MARCH 17 2018
JEWS AND CHRISTIANS
John 17: 23, “May they be brought to complete unity.”
This was Jesus’ fervent prayer at the end of his mission. Jesus really wanted all who love God’s creation and see it as God’s work of Art, to forget all theological and historical differences and strictly unite under the banner of The New Jerusalem.
Now that the world is on the threshold of eternity, this ought to be our fervent prayer as well: complete unity between Jews and Christians.
To the keen observer our sinful life is speeding to its completion, and just as Jesus in his last prayer, we too should reach out and unite on what both Jews and Christians believe.
What then do we both believe?
Both Jews and Christians believe in the God creator. The Hebrew Bible as well as the New Testament has this compelling commandment, “”Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
Exactly these same words are in all three synoptic Gospels, affirming the importance of this statement, appealing to the totality of our efforts to love the Lord.
As I have written time and again, this love finds its fulfillment in loving Creation, the account of which we find in the very beginning of the Old Testament.
There’s something in the Jewish way of worship that appeals to me. I was deeply touched by a column in the New York Times a few weeks ago on the Kaddish, the traditional Jewish prayer of mourning.
The author writes, “Three times a day, wherever I am in the world, I strive to find a minyan (quorum) so I can recite these ancient Aramaic verses as a last measure of devotion to my father. At each service, I repeat the mantra: “Magnified and sanctified be His [God’s] great name in the world He has created according to His will.” To which my coreligionists respond with great force: “Let His great name be forever blessed for all eternity.” I say those words and hear that refrain three times daily.”
I detect sincere devotion there, something I often miss among the more sober-minded Reformed people.
The Kaddish prayer centers on MOURNING, the death of a close relative. My mourning is concentrated on THE DEATH OF CREATION of which we see multiple signs today. I’d wish that in Christian circles there too was a sort of minyan, a stated number of people who come together to pray. The text “where 2 or 3 are together in my name” really does not apply here, as this refers more to counselling than to forming a community.
That sense of community is inherent in a minyan, a company of 10 males before an official Jewish service can start. I know, there is a strong basis of male superiority there, so, of course, 10 people – both male and female – are preferable.
Especially today all religious communities ought to be in mourning for CREATION, God’s precious treasure, and daily gather to pray for her preservation and enhancement. I believe we can only bless God’s great name when we with everything we possess honor his creation.
The article continues, “Yet, the Kaddish is an odd prayer to have become the centerpiece of mourning. Despite its association with death and dying, it does not mention the word death. Instead, it is an endlessly repetitive celebration of the glory of God.”
Some personal observations.
I remember that, some 40 years ago, I brought a high school class to the Belleville synagogue on a Friday night. We had to wait quite a long time, while some frantic telephone calls were made before the tenth member was persuaded to come to form a minyan.
This was a return visit: I had written a play on Esther – by Jews still remembered in the feast of Purim – and the Rabbi and his family had attended its performance.
One of our daughters at one time lived near Beverly Hills, in a Jewish neighborhood, where I counted 10 synagogues, but no churches. On Friday night I could not miss the Jewish fathers and their sons, walk to their particular place of worship, all in solemn black.
One of the cars parked on her street had a bumper sticker, “Waiting for the Messiah”. That decal filled me with compassion, as they do this in vain.
Next to our hotel on Beverly Drive we attended a service in the Messianic Synagogue complete with a cantor, the kissing of the Torah, the wearing of a yarmulke, and an excellent sermon on Corinthians. The after the service announcements included notification of teaching Hebrew to whoever interested: all and all an excellent experience. Had I lived in that area, no doubt I would have joined that congregation.
Two books I love.
It is striking how two authors, one confirmed Jewish, the other a confessing Christian, have almost identical titles: Richard Elliott Friedman, professor of Hebrew at the University of California, wrote THE HIDDEN FACE OF GOD, and Jacques Ellul, professor of Law at the University of Bordeaux, France, HOPE IN TIME OF ABANDONMENT.
Dr. Richard Elliott Friedman’s book starts his book with these words, “God disappears in the Bible.” He then traces how this happens, how initially God is utterly involved in the affairs of the first humans. God personally breathes life into the first man, personally forms the first woman, personally plants the Garden of Eden and fashions the animals, and personally walks in the garden.
After the Fall, God makes their clothing for Adam and Eve. Little personality is described to them in the text, so much so that they appear as weak, childlike creatures.
With Noah there’s not the same intimacy, still Yahweh speaks to Noah and brings on the flood, not just rain, but a cosmic crisis in which the windows in the sky are opened. God allows Noah much more freedom as he and his family are in charge of making the Ark. He must have been busy for decades to cut the trees, saw the planks, apply bitumen – quite abundant in the area – gather the food and make it last, both for his immediate family and the expected animals.
