Diminishing

Man alone in a caveThe one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”

John 3:29-30 (ESV)

Behold, he will slay me; I have no hope; yet I will argue my ways to his face.

Job 13:15 (ESV)

I suppose this is a continuation of my previous meditation which, as I write this, hasn’t gotten a lot of attention (but it’s not exactly uplifting, so I imagine most people don’t know what to say about it).

I’m not experiencing a crisis of faith so much as a crisis of environment (if there is such a thing). I suppose I should consider this “normal” since it was predicted by the Master.

Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. –Matthew 10:21-23 (ESV)

“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” –Luke 12:49-53 (ESV)

But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. –Luke 21:12 (ESV)

In other words, I should expect to be a minority in society and even in my own family. Well, that’s pretty much true. Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t take a shot at my faith on the world wide web and while my home life isn’t actively hostile, as I’ve mentioned before, there are certain conversations that just never take place for the sake of peace.

It’s interesting because I obviously can’t discuss Christianity in my home, but even bringing up conversations about Judaism can get a tad dicey. No, I never comment negatively about Jews and Judaism, but even being too “enthusiastic” about Jewish learning and concepts can elicit a “you’re a Jewish wannabe” comment or (at its worst) “you’re just a Goy, Daddy.” (that last comment admittedly was just a joke my daughter was making, but I have to admit, it did stab at me for a second or two).

But like the Master said, I should expect all this. Not sure about the following, though.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. –James 1:2-4 (ESV)

broken-crossI’m not sure because these tests are getting kind of old but beyond that, James, the brother of the Master, addressed his letter to “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.” Last time I looked, as a “Goy,” I’m not a member of any of those tribes, so is the audience of this message confined to the Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah? Hopefully not.

Someone recently suggested on Facebook that I should “renounce idolatry” and convert to Judaism. I know the Jewish gentleman in question was very sincere and I don’t doubt that he meant to be helpful, but it’s not an option. Not that I haven’t toyed with the idea from time to time, but that door is ultimately closed to me. It would mean renouncing my faith in my Lord, which I cannot do. But while millions experience “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,” (Philippians 4:7) I continually face the daily wrestling match of faith (Genesis 32:22-32).

It’s easy to get one of two messages from Christianity. The first message seems to be the most prevalent in the modern church and it goes something like, “You’re saved, Jesus is great, no worries from here on in, the heck with the rest of the world as long as you have Jesus.” That’s pretty simplified and perhaps a tad cynical, but just listen to some of the stuff coming out of those megachurches and you’ll understand what I mean.

The second message is one that I think is more historical and perhaps some older Christians still relate to it. That message is sort of like, “You’re a sinner, you’re scum, if it wasn’t for Jesus, you’d be sliding down the gutter on your way to eternal damnation, the world isn’t worth anything, it’s just a slime pit, anyone not saved will fry in their own fat and grease.” OK, that one seems “over the top” as well, but sometimes Christianity is a study in extremes.

Returning to the source, the Bible says, “Hey, I never said it was a picnic. Quit whining and get back to work.”

There’s got to be a better way than this.

The weak link in any system, organization, philosophy, or religion is the people involved. Humanity is the weakest link because no matter how beautiful the system is, human frailty will inevitably screw up its implementation. This is why atheists and secular humanists have plenty of ammunition with which to shoot down people of faith. Of course, it doesn’t help that we Christians are supposed to have a higher standard than generic society, so any time we mess up in public, it gets the maximum amount of press coverage. It also doesn’t help that in its evangelical zeal, some churches use a big, nasty hammer to deliver the message of Christ’s love and salvation. The hammer has bruised and bloodied a lot of folks. Now they want to hit back.

The rest of us get painted (or tainted) by the same brush, whether we had anything to do with swinging the hammer or not. Worse, the author of our faith gets painted with that brush, and he had absolutely nothing to do with what we’ve done with his teachings over the past 2,000 years.

But all that is irrelevant, too. That is, it doesn’t matter because it doesn’t change anything. The teachings about division in families, division in society, and generally being the tail and not the head apply as much today as they did the instant Jesus uttered them back in the late second Temple period in Roman-occupied Judea.

Oh, and about Christianity being a sect of Judaism, you might want to pay attention to how non-Messianic Jews hear this message:

One conclusion I would come to after understanding these issues is that the claim that Christianity has Jewish roots is false. Christianity has Jewish characters involved in the foundation of it, but aside from that it has virtually nothing in common with Judaism.

