Tag Archives: justice

Illuminating the Darkness

“When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness.”

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

In the wake of the devastating Islamic terrorist attack on the city of Paris, I really wish I could “illuminate the darkness,” as Rabbi Freeman suggests. But all I can see is the encroachment of that darkness on our world, the coming of destruction, the advent of great evil.

MessiahYesterday, I cried out how long, Moshiach…how long until you come? I know he heard. I know he will come. But how many more must suffer and die, how often must evil believe it has won because it stands unopposed, until Hashem has said it is enough, and the final war begins?

Insanity, from frivolity to massacre, rule our planet, and if I had to depend on the news media for my global view, I would believe there were no sane human beings left and that our world was already doomed.

And yet, these are the times when our faith is tested, when we have to face the question of whether God has abandoned us, or worse, that there is no God and we live in a universe where morality is always relative, and that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter. Or can we believe that this too indicates the birth pangs of the Messiah must become ever more severe before the time of his return?

If we can sustain our faith, we will believe the latter.

I want to illuminate the darkness, to sweep away despair, to shine like a light on a hilltop, but frankly, I’m not that heroic. All I can do is keep slogging away, moving forward, hip deep in mud, doggedly determined, and hope and pray I can keep going until the great and terrible day of the Lord.

I pray that for us all. I pray that for Paris, for those who continue to suffer in the aftermath of September 11th, for those who suffer everyday in Israel at the hands of terrorists…at the hands of evil.

In a statement attributed to Edmund Burke, Charles F. Aked, and others, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

I want to get political and say that the “good men” of our government habitually “do nothing,” but this war won’t be won by nations and political parties because it’s not a war of nationalities, but rather, of light vs. darkness, good vs. evil.

However, this isn’t to say we have no participation and that we must watch silently as this all plays out in the spiritual world. No, we are very much involved. People are dying. Our enemies are gloating. We must respond.

paris attacks
Credit: BBC News

But how?


Yes, but as a meme I saw recently on the web stated, we must also be prepared for violence, and even for some of us, to do violence. Soldiers will fight in very human wars as they always have, and many more will die.

I don’t know what to do except what I am doing…writing. Pray for Paris, pray for the defeat of ISIS, but most of all, pray for the peace of Jerusalem. It’s not that God doesn’t weep for the people slain in France last Friday night, but we must admit that Israel, of all the nations, is at the center of His mind and heart and spirit. It is through the redemption of Israel that the rest of the nations will be redeemed.

It is in the war to defend Israel that Hashem, Master of Legions, will defeat all evil forever.

However horrible the terrorist attack against Paris is, it’s just another skirmish. The war is coming. We must be ready. We must be ready to give battle. We must be ready to be the light of the world. We must be the light of the world now, so the world, if it wills, will draw near the light of Moshiach, our master, our King.

peaceHe will prevail and in him, we will prevail as well. Indeed. We have already prevailed if we don’t wait for the peace of our Rav to come in the future but to seek it and embrace it now, even in the face of great adversity.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7 (NASB)

Yom HaShoah in Church

Passover this year was not a festival of freedom for Alisa Flatow of West Orange, New Jersey. The Brandies junior was rendered brain dead by a piece of shrapnel on April 9, when a Palestinian suicide bomber drove his van of explosives into a busload of Israelis near Kfar Darom in the Gaza Strip.

-Ismar Schorsch
“To Love Our Neighbor is Not Enough,” pg 413, May 6, 1995
Commentary on Torah Portion Kedoshim
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

No one is ever to say, “I am too old to worry about the welfare of the next generation.”

“The Ethic of Stewardship,” pg 417, May 10, 1997

In short, holiness is a matter of deeds, not words.

“What is Holiness?” pg 419, April 23, 1994

You may be wondering what all of these quotes have to do with Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Memorial Day. I’m sure Schorsch’s commentaries on Parashah Kedoshim were unassociated with any thought of Shoah, but with the commemoration beginning tonight (Sunday, April 27th) at sunset, Schorsch’s articles on holiness are refactored in my mind into a memorial for the dead and a cry to the living.

I’m writing this before attending church on Sunday morning. I can’t get away from the counterpoint of Christianity’s history relative to the Jewish people and however unmeaning, the Church’s contribution to Hitler’s ghastly atrocities.

I commented several weeks ago on my decision not to attend Easter…uh, Resurrection Day services at church because of how it affected my wife last year. It seems somewhat ironic that I should select Yom HaShoah as my opportunity to return to corporate Christian worship. I hope it’s not a mistake.

