Perfect love, gone wrong

[Some thoughts, only very briefly and incompletely considered.]

There’s this rather uncomfortable bit in Acts 5. Where up to now everyone has been all, “hope, renewal, restoration and the resurrection”. Then we have this slightly jarring bit where the now infamous Ananias and Saphhira hold back some money for themselves and lie about it and next thing you know they’re dead and buried. (Sorry if i paraphrase that too much.)

And it leaves many of us deeply uncomfortable. We’ve just been getting used to this nice, new fluffy god, who seems really quite unlike that wrathful, angry god in the OT (though of course both are just caricatures) – and then this happens.

We are mostly struck by how disproportionate it seems. Yes they fibbed about the money, but being struck dead is perhaps a bit over the top. We are still addicted to our own legalism and sense of justice it seems. Perhaps we’re just too scared for our own skins.

But when you think about it people were probably doing much worse throughout the church at the time and they weren’t dropping dead. So why these two?

Leaving aside, the interesting references to the OT (in the use of the greek nosphizein and perhaps reference to the holiness of the ark), we got into a bit of a discussion this morning on what happened and what the underlying  point (if there was one) was.

Though GOD does seem to punish certain sins in very specific, easily recognisable ways – this is more the exception than the rule. In general we trust (or at least are meant to) GOD for justice, in his time and his way.

We tread on very thin ice when we try to link certain individual happenings to certain individual sins – think of those who feel the holocaust is just punishment for the Jewish people for crucifying JESUS, or those who feel that HIV is a just punishment for homosexuals.

So if they didn’t die for this one particular sin, what what then did Ananias and Sapphira die for? What, almost unforgivable sin had they committed to bring about such a direct and obvious punishment.

And this leaves us with one of those quite basic fundamentals of faith, basic though not exactly simple. That in many ways people get exactly what they want. Like Renton says in trainspotting – choose life , or indeed choose not to choose life.

That at one level we get exactly what we want. Those who choose themselves get just that, they get themselves, shut up and locked inside themselves, like the hell depicted in the great divorce.

And is what happened in Acts 5 just that – the outworkings of choice in someone’s life? The final step and decision of a life that had chosen self over other, self over beauty, and self over all else?

2 Responses to “Perfect love, gone wrong”

  1. 1 Steven June 7, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    Andy, I have never really grappled with this story but your post got me thinking. I had a look at the Oxford Bible Commentary and found the following helpful thoughts on this troubling passage. In summary:

    1. The story does not fit the previous context – if the community of goods could be partial, and was purely voluntary, why are they treated so harshly?

    2. It is the couple’s conspiracy to deceive, rather than the monetary value of the sale, that constitutes the heart of their sin against koinonia: the failure to share the money is but a symptom of a deeper more serious failure to be “of one mind” within the community.

    3. Lying to the community of faith is lying to God and tempting the Holy Spirit.

    4. The story also serves to highlight the authority of the church, especially as a locus of the Holy Spirit. It also underlines the supernatural insight and authority of Peter. The story after all induced “great fear”, and still, perhaps, serves that purpose.

    Still all in all it seems rather harsh given that Peter managed to curse Christ and still go on to become the leader of the Early Church…

  2. 2 Nelly And I June 7, 2009 at 11:44 pm

    cheers for the thoughts steven. in no particular order, or even answer to your points… sorry…

    1) perhaps i’m being generous to peter, but it doesn’t seem to be him pronouncing judgement, though he does provide commentary at least.

    2)i/we get confused when we talk of the consequences of sin – some being the temporal and immediate and others of a more eternal nature.

    3)i see this particular narrative as the judgement point not merely on the act of the holding back of the money but as a judgement pronounced upon their whole lives – i see it this way because i too find it deeply disproportionate that they are condemned for something a lot less than what Peter had done. so surely there’s something deeper going on here.

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June 2009

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