My brother and I have different views about Jesus. For now he remains an avowed follower of the Jesus of mainstream christianity (one of the members of the godhead), whilst I, as you may guess, do not. He decided to attempt to give his point of view on my article about Lazarus and the rich man and it was a fair attempt. It can be found here.
But there lies strong flaws in his disagreement with me which would be important to note for others to see. It’s important because he does what my article already anticipated and thus I can highlight and expand on parts of my article that already hold the key to answering his rebuttals.
The two linked questions
In my brother’s article he only attempted to answer the question: what was the sin of the rich man? I’m not going to deal with whether he suceeded or not right now, but he only tried to answer that question. The problem is that wasn’t my question, or at least all of it. And he only tried to answer one fraction of my issue and not all of it. Here’s exactly what he said:
“A key question that I believe my brother asks is – what is the sin of the Rich Man?”
But that isn’t the key question I ask. Again, it was only a fraction of the fundamental problem with Jesus’ parable. My questions were and my issue was:
So here’s the problem. Based on the words of Jesus’ parable, what exactly was the sin of the rich man that merited him being continually roasted alive, kept alive in a flaming torment? What exactly did the rich man do that was so wrong, based on the text? In fact, another fantastic question would be this: what good did Lazarus do to merit the heavenly bliss that he received? What made Lazarus a good person, based on the text?
Even if I believed that my brother successfully answer the section of the questions that he did – and I don’t – he didn’t answer the opposing question about the mystery of Lazarus’ righteousness.
You see, my issue wasn’t whether we could find some sin in the rich man. Everyone’s human and thus we make mistakes. But my question was not “did the rich man do anything wrong?” My question was what merited being roasted alive in a living torment? And this has to be balanced with what good Lazarus did to merit such bliss. There is nothing in the text to warrant such punishment and such reward. If we just go by my brother’s reading of the text, Lazarus’ only benefit was that he was poor and that supposedly the rich man ignored him. But that simply implies that I could be as evil and wicked as the blackest sin, but as long as I’m at the right gate and some rich guy ignores me I’ve made it into heaven. Is God really so arbitrary, basing such rewards and punishments on whether I’m ignored by a rich man or not whilst being sick, rather than the totality of the contents of my life’s deeds?
But based on the text of Jesus’ parable, that’s all we have about Lazarus’ life and reward. Why do christians insist on looking deeper than the text to find the sin of the rich man? Actually that leads to the next section.
The invisible sin
Here’s a quote from my brother as he tries to show us the sin of the rich man:
My dear brother suggests that to say that the sin is ignoring the plight of Lazarus cannot be deduced from the text. I would suggest implicitly that my brother is wrong.
First, did Lazarus’ condition improve before he died? No. Second, what Abraham informs the Rich Man of is that when he was alive he was rich and Lazarus remained in his poor estate. Now that’s not just a statement of information. That is an indictment on the Rich Man’s neglect.
Hmmm … Really? Is this the basis of what shows us the rich man’s sin that warranted torment in flames? What exactly were Abraham’s words again?
But Abraham said [to the rich man], Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and you are tormented.
Note what Abraham doesn’t say. He doesn’t say “you neglected Lazarus.” There is no word in Abraham’s phrase that means neglect, abandonment, ignorance, etc. All Abraham said was, to paraphrase, “you, rich man, had it good and Lazarus didn’t.” It’s a bit of a stretch to say that this means the rich man ignored Lazarus. It’s even more of a stretch to then take this “positively proven indictment” against the rich man and then apply it to the rich man’s family later in the parable as my brother does in his article. But the way my brother worded his paraphrase – “when he [the rich man] was alive and Lazarus remained in his poor estate” – is quite leading, adding a concept to Abraham’s words that makes a person think that as Lazarus stayed in such a position, therefore it’s the rich man’s fault.
Just to enhance that point a bit more, understand that exactly the same words of Abraham can apply to people who have absolutely nothing to do with one another but one is rich and the other is poor, having nothing to do with one ignoring the other. There could be rich in Japan and a poor person in Brazil, having no knowledge of one another, and exactly the same words could be used: “you had good in your lifetime and he had evil things.” There is nothing to strongly point to any ignorance on the part of the rich man. In fact, just as there is nothing said about the deeds of Lazarus, nothing is said about the deeds of the rich man. There is nothing to say whether he dealt wisely and righteously in business, whether or not he gave good and timely wages to his employees, whether he helped another other poor person or not. A christian has to build a whole case against the rich man based simply on location: Lazarus was at his gate. Anyone who thinks things through will know that there is a lot more to any story than just location. And people who know the human condition that it is easy to fall into the trap of helping people far from you but not thinking too much about the ones close by. It doesn’t make you wicked!
