Tag Archives: disaster

Repentance and Forgiveness in the Face of Tragedy

Even if a sharp sword rests upon a man’s neck he should not desist from prayer.

Berachos 10a

In the history of the Jewish people there were many times that could be called “lost opportunities.” Such opportunities existed, for example, before the sin of the Golden Calf, before the Jewish people entered the land, as well as during the times of Kings Saul and Solomon. Yet, the opportunity faded or did not turn into what it could have been.

-by Berel Wein adapted by Yaakov Astor
from “Hezekiah: The Messiah Who Was Not”
JewishHistory.org

I think just about anyone can be put in a situation where they feel helpless and hopeless. Even the most faithful Christian, Jew, or other religious person can face a crisis that tests their faith and trust. Sometimes that situation is the consequence of sin. Other times, it is just a life occurrence.

I’m reminded of Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old woman who was diagnosed with brain cancer and chose to commit assisted suicide. Her diagnosis was terminal and she was given a scant six months to live. There have been a lot of arguments for and against her decision, however, I’m not writing to debate the choice she made. Suicide, at least in the case of an intelligent, mentally and emotionally capable individual, is often an attempt to take control of an otherwise uncontrollable situation. Brittany was going to die a terrible death and there was absolutely nothing she or anyone else could do about it…

…except preempt the conclusion by dying sooner and by different and more merciful means.

The sword was at her neck. But unlike the aphorism from Talmud which I quoted above, she chose to desist from prayer, if she had prayed at all, and allowed the “sword” to fall, so to speak.

Is there ever a circumstance where we are justified in giving up?

Not according to Berachos 10a which is based on the following scripture verses:

So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning until the appointed time, and seventy thousand men of the people from Dan to Beersheba died. When the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented from the calamity and said to the angel who destroyed the people, “It is enough! Now relax your hand!” And the angel of the Lord was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. Then David spoke to the Lord when he saw the angel who was striking down the people, and said, “Behold, it is I who have sinned, and it is I who have done wrong; but these sheep, what have they done? Please let Your hand be against me and against my father’s house.”

2 Samuel 24:15-17 (NASB)

Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.

Job 13:15

Even total reliance on the grace and mercy of God does not guarantee a perfect life free from stress, harm, or tragedy. It certainly doesn’t guarantee that God will remove the consequences of our errors, mistakes, and sins. It also, sadly, doesn’t mean that bad things will never happen to good people, though as the Master said no one but God is good (Matthew 19:17, Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19).

What does it feel like when the sword is resting on the back of your neck and you know it can and probably will fall within the next few seconds? It must feel pretty desperate.

It must feel like how the Children of Israel felt when Moses discovered their sin with the Golden Calf. It must feel like how the Children of Israel felt after they refused to take the Land of Canaan and then, once God’s protection was removed, when they tried to enter Canaan only to be routed in humiliation (Numbers 14). It must have felt like how Hezekiah felt when he was told he was about to die from his illness (Isaiah 38:1-2).

deathMost rational people don’t blame a sick person for being sick. Oh, there are probably some exceptions, such as how we might feel when we hear a chronic cigarette smoker is diagnosed with lung cancer, or when we find out an alcoholic has liver disease. Even Hezekiah’s illness was a consequence of his behavior or the lack of it, at least according to Midrash (Sanhedrin 94a):

On the night of Passover, in the middle of the night, an angel smote the army of Assyria and 185,000 died from a plague (II Kings 19:35).

Imagine — the Jewish people were staring annihilation in the face. An overwhelming implacable foe completely surrounded their last stronghold. There was a constant propaganda barrage against them in their native tongue. They had doubters from within. They went to sleep Passover night with no realistic hope.

However, they woke up the morning of Passover and the threat was suddenly gone. Someone had smitten the outstretched arm of the enemy with the sword it had raised against them.

At that moment, the Talmud remarks, Hezekiah had the chance to become the Messiah. All he had to do was sing the praises of God. Moses and the people had done so after the Egyptians were drowned in the sea. Had Hezekiah done the same he would have been the Messiah and history as we know it would have proceeded differently.

However, he did not sing. That is why he was not worthy to be the Messiah. The opportunity was lost.

