God is your shadow at your right hand.
The Baal Shem Tov taught that God acts toward individuals accordingly as they act toward other people. Thus, if people are willing to forgive those who have offended them, God will similarly overlook their misdeeds. If a person is very judgmental and reacts with anger to any offense, God will be equally strict. The meaning of, God is your shadow, is that a person’s shadow mimics his or her every action.
At a therapy session for family members of recovering alcoholics, one woman told the group that she had experienced frustration from many years of infertility and tremendous joy when she finally conceived. Her many expectations were shattered, however, when the child was born with Down’s syndrome.
“I came to love that child dearly,” she said, “but the greatest thing that child has done for me is to make me realize that if I can love him so in spite of his imperfections, then God can love me in spite of my many imperfections.”
If we wish to know how God will relate to us, the answer is simple: exactly in the same way we relate to others. If we demand perfection from others, He will demand it of us. If we can love others even though they do not measure up to our standards and expectations, then He will love us in spite of our shortcomings.
Today I shall…
…try to relate to people in the same manner I would wish God to relate to me.
-Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky
from “Growing Each Day” for Kislev 3
I thought it appropriate to pause from the strife and drama that often characterizes the religious blogosphere and social media in general and take on a different tone. It is, after all, the American holiday of Thanksgiving which should, in theory, mean something more than gorging on turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie.
Given recent events and on which side of the fence people find themselves, it might be very difficult for some of them (us) to experience any sense of thankfulness or gratitude. In fact, the primary emotion many folks seem to be experiencing is about as far from peace and being grateful as you can get. There’s a lot of virtual yelling on the web and much, much worse going on in the real world.
I think it’s important to take a step back from all this and realize that how we treat each other matters.
A few days ago, Derek Leman posted a summary of his second day at the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) Convention in San Diego. I was pleasantly surprised by what Derek wrote. Here’s a revealing sample:
Confession time. If you’ve read my blog over the years, you’ve seen me in fight mode before. I can be combative, rude, unpleasant. I have engaged in labeling and ad hominem. It is one of my character deficiencies.
So one theme of SBL this year has been running into people I have “done combat” with and making reconciliation. Seth Postell is a brilliant scholar and he and I see eye to eye on many things (but legitimately disagree on others). I did not remember that in an angry exchange I once (this is embarrassing) said he was anti-Semitic. He reminded me, not in anger, but graciously, when I asked him, “Have we ever actually met before.”
“Oh, yes, Derek, we’ve met,” he chuckled. “Don’t you remember?” And then he kindly let me know he had no hard feelings and that we could move forward as friends. It’s great to have people like that in the world.
The next person I made peace with might surprise you, if you’ve followed me for long. Tim Hegg. He’s always here working with Accordance Bible Software. I am an Accordance user and needed some help learning how to do more in-depth Hebrew searches. I approached Tim who simply smiled and received me as a friend.
If these names don’t mean anything to you, don’t worry. The point is that Derek encountered other theologians at the conference with whom he has “sparred” in the past and who nevertheless, were gracious and approachable.
I’m convinced that in times of strife, we all need to learn to get past our emotions and see the people with whom we are arguing, not as opponents or enemies, but as other people who are just like us, people who are also children of God and made in His Holy Image. Would we dare treat a holy person with disrespect? Would we have the audacity to spit in the face of the Holy Image?
Lakanta (Tom Jackson): What do you think is sacred to us here?
Wesley Crusher (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 Crusher: 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.
Wesley Crusher: Is that what you think I’ve been doing?
Lakanta: Only you can decide that.
-from “Journey’s End,” March 26, 1994
Star Trek: The Next Generation
While the focus in this scene is directed at how Wesley has been treating himself with disrespect and thereby desecrating a holy person, if we look through the opposite side of the lens, we can see how often we treat others with disrespect, especially in our online transactions…
…and thus desecrating many holy people.
I’m as guilty of this as anyone else, and so I must accept my share of responsibility for my failures. That means I am repenting of the harsh words and attitudes I’ve expressed toward some of you and am asking for forgiveness from each of you. I also forgive anyone who has offended me. May no one be punished because of me.
But this is a lot more serious than just being rude, and even a lot more dire than committing acts of desecration. Keep my quote of Rabbi Twersky in mind as you read the following:
“Pray, then, in this way:
‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
‘Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
‘Give us this day our daily bread.
‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’]
For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”
–Matthew 6:9-15 (NASB)
The Baal Shem Tov probably didn’t use Yeshua as his source material but they both seemed to think along the same lines.
When we treat others with disrespect, not only are we committing desecration against a holy person but we are inviting God to treat us with disrespect. Conversely, when we act respectfully toward another person, particularly someone with whom we previously have had “problems,” what does that say about how God will treat us, “problems” and all? When we forgive someone who has contended with us, will God not then forgive us of our contentious natures?
Here’s another example:
“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”
I hope the interpretation of the above-quoted scripture is abundantly obvious. If we expect to be forgiven our debts or offenses to God, we must forgive the debts of others and how they may have offended us. The Master’s parable about forgiveness starkly outlines the consequences for failure.
Derek presents us with a positive example of forgiveness and I encourage you to click the link to his blog I provided above and read the full content.
Once relieved of the burden of grudges, bad attitudes, and an unforgiving spirit, I suspect that you and I will be able to find many things to be grateful for today and for the days that follow.
The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
The Lord will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul.
The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and forever.