The Desires of Your Heart

Do not fret because of those who are evil
or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away.
Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Psalm 37:1-4 NIV

We were speeding down the highway, on our way to a Christmas Eve party, for which we were considerably late.  We were exceeding the speed limit, that is certain, but we were driving safely, and staying in our lane.  Suddenly a car sped up behind us, and the driver, unwilling to wait for us to shift lanes and let him pass, and after dangerously tailgating us, quickly shifted lanes himself, and sped by.

Already somewhat annoyed at the driver’s unsafe maneuver, not to mention the prick to our pride, we became even more agitated as he continued down the highway, weaving in and out of traffic at high speed, sometimes traversing two lanes in one move.

The whole event became the topic of conversation, as we considered our options.  Should we call 911? Look at him!  Did you see what he just did?  We should report this!  And so it went for the next few minutes until we finally all calmed down a bit.

Around this time, Psalm 37 came to my mind.  I brought up my Bible app, looked up the Psalm, and read the first four verses to the others in the car.  I told them I thought these lines were appropriate to this incident because we were fretting about the wrong behavior of the driver.  The others disagreed, and after some discussion that did not resolve the issue, we continued on to our party, and of course we did not call 911.

What is it about our nature that agitates us so much when we see someone getting away with something that they should not be doing?  Is it simply our sense of justice?  A concern for safety?  Or is there more to it than that?  Is there maybe just a little bit of envy there?  Isn’t there just a little bit of, “Boy, if I did that, I would probably get a ticket”?

The majority of us live our lives “by the rules,” for the most part, and we get upset when people violate the rules with seeming impunity, and worse yet, profit by it in some way.  But let’s face it, one of the reasons we live by the rules is that we are afraid we’ll get caught and punished.  When someone acts as if they don’t care about punishment, this impacts our emotions in several ways.  It scares us, but it also often inspires a bit of admiration, and yes, envy.  Why is this?

One explanation, I think, is that someone who is not concerned about consequences appears to be able to act with perfect freedom.  Let’s make something clear though, when it comes to the big sins or crimes, most of us would not in any way admire or envy this kind of freedom.

But what about the “small” stuff? What about those things where nobody gets “hurt,” especially the “little guy?”  Or, maybe even the “big guy” does get shaved a little?  “Slick” Willie Sutton comes to mind.

For those of you who may not have heard of him, Slick Willie was a bank robber operating mostly in the  1920’s and 30’s.  He allegedly stole $2,000,000 during his “career” and ended up spending about half of his life in prison.  The thing about Willie, though, is that he was a popular figure with the public and was well liked and respected by those who knew him, both in prison and out.

The reasons for his popularity are many.  He was always a gentleman, even during his robberies, and no one was ever hurt.  He always had a gun, but admitted shortly before his death, that it was never loaded because “somebody might get hurt.”  He was highly intelligent, engineering three prison escapes, including one from Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania, considered to be “escape proof.”  And of course, he was robbing mainly banks.  Particularly during the Great Depression, banks were very unpopular, because they were taking people’s homes in foreclosure.

So, in the case of Willie Sutton at least, who was admired by many, there was probably considerable envy by those who wanted to be like him but were not willing to take the risks.

The driver of the car, on the other hand, while he may have inspired some small amount of envy, did inspire quite a bit of fretting.  But whether it is fretting or envy, the problem is it takes our minds off of what is important, which is “Trust in the Lord and do good. When we are focused on the unrighteous actions of others, we are not trusting G-d, and we are not doing good.  As such, it is worse than a complete waste of precious time, it is a misuse of our time and takes us backward in our spiritual journey.  Why?

Two reasons are given: 1)  The efforts of all “those who do wrong” will ultimately come to nothing.  As the passage says, “for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.”  So, what is the point of our concern?  But more importantly, 2) when you trust in the Lord, and “Take delight” in Him, “he will give you the desires of your heart.”   So, what this means is that we are missing out on the good things that G-d has in store for us when we are not delighting in Him.

Well, as you can see from the way this post started, I am as guilty as anyone of focusing on the wrongs committed by others and not taking delight in the Lord and the good things He has done.  But, at this point, I at least can realize it is a problem.  This is progress.  As I have said, this is a journey, and the destination seems a long way off.  But, progress is progress.  I’ll take it.

 

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Grace

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV

It was a Saturday, late-afternoon and we were hanging out at the “church lot.” The church lot, for all intents and purposes, was our multi-purpose playground.  We played baseball there in the spring and summer, we played football in the fall, and when we were doing neither of these things, we would just meet there and “hang out.”  This was one of those hang out days.