But although it seemed as if God’s mind were made up as far as the King’s fate was concerned, Hezekiah continued to plead:

Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, and said, “Remember now, O Lord, I beseech You, how I have walked before You in truth and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in Your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah, saying, “Go and say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of your father David, “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city.”’

Isaiah 38:2-6

God listened and he relented, adding fifteen more years to Hezekiah’s life. He removed the sword from the King’s neck, so to speak, at least for another decade and a half.

Of course, Hezekiah had a “track record” of walking before God “in truth and with a whole heart.” If he had been sinful and disobedient as was Hezekiah’s father, it is unlikely that God would have spared his life.

So too it is with us.

defeatNo, not all of our woes involve terminal illness, but when we plead and beg God to take the pressure off, He is under no obligation whatsoever to do so, especially if we are still unrepentant of our sins. Keep in mind, even a perfectly repentant person, if there is such a thing, may still pray to God for mercy in relieving their illness or other problems and God may, for His own sovereign reasons, not provide the desired answer to prayer.

But how would you like to face tragedy and disaster in life, whether you deserve it or not…with a conscience right with God or still buried in your own iniquity?

I’m not preaching to you or being judgmental. I’m as human as anyone and I make plenty of mistakes. I’m writing this as much for me as for anyone else.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

That quote has been attributed to Plato, Philo of Alexandria, and Ian MacLaren among others, but the words are very true. Most of us don’t show any outward sign of the battles we fight every day and when we do, it usually means we’ve come to the end of our rope. I mentioned the other day about the importance of forgiveness and gratitude, and this is like it.

When you are tempted to “drop the hammer” or “lay down the law” on someone, even if they deserve it, stop for a moment and get in touch with your own “hard battle,” and then try to realize that the other person is also fighting as hard as they can. If you expect forgiveness from God for your own sins, then forgive the other person if it is at all possible.

But before all that, repent of your own sins and ask for forgiveness from your Heavenly Father. It requires being forgiven in order to forgive.

Be very, very humble.

-Ethics of the Fathers 4:4

Rabbi Raphael of Bershed complained bitterly to his teacher, Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, that he was unable to eradicate feelings of vanity.

Rabbi Pinchas tried to help him by suggesting different methods, but Rabbi Raphael replied that he had already tried every one without success. He then pleaded with his mentor to do something to extirpate these egotistical feelings. Rabbi Pinchas then rebuked his disciple. “What is it with you, Raphael, that you expect instant perfection? Character development does not come overnight, regardless of how much effort you exert. Eradication of stubborn character traits takes time as well as effort. Today you achieve a little, and tomorrow you will achieve a bit more.

“You are frustrated and disappointed because you have not achieved character perfection as quickly as you had wished.

“Continue to work on yourself. Pray to God to help you with your character perfection. It will come in due time, but you must be patient.”

The Talmud states, “Be very, very humble,” to indicate that true self-betterment is a gradual process. We achieve a bit today, and a little more tomorrow.

Today I shall…

..try to be patient with myself. While I will do my utmost to rid myself of undesirable character traits, I will not become frustrated if I do not achieve instant perfection.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Kislev 7
Aish.com

praying aloneIf you aren’t patient with yourself and you don’t believe you can repent and be forgiven by God (and even if you know that although God may forgive you, some people never will), then you will cease to pray when you feel the sword rest on your neck or even when you see it coming. You won’t trust God that somehow, in some way, this too is for the good. Remember my previous quote of Rabbi Twersky who was quoting the Baal Shem Tov:

The Baal Shem Tov taught that God acts toward individuals accordingly as they act toward other people.

I think that includes how you act toward yourself. If you give up and won’t forgive yourself, how will God forgive you?

Why do parents love their children?
Because the lower world reflects the higher world. And above, there is a Parent and He loves His children.

Why do parents of an only child have such unbounded love for their child?
Because this is the truest reflection of the world above: Above, each one of us is an only child, and His love to us is unbounded.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Only Child”
Chabad.org

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What I Learned in Church Today: God Suffers Our Pain With Us

Today in church (as I write this), Pastor preached on Acts 27:1-12 and Paul’s rather “stormy” trip toward his final destination (in more ways than one) Rome. What I found most useful in today’s sermon were the notes at the conclusion. Normally, this part of the sermon doesn’t “float my boat” since these notes are usually an attempt to take ancient events, spiritualize them, and anachronistically apply them to everyday life in 21st century America.

