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.


A Christmas Story

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” Revelation 21:4 NIV

It was Christmas eve, and the soldier stood in the mess line, shivering a little. It was late, so the line was thankfully short, for the air was bitter cold.  His turn came, he got his hot chow and coffee, then looked for a place to sit.

He had just arrived in this small town in France  with his unit the day before, December 23, 1944.  One day he was relatively warm and safe in Britain, and the next he was preparing to face combat for the first time.  They were moving to the front in the morning, on Christmas Day, to take up positions in the Ardennes Forest and help counter the German offensive that would become known as the the Battle of the Bulge.

Because of the lateness of the hour, there were only a few men in the mess area, but the soldier wanted to be alone, so he walked off a little looking for a place to eat his food, drink his coffee, and think.  The soldier had gotten several opportunities to avoid combat, and even the military.  When he was first called up and went for his physical, a spot showed on his lungs. The doctor wasn’t sure what it was, but suspected tuberculosis, and was going to fail the recruit because of it.

After some persuasion, the soldier-to-be convinced them not to fail him, but to let him come back in several weeks to retake the physical.  During the intervening weeks, he changed his lifestyle, exercised and ate better, and sure enough, when he returned, the spot had disappeared, and he passed.

Later, after basic training, while still stateside, a Sargent came around asking if anyone had any clerk typist skills.  The soldier did and said so, and the Sargent took him to an office to fill in for a day for someone who was out.  At the end of his shift, the Sargent told him to report back the next day, but the soldier replied that his unit was going overseas, and that he could not come back.  The Sargent told him not to worry about that, he wasn’t going anywhere, the Sargent would see to that, just report back the next day.  No, the soldier insisted, he would ship out with his unit, and he did.

He thought about these things, and his new wife he left behind, his mother, and home.  After walking a short distance, an unexpected sound got his attention.  He stopped, and listened, and heard it again.  It sounded like a baby softly crying.  It seemed to be coming from a darkened alcove nearby.  He walked toward the sound.

As he approached the alcove, some light from the street penetrated the darkness, and he could make out a woman and infant, huddled together and wrapped against the cold.  He drew nearer, and as he did, it became apparent to him that the woman was trying to nurse the child, but something else also caught his attention.  There was a glow around the mother and child, a halo around each of them.

Now, the soldier was not a religious man, and in some respects, quite the contrary.  It wasn’t that he was a bad man, but he carried in his heart an anger and bitterness, against G-d, and His church, that were founded in the experiences of his childhood, experiences he had never reconciled.

His parents were immigrants who didn’t have much, even when his father was alive and working.  However, when his father died and left his young wife with five small children, things became much worse.

His mother took in laundry, washed floors, and did whatever she could do to feed her family, but it just wasn’t enough, so she went to the local parish church for financial assistance.  Instead of giving her help though, they sent her to the welfare office.

The soldier remembered going with his mother as a young boy, to translate for her, because she spoke little English.  He remembered her humiliation, and his own, in having to go on public relief, and he didn’t understand why the church would not help.  First G-d took his father from them, and now His church turned them away in their time of need.

Later, when barely in his teens, the soldier found himself, along with two of his brothers, in a home for boys.  The home was run by an order of Christian Brothers.  The Brothers were good men, who provided the boys with the basic necessities: food, shelter, education, and when required, discipline.

There was a problem though, the home was infested with cockroaches, and it was the job of the boys to catch the cockroaches, as many as they could.  In fact, they had a daily quota, and the Brothers, each evening, would check and count each boy’s collection of insects, to ensure that they had found their fair share.  Those who did not had to keep searching until they did.

Sometimes, when the roaches were hard to come by, and a boy was tired and hungry, he would break some of them in half, so they would count as two.  This worked fine if he didn’t get caught, but if he did, there was the aforementioned discipline.

Discipline consisted of the offending boy being held face down across a large barrel, and having his behind whipped with a switch.  The process did little actual damage, aside from a few welts and bruises, but it was extremely painful, and to say the least, the boy’s were terrified of the punishment.  They would beg and plead for mercy, to no avail.

Not all offensives merited this form of punishment, but lying about meeting your cockroach quota did, and the soldier had received this punishment on several occasions, until he learned how to fix his roaches so that they actually looked liked two whole bugs.  There was a trick to it, you see.  Whenever you caught a big one, you cut it in half with your thumbnail, and then smashed up each half a little bit, and that was it; dinner, and bedtime, were at hand.

The soldier thought of none of these things though, as he peered into the alcove.  He was a little surprised by his vision, this picture of a haloed Madonna and Child.  Was it the angle of the light, was it only his imagination, or maybe the pressures of facing combat the next day were getting to him?

As he wondered at the sight, he was broken from his brief reverie by the realization  that the woman was motioning to him.  It took a few moments, but he soon understood that she was indicating to him that her breasts had no milk for her child.  His wonder turned to pity and sadness.  What could he do?

He thought of the canned milk at the mess truck, so he told her, as best he could, to wait for him, that he would get milk for her to give to her baby.