When we were hanging out at the church lot, we often got into discussions, usually political, as our families were a mixed bunch politically, and sometimes about religion, even though we were mostly Roman Catholic.  I enjoyed these discussions very much, whether political or religious, and looked forward to them – and if at times they got a little heated, well, so much the better.  We can all benefit from having our beliefs challenged now and then; but, little did we know how challenging this particular day would be.

The church, for which the church lot was named, had a reputation as being one of those “fundamentalist” congregations.  The church building itself was relatively new, and was a large, impressive brick structure, with one of the tallest steeples in a town that had about a dozen churches.  Not only was the church impressive, but it was part of a complex of buildings that included a K-12 school and a gymnasium.

It was near the gymnasium that we came across several young people who belonged to the church.  They were a little older than us, but not by much.  There were three of them, two boys and a girl. The girl appeared to be the oldest.  They asked us what we were doing.  “Just hanging out,” we said.

They asked us what church we went to.  We told them.  They asked us if we would like to hang out in the gym.  “Sure,” we responded.  I for one had always wanted to get inside the gym. After all, a church with its own gym?  Not common in my youth.

Once we got inside they began to engage us in conversation, which soon turned into a discussion about religion. Ahhhh, so we weren’t the only kids in town who liked to debate.  This was too good to be true.  A discussion about religion with others who were not our religion.  I was enjoying this very much.

The conversation was polite and went very well, but then the young lady said something like, “you know, just living a good life doesn’t get you into heaven.”

A momentary silence ensued as we, the Catholics, tried to figure out what she was trying to say.  Finally, one of us asked her.  “I mean,” she replied, “that doing good things, going to church, praying a lot, doing those things won’t get you into heaven.”

This sounded ridiculous to me.  Doing good, helping people, going to church and praying won’t get you into heaven?  This was to much.  “Then how do people get to heaven,” I asked?

“By believing in Jesus,” she said.  “By putting your faith in Him.  He died for your sins.”

Oh, oh, now I was getting it.  Of course, being a Catholic, I knew that Jesus died for our sins.  But I thought she was a little confused.  “You still have to be good, go to church, pray; you still have  to be a good person,” I said.

“No,” she said, “You just have to have faith.”

At this point we, my friends and I, decided it was time to leave, and so we amicably parted company with our new found debate opponents.  It had been an interesting discussion, and one that I would never forget.  But that thing about “being good won’t get you into heaven” – what was that all about?

Sometime later in religion class, I was in parochial school at the time, the topic  came up about the seeming conflict between faith and works.  There is a passage in the Letter of James which goes “But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” James 2:18-20

This, apparently, has been debate between Protestants and Catholics for centuries.  Are we saved by faith (Protestant)?  Or, are we saved by works (Catholic)? I thought that this was an interesting topic, and I came down firmly on the Catholic side-no surprise there. It wasn’t long after this, though, that I started to explore other, non-Christian beliefs, and I thought little of my debate or the question of faith or works for quite a while.

Years later I would come back to my Christian, and eventually Catholic faith, but when I did, I took a distinctly Protestant route.  Of course, the faith/works debate was central to my “re-conversion,” only now, I came down hard on the Protestant side of the argument.  I understood what the young lady was trying to say so many years prior and what Paul was saying in Ephesians.

As fervently as I now believed that our good works could not save us, still, that passage from James gnawed at me.  “Faith without works is dead faith.”  What did that mean?

As time passed, my discomfort over James grew.  This was probably due to the fact that although I was a Christian believer, I was not exactly a paragon of Christian behavior.  My misbehavior would cause me to question my faith, and this is when the passages from James would start to kick in.  “Faith without works is dead...Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”  

It wasn’t that I was trying to justify my misbehavior with Ephesians, I knew that some of the things I was doing were wrong.  But I would take comfort in Ephesians – that is until the passages from James came to mind.  No comfort for the back-slidden sinner there, for sure.  So, of course, I would avoid James as much as possible.

I was able to do this successfully for quite some time, but it finally got to the point where I just had to come to terms with James.  I was getting less and less comfort from Ephesians, and more and more discomfort from James.  But I faced a dilemma.

The dilemma was this:  Whenever I tried to “be good,” I would be more inclined not to “be good.”  Paul describes a similar experience in Romans 7:21: “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.”  So, I thought, the answer was not in trying to be good.  Then how do you be good?