But this time, I decided to see if these notes could be applied to my life. There are three of them.

Do you believe that God is sovereign over all the storms in your life?

As opposed to what? No, really. As an abstract concept believing what I believe about God, my immediate answer has to be “yes,” but it’s more complicated than that. It’s one thing to say that “God is in control” and that “we win in the end,” and another thing entirely to receive a diagnosis of cancer (no, I don’t have cancer) or that your child was in a serious car accident and is in ICU (don’t worry, my kids are all fine).

Then, no matter how much you “think” God is sovereign over every single detail of your existence, suddenly the pit of your stomach drops out and at least momentarily, panic sets in with the vengeance of a really angry Grizzly Bear. Sure, given enough time, you can regain your emotional equilibrium and refocus on God, but for those first few seconds or minutes (or longer), unless you are a terrifically spiritual person and always totally in tune with God, you’re going to lose it.

Here’s the first thing I wrote down in my notes when Pastor asked the question:

Yes, but that doesn’t mean I still won’t drown.

Here’s the second thing I wrote down.

We don’t have an absolute view into God’s plans for us as individuals.

God can be absolutely sovereign over the storms in our lives and we can still lose a leg in a car crash. We can still end up with a child in intensive care. We can still die a long, lingering, painful death.

God’s sovereignty contains no guarantee at all that our lives won’t be painful and end tragically. When we think of God being “in control,” we really mean that God would never let anything bad happen to us. But just look at Paul’s life. God let everything bad happen to Paul.

But the key is, no matter what happened, Paul still served God faithfully, with an almost supernatural focus (I’m being slightly tongue-in-cheek here) on Yeshua (Jesus) as the author of his faith and the “perfecter” of his existence, both in this world and the one beyond.

Which brings us to Pastor’s second question:

What are you doing to learn to trust God in the storms of life?

I remember a scene from the film Finding Nemo (2003). Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) and Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) are inside of a whale, basically hitching a ride to Sydney, Australia. The water inside the whale starts to drain. As usual, Marlin senses disaster while Dory is willing to trust. Marlin is hanging onto some part of the whale’s insides to keep from falling back into the throat. Dory translates the message from the whale.

It’s time to let go.

praying at the kotelI think that’s what trusting God is about, but it’s best to learn to trust him before your life turns to dog poop. While you still have the time, pray with an especially focused Kavanah for an encounter with God. Strive to draw nearer to Him and plead that He reveals Himself to you before you need Him. I promise that if you don’t do this now, you will be doing it once you need God’s help more than anything you’ve ever needed in your life.

Last question:

Do you realize that God is able to use the storms in your life to give guidance to others?

As first, I didn’t read the to give guidance to others part and just saw the question as asking if I realized God could use the storms in my life. Then I realized what was really going on.

Had they trusted in God and followed Moshe, the entire nation would have gone into Eretz Israel led by him. The Holy Temple would have been built, never to be destroyed; the people would have sat, every man under his grape vine and under his fig tree, never to be exiled; and the still longed for, final redemption under God’s chosen anointed would have come. But they didn’t trust and they didn’t obey. So the exodus from Egypt remained eternal, but the entry into the Land was to be transitory.

-Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz
Megillas Eichach (Lamentations), pg 34

If all of the twelve spies Moses sent into Canaan (Numbers 13, 14) had given a positive report instead of just two, obeyed Moses, and obeyed God, the history of Israel would have been written quite differently.

But they didn’t and history unfolded as it did.

The same is true of Israel in the days of Jesus:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

Matthew 23:17-39 (NASB)

If Israel had repented in the days of Herod’s Temple, Yeshua would have initiated the Messianic Kingdom immediately, the Romans would have been defeated, the Temple would have been preserved, there would have been no exile, and King Messiah’s reign of peace, mercy, and justice over all of the world would have started and be with us to this very day.

