Rosy Idealism vs Gritty Reality

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 4.20, 25
20 The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy…25 During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, everyone under their own vine and under their own fig tree.

1 Kings 5.13-18
13 King Solomon conscripted laborers from all Israel—thirty thousand men. 14 He sent them off to Lebanon in shifts of ten thousand a month, so that they spent one month in Lebanon and two months at home. Adoniram was in charge of the forced labor. 15 Solomon had seventy thousand carriers and eighty thousand stonecutters in the hills, 16 as well as thirty-three hundred foremen who supervised the project and directed the workers. 17 At the king’s command they removed from the quarry large blocks of high-grade stone to provide a foundation of dressed stone for the temple. 18 The craftsmen of Solomon and Hiram and workers from Byblos cut and prepared the timber and stone for the building of the temple. 

Reflection: Rosy Idealism vs Gritty Reality
By John Tillman

One chapter paints a glowing, idealistic picture of Solomon’s reign, packed with prophetic references. The people are “numerous as the sand on the seashore,” referencing God’s promise to Abraham. (Genesis 22.17) They ate, drank, and were happy, with “peace on every side,” as promised to their ancestors. (Joshua 21.44) They lived in safety, everyone “under their own vine and fig tree,” an idyllic state that would be referenced by the prophet Micah and many others. (Micah 4.4)

The next chapter is a reality check. The idyllic portrait was a partial picture. For at least 30,000 Israelites, the reality included forced labor. Everyone lived under their own vine and fig tree for two out of three months. The other month, they were slaves.

The version of slavery in the Bible was less brutal than the North Atlantic slave trade, yet God opposed even the gentler version. God liberated Israel from slavery. Scripture cites this experience as part of their identity. “For you were slaves in Egypt” is a frequent refrain. God commanded that they never enslave another Israelite. God commanded that they prevent fellow Israelites from being enslaved by outsiders. God commanded that they always set free escaped slaves. Yet, here is Solomon, building a Temple for God by breaking these rules.

Societies supported by slavery always have a rosy, sanitized vision of themselves. They say things like, “Slaves were like family,” “slaves learned skills,” “slaves lived happy lives,” and “slaves were rarely mistreated.” Even if these are or were always true, it doesn’t change God’s opinion of slavery as a practice to avoid and oppose. 

Pointing fingers at the past is not scripture’s intention. Jesus condemned those who looked to the past and claimed they would not have joined their forebears’ sins. (Luke 11.47-48) He would say the same to us. It does no spiritual good to claim we would have opposed past wrongs. Spiritual good comes from sober examination of our present.

Do we have a rosy, glowing, idealistic, and sanitized vision of ourselves? Have we allowed a “gentler version” of slavery to rise up, unnoticed, except by the tens of thousands trapped in it? Or if not slavery, a gentler version of empire, greed, or lust?

Recognizing the sins of the past is important, but not without repenting of the sins of today. God, wipe away rosy idealism. Grant us the mercy to see gritty reality and repent of today’s sins.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
The heaven of heavens is the Lord’s, but he entrusted the earth to its peoples. — Psalm 115.16

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings

1 Kings 4-5 (Listen 7:21)
Psalms 22 (Listen 3:49)

Read more about Better Temples
Jesus is our Temple and Solomon’s prayers are better answered in Jesus than in the structure Solomon built.

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Putting To Death Racial Hostility

Scripture Focus: Ephesians 2:15-16
His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

Reflection: Putting To Death Racial Hostility
By John Tillman

In the ancient world, every race and people claimed supremacy. Supremacy of race or country is an ideology that is based on one of the oldest, perhaps first, sins: pride.

The secular vision of evolution does not posit equality as a trait or as a policy. In fact evolutionary biology is the source of much of the past century’s eugenics-based racist thought.

Our culture’s concept of human equality is based not in science, but in Christ. The wellspring of the concept of racial equality is the cross of Christ as described in the above verse from Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church. The first voice in history crying out for racial equality and the end of slavery was a Christian one.

This is why it is such an enduring tragedy that throughout history the church has struggled to keep various strains of racism from infecting and crippling the church and its work. Every era of the church is touched—and sometimes scarred—with this struggle.

While it is true that without Christian abolitionists, the abomination of racial slavery would still be common, it is equally true that many Christians also stood on the other side. Many lent support to slavery as a legal institution—allowing economic needs and cultural norms to force an ungodly twisting of their theology. (Economic needs and cultural norms fuel today’s illegal slavery crisis—including sexual slavery and secular society still has no answer to the problem.)

Idolatry takes many forms and modern Christians are just as susceptible to them as our first century counterparts were. We must not let nationalistic pride become the idol that keeps us from pursuing the death of racial hostility through the cross of Christ. Only at the cross can we drop our pride, let our hostility die, and take up the new life of unity that Christ died to give us.

Christians must take the lead in racial issues because we have the only viable ideology that, if we let it, will counter the ideology of hate. We cannot grow weary. We cannot tire of addressing the issue. We have the only answer.

“Because so many Christians haven’t yet learned, these words of Paul must continually be proclaimed—that in Christ the barriers of race, language, culture, and social class are all transcended. For man to put up these superficial fences truly reflects the superficiality of his humanity.”Dr. Nelson Hayashida

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
But I will call upon God, and the Lord will deliver me.
In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday, I will complain and lament, He will bring me safely back…God, who is enthroned of old, will hear me… — Psalm 55.17

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 4-5 (Listen – 7:21)
Ephesians 2 (Listen – 3:04)

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Read more about When the Dream becomes a Nightmare
I still have a dream that with this faith we will be able to adjourn the councils of despair and bring new light into the dark chambers of pessimism.

Read more about Racism Wears a Mask
The church was the first entity in history to directly attack racism and the Holy Spirit is the only way its burden can truly be put down.