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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I Did It… My Way?

 ““For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.” Isaiah 55:8 NIV

I enlisted in the Army in the early 1970’s. My basic training company was one of the last to be trained under what was referred to as the old “Brown Boot” Army. After us, the rules and regulations of the new “All Volunteer” force would kick in.

The new way of training appeared to be a somewhat “kinder, gentler” basic training.  At least this is what it seemed to me as I observed the unit training several weeks behind mine, which trained under the new way.  Less running through the sand at Fort Dix, maybe a little less in your face.

For some reason, I’m glad I went the old way, maybe even a little bit proud of that fact.  I think that I just would not have had  quite the same sense of accomplishment, and one experience, among many memorable ones, has always stood out in my mind.

After several days of being processed in,  I found myself standing in formation outside the brick barracks that would be my “home away from home” for the next eight weeks.  There, the Senior Drill Sargent, Sargent First Class Hatcher, informed me and my fellow recruits of what would be expected of us over the course of our training.

While I can remember little of what he actually said, one thing he did say that I’ll never forget is, “In the Army, there are four ways of doing things, my way, your way, the right way, and the Army way, but while you’re here in this unit, you’ll do things…”

Now here I have to say that, at that moment, I knew what he was going to say.  I was so sure that I started to smile a little, this was too easy, I thought, he was going to say “the Army way”, I just knew it.

“…my way”, he finished.  See, I told you, he said… what?

Why wouldn’t  we do things the Army way?  This didn’t make sense.

And so we spent the next eight weeks doing things Senior Drill Sargent Hatcher’s way; not the Army way, not even the right way, and certainly not our way.  Now the purpose of basic training is to turn sorry-*ss civilians into soldiers, and you can imagine, this is no easy task; but, Sargent Hatcher and his associates were certainly more than up to it.

The first thing that needed to be done was to teach the trainees that everything they knew up to that point in life was wrong.  Not just some things, not just most things, but everything.  This was absolutely necessary because the relative lack in civilian life – of discipline, of commitment, of fortitude, of, well just about everything necessary for success in military life – meant that you pretty much had to start over with a blank slate, tabula rasa, as they say.

Once the “purging” was complete, the next step was for the Army to remake us in its image, or I should say, Senior Drill Sargent Hatcher’s image.  To say that this entire process was painful would be a great understatement, at least initially; but, after a while a surprising thing happened – we started to “get it”, at least most of us.

The more we “got it”, the less we resisted our extreme makeover, and the less we resisted, the less painful the training became.   Now, “getting it” wasn’t just things like learning to follow lawful orders, or learning how to fire a weapon or throw a grenade.  And there was much more to it than just the physical, mental, and emotional conditioning that was required.  These things were all absolutely necessary, but really don’t come close to comprising the “it” I’m referring to.

It wasn’t just thinking like a soldier or acting like a soldier, but it required a change of heart and mind, a  reorientation of our focus and attitude.  What it ultimately came down to was really just being a soldier.  It was just being a soldier.

I have found that most big changes in our lives require this kind of “re-making” experience.  The one really big change that readily comes to my mind that most people experience is marriage.

It seems that no matter how well your parents teach you (the “Army” way), or how many books you read (the “right” way), or how much you think you know (“your” way), the way you really learn about marriage is through your spouse (the “Drill Sargent’s” way).

Now, I am really not comparing your husband or wife to a Drill Sargent, but I think your spouse does fulfill a similar training role in marriage in that while your parents, the “book”, and your own experience and knowledge are all good for preparing you for your married life, no one or nothing can prepare you like your spouse.

The point here is that in both cases, one really doesn’t get to do things his or her own way, or some theoretical “right” way, but the way of the person best in the position to know how things should be done.

In the military, that’s the Drill Sargent.  In marriage, it’s your spouse.

Who better than a knowledgeable and experienced Sargent to teach recruits what they need to know to succeed, and survive, in the military?  And, who better than the spouse to teach their partner what they need to know to succeed, and survive, in a marriage with them?