Abraham reflects a further step in the growing up process. He later argues with God about the number of chosen people in those wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Then, when these cities are about to be destroyed there is that curious passage where Lot and his family are urged to hurry, because “I cannot do a thing” until they have safely reached their destination. The humans are not independent of God here, but somehow the human voice is certainly growing louder.
Jacob signals another phase: he wrestles with God. There certainly is progression: Adam disobeys God, Abraham questions God, Jacob fights God. Humans are confronting their creator, and they are increasing their participation in the arena of divine prerogatives.
What this all means is that humans are growing up, maturing, and separating from their creator. Dr. Friedman quotes Bonhoeffer who develops the idea of humans’ “coming of age,” the notion that even if God does exist humans must live in the world, self-subsisting, as they would if there was no God.
And I believe that this is what God intended all along. God wants us to grow up and wants to see how we will ‘end’ up. Friedman, a Hebrew language expert bar none, notes the word ‘end’ there does not mean their finish, but rather their distant future.
It reminds me of Jesus who, in the Sermon on the Mount, uses the same word in Matthew 5:30, “Be ‘teleios’ – always keep ‘the distant future’ in mind.
And then there is Jacques Ellul and his timely book, HOPE IN TIME OF ABANDONMENT.
The title says it all: God has left us. We are on our own. The only HOPE we have is in the COMING OF THE KINGDOM, something which, in his Preface, Ellul stresses, “the decisive importance of the promise, the approach of the Second Coming, the eschaton which comes.”
It is clear to Ellul that society and its members –us – live as if God has turned his back and is silent. He is particularly harsh on the church, “The church, in her confused, grandiose, and childish actions, seemed to me proof that this (God turning his back) is indeed the case.”
Ellul writes, “Speaking for myself, what I see is that we are abandoned by God. Oh, I do not say forever, or that we are excluded from salvation, but that here and now, in this moment of history, in this night which perhaps has refused the light, no actual light is shining any longer.” And I fully concur.
In his wide ranging book he also devotes a section to THE SIN AGAINST THE HOLY SPIRIT, a matter much disputed, and certainly a difficult question.
Ellul writes, “If hope is the response to God’s silence…I can still ask myself whether in our day the sin against the Holy Spirit isn’t precisely the rejection of hope or the inability to live by it.”
He then goes on to say that this is not a fixed matter when he writes, “The sin against the Holy Spirit varies in content according to the times.”
I believe today in 2018, 46 years after the book appeared in France, in days of environmental collapse, I see the Sin against the Holy Spirit as knowingly polluting creation, fully aware that it is God’s Holy Cosmos.
Ellul concludes to say that the only hope we have is THE COMING OF THE KINGDOM, the New Jerusalem.
Friedman also mentions CREATIONAL RENEWAL, pointing to TIKKUN, the path of cosmic restoration. The book final sentence is, “we are created more in the divine image than we have suspected. There is some evidence that the universe IS the hidden face of God.”
Finally Martin Buber.
Martin Buber in 1924 wrote ICH AND DU, translated as “I and Thou”. The essence of the book is that human existence is fundamentally interpersonal. We are not isolated, free-floating objects, but subjects existing in perpetual, multiple, shifting relationships with others, the world, and ultimately with God.
Now, 100 years after it was written, these personal connections and being in touch with God have basically disappeared. We are closer to our machines than to our neighbors, while our God connection has largely vanished.
Martin Buber, in his POINTING THE WAY, writes, “The end of all history is near. Creation has grown old….The present aeon, that of the world and of world history, hurries powerfully to the end…..The coming age of all historical ages is expressed most strongly by the sentence of the Revelation of John that surpasses all that can be imagined, “Time will no longer be.”…..Man cannot achieve this future, but he also has nothing more to achieve.”
Buber goes on to say that we must become what we are intended to be. Only then can we achieve eternity. He quotes John the Baptist in his cry of the prophets, ‘metanoia’, which I translate as “Make a U-turn”, because the ‘axe has already been laid to the root of the tree.’
I see Martin Buber as the bridge between Jews and Christianity, especially today as all signs point to an early end.
Buber translated the entire Hebrew Bible, and thus certainly was familiar with Isaiah 65: 25, “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the LORD.
Among God’s last words to Moses, just before Israel enters The Promised Land, the Lord says, “I shall hide my face from them. I shall see what their end will be (Deuteronomy 31: 17, 18).
Now with Satan in full control, also just before the New Jerusalem will come, we too experience God’s total absence, with Satan in full control. I am certain that we are speeding head over heels toward to End. To be silent now, means to align ourselves with the Satan, because silence means approval.
For both Jews and Christians the real mantra is “Metanoia” which means that we must think and act the opposite of what we do today: live as if eternity has started.
Jesus prayed (John 17: 23), “May they be brought to complete unity.” That especially points to Jews and Christians in their belief that God created, we uncreated, and we both must strive for SHALOM.