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Why Does the Supreme Court Get to Define Marriage?

I wasn’t going to write about the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationally, but I read something on Facebook that changed my mind.

Actually, it was something I wrote in response to another person’s post, plus a few other comments I’ve seen crop up in the religious blogosphere that prompted this particular “meditation.”

What is marriage?

Oh gee, is that all. How do we define marriage?

Rather than go into a complex set of situational, societal, moral, and religious variables, let’s stick with whatever it is that gives SCOTUS the right to define same-sex marriage as a right.

After all, there seems to be some online conservative push back that wants “the State” to keep out of our marriages. What gives the State the right to poke their noses into the state of matrimony?

At the level of two individuals committing their lives to one another, the answer is “nothing.” Any two people can approach the clergy-person of their choice and ask to be married. The kicker comes in when you include a marriage license.

Why does something sanctioned by God need to be licensed by the State?

So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.

Matthew 19:6 (NASB)

Taking that quote in isolation, it seems to send a pretty clear message. The “institution” of marriage is sanctioned by God. Couples, in the context of the Bible in general and Matthew 19 specifically,  are made up of one man and one woman, are joined together by God and no person (or presumably human institution) should separate that union.

supreme court
The Supreme Court Justices

So if God joins two people together, why does anyone need a marriage license issued by the state where they are to be married?

So that the state, and the nation (and really, the world) will legally recognize that marriage.

Why do we need that?

Well, for tax reasons for one thing. Haven’t you made decisions about tax exemptions based on whether or not you’re married and how many kids you have?

What about making someone who was once a stranger legally into a family member. This has terrific advantages if you get into an accident and are hospitalized, since your legal spouse, but not someone you’re just living with, has rights as far as visiting you in such a medical setting.

And if, heaven forbid, the marriage doesn’t work out and you two don’t see eye-to-eye about things like alimony or child support payments, the fact that you were in a legal marital relationship allows the court to administer said-relationship’s dissolution and issue orders for the caretaking and well-being of the financially disadvantaged spouse (if necessary) and any dependent children.

If you remove the state from all that, then you may have a marriage sanctioned by God, but you’ll have a heck of a time managing or even acquiring anything close to the legal rights you have relative to each other as a married couple as well as those to your children (although, even if you aren’t married to your partner, if you have biologically created a child with that person, you automatically have parental rights to said-child under most circumstances).

gay marriageAnd so we come to the matter of opposite-sex marriage vs. same-sex marriage as a legal entity.

This really has nothing to do with how God sees things and what combination of human beings He sanctions to be joined within marriage. SCOTUS doesn’t get to say “boo” about what God desires and what He allows. A select group of five lawyers (the five Supreme Court Justices who voted to legalize marriage equality) are only empowered to decide how marriage is legally defined in the United States. It doesn’t determine how marriage is defined morally or religiously to the slightest degree.

So in reality, Gay and Lesbian couples could have gotten married in an emotional and relational sense (and even a religious sense given the number of liberal churches and synagogues available) for years or even decades (or longer) in this country (or anywhere).

It’s only the matter of the State (big “S”) granting gay couples the same legal rights that opposite-sex married couples often tend to take for granted that is the issue.

The United States of America has become the 21st nation on the planet to legalize same-sex marriage with no variation within its individual states, provinces, or territories. If we want to determine the social consequences of legalizing marriage equality, including the long-term results of same-sex parenting, we might want to see if any of those other nations can be compared to us.

I am more than aware there is what amounts to a collective panic attack within various religious spheres relative to “Sodom and Gomorrah” being legalized (and just exactly what the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was that deserved a divine death penalty isn’t, at least Rabbinically, as straightforward as you might have been led to believe).

I’m also aware that of all the things Paul the Apostle addressed in his epistles, he never directly complained that idolatry and homosexuality were sanctioned within the Roman Empire.

He did preach against sexual immorality among the body of believers, but he never tried to change the laws of the prevailing society and culture in which these disciples lived.