My recent reflections on Purim including its meaning for the Church and sadly finding the Spirit of Haman in the Church, point to the relevancy of certain Jewish observances to Christians, especially as a point of education and elucidation.

ShoahIf any body needs to be reminded of Shoah and how the screams of six-million murdered Jews continue to echo down the dark tunnel of history and into our present, it is the Church.

I don’t say this as a way of blaming current Christianity for the Holocaust or any of the other atrocities that have been committed against the Jewish people and Judaism over the past two-thousand years or so, but as a cautionary tale and a reminder that we don’t have to return to the sins of the past. As I’ve said before, Evangelicals are abandoning support of Israel and the Jewish people in droves. The stage is being set in Europe and America for a resurgence of anti-Semitism and Jew hatred.

How soon we forget.

Which is why we must not only remember but we must teach. We must remind ourselves of the horrors of the past and we must educate the next generation that the return of the Spirit of Amalek is only a heartbeat away.

So my church attendance today will also be a silent reminder, or maybe a not so silent reminder, to my fellow Christians of what this day means to them…to us.

I have a t-shirt. I can’t recall the name of the company that produced it. I bought it many years ago, at the approach of Yom HaShoah, along with the others in the congregation I used to attend. The company making it wanted to sell six million of them, one for each victim. I don’ t know if it worked out that way. I hope it did. I want to represent one of six million. I want to be a reminder of one Jewish soul who died needlessly because of evil men and Christian indifference.

This commemorative t-shirt cries out that Shoah must never happen again. I wear it every year at this time, which is usually during the weekdays at work, as a witness. Only one person has ever asked me what it meant. He seemed surprised when I told him.

RemembranceI normally go to church dressed in “business casual” clothing, but dress pants are hardly suitable attire with a black t-shirt, so I’m “dressing down” for church today. I’m also dressing up, so to speak, and by “up” I mean elevation, both informational and spiritual. My clothing will be a badge of warning and of purpose. We must all do something today and tomorrow (and always) to remind the world around us of what they’ve forgotten, and to tell the news in the world around us to those who have never been told before.

My friend Dan Hennessy is, among other things, a “Holocaust educator, author, and activist.” He has a motto for his teaching which I like.

Education is resistance. Join the resistance.

Rather makes you feel like a freedom fighter when you say it out loud. But that’s who we are when we speak of Shoah, when we tell others what Yom HaShoah means, not just as a piece of history, and not just as something meaningful to Jewish people, but as a vital reminder to the Church” that we, as disciples of the Jewish Messiah, have a responsibility and a duty to the Jewish people, to Israel, and to God, never to forget and never to let our children forget. We must never let the world forget about the day when the world went mad.

Dan’s research and teaching led him to write a book: Remembrance and Repentance: The Call to Remember and Memorialize the Holocaust. I’m fortunate enough to own a copy which I reviewed last year. At less than one hundred pages, it can be read in just an hour or two and serves as a perfect devotional for the remembrance of Shoah.

What do you do on Yom HaShoah?

You can learn more than I could possibly insert into this brief missive. You can read the story of a Holocaust survivor and put a living, human face on the Holocaust. You can watch video reminders of the past so you may strengthen your resolve that the past does not also have to be the future for the Jews. You can realize that Shoah is continually lived out in Jewish experience today and in the history of modern Israel.

The Holocaust did not end in 1945 when the Allies liberated the Jewish survivors from the Nazi killing centers and concentration camps. Still shadowing the world’s moral, political, and religious life are the consequences of what happened, and did not happen, in the period of 1933 to May 1945 in predominantly Christian Europe.

-Daniel Hennessy
“Educational Activism,” pg 82
Remembrance and Repentance: The Call to Remember and Memorialize the Holocaust

I quoted Ismar Schorsch above in saying that we are not “too old to worry about the welfare of the next generation” and “holiness is a matter of deeds, not words.”

Yesterday’s Torah Portion Kedoshim includes the following:

Hashem spoke to Moses saying: Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem, your God.

Leviticus 19:1-2 (Stone Edition Chumash)

These words, or something similar, are not foreign to Christians:

Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:48 (NASB)

Remembering Shoah and teaching others to remember is an act of Holiness and perfection. It is honoring God, for God asks each of us to love kindness and to do justice (Micah 6:8).

candle shoahToday, I will stand in the sanctuary among other Gentile Christians as a witness. Pastor Randy, who lived in Israel for fifteen years, is on vacation this week so he won’t be leading services. Pastor Bill will be giving a sermon on David and Goliath (I Samuel 17) and my Sunday school class will be teaching on Ephesians 2. Nothing wrong with any of those lessons.

