Today I went to Lowe’s and On the Border with Patslow. Then my Aunt Sandy and Uncle John and my cousin Greg and his wife Amy and their little boys got here a little after five. The rest of the day was spent with eating and visiting. Tomorrow KRISSY AND PAUL get here.
I have something of a love / hate affair with the Old Testament. As a kid the OT is spectacular. While the New Testament is mushy and philosophical and full of sermons and object lessons, the Old Testament is pure action. When the “thee”s and “thy”s were taken out of these stories and they were told properly they could more than fill the void left by the Saturday morning cartoons we weren’t watching. But as I grew older I began having a difficult time reconciling myself with the God of the Old Testament, the God who ordered the merciless extermination of women and children and animals. While Adventist theology taught me that God was loving and would never punish sinners eternally in a lake of fire, what I read in the Old Testament gave me the impression that this was pretty much exactly how He would behave. I still have a tough time with what exactly to make of OT stories that paint a less than flattering picture of God, but my opinion of it has improved over the years. Despite the overwhelming moral problems they pose to my enlightened 21st Century mind, these are excellent stories packed with insight on the power of God.
The story of Gideon is found in Judges 6-8. It’s a pretty long story so I’m not going to post it all here…but if you need the background before reading this I suggest you go look it up. It is definitely worth your time. From here on I’m going to proceed as if the reader knows the story.
In the grand scheme of OT stories, Gideon’s uprising is one of the more justified. If the Biblical account is to be believed (and for the purpose of this discussion we are assuming it is), the Midianites were a pretty oppressive regime, destroying the Israelites crops and animals to keep them in submission. As always the Israelites went a little bananas with the bloodshed but this sort of fits in with the culture of the time. The bottom line is that God, as He did so many times in the OT, worked in an incredibly bizarre and round about way to answer the prayers of the Israelites, who frankly didn’t really deserve it. I like it when this happens because it is kind of like God saying, “Yes, I am always here know matter what you’ve done, BUT first you need to show me that you have renewed faith….by trusting in this wacky ass stunt I have up my sleeve.” And to Israel’s credit….they ALWAYS do.
NOW in a sense I’ve always thought Bible characters had it a lot easier than you and me. Hebrews brags about the faith of Gideon. But look how God came to Gideon…in the form of an angel who called him to deliver Israel, then burnt up some bread and meat by touching it with a stick, then fucking disappeared into thin air. Then, when Gideon still had his doubts, he put God to a series of very literal and specific tests that God followed to the tee, and only then did he fully trust God’s plan. AND THEN after that, the night of the battle God just volunteered the favor of letting Gideon snoop outside an enemy tent as the enemy related a dream about what was about to happen. I have a difficult time when I am told that I need to have faith the way Gideon had because I don’t think it would be all that hard for me to follow God’s commands if they came down to me this clearly. But this is probably a discussion for another day….what is the TRUE meaning of faith.
I’m not entirely sure what My Morning Jacket is getting at with the song “Gideon”, but as with most songs that’s not really the point. This isn’t meant to be a word-for-word interpretation of lyrics, but rather just thoughts inspired by the song. I think you can make a very strong case that Jim James meant to portray Gideon as a negative character in these lyrics. It is possible that he is saying our holy wars today are repeating the mistakes of Gideon. (Various interpretations on Songmeanings.net claim that Gideon = GW Bush but I think Jim James is far too smart of a songwriter for crap like that.) I choose to hear the song differently. To me the take away line is, “Religion should appeal to the hearts of the young.” I see this a couple of ways when thinking about the story of Gideon. As I mentioned earlier, stories like this are what fire you up about God when you are a kid. That’s important. But to me the more important message is that Gideon was revolutionary. He trusted in God, assembled an army of 300, and soundly defeated thousands to take back his nation’s land. The Bible is PACKED with men and women like Gideon who took stands for what was right and changed the world. But thanks to the stuffy and conservative way that modern mainstream Christianity has marketed its brand, we’ve lost sight of what these stories are really about. When Jim James implores Gideon to “Make a noise / come down off the wall” he is asking him to become more than a lifeless figure on a church window. Religion should be about more than sitting in church for an hour a week and asking your co-workers if they have been “saved”. It should be about stirring up the hearts of the young and changing the world for the better.
When I think about the story of Gideon in this context there is an interesting bit of irony that jumps out at me. It comes from a part of the story that is often forgotten that is found in Judges 6:25-32. Before gathering his army, the Lord commanded Gideon to destroy his city’s shrines to Baal and Asherah, local deities that the Israelites often ran to. While the Israelite God was one of action, these gods were the opposite….lifeless statues. Sometimes there is no better metaphor than reality. But what is ironic is that the god worshipped by many Christians has a LOT more in common with the lifeless Baal and Asherah than with the Israelite God. When Gideon destroys these deities the townsfolk become irate, demanding that he be killed, but Gideon’s father defends him saying, “If Baal is a god, let him fight for himself.” This stopped me cold because to so many people today faith is nothing more than defending God…against homosexuals, democrats, atheists, abortionists, and on and on and on. Today’s Christians have lost sight of what it means to be a Christian because they are too concerned with defending the lifeless idol they have turned God into. I would rather let God FIGHT FOR HIMSELF and just do the following. There are fewer headaches that way.