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The man who took a timeout from sense

December 8, 2016

This is the title of chapter 13 in my book, a chapter exploring a cryptic and little known story in the Old Testament (1 Kings 13). In hindsight, the chapter title seems prescient (prophetic): it is in fashion to take a timeout from sense, as recent events in the world demonstrate emphatically.

Let me highlight three things from this chapter. First, there is a lesson on how to use religion for political ends. This is not new, of course, but the king in the story does it with brazen audacity. In contemporary terminology, this part of the story deal with the relationship between religion and politics, or church and state. Second, the king's ambition in this regard is subjected to withering criticism. This part of the story is entertaining without ceasing to be substantive. The critic argues for a separation of powers, especially the separation of religion for politics. Religion should NOT be used for political ends. The state has no right to meddle in matters of conscience. The critic rains on the king's parade—very effectively.


Third, in a part that is intensely subtle, a third person enters the fray. In this part of the story, we are pushed to think about the relationship between understanding and following orders (or: understanding and obedience). To what extent is unquestioning obedience a good thing? To what extent is it fraught with peril? Some of the worst atrocities in history have been committed by people who did not question authority. Most interpreters of the story think that the story lands on the side of the duty to obey without asking questions. In my view, the lesson is the exact opposite.

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