Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Suicide and mistaken notions


The recent suicide of Robin Williams, with all due respect to his family, has brought up some important, serious consideration and discussion on depression. Unfortunately, it is also taken as the opportune moment by some saints in Christ to cast condemnation and judgment in ways more deeply rooted in opinion than their knowledge of the scriptures which they profess.


I only thought to contribute to the discussion because of a nineteen year old young man in India whom I first met online a few years ago. He had been contemplating suicide at that time but has since then come to faith in Jesus. He just asked me a few days ago whether, as he said, a person who commits suicide could enter heaven. I replied I did not know but that suicide is never an option I would ever counsel or encourage for anyone. Needless to say it prompted to examine the scriptures for a better understanding of suicide although the subject, aside of King Saul's suicide, is not mentioned explicitly in the scriptures.


Suicide strikes us as appalling for theological or emotional reasons. One reason for that may have less to do with the death itself than our lack of understanding concerning sin and forgiveness. The consensus among some saints in Christ seems to be that sin (such as suicide is regarded by some and while I do not dispute that I do not hear much understanding being shed on suicide merely by labeling it a sin which condemns the person to damnation) must be acknowledged before one can receive the necessary forgiveness of that sin. There are two instances in the scriptures, which although they do not involve suicide, they involve sin. Furthermore, there is no indication from God in those instances about his forgiveness either towards Moses or towards Peter.


Moses lost the privilege of leading Israel into the promise land. The reason was because Moses rebelled against God. (Numbers 20) Peter denied Jesus just as Jesus had prophesied (John 22) not once but three times yet there is nothing in the scriptures about neither Moses’ nor Peter’s 1) acknowledgement of their sin, 2) repentance of their sin, or 3) forgiveness of their sin. Let’s not squabble about Moses striking instead of speaking to the rock or Peter’s mere denial of Jesus as though it were a small matter. It needs to be said lest there be any misunderstanding that when Jesus restored Peter through that gut wrenching questioning of Peter's love for Jesus it was Jesus' forgiveness of Peter for having denied him. (John 21) Jesus had also admonished Peter that once he was restored he was to "strengthen your brethren." (Luke 22)

The option by those who agonize in life and are overcome in their depression such that they fear life more than death is no different than to fear death more than life. Jesus experienced this agony and understands it. Even though he was fully confident of his own identity and the purpose of his life the agony which came over him with the approaching hour of his death was not a matter which he faced nonchalantly. It was through his subsequent power and triumph over death that those words he spoke long before his crucifixion take on a powerful meaning:


The thief only comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.
The contrast between a thief and himself was to emphasize the point that what Jesus came to do was to give life and to give it abundantly. This gift of life is a matter of great joy precisely because Jesus was raised from the dead and is alive.

So, what might this suggest, if anything, so as to enlighten us about suicide? I believe both of these instances speak to the mistaken notion, particularly of the saints in Christ, to think their slate must be squeaky clean with one final confession and prayer for forgiveness of sins just before dying. According to that mistaken notion Moses and Peter stand condemned because despite the serious, public nature of their sin they never acknowledged, repented or received forgiveness for their sin. Is their sin any less than suicide, or self murder as I have heard some people call it, or the little white lie they either forgot, denied refused to acknowledge much less repent or ask forgiveness?

It seems an easy play for the mistaken notion that suicide is the desperation act of those who have no hope or trust in God. This notion has a way of allowing us to not focus or overlook those sins more common and for which we can be admonished by others, something not easily embraced, or admonish others, something we tend to anticipate with some eagerness. This is not so with suicide victims. Whatever our good or bad judgment or condemnation of those who have passed from this life has absolutely no bearing on them. However it does serve to reveal our knowledge, ignorance, wisdom or love as those who proclaim the message of the love of God for those who hear us.

Peace to all.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Suffer the Children: American & Christian response to the immgrant children crisis

Suffer the children is a popular phrase attributed to Jesus. These words were spoken by Jesus. (see Matthew 19 & Luke 18) The phrase is the English translation according to the King James Version of the Bible. Jesus spoke these words to admonish and call his disciples to an awakening of their hearts. How could they possibly be indignant or bothered by the children who wanted to draw near to Jesus? The phrase, like many things taken from the scriptures, has had its share of various and wild interpretations. Suffice it to say, and to deflate at least one such interpretation, it has nothing to do with making children suffer or leaving them to agonize in their suffering. The meaning of these words of Jesus was that he wanted the disciples to, permit or allow, the children to come to him.