Of course, there was no such a thing as “loving same-sex couples” or “marriage equality” in the Empire. To the best of my understanding, a Roman citizen could have a same-sex slave or non-citizen as a sexual partner as long (forgive me for being blunt) as the citizen was the “penetrator” and never the “penetratee”. Turns out these “relationships” were more about dominance and power and less (if at all) about love and affection, at least as far as the historical record is concerned.

Apostle Paul preachingSo if the matter of homosexuality was ever on the Apostle’s radar, it was only in terms of those individuals making up the ekklesia of Messiah. For the Jewish members, it probably was already a well-known norm and Torah commandment. Paul most likely only had to deal with those non-Jews coming out of paganism whereby same-sex sex may have been involved as part of the local cultic temple practices or some such thing.

Given Paul’s example, do we need to start a revolution and overthrow our government in order to stop the national “sin” of marriage equality? Rome fell (and if homosexual practices were part of the Empire’s downfall, I have no way of telling), and no doubt at some point, so will the United States. I don’t think we can stop it.

As much as that might be a heartbreaker for you or for me, the only nation that really matters to God as far as being eternal is Israel.

SCOTUS has made a ruling involving the legal definition of marriage for our nation as related to the rights and responsibilities of married and divorced (or divorcing) couples in terms of each other and their children.

Anyone who desires to become legally married is really wanting to enter into a contractual relationship with another human being to gain certain financial advantages and other rights. In that sense, any two reasonable human beings should have that right, since it primarily is a right they acquire relative to each other and to the government (remember tax exemptions). It’s also a legal entity that is designed, however imperfectly, to protect children should one or both parents decide they don’t want to behave responsibly.

I am aware that are a lot of other collateral issues that legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide brings up, but I’m not going to address any of them. Plenty of other bloggers, news writers, and social and religious pundits can, will, and probably have already done so.

I just thought the little but important detail of what marriage is legally as separated from its relational, romantic, moral, and religious reality needed to be teased out and brought to the forefront for a little bit, just so we could take a look at what SCOTUS did in context.

Jay Michaelson
Jay Michaelson

I’ve reviewed such books as God and the Gay Christian and God Vs. Gay: The Religious Case for Equality, and while I had to agree, based on what I read, that the “anti-Gay” message of the Bible isn’t nearly as definitive as Evangelical Christianity seems to believe, I also found no presumption for God’s sanctioning the marriage of “loving same-sex couples” within either the covenant people of Israel or the ekklesia of Messiah (body of Christ).

If two secular same-sex people want to get married, legally, in any state of the union, there’s nothing to stop them, and in most circumstances I can imagine, it has very little to do with we religious folk on a day-to-day basis.

On the other hand, if two same-sex people claim to be Christian or Torah-observant Jews and desire to become legally and God-sanctioned married, I still think there’s a problem, at least based on how I read the Bible.

Married same-sex couples are not represented or even presupposed in the Bible. I won’t speak to all of those secular gays who are married or who are going to become married. There are plenty of other laws in the U.S. I chafe against for various reasons, and some of them have more to do with my life as a believer and just plain human being than marriage equality.

All I will say, is that if you are Christian or a (an Orthodox) religious Jew, you’re gay, and you want your religious institution to sanction your marriage (believing God is sanctioning it, too), then I just don’t see a Biblical case for it. That’s out of the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction. God will have to make that judgment.

Oh, and if you haven’t figured it out already, then prepare to be inundated with all things rainbow in celebration of the SCOTUS decision. And I promise you that those rainbows have absolutely nothing to do with God’s covenant promise to all living things never again to flood the Earth.

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Moral vs. Legal Imperatives and Marriage Equality

same-sex-marriage2Supreme Court justices seemed skeptical of creating a new federal right to same-sex marriage as they grilled lawyers this morning in a potentially landmark case over California’s ban on gay marriages.

As the politics change by the day, the court heard a case — Proposition 8 — that could drastically change how states and the federal government approach one of the touchiest social issues of the past decade.

The justices today challenged lawyers on both sides on common points of contention that arise whenever gay marriage is debated.

