Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Kosher Church Picnic

I

In Acts chapter 10, something incredibly monumental has taken place. The Apostle Peter has gone to the home of a Centurion by the name of Cornelius and shared the Gospel with he and his household who come to believe. As evidence of their faith, they begin speaking in tongues. It is now official. Gentiles can believe in Y'shua too! Peter had also brought an entourage of Jewish believers in Y'shua with him, who testified to the veracity of these events.

Acts chapter 11 begins with the reality that word of this small, seemingly insignificant occurrence had spread throughout Judea. This was not particularly appreciated by the Jewish believers who'd gotten wind of it. The notion that Peter would even so much as eat with uncircumcised Gentiles was anathema. Breaking bread, as it were, implied fellowship... commonality. Now that Jews and Gentiles both found commonality in Y'shua, the “wall of partition” between the two had been knocked down. It was now, not only permissible to eat but desirable to eat together.

But this notion did not sit well with the Jewish believers. In fact, it did not initially sit well with Peter either. And so Peter has to set up his defense to justify this new form of conduct. What led Peter to bring the Gospel to Cornelius and his family? Was his defense air-tight? Furthermore, an even more vexing question arose from this. Part and parcel to Peter's defense was the issue of kashrut. Is it now, lawful for a Jew to eat what Moses had previously forbidden? I'm still not sure that I have a truly Biblical answer to this question as I wrestle with it in the course of this paper, but as I do wrestle with it, perhaps I'll come up with a satisfactory answer. If not, I believe that I may impart in my Gentile brother or sister, the vexing nature of this problem and an appreciation for some of the struggles of his Jewish brother in Y'shua.

II

So, in Acts chapter 11 verse 2, Peter proceeds to give a defense for his having preached the Gospel to a Gentile. He begins by essentially recounting the series of events that led up to Cornelius' “conversion”1.

He recalls how, while in a trance, he saw a vision of a sheet coming down from heaven, to where he was. In the sheet he saw all sorts of animals which, from their description, implied that they were unclean.

What was an unclean animal? Leviticus 11 gives the key to this question by defining what a clean animal is. It is any animal that has a divided hoof and chews the cud. Hence, any animal that chews the cud but does not part the hoof is unclean and was not to be eaten. Likewise, any animal that parts the hoof but does not chew the cud is also unclean and not to be eaten. Certainly, any animal that neither chews the cud nor parts the hoof, is unclean and not to be eaten. This is why it is common knowledge that orthodox Jews don't eat bacon or pork.

Leviticus 11 goes on to list specific birds that are unclean and may not be eaten. From the list, in summary, one can conclude that unclean birds are essentially birds of prey and carrion eaters. This may be what accounts for the reality that the Jewish mother is the most adept of individuals at cooking almost every part of a chicken.

Flying insects with jointed legs for hopping such as locusts, katydids, crickets or grasshoppers are regarded as clean. All other flying insects are unclean. This undoubtedly is why one doesn't read of the Prophet, Elijah or John the Baptist having a diet consisting of chocolate covered flying ants but they did, however, eat locusts along with honey.

Fish with fins and scales are clean and may be eaten. Any other sea creature is unclean. Catfish are unclean. Lobster, crab and shrimp are unclean.

Creatures that move on the ground on their bellies are unclean. Of particular note are snakes. Presumably because the serpent was cursed by God back in the garden and made to crawl on his belly, a particularly harsh warning is given against Jewish consumption of that sort of creature.

You are not to eat any creature that moves along the ground, whether it moves on its belly or walks on all fours or on many feet; it is unclean. Do not defile yourselves by any of these creatures. Do not make yourselves unclean by means of them or be made unclean by them. I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves along the ground.2

Condemnation for the consumption of these unclean animals was so great that if a cooking utensil had even the slightest contact with an unclean animal or the carcass of an unclean animal, the utensil was to be broken.

In light of this backdrop, with its utter and complete prohibition of the consumption of unclean animals, Peter recounts his vision. He sees the sheet with the unclean animals swarming all over it. Interestingly enough, it seems that, excluded from the list of creatures Peter saw were the creatures that moved along the ground on their bellies. Nevertheless, prohibition against their consumption was quite clear to Peter. Then he hears a voice telling him “Get up Peter. Kill and eat.

This command which was given to Peter was sure to cause cognitive dissonance. He replied
'Surely not, LORD! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.'

A retort came from the LORD...
'Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.'

This exchange between Peter and the LORD occurred three times before Peter was willing to acquiesce.

Even then, he still needed further evidence. Peter had seen a vision. No one else had seen his vision. Peter could very easily have been lying or hallucinating. Mohammed also claimed to have had visions. Yet no one else had been present to hear Muhammad’s conversations with the alleged angel, “Gebriel”. The test for Biblical veracity is much more stringent than that of Islam. Therefore who is to believe that this vision seen by only one man, Peter, has any manner of credibility? How can one man's vision possibly abrogate a set of laws whose authority had been attributed to God and whose traditions had endured for over one and one-half millennia prior to then?

The accounts in Acts lend some credibility to the conclusions drawn from Peter's vision. Scripture, for one thing, argues that a matter can only be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses3. Hence, Peters vision required at least one other witness in order to be verified. That witness, was Cornelius, the Roman centurion.

Prior to Peters seeing of his vision, Cornelius had had a vision. He saw an angel of God who told him to send men to Joppa to get Peter to come to his home. As Peter was thinking about the vision that he'd seen, the Spirit of God told him that three men had come to take him to the home of Cornelius the Centurion and that he was to, without any hesitancy go with them. Peter went with the three men along with other believers from Joppa who were also to serve as witnesses for what was yet to take place.

