The Passover Story: Deserving of Celebration?

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Many Jewish friends tell me that the Passover holiday (Pesach) is a time of joy and celebration of their freedom from slavery. They love it. Personally, I don’t get it.

When I was taught the story in Sunday school, it was presented to me as a positive story of how the god of the Bible freed his chosen people, the Israelites. Yet, even then, it sounded like a horrible story. Never did it sound like anything deserving of celebration.

The Passover Story

According to the Hebrew Scriptures, the Israelites (ancestors of the Jews) living in Egypt became so numerous and powerful that the Egyptian ruler feared they would eventually fight against them in a war. Therefore, the ruler enslaved the Israelites and forced them to do labor. (Exodus 1: 9-11)

Moses was born to an Israelite mother, but was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter (Exodus 2: 1-10). One day after Moses grew up, God calls to him from a bush that is burning but does not burn up (Exodus 3:2-4). He tells Moses that he is to bring the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 3:10). God gives Moses special powers to preform great feats be able to convince the Israelites that he was the one sent by their god to free them (Exodus 4:1-9). God then allows Aaron, brother of Moses, to assist Moses (Exodus 4: 13-16).

Moses then returns to Egypt. God tells Moses to use the power he has been given to preform the signs for Pharaoh. God also tells Moses that he will hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that he will refuse to let the Israelite slaves go. (Exodus 4: 21)

As Moses is returning to Egypt, God attempts to kill him. However, Zipporah (wife of Moses) saves him. (Exodus 4:24 -26)

When Moses arrives in Egypt, he tells Pharaoh to free the Israelites. Pharaoh refuses. (Exodus 5:1-2). Instead, Pharaoh forces the people to work even harder (Exodus 5:6-8).

Moses and Aaron followed God’s commands by using their powers to bring about ten plagues on the land of Egypt. Before the final plague, the Lord tells Moses and Aaron to have each Israelite family slaughter a one-year old, male lamb without blemish on the 14th day of the month at twilight. Then they should put the lamb’s blood on the doorposts and lintel of their homes. That night, the Lord passed over Egypt, striking down the first born of all humans and animals of each household that did not put the blood on around their door. The blood on the homes of the Israelites showed God which homes to pass over to so he would not kill any of the Israelites. (Exodus 12:1-13)

After the Lord killed the first born in each Egyptian household, Pharaoh told Moses and Aaron to leave and take the Israelites with them (Exodus 12:29-31). About 600,000 men (not including children) left Egypt.

The Passover holiday celebrates the final plague — when the Lord passed over the Israelite homes and killed the first born in every Egyptian home. According to the story, this caused Pharaoh to finally free the Israelites from slavery.

Even if the story were true  (even the non supernatural events are not established history *) as it is presented in the book of Exodus, it is an appalling story. The story shows how God causes intense  suffering of many people in order to demonstrate his power to the Egyptians and Israelites.

Once god finally decided that he was going to free his chosen people from the misery of slavery, he selected a circuitous route to accomplish this end. Instead of using his power to immediately free the slaves, he sends Moses and Aaron to request their release. He also bestows Moses and Aaron with special powers so that they can preform great feats to demonstrate that they have been sent from God. However, some of these feats failed to impress Pharaoh because his magicians were also able to preform some of the same feats, such as turning water into blood (Exodus 7:22) and bringing forth plague of frogs (Exodus 8:7). With the exception of the final plague, even the feats that that Pharaoh’s magicians were unable to preform failed convince Pharaoh to let the people go because God has hardened Pharaoh’s heart. God made sure that the people of Egypt would have to suffer through nine unconvincing plagues and the Israelites would have to continue suffering through forced labor until god preformed his final plague – killing the first born (human and animal) of each household that did not put lamb’s blood on their doors — which would finally convince Pharaoh to free the slaves.

In this story, God caused suffering and death for many innocent people. Most of the people who endured the plagues had no role in the decision of whether the slaves could be freed. The only reason I can think of for this was that this god wanted to impress the Egyptian and Israelite people with his great power. This doesn’t seem like the workings of a good god to me.

*http://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/judaism/2004/12/did-the-exodus-really-happen.aspx?

What do you think of the Passover story? What about the Passover holiday? Please add your thoughts in the comment section.

 

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Mark 10:25 Difficult for the Rich

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Mark 10:25

In this verse Jesus explains to his disciples just how tough it is for a rich person to enter into the kingdom of god. According to Jesus, it is so difficult that it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of god. Since it is impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, it would seem to me that it would also be impossible for a rich person to enter the kingdom of god.