Of course, the passages from James, the ones that were causing me so much pain, also held the cure.  I started to realize that when my faith was strong, my natural inclination was to “be good.”  When my faith was weak, well, my inclinations were otherwise.  But according to Ephesians, faith, like salvation is a free gift from G-d.  Now my temptation here was to blame G-d.

After all, if faith, like salvation, is a gift from G-d, and if G-d wanted me to be good, he had to give me more faith, right?  No, wrong.  Faith is faith.  OK, I know that this is a tautology, but nevertheless, it is a very meaningful one.  Faith is not weak, it is not strong – it just is. And we either have it or we don’t.  When G-d gives us faith, and he gives it to all freely, what we then do with it is up to us.

One of the things we can do with faith is act on it, and when we act on our faith in G-d, then by definition, we are doing good.  How could it be otherwise?  Faith comes from G-d, we act on and out of that faith; would G-d let us do evil? I don’t think that is possible!

The other thing we can do with faith is not act on it.  But if we act, and not on faith, then what are we acting on – or out of?  We are by default, acting on and out of our own desires, motivations, and (good?) intentions.  Uh-oh. What did Paul say again?  “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.”

So, I learned that it is when the person of faith stops trying to be good, it is then that faith takes over, and we are good.  But, faith is very willing to step aside when the person of faith wants to take over for a while.  This is when we say our faith is weak; but no, our faith is not weak, we are weak.  And when we act out of our weakness and not out of our faith, we are putting our weakness on display and hiding our faith.  Again, “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” 

I started to become comfortable with James.  I started to use my “good works,” or lack thereof, as a measure, not just of my faith, but of how well I was doing in letting G-d be good in me, so to speak.  Whenever I try to do the right thing under my own power, my faith starts to weaken, and I find myself less able to do the right thing that I desire to do.

When I stop trying to do the right thing, and just rely in faith, on G-d, I find that what I do is the right thing.  How could it be otherwise?

So who is right in the faith versus works debate?  Are the Catholics right? Do our works of faith save us? Or, are the Protestants right?  Is faith alone sufficient to save us?  The answer to those questions, I believe, is “Yes.”

 

The Final Solution

then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.” Deuteronomy 30:3 NIV

As I begin writing this, it is January 27, 2015, a date that marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. This day is of particular significance to me for a number of reasons, but first a brief review of the history of Auschwitz.

Auschwitz was actually a network of concentration, extermination, and labor camps that the German Nazis built and operated in occupied Poland during World War II. Auschwitz I was originally established in 1940 to hold Polish political prisoners. The extermination of the prisoners there began in 1941. By early 1942, Auschwitz II was constructed as part of the Nazis’ “Final Solution”, their plan to exterminate all of the Jews of Europe, and ultimately the world. It is estimated that at least 1.1 million prisoners were executed at Auschwitz; about 90% of them were Jews. Later came Auschwitz III, a labor camp that supplied workers to an IG Farben factory. (Most of this information is from the Wikipedia article “Auschwitz Concentration Camp“)

When I was very young, probably in the range of 5-7 years old, I came across a set of books belonging to my father. They were a five or six volume set, entitled “A Pictorial History of World War II”.

As the name states, the books told the story of the Second World War, mostly with pictures.  Some of the pictures were relatively benign: pictures of troops in training, of USO gatherings where coffee and donuts were served, or perhaps a USO sponsored dance, and pictures of Women’s Army Corp (WAC) members dealing with the rigors of life in the field.

Other pictures, though, were taken during battles, of land, sea, and air, and showed up-close ground combat, aerial dogfights, and tremendous naval engagements.  As I viewed these pictures, my young heart and mind were awed and made fearful at the same time.  What would I have done, if I had been there?  Would I have been afraid?  Would I have been brave?  Would I have come home?

Still other pictures depicted the aftermath of these battles;  burned out tanks and sinking ships, the wreckage of planes, the desolation in the wake of the atomic bombs, the fire-bombing of Dresden, and of course, the wounded, the dying, and the dead.

One day, as I paged through a volume, I came across pictures that I had difficulty understanding.  They were the pictures of the liberated concentration camps.  War, to a degree, I understood, even at that age.  There were two sides; they disagreed, they fought, killed, and died, for what they believed in.  But the concentration camps were another matter.

At first, I wasn’t even sure of what I was looking at: emaciated survivors with hollowed eyes, crematoriums with half burnt bodies, bodies piled eight feet high awaiting burning or burial, mass open graves with bodies tossed in helter-skelter, where, incredibly, the Nazis had tried to hide their atrocities before the Allied troops arrived but were forced to flee ahead of the advancing armies before their work was done; and, finally the “showers” themselves, where the victims, mostly Jews, were herded and gassed.