So, now we have two major witnesses... Peter and Cornelius. The resulting series of events, namely God's mentioning to Peter that men were coming to get him, along with the men showing up at the behest of Cornelius, serve as a further witness.

There is yet, a fourth witness... Peter actually showing up at the home of Cornelius. This was something that was utterly contrary to Peters nature. If Peters vision had not been real and Cornelius' vision had not been real the ensuing events would never have occurred. Peter attests to a prior aversion he had towards Gentiles when, in Acts 10:28, he says

You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.”

So, we know that Peter had a vision. But what was his interpretation of that vision?

It is apparent that at least one of the messages of the vision is what we'd already heard Peter say in verse 10:28. “But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” Peter clearly took the vision of the unclean animals to be symbolic of Gentiles. This is clearly a Biblical understanding of this vision. According to the prophets of the Old Testament, the Messiah was destined to be a light to the Gentiles (e.g. Isa. 42:6). And in light of that, the wall of partition between Jew and Gentile was also destined to fall. It seems, however, that it took this particular vision and the ensuing events to reveal this fact to Peter. That begs yet another question. From the scriptures, why hadn't Peter known that the Messiah was supposed to bridge the gap between Jew and Gentile in the first place? I can only surmise that Peter did not intuitively accept this because of the many biases that he carried with him into the kingdom of God.

III

The other issue, however, that sorely needs to be dealt with and to which I've already alluded is that of kashrut, or food. What may or may not be eaten? We know that Peter took the vision to mean that God's redemption through Y'shua was now available to the Gentile. The implication is that, along with this redemption, comes fellowship. As Paul put it,

For He (Messiah) is our peace, who has made the two groups (Jews and Gentiles) one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in Himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility. (Eph. 2:14-16)

The last verse of Acts 10 says that Cornelius asked Peter to stay with him for a few days. The chapter ends leaving one with a question. We know that Peter was asked, but did he, in fact stay? In essence, did he do as Cornelius had implored him, via invitation, to do? And along with that comes another question. If, indeed, Peter stayed, what did they eat? Did they eat vegetables? Did they eat lamb or brisket? Maybe they had bacon and eggs for breakfast. We really don't know.

Chances are highly likely that, in fact, Peter did stay with Cornelius and did eat with him. Peter doesn't say so, but he is accused of having done so by the Jewish believers back in Jerusalem. Verses 11:2-3 tell us...

So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

The notion that this happened was very troubling to the Jewish believers. Rules against having fellowship with Gentiles were not without precedent. God, for instance, forbade fellowship with Moabites and Ammonites. In Dt. 23:3, He says, through Moses,

No Ammonites or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, not even in the tenth generation.

Clearly, this law was circumvented in the case of the marriage of Ruth, the Moabites to Boaz who surely lived less than 10 generations after the writing down of this Mosaic decree. A question arises here, as well. How does one reconcile the breaking of this Mosaic mandate? A number of factors came into play with the marriage between Ruth and Boaz. Without discussing all of these variables at great length, however, one factor does seem to stand out above the rest. Ruth was not like any of the other Moabites. God forbade association with Moabites because as Dt. 23:4 put it,

...they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you.

The Moabites had been cruel toward Israel as the people were about to enter the land of Canaan. Their cruelty actually extended to seeking Israel's demise. In stark contrast to this, Ruth displayed a kindness towards her Jewish mother-in-law Naomi, that we know to be legendary. The statement that she made concerning her faithfulness to Naomi is almost colloquial. When told by Naomi to return to Moab after the death of Ruth's husband to find another husband, her daughter-in-law's response was...

Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17)

Ruth became a model of faithfulness to God and of a Gentile's love for the Jewish people. She had literally given up her future because of her faithfulness to Israel's God and her mother-in-law. But this sacrifice on her part turned into a privilege because the resulting marriage she had with her deceased husbands next of kin, Boaz, made her into the ancestor of King David who was destined to be the ancestor of the Messiah, Y'shua. Hence, she became one of the great Old Testament women of faith. Key to this Gentile Woman's entering the assembly of Israel was her love for God and love for the Jewish people.

So with Ruth as our Biblical precedent, we see our centurion friend, Cornelius, inviting the Jewish fisherman, Peter, into his home to show him hospitality and “stay for a while”. What characterized Cornelius? One excellent description of him is in Acts 10:22.

“… He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people.”

What made Cornelius God-fearing? Why was he respected by the Jews? I couldn't verify that this was the same centurion or centurions who was or were in the Gospel accounts, but I think it's safe to say that he had the same traits about him. He was Roman in origin. Romans were reputed idolaters. Caesar was the God of the Romans. Romans knew nothing about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This Centurion knew nothing about the Gospel but he was God-fearing. He could only have learned about God from the Jews whom he'd been commissioned by Rome to govern. This centurion was not only God-fearing, but he was devout and prayed daily.

Having learned about Israel's God from the people whom he'd been sent to govern, as given to disputations as these people were, nevertheless, undoubtedly, the centurion had grown to love and respect them, if anything, for the impact that this God had had on their lives. One of the centurion accounts in the gospels described the centurion as having “built their synagogue”. Again, we do not know if Cornelius was that centurion, but we do know that he had won the respect of the Jewish people who knew him.

