Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your motuh, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.
When that passage came up in our Bible study last night, I immediately felt as though it had advice I needed to heed. I thought of the volumes of journals I had filled over the years with my rants and frustrations to God, with little time taken to listen. I thought of the fruit that approach had produced in my interactions with people. I thought of our American Evangelical buddy-buddy image of God, and the ways it seemed to cheapen the Faith.

But then I listened to my friends comment on their reaction to the passage. They received it has a harsh image of God. "Don't bother God," they heard; "He's a harsh tyrant who may decide to wipe you out." Many received it as a discription of contrast, one of those passages that we read to remind us of how wonderful it is to be on this side of the Incarnation. Now that Jesus is here, we don't have to look at God that way.

I am torn. I am well-aware that my own tendency to tell God more than I hear from him has been harmful, and that I could always use a little more good healthy reverent silence. Yet I also know that it has always been easier for me to connect with Zeus than with Jesus. I tell people that I like the Old Testiment because it has been so neglected by modern Christians, but I know I really like it because I prefer the powerful God it depicts over the fluffy God I often hear about in church. Maybe I need a good healthy dose of the fuzzies.

So I thought I'd take a survey to get a feel for how the small cross-section of the Church that reads my blog reads this passage. When you read Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 (written above), do you think:
  1. "Indeed, the Church (and individuals such as Em) would do well to have more of that reverent fear. How deeply are we infused with a fluffy image of God that causes our faith to emphasize our own words and takes so little time to listen!"
  2. "Thank Jesus that we no longer need to think of God that way. Indeed, the Church (and individuals such as Em) no doubt suffer from such a harsh, pre-Incarnation picture of God that forgets his Grace, forgiveness and humanity."
  3. Both of the above.
  4. None of the above.


TwoSquareMeals said...

The first option, no doubt. Then, is it really a surprise I would agree with you on this one? I spend way too much time talking to God, on my own, in Bible study...and not listening.

Ashleigh said...

I see squaremeals around the Internet a lot-- you're over at Alex's, too, aren't you?

In any case, I think a combination of 1 and 4. I think I am not allowed to say 4 without giving some kind of elaboration, but I'm not certain I have anything brilliant to say.

Perhaps something along the lines of, "God is much bigger and mysterious than we often let him be. He invites us into his presence like a kind Father, yet bluntly tells us we need to hush. His love and wisdom transform us and make us worship him, and we begin to laugh with God at the often silly, arrogant selves we used to be, thankful we took the time to allow his truth to be heard."

What do you think?

Kate said...

What a fabulous post. I'd agree with twosquaremeals (through whom I found you). God is totally and completely other - something which cannot be boxed in by our words and images - and it is good to remember that at times. I find the greatness and power and awesomeness (at its truest meaning) of God humbling, terrifying and reassuring in equal measures. But neither should we forget that however other God is, God is still deeply interested and involved in our lives.

Em the luddite said...

Yay! I'm glad for the permission to agree with myself!

It would at least be true of my experience that a posture of true humility and listening before a holy and sublime God is posture that allows a loving God to communicate his Grace. Last summer I was dramatically humbled, started a journaling fast, and eventually even started a blog to culture the habit of listening... and it seems that I mostly hear love. Maybe option 1 produces the attempted result of option 2?

Talloaf said...

Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 is probably better understood as a part of the whole of 5:1-7 (verse 7 talks about the verbal diarrhea of verse 2 as well as the business of dreams in verse 3).

I think vv. 1-2 is best understood as one ought pray prayers that are thought through and sincere, and not just give a voice to whatever emotion courses through your brain. Emotions are fleeting. (The idea of dreams being connected to many words and making sure you follow through with any vows I would say support me on this interpretation.) This does NOT mean prayer ought to be without passion or fervor (David should be a sufficient example of passionate prayer that is not rash or hasty.)

As far as the passage's understanding of the character of God, I would point to vv. 2 & 7. God is in heaven. Fear Him. Be captive with awe. Have a gigantic dose of respect, noting one's own depravity. Regard His holiness & righteousness. You are on earth.

Clearly choice 1 is the right response. Depend on the Holy Spirit to foster an attitude of "fear". This means listening. But prayer is not excluded in any way, as long as one prays with the understanding that God is one who ought be heard.

As far as choice 2, I think people who primarily feel that way have a an unfortunate misunderstanding of God's character in both Testaments. God is the god who was, is, and always will be. Jesus didn't change God. It also implies that God can't know our situation and our hurts and our struggles unless we tell Him. In times of distress, God might have something to say to us that is very much born out of love and concern, but we're too busy focusing on ourselves (even though we're praying) to hear Him.

I've gone on too long, have not been brief, mostly (completely?) not beneficial, and probably unbiblical somewhere along the way, so feel free to delete this Em.