This was, to my young mind, incomprehensible.  Why had this been done?  What had these people done to deserve this?  What could anyone possibly do to deserve this?  And who were they, the victims of these crimes?

I went to my parents with my questions about the “war” books, and they were a little upset with me that I had been in their room by myself, something I was not supposed to do. But much more than that, they were horrified that I had been exposed to these things at my young age.  They made an attempt to explain to me what I had seen, but how do you explain such things to someone so young?  How do you explain them to anyone, really?

You can’t, except maybe to simply say that the German Nazis were bad people and, for some reason, they hated the Jewish people.  The bottom line though, was that I was absolutely forbidden to look at the books anymore, and in fact, I did not until years later.

But I never forgot them and the impression they made.  Over the years, I got answers to my questions, but the answers only raised more questions.  For example, to say that the German Nazis considered themselves the “Master Race”, and Jews (and just about everyone else) as inferior; that they were trying to “purify” their nation and their culture explains nothing.  It is delusional and insane.

A modern, “civilized” nation, one of the most modern and most civilized, put people in charge that not only held these deranged ideas, but believed them to the point that the they would methodically and systematically go about the task of murdering a people with the same detachment and business-like efficiency of a successful sausage maker.

Of course, though the holocaust may be the worst example, persecution of the Jews did not begin with the Nazis.  We should not forget that Israel was born a nation of slaves in Egypt.  The Pharaoh tried to wipe them out when they left Egypt.  Later, the Assyrians defeated the ten northern tribes of Israel, and scattered them to only G-d knows where – and He does.

When the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin were in exile in Babylon, another villain whose name begins with an H, Haman, plotted to induce King Xerxes to destroy them, only to end up plotting his own ignominious execution.  In more recent times, the sorrowful, shameful history of most of the nations of Europe, and their relationship with the Jewish people, led up to the holocaust and made it possible.

And of course, unfortunately, the persecution of Israel did not stop with the German Nazis, either.  The day in 1948 when, for the first time in almost 1900 years, Israel once again became a nation, the neighboring countries tried to drive them into the sea, and out of existence.  This is still the desire of many, if not all of them, to this day.

The most amazing thing, though, about this story of attempted genocides and persecution isn’t that it happened, but that the people of Israel not only survived, but have prospered.  This is where the story gets really interesting because all of this was predicted thousands of years ago.

The prophets of the Torah predicted, starting with Moses, that the people of Israel would be scattered and persecuted.  They predicted that they  would lose their land and reside in the land of strangers, even those hostile to them; but, they also predicted Israel’s restoration and ultimate vindication

The Christian scriptures, which also had Jewish writers, followed in this tradition and spoke of these things.  Jesus Himself spoke of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple, and the Book of Revelation describes Israel’s restoration in the end times.

So, is the modern state of Israel a fulfillment of these prophecies?  Some argue that no, they won’t be fulfilled until the nation is fully restored and the Messiah rules from Jerusalem.  My view is that it is a fulfillment of prophecy, but there is still more history to go and more prophecy to be fulfilled.  Anyway, there are plenty of books on Bible prophecy, and that is not the purpose of this article, so lets just say for the sake of argument that the state of Israel is at least a partial fulfillment, and the rest is yet to come.

What does all of this have to do with explaining the Holocaust?

I am reminded here of the story of Job.  In the beginning of the Book of Job, we find G-d holding court, and in comes Satan from “roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it”. (Job 1:7 NIV)

G-d asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless–a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil”. (Job 1:8 NIV)

Satan replied that, of course Job fears G-d – G-d has protected Job and made him wealthy, but if G-d took everything that Job had, he would curse G-d. G-d then gave Satan permission to take everything from Job, except his health. (Job 1:9-12 NIV).

Satan left G-d’s presence and attacked Job, taking or destroying all of his possessions, and even killing his children, but Job did not curse G-d. (Job 1:13-22 NIV)

Later, G-d was once again holding court and Satan was there.  G-d pointed out to Satan that even though Satan had challenged G-d into allowing him to attack Job, Job did not curse G-d.  Satan responded that Job still had his health, and if G-d allowed him to take Job’s health from him, then surely Job would curse G-d.  G-d then gave him permission to take even Job’s health from him, but not his life.  (Job 2:1-6 NIV)

Satan once again left G-d’s presence, and afflicted Job with terrible, painful sores all over his body.  He was in such torment, even his wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9 NIV)  But Job refused to do so, and in the end, Job’s fortunes were restored and he was given many children. (Job 42:12-17 NIV)

In my narration, I have skipped many chapters, in most of which three of Job’s friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, try to convince Job that he must have done something wrong for G-d to allow him to be treated this way.  Job protests his innocence, and at times, questions God’s justice, because He allows the wicked to prosper and the righteous to suffer.