Messianic Judaism has been useful in pointing out the value of Torah and establishing it as a high priority item within Christianity, however the logical conclusion of seeing Torah for what it is, is to realize that it does not work within Christianity. Torah stands in direct contrast to Christianity on many levels, some of which are mentioned above. Therefore one is forced to decide between Torah and Christianity.

Torah has obvious legitimacy, and is undeniably G-d’s revelation to man as witnessed by millions of people at mount Sinai, whereas Christianity must be an invention of man. It can be a convincing invention, but an invention nonetheless.

Anything which stands in such stark contrast to the Torah, and which teaches that the Torah is something to be set free from, rather than obeyed, is certainly not of G-d. The Holy One, blessed be He, does not issue laws, commandments, judgments, and teachings, only to nullify everything He has taught us at another point in history, especially when He declares that it is for us and our decendents forever.

“How Judaism and Christianity Compare on Fundamental Issues”
from the blog: Kibbitzing Corner

As I mentioned above, Job said, “Behold, he will slay me; I have no hope.” We are in the hands of God. I am in the hands of God. It seems, as John suggested, that for God to be magnified, people need to get really small. At least that’s how I’m seeing it. I know that Christianity’s many critics, including Judaism, would like to see Christians get smaller and smaller and eventually vanish from existence. Christ said that when such events occur, we should persevere, but he didn’t say we had to survive. Plenty of Christians (and Jews as well) have suffered and even died to preserve who they were as people of faith and to not abandon God.

According to the Rebbe, God never intended humans (or at least Jews) to cease to exist or to be rendered insignificant because of their faith:

The ego is not to be destroyed. It, too, is a creation of G-d,
and all that He made, He made for His glory.

Only this: that the ego must know that it is a creation, and that all He made, He made for His glory.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Ego Preservation”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Dylan Thomas once wrote, “Do not go gentle into that good night,” and while he was talking about old age and inevitable death, catastrophic failure isn’t limited to biological systems. The human spirit can be oppressed from without and within until it finally extinguishes, its light goes out, and all that is left is a human being living in darkness, ironically unaware of its fate.

In writing this meditation and searching for some spark or glimmer of hope in the endless abyss, I came upon an unusual source, the 1957 science fiction film The Incredible Shrinking Man (adapted from the novel by Richard Matheson). At the end of the film, the character Scott Carey, (played by Grant Williams) having defeated a gigantic (to him) spider in order to obtain food, and now despairingly lost; trapped in the basement of his own home, continues to shrink in size, approaching the threshold of the microscopic. In his final moments, alone and without hope of ever regaining his former life, he comes to a realization about who he is ultimately.

I was continuing to shrink, to become… what? The infinitesimal? What was I? Still a human being? Or was I the man of the future? If there were other bursts of radiation, other clouds drifting across seas and continents, would other beings follow me into this vast new world? So close – the infinitesimal and the infinite. But suddenly, I knew they were really the two ends of the same concept. The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet – like the closing of a gigantic circle. I looked up, as if somehow I would grasp the heavens. The universe, worlds beyond number, God’s silver tapestry spread across the night. And in that moment, I knew the answer to the riddle of the infinite. I had thought in terms of man’s own limited dimension. I had presumed upon nature. That existence begins and ends in man’s conception, not nature’s. And I felt my body dwindling, melting, becoming nothing. My fears melted away. And in their place came acceptance. All this vast majesty of creation, it had to mean something. And then I meant something, too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something, too. To God, there is no zero. I still exist!

Jesus spoke of the humble, the meek, the persecuted. While I can hardly claim to have greatly suffered, should I allow myself to simply shrink below the world of significance, worth, and ultimately humanity because, like Carey, I am alone and outside the realm of “normal” society? Should I, as a person of faith, vanish from the landscape of my family because that faith is perceived as alien, prejudiced, and even idolatrous?

Mathematically, the concept of zero exists but can a human being become zero and yet be alive? Borrowing inspiration from the fictional Scott Carey, if I still mean something to God, then I am not zero. Though devalued by secular humanity, I am not wholly without worth. If God notices even the smallest sparrow as it falls from an infinite sky, won’t he notice me too as I shrink into shadows and dust?

In the darkness of my abyss, is the tiny light I see in the distance a dying spark, or a foretaste of the universe exploding with light?

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6 thoughts on “Diminishing”

  1. I know how it feels to be an outsider within the family. I am a lone believer in a family of atheists (my immediate family, that is.) It isn’t easy.
    As for the shalom of God, I have yet to find it… life is a constant struggle and I, too, am very weary of it.

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