Sunday, July 6, 2014

RYBS: Let's Talk About the Bears

Read Your Bible Series - Week Nine

Let's Talk About the Bears

There are a multitude of stories in the Bible where the sole purpose of the message is to illustrate the overwhelming power and swift apportion of the Christian God's justice.  Yet given the brutal, barbaric nature of humanity in the Iron Age, most of these delightful tales never seem to make the final print of children's coloring books.

After this week, I think you'll agree it's probably for the best...

Anyway, our adventure begins in 2 Kings, chapter 2 with the tale of Elijah and Elisha just before Elijah was to be taken into heaven.  The first six verses gives the impression that poor Elijah must have been looking fairly debilitated since everyone felt the need to tap Elisha on the shoulder to point it out:
When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel."
But Elisha said, "As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel.
The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, "Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?"
"Yes, I know," Elisha replied, "so be quiet."
Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho."
And he replied, "As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So they went to Jericho.
The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, "Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?"
"Yes, I know," he replied, "so be quiet."
Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan."
And he replied, "As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So the two of them walked on.
Was I the only one that giggled a little reading that?  No matter how many times Elijah tried to ditch Elisha, he just never seemed to get the hint.  How thoughtful.

Verses 8 & 9:
Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.
Wow!  My man Elijah put on his big boy pants and pulled a Moses!  Sure, Moses parted a bit bigger body of water in the Red Sea, but Elijah parted the river Jordan - and he did it with one of the Deathly Hallows...

I don't know, though.  Now that I think about it, Elijah seems more like a drama queen than a Moses.  Seriously, nothing says, "flair for the dramatic" or, "misuse of power in the workplace" like rolling up your magic cloak and beating the hell out of a body of water just because you don't feel like doing it legally and crossing at the nearest river crosswalk.

And far be it for me to tell a prophet how to misuse his superpowers, but if old Elijah was thinking straight, maybe he should've used that magic cloak to beat some sense into Elisha in the first place.  Then maybe Elijah could have finally gotten some peace and quiet.

At any rate, we finally get to Elija's climactic exit:
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?"
"Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit," Elisha replied.
"You have asked a difficult thing," Elijah said, "yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours - otherwise, it will not."
As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.
One thing I'll give the Bible: in days past, if you were an "anointed" man, you were taken into heaven with far more theatrical flair than today's paltry standards of just, you know... dying.  However, if you really think about it for a minute, the god of the Universe whisked old Elijah up not in some otherworldly, radiant display of luxurious omnipotence.  No, Yahweh decided to chauffeur this prophet into paradise with the celestial equivalent of a Lincoln Towncar.

That's right, the almighty sent... a chariot.  An astonishing, miraculous, mind-boggling, horse-drawn... chariot.  Of fire.  As if emblazoning a contemporary mode of transportation in the magic flames of Zion was some manifestation of ultimate power or something.  Sure, that worked for Katniss and Cinna, but come on, this is the god of the Universe we're talking about here!  You'd think he could come up with a far more climactic event than... a chariot.  Of fire.

Be that as it may, Elijah was finally gone, and Elisha was finally poised to take the prophetic reigns.  Elisha goes on to re-part the river Jordan by stealing his mentor's magic cloak (and stealing his gag, I might add) so as to prove that he was indeed the successor of Elijah and strong with the power of God.

Oh, and just in case you might be skeptical of this new found power of God,  Elisha "heals" the fresh water spring of Jericho... with salt.
The people of the city said to Elisha, "Look, our lord, this town is well situated, as you can see, but the water is bad and the land is unproductive."
"Bring me a new bowl," he said, "and put salt in it." So they brought it to him.
Then he went out to the spring and threw the salt into it, saying, "This is what the Lord says: 'I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.'" And the water has remained pure to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken.
Yeah, salt always works on natural springs, because salt is so mysterious.  What with all those mystical powers of one part Sodium and one part Chlorine.  Assuming, that is, that the Bible meant table salt.

Okay.  All sarcasm aside, we've finally reached the point of all of this.  That's right.  The bears.
From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. "Get out of here, baldy!" they said. "Get out of here, baldy!" He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. And he went on to Mount Carmel and from there returned to Samaria.
Just three simple verses, and yet so much barbaric, dopey and downright disgusting nonsense.  Then, Elisha just goes about his blessed business in Samaria as if the mauling of children was a perfectly acceptable and justified concurrence.

Here we have a revered prophet; a prophet chosen by the god of the Universe himself, getting flustered by a pack of worthless jackasses calling him, "baldy."  You got that right.  BALDY.

And what does a being of unlimited power decide to inflict upon these insolent jackasses?  Bears.  Not some out of this world display of transcendent power;  the kind of power that can literally create energy and matter.  No, not that.  He sent... bears.  That's all god could come up with for rowdy teenagers - a couple of run-of-the-mill, dumpster-diving bears to maul 42 bad-mannered adolescents diagnosing an older man's alopecia.

So let's think about the point of this narrative for a moment, shall we?  First of all, did anyone really learn anything from this exercise?  Is this really something that the all-powerful producer of the holy word would make allowance for?  And furthermore, was the punishment truly equal to the crime?  Is this really the only solution that an omnipotent being could come up with?  You're telling me that summoning bloodthirsty predators to maul 42 disrespectful kids is the ideal solution in this situation?

Well, of course it isn't!  And yet, it's the fact that I have been raised in this day and age that I know that this story is complete nonsense.  I mean, literally speaking, there's absolutely no way that two bears could move fast enough to maul 42 kids running for their lives.  Sure, human beings only use two legs to run, and the fastest individual in our species is still not even able to outrun your average, everyday house cat.  But give me a break... we're not THAT slow.  I mean, I get that two or three of the boys were mauled, but 42?  No.

Plus, why is mauling by bears even an option?  We're talking about idiotic kids here, aren't we?  KIDS!  Kids being jerks!  Now to me, if I was the almighty and I had to appoint a prophet, I would expect that prophet to behave in a manner commensurate to an all-powerful, merciful, and empathetic supreme being.  And surely the prophet that I chose would have the presence of mind to understand the timeless struggle between the older generations and the new.  I mean, I'm all-knowing and all-powerful, aren't I?  I should have seen this coming and been able to diffuse the situation so that 42 kids weren't mauled by flipping bears!

So I'd really love to to be able to tell you how to approach the subject of senseless Biblical violence in the future... but that would be a waste of everyone's time, wouldn't it?

How about a favor, instead?  A favor from one human being to another.  If you do happen to read this and you still consider yourself a true believer of the word of God - the next time you deliver your testimony and try to convince people how wonderful your life is because you follow a loving and forgiving your god... please do us all a favor.  Stop sugarcoating the violence, stop cherry-picking the easy bits, and talk to them...  Talk to them about the bears.

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