But given what is on my heart as I write this, I can think of something better to teach in church today. I pray that there’s someone who will listen.

This year, Yom HaShoah begins on Sunday, April 27th at sundown and ends on Monday, April 28th at sundown. If you can teach someone about Shoah then teach. If you know little or nothing of Shoah, then learn.

Vayetzei: The Mosaic of God

Jacobs_LadderJacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely, God is present in this place and I did not know!”

Genesis 28:16

What was the source of Jacob’s surprise? Jacob realized that he can relate to God even during sleep.

The Talmud (Berachos 63a) says that there is a brief passage upon which the entire body of Torah is dependent: “In all your ways know God” (Proverbs 3:6). Rambam and countless other commentaries refer to this statement, saying that one should serve God not only with the actual performance of mitzvos, but with all of one’s daily activities.

Dvar Torah for Vayetzei
based on Twerski on Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
quoted by Rabbi Kalman Packouz at Aish.com

Yesterday, I quoted another Aish source, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, who suggests we should act the way we want to be. This was in part, to support how in serving God, we need to bring both a sense of justice and mercy to the table, so to speak. We need not to be severely biased in one direction or the other, though according to some areas of Jewish thinking, even God created the world with a very slight leaning toward mercy.

In his commentary on Torah Portion Vayetzei, Rabbi Packouz presents an interesting and related challenge.

What is true spirituality? My beloved friend, Rabbi Avraham Goldhar, who has a revolutionary approach to helping kids get better grades with less study time in both secular and Jewish studies, came up with the following paradigm of attributes to clarify the definition of spirituality.

  1. Emotion — Intellect
  2. Kindness — Justice
  3. Community — Solitude
  4. God — Nature
  5. Serenity — Challenge

Put a check mark by one attribute from each pair that you think is more spiritual.

Now, if you want to try something interesting, put an “x” mark by each attribute that you associate with the Jewish people.

Here’s the point Rabbi Packouz is making, a point that dovetails nicely with what I was saying in yesterday’s morning meditation:

What is fascinating is that most people associate spirituality with emotion, kindness, solitude, nature and serenity … and the Jewish people with intellect, justice, community, God and challenge. The reason is that we have an Eastern notion of spirituality — an all encompassing emotional bliss connecting with the universe. The Jewish approach to spirituality is based on fulfilling a purpose, to fix the world (tikun olom)– which requires intellect, justice, community, God and challenge.

For the Jew, intellect is to be channeled into emotion — emotions can’t rule you; you must do the right thing. Justice provides for a world of kindness. A society has to be willing to identify rights and wrongs and stand up to evil. If not, one can attempt to do kindness, but end up enabling evil. Community provides you with an understanding of who you are – a member of a people – even when you are alone, you are still part of something more. Realizing that there is a Creator and having a relationship with the Creator makes the natural much more profound. This world is a veiled reality with the Creator behind it. People can only receive serenity when they live up to their challenges; otherwise, they are tormented in their pursuit of serenity by not living up to their potential.

mosaicYou cannot lead with any one side of the equation, so to speak. You can’t even lead with just a few different but specific attributes. And yet people in religion do this all the time, usually to the detriment of the faith. In reading Rabbi Packouz, I get the impression, at least in the ideal, that Judaism strikes the desirable balance between emotion and intellect, between mercy and justice. Of course, the idea that the universe was created by God with these two elements is also a Jewish idea.

Don’t get me wrong, this probably isn’t literal and factual in terms of the process of Creation, but as a metaphor, it tells an important tale, one that we need to learn in order to truly serve God.

Rabbi Twerski ends his Dvar Torah like this:

A person should eat and sleep with the intent that food and rest are essential to have a healthy body, which enables one to do the mitzvos properly. Someone who is weak and exhausted cannot concentrate on Torah study or do mitzvos properly.

One engages in work and business to provide the needs for one’s family, and to acquire the means to do the mitzvos. Money is necessary to give tzedakah, to purchase tefillin and tzitzis, to build a succah, to pay for an esrog and for matzoh, to pay tuition and fulfill all of the mitzvos. If one partakes of world goods for the purpose of being able to serve God properly, then all of one’s actions become part and parcel of Torah and mitzvos.

If I may take a few liberties here, I’ll add that we should use every aspect of who we are in the service of God, not just a few. It is true that each of us has talents or areas where we excel. For some, it’s compassion, and so they serve God by being compassionate helpers. For some it’s intellect, and so they serve God as teachers and as students, always learning and passing on what they’ve learned.

