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Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Eternal Judgment

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.

Hebrews 6:1-2 (NASB)

As I mentioned in last week’s review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon The Resurrection of the Dead from his Holy Epistle to the Hebrews lectures, the following message “The Eternal Judgment” wasn’t recorded, thus I cannot listen to it and write my review.

However, that material was included in Lancaster’s book Elementary Principles: Six Foundational Principles of Ancient Jewish Christianity, so I’ll review the chapter (Chapter 10) instead.

But some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.”

Acts 24:24-25 (NASB)

Lancaster introduces his chapter by describing the marriage of Felix, the Roman governor over Judea, to the Jewish princess Drusilla, youngest daughter of King Herod Agrippa the first. Supposedly, Felix hired a sorcerer to use occult means to get Drusilla to abandon her husband and marry him. Felix wasn’t a very nice man.

In today’s world, intermarriage between a Jew and a Gentile, at least in Orthodox Judaism, is highly discouraged. How much more embarrassing was it for a Jewish princess to marry, not just any Roman, but the occupying governor over Judea?

But then, although it was (according to Lancaster) Drusilla’s idea to have a private discussion with Paul, it was Felix’s response that was the point of this story. And while resurrection of the dead might seem like a great deal, what about “the judgment to come?”

It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.

Hebrews 9:27

Associating concepts like “righteousness” and “resurrection” with “self-control” and “judgment” would probably not be comfortable to hear, assuming Felix took Paul seriously, since Felix could hardly be considered a pious individual, even by Roman standards. In fact, if we really gave it some thought and realized that the resurrection and final judgment are in our future as well, how comfortable would we feel about who we are and what we’ve done (or are doing)?

Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

Matthew 25:30-33 (NASB)

Judge NotI won’t quote all of the scriptures Lancaster lists to illustrate Jesus and the final judgment, but he does make a convincing case that if God does not exact justice for human wrongdoing in this life, He most certainly will in the next.

In Messianic Judaism, we rehearse for the final judgment every year in the high holiday of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur (Festival of Trumpets and Day of Atonement). Judaism treats high holidays as an annual dress rehearsal for the final eternal judgment. In anticipation of the holidays, we repent, confess sins, mend relationships, apologize, and try to make peace with both men and God.

-Lancaster, pg 127

This may sound somewhat familiar since I associated the topic of forgiveness with the high holidays in a recent blog post reviewing a chapter in Brad H. Young’s book The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation. In my review Young’s book, I said that most Christians wouldn’t (but should) automatically associate making amends with another person with how we will be forgiven (or not) by God at the final judgment.

Now Lancaster seems to be saying that the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur on the Jewish religious calendar has applications for Christians as well, since it is in the apostolic scriptures where we see a final judgment staring at us square in the face.

Except that since we’re “saved by the blood of Jesus,” we (that is, Christians) aren’t particularly worried about being judged. Jesus paid the price for our sins so we’ve got our “fire insurance” covered. No need to “rehearse” anything since we’ve already won, God is on our side, and everything is hunky dory.

Boy, that sounds arrogant.

While Rosh Hashanah, when the books are opened before the Heavenly court, and Yom Kippur, when the final verdicts are issued and the books are closed again, are not the actual final judgment, they prefigure this awesome and august event, and perhaps we shouldn’t play fast and loose with a living and infinite God. God can indeed issue decrees in the present age and in our lives in response to your actions and mine, but there will come that final day, even if we push it off into the back of our minds, when we will all be expected to stand in judgment.

As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair on his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.

Daniel 7:9-10

yom kippurLancaster goes on to describe “one like a son of man” stepping forward in this vision of the final judgment, to deliver the sentencing. He quoted from the apocryphal book Enoch (1 Enoch 69:27-29) and the following to illustrate the judgment seat of Messiah:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.

2 Corinthians 5:10-11

In these words, Paul expressed his motive for evangelism…Paul knew the fear of the LORD. To fear God is to believe that he exists, rewards, and punishes. Paul knew that eventually God will judge the wicked and reward the righteous. He taught that we must all stand before Messiah in the final judgment.

-Lancaster, pg 131

All of us? Won’t Christians just be there to pick up our rewards? We won’t have to give account for everything we’ve done wrong in our lives after becoming believers, will we?

What if we do?

We think that final judgment just means going to Heaven or Hell, but what if it also means we have to have our human lives stripped naked before us and relive everything we’ve done, both good and bad?