Job’s friends, while they say many true things about G-d,  persist, and even accuse Job of self-righteousness.  This is of course wrong, as G-d Himself said at the beginning of the story that Job was righteous in all his ways; and besides, innocent people suffer all the time in this world, a point which Job’s friends seemed to have missed.

One more of Job’s friends speaks up, Elihu, but instead of claiming that Job must have sinned in some way in order to suffer, he addresses Job’s attitude in the present.  He asserts G-d’s essential righteousness and tells Job that G-d cannot treat anyone wrongly.  He addresses Job’s complaints against G-d, and provides answers to those complaints, but unlike Job’s other friends, he never does accuse Job of unrighteousness.

Finally, G-d speaks up, but rather than try to explain Himself, He challenges Job with a series of questions, just as Job had questioned and challenged Him. Of course, Job is completely unable to answer G-d’s questions but, through these questions, G-d demonstrates to Job His omnipotence and His sovereignty, and Job realizes his folly for questioning G-d, and repents.  When G-d is done speaking to him, Job responds:

“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’

Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’

My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.

Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:2-6

But G-d did one more very important thing besides question Job, He fully vindicated him.  He told the three friends who had accused Job of unrighteousness that they had done wrong, and they needed to make the appropriate sacrifices in the hope that Job would forgive and pray for them, so they would not be punished for their own folly.  Job of course prayed for his friends, and was rewarded with far more wealth than he had before.  He was given seven sons, and three daughters who were the most beautiful in all the land, and he saw his children’s children to the fourth generation. (Job 42:12-17)

There are many lessons that can be learned from the Book of Job, but one that stands out for me and is most relevant here is that, according to the scriptures, there is a war going on in the spiritual realm.  It is a war between good and evil, between G-d and Satan.  The war began when the angel Lucifer, the most beautiful and intelligent of G-d’s creation, let pride enter his heart and determined to make himself god in G-d’s place.  One of his strategies is to demonstrate that G-d is not sovereign, that He is a liar, and unfit to be G-d.

As part of this war, Satan enlisted man on his side through cleverness and deception.  G-d, out of love for man, developed a plan, His own strategy to win the war, and to win man back.  G-d could have made other choices, such as to simply destroy Satan and the angels that followed him, as well as man, and started over; but, what would that have proven? In a creation where G-d has given created beings the ability to choose, brute force solves nothing, and persuasion, diplomacy, and most important, love, are necessary.

Man, then, has become both a combatant and a battlefield in this war.  Satan continues his deception and constantly tries to create doubt in men’s minds about G-d.  G-d simply continues to show His love for man, and requires man only to have faith in Him and His plan.

The book of Job teaches many other lessons, one very important one is about our attitude towards those who suffer and how we should treat them.  Do we accuse them of sin and unrighteousness, or do we provide them with comfort?  Do we tell them that G-d is punishing them, or do we assure them that G-d loves them and cares for them?

Our answers to those questions could very well determine whose side we are on in this great, millenniums long war that we are in.

Slavery and Deception

You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman.”  Genesis 3:4 NIV

Everyone knows the story of Adam and Eve.  G-d created a perfect world, a paradise.  He created a man and a woman, placed them in this perfect world, and put them in charge.  G-d told them that they could eat of any tree in the garden, including the Tree of Life, but they could not eat of one tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Along came the serpent, who we find out later was already at odds with G-d, and he deceived the woman Eve into eating the fruit from the forbidden tree.  She then offered it to Adam, who had apparently witnessed the interchange between Eve and the serpent, and he ate of it also.  And so began, according to Genesis, the entirety of the human experience: alienated from their creator, enslaved by the serpent, and awaiting the “seed of the woman” to crush the serpent’s head and redeem them (Genesis 3:15).

Whether you believe that the book, of Genesis was written by Moses, by some unknown group of scribes, or by G-d, through Moses, its assessment of the human predicament is right on, and it has many lessons to teach.  One of those lessons is about deception and in fact, the story is a case study in deception and seduction.