And now you see why we need to work in a body. No one of us has the capacity to serve God in all areas. If we imagine that we do, then everyone around us will get a limited and probably inaccurate image of who God is, what God does, and what God expects of human beings. If all we know of God is from someone who is exceptionally merciful, we may think of God as loving and permissive in the extreme, but having few behavioral expectations, limits, or discipline, like some sort of “cosmic teddy bear.” If all we know of God is from someone who is exceptionally just, we may think of God as harsh, cruel, rule-bound, inflexible, and blind.

Look back at the numbered list I posted above. God possesses all of those qualities. He exists along all points of all continuums, from emotion to intellect, from kindness to justice, from community to solitude. There is no place where God does not exist, and there is no person God cannot comprehend.

But no human being lives with the same infinite set of perceptions and qualities as God. We are limited. We are finite. We have biases. We lean in one direction or another. No one of us gives anyone else an accurate picture of the attributes of God. That’s why we need to operate in a body. That’s why we need community, either physical or (if an approprite physical community of faith is not accessible) virtual. Because only together, as a body, can we balance and guide each other. It takes all of us, like the bits and pieces that make up a mosaic, to be the image of God.

alone-desertSometimes you’ll encounter someone, a person of faith, perhaps a leader, Pastor, teacher, or writer, and they gather a great deal of attention to themselves. When you encounter this person, remember that he or she is only one person. If that person is not tempered, guided, and corrected by a balanced community (plenty of “religious leaders” exist in an unbalanced community, made up of only people who think and feel just like they do), and I don’t care how powerful they are or believe themselves to be, then that person, all by himself or herself, cannot possibly represent God in all that God is.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that he or she can be such a “holistic” representative, even if that person thinks of themselves that way. Alone, a person is just one, and only God is complete as One. It takes a “village,” not only to raise a child, but to be a community in the image of God.

I shall praise God among a multitude.

Psalms 26:12

While the prayer and performance of a mitzvah are always praiseworthy, it is especially meritorious when an entire community participates in it, as the Sages teach, “The prayer of a multitude is never turned away.”

-from Devarim Rabbah 2

Good Shabbos.

A Sense of Balance Between Justice and Mercy

lady-justiceThere is a basic principle found in the writings of the Rambam (Hilchos Daos) and other classic Torah sources: “Act the way you wish to be and you will become that way.”

We are influenced by our actions. Take, for example, someone who wants to become a kinder person. By doing many acts of kindness over time, the person actually becomes an authentically kinder person.

Each day write down at least ten positive actions that you did. Write down kind words and acts, blessings that you said mindfully, and positive things that you did even though they were hard to do. Write down when you felt grateful, and when you refrained from saying something that would cause another person distress. Write down an encouraging telephone call that you made.

What will happen when you are resolved to write down ten positive actions each day? You will go out of your way to do them. This will have a cumulative effect on your self-image.

Daily Lift #992
“Act The Way You Wish To Be”

Where have we gone wrong? Why is the world of religion a world of struggle between religions? Why is the world of religion a struggle between the religious and the secular, between the righteous and the unrighteous, between those who are “in” and those who are “out,” however we choose to define those terms?

This “daily lift,” is a quote from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book Build Your Self-Image and the Self-Image of Others (Artscroll, Chapter 11)  and says that in order to become the person we want to be, we should start behaving like that person.

We often wait to change our behavior until something internal changes, but the exact opposite is being suggested here. I’ve heard it said that we are what we think, but Rabbi Pliskin is saying that we are what we do, even if it isn’t necessarily what we also think (or feel).

If you want to be a kinder person, perform more acts of kindness. If you want to be more loving, show more acts of love. If you want to acquire any quality, behave as if you already possess that quality. Make lists of things you can do. Ponder them. Imagine yourself doing such things. Then do them. As Gandhi is supposed to have said, be the change you want to see in the world.

What is unsaid but should be obvious, is that we already are what we do. If we act with kindness, then we are a kind person. If we treat others poorly and with disdain, then we are a disdaining person. Look at anyone around you. Watch what they do particularly when they don’t think anyone is looking (everyone can “fake it” for an audience, at least for a while).

Look in the mirror. Watch yourself. Be your mirror in your mind as you go through your day, as you drive to work, as you talk to different people, as you react to a homeless person asking for money, as you talk to your spouse. How do you behave? How do you treat others? How do you speak to them? What are you thinking about them? What do you tell yourself about them? What do you tell others about them, especially in private?

That is who you are.

Who am I?

Not a perfect person, certainly. I have faults. I see them in my mirror. I strive to be more. I want to be the person God sees in me, the person He created me to be. I wonder if I’ll ever get there?