Yuck. Kind of makes you want to be more careful about all of those casual thoughts, words, and gestures you’re sure God is going to forgive because you’ve been saved and go to church every Sunday.

But it gets worse.

Generally speaking, the doctrine of the eternal judgment has fallen into disfavor. Perhaps this shift in emphasis from everlasting punishment to a blissful afterlife occurred as a natural swing of the theological pendulum. The medieval and Reformation-era church had an unhealthy fascination with the torments of hell. Evangelicals later demonstrated the same fixation, predicating their appeal for the gospel on the basis of avoiding damnation. The church framed Christianity primarily as an avenue of escape from everlasting fiery tortures and the pitchfork of Satan. We substituted the foundational doctrine of eternal judgment for the doctrine of eternal damnation.

-ibid, pg 132

justiceIt seems to be a mistake to trust in any extreme, either a fascination with damnation or an obsession with bliss. The former focuses on God’s judgment as if it were a terrible trap and the later on His mercy as if it is all-encompassing…no matter what we’ve actually done.

The eternal judgment is so basic and fundamental to our faith that the writer of the book of Hebrews considers it to be the milk. It is pretty simple. We believe that every human life has eternal significance — so much so that the deeds committed in this body will have ramifications that completely transcend time. That makes every moment of this life precious. It makes every opportunity to perform a good work (mitzvah) precious. It makes every sin utterly abhorrent. Every righteous deed merits eternal reward, and every sin earns eternal punishment. Ironically, the doctrine of the eternal judgment makes life in this temporary world all the more significant.

-ibid, pg 133

We can only imagine that what terrified (according to Lancaster) Felix so much was being resurrected into a world where an absolutely just God would judge him for all the acts of his life…and condemn him. Not a pleasant thought to be sure. We all want our pleasures and want to skip out (as much as we can get away with) on our responsibilities. Anyone who struggles with the “battle of the bulge” and against all reason and logic still can’t give up their Big Macs and Whoppers knows that self-disciple isn’t easy…even in the face of dire consequences.

What Did I Learn?

Are our names already written in the Book of Life or the Book of Death? Did God makes these decisions, who was to be commended and who was to be damned, before He ever manufactured our universe?

From God’s point of view, His timeless experience, things like “before,” “during,” and “after” most likely have no meaning. The creation of Adam from dust and opening the Book of Life at the final judgment exist in the same micro-second to Him. Who is and isn’t in the Book has been there for all time and won’t be written until the pages are opened at the very end of time. I hope you like paradox, because that’s all I have to offer as far as the mystic visions of final judgment are concerned.

DespairBut one thing seems clear. Paul taught that there is a final judgment. So did Jesus. And all humanity stands within it for life or for death.

It isn’t just that one “decision for Christ” that you made once upon a time by answering an altar call or raising your hand at a camp meeting. It’s everything you’ve done since then.

No, you can’t buy your way into Heaven but you can throw it all away. Even the best of the best of us is utterly corrupt when compared to a completely and absolutely Holy God. Who are we to compare?

Rabbi Eleazer taught his disciples to repent every day (See b. Shabb. 153a). The later rabbinic teachings regarding the ten days of awe and the day of Atonement mention three categories of people,the completely righteous, the completely wicked, and the “in-betweens” (See b. Rosh Hash. 16b). The rabbis obviously believed that most people fall into the “in-between” category and need to repent. The house of Shammai taught, “There will be three groups at the Day of Judgment — one thoroughly righteous, and one thoroughly wicked, and of the intermediate” (See b. ibid 16b-17a). Therefore Bailey may be correct when he notes, “Christ’s subtle humor shows through in this verse. The ‘righteous’ who ‘need no repentance’ do not exist” (Kenneth E. Bailey, The Cross and the Prodigal). Most people need to repent and maintain a living relationship with God in their cultivation of personal spirituality.

-Brad H. Young
“Chapter 10: The Search: The Parables of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin,” pg 195
The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

If we believe Christ died for us then we should live like it. We should all live like people who’ve been given a second chance, living on borrowed time or rather time purchased for us when we didn’t deserve it.

If you think you are saved, don’t expect that you can sit on your laurels and gather your rewards before judgment. You, I, and everyone else will be judged on what we have done, what we are doing, and what we haven’t even thought of doing yet.

Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation…

2 Peter 3:11-15 (NASB)

Yom Kippur prayersMaybe observing the high holidays wouldn’t be such a bad idea for Christians. Many of us are so unused to facing the idea of judgment let alone responding to it with fasting, with prayer, with repentance, with fear and trembling, with begging for the forgiveness of those we have harmed, of begging God for mercy, though we are all like grass. At least if you’re an observant Jew, you know you are accountable and that God expects you to take that seriously with your intention and your behavior.