I think there is a general principle here, which is actually very simple, and it is that the best source to learn something from is the person most experienced in the subject matter at hand who has a vested interest in you learning it.  Books are great, advice is often valuable, and your own experience and knowledge certainly plays a large role, but nothing beats learning from a true expert in the field, who is motivated to see that you learn, and has some means to compel you.

If we look at these items one at a time we can see why this is so.  Books, for example, have the great advantage of being neutral and dispassionate.  They also have the great disadvantage of being neutral and dispassionate.  The book is not intimidating, and can be read at your leisure, but the book doesn’t care if you learn what it has to teach, or even whether you finish it.  The book has no real vested interest in whether you learn it or not, and no means to compel you.

Advice from family and friends  is limited by their experience and while they may have an interest in you learning, they have no way of compelling you to learn either, in most cases.

As for you, while you may be a very knowledgeable and experienced person, your objectivity, when it comes to you, is almost non-existent.  Left to ourselves for motivation, we often let ourselves down.

Fast forward from Basic Training about two years.  I was doing well in the Army, making rank, and more than just getting by.  To be sure, I had made my share of mistakes, some big ones, but I had also met my fair share of success as well, and I liked being a soldier.

I was a paratrooper stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.  At that time, there were frequent outdoor concerts out in the country, usually in the woods.  Mostly Bluegrass and Southern Rock or Blues, and being the music lover that I am, I attended as many as I could.  Few things can compare to sitting out in the woods on a warm summer day, in the shade of the trees, listening to the Earl Scruggs Revue, or the James Gang, and maybe passing around a bottle of Jack Daniels, to take your mind off of things.

It was at one of these concerts, after parking in a grass field, that – little did I know at the time – an event occurred that would change my life forever.

My friend and I had just locked up the car and had turned toward the area of the concert stage when we were confronted by a hairy individual in cutoff jeans and t-shirt – a “Jesus freak”, as we called them then.  He stuck his hand out toward us, and in it was a small booklet.  My friend declined, but I was never one to pass up on a free book, so I accepted it gladly, thanked the hirsute fellow, stuck it in my back pocket, and moved on to the concert.

When I grabbed the publication, I glanced at the cover before slipping it into my pocket.  It read “The Gospel of John”.

I quickly forgot about the whole thing, and then months later, I was sitting in my apartment in Fayetteville and had probably just finished reading the local paper when I glanced down at the table next to my chair.  There was this little booklet from the concert.  I still don’t know for certain how it made its way to that table.

Now, I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with the gospels, having been raised a Catholic.  But as I have mentioned in previous posts, I had gone on a journey, a quest, to find the truth, and during this quest the Jewish and Christian scripture was the one place I hadn’t really looked.

So, I opened the booklet and it was in this context that I began to read, “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. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1-1:5 NIV).

As I read these words, a very uncomfortable thought entered my mind and my heart, and it was that what I was reading was true.  But that just could not be.  Why?

Well, for one thing, I understood the Bible well enough to know that if this were true, then the entire Bible was true.  If John 1:1 was true, then so was Genesis 1:1.

But even more disturbing to me was that if this were true, then everything I knew and had learned up to that point in my search, and my life, was wrong!  And I just could not accept that.

There is an old and wise saying, “Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it”.  This was the dilemma I found myself in.  I began thinking of all the reasons why this was not the truth, but again, something or someone spoke to my heart and said “There are answers to all your questions, all your reasons, you just have to make the commitment to finding them”.  I distinctly remember standing in the  center of my living room, my heart and mind in turmoil, arguing with…  who? myself? Well, no, I don’t think so.

Searching people who consider themselves open minded – if they are sincere – will always experience a certain amount of distress when they finally find what they are looking for; in particular, when the object of their search is something life-changing and profound, like The Truth.  One reason this is so is because once they find the truth, they can no longer be open minded, at least not in the same way as before they find it.

