Friday, July 20, 2007

Whom Does God Respect?

There is an interesting story in the Acts of the Apostles where Peter proclaims that “God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” (Acts 10:34-35). This proclamation, and Peter’s antecedent vision, are considered the official doctrinal change to take the gospel to the Gentiles. (Please disregard Christ’s own commission years earlier to “go ye therefore, and teach all nations…”)

The Acts account poses an interesting question about the primacy of circumcision; namely, is the commission to proselytize among the Gentiles a new policy? Or Peter’s enlightened interpretation of an eternal law?

On the one hand, I believe that God has not graduated from the realm of personal development and is himself learning as he goes along at this stage of his existence. I understand the ipsedixitism. However, I cannot understand the principle of eternal progression without this belief. In many ways, it seems that God has tried several different approaches to managing the gospel on earth, much like an entrepreneur peddling a new product. Maybe this is one manifestation that God is still learning.

That being said, it seems silly that God wouldn't be able to foresee the problems of the extremely exclusive society of circumcised Jews under the law of Moses. And the idea that God is still learning is very difficult to reconcile with the personal accounts of several prophets who claim that God showed them the history of the world from beginning to end.

In our contemporary setting, I'm not quite sure how to interpret Acts 10. We laugh at the closed-minded Jews who were befuddled at the prospect of sharing their rites with the uncircumcised. "It must just be a societal thing" we tell ourselves. "Discrimination is not eternal." So Paul breaks down the barriers of nationalism and ethnicity, and later (much later) President Kimball reaches out to blacks. And our justification remains: "those crazy out-dated societal traditions of discrimination. God is truly no respecter of persons." What I don't understand (anybody?) is why we don't extend this same rationale onto the exclusionary barriers of gender and age. While the "Jews-only" and "blacks are less noble" policies are written off as unfortunate anachronisms, we believe that our adult-male-only policy is eternal. This fascinates me. Especially considering that our scriptures include stories about priestesses and child prophets.

So, should the policy change in Acts 10 be viewed as a step in God's development, or a step in our own development (or both)? What is the great take-home message? This has been on my mind today.

1 comment:

Kikuchiyo said...

DL, this is a good one. It seems from many accounts that God has from the beginning been fully aware of how the story of this world will progress. It is hard to imagine God giving prophets like Enoch, Nephi and others visions of the past, present and future of the world and saying, "at that point I'll realize that this policy doesn't work and will have to shift some things."

I have to come down on the side of the development being for and by humans. But I'll be honest. I've long been baffled by the racism of the Old Testament. One chosen people? Everyone else is an ignorant gentile and is irrelevant to God unless used as a scourge to stir up the humans he actually cares about? God commands his people to commit genocide?

It's like saying that a dozen million people today (out of BILLIONS) have the truth and everyone else is in the dark. Why has God consistently only dealt with such a small sliver of the human family?

Or has He? The BoM talks about God speaking to ALL nations and about them receiving revelation and writing scriptures. Are these texts that we already know about, or are they ones to be discovered one day that will have the same ideas and vocabulary as the BoM?

That is, did Buddha receive revelation but in his "own language," or did he just get lucky and some of his crap is decent, but one day we will get the actual record of the lost Israelites (again, the only race God cares about) in India that quotes Isaiah a bunch?

How many books are buried in concrete boxes around the globe whose absence gives us the impression that God's concerns for humanity have always been so narrow? Or are these books already available on Amazon?

I don't know. I just have a hard time imagining that 2/3rds of all of God's spirit children decide and fight to come down here and then far less than 1% ever actually get the truth from God and participate in His program while on this earth. They live a life of useless ignorance and then get to accept the ordinances in 'spirit prison' the way one accepts hors'd oeuvre from a server wandering around a cocktail party with a tray - or maybe I should say as one picks them out of a take-home container when somebody who actually got to go to the party brings them home.

I tend to think that far, far more people have had and do have meaningful communication and interaction with God - much of which would be unintelligible within the framework of ideas and terms of our Mormon, or even Judeo-Christian, culture.

Blacks were fence-sitters in the pre-existence and born as Cain's descendants for their own protection. OK, yeah right. Sure. The Israelites were God's people and the rest were heathens to be slaughtered when the 'good guys' needed land. Uh huh, you bet. Women are so much more spiritual already and just naturally suited to staying home and keeping their opinions to themselves. Right on, sounds great.

I just see all of the limitations and separations (and the resulting privileges for the few) as being all too human. Can anyone make an intelligent argument for the church's racism anymore? Is anyone comfortable with all of that Cain and Ham crap (which predated Joseph, Brigham and the others anyway)?

But this view of God being much more universal in his dealings ties my hands when it comes to working with the Bible story, as it is so thoroughly and comfortably elitist and exclusive for most of the history it covers.

This may be part of why Jesus threatened the establishment in Palestine so much. His universality really didn't fit in to the world-history that the Jews held so dear. But He also said and did plenty that condoned Old Testament racism.

I don't know. I guess I just want the problem to be ours and not God's.