Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Blessings and Curses, Part 5

I have been writing a mini-series of blog posts on Blessings and Curses. This stems from my initial hate mail letter that I discussed here and here. My last entry discussed my scriptural basis for the blessing of things non-human (i.e. animals and inanimate objects). I think there is warrant in scripture for such things, though I admit scripture is not replete with examples. Most, but not all, direct examples from Scripture of "blessing" or "being blessed" is applied to God and/or to humans.

I wish my initial letter writer had given me a return address, as I would have responded. I would have been interested in hearing the writer's responses to my scripture warrant and discussions. My guess, though I cannot say with any certainty, would be that my answers would not have satisfied the writer. My reading of the letter indicated that unless my writer found in scripture a direct commandment that said, "Thou shalt bless animals," then they probably would not have been satisfied. Even if such a commandment existed, they might not have even gone along with it, depending on whether if was a New Testament or Old Testament commandment.

Sadly, therein is an example of the fallacy of Sola Scriptura, i.e. the basing of Christian conduct solely on "Scripture Alone." Even when there is some scriptural warrant, either direct or indirect, if someone is convinced enough by their theology, the they will no doubt do an elaborate intellectual song and dance to discount the Scriptures that would be the proverbial fly in their ointment (to quote a well known turn of phrase from the King James Version). This is why I believe you have to acknowledge a certain extent tradition as the lenses through which you look at scripture. I would guess that my letter writer, given the horrible printed booklets that were included in the envelope, that they believed that the Roman Catholic church was the Great Satan, and anything advocated from the Catholic theology was, therefore, of Satan. This would include things like a Franciscan Blessing of the Animals. That lens is not based on Scripture itself, but is a tradition governing the letter writer's interpretation of scripture. As such, that lens is really what is shaping the writer's theology and actions and not the Scriptures alone unto themselves. Until both sides are at least willing to be honest about the fact that tradition (both small and capital "T") are at play, little more can be had from a discussion on the matters other than a "scripture spitting contest," as I referenced in an earlier post.

From here in this post, I am going to attempt to lay out as succinctly as possible my theology of blessing. Most of which will not be based on specific words of Scripture, but on my own understanding of what God is up to in the world and general themes, as I see them, in the Bible. None of the following would likely satisfy my letter writer, but so be it. At some point, you just have to agree to disagree on matters of theology because the Bible is, in some way, limited in that it is not an expansive and inexhaustible commentary textbook on everything under the sun. While I believe the Bible does contain all things necessary for salvation and is a unique revelation of God, the Bible is not the annotated encyclopedia of all the knowledge that is held within the mind of God. (For more on this, read Father Stephen's worthwhile blog entry here that he posted a few days ago. While I would quibble with a few minor points he makes, he explains all this much more eloquently and succinctly than I ever could.)

Thus, from a theological (read: big picture) standpoint, where do I come off with justifying the notions of blessing inanimate objects or animals? I start with the revelation of God at Mount Sinai, the "Giving of the Law" as it is called. I do not believe, as some Christians do (I'm looking at you, Martin Luther!), that "The Law" is necessarily a bad thing unto itself. That is, in itself, a theological discussion for another time. Suffice is to say that I believe the Law was the life giving Word to God's holy people. As such, the Ark of the Covenant is created to hold the 10 Commandments. From this, God commands the Tabernacle to be built. This was a portable temple for God to be housed and worshiped during the 40 years of wandering by the Israelites.

As this evolves, I believe God reveals himself to be a particular God particularly in matters of how He is blessed by His people. A Temple is ultimately built with exact specifications. The priests are to be dressed in this particular way. The people are to worship and offer sacrifices in this particular way. To me, this is an ongoing act of God's revelation of Himself. That God sets asides very specific places (.i.e. the Temple or Tabernacle), specific items of worship (i.e. an altar, the candlesticks, the Ark of the Covenant, etc.), people (i.e. his Holy People Israel) and worship leaders (i.e. the priests an Levites). God is Holy and the world is profane. By profane, I mean the original meaning of "common" or "not-holy," and not the common meaning today of "profanity" meaning something dirty or vulgar.

God is Holy and that which worships God or is used to worship God should therefore be consecrated to that specific, God given Holy Use of Blessing God. That is an act of making something sacred. As such, I have no issue with blessing things to the greater glory and worship of God. This act of blessing or consecration of people, inanimate objects, or even animals takes them from the realm of the profane into the realm of the Holy. As such, we should not use something that is blessed for common, everyday use. We should not use the sacred vessels for Communion for a cake and coffee hour dinner trays after church. We should not use Holy, or blessed, water for flushing the toilet. I feel we should give our utmost to God in worship, and part of giving our utmost to God is to have specific items consecrated for His, and only His, use. If an important dinner guest was coming to eat dinner with you, would you put out plastic ware and paper plates or would you get out the fine china?

How much more should we not put out for God so that God can be worshiped and glorified to the best of our ability, should God deign to come and be amongst us? This is the issue why we bless and consecrate items for God's holy use. In one sense, we are putting out the finest we have to offer to the greater glory of God, the finest China as it were, that is only to be used for the highest guest we have, that is to say, God Himself.

Likewise, the blessing of animals is a consecration of sorts of the animals that we own to the greater glory of God, that they may serve God's glory that God might be better praised and glorified. The prayer I pray for the Blessing of the Animals is thus: Almighty and everlasting God, Creator of all things and giver of all life, let your blessing be upon (name of the animal to be blessed) and grant that s/he may serve to your glory and for the welfare and happiness of your people; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This is why we bless animals and objects: that God may be glorified even more greatly by the setting apart of this animal or object or people so that nothing else might be glorified by it or them, for to God be the only and eternal glory, unto the ages of ages. Amen. 

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