God and the plague

I would like to think a little today about the corona virus.

Let’s start with Genesis 6: 5, 6

Yahweh saw that human wickedness was great on earth and that human hearts contrived nothing but wicked schemes all day long. 6Yahweh regretted having made human beings on earth and was grieved at heart. 7And Yahweh said, ‘I shall rid the surface of the earth of the human beings…for I regret having made them.’

And from there, maybe Numbers 21

.On the way the people spoke against God … We are sick of this meagre diet.’ At this, God sent fiery serpents among the people; their bite brought death to many in Israel.

OK, now we have a context to work with. It’s a little silly, so let me point out in advance that the nature of the offense and of the response to the offense, both the Agent of the response and the means of the response, are undeniably similar.Screen Shot 2020-03-20 at 10.22.16 AM.png

There might be a couple of things to point out on the way. The first is the expression “down here.” You don’t see that in either of the biblical references and I can think of only a very few where it exists at all. God is not pictured in these texts as peering down and monitoring our behavior. Why not?

Another is that he sent us to our rooms. That’s what makes it funny, of course. God is enforcing “responsible social distance” because we are not. And he is “sending us to our rooms.” Each of us has a room, apparently, so as a joke, it’s a middle class joke.

But a joke is a study in contrasts. It is the tension induced by the contrasts which, when a humorous context is presumed, makes things funny. The tension comes from God’s anger. “He got so mad at us….” and the very recent parental adoption of “time out.” “Got so mad at us” evokes the outraged Yahweh sending His people into Exile and drowning the world with water and ordering that conquered cities by treated as holocaust offerings. This God is not to be messed with.

And then you get a “punishment” reeking of “Brian, I told you not to do that;” and “Sally ,you made her feel bad, tell her you’re sorry.” You get “go to your rooms until you’re ready to apologize.” The two perspectives are so radically discrepant that when we are invited to turn that tension into laughter, we snap it up.

So I think it’s a lovely joke. I laughed out loud when I saw it. But now I am better satisfied, because I have spent a little time with the mechanisms that make it work so well.

[1] There is Malachi 3:10, of course], but I think you will admit that “pour out a blessing” is metaphorical in a way that “all our fighting down here” is not. Malachi 3:10 slightly edited reads “Yahweh Sabaoth [says]…see if I do not open the floodgates of heaven for you and pour out an abundant blessing for you.”

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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