So now this God Fearing, respectable centurion invites Peter into his home. He and his family come to faith in Y'shua and are baptized. He invites Peter to stay and, of course, provides him with all of the hospitality that is at his disposal. So they sit down to dinner. Again, I ask the question,,, what did they eat? As I've gone through this exercise, I've still not answered the question concerning whether Peters vision specifically referred to legalizing the consumption of unclean foods. We know for a fact that it did refer to the entering of Gentiles into the family of God. That's how Peter had interpreted it. This, however, had a biblical (Old Testament) precedent. We saw it with Ruth. We saw it as the fulfillment of prophecy (e.g. Isa. 42:6) we also saw it with the mixed multitude as they'd left Egypt along with the Hebrews after the first Passover (Ex. 14-15). In fact Old Testament history is replete with evidence of a foreshadowing of the inclusion of Gentiles into the family of God.

There is no such evidence, however, that I can find, which foreshadows the abrogation of the laws of kashrut for the Jew. Y'shua 7:19, at face value, seems to call for the abrogation of kashrut. but that was likely a common misinterpretation of the editorial concerning Y'shua' comment, “In saying this, Y'shua declared all foods clean”. The interlinear Greek source that I used as a reference does not say “thus he declared”. Some have argued that that phrase was an editorial insertion The Greek text that I used reads...

Hoti ouk eisporeuetak autou eis tEn kardian all eiEn koilian kai eis ton aphedrOna ekporeuetai katharizon panta ta brOmata.

That NOT it-is-INTO-GOING OF him INTO THE HEART but INTO THE CAVITY (bowel) AND INTO THE FROM-SETTLE (latrine) it-IS-OUT_GOING cleansING ALL THE FOODS1

"In saying this, Y'shua declared..." is absent from the text. And some have argued that Y'shua was commenting that the natural digestive process makes all foods, whether they'd been inserted into the mouth with washed or unwashed hands, clean.

Y'shua, here, is not addressing the issue of Kashrut but of a rabbinically imposed law laid down only a generation before Him, which stated that washing of hands was necessary to keep ritual uncleanliness from transferring onto the food that one was eating2. Bowels, 'though objectionable, as a topic of conversation, were nevertheless deemed as ceremonially clean because they were the product of a normal bodily function and represented a significant and normal part of life3. Hence, Y'shua was saying that food which enters the body is clean because it comes out the same way as does all food. Even if the food is ceremonially unclean because one's hands had not been washed in advance, it is not that which defiles the man, but what is in his heart. Clearly the Greek text to which I referred excludes the insertion “Y'shua declared all foods clean”. The name, "Y'shua" is not even found anywhere in the sentence. There could be other manuscripts that would indicate otherwise but at this juncture I could only say that the phrase was probably inserted by the bias of Gentile translators. Hence, the laws of kashrut are not abrogated certainly by this text. If they had been, they would have been an admission of a gross inconsistency in the Bible because, unlike the promise of the Gentiles entering the kingdom of God through the Messiah, there is no Older Testament precedent for the abrogation of Kashrut, none that I've recognized, anyway. The argument that “Y'shua said it, therefore it must be taken by faith” is a poor one. It still requires an Older Testament precedent. Furthermore, clearly from the Greek, Y'shua did not say those words!

Another text which could be used for presenting a case that the laws of Kashrut had been abrogated can be found in 1 Timothy 4:1-5 which says...

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.





Romans 14:13-15

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Y'shua, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom messiah died.





IV

So what did Cornelius serve Peter for dinner?

To reiterate, he was a devout, God-fearing man. We also know that he was highly respected by the Jews who knew him. I would bet that he was a man who knew how to demonstrate good and tasteful hospitality.

I think that Romans 14 may be a key concerning the choice of foods that Cornelius used to entertain his guests. Of course, Romans had not been written yet, but the same Spirit that inspired Paul when he wrote the Epistle to the Romans was undoubtedly present in Peter and Cornelius. So let's take a brief look at Romans 14.

    1. Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.

13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.14 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Y'shua, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom messiah died.16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves messiah in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.

19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean,but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.
22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

I left out some verses because they dealt with things other than food, but in a sense, the whole chapter deals with issues of personal legality before God. In essence, it's a call for each individual to be perfectly persuaded concerning what lines he personally feels may or may not be crossed before he were to sin. Some people are vegetarians. They feel that killing animals for the sake of food is wrong. Others feel that eating chicken or beef or venison is perfectly OK. Paul would define the former individual as the “weaker” brother and the latter individual as the “stronger” brother. The weaker brother is weak because he feels that should he eat meat, he would lack the faith to believe that God would not condemn him for doing so. Hence, he would be engaging in sin. The stronger brother, on the other hand, is strong because he's more conscious of the liberty that God has given him through the Messiah.

According to this passage of scripture, The stronger brother is neither to flaunt his behavior before the weaker brother nor is he to attempt to coax the weaker brother into conducting behavior that the latter deems wrong or sinful. This, Paul argues, results in causing of the weaker brother to stumble. Likewise, should the weaker brother get wind that the stronger brother engages in what the weaker brother would regard as sinful behavior, the weaker brother is not to condemn the stronger brother for it. These respective attitudes call all of the members of the family of God to peace. We have mutual respect ultimately because the Messiah died for each of us.

So how would Cornelius have applied Romans 14 in his hospitality towards Peter?

Undoubtedly, he was sensitive to the fact that Peter had gone way out of his comfort zone to enter the house of a Roman centurion, a Gentile, no less. Having gained the respect of the Jews who knew him, undoubtedly he was aware of the laws of kashrut. In fact, he probably would have inquired of Peter what foods he liked or was used to eating. He probably knew that Peter still felt, at the very least, queezy about eating anything that was not kosher. In fact, to show good will, the centurion probably served him kosher food prepared from Peter's favorite butcher shop or delicatessen.

