June 17, 2012
First Samuel 15:34 – 16:13
This is the story of God’s sending the great prophet, Samuel, to find the next king, and Samuel’s surprising discovery that God has chosen a mere shepherd boy of no reputation—though of great beauty. God has a record of choosing as leaders people who do not measure up to common moral standards. Abraham was not above selling his wife to Pharaoh, and Jacob was a scamp. David was to live into old age and die of natural causes, but his parting words were his instructions to his son about whom he must murder. God seems to have been looking for something besides moral uprightness in the leaders he chose.
Second Corinthians 5:6-10
All of our readings are based upon the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. The second part of today’s reading, about Christ’s judgment seat, is less than clear. For this passage, I prefer the more recent version, the New English Bible: “We must all have our lives laid open before the tribunal of Christ, where each must receive what is due to him for his conduct in the body, good or bad.”
When we look at Paul’s letters as a whole, we wonder what the words “what is due to him” can mean. It is hard to reconcile that idea with what Paul says in Romans: “God hardens the heart of whomever he chooses” (9:18); or in Ephesians: “he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ according to the good pleasure of his will” (1:4-5). By these words, said John Calvin, Paul did away with all possibility that humans might earn salvation. So which is it? Does Christ save people as a reward for their good deeds? Or is salvation entirely at God’s discretion irrespective of our good or bad deeds? Calvin thought God never changes his mind. So how could we win his approval?
We, and I must add, most Calvinist churches today, are not so sure that God never changes his mind. He is our father. A major part of the life of a child is to win the approval of the parent.
Arthur H. Cash is a historian and distinguished professor emeritus, State University of New York at New Paltz.