-Chris Good, Terry Moran, Ariane DeVogue, and Sarah Parnass
“Supreme Court Justices Struggle with Federal Right to Gay Marriage”
ABC News

I shouldn’t do this. I shouldn’t write one single word about this subject. I’m going to get in trouble with just about everyone when they read this. My Pastor reads my blog. My Mother reads my blog. Boy, am I in for it.

Then why I’m I writing this? I’m tempted to write it because the news media is just plain shoving it down everyone’s throat today. I can’t get away from it. Even other religious blogs are demanding Christians support same-sex marriage. But then, this is really is big news, regardless of which side of the fence you’re on. It will affect not only the state of “marriage equality” in California as related to Prop. 8, but potentially the “rights” of same-sex couples to become married in all fifty states (I put “rights” in quotes because of the question, can something be a “right” that hasn’t been established as such yet? But I digress).

But that’s not the reason I’m writing this. I’m a Christian. I’m kind of unconventional, but my general stance on homosexuality is that the Bible doesn’t support it. However, like most Christians, I can’t always immediately point to my source data in the Bible. So I guess I’d better go looking for it.

Thanks to Google, the search is brief, if not particularly focused. I land on a site called ChristianBibleReference.org and an article called, “What Does the Bible say about Homosexuality?”

I won’t quote everything, but they provide a handy bullet point list for reference:

  • 2 refer to rape (Genesis 19:5, Judges 19:22)
  • 5 refer to cult prostitution (Deuteronomy 23:17-18, 1 Kings 14:23-24, 15:12-13, 22:46, 2 Kings 23:6-8)
  • 1 refers to prostitution and pederasty (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
  • 4 are nonspecific (Leviticus 18:21-22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Timothy 1:8-10)

OK, let’s consider a few things. Any references in the Torah or the entire Tanakh (Old Testament) that specifically prohibit homosexual behavior are within the context of the laws and statutes that apply to the Children of Israel. While God may or may not disdain homosexual behavior for all human beings in general, the Tanakh prohibitions don’t apply to all human beings in general. They apply (there may be exceptions, but for the most part) to the Jewish people; the inheritors of the Sinai covenant.

So if you’re not part of that covenant by birth or conversion, then those laws don’t apply to you.

Stay with me. I’m just getting started.

What about the New Testament?

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Romans 1:24-27

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine,

1 Timothy 1:8-10

Christian-Campus-GayThere are other scriptures that address sexual immorality (which in some cases may or may not be specific to homosexuality) in the New Testament, but these are two of the most “damning.”

But in my brief Google search, I did find a blogger who wrote an article called Why The Bible DOES NOT Forbid Homosexuality. He provided a defense based on Romans 1 and basically ignored 1 Timothy 1 or many other NT scriptures, relying on statements citing other sources such as the following:

Homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is a sexual orientation. Sexual orientation deals with a person’s sexual attraction to another person’s sexual organs.

In first century, Roman imperial culture, homosexual sex was a fairly common practice but only as a specific, social function.

The blog author tried to link the latter quote with the “neither male nor female” portion of Galatians 3:28 but bottom line, I wasn’t convinced. He was heavy on history and social commentary but light on providing a clear illustration of how the Bible was either neutral on the topic or even “pro-gay.” The blog post is almost a year old and has 67 responding comments, all of which I have not read. I’m not interested in joining that particular debate (which ended last November with the last comment) and it’s certainly not the point of what I’m writing today.

The general moral and ethical structure of Christianity is taken largely from Judaism. How can it not, since Christianity has grown and evolved from the first century Jewish sect known as “the Way?” Therefore, I wouldn’t expect Jesus, Paul, or the rest of the apostles to teach moral and ethical principles that differed significantly from their “source material,” the Torah. Therefore, it’s unlikely that Jesus and his followers would have taught a social/sexual practice that was different and specifically not one that reversed something that appears quite plain in the Torah. Why would they?

Of course, many people are quick to point out that Christianity doesn’t follow the kosher laws either and that Jacob had twelve wives, and Solomon had more wives and concubines than you could shake a proverbial stick at, so can Christianity reasonably reach back into the Torah for its binding principles?