Actually, I have an even better idea. Cornelius was a Roman centurion. Rome is in Italy. So I'm convinced that Cornelius served Peter spaghetti.

V

So why do I write this long essay only to draw the somewhat dubious conclusion that Cornelius served spaghetti to Peter?

Allow me to emphasize... NEITHER JEWS NOR GENTILES ARE SAVED BY EATING KOSHER FOOD. Nor are Gentiles condemned for eating traif (food that's not kosher). I'm still not entirely convinced that these laws don't apply to Jewish believers, however... especially when one is seeking to assert his identity as a Jew. Yes, Paul does say, in Romans 14 that “All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble”. Paul could be including himself in this statement on the one hand, but on the other hand, he could be talking to an almost if not entirely Gentile ekklessia in Rome and using the words “all food” from the perspective of his audience.

Perhaps I'm naive, but I'm not entirely convinced that the Gentile believer understands the depth of the step of faith that the Jewish believer has to take to come to Y'shua. Immediately the Jewish believer is bombarded by the enemy with all sorts of accusations foremost of which is “You're no longer a Jew”. This particular accusation eats inexorably into the soul of the Jewish believer. And then the Gentile (the stronger brother) who knows that “All food is clean” seeks to unwittingly tempt the Jewish believer into conducting behavior (eating pork, etc.) that is literally an affirmation of that accusation (that he's no longer Jewish). Hence, by eating that ham sandwich, the Jewish believer may not be condemned but he is, in fact, providing evidence (erroneously interpreted or otherwise) that he is no longer a Jew.

I dare say, that such an invitation on the part of my Gentile brother, is in fact a violation of Romans
14 where Paul says 'If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom messiah died. (vs. 15).

As for me, I am obligated to guard myself against judging my Gentile brother for eating traif in my presence. I will however, be critical of an attitude in which he has not bothered to attempt to enter into my shoes and consider how I might feel about it especially when this attitude has prevailed in the church over the past two millenia (Case in point... the second counsel of Nicea declared that if a Jew chose to come to 'Christ', he had to give up his identity, his traditions and every last vestige of his Jewishness).
So how does all of this play out? Allow me, if you will, to propose two contrasting dialogues...

Dialogue 1

Gentile – “I hope you like ham. That's what we're having.”

Me – “If you have potato chips I'll have those.”

Dialogue 2

Gentile – “Do you eat ham? If not, I've prepared some corned beef for you.”

Me – “Thank you so much for your consideration. It was very kind of you to think of me. I hope it wasn't too much work for you to prepare the corned beef.”

Gentile – “Well, it was a little extra work. But you're worth it.”

Me – “No... God is worth it.”

It is commonly assumed that the opposite of Love is Hate.
On the contrary... the opposite of Love is Indifference.

As I've tried to wrestle with the issue of kashrut for the Jewish believer, I find it difficult to believe that the New Testament, out of the blue, abrogates it without any Old Testament precedent. Personally, I don't feel that I'm authoritative enough to say that Jewish believers should not eat pork. If one doesn't have love, not eating pork is of no value. Nor do I really think it's anyone's business to establish a doctrine on such an issue. After all, as Paul put it,

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves messiah in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
(Rom. 14:17-18)

Furthermore, I confess. I've done worse things in my life than eating ham sandwiches.

I do think, however, that the issue of kashrut carries with it a deeper dimension... namely an exciting way by which the church can demonstrate love and know that it is doing so. It is by overcoming these barriers that the church demonstrates that it is, indeed, one new man in messiah... Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2:15). Hence, even with ham sandwiches, or pork present, the breaking of bread can genuinely be built around a foundation that will invariably make their fellowship into a truly kosher church picnic.
















Wednesday, July 31, 2013

GOD'S LOVE AND HUMILITY

The Bible makes all sorts of preposterous statements and claims.
It is filled with all sorts of verses such as the following...

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.
1 John 1:1-2

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made... The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:1-3,14

Those verses imply that the authors claimed that Jesus was God. To make such a statement, however, was anathema to the Jews of His day. It gave rise to justification for their wanting to put Him to death. The following verse illustrates that.

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. John 5:16-18

Claiming to be God or making oneself to be equal with God, was, indeed blasphemy and punishable by death. Indeed Islam, which came 600 years after the compilation of the New Testament, calls this "shirk"... idolatry, also punishable by death.

Nevertheless the Apostle Paul who'd been educated by the great Rabbi Gamalael, of his day, had the audacity to make the following statement.

For in Messiah all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Messiah you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.             
Colossians 2:9-10

Such seemingly preposterous New Testament claims about a man being God, or a plurality of God's nature, or God having a "Son" did not just pop up out of nowhere. A veritable plethora of verses hinting at this sort of claim pervade the pages of the Old Testament as well. The possibility of a plurality in the nature of the one true God is hinted at in the following where God speaks to Himself in the first person plural:

Then God said, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
Genesis 1:26

Even the Sh'ma of Deuteronomy 6:4, the watchword of the faith of Judaism which declares the oneness of God, in its declaration of the oneness of God, uses the adjective "echod"... which implies a unity which is potentially made of many parts much as one hand is made of a palm, a thumb, fingers, skin, muscles, bones, connective tissue, etc.

