Lost Beyond Eden

Inner light“Do not despise any person and do not disdain anything for there is no person who does not have his hour and there is no thing without its place”

-Ben Azzai
from Pirkei Avot 4:3

Just as the soul fills the body, so does G‑d fill the world.” Our bodies are vitalized by our souls, but our souls themselves are invisible. Yet, through seeing the life in the body, one can appreciate the soul within. G‑d enlivens and creates the worlds, yet He is invisible. But He is evident in every creation.

-Talmud, Berachot 10a.

I don’t know what to write about for today. I know that’s pretty strange for me, since it seems that most of the time I can’t “shut up” in the blogosphere, but as I reviewed my “resources” for today (as I started to write this) and looked for inspiration, I didn’t find any.

Well, that’s not exactly true, hence the quotes above. But what do they mean and how can we apply them to our lives as people of faith (or as people in general)?

A few days ago, I related another problem I have with religious people. I lamented how hard-hearted we can be, some of us at least. How can anyone call themselves a disciple of Christ, and yet deliberately and with malice, kick a father when he’s down over the recent suicide of his son?

Yet in reviewing the comments on Dr. Michael Brown’s article Enough With the Mean-Spirited Words Against Rick Warren (And Others)!, I found both the good and the bad.

The good:

Thank you Michael Brown, thats maturity talking. I dont understand why people cannot have compassion. When Jesus saw the people he was moved with compassion. We can agree to disagree but personal attacks especially in an emotional time like this is horrible.

The bad:

While I agree with most of your article, I suppose that vitrolic “bashers” are thinking it is pay back time for Warren; not that I support this idea or their behaviour. Rick Warren has assumed the limelight and as any celebrity is exposed to the dangers of that. While the behaviour is indeed unmerciful, Rev. Warren must have expected it and must know how to insulate himself. He is after all a professional.

Well, the bad wasn’t horrible, but the comment writer still assumes that Pastor Warren should “suck it up” so to speak, since he’s a professional.

He’s also a father, a fellow Christian, and a human being, and he, like the rest of us, was created in God’s image. When we desecrate another human being, we desecrate the image of God.

Lakanta (played by Tom Jackson): What do you think is sacred to us here?
Wesley Crusher (played by Wil Wheaton): Maybe the necklace you’re wearing? The designs on the walls?
Lakanta: Everything is sacred to us – the buildings, the food, the sky, the dirt beneath your feet – and you. Whether you believe in your spirit or not, we believe in it. You are a sacred person here, Wesley.
Wesley: I think that’s the first time anyone’s used that particular word to describe me.
Lakanta: You must treat yourself with respect. To do otherwise is to desecrate something that is holy.

Star Trek: The Next Generation
from the episode Journey’s End (broadcast date 26 Mar. 1994)

That’s probably one of my favorite quotes from any Star Trek TV show, both because it expresses a rare spirituality for modern television, and because it speaks a rare truth. Each of us is sacred to God and we should be sacred to each other (most of the time, we’re not). If we could see all other human beings, including ourselves, from God’s point of view, we would see a planet populated by sacred, holy people; all of us being in God’s own image.

The statement that we are created in the image of G‑d means that we were formed as a reflection of our Creator’s attributes and characteristics. This cannot be taken to mean that we literally look, feel or think like G‑d does, because He has no form and is not limited in any way. Rather, we are like a one-dimensional reflection of a real object. From the reflection we can have an inkling of the original, but the reflection is literally nothing in comparison to the original.

-Rabbi Menachem Posner
“What is the ‘Divine Image’ in Man?”

This week’s double Torah Portion TazriaMetzora relates an important lesson about how we treat God’s image.

“He (the person afflicted with tzora’as) shall be brought to Aharon the priest or unto one of his sons the priests.”

Leviticus 13:2

The Dubno Magid said that many people speak loshon hora because they are not fully aware of the power of the spoken word. How often people rationalize, “I didn’t do anything to him, I only said a few words.” The metzora, who has been afflicted with tzora’as because of his speaking loshon hora, is taught a lesson about the power of a single word. He must go to a priest who will decide if he is a metzora or not. Just one word by the priest (“Unclean!”) will completely isolate him from society. No more will the metzora minimize the destructive capability of words.

