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Friday, 23 November 2012

The Wisdom of Solomon

Today's blog I have re-worked from an original sermon I heard delivered by the Right Reverend Dr Idris Jones, the Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway 1998-2009 and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church 2006-09.

It is not going to be an overtly religious post though for a couple of reasons

Firstly, because I am not particularly religious myself. I do believe in God but I view churches as not much more than competing commercial organisations - and when they compete on an International scale... well that's where wars come from even as the churchgoers themselves live with the belief that they are the only ones on the planet who somehow have God on their side! Did you see the picture of the apple-banana in #Taiji or Head in the Sand? That.

Secondly, this isn't a religious blog, this is a blog about things that need fixed. Hmmm, maybe I really only do have one reason after all.

Dr Jones sermon concerned a reading from the "Apocrypha" which I now know was first published in the Lutherian Bible of 1534 but was also first excluded from print by the Calvinist Westminster Confession of Faith during the English Civil War in 1647.

The men who took that decision seem to have considered it rather too Roman Catholic for the prevalent political mood of the day although, to be fair, in an age where getting it wrong politically resulted in beheading we could perhaps show them some leniency in our judgement of their behaviour  Nevertheless, hmmm, again, Church leaders deciding what us mere mortals should - and should not - be encouraged to read.

So successful was the established church at swinging popular opinion against the Apocrypha that by the start of the 19th Century the British and Foreign Bible Society refused to print it and so the modern "King James Bible" contains only a limited library of books. Specifically, The Law, the Torah which is the foundation on which everything else rests; the Prophets who interpreted that Divine Law in their day; and the Writings with books like Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes which give a reflective and philosophical slant to religious thought. Bloggers in the Bible if you like, although a bit safer to add your comments to my blogs than any of those I would suggest...

Let me now use Dr Jones own words' (with only the very lightest of paraphrasing to suit the secular context in which they are being repeated) to continue today's journal:

This Apocrypha was written in the period of 100 years before the Christian Era and 100 years into that era. and was given the name of King Solomon because it reflected the glory of his day though it was written in very different circumstances and centuries after the time in which he lived.. The book is a record of a struggle that is part of all religious belief and faith which is the struggle to determine how far you can go in making sense of eternal truths in a changing contemporary world without betraying those same truths. All faiths today are engaged in that struggle over a variety of moral questions.

During that period of 200 years the Wisdom of Solomon was a product of the same sort of struggle around basic questions. The questions that asked what is the meaning of life and what is the meaning of death.

When life is going well; when things make sense and when there is a feeling that there is justice in the World that is one thing. But life is rarely like that for us - and certainly not all the time. When things go wrong; when justice seems denied and in particular when good people suffer and evil folk prosper - in those times what has faith to offer?

The writings of the Wisdom of Solomon spanned just such a time when things could not have been more unlike the golden age of King Solomon. During those 200 years the nation was divided and over-run by occupying powers. Jerusalem, the city of peace was wrecked, destroyed, rebuilt and wrecked again. the Holy Temple was desecrated, destroyed, built again and finally razed for ever in 70 CE under Roman Occupation. Many men who fought on the side of goodness had died under the heel of the oppressor, people had been indiscriminately killed for standing up for their beliefs. What on earth was going on - what was the point of it all, indeed was there any point?

Thankfully not many of us have to contend with that kind of upheaval but there will have been times when we know those feelings of being unable to make sense of life: and whilst death comes kindly to some for others it raises all those familiar feelings and questions.

I remember at a time of bereavement a wise councillor saying to me, "Don't ask the question why? There is no answer."

The Wisdom of Solomon gives no answer either but encourages us to hang on to a deep commitment at the most profound level of our very being expressed in these words:

"God did not make death and takes no pleasure in the destruction of any living thing. He created all things that they might have being." The Wisdom of Solomon 1 v 13 - 15

At this point I shall take my blog back and suggest that today was not about me telling you what I think, it is me encouraging you to think for yourself.

Read that last quote from the Wisdom of Solomon again and tell me why in the early 1600s we (i.e. humankind) were being allowed access to only selective knowledge whilst Church and Establishment (of which Church was the most part) led by (bad) example the rejection of simplicity and the descent to carnism (see Vegan in the 17th Century).

Ask also why religious bias is being desperately held onto by a tiny minority of Government rulers and influencers the World over whose own prejudice is causing the suffering of countless millions of human and non-human lives day by day by bloody day.

We are only beholden to dogma if we choose to be so.

Thank you for reading.