Interestingly the Rabbi, Maimonodes of the middle ages, in his contention for the "oneness"of God, in his 13 Articles of Faith, used a different adjective "Yachid" which implies an absolute ONE. In so doing, he resorted to using a term other than the one used by scripture. Hence, one might rightfully ask the question "whom did Maimonodes regard as more authoritative, Torah or Himself"?  And there is one of a number of very important principals in hermeneutics (interpretation)... let the scripture speak for itself.  Don't infuse your interpretation upon the scriptures.

Such verses as the following, imply that God has a "Son"...

“I am weary, God, but I can prevail. Surely I am only a brute, not a man; I do not have human understanding. I have not learned wisdom, nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One. Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Whose hands have gathered up the wind? Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is the name of his son? Surely you know! Proverbs 30:1-4

Passages such as the following add leverage to the notion that there exists an individual that can manifest Himself as both exalted and yet humanoid...

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. Daniel 7:13

This particular individual, in fact, approached into the presence of the very Ancient of Days (a synonym for God) without even so much as prostrating Himself.

Indeed, the following verse hints of a "Trinity".

16 “Come near me and listen to this: “From the first announcement I have not spoken in secret; at the time it happens, I am there.” And now the Sovereign Lord has sent me, endowed with his Spirit. Isaiah 48:16

So, the notion that God could reveal Himself as a man, did not just come out of nowhere. There is Old Testament precedent for it. However such a notion seems to defy logic. It is no wonder that Muslims might question the veracity of the Bible. Judaism, itself, seeks to interpret Tanaach (Old Testament) through Rabbinic eyes and by so doing, avoid, like the plague, the possibility that God could manifest Himself as a man. I would argue that anyone, as the scripture says, "who has eyes to see and ears to hear" can read the text for himself and determine clearly what it has to say.

But even so, maybe this Book that we call the Bible is, in fact, nothing but good (or bad, depending upon one's taste) literature. Maybe it's not divinely inspired at all!
Despite the fact that the Bible has withstood all sorts of tests from scientific to archeological to historical, through well over two millenia, I would like to pursue a line of thought, which, to this day, I don't think has been adequately approached. Somewhat ironically, it is built around the question "What does it mean to be truly human?"
Let's put the Bible to the test. We've already seen the Bible verse Genesis 1:26 which begins with "Let us make man in our image..." According to this text, in some fashion, if the Bible is, in fact, veracious, man was made in such a way that he is like God. If that's the case, how is He presumed to be like God?

The three major monotheistic religions would argue that there are certain things about God upon which they can all agree...

God is omniscient - There's nothing He doesn't know.

God is omnipresent - He's everywhere at the same time.

God is omnipotent - He's all powerful... There's nothing He can't do.

God is self existing - He always was, He is and He always will be forever on into eternity.

God made and created things ex-nihilo, out of nothing.

Such assumed facts about the nature of God (to which I also subscribe) are certainly beyond human capability. No human knows everything, is everywhere at the same time, is self-existent or is all powerful ('though there are many humans who think they are).

This creates a definite conundrum for someone like me who argues that a God of that nature can actually manifest Himself as a baby and later as a man. How can the God who fills the infinite universe take up just 4 liters of space? How could an all powerful God have difficulty bearing the weight of a 30 km. execution stake? How can an all knowing God "Learn obedience" through suffering? (Hebrews 5:8).

My answer may not suffice to convince you. I can't do that anyway, only God can. I can only present my case. And as I've already intimated, it is wrapped up in the question of what it means to be human. Because according to Genesis 1:26 being fully human is, in some way, being like, or in the image of God.
So we humans can't be any of those absolute things that we know characterize God's nature but what about those absolute things that characterize human nature? I think that if we were to look at people today, or throughout history, for that matter, they are decidedly schizophrenic. "How?" you might ask. People are universally inconsistent.

Sometimes they Love. Sometimes they hate. Most of the time they're ambivalent.

Sometimes they're humble. Sometimes they're arrogant.

This "Yin-Yang" human response to what we commonly call virtue pervades all of our human nature... Sometimes we're patient. Sometimes we're impatient. Sometimes we're generous. Sometimes we're stingy. The list of virtues coupled with their associate vices is quite extensive!

I think it's safe to discern between the virtue and its associated vice as well. For instance...

Clearly Love is preferable to hate or indifference.

Likewise, we can easily discern that humility is preferable to arrogance.

Perhaps I'm mistaken but I think that an objective poll would yield almost unanimous consensus that people would instinctively discern what the virtues are as opposed to their corresponding vices. Yet, in spite of our ability to make such judgments it's, nevertheless, apparently impossible to imagine that anyone could possibly be perfectly humble or loving all the time throughout one's entire life without just a little bit of vice sneaking in somewhere along the way. Such conduct, humanly speaking, would seem impossible to do yet not impossible to conceptualize.

We've looked at omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence etc. and we've seen that these traits of God are absolute. Omnipotence, possibly might be the easiest to illustrate. The physicist defines power as the ability to do work divided by time. Work by definition, is the mass of an object times the distance it is made to travel. Put mathematically...

Power = Mass X Distance
        Time

A rule of mathematics is that as the denominator (time) approaches 0, the value of the equation (Power) approaches infinity.  Hence, if God is able to accomplish any task in no time at all, He is demonstrating absolute power, or omnipotence.

But what if humility, for instance, were measured in absolutes? We pass judgment on individuals and say "this man is humble." This man is not humble". But by what standard can we make that judgment? What is absolute humility? Could an individual's humility be graded according to that standard?