The first thing to observe is that the deceiver always has a goal, an objective.  What was the serpent’s objective?  Although it is not explicitly stated, it would seem that the serpent’s objective was to separate man from G-d, but why would he want to do this?

It is commonly believed that the serpent was jealous of man and the position that man held and would hold.  Man was created by G-d, in G-d’s own image and likeness.  In addition, man was given charge of the Earth and everything in it (Genesis 1:27, 28).  Another factor may be the Tree of Life, of which it is understood that if man ate of it, he would become immortal.  Perhaps the serpent knew this and desired to prevent it.

Finally, man had a special relationship with G-d.  G-d would walk with the man and the woman in the garden, conversing with and teaching them.  Regardless of the reason, though, it seems pretty clear that the serpent desired to break up man’s relationship with G-d, and by doing so usurp G-d’s position in that relationship.

The conversation between Eve and the serpent seems to begin innocently enough, with the serpent saying “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1).  However, by asking this question, the serpent was able to bring Eve’s attention to the one thing G-d had forbidden.

Of course, G-d had not said that the man and woman could not eat from any tree, only the one tree.  Eve was quick to point this out when she responded “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

Notice how Eve embellished G-d’s command with the addition of “and you must not touch it”.  Many interpret this to mean that the serpent’s deception was already working in Eve, and it may also indicate that Eve had previously thought about the tree.

Maybe Eve thought that by adding the extra prohibition, it would help her obey G-d, after all, if she didn’t touch it she couldn’t eat it, right?   If so, this strategy may have backfired, by making it harder, not easier, to keep G-d’s original commandment.  After all, if Eve touched it and did not die, then why not eat it?

What it does show though, is that Eve was at least interested in the forbidden fruit at this point, or she would not have added the additional command. 

The serpent responded with the bold face lie “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4), directly contradicting G-d.  He further explained that G-d was actually the jealous one, not wanting man to “be like G-d”, knowing good from evil.  There is a twofold irony here; first, man was already like G-d in may respects, having been created in G-d’s image and likeness, and second, had man eaten from the Tree of Life, he would have become even more like G-d, having everlasting life (Genesis 3:22).

By now, Eve is completely taken in by the serpent, and is looking at the fruit of the tree as not only a source of good food, but also a source of wisdom and pleasure (Genesis 3:6).  She tasted the fruit and gave some to Adam, who had been watching and listening.  He readily ate the fruit also, and the rest is, as they say, history.

Before going further with the main theme, it is worth mentioning that over the years, more than a few have accorded the woman the blame for The Fall, as it is known, but even a superficial reading shows that this is not the case, for many reasons.

First, the command had been given to Adam, before Eve had been created (Genesis 2:15).  Now, it is clear that Eve knew of the prohibition, but this is still a mitigating fact.  In addition, the serpent directed his deception directly at Eve, and only indirectly at Adam.  Adam was there and made no attempt to stop the serpent, or stop Eve from being deceived.  In my opinion, the woman comes out of this much better than the man.

That the woman comes off much better is demonstrated later, when G-d finally catches up with them.  The woman blames the serpent, but the man blames the woman!  Neither one of them was willing to take responsibility for what they had done, but at least the woman had some reason to blame the serpent, but what reason did the man have to blame the woman?  Sorry guys, but it looks pretty bad for the man here!

Having said that, what can we learn about deception from the story?  First, as stated previously, the deceiver has a purpose for his deception, a goal.  I think we can also say that the deceiver must be subtle, at least at first, only slightly distorting the truth, but then will resort to the boldest of lies when the time is right.  The deceiver must also know something about the deceived that leaves them vulnerable to deception.

Ok, but what about the deceived?  What I mean is, if Adam and Eve were both deceived, why should they bear any responsibility at all for disobeying G-d?  They were deceived, right?

Unfortunately for our first mom and dad, and for the rest of us, it is not quite that simple.  The question that begs to be asked is, why was the serpent able to deceive them?  After all, it was just one simple rule, and they could eat from any other tree, including the Tree of Life.  What was so hard about that?

And man had a good, loving relationship with G-d.  Had G-d given man any reason to mistrust Him?  He placed man in paradise, gave him lordship over an entire planet, walked and talked with him in the garden.  G-d had done nothing but love and bless the man and the woman.

The reason the man and the woman were responsible for their disobedience, even though they had been deceived, lies in the nature of disobedience and in the nature of deception.