If you see something that is broken, fix it.

If you cannot fix all of it, fix some of it.

But do not say there is nothing you can do. Because, if that were true, why would this broken thing have come into your world?

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“If It’s Broken”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Addendum: I found out (thanks, Alfredo) after I wrote this review that Lancaster re-recorded the content for this topic on audio available on the web: The Final Judgment.

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Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Book and the Sword

Hebrews 4:11-16 speaks of a fearsome sword that divides soul and spirit, joint and marrow, and reveals the inner intentions of the heart. Discover the edenic background to the double-edged sword of the book of Hebrews and the Way to the tree of life.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twelve: The Book and the Sword
Originally presented on April 6, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:11-16 (NRSV)

D. Thomas Lancaster started this week’s sermon by going over the sense of distance we sometimes (often?) perceive exists between us and God. I’ve experienced that distance more than once. I’ve attributed that distance to my own faults and failures. After all, what else could it be?

Lancaster went through the ancient, traditional approach that people took to “access” God. As I’ve always surmised, why should an infinite, omnipotent, God want or have to listen to one tiny mortal human being? Who do we think we are, anyway that God should be mindful of us?

So usually ancient man had to go to a god’s temple, bring an appropriate sacrifice, and allow the priest of the temple to offer the sacrifice on our behalf. They needed a priest.

I can already see where Lancaster is going and the expected Christian response that, as believers, we are now our own priests (1 Peter 2:5) and don’t need an intercessor. God removed the veil separating man from the most holy place (Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38).

But let’s wait and see how far and in what direction Lancaster takes this sermon.

Lancaster says the requirement of a priest did not always exist. Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden, in Gan Eden, in paradise and there was nothing between them and Him.

But that didn’t last too long.

Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” — therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.

Genesis 3:22-24 (NRSV)

Leaving EdenNo, the cherubim are not cute, little, baby-like angels. The keruvim are big, dangerous, fierce angelic beings with a flaming sword, no less, turning in each direction to bar the way to the tree of life.

And human beings walked out of Eden and have been in exile ever since, trying to find a way back, trying to return to paradise, and even we, who have put our faith and devotion in Messiah, are still separated from God, still in exile, still on the outside looking in, some of us more than others, it seems.

He slaughtered the ox and the ram as a sacrifice of well-being for the people. Aaron’s sons brought him the blood, which he dashed against all sides of the altar, and the fat of the ox and of the ram—the broad tail, the fat that covers the entrails, the two kidneys and the fat on them, and the appendage of the liver. They first laid the fat on the breasts, and the fat was turned into smoke on the altar; and the breasts and the right thigh Aaron raised as an elevation offering before the Lord, as Moses had commanded.

Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them; and he came down after sacrificing the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the offering of well-being. Moses and Aaron entered the tent of meeting, and then came out and blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.

Leviticus 9:18-24 (NRSV)

Lancaster showed us in the verses above, the inaugeration of the duty of the Levitical priesthood. So now only priests can enter into the presence of the Lord and only after making extensive preparations on their own behalf as well as on the behalf of those they represent.

Again, I know what you’re thinking, Christians. Hang on. The answer is coming.

burning-bushIs there a way back to Eden, a way back to the level of intimacy that Adam and Eve (or Chava, actually) enjoyed with Hashem? Is there a way past the keruvim and the flaming sword?

Lancaster took a look at the sword through the lens of rabbinic commentary, principally Genesis Rabbah, and came up with different opinions about the sword. Some say it is angels, and others flaming Gehenna. One Rabbi said circumcision. The final opinion is that the sword is Torah, for as it says:

Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples…

Psalm 149:6-7 (NRSV)

Lancaster then took his audience over some previous territory:

For if the message declared through angels was valid, and every transgression or disobedience received a just penalty…

Hebrews 2:2 (NRSV)

The word “message” in Greek is “logos” or “word” and is representative of the Torah, and it contains judgment for disobedience of transgressions, just as the sword was God’s response for disobedience at Eden.

The sword is logos, Torah, God’s standard, God’s instruction. How can we get past God’s judgment, past the sword, is there a way back to Eden?