One dictionary definition of humility is "Modest opinion or estimate of one's own importance, rank, etc." It seems from this definition that one must have importance or rank in the first place in order to be modest about it.

So what would be an absolute definition of humility? Allow me to posit a suggestion. You're free to accept it or reject it.

Absolute Humility - God (certainly the zenith of importance or rank) willing to give up all the rights, privileges and accolades that are associate with being God in order to become a perfect servant (the utter expression of modesty) on behalf of His entire creation.

Put into mathematical terms (as was the case with our definition of Power)

Humility = One's actual rank or stature
The importance that one holds onto that rank or stature

Therefore, how would we define Absolute Humility?

Absolute Humility = God (The highest of any possible rank or stature or importance)
God's willingness to relinquish "God-ness" to become a perfect servant

Again, as the importance of one's rank (that of being God) approaches zero, Humility approaches infinity.
This is entirely consistent with what Paul said referring to Jesus...

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus the Messiah is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:6-11

In reality, God is both our God or Lord and servant anyway? "Such blasphemy" you might say! But, think about it. Is it not God who gives us life? Is it not God who gives us breath and the food we put on our table? By doing so, is He not serving us?  Without Him serving us, we could not live.

Yes, we can declare the power, might, glory majesty and sovereignty of God. But part of that glory and majesty is caught up in the reality that He is THE perfect servant of His creation. If we lose sight of His servant-hood towards us, we can't even begin to scratch the surface of what it means to worship Him!

In both science and philosophy there exists a phenomenon called an "antinomy". An antinomy is a clash between two totally opposing rules which are derived rationally or even experimentally. In essence, two irrefutable laws are mutually incompatible. Emanuel Kant, for instance was able to rationally argue that time had no beginning. On the other hand, he rationally contested that time had to have a beginning. Both assertions are true, yet they both contradict one another and are mutually incompatible.
 
If we can't understand Time, therefore, how can we even begin to understand God?

If there's one thing that I know for sure... it's that I am not God. How could God, who governs the infinite vast universe, who's power, wisdom and knowledge is limitless, at the same time, take the form of a baby taking up 4 liters of space? How could this eternal God endure death and still govern the universe? I do not know the answers to such questions. I'm not God.

Yet, I know, for instance that God desires for each and every person that He's created to demonstrate the virtues that make up our humanness... humility being one of them. Furthermore, when we fail at manifesting this virtue, we are without excuse because God, Himself, showed us that it can be done. If Genesis 1:26 is true, therefore, by virtue of the fact that we were made in God's image, we are required to reflect that image perfectly. Hence, in light of our failure, we are deserving of nothing but eternal condemnation.

But God, as has already been alluded to, possesses absolute virtues that we humans inadequately display as part of our humanity which are really poor reflections of God's nature. And another one of the most prominent of these virtues is love. And for us, as we shall see, it is necessary for our well-being.

Hence, I ask... "What would be the definition of perfect love? Does God manifest this virtue perfectly as well?"

Might I suggest that perfect love be defined, not just as love for one's friends or family but for all people, including complete strangers and even the bitterest of enemies. This love has total empathy for the condition of even these enemies and is so self-less and concerned about the well-being of the "other" that it's willing to absorb the punishment that is rightfully due the objects of that love for whatever wrong actions and attitudes of which they might be guilty.

Put another way (according to our mathematical method of communication)...

Absolute Love = Willing enduring of punishment deserved by the one loved (times) Everyone
(since everyone is loved)
NOTE: As the number of objects of love grows larger, love grows larger.  In light of that I would say that "everyone" is a pretty large number!
 
Put another way... God manifested absolute love by being willing to endure the punishment deserved by everyone. And what is this punishment? From our discussion of humility we've concluded that lack of humility deserves condemnation. Now take that virtue and multiply it by all the other virtues and I think it's safe to say that our ineptness at practicing the virtues we were created and supposed to demonstrate leaves us deserving of eternal condemnation.

But Jesus, having taken on this condemnation Himself, rescues us from its consequences.

Paul alluded to this when he said...

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now He has reconciled you by Messiah's physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation
Colossians 1:21-22
So what are we to conclude, having said all this? God is ONE (Echod). This remains a constant, goes without saying, and is irrefutable. However, If GOD had not manifested Himself as an entirely human individual, capable of and, in actuality, perfectly practicing the virtues that inherently are part of our humanity, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN INCONSISTENT WITH HIS NATURE.

It is commonly said that "to love someone is to know that someone". In Deuteronomy, we've been commanded to "love God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our strength". But how can we love God if we don't know Him? Jesus said to one of His disciples "If you've seen me, you've seen the Father". Conversely, if you don't know Jesus there is no way that you can know God.
 
Furthermore, if we willfully choose not to know Jesus, we've willfully chosen not to love God and our eternal condemnation remains on us.
 
It is my hope that you would choose to know Jesus.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Abortion and making the right Choice

When carrying on a somewhat stinted and abrupt dialogue via twitter with one Andrea, with whom it was apparent that we disagreed on the issue concerning abortion, I posited the question, which according to twitter speak came off as the following...

@Andrea... Hmm Clinton wanted abortions “safe, legal & rare”
Since RvW, they're safeER (4 woman), legal. What's going 2
make them rare?