No-MercyI desire mercy because I really need it. I desire justice in our world, but I want God to temper justice with mercy. That’s because justice without mercy is merciless. Justice without mercy may still be just, but it is also cruel and as we’ve seen in a million images, it is also blind. People who are overly zealous for justice at the cost of mercy believe the ends justify the means, no matter what those means may be.

I don’t want to be merciless, cruel, or blind, but sometimes, when I show mercy, I’m accused of abandoning justice. That’s not true, at least I think it’s not true. Mercy without justice carries its own problems. Mercy without justice is permissive, lawless, amorphous, undefined, and ultimately Godless. Mercy without justice allows every type of behavior, no matter how lawless, and calls it all good. It is also blind, but to any and all faults and even to sins. Mercy without justice may sound good, and there are even some religious groups that worship mercy, permissiveness, inclusion, and progressiveness, even before God, while leaving justice in the gutter.

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

2 Timothy 4:1-4 (NASB)

You cannot follow God unless you pursue mercy and justice together.

It is said that when God created the world, he used both the attribute of justice and the attribute of mercy. However, it is also said that He biased His creation with just slightly more mercy than justice.

If there was more justice and little mercy, the world would not survive. If there was more mercy and little justice, the world would be lawless and chaotic. If justice and mercy were equal, we would have no model to teach us how to make room in our own hearts so that even in being just, we could still show mercy to others, just as our just God shows us mercy that we don’t deserve.

But just the smallest amount of mercy must outweigh God’s vast justice for people to have law and an order of things, but to still be allowed to make mistakes and yet survive.

Justice is required to confront evil when it is popular among men to call evil things “good.” Mercy is required to allow people to make mistakes and yet to recover from God’s judgment as well as from human judgment (which is often less merciful than God’s).

We all make mistakes.

micah6-8Look at yourself in the mirror. Who are you? Are you more just than merciful? Are you more merciful than just? How are these two qualities balanced within you? Heaven help you if you are just one or the other. I’ve met both sorts of people. They can be very self-righteous and very scary.

If it is true about how God created the world, with generally a balance between justice and mercy, but with mercy edging out justice by just a tiny bit, then how should these qualities be distributed in us?

Do not take revenge nor bear grudge among your people, and you should love your neighbor as yourself, I am God.

Leviticus 19:18

This verse may well be the Torah’s most difficult demand. The Talmud gives an example of revenge: someone refuses to give you a loan; then, when he or she asks you for one, you say, “I will not lend you money because you turned me down when I was in need.” Bearing a grudge comes when you do give the person the loan, but say, “I want you to see that I am more decent than you. I am willing to lend you the money, even though you did not give me that consideration.” The Torah forbids both reactions; we must loan in silence.

R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzato says that revenge is one of the sweetest sensations a person can have, and that the Torah’s demand that we suppress this impulse is asking us to virtually be akin to angels (Path of the Just, Chap. 11). Still, the fact that we are required to do so tells us that this level of control is within our grasp. The key to this is contained in the end of the verse cited above.

The Torah wishes us to consider the other person as we would ourselves. For example, if a person stubbed his toe and felt a sharp pain, he would hardly hit his foot as punishment for having hurt him. Just as we would neither take revenge nor bear a grudge on a part of our own body, we should not do so toward another person.

Today I shall…

…try to think of other people as extensions of myself, and avoid responding with hostility when I am offended.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Cheshvan 30”

Rabbi Pliskin says that we should behave as we want to be. Rabbi Twerski says we should treat others as an extension of ourselves. Even the Master quoted Leviticus 19:18 as did Rabbi Twerski, when rendering the two greatest mitzvot (Matthew 22:37-40).

We hang in the balance between justice and mercy, between loving God and loving our neighbor. If we swing too far over to either side, we are no longer balanced. We just fall.

For more on balance including the terrible consequences of a life out of balance, please read Rabbi Yanki Tauber’s short article The Jealous Neighbor.

Overcoming with Good

negativeThe Almighty’s perspective is the ultimate perspective. It is the basis of reality. The real question we need to ask ourselves is, “What does the Almighty consider my true value to be?”

From the Almighty’s viewpoint, the answer is, “You are My child and you are precious. You are created in My image. In essence you are a Divine Soul. I have created the world for you. Your entire being and your value is a gift from Me. When you see yourself from My perspective, you know that you have infinite value. Your intrinsic worth is greater than anything that can be measured materially.”

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Daily Lift #984
“Almighty’s Perspective on Your True Value”

Just to let you know, this has nothing to do with my recent commentary on John MacArthur and his Strange Fire conference.