Before, I could consider every thought and philosophy, as possible.  After though? The funny thing about the truth, it is very exclusive.  I knew this instinctively, and this is why I fought and struggled so hard against believing what I was reading.  But I also knew I was being challenged to be, ironically, open-minded enough to at least consider this to be true, as I would any other viewpoint or fact.

In the end, I had to cave to the spirit of open-mindedness that I had embraced for so long, and make the commitment that was being thrust upon me to at least consider the Jewish and Christian scriptures to be true.  But to whom was I making this commitment?  To myself?

Well, once again, I don’t think so.  Then to whom?  Well, to the G-d that I still wasn’t quite sure I believed in.  I asked Him, if He existed, to help me know the truth.

From that point on, my life began to change.  The change wasn’t instantaneous by any means, and in fact, it is still going on.  For one thing,  I began reading everything “Bible” I could get my hands on; bible history, bible prophecy, apologetics, science and the bible, bible hermeneutics, anti-bible, pro-bible, bible neutral, bible commentary.  Anything and everything bible.

Another change began to happen as well, even more life-altering than my insatiable thirst for knowledge.  Little by little and piece by piece, my world was being torn down and disassembled.  Everything I had learned and thought I knew up to that point in my life was fair game to be questioned, deconstructed, and discarded.  I often had the feeling that I was “walking on air” with nothing firm under me for support.  Like Nino the Mind Bender from the Firesign Theater, I began to believe that everything I knew was wrong, and that was the one thing I was absolutely right about.

And more than that, I began to get the distinct impression that there was nothing random about the re-learning process that I was experiencing, that there was a plan and an intelligence behind it.

I would ask a question and the answer would come, in one form or another.  Maybe it was a book I would come across, or an article.  Maybe it would come in the form of a person that I would meet, seemingly by chance, or a television or radio program, or an ad in the mail.  Sometimes the answer would come sooner, sometimes it would come later, and sometimes the answer was, in fact, no answer.

What’s more, there was a deja vu familiarity about my experience, like I had done this before.  This thought nagged at me for some time until it finally occurred to me: I was back in Basic Training!  This training was much more thorough, though, and reached much deeper than my military training.  It left no thought undisturbed, no idea unexamined, no opinion undissected.

As my spiritual “basic training” wore on, I began to realize some things.  First, while it may be true that in the Army there are four ways of doing things, in life there are really only two: G-d’s way, and the world’s way.  Second, my training, as with my military training and later, my marriage training, consisted first of being torn down and then rebuilt.

In this case, the tearing down was being disabused of the world’s way of thinking and doing things, and the building up was being reformed into G-d’s way of thinking and doing things.

What is G-d’s way of doing things?  I’ll give just one example, but its a big one.

The world wants you to focus on man and his efforts.  The world says trust in yourself and your own efforts, or of some other person or group.  Believe in man.

G-d, in His scriptures, says to focus on him.  G-d says to trust Him in everything you think, say, and do.  Believe in G-d.  “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.” Isaiah 26:3 KJV

Recently, I was challenged to have a bucket of ice water poured on my head and make a monetary donation to a good cause.  I took up the challenge, and it was cold!  But I did it.

I am not going to list any more differences between G-d’s way and the world’s way, because I have a challenge for the reader.  The challenge is to make a commitment to know the truth.

Don’t make it to yourself – that will never work – but make it to G-d, as best you conceive Him to be.  If you’re not sure you even believe in G-d, then make the commitment to this G-d of which you’re uncertain, this “unknown” G-d, as the Greeks referred to Him.

If you take up the challenge, do it with an open heart and open mind, but with the understanding that as you learn the truth, most of what you think you already know will have to be discarded.  That is just the nature of things.

So what are you going to do?  Are you going to take up the challenge and make the commitment?  I can assure you, if you do, your life will never be the same.

 

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.