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Vol. 79 - No. 4
April 2008

WORD FROM THE PASTOR:             


Some Ask the Pastor Questions

Since initiating "Ask the Pastor" last December, I have received numerous questions, some of which I’ve been dealing with in sermons. Because of the volume of questions, though, I thought I would devote this month’s Messenger to answering a few others.

One questioner asks, "I was reading Dante’s Divine Comedy and came across the mention of a giant named Nimrod. The footnote said that Nimrod was responsible for building the tower of Babel...Is there a tradition of Nimrod in connection with the Tower of Babel?" First of all, I’m glad you’re reading Dante–perhaps the greatest of all Christian authors (although we Lutherans would have an issue or two with the whole purgatory thing). Nimrod was actually a great-grandson of Noah–he was the son of Cush, Cush was the son of Ham, and Ham was the son of Noah. The Bible tells us that Nimrod was "the first on earth to become a mighty warrior", which is probably why Dante considered him a giant (Genesis 10:8). He was also renowned as "a mighty hunter" (10:9). While Babel was part of the kingdom that he ruled, Scripture doesn’t indicate that he was directly involved in building the Tower of Babel.

Another questioner says: "Why was the congregation told several years ago that the first two pews were taken out of the church to be repaired, when all along the pews have been in the church basement...?" We intended to have the pews repaired–although finding someone who repairs pews isn’t easy! However, after the removal of the pews, I think we discovered that having some open space up front was a blessing. When I gather younger children for VBS music or for a children’s message, I like to sit on the floor with them around me–the extra room facilitates that. It also gives us space for the power-point projector when we use it for slide shows; room for communion distribution at Holy Week and Christmas; etc. Sometimes we plan one thing, then new discoveries take our plans in a different direction: when we experienced the new possibilities the open space gave us, returning the pews no longer seemed an imperative. However, the matter certainly could be reconsidered. .

Another questioner notes that, in II Samuel 21, David hands over Saul’s children and grandchildren to the Gibeonites to be killed. "I am sure I had read previously in the Old Testament that the Lord would not hold people responsible for the sins of their parents, or parents responsible for their children’s sins," the questioner writes. Indeed, the Bible does indicate in Ezekiel 18 that God will judge people only for their own individual sin. However, the Bible is full of incidents where groups are punished–the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, for instance, or the command to massacre the Canaanites when Israel conquered the Holy Land. God also talks about "visiting the sins of the fathers upon their children to the third and fourth generation" (Deuteronomy 5:9). How do we address this seeming contradiction between punishing individuals and punishing groups?

Sometimes it’s hard to punish the guilty without also affecting the innocent. When a man is sent to prison, for instance, his children are deprived of a father. In subduing Germany and Japan in World War II, the Allies killed tens of thousands of innocent civilians in bombing raids "Collateral damage" is the modern military term–it’s the tragic by-product of defeating our enemies. Human misconduct has "collateral damage", too–a drug-addicted mother, for instance, harms not only herself but also the children she bears. It seems that in the Bible, sin can cause "collateral damage". Saul’s children, for instance, are affected by their father’s wickedness. (We do not, however, learn whether or not they went to heaven–their father’s sin may affect their destiny in this life, but not necessarily in the life to come). It’s interesting to note, however, that in the destruction of Sodom, God is concerned to minimize "collateral damage"–He promises Abraham that if he finds as few as ten righteous men in the city, He will not destroy it (Genesis 18:32). This shows that God is concerned with individuals as well as groups.

I always hated "group punishment" in elementary school–where the whole class was denied recess because of the misbehavior of a few. So the idea of God punishing a group can seem unfair. I think, though, to really comprehend this idea, we need to look at original sin. In original sin, it seems like the group–the human race–is punished for the sins of an individual–Adam. However, in the end, each of us really is a sinner. Each of us has his or her own sin. Adam started the ball rolling, but each of us has continued it rolling. We all have made our own contribution to the world’s sin. When asked to write an essay on the question, "What Is Wrong With the World?", the great British writer G. K. Chesterton submitted two words: "I am." In original sin, it’s not just the group that’s at fault: it’s each of us. So original sin is the classic Biblical case in which we see both group responsibility and individual responsibility in play.

As I said in a sermon a few weeks ago, we need to remember that Jesus died both for the group and for the individual. "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son..." (John 3:16)and "the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me." (Galatians 2:20). We want to affirm both, because God loves both humanity as a group, and each of us as individuals.

Thanks to whoever left a copy of Moments for Pastors in the box. That was very thoughtful!

God loves you and so do I!

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