However, I recently have become aware of a resurgence of poor attitudes among believers in the blogosphere and the wider realm of the Internet. I guess it’s easier for these sentiments to be expressed in a semi-anonymous environment where accountability doesn’t appear to be an issue.

I’m not here to add to that negativity. Believe me, resisting this temptation is difficult, but in the end, if I didn’t, I would be no better than those I find who have betrayed friendship and trust.

There is always injustice in the world. Just as the Master said to his disciples that “you always have the poor with you,” it’s sad to say that we always have the unjust with us as well. Jesus went on to say “and whenever you wish you can do good to them,” reminding his listeners (and us) that poverty is an opportunity for us to help others and to do the right thing in his name. What can we say of the unjust? What opportunity do they present?

I could say they offer us the opportunity to be just and humane as they are unjust and inhumane, but the mistake here would be in attempting to confront others who, in their own “wisdom” and self-service, see themselves as upholding the cause of right.

No, confrontation and the continuation of angry words profits no one and does not serve man or God.

But there is another opportunity here. The opportunity is to uplift and uphold those who have been trampled on under the muddy and self-righteous boot. The opportunity is to offer healing words, an olive branch of peace, friendship, and hope.

unpopularRabbi Pliskin wrote the words I quoted above probably with the idea that he was addressing a primarily Jewish audience, but his words are true for everyone. We were all made in the image of God. To denigrate any human being is to lower that Godly image and even to drag it into the gutter. When people do this in believing they are serving God, it is a sad and miserable thing. It’s especially poignant that the instigators are woefully unaware of what they are doing and who they are hurting.

“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:41-46 (NASB)

…it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Matthew 18:6 (NASB)

I know that some in the Christian world feel they just have to “call out” people and behaviors, even to the point of betraying a trust to do so, but if you feel there is a conflict or you feel you have been hurt, there is a better way.

“But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:20-21 (NASB)

I encourage you all and especially my brothers and sisters in the faith, if you feel anger within you for another, if they are within the faith or not, consider the words of Paul. And please, please, consider the consequences for failure as spoken by our Master.

So you shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God.

Leviticus 25:17 (NASB)

For those among the believing community who purport to observe the Torah, this verse is the basis for one of the 613 commandments to not wrong someone in speech, which I would extend to wronging someone in the blogosphere or other text-based environment.

Standing before GodA large number of the mitzvot that are specific to “love and brotherhood” are found in Leviticus 19, such as “not to carry tales” (Lev. 19:16), “not to cherish hatred in one’s heart” (Lev. 19:17), “not to take revenge” (Lev. 19:18), “not to put anyone to shame” (Lev. 19:17), and “not to curse any other person (implying Jewish person)” (Lev. 19:14).

The core of these commandments is that all human beings are created in the image of God. To deliberately attempt to damage or cause harm to another person, regardless of the provocation, is to also deliberately attempt to damage or cause harm to God’s image.

Saying that you love God while trying to hurt another person is kind of crazy-making.

And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:37-40 (NASB)

Love of God and love of your fellow human being, regardless of who they are, even if they are not like you, even if they have different beliefs, even if they have a different outlook, are two acts that are inseparable. A man who says he loves God but hates or denigrates another person, plunging their name into the mud publicly, is a liar.

The image posted at the top of this blog post was the inspiration for today’s “extra meditation.”

Any negativity that comes to you today should be returned to the sender.

That is my only response to the negativity I’ve been addressing. There is no one to fight. There is no one to hate. Anger solves nothing and only robs the person giving into anger of his peace. I choose peace.

Today, any negativity I discover in the blogosphere or any other environment I encounter will be promptly returned to the sender. My peace will be preserved. This is also my gift to any friends who have been victims of negativity, hostility, or any other ungodly attitude.

open-your-handAnd in the end, the real victims of negativity are those who nurture it in their own hearts and attempt to send it out to others.

It is said that Shabbos is a small foretaste of the peace of the Messianic Era. The Queen arrives within just a few short hours. In the tiny march of time left until we light the candles, I implore anyone reading these words to set your house in order, and by the time the sun dips below the western horizon, please be ready to invite peace into your home, and into your heart. But of course, you will need to repent and ask God for forgiveness. And if you’ve hurt another human being, before God will forgive, you must repent and ask forgiveness from those you have hurt.

He who conceals a transgression seeks love,
But he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.

Proverbs 17:9 (NASB)

Good Shabbos.

