers said in bold block letters BEWARE OF GOD. Okay, okay, I get the wordplay; but I couldn't help but think how utterly antithetical that is to the Gospel (Good News), with its constant reassuring refrains "Fear not!" and "Rejoice!"

At 6:45 PM, Anonymous mike wertz said...

Yeah, Be Aware of would be okay, I guess. I never liked that sticker either, Leslie. It sends off bad vibes.


At 8:50 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Thanks for the good comments.

I've also wondered what it would be like to meet the author of Job. But as I say that, I realize my first question would be, "Tell me more about what happened to Job in the whirlwind. But that's where words seem to fail, isn't it?"

And I don't get the "BEWARE OF GOD" bumper stickers. They sound more like football mantras. The Hog's are gonna beat you! I had a college roommate who put a sticker on our refrigerator -- "Read the Bible -- It'll scare the Hell out of you!"


At 9:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, the whirlwind. That is my deep question. How do we share our experience with God with others? Our lives are transformed, little by little, or all at once, and you can't really explain that, you can only live it and hope others glimpse something of the goodness of God through you.. Perhaps you could share Job's silence with him and experience some of it..



Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home