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6 (NRSV)

It’s no coincidence that the ancient name for the Jewish worship stream devoted to Yeshua (Jesus) was called “the Way.” Genesis 3:24 says the sword guarded the way to the tree of life” (emph. mine). Just like Israel in the days of the Tabernacle, in the days of the Temple, the writer of Hebrews is telling his Jewish readers that they need a priest to help them draw nearer to God, but even though they had priests to intercede and offer sacrifices in Herod’s temple, there was an even greater priest in an even greater, heavenly Temple, and only through him could they, can we approach any level of intimacy with God.

But this is no easy thing. One does not simply declare that they “believe in Jesus” and suddenly it’s alright and everything’s groovy. In Rabbinic interpretation, the Torah was given with a sword so that if Israel obeyed God, the Torah would save them from the sword, and if Israel did not obey God, the sword would mete out judgment, which as we see many times in the record of the Tanakh (Old Testament), that is exactly what happened.

Contemplate three things, and you will not come to the hands of transgression: Know what is above from you: a seeing eye, a listening ear, and all your deeds being inscribed in a book.

-Pirkei Avot 2:1

All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.

Isaiah 53:6 (NASB)

There is none righteous, not even one…

Romans 3:10 (NASB)

lightEven the mere thought of entering into the presence of God should send us into fear and trembling, for who is without sin, and who has not disobeyed the most powerful, almighty, infinite God? It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).

The sword, the Torah, is God’s standard of righteousness and it judges us. In and of ourselves, we cannot pass by the flaming sword and enter into God’s presence in paradise.

But there is some good news:

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:14-16 (NRSV)

Once a year in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, the High Priest would go through a special set purification rites and sacrifices for himself simply to prepare to enter into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, on Yom Kippur, to present the annual offerings to atone for the sins of the nation.

But he had to do this once a year, and he had to offer many sacrifices just to atone for his own sins first, so he could be in such a state of purity in order to be acceptable enough to enter into the Most Holy Place in the earthly Temple.

This was an effective system but it had limits. The writer of the Book of Hebrews says there is one even more righteous than the High Priest of the line of Aaron. This priest is without sin, a tzadik who is completely Holy unto God. It is he who is our hope, not of entering the earthly Temple (as it will one day exist again) to make offerings, but to enter past the keruvim, past the flaming sword, past the desperate hazard of God’s judgment and the threat of burning eternally in Gehinnom, so that we may rest in God’s mercy in paradise.

What Did I Learn?

I particularly appreciated the word play associated with “the way” as illustrated in Genesis 3:24 and John 14:6, and how that “way” allows us to return from the exile humanity experienced as a result of the failure at Eden. It puts me one step closer to understanding why we all need a “Savior,” and why prayer and repentance to Hashem is “not enough,” a question that has plagued me for quite some time.

But it also brings up a question or rather, it reminds me of an unanswered question I typically ignore except at times like these when I can’t avoid it.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.

Hebrews 4:15 (NRSV)

There seems to be a disconnect between this verse and the one that follows, and even between one part of this verse and another.

Yeshua (Jesus) lived a perfectly human and yet a perfectly sinless life for thirty some odd years. I probably can’t avoid an act of disobedience for thirty some odd minutes (or even thirty seconds, sometimes). So Jesus can sympathize with us when we are tempted and tested because he knows the difficulty and suffering of testing as well. Lancaster says it wasn’t just the three trials of the tempter he had to endure (Matthew 4:1-11), but living a human life, he endured human temptations.

So he can sympathize with me when I am tested in the manner of humans, just as he was tested in all human frailty…

…but he did not sin…ever.

unworthySo our high priest can sympathize with our trials, just like the Aaronic High Priests as human beings could sympathize, but an Aaronic High Priest could also sympathize with failure and having sinned because they weren’t perfect…they sinned.

Jesus never sinned, which is what qualifies him to enter into the Heavenly Holy of Holies on our behalf, but how can he possibly sympathize with human failure when he never failed?

Recently, Derek Leman wrote a very good piece on the meaning of grace that transcends the traditional Christian interpretation and adds a great deal of depth to God’s divine kindness and mercy and His undeserved gifts to human beings.

On that level, I can understand why Jesus the High Priest would intercede for us before the Father, and I can imagine that he might feel merciful and even experience pity for we pathetic human beings (I may not be apprehending Derek’s point as much as I need to here), but sympathy or rather empathy because our experience is his experience? I don’t think so. I can’t see how you can understand failure unless you’ve failed. Since Jesus never failed, how can he, or God the Father, the infinite and unknowable Ein Sof, possibly understand us? How can Jesus ever understand me when I fail?

The Serpent’s Tooth

Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.

-Neil Postman

How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.