Even if we grant that this statement could be intended to be hyperbolic, the passage would still indicate that it is extremely difficult for a rich person to go to heaven. Therefore, I would think many Christians would not want to become rich. However, it doesn’t seem that many Christians that I have met wish to avoid wealth.

Considering this verse in the context of the surrounding verses, it would seem to me that in this story, Jesus wants people to give their money to the poor and to follow him. I know that there are some Christians who do not keep savings accounts and do not save for the future because of their religious believes. And others take low paying positions as missionaries or preform other religious work at low pay. However, there are many other Christians that do try to earn and save as much money as they can. Quite a few Christians could even be considered very wealthy.

Most people do donate to charities in order to help others. I am know that this includes many Christians as well. However, I suspect a large number of Christians do not give away the majority of their money away. However to me, this passage suggests that is what should be done by all Christians.

What do you think?

Discuss:

What are your thoughts on this verse? If you are a Christian, do you try to give so much your money to the poor as to avoid acquiring wealth? If you do try to save your money and accumulate wealth, how do you reconcile this verse with the saving of money?

Mark 10:25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Harper Bibles. NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha (Kindle Locations 68126-68127). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

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Mark 10:18 Jesus Isn’t Good?

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Mark 10:18

After a man addresses Jesus as “good teacher,” Jesus asks him why the man referred to him as good. He goes on to explain that the only good being is their god.

I was alway taught that Jesus was perfect. He was supposed to be the perfect sacrifice because he was without sin. Therefore, I would have considered him good, even when compared to the father god.

In addition, I was taught in church that Jesus and god the father were the same entity. So, the theology on this seems pretty confusing all around. I am curious as to what others, especially Christians, think of this verse.

Discuss: 

What do you think of this verse?

Christians – Do you believe that Jesus was perfect and without sin? If so, what do you think Jesus meant by this statement? Do you see Jesus and God as separate beings?

Mark 10: 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”

Harper Bibles. NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha (Kindle Locations 68118-68119). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

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Mark 10:15 Entering the Kingdom of God

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Mark 10:15

Jesus explains that one must receive the kingdom of god as a small child or they will never enter it.

Discuss:

What do you think of this verse? Does this mean that if you do not become a Christian as a small child, you can’t go to heaven? If you think it means something different, what do you think it means?

Mark 10: 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

Harper Bibles. NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha (Kindle Locations 68114-68115). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

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Mark 9:37 Jesus and God as One?

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Mark 9:37

In this verse, Jesus is teaching a lesson to his disciples. In doing so,  Jesus differentiates himself from their god. This seems to happen fairly often in the New Testament of the Christian bible. For this reason, even when I was a Christian, I tended to think of the three members of the Trinity as three separate beings. When I heard people say things such as, “God is one,” I tended to view it more as a metaphorical “one” than a literal “one.” I viewed this oneness of the trinity  as analogous to how marriage is described in the bible. In the Christian bible, it explains that a husband and wife becoming one flesh (Mark 10:08). Since  a man and woman remain two separate beings even after they get married, saying that a married couple is one flesh seems to be a metaphorical phrasing. The husband and wife become united figuratively, not literally. Therefore, I viewed the Trinity as a figurative union, not a literal one as well. I never really viewed Christianity as a true monotheistic religion the way that Judaism and Islam are. However, I know that many Christians would disagree.

I realize that not all Christians view the members of the Trinity as three separate beings. Some Christians really believe that there are not three distinct members of the Trinity but that there really is just one god. This is not a concept I could never really wrap my head around. However, I would really like to understand others’ take on this topic. I am curious how different people conceptualize the Trinity.

Discuss: 

Christians – Do you believe in the Trinity? What does the Trinity mean to you? Do you see God the Father, the Holy Ghost, and Jesus as separate beings?

(If you are a former Christian, please feel free to include what you used to think about the Trinity.)

Please add your thoughts about the Trinity in the comments section below. 

Mark 9:37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Harper Bibles. NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha (Kindle Locations 68083-68084). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

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The Kids Book of World Religions – Review

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I discovered The Kids Book of World Religions by Jennifer Glossip when I was looking for a book to teaching my daughter about the different religions of the world. I choose this book because it had several good reviews online.