It gets complicated in the explanation, but Jesus was specific in saying the following:

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Matthew 19:3-6

So Jesus is defining marriage specifically between a man and woman and not allowing any “wiggle room” for two men or two women. Yes, he was talking to a Jewish audience, but this is one principle that has been extended to the non-Jewish disciples of the Master (i.e. Christians). I know there are Christians and Jews who hold religious beliefs that accept homosexual behavior and include support of “marriage equality,” but we need to be careful not to mix and match principles of faith with political correctness or even secular law.

Which brings me to a couple of points, one of which I mentioned above. If the Torah forbids homosexual behavior, it does so within the context of the covenants that apply to the Jewish people, specifically the Sinai covenant. If you are not Jewish, then the Torah doesn’t apply to you since you’re not a covenant member. End of story.

abraham-covenant-starsChristianity has a covenant relationship with God based on a portion of the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3) which was extended by the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36) and then applied by the Messiah in the Gospels (see Luke 22:17-20 for instance). Unlike Jews, Christians are not born into a covenant relationship with God. We must choose to become Christians. Once we do, then we are bound by the covenant and all that it contains, which traditionally includes a prohibition against homosexual behavior.

But if you aren’t Jewish and you aren’t a Christian, you aren’t a covenant member and therefore, the “rules” don’t apply to you. It’s arguable that the Noahide Laws, which at least Orthodox Judaism considers binding on literally everyone, prohibits homosexuality as one of the forbidden relationships, but that definition is set by religious Judaism and if you don’t buy into that, you aren’t going to feel too “bound” just because you’re a human being.

(In the end, God has the right to judge everyone, covenant member or not, but that’s not the point of today’s missive.)

What I’m getting at is that if a person isn’t a recognized member of a covenant relationship with God, can you as a religious Jew or a Christian actually make them responsible for upholding moral and ethical behaviors defined by your beliefs? If you consider homosexual behavior a sin and there are secular gay people in the world, how are they any better or worse than say, a secular bank robber or (heterosexual) adulterer?

I suppose gay readers or readers who support gay rights might be chafing at this point in my narrative, but I’m speaking to a religious audience from within that context. I understand you do not equate a man loving another man with a man robbing a bank or a man cheating on his wife.

Now to my other point.

Whatever the Supreme Court does or doesn’t do has nothing to do with your faith.

A number of important laws in our country, and in most countries, more or less mirror what we read in the Bible. The Bible has a commandment against murder. Generally, murder is illegal in this country. The Bible is against stealing. We have laws against stealing. But we also have a lot of laws that range from morally ambiguous to just plain crazy from a Biblical point of view. What do you do about laws permitting marijuana use in some states but not others? What do you do about the legality of heterosexual marriage in general when the first man and woman in Genesis presumably weren’t married? How the U.S. Supreme Court interprets the Constitution today would probably have driven the Founding Fathers insane, so how can we reconcile the Bible to laws in the United States of America in the 21st century?

Religious Jews and Christians historically have lived in nations where the penal and civil laws did not completely (or sometimes in any sense) match up with the religious “laws” of Jews and Christians. Where do we get the idea that the Supreme Court has to interpret the Constitution in a way that makes us feel comfortable and is consistent with our definition of marriage?

My personal opinion is that it is only a matter of time until our nation permits homosexual marriage in all fifty states (whether individual states want to permit it or not). As an American citizen, I have feelings about that, but as a Christian, can I impose my morality on the law of the land? Yes, the law of the land imposes itself on me because I’m an American citizen, but if the law permits a man and a woman to live together and have a sexual relationship, and that is also against my religious beliefs, why am I not protesting or complaining about that?

I know someone is going to mention abortion which is A) legal, and B) generally against Christian moral principles, but if you believe life is sacred and you believe life begins at conception or at some point before 10 or 20 weeks gestation, then you also believe that aborting an unborn child is killing a baby.