Taking the Fork in the Road: Discussing Arminianism and Calvinism, Part 4

pass-failThe Arminian, whether strict, or moderate like Thiessen, will say that man is elect because he believes. The Calvinist asserts that man believes because he is elect. As long as Acts 13:48 and John 10:26 are part of the Bible, the Arminian definition of election which bases that election upon God’s foreknowledge of faith can never be maintained.

-Manfred E. Kober, Th.D.
“Chapter 4: The Demarcation of Modified Calvinism and Historic Baptist Beliefs,” pg 44
Divine Election or Human Effort?

Since they are both short, I blew through the last two chapters of Dr. Kober’s paper just to see how it was going to all get wrapped up. Not only does it come out as “Calvinists are right, Arminians are wrong,” but what’s more, Baptists are at the top of the heap.

OK, I may be exaggerating just a little, but it seems like what we’re really looking at is the continual disagreement between the two Protestant theories on the nature of election and salvation, created four-hundred years ago (sixteen-hundred years or more from the New Testament writers), and tinkered with ever since. Really, are these two perspectives the only way to read and interpret the Bible on this topic? Have we given up actually trying to understand how Paul might have really understood his own letters?

According to Kober and his supporting documentation, both Jesus and Paul were “Calvinists,” but like the doctrine of the rapture, we have to ask ourselves if the original apostolic authors understood the scriptures in an identical manner as latter-day Christian scholars? Remember, many latter-day Christian scholars also support supersessionism and predict that Jewish people have no place in the world to come unless they give up all Jewish practices and convert into Gentile Christians. Somewhere along the line, some Christians have missed a step or two.

I don’t have the theological chops to totally refute Calvinism (really, the whole Calvinism/Arminianism constructed framework), but hopefully, I’ve managed to punch a few holes in it and generated even a little bit of reasonable doubt.

On pages 46 and 47, Kober marries the Calvinist perspective with the “Creeds of the Baptists.” This is one reason why I’ll most likely never join a Christian denomination. I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to study and understand the Bible in all its colors and moods. How could I possibly accept the partitioned cardboard box into which any denomination forces the Bible and God?

So much for Chapter 4.

This paper opened with the duty of the theologian and it closes with an exhortation to the expositor of God’s Word. What is the expositor’s task in light of this awesome doctrine?

-Kober, “Chapter 5: The Demand Upon the Expositor”, pg 49

“Awesome doctrine?” Sure, if you’re a die-hard Calvinist and “winner of the game,” you can say it’s “awesome,” but some of us might call it something else. Take the following quote from Henry Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1949), p. 345:

In the minds of some people, election is a choice that God makes for which we can see no reason and which we can hardly harmonize with His justice…We are asked to accept the theory…which does (not) commend itself to our sense of justice.

Kober goes on to say that Thiessen self-admittedly creates his doctrine as much out of his emotions as any form of Bible study and scholarship, but he ignores the words of Thiessen he quoted. The argument, as presented in the quote, isn’t Election vs. man’s compassion, but Election vs. Justice.

I said in a prior blog post that man very much does have a stake in holding God to His own standard of justice:

So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” And the Lord went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham; and Abraham returned to his place.

Genesis 18:22-33 (NRSV)

plead1Abraham may have been “buttering his own bread” by pleading for Sodom since he knew that his nephew Lot and Lot’s family lived there, but on the other hand, he may really have been begging God to exercise His own standard of justice in not executing the good with the bad. God relented (or appeared to) when He said that He would spare Sodom if ten righteous men were to be found in the city. God was willing to be just for the sake of ten human beings.

Continuing to support his position, Kober quotes Romans 11:33:

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

However, taken out of context, this verse could be applied both ways. Can either Arminianist or Calvinist search the inscrutable judgments of God? What, besides a series of short quotes from different bits and pieces of the Bible and then strung together as if on a piece of fishing line, makes the Calvinist so sure that God must agree with their analysis of how election and salvation works in the Bible? Are you really sure?

Did Kober forget that in the same chapter of Romans, Paul also said, “all of Israel will be saved?” This is based on the idea that all Israel is elected by God, but even Paul laments that Jews who are lost for not knowing Christ, so how does that work?

On page 50, Kober says something curious.

It is never right to misrepresent an opposing view in order that a person’s position may be enhanced. The God of the Calvinist is not an arbitrary God but one who in His infinite wisdom plans every detail of the universe. Neither is the God of the Calvinist a hard God. The Calvinist is quite convinced that a merciful God will redeem as many sinners as is possible without violating His justice and righteousness.

Now who is limiting God’s power, sovereignty, mercy, and justice? As many sinners as possible? I thought all things were possible with God (Matthew 19:26). Kober seems to be saying that there are some things that are not possible with God and that, in order to make them possible, He has to violate His own principles. It is that, or is the concern that if God did make it possible (has made it possible), it would violate Calvinist theory?

