Monthly Archives: November 2020

Does God listen to humans?

Yes, he does it all the time

The Bible is full of stories where God listens to humans and does what they ask.

More than once, when God was tempted to destroy all of Israel except Moses, Moses pointed out some reasons he shouldn’t do that. And God decided to let his people live. On the journey to the promised land, the Israelites said they wished they had meat, and God heard them and gave them meat.

When Moses, Aaron, and Samuel called on God’s name, he answered them. When Samuel cried out to God because the Philistines were attacking Israel, God answered him and scared the Philistines away.

When David asked God to stop killing innocent people instead of punishing the person who had displeased him, God answered his prayer. (He was only willing to do that after David made a sacrifice, though.) God didn’t ignore David; he listened to his cries for help.

When Solomon expressed his desire for the temple he built to be God’s home forever, God heard him and agreed to what he said. And just as Solomon asked, he promised to listen whenever people prayed toward that temple.

When God made Jeroboam’s hand shrivel up and Jeroboam asked a prophet to ask God to fix it, God did so. When Asa asked God to help him defeat the vast Cushite army, God struck them down. When Manasseh the evil king of Judah was captured by the Assyrians, he repented and prayed, and God let him go home. Hezekiah had Isaiah pray for God to listen to the Assyrians mocking him, and God responded by sending an angel to kill a bunch of Assyrians and scare the rest away.

When the Arameans tried to kill Jehoshaphat of Judah because they mistook him for the evil king of Israel, he cried out and God rescued him. Later, Jehoshaphat told God that a hopelessly vast army of multiple nations was attacking Judah. He pointed out that it was God’s fault that those nations were there, and that God was expected to save his people from disaster when they cried out to him at his temple. So he did.

Elisha prayed for God to bring a boy back to life, and to manipulate what certain people could or couldn’t see, and God did everything he asked. When Jeremiah spoke to God on behalf of other people, he turned his wrath away from them. Jonah was eaten alive by a fish, but then he called to God for help, and God listened and answered his cry.

God listens and complies even when you might think he wouldn’t

In the days of the judges, whenever Israel was taken over by their enemies, God would hear the people lamenting their oppression and would send someone to save them. Even after he claimed he was never going to save them again, he couldn’t help sending someone to rescue them when they asked him to.

The Israelites asked for a human king, and even though God was displeased, he listened to them and gave them a king. And when Samuel called on God to send a storm out of season as a sign of his disapproval, God did just what Samuel said. Then when the king needed to know why God had stopped helping him, he asked God to communicate through various instruments of divination to indicate who had done wrong, and God complied.

Abraham repeatedly asked God to spare the city of Sodom if he could find enough righteous people there, and God wasn’t bothered; he agreed every time. When God heard how upset Hezekiah was that God had decided he would never recover from his illness, God changed his plan and let Hezekiah recover. When Ezekiel pointed out how abhorrent God’s orders were, God changed his command to make it a little less horrible. When Amos objected to the things God was planning to do to his people, God canceled his plans.

When Gideon was skeptical and asked for miraculous proof that God was really speaking to him, God supplied the exact signs Gideon requested, twice. When Elijah wanted to show people that his God was a real God that would perform miracles on command in order to prove his existence, God cooperated and sent fire from heaven.

When Elijah wanted to murder a hundred men just because he could, God cooperated and sent more fire down from heaven. When some soldiers from Israel cried out to God to help them defeat their enemies, God helped them defeat their enemies. And then when some soldiers from Judah cried out to God to help them defeat Israel, God helped them do that, too. When Naaman asked to be allowed to bow down to an idol, God told him to go ahead.

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Literal vs liberal interpretation

I was raised to believe that everything the Bible says is literally true, and as a nonbeliever I still tend to interpret the Bible pretty literally. Here’s why:

Literalism is the natural form of religion that results from reading the scriptures. When people read the Bible with no preconceived ideas about what it should say, they will tend to assume it means exactly what it says. Why would it even occur to anyone that the Bible might not simply mean what it says (unless somebody else told them to think that)? I think the main reason is that some people can’t accept what they’re reading because they already have other, more strongly-held beliefs that are incompatible with the Bible.

Non-literalist religion is a self-deceptive phenomenon that results when people consider themselves religious, but also have beliefs and values that conflict with the scriptures. If they don’t want to outright reject the Bible or admit that their values don’t come from their religion, they have to make up metaphorical interpretations of the Bible that agree with what they already believe, and ignore what the Bible actually says.1

In a lot of cases, what the Bible says was meant completely literally, and was originally interpreted literally, and no one saw a problem with that. But as humanity’s knowledge of the world and standards of morality have improved over time, it has become increasingly clear to most people that what the Bible says literally is absurdly wrong. So those who can’t admit that the Bible is wrong have had to increasingly reinterpret it figuratively. Some take it so far that they’re basically atheists in denial.

Even literalists are now so used to thinking of certain concepts and expressions used in the Bible as figurative that it might not even occur to them that those things might have once been meant literally. But compared to what the writers intended, literalists aren’t literal enough! Like most people in ancient times, the writers of the Bible actually believed that people literally thought with their hearts. And their kidneys.2

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How many men were possessed by the Legion of demons?

Three of the gospels tell this story: Jesus crosses a lake and meets a violent man who is being controlled by a group of demons, who call themselves Legion. The demons assume Jesus is there to banish them and torture them. But they convince him to just send them into a herd of pigs instead. The man regains his sanity, and the pigs kill themselves. The locals make Jesus go away so he’ll stop pointlessly destroying their livestock. And everybody forgets about the demons, who are now homeless and on the loose.

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The Story of Joseph and his Brothers
The Interpreter of Dreams

How God got Joseph into Egypt

Jacob made a fancy robe for his favorite son, Joseph. This made Joseph’s brothers jealous. Then Joseph started having dreams about his family bowing down to him. This made his brothers hate him. So Joseph’s brothers stole his robe and dipped it in goat blood, so their father would think Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. They sold Joseph to some merchants, who took him away to Egypt and sold him as a slave to Potiphar, the captain of the guard.

Inmate interprets increasingly insane imaginings

Potiphar’s wife kept trying to get Joseph to sleep with her, but he refused. Then she accused him of trying to rape her, so Potiphar put him in prison. Two other prisoners, who had been Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker, got Joseph to interpret their dreams for them. Pharaoh’s cupbearer had dreamed about bearing Pharaoh’s cup, which Joseph said meant he would become Pharaoh’s cupbearer again. And it was so. Pharaoh’s baker had dreamed about birds eating Pharaoh’s bread out of a basket on the baker’s head, which Joseph said meant the baker would be executed. And it was so.

Later, Pharaoh had a dream about seven skinny cows eating seven fat cows, and a dream about seven thin heads of grain eating seven full heads of grain. None of his magicians and wise men could tell him what his dreams meant, so his cupbearer suggested asking Joseph. Joseph said both dreams meant that there would be seven years of abundance, and then seven years of famine. Pharaoh was so impressed by this claim that he put Joseph in charge of all of Egypt, without even bothering to wait and see if Joseph’s prediction was accurate.

Do not worry about tomorrow

During the seven years of abundance, Joseph took away all the grain that was grown in Egypt and stored it up, so the people could starve sooner rather than later. Then during the seven years of famine, he sold grain to everyone who needed it in Egypt and Canaan. Joseph gave the Egyptians food (that he had stolen from them) in exchange for all their money, all their livestock, all their land, and their slave labor. He also made them give a fifth of the food they were able to grow to Pharaoh, so that they could have food.

Continue reading The Story of Joseph and his Brothers
The Interpreter of Dreams
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