Concerning safety, the latest conviction of Kermit Gosnell for the untimely deaths of two patrons of his abortion clinic, as well as his intentional murder of at least two babies who were born alive at his facility surely bears witness to the fact that abortions remain unsafe. Objectively speaking, they may be safer than when they were illegal, but they are still, nevertheless, unsafe. I would also venture to guess that what was going on at the presumably legal abortion clinic of Kermit Gosnell, is merely the tip of the iceberg of atrocities committed in the U.S. Abortion clinics despite their presumed legality.

But I ask rhetorically, what will make these abortion clinics safer? Tighter regulatory controls? Stricter enforcement? Perhaps. But what about less business? Boy, if women just stopped patronizing these abortion clinics, the mortality rate would surely go down. Kind of like how abstinence would lower the possibility of pregnancy to zero. Happens almost every time. There was one exception when a virgin got pregnant about 2000 years ago.

What about legality? Obviously abortion is legal and abortion clinics are legal as well, presumably as long as they operate within specific guidelines. Does that mean that not going to an abortion clinic is illegal? Of course not! But what determines whether something is legal or not? I think it's safe to say that it is the result of the decision made by human beings.

But why do we need laws? Presumably they're to maintain order, and order is necessary for the maintenance of a civilized society. But in reality, what would happen if people just innately, instinctively did the right thing? Would there be a need for laws?

The Prophet Jeremiah addressed this issue, when speaking of a future time, he wrote

This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”                                                 Jeremiah 31:33-34

Invariably people in that future time would do the right thing because they'd all have the law written on their hearts and minds.

But, I guess, in the meantime, we have laws... man made laws such as one which gives the right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. Actually, I prefer to call it “an opportunity to choose between doing what's right and doing what's wrong.

But what contributes toward this issue of rarity? Bill Clinton allegedly wanted abortions to be rare. So what will make them rare? Andrea sent me a Huffington Post link to an article that indicated that making abortions illegal raises their cost. The laws of economics indicate that lowering the cost of abortions would only make them more frequent. Hence, keeping them legal, it seems, only helps to make them more frequent (the antithesis of rare) because they'd be more affordable.  It seems almost as if legality and rarity are two mutually incompatible phenomena.

Another link that Andrea sent me was this link of an irate father to be whose wife was pregnant with a child who had a rare disease which was going to result in a serious deformity even in the unlikely event  that the child would survive.  I can empathize with the angst of this father, and undoubtedly, my wife could empathize with his wife as well, nevertheless, I sent her a link to a Nick Vujicic video. Nick is a well-known inspirational speaker, real estate investor, husband and father who was born without any arms or legs.

Nick Vujicic, although, he'd gone through his share of depressing moments, would never, in a million years, have chosen to be aborted. On the other hand, Aaron Gouveia, the father in the other video, wanted to abort his child, never allowing her the chance to make that choice for herself. Now, a number of scenarios could have happened from not aborting baby Gouveia. The baby could have died in the womb, a very likely event, eliminating the need for an abortion. Rather than an abortion, the baby would have been "extracted".  The baby could have been born and died soon thereafter, nevertheless, providing time with the child, giving the Gouveia's a time of sobriety concerning the issues of life, or the child could have grown to adulthood with a severe handicap, but with the potentiality of becoming the next Nick Vujicic. How amazingly wonderful that would be!

But the preemptive murder of this tiny child would eliminate all the variable possibilities that would happen with simply letting time take its course. And the notion that this preemptive murder is a viable alternative certainly would not help to contribute toward making abortions rare.  I don't want to appear sarcastic, but it is true that, given the possible scenarios, two of them could have resulted in what was the desired result... namely the death of this child.

And how many other abortions occur in this country in which the unborn child is accurately, I repeat... accurately diagnosed to be of a comparable condition as the Gouveia baby? I would bet that it's easy to say less than 1%.

So what about those other 99+ percent? Even with the extenuating circumstances such as rape or incest, the choice to murder the baby remains, nevertheless, a choice. And the remaining vast majority can very simply be relegated to being “abortions of convenience”.

So it seems that no one in the pro-abortion camp knows, or really even desires Bill Clinton’s alleged desire to make abortions rare. And let's face it Bill Clinton’s comments are decidedly disingenuous.

But let's take a look at some things that our culture is NOT doing to make abortions rare. 

It's taken the ten commandments off of classroom walls... including that pesky one that says something about not committing adultery. 

It's created a culture that scorns Christianity and scorns Jesus. It ridicules abstinence (which works every time it's tried) and encourages lasciviousness. 

Furthermore, it has abandoned virtue and those elements that build character in individuals and replaced it with the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain with disregard for the reality that this hedonism will, in the end, result in the magnification of a pain it could have otherwise avoided.

Hence, 'though the "Supreme Court of the United States" has declared abortion legal according to the Constitution, the resulting need for choice, as was determined by this decision, engages the individual to choose to make either the right choice or the wrong choice.  And the true or absolute legality of that choice has already been determined by the administrator of a divine court whose authority, in the end, trumps that of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Allow me to say, at this juncture, however.  If you've made the wrong choice, this supreme authority loves you, sent His Son to die so as to endure that pain that you and I've deserved.  However, He expects you to repent and seek to relinquish your will and values to Him.

Thanks for reading my blog and may God bless you.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Jason Collins or Tim Tebow - Media Confusion


An interesting tweet crossed my tweet deck which, to my estimation, addressed well the duplicity of the mainstream media. It read...

  Tim Tebow@TheTimmyTebow
Tim Tebow: “I'm a Christian

Media: “Keep it to yourself.”

Jason Collins: “I'm gay.”

Media: “This man's a hero!”

#justsaying

Using just 140 characters, this twitterer said a lot!