He hurried back to the mess area, and found them packing and preparing for the next day’s deployment.  He walked up to the mess Sargent and quickly explained to him the situation, and asked him for some milk.

The Sargent was in no mood for this intrusion, and told the soldier that he could not give him any milk, but the soldier persisted.  Just a little milk for the baby?  The Sargent replied that the milk was for American soldiers, for their coffee, not for French civilians.  The soldier said, well, OK, I have some coffee, how about giving me a little milk for my coffee.  Finally, the Sargent relented and gave the soldier the milk “for his coffee”.

The entire negotiation took only a few minutes, and the soldier hurried back to the alcove with the milk.  When he arrived though, the mother and child were gone.  In fact, there was no sign of anyone, or that anyone had even been there.

The soldier would think about this experience throughout his life.  He would relate the story to his wife when he returned home, and later to his children.  The story of his visit by the Madonna and Child on a cold Christmas Eve in an alcove in France.

It would be nice to relate that the soldier’s anger at G-d would dissipate after his experience, but unfortunately, this would not happen for many decades.  Decades of tragedies and triumphs, joy and sorrow that would follow.  Near the end though, he did seem to find some peace, but only G-d knows for certain.

So the significance of the story isn’t that the vision immediately healed the soldier’s anger and disappointment, or that it even gave him great comfort, except maybe for a few brief moments.  The significance of the story is the significance of Christmas itself.

For the Christmas Story is the story of a promise, a promise of a redemption that is yet to be fulfilled.  Yes, Christians will speak in the present tense, and tell you they are redeemed, and it is true, this was accomplished and completed on the cross, and demonstrated by the Resurrection.

But, in our lives, we still have our tragedies and disappointments, and our anger; and the world is still full of violence and chaos, and of mothers who cannot feed their children.  So, it is this part of the promise that is unfulfilled, our physical redemption, and the redemption of this tragic world we live in.

It is a story of hope.  Hope for the world, hope for each one of us, even hope for the angry soldier.  G-d can deal with anger, because to be angry at G-d is still to believe in G-d and it is to recognize G-d’s sovereignty, over us, our lives, and the world.  After all, what would be the point in being angry at a G-d who wasn’t sovereign?

Jesus once told us to be either hot or cold.  G-d can warm and soften the coldest, most hardened of hearts; He can temper the most heated and passionate of hearts, but with the lukewarm heart, the indifferent heart, what can He do?  What can be done with someone who just doesn’t care?

The Christmas Story is also a story of our own helplessness in the redemptive process, except according to G-d’s will.  The soldier,  in the end, was unable to help the mother and child, despite his best efforts. Yet redemption came to him that day, even if he did not realize it.  He could have simply ignored the mother and child, dismissing them, like the Sargent, as not his problem.  After all, what had G-d done for him anyway?  Instead, he responded with sympathy and compassion.  Its not that his simple act of getting the milk was in and of itself redeeming, but it’s the fact that he would even do so that demonstrated the redemption that was already in his heart, despite his anger.

Finally, there is this.  We think we know people.  We see what they do, we hear what they say, and we fear for them.   We see those who are angry at G-d and man, or who live dissolute lives.  We see people who seem to make every bad decision a person can make, and sometimes we may wonder, what hope is there for that person?  What we do not know, and only G-d knows, is what redemption may lie in that persons heart.  We see the outside, but G-d sees the inside, and only occasionally, if ever, does G-d give us a glimpse of what is truly there.

So, we should not fear, for others, or for ourselves, but should always look for the best in each; and when we can’t see that best and fear starts to take hold, think of the Christmas Story and its promise of redemption.  After all, who is redemption for, anyway, if not us?

Food for Thought

For the kingdom of G-d is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit…” Romans 14:17 NIV

I went on a diet a little over three years ago. I lost some weight, which is good, but what was most astonishing to me was how much better I felt, and within only a few days.  But I didn’t just feel better; I felt years-younger better, I felt no-more-heartburn-indigestion-acid-re-flux better, and I felt more-energy-needing-less-sleep better.

The diet is a relatively new, high-protein, low-carb regimen that attracted me initially by its simplicity.  No calorie counting, no points to worry about or weighing food; not that there is anything wrong with those kind of diets, it’s just that they’re not for me.

As I progressed in the diet though, an odd thing began to happen.  The above verse of scripture began to come to mind, and the better I felt, the more frequently I would think of this verse.

I finally had to face the fact that G-d was trying to tell me something, and after some thought, I realized what was going on.  It seems that as I felt better, I was actually beginning to think I was better.  That feeling better, because I was eating better, was actually making me a better person.

To be sure, there were improvements in my behavior.  Since I needed less sleep and had more energy, I began getting up earlier on weekends and taking on a bigger share of the housework, for example.  With far fewer aches and pains, I began exercising more and took up running, something I hadn’t done in years.  Also, feeling better physically helps me to feel better emotionally, and I generally have a better attitude and outlook.