I mentioned it in my article once and it is important to mention it again. Whenever a protestant christian, like my brother, comes and tells you what the parable meant, what Jesus’ intention was, you have every right not to accept a word he says. Why? Because many times Jesus didn’t explain himself. He left no tradition for his followers to pass down in a reliable way until today. So Jesus’ intentions and meanings, which are beyond the text, are unknown. It’s for the christian to use detective work to find the most plausible answer. What Jesus actually meant? Not a clue. Just gotta go with what’s plausible or probable. Or whatever the “spirit” tells you. But there are so many spirits in each denomination of the christian church … well … good luck with testing them all out.
So to ask the question – “did Lazarus’ condition improve before he died?” – doesn’t cut it, has no weight with regards to the rich man’s “crime”. And to rely on what Abraham said is weak.
And also, I said in my previous article, take note what my brother used to get his accusation against the fabled rich man. There was no explicit mention made in the text of the parable that states that the rich man ignored Lazarus. It is empty with regards to the character or deeds of each man. So my brother didn’t have clear text to back up his claim. Here’s what I said in my previous in my previous article:
Look, it’s really easy to make up stories and explanations and possibilities based on hints and allusions, not just looking at what the text says but also what it doesn’t say. I know that. Part of me wanted to do it too. If the text were a person, we could ask it questions as a counsellor to get more information and get intelligible answers back. But text can’t do that. You get what you get and that’s it (unless there’s an explanatory text elsewhere, which we don’t have in this case).
Since the text doesn’t explicitly state what the sin of the rich man was, all that can be used by the christian is to make guesses based on things hinted by the text. That’s what my brother did: unable to find an explicit statement of guilt he relied on a question about the lack of improvement in Lazarus’ condition, the cause of which could be many, and the statement of Abraham that doesn’t explicitly show any guilt on the side of the rich man, only mentions that he got something whilst the rich man got something else. Remember, all Abraham said was that the rich man received good things in life whilst Lazarus did not. This is not, as my brother would suggest, a statement saying “You, rich man, should have done something.” He didn’t say “You, rich man, are burning alive in tormenting flame because you didn’t help Lazarus.” You have to add something to get to that conclusion. Some may say that what Abraham said was the next logical step from saying “you had this whilst he got something else.” But it’s not. The question has to be why is a next logical step needed? Why not take the text for what it says, that as the rich man had good things and Lazarus had bad things, and that based on that the rich man gets horrible torment and Lazarus gets bliss? Why not accept that statement as the morality Jesus portrays in the parable, however horrible and arbitrary? The reason is not because the text demands it, but rather it’s because the christian’s belief that Jesus was who christians think it he is demands it. So it’s not dependant on the text, but on christian beliefs. But they have no divine tradition. Jesus didn’t tell them any differently. And Jesus’ view on morality can’t be that bad …. can it?
And one last important thing. My brother pointed out that Abraham told the dead rich man that his living family had Moses and the Prophets to teach them (Abraham doesn’t say what it would teach them). He was still relying on the weak premise that the rich man was guilty of ignoring Lazarus. Now despite what the Torah teaches about the poor, it’s important to ask whether failing in this warrants fiery torments after death. There is nothing in the Torah or the Prophets that shows that the sin of neglecting the poor means you get fiery torment. So on what premise in the Torah and the Prophets does any justify the rich man’s self-barbeque torment for the claim that he neglected one poor person? There is none in the text of the Jewish Bible to help a christian out.
All in all, everything to do with the finding the rich man’s sin is fundamentally flawed.
I’ll say nothing in this article about my brother’s mistake of thinking the following:
After all, spiritually we are all like Lazarus – we are poverty stricken. We have nothing to offer. We are bereft and empty and actually as good as dead.
Part of me is inclined to say “speak for yourself,” except I know for a fact that this isn’t even true about my brother. But his belief in the words of Paul means that he has accepted this part of christian theology wholeheartedly unfortunately. I’m hoping to write an article about that too. The series I’ve done going through all of Paul’s usages of the Hebrew Bible may be a bit big for my brother to go through to see what the Jewish Bible actually has to say about the condition or potential of man. But as I’m not dealing with that now, I’ll leave that for the other upcoming article.
But with regards to the text of the parable of Jesus, we still just have a parable empty of proper morality. You have to rely on what is not said or what is not clearly said to build whole stories and cases against the rich man of the story. And christians have to make up these stories because without them we just have what the text says, which is that the rich man was only punished because he was well off, and Lazarus was only in bliss because he was poor, and the christian mind knows there is something morally wrong with a parable like that.