My use of the phrase in this article is to awaken Americans and Christians alike from the attitude of indignation and bother concerning certain children. This phrase can speak to those things which, either professed or practiced, are fundamental tenets of American democracy and  the faith that is in Christ Jesus, if we will listen. (The latter reference to the faith is what the world also has coined as Christianity.)


This is not an indictment of my Americans compatriots and brothers and sister in Christ.

Nonetheless, there are feelings of resentment, anger, frustration and fear which has stirred Americans and Christians. Specifically, these are related to the influx of immigrant children illegally crossing the southern border of the United States. They range in age from nine to seventeen years of age approximately.


This article is limited to certain tenets of doing good towards others such as comes through charity and compassion. These have been proclaimed and upheld by Americans in times past. There is also an open welcome to these children as well as a demand for the immediate return of these children to their country of origin. I believe it is a travesty, if not being disingenuous, for Americans and Christ to absolve and distance themselves from their tenets under the guise that these children are violating the law of the land. Yes, this is correct and undeniably true. But, for those who do reflect the tenets of our American democracy and the faith of followers of Jesus that guise does not and can not absolve us of the higher moral standard.


It should be noted that presently there are some concerted, organized, charitable and compassionate responses from the political and faith fronts to provide care with food, clothing and medicine for these children. In the interest of brevity and simplicity I will use the term fear as inclusive of those others feelings. It is not intended as a bland or overall stigma of fear towards these immigrant children by Americans and Christians.


fear of the children


These children, whether at their parents’ prompting or the children’s own urging do not seek to draw near draw to Jesus like those in the first century. Their ambition is to come into the United States where, they have heard, is a better life for themselves. Adding to that stew pot of feelings are indicators that some of the older children bear the tattoo markings and other characteristics of gang life. Yes, this is represents a call for diligence on the part of law enforcement. There is resentment directed towards the government. The fear of disease-ridden children plays loudly in the hearts of the fearful. This fear is a dormant, laten bit of history. It is too far in the past for many to remember that it was European disease-ridden immigrants who unwittingly produced untold numbers of death among the indigenous peoples of the Americas.


American fear: a political reaction


One of the reactions to the children is a political one. Some Americans angrily resent the quick response involving billions of millions of dollars by the government to address the problem involving these children. Some protest that there is a neglect for a much needed similar response to the needs of children and families in America. Of course,there are reactions with nothing more substantive than the unbridled mix of anger and contempt.


But what, if anything, does the virtue of human kindness extolled, cherished and demonstrated in America’s history by Americans remind us and call us to do concerning these children? Here is Lady Liberty’s call to the world and a reminder to American and Christian alike.




America’s compassion towards European countries and Germany


After the end of World War II Germany was devastated because of the extensive bombing by the Allied Forces. Germany, America’s war enemy,  would have had a much slower recovery had the U.S. not implemented the four-year Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan loan or gave aid towards the European countries’ reconstruction and recovery, initially, but was later amended to include Germany. The American tenet concerning the liberation of Europe was inseparable from that of charity and compassion. Government officials might not have called it economic aid and while the word descriptors might have been different the net result was that the people in those post-war ravaged countries were the recipients of much good. This post-war wasteland far from America’s shores and if it been left, had other mindsets prevailed, to suffer and rot could well have turned into a very different world to say nothing of prolonged suffering.


The Preamble: an American pronouncement


This post-war participation in the recovery of Europe may have been one of America’s, even if unwitting, realizations and greater fulfillment of these profound words in The Preamble to the Declaration of Independence:


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


The rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness may not be known or articulated by children, but that does not dissolve or nullify these human, inalienable rights. These rights are not the sole property or domain of American citizens or of those living in America, but they are that with which all men have been endowed by their Creator, or do Americans believe what they profess?


Christian fear: a faith reaction


A brief clarification is in order. Christians, that is disciples or followers of Jesus, are not bound by the Jewish Tanakh. It is that body of scripture commonly known as the Old Testament. It is revered and accepted as the inspired word of God as much as the new covenant, that is, the New Testament, its law and content are understood as having been expressly for the nation of Israel and no one else. The Tanakh is the heritage of Christians.


One of the consistent, recurring admonitions which Israel learned and was reminded by God was that they were to not only not oppress the alien and the foreigner in their midst, but that they were to care for him. Provision for the stranger in the land was a solid tenet of the law of Moses for Israel.


Jesus and the poor


Jesus admonished his disciples when they feigned their indignation at what seemed to them a waste of what otherwise could have been sold for much and given to the poor.


However, knowing this, Jesus said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has done a good work for me. 11  For you always have the poor with you; but you don’t always have me.


Many years ago I remember hearing a politician’s very appropriate passing reference to this passage. He said it is not a prophecy about the poor as though it were something about which we can do nothing, but that it is an indictment on our society.


Jesus related a judgment scene (see Matthew 25) to his disciples. The righteous were on the King’s right hand. There were those (who are not described) who were on his left hand. What was the criteria by which they were judged? It was what they had done when they saw the needy and how they responded to those needy ones. The righteous were surprised to learn that, unknown to them, it was Jesus to whom they had fulfilled the need for charity and compassion towards the needy. The others on his left were surprised to hear this about the righteous because they were at a loss, as they acknowledged to the Lord, that they had never seen him. What they failed to discern was that those needy ones whom they overlooked and failed or refuse to fulfill their needs was Jesus in their presence.


(apolitical note: the references to right and left in this judgment is not the same as these are used to identify and align oneself with a particular political ideology. It is apolitical and void of politics.)


The King’s judgment of the righteous:


Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35  for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. 36  I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.’


the response of the righteous to the King’s judgment:


“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? 38  When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? 39  When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’


the King’s judgment of the those on his left:


Then he will say also to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels; 42  for I was hungry, and you didn’t give me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; 43  I was a stranger, and you didn’t take me in; naked, and you didn’t clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’


the reaction of those on the left to the King’s judgment on them:


“Then they will also answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t help you?’


the response of the King to those on the left:


“Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.’


conclusion:


The current crisis of immigrant children illegally crossing the United States’ southern border has produced a kind of side effect crises of the heart and conscience among Americans and Christians. It is a crises question: Will we absolve ourselves of the high moral calling for charity and compassion for these children because they have broken the law and leave the children to suffer? Or will we allow our hearts and conscience to speak to us and respond to the need of those children?


Americans have a rich treasure of high calling whether from The Preamble of the Constitution of the United States or the examples of the America providing sustained post WWII assistance not only to the victims of Germany’s aggression, but to our former enemy Germany, too.


Jesus’ admonished and confronted his disciples for their attitude short on genuine compassion for the poor. The call of Jesus for his disciples is at least as ancient as in biblical history as the consistent admonition for Israel to never forget the alien, the foreigner in their midst because they too were once foreigners.


The mainstream media does much to portray American reaction to reject busloads of these immigrant children as well as urban dwellers protests about being neglected by the government. Still, there are instances (despite some ugly administrative fumbling) of federal as well state responses by Americans in response to the children. There are churches joining together with other organizations along Texas border cities to respond with charity and compassion to these children.


This is praiseworthy and is to be commended in Americans as well as Christians who are being true to profess and practice their respective tenets of politics and faith. If you are not able to support those efforts on the basis that the law has been broken that too is viable response. It may be the opportune moment for the obligations towards law and the heart come together, not to clash, but to acknowledge and uphold the high principle of nurturing and foster life as in the case of these children. Yes, suffer the children; permit the children to come.

Monday, July 14, 2014

all Israel will be saved: Replacement Theology

I want to state out front that I reject Replacement Theology. I reject, too, the opposing view which states Israel is still in covenant relationship with God. Similarly, I reject the anti-semitism charges which come with those rejections. I trust my reasons will be made clear through my comments on this article by Dr. Gary Hedrick, President of CJF Ministries. (The article names Rabbi Loren Jacobs as author, also. It would seem these two individuals know each other. I am not interested or concerned with exactly which one of the two wrote the article.)


Generally, I prefer a Bible term or phrase rather than one created by men, hence the Bible phrase in the title of this article. It is that I am averse or that I take offense at those which have been created by men. It’s just that often these terms and phrases are concocted as a means of simplifying for easy understanding of those matters which are supposedly too difficult for the saints to comprehend. These end up being added to the badminton of terms and phrases volleyed back and forth by scholars and others to elevate the discussion to a level above those whom they purport to enlighten.


Replacement Theology is one such term. Simply stated, it is a teaching which states the church has replaced Israel in God’s plan. The term has undergone some changes and is also known as supersessionism. The broad spectrum under which Israel is viewed in Replacement Theology includes either of these two. 1) The economic supersessionism which states God’s work with Israel has been completed and there is no further connection or purpose for Israel. 2) Punitive supersessionism states God has punished Israel for its rejection of Jesus, the Messiah.


I refer the reader to the article for a brief overview of the historical origins and various explanations of Replacement Theology by different individuals. My response to Replacement Theology in that article is taken from the Tanakh (known by Christians as the Old Testament) and New Testament writings.


all Israel will be saved


The Jewish Tanakh writings are often quoted by the apostle Paul and other New Testament writers. Hedrick cites and quotes the Romans 11:11,12 passage to support his claims for Israel as a covenant people.


I ask then, did they stumble that they might fall? May it never be! But by their fall salvation has come to the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy. 12 Now if their fall is the riches of the world, and their loss the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness?


Hedrick’s point is true, valid and indisputable. God has not rejected Israel anymore than the church has replaced Israel. He cites verse 26; all Israel will be saved as the proof text to counter Replacement Theology. However, he neglects an important qualifier noted by Paul earlier.


But it is not as though the word of God has come to nothing. For they are not all Israel, that are of Israel. 7 Neither, because they are Abraham’s offspring,* are they all children. But, “your offspring will be accounted as from Isaac.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as heirs


This important qualifier of the promise by the apostle Paul did not originate with Paul or with Christians today. It is as exclusionary as it is inclusionary and is not anti-Semitic. It is a recurring theme in Paul’s writings to continually emphasize that the promise of God is according to faith. This was the message of the prophets to Israel in the days leading up to captivity of Israel by Babylon. Israel learned that salvation and deliverance would come from the Lord, but only of the  remnant, those who had remained faithful to his covenant would return to Jerusalem. The message was not popular or well received by Israel anymore than much of what the prophets had to say and which cost several of them their lives.


It will come to pass in that day that the remnant of Israel, and those who have escaped from the house of Jacob will no more again lean on him who struck them, but shall lean on Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. 21 A remnant will return, even the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. 22 For though your people, Israel, are like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. A destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness. 23 For the Lord, Yahweh of Armies, will make a full end, and that determined, throughout all the earth. Isaiah 10:20-23


“I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they will be fruitful and multiply. Jeremiah 23:3


For Yahweh says,
“Sing with gladness for Jacob,
and shout for the chief of the nations.
Publish, praise, and say,
‘Yahweh, save your people,
the remnant of Israel!’ Jeremiah 31:7


King Hezekiah sent word to the prophet Isaiah to pray for the remnant.


It may be Yahweh your God will hear all the words of Rabshakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master has sent to defy the living God, and will rebuke the words which Yahweh your God has heard. Therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.’” II Kings 19:4


I will surely assemble, Jacob, all of you;
I will surely gather the remnant of Israel;
I will put them together as the sheep of Bozrah,
as a flock in the middle of their pasture;
they will swarm with people. Micah 2:12


So, while all Israel will be saved exactly what this means was determined and made clear and not arbitrarily determined by the apostle Paul but by the prophets, the servants of God. Even in the Jeremiah passage quoted above concerning the remnant the prophet elaborated further about a new covenant which God would make with the house of Israel. This promised covenant would not be as the one he made with their fathers who were the flesh and blood descendants of Abraham.


27 “Behold, the days come,” says Yahweh, “that I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and with the seed of animal. 28 It will happen that, like as I have watched over them to pluck up and to break down and to overthrow and to destroy and to afflict, so will I watch over them to build and to plant,” says Yahweh. 29 “In those days they will say no more,
“‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’
30 But everyone will die for his own iniquity. Every man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth will be set on edge.
31 “Behold, the days come,” says Yahweh,
“that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel,
and with the house of Judah:
32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt;
which covenant of mine they broke,
although I was a husband to them,” says Yahweh.
33 “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days,”
says Yahweh:
I will put my law in their inward parts,
and I will write it in their heart.
I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
34 They will no longer each teach his neighbor,
and every man teach his brother, saying, ‘Know Yahweh;’
for they will all know me,
from their least to their greatest,” says Yahweh:
“for I will forgive their iniquity,
and I will remember their sin no more.”
35 Yahweh, who gives the sun for a light by day,
and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night,
who stirs up the sea, so that its waves roar;
Yahweh of Armies is his name, says:
36 “If these ordinances depart from before me,” says Yahweh,
“then the offspring* of Israel also will cease from being a nation before me forever.”
37 Yahweh says: “If heaven above can be measured,
and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath,
then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done,” says Yahweh.
Jeremiah 31:31-37

children of the promise


If all Israel will be saved this can not be Israel in the flesh and blood. Rather, it is the children of God who are of faith who are to be saved. Paul writes:

8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as heirs Romans 9:8


It is through this declaration by which the apostle Paul reminded Jewish Christians of what must surely have resonated with them; that the promises of God going back to father Abraham are according to faith, not flesh and blood. Assuredly, those Jewish Christians in Rome, like those Jews of the remnant in king Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah’s time, lived and walked by faith. Those Jews living during Hezekiah’s reign lived under the law of Moses even while they were surrounded by those whose apostasy of unbelief had brought calamity and destruction on Israel.


The first century Jewish Christians in Rome were among those of the remnant, the faithful who walked BY faith and now THROUGH faith. This justification of the faithful is a core message of Paul:


since indeed there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith, and the uncircumcised through faith. Romans 3:30 What the justification of the circumcised and uncircumcised have in common is law; _ a word and a concept held with much aversion by many saints in Christ. Law is to be obeyed even such as Paul states, a law of faith in verse 27. Indeed, the priority of obedience was impressed on Israel early after settling in Canaan by the prophet Samuel:

22 Samuel said, “Has Yahweh as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying Yahweh’s voice? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry and teraphim.* Because you have rejected Yahweh’s word, he has also rejected you from being king.”


It is a travesty that Christians often view the entirety of Jewish history and Jews as not much more than automatons whose lives were a drudgery under the law with no joy or faith ever laboring feverishly in vain to fulfill the law. Yes, Israel was bound to live by and to keep the law, but among them were children of God who lived by faith as did their father Abraham. This is not to say these children of God thumbed their nose at the law, but the too struggled to keep even while they had maintained a faith in God which exceeded the constraints and ritual of the law.


The church has no more replaced Israel anymore than God replaced, abandoned or rejected faith in the individual who seeks after and love God. When God called Israel out of the world; an ethnic nation and later the church; the ethnic nation of Israel and all the ethnic nations of the world it was through faith. The call of those who are of faith today is through faith in Jesus who was raised from the dead and declared to be the Son of God.


conclusion


The term Replacement Theology is bad enough as the albeit well-intended effort to simplify for the saints the will of God. The unfortunate and completely unnecessary troubling of hearts which it produces among the saints in Christ as well as Jews is as good an indicator it has no place in the teaching of the church.


The church today, that is, the saints in Christ, no more created the concept of the remnant than did the apostle Paul. King Hezekiah and the prophets of God including Isaiah and Jeremiah revealed this exclusionary term to Israel in the days before Israel was taken captive by Babylon. Their message was that not all those who are Israel according to the flesh would be saved or would return from their captivity, but only the faithful remnant, the children of God, according to faith.


This is the exclusionary phrase with its limitations which Paul uses in Romans when he states, all Israel will be saved. Clearly, between the prophets of old and the apostles of Jesus any understanding of that phrase must reflect a focus on Israel according to the flesh and the significance of the contrast between that Israel and the children of God. There is nothing anti-Semitic in this thought and expression and the conclusion that God’s faith covenant with Israel remains intact. However, this covenant is not the same covenant of old. Here again, this was the message of Jeremiah, not something concocted by Paul or the saints today.

Lets not misconstrue or distort these things even if they may be difficult to understand much less accept. Lets not rail or assail against Jews that they are under a curse or the punishment of God. That reality is not an unfamiliar one to the Israel of history or to Jews today. The reality is that Israel, despite being front row witnesses to the wonders and miracles of God after He had delivered them from Egypt, were repeatedly caught up in their unbelief. It was an unbelief for which Israel saw some of their own, such as Korah, receive the punishment of God.

As always God bore with Israel even as he does today with them as with all Gentiles who have yet to come to put their faith and trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Peace to all.