Another “unpopular” subject to be sure but it is a subject for another time.

same-sex-marriage4If the Supreme Court rules that it is unconstitutional for the State of California (and this decision will affect all other states ultimately) to pass a law forbidding same-sex couples from marrying, what am I as a Christian supposed to do about it? Can I hold the world around me to the same moral standards to which I hold myself?

I know I’ve probably upset everyone who has managed to make it through this lengthy article. It was not my intent and I didn’t write this just to be a pest. I’m trying to process this information within myself (which is why I write most of my blogs) and I’m trying to present an alternate point of view, one that doesn’t say “all gays are good” or “all gays are bad” either because that’s how I may feel on a visceral level or because I believe that’s what the Bible is saying to me.

I have a responsibility to God to live my life in a manner consistent with my faith and my beliefs. If my brother or sister in faith appears to be stumbling, I believe I have a responsibility to gently point out that they may have a problem and to offer to help them.

But if someone outside the faith appears to be having a moral problem, what is my responsibility (however, if I see, for instance, a secular man beating his child, the state of his faith is irrelevant and I do have a responsibility to protect the innocent)? If my nation is passing laws that appear to have a moral problem but otherwise aren’t the equivalent of making it legal for adults to beat children, what is my responsibility?

I’m not an attorney, but I have racked my brain trying to look at the marriage equality issue from a strictly legal perspective, temporarily putting aside both my faith and my visceral response.

I can’t find a legal reason to forbid such unions, regardless of my moral stance. So now what do I do?

Let the “hate mail” begin.

God in the Dark Wasteland

desert-at-dusk“If you want to truly understand something, try to change it.”

-Kurt Lewin, German-American psychologist

The Hebrew word “midrash” literally means “research” or “investigation,” but through rabbinic usage the term has come to mean “the investigation of scripture.” A commentary on scripture, a piece of scriptural exegesis, a veiled allusion to a scriptural passage, a retelling of scriptural material – all these are called midrash (in plural, midrashim). The term has become so popular in recent years that in modern parlance it is virtually synonymous with “exegesis,” and any textual interpretation that is not absolutely true to its source is dubbed “midrash.” (And since – according to modern literary critics – no textual interpretation can be absolutely true to its source, all textual interpretation is midrash.)

-Shaye J.D. Cohen
Chapter 6: “Canonization and Its Implication: Scriptural Interpretation”
From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, Second Edition (Kindle Edition)

Midrash is one of those forms of Biblical interpretation where Judaism and Christianity seem to part company. From some extreme perspectives existing outside of Judaism, midrash seems equivalent to “flights of fancy” or even “creative fiction.” On the other hand, according to Cohen, the word “midrash” occurs twice in the Tanakh (Old Testament): “the midrash of Iddo the prophet” in 2 Chron. 13:22 and “the midrash of the book of kings” in 2 Chron. 24:27. Both of these works are lost and Cohen states that these ancient “midrashim” should be considered closer to “stories” or “histories”  rather than the later use of the term as exegesis.

The Greek word “historia” has the same literal meaning as “midrash,” but is more commonly used to describe a “research” or “investigation” into history or the past rather than into scripture.

When used in its verb form “darash,” it refers to people seeking or inquiring of God, but where in Biblical times, the Hebrews sought God directly, once Torah and the Prophets had been canonized in the Second Temple period and into the common era, it meant Jews seeking God through Torah.

Believe it or not, everything I’ve said so far can be applied to Christianity (and not just Catholicism, either) and if you’ll be patient, I’ll explain.

One of the most “objectionable” uses of the midrashic process from the church’s point of view (including the variants that exist under the general category of “Hebrew Roots”) is how the Rabbinic sages seem to shift the meaning and application of the Torah commandments over time.

Perhaps the most radical function of scriptural exegesis was that it allowed Jews to affirm undying loyalty to a text written centuries earlier for a very different society living under very different conditions.