But they didn’t, and untold suffering has resulted.

In the 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) gave this sage piece of advice to Lt. Saavik (Kirstie Alley):

How you face death is at least as important as how you face life.

Regardless of how God provides and what God allows and how God disciplines, your circumstances are less important than how you respond to them. Consider how Israel is responding, not to just all of the rockets Hamas keeps throwing at her, but how the rest of the world is mistreating Israel, believing she is disproportionately responding to these terrorist acts simply by defending herself.

The whole world is watching Israel and waiting for her to blink. So it is true when anyone who professes faith in Christ, especially when we are under duress.

Fortunately, Pastor said that he’s hardly perfect in this area and that there have been plenty of occasions when he’s been stressed and yet taken it out on his family rather than having greater trust in God. There’s a sort of myth, both inside the Church and outside of it, that says when a Christian is having a particularly tough time of it, he or she should be completely calm if their faith in Jesus is solid. Only a failure of faith results in a Christian who cries or yells or begs.

Like I said, it’s a myth.

Father, if you’re willing, take this cup from me…

Luke 22:42 (NASB)

This is Jesus at Gethsemane pleading with God the Father to take away the cup of his crucifixion, his agony, his desperate suffering from him.

This is Jesus saying this. This is Jesus not wanting to suffer. This is Jesus acting just like the rest of us. But the second half of the sentence tells the tale.

…yet not my will but Yours be done.

But he still begged. Flesh and blood, human right down to his DNA Jesus still begged that the cup be taken from him.

There’s no shame in anguish as long as there’s also trust.

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (NASB)

If Jesus wasn’t immune, certainly Paul wasn’t either. How many of his Psalms did David dedicate to his own pain and suffering, withering before a Holy God with his flesh melting and his bones turning to dust?

Save me, O God,
For the waters have threatened my life.
I have sunk in deep mire, and there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters, and a flood overflows me.
I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched;
My eyes fail while I wait for my God.
Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head;
Those who would destroy me are powerful, being wrongfully my enemies;
What I did not steal, I then have to restore.

Psalm 69:1-4 (NASB)

We struggle all our lives between our faith and our humanity, between Divine glory and human weakness. The spirit is willing but flesh…oh the flesh is very weak. Even the best of us, when put to the test, are like a snow cone in a blast furnace.

anguishTo know that God is sovereign and to trust in Him in adversity doesn’t mean you have to be superhuman and it doesn’t mean you don’t get scared. It means when 99% of you is in full panic mode, some tiny voice in the back of your consciousness is still crying out to God, not in terror but in faith, that even if you should drown or be incinerated in the next half-second, if you are not supposed to live (in this life) with God, then you will certainly die in His Presence and live with Him in the resurrection.

Living with God in suffering is like being a terminally ill child. You know you are going to die and you know your Mom and Dad love you very much. But you also know they can’t save your life. You’re still scared and you still don’t want to be away from them, but you know as long as they love you, you’re not alone.

God’s sovereignty in our lives when we suffer doesn’t (necessarily) mean God will stop the suffering. It means He will never abandon us as we are suffering and in some sense, He suffers, too.

The night when hope was enveloped in darkness was about to begin, so God came to Jacob ‘in the visions of the night’ to show him that Jews might be exiled from their land, but they could never be exiled from their God.

-R. Zlotowitz, pp 46-7

When they were exiled to Babylon, the Divine Presence was with them.

-Megillah 29a

And so He is with us.

Praying for Oklahoma

oklahomaA mammoth tornado carved a trail of destruction through the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, killing at least 51 people, including some children, and ripping apart two elementary schools today, local authorities said.

“It is absolutely devastating, this is horrific,” Oklahoma Lt. Gov Todd Lamb said. “We’re going to have fatalities. … We’re going to have significant injuries. … We just don’t know what those numbers are. Schools have been hit, a hospital has been hit, businesses have been flattened, neighborhoods have been wiped away — we don’t have the numbers in yet but it is going to be significant and it is going to be horrific.”

-Lauren Effron and Dean Schabner
“Oklahoma Tornado: At Least 51 Dead, ‘Horrific’ Damage”
ABC News

One word meditations:

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