Words can destroy. They can destroy someone’s reputation. They can destroy friendships. They can destroy someone’s successful business or someone’s marriage. Therefore, we must be careful with them as we would be with explosive material.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Tazria-Metzora

Adam-and-Even-Expelled-from-ParadiseYou must go no further than the religious blogosphere or Christian discussion boards to find the worst examples of loshon hora (the “evil tongue”) among us. Periodically, most of us who write religion-based blogs are victims of such behavior, almost always from our fellow believers. I’m rarely “picked on” by atheists or people from other religious disciples. It’s always from the people with whom I share a nearly identical view of God, Jesus, and the Bible.

More’s the pity.

Adam trudged past the gates of Eden, his head low, his feet heavy with remorse and pain.

Then he stopped, spun around and exclaimed, “Wait a minute! You had this all planned! You put that fruit there knowing I would eat from it! This is all a plot!”

There was no reply.

Without failure, Man can never truly reach into the depths of his soul. Only once he has failed can he return and reach higher and higher without end. Beyond Eden.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

The irony is that the minute we lower ourselves to claim superiority over a brother or sister of Christ, we have failed. Participating in gossip and “badmouthing” others drags us down…it never lifts us up. While, according to midrash, Adam “trudged past the gates of Eden, his head low, his feet heavy with remorse and pain,” most people committing loshon hora hold their heads up high and feel superior in “bringing down” a “false teacher” or some Christian who they perceive (within their own imaginations sometimes) has “fallen from grace.”

News flash: blowing out someone else’s candle doesn’t make your burn any brighter and in fact, the very light you are extinguishing is your own.

We all fail. By even in pointing out how Christians fail, in some sense, I’m failing. I’m being critical of my fellow believers. I am speaking ill of them. I should be trudging past the gates of Eden, my head low, my feet heavy with remorse and pain.

And I do. I do, even if I’m not personally guilty of misusing my tongue or, in this case, my fingers, because I am a Christian. I am a member of the body of believers. One of the other parts in the body I share has failed. That means the body I inhabit is tainted and since the outside world can’t tell the difference between one body part and the next, that means we’re all tainted. Christianity (or whatever you call your version of the disciples of the Messiah) is disgraced whenever even one of us behaves poorly. God’s Holy and Sacred Name is dragged through the foul mud and muck. In trying to bring down “false teachers” by criticizing them over the untimely death of their children, we actually bring down God and bring down ourselves.

The Image of God is sullied and soiled, all thanks to us.

walking-home-to-edenBut as Rabbi Freeman also says, “Without failure, Man can never truly reach into the depths of his soul. Only once he has failed can he return and reach higher and higher without end. Beyond Eden.” Like the prodigal son from Luke 15:11-32, we too must fail completely before the path of repentance and return is open to us.

Rabbi Freeman also speaks of this:

Return is the ultimate act of self-expression.

Nobody returns because he is commanded to do so. The ability to return comes from you alone.

And that itself is the evidence that you were never truly torn away: The outer garments of the soul may have been severed, but the core remained at every moment in intimate union with its Source. And from there came the message to return.

It is possible to redeem the Name and Image of God, but we must be willing to admit when we fail. We must be willing to return to God humbled and even humiliated. If men like Pastor Rick Warren have faults, they are completely beside the point right now. The Christians who have truly failed are those who took advantage of the suicide of his son Matthew to attack Pastor Warren and his family. They (we) are the prodigal sons. If we are wise, we will return to God in submissiveness. There is a way back.

Or we can continue to walk away from Eden and away from God forever, even as we operate under the illusion that we are His and He is ours through Messiah.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Proverbs 16:18

We can remain arrogant and lose ourselves in the darkness beyond Eden, or return and walk back home in humility and to the service of the King. Which choice will we make?

“Saints are sinners who kept on going.”

-Robert Louis Stevenson
Scottish novelist, poet and essayist

3 thoughts on “Lost Beyond Eden”

  1. Hi James,
    It is a balancing act to oppose wrong or harmful teachings (what I try to do on my blog) and yet show the proper love, respect, and compassion for our fellow humans who hold them. I have seen criticisms of Rick Warren’s theology and remarks and there is a time and place for disagreeing, but the attacks you mention are far afield of anything approaching appropriate Christian behavior, especially at this time in his life.

    Using God and theological differences to anesthize ourselves from our calling to love His creation is probably the foremost reason for atheism and disillusionment in our world.

  2. Regardless of how we may feel about one person’s theological teachings, it goes against everything I understand about being a believer to kick a guy when he’s down. Those “Christians” who say that Warren’s son’s suicide is some sort of “cosmic payback” for Warren’s teachings or religious/political positions are just plain mean.

    Edit: No worries.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.