A living culture cannot live in accordance with the dictates of an immovable text. Either a way must be found to introduce flexibility into the text, or the text sooner or later will have to be rejected. In the United States, the interpretations of the Supreme Court allow the government to function in accordance with a document written by a group of eighteenth-century politicians. The Supreme Court interprets the Constitution, but, of course, routinely interprets it in a manner that would have amazed the Founding Fathers. No matter. Historians must try to determine what the Constitution meant in its eighteenth-century context, but the Supreme Court must determine what it means for contemporary society. Rather than write a new constitution every few generations, the United States authorizes the Supreme Court to misinterpret the Constitution for the common good. Similarly, the Jews of antiquity routinely misinterpreted (the usual euphemism is “reinterpreted”) scripture to remove laws and ideas they found objectionable, and to introduce laws and ideas that answered their own needs.

-Cohen, ibid

rabbis-talmud-debateMy, but doesn’t that sound incredibly cynical. But what if it’s true? I know that in many forms of religious Judaism, it is commonly accepted that God gave humanity (specifically through the Rabbis) the ability to interpret Torah for each generation so that the commandments could be applied in a manner that was relevant to the lives of the Jews of that generation. I suppose, depending on your point of view, this process could also justify more than a little “social engineering” within certain sects of Judaism, just as the Supreme Court in the current day seems to be interpreting the Constitution in accordance with the social and political needs of the prevailing “politically correct” perspective (I promise I won’t get “political” except in passing).

As I said before, Christians, especially those who subscribe to a sola scriptura viewpoint on Biblical interpretation, tend to take a dim view of all this “creative exegesis” of the Bible. But on the other hand, it’s not like Christianity has completely clean hands, either.

The identification of biblical laws and heroes with philosophical principles and moral qualities is known as “allegory.” This type of exegesis found a secure home in Christianity, and became one of the favored ways for explaining why Christians do not obey the laws of the Old Testament. Since Christians obey the allegorical meaning of the laws…they need not obey the literal meaning…In fact, some Christian polemicists in the second century argued that the laws were never even intended to be followed literally.

The early Christians believed that the messianic prophecies of Isaiah were “fulfilled” through Jesus, but most other Jews did not agree.

-ibid

In that last statement, Cohen, in referring to “early Christians,” is talking about the Jews in the Messianic sect of Judaism known as “the Way,” and he is applying a fairly traditional interpretation of what the “Jewish Christians” believed based on popular Christian theology (the Law was “nailed to the cross” and so on).

But as far as agreement and disagreement goes, Cohen brings up a good point.

All Jews who affirmed the validity of scripture had to engage in exegesis. They did not always agree – the Sadducees rejected the traditions of the Pharisees – but all were involved in the same activity.

Guess where we are today?

Although allegory isn’t the only wrench in the Christian toolbox anymore, we still employ more than a little “creative interpretation” in our theology/theologies. If we didn’t and if we didn’t have a long, long history of doing so, “Christianity” would probably still look a lot more “first-century Jewish” than it does today (which is to say, it doesn’t look Jewish at all anymore).

new-testament-allegoryOf course, if we remove the “allegory” wrench from the second-century Christian toolbox, does that mean the non-Jewish Christians (Cohen is assuming that all “Christians,” Jewish and otherwise, set the Law aside, but I’ve presented enough evidence on my blog, including comments by New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado, showing that Paul had no problem with Jews in Messiah leading a completely consistent Torah life…he only had a problem with forcing the Gentile disciples to Torah obligation) should be obeying “the Law” today?

For lots and lots of reasons, which I’ve chronicled at length in my Return to Jerusalem series, I don’t believe so. I do believe that the non-Jewish disciples of the mid to late first-century and into the second most likely “kept” a lot more Torah than most Christians believe or could tolerate, but that they weren’t obligated in the same manner as the Jews. Many of them no doubt observed the Shabbat in some manner, kept kosher or at least attempted to, prayed at the set times of prayer, read and studied the Torah and the Prophets, and when they could, read Paul’s letters or if he was present, listened to his spoken paradosis on the teachings of Jesus.

But the schism that began even in the days of Paul, and that widened dramatically in the following several centuries, finally sent Judaism and Christianity off on two separate trajectories across history. Derek Leman believes that “actual communities of Messianic Jews between about 500 and 1735 CE are very rare, approaching negligible,” but I suspect they didn’t exist at all, leaving a multi-century gap in history when no Jewish person kept a faith of any sort in Jesus as the true Messiah King.