Disobedience requires a lack of trust.  Clearly, Adam and Eve both had been thinking about the forbidden tree.  This is demonstrated by Eve’s embellishment of G-d’s command and Adam’s inaction when Eve was being tempted.  Perhaps they had discussed the tree beforehand.  Perhaps they had considered the same issues that the serpent brought up and had wondered themselves why G-d had forbidden the fruit of that tree.  This isn’t stated in the text, but it is not unreasonable to think this based on what is stated.

But G-d had already told them why they should not eat from that tree, it was because they would die.  Many people seem to think that this was primarily a punishment, but I don’t think so.  I believe it was  just a consequence of eating the fruit.  G-d was simply saying to them look, don’t eat from that tree, it will kill you.  Certainly there are fruits and vegetables today which are poisonous and  if eaten in sufficient quantity can result in death, and this was one of them.  Had they trusted G-d, they would have gone to him with their concerns, but instead chose disobedience.

This brings us to a very important point about deception, which is that people who are unwilling to be deceived will not be deceived.  Adam and Eve wanted to eat of that fruit, and all it took was the subtle and crafty serpent to tell them they would not die, and they went for it.  They had a choice, they could believe G-d or the serpent, and they believed the serpent, because he told them what they wanted to hear.

I am reminded of the Fleetwood Mac song in which some of the lyrics go “tell me lies tell me sweet little lies”.  Unfortunately, this is all too true.  We often want to be deceived because we think that it provides us with an excuse for doing things that we know we should not.  It does not, as the story relates.

Finally, deception always results in slavery.  From the false advertiser who induces us to spend our money on a product that does not live up to its billing, to the unscrupulous lender who deceives us into buying a house that we cannot afford, to the politician who promises us the world on a string if we only vote for him, they are slave masters all.  They prey upon our weakness and thereby have us do their bidding.

In the end, though, the real enslavement is not to the deceiver, it is to ourselves, and the weakness within us that leaves us vulnerable to deception.  Whether it is greed, or lust, or pride, or envy, whatever it is that causes us to allow ourselves to be deceived, that is the thing which ultimately enslaves us.  When we indulge that weaknesss, it only strengthens its hold on us, when we refuse to indulge it, we will be taking the first steps to emancipation.

Emancipation cannot take place though, without an unshakable commitment to the truth.  If you read my previous blog, “Freedom and Truth”, you know that the truth will set you free.  Perhaps now you are starting to see how that is so.

Freedom and Truth

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32 NIV

The post-modern world says that at best, the truth exists but is unknowable, and at worst, it does not exist at all.  On the other hand, Jesus said that knowing the truth will set you free.  They both can’t be right.

Before we go to that question, though, we need to ask what is meant here by freedom.  Is it physical freedom, such as freedom to move about, freedom of association, of speech, of worship?  Is it intellectual freedom, the freedom to explore unhindered the various ideas and philosophies of this world?  Or maybe Jesus was talking about spiritual freedom, not freedom of worship,  which is the freedom to practice a particular religion, or go to a favored place of worship, but the freedom to be loving, giving, kind, hopeful, faithful, unafraid, without guilt, and content?

Given the context and the application of Jesus words by his disciples, I think it is safe to say that Jesus was speaking of spiritual freedom; he was saying that by knowing the truth and, one assumes, believing it, one will be set free from spiritual deception and the spiritual bondage that goes with it.  But, while I believe spiritual freedom was Jesus’ primary intent here, I am sure that Jesus was well aware that after spiritual emancipation comes emancipation in all other areas.  After all, didn’t Jesus also say “Seek the Kingdom of God, and you will get everything else along with it”?

This truth has been demonstrated throughout history.  The nation of Israel physically came out of Egypt, but they were still in spiritual bondage and because of this they could not enter the promised land.  After forty years of wandering, the original faithless generation died off, a new generation, strong in faith in the truth that G-d had given them, emerged to take possession of the land that G-d had promised.  There they lived for hundreds of years in relative freedom, peace and prosperity.

America as well had a similar beginning.  Various small groups of Christians, often a persecuted minority, left their native lands, and strong in faith in the truth that G-d had given them, endured great hazards to settle a new land.  Based on that faith, and the philosophy and moral principles that came with it, a nation emerged that would become the most free and most prosperous in history.

History has also demonstrated that as nations, and individuals, lose that spiritual freedom, they also lose the physical freedoms that come along with it.