The point is, if I wanted to make a case that in fact I was a better person, I could do it.  The problem is, I would only be looking at one side of it.  While I am not going to list my current personal failures and weaknesses, if for no other reason that I don’t have the time or space, I can, in an honest moment, admit that I am still the same person I was before the diet.  I am sure my family would attest to that, as well!

OK, I lost weight, I feel better, I have a better quality of life, so what’s the problem?  So what if I’m not intrinsically a better person, what’s the big deal?  Honestly, there is really no issue here, is there?  I’m not perfect, I should just get over it!

But, of course, for me things are never that simple.  Earlier in life,  and for a number of years, I had gone on a self-improvement binge.  I read all the self-help, self-improvement, pop-psychology books I could get my hands on.   Some of them were pretty good, others, not so much, but they all seemed to have one thing in common,  they all required that you take control of your life and change it in some way, and by doing so you could achieve health, wealth, happiness, long life, etc., etc., etc.

Sounds great, right?  Do this, do that, and voila, the new you!  Now, some would tell you – look, this isn’t going to be easy, but you can do it, anyone can, and here’s how.  Just a little effort, a little willpower, and you’ve got it made.

Oops, what’s that?  Effort, willpower?  Uh-oh!  This could be a problem.

Let’s take a look at effort first.  Effort requires motivation.   People are simply unwilling to exert any effort whatsoever, for anything, without motivation.  But what does motivation require?  Motivation requires a need.  Oh, what’s that, you want to eat?  Well then, you’ll have to work.  Now that’s motivation!

Willpower, on the other hand is a little harder to define, and I think the reason for that is that there really is no such thing, at least not in the popular sense.  You may disagree, and I have had this argument before, but I just do not believe that there is any such thing as willpower as the term is commonly applied.

Let’s break it down: will – power of choosing one’s own actions; power – ability to do or act; capability of doing or accomplishing something.  For the record, the definitions are from dictionary. com, and were chosen from the many definitions for each word to fit the present context.

Both words imply action, but “will” is about choosing to act and “power” is about the ability to act.  Willpower, it would then seem, is the ability to choose and to act upon one’s choices.

So far, so good.  Everybody can make choices, and everybody can act on those choices – or can they?  If I choose to walk from point A to point B, but I am incapable of walking, then I can’t act on that choice.  I may have other options for getting from A to B, but walking isn’t one of them.  Will power has nothing do with it and in fact it would be more than a little cruel to suggest to me that if only my willpower was stronger, I could walk from point A to point B.

The above illustration begs the question:  If it would be cruel to suggest to a person with a disability that they could walk if only they had the willpower, why do we think it is OK to suggest to a smoker, for example, that they could quit smoking if only they had more willpower?  Or to suggest to an obese person that they could lose weight if only they had more willpower?  Might this be just as cruel?

One might point out that the person who can’t walk has a physical disability that prevents them from walking, but the person who smokes or who eats too much is choosing to do so, and that would be correct, but let’s expand our illustration a little.

The disabled person wants to walk from point A to point B, but they can’t, so they lift themselves into a wheelchair, and wheel themselves from A to B.  They have accomplished their goal, albeit not by walking; and again, willpower has nothing to do with it.

Now, what about the person who smokes, for example?  I have had experience in this area, having smoked for 23 years.  I stopped, by the grace of G-d, over 26 years ago, but not after a long struggle in “trying” to quit.  In fact, the more I “tried” to quit, the more I smoked.  Right before I stopped, I was smoking 3 packs a day, and had been for some time.

So what happened?  Before I answer that, let’s take a quick look at human nature.  People, in general, don’t do anything without a reason.  The reason may be rational, or irrational, but they have to have a reason. Secondly, they require motivation.  A reason, and motivation are related, but in the end very different.

Let’s look at the reasons for quitting smoking: smoking shortens lifespan, smoking degrades the quality of life, smoking can harm others, smoking costs a lot of money, and you could probably list others.  I had all of these reasons to quit, yet could (would?) not.  Why?  Because none of those reasons were enough to counteract the fact that I enjoyed smoking, and in fact, rightly or wrongly, I believed I was actually getting some benefit out of smoking.

Therefore, none of the listed  reasons motivated me to want to quit.  I enjoyed smoking and I was willing to take the risks.  The problem, however, is that I have a wife who wanted me to quit, and society in general was bringing more and more pressure on smokers to quit, and still is.

So what to do?  This is where “trying” to quit smoking comes in.  Let’s face it, if you’re trying to do something, you’re not doing it, but to others, it looks like you’re doing it, right?  At least you’re trying.

“Where’s Bill?”, someone might ask.

“He ran out to have a smoke.”

“Bill smokes?”

“Yeah, but he’s trying to quit.”

“Oh, well at least he’s trying.”

I’m not saying that my efforts were deliberately insincere, but as I said, when you’re trying to do something, you’re not doing it, you’re just trying.  At best though, I was deluding myself into thinking I was quitting smoking when I was really just trying.

So reasons do not,  in and of themselves, provide motivation to quit. And honestly, having someone nagging you to do it or being pressured from society only makes things worse.  Our fallen human nature automatically rebels against any pressure to do anything, let alone something we have no good reason to do.

What I’m getting at here is that we human beings do not do anything  unless we want to do it.  This is  much more profound than it may appear.  It is profound because it is so simple.  When we want to do something, like the person who can’t walk from A to B, we just do it, we don’t try to do it, we do it!

So this was my dilemma:  I enjoyed smoking, but I was under pressure from my family and society to quit.  The more I viewed things in this way, the worse things got.  Periodically, I would try to quit, not because I thought quitting would be beneficial to me, but because of the pressure to do so.

The problem is, each time I tried to quit, I would end up smoking more. At least the pressure to quit would let up somewhat, and as an added benefit, each time I tried and failed, I got a certain amount of sympathy.  “Poor Bill, he’s really trying to quit [I was], but he just can’t seem to do it”.

But I did quit, eventually, so how did I do it?

As a Christian, I believe that all things ultimately come from G-d, including the ability to quit smoking.  In one of my more objective and honest moments, I said to Him, “Look, I know that I should quit smoking, but I just don’t want to [this insight also came from Him], so I’m going to have to turn this over to You because it’s just not going to happen if left up to me.”

I would like to say that at that moment I quit and never picked up another cigarette, but alas, that is not what happened.  The reason is that I still wanted to smoke, and G-d will not directly interfere with our will.  Whenever Jesus cured someone, He would often say “Your faith has healed you,” and there is at least one passage that refers to the fact that Jesus could only perform a few miracles because of the relative lack of faith of the people in that particular area.

What did happen though is that things just kept getting worse until I was, as I said earlier, smoking three packs a day.  As things got worse though, some other things began to happen: like the commercial said, I was “smoking more and enjoying it less”.  Even those times when I normally enjoyed smoking, I was not.  I also started to see just how destructive smoking could be, and not just to my health, but potentially to my family.  After all, I was an example, and I really did not want my children to smoke.

There was the financial damage.  I had a wife and two children, with one on the way, and I was spending almost $100 a month on cigarettes.  That does not seem like much now, but in 1988 it was almost a car payment!  What was I thinking?

Also very important, I started to realize that my rebellion was misplaced.  Instead of rebelling against G-d and man, I should rebel against smoking and my desire to smoke because that is what enslaved me, not G-d and my family or society.

What was happening over a period of months, is that my heart and my mind were being remade in a way that, in the end, I wanted to quit smoking, and I finally said to the Lord, sincerely and from my heart, “I want to quit smoking.” It was from that moment on that I have not smoked another cigarette.

I still get uncomfortable, to this day, when people hear that I quit smoking after 23 years, and they say “Wow, how did you do it”?  The fact is, I didn’t do it, I just put it in  the Lord’s hands and He did it.

And willpower had nothing to do with it.

So, what are the lessons I learned from my smoking and diet experiences?  First, it all starts with G-d.  Any power we have to do anything comes from Him.  Even that act of turning to Him in faith comes from Him.

Second, we have to have faith that G-d can address our problems, if He chooses to do so.  When He chooses not to for a time, we have to have faith that He has His reasons for not doing so.  This faith also comes from G-d.

Third, we have to want to resolve the problem.  This is a statement, or assertion of will, not a passing fancy or simple desire. Wanting to resolve the problem also comes from G-d.

The fourth step is relatively easy because once we want to do it, we don’t try to do it, we just do it.  Does this guarantee success? No, because the outcome is in G-d’s hands; but we still, in faith,  do all of the things necessary to accomplish our goal.

As for being a better person, simply quitting smoking or losing weight does not make us better people, but it even goes further than this. None of our efforts can make us intrinsically better people; but G-d, when He chooses, and in response to our faith, can not only make us better, He can and will, in His time, make us perfect.


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.


Faith, and What’s Important

Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 9:7-9 NIV

When I was a child, I believed in G-d with a very real,  but innocent and naive, faith.   As I grew older, this faith was challenged, and frankly, it did not hold up very well.  One of the problems was my curious nature.

I was always asking questions, and my favorite was, “Why?”  Whenever I asked, “Why?”, and did not get a satisfactory answer, I would have trouble moving past whatever it was I was questioning until I did get an answer.  Over time I became the type of person that would dig and dig for answers to questions that were important to me, and just about all of them were, until I got a satisfactory answer, and I could then move on.

This trait led to a crisis of cynicism at a fairly young age, one that I still experience to some degree to this day.  At a point early on I began asking questions like “Why are we here?”, and “What is the point of everything?”, and I did not get any satisfactory answers to them.

As time went on, and still not getting the answers my obsessive nature demanded, I started questioning my faith.  The more I questioned my faith, the more cynical I became, the more cynical I became, the more I questioned my faith.  I entered a downward spiral, spiritually and emotionally, that seemed to have no end.

Eventually, after considerable fruitless searching and despair I decided that I needed to move on with my life.  Why I decided to move on I will explain below, but I began making decisions, and acting as though what I did had some meaning and purpose, even though in my heart I carried a great sense of futility.   My life went on like this for quite a few years.

Just about everyone has asked themselves similar questions, and have arrived at their own answers, or not.  But, whether one finds an answer or not, this search for meaning, and the results of this search, as filtered through our individual personality types, upbringing, and beliefs, are what drives and motivates us to think and do much of what we think and do.  The answers, or lack thereof, define us.

While the details of the answers that people arrive at to these questions are as varied and different as the people themselves, I believe that the answers fall into a number of broad categories.  There are those who will come to the conclusion that there is no ultimate purpose; those who come to believe that there is a purpose, but just don’t know what that purpose is; and those who attempt to define their own purpose.  There is a fourth category, which I’m saving, for the time being.

Those who fall into the first category, that there is no ultimate purpose, tend to become nihilistic and self-indulgent.  They lack any real belief in anything, and live only to “experience”.  One could say that experience is their purpose.  Existentialists fall into this category, and this was the direction I was heading except for one thing: this answer was simply unacceptable to me.

Maybe it was my Catholic upbringing, or maybe it was because I saw purpose in everything around me, except myself, but I just could not accept the idea that there was no purpose except to simply exist for a time and then just slip off into oblivion.  True, the purpose of the things around me were man-centric, and it was man’s purpose I was questioning, but the simple fact that I could even conceive of the thing,  purpose, told me that it existed.

This led me to the idea that there was purpose, I just didn’t know what it was.  This also led me to my decision to live my life as if it had purpose, while continuing to search for that purpose.  The  fact that I was going to live my life anyway, whether I found an answer or not, and that in order to do so I needed food, shelter, companionship, all those things that make up a life, was also highly motivational in my decision to move on.

This leads us to the third option, which is to simply make up a purpose in an otherwise meaningless universe.  One could say that this is what I did, making my purpose to be discovering my purpose, but that would not be correct, since I did not believe that the universe was otherwise meaningless.

The person who adopts the third option accepts the fact the universe is meaningless and without purpose, but are still dissatisfied with the answer, and so provide their own meaning by doing such things as adopting causes, devoting themselves to particular subjects, or particular people or groups, or even simply to themselves.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that everyone who takes up a cause believes life is meaningless, and are simply inventing their own purpose.  On the contrary, I would say that most probably believe that, in fact, the activity or cause they are engaged in, is their purpose.  Since those in category two often, in their search for meaning, engage in similar behaviors as those in category three, it is worth dwelling on this a little more with an example of what is a true category three person.

I once read something about Karl Marx, how, while he was pursuing his socialist utopia, his family lived in abject poverty.  A quick Wikipedia check revealed that Marx had seven children with his wife, but only three lived to adulthood, due at least in part to the extreme poverty they lived in.  One might assume that this is what motivated Marx to write as he did, that he saw the poverty around him, the unfairness of it all, and decided he was going to change things.  The problem with this theory is that Marx himself was the product of a well-to-do middle class upbringing, and his own family’s poverty was not the inspiration for his single-minded pursuit of socialism, but was actually caused by it!

And what of Marx’s legacy?  Surely the deprivation that he and his family endured was somehow worth it, right?  Surely, he left the world a better place, more just, more humane, right?  Well, not exactly.  It is said that when Stalin collectivized the Ukraine, up to 7.5  million people starved to death.  In Communist China, in the late fifties and early sixties, tens of millions of chinese starved to death, as a direct result of the Communist government’s policies.

It is fitting to observe that if Marx had simply minded the wisdom of Solomon, quoted above in Ecclesiastes, the world, and his family, would have been much better off.  Of course, that he was an atheist, made this extremely unlikely.

One thing to note here is the difference between someone devoted to a cause out of love, passion, and a calling; and someone devoted to simply achieving meaning for their own otherwise meaningless existence.  People dedicated out of love, while often extremely self-sacrificing, do not force sacrifice for their cause on others.  They may ask for it, but they never force it.  People motivated by their fear of nothingness and anonymity, while sometimes willing to make their own sacrifices, often are willing to inflict pain and suffering on large numbers of people, for the achievement of their goals.

 This brings us to the fourth category, and that is the answer that provides the true meaning and purpose of our existence.  Different people will come to different conclusions as to what that is.  My conclusions are best illustrated by the story about Jesus, when he was asked, “What is the greatest commandment”?  It is worth relating the entire story, from Mark.

“And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?  And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:  And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.  And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.  And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:  And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.  And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.”  (Mark 12:28-34 KJV)

It should be noted that Jesus was quoting from the Hebrew scriptures, the books of Deuteronomy (6:4-5, known to Jews as the Sh’ma Yisrael, or simply Sh’ma ) and Leviticus (19:18) when he answered.

 The meaning and purpose of our lives then, is to love.  Love G-d, love each other.  I am not talking about love as a noun, as a feeling, but love as a verb, as action.  Love as positive, creative action.  We have been created in the image and likeness of G-d, and we are told that “G-d is Love” (1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16).  Aren’t we then meant for love?