Christians see “Rabbinic Jews” as being hip-deep in midrash, commentary, rulings, laws, judgments, and legal minutiae that would “cross a Rabbi’s eyes,” but the church has the same “problem.” We just hide it better. More to the point, we fail to consciously acknowledge that when we interpret the Bible, we are doing it looking through rose-colored glasses or rather “Church-colored glasses.”

I’m not saying this to be mean, but rather to be accurate. Human beings don’t have unfiltered access to the Bible. Most of us don’t read Biblical Hebrew and Greek and even if we did, we don’t have the original, original texts at our disposal. And even if we did, we would still have to work our way through layers and layers of social programming, theological history, and personal bias before we could access not only the text as it is (or was) but the context in which it was written, including the social programming, theological history, and personal bias of the people who wrote the Bible.

Oh yeah, the Holy Spirit. No, I didn’t forget. But my personal theory (here’s my own bias) is that the Spirit just didn’t dictate the Bible into the ears of the Bible writers, but through some fashion, “partnered” with them to create a collaborative effort, which is why we have the different books of the Bible written in different styles, perspectives, genres, and so on.

Thus, I’m disinclined to give the “Rabbinic Jews” and “Jewish midrash” too much of a hard time for manipulating and “misinterpreting” the scriptures so they’ll fit each generation when, as far as I can tell, Christianity…all of Christianity, is guilty of the same thing to one degree or another.

I know there are a few churches out there that make claim to “absolute truth.” I know a few of them believe they exist in a direct, unbroken line from the first apostles until the present day without change, and are the only “true church.” My personal opinion of that perspective is a semi-polite “baloney.” It think each and every one of us and the religious institutions to which we belong are blindly searching for God while locked in a room that is completely blacked out. We’re crawling on our hands and knees trying to feel for the key that will get us out of there, or are running our palms along the walls hoping we’ll stumble across the light switch.

My advice to anyone who believes that Jews are hopelessly mired in midrash or that Christians are trapped in the web of useless allegory is to dial down the claims to absolute truth you’re making and consider your own position. It might be on your hands and knees in a room with no lights.

silhouette-of-woman-in-sunset-partNo, it’s not that hopeless, otherwise I’d never be able to find faith and hope in my own dark room. If we can’t find the illumination we need and frankly should be emitting, I think we can still find a tiny spark or the nearly infinitesimal flicking flame from our last candle. Or is it really the glare from a blinding searchlight and we’re just too blind to see God’s light for what it really is? Maybe that’s what theology, bias, prejudice, and social programming has done to us. Walled us in and shut God out. Or is it the other way around?

It doesn’t matter. Abraham was justified by faith and maybe that’s what we’ve forgotten. Faith works under any circumstance. It works in the darkest night and in the brightest day. It works up high and down deep. It works when we’re experiencing glorious joy and when we’ve sunk into the unending abyss of despair and loneliness. It works when we offend people and when we feel negligible and insignificant.

Someday we’ll know but until then, while we may be doing quite a bit of guessing, we can still cry and bleed and pray to God that He will allow us a brief encounter with Him. We can hope that the encounter will be gentle and not mind-rippingly overwhelming. We can trust that He’ll have pity on us…poor, blind, naked, stupid human beings who think we’re a whole lot more cool and smart than we really are.

Your religion and mine aren’t the point. What we know and whether or not we can “prove” we’re smarter than the other guy and his religion isn’t the point. At the end of the day, we are each of us one person alone, naked, standing in the desert, watching the last glow of the sun rapidly diminish below the sandy, wind-swept horizon. It gets very dark and cold in the desert at night. There are scary things out there. How can we ever hope to survive even for a single hour…unless we expect to encounter God by faith while standing in the dark wasteland of our lives?

Today I shall…

…try to recognize my self-worth, while being aware that my strengths are a Divine gift. I am no better than any of God’s creatures, and I should not allow barriers to develop between myself and them.

Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski