“From their earlier plunder they offered sacrifices of seven hundred oxen and seven thousand sheep for the worship . . . . And they agreed that anyone who refused to seek God, the God of Israel, should be killed, no matter who it was, young or old, man or woman.” – 2 Chronicles 15:1-15 The Message
Asa was a powerful ruler who felt badly that his country had not been very faithful, so in a sudden moment of religious remorse he declared a massive religious celebration and demanded attendance. Apparently everyone felt pretty great afterwards. So, suddenly, feeling so close to God and to each other, they did what comes naturally in such situations. They agreed that anyone who did not feel equally passionate about God should be killed.
Well, it wasn’t the first time that religious fervor got disconnected from its true base, which is love. It wouldn’t be the last time either. In a fit of self-righteousness, the same people who had drifted from God had the nerve to put out a death sentence on anyone else that had drifted from God.
And by the way, how would they judge such a thing? Did they take attendance at the big religious spectacle from the day before and kill anyone who was truant? I’m all for regular worship attendance, but this seems a bit extreme.
Why is this even in the Bible? Perhaps to remind us what jerks we can be when we think we are being religious. Worked up and courageous in a crowd, they pointed their fingers at others, but really, they were pointing their fingers at themselves.
Sometimes, a genuine experience of God becomes a pious amnesia. The newly inspired forget what they were like before. Nobody wants an invitation with a death sentence attached.
These days, I’m praying for more love and a better memory. Forgive us our pious amnesia.
Lillian Daniel is the Senior Minister of First Congregational United Church of Christ, Dubuque, Iowa, and the author of When “Spiritual But Not Religious” is Not Enough.