I don’t say that God is hard (although He is hard to understand sometimes), but I don’t accept that the Calvinist has one God and the Arminianist has another. God is God. If something has gone haywire, we can’t blame God but we can blame human reasoning and understanding (or the lack thereof).

On page 51, Kober quotes from the preface of Perry Fitzwater’s book, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1948), p. 7.

There is no mediating position between Calvinism and Arminianism. We shall not vacillate but oscillate between them. Sometimes the viewpoint will be that of a high Calvinist and sometimes that of a low Arminian.

I’ve said before, “Is it too much to ask for both?”

Actually, in my recent blog posts where I look at the Bible from rather different and difficult perspectives, I’m trying to introduce the idea that we can look at the Calvinism-Arminianism debate from a meta point of view, rising above and outside the context of the argument itself so we can observe, not one side or the other as opposing perspectives, but as a unified dynamic that exists as a single entity.

(Speaking of meta, if I attempt to take on Calvinism or Arminianism on their own home grounds, I’d probably “lose” so I choose to meet them outside their usual context. I know that sounds like cheating, but it’s also the only way David beat Goliath. If David and put on armor and carried a sword and shield into battle against the giant, he’d have lost and Israel’s greatest King – this side of Messiah – would never have ascended the throne. David stepped outside the entire context and framework of military battle and, treating Goliath like an invading lion trying to devour his sheep, the young shepherd won the day.)

Within the traditional context which Kober presents, one doesn’t talk of Calvinism without speaking or Arminianism and vice versa. As I’ve also said before, I don’t accept the “either-or-ness” of the argument because both sides are trying to contain God within their own construct rather than letting God be God as sovereign.

I know the Calvinists think they’re letting God be sovereign but only on their own terms. Different Christian denominations do more or less the same thing, defining God in relation to their own theology and doctrine, not imagining that God exists in a way that cannot be “boxed up”.

This last part on page 52 was a real capper for me.

Unfortunately, many pastors shy away from the doctrine of election, so that most Christians have never been clearly instructed in this precious truth.

Precious truth? It may be precious to Kober who no doubt believes he’s among the elect and doesn’t appear to generate a great deal of concern for those who are not. I’ve read all the defenses of Calvinism but here’s what it comes down to if preached from the pulpit (this is just my imagination):

Some of you are saved and others will burn in hell and there’s nothing you can do about it one way or the other.

unworthyKober ends his paper saying there’s no harmful effects to Calvinism but I can tell you that it hasn’t done me a world of good.

There are too many times when Abraham, Moses, or some other prophet or holy person has begged God to uphold justice and mercy and not exterminate people, even when they deserve it. In the majority of cases, God has agreed even though it’s within His rights to wipe everyone out whenever He pleases and start all over again (He did that once by flooding as you may recall). God seems to be OK with humans begging Him to show compassion to other humans and I think it’s something He’s encouraging in us.

Calvinists can come up with many Biblical justifications for their theory and why their opponents are bad Biblical scholars, but I will not let Calvinists and Arminians force me into a choice that flies in the face of thousands of years of God’s interactions with humanity where He has been merciful as well as just, forgiving and relenting as well as sovereign over all.

I’ve talked before about Talmud and Quantum Physics which is a very strange way to approach the Bible, but its one in which people can engage God, talk to God, even struggle with God on difficult moral and ethical issues. God is sovereign. I fully believe that. To believe otherwise is to deny that God is God and that He has the power to be Creator and compassionate savior. But somewhere in the space between the Heavenly Court and the dust of a lowly humanity, God allows us to encounter Him in a place we can’t quite understand and that may not always follow the simple “A, B, C, D” sequencing of a Calvinist. It’s a space where God is absolute and sovereign and where human beings have the opportunity to bring our case before the King and the Judge…and where we know He will listen because He is also a loving Father and supportive Teacher.

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words…

Romans 8:26

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

At the end of my days, God will judge me and He will mete out whatever consequences, for good or for ill, that it is His pleasure to deliver. I pray for a favorable outcome, but as I look at myself, there’s no guarantee. What man knows if His name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life until it is read aloud by the Lamb himself?

If the Calvinists are right about God, then I may have been conceived and born in hopelessness and everything I’ve said or done is in vain. But if God allows His mercy to even slightly outweigh His justice, then it may still be possible for man to relent, to turn from sin, beg forgiveness, and step into the light.

I pray that can be true for me. I pray that can be true for all of us.