10/03/2014 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Carolyn Hyppolite ~
One of the indicators that the Bible is the product of self-interested men is how it treats the issue of testing, both God’s testing of human beings as well as the nearly total injunction against testing God, except when it comes to tithing.
Throughout the Bible God is said to be testing his people to see if they will remain faithful. I am not going to dwell here on the obvious question of why an omniscient being would need to test his people. It does not seem that the Scripture writers, especially the writers of the Old Testament, reflected a great deal on this obvious conflict. Presumably because the notion God’s omniscience is a later theological development. When God says to Abraham, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me,” (Genesis ) it is best to take the text literally. Now, God knows something that he did not previously know.
The psalmist describes God as the one who tests the minds and hearts (7:9). Throughout the Bible, we find God frequently testing Israel often by allowing some calamity to befall them. The book of Joshua records that the Lord did not drive out all the nations from the land “in order to test Israel” (Joshua ). When the people are beleaguered by foreign rulers the book of Isaiah attributes it to testing—“See, I have refined you, but not like silver; I have tested you in the furnace of adversity” (Isaiah 48:10).
Anyone who has consulted a spiritual leader in times of difficulties has heard this explanation—God is testing you. Theoretically, it is possible that all the misfortune of this world can be explained by God’s testing. However, is this not exactly what one would expect from institution who cannot offer adequate explanation for the distress of the faithful but who nonetheless need the faithful to stay on the religious treadmill? Does this not achieve the result that most benefit the clerical class—keeping the people praying, paying and obeying?
The convenient use of testing is also evident in the nearly universal prohibition against testing God. When the children of Israel where in the desert, after three days of thirst, they complained to Moses, “Give us water to drink.”
When my cats complain about food and water, I actually apologize and hasten to resolve the problem. Moses responds by saying, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” (Exodus 17:1-2). Note that questioning the wisdom of the prophet who seems to have brought the people into the desert to die of thirst is equated with testing God.
Moreover, this alleged treachery of the children of Israel is remembered in numerous places in the Bible Deuteronomy ,33; Psalm 78:17-18, 95:9, 105:9, 104:13-15 to name a few. Again, it is theoretically possible that we live in a universe in which God does not want to be put to the test, but we already know that we live in a universe in which those in power do not want to be questioned. This is exactly what we would expect from a book written by a religious ruling class who does not want to answer tough questions, especially when they fail to deliver.
The New Testament writers depicts a Jesus who equally bristles as being tested. Although Jesus rarely proclaims his divinity in the Gospels, it is one of the ways that the Scripture writers attempts to assert his equality with God.
Testing Jesus in the Gospels generally involves asking him to answer tough questions or to provide a sign for the authority he has arrogated unto himself. Jesus’s Jewish interlocutors have the temerity to ask whether it is lawful to divorce (Matthew 19:3), or to pay taxes to Caesar (Matthew 22:15-18), or even for a sign from Heaven (Luke :15-17).
These reasonable questions are treated as emblematic of the Jewish people’s faithless. The 8th chapter of John records a telling conversation with the Jewish people who are baffled by Jesus’s claim to be from above and older than Abraham. Jesus accuses them of trying to kill him and being children of the devil, demonstrating that Christian persecution syndrome is not a modern development. Atheists persecute Christians by asking for evidence for their extraordinary claims; the Pharisees had the same problem:
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:38-40).
This is particularly noteworthy when one considers the fact that these texts were written decades after the historical Jesus is supposed to have existed. One can certainly imagine a setting in which people, perhaps Jews, are asking for signs of the claims being made by Christ followers. Instead on offering evidence, the Scripture writers, using the mouth of Jesus, castigates the questioners for asking.
In addition, like Yahweh, his father, Jesus reserves the right to test human beings,
When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little” (John 6:5-7).
The only people who benefit from this double standard are clerics and preachers who don’t want to be held accountable for the claims that they are making but who nonetheless want to control the people.
Finally, that testing of God is an artifice of clerics is most evident when we look at the exception. Throughout the Bible, it is prohibited to test God except in one instance—tithing. When it comes to giving money to the temple, God says, go ahead and test me:
Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. I will rebuke the locust for you, so that it will not destroy the produce of your soil; and your vine in the field shall not be barren, says the Lordof hosts. Then all nations will count you happy, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lordof hosts (Malachi 3:10-12).When my cats complain about food and water, I actually apologize and hasten to resolve the problem. Moses responds by saying, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” (Exodus 17:1-2).
Keep that in mind next time an apologist tells you that the prosperity gospel is a modern aberration.
In fact, the Lord, who owns the whole world, claims to be robbed if he is deprived of man’s offerings—“Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, “How are we robbing you?” In your tithes and offerings! You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me—the whole nation of you! (Malachi 3:8-9).
Imagine this scene. The people come to the priests probably because their crops have failed and they are suffering. They want to know why God has caused or allowed this to happen, and the priests say, “It’s because your temple offerings are short.”
Jesus extols the virtue of the widow who out of her poverty has put in everything she had in the collection (Mark ).
In the book of Acts, a couple’s dishonesty about the value of the proceeds from their land results in their death (Acts 5:1-11). Peter simply speaks words of rebuke and they perish. Luke records that “great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things (Acts ), which is of course, the purpose of the story.
There is a great deal of criticism among nonbelievers about the pecuniary motivations of preachers. While charlatans like Creflo Dollar deserve the criticism, the majority of ministers are not in it for the money. In my most recent religious experience, I have encountered men who have given up far more lucrative endeavors for the priesthood, and I would be remiss to besmirch their sincerity and good intentions.
Nonetheless, the Scriptures were written in a very different social setting, a time and place in which ways to earn an honest living were few and arduous. It is in this context that the Biblical text is produced, and what we have is a text that says, “If you are suffering, God is testing you. Be more faithful to the religious institution. If you question God’s representative, you are testing God himself. Don’t test God except when it comes to giving money to the religious leaders. In that case, test God and watch him bless you. Oh, you’re not blessed yet. You have not given enough.”
Exactly, what we would expect from a man-made book, written by self-interested clerics.