When the book arrived, I was a little worried it might be a little too advanced for my daughter. She was in first grade and just beginning to read. She did pretty well with it on her own and she really seemed to enjoy it. However, in retrospect, I think it may have been better had we read it together.

The book begins by explaining that religions typically attempt to provide answers to the “big” questions:

  • Is there a God?
  • Can I talk to God?
  • How was the world created?
  • What happens when people die?
  • How should I live my life?
  • Why do bad things happen?
  • How can we celebrate special times?
  • Why are some objects and places special?

Throughout the next several pages the book discusses these questions. For example, in discussing the first question, the passage begins with “Human Beings have often felt that their is someone or something in the universe greater than themselves. They usually call this greater power God. Most religions teach that a God or Gods exist.” (p. 5) Then it goes on to give a little further information about some of the religions’ beliefs about gods.

Following this section, the there is more in-depth information about each religion discussed. The religions included are Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Baha’i, Taoism, Confucianism, and Shinto. In addition, there are brief discussions of various religions of certain regions (Africa, North America, and Australia). History, teachings, and traditions of each religion are discussed.

Positives: 

(1) The book gives a lot of information about each religion it discusses. Some of the religions have several pages devoted just to the topic. The information about each religion is broken up into subsections, such as festivals. These subsections makes it easier for young readers to understand.

(2) The author does not seem to show bias toward one religion.

(3.) Science is given as the means to which we now have answers to many factual questions today that people once looked to religion for answers.

(4) The author mentions that not everyone believes in a god or gods. The author  also mentions that many great thinkers and scientists have been atheists.

Possible objections: 

(1) Some readers who do not believe Mother Teresa was truly helping sick and poor people may object to the descriptions of her in this book. There are two text boxes that relate to Mother Teresa. One of these is a text box that discusses good and bad things that people do in the name of religion. The information in the text box is accurate, however, there is a picture of Mother Teresa beside the box. While it gives no information about whether Mother Teresa is intended to be part of the good or bad done in the name of religion, I believe the author intends her to be an example of how some people care for the poor in the name of religion. In the Christianity section, there is a text box that gives a profile of Mother Teresa where the author mentions that she spent 50 years caring for poor and dying people. No mention is made about any of the criticisms made against her.

(2)  The author gives definitions for both atheists and the agnostics. As there are many different definitions for each of these terms, some people may object to the definitions the author uses for one or both of these terms.

(3) The wording of some of the sentences might lead a reader to believe certain information is factual. For example, when discussing the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama the author states “As a child, he showed who he was by identifying objects that had belonged to the previous Dalai Lama.”

(4) Some important information is left out. Of course, a book such as this one would not be able to cover all aspects of any one religion. However, I noticed that the virgin birth was completely missing from the Christianity section. For many Christians, the virgin birth belief is integral part of their religion, so I was surprised to find it absent.

(5) The book gives a positive take on fasting. It reads, “Fasting teaches self-discipline and helps people understand and care for one another.” (p. 49) Instead of stating that the religion teaches that it teaches these things, it reads as a fact. No mention is made of how fasting can be unhealthy or cause hallucinations.

Despite some of the problems I saw with the book,  I liked it. I think it provides good information for anyone trying to understand the basics of major religions around the world.

While the book can certainly be read by a child on his or her own, I think this book might best be read with a parent. This book provides many opportunities for discussion of various beliefs, understanding of other cultures, and critical thinking. Reading the book as a family will also give you a chance to discuss any areas of the book that you find problematic.

Glossop, J. (2003). The Kids Book of World Religions. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press

Have you read this book? If so, please share your thoughts about it or this review in the comment section below.

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Mark 9:1 The Kingdom of God

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Mark 9:1

In this verse, Jesus tells those who are present that some of them will live to see the coming of the Kingdom of god. This seems to imply that the second coming of Christ, which many Christians are still waiting for, was to happen while some of them are still alive.

Discuss:

If you are a Christian who believes the return of Christ will happen in the future, what do you understand this verse to mean?

Please leave your thoughts about this verse in the comment section at the bottom of this article. 

Mark 9:1 And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

Harper Bibles (2011-11-22). NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha (Kindle Locations 68042-68043). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

 

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Thanking God, Insulting Others

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Recently, a teen contracted primary amebic meningoencephalitis caused by a brain-eating amoeba. While this diagnosis is often fatal, fortunately, this was one of the cases where the victim survived and is doing remarkably well. The article on CNN states several factors were significant in his recovery:  doctors at the hospital had recently attended a seminar on the topic, the entire hospital worked together to quickly obtain the medication the boy needed, and a team of pediatric infectious disease doctors worked with US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in order to help the boy.