Of course, when you truly love someone, there is work involved.  We want to please the object of our love, and have that love returned to us.  How often have the words “I love you, I will do anything for you” been uttered, in one form or another?  Countless.  But, what would those words mean without action behind them? Men and women, for example, in a loving relationship, work hard for one another and their children.  Why?  Because that is what love is and that is what love does.  The words, without action behind them, without sacrifice and the willingness to do so, are completely devoid of meaning.

So, what is important?  Well, love is important, but more than that, loving relationships are important.  Love requires relationships to be fully expressed, and many say that this is why G-d created us, in His image and likeness.  It was so that He could share His boundless love with more beings like Himself.  I would go so far as to say that love is not really possible without relationships to express that love, and that therefore, it is our relationships that ultimately give meaning and purpose to our lives.

First, our relationship to G-d is most important, because He is the source of all love, without whom love of others is not possible.  Whatever love we have, we get from Him.  Our life’s meaning and purpose is derived from Him and defined by Him, by our loving relationship with Him.

Second, our relationship with others is important.  Why?  Because, we return G-d’s love for us to Him by serving others.  We serve Him by serving others, because, let’s face it, what does G-d really need?  He’s G-d!  This service takes many forms, and differs depending on the one with whom we have the relationship.

We serve our spouse differently than we serve our children, and differently than we serve our employer.  We serve our friends differently than we serve the homeless stranger on the street begging for money.  But all of these relationships should have one thing in common, and that is love.  Love should be the motivating force for everything we think, say, and do.  Are we there yet?  Well, I can only speak for myself, and the answer is no, I’m not there yet and I have a long way to go.

At this point you might be wondering “Well, where does faith come in?”.  After all, the title of the post is “Faith, and What’s Important”.

In 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul goes into a lengthy discourse on love.  I am not going to repeat it here, but it is very well-known in the Christian faiths, and if you haven’t read it, it is well worth the time.  Paul ends these passages with the famous line “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love”.  (1 Corinthians 13:13)

I believe that Paul ordered “faith, hope, and love” in the sequence he did, because he was implying that the former required the latter, so that without faith, one could have no hope, and without hope, one could have no love.  While love is greater than hope, and hope is greater than faith, neither one of them could exist without faith.

This is illustrated by my own example.  If I didn’t have the simple faith that there had to be more to life, I would not have had the hope to move on, without the hope to move on, I would not have been able to find the love to establish the constructive relationships I needed to move on, and do the hard work necessary to maintain those relationships.

This idea of our meaning and purpose being an extension of our loving relationships with G-d and with others was illustrated to me in a profound way with the passing of my mother.  She was a person who loved life, loved a party, and loved  G-d and her family and was completely devoted to them.

I could go on at length about the trials in her life, the good times, and the bad, and how she responded to these things, but I think it is sufficient to say that all I knew of her was love, and the sacrifices she made for her husband, her children, and others, out of that love.

The meaning and purpose of her life became evident at her funeral service, in those who arrived to show their respects.  My family was wondering who would show up, after all, she was 90 years old.  I mentioned that she had a very active life well into her senior years, and had touched many people, but even I was a little surprised at some of those who were there.

The immediate and extended family were there, of course.  And there were others whom she had known in recent years, this was to be expected.  But there were others, such as the former co-worker, who hadn’t seen my mother since she retired over twenty-five years prior.  There was the friend who had gotten out of touch because of her own health issues, who just “had to come”, being pushed in a wheelchair.

There was the childhood friend of my brother and I, neither of us had seen in forty years, who remembered how welcoming my mother was to all of our friends when we were children.  And there was the son of one of my mothers childhood friends, who herself had recently passed, who came to express his sympathy, on behalf of himself and his family.  There were numerous others, family and friends, all whose lives had been touched for the better by knowing Mom.

My mother had few possessions, when she passed, and little money.  Her memories had long faded.  She hadn’t championed any great causes, unless you count being a lifelong Democrat, of which she was very proud.  But what she did leave behind was the lives she had impacted, the loving relationships she had established.  It didn’t matter that many of these people hadn’t been seen in years, relationships grounded in love do not require constant contact to be maintained; once established, they last forever.

In the end, our lives are defined and given meaning by others and our relationships with them, first with G-d, and then with all those we encounter on our journey.  When all else is gone, there remains only love, and there is nothing else.  This, then, is the meaning and purpose of or lives, to be loved and to love. (from Moulin Rouge)

The Era of Big Government

“Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”  Genesis 11:4 NIV

Big Government is not a modern creation, at least according to the book of Genesis.  It first appeared in ancient Mesopotamia, thousands of years ago.  The first Big Government program, as related in Genesis, was the building of the Tower of Babel.  The project was undertaken as a means of uniting the people and preventing them from spreading out across the earth. Strength in numbers, I suppose.

The problem is, they had been specifically commanded by G-d to “fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1).  So it would seem that the first Big Government was formed, and the first Big Government program was undertaken, as an act of rebellion against G-d and in direct disobedience to His command.

G-d’s response was to confuse the language of the builders, which in turn led to the eventual dispersion of man across the earth (Genesis 11:7-8), as G-d had originally commanded. Interesting, how G-d’s will is always fulfilled, despite man’s best attempts to thwart it, but that  is the subject of another post.