After Israel entered the promised land, they lived as a loose confederation of tribes, with no central authority, except G-d and the laws he had given them.  Over time though, several hundred years, the people left the original faith, and as they did so, chaos began to reign.  Ominously, the history book of this period, the Book of Judges, ends with the line “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)

The situation deteriorated to the point that in the first Book of Samuel, the people demanded that Samuel appoint a king.  Samuel protested that a king would conscript their sons, collect taxes, and otherwise diminish their freedoms, but the people insisted.  Samuel consulted the Lord and the Lord told him to give them their king, that it wasn’t him, Samuel, that the people were rejecting, that it was the Lord.

Parallels can also be drawn here to America, which started as a loose confederation of states, and now has empowered government at all levels, particularly at the central , federal level, at the expense of individual’s and state’s freedoms.  Few people know that a popular battle cry of the Revolutionary War was “We have no king but King Jesus”.  Much like Israel, at it’s founding, America’s king was G-d, and much like Israel, over time the people began demanding another “king”.

So far so good, but we still have a problem.  The modern world tells us that, for all intents and purposes, there is no truth, while the wisdom of the ages says that the truth will set you free.  What to do?

Well, let’s take a look at the concept of truth.  What is truth?  Some of the definitions in Merriam-Webster are “the real state of things”, “the body of real events or facts”, and “agreement with fact or reality”.  So truth is reality, right? So if reality exists, then truth exists, right?  I am unconvinced by my own argument here, but I do believe that truth exists.  Why?

Because, on a practical level, without truth, we simply could not function.  Imagine a situation in which you buy a pound of beef, put it on your scale at home, and it only registers a half a pound.  You go back to the store, they put it on their scale, and it registers a pound.  You contact the local Bureau of Weights and Measures, they bring out their scale, and lo and behold, your scale is correct, and the store owes you another half pound of beef.  The store is also fined and is required to get an accurate scale.

What does this have to do with truth and reality?  Everything, actually.  We have the truth of the money having an accepted value at the time of purchase, we have the truth of the beef having a certain value at the time of purchase, and we have the truth of the amount a pound is equal too.  Now you might say that the value of the money changes over time, and the value of the beef changes over time, so they can’t be truths because the truth is unchangeable.  Well, who says?  They are all a part of reality and reality changes, so the truth can change as well.  We might call these transient truths, but they are truths none the less.

But what about the pound?  Does that change?  Well in theory, it could, but as a practical matter, the purpose of the Bureau of Weights and Measures is to see to it that it doesn’t change, so the answer is no, the amount equal to a pound does not change.  This could be termed a permanent truth, the kind I think we’re all looking for, but there still is a sense of dissatisfaction.  Why?

Well, you say, it’s because you are talking about “practical” truths, and we want to talk about moral and spiritual truths, the kind of truths that set you free.  My answer to that is, they are the same thing, because it should be apparent that there can be no truth of any kind without a standard.  In the case of the value of the money and the beef, the market, which is changeable, provides the standard, and in the case of the pound, the Bureau of Weights and Measures, which is not changeable provides the standard,

So what is the standard for moral and spiritual truths?  This seems obvious to me, the standard is not a what but a who, it is G-d.  The creator of all things is the creator of all truth.  Of course, it is no wonder that the post-modern world denies truth, it is because the post-modern world denies G-d.  Without G-d there is no truth; without truth, there is no hope.

We still haven’t addressed the problem of knowing the truth.  How can one know the truth, especially in a world seemingly so full of lies?  Here again a practical example might help.  A parent tells a young child, don’t put your hand in the flame or it will burn you.  When the parent is not looking, the child tentatively places his hand near the flame, feels the heat, and immediately learns the truth.  The simple answer is we learn the truth primarily through trial and error, in other words, experience.

But that isn’t really enough, because pure trial and error can be very dangerous, and few would survive for long.  The key then, is that we must have a guide, just as the parent served as a guide to the child in the example above, so we must have a guide, maybe more than one.  There are many possible guides, including scripture, religions, philosophies, other people, even G-d Himself.  I am not going to tell you who or what to choose as your guide, but you can probably make a good guess as to who and what are my guides.

I will say though, choose your guides wisely, make sure they have stood the test of time.  What has been the fate of others who have followed those guides?  Has the guide ever been wrong and what were the consequences?  Make sure it is a guide you can put your faith in.

I believe that the journey from being a caterpillar to a butterfly requires a firm commitment to the truth.  Truth is reality, what is.  A commitment to the truth provides you with the ability to explore all possibilities, strengthens your faith, and allows you to grow.  Deny the truth and you will be a slave to whatever lies you believe, but know the truth and it will indeed set you free.