I think it is wonderful that the boy has done so well. I am very happy for him and his family. I am also happy for all the hospital staff, as I am certain this case affected them greatly; it is easy to see how emotional this was for the lead doctor to anyone watching the video of him speaking about the case.

According to the article, when the victim’s mother spoke about her son’s recovery, the first being she thanked was her god. She is quoted as saying, “First to God and all his power for everything he has done in saving our kid’s life. We are so thankful for this gift of life… God has given us a miracle through this hospital staff.”

While I understand that this woman is very grateful that her son is alive, her statement bothers me. First, I believe her statement was a slight to the real people who worked hard to save her son. Even when she does thank the staff, she does not just thank them for their efforts and success; her comments stating that god worked a miracle through the staff overshadows the the staff’s efforts.

It may not surprise you to know that I think her gratitude is misplaced. As you likely suspect, I think her gratitude should be placed not in a god but in the lead doctor, the staff who assisted him, the team of experts that worked with him, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the pharmaceutical company that developed the life saving medication, the researchers that have studied this amoeba, the personnel who offered the seminar the doctor’s attended, and everyone else involved. And, I think those people should get the full credit of their accomplishments. Their accomplishment shouldn’t be blotted out as a miracle.

Second, I believe her statement is an insult to all of those people who have not survived an infection with this amoeba. As stated in the article, between 1962 and 2015, there were 138 known cases of primary amebic meningoencephalitis. While there have been a few survivors, the majority of those infected live only 12-13 days. That’s a lot of people she is implying her god could have saved, but choose not to. Presumably, she believes their lives weren’t worth saving, her god didn’t care about them enough, the victims or their family didn’t pray hard enough, or their death’s was part of some plan that is more important than their lives. Her son, however, she believes was worth divine intervention unlike those who died.

Of course, the boy’s mother has a right to her beliefs and her statement. I am not implying she does not have that right. However, I view her comments as an insult to those for whom the infection was fatal and to the real people who worked hard to help her son.

Again, I am very glad that this teen has survived.

Rare recovery: Florida teen survives brain-eating amoeba, bTue August 23, 2016

http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/23/health/brain-eating-amoeba-florida-teen-survives/

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Mark 2:5 Jesus Forgives a Man’s Sin

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Mark 2:5

This verse describes a time when Jesus told a man that his sins were forgiven. At this point in the story, Jesus had not yet been crucified. It was always my understanding that the death of Jesus was supposed to be required for our sins to be forgiven. I was always taught that his death paid the wages for our sins. That brings me to my questions:

(1) Since there was no sacrifice, not even of an animal, how did Jesus forgive this man of his sins?

(2) If Jesus has the power to forgive sins without a sacrifice, why does he need to be crucified?

I would love to hear from you. What do you think of this verse? If you are a Christian, how might you answer these questions?

Mark 2:5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Harper Bibles (2011-11-22). NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha (Kindle Locations 67739-67740). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

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Mark 1:12-13 The Temptation of Jesus Christ

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Mark 1:12-13

While Jesus is not mentioned by name in this passage, it is believed that these verses describe a time when Jesus was tempted by Satan. Because this passage leaves a lot of important information out, one has to look to other gospels to have any understanding of this story. This is especially interesting considering the fact that early believers would not have been able to check other sources. Not only was Mark considered earliest written gospel (Dating of the Gospels), but also it is my understanding that early Christian communities typically only used had one gospel they followed. Even when this passage is read with other gospel accounts in mind, the story of the temptation of Christ brings up more questions than answers.

 

Questions:

(1) Assuming that the “Spirit” is the Holy Spirit and “him” is Jesus, how did the Holy Sprit lead him anywhere? Aren’t they the same being?

(2) If Jesus is actually God and has angels waiting on him, then what could Satan possibly offer him that is tempting?

(3) If Jesus was actually tempted to commit a sin, didn’t he sin in his heart? If so, isn’t that the same as sinning? After all, according to the New Testament, Jesus said that anyone who lusts has committed adultery.

 

Discuss: I would love to hear from you. What do you think of this passage? If you are a Bible-believing Christian, how might you go about answering these questions.

 

Mark 1:12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Harper Bibles (2011-11-22). NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha (Kindle Locations 67696-67697). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

 

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