-William Shakespeare
King Lear Act 1, scene 4

People react to different situations differently, based on their diverse personalities and experiences.

The obligation to love other people and do acts of kindness requires that we look at the specific individual we are dealing with. Try to understand what exactly will give this person pleasure. Be aware of his personality traits, in order to know what his needs are. Decide in which areas and to what degree to honor this specific person.

To do this properly requires much thought.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Please According to the Pleasure”
Daily Lift #553
Aish.com

Much of the time, it is impossible for us to know the outcome of an event as we commit it. The future remains shrouded in mystery until it becomes the present. At that point, it’s far too late to do anything to change what has happened. It’s like eating a cookie. Before you taste it, the cookie may look pleasing and delicious, but you can never really know until you eat it. Will it be sweet and satisfying or bitter, leaving you empty and ill? You can only find out by putting the cookie in your mouth, but once you do, it is too late.

Who we are, everything we do, the relationships we have with family and friends; they are all like that. You meet a girl, fall in love, get married, have children, time passes and what you imagined the “cookie” would taste like when you first looked at it, ultimately has no resemblance to your experience once you’ve bitten into it and swallowed.

Is life sweet for you? Is it bitter for someone else? Does it really matter and more importantly, is there anything you can do about it?

I don’t know. It’s one thing if the bitterness is just you. Then you are totally responsible for any outcome and totally in control of what happens. But we don’t live in isolation. We live in a world of people, their shifting moods, their hungers, their desires, their pain and poignancy.

As I’ve mentioned in a number of my blogs recently, the month of Elul on the Jewish religious calendar, is “a time of repentance in preparation for the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.” According to Judaism 101:

Tradition teaches that the month of Elul is a particularly propitious time for repentance. This mood of repentance builds through the month of Elul to the period of Selichot, to Rosh Hashanah, and finally to Yom Kippur.

With an awareness of willful sin and the need to repent and make amends comes deep feelings of regret and remorse. A rebuke from any source, but particularly from one you are close to, can be especially painful. And yet the world, and particularly the world of religious people, is full of rebukes, judgments, and harsh words. Why wait for a judgment from God when human beings are more than willing to dole out their opinions on what makes them superior and what makes you a fool?

God. In the middle of a hostile humanity, strangers, friends, loved ones, it’s easy to almost forget God. I can’t forget God. And if we can set aside a month of preparing to encounter our Creator in the most imposing, awesome, and terrifying manner, how does God prepare for us?

People imagine that since G‑d is not physical, therefore He must be in heaven. But the heavens—and all things spiritual—are just as much creations as the earth. Less dissonant, more harmonious, more lucid—but finite realms nonetheless.

G‑d is not found in a place because it is big enough to contain Him or so magnificent that He belongs there. G‑d is found in whatever place He desires. And where does He desire most to be found? In the work of our hands, repairing His world.

The heavens are filled with spiritual light. In the work of our hands dwells G‑d Himself, the Source of All Light.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Is G-d in Heaven?”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

What if god was one of us…

Lyrics by Eric Bazilian

God may not be one of us, but according to Rabbi Freeman, He can be found among us, even in the work of the hands of His saints. When we pray, we may not have to pray in the “direction” of Heaven. God could be standing at our very shoulder as we talk to Him, revealing our inner core, breaking down in shame or sorrow or anger or fear. What have I done? Could I have reacted any differently? Is there hope that we can be closer again? Is there hope at all? Where is God?

I have to force myself to remember that judgment is also an opportunity to dance with God on Yom Kippur. It never feels that way as I turn inward and stare into Nietzsche’s abyss. But what choice do I have?

“Women, slaves and children are obligated in prayer” – They are obligated in prayer because prayer is a request for Divine compassion, and everyone requires that. I may have thought that since it is written as regards prayer ‘evening and morning and afternoon’, possibly prayer has the status of a Mitzvah that is bound by time and thus they would be exempt. Therefore, the Mishnah comes to inform me that women are obligated.

-Berachos 20b

I’m not sure if the traditional Jewish sages would agree that a Gentile also is obligated to pray to God, but as a Christian, I understand that it is unavoidable. God is merciful and slow to anger, but that doesn’t mean He’s not a righteous Judge, too. According to Paul, no one is righteous (Romans 3:10) and the sooner we all get off our high horses and face that fact, the better off we’ll probably be. But it’s an ugly thing to face; all your mistakes, the horror of the people you’ve hurt, the willful sins and the pure ignorance of life that have resulted in the mess you and I find ourselves in as we delve into our personalities and personal experiences.