Unfortunately, the era of Big Government was not over with the failure of it’s first major project. From the early empires of Egypt and the Middle East, to Alexander and the Caesars, from Charlemagne to the Caliphate, to Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin and Mao, history is littered with the ruins of failed Big Governments and their projects, along with the corpses of their countless millions of victims.

Big Government comes in many forms. In ancient Babylon, all one had to do was worship a golden statue of the king, or be thrown into a furnace.  In Rome under the Caesars, complete loyalty to the emperor was required, and any sign of disloyalty, such as being a Christian, would get you hung on a cross or made part of the days entertainment in the arena.

In more recent times, a lack of commitment to the International Proletariat in the Soviet state would earn you time in the Gulag, or worse, make you “disappear”.  And of course, in Germany under Hitler, not conforming to Aryan purity got you a trip to the “showers”.

Alternatively, here in the US, and elswhere, there are Big Government programs that provide for retirement, medical care, and food for the poor, among others.  These programs are generally looked upon favorably.

Whether they are viewed as good or evil, though, there are some common attributes of Big Government programs, and given these attributes, we need to ask what is their impact on individuals? Not necesarily the political or economic impact, but the spiritual impact?  Do these programs promote spiritual growth and maturity, or impede it, or are they neutral in this respect?

Let’s first take a look at some of the common elements of Big Government and its programs: 

1. Participation is mandatory.  Whether the goal is ruling the world, or feeding the poor, Big Government programs require full participation.  If you allow one person to dissent, the whole scheme eventually unravels.  This is problematic for those who disagree with the goal, or the methods of achieving it.  Punishment for non-participation, or worse, outright resistance, can range from social ostracism, to imprisonment,  to execution.  Even the most benign Big Governments resort to extreme measures to ensure compliance with its programs.

2. Fear is the primary unifying factor.  It is hard enough to get even small groups of people to agree to a particular course of action, let alone large, diverse nations.  In addition to penalties described above, cooperation with Big Government programs is achieved by identifying some threat, real or imagined, and then managing the resulting public response to the desired result.  The threat could be military, as in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, or simply not being able to pay for health care, as in the Affordable Care Act, but Big Government programs require some fear generating mechanism to gain support.  The leaders of the Tower of Babel project used man’s individual vulnerability as its fear generating mechanism.

3. Individual responsibility and action is futile.  Big Governments play down the effectiveness of the individual and individual action, unless it is directed toward the stated goal of the group.  Providing for one’s own retirement, or medical care, cannot be done effectively, therefore Big Government must do it.  People cannot be expected to provide lunch for their children, therefore Big Government must do it.  Families should not be responsible for the care of their elderly, so of course Big Government is there to help out.

4.  Targeted problems are exacerbated rather than solved.    It is telling that the first Big Government project at Babel resulted in the very thing the people were trying to avoid, being scattered across the Earth.  This is typical of Big Government projects.  Programs to make education more affordable in the end drive up the cost of education, programs to make health care more affordable end up making it more costly, wars of conquest lead to the eventual destruction of the would be conqueror.  The list goes on and on.  Never does a Big Government program actually solve the problem it was created to solve.  This leads us directly to our next common element.

5.  Big Government programs are self-perpetuating.  There are several reasons for this.  As indicated above, these programs tend to make the problem worse, requiring new and improved Big Government programs to correct the problems caused or worsened by the previous “solutions”.  Also, Big Government programs require Big Government bureaucracies to administer them.  Certainly it is not in the interest of the bureaucracy to actually solve the problem, as this would make the bureaucracy obsolete.  Finally, and most importantly, the very existence of these programs creates a need for them, because of the dependency they create.

6. Freedom and liberty are always diminished.  Big Government programs always require some sacrifice of time or property by some for the “benefit” of all. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”  Of course, Big Government determines what one’s abilities are, and hence one’s contributions, and also what one’s needs are, and hence one’s rewards.  However, this requires a form of tyranny, either “soft” or “hard”, to enforce.  Individuals cannot be trusted to voluntarily make these decisions for themdselves, because they may not conform to the common good, as defined by Big Government; and the free market, which is simply the combined decisions of millions, can be trusted even less than the individual.

7. All other possible solutions are precluded.  Big Government programs stifle innovation and creativity, because of their very nature. We can all point to programs that have done a lot of good, but at what price?   Have they done any harm as well? Is there a better way of doing it?  The problem is, we’ll never know, once a Big Government solution is implemented.  In fact, other possible solutions represent a threat that must be eliminated at all costs.  Proponents of other solutions are considered to be unreasonable and uncooperative, they are misguided, maybe even insane.  They require treatment, or re-education; and if that doesn’t work, well, see item 1 above.

Now that we have enumerated some of the characteristics of Big Government, it is useful to review several legends concerning the Tower of Babel project, because, along with the Genesis story, they illustrate many of these characteristics.  Both of these legends concern an individual named Nimrod.