But there is a lot more to say because the debate still rages... and with a fury!

Why do such a plurality of “Gays” get “bent out of shape” when the morality of their lifestyle is questioned? I think it has to do with the issue of justification. In essence, are you justified in being gay?

In answering this question, as I see it, there are two types of “gay” people. They are determined by the means by which they seek justification.

The first type of gay person finds solace in the assumption that he has found providentially determined justification for his conduct. Either he is satisfied with his hermeneutics of the Bible or some other allegedly divine source of authority that says, by virtue of its authority, homosexual conduct is permissible.

The second type of gay person, which evidence seems to purport to be the most common type, seeks justification through consensus. It is accompanied by an attitude which says “it's okay because others say it's okay”. In reality this is an unfortunate appeal to bandwagon thinking which is a fallacy in logic.

The first type of “gay” person ought to be confident in and of himself. He ought not to feel threatened if he is told he is wrong. He ought to be able to dispassionately defend the rightness of his sexuality and remain unwaveringly strong in his position and maintain a level of civility with those who would challenge the veracity of his point of view.

The second type of “gay” person would, it seems, logically get defensive when his lifestyle is challenged. His justification for being “gay” lies solely on the confirmation of others. If so much as one person were to disagree with him, that one person will likely become an object of his vitriol. The one who would contest that homosexuality is wrong will be labeled a “hater” or a “homophobe”.

If the first type of “gay” person were to attempt to find justification for his homosexuality in the Bible, I would venture to say that he'd have to resort to an extremely convoluted form of hermeneutics to do so. Romans Chapter 1 vss. 26 and 27 clearly denounce homosexuality as sinful. It can be interpreted no other way. Likewise 1 Corinthians 6 vss. 9 through 10 includes homosexuality as one of a number of sins that will bar an individual from the kingdom of God.

Interestingly, this first type of homosexual individual is unlikely to find justification through Islam either. Somewhere, he might find reinforcement from some “holy” book but then, he'd have to defend the veracity of that “holy” book.

Hence, apart from universal human acceptance of the practice of homosexuality, the homosexual is unlikely to find justification.

In attempting to silence, as it were, those voices that would denounce homosexual conduct, The homosexual community and their so called “straight” advocates do themselves a disservice. There would be no one to tell them that they're wrong.

Though the act of homosexuality is abhorrent to God (and scripture would argue as such) what's even worse is an attitude that denies the reality that it is a sin. The result is that one is seeking justification for what is essentially self-indulgent behavior.

The homosexual, however, who would acquiesce to the admission that his conduct is, indeed, sinful has begun to finally engage God in a relational way. By acknowledging his propensity to this form of sin, he is willing to engage in a struggle to overcome it. To do so, ultimately, he must avail himself of the power of God in his personal battle against it.

Hence, I am by no means condemning the homosexual. But I will not hesitate to condemn the conduct and the dogged insistence that it is not what it is... sin. Furthermore, by denying its sinfulness, it serves as a means by which recruitment can take place and the naive can be drawn into its trap. This recruitment, furthermore, is only the result of this failed effort at justification.

As I said, I do not condemn the homosexual... just the conduct and the attitude. Homosexuality is only one of many examples in the lexicon of human sins. I have my own struggles. If I could I would have sex with every good looking girl I could run into. At one time in my life I did. But after finding Jesus, confessing such behavior as sin, and struggling with my lusts, and engaging in the life-long process of learning how to lean on God's power, I've been married and faithful to the same girl for over 36 years. Furthermore, I've grown in my love for her. (I certainly hope she's grown in her love for me as well).

Furthermore, as I said, issues of sexuality are just one of many other types of sins. I also have personal struggles with pride, jealousy and anger. Those other sins also impact my sexuality because my dear wife put up with a lot as I learned to deal with these types of sins as well during our 36 years together. Of course, if I were to be unwilling to deal with those other sorts of sins, being the difficult to live with person that I was, my wife could have had the option to leave me. She chose not to knowing that it was God's will to endure.

Hence, we see another sort of sexual sin... divorce which leads to adultery. Divorce short-circuits the growth process. It undermines the virtues of fidelity and faithfulness and it becomes a disincentive for personal growth and virtues that make an individual more peaceable. Monogamous fidelity nurtures patience, humility and overall self-control.

In the words of a black preacher who's name alludes me, “God made them Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”.

God did not ordain homosexual but heterosexual monogamy as the means by which we humans would not only procreate but exercise such virtues as faithfulness and grow in those other virtues that make us easier to live with.

Homosexuality is only one of many behaviors that must be recognized as such and called by the name that it deserves to be called... sin. Furthermore, there is not a human being on this planet that is not prone to some form or forms of sin. To deny that fact is to lie to oneself. Interestingly, to deny this might keep one happy with oneself but might make those around him miserable.

So the outspoken Tim Tebows of this world may be denounced. “Keep your religion to yourself”. They may receive the epithet as “haters” and “homophobes”. No... I would say that they're not “haters”. They're really lovers. “Why?” you might ask.

Allow me to close with a simple illustration... My mother was a nag. “Don't play in the street” she would say. If she caught me doing it she would yell at me and if I persisted she would spank me. Why? Because she didn't want anything bad to happen to me. And she didn't want anything bad to happen to me because she loved me.

Maybe, just maybe, those who are critical of homosexuality are God's way of saying “Don't play in the street or if you're in the street, get out of the street.” “Maybe God is saying... I love you. You are my child. But if you disobey me you may just as well, not be my child. I've given you the free-will to decide that for yourself.”