Will God forgive?

As a Christian, I must believe that through Jesus Christ, my sins are forgiven. With sincere confession and repentance before the King of Kings and the man of many sufferings, my burdens are lightened and my soul is free to soar the Heavens.

Oh really?

Would that it were so easy to shed the chains that I wrap around my spirit and to disregard the wound inflicted upon me by myself and everyone who says they are being “honest” with me for my own good.

The wounds are deep and the pool of blood is gathering at my feet. How sharper than a serpent’s tooth.

Some wounds may never heal and even if they do, the painful scars will always be there.

Or am I being the thankless child?

The road

The road is long and often, we travel in the dark.

Passing Judgment

Said Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov:

When a person comes before the supernal court to account for sojourn on earth, he is first asked to voice his opinion on another life. “What do you think,” he is asked, “about one who has done so and so?” After he offers his verdict, it is demonstrated to him how these deeds and circumstances parallel those of his own life. Ultimately, it is the person himself who passes judgment on his own failings and achievements.

This explains the peculiar wording of the above passage of the Ethics, “before whom you are destined to give a judgment and accounting.” Is not the verdict handed down after the cross-examination of the defendant? So should not the “judgment” follow the “accounting”? And why are you destined to “give judgment” as opposed to being judged? But no judgment is ever passed on a person from above. Only after he has himself ruled on any given deed does the heavenly court make him account for a matching episode in his own life.

The same idea is also implicit in another passage in our chapter of the Ethics: “Retribution is extracted from a person, with his knowledge and without his knowledge.” As a person knowingly expresses his opinion on a certain matter, he is unwittingly passing judgment on himself.

Commentary on Ethics of Our Fathers
Chapter 3
“Subjective Judge”
Iyar 10, 5772 * May 2, 2012
Chabad.org

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.”

Matthew 25:31-33 (ESV)

I don’t think many Christians believe they’ll be given the opportunity to judge themselves in Messianic days, but then most Christians think they won’t be judged at all. Only sinners (i.e. non-Christians) will be judged. Christians are saved and exempt from all this sort of stuff.

Whew! What a relief.

But wait a minute. What else did Jesus say?

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” –Matthew 25:34-46 (ESV)

Now that’s odd. It sounds like we aren’t judged based on what we believe in our hearts but on what we actually do with that belief. The Master’s own brother said, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” If faith without works is dead, then if we are without works, regardless of what we feel or believe inside, are we dead, too?

I’m not really going to try to evaluate the mechanics of how salvation works or who does or doesn’t merit a place in the world to come (i.e. “Heaven” as Christianity understands it). I do want to talk about the times when you judge other people.

C’mon. Admit it. You do judge other people, dear Christian friends. So do I, though I’m not saying that out of any sense of pride. Think of the guy or gal who cut you off in traffic yesterday when you were driving to work. Didn’t you, even in the privacy of your own thoughts and emotions, momentarily “judge” that person and their relative driving skills? Any time you become angry at another person, don’t you judge them in terms of their worthiness or some other attribute they possess or lack? If you’re a football fan, when your favorite quarterback fumbles what should have been your team’s winning play, don’t you judge that knucklehea…uh, player for his failure to lead his team to victory?

Do you want to be judged by the same standards you use to judge others?

and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors. –Matthew 6:12 (ESV)

I’ve mentioned this particularly telling part of the Lord’s Prayer before. It certainly seems like Jesus is saying that we will be forgiven in direct relation to how we forgive others.

Oh certainly, Jesus couldn’t have meant anything like that! Oh yeah?

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” –Matthew 18:23-35 (ESV)

Oh wow! Apparently, he did.

Now look back at the commentary for chapter 3 of Ethics of the Fathers. Imagine that’s how you’ll actually be judged; by how you judge others. Now imagine that if you show mercy to others to such and thus degree, God will show you the same mercy. But if you show such and thus judgement toward others, God will judge you to the same degree. When you judge, you’re looking in a mirror.

Imagine you have control over how your life will be judged. Imagine you can determine how harsh or how merciful God will treat you at the end of your days. Imagine how you forgive or condemn one human being today will affect how God judges you tomorrow. Imagine.

A gentile once came to Shammai, and wanted to convert to Judaism. But he insisted on learning the whole Torah while standing on one foot. Shammai rejected him, so he went to Hillel, who taught him: “What you dislike, do not do to your friend. That is the basis of the Torah. The rest is commentary; go and learn!”

-Rabbi Hillel