Nimrod, in Genesis, is not associated with the Tower of Babel story.  However, he is mentioned in Genesis 10:8-12 as being a mighty warrior and a “mighty hunter before the Lord”.  He was also a king who founded the cities of Babylon (Babel), Erech, Akkad, and Calneh in the land of Shinar.  He then moved to Assyria and built the cities of Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calneh and Resen.

The Nimrod legends, on the other hand, do associate Nimrod with the building of the tower, but in completely different ways. In the one legend, related by the Jewish historian  Josephus, Nimrod was the king of Babel and desired to consolidate his power over the people with the building of the tower. An interesting comment by Josephus, concerning this Nimrod is “He also gradually changed the government into tyranny-seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of G-d, but to bring them into a constant dependence upon his own power” (Ant. I: iv: 2).  As an added incentive, he told the people that they would build the tower high enough that if G-d decided to flood the Earth again, they could escape the waters by climbing to the top of the tower. 

It is important to note that in this story, Nimrod wanted to turn the people’s dependence on G-d to a dependence on Nimrod!  Isn’t this what Big Government and its programs are ultimately all about; dependence, power, and control?  The fact that Josephus wrote this almost 2000 years ago is more evidence that the Era of Big Government, and awareness of its impact, has been around for a very long time.

In the second legend, as told by Ephrem the Syrian, Nimrod was actually a righteous individual who opposed the building of the tower, and a Jewish tradition further relates that Nimrod fled Babel to Assyria because of his opposition to the builders. This would seem to agree at least in part with the book of Genesis’ information on Nimrod, that he went to Assyria and founded cities there.

So what are we to make of these opposing stories?  And more importantly, can we learn anything about Big Government from them?  Most definitely, yes!

Let’s first take a look at the Genesis story of the tower.  As stated earlier, Nimrod is not mentioned at all.  In fact, Genesis does not provide any information about the leader(s), except that it appears they were a group, not an individual.  In the verse just prior to the one quoted at the top of this post, it says, “They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar” (Genesis 11:3).  The “they” and “each other” being referenced here are the people who had “migrated from the east” (Genesis 11:2).  It seems that a group, and a fairly large one at that, led the people.  If there was a single ringleader, the Bible is silent about him.

Given the two opposing stories, what did actually happen in the land of Shinar, so many years ago?  We can’t really know for certain, beyond what scripture relates, but perhaps Nimrod was in fact a righteous man, and the primary leader, or king, of the group that initially founded Babel.  Further, perhaps there was a group of leaders (a city council?) that proposed the building of the tower, for the purpose of controlling the people and keeping them together, and dependent on them, instead of on G-d.  When people are in a large group, it is much easier to control them and create the illusion that they can live without G-d, than if they are living independently in small groups.

As a righteous man, Nimrod could not go along with this rebellion against G-d, and not being able to dissuade the people from their folly, he left Shinar for Assyria, and founded several cities there.  Sometime later, G-d confused the language of the builders, and spread them out across the globe anyway.

So how did the first story arise, that made Nimrod the primary culprit? Well, this leads to an eighth common element of Big Government, and that is that the architects of Big Government and their projects are never to blame when the project fails.  It is always someone else’s fault.  In this case, Nimrod, no longer around, was made responsibile for the undertaking, and therefore responsible for G-d’s displeasure, and the scattering of the people.

This is just one very speculative explanation of what may have happened, and I’m sure you could come up with your own.  What I believe we can safely conclude from scripture is that the building of the tower was a group action and a group decision.  Maybe Babel was the first democracy and the building of the tower the first example of “democratic” action?  There was no single leader, at least none is specified in the bible story, but perhaps a number of community organizers led the effort.  Seems like resonable conclusions given the Genesis account.

The greatest danger of Big Government and its various programs is the loss of liberty, independence, and individual identity that they foster in those that depend on them.  Even those that are initially forced against their will to participate are in great danger of succumbing to the illusion of peace, safety, and prosperity that they offer.  So what can an individual do?

The Babel story itself provides the answer. Man is a naturally dependent creature.  Even the smartest, strongest, and swiftest among us are woefully weak and helpless in the face of the forces, natural and otherwise, that are arrayed against us.  Our temptation is to band together in large groups, seek safety in numbers, and build great cities, nations and empires.  We think that by doing this, our numbers and our reputation, our “name”, will protect us.  This is a dangerous illusion, as history has repeatedly demonstrated.

We have a choice to make, a decision: be dependent on G-d, or be dependent on man.  If we choose dependence on man, it is clear we are choosing slavery.  If we choose dependence on G-d, we can participate in these programs, if we choose to, without becoming dependent on them.  That is the freedom that comes from being dependent on G-d.

Now when I say “if we choose to”, we must consider that these programs are mandatory.  If we choose not to participate, there are penalties, fines, imprisonment or worse.  So, unless these programs are so completely offensive to us that we believe we are committing a moral wrong, it is in our best interest to participate.  The point is, with dependence on G-d, we do have a choice; with dependence on man, we don’t.

So, we can choose dependence on man and slavery, or dependence on G-d and freedom.  It is a simple decision, really, clear cut and well-defined.  I know what mine is, what’s yours?

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.